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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2009 Issue  Volume 10  Number 5

Editor's Page

For ten years, AccessWorld has carried on a proud tradition of extensive product evaluations, comprehensive reporting on new technologies, user-friendly explanations of services, along with tips and techniques on how to do many different activities. I consider myself fortunate in serving as its first Editor in Chief and in handing the reins over to a valued colleague and technology expert, Jay Leventhal, who ably took the publication to new heights over the last nine years. Jay elevated the quality of our reporting and coverage and made all of us better for his guidance. He will be missed. I salute his service to this magazine and to AFB.

Jay and I built on a tradition of excellence begun by Deborah Kendrick, the founder and Editor of the technology magazine, Tactic. I am pleased that Deborah continues to share her insights through AccessWorld.

Those of you who read AccessWorld Extra, our bimonthly electronic newsletter distributed in the months between the posting of the full publication, are aware that we are gathering your input about the news and information you most value from this technology news source. We have posted a questionnaire on our web site so that you can help us shape AccessWorld to best meet your needs and desires. We are especially interested in your ideas about how to balance the importance of comprehensive and detailed analysis with your need for immediate information. We know you want breaking news, but we also know you have come to expect the insightful analysis gained from expert testing of a technological product or service to tell you what works and what doesn't. This painstaking process takes time, but we hope you find the results of our evaluations to be worthwhile.

I've been thinking a lot about the balance of breaking news and painstaking reviews as we've tried to keep up with the technology innovations launched recently by Apple. Darren Burton has been our "go-to" guy on the iPod and the iPhone. In fact, we've added his analysis of the latest iPhone software release to the ever-lengthening article he was working on in this issue.

Obviously, much has changed in the information technology world in the ten years since AccessWorld was launched. But the innovations from Apple are of seismic proportions.

Apple has been the darling of the technology world for years, but only recently has it risen from the scourge of people with vision loss. And, wow, it has risen like a rocket!

In the past few years, Apple has revolutionized our thinking about technology accessibility. People with vision loss have relied on increasingly robust assistive technology developers to build work-arounds and add-ons to allow us to use new hardware and software, albeit with added cost to the consumer. With the launch of Voiceover and Zoom for the Mac OS, followed by the inclusion of Voiceover in the iPod and iPhone, Apple has charted another course.

Let's call this the Apple model: robust access built in and improved in conjunction with the regular product release cycle. It marks the end of what some call the "blindness tax" for access, and a potential boon for many in the developing world as well who cannot afford the cost of assistive technology. However, there are consequences, illustrated by the recent access problems resulting from changes made by Apple to the iTunes store. This model also means a shift away from the highly specialized AT model which provides dependable products from developers who work closely with our community and often share our disability.

Is this ultimately what we want? Do we expect Microsoft, RIM (of Blackberry fame), Nokia, etc. to add full accessibility into their products? Apple's foray into built-in accessibility has been greeted with enthusiasm, although not uncritical. I remember the consternation surrounding the short-lived rumor in the 1990s that Microsoft might purchase or license the screenreader JAWS, and the concern raised about the functionality it would put into a Windows voicing app called Narrator.

Should we expect mainstream companies to adopt the Apple model and build robust accessibility into their products? I invite you to join in on this discussion.

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Copyright © 2009 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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