When a visually impaired person wants to use the internet, how do they do so? Well, there are several screen reader options, but my primary tool is “Jobs accessed with speech” better known as JAWS. “JAWS is a very difficult piece of software to teach, but as with many new learned subjects, practice and patience is the key to success,” says Jason Grills, Acting Director at Independence for the Blind. JAWS is a software that helps the blind and visually impaired to successfully navigate a computer. Although it is a complicated software to learn it is worth the hard work, with the reward of gaining more independence.
This program was tough to wrap my head around. I simply wanted to give up and cry a countless number of times, but I kept pushing forward trying my best.
I haven't been visually impaired my entire life, however, in becoming completely blind as an adult, I had to relearn the basics as with most other subjects. It was important that I started by learning to navigate the keyboard as well as basic knowledge of the computer. “For a person who is totally blind explaining the various items such as what is a desktop and a file system, are very difficult to explain. One must use hands-on examples such as a real file cabinet system to explain the point” says Jason Grills. After a little time, I finally understood the basics of the computer. With this new-found knowledge under my belt, I went on to learn that everything that I would now do on the computer would be with the use of the keyboard because JAWS does not work with the mouse. After a series of efficiency testing, the JAWS software lessons became my primary focus. Learning to navigate through documents and the internet with the program not only helped me to understand how JAWS worked but also allowed me to begin to feel comfortable with it. The basics; easy and fun but learning JAWS itself was another story; I didn’t believe that I was smart enough.
Grills states, “One of the hardest parts of teaching the blind [to use] assistive technology is actually getting them motivated to believe that they can successfully use the software proficiently.”
I eventually mastered basic navigating and successfully, completed the program. Thankfully all of the lessons were at my own learning pace, as it took more hours than one might be more comfortable with saying aloud, but here goes; three years, on and off. Did I mention that it was difficult? Now that I am out of the program I still practice every day, so I don’t forget what I have learned. I feel confident in my skills with JAWS because of not giving up on myself. Sometimes in life, we all have things that will cause us to struggle, but nothing can hold us back except for ourselves.
Thanks to my training I now have a super cool job where I use my computer all day long by testing websites for accessibility for people like myself who live with disabilities. Although I am confident in my software skills, I am not always as confident in websites. Without the needed accessibility it is difficult for me to navigate the web to shop, learn, and so much more. All websites should have descriptions on items such as graphics and items for sale. The most frustrating part of navigating restaurant websites is that most menu’s do not have food descriptions or prices. Before I go out to eat, I prefer to look up the restaurant’s menu myself so that I do not have to ask a friend or family member to read me every single item listed, and most embarrassingly have to ask, “How much is that?” over and over again. Just this summer I wanted to surprise my groom-to-be with a honeymoon stay on the beach; however, I had to ask for help since I couldn't access the booking calendar with my JAWS software. If websites are not made fully accessible to me, then even JAWS can’t give me the independence that I strive for daily.
If I had quit learning JAWS just because it wasn't easy, I would not have my job today, but even still I need business owners of all scales to help me in my efforts of total independence by making their services and products accessible to me.
Stephanie Bolinger Web Testing with Developer, Rory Eberly (Image Source: Veronica Cross)