In the second in the series of videos with an inclusion and accessibility theme John Galloway considers some ways in which technology can support learners with visual impairment. Although much interaction with technology does involve a screen and is visual it is not exclusively so. As well as some specific apps he discusses the benefit of using keyboard shortcuts and other functions available in operating systems and platforms such as a screen reader or description. He advocates that we provide students with choices and support them in finding out which option works best for them. A transcript of the video is available here (or below).
When it comes to using technology, it can be a very visual medium. We use the screen for input, whether that’s on our smartphones with our thumbs, or a keyboard on a conventional PC. So it can be difficult to
perceive what the challenges are when it comes to being visually impaired or blind.
But, in some ways we are already using screens without the visual aspect of them. We might be driving a car and making a phone call, putting a note in a diary, asking for information, or even asking for a particular podcast to be played. So we are in a situation of already using technology without screens. However, there are times when we do need to use screens, and there are tools built into every operating system which help people who are visually impaired, or even blind, to use that screen. Even people who are registered blind may have some residual vision.
There are options, for instance, to have the computer read out what’s happening on the screen. It will describe the dialogue boxes it opens, what the choices are and so on.
There are also tools like the magnifier, where you, literally, have an area that is magnified and you move it around the screen, like you might with a magnifying glass and a text. Or you can keep that magnified area stable, perhaps in a bar at the top of the screen, and move the content into it, so that means you can keep your eyes focused on one area of the screen, so you don’t have to keep shifting your focus around in order to find the place you want.
Then there’s high contrast, or enlarged icons. The thing is that everybody’s visual impairment is going to be different, so ideally what we need to do is to show them what the choices are, and help them to find what works best for them.
The other thing we need to do is to help them to use the device most efficiently. When it comes to a computer with a keyboard and a mouse, one of the things we can do is to teach them to touch-type, so that they can keep their eyes on the screen and they can keep their fingers on the keyboard, so that they don’t have to keep switching their vision between one and the other.
Similarly, we need to teach them keyboard shortcuts, so that they don’t have to take their hand off the computer and put it on the mouse and then bring it back from the mouse and put it on the keyboard and all the time be looking for the cursor around the screen.
A very simple keyboard shortcut is Alt + Left Shift + PrtScr which brings up High Contrast. You can do it on any Windows machine and it means immediately you have instant access, potentially, to an easier interface with which to interact.
Another one is to hold down the Control button and scroll the mousewheel. That will zoom in and out on a screen.
So, we need to show people what the tools are, help them to use the tools that they have as effectively as they can and put them in charge.
There are other things we can think about. One is the kind of apps that are available. I don’t know if you have come across Microsoft’s Seeing AI, it is only available for Apple products, but it does things like describe people. You hold your iPhone up, point it at a person, and it tells you if they know who they are – if you told them who they are – it will give you names. Or it will give you descriptions. It will help you to know what colours are in your environment, or what you are wearing, perhaps. It can even read banknotes and tell you what currency and denomination they are. So the device can become the visual interface with the environment, and there are more possibilities developing in that way, too.
So technology, as it stands, for people who have visual impairments or who are blind, has plenty to offer – even careers in coding. But, the technology that is developing is also, really exciting.