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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Computer Access for All

This morning I read an article from the Blind News mailing list (link above) by old buddies Jim Fruchterman and Greg Vanderheiden that I recommend you read in its entirety at the link on the headline.  The article, entitled, “Everyone deserves access to technology” ran in the Sacramento Bee both online and in the print edition of the paper.

 

 

Jim and Greg are two of the most energetic and intelligent people I’ve had the privilege of getting to know in the world of technology for people with disabilities.  Jim, as you may know first founded Arkenstone and now runs Benitech, the home of BookShare.org.  Greg is director of the Trace Center at U. Wisconsin, one of the most important centers of research into technology and people with disabilities.  Neither Jim nor Greg self identifies as having a disability but both have contributed immensely to our community.

 

I have enjoyed working with Greg on numerous forums, committees and other projects and have very much enjoyed talking to and just being around Fruchterman as his genius and energy is highly infectious and can elevate the mood and intellect of any group of people with his larger than life presence.

 

I have only one area where I disagree with the point of the article: they say that the project should start with California and I want it to be Florida or Massachusetts as that’s where I spend most of my time.

 

The only other item that makes me bristle a bit is the question of why it takes two relatively wealthy sighted white men to make the argument about the absurd economics that blind people, who need a $1000 piece of screen reading software to use a $300 Dell Computer, to get into a mainstream newspaper?  I also wonder why the established blind publications aren’t asking this same question in every issue?

 

-- End

 

 

4 Comments:

Anonymous Jake said...

I wonder why this article only focuses on California. Also, isn't Voiceover built-in on all new Macs? I'm not a Mac user and have never used one, but I've heard this. Otherwise I totally agree. Why should we have to pay extra for a piece of software that in fact gives us access to the same information as our non-disabled peers? I think this is where free programs such as NVDA come in, and it sounds like things are moving along well with NVDA. I suppose hardware is a different story.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Because blind people do not have to use Windows, hence they do not have to spend a grand just to make their computers functional.

We’d like you to stop living in the past, Chris.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Marks said...

I don't think that people who don't have to live with the cost of assistive technology really realize just how expensive it is.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sadly have to disagree with this article on several points. While the concepts presented are wonderful indeed the actual logistics of what is discussed are not static nor are they tangible.

For instance the idea of just waiting a year for a mobile phone platform to be stronger for our Asisstive needs? In one year we will have so many iPhone clones that will be so unaccessible to the population that no amount of talking software will aid you with a slew of touch screen units. Where were the cries of access from people in the community then? And how many will be late to the party, not you BC, in saying how unfair it will be in a year?

The other point is that tech comes and goes at a rapid pace. AJAX and Web 2.0 especially. Those web applications are not built with access in mind. They don't consider anyone who isn't in a lowest common denominator and in some cases they appeal to a more "wired" group which generally excludes anyone here by default of it's design.

Furthermore its all well and good for a non profit to say these things. Where does the money come from to employ the people needed to update whatever programs needed for access? How do the people who have to market, make available and create these Assistive Technologies survive in order to provide this wonderful level of access?

Microsoft Office Professional costs over $300 and anyone sighted or Blind has to pay that if they want to use Microsoft Office. Sure there is Word Perfect, Google Docs and even Open Office. But do I have the same reliability for my job by not choosing Microsoft Office and all it's hotkeys and other technoligies developed over the years that aid a Screen Reader or Magnifier? Even if I have vision and I do decide to go Open Source I now am looking at compatibility problems with Microsoft Office. Not to mention that I have to rely on forums and people who aren't being paid for information on how to fix any technical issues I may have with this other solution. That's not good enough if I want to be at the same level as others. Besides it's Firefox today but it could be Safari tomorrow. Where do you hang your hat if all the developers of a product move to the next hottest thing?

Better yet if I choose a Dell PC that is not running Windows I am actually paying more for it because of the bloatware that Dell loads from AOL and others surprisingly subsidizes the price of that new Dell by $50.

Is the price of Assistive Technology high? Again look at how much it costs to run a Server in a professional work site. Now look at how much service contracts costs for Red Hat and others. The price of Assistive Technology, when compared to other programs that are not Assistive Technology oriented, is quite fair from an Enterprise viewpoint.

And that's my ultimate point. The customers of these products are not the Blind individual. They are Government Agencies, major employers and then on the very low end of the spectrum there is the individual self purchasing Blind person. The industry charges what the market will stand and for the forseeable future that will be the same customers it serves now.

Companies like G.W. Micro are at least offering a choice in payment but it isn't a reduction in their overall price. It can't be. G.W. has to promote, produce and update their existing products to compete with the other major players who are facing the exact same challenges that the little company in Indiana is facing. And that requires money plain and simple.

Ai Squared sold for 22 million dollars but last I heard the staff in Vermont were not driving Hummers with 20 inch rims.

2:15 PM  

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