Accessibility Review: Microsoft Surface Pro vs Surface Book

A silver Surface Book sitting on table beside Surface Pro with red keyboard

Tech reviews can be a bit dime-a-dozen online, with everyone and their mother writing blogs, recording vlogs, making podcasts and sending up smoke signals about their experiences with all the latest gadgets. Despite this copious swamp of opinions, there remains a relative dearth of tech reviews focused specifically on experiences of accessibility and adaptability (outside, of course, some of the wonderful work done by the AbleGamers Foundation).

Late last year, Microsoft Canada contacted me to see if I would be interested in partnering with them to fill this gap, testing out some of their devices and software to provide (public, and private) feedback on my experiences.

What follows are some thoughts on tech accessibility generated after spending a some time doing a head-to-head comparison of (relatively) new Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Book!

Editors Note: this content was generated as a result of my partnership with Microsoft and should be viewed as such. Having said that, Microsoft has promised I would be able to provide my unfiltered opinions, good or bad, without fear of @MajorNelson annihilating me on Fortnite Battle Royale as retribution.

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International Day for People with Disabilities 2017

A white slip of paper with black text that reads "Your wheelchair is RAD"

Earlier this week, a stub of paper was slipped under my office door — it read “Your wheelchair is RAD”. I snickered, thought it was cute, and felt that whoever decided to share this with me (presumably a student) really “got” me and my sense of humour.

But this little slip of paper has some increased significance given the proximity its receipt has to today: International Day for People with Disabilities.

I don’t typically celebrate this day. It doesn’t feel like a holiday and it’s at least a bit disheartening that the largest minority in the world rarely even gets their day mentioned on the news, let alone receives any sort of pop culture acknowledgement.

Perhaps this day shouldn’t be just about “raising disability awareness” among those poor souls who haven’t joined our ranks yet. Maybe this should be about celebrating us, “the community,” and all the amazing, staggering and radical things we have done over the past year to push back against the ableism that lurks outside the comfortable confines of our accessible home spaces and work places.

Today, let’s not celebrate the rad chairs. Or the rad walkers or rad crutches. No need to fete rad prosthesis or rad hearing aids or any of the other rad devices Yes, they can be cool and yes they are liberating, but these are all just tools. They’re devices that some people use and others don’t feel they need.

We, the users, are the ones that make them radical.

We make them radical in the ways we use them to oppose a society that says we do not belong. We MAKE them rad because our very existence is a radical act of opposition against normative and eugenic ideologies that have long attempted to eliminate us. Adaptive devices are tools of resistance, yes, but we the users are the true radicals.

So I dedicate today to everyone who radicalizes their tools and uses their devices to confront the disabling aspects of our world. I dedicate today to those who demand a world where using a device doesn’t have to be a radical act. I dedicate today to the radicals that we lost in 2017 and to those who will continue to be radical into 2018.

And last but certainly not least, I dedicate today to all of those who taught me, trained me and inspired me to be a little radical too.

Room with a view (repost)

 

As previously mentioned on this blog, I recently acquired a new electric wheelchair, an incredible piece of machinery produced by Permobil, called the “Permobil Street.” This chair is truly an incredible step forward in wheelchair technology, providing one of the smoothest and fastest rides I’ve ever had. The independent suspension and cambered wheelbase provides incomparable stability and is perfect for both city and all-terrain driving. For the first time ever, I think I may have finally found a wheelchair strong enough to withstand my high usage demands!

Perhaps more exciting is the added elevating seat feature I had installed. This fabulous piece of technology allows me to raise the seat up to bring my eye level to around 5-feet high, allowing me for the first time ever to converse with people face-to-face, naturalizing the social experience that many take for granted. It may seem insignificant, but there is something strange about conversing with someone in a wheelchair: walkies either tower over us or have to kneel down at our level, which I find both embarrassing and awkward.

I am truly astonished at what a difference this technology makes: everything looks different from up here. The raised perspective changes the way I look at everything. Suddenly, putting the freezer above the fridge makes sense, my cupboards are no longer for decoration, and it’s no longer a struggle attempting to operate light switches. Not only does this piece of technology help open up my own apartment, but also because it’s attached to the chair it is portable, meaning I can now do all of these tasks everywhere I go, not just in my “adapted home.”

Coming with a $5000 price tag, the seat elevating system is out of reach (…pun partially intended) for many living on ODSP. To make matters worse, the Adaptive Devices Program who help fund a majority of wheelchairs in Ontario have deemed this technology to be a “luxury” and “non-essential,” meaning it is up to the client to finance the technology themselves.

If the point of a wheelchair is to give someone his or her independence and this technology allows us to be more independent everywhere we take the chair, how is this it anything but essential? Consider the thousands of dollars being spent right now to renovate buildings to have lower cabinets, light switches, and door knobs when we could simply be building wheelchairs with increased functionality. I feel this makes far more sense than attempting to remodel existing infrastructure.

While I am a strong supporter of accessible/universal design, I am beginning to think a better way around some of these accessibility problems is by making wheelchairs more functional, not attempting to tear down and rebuild everything. Why isn’t there more funding for researching wheelchairs that can climb stairs? Why isn’t there funding for seat elevation and lowering?

Rather than reinventing the wheel(chair), we should be giving people the tools they need to live independently within their own environment, regardless if that environment follows universal design guidelines or not. By building accessibility into our chairs, we can have accessibility solutions now, while we wait for build environments to grow naturally as old buildings crumble and new, universally designed structures are erected.

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