Accessibility – Open Source Mechanic blog cat /dev/random | strings | grep "For being ignorant to whom it goes I writ at random, very doubtfully" Tue, 10 May 2016 21:50:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why Don’t We Design a Better Wheelchair? Sun, 08 Dec 2013 02:13:29 +0000 In the 1990 film Awakenings, Robin Williams plays Dr. Sayer, a fictionalized Oliver Sachs, who discovered seemingly miraculous effects of the drug L-DOPA on patients who had been trapped in unresponsive states for more than a decade by Encephalitis lethargica. In the film, the doctor is constantly, loosing, dropping and breaking his eyeglasses.

“Where are my glasses?” Dr. Sayer asks.
“On your head!” his patient exclaims.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Sara Hendren the woman behind the Abler accessibility site, asks Why are Glasses Perceived Differently Than Hearing Aids? or wheelchairs, or prosthetic limbs, screenreaders, braille displays, miracle drugs, Stephen Hawking’s voice…
The phrase, “Assistive technology” usually refers to technology to help disabled people, work, play and live productive lives.  But Sara Hendren finds this usage unnecessarily narrow and limiting. Think of the technology you use every day, the keyboards, iPads, earbuds, smart Phones, cars, bicycles, electric dishwashers… Would you be able to perform your job and live your daily life in the same way without these technologies?

Sara adds, “By returning “assistive technology” to its rightful place as just “technology”—no more, no less—we start to understand that all bodies are getting assistance, all the time. And then design for everyone becomes much more interesting.”

I spent many months developing tests for assistive technology for Linux and Solaris desktop operating systems. In the beginning I might have believed that a passable screenreader, big fonts and alternative keyboards would have been enough. I grew to understand the breadth of needs. All of us tweak and tolerate aspects of our personal “assistive” technologies. Things might have to be tweaked more or less for people with special needs, but there shouldn’t be a cognitive disconnect between technology for us and assistive technology for “them.” I once thought that Apple, though violating certain legalistic definitions of accessible technology, had come up with the perfect one-size-fits all accessibility solution in their iPhones, iPods and iPads. But when I brought an iPad to a friend who is recovering from a brain tumor, I quickly learned that further personalization was necessary. Her short-term memory had not yet recovered, she could no longer read and she finds it extremely difficult to form words. Might an iPad help her communicate her needs, desires and creativity? Recently her weak right hand had strengthened enough that she could almost hold the iPad, but her right thumb pressed on the tablet’s sensitive lower right-hand corner and prevented her shaky but more agile left hand from being able to select things. I was only able to see her for a short time before I returned to Ireland but this brief visit was enough to convince me that some combination of existing and invented technologies would help her communicate and recover.

Another friend was told by her brother, who was also born blind, that learning to use a computer would be like learning to play a musical instrument. His explanation puts it into perspective by reinforcing the idea that it takes time for a anyone to adjust to a complex tool, even when that tool is engineered and customized to fit the person. He understood that screenreaders, braille displays and other so-called “assistive technologies” are tools to be mastered, not impossible challenges. Given time, a person can become a virtuoso at the technology which best fits their own body and mind.