Reading Blind: Guest post by Brian Gage

Reading Blind

A Guest Post

Brian D. Gage

Vonda asked me to contribute. My first introduction to e-books and e-readers came this autumn, 2016. I’m totally blind, using a 4 gig PC, Windows 10 and JAWS 17, a screen reader for the blind.

Years ago, I read Dreamsnake on audio tape, then as an .MP3 digital recording. After discovering this web site and reading some free sample chapters, I wanted to try one of Vonda’s e-books.

First problem, accessibility. Does the reader work with screen reader/speech technology? Searching Google gave some two or three-year-old information that made me nervous. Second problem, cost. I don’t like spending a lot of money for something that might not be all that accessible.

Today, my only experience is with ADE, Adobe Digital Editions. It’s free, and it worked. Well, sort of.

ADE was easy to obtain and simple to install. I skipped the fancy option of getting an Adobe registration because I only intend to read on the one computer. Also, when I initially tried to get registered with Adobe, the procedure didn’t work. Some kind of accessibility issue.

Once installed, the ADE short-cut showed up on my desk-top. Then, because it was inexpensive, I purchased “Little Faces” as a trial book. Purchasing and downloading required a lot of cursoring down through the web site to find the right buttons to click. Easy if you can see and zip your mouse to the highlight. Not so if one is blind. I used Pay Pal and had no problems. When the story showed up in my download directory, I simply clicked on the .EPUB file and started reading. A miracle! It worked!

Now, as to issues. ADE seems to read certain lines twice as I cursor down. I think this is a paging issue, like when the cursor reaches the bottom of a screen, though I haven’t gotten a sighted person to confirm yet. Also, some long lines of text seems truncated. When that happened, using right arrow letter by letter or word by word didn’t bring up the missing text. I tried hitting ‘ALT-F’ and cursored right to ‘Reading’, then down to full-screen. That would bounce me back up a full page, but usually, when I cursored back down, the missing line of text had appeared. Strange, since the document is supposed to be in full-screen as a default. This has been a consistent problem. Ends of long lines repeatedly don’t appear. Sometimes it’s difficult to realize you missed three or four words.

ADE has a collection of new commands to learn, and a few don’t appear to work with my screen reader. I’ve clicked on a few buttons and nothing happens – at least, nothing that JAWS reports. Makes one nervous. Learning how to use ADE is like learning a new word processor, with commands or terms that need an interpretive guide book. I really don’t like wading through a manual to learn a new computer lingo, since I have many other things that eat up my time.

Want to experiment? You can download a demo version of JAWS and experiment. www.freedomscientific.com, or Google.

The voice may be annoying, but hey, it works better than Microsoft Narrator.

— Brian D. Gage

Guest Blogger

Brian D. Gage was blinded at the age of 18, in 1966, and subsequently completed high school at the age of 21. He was accepted into major level sciences at the University of British Columbia, the first totally blind student to complete physics and chemistry with honours. He has worked as a film processor, instructional aid for children with learning disabilities, a mountain man, and as a database programmer. He has been married twice, widowed both times, and has a son, age 30, who is a nurse at the local Cowichan District hospital. His hobbies are writing science-fiction/fantasy and working with radiation science.

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6 Responses to Reading Blind: Guest post by Brian Gage

  1. Brian, thank you so much for your essay. I think accessibility is incredibly important.

    I hope to investigate why the long lines don’t “read” correctly.

    –Vonda

  2. This is incredibly useful, both in terms of adjusting our interface, and learning how someone with low-vision or no vision navigates the world. Thank you, Brian.

  3. Sherwood Smith says:

    This is interesting data, and a pleasure to read. Much has changed over the past couple of decades. Thank you for posting.

  4. Garret Johnston says:

    Sorry for the length of this comment.

    As another blind person I agree 100% that the learning-curve for a new technology is much, much steeper for me than for a sighted person. This has everything to do with design by and for sighted people first. That said, I browsed to and purchased an epub version of the same book mentioned in the post, easily downloaded it and loaded it onto my iPhone.

    I use an application called Voice Dream Reader, which is an example of a program designed for and with disabled people in mind.

    http://www.voicedream.com

    No problems whatsoever.

    Possibly you might consider adding this program to the list of e-readers available to read the books on this website. It should work as long as there is no DRM on the books. Neither the program itself or the voices for it are free, but they are worth their price in my opinion.

    There is also the DAISY Consortium
    http://www.daisy.org
    Which develops accessible standards and formats for digital publications.

    Unfortunately, I’m familiar with fewer accessible options for reading books on a computer as opposed to an iPhone / Android. The Amazon Kindle app works fine on these platforms—not so much on a PC—and is free. Often I will use a tool to convert the document into the format that works best for whatever I’m planning on doing with it.

    Basically, it’s very rare for anything to work out of the box. Finding useful info to make things work is often an exercise in frustration. And then…once you find a system that works, the technology changes!

    But perseverance can and does pay off, especially when your prise is an awesome book. I hope the author of this post hangs in there and does not give up on his adventure into the wonderful land of eBooks.

  5. Amy says:

    Amazon does have a Kindle for PC program with its own text-to-speech that you navigate with your own screen reader. It’s weird having two separate voices, but it’s something, in a pinch. https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200596280

  6. The Mac has a text-to-speech option built in: Apple icon > System Preferences > System > Speech.

    Click the “Speak selected text…” clickybox.

    Click “Set Key” to find (or change) the default keystrokes to turn on the utility. (On my system it’s command-option-S)

    The system will then read whatever text you’ve selected. Works for PDFs, EPUB displayed in Adobe Digital Editions, Word, Firefox, most other programs I’ve tested.

    I just tested the utility on Kindle Previewer; it doesn’t work because as far as I can make out, you can’t select the Kindle Previewer text.

    Most folks are going to use the Kindle App, though, and there it does work.

    I wish it were set up to begin reading wherever you click your cursor, and stop when you hit escape, but it isn’t.

    –V.