Assistive Technology Using Computers without Sight

Woman with headphones using screen reader
Woman with headphones using screen reader. Harry Williamson/11/Spring Studio

No doubt, it’s a visual world and as your eyesight fades, you might be wondering how you are going to continue using a computer. How is it possible without cursing the cursor?

The great news is that we are living in a time of innovative ideas with all sorts of technological solutions: an era of many choices. Thousands of blind and visually-impaired people around the world are managing their vision loss by tapping into a resource called assistive technology.

What is assistive technology?

Any device that helps a person to perform a task independently that is difficult to do on their own is called assistive technology. “Most people don't realize the opportunities digital technology has created over the past 20 years for persons with disabilities.” Andrew Leibs ( expert on Assistive Technology).

So if you are feeling trapped in indecision, you may be seriously missing out on an entire world of possibility.

Picture this for a moment: you see a dog with an old, chewed-up bone, determined to get every ounce of flesh off that bone to extend his sheer delight for as long as he can. He clings on to it and there is no way you are going to get close to him to offer him a fresh, juicy alternative.

Until he drops the old bone from his jaw-grip, he can’t take up a new one.

It can also be like this for some of us when it comes to deciding whether to adopt new technology.

The old way worked fine but if low vision is making it hard to see your computer screen, then it is time to drop the old ways and discover an exciting new alternative.

As Charles Darwin said  "It's not the strongest of the species that survives but the one most responsive to change."

Meet JAWS, the New Technological Species

There is a plethora of specialized technology designed for those with low or no vision which helps people to retain independence by using a variety of software choices.

One such software program I have adapted to using as a visually-impaired writer is called, JAWS – Job Access With Speech. It is a screen-reading program that has replaced the need to visually follow the mouse cursor by listening to a synthesized voice.

Available in no less than 18 languages, JAWS for Windows is cleverly designed to help the user to complete computer tasks independently. JAWS can talk you through every aspect of operating your PC by announcing every single key as you type.

Certain keys on the keyboard are known as ‘function’ and ‘hot’ keys. These enable the user to navigate confidently through the computer maze from start up to shut down.

My honest advice.

Adjusting to new technology does take a certain amount of perseverance, patience and time. Not only will you be required to face your fears of feeling technologically challenge as low vision upsets your usual methods of functioning independently but you also need to muster a willingness to retrain and learn new skills.

The great news is, all this is totally possible when you enroll in a series of training sessions.

You can go straight to the source at Freedom Scientific (the makers of JAWS for Windows) or make contact with a Vision Organization (such as the American Foundation for the Blind, Career Connect) to learn more about training options.

The key is to gain knowledge by going step by step on the technological pathway. As you do, the process becomes more logical and doable. Your self-confidence grows as you persist in taking one key command at a time to compose drafts, file documents in folders, read and send emails, create posts for blogs and surf the Internet – all without having to see your screen again.

More Independence with More Possibilities

Being paired up with a robotic reader may not be the solution for everyone but it certainly helped me to retain my computer independence.

If you are ready to seek out your options, Freedom Scientific has designed a range to help you get started with:

·        Free Online Training for computer users at all levels of learning

·        Free Webinars & Podcasts

·        Detailed Web Pages explaining how to use  the JAWS screen reader & MAGic screen magnification software while surfing the Internet.

·        MathML – an accessible way to read math and science content online with JAWS using well spoken descriptions of math and science equations

·        Tips and tricks for using JAWS

 Free download demonstration of JAWS

The best thing you may discover as you venture into the world of assistive technology for the blind and visually-impaired if you do happen to try out JAWS for yourself is being able to push his/her buttons and JAWS won’t even mind.

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