How Do Blind People Use The Computer
For related information, also see how people with different disabilities use the computer.
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People who are totally blind are absolutely not able to interact with the computer without assistive technologies. In order to overcome this barrier, they mostly use screen reader software and Braille displays.
In simple terms, a screen reader system speaks all the information in a human voice which comes on the screen as well as the text which is typed on the keyboard. A Braille display makes the same information appear on a Braille line which blind people can read with their fingers. You can also read more about how Braille displays work.
However, a screen reader is much more complicated in practice. It is also important that blind people are able to navigate quickly on the screen and find information as they need it. Therefore, screen reader systems are loaded with functionality which read a portion of the screen according to certain different criteria. The more simple ones would read the current character, the current word or the current line. More complex ones would read the status line of an application, the title bar, a certain window, or the current item on the menu as the user navigates. A Braille display is usually an addition to a screen reader. It is a small unit which lays by the keyboard and displays one line of information in Braille, mostly the same which the screen read announces with speech. This helps blind people understand the layout of the screen better, and read texts which is more difficult to understand with speech, for example more complex tables, or texts which contain words in more than one language, such as dictionaries.
The effectiveness of a screen reader greatly determines the effectiveness of blind people on the computer. Long ago, screen readers only allowed to read the screen line by line, so people had to hunt for information they needed. Today, practically any piece of information can be assigned with a hotkey. Different hotkeys would announce different information in different applications. For example, one hotkey would announce the misspelled word in a Microsoft Application, another would read the current table cell in Internet Explorer, etc.
Nowadays, there is a larger variety of screen readers available. Some of the most popular ones, which have been around can be very costly, more than $1000. There are also lower cost screen readers available, and currently free, open source ones are being developed.
Operating systems also include some kind of a screen reader, Windows for example uses Narrator, which is a very simple system, not necessarily sufficient for the complex use of a computer for blind people, but definitely very helpful for smaller tasks. Apple built a very sophisticated screen reader into its operating system. When using Linux, the Gnome Desktop by default also contains a screen reader.
When we look at different types of disabilities, people who are blind probably need the most accommodations in technology in order to use the computer. For certain disabilities, a small software or hardware might do the job, but aside from using a screen reader, blind people also need to rely on developers to have their applications coded in an accessible way.
Certain accessibility issues can be corrected by customizing screen readers, but there are some issues which are difficult, or impossible to overcome.
One of the biggest accessibility issue blind people face today is that images are not described with regular text. Web sites, for example are very difficult to use when image links are not labeled, diagrams are not explained with text, or videos do not provide alternative information.
Probably the second largest challenge is when an application is not usable with the keyboard. Very often, navigation and accessing functionality is directly tied to the mouse and a keyboard equivalent to achieve the same task is not available. The use of the mouse, however, requires site, thus blind people are not able to interact with these applications.
Blind people use the computer keyboard just like anybody else. As a matter of fact, it is not necessary to see the keyboard when typing. The best typists do not look at the keys or their fingers. It definitely takes a learning curve to memorize the keyboard and get up to a certain speed, but it really pays off at the end.
Finally, you can try it yourself and see how it works. Serotek developed System Access, a screen reader which you can run directly from the internet. Just Download the application, and follow the screen instructions. In a few minutes, you will have a fully functional screen reader running on your computer until you close your browser.
Push your mouse away, grab your keyboard, close your eyes, and see what you can do with it.
How did the exercise go? Did this article answer your questions, or you came up with many more while reading this post? Leave a comment, and ask away, or just contact us with any questions you may have.
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