by John Miller
From the Editor: John Miller is on the cutting edge when it comes to working in a competitive field and bringing all kinds of innovative resources to get what he needs to do his job with distinction. He drafted this piece as a way to acknowledge the much-needed accessibility by one software company and to help us continue to develop strategies to determine how to make such practices widespread. Here is what he says:
As a minority who doesn't bring large numbers to the marketplace, we must work hard to figure out how to increase the number of devices we can use productively and with the same ease as our sighted peers. To employers we offer ourselves as true competitors capable of bringing as much to our jobs as our sighted colleagues. When it comes to motivation, brains, and education, we do well, but when the technology used in our workplace is either unusable or so inefficient that its use detracts significantly from our work product, the challenges are formidable.
How do we go about convincing technology developers and distributors, especially those who deal in hardware and software, to design it in such a way that it is efficiently usable without vision? Perhaps of equal importance, how do we thank those who have made or improved their products so that they meet the standard? Beyond writing a note of personal thanks, how do we express to the broader community the significance of what has been done?
I have worked in the field of electrical engineering and signal processing for over ten years, having gotten my PhD in electrical and computer engineering. In my work career I have held jobs at Qualcomm, Nokia, and University of California San Diego. I currently work at a defense contractor in San Diego, California. In all of these jobs, I have struggled to get material I can read and interpret nonvisually. A piece of software I use that is essential to my job is MATLAB from MathWorks, and recently its developers have taken significant steps that enhance my ability to use it and hence my productivity on the job. Using MATLAB, I can generate plots and prototype engineering solutions. I contacted MathWorks about a problem in their software for blind users who used the JAWS screen reader. MathWorks scheduled a one-hour meeting in Microsoft Teams to discuss the problem with me. MathWorks invited me to be a member of their newly formed Community Access Board. I reported the problem in July 2022. I verified the MathWorks fix is working well in January 2023.
I wish to ask other blind individuals what software applications they are using to succeed in the workplace? There is an opportunity to form a relationship between the blind community and the authors of these software applications.I conclude with what may have been better placed at the beginning of this article: my goals for writing and asking that it be published. I want to thank MathWorks, and equally important, I want to figure out how to thank other companies when they do the right thing. I want to go beyond making the moral case that what they have done is good and demonstrate that there are tangible reasons why making products efficiently accessible is in the interest of business, government, education, and any other entity that offers products and services to the public. So my article is an open invitation for the sharing of good ideas, new paradigms, and innovative approaches we may come upon if together we all put our minds to this most important of tasks.