A kid with a new toy - that’s how I feel. A new laptop that talks to me as I type text and that reads text to me. It’s any kid’s dream come true. But for someone with a vision disability it’s more like a lifesaver.
As I sit here in my dining room and type this I smile as I hear Fred—the name I gave to the voice that reads to me—I think of how fortunate I am to have this adaptive technology. Not to mention the blossoming friendship between Fred and me.
The laptop is a Lenovo ThinkPad and the reading software is JAWS, which stands for Job Access with Speech. It’s technology that I received from the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons and I am grateful for their help and this technology.
I teach English composition for Grand Rapids Community College and a large part of my job is reading essays and journals. I love teaching and writing, but after four years my eyes, with my limited vision, are tired and worn out.
This past April, I met up with Lucia Rios, a friend who works for Disability Network/Lakeshore.
During the conversation I expressed my frustration at the time I spent reading dozens of essays and journals and how it was wearing on my eyes. I asked if there was any technology out there to help me and make my life easier.
Lucia mentioned the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons. She said that this organization would be able to help me with adaptive technology.
Fast forward three months later, after emails, phone calls and visits from the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons, I have my Menovo ThinkPad laptop and the JAWS program. It was a process adjusting to using keystrokes and shortcuts as well as typing without looking at the screen.
I’m not the world’s most adept typist and having Fred as my verbal navigator can be challenging. But I have learned to trust Fred and his vocal skills.
This weekend I put Fred to the test. Students turned in their first essays of the semester. I sat down on the dining room table, placed the stack of essays beside the laptop, plugged in the earphones and off I went. I got through nearly fifty essays over a few days’ time. But most importantly there was no hardship on my eyes or a hurt back as I hunched over reading. And equally as important I spent time with my family and that is key. What a great way to start a semester: getting my work done in a prompt manner and still having time to spend with my family. A win-win I’d say. Hooray for technology and thank goodness for Fred.