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Regarding An Alternative Perspective from CSUN

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Written by: Bryan Garaventa

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Did you attend CSUN this year? If not, we can bring a little bit of CSUN to you! We asked our Levelers to share about some of the interesting sessions they attended. 

Every year, it’s a privilege to attend the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, and it’s a struggle to decide which sessions to attend because they all sound interesting. What I’ve discovered over the years though, is that the same people and topics often circulate repeatedly within the same industry, and that this can sometimes lead to an echo chamber effect where new ideas and concepts may be overlooked. So, this year, I decided to explore some new areas in the field of accessibility, which provided me with some unexpected insights.

Working in the field of digital accessibility, especially when dealing with enterprise development or policy making, we tend to deal primarily in hypotheticals where we attempt to anticipate issues that we think others with disabilities will encounter, and then we build solutions around these concepts backed up by internal testing and validation to address them. I discovered however, that there may be significant gaps between the theoretical aspects of accessibility development versus the actual needs and wants of real end users. As a result, it is all too easy for us to lose track of the motivations of those who require assistive technologies to survive, and equally, the fundamental reasons why we do what we do.

I attended two sessions that made this more clear to me, ‘What Blind High School Students Should Know Ahead of Higher Education’ by Stacy Kelly and Gaylen Kapperman and ‘Creating AT Savvy Rehabilitation Professionals’ by Caren Sax.

The session about high school students was interesting because it got me thinking about my own high school days, back when all I had was an old Braille N Speak to take notes with, and a brailler to do mathematics on, and before that, embossed paper with raised lines so I could hand write book reports from memory. Now, high school students face a different problem, being aware that advanced technologies are available to assist them, which ones would help, and how they can get them. These seem like no-brainers to me, but apparently, many students have no idea about the technologies available for lack of funding within school systems, and they are aware of no means to obtain them. There are some blind students who only have access to an iPad to perform all of their school work on because no other assistive technology is being provided by their school system, and this is occurring here in the Bay Area, at the heart of Silicon Valley.

The second session, about AT Savvy Rehabilitation Professionals, dealt with the physical aspects of assistive technologies. We often get bogged down by envisioning high tech solutions for everything, like custom-built screen readers, voice controlled technologies, talking devices like washers, dryers, and microwaves, and the assumption that all of these can only be made accessible through high tech interfaces and incidentally cost an arm and a leg because of this. Here however, low tech was addressed as often being just as good in various situations, if not better in many cases, and how these solutions change the way that people think and live with their disabilities.

Though it was likely lost on many who attended, the Instant Pot session that Terri and I presented on during the conference was meant to highlight this alternative aspect of accessibility as well. Though it was fun to cook Portuguese Beer Chicken and talk about what the pot does for blind users, it also underscores an important concept. It is possible to condense the accessibility of complex household devices into simple applications that can be run wirelessly over Bluetooth, providing full functionality through supporting devices with a screen reader like an iPhone. This concept doesn’t just work for something like the Instant Pot, but also for all other electronic devices that require a user interface, such as microwaves, ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, thermostats, and much else. If wireless protocols are enabled for such devices and simple easily accessible apps are provided for each, it would then be entirely possible for a non-sighted screen reader user to control all critical devices in their household using only their iPhone.

The field of accessibility is constantly evolving, and as new technologies become available, it’s always important to keep a lookout to see how various technologies can be combined in simple ways in order to solve complex problems.

To view Level Access slide decks, please visit this page to Download 2018 CSUN Presentations.

Bryan Garaventa is an Accessibility Fellow at Level Access. Stay tuned for more reports from CSUN 2018 from the Level Access team!

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