One of the biggest benefits of the rise of the internet has been the disruption of those industries which have survived based on the difficulty of accessing information. The quintessential examples of these have been the travel industry with the rise of sites like Expedia and Travelocity as well as real estate market with sites like Redfin

Software may be eating the world but it’s also having a negative impact on those who depended on these outmoded services.

The point is not to say that these industries should be protected in order to serve a minority of high need individuals, but simply to increase awareness about the collateral damage of these changes. It is not just the travel agents who were affected, but those people who once could call these agents on the phone and talk. Specifically, it has been the elderly and the blind who are most affected and are now isolated because they cannot access the benefits of the new, more efficient services.

The innovations that out competed the travel and real estate industries should now focus on making themselves available to those were were left out the first time around. 

Only 14% of blind users consider themselves proficient at using a screen reader, which is the primary way the blind interact with online services. The decline of human-service based businesses like travel agents has left the blind community worse off than they were before, and making these services screen reader friendly may not be enough, though it’s a good start.

Having someone  talk to every potential customer is no longer a sustainable business model, but the voice based interactions that we once had are still more comfortable for many than interacting with a business via a keyboard and mouse.  Perhaps the best way to design an inclusive experience serving those left out be the web-based innovations of the last decade is to return to the past. Except this time, instead of telling a person what we need, we’ll be telling the computer.

The cost of disruption: accessibility and the decline of travel agents