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Oxfordshire Family History Society

Researching in the darkness and silence

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Past Meetings Monthly Computer Open Day

OFHS Computer Group Meeting   -   Researching in the darkness and silence
How blind and deaf genealogists use their computers
By Jon Nixey

This page provides a brief synopsis of the talk given by Jon Nixey to the OFHS Computer Group meeting on 2nd August 2010. You will find links to the various software products discussed, at the foot of this page.

Jon was born with the progressive eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa, and he was registered totally blind in April 1985. He also suffers partial hearing loss but despite these problems is able to use his computer for Family History research at a speed that would put many fully sighted family historians to shame!

Jon split his talk into three sections with opportunities for questions between sections:

1. Visual aids for people with low vision

Jon himself is unable to benefit from such aids, so enlisted the aid of Alexander Shannon who is partially sighted, for this section of the talk. Windows XP includes a very basic screen magnifier amongst its accessibility accessories. Commercial programs offer a much more flexible product with very high levels of magnification and the ability to change screen colours for maximum contrast. Jon & Alexander demonstrated the MAGic Software from Freedom Scientific.

2. Screen reading software for the blind

Jon originally used the HAL screen reading software from Dolphin Computer Access but has latterly switched to using the JAWS screen reader from Freedom Scientific and it was this program that Jon demonstrated. If your browser supports playing MP3 files, you may

Listen to an example

of the synthesised speech followed by Jon explaining how much he has had to slow it down for the benefit of the sighted audience! For people wanting to try out the software, Freedom Scientific provide demonstration versions of their software which will operate for up to 40 minutes at a session, after which the computer must be re-booted to enable a further 40 minute session.
(Although not mentioned during the talk, the Open Source, NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) project is developing a similar screen reader. It does not yet have all the features of a commercial product but it is free and can also be obtained as a Portable Application, running from a USB Pen Drive with nothing being installed on your PC.)

3. Braille Display for the blind and deaf

John finished the talk by showing how someone who is both blind and deaf may continue to communicate with his or her computer using a Braille Display where the computer's output may be read as Braille. Input may also be submitted as Braille or may use a conventional keyboard if the user is able to touch-type. Such Braille hardware is not cheap and in response to a question, Jon invited his audience to guess the cost of the PAC Mate combined Braille Display and QWERTY Keyboard he had shown us. (Check the Sight and Sound web site in the links below if you want to discover the answer.)

Links To Useful Web Sites

Freedom Scientific at www.freedomscientific.com are the authors of many products for people with vision impairments, including the MAGic screen magnification software and the JAWS screen reading software demonstrated by Jon. Demonstration versions of both programs may be downloaded from their web site. These are limited to a maximum of 40 minutes operation per session without re-booting the computer, but within this limitation they will continue to operate indefinitely.
Freedom Scientific are also suppliers of the PAC Mate Braille Display.
Sight and Sound Technology at www.sightandsound.co.uk are UK agents for Freedom Scientific (including the PAC Mate Braille Display) and for similar products from other manufacturers.

Dolphin at www.dolphinuk.co.uk are also authors of products for those with visual impairments, including the Lunar screen magnifier and the Hal screen reader. Again, demonstration versions of both programs may be downloaded from their web site. In this case the demonstration version will give unrestricted operation for 30 days from the date it is first installed on a computer, but cannot be used at all thereafter.

The NVDA project at www.nvda-project.org aim to provide a free and open source screen reader for windows. The latest version can be downloaded as a installer or as a portable application which may be run directly from a USB memory stick.

Jon Nixey's own web site at www.jpnixey.btinternet.co.uk includes further links to sites of interest to those with impaired vision, as well as details of his own family history research and other interests.

Last updated 2010-09-10

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