Cost and financial barriers
Many disabled people live well below the poverty line, even in wealthier countries where financial support should be more readily available. Someone who is living on a low income, can struggle to afford the basic necessities (e.g., food, clothing, rent, etc), and they don’t have anything left over to buy a computer or a software program, such as a screen reader. Some programs, such as the Assistive Devices Program in Ontario, provide a certain amount of money for a disabled person to buy a computer, screen reading or optical recognition software, or other devices such as hearing aides or motorized wheelchairs. These programs are limited to a certain amount of money per applicant, and they can only apply once every few years. If the person has more than one disability, the money allocated to them may not be enough to cover all of their technological needs.
Disability-specific technology, such as Braille displays and screen readers, is a small niche market and thus quite expensive. Most Braille displays will cost thousands of dollars, whereas a decent monitor will only cost a few hundred bucks. Until about fifteen years ago, if you wanted a screen reader, you had to pay for it, you had no choice. I paid over $1500 for my copy of Jaws for Windows when I purchased a computer through the Assistive Devices Program in 2001, and that only allowed me to install the software on a limited number of computers, and receive a limited number of software upgrades.
The release of NVDA in 2006, a free, open-source screen reader for Windows, was revolutionary for Windows users. In 2005, Apple released OS 10.4 Tiger with voiceover baked right into the operating system. Unlike Windows Narrator, this was a fully-functional screen reader that enabled blind Mac users to set up, configure, and use their Mac computer without any sighted assistance. In 2009, Apple made voiceover available on its flagship iPhone series, opening up the world of touch screens to blind users.
While things are changing in the disability technology landscape, cost is still a huge barrier. iPhones are expensive to purchase outright, or they come with expensive contracts. NVDA is a wonderful screen reader with a large user base, but it isn’t as robust as Jaws. Google has also developed their own screen reader for Android phones, however, in my personal experience, it isn’t as responsive on the cheaper smartphones. So even though there are more options to choose from, if you want high quality assistive technology, it’s still costs a lot of money.