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Inaccessible Documentation for Blindness Related Products!

December 30, 2004 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker


How frustrated would you be if you bought a piece of relatively complex electronic equipment only to receive absolutely no documentation as to how to use it effectively? Well, this happens all the time to those of us who happen to be blind. Even worse, it happens not only with mainstream companies, but also with companies doing business in the blindness field. That’s right. Companies selling us products specially designed to meet our needs are failing to provide appropriate manuals or other documentation in alternative formats. This current state of affairs represents an injustice we must not allow to stand unchallenged.


We purchase alternative products to meet our needs. These products can range from assistive high technology such as screen reading software to low technology for daily living and leasure such as talking microwaves, talking clocks and many other such devices. While the assistive technology products do tend to include proper accessible documentation, the lower technology products often do not despite the fact that their operation can sometimes be quite complex, especially when used by people who are not familiar with technology.


We purchase special blindness related products when the mainstream equivalents do not meet our needs. It is often very difficult to use a mainstream microwave oven, especially if no Braille labels have been applied. We are simply unable to read a clock with a visual display due to our physical lack of eye sight. Other mainstream electronics include menus, touch screens and other complex interfaces which have been designed to be usable only to the sighted.


We spend more money on our products because they are designed for a small market as compared to the sighted mass market. Their prices are at least between three and ten times that of the same product for the sighted. Sometimes, that pricing is even higher for us. Since we’re purchasing products designed for us and since we’re often paying large sums of money for these products as compared to the rest of the world, we are right to have certain basic customer expectations. First, we obviously expect the product to be of high quality and to meet the stated need for which it was purchased. Second, we expect to receive all documentation and related materials for that product in a format we can use. That means we expect to receive all written materials in accessible, alternative formats other than print. Print only documentation for these products is simply unacceptable.


There is a specific issue at play concerning the improper lack of provision of accessible documentation on the part of a company in the blindness field. It is a very disappointing scenario concerning Christmas gifts. We are currently working with this company to obtain proper, professional resolution to the issue. Be assured that the outcome of this situation will be covered in great detail in these pages.


Have you received inaccessible, incomplete or incorrect product documentation from a company doing business in the blindness industry? What have you done about it? All comments are welcome.

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