September 2001 Issue  Volume 2  Number 5

Reader's Corner

Here's your forum for talking to us and to each other. We received a small number of answers to these questions on computer training: How did you learn to use your computer—both the assistive technology and the operating system and applications, such as Internet Explorer or Word. What is your advice to someone just getting started with a new computer system?"

All responses were received by e-mail and may have been edited.

Randi Shelton:

"Five years ago, I would have said I didn't trust computers, that I stayed away from them at all costs and generally avoided using them unless required to do so. That was when the world of computers was largely DOS based. For me, those commands were too difficult to remember.

"About three years ago, I began hearing about Windows and how accessible it had suddenly become. Most of my friends who were blind or visually impaired were talking about JAWS for Windows or Window-Eyes, and the reviews were extremely positive! Suddenly they were able to surf the Internet, send and receive e-mail, read newspapers and anything else they wanted. I could do many of these things too on my DOS machine at the office, but it was slow and time consuming to perform even the simplest tasks. I also began to realize that Windows was the way of the future, and my ability to function in that environment would only help later on if I decided to pursue other employment. My employer still believed that DOS was the most accessible. I was beginning to realize that this wasn't true anymore, and I needed to learn Windows.

"After much careful consideration of my needs, I decided to purchase my own system with Windows 95 and JAWS for Windows. I chose JAWS because it offered braille support, which is something I require of a screen reader. My DOS system worked with ScreenPower Integrated, but I did not have speech. Braille is the format I prefer, although I have come to rely on speech now, too.

"Once I got my system and had everything installed, which was accomplished with the help of some terrific friends, I set about learning to use it. I found the training tapes that came with JAWS to be very thorough! With those tapes and a supportive network of friends who had 'been there and done that' I learned the basics of Windows, JAWS, and Internet Explorer. Since I mainly wanted my home computer for surfing the web and e-mail, this was enough for starters.

"Last year, we began making some changes in my office. My supervisor had been wanting to upgrade to Windows for some time and was thrilled when I told her that it was not only accessible, but I found it much easier than its predecessor! We began updating our system, and over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to receive formal computer training through our local rehabilitation agency. This training has helped to cement my skills and I have become a more confident computer user. I recently received my new system and can already see this confidence carrying over into my overall performance on the job. The forms I use most are now accessible to me, and I can complete them in a more timely manner.

"My advice to a new computer user is to take advantage of any and all supports available to you. If you don't know how to do something, ask. No question is too trivial. The more you know about your own system, the better off you will be. If you do encounter a problem and need help from a sighted person, ask him or her to tell you what's on the screen if you've lost the ability to use JAWS or Window-Eyes temporarily. That way, if the same or a similar problem crops up in the future, you can direct someone else who might not be as computer savvy as you in solving problems. Pace yourself. Don't rush through and try to learn everything all at once, and most importantly in my book, have fun!"

Joel Pincus:

"For about 10 years, I used VersaBraille on the job for almost everything. I began by learning to type on a standard electric typewriter. After that, I began learning the computer using DOS 5.0 and WordPerfect 5.1 on a Compaq 75 MHZ computer. At first it was difficult because I would type lr for the word letter, since my head was always thinking in braille. This is something that probably many of us had to overcome, since we were so braille oriented. Once I got past this hurdle, the next thing I encountered was that I had no computer at home to practice on. I strongly recommend that any blind or visually impaired person just learning the computer have a system at home if possible to practice on to become more accustomed to the keyboard and the many additional keys we need to learn. I have since graduated to Windows 98 Second Edition, Word 2000, Outlook Express 5.5, Internet Explorer 5.5, JAWS 3.7 Plus, and OPENBook 5.0. My typing speed is up to about 50 words per minute and climbing, and I am enjoying playing on the Internet nightly. I still use braille daily both on the job and at home for many things and do not see in the near future how a blind person can get along without any braille."

Philip White:

"I learned to use my computer on my own. It was quite frustrating. I bought my computer and Window-Eyes from GW Micro and for the first year I was quite certain that I had been sold defective equipment and software. However, I persisted and after about a year everything started to click. I don't recommend this method of learning, though. It would be much faster with a trainer or some type of professional instruction."

Mike Keithley:

"I try very hard to figure out how to use the computer's operating system and applications. Money is an issue, but I learn why things are as they are by getting knocked around a bit. Of course, having the system backed up is crucial.

"My advice to new users is to find a friend who likes computers who knows how to utilize a student's learning style. Personally, I've enjoyed formal computer training and have come away satisfied. But, I know people whose learning style is inhibited in formal training. If it wasn't expensive, I'd heartily recommend paced learning.

"I think a user has to understand that much time and work will be spent learning the computer and that it never ends! Throw away the notion that there's magic here. Getting to know the basic workings of the operating system is needed to get out of trouble and to understand sighted people's computer talk."

This month's questions are about optical character recognition (OCR) software (OPENBook or Kurzweil 1000) or hardware (Reading Edge.) "How do you use your OCR technology? Do you mainly read books, read mail, or something else? What is the coolest thing you have ever scanned?"

E-mail us at, and we will summarize your comments in the next issue of AccessWorld Extra.

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