The following blog post was written by Paul Nyhan, a staff writer with the Microsoft Accessibility Blog. Paul is a 20-year journalism veteran who has written extensively about disability issues.
Gary Wunder spent the last 30 years working with computers and as an advocate for the blind, so he has seen technology become more accessible for people with limited or no vision.
Blind since birth, Wunder worked to fit into a world often defined by people who could see, first in public schools and eventually as a computer programmer for 31 years at the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics. Over the years, technology sometimes made his life easier, and other times harder.
Today, technology often makes things easier. Wunder relies on Microsoft Office for much of his work: Outlook to send email and Word to write advocacy strategies for the National Federation of the Blind. He uses Twitter to connect with friends and colleagues.
But, technology wasn’t always as accessible. Ten years ago, Wunder sometimes didn’t know how a document looked when he wrote on his computer. Eight years later, he struggled to schedule meetings with an email calendar that didn’t tell him who was already busy. And he found early social media models too clunky to be either fun or effective.
The technology industry resolved some of these problems, and today laptops, email and other technologies are easier for blind people to use, Wunder says.
“I think Microsoft has wrestled with it long and hard. They are much more accessible now,” said Wunder, who is currently editor of the Braille Monitor for the National Federation of the Blind and president of its Missouri chapter.
In terms of accessibility, Wunder has seen improvements in successive versions of products. Office 2010, for example, is an improvement over Office 2007, and Windows 7 is better than Windows XP. But, in some cases new releases also have changes that can create challenges for him. For example, changes to some features of Office 2013 resulted in the need for more keystrokes compared to Office 2010 and Office 2007, which made it harder for him to navigate his documents efficiently. This is the sort of design change that can unintentionally impact people with vision impairments.
Wunder looks forward to the day when the technology industry makes accessibility an integral part of every product design.
As society rides a never-ending wave of technological innovation, accessibility of keyboards, e-readers, software and other technological products will play a critical role in creating an inclusive economy and society where everyone can be productive, according to Wunder. But, there is a broader challenge, he adds. If people with disabilities can’t access the latest technologies, they will effectively be cut off from tools that increasingly define popular ways to communicate.
Simply put, Wunder thinks technology can place people with disabilities on the right or the wrong side of the digital divide.
“The world should expect more from blind people and blind people should expect more from the world — not charity, not handouts, not pity, but competitiveness,” Wunder wrote in an email. “And, along with that demand for competitiveness, should be the tools, provided through the correct implementation of policy, to allow us to be all we can be.”
Gary Wunder first joined the National Federation of the Blind as a volunteer in 1972. He is editor of its leading publication, the Braille Monitor, and president of its Missouri chapter.