Computer Technology: Giving Everyone the Right to Access

Everyone has rights but from the way things are done, it seems others have more rights than others. Technology has not full embraced the needs of persons with disability. They also need to use technology but they cannot because very few gadgets in the market are made with them in mind.

The typical federal disability rights case involves a disabled worker in a dispute over reasonable accommodations or a disabled patron claiming that there is a physical barrier to access to a public accommodation or government facility. While those types of matters are an important part of carrying out the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other disability rights laws, access to digital technology is emerging as a new frontier in the enforcement of civil rights for persons with disabilities. In these cases, the analysis turns not on accommodations or architectural guidelines, but whether the person with a disability has equal access to a program or activity which, in the digital world, often centers on the need for effective communication.[1]

Unlike print, which can only be accessed visually, or sound, which can only be accessed aurally, digital information is simply electronic code that can be rendered audibly, visually, or tactilely. We listen to digital music and we read digital text on the Internet, and both are composed of digital code. The information on a compact disc could with equal ease be represented as notes on a page or the Internet text as audible words. For those who can neither hear nor see, digital textual information can even be presented as braille on a device called a refreshable braille display. Electronic tactile graphs cannot be too far away.

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There are two types of assistive technologies that are required to ensure that persons with visual impairment and the blind to be able to use computers effectively. This will see them interact and work just like everyone else in the virtual community.

After braille, no invention has enabled blind and visually impaired people to communicate as effectively as the assistive technologies that make computers and the Internet accessible. Digital technology has also given blind people ever-expanding opportunities for personal and professional growth.

To make such a highly visual environment accessible to those unable to see a computer monitor, assistive technology must do two things:

Enable users to read all onscreen content, whether emails, spreadsheet columns, application tool bars, or photo captions

Provide a means to navigate one’s keyboard and desktop, open and use programs, and browse the web.
The two technologies that make this possible are screen access- and magnification software programs.

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People who are deaf find it much easier to use computers as compared to those who are blind. But this does not mean that they too do not have issue with computer technology that should be checked.

The use of computers for deaf people is much easier than it is for blind people. Much less accommodations are needed, and every day tasks are mostly available without any assistive technologies. Certain problems, however, do exist, which should be taken into consideration.

In many instances, computers can be used to perform any tasks without having to listen to any sounds, such as sending e-mail messages, editing documents, browsing the internet, or solving math problems. In certain instances, however, the computer responds to actions with sounds, or sounds are used to alert us to certain events. An example is an error message when we hear an annoying sound, or another sound when a new e-mail message arrives. These are sounds that we encounter on a daily basis, and an alternative is needed for deaf people to inform them about the computers message.

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Is there a way that computer technology companies can be encouraged to come up with more accessibility products? It is understood that they want to make profit and maybe they should view accessibility as one of the ways to earn more.


Accessibility as a Business Opportunity

The financial incentive can be a powerful one, and companies are getting involved in many ways. James Thurston, director of International Accessibility Policy at Microsoft, described an effort by researchers in China to use his company’s Kinect technology to create a sign language translator. The Kinect system, originally developed for use with the Xbox gaming system, uses sensors to read the position of a person’s body and motion. For use as a translator, the system captures the signs a person makes and a computer program translates them into Chinese or English, both written and spoken. The translator also works in the opposite direction, translating spoken words into sign language.

Companies are not developing technologies for persons with disabilities simply out of a desire to help. Clearly there are social responsibility reasons for providing such technologies, Thurston said, but “Microsoft looks at it as a business opportunity” as well. About 15 percent of the world — approximately the population of China — is dealing with some form of disability.

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