Assistive tech, ageism and ableism, oh my

As I was working on a presentation about assistive technology earlier, I came across a YouTube video of a Maltron keyboard commercial. Though of course I don’t know them personally, I have great respect for both Malt and Hobday because they were pioneers in assistive technology and ergonomics and gave options to people who until then hadn’t had many. I have high praise for anyone who goes so far as to rearrange the alphabet according to anatomy.

Therefore, I sorely regret reading the comments. As with most “mainstream” blogs or media that occasionally mention assistive tech, they reflect disheartening degrees of ignorance and/or narrowmindedness. “Granny, is that you?” begins one comment. “For young [people], the voice doesn’t sound sophisticated or modern or revolutionary,” says another. “This keyboard is no good because you have to move your hands and fingers to find some keys,” says another. Another takes a smug tone, believing that RSI is caused by people “too stubborn in their stupidity” to use a wrist rest and it “serves them right.” Wow. Who knew that all the congenital and physical variables that predisposed me to the faster breakdown of my one functional hand didn’t exist — RSI only affects two-handed people, everything is caused by computers and can be magically cured with a wrist rest!

And really — I admit that the background music makes the commercial seem dated, but who the hell cares if the voice is young? They’re not trying to appeal to some ableist little snot, they’re trying to reach people who might need it. Granted, I’m one of those people who are uneasy at disability related products being viewed as exclusively for seniors, and some people could read an older woman’s narration as an endorsement of that misconception. But really, I don’t think so. First of all, the video clearly shows footage of users of varying ages. Second, if that is indeed Lillian Malt, that is not your stereotypical Granny. (More on the horrid Granny stereotypes another day.) Malt invented a piece of technology at a time when women were even less represented in the field. Some publications didn’t even acknowledge her part in the design — only Stephen Hobday’s. If you want to see what kind of work went into it, Maltron UK has the research papers and awards. And again, especially with regard to the single-handed and mouth stick keyboards, there was very little assistive technology in the 70s compared to what there is now. So… hell yeah, that voice is revolutionary. You rock, Ms. Malt.

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4 Responses to Assistive tech, ageism and ableism, oh my

  1. Joe Blake says:

    I met Stephen Hobday and his wife Pam on a couple of occasions about 7-8 years ago when they came to Perth in Western Australia. I suspect that voice over is actually Pam.

    I’ve been using a Maltron for court reporting since 1985, and cannot overstate just how good it is. To be transcribing at 180 wpm for hours on end one needs all the help one can get.

    In this blog
    I described how to create and use keyboard shorthand with the Maltron.

    I’ve recently purchased two single hand Maltrons (one for each hand) and I’m currently experimenting in linking the keyboard to the shorthand, so that the user can be much more efficient. (I have two perfectly good hands, but I’m seeing how long it takes me to become efficient. Using the keyboard/shorthand combo I’ve achieved 12 wpm after about an hour and a half of practice. I’m sure I can get much better. I’m just too busy transcribing with BOTH hands to be able to give time to practising.)

    Further, there are several other blogs which you may or may not find of assistance.

    My Youtube video was done last night as a demo to somebody on the Colemak bulletin board to show how little work is involved in using the Malt layout, compared to using the QWERTY layout, both of a Maltron keyboard.



  2. hand2mouth says:

    That is really cool. A woman who saw me using mine once actually compared it to a steno machine; interesting to see that it can actually be used for one. I agree with you about the shorthand; if I can help it, I have a list of abbreviations stored in whatever word processor or word prediction I’m using. Failing that, there’s AutoHotkey. Some of my shorthand is Dutton Speedwords, and the rest is mine.
    Do you find the two one-handed keyboards more efficient than a two-handed Maltron?

  3. Joe Blake says:

    I’m only using one keyboard at a time, but it’s a bit difficult to say whether the singleton is better than the dual, since I’ve not yet got 25 years of experience. 😀

    I like to try to understand how having a disability can affect one’s life, and I bought the keyboard(s) so I would be able to experiment and able to discuss the topic with somebody from a position of at least some practical experience.

    One of my life projects is to try to do something to ease the burdens placed upon computer users (whether able or otherwise) by impossibly stupid hardware and software design.



  4. Joe Blake says:

    Just thought I’d drop round and say hi again. I’ve been (sort of) playing with the Maltron singleton and I’ve done this video to show my first efforts.

    Obviously I’m not as good with this as I am using both hands, but I’m certainly impressed with how easy it was to learn, and I think it has loads of potential.



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