Those two words don’t even belong in the same sentence. Are you crazy? Blind people can’t use computers. They can’t see, so how can they use a computer? There isn’t any braille on a computer, so they can’t use one. You must be nuts. Maybe you may need your head examined for you to think such a preposterous thing. These are just some of the things people may say to you when you tell them that blind people indeed can use computers. How is that you wonder? Simple. An assistive technology software called a screen reader.
And what is a screen reader you ask? It is a software that converts the text on a computer screen into synthesized speech for a blind or visually impaired person. Whatever text is on the screen, this screen reader will read the text back to the person in speech. So, the text has been converted to speech that is spoken aloud. This can be pretty distracting or annoying for someone who is not used to this type of technology, so to be courteous the blind or visually impaired person uses headphones to listen to the speech in privacy. They don’t want the wrong person hearing the wrong thing, right? Especially, the naughty email that they plan to send to their spouse. LOL. Unfortunately though, not all blind people are courteous, so sometimes you will hear their annoying synthesized computer voice while you’re trying to watch your favorite TV show, or driving to your nearest destination. There are different configurations that can be done to make the software more personalized for the user. Everyone doesn’t use a computer the same, so they can alter the settings to fit their personal needs.
The blind or visually impaired person types the same way that any person with sight does. With this text to speech software, what they type is spoken aloud letter by letter. Depending on how fast of a typist they are, the words or letters can be spoken fast or slow. As a blind person myself, this technology has made life a lot easier for me. I am an author, so having access to a computer is very important to my success. The fact that we can do a lot of the same things that a person who can see can do on a computer is marvelous. We can search the web, send emails, create word documents or excel spread sheets, and anything else we want. Of course, it takes some training to figure out how to use this technology. You’re not going to wake up blind tomorrow and be able to install the software on your computer and just be able to use it. No. It doesn’t work like that. It requires a lot of time and patience. There are so many keystrokes to learn and commands to do things that a person with sight would just do with a mouse.
Technology has advanced so much that this assistive technology is now available on mobile phones. Yes, blind people do use phones also thanks to this awesome text to speech software. Majority of blind or visually impaired mobile phone users are I phone users. Apple had the bright idea to design their products with the disabled in mind. Instead of having to buy a screen reader software, Apple has their own built-in screen reading software called Voice Over already installed on any Apple product they make. Having a screen reader software on a mobile phone is similar to how it works on a computer. Of course, the commands and keystrokes have been adapted for touch screen use though. Instead of learning commands, the blind or visually impaired person learns touch screen gestures to get what they need done. Before phone companies started including assistive technology already built into their phones, blind and visually impaired people had to buy a separate screen reader software and install it on the phone so that they would be able to use it like a person with sight does.
Some of the popular screen readers for computers are JAWS, which is an acronym meaning job access with speech, Window-eyes, Voice over for apple computers, NVDA, which is an acronym for non-visual desktop access, and a pre-installed software on windows computers called narrator. On mobile phones, the popular choices for screen readers are Voice Over for I phones and Talk-Back for android phones. Narrator, NVDA, and Voice Over are free screen readers, but there is a price for JAWS and Window-eyes. To access Voice Over or Talk-Back on mobile phones, all you have to do is go to the settings section of your phone and find accessibility, then click on the text to speech software for which ever phone you have to turn it on, and there you go! Your phone is now able to speak whatever text is on the screen. If you are familiar with the voice of the GPS in your car, then that is what a screen reader sounds like. Beware though, that means you can no longer hide those dirty text messages from your secret lover that you thought your blind spouse couldn’t read, because they actually can. So, if I were you, I would start deleting them really quick.
Well, now that you know that blind people can use computers and you’re not crazy, what else can they do with them? Yeah, yeah, yeah. We can send emails, create word documents, and surf the web. Is that all? Of course not! Thanks to screen reader software, blind and visually impaired people can keep up with the latest and greatest. We can shop online, post to social media such as Facebook and twitter, and read online magazines and newspapers. We can even fill out online applications, take online courses, and so much more. I can even type this post I am typing now for this blog. See how amazing it is? Lol. Thanks to advancement in technology, we are able to keep up with the best of you. No more running circles around the little blind woman, because she is running right beside you. Want to watch a YouTube video? Well, I can too. Let’s check the menu of the hottest Italian restaurant in town! I can do that too. Assistive technology has made all of this possible. Now, if only they can work on that car for the blind. I will be first in line to receive my driver’s license. I’ll see you on the road! So, the next time someone asks you if a blind person can use a computer, your answer should be, of course they can!
I hope you enjoyed this fun and informative article about how a totally blind or visually impaired person can use a computer, despite their vision loss. I always like to educate others who are not informed on the way I and other blind and visually impaired people live our daily lives. Life had to be adapted to fit our situations, but thanks to the adaptation, we are able to live life just as anyone else does. It has been an interesting learning journey for me, and I’m looking forward to see what else technology has in store for the blind and visually impaired people of the world.