Sunday, June 22, 2014

Time Out for Technology

I purchased a laptop PC five years ago.  It worked with a printer and scanner and the screen-reading and scanning software that i added.  I did not need to be a computer expert to make these purchases nor to use these items.  Now, five years later, I needed to replace the printer and scanner.  What a difference five years makes when it comes to technology.  Years of online upgrades had made my computer a diva and me a dummy.  It took a major time-out to return both of us to a functional level.

The first sign that changes beyond my control were taking place were evident when my screen-reader was no longer able to read everything that arrived over the Internet or popped up on the screen.  E-mail and internet searches could still be accessed independently, but downloading new software and drivers required sighted assistance when and if the computer would allow them.  It became obvious that choosing a laptop was a wise decision because it was easy to carry as I moved it from one sighted resource to another.
The general diagnosis was that the computer was the problem.  This was a relief because I had been referred to as the “human error” who just didn’t know what she was doing.  The computer, it turns out, had become technologically antisocial.  It would not accept a new printer no matter how many brands or styles we tried.  It also would not recognize new scanners.

Technology experts began to unravel what office supply technicians could not.  First, the computer did not accept new printers because there were still jobs waiting to be completed by the old printer that had to be replaced.  Once those jobs were cancelled, adding a printer was easy.  The scanner was another matter.  A blind computer specialist who uses the scanning software with her own scanner knew that it was the software that had to welcome a new scanner before the computer would.  The software only gave her five seconds to make the change to its settings, but she succeeded after a few tries.  If you are as inspired as I am that this major problem was solved by a woman who is blind and has been employed in both industry and higher education as a computer specialist, be prepared to be even more inspired.  This woman is an English major who changed fields when the job market was not being kind to English majors.

While I was experiencing this adventure, I sought the advice of many people who believed that I was the problem because I had not "kept up with" technology.  Five years ago there was nothing to keep up with.  Suddenly I found myself at the deep end of the pool with people throwing books about how to swim in the water with me.  While these books helped me float for a while, only one was really helpful, Is this thing on?: a computer handbook for late bloomers, technophobes, and the kicking & screaming by Abigail Stokes.  NLS annotation:  “Computer instructor presents concepts and techniques for computer novices. Covers subjects such as purchasing a computer, establishing Internet access, and working with iPads and mobile devices. Also offers tips on online banking, shopping, and using social media. 2011.”

There are many books that teach people about computers and specific operating systems, but none deal with the needs of the computer user who lives with low vision, blindness, or other disabilities.  So here is what I have learned:  Avoid printers and devices that have no buttons and the people who push them.  Office supply personnel are not as professional as shoppers who assist customers in grocery stores and department stores.  Most office supply personnel who specialize in electronics and computers do not know if the box contains a USB cable and would rather sell you one than read the box to see if one is included.  These people will also steer you towards all-in-one printers/copiers/scanners rather than the separate printer and scanner that you probably need.  These all-in-ones also come with touch pads rather than buttons.  When they work properly, they have no markings or convenient places to add markings or labels to distinguish the areas that represent where to push for each function.  These touch screens also rely on tiny, colored lights rather than sound to indicate if the power is on, if there is a paper jam, or if the ink cartridge needs to be replaced.
I have never been timid about asking questions, but shopping in office supply stores has made me more assertive and, at times, even aggressive.  I will ask to see the instructions for a product.  If the instructions are only provided as illustrations, I will ask for a demonstration.  If the product does not live up to its promises, I will return it to the store and request an immediate refund.

My adventure taught me to purchase only lasar jet printers that have the simplest cartridges to replace.  I also learned that the most helpful people work for the store where I bought the computer.  They knew exactly what models my computer would accept and loaded in the drivers for me.  They earned my loyalty, and I now go out of my way to buy my other office supplies from them. 

Computer user groups have been popular with Geeks since personal computers were first invented.  Centers and libraries that serve the blind and physically handicapped now have computers with screen-reading software but rarely have personnel who are able to use the software, know the key commands, or are trained to solve user problems.  These technicians are not allowed to work on patrons or clients’ personal computers.  The trainers and specialist who can help would prefer to correct the problems by using the keyboard rather than communicating how the user can solve the problem.  When I hear the words, “this is odd” Or “I’ve never...,” I know it is time to close the computer and start to pray.

I understand that I will need to take a regular time out for technology to keep current.  There are print books in local bookstores and online with the newest copyright dates.  The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has books and magazines to download that are not as current as the ones in stores because they require time to be read and produced in audio format.  Learning Ally has current textbooks when they are being used in university classes by students with disabilities.  These can also be downloaded in audio formats.  A word of caution:  These books are sure cures for insomnia.  If you plan to read them from cover to cover in audio format, be sitting at a computer or have a craft or chore to keep you awake and occupied.

Five years ago I did not need to be a computer expert in order to purchase and use a computer.  Now I do.  Loving me requires loving my computer and caring for it as I would a family member, a pet, or a plant.

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