When we think of pioneers, it is natural to remember people from the past. Their accomplishments are documented in books, and retold in legends and stories. We have no trouble conjuring up images of Christopher Columbus discovering America, George Washington crossing the Delaware, or Orville and Wilbur Wright coaxing their flying machine off the ground.
The history of assistive technology is relatively short, and many of the pioneers are still among us. We take accessible computers and personal digital organizers for granted, but many of us clearly remember completing school and working at jobs without access to these powerful tools.
In this issue, AccessWorld brings you an interview with, and an article by, a pioneer of assistive technology as well as a profile of a key company in the field. We are also compiling a timeline of the history of assistive technology for publication in a future issue. The timeline will include dates when products were released; when companies were formed, merged, and went out of business; and when important laws went into effect.
Deborah Kendrick interviews Harvey Lauer, one of the pioneers in the assistive technology field. Lauer's name may not be as familiar to users of assistive technology as are names such as Raymond Kurzweil, Deane Blazie, or Jim Fruchterman, and Lauer did not develop a product that is used on a daily basis. However, in his 36 years with the Veterans Administration center for blinded veterans in Hines, Illinois, he evaluated reading machines, provided feedback on a wide range of products being developed, and was committed to sharing knowledge and experience with other people who were blind. Without Lauer and a small number of other committed people in the early days of assistive technology, we would not have made the progress that we have made, and we would not know how far we still have to go.
Harvey Lauer presents his provocative view of the history of reading machines for people who are blind. He draws on his experience as a tester and a user to describe the products under development in the late 1970s that came on the market around 1980. He states that all of these products, as well as the products on the market today, are less than ideal as tools for reading. He outlines his idea of the ultimate reading machine–one that would combine auditory and tactile feedback to provide access to a wider range of printed materials.
Deborah Kendrick profiles Kurzweil Educational Systems, the present incarnation of the company that has sold Kurzweil reading machines and software for the past 25 years. She documents the company's journey from Kurzweil Computer Products through ownership by first Xerox and then Lernout and Hauspie and then back to independence as Kurzweil Educational Systems.
Bryan Gerritsen, a low vision therapist practicing in Utah, writes about lights for night travel for people who are visually impaired. He describes high-powered rechargeable flashlights, headlamps, and the Wide Angle Mobility Light. He discusses the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of products, and selects one product in each category as his choice for the consumers he works with. Find out which product is best for you.
Janina Sajka, Director, Technology Research and Development, American Foundation for the Blind, provides an overview of using Linux. She outlines the history and development of the Linux operating system and details where Linux is already being used. This article will provide the basics of Linux, and give you an idea of the passion its users feel for their operating system. The commitment of users is clear. However, technical support is a concern that must be addressed before Linux really catches on. Other concerns are the availability of a wide range of applications equaling those available for Windows, as well as fully functional screen readers and screen magnifiers.
Lainey Feingold, a Berkeley, California disability rights lawyer who has represented organizations and individual members of the blindness community in efforts to obtain Talking Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), presents Part 2 of her overview of Talking ATMs. She discusses advocacy efforts, the need to promote the presence of the machines, legal authority for installing Talking ATMs and briefly describes international efforts. She stresses the importance of advocacy by reminding us that advocates were meeting with industry representatives and serving on regulatory committees pressing the issue of accessible ATMs for years before the first machines were installed.
Jay Leventhal, Editor in Chief
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