We have all gone through the cycle: one day our speech output is a blessing
from the technological gods, the next day we'd rather pitch it in the trash
for all the help it provides. Opinions vary from person to person as to whether
access technology is a blessing or a curse.
Two articles in past editions of The
Braille Monitor illustrate my point. In his article, Windows
'95: Removing the Screen,
Peter Scialli makes access technology seem like it's all sweetness and light.
Being behind the technological times and using software that is no longer the
standard, doesn't even seem to matter. Mr. Scialli even goes so far as to say,
"Blindness does not offer any more special disadvantages when dealing with
computers than it does when dealing with taking a trip to the local store to
buy a carton of milk."
For the most part this is true. Most screen readers work relatively well with
Windows 95/98 and their descendants. Is any of it perfect? Absolutely not! But
Mr. Scialli continues this blissful praise of modern computers and their accessibility
when, at the end of the article he says, "No special barriers keep the
blind from using modern computers and thus holding modern jobs."
By contrast, Curtis Chong seems to be of an opinion on the matter that is more
down to earth. In his article, Performing
the Average Job, Mr. Chong describes today's screen readers as "...not
mature enough at this stage to enable us to function competitively..."
There are specific instances in which, between the application the person is
trying to function and the screen reader they are using, the information provided
is merely adequate. To illustrate, in a general sense, my point I think it appropriate
to include, at this point, the words of Mr. Chong from an article titled, Technology
and the Job. This article appeared in the January, 1990 edition of The
Braille Monitor. The quote appears as follows, "Any time one considers
applying technology to solve a problem involving a blind person, it is important
to keep in mind that the technological solution may represent a long and painful
road fraught with many obstacles and problems."
There are numerous examples of functions that cannot be performed well with
screen readers. One personal example; in pursuit of my degree, I took a class,
last semester, on the Microsoft Office suite. Inserting clip art into anything:
Word document, Power Point presentation, is not a task that is readily accessible,
even by the best screen reader software. Not only that, but inserting a header
or footer is a tricky business that also calls for sighted assistance.
The one commonality between both articles is the acknowledgement that blind
people receive inadequate training. Let me illustrate this with two quotes:
Mr. Scialli says at the end of his article, "It is time that the blind
insist upon receiving the training required for functioning as leaders in the
Coming from his perspective, Mr. Chong says, "What I do know is that the
technological challenges we must confront are formidable and real. Unless they
are overcome, it will be even more difficult for the blind to secure employment
in the offices of tomorrow."
A personal illustration of this point for me happened recently when a new student
at BLIND Inc. (during
my time as computer instructor there) was typing with the caps lock key on at
all times. When I asked the student why, he replied that he was taught
to do that so the print would be easier to read. This is only one small example
of the poor training out there for the blind person needing technology training.
A lot of students find themselves left to wander the Windows landscape and
figure out for themselves what they need to do, and how to do it. Others, with
even a minimum of vision, are told to use screen enlarging software as opposed
to screen reading, or text-to-speech software. This whole approach is not conducive
to proper skills at best, and downright patronizing and paternalistic at worst.
It assumes that the user has no clue what they need or want.
With the correct training; training that goes beyond the level of adequate
and pays attention to the individual needs of the student, the blind can be
brought to a place where they can compete on an equal basis with their sighted