Stevie Wonder says: Everything needs to be accessible to everyone

I've just come across the fantastic clip of the great Stevie Wonder, world-famous blind singer and tech advocate, speaking out on the importance of inclusive design at the glittering Grammy Awards.

Stevie – A wonderful advocate for accessibility

Last week I spotted a tweet that took me to a short but very inspiring clip on Youtube. It was of Stevie Wonder - a really nice chap and fellow technology advocate (he’s a pretty fine singer too!) and someone I've been very fortunate to meet in person. The clip was of him at the 58th Grammy Awards in 2015 and he had an important message for us all. 

Before announcing Ed Sheeran as winner of Song of the Year (for Thinking Out Loud), Wonder made a plea to the listening millions: “We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.” This elicited a huge supportive response from the audience.

This passionate plea reminded me very strongly of our clarion call here at AbilityNet – a call for people to consider accessibility as nothing less than designing for everyone.

In many of my recent posts we explore how, in a world where mobile is often the go-to tech for most users, accessibility not only helps disabled people take part in this rich digital revolution, but how it’s actually also essential for everyone.


READ NOW Revolutionising tech for blind people: Is this the world's first multi-line braille reader?


We all use these small but oh-so-handy devices in all the extreme environments we find ourselves in every day - from juggling a phone one-handed, to squinting at your screen in the glare of the sun – check out many of my posts to explore this discussion in depth - believe me when I say that accessibility is no longer the domain of people with disabilities. Let’s call it ‘inclusive design’ and put it at the heart of every design, development and marketing decision we make.

It’s a wonderful world where small adjustments make a big difference

The other aspect of his appearance, that also happens to be a hot topic I’ve touched upon in many of my recent posts, was Wonder's use of a reasonable adjustment that itself also comes with unique benefits.

A reasonable adjustment (in the US it’s called an ‘accommodation’) is a tweak to how things are normally done (and often costs little or nothing to put in place) and it’s aim is to assist someone to meet a need associated with their disability or impairment.

Being blind, Stevie’s adjustment was to have a Braille version of the winning announcement. As a result of this simple adjustment he was able to read the winner himself – but not only that, he could be confident that no one would be able to get an advance sneak-peak at the name of the lucky winner - Ed Sheeran - over his shoulder.

Of course, such privacy might not have been that important here, but in our daily lives as blind people out and about, we often need to read sensitive information and often have no idea who is around us. Braille helps us be confident in the knowledge that anyone watching can’t read it. It’s an adjustment. But more than that, like so many adjustments, it comes with added benefits. More about that in an upcoming blog. 

It was Stevie Wonder's playful comment about his unusual Braille version of the famous winner’s envelope that prompted him to proceed to the much bigger plea for inclusive design we see above.

Wondering what adjustments Stevie uses?

Stevie Wonder is a huge advocate and user of tech. We once compared our gadgets and adjustments and believe me when I say that he, like me, finds the ever-changing advancements in tech a real eye-opener (I’m allowed to use cheesy puns like that).

Long-established adjustments such as Braille, and cutting edge tech such as voice-enabled smartphones, both have their role to play. I wonder if Stevie has an Amazon Echo? Voice-in, voice-out used to be a very specialised adjustment that was the very niche domain of people with both a significant motor and vision impairment. Talk about an adjustment with spin-off benefits!

So let’s end with a gratuitous plug for my daily Dot to Dot podcast covering top tips and skills to ensure that everyone gets the most out of their Echo. My blogs about Alexa and the Echo are always the most popular, too.