Site: Canon, Inc.
Shinjuku Dai-ichi Seimei Building
7-1 Nishi-Shinjuku 2-chome, Shinjuku-Ku
Tokyo 163-07, Japan
Date Visited: May 25, 1995
Report Author: E. P. Glinert
E. P. Glinert
Canon's predecessor company, Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory, was founded in 1933 to conduct research into quality cameras. A prototype of Japan's first 35 mm focal plane shutter camera was produced the following year. Although for many decades the company was known primarily for its precision photographic equipment, over 80% of its sales are now derived from business machines, especially laser printers, photocopiers, and fax machines and related components. Other products include the world's first laptop computer with a built-in printer (developed jointly with IBM/Japan), new high-technology stereo speakers and 3-D interactive graphics software (both developed at the UK research center established in 1988, one of 5 R&D centers located outside Japan), and the Canon Communicator for people with speaking and writing impairments (discussed in more detail below).
In 1992, Canon was ranked 84th among the Fortune 500 industrial companies, with over 64,500 employees worldwide and annual sales well in excess of ¥1.8 trillion (~$18 billion). Since 1988, the corporate philosophy has been "kyosei," which means living and working together for the common good. About 6% of annual sales revenue is reinvested in research. In 1992, Canon was awarded more patents in the United States than any other company, while in 1993 it ranked third (behind IBM and Toshiba).
Discussions centered on the activities of the Corporate Welfare Division, which was established in 1974 (under a different name) to distribute in Japan assistive devices for visually impaired people. The devices were developed in the United States by TeleSensory Corporation, with which Canon has enjoyed a long and continuing relationship. However, since 1977 Canon has been designing and manufacturing its own offerings for this market; while many of these are customized versions of TeleSensory products, there are wholly proprietary innovations as well. Seminars and training courses for users and special education teachers, some of which are partly funded by the Japanese government, are another focus (see Fig. 5.1).
Since 1993, Yasuhisa Himeno has been General Manager of the Division, which currently has about 20 staff members in 4 departments: planning; R&D; marketing and sales; and technical services. The unit is now beginning a push for universal design to assure accessibility of all future Canon products. Documents for internal distribution on this topic were scheduled for June 1995 release, and were to be updated and issued thereafter on a quarterly basis. A height-adjustable photocopier is currently available, but Canon feels this is not enough; other company products must be made accessible as well.
During the second part of the meeting, the JTEC team saw demonstrations of and received brief explanations about several current products.
Originally introduced in the early 1970s, this is a portable reading device for the blind that does not rely on a knowledge of Braille. It consists of a tiny camera tethered to a tactile array of 5 x 20 pins covering an area approximately 1 inch long by 0.5 inches wide. As the user moves the camera over the surface on which the information is printed/displayed, the scanned image is converted into a vibrating tactile form that the user can sense with his or her fingertip. The device can also effectively convey simple graphics (e.g., straight lines) as well as text. When reading kanji, it is not always possible to display an entire character at once, in which case the user will need to scan the left and right halves separately.
These are Braille output and input devices, respectively, for personal computers and laptops. Both have been adapted by Canon for the Japanese market. In the PowerBraille 40, for example, special software has been developed to allow use of 2 or even 3 Braille cells to represent a single kanji character when required.
This closed-circuit TV reading device is designed for people with low vision. Material to be read is placed on a platform under a camera, which displays a highly magnified image on a screen positioned so that it is at eye level and easily accessible. Four simple switches and dials control all functionality: on/off, focus, magnification (4 - 20x), and display mode (normal black on white versus reverse video, high contrast versus gray scale). The device is approximately ¥150,000 (~$1,500) less expensive than older units with similar capabilities.
A portable augmentative communication device, about the size of a postcard, for people with speech impairments. Text is typed in by the user on a special QWERTY-style keyboard that responds to very light touch and that never requires the simultaneous depression of multiple keys (sequential key presses suffice to accomplish all functions). This is in recognition of the fact that potential users include people who have suffered traumatic head injuries, or who have diseases such as multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy, where motor control of the hands is adversely affected in conjunction with loss of speech.
The unit comes with a built-in memory to store frequently needed words and/or phrases. It can record and playback voice or generate printed output, as desired, the latter on a thin tape (a compromise selected to allow use of existing reliable and cheap technology). Optional accessories include an LCD display and a wheelchair bracket. A single large button/switch can be attached as a supplementary input device, to accommodate people with severe motor impairments, and the system can then be set to automatically and repeatedly cycle through all row/column key combinations (marked by small illuminated indicator LEDs at the edges of the unit) so the user can select what he or she wants to say. This device is not an adaptation of a TeleSensory product. Figure 5.2 is a photograph of Model CC-7S.
Of all the sites visited during the JTEC panel's trip to Japan, Canon's Corporate Welfare Division was the only group that actually took the trouble to answer in writing the questions that JTEC had previously sent to all host sites. The information provided included data on people with disabilities employed by the company (see Table Canon.1). It is also noteworthy that the company expects to lose money on the Group's activities, but pursues them anyway due to an intense personal interest and commitment on the part of the founder and his successors. For example, it is estimated that there are approximately 353,000 visually impaired people in Japan, of whom just 20% are actually blind. Among the latter group, about 30,000 individuals are thought to use Braille, so Canon predicts a total market for the Japanese version of the TeleSensory BrailleMate PC I/O device of about 3,000 units. The Japanese government subsidizes the purchase by consumers of some of the devices described above. The list price of the Aladdin unit is ¥248,000 (~$2,480), of which the government will cover ¥198,000, for a net cost to qualified consumers of ¥50,000 (~$500). The list price of the Canon Communicator is ¥98,800 (~$988), of which the government will pay the entire amount for qualified consumers. Although disabled people will normally qualify for such assistance, the elderly often will not.
Table Canon.1 Canon Employees with
The Canon Story 1994/95
Canon Fact Book 1994/95
Canon Communicator CC-7S/CC-7P
Canon/TeleSensory Optacon II System
Canon/TeleSensory BrailleMate 2 and 2+2
Canon/TeleSensory PowerBraille 40
Canon/TeleSensory CCTV Systems