Guest Author - Dean Ingalls
The important part of any assistive technology is investing the time and effort necessary to become proficient using the equipment. The two screen reader programs I am familiar with arrive with excellent training materials. At first, the task seems overwhelming when you begin reviewing the vast amount of training material but with organization, patience and determination you can successfully use the technology. The JAWS screen reader software is compatible with the Microsoft suite of programs (Word, Access, Excel and PowerPoint). Of course, Window Eyes constructed by Microsoft works best with the Windows programs. I have basic training for Window Eyes but as a personal choice prefer using the JAWS program. Window Eyes and JAWS are both great programs and work in a similar fashion.
JAWS is an easy program to load onto a computer. The software begins talking and giving instructions seconds after loading the CD into the disk drive. You go through the Setup Wizard for the software and construct how you prefer interacting with the technology. After, the software is setup you can go directly to the training courses and begin learning to use JAWS. The training material consists of JAWS topics with each topic broken into separate lessons. The training material contains different lessons for every area of the JAWS program with practice exercises. You learn how to use JAWS to write documents with Word, design spreadsheets and graphs with Excel, design presentations with PowerPoint and learn to surf the Internet like a professional and much more.
How a screen reader works (the basics).
A screen reader does exactly what the titled refers, meaning the software reads the information that appears on the blind person’s monitor. The program begins reading just as a person with sight would read a page in a book from left to right moving down the page (monitor screen) one sentence at a time until the software reaches the bottom of the page. The software automatically scrolls up the next page and starts reading page two until document or website is completely reviewed.
How does the blind person keep up with the location of the computer cursor that appears on the computer monitor?
A sighted person relies on a mouse and the visible cursor on the monitor to complete most tasks on the computer. A blind person using JAWS depends on the software providing a verbal identification point of the location of the cursor. JAWS operate with a series of three cursors including the PC cursor, JAWS cursor and the Invisible cursor. Each of the three cursors contains specific functions and focus on a different part of the monitor screen.
The two major disadvantages with screen reader technology is the cost (between eight hundred to one-thousand dollars with upgrades around one-hundred and fifty dollars) of the technology and compatibility issues. Most visually impaired/blind people cannot afford the high cost of the software without help from a non-profit organization or a Federal or State program. In addition, some WebPages and websites are constructed without the consideration of the visually impaired making the site unreadable for a blind person using screen reader software.
Today, almost every computer contains a screen reader program called a narrator. You can check your computer for a narrator by going to the “Control Panel” and clicking on “Ease of Access Center” then, scroll down the page until you find the narrator button. You may want to use the help button to learn more about the narrator before activating the program.
The world opened up in a big way when I received the JAWS program and began learning the software by systematically progressing through the training material. I returned to school and obtained a Master’s Degree with the help of the JAWS program.
I have not received any form of compensation from Freedom Scientific (manufactures of JAWS) or the Microsoft Corporation (manufactures of Window Eyes) for writing this article.