Future Reflections Special Issue: Technology
by Deborah Kent Stein
I am a confirmed technophobe. I use a computer every day, almost all day long, but each innovation stirs a sense of dread. My anxiety spikes at the thought of upgrades and incompatibilities, and every learning curve feels steeper than Mount Everest.
Despite my fears, however, I celebrate the countless ways that technology--and access technology in particular--has improved my life. At any time of the day or night I can download a book, search for an address, or buy a new sweater, all without leaving my desk. Cell phones, iPads, and global positioning systems are only a few of the amazing devices that have transformed our world in recent decades.
All of this dizzying change can have its downsides. For those of us who are blind, websites and gadgets become barriers when they are not fully accessible in nonvisual ways. Blind children in today's classroom have unprecedented opportunities, yet they also face access challenges that were unimaginable just a few years ago.
The articles in this special issue of Future Reflections explore access technology for the blind from many perspectives. Teachers, parents, technology developers, and blind users share their expertise and experience. Denise Robinson and Richard Holloway describe how technology enables blind students to function independently in the mainstream classroom, while Trudy Pickrel shares her story of pitfalls and frustrations. Amy Mason reviews the access capabilities of a variety of commercial e-book readers, and Betsy Burgess and Valerie Chernek show how Bookshare has become a major resource. Al Maneki, Alysha Jeans, and Richard Baldwin write about promising new technologies that may revolutionize blind people's access to science and mathematics.
If you are new to access technology, some of the material in this issue may be rather daunting. A good place to start is the overview article by Steve Booth and Clara van Gerven. The authors explain many of the basic terms and concepts that you will encounter elsewhere in this issue.
"Will technology facilitate unprecedented access to education for all, or will it be the force that segregates students with disabilities into an unequal learning environment?" Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB's Jernigan Institute, posed this question to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The education of our blind children and youth hangs in the balance. It is critical for all of us, techies and technophobes alike, to become acquainted with the issues and work to build a future of equal access for everyone.