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Word processing is one of the basic tasks one needs to master when entering the employment and educational environments. It is used to create letters, inventory tables, reports, etc. Microsoft Word is probably the most popular word processing application today. Being able to work with it easily and independantly will unlock a lot of doors.
Training products actually available to teach how to efficiently work with Word and other applications are often not quite accessible to the blind and visually impaired. It may cause a frustration in using the product and getting a wrong or limited idea of how it works. When facing such a frustration, many computer users tend to stop using the product after a while. Realizing this, TECSO has developed a new interactive tutorial with outstanding new features that will enable blind users to fully benefit from Microsoft’s word processing application, Word.
TECSO is a Montreal-based research and development company specializing in New Information and Communication Technologies (NICT), particularly in the New Learning Media environment, for individuals with special needs (visual disabilities, learning disabilities and seniors). TECSO's goal is to develop technologically advanced solutions to improve their quality of life and increase social integration.
In the past four years, TECSO has developed a series of high quality interactive tutorials to fulfill the lack of satisfactory training tools for the blind and the visually impaired. These training kits all feature a computer-based tutorial, which is available on CD-ROM. They also include a series of complementary training tools such as, a tactile guide in large print and in Braille reproducing the various screen images, a reference manual in large print, Braille, audio cassette, and electronic format. These tutorials can be used with assistive technology equipment such as screen readers, large print programs, or Braille displays.
The series of interactive tutorials includes: “Listening to Windows(R) 95”, “Listening to Windows(R) 98”, “Listening to the Internet” and “Listening to Word”. The focus of this article will be based on TECSO's latest interactive tutorial: “Listening to Word”.
“Listening to Word” is an interactive tutorial on CD-ROM. It guides the user step-by-step through several real-world experiences in Microsoft Word. It can be used with adaptive equipment such as screen readers, large print programs, or Braille displays.
Structured in units and lessons, “Listening to Word” teaches basic as well as advanced functions necessary to efficiently work in Microsoft Word. It teaches doing tasks such as: create, manage and format documents and tables, use Word Help and personalize Word.
The following paragraphs will discuss the different features of the tutorial and its accompanying tools.
A new feature of “Listening to Word” is the “Launch Center”. The “Launch Center” is a screen that appears when the user inserts the tutorial CD-ROM in the CD-ROM drive. It presents a variety of choices such as: Consulting the User’s manual in Word or text format, Consulting the “Index”, Consulting the “Bookmark Manager” and Starting “Listening to Word”. With the “Launch Center”, the user reaches the information needed with the flip of a finger!
One of the new tools provided with “Listening to Word” is the “Bookmark Manager”. The “Bookmark Manager” allows users to save specific task-oriented content on their hard drive to retrieve it later while in the work environment. For example, a user might want to save a topic on printing a document. With a simple keyboard command, the tutorial will only save the content that is actually assisting the user in doing the task of printing a document. Bookmarks can be retrieved later to get real-time assistance in Word. When a bookmark is no longer needed, it can be removed easily by the user with the “Bookmark Manager”.
Another new innovative feature is the “Index”. The “Index” provides a new way of navigating into the tutorial. It allows searching for specific topics (ex: Creating a Table). Once the desired topic is found, a simple hit on the “Enter” key will bring the user to the appropriate content in the tutorial. If the tutorial is not yet running, the “Index” will start it automatically. The “Index” also allows searching by keywords to find the desired topic.
As other tutorials from TECSO, the tutorial’s narrated voice teaches the blind or visually impaired person how to use keyboard commands by alternating content and exercises. This is all done in the real Microsoft Word environment. MP3 technology permits the adjustment of the playback rate (speed of the voice) as prefered. It also provides a high quality narration that is recorded in high-tech studios by professional narrators. From a main menu, the user selects a unit on a general topic. Then another menu is presented from which the user can select a specific lesson. After completing a unit, a questions-and-answers lesson is presented to review the user's new learnings. Practice documents are provided with the tutorial in order to execute the required exercises.
The user may easily navigate through the tutorial with simple keyboard commands that realize functions such as: go to the main menu, go to the previous menu, listen to the previous paragraph, listen to the current paragraph, listen to the next paragraph, and pause/resume the narration. The tutorial also offers a set of utility functions such as: save a bookmark, change screen colors, get context sensitive help, get the current lesson’s accomplishment level, and adjust the speed of the narration.
The software industry is changing very rapidly and training tools quickly become obsolete. To respond to this problem, TECSO has developed a “Content Supplement” feature that provides a way to address a larger span of users with different versions of a specific software. “Listening to Word's” basic content is based on Microsoft Word 2000 and it comes with a “Word 97 Supplement” for users who haven’t yet made the upgrade. This way, both Word 97 and Word 2000 users can receive a training that is targeted to the word processing application they are using.
Screen readers frequently offer key functions to work efficiently in specific applications such as Word. Functions such as: read previous/current/next line and navigating through tables, are all essential for the user to comprehend in order to be comfortable in using Microsoft Word. That is why TECSO's “Listening to Word” combines these elements and comes with an innovative functionality that is the “Screen Reader Help Supplement”. This supplement provides the user with explanations on commands that are specific to his or her screen reader. The different screen reader commands are brought to the attention of the user in strategic places where it might be helpful to complete a task.
“Listening to Word” comes with the following “Screen Reader Help Supplements”: Jaws 3.5-3.7, Jaws 3.31 and Window-Eyes 3.1-4.0. It results in a learning process that is even more in depth and focused, hence more efficient.
Finally, the tutorial is simple to install. TECSO was the first software development company to introduce the Talking Setup Program with its popular tutorial “Listening to Windows(R) 95”, and it is also implemented with “Listening to Word”. To install the tutorial, the user simply inserts the CD in his or her CD-ROM drive. The “Launch Center” will appear and the user can select the “Install Listening to Word” option. The Talking Setup Wizard then guides the user through the whole process.
In earlier projects, TECSO has conducted a series of studies that demonstrate the importance, for a great majority of blind users, to build a mental image in order to be efficient in GUI (Graphical User Interface) environments and to understand changes that appear on the screen. It facilitates communication with sighted colleagues as the “same language” is spoken. Also, it is extremely helpful when one experiences an unknown situation or new software.
To reinforce the visual concepts of Microsoft Word, the tutorial refers to the tactile guide. The tactile guide provides “touch and feel” representations of ten different Microsoft Word screens such as: different text sizes and styles, page formatting, the Open dialog box, etc. From these, the blind user builds a mental image of what the Word processing application and its content look like. The tactile guide also comes in large print format for users who have residual vision or to support the sighted instructors.
Finally, “Listening to Word” includes a user’s manual available in various formats such as: Braille, large print, electronic and audio cassette. The user’s manual explains how to use the tutorial and it includes a list of the different keyboard shortcuts found in Windows and Microsoft Word. It is an excellent and practical reference tool that may be used while and after working with the tutorial.
TECSO's Listening to Word will provide users with: better understanding of Word processing capabilities, better access to labour market and education, better sharing of on-screen information with sighted colleagues who use Microsoft Word as well, and enhanced capability for training and self-training.
TECSO’s interactive tutorials include: interactive software and hands on exercises, concept-base and application-oriented learning, professional narration and responsive environment to facilitate learning, user-oriented specialty accessories like multimedia manuals and tactile guides.
Consequently, TECSO's quality training tools offer many advantages: real-time learning at the user’s own pace, facilitate mainstream integration in workplace and training, better collaboration and interaction with sighted colleagues, and tools that foster speedy development of competence, confidence, and independence.
Most of our users and instructors say that: “we suggest that TECSO's tutorials be included systematically in all computers sold to the blind and visually impaired users in order to ensure an effective and competent utilization of the GUI environments and enjoy its utmost advantages.”
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