Dane, Accessibility Specialist on WeCo’s Access TeamMy name is Dane and I’m an Accessibility Specialist on the Access Team at WeCo. I was born prematurely, and developed a rare condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity. This is a disease that causes blindness or significant vision loss by the formation of unnecessary blood vessels in the back of the eye during infancy. Thus, leading to the detachment of the retina, and sight loss as a result.

Due to my significant visual impairment, I now rely heavily on assistive technology to use my computer independently. I use a screen reader called NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) that allows me to perform my duties at WeCo. A screen readeris a piece of software that runs on a computer, smartphone, set-top box, or other highly visual device. It provides an auditory means of accessing the information displayed on the screen. Screen readers work by using synthesized speech output, combined with other subtle sound effects along with keyboard controls, in place of visual cues and mouse pointers to interact with devices in meaningful ways.

I use my screen reading technology to navigate websites as I’m constructing tests for clients. For example, I press certain keys on my keyboard to navigate by headings, buttons, form fields, links, etc., when reading web pages. I am also able to use keyboard commands to read the text on web pages. For the most part, these keyboard navigation methods are useful and helpful.

However, I often come across websites that are not coded or designed for proper access using a screen reader. In these situations, I often turn to an alternate access method that my screen reader provides, called mouse echo. Mouse echo is a feature that allows me to utilize my remaining vision to place the mouse pointer over a section of content on a web page, and have that content read aloud. I also tend to use the mouse echo feature to get an overall sense of the page’s layout before using keyboard commands to navigate. I also use these same methods for other programs, such as Microsoft Word, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Power Point, etc. Furthermore, I also use them for e-mail related programs, such as Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird.

In addition to NonVisual Desktop Access, I also rely heavily on the magnifier integrated into the Microsoft Windows operating system. This allows me to utilize my limited amount of remaining vision to the greatest extent possible by using the option to invert colors. For example, black text on a white background becomes white text on a black background. Adjusting the color scheme creates a high contrast effect that reduces eyestrain, while at the same time being easy to switch off during times when I need normal colors, such as when looking at a picture or watching a video. I also use the standard magnification feature to enlarge text, images, and videos to make it easier to compose e-mails, reports, and view web content when it does not work well with my screen reader .

Using the combination of assistive technologies has worked out very well for me. I may not always do things the traditional way, but I make it work, and that’s what’s most important.

Read more posts from Professionals living with disabilities and accessibility-related topics in WeCo’s IT Accessibility Information Blog.