Some friends of mine, Gary and Dan, who work at Microsoft in their accessibility organization are videoblogging and tweeting their way from Seattle to San Diego this past week on their road trip to the 27th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference aka CSUN (for Cal State Uni Northridge, where the conference originated).
One of the things I have come to appreciate as I have been exposed to it over the years is accessible technology. What is accessible technology? Basically anything that allows people with disabilities or functional limitations to participate fully in society - limited by only their own desires rather than as lack of access to all that life has to offer.
The earliest accessible technologies were things like braille and guide dogs for the blind. These are still of immense importance in the world of accessibility, but the meteoric rise in the capability of personal computers and the internet has created both a fantastic opportunity to connect people and a great challenge to make it accessible to everyone.
How accessibility technology advances in the connected world is a complex interweaving of hardware companies, software companies, advocacy organizations, charitable foundations, government policy making and the sheer determination of individuals coming up with solutions to problems they deal with every day.
Dan and Gary have an itinerary that has them dropping in on many companies and agancies on their way down the west coast. Fortunately, the west coast is ripe with opportunities to find out more about accessible technologies.
From a senior center to Boundless Technology and ViewPlus Technologies to rural communities and guide dogs for the blind, the video snippets do a great job of highlighting the need for assistive technologies and how those needs are being met.
My favorite though is when Dan and Gary visit Yahoo! which highlights how technology companies can collaborate to provide the best possible experience for the end user. Alan Brightman, Yahoo's Chief of Accessibility is a great interview. Biggest takeway -building in accessiblity from the start costs about 2% of the cost of a project. Adding it later the cost is 100% - i.e. you have to spend all that money all over again. The same general principle holds for all kinds of desing - airplanes included. It's best just to get the requirements right at the beginning...