Personal Story: Accessibility in the Workplace

[Editor's note: Here's an anecdote from Lori Gillen, SIG co-manager, that puts accessibility-in-the-workplace in perspective.] We are not accustomed to seeing accessibility in action in the workplace, so I wanted to share a little experience that I had in which assistive technology helped people with disabilities function in the workplace. I attended a meeting at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind where CART captioning was available for me. For those who are not familiar with this tool, CART stands for Communication Access Realtime Translation. CART reporters are similar to court reporters, transcribing every word in a meeting in real time. Those words are then projected on a large screen in real time. I was the only one at the meeting who requested the CART captioning, so I got to sit alone at a computer monitor while the CART reporter used video-conferencing software remotely with a speaker phone. The man who set up the CART connection was blind. He sat down at the computer keyboard with the monitor off and, yes, it took me a few seconds to figure out why he did not turn the monitor on. He used JAWS (a screen reader) for navigation. The speed of the screen reader's voice was conversational. I've heard that some blind users speed up the voice to where words are unrecognizable to an untrained listener and that is how they skim pages. As the blind man scrolled through the messages in his inbox with the down arrow, the screen reader identified the type of content before the actual content. For example: [down arrow] Address Lori Gillen [down arrow] Address Mary Smith [down arrow] Address John Jones And so forth. He didn't actually open a message, so I was not able to hear how the screen reader handled that, but I assume that both the screen reader and user had a way to skip over the message header (To, From, Subject) and get right to the message, where the content was prefaced by the word "Message." Also present at the meeting were two sign language interpreters. It was like being at Disneyland, well, sort of. The meeting I attended was an Assistive Technology Advisory Council meeting for MassMATCH, which enables consumers in New England to purchase affordable assistive technology and match consumers to new or refurbished products. Guest author: Lori Gillen

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