1999 Conference Proceedings

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Karen Keninger - Karenk@blind.state.ia.us 
Shan Sasser - Shans@blind.state.ia.us 
Iowa Department for the Blind
524 Fourth Street, Des Moines IA 50309

The Problem

One of the greatest challenges blind computer users face when they move into the Microsoft Windows environment is learning to use the Windows programs and the screen reading application that provides access to those programs. The problem lies in the need to use keyboard commands in a "point and click" environment and the complexity of the Windows programs. Add a sophisticated screen reading package, and the result is an exponential increase in the difficulty of acquiring competent computer skills.

A blind computer user has a great deal to learn both in terms of keystrokes and reading and input strategies to use Windows software effectively. These keystrokes and strategies differ widely among screen readers. Training materials to facilitate this learning process have not been readily or universally available, nor have they addressed the specific combination of screen reader application and Windows program that the user must learn.

The Solution

Project ASSIST with Windows, sponsored by the Iowa Department for the Blind and funded by a grant from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services - Department of Education, is addressing this need for appropriate training materials. The purpose of Project ASSIST is to create and disseminate tutorials, configuration files, and documentation for using Windows-based programs with a screen reader application. Each tutorial focuses on a different combination of Windows program and screen reader application. These materials enable individuals who are blind to choose from among several reputable screen reading packages and leading Windows programs, and then learn to use the software they choose.

The materials cover Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, major screen reading applications including JAWS for Windows, Window Bridge, WinVision, Window-Eyes, and more, and the following Windows programs: Microsoft Office Suite, Corel WordPerfect, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Netscape Navigator. The tutorials provide step-by-step instructions and are available on cassettes, as well as in electronic formats that can produce Braille or large print versions. All materials created by the project are posted on the project's web site at www.blind.state.ia.us/assist where anyone can download and utilize the information. Since the first tutorial was finished in May 1997, 1,363 tutorials have been distributed on tape and approximately 3,100 tutorials have been downloaded from the web site. (Figures compiled September 1998.)

Presentation Overview

We would like to present Project ASSIST with Windows during a one-hour session at the Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference sponsored by California State University at Northridge. This information will be useful to professionals in the blindness field as well as to blind individuals.

The presentation will be made by two members of the project team and will cover the following topics:
1. Project Design. We will discuss the purpose of the project and provide an overview of the project goals.
2. Selection process for the screen reading and application software packages. We will review the methods we used to determine which screen reading and Windows programs we chose to use and to determine the priority for development.
3. Processes used in researching, creating, and distributing training materials. We will provide an overview of the development process we use to create our tutorials and the method we use to distribute the materials.
4. A demonstration of the training material. The bulk of the presentation will be devoted to demonstrating portions of the tutorials. The demonstration will give the audience a preview of the unique step-by-step instructions and the strategies incorporated into the information that allow the user to use the programs effectively.
5. A discussion of the research to date. We will review some of the training issues and problems we have encountered as the tutorials were developed.
6. Future plans. We will end the presentation with a brief discussion of where the project is headed.
We will have available copies of all training material developed to date. This includes the following tutorials:

This project is not intended to provide comparisons among, or recommendations of, screen reading software. Its aim is to allow blind consumers to choose their own software and then have training material available so they can learn to use it.

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