Innovation for All


New technologies have tremendous potential to transform the lives of all people. However, people age 50 and older and other market populations that often lack access to services are not always able to take advantage of these innovations. More needs to be done to ensure that products and services are available to and accessible for all populations. 

The way that products and services are designed affects the range of people who are able to use them. An inclusive design process, sometimes known as universal design, ensures that products and services are age-friendly and accessible to people of all ability levels. It helps design products and services that can be adjusted or modified to meet individual needs and used with confidence by all people. For example, smartphones can integrate accessibility features such as voice technology to describe on-screen images and text when using the camera to take a picture. This allows people who have visual impairments to use them without having to order a special product. 

The rate at which technology is accelerating may leave some people behind. One way to counter this trend is to ensure populations that have been underserved—including older adults, people with disabilities, and their caregivers—are consulted when products and services are designed and developed. Products and services can also be specifically tested on these populations. It is important to sustain a dialogue between tech innovators and these populations to allow everyone in society to benefit from innovation. Doing so can also ensure that products work as intended. 

The sharing economy is an economic model in which technology platform companies help connect individuals to exchange goods and services. It has the potential to help all people, including those with low incomes. Individuals can generate income, rent out existing assets, and more easily rent the assets of others to avoid buying big-ticket items such as cars. For example, older adults and others are increasingly generating income by renting out a room, apartment, or house on a short-term basis. This is an important income source. But in some especially tight housing markets, there is some evidence that an influx of short-term rental units may decrease the supply of longer-term housing and increase rents. It is critical that access to products and services in the sharing economy be provided in a nondiscriminatory manner and be available to all. Questions remain as to whether this is the case. Ongoing data analysis is needed to ensure equal access and quality. 

For example, transportation network companies (TNCs), sometimes known as ride-hailing services, connect people seeking rides with those providing rides (see also Transportation Network Company policy). However, some have questioned whether TNCs provide equal access to services regardless of characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, and ability level. Likewise, evidence has emerged that implicit biases may be affecting the ability of those renting out rooms or homes on a short-term basis to do so on a nondiscriminatory basis. As a result, the largest platform has put in place changes to promote nondiscrimination, such as only sharing a guest’s photo after a rental has been booked. 

New companies operating in the sharing economy often collect and analyze large quantities of data about their platforms. When they share these data with researchers or the government, the data provided may not always reflect the full story because of conflicts of interest. In some cases, uncompensated, independent researchers may not be able to replicate or use industry data. This makes the data less useful for researchers and policymakers. 

Empowering consumers with full information will allow them to use the sharing economy effectively if they choose to do so. They may need information about the benefits and drawbacks of the technology, how the platforms work, the importance of carrying adequate insurance, and the process for resolving any disputes that arise. They may also need access to technology, such as smartphones, which enable use of the services. 



Inclusive design

Policymakers and the private sector should ensure that products, services, and emerging technologies are created using an inclusive design process with universal design principles. This allows them to be used by the widest range of ability levels and ages. 

Policymakers and the private sector should ensure that underserved populations—including older adults, people with disabilities, and their caregivers—are consulted in the design process so that products and services meet their needs. This includes understanding the potential benefits and harms of a product or service on older adults. Products and services should be tested on older adults, people with disabilities, and other underserved consumers. 

Inclusivity in the sharing economy

Policymakers and the private sector should ensure that the benefits of the sharing economy extend to older adults and traditionally underserved market populations. Services must be offered in an equitable and nondiscriminatory manner. Service providers and consumers should have full information about the potential benefits and challenges. 

Sharing economy companies should provide government regulators and researchers with data for evaluation purposes while protecting individual privacy. Data should be transparent, accurate, and independently verifiable by scholars and other stakeholders. Providers making demonstrably false or misleading claims in their data should be sanctioned. 

(For additional policies related to the sharing economy, see Insurance Coverage in the Sharing Economy policy as well as Transportation Network Companies policy.) 

Short-term rentals

Individual homeowners, particularly older homeowners, should be able to generate income by renting out their properties on a short-term basis. In especially tight housing markets in which short-term rentals have a demonstrated impact on affordability, policymakers may consider balancing this policy with the need to ensure the availability of affordable market-rate housing. In doing so, policymakers should ensure that individual homeowners have a reasonable opportunity to rent out their properties on a short-term basis.