Assistive Technology & Digital Inclusion

Toshi & EasyBrailleAssistive Technology

My attitude as a blind student has always been to do as much as possible without sighted assistance. This has, of course, not always been possible; for example, during my Master’s degree I used Freedom Scientifics screenreader software ‘JAWS for Windows’ which did not speak symbols from the international phonetic alphabet (IPA). I was very grateful to some friends who inserted phonetic transcription into my Master’s thesis.

The open-source screenreader ‘NVDA’ for windows and Apple’s own screenreader ‘VoiceOver’ which comes as part of iOS and MacOS X have opened up the screenreader market immensely and work brilliantly. I personally run NVDA and JAWS on a Windows machine, but my productive every-day system is MacOS X with VoiceOver on my MacBook air.

Apple has brought AssistiveTech to the Mainstream Market.

Many people, even owners of Apple products, don’t know that these devices include a screenreader and other helpful technologies out of the box. I have met quite a number of people who came up to me after a workshop or a conference talk saying that they hadn’t been aware of the possibilities for blind people to use technology. They were even more astonished when I told them that their own iPhone, iPad or Mac can do this, too. Many hadn’t seen a blind person running a presentation on a Mac while using an iPhone as a remote control. I really appreciate Apple’s aim to take really every user group into consideration. The way my MacBook and my iPhone work together to show me every day what Apple means by ‘continuity’ is really cool.

VoiceOver being a part of iOS and MacOS X implies also that apps which are developed using Apple’s UI builder will have a certain extent of accessibility already. If you are an app developer (or know one) and want to make your product more accessible, this video from Apple’s 2015 WWDC is an invaluable source.

Volunteering with the NCBI

For about seven years, I have been a volunteer AssistiveTech & IT instructor and troubleshooter with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI). My technical understanding and my educational background have made me a trusted go-to guy to help other visually impaired people to retain and regain independence through the use of technologies. Additionally, I have composed an iOS instruction manual for the NCBI, have promoted AssistiveTech and workaround solutions in the NCBI technology podcast and at technology exhibitions. I really like this activity, working with people, spark their enthusiasm for accessible devices.

Digi Place 4 All

My contribution resulted in a nomination as a ‘Digital Inclusion Champion. Digi Place 4 All is a very worth-while project, and I am happy to be part of it.


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