In the past year or so I have been gathering and using a number of devices designed to add access to computing resources for those with disabilities. I am posting this as a rant because frankly after using a number of these devices I find them lacking the ease of use components that would make them far more effective.
First off none of these devices are easy to set-up (other than the ones built into the Macintosh OS or Windows). I have the Tobii eye scanner – it works very nicely and allows those without control of their hands/arms to still use a computer with their eyes. Positioning is critical for the eye tracking devices.
I’ve looked at a number of other devices in this space as well. Text to speed conversion is an interesting one. Dragon Naturally Speaking is the best I’ve used to date, but it takes considerable time to set-up in order to increase reliability to the point where it is truly effective. The other thing I have noticed about Dragon frankly is that the more powerful the PC you run it on the faster and better results you get.
Device Simplicity is a two way street. First off it increases the number of things your cellular device can do and therefore makes it more effective as a tool. It increases the number of connections your computer can have therefore making it more effective. But it also has to be easy to use. It is as much a struggle to enable access using various devices as it used to be in the Windows 95 days to plug something into your computer.
A single device that allows you to interact with the world around you easily and effectively. A device that connects with you in whatever manner you require. The connection between a specific person and the device should also be unique for security purposes. Not something simple like a catch phrase always uttered by the person but a combination of things that mark that connection unique. But not in the end a 13 character password that must be entered each time that becomes a prohibitive hill to climb using some of these devices.
Interaction should be via voice, eyes or motion as well as touch and keyboard. This entire blog was created by Dragon Naturally speaking, including going back and correcting my many spelling errors (so if I missed one my apologies). This sadly is the way I talk so any grammar issues are there as well. I don’t much love grammar in the English language.
It has to become easier. I believe and have stated before that we need to spend more money on education. Across the board teachers are underpaid and we don’t devote the future to the future. I also believe that we need to get a much better experience for those who cannot use the computer by the current points of entry. Voice has gotten so much better in the past five years (kudos to Nuance – I live their products). Eye recognition is much better and a growing area of development – still needs work. If there is a better solution than the Tobii hardware and software please let me know – I am happy to try it out.
Access is about automation. Removing mundane and repetitive tasks and making it easier to use the computer, and in the end easier to do your job. Personally my next experiment is to use dragon while wearing a blindfold. Not that I would be able to be blind but at least to experience the frustration of not seeing a visual system. I won’t publish those results because I suspect that will not be pretty.
There are many more automation tools that are effective. I use ActiveWords an unrated and frankly very unused program for automating tasks. Over time ActiveWords watches how you interact with the computer and allows you to set-up quick shorts cuts. It is a great tool for quickly speeding up your computer interaction.
In the end there are a number of tools available but they need to become even better. Personally I think Apple and Microsoft should license ActiveWords and embed it right into the operating system. Then it would have even greater flexibility and make it even easier for those with disabilities to use the computer.
On this journey we take into the great void of space we need to make it easier for everyone to keep up. All have a voice and all have something to say!
(this blog produced by Creative Technology & Innovation using Dragon Naturally Speaking and ActiveWords on a tablet PC.)