Groups for disabled call for technology innovations

Thirty years ago, groups for the disabled in Canada fought for accessible sidewalks, washrooms and transportation.

EDMONTON — Thirty years ago, groups for the disabled in Canada fought for accessible sidewalks, washrooms and transportation.

Today their battleground is equal access to technologies such as cellphones, hand-held devices, entertainment systems and even home appliances.

“The new technology can actually be either the great liberator for people with disabilities … or it can begin to create a whole new set of barriers that we haven’t had to deal with before,” said Laurie Beachell, national co-ordinator for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

John Rae, 60, of Toronto suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive eye disease that caused him to lose much of his sight when he was in his 20s.

Since Air Canada modernized its in-flight entertainment system, which now uses touch screens, the retired Ontario government employee finds himself with nothing to do but sleep on long flights.

“You used to be able to navigate the entertainment system in an airplane by buttons on the side of your seat … but with these flat screen entertainment systems, I no longer can. My independence has been taken away from me,” said Rae, who volunteers with the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.

On Rae’s computer, the screen technology that reads documents aloud doesn’t recognize some formats that are commonly used when transmitting text, so he simply can’t access the information.

“I consider it discrimination,” Rae said.

“Manufacturers of technology, manufacturers of household appliances continue to develop and manufacture equipment and technology that we can’t use.”

Groups such as the non-profit Neil Squire Society, hope to change all that. The society, which focuses on using technology to “empower” the disabled, is pressing Canadian regulators to force companies to make products more user-friendly for the disabled.

Last fall, hearings were held with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission where groups representing the disabled argued for better access to things such as cellphones.

“Basically (we) were trying to make the case that cellphone companies don’t do a really good job of ensuring that there are products for people with disabilities that meet their needs,” said Harry Lew, the society’s manager of research and development.

People with physical mobility problems, who may have spasms or can’t use their hands, can’t use many services on hand-held devices, he said.

“So you can’t access email if you’re a person with a mobility impairment right now. You can’t surf the web on a handset because there just aren’t any solutions.”

“That’s the classic case where people with disabilities are lagging behind.”

Jim Johannsson, a spokesman for Telus, said the company is making efforts to help people with disabilities.

He said Telus, which participated in the CRTC hearings last November, has enhanced its directory assistance capabilities by using more voice recognition technology.

Just Posted

WATCH: NDP Official Opposition host budget town hall in Red Deer

Red Deerians shared concerns about provincial funding cuts for education and health… Continue reading

With a new syphilis outbreak in Alberta, infectious disease testing is made easier in Red Deer

Shining Mountains Living Community Services staff can do quick, simple dry blood spot test

Central Alberta home sales down 10 per cent from 2018

August sales 17.7 per cent lower than August 2018

Trudeau asks Canada to look to his current, not past, actions on race

Justin Trudeau’s privileged upbringing created a “massive blind spot” when it came… Continue reading

Singh urges Canadians to consider troubling impact of Trudeau photos, video

OTTAWA — Jagmeet Singh challenged Canadians Thursday to try to see through… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Wednesday Central Alberta Historical Society annual general meeting is 6 p.m. at… Continue reading

‘We can move on with our lives:’ Alberta parents acquitted in death of toddler

LETHBRIDGE — An Alberta mother and father who treated their ill son… Continue reading

Trudeau asks Canada to look to his current, not past, actions on race

Justin Trudeau’s privileged upbringing created a “massive blind spot” when it came… Continue reading

Appeal court rules 3-2 in favour of law that slashed Toronto city council

TORONTO — Ontario’s top court has upheld a provincial law that slashed… Continue reading

‘I’d do it again,’ says B.C. man who jumped naked into Toronto shark tank

TORONTO — A British Columbia man apologized to a judge on Thursday… Continue reading

Local Sports: Queens basketball team energized

You could tell by the look on her face that RDC Queens… Continue reading

Logan Kilgore gets start at QB for Edmonton Eskimos with Trevor Harris hurt

EDMONTON — In just his second regular-season game at quarterback in almost… Continue reading

Kaillie Humphries participates in USA bobsled push trials in unofficial role

Kaillie Humphries participates in USA bobsled push trials in unofficial role LAKE… Continue reading

Most Read