This is a bit out of the ordinary things I do and post.
A couple of weeks back had a relative call me up and ask if it’s possible to look into configuring a PC for a blind person. I said I will definitely look into it.
I drove over, met my relative’s friend and talked over the situation a bit. The following summary came up:
1) Mostly the person didn’t use his laptop all that much, main complaint was that it is not clear on how to use it and make it accessible for him.
2) He had a couple of people previously come over and configure it.
3) He would like to use skype to call up his relatives from time to time, listen to music, audio books, radio. Maybe even find a more efficient way than TV to be up to date on the news.
My initial impression has been – it’s like 2012, this should be a breeze to configure and use, just google it!
One of the major surprises I’ve encountered is that there is no user interface that allows the blind user to actually learn the pc and self-improve. It’s all based on pre-defined scenarios, scripts and the application setup done on the workstation. There are several out of the box solutions for blind people, but they go down the same road of pre-defined scenarios, you can’t just browse the web, search for info and come up with solutions from the information you’ve gained.
This is where I had to re-view my approach, because the most intuitive thing like install JAWS screen reader (the best one on the mark, I wasn’t really impressed with the Ease of Access Center on Windows 8, I’ve even lost voice a couple of times trying to scream out commands) and let it handle everything – will not work.
Screen readers don’t read everything, most popular web pages and news portals I visit are not optimized for accessibility and to make things worse – the person does not know English at all, meaning we’re limited to the Russian segment of the net.
After some struggle on how to make things work, I’ve come up with the following:
1) Audio training for blind people (managed to find one in Russian)
2) WebbIE browser with some pre-defined URLs published on desktop as separate shortcuts (key combinations can work very good here)
3) JAWS screen reader
4) Custom scripts, calling via skype (some of them successfully borrowed from http://integr.org)
5) TeamViewer for remote assistance
6) The key here is finding a person who is willing to spend time and train the blind user, without this nothing will work
So to answer the question is it possible to use a PC for a blind user? Yes and no.
Without someone to train, setup, show and develop pre-defined scenarios this is not possible. I would pretty much estimate that in the nearest future we will be successful in developing technologies to restore vision instead of developing computer UI for blind people.