Stevie Wonder Lobbies For Accessible Touchscreens at CES

Stevie Wonder recognized companies that are making gadgets accessible for the blind at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. [Photo source: AP/NPR]
Stevie Wonder recognized companies that are making gadgets accessible for the blind at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. [Photo source: AP/NPR]

Call it the barrier de jour. From iPhones to airline ticket kiosks to toaster ovens, the inaccessibility of touchscreen displays is a familiar disconnect for blind people who love their consumer electronic gadgets as much as the next guy. It becomes news to the rest of the world when the likes of Stevie Wonder talks about it at CES. I’m still looking for a video clip of his remarks – can I get a witness?

Here’s how Reuters reported the story earlier this month:

The craze for touch-screen gadgets, sparked by Apple Inc’s popular iPhone, is raising worries that a whole generation of consumer electronics will be out of the reach of the blind.

Motown icon Stevie Wonder and other advocates came to the world’s biggest gadget fest, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, to convince vendors to consider the needs of the blind.

Wonder told a CES event that his wishlist included a car he could drive — which he acknowledged was probably “a ways away” — and a Sirius XM satellite radio he could operate.

“If you can take those few steps further, you can give us the excitement, the pleasure and the freedom of being a part of it,” said the famed musician. Read more.

And here’s how NPR dug a little deeper this morning:

As consumer electronics companies race to create more flat screens, touch-screens and other sleek innovations to woo mainstream consumers, there’s at least one group of people who are not celebrating this trend: the blind and visually impaired.

For those who can’t rely on vision to guide their navigation of consumer electronics devices, doing simple tasks like changing a thermostat’s settings, navigating a playlist on an MP3 player or using a GPS device may require the assistance of a sighted person.

“The real detriment today are flat screens, flat panels — flat everything,” says Mike May, the president and chief executive of Sendero Group, a California-based company that makes accessible Global Positioning System products for blind and visually impaired people. “If you can’t feel it, that’s not a good thing in terms of buttons. If it’s all touch control, that obviously doesn’t work for a blind person. You feel around and you set things off, which is what would happen on a touch-screen.”

Compounding the problem: DVD players and other consumer electronics typically now have onscreen menus in lieu of knobs. And these menus don’t typically offer audible feedback or voice prompts.

“Hundreds of thousands of people on this planet are blind or with low vision,” says recording superstar Stevie Wonder, who has been blind since infancy. He spoke with NPR at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.

“So to me, that’s enough to say, ‘Let’s do something about it.’ And when you think about how by making things more accessible for those who are blind, how it would then make them more independent, then for the taxpayer that means less money. I think it’s just time for the manufacturers and the companies that are making millions and millions of dollars to get on top of their game and do what they need to do to make it happen.” Read more.


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