The third Thursday in May every year marks the celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. This day was founded in 2009, focusing on digital access and inclusion, by raising awareness about access to technology for people with impairments and disabilities. On the eleventh anniversary of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I spoke to Tina Lowe, the Accessibility Officer at University College Dublin about the impact technology has had on her life after losing her sight.
She shares her story by saying, “I’ve been blind since April 1993, so that’s 27 years now and I lost my sight due to viral meningitis.” She then talks about her first encounter with the technology that supports her through her blindness. “In 1994 I would’ve started to learn how to use a computer and to discover how to type again by using a screen reader.”
Since this first experience, technology has greatly impacted Tina’s life as she uses different and essential types of technology to get her through her day-to-day life. “So, I use my Apple iPhone with Siri and I use a computer with a JAWS screen reader software. It’s a software that has a standard keyboard that speaks aloud when I type. I also have a talking watch, talking alarm clock and an Alexa that I use everyday.” One piece of technology that Tina spoke about was her Talking Colour Detector which is “a machine that scans an article of clothing and reads out the colour of it for when I am getting dressed for the day.” The scanner lets Tina know what shade the clothes are so she can dress accordingly. Tina’s Talking Colour Detector is one of the many clever pieces of technology that have aided her and other people with disabilities and impairments on a daily basis.
Looking at disabilities globally
This type of technology helps more than just Tina. It assists 15% of the world’s population, which means it helps one billion people who are impaired or disabled every day. Tina explains that, “Global Accessibility Awareness Day tries to make people aware of the fact that those with disabilities need to be accommodated with proper online guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG2.1) and allows everybody to be able to access the information with screen readers. She elaborates, “So for example, it’s like when you put a video into a website, or a photo or an image, you have to tag it or put a heading or caption for blind people. It’s basically designing information in a way that makes everybody able to access it.”
Tina also comments on the improvement that technology has had in the past few years. One of the biggest changes Tina has noticed is that “the voices used have become less robotic or synthetic so you can have nearly as good as a human voice other than a robot.” In a sense, this shows a more human-centred approach to technology which is usually regarded as impersonal and cold in its very nature.
Another positive of the new developments in technology is that “the technology itself has come down in price, it would have been really expensive to purchase any equipment and now there’s some screen reader software which is free, like NVDA. So it’s much more available and far less pricey.” Tina confirms, “Everybody can use it, so I think there have been a lot of big improvements.”
Support with daily life
Having technology has made it possible for many people to carry on with daily life as easily as possible. “I am now able to read the newspaper, I can listen to books, send text messages, use social media, use the internet and use my Word processor” Tina remarks. “Thanks to advancements in technology a lot more people can work, be educated and access material that would have been hard to access before. I think the other thing that has been useful is that this technology is becoming more mainstream. A lot of people use Audible books and digital podcasts so because of its popularity, there have been so many more developments with the technology.”
This Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we look to make technology as accessible as possible for people with impairments and disabilities, with the goal to educate people about the impact that technology has had on their lives. As we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we must understand that “Technology is hugely important because it means that disabled and impaired people can work and carry out daily tasks. It’s very important that people keep on creating usable technology because by having technology accessible, it provides more opportunities and improves their quality of life.