For those of us with disabilities, access technology is key to our participation in life. It’s wonderful when I find public amenities that contain accessibility features. For example, I can now use talking machines to vote at the polls, and can get cash with the help of a talking ATM. These technologies give me the chance to vote and withdraw money privately, independently, and efficiently. Similarly, remote technology can allow a signing Deaf person to hold a conversation with a hearing person without having to bring an interpreter on-site, using the services of a remote sign language interpreter.
However, the technology is only as good as the humans operating it. One problem with access technology in public places is that because so few people use it, the people in charge of setting up the technology may not have practice setting it up when it is needed, or they may not notice maintenance problems in a timely fashion. Business owners and other managers of public accommodation may think they’ve covered their accessibility obligations by having the technology around, but may neglect the need for training and regular maintenance on the equipment. As a result, we may come to expect the technology, only to discover that it doesn’t work properly. There are other times when a piece of technology doesn’t meet our needs as well as a human assistant, for a variety of reasons.
When my voting machine or ATM doesn’t talk like it should, it’s an inconvenience. But imagine the stress involved in being a hospital patient and being unable to communicate with medical staff because the remote interpreting device isn’t working. As this article illustrates, failures in communication technology may explain, in part, the health disparities experienced by Deaf people and others with disabilities. It also illustrates that, sometimes, there is no substitute for the presence of face-to-face support.
Click here to read about some Deaf patients’ hospital experiences