Thursday, June 15

Interesting Amazon Department

Greetings. I was reading through my daily round of blogs last night and saw that Amazon has opened a new Store for the blind and visually impaired. While I'm a big supporter of Amazon and have shopped there for the past 5 or so years, I was a bit puzzled by this announcement. What could have caused them to open this department? Who knows. I was really puzzled when I browsed through the short list of products to be offered. Granted, these are by no means the only things offered. They included: the Braille and tactile book on astronomy called "Touch the Sun"; quite a few products for the low vision population, such as magnifyers, large print books, and more; and one that jumped out at me and made me groan: under the software section, there was a listing for the Dragon Naturally Speaking program. For those that don't know, Dragon is a speech recognition program. The reason I groaned when I read this, is the following.

For the past few years, whenever someone in the general public hears that I use computers, one of the first questions more often than not is if I use, or a statement that I should use, a speech recognition program. I think the thinking here is that I wouldn't have to worry about typing in information and just sit back and "talk" to my computer. I then calmly explain to them that the problem for blind people is not putting information into the computer, but getting it out. This usually satisfies most people, however I did have one woman who persisted and said that I really could benefit from it. After several tries of convincing me, I finally held my hands up and said, "Well, I don't use that software because I have no problems using my hands," and I wiggled my fingers viggorously. This seemed to satisfy her, that is after her husband repeated what I said to her in a quiet tone. I kid you not. Ug!

Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand, its my speculation that someone at Amazon, who I'm guessing had no idea how a blind person really does use a computer, figured that this would be a great thing to offer. After all, those blind people wouldn't have to worry about typing. I hesitate to ask that, if typing is such a high priority here, how are we going to go online and buy things from their site on the Web, or had they thought of that? I have no doubt that some blind people, and those with other disabilities, might get a great deal of use out of Dragon, but at first glance, it doesn't strike me as the necessary software that we can use for computer access. To be fair though, in recent years, some people have brought Dragon and JAWS together so that is possible to use a dictation software package and still have a screen reader. I haven't used this package though, so I couldn't offer any opinions on it.

On a larger scale, as I browsed through some of the more higher priced products from Amazon, I saw a couple of Braille displays from Freedom Scientific. Though there was no listing of JAWS. Hmm. Anyway, it appears that Amazon is getting some of these more tech related items from some of the low vision and daily living aids distributors, such as Maxi Aids and others I didn't recognize.

The other big question that came to my mind when I read of this new department is, why? Why do we need another specialized store, much less from Amazon? I'm all for integration, but if I need a Braille watch (which they may or may not offer, I'm just using it as an example), I'm going to buy from a place like Independent Living Aids first before I go looking at Amazon. I suppose they're trying to reach out to include everyone, even the blind and low vision populations. Interesting point though: they're new store is just as cluttered with the typical Amazon stuff as their other pages. In other words, on first glance, they didn't reduce the amount of unlabeled graphics and links that take up quite a bit of space on their regular pages. If I were to be critical, I'd ask why they didn't put this specialized store on the accessibility site, or at least clean it up a little, for the populations they're attempting to serve? But I won't be critical.

This won't stop me buying from their other stores though. It will be interesting to see what other kinds of products they offer though, and if they increase the number of blindness products they have. I realize that the low vision population is a large part of this market, but its not the whole market.

Time will tell I suppose.

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