Friday, April 10, 2009

The Technology Divide

I think that the majority of mainstream persons would probably be shocked to hear me say that as technology rumbles along, the gap between what is available and what is accessible to blind and visually-impaired persons is growing wider as time marches on. True it is that there have been some very telling strides with regard to the development and availability of technology for us, but on the other hand there are more and more gadgets, hardware, and software that are not accessible to us.

We can use special software known as screen readers to do such things as browse the Internet; read, receive and send emails; and perform word-processing and spread-sheet functions. But when it comes to being able to enjoy those new and exciting handheld gadgets…well, that's another story. As the development of handheld gadgets continues to evolve at a breakneck speed, it is not the same when it comes to making them accessible to those with vision problems.

I have decided not to purchase an iPod because on the whole they require me to seek sighted assistance to use it. Instead, I would have had to purchase a specially-developed device that enables me to use it without having to depend on sighted assistance. This device is called the Victor Reader Stream and for an exorbitant price, I could hear which keys I press and menus I navigate because this device has been built to give voice responses to key commands.

Likewise, I am unable to use the mainstream PDA and as a result have had to purchase a specially-developed PDA for blind and visually impaired persons. One that emits voice responses. This device is called the Icon and its price is really high.

Like any specially-developed device for blind and visually-impaired persons, it is a common rule of thumb that the price is at least three times as much as the mainstream equivalent. Why is this? I can only say that maybe because of the small size of the blind and visually-impaired persons market, companies need to charge a price that would bring them a profit. When it comes to the development of equivalent devices for blind and visually-impaired persons, ones that talk or emit voice responses, the list includes cell phones, PDAs, iPods, language dictionaries, and more. They are very well-developed but the prices are sky high.

What really frustrates me is, why do we as blind and visually-impaired persons need to depend on companies to take the extra step to develop products for us? Why is it so difficult for mainstream companies like Amazon to do so? For example: We are still waiting on Amazon to make their Kindle reader accessible to us. Apple has made some determined efforts but we need more mainstream companies like Apple to do the same.

If you would like to learn more about the company that developed the Victor Reader Stream then please visit www.humanware.com.
To learn more about the Icon visit www.levelstar.com.
To learn more about portable products for blind and visually-impaired persons, visit www.blindbargains.com

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special-needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day and encouraging you to go out there and start motivating companies to produce products that would be accessible to and usable by all.

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