Understanding How Blind Users Use a Computer

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Some blind and partially sighted people use the same equipment as sighted people, i.e. an ordinary computer with an Internet connection but will likely supplement it with a large screen for text magnification, a voice synthesiser or a Braille output device.

Blind users access software or Web pages using a screen reader. A screen reader is a combination of special software with a hardware or a software speech synthesiser. A synthesiser offers software that translates complex user interfaces for blind users.

The synthesiser uses a sound card in the PC. The sound card itself verbalises what is on the screen. When the screen reader “reads” aloud the text from an application or a Web site, it reads from left-to-right and top-to-bottom, just as you would read a page. The screen reader reads the underlying code of the application and translates that code to speech.

To get an idea of what it is like for a blind user to use a computer, imagine
a person reading you a description of what is happening on the screen or under your cursor.

If the ‘reader’ encounters a control that has no text label, (an icon or a custom control), the blind user probably won’t hear anything, or the screen reader sometimes just says “icon.” A blind user might not even know that this icon is even there. If the icon, graphic or button is a key piece of navigation for the application, this can render the application useless to a blind user.