Last weekend was the annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA conference. It has always been one of my dreams to attend one of these conferences and be surrounded by tons of "geek toys" and things. So far that hasn't happened, but I'll keep dreaming. This year, as always, many new things were announced. One announcement though really stands out to me as an incredible breakthrough in technology. The press release came out on January 31st, announcing the formation of a new not-for-profit organization.
I'd like to do what I tend to do best for a moment, and give you something to consider. Think about your average day. How much time do you spend on the computer? Do you use your own computer, one at work or school, or even a public terminal at a library or Internet cafe? Regardless of where you use the computer, I'm going to assume that the majority of you are very dependent on your mouse to navigate. So, what happens when your mouse stops working? It's happened. So what are you going to do? Now, on this day in question, (it's a really terrible day), not only does your mouse stop working, but your monitor starts doing really strange things. Those pretty little colorful icons that you're so used to clicking on disappear, and you're left with a very blurry completely unreadable screen. So now what? And no, giving up on the computer and/or buying a new one is NOT an acceptable option. Welcome to my world. If you can imagine not having your mouse, and your monitor being so blurry that you can make nothing out other than random colors, you're able to imagine how the computer is for me. Up to this point, this has made the use of computers more limited to those of us who are blind -- not because the technology hasn't been there because it most definitely has -- but because that technology is, in many cases, priced so far out of range that many can't afford it. For those that do have the technology, they're limited to very few machines because the technology is a software program installed on each computer. We've never really known the freedom of walking into a library or Internet cafe with our friends, sitting down at a computer, and going online -- until now.
The AIR Foundation was created to start bridging that gap when it comes to accessibility by saying that, "Accessibility is a Right". Using the program System Access to Go, created by Serotek, AIR has begun to offer for free, the ability to make most Windows-based PCs accessible. (Note: clicking on the System Access to Go link will cause your computer to start loading a demo of this software.) There are some exceptions to this, (firewalls, no sound card or speakers on a public terminal, things like that), but overall the concept of this, and the realm of possibilities that it opens are incredible!
My goal, and what I do on a regular basis, is to see that those who want it can have the knowledge and skills to use computers, and to get the most out of their assistive technology. Whether it be one of the two "leading" manufacturers, Freedom Scientific or GW Micro, or a brand new organization like AIR, I want others to be able to enjoy the fun, (and frustration), of using a computer. Any tool that makes it easier for me to achieve this goal is one worth utilizing. I, for one, look forward to the future, and the new innovations that it will bring.