Technology is revolutionizing the field of visual impairment and blindness, just as it is revolutionizing every other field of endeavor. This JVIB Special Issue on Technology is a rare opportunity to step back and reflect on how pervasively technology is changing education, employment, research, and society, and to look forward to what this means for the community of people dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with visual impairments.
George Kerscher, the visionary leader in e-book technology interviewed in the Speaker's Corner in this issue, notes that the time when technology training was optional has passed. Young or old, low vision or blind, with additional disabilities or not, everyone in our modern society needs to use technology daily and effectively to access information. Dr. Kerscher makes a strong case that we cannot afford to neglect technology in education and rehabilitation for people who are visually impaired.
Dr. Kerscher's personal example of getting in front of technology change is a signal one. Instead of waiting for the e-book revolution to happen and then spending a decade catching up, as has been traditional in the accessible technology field, he jumped into the fray and wrestled the standard format for Talking Books for people who are blind or print disabled into one that is now the primary commercial e-book standard. In a time where Amazon.com, a Seattle-based multinational electronic commerce company, sells more e-books than print books, thanks to leaders like Dr. Kerscher and the field's advocacy groups, we are getting close to a day when standard e-books work as well for blind people as they do for sighted people. With braille notetakers able to store thousands of e-books in accessible form, blind people have never had access to as many braille books as they do today.
Innovation and reform initiatives demand that we change and transform practices and services using technology. This shift will have profound implications for students and adults with visual impairments. In the United States, we are about to abandon the traditional textbook with the advance of e-book technology coinciding with the advent of Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts. Where and when students learn will change, and teachers will need to work with the technology the student has in his or her pocket. We are on the brink of a revolution in special education research: New technology will make it possible to collect data on tens of thousands of students in a cost-effective way. We will be able to conduct research about what really works for people with visual impairments at an unprecedented scale, which might change what we know and do about the best ways to teach and support.
For a year, we have considered the key ideas for the field in the area of technology. They vary and change, but certain broad themes seem constant, such as human rights, autonomy, affordability, literacy, accessibility, equality, and sustainability. These themes emerge from complex issues that intertwine in many ways to affect the independence and quality of life for people with visual impairments. Technology can greatly advance these important themes, but it can also create major barriers.
The World Wide Web, for example, is becoming the primary location for communication, education, and workplace efficiency, with access through electronic tools that are portable. However, this trend has dramatically impacted issues of accessibility for many people with disabilities, which affects autonomy, literacy, and communication at a human rights level. As a field, we need to ensure that these fundamental changes in society's use of technology lead to solutions for all people.
And although technology trends provide the opportunity for greater accessibility, they can also increase the challenge of affordability for technology solutions for people with visual impairments. …