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‘Disability drives innovation’

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here . is a collection of last column.

Do you love audio books? “You have blind people to thank for this,” said Katherine Kudlick, Paul K. at San Francisco State University. Director of the Longmore Institute on Disabilities.

Your smartphone was the godfather of a book you’re reading through headphones talking booksRecords for people with impaired vision were developed in the United States in the 1930s as an alternative to Braille.

I’m discussing the history of audiobooks with Dr. Kudlick, who calls himself “completely blind,” and with other experts because, well, I love listening to books. But it is much more than that. Audiobooks developed by or for people with disabilities are a prime example of technology that has helped us all. They remind us that people with disabilities are the key players, not just in invention.

“Disability drives innovation. It’s undeniable,” said Joshua Mille, a visually impaired adaptive technology designer who was recently Nominated Recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius” grant.

“Almost always when you find something that’s really good for people with disabilities,” Dr. “It will find its way into the mainstream in a way that is wonderful and makes life better,” Miley told me.

let me back soon history of audiobooks: Robert Irwin, former executive director of the American Foundation for the Blind, led a program in the 1930s to develop gramophone records of narrators reading books aloud, Mara Mills, a New York University professor whose expertise includes disability studies.

At the time, only 10 percent to 20 percent of Americans who were blind—including veterans who lost their sight in World War I—could read Braille. The US government helped fund record players for people who were blind or low vision, and talking books were distributed through public libraries.

Commercial audiobooks took off after World War II, and each generation of audio formats – cassette tapes, CDs and now smartphone apps – have made listening to books more convenient.

(Side note: Dr. Mills said that some people with visual impairments hacked their record players to speed through talking books, and that aural speed reading affected audio time-saving technology. If you are fond of listening to your favorite podcast or audiobook here double speed, you also have people with low vision to thank for that.)

This history flips the script for how many of us envision product design. We may become more familiar with technologies that are designed for the general population and then become useful for people with certain disabilities by adaptation or accident. Smartphones are like this.

But other technologies that are relatively widely used today exist for people with disabilities. Silicon Valley inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil developed several technologies, including Pioneers of text-to-speech software like Siri, with National Federation of the Blind.

hearing aids were one of them Earliest commercial proving ground for computer chips Which are now in everything from fighter jets to your fridge. And it’s not strictly technology as we imagine it, but Dr. Milley also noted that the cut in sidewalls was developed for people who use wheelchairs and has proven useful to many others.

talking books still exists Today. But Dr. Mills said that screen reader —Descendants of Kurzweil’s design, which scans digital text and speaks it aloud or converts it into Braille — has made both talking books and audiobooks slightly less popular with their blind students.

It seems fitting that one technology initially designed for blind people has been partially crowdfunded by another.

Further studies:


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