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AFB JOURNAL OVISUAL
IMPAIRMENT& BLINDNESS
  
Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss  
 

October-November 2012 • Volume 106 Number 10

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Guest Editor's Page

Print edition page number(s) 579-580

We extend our appreciation to the JVIB team for their encouragement and support with our involvement in this issue and, especially, thank Dr. Duane Geruschat, past editor in chief of JVIB, for his enthusiastic guidance.


Technology is revolutionizing the field of visual impairment and blindness, just as it is revolutionizing every other field of endeavor. This JVIB Special Issue on Technology is a rare opportunity to step back and reflect on how pervasively technology is changing education, employment, research, and society, and to look forward to what this means for the community of people dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with visual impairments.

George Kerscher, the visionary leader in e-book technology interviewed in the Speaker's Corner in this issue, notes that the time when technology training was optional has passed. Young or old, low vision or blind, with additional disabilities or not, everyone in our modern society needs to use technology daily and effectively to access information. Dr. Kerscher makes a strong case that we cannot afford to neglect technology in education and rehabilitation for people who are visually impaired.

Dr. Kerscher's personal example of getting in front of technology change is a signal one. Instead of waiting for the e-book revolution to happen and then spending a decade catching up, as has been traditional in the accessible technology field, he jumped into the fray and wrestled the standard format for Talking Books for people who are blind or print disabled into one that is now the primary commercial e-book standard. In a time where Amazon.com, a Seattle-based multinational electronic commerce company, sells more e-books than print books, thanks to leaders like Dr. Kerscher and the field's advocacy groups, we are getting close to a day when standard e-books work as well for blind people as they do for sighted people. With braille notetakers able to store thousands of e-books in accessible form, blind people have never had access to as many braille books as they do today.

Innovation and reform initiatives demand that we change and transform practices and services using technology. This shift will have profound implications for students and adults with visual impairments. In the United States, we are about to abandon the traditional textbook with the advance of e-book technology coinciding with the advent of Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts. Where and when students learn will change, and teachers will need to work with the technology the student has in his or her pocket. We are on the brink of a revolution in special education research: New technology will make it possible to collect data on tens of thousands of students in a cost-effective way. We will be able to conduct research about what really works for people with visual impairments at an unprecedented scale, which might change what we know and do about the best ways to teach and support.

For a year, we have considered the key ideas for the field in the area of technology. They vary and change, but certain broad themes seem constant, such as human rights, autonomy, affordability, literacy, accessibility, equality, and sustainability. These themes emerge from complex issues that intertwine in many ways to affect the independence and quality of life for people with visual impairments. Technology can greatly advance these important themes, but it can also create major barriers.

The World Wide Web, for example, is becoming the primary location for communication, education, and workplace efficiency, with access through electronic tools that are portable. However, this trend has dramatically impacted issues of accessibility for many people with disabilities, which affects autonomy, literacy, and communication at a human rights level. As a field, we need to ensure that these fundamental changes in society's use of technology lead to solutions for all people.

And although technology trends provide the opportunity for greater accessibility, they can also increase the challenge of affordability for technology solutions for people with visual impairments. This challenge is not simply the affordability of devices and software, but the affordability of the creation, production, and distribution of braille. However, there is no doubt that deep familiarity with relevant technology will play an ever-greater role in the vibrant future of braille and tactile graphics.

As we advance, the ethical principle of autonomy requires diligent attention. Do we make decisions, develop policy, and create ways to conduct this business of service to people with disabilities that promotes, retains, and values their autonomy in all aspects of daily life? Can we collect data with informed consent that provides us with aggregate learning, without violating the privacy of the people we are studying? Can we imagine a world where the job of technology is to adapt to the needs of all people?

This JVIB Special Issue on Technology sustains the momentum of the reflective conversation that is necessary to consider and implement effective solutions for people with visual impairments. Collectively, the articles, Practice Reports, Practice Perspectives, and the Speaker's Corner interview with Dr. Kerscher highlight and reveal what we need to do now for people and students with visual impairments. The authors discuss access, use, and getting to results--keeping technology central to their work. Many of the articles focus on braille, which reflects the ongoing struggles and unique challenges braille continues to bring to professionals in their daily work.

We perceive an emerging "call to action" from the authors of this special issue. They suggest the recent past is not acceptable and there is work to be done to change it. In order to consider a future that is different, we need to challenge long-standing assumptions in our field. As technology has become a keystone in modern society, and as technology changes dramatically over periods of less than five years, how can we update our systems of service delivery to become more agile? We will need to think differently to create systems that are designed to accommodate dramatic changes in technology, and avoid getting entrenched in solutions that quickly become ineffective.

We foresee a future in which content that is born digital is born accessible, ending the constant catch-up effort that dominates the day-to-day efforts of so many professionals in our field. Could these advances actually provide people with visual impairments a fully equal opportunity to pursue careers in all fields, especially technical fields where this community has been historically underrepresented?

We foresee a future in which the innovations in policy and regulations that affect accessibility in the developed world will benefit the global community of people with visual impairments. With the example of e-book advances for people with disabilities being adopted by the mainstream e-book producers, could our future solutions for math and science fields, copyright compliance, and braille ultimately impact access, literacy, and employment for all people in the world?

We foresee a future where the foundation of innovation is a shared vision, shared responsibility, and shared success with people who are visually impaired.

Jim Fruchterman, M.S.
Donna Mcnear, M.A., COMS, TVI
Guest Editors, JVIB Special Issue On
Technology


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