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
list end

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
list end

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Guest Post: Narrator Tutorial Podcast for Windows 10 Version 1809 by David Woodbridge

This document has been recently updated to include a 9th edition of the podcast.

Narrator Screen Reader Tutorial Podcasts by David Woodbridge

iSee – Using various technologies from a blind persons perspective.

 

Revised: February 24, 2019

 

Narrator is a screen reader  utility included in Microsoft Windows that reads text, dialog boxes and window controls in most applications  for Windows. Originally developed by Professor Paul Blenkhorn in 2000, the utility made the Windows operating system more accessible for blind and low vision users.

 

In the October 2018 release of Windows 10 Narrator’s functions and keyboard commands have been dramatically expanded.  We are now at a point in it’s development that it will start to rival the third party screen readers we have become accustomed to using in the Windows environment.  Finally, it might be said that PC computers purchased off the shelf are accessible to blind and low vision users out of the box.

 

The latest version of Windows 10 is the October 2018 Update, version “1809,” which was released on October 2, 2018. The below tutorial podcasts only apply to the latest version 1809, so please check to see the current version running in your computer.

 

How do I know what version I’m running?

To determine whether or not these tutorials apply to Narrator in your computer you can check your version number as follows:

 

  1. Press and release the Windows Key and type the word Run, or merely hold down the Windows key and press the letter R.
  2. In the window that pops up type the text, WinVer and press the Enter key. Typing immediately will replace any text that might already be there.
  3. The computer will display, and your screen reader will speak the version of your operating system. If it indicates you’re running version 1809 Narrator will function as outlined in these podcasts, however if your computer is still running an older version please disregard these tutorials for now.  Press the Space Bar to close this dialog.

 

The Complete Guide to Narrator on the Microsoft Windows Help Page:

Click here to access the Complete Narrator’s Guide on the Windows Help Page.

 

David Woodbridge produces great podcasts under the title, iSee – Using various technologies from a blind persons perspective.  Below are the links to each individual podcast for you to Stream in your favourite podcatcher.

 

Narrator Tutorial Podcasts from iSee – Using various technologies from a blind persons perspective by David Woodbridge:

 

  1. Demo of the Windows Insider build for the new Narrator Quick Start Guide
  2. Windows 10 Narrator Series Episode 1 – turning Narrator on and off
  3. Windows 10 Narrator Series Episode 2 – Narrator keys and Input (keyboard and touch screen) Learning mode
  4. Windows 10 Narrator Series Episode 3 – adjusting speech rate, Volume, Punctuation, and a tip on Verbosity

 

 

  1. Windows 10 Narrator Series Episode 4 – changing Volume, Pitch, Audio Ducking, and an initial intro to Scan Mode
  2. Windows 10 Narrator Series Episode 5 Startup options for Narrator including Narrator Home
  3. Windows 10 Narrator Series Episode 6 – Typing Echo and Keyboard Settings
  4. Windows 10 Narrator Series Episode 7 – Navigating within a document with Narrator keyboard commands
  5. Windows 10 Narrator Series Episode 8 – Scan Mode, Narrator Views, and using Narrator Gestures with the Touch Screen

Windows 10 Narrator Series Episode 9 – Navigating on the Web with Narrator

 

To subscribe to the “iSee – Using various technologies from a blind persons perspective” podcasts by David Woodbridge click on this link.

 

Thx, Albert A. Ruel

 

Guest Post: Narrator Tutorial Podcasts for Windows 10 by Blind Vet Tech Podcast

Narrator Screen Reader Tutorial Podcasts by Blind Vet Tech

 

Narrator is a screen reader  utility included in Microsoft Windows that reads text, dialog boxes and window controls in most applications  for Windows. Originally developed by Professor Paul Blenkhorn in 2000, the utility made the Windows operating system more accessible for blind and low vision users.

 

In the October 2018 release of Windows 10 Narrator’s functions and keyboard commands have been dramatically expanded.  We are now at a point in it’s development that it will start to rival the third party screen readers we have become accustomed to using in the Windows environment.  Finally, it might be said that PC computers purchased off the shelf are accessible to blind and low vision users out of the box.

 

The latest version of Windows 10 is the October 2018 Update, version “1809,” which was released on October 2, 2018. The below tutorial podcasts only apply to the latest version 1809, so please check to see the current version running in your computer.

 

How do I know what version I’m running?

To determine whether or not these tutorials apply to Narrator in your computer you can check your version number as follows:

 

  1. Press and release the Windows Key and type the word Run, or merely hold down the Windows key and press the letter R.
  2. In the window that pops up type the text, WinVer and press the Enter key. Typing immediately will replace any text that might already be there.
  3. The computer will display, and your screen reader will speak the version of your operating system. If it indicates you’re running version 1809 Narrator will function as outlined in these podcasts, however if your computer is still running an older version please disregard these tutorials for now.  Press the Space Bar to close this dialog.

 

The Complete Guide to Narrator on the Microsoft Windows Help Page:

Click here to access the Complete Narrator’s Guide on the Windows Help Page.

 

Blind Vet Tech Guides and Tutorials:

Are you a visually impaired Veteran interested in learning more about technology and adaptive software? Have you received a device, like an iPhone or iPad, from a Blind Rehab Center, but require more information on how to use it? Are you a visually impaired Veteran looking for a network of peers to assist you in determining if updating your device is the right choice? If you answered yes, or simply are interested in learning more about assistive technologies for blinded Veterans, the Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast will assist you. Developed by blinded Veterans aiding our fellow peers adapt to sight loss, Blind Vet Tech focuses on iPhones, iPads, computers, other smart phones, and different technologies Veterans might receive to increase their independence.

 

To that end, BVT have produced a spectacular series of tutorial podcast episodes ateaching users how to maximize their use of the latest version of Narrator.  Below are Hyperlinks to each of the Blind Vet Tech Podcast episodes on the web.

 

Blind Vet Tech Direct Links to Narrator Podcast Episodes:

 

  1. Windows 10 Narrator Basics
  2. Navigating Webpages and Netflix With Narrator’s Scan Mode
  3. Narrator’s Five Best Windows 10 Fall Creators Update Features
  4. Activating Narrator
  5. Basic Keyboard Commands and Navigation
  6. Quickly navigate Edge, tables, and apps with Scan Mode On
  7. Learn how to read documents, apps, webpages, and much more with Narrator

 

To subscribe to the Blind Vet Tech podcast follow this link.

 

Thx, Albert A. Ruel