In the past I was of the opinion that proprietary solutions in computer systems, with regards to accessibility for partially sighted and blind users, where not the best choice. Meaning that users should learn how to work with the operating system and the programs that they needed, by using they´re magnification or screen reader program of choice. This would include your basic email application, word processing program, web browser, and so forth. By taking the time to learn the basics of the operating system you would thereby be preparing yourself for future work on your computer, of course this is as true today as it was in the past.
But I now feel that there is also value in a different approach.
The majority of people who are partially sighted are not in their twenties or thirties, usually they have to deal with low vision later in life and many have little or no experience with computers. When you start working with a screen reader, you quickly realize that there are a number of things you are almost expected to know already. Like for example what an icon is, menu´s, list items, and so on and so forth. Try to imagine what a daunting task it is to learn how an operating system works when you can´t see the screen! Some people like a simpler approach and don´t really need all the options that come with the large operating systems. Here´s where the proprietary solution comes in: Dolphin Guide.
To summarize, the program includes magnification and screen reading and has many services built in from the get go. For example an email application, an OCR scanning option and a simple web browser to name but a few. The current version does not support Braille, but hopefully that is something which will be available in future versions of the product. Dolphin Guide is not a new solution, it´s been around for some time and is currently at version 7. My goal is not to clarify every aspect of Dolphin Guide, if you want further information on Guide it´s best to check out the manufacturer’s homepage at the following link: http://yourdolphin.co.uk/productdetail.asp?id=30
My experience is that Dolphin Guide can be a very good option for partially sighted or blind people who just want a simple, easy to learn, program that provides them with access to a computer. Have you tried it?
If you use Assistive Technology (A.T.), it would be interesting to hear how you’re A.T. trainer handled the training you received and what materials were used. The reason being that it is quite varied how users describe their trainers and the level of training they received. I not only mean if the trainer was knowledgeable about the material, although this is not always the case, but how was the training explained with regards to goals and homework, for example.
In the school system we follow a curriculum, i.e. there are specific standards set that the schools, and therefore teachers, have to follow. Students are expected to be taught specific material in accordance with their progression, i.e. how far they have come in their studies.
I´ve been teaching blind and low vision individuals how to use A.T. for a number of years now and I can´t help but think: Why are we, A.T. trainers, not expected to work similarly?
Granted, it wouldn´t be practical to simply copy the curriculum method. People start using A.T. at different times in their life. Though some start using screen readers and magnification software at an early age, others begin to use such solutions later in life. But, I feel that the principal still applies. If we create some guidelines on what to teach, how to teach it and when, we are thereby making sure that the necessary material is covered. And no, I don´t just mean the basics of the A.T. you´re working with, but also the basics of the operating system, file system and computer you´re working with, hence, necessary material. Raise your hand if you´ve ever heard the phrase: “Yes I saved my file, it´s saved in Microsoft Word….. What do you mean: Where? I told you, it´s saved in Microsoft Word.”
Some might argue that there is a specific curriculum that is being followed. It would be excellent if I´m corrected here, nothing would please me more! But this is not done in Scandinavia, as far as I know.
It´s important that we differentiate between the guidelines that the respective workplace set´s and national guidelines. If there are no prerequisites set by the government, then there are no actual standards, at least none that can be quantified on a national level.
Why is this important? It´s because you should be able to receive the same level of training from every government funded training center, no matter where you live and no matter which training center you go to. If this was regulated, on a national level, I feel confident that the level of training would be improved as well as the training material. Scandinavia, roughly speaking, is pretty well of – so this should not pose as a big problem. But for anything to happen, we have to draw attention to the matter. We have to speak out about the training that is being received, what can be improved, what is working, what´s missing. And, as I said, if the Ministry of Education in the respective country set´s the standards – then we have something measurable to work with and the users know exactly what they should expect from their assistive technology trainer.
Granted, in other parts of the world not everyone has the option of going to a government funded training center; therefore it would perhaps be a bit more problematic to apply these rules. Or would it?
I regularly run into the same scenario when training users on AT, which prompted me to do make a little note of it here. For some reason too many trainers forget to go through the very basic issues of the operating system their working with, before they start explaining the hotkeys of the AT. This results in the user not realising how to effectively navigate and control his system.
A typical issue in Windows is that the user doesn´t know about the alt-tab hotkey. A very simple thing in itself, but if you don´t realise that almost every program is run in a separate window and that you can switch between windows using the alt-tab hotkey, you are creating more work for yourself than is necessary.
Again in Windows, another example is failing to explain how the desktop is structured. Yes, there is a desktop and yes there is a Start menu. But, if you don´t mention the system tray and explain why it´s there and how to navigate to it, windows-b, you really haven´t explained everything, have you? I´ve worked with users who have had a screen reader for, in some cases, years and didn´t realise that they didn´t have to navigate to the control panel and all the sub-categories there to find their wifi connection.
Always discuss with your user first what it is that you will be concentrating on in the training session. Make sure you are both on the same page, and in the same book in that regard, and last but not least: Do not forget the practical issues.