The Benefits of Assistive Technology Merging With Mainstream Technology

I am the moderator of the Philadelphia Computer Users’ Group for the Blind and Visually Impaired. On our mailing list I regularly post articles covering assistive technology. Not surprisingly, some of the articles that I post come from sites which specialize in this topic, such as news releases from producers of assistive technology hardware and software. However, many of these articles are being published by sources who, until recently, were known for covering the mainstream technology landscape. Articles like this bring out the fact that accessibility isn’t just limited to specialized or esoteric Web sites dealing with that particular topic. Several years ago, I found an article covering the accessibility features of the iPhone. I realized that this article came from IMore, which primarily reports on software and hardware from Apple. It was a weird feeling when I realized that this mainstream Web site was writing a piece covering accessibility and I eventually realized that accessibility was now being reported and documented on regular, mainstream sites which you wouldn’t have thought would cover this subject. Back in the day you had to access a specialized Web site, mailing list¬† or bulletin board group dealing with adaptive equipment if you had questions about how to use your screen reader or screen magnifier. Nowadays, manufacturers of computers and mobile devices are providing their own built-in assistive software, such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, support for switch devices, Bluetooth hearing aids, eye control devices, etc. The obvious benefit of this is that a user with a disability can purchase a smartphone and tablet and know that it will be accessible as soon as they take it out of the box. That’s not exactly news to us in the blindness community. However, there is another benefit to this in that it has allowed more users, including software developers and technology reporters, to become more aware of these tools since they are included in the product. This causes them, as well as their users and their readers, to become far more aware and knowledgeable when it comes to accessibility, thereby increasing the likelihood that more apps and services will become more accessible to us. Even if we find that a particular app presents accessibility challenges, we can write to the app developer, knowing that we probably won’t receive a response, such as “screen reader? What’s that?” since developers will already have some level of awareness about VoiceOver, Talkback or Narrator. It’s just one reason why having universal accessibility benefits everyone.

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