He was probably 11 or 12 years old. A cute little boy with sandy blonde hair cropped just like his Dad’s military buzz cut. And he was wearing very, very thick glasses. The kind of glasses people would tease were, “Coke Bottle Glasses.”
He was going blind. He was probably already legally blind.
We were standing in the Technology Center at the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland celebrating the book release, Touch the Universe. Sighted or not, this is a very cool book. Pictures from the Hubble Space telescope have been embossed giving all of us a new way to learn about and explore these phenomenal pictures.
One of the NFB representatives was teaching us how a refreshable Braille display worked and could be used to read web pages. On a device that could practically be mistaken for a wrist rest, one sentence at a time is rendered as Braille. It’s an alternative to a screen reader.
The shy little boy sat down next to the older NFB representative who placed the child’s hands on Brialle display. His military Dad stood ramrod straight and tall next to him. Dad seemed nervous; holding his breath practically.
The teacher explained how the device worked and asked the child to read the webpage.
He read the first sentence and when the Braille refreshed it surprised the little boy. His head whipped around to look in Dad’s direction. He had the biggest grin and look of pride. He was so excited and continued to read the webpage using the refreshable Braille display.
He was surfing the web.
He was just like any other kid.
Dad, who continued to look anxious asked the teacher with reluctance in his voice:
“And how much does something like this cost?”
The teacher and NFB representative let out a grunt and said with a hint of disgust and frustration, “About $10,000.”
Dad nodded sadly. His son removed his hands from the device and placed them quietly in his lap.
My heart broke and my life was forever changed.
As a military wife myself, I read the ranking on Dad’s uniform and I knew that toy was probably never going to end up under the Christmas tree.
The next time you hear someone complaining about having to make something accessible, I hope you’ll remember this story.