Northern Utah was my first mix of
work and play, rather education and play. The University of Utah at Logan is
the country's epicenter for making websites accessible for the blind and the
So it was that I immersed in a
crash course on the tools and techniques that allow the blind to socialize on
Facebook, to buy stuff online, to do their banking, to look things up, to open
their minds in so many new ways, but with the computer screen black.
We started with screen readers,
software programs that convert screen text into sounds the blind can hear. Then
we learned about busloads of laws, standards, and design tips to produce
websites that present tables, images, and Java-powered dancing balloons such
that the screen readers can make sense of them.
Besides learning new things, I
learned something about my old way of looking at things, a view that I need to
charge in with my problem-solving ideas and fix the world. Roy showed me how to
look at this misconception with new eyes. Roy is blind.
The exercise began with the robotic
voice of a screen reader. To give you an idea of how those sound, here's
Address. I was sure I could do better. I've heard audiobooks presented by
great orators, and my imagination roared off to grand enterprises churning out
website content read by the likes of Mark Twain.
"That sounds like a great idea,"
said Roy, "for you, but not for us."
Roy explained how the blind are not
listening for artistic wonder, but to get through their day. The voice of the
screen reader was designed to be understood if it is sped up as the listener
grows his perception. Long after Marc Twain's voice would blur into an angry
chipmunk, the blind can still make out a screen reader's robot. Here's
along, and yes, with practice, I can make it out.
That's when I realized that without
having walked an inch in Roy's shoes, I had thought I could sort out his world.
Instead, I learned how a screen reader, no longer constrained by our mouth
parts, optimizes to the most efficient way to send information to Roy's ear,
not to mine. And since Roy's ear had been tuned over the years into a masterly
instrument, he could crank his hearing further than I ever imagined.
Mr. Fixit learned that day to cool
his jets and listen.
Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway
Good thing I brought my sweater
Hiking the high country
University of Utah
|For more pictures of Northern Utah, click here.