So for quite some time now, much longer than is even remotely justifiable in fact, I’ve been having my share of difficulty both with using and understanding how to use Screen Reader Technology. Or more to the point, I just don’t get how this particular technology is usable to Blind and Low-Vision users.
Just to be crystal clear, I’m not knocking the technology or anyone who uses it, I’m only speaking towards my experience with it. And since my experience is limited, take this for what it’s worth, which isn’t a hellva lot.
Using said technology is an almost maddening endeavour each and every time I try to use it. I cannot wrap my head around making personal, productive use of it — and when I refer to “it,” in the interests of full disclosure, since I design and develop on a Mac, I mean VoiceOver.
Back in December of 2011 I wrote (which is almost impossible for me to believe);
“[I]n searching for alternative methods of access — which essentially means [the] ways [in which] I input my intentions into a computer, and I’ve also begun to experiment with a trackpad, too — I discovered the keyboard is my ideal method of access. I had to change a few [Operating System] OS specific key commands, for usability’s sake, but using the keyboard to control a computer cut way down on the time I used to fumble with the mouse.”
Habit is powerful thing. I’ve spent virtually the entire time on my computer “fumbling” around with various input devices. Specialty mice (specifically programmable mice), not so special mice (the Apple hockey puck comes to mind), trackballs (I hated using a trackball), Wacom tablets and most recently an Apple Track Pad. All had their pro’s but each had a lot of con’s. Mainly in terms of my ability to use them. More often than not, the trackball especially, they were just awkward for me to use in any productive fashion.
The irony of it all is the most productive means of access was sitting right there in front of my face, the whole time. The keyboard. And as time lapsed I was gravitating my use increasingly away from those various input devices I was trying to use to the keyboard without realizing it. Not because it was more natural feeling, rather it was just easier for me.
It’s been a somewhat surreal year! Both for me and the planet, more broadly. Whether it was my getting involved with the IDRC or the global reawakening concerning exclusion/ inequality and the subsequent Occupation Movements. 2011 was a rager! Exciting, indeed. But for the sake of this post and it’s home on this blog I’ll concentrate on the former.
I was recently involved in a conversation with a colleague about my computer accessibility. The conversation didn’t start that way, focused on me I mean, but it ended on me. I don’t recall exactly how the conversation started, or more specifically how I was able to shift the focus on to me, but immediately following said discussion I found myself writing that colleague an email clarifying what I’d said. That email serves as the basis for this post…
… In a hospital room not all that far away, a young man laying excruciatingly still in a bed, awaited his shot at communicating with anyone outside the confines of his battered skull (being All Hallows Eve I couldn’t resist)…
But unlike most nightmarish Hallowe’en tales, I’m delighted to tell you (especially since that kid in that hospital bed was me), this one ended much better than it started out. Actually by January 1997, the time this story began, I was able to move my head slightly to the right by that point. And I could communicate. Again, through the blinking of my eyes. Once signifying yes. Twice for no.
Given this, in addition to my primary means of communication, being my blinking eyes, I was also using a translucent, textured plastic cutting board with black hand scribed letters (and numbers) on it as secondary communication aid. It was these characters, arranged vertically, in I’m guessing 5 or 6 columns — the letters were in order, from A to Z, A to E in the first column, F to J in the adjacent column, and so on, and the numbers from 0 to 9, if I’m not mistaken, resided in a single column on the far right of the board. So armed with that set up any person wishing to converse with me, and that conversation required more than a quick “yes” or “no” response from the likes of me, said individual would hold this “communication board” by it’s handle with one hand, and with the other hand, while pointing, skimmed (from
right to left left to right) along the top of the board, and pausing on each of the columns for a brief moment…
I’ve been away from here for quite sometime attending to a whole host of issues. So in an effort to get back into gear I’ll continue my series of posts describing my computing career. This is the second post in what will be three relating the story of what brought me here. Be sure to see my post the origins of interest for the first bit of my story…
… So by April of ’97, soon after transferring to a third “rehab” hospital (which was everything but a rehabilitation facility, hence the quotes), I was no longer “locked-in” — which as I understand it calls into question my original diagnosis, seeing how it wasn’t permanent (semantics, eh?). I started to regain enough mobility in my right arm and hand to be able to use a keyboard to type and use mouse keys.
Ahhh, mouse keys. I should probably provide you some context. Picture the ways in which any computer pointing device, like a mouse, can move. Limitless, right (speaking 2 dimensionally of course)? Forward, left, right and back. Plus every direction in between. Now imagine the representation of those basic movements on a flat surface, on a keyboard say, and using the numeric keypad to represent 8 directions that device can move. The number “2″ key, when pressed, moved the mouse cursor up on the screen. Number “4″ moved it left. Number “6″ moved it right. And number “8″ moved it down. Then the number “1″ key moved the cursor up and left diagonally on the screen. Number “3″ moved it up and right diagonally. The “7″ key down and left diagonally. And “9″ down and right diagonally. The number “5″ key is the mouse button. Honestly what the rest of the buttons did is pretty fuzzy. Rather than guess I should simply refer you to the Wikipedia entry concerning mouse keys for more accurate context.
And that solution served me remarkably well for probably close to, if not exceeding, two years. Mouse keys are still simple to understand and most importantly easy to use. And it got completely out of the way and let me “master” elements where mouse keys reached their limit and other solutions picked up the slack — keep in mind I’m speaking wholly as a differently-abled creative individual whose primary creative canvas has been a computer monitor for well over a decade. It’s just the nature of the beast. 8 linear directions will only get you so far. It’s much like an Etch A Sketch™, in theory, as it’s movement is rigid and limited. And must like said Etch A Sketch™ there are ways around it’s operation…