Innovation for All


New technologies have tremendous potential to transform the lives of all people. However, people age 50 and older and traditionally underserved market populations 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.

Universal design is an approach to creating environments and products so all people can use them to the greatest extent possible. It is used to create products and services that can be adjusted or modified to meet individual needs. For example, smartphones can integrate voice technology to describe what is on the screen, even when using the camera to take a picture. This allows people who are blind to use them without having to order a special product. However, the rate at which technology is accelerating may leave some people behind. One way to counter this trend is to ensure that people with disabilities and older populations are at the table when products and services are being designed. It is important to sustain a dialogue between tech innovators and these populations to allow everyone in society to benefit from innovation. Leaving older adults and people with disabilities out of the design and testing process may also result in products that do not work as intended. They may even be unsafe or harmful.

The sharing economy is an economic model in which technology platform companies help connect individuals to exchange goods and services. It is also known as the gig economy, collaborative economy, on-demand economy, and peer-to-peer economy. 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), such as Uber and Lyft, connect people seeking rides with those providing rides (see also Mobility on Demand). However, some have questioned whether TNCs provide equal access to services regardless of characteristics such as race, gender, and disability status. 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. For example, they may need information about the benefits and drawbacks of the technology, how the platforms work, the importance of carrying adequate insurance in case of accidents, and how to resolve disputes if they arise. They may also need access to the technology, such as smartphones, which enable use of the services.



Product design for all

Policymakers and the private sector should ensure that products, services, and emerging technologies are created using 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 people with disabilities and older adults are consulted in the design process so that emerging products and services meet their needs. This includes the benefits and harms of a product or service on older adults as stakeholders.

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.

In doing so, sharing economy companies should:

  • consult with older adults and traditionally underserved populations to expand access to the sharing economy;
  • ensure that services are offered in a nondiscriminatory manner; and
  • ensure that sharing economy service providers and consumers have full information about potential benefits and challenges.

Sharing economy companies should provide government regulators and researchers with data for evaluation purposes. 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 (see also Mobility on Demand).

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 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.