Enabling technology, assistive technology – making the world accessible
Enabling technology might be a new term but it’s not a new concept. Braille is an enabling technology that has it made it possible for people who are blind or visually-impaired to read long before we had iPhones or audiobooks. Before I go further, let me clear up some potential semantic confusion. I like the term “enabling tech” while others prefer “assistive tech.” Both expressions refer to apps, devices, and other technological solutions which make it easier for someone who is blind or visually-impaired to interact with their world.
The list of enabling technologies is virtually endless, which is both good and bad. You can purchase devices which will identify colors or paper currency. Other devices help with navigation, primarily outdoors but with evolving opportunities where GPS is inaccessible. Other devices are available which magnify printed material. There are watches, alarm clocks, devices which help with sorting clothing, and check-writing overlays. It would take up far too much space and probably not be particularly helpful to attempt an exhaustive list but please note the following. Each of these solutions has a price tag and may require the acquisition of new skills.
Happily, many standalone devices are being replicated as smartphone apps. There is still a cost but the physical burden is being reduced and it’s far easier to get upgraded technology. Apple has been the long-term leader in accessibility but Android is making inroads as it’s a much easier platform for developers to access.
Here are some online resources for enabling technology. I only have superficial knowledge of them and would welcome feedback and additions to the list, which I’ll keep updated:
- American Printing House for the Blind
- Freedom Scientific
- Lighthouse International
You can spend a lot of money while experiencing unlimited frustration if you shop online. A solution that works for one person might be useless for another. This variability may be attributable to tech-savviness (or tech-naiveté) but it can also be driven by different levels and types of vision impairment. In many cases, your local association for the blind will have a small consumer store or may have arrangements with the online stores that allow you to test before you buy. Of course, they will also have a better understanding of your impairment and which solutions might work best.
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