How did I write this?

May 25, 2006

I can’t believe this! It’s so good to be blogging, and everyone’s been so welcoming. Thanks to all those who have commented on my first foray into blogging. I think I’ll be around for a while.

So how did I get here? I don’t mean the process of persuasion that finally woke me up. I mean the technology behind me, … or should I say in front of me?

As I type, each letter is spoken through standard computer speakers. It’s a neat piece of software called a screenreader. It reads everything on my screen, including command prompts, status bars, and anything else. By moving my cursor, I can get my screenreader to read through everything line by line, or even by character or word. I call it my friendly computer and challenge others to show me that their computer can talk to them like mine can.

It’s part of a long process with the ultimate aim of integrating blind people into society. In 1809, a chap called Louis Braille was born who invented a system of reading for blind people. It’s a long story from there to where we are now. First, there was a realisation that blind people needed a variety of methods to access printed material. Sometimes, we use touch, (braille and tactile methods) and sometimes we use sounds, such as audio recordings.

Little things like books, playing cards, chess sets, etc were made accessible to blind people. With books, a sighted person couldn’t read the same book as a blind person, because the book was transcribed into braille. With games, you could get stuff that was specially made for the blind person, but which could be used by everyone. If I gave you a pack of cards, you’d be able to play it with me, but when I picked one of the cards, I’d be looking for the braille symbols that are placed alongside the printed ones.

So, integration involved making special things for blind people which others could use. What about just getting blind people to use what existed already. That’s where we are now. It simply involves building software on top of standard equipment like computers. I’m now using the same computer as you are, but I’ve got the screenreader on my computer. If any of you came to visit, you could use my computer to browse the net or do anything else you wanted.

Let’s just think of the advantages for a little longer. When we simply used braille, someone had to make the special effort to transcribe books for us. A report once stated that about five percent of all books were transcribed into an accessible format for blind people. Someone had to decide what to transcribe, and of course, they chose books that were likely to be popular. That couldn’t have included academic texts or rare manuscripts.

Now, things are slightly different because I can lay hands on anything on the internet. That’s close to 100 percent accessibility. Actually, that’s not strictly true, they haven’t cracked the picture or other graphics yet, but they’re working on it. However, the change is still astounding. And it gets better. At the end of last year, I got a phone which talks to me, so I can send and receive text messages. I’ve joined the text revolution as well as the computer age.

There’s a lot more. Did you know that I could use a standard scanner with optical character recognition to scan a book, save the document on my computer and read it at my leisure? Oh there’s so much more, but we’ll have to take it in bite-sized portions. I don’t want to get too excited over this do I?


May 24, 2006

For all those who think I’ll make a good blogger, I’m blogging now. And to those who don’t yet know me, … well, here’s your chance.