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In a world full of technology, blind people are getting left behind. Some Idahoans are looking to change that.

Posted at 8:22 PM, Mar 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 22:22:39-04

MAGIC VALLEY — Erin Olsen, an Idahoan and Vice President of The National Federation of the Blind of Idaho, NFB, started to lose her vision four years ago. She also has type 1 diabetes and uses and relies on her insulin pump to manage her blood sugar levels.

The pump, which is about the size of a smartphone, has a screen and multiple buttons to enter information about how many calories you intake among other information.

“This device is almost 100% non-accessible and diabetes is the number one cause of blindness in the world," Olsen said.

Thankfully for Erin, she has memorized the buttons on the pump and can use it without asking for help. But for others, it could be a life or death situation.

But Erin says the NFB is working on the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act which aims to end that hurdle for blind Americans. They are also working on two other bills to make websites, and mobile apps more accessible.

“We understand that people don’t know what they don’t know and it’s a big deal because everything these days is on a computer. School is on a computer. You can’t go to college these days without using a computer," Olsen said.

The organization is also working on the Access Technology Affordable Act and the Twenty-First Century Mobile Apps and Website Accessibility Act which aim to improve affordability for access technology necessary for employment and independent living and end website and mobile application inaccessibility for blind Americans.

This device is almost 100% non-accessible and diabetes is the number one cause of blindness in the world

If passed, both bills will improve the experience for blind Americans, especially during a pandemic when signing up for an appointment for a potentially life-saving vaccine is mainly done online.

“When a button isn’t labeled and it just comes up saying button or control an inexperienced person is going to have no idea ‘oh it’s probably a submit button, so I should click on that," Olsen said.

But she says the problem doesn't just lie on websites but on everyday devices we use since most of them are not accessible. Even something as easy as doing laundry can be a difficult task if the machines don't have accessibility features.

“A touch screen is beautiful if you can see the touch screen. If you don’t know where those buttons are and if it doesn’t give you audible tones to let you know what you are doing they aren’t usable. So now we are no longer able to do laundry and easily cook dinner or all of those things we used to do,” Olsen said.

The passing of legislation like these three bills to make websites and devices more accessible is critical and potentially life-saving to blind people, Erin says.

“This sometimes can be an overused phrase but we want to be able to live our lives independently," Olsen said.