Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who's Responsible?

Our speaker on Monday, Gary Bishop, helped make us aware of the usability issues that the disabled deal with on a daily basis. It is obvious that new technologies are assisting with these growing problems, but they are also making it more difficult. Each new technology deals with a new set of issues that the disabled are forced to deal with. I cannot imagine trying to keep up with the world today without eyesight, or be one of the teenagers with cerebral palsy who must sit and watch the other kids read or play games wishing they could participate. Technologies I rely on daily such as text messaging or online news would become difficult to use.

Luckily technology has allowed us to create screen readers so we can get up to date news. And now video games and books can be more interactive to allow disabled kids to play, but these tools come at a great price. Because there aren’t enough users to drive down the price.

Dr. Bishop mentioned the ultimate issue is the cost of keep up with these new technologies. This high need with low number of users has driven the price of these devices to the point that what he believes only the Universities can supply them. The question is does it become our responsibility as an institution to supply the disabled with usability applications and devices such as the ones he presented? And can there be a market for private industry to develop cost-efficient products?


  1. When I read this post, thoughts of the American with Disabilities Act that failed to fully provide funding for businesses needing to undergo transformations to make them fully accessible. America gave the facade of acting on behalf of the disabled, yet lacked the follow-through.

    These products almost appear to be in the same situation-- good conceptually but yet lacking the proper funding.

  2. I think that the devices should be provided by all public education institutions. Education should be equally accessible to all, but it's not if students with disabilities are not able to get the same access to information. I'm not sure if the government should be responsible for this or the institutions themselves, but I think that the disabled should have usability applications and devices.

    They do lack funding, but if the government or the institutions made more or an effort to have the devices or required them, then it could become an industry where through product innovation they could become cheaper and more accessible to individuals.

  3. As is the case with many good causes, there is simply not enough money to make them truly effective. It seems a tragedy that money drives so many of these decisions which hinder disabled people the opportunity at a better life. I think we do bear some of the load in helping create products for disabled people which improve their quality of life. I do realize that this is not extremely reasonable, because of the reasons above, but there are ways to help, and I think it starts at the top. I think it will be hard to convince individuals to invest in things that don't have a huge potential to make money, so the government needs to step up here.

  4. It really is a shame that good programs and technology like the stuff presented by Gary is so hard to get a hold of because its so expensive. We as a society should certainly be spending more of hard earned money on helping other people in need who deserve the same chance and need that education just like the rest of us. Therefore, there should be more private and public funding for programs like these and there should be a higher demand because it effects a lot more people than we think. Its obviously hard to get people who aren't as compassionate about helping the less-fortunate to buy into this idea, but if our society funtioned with more compassion and credibility for those who still deserve it despite disabilities, we would certainly see a more productive, more focused, and certainly closer-knit society than we have now. We've got to help get these eduation tools out there!

  5. I believe that the technologies that Gary Bishop talked about are extremely important. They erase one more barrier to "normal" life for disabled people, making their life not only more like everyone else's, but also easier to live in a constantly changing world. However, it's difficult to fight the push and pull of a market economy. Whichever way you look at it, these new technologies are complex and must constantly be improved upon and evolved in increasingly innovate ways. And there's very little market demand for these programs and machines. At a basic economic level, the price of these devices has to be high because it takes a great deal of man power to develop them for a small market. This is why a broader institution with access to large funds, such as a university, should work to provide these technologies at lower rates. Universities have the ability to access a great deal of intelligence and man power at below-market rates. Students could be employed to help develop these devices as part of their class work. This would reduce the money spent on paying developers and help teach course material in an interactive way.

  6. With the extremely high cost of the 'enabling technologies' that Gary spoke about, I think that it would put too much of a fiscal strain on our already beleaguered University budget. This is not to say that I don't think that we should not have these technologies readily available for our students. The bottom line here is simply that universities (especially publicly funded ones) such as ours cannot afford such expensive equipment and software.

    I put the ball in the court of private enterprise, which throughout modern history has unceasing found cost-effective solutions to our most expensive problems. I firmly believe that as long as anyone has the incentive (monetarily or otherwise) to make gains then they will find a way to make it happen. With plasma televisions in mind, I think about how prices have been driven further and further down due to economies of scale (everyone wants one). While 'enabling technologies' are far more expensive that televisions, the basic premise still stands. Spread the word about these new machines, create a good commercial market for them, and allow private enterprises to compete with each other for the lion's share.

  7. There can be a market for any type of consumer product, just as long as there is the customer base to drive profitability. I think enabling technologies are just beginning, because it seemed like Dr. Bishop had some creative, but rather "primitive" applications for the disabled. So I really believe there are multiple parties responsible for making sure that enabling technologies are heard, seen, created and used. It's not just going to happen by one party making an effort (ie - developers) because it will take effort from all parties involved.

    I think Duckett nailed it by mentioning the private sector. It seems that these applications can be very useful for the kids to get computer learning and have fun while doing it. So it is critical for the ball to be placed before an enterprise capable of throwing immense sums of cash into the development of really solid, useful applications for the disabled. I think it is necessary to get over this hump and starting "enabling" the creation of enabling technologies.