Q&A: The future of assistive technology

A conversation with Joann Becker

Joann Becker.

Assistive technology allows people who are blind to achieve an independence they otherwise wouldn’t have, says Joann Becker. Photo Credit: Anna Miller

As a trainer for Perkins Products, Joann Becker helps people who are blind or visually impaired discover and learn how to use assistive technology. Her clients range in age from 4 to 94, offering her interesting challenges every day. Becker, who is blind, recently talked to Perspectives about the future of assistive technology and how it’s transforming lives.

How does assistive technology help people with visual impairments?

Because of assistive technology, people who are blind are able to use computers. Having access to the Internet is so important, and without (text-to-speech) screen readers we wouldn’t have that option. Assistive technology also allows us to achieve an independence we otherwise wouldn’t have. I can take a printed page, scan it, and have it read aloud. My mail doesn’t have to be read to me by someone else.

Why is training necessary?

Of course the vendors say, “Oh these devices are so simple to use,” but it’s never that way. Providing training lessens the intimidation and provides support to make sure people are learning to use technology in the most efficient and effective way. I’ve bought technology and thought, “This should be easy to use,” and it isn’t. Without an idea of how to go about using it in a way that’s comfortable, technology for many people can become something they won’t turn to.

How are devices like the iPad and iPhone transforming assistive technology?

What is so brilliant about these products is that they are off-the-shelf products that have built-in accessibility, like voice commands and screen reading. People with disabilities are not paying additional money to use the products. And there are so many fabulous apps that are accessible and really helpful. I just presented an award to the Braille Institute for an app they designed (the iBraille Challenge Mobile App) that’s going to help kids who are blind read braille and become more proficient. Plus, when kids are young and don’t want to bring attention to themselves, it’s nice that they can use the same mobile device everyone else is using.

What does the future hold for assistive technology?

If we can design a truly affordable refreshable braille device (which uses movable electronic pins to generate braille from computer screens and other sources), I think it will open up opportunities for so many kids with blindness. Education is key for success and I want to see as many kids as possible reading braille and having refreshable braille technology at their fingertips.

Learn more about assistive technology and Perkins Products’ training services »