Friday, January 18, 2008

Creating technology, not adapting it

While on the shuttle on my way back from getting my ATACP in Co, I sat in front of two men coming from a different technology conference, which they were discussing. I was annoyed -- I wanted to sleep -- but then I became really engrossed with the conversation. These were people clearly on the cutting of edge of where technology, academics, and virtual and real worlds met.

The more I listened, the more I wanted to jump in. As we got off at the terminal, I accosted one guy and started talking about what I had just learned about access. It's not a second life if your screen reader can't deal with it. I wanted to make sure people with disabilities were included in this brave new virtual world.

The gentleman I talked to turned out to be an architect of the croquet project, which sparked my interest in open source. Now I have an xo and am now really trying to understand open source and figure out its uses in the AT world.

Why I start the story with me randomly chatting with a guy in the airport is because of something he said that the xo and now the Kenguru car (below)remind me of. I wish I could remember the quote, but he mentioned how the virtual world need not copy the inefficiencies of the physical world. He pointed to a pillar in DIA and said something like "In second life, there's no reason for that to be there. It's not holding up anything. We don't need to recreate it." He also spoke of using things like sonar, like bats do, to navigate the virtual world.

His project, Croquet, from what I gather from the net, seems more suited toward large scale, large graphics, and other high powered info. The xo is the opposite-- small technology. But both are revolutionary in their real-time syncing or meshing capabilities.

Still, I am understanding a bit of what he meant when I look at the xo. It's not, as I mentioned before, a scaled down version of a 8lb laptop, which is itself a scaled down desktop computer. Ground up, hardware and software, this was designed with a specific user in mind. Not adapted to the user. Designed for that user.

That's really a lesson we can learn in AT. As technology becomes more available, we really have infinite possibilities to solve AT issues. Like many other AT people, I tend to look at hardware first because it is so scarce. "Wouldn't it be nice if I took this alaphasmart and tried to solve _____'s problem with it?" This was stressed at the CSUN ATACP training -- we should start with the function we want, then find the hardware.

We also talked about Universal Design -- trying to build features into any project to make it as universally useful as possbile.

I would take it a step further - look at the functions we want, then design the hardware. Don't just adapt. Design. Why do we need screen readers to read graphical commands when maybe using tones to replace icons would be more efficient? With my slow painful acquisition of knowledge of open source systems on the XO, I realize I could really make the xo do anything I needed it to do -- I am limited (severely!) only by lack of knowledge in coding.

Case in point:
This car from Hungary. Tired of bulky wheelchair vans? Why are wheelchair vans bulky? Because they take a car intended for abled passengers and add a bunch of crap to it to try to make it appropriate for a wheelchair user. For some drivers, this might be a better alternative.



Note: My first embedded youTube clip! I've said before, I'm not a coder!

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