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Life-changing technologies

or many people with disability, life would 
be easier if their surroundings were designed to include their needs. Buildings, public transport and other infrastructure are slowly becoming more accessible, but there is a long way to go. Technology, and the internet, on the other hand,

are rapidly making it easier for people with disability to gain independence and connect to the world around them.

Anthony Mahr is blind and lives in Katoomba. He runs a small business online, taking bookings and doing his accounts using a screen reader. “Technology has helped me with my business. I can read all my documents and take appointments,” he said.

Other technologies also work to make the world 
more accessible for Anthony. “I use something called Pen Friend for labelling things. It has sticky dots that I can put on a can of tomatoes, for example, so that I know what is there. I also have talking scales in the kitchen that help me with cooking”.

Anthony says that “at school, I relied on Braille 
and on other people to scan things and look them up. Now I can do these sorts of things myself ”.

Several technology makers have made strong 
commitments to accessibility. Apple prioritises making their iPads available to everyone, with Sarah Herrlinger, their Senior Manager for Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives, telling TechCrunch that this “supports a vision of an inclusive world where opportunity and access to information are barrier-free, empowering individuals with disabilities to achieve their goals”.

Fran Priol, from Wentworth Falls, is also blind, 
gradually losing her sight as she got older. At 85, she has found that an iPad has opened up her world and connected her again to what she loves. “Using the accessibility settings, I have made the text as large as possible, on a big screen tablet, so I can read the news for the first time in fifteen years,” she said.

“I play games, like Yatzhee, on the tablet and I 
listen to stories using audio books from the library. I even talk to Siri (the iPad virtual assistant) and ask her questions about the weather or the date and to find me phone numbers.”

Fran works with Anne O’Grady, a specialist in accessibility 
for people with disability and older people, who provides in-home training and support in using different technologies. “It’s really good. I wouldn’t have anything if I hadn’t met Anne,” said Fran.

Michelle Sutton is an autistic woman, living in Katoomba, 
who runs a small business from home. She has found a wide variety of technologies improve accessibility for her and help her arrange her work to suit her disability.

“If I have to get into the city for a meeting, and I’m having 
a particularly sensory sensitive week, in the past I would have postponed the meeting, but now I can still go. I use noise cancelling headphones and sunglasses to help me with sound and sight, and I use an app on my phone that helps me manage the train trip so I don’t have to try to read timetables. Another app tells me the route to walk from the station to the meeting.”

“This means I don’t get overloaded or lost and I can still have 
energy for the meeting when I arrive. All these have absolutely made a huge difference to me,” said Michelle.

“Also having information available online now about things 
like running your own small business makes being a sole trader accessible to me, which in turn makes earning regular income accessible because I can choose my own hours that fit in with my needs and body rhythms.”

Terri Rule is a young woman, living in Penrith, who likes going 
to the pub, wearing dresses and has strong opinions about what she wants her disability support workers to do. She is blind, has a brain injury and, until recently, had few ways of communicating.

“As her family members, we knew how capable and clever she 
was, and that she could communicate, but there were no devices that we could find that Terri could use,” said Cheryl McDonnell, Terri’s mother.

Terri started using a tablet, with a decision-making app, that 
would give her different options in specific circumstances. “She started with simple things, like what do you want for breakfast and what do you want to wear today. If she’s having a conversation with someone, we can change it over to conversation choices,” said Cheryl.

“The tablet also provides her with the education that she never 
received, because she was assumed to have a profound intellectual disability. School was basically babysitting.”

“I can download audio books so Terri can experience 
literature, and all kinds of topics that build her understanding and experiences of the world,” said Cheryl.

“The technology has relaxed something in her and she is now 
communicating more verbally. She will come and find me to let me know that she wants something. She never did this before.”

Technologies, such as tablets and smart phones, can be life 
changing. By making applications and hardware accessible, and easy to use, many people with disability, and older people, can find it easier to work, communicate and participate in ordinary life, just like everyone else.


El Gibbs


Photo: Terri Rule


Bravo to these designers who care about the end user and not the profit. My son has Full Agenisous of the Corpus Collosum and can't read or write (15yrs old) his iPad is his link to the world. Without it he wouldn't be where he is today - I'd love a lust of these apps/programs/devices some of these people are using. Great article. Thanks

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