|You Cant Even Give It Away!|
“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home”
Ken Olsen, President Digital Equipment, 1977
During the heyday of the Home Computer, being able to use a computer meant that you had to be able to read off screen and use a keyboard or mouse.
Working with people with a disability, effectively we just looked at alternatives to these.
In the case of people who couldn’t read off a screen, we proposed using Screenreading Software. For people who couldn’t use a keyboard or a mouse effectively, we looked for hardware alternatives, one handed keyboards, rollerballs and joysticks instead of the standard mouse. We replace like for like, often without radically changing the way the computer is used or is intended to be used.
Even for people with significant physical disabilities, those that required using a switch to access the computer, effectively what we have done in the past in replaced the traditional keyboard and mouse combination with a switch and a software alternative to both of these items of hardware.
During the early proliferation of computers, particularly in schools, there was an obsession with teaching typing skills. It seemed for a while that the best hope a person with a disability had in terms of getting a career was to learn to type.
We were still awfully precious about using computers, mainly because they were (certainly in schools) a rare and much desired commodity. One colleague of mine, on recommending a Mini Keyboard for children with motor disabilities would often photocopy the keyboard and provide that to the child in question for a few months so that they could practice their typing skills without damaging the precious keyboard. In the early days of using technology, for children with a disability there was often a sense that they had to earn the right to use such a device, or demonstrate their worth by performing trials of fire in therapy or in class over a series of months. I also remember at the time, teachers and therapists recommending that children with a disability should at least be in secondary school before they consider using computers.
The real effect of this was that it meant that we, the so called, experts told people with a disability how they should use ICT and for what. Because ICT was expensive and still considered a luxury for the bright and able, it meant we also had a significant influence not just on how and for what people with a disability used a computer but also where and for how long.