Monday, May 26, 2008

The BlackBerry Blues

I’ve always wanted a BlackBerry, a PDA or a smart phone. The idea of being able to e-mail, use the internet and create documents from anywhere just sends shivers down my spine. So, what’s stopping me? Well, besides the fact that I can’t afford to buy one of these handy gadgets, I also can’t use one. You see, since I’m almost totally blind I can’t read the screen, and these devices aren’t equipped with an on-board software program that would read the screen in voice output. Screen readers are available for some phones but they’re very expensive, especially considering they’re completely separate from the cost of the phone or PDA itself. There’s another problem too. I’m also physically disabled, and the keys on most of the mobile devices out there are too small for me to operate properly.

I do have a cell phone, but because of these accessibility issues I only use it for infrequent phone calls. Now, I’m a tech-head (or at least I would be if I could use all this great stuff), and I totally appreciate everyone’s desire for a powerful productivity tool that fits right in your pocket or palm. But I also think we can achieve portability and accessibility at the same time. If the keys on all these gadgets were slightly bigger they’d be a lot easier to use for everyone. Sure, your PDA or phone might be a little larger then, but it would still fit easily in your fanny-pack, purse, bag or briefcase. The screen and print size could also be made larger without decreasing the PDA or phone’s overall functionality. An on-board screen reader and trainable voice-recognition software would also help increase usability for everyone.

By now some of you are probably thinking, "Most of us don’t have trouble using these things, so why should we change them for a few people?". Well, as you get older your vision tends to decrease and arthritis or other ailments can set in. That’s not even taking into account unexpected problems like strokes or injuries. So you may be sharp-eyed and nimble-fingered right now, but later on you might get the BlackBerry Blues like me. Also, the same features that make products more accessible to people with disabilities are also features that make things easier to use for people without disabilities.

So, how can we make things like PDAs, cell phones and smart phones more user-friendly for everyone? People need to start hounding the manufacturers, giving them friendly recommendations for improvement. The more people they hear from, the more likely they’ll be to make changes. Or, if you have the money and resources, design a gadget of your own that’s more user-friendly than what’s out there right now. I know changes like this take a long time, but a PDA or smart phone that’s easy for everyone to use will be worth the wait.

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