When the Only Windows View Is Braille
For some people who are blind, braille is the preferred channel for accessing information. For others, it is the only way.
Georgia Griffith, an Ohio woman who is deaf-blind, has worked with computers since the early 1980s. Friends pooled funds to purchase her first computer device, a tape-based VersaBraille, and Griffith recognized it almost immediately for the virtual lifeline that it could be for her to a universe of communication, information, and connection to friends worldwide.
Since 1982, Griffith has worked as an independent contractor for CompuServe, managing enormous databases of information. Currently, she is responsible for eight forums.
Griffith works out of a small office in her home, crowded with two desks and a variety of equipment. She has three Powerbrailles from Blazie Engineering (believing that the likelihood of all three failing simultaneously is next to none), two PCs, a laptop, and a Blazie Engineering Versapoint embosser. Her approach to technology has always been twofold: first, a more serious commitment to making mainstream products work for her and, second, the whimsical attitude that everything, particularly in the computing world, is fair game for humor and parody.
TeleSensory's ScreenPower for Windows 95 (which is no longer on the market) was Griffith's first choice for access into the Windows environment. This product offered the advantage of being the only Windows product developed initially for braille, with speech as an afterthought. (All other screen readers for Windows have been developed for use with speech synthesizers, useless to a deaf person, with braille access being added later.) Although she still sometimes uses Syntha-Voice's Window Bridge, her screen reader of choice is Henter-Joyce's JAWS for Windows. "I can't hear the racket that is part of today's computing," she says, "but I consider that a blessing."
That comment might astonish blind users accustomed to the feedback of a speech synthesizer, but Griffith maintains that she is able to do everything she needs to do in Windows with braille alone. Windows 98 Second Edition makes a number of things easier, she says, so that she has worked out quick and efficient keystroke routines for countless tasks.
To remain employed and in touch, Griffith sees working in Windows with braille as a necessity. She does so competently, but not always joyfully. Her penchant for renaming everything inspired the pet name "Crashnet" for the Internet, and although she is able to run her forums, do research, read newspapers, and converse with others on-line in a Windows environment with braille, she says that Windows often "wastes time" getting things done that were once much simpler.
When upgrading to Windows 98, for example, Griffith was annoyed by the rearrangement of certain elements on the screen. Still, she says, it is important to work with the tools that others around us are using. It takes time to figure out new approaches to doing things, but she maintains that she is able to do everything she needs to do in Windows with braille.
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