Disabled Groups Battle Tech Discrimination

By: Lisa Arrowsmith
1/06/2009 1:00 AM |

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.

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 20s.

Since Air Canada modernized its in-flight entertainment system, which now uses touch screens, the retired Ontario government employee finds himself with nothing to do but sleep on long flights.

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 can’t access the information.

“I consider it discrimination,” Rae said.

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.

People with physical-mobility problems, who may have spasms or can’t use their hands, can’t use many services on hand-held devices, said Harry Lew, the society’s manager of research and development.

“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 solutions.”

“That’s the classic case where people with disabilities are lagging behind.”

Reproduced from http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/disabled-groups-battle-tech-discrimination-46614197.html