Let’s face it; we entered the computer age 20 years ago. Nowadays it is virtually impossible to get by without a computer, whether you are blind or not.
One question that begs to be answered is, how can we make this technology available to the visually impaired person? Of course partially sighted as well as fully blind people have a need to use computer resources. Whether you have low vision or no vision at all, there is help out there that will enable you to use your PC.
The Internet is available to the blind person, but a PC has to be adapted before someone in either of these categories can use it.
How to Adapt a PC for a Low Vision Person
Making a computer accessible for a user with poor eyesight is a relatively easy process.
The easiest way to adapt a PC for the low vision person is to purchase Microsoft Windows 7 or above. Once you log onto your PC, Click the Windows logo in the bottom left corner. The next step is to click the search box. Now you should type, Ease of Access. The computer will come up with a few options, one of them will say, ‘Ease of Access, choose this option. Now you will get a pop up that is the “Ease of Access menu, in this menu, you will have four different options;
1) Start Magnifier: This feature magnifies either a portion of or the whole screen. It will enlarge the text anywhere from 2x to 16x. The magnifying box can be scrolled around the screen.
2) Start Narrator: This is a screen reader function that will also read error messages to you. Windows 8 and above have many upgrades to this feature.
3) Set up High Contrast: This feature changes the colors of some text to cause it to “stick out” more.
4) Start on Screen Keyboard: This is a device that enables the user to type using the mouse or another pointing device on a picture of the keyboard displayed on the computer screen.
How to Adapt a PC for a Blind Person
One of the first items you will need to invest in is screen reader software.
Of course, there is Microsoft Narrator that comes with your Windows package, but a commercially available screen reader program will contain more features. The American Foundation for the Blind (www.afb.com) defines a screen reader as “A screen reader is the interface between the computer’s operating system, its applications, and the user.”
The user sends commands by pressing different combinations of keys on the keyboard or braille display to instruct the speech synthesizer what to say and to speak automatically when changes occur on the screen. A command can tell the synthesizer to read or spell a word, read a line or full screen of text, find a string of text on the screen, announce the location of the computer’s cursor or focused item, and so on. Also, it allows users to perform more advanced functions, such as locating text displayed in a particular color, reading pre-designated parts of the screen on demand, reading highlighted text, and identifying the active choice in a menu,” (afb.com).
Text – Braille Conversion
For users who are totally without sight, there is a Refreshable Braille Display. This is a device that plugs into a computer via a USB or serial port and it translates text into Braille. The braille is on a Refreshable Braille Display consists of small metal or plastic pins that are raised and lowered so the text on the screen can be read tactilely. The braille translates one line of text, the user reads it and then the pins are reset, and the user reads the next line of text.
The screen reading software and the refreshable braille displays enable a blind person to read text that is on the screen and lets the computer interact with the user. The next part of the process is to let the user interact with the computer.
Speech- Text Conversion
The next part of the process is speech recognition software. This software can recognize spoken words and translate then into text that is then “written” on the screen. Another useful feature is its ability to turn the spoken word into commands. The most popular brand of speech recognition software is Dragon Naturally Speaking.
What separates this software from Microsoft Narrator is that this software inputs the user’s text and the narrator reads the text to the user.
Dragon Naturally Speaking software also has a series of voice operations that allow the user to interface with the computer. Once a user has the Dragon software activated he can use the command, “Start Internet Explorer” and the program Internet Explorer will open. There are also commands that allow the user to navigate around the screen; this software can even be turned off if the user has to speak to another person by using the “Go to Sleep” command. Then the “Wake Up” command will activate the software again.
Dragon Naturally Speaking takes a little getting used to. You will learn to speak words in a manner that the software will recognize. Your speech cannot be too fast or too slow. Most users soon learn to speak hundreds of words in a row and the computer will recognize every one of them.
The combination of the screen reader software, the refreshable braille display and then the Dragon Naturally Speaking software makes any computer accessible to a visually impaired person. Remember, there is help out there for you. Any recent computer can be adapted so that a low vision or no vision person is capable of using it.
In a world of sighted people, anyone who is blind is going to have some communication difficulties. Visual branding is essential to any business, and where color plays such a massive role in communication, the blind will need some help in establishing a personal brand.
Inclusion Is the Goal
Blind people have as much right to the Internet as sighted people. Charities such as Tej Kohli’s Cornea Institute do great work helping blind people to see again, but there are cases where replacing the cornea is not enough. If we can help blind individuals to use PCs and the Internet we are a step closer to fully integrating the blind into society.