Give me an ‘A’…

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.


  1. tiggie

    heyee! i couldn’t agree more! i see visually impaired people going about on their own a lot here….they have organisations to arrange for guide-dogs or other types of needs/facilities. but ultimately i have to say, the attitude in the West seems to be that one needs to enjoy the right to be independent.
    there are some amazing things being developed for ‘locked-in’ patients at the institute to which i was briefly attached in Tuebingen, Germany….using slow cortical potentials to enable these patients to serve the web. slow, the process, it may be but the option is made a reality. blind people can equally enjoy such media….perhaps by means of audio-presentation or a device that translates text into braille in a more time-efficient manner…. equal opportunities for the handicap will be such a rewarding challenge to both technology and mind-sets!

  2. Van Heng

    I agree too. Here in Ann Arbor, I really see a number of handicapped people going about on their own. People are helpful too if they see a visually-impaired person on his or her own. And the ones in wheelchairs move about easily, confidently and appear comfortable on the streets and in the malls and bookstores. I think it’s both a bit of a cultural stigma and an environmental problem in Singapore: the visually and physically impaired may be conscious about moving in the tight spaces, overcrowded areas and since Singaporeans in general love to stare, those with canes and wheelchairs don’t want to attract anyone’s attention. How very sad that we live in such an unwelcoming society. They seem relegated to the fringes of society.
    I’m not sure if Lin Kiat did do this but he told me that he wanted to: someone was illegally parked in the handicapped lot outside his flat, and he wanted to take a digital picture of it (with license plate clearly in view), print it, and put it on the guy’s windscreen with a note saying, “Next time, this picture is going to the police.”

  3. Lucian

    This is almost uncanny. I just sent an email to the web designer who was interviewed regarding the quote.
    While it is true that being business-minded ensures profitability, there are some things which should be done because they are the rights things to do.
    508 baby. 🙂

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