BLIND USER COMPUTING

   Earlier, the blind people  were unaware of most of the technological development.For them, the world of personal computers, office automation and the Internet offers mixed blessings.That world wasn’t designed for them,but now,as the technology growth is at its hike,with the right assistive technology, they can take part in it. When everything works well, they have access to an ocean of information vastly greater than anything previously available to the blind.

Blind computer users mainly rely upon screen-reader software, which describes the activity on the screen and reads the text in the various windows.Screen readers cost between US$500 and $1,000, although there are also freeware screen readers.(Windows XP and Vista come with a screen reader called Narrator, but even Microsoft says it’s not powerful enough for serious use.)
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The screen reader’s output can be sent to the computer’s speakers as a synthesized voice or to a Braille display. The latter uses tiny push pins to create a pattern of raised dots that can be read by a moving finger. A unit with an 80-character line (enough for one full line of text) , and most blind people use a 40-character unit.
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Braille displays are better than speech for editing because individual characters can be isolated and they are a necessity for the deaf-blind. It also lets them silently read e-mail while talking to someone else.

Although major operating systems usually have built-in screen readers for accessibility by the blind, they are rudimentary at best.But knowing what the screen is saying is just the beginning — the blind user then has to issue commands using keyboard shortcuts, because the mouse cursor is useless. Using shortcuts involves a lot of memorization, but at least the option is always available — or at least it used to be.

“Starting with Version 3.1, Microsoft tried to make sure there was a keystroke to do everything in Windows,” noted Dave Porter, an accessibility consultant and head of Comp-Unique. “It’s not so much that the keyboard shortcuts are different but that the user interface has changed,” said Rob Sinclair, director of accessibility at Microsoft.We have gotten away from a lot of menus and created a more simplified experience.

There are some amazingly powerful features in Vista for those with disabilities, like a Start function that begins with a search field.We can type in the name of an application, or a command, or search for a keyword in a document or an e-mail & can launch any application with a few keystrokes, easier than using menus.

Speaking of user applications, compatibility with a screen reader can be a crap shoot, and some commercial software packages include custom controls that screen readers can’t recognize.

In the days of DOS, there was a fixed number of characters across the screen, so identifying the information in the different parts of the screen was relatively simple.Finding the boundaries of the information is harder now, since there is no native indicator as to what is inside each window when we scrape the screen.
Beyond packaged software lies the world of in-house applications, where things can really go haywire for the blind user.The screen readers don’t work with in-house applications — it’s too easy to break the interface.It can be as simple as an application that puts up a lot of windows on the screen which are not windows from the viewpoint of the operating system. The screen reader will see one huge blob of information and read across the window boundaries.This can cause problems for job applicants, for example.

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Of course, these days, many computers are used principally to access the Internet — and there is no telling what a blind person will encounter there.

“It can take a while to wade through a strange site — it can be maddening,” complained Jay Leventhal, who is blind and serves as editor of AccessWorld Magazine, produced by the American Foundation for the Blind. “Sometimes you find what you want to buy, but then you can’t find the submit button. It seems to literally not be there. A skilled [blind] user can navigate a majority of the sites on the Web these days, but you have to master certain tricks, like jumping from header to header in order to skip over a lot of junk, and use the search function to get the information you want. An average user can struggle for a long time looking for something and will even struggle on a familiar site.”
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Blind man carrying mobile guide & PDA

A major sin among Web sites is a failure to use the HTML ALT attribute, which can be used to attach a descriptive label to a nontext item. If an image, for example, has an ALT label, the screen reader will read it. Otherwise it is forced to read the file name, which often amounts to useless gibberish.

There are accepted guidelines for designing accessible Web sites, especially the guidelines derived from Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. Cyndi Rowland, director of WebAIM, an accessibility organization at Utah State University, noted that the guidelines are mandatory for federal Web sites and for organizations doing business with the US government. A number of states have also adopted the guidelines.

Her organization has a checklist of 16 requirements derived from Section 508, including use of the ALT description for images and image-map hot spots. Among other things, they state that frames should be given descriptive titles and that data tables should have row and column headers. There is a separate list of 12 requirements for applets.

Chong said the basic problem was a “next” button that was coded in such a way that it was invisible to screen readers, leaving blind users stranded. The problem has been fixed, but the lawsuit continues because Target hasn’t committed to accessibility, Chong said.But what literally frightens blind users is the rise of so-called CAPTCHA technology for Web site security. (CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test.”) To deny access to bots, the user must input a password that is displayed in a moderately distorted image that a machine can’t read. Of course, the screen readers can’t read it either.Some sites have an optional button to play an audio file that reads the password. However, this still leaves out the deaf-blind.
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Made iphone for  blindusers

Beyond computers, sources complained of cell phones so complicated that they, too, need expensive screen readers. Many have small, flat buttons that are useless to the blind, culminating in the iPhone with no buttons. The iPod and its imitators don’t have buttons either, and even kitchen appliances today often have digital readouts that are useless to the blind.But Rowland noted that such considerations need to be weighed against the vast increase in electronic information during the past several years, at least part of which is accessible  to the blind.

With the advanced technology,people who kept a distance with everything due to their disabilities(blind,deaf) are able to experience the world in a different manner.We can say that the  new computing techniques is a boon to them.Eventhough they can access the electronic gadgets & other things with the current technology,they cannot enjoy everything as we normal  people can do.That is, it is something better than nothing.Lets us hope that the technology will give these differently abled people many more aids in the coming future.

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