Recently I attended a “Vision Awareness Day” at my local Center for the Visually Impaired. There was a fantastic turnout and many amazing items were demonstrated for the attendees. There were screen readers, handheld video magnifiers, scanners that turned text to speech and closed circuit televisions (CCTVs). All things that would allow for people to live more independently, you won’t need someone to read your prescription bottle if you can enlarge it or even scan it and have a device read it to you. Things that would help not only with essentials, but also could increase general happiness, getting back into your printed book collection for instance.
But with each device came a barrier: price. These devices are all very expensive. The cheapest item (one which I coveted) was a handheld video magnifier, it fit in your pocket, looked cute and wasn’t bulky; but it was over $500. The nicer of the CCTVs was over $3,000 dollars. I work at a non-profit organization, I’m full time and I know that I could not afford many of these items. When I was a Vocational Rehabilitation client I had a little more access to the assistive technologies that were out there, but now I borrow from co-workers or see what accommodations my job can provide and I’m fine. What if that isn’t an option? What if you are in a position where you need this technology but don’t have the funds? Assistive technology is often not accessible and this is very frustrating. Places like public libraries often have (very old, very outdated) CCTVs, in Atlanta we’re lucky to have the GLASS (Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services) that has a number of options for people with disabilities, but alas, people in rural areas may have trouble accessing these libraries.
I have an iPhone and there are many fantastic apps that can help make the world more accessible for people with visual impairments. I have dragon dictation for doing speech to text, a currency reader that can tell you what denomination of bill you have and a great app I recently found called VizWiz where you take a picture of something and speak a question (i.e. what pattern is this shirt?) and a bank of volunteers stands by to look at the picture and send a spoken response back. The best part is that all of these apps were free. You just have to have an iPhone and be able to afford a data plan. These apps, coupled with the built in features (zoom, voiceover and contrast settings) make this phone, for me anyway, the perfect tool for making the world more accessible. I can take a picture and enlarge menus if they’re too small, I can have it read text messages and e-mails if (as happened a few weeks ago) my glasses were to break.
So, my question for you, dear readers: how do you afford assistive technology? Do you have resources in your community to help?