2000 Conference Proceedings

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Success at the Office: Work-day strategies for using Microsoft business applications with a screen reader

Karen Keninger, Rehabilitation Consultant

Laurie Merryman, Assistive Technology Instructor

Project ASSIST With Windows
Iowa Department for the Blind
524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA  50309

The Problem

As Windows programs become increasingly accessible, more and more blind and visually impaired computer users want to expand their computer skills beyond basic word processing. They want to use the computer automate many of their current business practices. They want to use spreadsheets, accounting, e-mail, calendars, and database programs. Indeed, many employees find that if they do not continually improve their computer skills they face the loss of employment, lateral transfers, or demotions.

Sophisticated business programs require that users know how to complete complex tasks with the program and their screen reader. Many of the advanced features continue to be inaccessible or difficult to use. Frequently, a blind or visually impaired computer user must define custom settings for the business program and create their own configuration files for their screen reader program.

Like their colleagues, blind employees find their time is precious and often cannot spend hours investigating the options that their programs have to offer. Unlike their sighted colleagues, they cannot turn to conventional sources such as software documentation, co-workers, and corporate training sources for help.

The Solution

Since 1997, Project ASSIST With Windows has been creating tutorials on using popular Windows programs with a specific screen reader. The tutorials use keyboard instruction, include keystrokes and strategies for a specific screen reader, and offer step-by-step exercises. The topics covered in the tutorials are comparable to those taught in classes offered by commercial training companies.

Project ASSIST has worked extensively with popular business suites including Microsoft Office 97 and 2000 and Corel WordPerfect. In addition, we have worked with numerous screen reader programs including Hal, JAWS For Windows, Window Bridge, Window-Eyes, and WinVision. We have developed many working solutions for using these programs to complete many business-related tasks.

Presentation Overview

We would like to present our information 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. Daily Tasks. We will demonstrate tasks that an employee might perform in a typical day such as using Microsoft Outlook's e-mail and calendaring feature, creating a PowerPoint presentation, and working with databases. We will offer examples from Microsoft's business applications (Excel, Access, Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook). Proposed demonstrations:

  1. Accessing and Sending File Attachments in Microsoft Outlook.
  2. Using Custom Views in Microsoft Outlook's Calendar feature.
  3. Using Wizards and Templates in Microsoft Word.
  4. Creating a Chart in Excel.
  5. Strategies for using PowerPoint.
  6. Looking up information in a Microsoft Access Database.

A screen reader will be used in all demonstrations.

We will provide participants with a reference sheet and keyboard guide. The reference sheet can be copied and given to potential employers to demonstrate how a blind or visually impaired individual can complete common automated tasks. The keyboard guide will list step-by-step instructions to complete these tasks.

2. Screen Reader Customization. We will offer tips for creating configuration files and changing screen reader settings.

3. Resources. We will also give participants a resource handout for more information. This handout will include sources for tutorials and keyboard guides, e-mail lists for applications, and web sites.

By sharing our knowledge and experience, we hope to avoid duplication of efforts and improve the computer skills of the participants. Most importantly, we will demonstrate that blind and visually impaired computer users can complete advanced tasks.


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