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Access technology – Is It Best To Go Mainstream?

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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  1. Hugh McLeod | February 27th, 2012 | 7:50 pm

    One of the first lessons I learned in Human Rights is that, “Separate is Not Equal.” They are always telling us to be grateful. Fine. So I’m grateful. But why should we as persons who are different accept sub-standard treatment? Would they say the same if we were persons of colour? Women? I am a man. Well, actually they would and they do. Its up to all of us to remember that while we are grateful for assistance it is not the same as equality and only through inclusion and full integration will we achieve the basic humandignity and respect that is our birthright. Separate is never equal.

  2. John Sexton | February 27th, 2012 | 9:32 pm


    Well I say thanks to opensource technology and the goodness of shared information.

    Products like NVDA and Thunder screen readers as well as Apple technology is helping better intagrate modern digital technology for many people.

    Manufacturers need educating! The more we can make large manufacturers see the benefits in opening up their products to everyone, the better it will be for everyone.

    What I’d like to see, is specialist assistive companies partner with main stream companies to help ensure better more accessible products being produced at main stream prices. I believe the availability of opensource solutions may help push things in this direction.

    Best, John

  3. Jorge Fernandes | February 28th, 2012 | 12:17 am

    “Access technology – Is It Best To Go Mainstream?”

    From my experience of 20 years using assistive technologies, the answer is YES. Everyone pays and use who need it. Since 2004, I never more has the need to bought a screen magnifier and is still 100% updated – in fact, all the new version of OS also have a new version of magnifier. And I’m not talking about opensource – this one, have all the time a little bit of something that don’t work properly .

  4. Sue | February 28th, 2012 | 12:39 am

    Yes AT and main stream companies need to come together and realize we are a market to. We want choices. I think Microsoft is coming along with things and has come a long way, since Windows 95 same thing with Apple. It sure would be nice to have a talking television since we watch TV, also have access to the mainstream GPS products. We want to be able to pay the same price for everything just like our sighted family and friends. A lot of us still use Windows PCS and Apple products in fact some of us have windows and apple products in the home and office. I would really like to see accessibility out of the box both on Windows and Apple systems along with talking cds and braille manuals. Maybe large print ones for people who need that type of accessibility. With the braille displays used on a Windows PC and Apple products the sighted community should be able to understand what braille is and its still verry important. If accessibility is affordable then the unemployment rate for blind people would be no more. As far as note takers for the blind too expensive and outdated.

  5. Dwight Brady | February 28th, 2012 | 1:39 am

    I’ve always thought that specialist technology was, and still is, a backlash to the inaccessibility of mainstreme products, an alternative way for disabled people to try and do the same things as everyone else. But now, as companies like apple are making their products more inclusive, there is less of a need to search for something that will do a similar job to your friend’s device or whatever. I think the world of mainstreme accessibility should be welcomed with open arms, I’m surprised people like Freedom Scientific haven’t made atempts to make JAWS a standard, afordable program that appears on some machines.

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