2000 Conference Proceedings

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ALTERNATIVES FOR ACCESS AND USE OF SPANISH LANGUAGE ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY EQUIPMENT BY INDIVIDUALS WITH VISUAL DISABILITIES

José M. Alvarez Cabán

Access Information Specialist

Puerto Rico Assistive Technology Project

Assistive technology equipment has become a very powerful tool for persons with disabilities. This specialized technology allows persons with disabilities perform tasks that in the past would be very difficult and in occasions impossible to achieve.

It is very common today that persons with disabilities use their assistive technology equipment at school, work, and in recreational activities. So, there's no doubt that assistive technology equipment is a great alternative to all persons with disabilities to improve their quality of life. But there are some factors that limit the access and use of this technology by persons with disabilities.

The high cost of assistive technology equipment is one of those factors. But there are others, such as language barriers unique to assistive technology users that are non english speakers. There is a problem for all spanish speaking persons with disabilities in terms of having access to products that are only in english.

The question is; What happens when a person with a disability that does not speak english needs to deal with that assistive technology equipment? Without doubt, this person will not be able to benefit of this technology. For example, when a spanish speaking person with a visual disability, attempts to access a computer, he or she will need special adaptations consisting of a screen reader software plus a speech synthesizer as their auditory output to be able to navigate the computer applications. That process alone is a very challenging one, due to the graphic oriented design of the current operating systems, like Windows 95/98 and NT and Macintosh.

In order for this person to use the computer it must be adapted using assistive technology equipment. But the disadvantage of this blind person is that almost all of the technology and the instruction manuals are in the english language. In addition the latest versions and best performance technologies always are first in english language. The reason is obvious, but without any doubt, this blind person is in a disadvantage.

A blind spanish speaking person is then in disadvantage twice in this process, first accessing a very graphical and visual technology, and second because of his or her language. Even if persons with disabilities in all of the spanish speaking countries were willing and able to pay for this new technology, the language would continue to be a barrier.

Also, this situation applies to hispanics populations with disabilities in the United States because they prefer their spanish native language in their assistive technology equipment.

As a legally blind person myself, I believe that manufactures should also take this language issue in mind, applying the universal design and also the language aspect into their assistive technology equipment products. There is some technology available today in spanish for blind spanish speaking individuals. This assistive technology is usually know best as International versions.

Some of these technology in spanish are:

 Screen Readers (Computers software)

 Speech synthetizers (Hardware and software)

 Notetakers (Talking device)

 Voice recognition applications (Computer software)

 Internet Browsers (computers applications)

 Reading OCR (Computer software)

 Callers ID (Talking device)

 Calculators (Talking devices)

 Clocks and watches (Talking devices)

We will demonstrate and present the uses of this spanish version technologies, their correspondent installation, configurations, adaptations and where to find it. We also will provide a list of spanish language web sites dedicated to assistive technology equipment, services, and information.

Our last point will focus on the aspect of web accessibility in spanish and the efforts and guidelines in spanish speaking countries like Puerto Rico, South and Central America, Latin America. and the Carribean.


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