High Cost of Assistive Devices for Blind People is Onerous

Just some observations…and a bit of a rant.  One of the problems that face people who are Blind or partially sighted, is the high cost of assistive devices and technology.  Let me explain;  What are assistive devices for the Blind?  They include necessary items for everyday life, such as:

  •  talking clocks and watches
  • talking calculators 
  • magnifyers
  • Braille paper 
  • tactile measuring cups
  • audible water level indicators
  • large print keyboard inlays
  • talking thermometers
  • low vision lamps
  • talking glucometers
  • recording devices
  • large print calendars etc.
  • Braille watches
  • tactile games
  • bump dots
  • Braille rulers
  • talking pedometers
  • talking scales
  • talking thermostats
  • bold lined paper
  • etc.

Some items are ‘gadgets’ and  though I would not find them essential for my life,  other people find them useful,  and therefore,  they should have them. Then we get to the big ticket items: 

  •  computer screenreading software ($800.00-$1200.00)
  • talking pedestrian GPS (Treker) ($1200.00+)
  • CCTV (closed circuit TV magnifier) ($2000.00-4000.00)
  • Perkins Braille Writer (&700-1100.00)
  • ‘DAISY’ (book) player ($500.00)
  • Braille computer keyboard ($1800.00+)
  • ‘Scan and speech’ machines ($2500+)
  • etc.

YES I KNOW that some of these prices seem odd. Some are Canadian, some are U.S.  I ALSO KNOW that charitable organizations sometimes ‘loan’ equipment to clients at no cost. I also know that free software downloads are available (limited time trials).  I also know that some (very few) provinces provide funding programs for assistive devices.  Most people with disabilities, including people who are blind, live in poverty. That is the reality. There are some wonderful (but rare) opportunities for employment, but this is not the norm, at least not here in Nova Scotia.  The percentage of people who are blind and employed, is very small.  Here’s the thing. Not only is it out of reach for many blind people to afford these things, but they are also inaccessible. For a Haliganioan (Halifax resident) who can afford to buy any of these items, we must (with some exceptions) order over the telephone, or online through a catalogue service, halfway across the country or in the U.S.A.  (see MaxiAids or CNIB catalogue links).  While it might be acceptable to order a large print calandar ‘unseen’ , prepay the thing, and wait a while for it to arrive in your mailbox, it is difficult and frustrating to choose a talking or Braille watch, without ‘checking it out’. You might not want to wait a week or two for a Braille watch to arrive because everyone needs to know the time. Again, I know that there may be one or two talking watches available at a Radio Shack-type store, but there is no variety.  Braille watches are not available locally. Many other items are also catalogue only.  My friends (and anyone who will listen) always hear me going on about ‘Quality of Life’. QL has several aspects, including financial security, physical, mental and emotional health, social inclusion,  opportunity and choice of employment,  appropriate housing, community and cultural supports, and affordable education.  There’s more, but you get the picture.  If we are to have an inclusive society which embraces people with disabilities, (as some politicians and charitable service organizations claim they believe in and should advocate for), we then, must stop TALKING about: equity, inclusion, fairness, diversity, advocacy, accessibility, accountability (and every other en vogue buzz word we use), and start DOING SOMETHING about it. Comment?


11 responses to “High Cost of Assistive Devices for Blind People is Onerous

  1. hm yah those are some good observations
    but what do u think should be done? seems like government is always what we lean back on these days…more jobs, more money for disadvantaged ppl, etc.

    i think that the government needs to somehow encourage the idea of a community more. i mean if we actually know the blind ppl in our neighborhood, we would be better able to help them. problem is that we’re getting too isolated and nobody’s willing to do much for their neighbors.

    and this is all talk to. i gotta do a good deed today..thx

  2. Well, exst…glad to hear you’re doing some good deeds. And you are right on with your comment about community. Times have changed indeed. Perhaps it all begins with kids and education. Creating a sense of social responsibility is a tough sell in a ME world. One thing I notice, is that people, children and youth in particular, lead isolated lives. When I was a kid, we were permitted and encouraged to explore our world. I guess it was a safer place. my siblings and I were expected to do good deeds for our neighbours and whatever was required to assist them. I think that today, this sense of community is relegated to churches and other pockets of social activity. I belong to the Universalist Unitarian Church. Working on issues of social justice is part of church activity. Another thing is that the traditional middle class has declined in numbers. There are more poor people, as well as more individuals who are obscenely rich. It was the middle class, I think, who tend to be the biggest supporters of charitible organizations. All direct service organizations, are hurting financially these days. That has trickled down to their clients. In the case of the Blind, non profit direct service organizations, can no longer provide the services they once could. Cost of living has left people on disability benefits with less cash to cover anything beyond food and shelter costs.

  3. The high cost of access technology is mostly one of economics. The market for such products is so tiny that the cost of research and development drives the price sky high. The secret is developing an access technology that has a broader application. If they can design a product for the blind that also has appeal to a sighted audience, the demand for the product would be higher and the cost would come down.

    The small market is also the reason why you can’t go down to your local store to buy such items. It wouldn’t be profitable for your local big box store to carry a product they might only sell one or two of.

    In the United States, there are often programs to help subsidize the high cost of access technology. You may want to contact the local agency that provides services to the blind to see if they can find a grant or other monies to help subsidize the cost of a piece of technology you would benefit from. They can usually subsidize or pay in full the cost of training for that product.

  4. Thank you for your input. I agree that products must have broader appeal. I think that with thoughtful development, marketing and advertising, some product sales would soar. My concern, is mainly for basic items which so many people require and cannot access easily. Things like quality magnifiers and large print ANYTHING would be snapped up, if they were made available. One does not have to be blind to appreciate such items. We have a large population of senior citizens here, so with that, comes a high number of people with age-related vision loss. We are a small province, both in size and population. Our government (provincial) and our direct service organizations do not have the financial base to provide subsidies for assistive devices in any organized or consistent way. I have started a chapter of The Aliance for Equality of Blind Canadians here. One of our goals is to create public awareness around issues affecting the Blind. I think that when more people understand what our day to day lives are like, then, the support or endorsement of social programs that provide funding for assistive devices, would increase.

  5. I have a client who just went blind and it sparked the need for me to develop some kind of local foundation to get funds in to assist blind persons with finding a job and to better their quality of life. I don’t know where to begin. I suppose this is my first step. Can anyone contact me and, perhaps, if you have experience in jumpstarting ideas like this, can you guide me. Thank you.

  6. Anthony, it’s great that you want to help your client who has recently experienced vision loss. I can’t give professional advice. I would think that the person in question, is registered with the proper direct service organization. That is usually done via the eye doc on the case. Baby steps, Anthony. This woman will want professionals in her corner first…like O & M (orientation and mobility) training by a qualified instructor. Using a cane etc. Some people access residential programs…I (and you) can not determine what she want or needs first. Place of residence determines where and what kind of services are available. She may find that access to peer support is more important than life skills in the beginning. It’s her call. You can help navigate the system (s), but you can’t be the captain of the boat. Go on to state service directories available on line to learn about resources. When in doubt, Google. A phone book even. Work on the foundation stuff once someone competent has helped her with the basics. There is money out there, but one must be resourceful and good at writing proposals etc. Check you library for listings of foundations and community service organizations that have a track record of supporting similar ’causes’.

    See what happens when you have goofy technology because you can’t afford the good stuff, Anthony…you hear the question all wrong! sorry. It’s still a tough call. I suggest examining what exists already. See what money goes where in your state. Check ‘assistance’ or whatever you call social service payment organizations…identify how much is alocated for housing, food, ‘special needs’ etc. Some provinces,( or states) for example, pay for certain items on individual claims or requests. Got to say, most people like to shell personal bucks towards participatory ‘events’ or fundraisers…instead of direct-mail campaigns which are dead in the water, if you ask me.

  7. I have come across many blind people who are not aware of the capabilities of softwares such as Opera to read out web pages. While this is not a full fledged screen reader like JAWS etc… it can be very useful to blind people who have no better things to choose from. It is not a trial version…

    But I generally agree that the current situation is very far away from what is desirable or even what can be done with available resources…

  8. You are correct. Opera has a page narrator. However, it can’t do it all. The price is right, though. There seem to be bugs with all screenreading software, regardless of the pricetag. The challenge for designers is to keep up with the rapid changes in technology and the internet, that have created the ‘digital divide’ with screenreading software users.

  9. Just thought of posting a link to this wikipedia page… Maybe someone might find it useful… You might also like to improve that list if you are aware of better choices…

    I was just wondering whether there was a master resource that compares the quirks of various screen readers so that users can make informed choices…

    As you say, there is a digital divide and it is probably widening coz of the wider deployment of technologies like AJAX and Flash etc…

  10. Debbie Fisher

    The problem with listing quirks in different screen readers will differ between types of computers, processors and how much RAM is in a computer. That makes it difficult.

    One of the problems that I am running into is, I have four children, one in high school, two in middle school, and one in elementary school. Nobody wants to help somebody who chooses to be a stay-at-home Mom. They don’t realize that anything that I would make right now, I would probably be losing by working and missing work because I also suffer from migraines that cause the right side of my body to become almost paralyzed, and it can come on in minutes, before with no warning, now sooner with the help of a skinny, malnourished, wet, and almost frozen to death dog that my daughter found running down the street, that had never been trained to help in this way. Now I have about two hours notice.

    My youngest daughter also has a compromised immune system because she was a preemie when she was born and that is just something that we have dealt with all of her life, so she gets sick very easily and misses a lot of school and she isn’t old enough to be home by herself. I don’t like to leave any of my kids home by themselves when they are sick anyway.

    I found a grant to help with assistive technology, but it only covers 50%, which would be good if every penny that I have coming in every month wasn’t accounted for because of household expenses.

    What the developers of screen readers don’t seem to realize is, if the screen readers were priced better, the demand would also go up. The programs are so outrageously priced that if you can’t find a grant or help from your government, even at 50%, the products are completely out of our reach.

    If they allowed the public to help in the development of the software, the cost would also go down. There was a program that I used to use a long time ago called outSPOKEN. Their demo version had no time limits and they asked for the public’s help to fix problems, but because they didn’t offer those who helped make significant changes the full version for free, nobody was willing to help them. I know this because my fiance helped them a lot to make some huge changes, but they weren’t willing to help us in return. This is why they couldn’t develop the software for versions of Windows later than version 3.1.

    Freedom Scientific’s Jaws makes you pay an arm and a leg for their software, but they only allow you to install the software on your computer a few times before they say no more. If you have problems with your computer and have to do a system restore and set it back to factory settings one too many times, your money is wasted. That is another way that they take advantage of blind people. If they are going to sell the software, then sell the full version, including the right to install it as many times as you need to install it. It seems too much like renting the use of it for that outrageous price. Also, if you want upgrades, even if you recently purchased it before a new version came out, you have to pay for their software maintenance agreement which costs a few hundred more dollars.

    If software developers were willing to ask for and compensate people for their help, the cost of the development of that software would go down, and they wouldn’t be so out of reach.

    I have often wondered what it would take to start up my own non-profit organization for blind people who choose to stay at home with their kids, but haven’t been able to find any information about that either.

    Good luck to anybody who can start an organization to help! I’m still looking for ways to get help for people who have had problems similar to mine!

  11. Hi, for screen readers check out NVDA and also check out Ubuntuwhich comes with a very good free screen reader called Orca. also check out system access at http://www.serotek.com .

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