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Disabled Ask For Better Technology

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from Mississauga News, November 9, 2006: www.mississauganews.com

The digital world has not kept pace with the needs of the disabled, and some Mississauga advocates are calling on the technology giants to catch up.

Yesterday in Brampton, at the Region of Peel's 3rd annual Day of the Disabled Person, many in attendance said that today's fast-paced society is passing them by.

Visually impaired Rabia Khedr said assistive technology for the disabled is outdated and expensive, which makes it frustrating for users such as herself. For instance, she said, the computer software she uses to help her read, although useful, has limitations.

Khedr wants big companies such as Microsoft to remember people like her.

"Technology that is there to enhance access is usually behind the times," Khedr said. "It (assistive technology) is always trying to catch up. We need accessibility in the age of information technology. It is built-in to a degree, but it is not enough."

A recent survey by the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres (CAILC), an organization that supports the disabled, revealed more than 369,000 people with disabilities in Canada use or require augmentative and alternative communication systems, such as larger computer screens, special keyboards, voice recognition software and other systems. However, finding money to buy the technology is also a huge roadblock.

The survey revealed that, unlike other forms of technologies such as personal computers, the cost of assistive devices and software is prohibitive.

Jutta Treviranus, director of the Adaptive Technology Research Centre at the University of Toronto and yesterday's keynote speaker, said software companies and other digital stakeholders must address issues of e-accessibility at the onset of creating their software or product. They must take into account the needs of the disabled.

She suggested companies develop more technology that is useful for all segments of society.

Treviranus pointed to the introduction of closed captioning on television as an example. She said it was originally developed to assist those with hearing impairments, but is now found to be useful in noisy bars and fitness centres as well. Treviranus believes if hi-tech industries can be innovative in this way, the results could be commercially viable and, at the same time, benefit everyone.