Ever wondered how a person with a visual impairment uses a computer? Surf the web? Read a book or an article? I know many people who shy away from asking these questions. The important thing is to realise that there’s no harm in asking these questions. The real harm is in not bothering to find the answers to these questions. A request to our visually impaired readers: please pass this article on to all your sighted friends. And dear sighted readers, walk with me through this simple simulation of the experience of a visually impaired person.
The most popular, specialized software program used by people with visual impairments to consume electronic content - documents, web pages and other computer programs is a type of computer software known as a screen reader. The screen reader has two major functions – Navigation and Text-to-Speech (TTS).
A screen reader aids in navigation by guiding the user in moving from one page to the other, from one paragraph to the other and so on. It aids in TTS by converting electronic text to sound – basically it reads out text. The biggest stumbling block for screen reader software are programs and content that is difficult for navigation.
A large majority of computer programs and electronic content that are used by the visually impaired, are created by sighted people – programmers, content writers, editors etc. If you happen to fall into this category of very powerful people, and if you are unfamiliar with screen readers, I would definitely encourage you to try this little experiment. Now, if you don’t, you might still want to do it – because it can open your eyes a little bit into an unfamiliar world. All you need is a computer, working eyes and an old newspaper.
Here you go:
- Turn on your computer
- Browse to Google news or your favorite online haunt OR open a large word document
- Now get an old newspaper – take one full sheet and open it up
- Make a rectangular incision 3 inches long and half inch wide at the center of the paper
- With both hands, hold this newspaper against and in front of your computer display, so that you can see the screen through the rectangular hole
- Now start reading through the hole. Move the paper to the right to continue reading
- Try to jump to sections that you are interested in by moving the paper around
- Read the whole page
- Rinse and repeat with familiar and unfamiliar pages
- That’s it.
Hope you enjoyed the experience .. Now we need some feedback from you:
- How easy was it to find something that you are looking to read?
- What would have made it easier to find what you were looking for?
- Is the experience different between familiar and unfamiliar pages?
- How would you change the design of your document/site/application after your experience of carrying out this experiment?