Friday, December 16, 2016

Episode 3.1: The Dragon is in the House, but I'm Locked Out

I did it.  I bought a Windows 10 laptop.  It is a 2 in 1.  The monitor folds under the keyboard and can be used like a tablet.  It has a touch screen.  Only weighs a little over 3 pounds.  Just what the occupational therapist ordered.  The Geek Squad installed all of the software including Dragon Naturally Speaking.  Now I have a laptop that is more than any average user needs with three programs that sometimes listen to each other instead of listening to me.  It only took two trips to the store to have all of the software and the desktop the way I like them.


I made the mistake of not asking where the On/Off button is.  A kind librarian showed me.  No instructions came with the laptop.  They are online, but I couldn’t get online because I didn’t know how to use a computer with Windows 10.  I tried to open the email with the computer’s tutorials on my old Windows 7 computer that I do know how to use, but the link for the tutorial took me to a screen that wanted to download Windows 10 on the old computer.  I sat looking at my computer screen like a deer staring into headlights and started to sing, "Big Girls Don't Cry."


While I might have a vision impairment that makes my life interesting, I also remember from time to time that I am a certified teacher/librarian who does not need to know all the answers but can find them.  A search located both the print and NLS audio versions of Windows 10:  The Missing Manual. 

When I was brave enough to turn the computer on, a librarian showed me where the volume button is on the side of the computer.  There are also volume keys near the function keys.  One is a mute key.  I touched it by mistake and lost all sound.  I thought I had uninstalled the screen-reader.

Somehow through trial and error and asking a lot of questions everywhere and anywhere, I connected the laptop to my TV monitor using a cable and USB3 adapter.  That required finding the Input button on the TV remote and clicking on items in the onscreen menu until the computer desktop appeared on the TV screen.  I only needed my CCTV (closed circuit TV magnification device) and a lot of hope.  Connecting the laptop to YFI was not so easy.  It required a sighted person who gave the laptop a few simple commands.  Setting up the YFI connection was one of the functions that the JAWS screen-reader could not read.  These little bumps in the road occur most often with programs that use Internet connections such as installing software, especially antivirus software.  Even when software is cleared by Freedom scientific, there are no guarantees that the program and JAWS will be 100% compatible.


Warning:  The newest generation of laptops is slim.  Mine only has room for one USB port and one USB3 port.  USB hubs are required purchases.  There is no DSL port that would allow connecting the laptop to a modem.  These laptops are meant for travel and business.  Adjustment must be made, but they are worth it for anyone who can benefit from the smaller size and lighter weight.


I had help loving myself while loving what is left while living with low vision.  I came across the children's book, Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days by Stephen Manes.  This very humorous author teaches his young readers that the only perfect people are the people who are doing nothing.  I was so inspired that I finally published my own children’s book (available on, The Misadventures of Mistletoe Mouse.


The time has finally come to open the door and learn how to play with my Dragon.  All that is missing is the J-say software that will work with the JAWS screen-reading software and a visual rehabilitation specialist or tutor who is familiar with this technology.



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Episode 3: Living with a Dragon is Like Living with a Cat, or How to Buy a Computer

You can't tell a book by its cover, and you can't tell a Dragon by its box.  This is why it is very important to listen to distributors and consultants who work for software companies.  We all know this; but when the box says that the software will work with a Windows 7 computer, it is just so tempting to believe what is on the box.  Maybe your computer will be the exception.  Maybe you are not hard-headed like me and will simply let go and move on to a new generation of computers.  Otherwise you will learn that Dragons, like cats, live where they want to and not where you tell them to.  Dragons, like cats, also decide if they want to live with the other software you already have installed.  It is not that they are unfriendly.  They just like a lot of room and don't like sharing, especially with antivirus memory hogs.  If you don't believe distributors and consultants, you probably won't believe me either.  In that case, go ahead.  Install.  Uninstall.  Convince yourself that you are experimenting and not really wasting time.  You are being thorough rather than avoiding pulling out your checkbook or credit card.  You are, in spite of all of your, "I am independent.  Hear me roar!", rhetoric, waiting to be rescued because hardware and software scare the living daylights out of you.

I am skittish because I once bought a computer that did not like printers.  I took so many brands (including the same brand as the computer) to and from office supply stores that sales clerks started disappearing when they saw me walk through the door.  I have learned not to buy laptops just because they are pretty.  The new ones in all shades and colors are so tempting, and the white keyboards remind me so much of my old typewriters that I want to swoon, but they do not have enough memory.  So now I am shopping for a basic black with 8-16 gb memory, 256 gb or double that in solid state hard drive, and at least 1 tb external backup (Generation 6 Intel 17 or 15 processor).  I fell in love with the laptops with the 17 inch monitors and then jilted them after I realized that I would need a new briefcase on wheels or briefcase and larger cart to transport them.  Since it is my injured hand that also has some arthritis that requires Dragon dictation software and J-Say for screen-reading capabilities, the weight of a laptop will be one of the most important features under consideration.

I have admitted several times in this blog that technology is not my strongest skill.  I now know why.  I started using computers when they were simple replacements for typewriters.  Word processing was about all you could do on them.  Unlike the two generations that have followed mine, I was never required to pass a basic computer class in school.  All of the books for dummies and seniors that I’ve read did not register.  Finally, I looked at a list of books about computers at Learning Ally (  This resource provides mostly textbooks and other materials used in classrooms in audio format.  I am now reading the book that I have been missing for more than 30 years, Peter Norton’s Introduction to Computers.  Learning Ally has many editions, but the 6th edition from 2006 is the most current.  It even has a chapter about how to buy a computer.

As the Norton book points out, today most people look at computers in stores and then buy online from either the store’s website or from the manufacturer.  I have learned that a computer can be built with only the features I need, that office supply stores and manufacturers have credit cards or plans with interest rates as low as 0%, and that buying more computer than I currently need might save more money in the long run.  Since adaptive software, along with word processing software, is only licensed for use on a certain number of computers, having to replace a computer sooner rather than later might also require the purchase of all new software programs.  This common sense reminder comes from my son, an Assistant Professor of Information Systems and Technology in a School of Computing.

My greatest challenge now requires listening to my occupational therapists who are telling me not to work at my computer keyboard for more than 5 minutes at a time.  Another challenge requires making my work space more ergonomically correct as Peter Norton directs in his book to avoid injury.  As I have shared how I do my work with the occupational therapists at The University of Michigan, they have shown me more comfortable ways to work with my iPhone and my Braille tools, the slate and stylus.  Getting me to change my habits (ouch), is a little bit like trying to train a cat.  Writers are compulsive by nature and trained to be even more so.  Walking away from an idea and trusting that it will still be there is not easy.  I have been keeping the creativity flowing by constructing a website, and keeping the Happiness Engineers at Word Press very busy.

Loving what is left often has detours.  My advice:  Take them.   

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Episode 2: It has Gotten Even Easier for the Blind and Vision Impaired to Train their Dragons

Version 13 of Dragon Naturally Speaking is still on the shelves at some office supply stores for under $200.  I found the Premium and Home editions at Staples.  Some office supply stores like Staples also have credit cards for customers who qualify.  There are great sales on Windows 10 laptop and desktop computers too.  What a pleasant surprise!  I took a detour and stopped to look at computers and found my Dragon because a very patient salesman answered all of my questions and listened to all of my needs.  I am going to get acquainted with my Dragon and learn how it works before I make a bigger commitment.  I appreciate all of the information that I received from Ralph Samek at Woodlake Technology and Brian Hartgen at j-say.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Episode 1: It has Gotten Easier for the Blind and Vision Impaired to Train Their Dragons

A long time ago in a faraway land, I learned about two dragons.  One was named Dragon Naturally Speaking, and the other one was named Dragon Dictate.  These dragons are real and the answer to my latest medical detour, a hand injury.

I have lived with open angle glaucoma for almost 70 years and cataracts for the past 25.  During the past seven decades, the eye diseases, low vision, and legal blindness required giving up activities such as driving and learning new skills such as downloading Talking Books.  I've embraced and welcomed adaptive technology, programs, and services that allowed me to continue working and living independently.  Now, it is not the eye diseases but old age and the ailments that come with it that threaten my progress.  The hand injury and mild arthritis in my hands is limiting the number of minutes I can spend at the computer keyboard without experiencing pain.

Thanks to the time I’ve spent as a librarian and researcher, I quickly look for a solution as soon as a problem arises.  Remembering that there were products like Dragon Dictate and Dragon Naturally Speaking was easy.  Finding anyone who is using them, who could recommend them, or who could direct me to their manufacturer or distributors were not.  The information I found online was hopeful but not helpful.  I kept running into walls when I contacted colleagues who are blind and sight impaired.  My breakthrough came when I contacted the rehabilitation counselor at The University of Michigan Services for Students with Disabilities where I completed core classes in library studies the year before the university changed its library program to Information Studies.  He and a colleague who manages the adaptive technology lab at the U of M provided the names, phone numbers, and websites of distributors I needed.  The information came with one caveat:  “The products are outrageously expensive.”

All adaptive technology seems outrageously expensive.  Most have two price tags, one for individuals and one for sales to libraries, agencies, nonprofits, and businesses.  The high prices are required, say the sales force, because the money goes back into research.  Every time a computer or phone has an upgrade or comes out with a new model, the adaptive software used by people with disabilities also needs an upgrade or new version.  It sometimes takes months or even years for the adaptive technology to catch up.  This, and not the price, is the major reason blind and vision impaired students and employees cannot always keep up with their sighted peers and have such a high unemployment rate.

Since I am a writer and in that category labeled “starving artist” (see the warning to young writers in The Writer Magazine, September 2016, “From the Editor,” page 4), I will need to use all of my creativity to figure out how I will pay for Dragon Naturally Speaking and its companion that must be used by the sight impaired, J-say.  They will cost somewhere around $1200 give or take a couple hundred depending on the versions.  HOWEVER, the distributor told me that all of my adaptive technology (JAWS, Kurzweil, Dragon, and J-say) will work faster on a newer computer that is loaded with memory.  In her book, Women and Money, Suze Orman refers to this type of debt as Good Debt because it is an investment in yourself and your work.  While there are numerous agencies and websites such as Go Fund Me ( that seem like possibilities to the novice; the underserved blind and vision impaired population rarely receives information (forget about funding) if they are out of school, not receiving services from an agency, have had their case closed by an agency, have received one set of adaptive technology, or are senior citizens who are unemployed.  In addition, the only stereotype that needs to be broken more than the “starving artist” stereotype is the “blind beggar” stereotype.  For this reason, most people who are blind or vision impaired want to fund independently.  If the manufacturers or distributors would create loan or credit card programs as most furniture stores and auto dealers have done, purchasing adaptive technology would not only be easier for the consumer but also more profitable for the manufacturers because they would have more customers.

For information about Dragon Naturally Speaking, contact Ralph Samek at Woodlake Technology (312-733-9800).  For j-say, contact Brian Hartgen ( or call their US phone number 415-871-0262).  The new version of j-say comes out September 19, but it only works completely with version 13 of Dragon Naturally Speaking, whose newest version 15 was just released.  Only the Corporate version 13 is still available in limited numbers (more than $500 compared to the latest version that is $300).

There was a time when training the Dragons was very difficult and required reading lengthy amounts of text into the dictation microphone.  Now, I am told, the set-up takes seconds as the program adapts to your voice and background noise.  The instruction manual is provided as a WORD document that can be read by screen-readers.

When I hear people who are living with blindness and low vision say that they are no longer reading or writing or need someone who is fully sighted in order to perform a task, I turn into a fire-breathing dragon.  Although I know I won’t be sitting around a coffee house or other public place and writing as J. K. Rowling did when she was a “starving artist” and require more time to complete a task, I know that with a little bit of luck and a lot of patience, my work will get done.  That makes breathing a whole lot easier for me and can for a lot more people.  Check out the online demonstrations of all of the adaptive products referenced in this blog and post.  Many doctors, lawyers, and people who just can’t type are training their Dragons.  With j-say, the blind and sight impaired can train their Dragons too.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

It's so Nice to Have an Echo Around the House

I encourage anyone who has YFI to consider purchasing the Amazon Echo.
If you enjoy music, an Amazon Prime membership would also be great.
I received them as birthday presents from my children and obtained information about the Echo from demonstrations online. The set-up process that comes with the Amazon Prime to connect it to YFI was not clear, but the technology expert at my local library for the blind and physically handicapped found a You Tube video that was made by a purchaser as she connected the device to her YFI. There are buttons on top and a reset hole in the bottom that she learned about from someone in Tech Support at Amazon. (If the wall cord is at 12 O'clock, the Mute button is at 9 o’clock. The Action Button is at 3 o’clock. These buttons are on the top, about 1/2 inch in from the edge and can be felt when you know they are there. The reset
button is on the underside at 6 o'clock and needs a pin or paper clip to push the button inside the hole.)

The Echo is voice activated. Her name is Alexa. You can ask her the weather, the time, how to spell a word, and so on. She told me that if I wanted to find my glasses, I should retrace my steps. When the Prime music is added, it will play anything in the catalogue such as the soundtrack of Hamilton or your favorite singers, musicians, and radio stations. I still have not learned all the features, but it is so nice to simply tell it to stop from across the room and not have to get up.

You must say “Alexa” before you ask a question or give a command.  One day I was ignoring Alexa and listening to a Talking Book.  Some words must have sounded like her name and a command because she started giving me the names of movies that are playing nearby.  This was very curious.  I started wondering if this technology was getting jealous, didn’t like the book I was reading, or just wanted me out of the house because it wanted to be alone with some other technology with which it is enamored.

The Amazon Echo costs around $180. The Amazon Prime membership is
$100 per year. The Echo is smaller than a box of oatmeal. The only improvement would be a rechargeable battery as a power source rather than a wall plug so it would be portable. The speakers are excellent and have a volume control around the top or Alexa can just be told to make the sound higher or lower.

When I asked Alexa if she was running for President, she said that she was more suited to be Speaker of the House.  Just what I needed:  technology with a sense of humor that does not get annoyed by my incessant journalistic and research questions.  The Amazon Echo, along with my Apple iPhone with voice-over dictation features, an NLS BARD app, Google, app, ITunes, Gmail, and much more have been a great help since too much typing at my computer and carrying grocery bags that were much too heavy temporarily require that my hands get a good rest.  I’m now looking for dictation software that will work with the screen-reader, JAWS, on my computer.

It is so very, very nice having technology around the house.  Thanks to all of the research being conducted in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan, I might one day be able to enjoy technology on the road too.  I am sure that my family and my doctors would love to recommend me as a test dummy.