My First Encounter with a Screen Reader

My First Encounter with a Screen Reader

Posted on Thu, 05/11/2006 - 20:22 by Mohammed

I am often asked how can I use the computer although i am blind. Often times people will even doubt that it’s doable. The short version of the answer is that I use the computer through a screen reader. which is basically a software that tells the blind user what is displayed on the screen at any given event, through either speech or braille. That event may be a dialogue box, an edit window, a hyber text document, a VB project, etc. But what is it really like to use this screen Reader?

One day, my friend, who’s sighted, wanted to try it out for herself, and wrote this blog post in which she tells what it’s like to use a screen reader from a sighted person’s perspective. here’s her complete post:

“My work for an organization of the blind has given me the chance to have direct contact with the blind community, a community I’ve never thought about
I gradually started to have acquaintances, and even make friends with some blind persons. I realize now that some blind persons are very smart. Some of
them use computers just as efficient as we, sighted people, do. Thanks to technology, there are now special programs called “screen readers”, which can
read everything on the computer screen for a blind person, including documents, internet pages, and even chat windows! I’ve always wondered how easy it
is to use such screen readers, I’ve always wanted to know how it feels for one to depend totally on an audible source to be able to manage a computer.
Will it be easy?

Then I decided to try it myself. This desire of mine was reinforced by a very dear friend of mine, who happens to be blind. I know that he uses such screen
readers for his computer, and he manages his computer quite well, so I downloaded a demo of a screen reader from the internet and installed it on my personal
computer. I plugged my headsets and started the talking program. My friend and I were online, and he was giving me guidelines on how to use that program.
The program started, and I heard an automated male’s voice reading for me every menu in that program, and every subtitle underneath. My msn messenger was
already running, and I wanted to have a chat by using that talking program, so I had to change some of the settings to make the msn ready to talk! I was
told to remove all that shows pictures in the chat window. I figured out that if the user of this talking program cannot see the pictures, why to have
them in the chat window? So the settings were changed to remove the pictures. I wrote a message. The program was spelling the words I wrote, letter by
letter! “y” “e” “s”, yes. Every single letter. It has definitely slowed down my typing and made it seem too heavy, which bothered me. My friend told me
that I can stop the program from spelling the letters if I wanted, but I said I will keep it so that I know exactly how it feels to use the program. Every
sentence I wrote, every word, every bracket, it was all read! Each time I received a message, the program read the name of the sender. My friend was displaying
a long name for himself, so each time he wrote even a single word, his whole display name was read!! This is too much! Not only that, even whenever he
was writing a message, the program would say, “X is writing a message”, and along with it, I would hear a sound that resembles a typing sound, “tick tick
tick tick tick tick tick”, until the message appears, then the program talks and says, “X says: ….etc”. Sometimes I missed hearing a message because I
was busy typing. My friend told me that I can go back to previous messages by pressing on the “alt” button + number 1 if I wanted to hear the previous
message, or alt + 2 if I wanted to hear the message before the last, or alt + 3 if I wanted to read even the third last message, and so on… So, I cannot
just by one look go up and read the message that I missed?? As I was trying to depend on this program totally I tried not to read the lines my friend wrote.
I either looked away or hid my eyes with my hand so that I only hear and not read. I heard that automated voice, I could understand what he said most of
the time, but not always.This is an artificial voice reading, it can’t be as accurate as living human reading. Tick tick tick tick tick tick, x is typing
a message. X says so and so. I say so and so. Tick tick tick tick tick tick. Oh this is noisy. What if I was to have a chat with 2 persons at the same
time? How will I move between the windows? How will I manage this noise? It was getting too much for me to take so I asked my friend to tell me how to
stop that continuous talking message that told me whenever he’s typing. It’s enough for me to hear the “tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick” sound
to know that he’s typing! So he told me to press on three buttons together to do so, I am not sure what they were. Then I wanted to stop the program from
telling me each time that x person says so. I wanted it to just tell me the message itself. I already know with whom I’m talking so please save me some
extra sound. So again, my friend told me to press on 2 other buttons to stop that frequently repeated message. What a relief! There are so many commands!
To stop this voice, press 2 buttons together, to stop that sound, press other 3! One needs a very strong memory to remember all these buttons and their
functions. Can I use the mouse?? But no, I am using a program whose users cannot use a mouse, therefore I also can’t!

What about smileys? Those expressive lovely smiling faces, happy, angry, laughing, crying, or even sleepy. I like them very much. What if I wanted to use
them? That is no problem, I see the smiley and I just click on the smiling face that represents the expression which I want to convey. But no, this is
the ordinary way. The program does not read these faces! Then how to use smileys?

My friend told me to use the options to disable smileys. This means that I will no longer see any smiley face… How am I to use them then? I had to press
on the codes that make up a certain smiley, so if I wanted to send a simple smile, I press on : and ). The outcome is
, and the program reads this code
by saying “smiley”, or if I press on : and “d”, the outcome is :d and the program reads it as “smiling with mouth open”. So, if I wanted to express any
emotion with a smiley, I have to know first what code it has and send it. There are so many smileys, so many codes, do I really need to memorize all these?!
Can’t I just choose the smiling face I want and click on it? This is tough.

I closed my eyes. Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick, I know he’s typing a message. The message is read for me now. I understood it. I started to write
a reply. I tried not to look at the keyboard. I replied, my reply was read. Then again, tick tick tick tick tick, I am getting another message. I get the
message and I hear it. I couldn’t understand it well. Oh what was it that I have to do to hear the last message? Yes, alt + 1. Let me try to locate these
two buttons without looking at the keyboard. I have always been bad in locating numbers on a keyboard. I have no other choice now, I must find the number
1 and the alt button. I hear tick tick tick tick tick. Is it possible that I miss hearing the new message while looking for the right buttons? This is
so hard. “Try opening a web page”. Ok, I said. I opened a webpage. Of course I used the mouse because I didn’t know what buttons will launch a webpage.
I didn’t even want to know, it would be difficult. The page opened. “Press arrow down”. I did, and the program started to read me line by line what was
on the page. I had to press arrow down after each line. This program is so precise. It even said “blank” when there was an empty line!! What if I wanted
to look for certain information or a certain word on the page? Do I have to listen to the whole page to get what I want, that is, if it was there at all??
As I tried to disable my sight and to depend on my ears, which were getting annoyed by the various sounds and the automated voice, I thought of how restricting
and how slow it is to manage my computer this way. I really felt helpless. My friend told me that I can use it in a much better way after I get used to
it, I am still a beginner. At some point I just wanted to stop this talking program and use my computer the easy way, I wanted to enable my sight again…
Although I wasn’t reading the lines, or at least I tried my best not to, I could not switch off my monitor. I needed to feel the existence of a chat window
at least to know where I was…The whole experience was very touching. My friend never knew how touched I was. Just as it was very hard for me to handle
this situation, I realized as well that if it is the only option I have, then I will have no option but to use it and learn how to manage it. This tick
tick tick tick tick tick sound, it wouldn’t have been too annoying if I were to depend on it totally to be able to use my computer. I don’t want to hear
that automated voice again, but if I had to, I might start to love that voice, just like most of blind persons who call that voice their friend. I now
understand why they appreciate this annoying voice, even if it slips or misses a sentence in a chat window. My friend always says that he owes a lot to
technology. I’ve never understood that statement any better than today, at this very moment, when I used technology the very same way he does. My friend
says he’s touched by my willingness to experiment with this talking screen reader. Have you any idea what impact this has left on me?”

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