Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I Strain

People are buying 1970s computers as collector’s items for large amounts of money.  OR are they really buying them to have privacy and software that works without the Internet, ribbons, and a mouse?  Older seems better and more efficient because the early word processors work like typewriters.  Even typewriters are flying off the shelves at office supply stores and thrift shops because they are easier to use than computers and allow for privacy.  Many authors still use their first computers or typewriters according to their bios on line.  One of the most often asked questions at writers’ conferences and workshops these days is, “What kind of typewriter do you use.”  I am in complete sympathy with these people and wish I could join them.

Eye strain was a problem when I was still able to read using my eyes.  As their level of function decreased more and more, the level of eye strain increased.  I am only able to read gigantic print now under a closed circuit TV or hand printed with a 20/20 bold pen on paper.  The eye strain from both activities is quick, frustrating, and painful since I am only using my peripheral vision in one eye.

I became very spoiled by talking books, scanned books, and sighted readers when I was in graduate schools for over a decade.  What I read and when I read it was scheduled by a professor.  This kept the eye strain to a minimum.  When I became unemployed in 2005, I began to strain myself as well as my eyes.  There does not seem to be a harder job than the job search itself.  Finding jobs on line and applying with the usual paper resume, vita, and accompanying documents was manageable then.  For someone with low vision, filling out paper applications under a closed circuit TV was time consuming but not significantly more so than for sighted readers.

Around 2008 the strain of job hunting became impossible for people with low vision, legal blindness, and total blindness as we strained to keep up with our sighted competitors who could use the new online application forms.  Then and now, for over five years, online application forms, social media forms, job profile forms, and online forms for everything to do with job hunting from travel websites for interviewing to setting up online job agents that scan the Internet for jobs of interest to applicants have been completely or partially inaccessible for vision impaired users who do not have sighted help within arm’s reach.

Websites from LinkedIn to blogger to facebook have information on the screens that cannot be accessed with buttons or links because they are not identified in these ways.  Some experts in information systems swear that the problem is with the creator and manufacturer of the software that reads the screen.  They claim that these companies have not kept up with the changes and advances in technology.  I disagree.  I am a user.  The problem is the way the websites are coded by computer engineers.  They need to be taught how to write code that is accessible by everyone

There were several years after personal computers were invented and available to vision impaired consumers when they had full access to what was on their screens.  As the Internet came on board in the early 1990s, the great divide between what the sighted and the vision impaired could do was formed.  When graphics and the mouse became popular, especially in elementary education, the accessibility divide turned into a valley.  Technology continues to evolve.  For the vision impaired, these advances seem to be more regressive than progressive.  Computer engineers and graphic designers seem to want to put as much clutter on the desktop as is possible.  All of the parts of what would be in different locations in a book or magazine—the title page, copyright, table of contents, body, and index—are right there at the users fingertips unless the user is vision impaired.  Universities, libraries, and businesses attempt to hire proficient screen reader users to help colleagues and customers who seem to be incompetent.  They soon learn that when they hire someone who is vision impaired, their problems are not solved because only sighted users can read everything that is on the screens.

I, like many vision impaired people. Strain to keep up with all of the advances in technology.  There is an up side to all of this.  Around the year, 2000, the Library of congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped progressed from cassettes for talking books and magazines to digital materials that can be downloaded onto memory sticks (flash drives).  They provide the reading machines, materials, and training as well as information about how to received digital books in series that are already downloaded.  The vision impaired can now carry around fifty to 100 or more books and magazines on one flash drive that can fit in their pocket with plenty of room left over.  It is with pure joy that I now strain to find the time to read all of the materials that I have downloaded. 

The Hadley school for the blind, like the Library of Congress, has created a website and online courses that are 100% compatible with screen reading software.  I hope that in the near future there will be courses for software code writers that will teach them what the Library of Congress and the Hadley school for the blind have done to make computer use as easy as using a typewriter.  Until they do, the vision impaired will continue to be left behind.  .

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