I really enjoyed my time at EnergizeIT since it is about working with the community and giving time and resources to things that matter.
As a highlight of my day, I had the special honour and pleasure of introducing Dr. Gary Birch, executive director of the Neil Squire Society (NSS) and a noted researcher in the field. Gary provided an inspiring talk in the morning about NSS followed by a video in the afternoon. Gary noted that Microsoft technologies are integral to some of the technologies they provide. This is what it is all about–supporting community needs too!
Due to the generosity and support from the “geeks” at the Vancouver event, a good sum was raised for Neil Squire from the sale of Microsoft supplied Geek T-shirts. Moreover, Neil Squire made many new friends who dropped by their booth to see their technology and research in action and want to do more. I want to thank Neil Squire for sharing their compelling story, to the attendees who provided their support and to Microsoft in hosting this worthwhile charity at EnergizeIT.
I have another privilege today. This time providing an introduction to a blog post from Greg Pyc, NSS’s National Operations Manager. Greg has many great stories and deep insights so I have invited him to blog here…Watch for them!
I also invite the audience to share their thoughts, talents, and ideas with Greg…or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Greg Pyc
National Operations Manager
Neil Squire Society
Is technology keeping pace with the needs of people with disabilities?
This is a peculiar question as technology has been viewed, generally, as an empowering tool for those with disabilities. We need only to look around us to see the proliferation of technological marvels and how they have enhanced the lifestyles and dignity of individuals.
A quick scan of products available for people with disabilities is testament to the ingenuity of their developers and the real need that exists today. Some noticeable examples are the hundreds of configurations that have been developed and marketed for keyboards and mice – each unique keyboard or mouse caters to a very different type of ergonomic need and new products are flooding the market every day.
Any internet search engine will list the thousands of sites dedicated to technology for people with disabilities.
But in terms of accessibility, there are subtle shades of grey here. Let’s rewind to 1984 as my first introduction. I was working on my honours thesis at McMaster University and was desperate to type it, and I couldn’t type. The thought of edits, more edits, white out and even more edits all on a typewriter unnerved me to no end. Enter Atari.
At that very moment in time Atari had the 130XE with disk drive, the availability of a dot matrix printer and no monitor (all for $3,500.00 and it even connected to your TV). And they had a cartridge that plugged into the back with a magical “word processor” that allowed me unlimited edits and I could print my thesis with no fear of white out and the dreaded cut and pasting problems associated with a major paper.
That was very intriguing and served me very well but I soon discovered gaming. Big time. Two dimensional games that were impossibly difficult to avoid and for the day, they rivaled any arcade. I hade line-ups to get into my apartment.
My then neighbour had a disability. He was a quadriplegic and had very limited movement of his arms, with little finger dexterity. Games were played then on a very simple joystick with one red button. Jim wanted to play the games but the joy stick was too difficult to manipulate.
The solution to Jim’s dilemma was not a technological revolution but it did work. We made a base, bound it with duct tape and made a simple lever so he could press the little red button that was the nerve centre of that particular joystick. Jim could play any game and became quite proficient at a road race game, loosely based on F1 racing. He also played other games quite well and while he excelled, he was never quite up to the rest of the gang, who, in all honesty, practiced a disproportionate amount of time in my small living room.
This small example highlights one of the emerging problems when technology, in this case the Atari and their game cartridges and the advent of the joystick, accelerates at a very rapid pace. It becomes affordable (and fun) for the general public and prices drop, but people with disabilities find they are unable to use it to their full capacity.
We have come a long way with very long way but there are bumps on the road, not high hurdles, and these bumps need to be addressed. And the one area that needs immediate attention is personal digital assistants.
Over the next several articles we will explore technology and its use by people with disabilities to highlight not only the empowering aspects it provides, but the problematic ones as well.
Greg Pyc is the National Operations Manager of the Neil Squire Society. He was disabled in a motor vehicle accident over 30 years ago and is a paraplegic, requiring the use of a wheelchair.