LIRNEasia entered the disability space because we recognized the transformative potential of smartphones, from our work in Myanmar. It is reassuring to see that this is what PWDs are saying in the US as well. They also talk about well-meaning outsiders proposing solutions to problems that do not exist. That also resonates with our thinking and the way we allocate the resources that we have. We spend a lot of effort to understand the problems that are important to the PWDs in the countries we work in.
Smartphones, where I find my GPS, may be the most powerful accessibility devices in history, especially now that voice control offers an alternative to touch screens for Blind and low-vision users, or people without the manual dexterity to operate them. (No interface is perfect, however. Some people might actually want buttons over sleek screens. And affordability remains a problem.)
As hubs for accessibility programming, though, smartphones drive down costs. For example, Fred Downs, who lost his left arm when he stepped on a land mine during the Vietnam War and is now an advocacy director for Paralyzed Veterans of America, says that in 1980, screenreaders cost up to $50,000 a unit and could read one page at a time out loud. Now every computer, phone and tablet can read nearly any screen. Smartphones provide navigation, manage hearing aids, run speech apps and can even drive a wheelchair.