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Training the Blind

By Wael Zakareya

The following tips for trainers are provided by Mr Wael Zakareya who is specialized in delivering computer training for the blind.

Tips for IT Training for the blind and/or low vision:

Background

Sighted people usually use:

  • a pointing device such as (mouse) to provide suitable quick and easy input for the computer
  • Keyboard only when it comes to providing textual content such as their names, e-mail addresses, ... etc
  • screen to realise the content displayed (as an output)
  • a sound card to listen to audio content for intertainment purposes

The blind computer user often use:

  • keyboard to perform nearly all input to the computer
  • mouse pointer (through keyboard specific settings) to locate the inaccessible keyboard content
  • a screen reader to realise the on-screen content via audio or braille output
  • a sound card for the sake of the audio output is solely required, though a hardware speech synthesizer is, in some cases, recommended
  • a refreshable braille display may be used alternatively with the audio output device, although one way is more than enough to read the on-screen information

The low vision computer user should use a standard computer keyboard and mouse as equal as their sighted users in the presence of a screen magnifier to get control over font size and color contrast ... etc

Similar technologies are found to be useful when using a mobile phone or a pocket pc or any other alternative device.

Accessible Lab Description

  • The lab should not exceed 7 computers including the instructor's computer.
  • Computers should have assistive tools installed such as, screen reader/magnifier ... etc.
  • Screen readers should be set up in a way that is able to read the log on screen so that the blind user could select the proper user account and type in the expected password if it is there.
  • All computer devices should be near to each other over a desktop which is safe and secure, so that no devices fall down.
  • The lab floor should be covered with suitable carpet for the sake of the fallen down speakers or keyboard, not to break down, if a blind accidently caused it so when moving around to reach their computers.
  • The physical description of the lab should not be in well-ordered rows and columns looking at one direction of the lab towards a white board or a projector, but the lab should be in a square view where each two computers are put in one side of the square and the instructor's computer occupies one side by itself. Note: the instructor's computer should be a bit far from the other computers so that the blind trainees could determine the voice of the instructor and his/her pc easily.
  • There should be some sort of color contrast between the floor and the chairs, between the computers and the tables beneath them, between the walls and the floor, ... etc.
  • The door should be locked for the sake of the noise coming into the lab, thus disturbing the trainees' ears, and for the sake of the noise caused by the speakers and the screen readers, thus disturbing the near labs/rooms.

Use Touchable Examples

When it comes to providing clear realistic examples, try to avoid unreachable examples, remember that a blind trainee never touched the outer frame of a tower, or the mouth of a lion! or even realised a clear color! but in stead, give examples from your touchable environment; for example, when it comes to explaining the background of a desktop, simply let them touch the table cloth to identify the position and the seen and hidden areas of it after putting files and folders over it. Also, you may use the paved floor or the Braille ruler to express the columns and rows forming spreadsheets found in Microsoft Excel ... etc.

Object Descriptions

In addition to describing the functional description of an on-screen object, the trainer for the blind should describe the physical description of each object on screen, at least once; for example: The descriptions of a Radio Control

Functional Description(Explained to all types of trainees):

Some menu items are listed together in a menu because you are able to select which item from the group that you want activated. When you activate these menu items, you move the check mark from one menu item in the group to another menu item. Only one menu item in the group can be checked at a time. To activate one of these menu items, press the ENTER key on that menu item or press its hot key. The menu will close and the check mark will move to the item you've just chosen.

Physical Description(Explained specifically for the blind/low vision):

A graphic of a solid circle appears to the left of a menu item when it is checked. The screen reader/magnifier only announces/focuses when a menu item is checked when the graphic appears next to that item.

Remember that functional descriptions are found here and there in almost every online tutorial, on the contrary, physical descriptions are hardly found in any tutorials, or even, documentations, so be sure to give higher priority and more elaboration to the object physical descriptions in your courses and bear in mind that screen readers usually provide extra auditory feedback describing the object type being a button, a check box, an edit field ... etc

ABC Tips for Training the Blind

  • Do not just refer to screen messages/feedback, but remember to listen to what do screen readers say; for example, a screen reader usually says (sub menu) when it detects the shape of the sub menu on the screen, it usually says, (dialogue box) when elipsis ... is detected.
  • Focus on the English meanings of the words they listen as they solely depend on them when understanding what you are explaining; remember that the blind never realises the expressive graphical representations of the icons; do not translate words, but explain them
  • Be sure to remember the trainees' names, that is to call them by their names; you could never point to any of them asking him/her to perform a certain function
  • Update your knowledge with the latest common programs that a blind could use specially screen readers, magnifiers, document readers, OCR programs, sound and recording, playing and editting software, interface accessible antiviruses and utilities ... etc
  • Update your knowledge with the more common and accessible internet resources, specially free book stores, audio magazines, VOIP services, accessible mail and chat clients, newspapers, accessible games, ... etc
  • Allow the blind trainees decide the way in which they will keep your notes and explanations; if they are willing to use an .MP3 or voice recorder to record your sessions, do not prevent them from doing it as it is the only quick and easy means of keeping your notes, and remember they could do it without your prior permission.
  • Be involved in the blind issues; in times, it is the only means of building the bridges between the trainer and the trainees, so that you release the inner negative attitudes you may face in your lab!
  • As for your new blind trainees, be sure to describe the lab and its location, how to reach the lab using the public transportations, how to make benefit of the cafeteria besides the lab, ... etc
  • Please, take into consideration the suitable timing for a break: if there is an outlet for the blind to leave the lab for some time, be sure to announce a suitable amount of time bearing in mind their slow walk, and their need to find a companion to go wherever they want; else if they will stay in the lab during the break, as no proper and accessible place to have fun outside, try to limit the time assigned for a break.
  • Allow using a mobile phone during your sessions: be sure that a phone call may be more important from your explanation in case that a blind trainees may be still in the process of communicating with their relatives or companions who will accompany them after the session, but ask them to end up quickly, or preferably move out from the lab and stay beside the lab door not to get lost; also, be ready to describe the lab position and means of transportations to the caller if the blind asked you to interfere with the call.
  • Be ready to face some critical situations, such as finding a suitable place for the blind to wait for their companions who may arrive later than the end of your session, or stopping a taxi for one or more of them, so try to build bridges with the companions who come after your sessions, and do not hesitate to request kind help of their independant colleagues confidentially.
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