Don’t tech no for an answer
8th November 2010
Not quite. A recent review by a blind user points out one incredible access irony.
A VI person can independently load books to the Kindle and have them read aloud. However, what they can’t do is buy titles direct from the device (for this you must switch to your PC). If that same VI person has an iPhone, they can use the Kindle app to browse and purchase titles, but can’t read them aloud.
For a second example of backward progress, look no further than the accessibility of satellite navigation.
This technology, which cross-references your current position in relation to a number of satellites with electronic maps, has broken free of the car and can now give you audio and visual turn-by-turn instructions from door to door, irrespective of your chosen mode of transport. Handheld satnav can - and does - give many disabled people the confidence and independence to travel freely without being forced to ask passers-by for assistance.
However, satnav has become a fiercely competitive sector and in order to grab the biggest share of the market, operators including Nokia and Google are now giving away these services for free with phones running their Symbian and Android operating systems. The upshot of this development, which on the face of it seems positive, is that commercial competitors are being forced out of business.
Vodafone have offered all Wayfinder Access owners a full refund. Not much compensation for a loss of independence.
From April 2011, many people for whom accessible satnav is a key independence tool, will be forced to rely on outdated bespoke technology, a dependency on technical know-how, a product which is only partially accessible or the kindness of strangers .
But how can we disabled people be protected from this sort of digital exclusion in the future?
Age UK and Fact are not alone in recognising the perils of digital exclusion. RaceOnline is the campaign to get as many of the 10 million people who don’t have access to the internet, online by the end of the year of the London Olympics. Spearheaded by Government digital champion Martha Lane Fox, it's slogan is: “we’re all better off when everyone’s online.”
I welcome the huge advances in access to technology for disabled people over the last year or two, even if personally I'm not sure that the talking dartboard I found recently is worth $500. Its existence really brought home to me the failings of a world in which you can’t buy technology that would help you travel independently but can spend all that money on a talking toy.
Let us not forget that, as in the cases of Kindle and Wayfinder, every step forward can leave someone behind, and it is our duty to ourselves, and each other, to join Race Online and others in making a song and dance about it when it happens.
If you’ve got a story about how so-called technology advances have left your access needs behind, tell us in the comments below.
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