Here’s an update on how my world has changed recently: emphasizing the wonders of assistive technology; continuing disappointment in accessibility; an enthusiastic organization for local change; , the continuing challenge of city walk ability; and integration of a guide dog into my regime. Information professionals, please take special notice of my feedback and wishes.
Our computing field should be proud of its assistive technology products. People like me with vision loss are avid users of text-to-speech, screen readers, labelers, hearing aids, and recognizers. iPhones and iPads set the standard for built-in “VoiceOver” and extensible capabilities, like “Speak Screen”, that blur the senses of vision, speech, and gesturing. International community NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) frees my thoughts to flow into PC files. Assistive technology works!
However, too many products and web sites fail to apply accessibility principles that enable our skills to productively use that assistive technology. Shame on software developers who don’t employ even the simplest of accessibility concepts, the labeled button or image description or heading hierarchies or TAB order or described links (NOT ‘click here’ or ‘read more’). Now is a good time to check your products and web sites. Thanks for including accessibility in your processes and tests.
Isn’t it ironic that people with disabilities provided the market that makes features like “speak screen” usable? “Natural voices”, speak-o removal, “, and 3x speed listening, plus electronic book formats and optical character recognition advanced over decades through feedback from and the pocketbooks of print-disabled readers. You’re welcome!
Orientation and mobility remain challenges, as pedestrian deaths rise from poor walk ability designs and maintenance of our built environment. GPS apps may tell us our surroundings but sidewalk glitches and street crossings and never-ending construction are even more scary when you cannot read signs nor perceive obstacles. Concepts like Project Sidewalk, applied in Seattle, assess requirements for accessibility invisible to hapless walkers and poorly supported city street crews. Walk ability matters!
Sometimes life as “an independent information professional” needs a special boost to stay interactive and to continue sharing one’s knowledge.
My technology life is complemented by my guide dog Corky, a 2 year-old white retriever mix with a brain full of images of street curbs and evasive actions around objects and people. We trained at Guide Dogs for Blind to learn the rules and mechanics of complex buildings, sidewalks, street crossings, foliage, and decorations. Now I can attend my vision support groups after a bump-free door-to-door trail through book stacks and carts and library patrons. We’re gradually deciphering the safest walking routes that combine our orientation and mobility skills.
I’m looking forward to expanding our “low vision techies at your service” organization, “Catch The Vision”. We advise and support community members losing vision, often through macular degeneration. Assistive technologies, notably iPhone’s, can bring back their abilities to read and communicate, although the steep learning curve is hampered by medical interventions that lack social context. We build on the local public library accessibility initiatives and now branch into advocacy to city services and medical professionals.
I’m resuming my writing on computing history from the perspective of a female-led team concerned about computer science ethics and reviving valuable ideas from before the Dawn of Web Time. This story features a feisty character with low vision interacting with the world via her white cane. Book Notes and synopses are available at “A Chip On Her Shoulder” website. Soon there will be no generation that remembers life before the Internet (quoting Michael Harris) while so many stories remain to be told.
I benefit from peer learning classes at Yavapai College OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) . Recently I co-facilitated “2 women of imagination” (Ada Lovelace, Mary Shelly) and short stories about climate change. Retiring soon? Continue and expand your technology life through your local OLLI.
Want to catch up on assistive technology, accessibility momentum, and disability culture? Podcast “Eyes On Success” is a great source for stories of technology benefits and individual experiences.
So, kudos to the assistive technology industry and the accessibility consultants who bring those tools into our hands, albeit through a fragile rehabilitation system overwhelmed by promises of Medicare-paid medical cures. And, looking beyond assistive technology, let’s support the organizations that build our skills, bring us together online and in person, and foster the long tradition of inter-species problem solving.
Susan L. Gerhart, Ph.D.