Inaccessible Medical Devices Have Life or Death Consequences

Posted by Anil Lewis | 11/21/2018 | Access Technology
Editor's Note:

Anil Lewis is the executive director of the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind.

A blood glucose meter.

The National Federation of the Blind is working to increase the accessibility of medical technologies so that blind people can live the lives we want.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the largest causes of blindness, yet the technology that allows individuals to monitor and cope with this disease remains fundamentally inaccessible to blind people.

Blind people, as a subset of society, are also affected by other diseases like cancer, but have no independent access to the technologies that help manage these diseases. Medical technology that allows individuals to independently administer dialysis and chemotherapy treatments in the home are inaccessible, and create an unnecessary dependence on others.

At our 2016 National Convention, our members passed Resolution 2016-16 which highlighted the “Technology Bill of Rights for Individuals with Diabetes and Vision Loss.” It asserts meaningful access to the same life-changing diabetes information, diagnostic tools, and treatments as are available to others. These rights should be universal to blind individuals regardless of their medical condition.

Blind people struggle to use the limited make-shift tools and strategies available to us to care for ourselves, while the rest of the world is on insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors that they can fully access safely and independently. Using workaround strategies in order to access medical equipment puts blind individuals unnecessarily at risk.

We seek to remove this risk by making the technology nonvisually accessible to the blind through tactile markers, speech, large print and/or Braille access. When done correctly, this is simpler than most people think, and enhances innovation with little to no additional cost.

In January of 2018, we launched the NFB Accessible Medical Technology Working Group, a forum through which we can identify priorities and share ideas for increasing the accessibility of medical devices and apps, because unlike other technologies, medical devices have life or death consequences.

Through our working group, we are seeking to establish relationships with manufactures that will allow us to leverage their desire to develop innovative life-sustaining medical technologies with our expertise in accessibility. We are working to get ahead of the curve by encouraging the developers of these technologies to take accessibility into consideration during the design and development phase.

Manufacturers of medical technology interested in partnering with the National Federation of the Blind should email accessiblemedical@nfb.org with the contact information for your representative, and information on your product. We will follow up to determine how we can work together to make your product accessible.

Medical technology that can be used in the home, accessed via a smartphone app, and sometimes worn on the body, empowers individuals with confidence, convenience, flexibility, and improved quality of life. These devices can collect and transmit information directly to medical professionals, eliminating the need for in-person doctor visits and reducing overall medical expenses. 

It is imperative that blind people be involved in the process of making these devices accessible. Blind people interested in working on this task force should join our NFB Accessible Medical Equipment Discussion Group. As a member of this discussion group, you will be informed about our current efforts, be able to provide input and suggestions, and be able to volunteer to assist with the evaluation and development of accessible medical technology. 

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