Although I was given the opportunity to participate the “20th Annual International Technology and Persons With Disabilities Conference” in the year 2005 by KGS Corporation(A leading company producing software and some other products for persons with visual impairment.) This chance was robbed from me by the ridiculous decision of US embassy in Tokyo. The embassy refused to issue me a visa, saying that they were not convinced that I have strong ties to Japan to ensure that I would return after visiting the US even though I had a Japanese student visa and had matriculated into my Masters’ Program at University of Tsukuba. After a two-minute interview, the visa officer refused my visa application and told to apply from my own country, once again which was impossible, because to do so, I would be forced to sacrifice my status in Japan. Before leaving the embassy I told them with smile (reflecting my optimism, confidence, and strong determination) that although it is not my right to claim the visa, I will try to prove of myself to you someday that I am a genuine person entitled to travel not only US but also to the world.
Though I have been facing the discrimination, prejudice and harassment throughout my life, their small disappointing result could not keep me from my goal of working against all forms of discrimination regardless of geography, disability and others. The more discrimination and harassment people give more energy I get. The more problems they present, the more solutions I find. This is what I always think my mantra when I am in difficult situation. Citizens of some countries are not required to have a visa to enter the United States and Japan is one of them. Thus, while my Japanese colleagues at that time participated in the conference, and I was prohibited from being there in Los Angeles, as I could not get my intention and meaning of applying visa across US embassy.
Therefore, I once again forwarded my application to the KGS Corporation requesting to provide me one another opportunity to participate the 21st CSUN’s above-mentioned conference, which was organized by California State University Northridge and held at The Hilton Los Angeles Airport and Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotels during, March 20-25, 2006.
Although KGS gave its green signal on my request, I had the same problem of acquiring the visa from US embassy as before. I read all laws and acts relating to US homeland security and emigration so that all documents could be made to meet their so-called requirements and formalities. I also requested that the Nepalese embassy in Japan to provide a letter of recommendation so that US embassy could trust my credibility. In the beginning, the Nepalese embassy was not ready to write me a letter, but I went to Tokyo to meet them in person and tried to convince them in many ways, and finally they asked to forward all documents including the invitation letter of CSUN to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepalese government in Nepal. And I did it as per their suggestions. It took more than a month to get the letter of recommendation from the Nepalese embassy in Tokyo. Although they asked that I follow many unnecessary formalities, I was glad enough that they offered me a letter of recommendation for the issuance of visa from the US embassy, Tokyo.
After preparing all necessary documents, I planned to go to the US embassy with an American friend and before that I tried to make an appointment for my visa interview at the US embassy for the interview, as they do not permit anyone to enter the embassy without an appointment due to the security concerns. But, there were no available times in Tokyo before the conference was to take place. Since I did not have any other alternatives, I made an appointment in Osaka. Fortunately, when I related my story to Dr. Manojlal Shrestha, my Nepalese friend who is in Kobe teaching in Kobe at the Konan University, as a professor, he supported me in many ways after I reached Osaka and he even took me to the embassy’s branch for the interview. He also wrote a letter requesting them for the issuance of my visa and this time, I got the breakthrough and they granted a multiple entries visa valid for 5 years. For this period of time, I will not have to face such difficulties in visiting the USA anytime. After I received my visa, I went to Dr. Manoj’s University, and with his facilitation and coordination, I made the presentation about an hour, which was all about the role of economic development in social welfare.
After this breakthrough, I went to Los Angeles on 22nd of March to participate the CSUN conference and stayed there for three & half days.
The general conference began on March 22, 2006 and continued through March 25, 2006. Throughout these four days, more than 275 sessions were presented and over 150 exhibitors from throughout the world exhibited and displayed their products and services.
My other Japanese friends and I tried to visit as many booths as possible on 23rd and 24th of March and we were fortunate that KGS Corporation provided its one staff member to aid us in visiting these booths. Because of this support, we were able to visit many booths than we would have been able to by ourselves.
The large number of organizations working on disability displaying their products was found in both the Hilton Los Angeles Airport and Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotels. Due to the large number of products on display in both the Hilton and Marriott Hotels, it was not possible to see them all, so, we were forced to be selective in our visits and started moving from one corner to another. Let me very briefly write about some of the products I came across during this exhibition:
Braille display and Braille Note-taker:
I have been using a KGS Braille display and note-taker since 2005 at Tsukuba University but I am not much more familiar on its technical aspect in detail. When I visited some companies, almost in every corner, Braille displays were found to be exhibited. Although they were different in nature in terms of their quality, accessibility, weight, size, price and as a whole convenience, it was difficult for me to identify which one was the most useful and accessible from different angles. I was told by some of the companies that the price of both Braille display and note-taker is generally depends on how many Braille cells are used. And there were Braille displays ranging from 12 cells to 84 cells. Although many companies have developed Braille displays, the cells made by KGS Corporation were the most commonly found in these displays. I was quite surprised with the collaboration and networking of KGS in the international market. The display made available by KGS Corporation, which can display the shape of an object in two dimensions, found to be unique and useful to persons with visual impairment to understand concepts, which was presented through drawing or diagramming. In other words, it represents maps, pictures and graphics in Braille. I also got to know about a number of Braille note-takers and found that Windows was installed in all most all note-takers.
The pioneering company namely “Humanware” was found producing many Braille displays and note-takers accessible to people with visual impairment. The different note-takers different in nature were extremely found useful to us where different software e.g. GPA was used. Note-takers with the facility of voice recorder and FM radio was also interesting one.
While writing about its one product, the optional Bluetooth technology allows using wireless use of a cell phone or PDA devices within a range of not more than 10 meters without an annoying cable. E-mail or text message can be written keeping the cell phone and PDA device even inside our pocket. They also said that we can get access to plenty of functions within the cell phone and PDA device by controlling it from the Braille keyboard. In order to store more data, a memory card can also be used. Besides, I was also very much impressed with the product of Braille note-taker called Braille SENSE made available by a Korean company, namely “HIMS,” which can function even as a laptop computer without screen and the facility of MP3 player is also available.
On the other hand, I found Freedom Scientific to be a leading company, which has made available JAWS for Windows, a screen reader that is used mostly by persons with visual impairment all over the world. The technology for the visually impaired from Freedom Scientific including JAWS, MAGIC screen magnification, and Open Book scanning and reading software, to seamless, Braille displays, the SARA scanning and reading appliance, note-taker, and the PAC Mate accessible Pocket PC with capabilities for GPS solutions, DAISY reading, and many others were also very interesting. And I tried the scanner to scanning the text and found it easy to use as it reads the text out as soon as it finished scanning.
Independence living products:
Our many friends’ most awaited booth was the booth that of independent living where many products needed in daily living were available. The color teller from Canadian company was one of them attracting many of us. This color teller helps indeed to persons with visual impairment in choosing and identifying the color of their clothes as well as other things which certainly helps them make the right choice of color in their daily living. At the same time they also had the talking clinical thermometers for both Celsius/Fahrenheit as well as talking calculators. And some of us wanted to buy them but they were already sold out and what they had was just the sample one.
Moreover, we also briefly had a look at the products for people with low vision. And I showed my interest in talking cell phones and spent some spare of time in the booth of Nokia and its screen-reader. Similarly some companies requested me to help distribute some of the products to the persons with visual impairment in Asia. And the producer of Ultra-Kane was one of them forwarding their request.
In conclusion, technology is any tool or device that helps an individual maintain or increase independence. Technology has transformed our way of life and this event was one of the great events of its kind highlighting the importance of technology and exhibiting the products accessible to persons with disabilities in the 21st century. Throughout the conference, I thought that persons with disabilities from developing world also have to get access on these technologies but this would be extremely difficult as most of the products are beyond their ability to afford. So, how nice would it be if cost minimization approach could be used by developing these products even in developing countries as the price of labor there is much cheaper than in the developed world? I feel that technical support and skills should be exchanged to the developing world so that they could develop such products in a reasonable cost. As a person born in developing country, I always like to extend the hand of cooperation to all for making persons with disabilities of the developing world able to have access to the technology made available to them.