Acknowledging someone’s disability in the Right Way
(Technology doesn’t yet tell blind people if you’re offering a handshake)
Technology Is Amazing But It Does Not Erase Disability. This may seem a strange thing to say because I’m not trying to say that technology isn’t important.
Technology has had a massive impact on improving the lives of disabled people all over the world, including myself. In fact, there are people with some disabilities, even people I know personally, who probably wouldn’t be alive without technology. Yet, technology doesn’t even the gap. We are still very much reliant on the help of our fellow human beings. I don’t think this is so much of a bad thing, as the more we humans interact with each other and understand each other, the better it is for us all. However, it concerns me somewhat when people are totally oblivious to the meaning of someone having a disability. There are so many people that either assume that because you’re disabled you can’t do anything and then there are other people who are totally oblivious to the fact that they themselves have to do things differently to involve disabled people.
Technology has certainly played a great part in enabling disabled people to do more for themselves. In fact, it even helps to keep some alive. For example, I actually know people who cannot physically eat and rely on being tube fed. Without such technology, something as every day as food, would be a great deal more difficult and perhaps not even possible. Now, with modern technology, they can just set themselves up and can even have their machines feed them on the go.
Technology has given people with so many different disabilities, the opportunity to access the internet, which for the most part has taken a positive step towards putting people on a more even playing field. In fact, if it wasn’t for technology, you would not be reading this now.
However, what concerns me, is that in an age where we’ve achieved so much, peoples’ attitudes towards disabled people are still very far from what they should be. There are people who are afraid to even interact with disabled people. I was actually told that one of the benefits of having a guide dog is that more people will interact with someone with a guide dog. Apparently, people like to make eye contact when talking, so having the dog allows them to make eye contact with the dog.
Then there’s the people who either don’t understand or don’t care about the implications of disability. It makes me sad to say, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. But anyway, my point being, there are people who very literally just don’t get the implications of disability. To illustrate what I’m talking about let me give you some examples from my own experience:
Where in the World?
We went to a computer shop to buy a new laptop last year because our old one had stopped working. As I was to be using the laptop quite a bit, I was actively involved in making sure it had what I needed for me to best do the things I need on it. We were having our programs installed by the shop and I requested Internet Explorer, as it is the web browser I use, as I pretty much know it inside out in terms of short cut keys. The salesperson informed me that Internet Explorer was no longer available but had been replaced by a new program called Microsoft Edge. He tried to assure me that I would love it, as the graphics were amazing and I could even try it out on one of their computers. This was highly ironic for two reasons. Firstly, I am blind, the graphics can be the best in the world or the worst in the world and it would make no difference to me. Secondly, I need a speech program to access the computer, so no I couldn’t try it out on their computer in store.
Microsoft Edge was dreadful for me. It was fiddly and wouldn’t let me use any of the shortcut keys I knew. I couldn’t figure out how to use it, which left me unable to access the internet. I asked someone else to look at the laptop to see if there was any possible way of downloading Internet Explorer. It turned out that it was not only possible to download Internet Explorer, but it was already installed on the laptop. It’s irritating that someone in the country’s leading computer shop couldn’t listen to what I needed when I had made it clear I needed Internet Explorer for accessibility reasons, something that was overlooked.
Seeing the light
Recently, I attended an event for blind people where they had a visiting speaker come to give a talk. The speaker was from the local authority and was speaking to an audience made up of blind and visually impaired people, which due to the nature of the event she should have been aware that she was talking to a visually impaired audience. Despite this, she gave her talk as though she was talking to a sighted audience, to the extent that parts of her talk were totally irrelevant. She upon multiple occasions remarked about how unfortunate it was that she couldn’t get the projector to work, as she had some “little pictures” to explain what she was saying. Not only were a good percentage of the people in the room blind, but the lighting in the room was very bad, to the extent that many of the visually impaired people had complained about it on previous occasions the event had been held. Additionally, she gave advice that was in no way applicable to blind and visually impaired people. And to ice the cake, she handed out information booklets in standard print, which she expected everyone to go away and write and draw in, not acknowledging that for the majority of people present, that wouldn’t actually be possible.
Get to the Point!
What I’m trying to say is that yes, disabled people have access to a lot of things now thanks to technology, but people still need to acknowledge the implications of our disabilities. They need to take time to understand things. Though, having just said that, in both the examples above, a bit of common sense would have solved half the problems. There certainly needs to be more done to raise awareness of how easy it can be to accomodate for the needs of disabled people.
Please comment and tell me about your experiences.
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