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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Groups for the disabled call for more technology innovations to make life easier

Good morning!  I'm Jeff N marquis at the business desk and on this very relaxing weekend, I have a very interesting article to share with you.  In this article, we will read about how various disabled groups are starting to have their voices heard when it comes to the fast moving world of technology.  They are speaking out about how technology is affecting their lives.  In short, they are calling for more technology to help them with challenges in their daily lives.
Please read the article below and send your considered comments to me at
Have a great weekend.
Groups for the disabled call for more technology innovations to make life
easier (Disabled
By Lisa Arrowsmith
EDMONTON _ Thirty years ago, groups for the disabled in Canada fought for
accessible sidewalks, washrooms and transportation.
Today their battleground is equal access to technologies such as cellphones,
hand-held devices, entertainment systems and even home appliances.
``The new technology can actually be either the great liberator for people
with disabilities ... or it can begin to create a whole new set of barriers
we haven't had to deal with before,'' said Laurie Beachell, national
co-ordinator for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.
John Rae, 60, of Toronto suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive
eye disease that caused him to lose much of his sight when he was in his

Since Air Canada modernized its in-flight entertainment system, which now
uses touch screens, the retired Ontario government employee finds himself
nothing to do but sleep on long flights.
``You used to be able to navigate the entertainment system in an airplane by
buttons on the side of your seat ... but with these flat screen
systems, I no longer can. My independence has been taken away from me,''
said Rae, who volunteers with the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.
On Rae's computer, the screen technology that reads documents aloud doesn't
recognize some formats that are commonly used when transmitting text, so he
simply can't access the information.
``I consider it discrimination,'' Rae said.
``Manufacturers of technology, manufacturers of household appliances
continue to develop and manufacture equipment and technology that we can't
Groups such as the non-profit Neil Squire Society, hope to change all that.
The society, which focuses on using technology to ``empower'' the disabled,
is pressing Canadian regulators to force companies to make products more
user-friendly for the disabled.
Last fall, hearings were held with the Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission where groups representing the disabled argued
for better
access to things such as cellphones.
``Basically (we) were trying to make the case that cellphone companies don't
do a really good job of ensuring that there are products for people with
that meet their needs,'' said Harry Lew, the society's manager of research
and development.
People with physical mobility problems, who may have spasms or can't use
their hands, can't use many services on hand-held devices, he said.
``So you can't access email if you're a person with a mobility impairment
right now. You can't surf the web on a handset because there just aren't any

``That's the classic case where people with disabilities are lagging
Jim Johannsson, a spokesman for Telus, said the company is making efforts to
help people with disabilities.
He said Telus, which participated in the CRTC hearings last November, has
enhanced its directory assistance capabilities by using more voice
technology. There is also a service that will convert emails from text into
audio for those with impaired vision.
Telus has an application before the CRTC for approval of a video relay
service for its deaf customers, so that one or both people on either end of
the connection
can use sign language.
But these systems require national standards and CRTC approval, Johannsson
said, to ensure the same level of service across the country.
``We know that with technology you can allow people with certain
disabilities to be incredibly productive and wherever possible we're making
those investments,''
he said.
The challenge is determining whether governments, companies or individuals
should have to pay for such services, Johannsson said.
Ontario is believed to be the only province to have passed legislation that
aims to improve access to goods and services for the disabled, including
and technology.
Each year in Canada it is estimated that people with disabilities spend
about $25 billion on goods and services.
Bill Adair, executive director of the Ontario branch of the Canadian
Paraplegic Association, said while technological innovations are important,
prejudice against the disabled is still at the heart of the issue.
``If you fix (information technology) and you still leave the whole concept
of prejudicial attitudes towards people with disabilities intact, you really
haven't done a whole lot.''


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