The topic of which is better – special access technology designed specifically for use by disabled people, or mainstream technology that is made accessible and used by everyone – is very near and dear to my heart.
To put things into perspective: access technology is generally much more expensive than its mainstream counterpart and much less available on the market. It can also be extremely challenging to have access technology repaired, compared with mainstream technology.
There are far fewer manufacturers of access technology hardware and far fewer developers of access technology software, than of mainstream products.
The profit to be made for those who develop and sell access technology is much less than for those who do the same for mainstream technology.
Access technology has to be developed in such a way as to adapt to the mainstream world.
Those are the key issues. Now, where do we go from here?
About 18 months ago, I bought a PDA (personal digital assistant) that was developed for blind people; a real find for me and one that I found to be really forward thinking because of its features. A few weeks ago, I was told that this PDA will no longer be manufactured and as of June 2012, no more hardware maintenance agreements would be available. Accessories will still be available as long as supplies last. That was quite a shock and now we are all left holding the bag, so to speak.
I am not going to identify the manufacturers of this wonderful product but suffice it to say that it has made me rethink how I go about choosing my mobile devices. Do I continue to buy access technology that is extremely expensive and one that I am not sure will be around for too long? Or do I move towards the mainstream world?
Do I expose myself to heartbreak if I continue to buy these pieces of access technology only to learn that in a short space of time they are off the market and no more supplies of accessories or support is no longer available? Should we as blind people continue to put up with such factors as unaffordability, unavailability, and inadequate support? Or is it time for us to start embracing the world of Apple and thank the late Steve Jobs for having taken that big step to make all of his devices like the iPad and iPhone accessible to us?
Android devices are also out there for the exploring, and of course there are other tablets and mobile devices out there that are becoming more accessible to us. There are ever more choices to help us join the mainstream technology world.
The landscape is rapidly changing and who knows for how long the manufacturers of JAWS Screen Reader, Window-Eyes and other types of access technology be able to hold on to their respective turfs? Only time will tell.
NOTE: Donna Jodhan is an accessibility consultant who is involved in an ongoing legal battle with the Canadian government over accessibility of its websites.
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