Touch-screen gadgets alienate blind

Thu Jan 8, 2009 11:52pm EST
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By Sinead Carew

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The craze for touch-screen gadgets, sparked by Apple Inc's popular iPhone, is raising worries that a whole generation of consumer electronics will be out of the reach of the blind.

Motown icon Stevie Wonder and other advocates came to the world's biggest gadget fest, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, to convince vendors to consider the needs of the blind.

Wonder told a CES event that his wishlist included a car he could drive -- which he acknowledged was probably "a ways away" -- and a Sirius XM satellite radio he could operate.

"If you can take those few steps further, you can give us the excitement, the pleasure and the freedom of being a part of it," said the famed musician.

Wonder said some companies had managed to make their products more accessible to the blind, sometimes without even meaning to. He cited an iPod music player and Research in Motion's BlackBerry as gadgets he likes to use.

Advocates argue that if product designers take into account blind needs, they would make electronics that are easier to use for the sighted as well.

The good news is that manufacturers do not need to put large sums of money into making products accessible, nor would they have to forsake innovation, said Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation For The Blind.

"We don't want to hold up technological progress," he said. "What we're saying is, think about the interface and set it up in such a way that it's simple .... The simpler you make the user interface of a product, it's going to reach more people sighted or blind."   Continued...

<p>Patrick Morse shows off his new Apple iPhone 3G after spending the night in line outside an Apple Store in Boston, Massachusetts July 11, 2008. REUTERS/Brian Snyder</p>