There was an interview on Newsradio 93.8FM this evening with a spokesperson from a visually impaired association in Singapore. I didn't catch most of it, but my ears did prick up when they mentioned online text readers and how there is so much we can do to improve online accessibility for these people.
Duh, it's about time, I was thinking. The Americans and the rest of the first world have been proactive in enabling handicapped people to have as normal an online experience as possible. What is the point of being a technological hub when you leave your most helpless citizens behind?
In fact, about three years ago, my ex-colleague Adel Goh wrote about how she interviewed someone who said*, 'Why design for the blind? The Internet isn't for them'. Nothing much has changed since then. The local new media scene is still very much visually-oriented, and that is also because clients are much more impressed with a Flashy, tub-thumping website than a neatly coded (and labelled) one. Granted, the two categories are not mutually exclusive, but so far I have yet to see a locally-produced effort that qualifies for both.
In a way I wonder if this problem is a reflection of our society. Many people have commented over the years on how physically disabled persons in the United States are fairly independent, visible and mobile. Back here, I am curious as to why I never see any handicapped people - unless I volunteer at a Home. On rare occasions I'd see a few people escorting someone on a wheelchair or walking stick at a shopping centre - and that would be it. Is this because of our culture (shame/ not wanting to impose too much on helpers/ too inconvenient)?
What's more, I still see many people parking in handicapped lots - despite the threat of fines, wheelclamping or both (we call these the 'Socially handicapped', who are also 'visually handicapped' when they tell officers that they didn't notice the huge sign next to their lot.).
Regardless of how reality ties in with our virtual behaviour, it is something that has to change. And soon.
* - Time has eroded my memory but I do recall that was the gist of the interview candidate's statement.