How Technology Can Truly Empower Individuals
In this guest blog for Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Rubab Rizvi, Tax Analyst at KPMG and a family member of our Centenary board member, Naqi Rizvi, shares how the use of digital technology has become a crucial part of her life. She tells us how the power of technology empowered her to pursue a career in finance despite living with a visual impairment.
The power of tech
It’s rightly said that change is the only constant and the Covid-19 pandemic is a perfect example of that! Sooner or later when the world embraces the “new normal” or hopefully the “once-upon-a-time normal,” the reality is that technology and the remote/virtual environment will be part of our lives forever. While a lot of people struggled with the move to online platforms, for me the shift was incredibly smooth.
I was born with Congenital Glaucoma (read more about Glaucoma and other eye conditions here) which has left me with very little functional sight. While I may not see so well it is technology, and specifically, my best friends, JAWS (Job Access with Speech) and VoiceOver, that have become my life and my lifelines!
Ever since I started using my mobile a few years ago, I’ve always praised Apple for being the most accessible tech brand for people with a visual impairment because of its inbuilt VoiceOver feature. There’s absolutely nothing I can’t do on my iPhone from using social media (WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, and more), to listening to podcasts, to browsing the web and even identifying money through scanning applications. Of course, every app is different but VoiceOver is compatible with the majority and works very well. Everyone I meet is fascinated by the way I use my iPhone – especially when they see the blank screen – and they laugh when VoiceOver reads out the emojis!
There are many screen-reader applications available but the most common of all and the one I’ve been using since the beginning is JAWS by Freedom Scientific. At work I use Microsoft Office, just like everyone else, and its JAWS that unlocks the power of the computer for me by helping me navigate the screen and all my documents, folders and files. JAWS has a language of its own and I didn’t learn it overnight. It took a lot of patience and hard work to get accustomed to it, and VoiceOver too, and now they’ve become my biggest lifelines and have enabled me to excel and feel confident in my work and personal life.
The impact of Covid-19
Before the pandemic started, I attended lots of in-person conferences and events where I needed support to get on to and off the stage. Now with MS Teams, Zoom and other online meeting platforms, I feel extremely empowered as I can actively participate in any conference or meeting through my laptop or phone without having to depend on anyone.
Tech in everyday life
Technology has made me fall in love with online shopping! Without having the need to ask for assistance at physical stores like in the past, I can now buy anything online from groceries to gifts, and easily read the product descriptions including colours and patterns myself to make a more informed decision! Audio description on Netflix is another example of how accessibility has entered the world of entertainment. Not to forget, the option to scan menu cards in restaurants which didn’t exist a few years ago!
The importance of accessibility now and in the future
Technology has been instrumental in my life and has certainly empowered me in every way personally, academically and professionally. With that said, a lot of work still needs to be done. For example, being a visually impaired person, I opt for digital banking and the website of my bank is the least compatible with JAWS. It means without sighted assistance I’m unable to carry out certain actions. Likewise, a lot of websites don’t account for accessibility at all.
My hope for the future is that accessibility will be one of the core elements in the design of websites and products, city landscapes and infrastructure. Having access to the world around us – both physically and through technology – empowers us all and it is accessibility that removes the barriers and unlocks the possible for individuals of every kind.