07 May 2007

Using computers without vision

A few people in the office started an IT group for people with disabilities. They have hired a small room that has 4 computers. I visited one of their sessions and two girls around 13- years- old were learning to use the computer. One had low vision, and the other had no vision. They were being taught by a guy who had no vision. These people with no vision can use a computer using software called Jaws. It reads out each letter as you type it. If you press the down arrow, it will read everything you’ve written. S my friend from work who does have vision had taught this guy without vision. He can now operate a computer way and above what S taught him. To me, he appeared to operate the internet as well as I could. He could use email and browse the internet. He used a lot of the shortcut keys. If you want to browse the internet it will read out what you click. If you want to use the menus on Windows it will read what is on the menu if you put the curser over the text.

This software reads English so these Lao speakers need to understand a bit of English. Funnily enough, S said that these people that use Jaws can’t understand very well if foreigners speak to them. I think they just pick up sounds and the most important words from what Jaws says. Also, Jaws would be easier to understand than someone chatting away because it is clear, consistent, monotone voice. It was good that they appeared so keen to learn, and I hope that being able to use computers helps them learn more. S said this kind of software is available in Thai which they could probably understand, but were granted the English version and training and support for it. They received 4 licences for this software from a Japanese organisation, and at $500 US per licence, this is quite generous. The have also been granted a Braille embossing machine and the 40 boxes of paper are due to arrive soon from Japan.

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