Program helps blind write

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Thanks to the advancement of this electronic age there is a way that almost everyone can use the computer.

Of course, as is usually the case with specialized software the price tag is also high. Still one can find a way to enjoy, and yes often get frustrated with, the computer; I want to throw it out the window more times than I'd like to admit.

There is software available today so a person can just speak and the computer will write what is said.

But this software often has drawbacks, such as only honoring the voice the program is set up with. Thus if the person has a cold that might alter the tone or pitch of his voice, the computer may not work. Otherwise this software is great for folks who for whatever reason can't use the keyboard.

While many new computers come with programs that will speak, they are not completely friendly for those without any sight.

Most of the blind community who are serious computer users will use one of the software programs that allow them to use the computer just like everyone else. There are two main programs: Window-Eyes and JAWS (Job Access With Speech) a software program from Freedom Scientific in Florida.

I don't want to put one program ahead of the other but since I use JAWS, that is the one I will talk about. Using JAWS I can go online and search out information I want or maybe find a product I am interested in and send the company an online letter seeking more information. Occasionally the blind will encounter a website that is not "blind friendly," but fewer now than in earlier years.

I will try to describe to you just how I use the computer in putting out this column.

After deciding on my subject I start typing, using the keyboard just like anyone else. With a little training, and a lot of just trial and error, I know the keyboard and where my fingers should be placed to start typing. If I have a problem in finding any key, say the "F" or "J" keys, I will use a high-rise dot on the key. This may be a ready-made "bump" that will stick on the key or a liquid drop that when allowed to dry will make the keys easy to feel.

As I type, JAWS will repeat each letter I press unless I type too fast. I have a choice of seven different voices to use. JAWS tells me the punctuation I use and even distinguishes between lower and upper case letters. Using some hot keys JAWS will tell me whether the line is indented and how much, as I format my article.

Then I can have JAWS read back my writing to me so I can correct any lines that just don't fit as they should. I can also do a spell-check and I find this a very important function. I can set the program to read every punctuation mark I type to help when editing the writing; I can change this later to omit reading all punctuation or maybe just some of them to allow for a smoother reading of a document.

Being able to use different voices such as grandpa, a child's voice or several different men's voices, I can change the voice for typing, keyboard, PC or later for specific JAWS commands. I can also speed up the reading to suit me or slow it when a sighted person is trying to follow my typing.

JAWS will also read back to me what I have written and will read all my e-mail, along with other documents.

One drawback with any speech software is the need to continually upgrade to keep up with other programs such as Windows and MSWord.

I find it amusing when a visitor enters our computer room to find me sitting in the dark and with the monitor screen black. At first, new users or visitors may find it hard to understand the voice.

Hopefully this will explain a little to you how I use the computer. Have a great day and when the computer completely frustrates you, remember what life was like before you had it.

Ernie Jones, a registered nurse, retired early due to vision loss. He and his family moved here in 1986. He can be reached at theolcrow@charter.net or 529-9252.

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