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.