Havas launches '#a11y' digital practice

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Havas Drive has launched a practice focused on developing digital products for persons with disabilities and those undergoing rehabilitative therapies.
The unit will be led by Kel Smith, an authority on web accessibility who also serves as digital practice leader for Havas' Catapult agency. It's launching with a handful of staff and projects in MS and vision impairment (Havas declined to name clients). Known internally as the “#a11y practice,” after the emerging name of the disabilities community in hashtag lingo, it will develop “strategic and technological products serving populations with low vision, blindness, autism, degenerative illnesses, behavioral disorders, cognitive difficulty and hearing impairments.” Those products may take the form of tablet devices, gaming consoles, haptic interfaces, virtual prosthetics, adaptive therapies, text-to-speech functionality and Second Life. It's in keeping with the agency's “Future first” mission, said Havas Worldwide Health chief digital officer Larry Mickelberg.
“The new accessibility services will bring this ethos to a new specialized market that can greatly benefit from these innovations,” said Mickelberg.
Smith said that in the past year, digital technology has begun shifting from being a barrier to many people with disabilities to enabling greater independence.
“These are groups of people that have been left behind the curve because of disability or long-term rehabilitation,” said Smith. Emerging technologies are changing that, he said. Cerebral palsy sufferers have begun using iPads to get around speech impairments, for example, while others with disabilities have used gaming interfaces to transmit sign language.
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