Guest Post: Getting the Job Done with Assistive Technology: It May Be Easier Than You Think, AccessWorld

Getting the Job Done with Assistive Technology: It May Be Easier Than You Think | AccessWorld
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Getting the Job Done with Assistive Technology: It May Be Easier Than You Think | AccessWorld
Author Jamie Pauls
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Jamie Pauls

I remember getting my first computer back in the early 90s almost like it was yesterday. A friend of mine was receiving regular treatments from a massage
therapist who happened to be blind. My friend mentioned that this gentleman used a computer with a screen reader. I was vaguely aware that this technology
existed, but I never really considered using a computer myself until that first conversation I had with my friend. I began doing some research, and eventually
purchased my first computer with a screen reader and one program included. I’m sure there were a few other programs on that computer, but WordPerfect is
the only one I recall today. The vendor from whom I purchased the computer came to my home, helped me get the computer up and running, and gave me about
a half-hour of training on how to use the thing. A few books from what is now
Learning Ally
as well as the
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
along with some really late nights were what truly started me on my journey. I sought guidance from a few sighted friends who were more than willing to
help, but didn’t have any knowledge about assistive technology. There were times when I thought I had wasted a lot of money and time, but I eventually
grew to truly enjoy using my computer.

I eventually became aware of a whole community of blind people who used assistive technology. They all had their preferred screen reader, and most people
used only one. Screen readers cost a lot of money and hardware-based speech synthesizers increased the cost of owning assistive tech. Unless the user was
willing to learn how to write configuration files that made their screen reader work with specific programs they wanted or needed to use, it was important
to find out what computer software worked best with one’s chosen screen reader. I eventually outgrew that first screen reader, and spent money to switch
to others as I learned about them. I have no idea how much money I spent on technology in those early years, and that is probably for the best!

Fast forward 25 years or so, and the landscape is totally different. I have a primary desktop PC and a couple laptop computers all running Windows 10.
I have one paid screen reader—JAWS for Windows from
Vispero
—and I use two free screen-reading solutions—NVDA, from
NVAccess
and Microsoft’s built-in screen reader called Narrator.

I also have a MacBook Pro running the latest version of Apple’s Mac operating system that comes with the free VoiceOver screen reader built in. I have
access to my wife’s iPad if I need to use it, and I own an iPhone 8 Plus. These devices also run VoiceOver. Finally, I own a BrailleNote Touch Plus,
HumanWare’s
Android-based notetaker designed especially for the blind.

Gone are the days when I must limit myself to only one screen reader and one program to get a task accomplished. If a website isn’t behaving well using
JAWS and Google’s Chrome browser, I might try the same site using the Firefox browser. If I don’t like the way JAWS is presenting text to me on that website,
maybe I’ll switch to NVDA. If the desktop version of a website is too cluttered for my liking, I’ll often try the mobile version using either Safari on
my iPhone, or Chrome on my BrailleNote Touch.

The lines between desktop application and Internet site have blurred to the point that I honestly don’t think about it much anymore. It is often possible
to use either a computer or a mobile device to conduct banking and purchase goods.

So what makes all this added flexibility and increased choice possible, anyway? In many cases, the actual hardware in use is less expensive than it used
to be, although admittedly products such as the BrailleNote Touch are still on the high end of the price spectrum. Along with the availability of more
screen readers and magnification solutions than ever before, the cost of most of these solutions has come down greatly. Even companies like Vispero that
still sell a screen reader that can cost over a thousand dollars if purchased outright are now offering software-as-a-service options that allow you to
pay a yearly fee that provides the latest version of their software complete with updates for as long as you keep your subscription active.

While some may not consider free options such as NVDA or Narrator to be as powerful and flexible as JAWS, they will be perfectly adequate for other people
who aren’t using a computer on the job complete with specialized software that requires customized screen reader applications to make it work properly.
There are those who will rightly point out that free isn’t really free. You are in fact purchasing the screen reader when you buy a new computer as is
the case with VoiceOver on the Mac. While this may be true, the shock to the pocketbook may not be as noticeable as it would be if you had to plunk down
another thousand bucks or so for assistive technology after you had just purchased a new computer.

In addition to the advancements in screen reading technology along with the reduced cost of these products, app and website developers are becoming increasingly
educated about the needs of the blind community. I once spoke with a game developer who told me that he played one of his games using VoiceOver on the
iPhone for six weeks so he could really get a feel for how the game behaved when played by a blind person. Rather than throwing up their hands in frustration
and venting on social media about how sighted developers don’t care about the needs of blind people, many in the blind community are respectfully reaching
out to developers, educating them about the needs of those who use assistive technology, and giving them well-deserved recognition on social media when
they produce a product that is usable by blind and sighted people alike. Also, companies like Microsoft and Apple work to ensure that their screen readers
work with the company’s own including Safari and Microsoft Edge. Google and Amazon continue to make strides in the area of accessibility as well. Better
design and standards make it more likely that multiple screen readers will work well in an increasing number of online and offline scenarios.

You may be someone who is currently comfortable using only one screen reader with one web browser and just a few recommended programs on your computer.
You may be thinking that everything you have just read in this article sounds great, but you may be wondering how to actually apply any of it in your life.
First, I would say that if you are happy with your current technology then don’t feel intimidated by someone else who uses other solutions. That said,
I would urge you to keep your screen reading technology up to date as far as is possible. Also, make sure that you are using an Internet browser that is
fully supported by the websites you frequently visit. This will ensure that your experience is as fulfilling as it should be. For example, though Microsoft
Internet Explorer has been a recommended browser for many years for those using screen access technology due to its accessibility, it is no longer receiving
feature updates from Microsoft, and therefore many modern websites will not display properly when viewed using it.

If you think you would like to try new applications and possibly different assistive technology solutions but you don’t know where to start, keep reading.

Back when I first started using a computer, I knew of very few resources to which I could turn in order to gain skills in using assistive technology. Today,
there are many ebooks, tutorials, webinars, podcasts, and even paid individual training services available for anyone who wishes to expand their knowledge
of computers and the like. One excellent resource that has been referenced many times in past issues of AccessWorld is
Mystic Access,
where you can obtain almost every kind of training mentioned in the previous sentences. Another resource you may recognize is the
National Braille Press,
which has published many books that provide guidance on using various types of technology. Books from National Braille Press can generally be purchased
in both braille or in electronic formats.

There are also many online communities of people with vision loss who use a specific technology. Two of the most well known are
AppleVis
for users of iOS devices and the
Eyes-Free Google Group
for users of the Android platform. Both communities are places where new and long time users of these platforms can go to find assistance getting started
with the technology or for help troubleshooting issues they may encounter.

While I vividly recall my first experiences as a novice computer user, it is almost impossible for me to imagine actually going back to those days. Today,
the landscape is rich and the possibilities are endless for anyone who wishes to join their sighted counterparts in using today’s technology. While there
are still many hurdles to jump, I am confident that things will only continue to improve as we move forward.

So fear not, intrepid adventurer. Let’s explore this exciting world together. In the meantime, happy computing!

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

Comment on this article.

Related articles:

list of 2 items
• Looking Back on 20 Years of Assistive Technology: Where We’ve Been and How Far and Fast We’ve Come
by Bill Holton
• Getting the Most out of Sighted Computer Assistance: How to Help the Helpers
by Bill Holton
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More by this author:

list of 2 items
• Pinterest Takes Steps Toward Accessibility
• A Review of “Stress Less, Browse Happy: Your Guide to More Easily and Effectively Navigating the Internet with a Screen Reader,” an audio tutorial from
Mystic Access
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Guest Post: Must-Have Blindness Related Assistive Tech Podcasts, February 1, 2019

Must-Have Blindness Assistive Tech Podcasts

As Determined by

GTT Participant’s

Revised on February 1, 2019

 

To stay in touch with the blind world of accessible and assistive technology GTT participants refer frequently to the following list of podcasters.  Some we go to just to hear what’s new, what’s coming, what does or doesn’t work, and some we go to when we want to learn how to do a task, set-up a device or how to use an app.  Either way, these are our collective go-to podcasts for your consideration.  Please don’t think that you have to agree, and if you have others not yet included in this list please share them and they will be included.  The list is alphabetical and not by importance.

 

Thanks goes out to those GTT participants who helped make this list a little more complete.

 

  1. Accessibility Moving Forwards Podcast, for interesting interviews and assistive technology presentations.
  2. Airacast with Jonathan Mosen, for interviews, Agent and Explorer features and news about Aira.
  3. AMI Audio Live, for blindness related radio programs on AMI Audio.
  4. AppleVis, for learning how to, and for the news related to all things Apple.
  5. AT Banter Podcast by Canadian Assistive Technology, which consists of interviews with interesting people in the blind and multi-disabled assistive tech worlds.
  6. Audio Pizza, by and for the Blind, audio reviews and tutorials on the things we’re passionate about. Assistive tech from Apple’s Mac & iOS to reviews of the latest bespoke devices.
  7. Blind Abilities, for learning how to, and for the news related to all things assistive tech.
  8. Blind Bargains Audio, for learning how to, and for the news related to all things assistive tech.
  9. CNIB, Blind Wide Open Podcast, for presentations and interviews about blindness. Kim Kilpatrick was featured on January 8, 2019 talking about GTT.
  10. CNIB, Venture Zone Podcast, which seems to be interviews with blind entrepreneurs
  11. Comments On, Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides, for learning how to use all manner of apps and devices.
  12. Cool Blind Tech, it has over 400 episodes available, and appears to not have added anything new since August 2018.
  13. Devon Wilkins operates three podcasts related to blindness, Guide Dogs and our first love, old time radio, and they are called: Insight Peterborough; Spotlight On Assistance Dogs; and Canadians in Old Time Radio.
  14. Double Tap, an AMI Audio Show dedicated to blindness assistive tech interviews.
  15. Eyes on Success, a weekly, half hour radio show / podcast covering a wide variety of topics of interest to the visually impaired.
  16. FS Cast by Freedom Scientific giving you all the news about JAWS, ZoomText and Fusion.
  17. IACast, Making Success Accessible!
  18. iHabilitation by Tom Dekker, which is an iOS training podcast offering paid training sessions along with some free episodes.
  19. InTouch, a BBC interview podcast dealing with blindness and low vision issues.
  20. Kelly and Company, an AMI Audio program that features some assistive tech segments, local reporting and other blindness related interviews.
  21. Main Menu, ACB Radio, for the news related to all things assistive tech and blindness.
  22. Mystic Access, for free tutorials, helpful hints and news about the online and home-study courses they sometimes offer on a fee-for-service basis.
  23. Parallel, Relay FM, an interview podcast featuring many experts and innovators in the blind/tech world by Shelly Brisban. She is the author of the series of books titled, iOS Access for All, and is herself vision impaired.
  24. RNIB Tek Talk, for news on the blind assistive tech world.
  25. Seminars at Hadley, for hour long presentations, discussions and interviews related to assistive tech.
  26. TedTalks, consisting of several separate podcasts related to Education, Health, News and Politics, Society and Culture, and Technology, which all must be searched for and subscribed to individually.
  27. Technology Podcasts, NCBI from Ireland, Working for people with sight loss.
  28. The Canadian Council of the Blind Podcast, just because I have a couple of episodes on there, and the CCB Health and Fitness program has many more than that.
  29. The Tech Doctor Blog and Podcast, which posts new episodes infrequently, and that is very good, all-be-it completely Apple ecosystem based.
  30. Victor Reader Stream Information, which is infrequently updated with new material.
  31. Woodbridge, David, iSee – Using various technologies from a blind person’s perspective, for learning how to use many apps and devices.

 

Thx, Albert