Lucy Greco: “I am blind and visually impaired, I have been since birth. And very early on, I discovered how much more I could do using assistive technologies. When I was in grade school, I was given access to a computer that had a screen reader on it, and I found that it became much more liberating to be able to use a computer then. Going through college, I became a person who not only depended on computers, but liked them, I found them intriguing. So I ended up being the person that helped other people and taught them how to use their computers. I, early on, realized I had a tendency to actually help people with disabilities find clever and unique ways to get tasks done, mostly with computers, but in other ways too. And I realized that assistive technology would be the career path I would get into.
I, early on, realized I had a tendency to actually help people with disabilities find clever and unique ways to get tasks done, mostly with computers, but in other ways too.
When I first started using computers, in the mid-80’s, assistive technology was way far behind. I was using a word processor in the early 90’s that did not have a lot of the major functionalities of the other word processors people were using. People had the ability to bold and emphasize text. I could not do that with my word processor with the same ease that they could. When Windows 3.1 came out, there was no screen readers for it. Today, Windows 10 came out and a screen reader was able to be used immediately with that.
The mainstream companies, like Microsoft, Apple, and Google, are all working on accessibility today. They now all have an understanding of accessibility and they have teams working on it, and they are incorporating it into their products. Ten years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to use new products immediately. Today, we can, because these companies believe in accessibility, and yes, they have been mandated by law to become accessible, but I think most of them have incorporated it into their cultures.
There is some new really fascinating technology coming out on the market today. Even just two years ago, a blind person couldn’t actually explore a mathematical formula properly on the web. Today, there are tools that will allow a person to actually follow how that formula is laid out and be able to calculate their answer to that mathematical formula in an accessible electronic way. I mean, I remember doing math in grade school, using a brailler, and it would take four sheets of paper to do a polynomial. Today that can be done on the web and it can be done accessibly. That is amazing. It is going to offer opportunities to people who are blind and visually impaired that they have never had before. I think the future is really bright.
We will have a full-page tactile Braille display within months. I have seen the prototype, it is amazing. Being able to look at a graphic and feel it with my hands, without paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, which was what they were available for in the past (this one is supposed to cost under a thousand dollars). I think I am lucky to be alive today as a blind person. And I think as institutions actually start teaching about accessibility — because they ultimately will be teaching about accessibility — we are going to get better and better tools and have more and more inclusion in society, in everything we do.”
Lucy Greco, Web Accessibility Evangelist at UC Berkeley. Photo: AFP Jana Asenbrennerova.