I am a little tardy responding to Dr. Mark Maurer’s letter, at the end of this post, encouraging rehab centers to give their blind clientele their choice when it comes to selecting accessibility tools, such as screen readers. We agree with Dr. Maurer wholeheartedly. There are two considerations, however, that the letter did not address:
1. To make an informed choice, blind consumers need access to all their options and valid, easy to access information about the plusses and minuses of each possible choice. They need to understand the functional capabilities and they need to understand how much time they will have to invest to become proficient using each potential tool. Not all rehab centers are currently able to present this information on all products.
2. Choices have different costs. In a free market scenario the client would make his or her own cost-benefit choice. But if the product is being purchased by vocational rehab funds or other public sources, the client never sees the cost side of the equation. The vocational rehab center does, though. And a client who chooses an expensive product that has more capability than he or she needs, may be limiting the rehab center’s ability to serve all of its clients. Conversely, forcing a low-cost decision on the client when the product falls short of his or her needs is clearly not an acceptable answer. Rehab centers can and should guide clients towards products that fit their needs and make the best use of center resources.
I believe Dr. Maurer’s letter should be a clarion call to vendors of accessibility products to:
1. Make sure every rehab center has full access to product functional specifications; sample products; and demonstration materials that professionals can use to help clients evaluate which tool best meets their needs.
2. Provide accessibility capability at the lowest possible total cost (hardware, software, and training).
3. Structure products in a fashion where users can select a product that meets their specific needs on a cost/benefit basis.
Our hat is off to Dr. Maurer for making the call. Now it is up to Serotek and other vendors to make sure rehab centers can follow through with both the knowledge and the resources to both give their clients choices and serve their entire constituency.
Now Here’s the letter:
August 20, 2008
To All Rehabilitation Agencies in the United States
Sometimes I am told that rehabilitation officials have formed the opinion that they should decide for the clients what products or services may be offered to them. Sometimes I am told that the opinions of rehabilitation personnel are put into effect despite contrary opinions expressed by the blind. As an example, I am told that there is no choice offered the clients regarding the screen reader that may be selected by clients for use in the rehabilitation process.
It is desirable to give the clients a choice in the rehabilitation products these clients receive. This is true for two reasons: 1) The clients who participate in selecting their own products are more likely to use the ones they select; and 2) The right of choice is part of the Rehabilitation Act. It is good for the client, and it is good for the rehabilitation programs to encourage free choice. Should Window-Eyes be used, or should Jaws be used? Should HAL be used, or should System Access To Go be used? The answer to these questions is yes. The client should participate in the choice, deciding which screen access program is preferable in the circumstances. Access to information is of vital importance to the blind. Rehabilitation can enhance access to information, assisting blind people in vital ways. I encourage you to incorporate these thoughts in the process of rehabilitation.
Marc Maurer, President
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Cc: GW Micro
System Access To Go