As a self acclaimed techie geek, the idea of searching for a new electronic gadget was more entertainment than work. However, since losing my sight over two years ago, trying to stay current is more of a stressful chore.
Let’s get beyond the somewhat obvious obstacles, window shopping is no longer a true option, easy access to catalogs and cutting edge electronic magazines is a thing of the past. However, access to the internet and all it has to offer is enough.
The idea of purchasing a piece of equipment is no longer based on the number of features compared to the cost or even the “wow” factor. Purchasing an item takes a lot more planning and preparation for the blind community. For just about every electronic item purchased we must ask the following questions;
- Will I be able to use the gadget without sighted assistance?
- Will I only be able to use some of the available features?
- Will I have to purchase additional software/hardware in order to access the item?
There are some who I know will say that technology is improving for those of us in the blind community. I would partially agree with this. The standard practice seems to focus on adapting an item to the visually impaired and blind or creating a separate item altogether. I am proposing that we get beyond this way of thinking and adopt a more inclusive approach.
The current adaptive approach is most evident in the use of screen readers. Now the two main manufacturers of screen readers will probably hate me for saying this, but I would rather eliminate the need for a separate piece of software. JAWS and Window Eyes are the two most popular packages on the market today. Each of these allows a visually impaired and blind person to have access to the Windows environment. For the average user accessing the most popular applications is possible. At a cost range of $800 to over $1,000, this is the equivalent of buying two computers.
I’m sure there are some who will say putting screen reader functionality into the operating system is too much to expect. I disagree. As with most technology there are multiple uses that are not identified until a product is released. Closed Caption for example, was not created for sports bars or for listening to music and watching television simultaneously. In fact, vinyl records were originally made as talking books for the blind. Look at the industry this created.