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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 May 2010 Issue  Volume 11  Number 2

Editor's Page

Announcing AccessWorld's New Editor and Random Observations

I am very pleased to announce we have selected Lee Huffman to serve as AccessWorld editor. Regular readers of this publication are quite familiar with Lee's work in reviewing technology products, especially those designed for people with low vision. Recently, he also produced articles explaining AFB's efforts to improve the usability of visual displays on small devices such as PDAs, cell phones, and personal medical monitoring equipment, such as glucose meters.

Lee has worked at AFB for five years, so he brings a breadth of experience as an author and evaluator to this new position. He also brings a strong passion for accessibility and the interests of people with vision loss, including those with some usable vision. I sometimes believe that this latter group (which makes up the majority of people with vision loss) is too often neglected in accessible design efforts.

Lee has been assisting me for several months now in producing AccessWorld. During that time, I have seen his commitment to delivering a high-quality product and getting it done on time. I can personally vouch for his no-nonsense attitude in "persuading" authors to produce their articles on time.

Please drop Lee a note to let him know your views about AccessWorld. We welcome, and need, your input to expand upon the success of the publication.

Turning to a couple of other thoughts before I surrender this page to Lee, I was pleased to have the opportunity to return to the big technology conference hosted by California State University-Northridge (CSUN) in March. It had been 10 years since I'd been at CSUN. One big change this year was the location--San Diego--as the conference finally outgrew the previous location in Los Angeles. Of course, there were lots of other changes since I'd last attended.

There were numerous sessions on social networking technologies, such as Twitter and Facebook, and many blind and visually impaired people were showing off their iPhones and eagerly awaiting the iPad. Obviously, the era of highly personal technology is underway. As a leading innovator in this space, Apple's commitment to access for people with vision loss bodes well, but what about the prospects for accessibility of mobile applications (apps), the defining force in this era of personal, mobile technology? These apps are relatively easy to produce and mostly cheap to buy, so they are growing at an astonishing rate. We will all need to work overtime to promote and determine app accessibility, and that includes AccessWorld.

Of course, in the 10 years since I'd last attended CSUN, some things, regrettably, had not changed that much. Braille displays are still far too expensive, and as yet, the much-hoped-for technological breakthrough that would lead to low-cost, high-quality braille displays hasn't happened. It wasn't hard to find people with vision loss expressing frustrations with electronic document file formats, especially Adobe's PDF (discussed in the many sessions hosted by Adobe).

I was pleased to see many representatives of mainstream technology companies at CSUN, but another regrettable trend that hasn't changed much during the last several years is the many excuses commercial industry representatives give to explain the lack of progress on accessibility. You've likely heard them, too: "We're not sure that our technology has the (fill in the blank) battery life, memory, power to support text-to-speech and other accessibility strategies."

Worse yet, I also heard several times comments to the effect that consumers with vision loss have conflicting access needs, making it too difficult for industry to incorporate accessibility features to meet those disparate needs. Really? At a time when commercials tout multitasking phones, three-dimensional TV, and mobile devices that enable Internet connectivity from just about everywhere, it is quite amazing how the relatively mundane task of delivering accessible controls, text-to-speech, and screen magnification suddenly makes these talented technology companies go weak in the knees. I've pretty much run out of patience with technology developers who ask some variant of the question: "So, what features do blind people actually want to use in our products?" It shouldn't be a mystery. Generally speaking, the answer is, "All of the features." However, the path and milestones on the way to full access are worth consideration.

I've written before in this space about the incremental and partial access afforded by assistive technology. These "solutions" are often beneficial as they allow people with vision loss to be productive and to pursue personal pastimes. I'm old enough to realize that incremental change is a seemingly immutable fact of life, but I'm also old enough to be running out of patience.

I am fortunate to work for an organization that actively pursues accessibility solutions. Through AccessWorld, we'll do our best to keep you informed about technology access issues, accomplishments, set-backs, and the like, and we'll also keep doing our part to promote both policies and practices that help improve technology access opportunities for people with vision loss. I hope you will keep letting us know what's on your mind. And please join me in warmly welcoming Lee Huffman as he takes over the editor's position.

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Copyright © 2010 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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