Access all areas: Life-changing technology
How much has technology changed your life in the last couple of decades, since we became an always-on connected society? For many of us, the arrival of mobile communications and the world wide web have provided a huge step forward in the way we communicate - but for one group, the disabled, these technologies really have proved life-changing.
I've been making a short television report for the BBC's Access all Areas series looking at the impact technology has made on the lives of disabled people. We visited the Oxford Centre for Enablement where they are testing various technologies that could help people with very limited mobility to interact with computers.
We saw Dr Philip Anslow using one of those technologies, Eye-Gaze, to help him continue to work as a radiologist despite being almost completely immobilised by Motor Neurone Disease.
And we spent an inspiring morning at the Frank Wise Special School in Banbury, watching teachers use everything from a Wii games console to an iPad to give severely disabled children improved access to learning and better ways of communicating.
The head teacher Sean O'Sullivan explained to me that the disabled had been early adopters of technologies which were now becoming commonplace in homes - touchscreen computers, for instance, had been used 25 years ago in his school.
But my best source of information on this subject has been Adrian Higginbotham, who accompanied me for much of our filming. We met him at Banbury station - he'd tweeted and texted me from the train to report progress - and we strode up and down the platform with his guide dog Mac, while he showed me how a blind man uses mobile technology to make life easier.
Adrian is one of nature's geeks at home and at work, where he advises schools on the use of technology. In his pocket, a Nokia smartphone muttered continually, alerting him to incoming e-mails, texts and tweets which he could then have read out.
Twenty years ago, Adrian tells me, technology was something that was "done" to disabled people - but now the smartphone revolution is just one thing that's putting them in charge:
"We've gone from an age of big machines and people having to sit in front of them, and, particularly for disabled people, it being a service that was provided and you had to be grateful for, to now, when people depend on technology for their independence."
A similar point was made by another blind man, the BBC's political correspondent Gary O'Donoghue. He says it's not the big flashy technology that's making the difference but simple things like "talking" buses and improved access to communications tools:
"Simple access to PC technology has opened up a whole world of jobs to blind people in particular that wasn't possible before. Clerical work for example, and research. I remember all too well having to beg and borrow peoples' eyes when I started as a reporter, for them to read cuttings to me from the library, whereas now I can get the stuff electronically and read it independently."
And he too says advances in mobile phones have made life a lot easier: "I used to carry phone numbers around in my head. But over the past five years, simple software solutions have made mainstream mobiles accessible not just to make calls, but also to use contacts, calendars, email and internet."
So plenty of progress, but there is more to be done. Adrian Higginbotham points out that some technologies originally developed for disabled people, like talking books, sometimes become less accessible when they are adapted for the mainstream. Amazon was forced to adapt its Kindle e-book when American universities complained that it was not accessible to people with visual impairments.
And there is currently a vigorous campaign to try to ensure web developers understand that websites have to be just as accessible to everyone as public buildings.
But my brief acquaintance with this fascinating subject has taught me one thing. Clever manufacturers should keep a close eye on what disabled people are doing with gadgets because they are the pathfinders, showing the way to better, more useable technology.
Update 14:20: Some people have pointed out a huge irony about the video which is embedded in this post - it lacks subtitles so it is not accessible to people with impaired hearing.
We are trying to get that fixed for this particular video, but my colleagues who work to put clips on the news website admit that this is a serious issue. Getting subtitling burned into every video that plays on this site would be a complex operation - but I know they are scratching their heads about ways of doing it. I will come back with any news on how this is progressing.