Monday, February 25, 2008

Slowly Moves the Snail They Call The Government

Progress moves slowly.

Let's talk about GPS units. They have GPS units for cars, trekkers and boaters. They find roads, trails, and fish. The ones for cars talk, turn by turn, and figure out alternative routes.

This technology is perfect for those who are blind. Whether getting around with a cane, or with the assistance of a Resident Guide Dog, how perfect would it be to know for sure that you are at a given corner, instead of thinking you are at that corner while your dog socializes at a local fire hydrant.

How perfect would it be to program in a "point of interest" - your new dentist, a favourite grocery store, or get off the bus at your bus stop, without worrying that you have miscounted, that the bus stopped one extra time, and didn't announce that you had arrived.

GPS devices are available to the sighted world, and even "talk", and respond to voice command, for under a grand. For the blind? We're talking a couple of those grands. That's serious money.

Sure, these devices would need to be more accurate than the average GPS device, and therefore more expensive. It is very important to get it right - you don't want to "drop in" at your next door neighbour's house, and make yourself at home, helping yourself to a snack from their fridge (although in our house, it might be better pickings anyway). However, I can imagine that your neighbour might be a little surprised.

My own GPS in the car tells me that I'm home when I'm still 5 houses away. But mine was only $200. I can appreciate an accurate one might cost more. And I'm okay with that. But 10 times more? Then I begin to wonder, isn't that a little excessive?

Just think how much mobility means. If a person is able to program in their destination, and then actually find the destination, first time out... it would mean that they could become more independent. Maybe one could easily get to a job previously inaccessible due to the complexity of finding it with a cane or a dog. Isn't that what it's about? Independence?

So far these talking GPS units for the blind are "under consideration" by the Canadian government as an approved "assistive device". It may take the better of 2 years to find out whether they are approved or not.

In the meantime, Larry can sit on his sorry butt, watching the approved "CATV" device that allows TV be more accessible. (Actually, we don't have one of those, but he could if he wanted one.) That device has been approved by the government long ago, and has been effectively replaced by stereo TVs and their SAP capability accessible through the menu. So entertainment trumps accessibility in the government's eyes.

So we need to decide - do we just bite it and buy one? Or do we wait for a couple of years to see if the Canadian government decides to approve it for coverage... one day.
Contributed by Jamie Naessens

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