As I was driving home tonight, I was listening to Forum on KQED (Michael Krasny rules! Oops, did I say that out loud?)... The topic of the show was advancements in assistive technologies for the blind. One of the guests was a blind man, the first to summit Mt. Everest. He has recently been participating in a research project that aims to convert visual signals into electrical impulses that can be detected by the tongue. Apparently, he wears a small camera on his head, and then the images it "sees" are processed in realtime and transmitted to a thin device that rests on his tongue. The signals are of sufficient resolution for his brain to interpret them (with plenty of practice) as if they were real visual stimulii. So far he's been able to "watch" his wife walk around a park, a ball rolling on the floor, and so on. Really changes the way you think about assistive technologies, eh?

Another guest mentioned a trend in designing accessibility into products from the start, rather than patching accessible features onto products as an afterthought. The example he provided was glucose monitors that retail in drug stores for $20 can cost upwards of $500 for a model that is accessible for the visually impaired. Manufacturers are beginning to realize that they can offset these costs by taking accessibility into account during the design phase, which generally results in a better product for everyone.

What's this mean for Java developers? Well, if you've ever written a Swing application, most likely your app will play quite nicely with assistive technologies, such as screen magnifiers and readers. That's one of the many perks of using Swing: you're automatically taking advantage of the Java Accessibility API. You can rest easy knowing that your application will be accessible by millions of users who would otherwise be locked out from your offering. You don't have to worry about whether a specific kind of assistive device is present; Java takes care of the gory details for you. One of these days, you may just find your application deployed to a tongue near you.

In my ears: Radiohead, "Hail To The Thief"