Wrapping up my email interview series with IndependenceFirst, the last questions delve into assistive technologies – what IndependenceFirst have to offer as well as experiences that disabled users have using them. We also cover a little bit about their social media presence.
Q: Do you provide usage, renting, etcetera of computer assistive technologies such as screen readers or refreshable Braille?
A: We have open lab times where people who require assistive devices have internet access with our devices in our labs or just develop proficiencies with a computer and the internet, we have a Try-A-Gadget Lab which allows people to investigate Assistive Technology (AT) options for work or home use e.g. environmental controls, telecommunications, voice communications and more…as well as low tech options e.g. adaptive gardening devices, adaptive feeding equipment, memory/communications boards, etc. before they would purchase an item for their own use.
We lend equipment to some people to try in their work or home environments for up to a week if they want to do that as well. We are the only Microsoft Accessibility Resource Center in WI and we have expertise with their products and built in features. We do have adaptive computer inputs, screen readers, voice activated controls and many devices–over 700 in there! We will lend hardware, but not software or computers themselves.
Q: Can you share some of the experiences — both positive and negative — that people using such technologies routinely encounter?
Positive experiences: A man who is quadriplegic received a computer through our Computer Recycling Program, says it’s now his lifeline to go to school online, find info about his disability, coordinate his transportation and trips out to local businesses, keep in touch with friends. That story was featured on Fox 6 News.
A lot of people with disabilities who have received computers through our program have felt like it has opened doors to them that they didn’t feel were possible due to their financial limitations. Positives are also just the doors that AT can open. Technology can be the means of achieving mobility, communication, employment, etc for people who have barriers.
We often hear people saying “I never knew that there was a way that I could do that.” Sometimes the experience is so emotional they cry. It always touches us when that happens, because to us it means that the door opened by technology really means a lot.
Negative experiences: Our Deaf staff and consumers cannot watch videos online nearly 100% of the time. No captioning. No text version of the audio on the videos. Not good. Negative experiences people may encounter include incompatibility issues because computer operating systems evolve before software and hardware adaptations do. Another issue is lack of local resources. AT is a relatively small market, so it is not always possible to comparison shop close to home. One of the biggest issues for technology users is lack of unbiased information. There is a lot of slick marketing out there, and people are often convinced that they need a particular product when something else might be a better fit. There is also a misconception that people who sell products for people with disabilities are all nice people who have their customer’s best interest at heart. Vendors are business people who are trying to make a profit. Some are good, some are pushy, some lie. Good consumer skills are essential when buying AT, but people often assume the vendor is trustworthy because he is helping people with disabilities.
Q: You have been active for some time on Twitter via @Independence1st, and now have almost 700 followers (edit: now past 700!). How has this experience been for you?
A: Twitter is a great way for us to create conversation around access and disability topics, cultivate relationships with potential and current consumers, donors and volunteers; as well as open people’s minds to inclusion around topics of independent living, housing, employment, aging in place and access among other issues. It’s another advocacy, marketing and customer service tool.
It also helps people to get their questions answered in real time and generate a wider network of contacts around the issues (around the world!) and build our brand. If there’s a hot topic, the viral nature of Twitter can really help to raise awareness for us and the issues which ultimately can change the world in a positive way for people with disabilities.
Special thanks, again, to Carol Voss of IndependenceFirst for all of her wonderful answers. I hope those of you reading this have gained as much insight about all the wonderful things that IndependenceFirst do as I have.
More about IndependenceFirst: