Future Reflections Winter/Spring 1997, Vol. 16 No. 1
by Carol Castellano
The following item is reprinted from the December, 1996, In Touch, the newsletter of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB of New Jersey.
We are in a time of transition in terms of computer access for blind people. As the world is switching over from text-based systems (DOS) to graphics-based systems (Windows), blind computer users must deal with the lag time that exists between the development of new computers and the development of the adaptive technology that can make them accessible to the blind. DOS screen readers are still easier to use by blind people than screen reading programs for Windows. But the reality is that DOS programs are becoming obsolete and blind people in the work force must eventually learn to use Windows.
This time of transition poses many questions for parents: What would be the best system for my child to learn? We have an old computer, would it make sense to outfit it with speech or Braille access? We can get an older system almost free, but would it make sense for my child to learn to use programs that are becoming obsolete? My child is already using DOS, should he/she switch over to Windows? What should we do about school computer class?
Answers to these questions will vary according to your child's situation. For example, the family of a three-year-old blind child might not want to invest in a new computer equipped with Windows and Windows access, but the parent of a high school student might. By the time the three-year-old is ready to learn word processing and how to access the WEB, better screen readers will no doubt be on the market; so for now, perhaps an older computer would make more sense. The high school student, on the other hand, might need to develop job-related skills now. Many blind adults in the technology field feel that it is never a waste of time to learn a useful program, even if one intends to switch to a different program in the future.
As you consider technology for your blind child, you might want to visit the International Braille and Technology Center at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. On display there are samples of virtually every piece of Braille and speech equipment available. The Center's Director, Richard Ring, will also consult by telephone. Call (410) 659-9314.
Resource for Parents in New Jersey
Arianna and Lou Calesso, blind adults from Morristown, New Jersey, and the ATT Lucent Pioneers Club have developed a service which provides accessible computers to blind people. The Pioneers and others donate the used computers; the Calessos procure and install the special adaptations.
The blind adult or child receives a computer equipped with software for Wordperfect 5.1, screen access, communications, games, and an additional simple word processing program called QWERTY; and external speech synthesizer; and a typing tutorial. In addition to the software programs, tutorial tapes for Wordperfect 5.1, DOS, the screen reader, and QWERTY are included. The only cost to the blind person is that of the speech synthesizer (approximately $275). The Calessos also offer replacement of problem computer parts and ongoing technical support. Call Arianna Calesso at (201) 898-3866 if you are from New Jersey and interested in this service.