BusinessWeek:

Apple is widely celebrated for making devices as easy to use as they are elegantly designed. What customers probably don’t know is that some of these features aren’t exactly new–they evolved from software Apple created to help disabled people use PCs.

Among them: the new iPhone’s voice control option, which allows users to speak to their handsets to prompt an action, such as calling Mom, or to get a spoken answer to such questions as “What song is playing?”

And “mainstreaming” tools for the disabled is spreading. Software developer Nuance Communications, for instance, invented voice command technology to help people who are unable to type on a computer.

Today, the company’s algorithms are used in products ranging from Amazon.com’s latest Kindle e-reader to cars from Ford Motor. Meantime, Mattel is incorporating technology, initially intended to help paraplegics, into a soon-to-be-released game controlled by players’ brainwaves.

Other companies should consider following these trailblazers, say innovation consultants. “Companies could look at designing for accessibility as a sales opportunity. Most features that are accessible for the disabled have great value to everybody.

Photo by SeeScan.