Smart technology; bespoke or in the mainstream?

It was sight village time again yesterday and the annual series of VI technology and service exhibitions landed in Manchester. I was there for work but I had the chance to have a brief look around and well it was certainly busy with both visitors and exhibitors. The range of technology on show was fairly impressive; differing between stalls in some cases but there were similarities between others. The field of assistive technology, you would think, was booming by the look of things at the exhibition, but there is a very interesting debate to be had here; one that was actually started on this group.

Before diving straight in, this isn't meant to be a review of Sight Village Manchester as an event. For what its worth, I really enjoyed the day and the organisation and co-ordination of proceedings was first class – the guys at Queen Alexander college and their local contacts deserve a lot of credit for what they did.

No the debate is whether Assistive Technology, in terms of specifically designed products, for visually impaired people has had its day. With the emergence of mobile and smart technology, there are many devices, considered as mainstream, that provide accessible options to do what these specifically designed products do. To avoid real contention and possible litigation, I won’t mention product names. An example here could be the video magnifier versus magnification facilities and apps on a tablet or smartphone. Traditional video magnifiers, either portable or desktop, are prducts that magnify text and provide a range of contrast settings that enhance images and make things readable for many. The cost of such devices range widely from £100 for the cheapest portable versions to over £3,000 for the delux desktop models. The key thing that most of these have is that they are useable and have easy to see and manage controls. The prices, however, do put many off as they are specifically designed for a small consumer market, the prices will be levelled quite high.

On the other hand, we have the magnifier options on android and IOS devices. Applications on the android platform can be downloaded and used for a fraction of the cost. On IOS (such as iphone) a magnifier has been built into the accessibility settings so that the camera can be used above any given text to relay the image onto the devices screen, where magnification and contrast filters can be applied to make it readable. Great for a fraction of the cost, but the useability issue is there – does it give those who consider themselves to be less tech savy the chance to really access print in a less than usable environment?

Similar comparisons can be made between the scanning options on the IPhone against a stand alone, specifically designed reading machine. Additionally, what about the considerable cost of an accessible radio against the use of amazon echo dot to find any radio station on the sound of your voice command. There is so much to go at here; certainly a lot to keep the discussion flowing.

What are your thoughts?

There are useable ways of accessing mainstream tablet and smartphone technology. With the right level of practice, support and encouragement, many people would be able to access some form of smart technology. It will take a bit of a shift in attitudes, but the means are getting ever nearer to making it a highly useable option. As for the bespoke technologies, this is an area that is bound to keep re-inventing itself; although there may be cause to think that some organisations will struggle to carry on funding the production of such valuable devices.


Click on the image to view the larger version.