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Let's Talk Technology

The Discussion

On March 23, 2017, the Technology, Website and App Accessibility Committee held a teleconference open to all AEBC members. We had a lively discussion about the technology being used and the barriers that exist in its acquisition. What follows is a summary of that call and the conclusions the Committee drew from the discussion.

The technology being used by the participants on the call ranged from simple items like talking watches, clocks, scales, calculators and pocket radios to high-tech devices such as Braille displays, Optacons, and Trekkers. Mainstream technology was well-represented—Windows, IOS, Android and Mac.

Most of the participants learned to use their technology from friends. Many expressed their frustration at not knowing where to find accessible information on specific hardware or software.

Another frustration expressed was the lack of a consistent, nationwide assistive devices program which would provide funding to allow people to obtain the technology, most of which is very costly. Some provinces have programs, but no two are alike, and finding out what is available is often difficult. The processes are also inconsistent. In addition, it can take years for a “new” device to be approved for a particular program, by which time that device is already obsolete.

Even if blind people get adequate training in the available technology, there is no guarantee that employers will continue to utilize software and hardware that is accessible in the workplace when they decide to perform a major system upgrade. Accessible procurement policies must be implemented from the federal government on down to the private sector businesses, so that employees are not forced out of their productive jobs through no fault of their own. If the main software provider is unable to provide an accessible system, the employers should not be contractually prohibited from sourcing out a third-party solution. Accessibility should be the driving factor and not manufacturer’s greed.

The participants believe that AEBC should begin to advocate for consistent federal assistive devices/technology funding, so that we all have an equal opportunity to obtain products which will enhance our quality of life, regardless where we live in Canada. It needs to be a dynamic program which will allow innovative new products to become available immediately.

Resources

In the meantime, here is a list of the resources which were mentioned:

Next Steps

We can benefit most from the digital world if we can afford it and can get involved. Possible priorities for the Technology, Website and App Accessibility Committee for the next year could include:

  • Information gathering. Provide listing of available products. Possibly generate revenue by posting vendor ads. Create an online knowledge database of assistive technologies.
  • Funding. Lobby the federal government to integrate innovation strategies with the blind community (connecting blind Canadians with innovators). Lobby for a federal funding program through the Ministries of Innovation and Employment, and support provincial funding programs through Ministries of Health and Education.
  • Skills development. Develop partnerships with training and education services to promote accessible skills development. Social media and online remote education has marginalized AEBC members, and integrating with mainstream programs would be the most cost effective method. AEBC could work with universities, and Blackboard and D2L learning software companies, to create accessible remote learning platforms.

However, we need you, our members, to help make things happen!

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.