Yes, Blind People Can Use Computers

Being blind in the 21st century means I get to have conversations like the following two:
1. “So, I’m interested in this job…”
“Oh, no, impossible, sorry.”
“Why?”
“Well…you’d need to use a computer, you see…”
2. “Hi. I’m new to this chat site and I can’t figure out what I’m doing. I’m blind, so I need some shortcut keys instead of mouse commands. Does anyone know any?”
“If ur blind then how are u using a computer? Ur obviously faking it.”
“…What?”
“Ur looking for attention”

I’d like to think that awareness of what blind people can and can’t do is more widespread than it’s ever been, thanks to the internet and the many blind writers and speakers out there. Despite all the awareness campaigns and advocacy groups, the idea that blindness and computers don’t mix remains stubbornly entrenched. While most people seem to understand that I must use some kind of computer—probably a “special” one—many are still under the impression that I must dictate my blog posts to a hired aide. Given how prevalent computers are in every facet of society, and how vital they are for the accomplishment of even the simplest tasks, it’s no wonder that people believe we’re on the fringes! It’s not surprising that we’d be lumped in with, say, Great Aunt Rosie who still refuses to touch a keyboard.

No matter how often we tweet, “like,” share, blog, and text, some people are still convinced we are unable to use a computer or similar electronic device independently (or at all). I suppose they assume we have assistants who manage every aspect of our online lives. Who knows what they assume goes on when we try to work? When you think about it, it’s not altogether unreasonable for these people to believe we couldn’t possibly work, because of how deeply computers have penetrated the workplace. How can we be expected to function as equal, contributing members of society if we can’t even update our Facebook statuses or pay the phone bill on our own? Even if we can use computers, how exactly do we manage it, since we can’t see the screen?

In my everyday life, computers are not only usable, but necessary. I have a smart phone and a laptop, and I use both daily. As I’ve previously discussed on this blog, computers help me through a variety of hurdles, among them reading printed documents, deciphering labels, finding my way around the city, and communicating via all the social networks. Computers are not only within my ability to use; they are also a portal to parts of the world I never could have accessed without them.
So, how do I use computers? Since I can’t see the screen at all, my smart phone and laptop are both equipped with a screen reader, which is a piece of software that runs in the background and reads the information on the screen using text-to-speech output. (For the low-vision users among us, screen magnification suffices.) It is also possible to read what’s on the screen in braille, provided you have a braille display handy. If you have an iPhone, you can demo Voiceover, the built-in screen reader; it’s lots of fun. Otherwise, there is a wealth of information online about all the different screen readers, so if you want to learn more about them, you could easily dedicate an afternoon to that research. For our purposes, all you really need to know is that, with the help of special software, computers and phones are mostly, if not totally, accessible to blind people all over the world. Assistive technology is expanding so that we can access everything from GPS trackers, to smart televisions, to bank machines. With the help of this software, I can do most of what a sighted computer user can, putting me on a more equal playing field than a blind person from the past could even imagine. While using a computer to navigate the internet, you’d never even know there was anything different about me at all.

Yes, blind people can use computers, and have done so for decades. Yes, we can (usually) perform well in workplaces using computer software, as long as that software supports our screen readers. Yes, we can send texts, write tweets, and manage online banking independently. Yes, we can develop software, write programs, and administer technical support.
Yes, we can keep up.

So, next time you meet someone who believes blindness and computers are like oil and water, do us all a favour, and pass on the good news!

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8 thoughts on “Yes, Blind People Can Use Computers

  1. I dated a blind girl once, a tremendous personality who was studying in London. She was a handful and quite an experience! You know, now, as in about ten years ago, I was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. In truth I am a voice hearer, particularly when fatigued. But the psych won;t be swayed. The point being, the mentally ill use computers too, but they are ill, not homocidal, you know? B

  2. well said Meagan! I still get asked whether I use a special computer or phone or whether my computer has braille. No is the answer to both as far as my phone goes, I tell people anybody can use an IPhone as it has a screenreader built in. Same goes for the computer although the screenreader isn’t necessarily built in but the computer still talks I often find that the questions come from the older generation as often it’s the older people who have a hard time being brought up to speed. sorry I’m discriminating against age but that’s what I’ve found over the years. I know when I was volunteering at my local community radio station around the corner from my house. There was another gentalman who had some vision but was also partially blind who could see the computer screen enough to navigate it. He suggested that I should consider volunteering as radio was an interest of mine but when it was brought up with the volunteers they just washed their hands of the idea as the computer they had wasn’t allowed to have other programs on it and that the other gentalman had some sight and I had no sight whatsoever so I didn’t follow it up because the volunteers some of which are elderly and often elderly people don’t always believe what we’re capable of unless we drum it into them but sometimes at that age they are liable to forget.

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  4. I would venture to say that blind people are even more ahead of the game when it comes to technology, which I’m sure is a complete surprise to most sighted folks. When I was in high school I used a laptop to print out my work so the teacher could view it just like everyone elses. I could go on for an hour about how technology and smartphones have changed my life, but just the fact that you wrote this blog post and the fact that I logged into my twitter account to post this reply should say more than enough. I genuinely hope that you spread this blog post far and wide so that some sighted people who aren’t in our usual blindness circles can see this and maybe understand how we do things.

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