4 tech innovations that support people with disabilities working from home

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Remote working is proving tough for the 1.3 billion people who live with some form of disability.
  • Popular apps being used to stay connected through the pandemic can exclude people with disabilities.
  • Valuable 500, a community of global CEOs, is encouraging the development of digital technologies to help close the disability inclusion gap.
  • Here are some of the tech innovations addressing that gap.

For the 1.3 billion people across the world who live with some form of disability, remote working can be particularly tough. But technology is helping to overcome the barriers that risk excluding some people from the pandemic-era world of work.


We face a global disability inclusion crisis, according to the World Economic Forum’s Valuable 500 initiative, a community of global CEOs from major businesses committed to increasing inclusion for the 17% of the world population that lives with some form of disability. Launched in 2019, the Valuable 500 includes over 400 businesses with close to 15 million employees in 35 countries and over $5.4 trillion in revenue.

a chart showing the relationship between poverty and disability
Disability and poverty have a strong link. Image: World Bank

“There is an inequality crisis around disability, you’re 50% less likely to get a job and you’re 50% more likely to experience poverty and that cannot be resolved in the world with just governments or charity, you need business at the table,” says Caroline Casey, Founder of the Valuable 500. Civil Society

What is the World Economic Forum doing to close the disability inclusion gap?

1.3 billion people across the world live with some form of disability – representing 17% of the global population, this is the largest minority group worldwide. Yet, only 4% of businesses are focused on making offerings inclusive of disability.

The Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society is working to close the disability inclusion gap by driving business action, capturing and disseminating learnings, and leveraging leadership for scale.

The Platform serves as an accelerator for the Valuable 500 — a global collective of more than 400 companies committed to disability inclusion.

Companies that are part of The Valuable 500 are currently driving impact in 35 countries. This group brings the combined revenue of The Valuable 500’s current members to over $5.4 trillion, with over 14.8 million employees.

In 2021 Japan’s biggest private foundation, The Nippon Foundation, invested $5 million, to enable The Valuable 500 to launch Phase 2 of its global campaign. This figure represents the largest ever single investment into disability business inclusions.

Learn more in our impact story.

A 2020 survey found that almost seven in 10 workers were suffering from remote working burnout. Homeworking, with its reliance on visual and audio networking technology, has made life even harder for people with disabilities.

Valuable 500 is encouraging the development of digital technologies to support people with disabilities working from home during the pandemic. Here are five innovations that are tackling the barriers they face.

1. Seeing AI

This Microsoft artificial intelligence app for visually impaired people uses your smartphone’s camera to audio-describe the world around you. It is capable of recognizing people you know and can even describe their appearance, including how they are feeling.

It can read images on screen, hard-copy documents and it can scan barcodes in shops to provide a description of products. Currently available in English and seven other languages including Japanese, it will also describe images in other apps like Twitter and WhatsApp.

2. Google Action Blocks

For people with a cognitive disability, Google has come up with the idea of making it easier to carry out common actions such as calling a colleague or a loved one. An Action Block – literally an image or button on the homescreen – can be set up on any Android phone.

Using Google Assistant technology, simply touching the Action Block triggers the action, which can include making the phone speak words for those with communication difficulties. The app is available in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese.

3. Zoom transcripts

Zoom, one of the fastest growing virtual meeting apps last year, has followed in the footsteps of Google Hangout and Microsoft Teams by introducing live captioning to help hearing impaired users take part in online meetings. The app also allows users to obtain a transcript of a recorded meeting after it has finished.

As well as its own functionality, Zoom has enabled integration with other transcription apps. So far, 26 third-party transcription apps have been approved for use with Zoom through the company’s app marketplace.

4. Android Voice Access

Google involved people with motor disabilities in the design of its voice-activated Android smartphone app. The ability to use the phone’s functions without touching the screen was an essential first step.

But feedback from people with disabilities stressed the importance of being able to activate functions with just a few words. To make this quick and effective, Google developed a series of what it calls “intuitive labels” – phrases most people would be likely to use.

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