Currently, the beneficiaries of this technology are all in the West or Europe.
The East is still grappling with the basics of the Internet in homes that can afford it.
Food and shelter pose more pressing concerns. The Internet must wait until then and so must the physically impaired.
Chances of technology reaching the deaf-blind in the East are remote for a number of reasons that range from arrant ignorance and abject poverty to an ever burgeoning populace that is bursting at the seems.
Children with visual, hearing or speech disabilities obviously need special attention. Their impairment prevents them from learning as fast as a normal child and needs a teacher who will give them more care and be sensitive to their needs. Additionally, there is a need for skilled teachers who have been trained to teach such children. Unfortunately, such a discussion is stultified in an ordinary class environment that schools more than 30 pupils at a time.
Lack of sufficient resources in developing countries in terms of facilities and an appropriate school, skilled teachers and a positive environment weighs down on the physically challenged person. He/she cannot cope in a normal class environment, cannot comprehend or study as fast as his classmates and eventually gets waived off as mentally challenged. Consequently, the person gets brushed under the carpet as an embarrassment in most households, is stigmatised for life and rendered useless in society.
The developed countries, fortunately, have taken a greater deal of interest in their physically challenged citizens and made more consistent efforts to help the latter realise their potential. Attempts have been made to create the right environment and help them work around both their physical challenges as well as the inevitable psychological problems that may arise. Such countries boast of better resource centres, sensitive and skilled teachers and a society that helps them find jobs that will enable them to live independently. Most importantly, a physically impaired person is not made to feel that he is less worthy than other human beings. Examples of people like Helen Keller in the US would never come to light in the East.
Technology is not just a blessing at the office and home for normal people. It has also made inroads into the hearts of the deaf-blind by making it possible for them to use the Internet in their own tongue- Braille. The need for this sort of technology was first recognised when the blind and the deaf felt locked out of the Internet, which is primarily an audio-visual medium. For the deaf-blind, the Internet was a black hole. The deaf were upset that there was great audio in some sites with no captions to describe the images. On the other hand, the software finds it difficult to translate a language to Braille in sites that are graphic intensive. Another upsetting factor is that the coding like that of the New York Times which uses a not-too-common developmental language makes it difficult for the translation software to translate. More companies have taken up the challenge to come up with the perfect solution to the problem.
One solution is a power-braille keyboard from Telesensory in Mountain View. A screen reading program works with a keyboard that pops up braille characters, so users can feel and hear what's on the screen.
Although this technology is still in its infancy, several deaf-blind in the West today work well with a laptop and relevant hard and software that make communication easy.
Friendly technology is already here. It is only a matter of time before all the physically challenged will communicate just as easily as anybody else in the West. But between the deaf-blind in the West and East, there is only one thing in common- their physical impairment. Beyond that, the problems they have to contend with are largely different. While people in the West are focused on bettering such software to enhance easier access to information, the physically impaired in the East are still grappling with more basic issues like gaining acceptance in society.