One morning in 2002, I took the bus to work as usual. I’d seated myself next to a man who was fingering a strange looking laptop. No sooner had I realised that the lap-top had no screen, when a bus inspector entered the vehicle and announced, “All tickets please!”
photo by Mike Wood.
The inspector walked past, checking tickets as he went. But the man sitting beside me was still holding up his ticket. It clicked with me that this lap-topper was blind.
“He’s checked your ticket,” I said. He smiled and nodded without looking up. Steven was congenitally blind. His job involved working with the Foundation for the Blind in Wellington. The odd lap-top, with its strange toothed keyboard, was in fact a Braille computer.
Blind to the technology:
Here was I, an elearning teacher. But I hadn’t given much thought to how the blind might access the technology that was so much my bread and butter.
I thought Steven had been typing a letter. He told me he could use his lap-top for that. In fact, he had been reading a novel. We swapped email addresses when I spoke of a free speaking web-reader that a colleague of mine had found on the Net that same week. It must have been among the first of its type - an early version of WeMedia Talking Browser.
Steven was excitedly interested. At that time, the web reading technology he used at work was so expensive; he could not afford to purchase it for his own use at home.
A useful link:
We kept in touch by email. Steven was careful to let me know that the link I flicked him was useful. He’d found that installation was easy, and getting to know the idiosyncrasies of the software wasn’t too difficult. WeMedia was a helpful tool for reading the Net.
Some weeks later we met again on the same bus route. While we chatted, I asked which novel he had been reading that morning. “I’m recalibrating my computer map today”, he explained. I hadn’t noticed that clipped to his shoulder, next the window, was a small device, the size of a bulky mobile phone.
“According to my GPS receiver, we should be at the Riddiford Street intersection”, he said with a smile. And we were. He had been synchronising his map by checking it against the GPS signal.
Steven explained how his computer map had saved the day only a few weeks before. He and his wife had been travelling by car up north. They'd got lost. Within a few minutes, Steven switched on his lap-top and found precisely where they were, using his map and GPS receiver.
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