Sandra Griffiths has lived in Gilbert for 23 years, but she hasn’t seen the town’s rapid changes. She can hear them — in the sounds of speeding traffic on Elliot Road near her home.
And feel them — in the frustratingly smooth surfaces of digital touchscreens and bathroom doors without raised or braille signs.
Griffiths, 53, lost most of her eyesight as an adult when her retinas were damaged by Lyme disease in 1984. A small amount of peripheral vision in her right eye allows her to see large objects four to six inches in front of her face, but everything else is shadows.
At home, she paints bright orange raised lines and dots to guide her fingers to use electronics with smooth surfaces and small buttons. But when she’s out in Gilbert, automated teller machines and store checkout kiosks that have computer touchscreens are impossible to use.
"It’s getting worse and worse with the advancement of some of these technologies," Griffiths said. "They just don’t take into account people who have vision problems. You run into all these obstacles that are being newly created."
It’s ironic that new technologies are supposed to make things easier, but for the blind and visually impaired, they can present significant obstacles, says John Black, a research scientist at the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing at Arizona State University. The lab is working on devices that allow blind and visually impaired people to use everyday resources.
"The problem is with more and more graphical user interfaces," or things that require the viewer to respond to graphics on a screen, Black said. "If you’re blind, you can still use a keyboard, but suddenly you can’t just type things any more."
New technology can help people like Griffiths read books and use computers, but first they have to be accessible. Griffiths said she can’t use the Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert because it lacks closedcircuit television, which can magnify reading material on a monitor. Griffiths has asked about closed-circuit television, but was told it was too expensive, she said.
Library regional branch manager Sandy Edwards said such a system is something the library would definitely consider acquiring. Edwards said she started as the library’s regional branch manager about four months ago, so she wasn’t aware of any previous requests for a system.
Most frustrating for Griffiths, though, are bathrooms in town that lack raised or braille signs.
Many times she has had to joke quickly, "Don’t worry, I can’t see anything anyway," to a surprised man after she has mistakenly walked into the men’s room or been directed there by someone playing a cruel joke.
"I’ve learned to laugh a lot about it," she said of the daily challenges she faces.