How blind people use computers

Date of publication

This blog post is about how blind people can interact with computers without barriers. How do they access screen content, how do they navigate websites, how do they enter data? What tools are available and how are they used?

Computer and notebooks

Content output

Those who use the computer with sight receive the information via the screen. Since this path is not open to blind people, there are various aids for content output.

Screen reader as interface

A screen reader translates the content of the screen both into synthetically generated speech and for use with a Braille display. The selection of the speech tempo, the pitch of the voice and many other parameters can be selected when using a screen reader. Even how many and which punctuation marks are pronounced can be set.

Braille display

A braille display is an output device that outputs the information it receives from the screen reader in braille. This is done by mechanically moving small pins up and down to make the screen content tangible line by line and thus readable. Thus, there are two output channels that blind people can use.

Input

While sighted users use the mouse, blind computer users use keyboard commands. Some of these commands are special commands that control the screen reader. But they are also commands that can be used in operating systems and programmes without a screen reader. Ctrl+S to save something is an example of a keyboard command that is found in many programmes.

A screen reader has several modes. They differ depending on the screen reader used. One mode picks up the keys on the keyboard and converts them into commands, while the other passes the keystrokes directly to the application.

In the browser, it is possible to read line-by-line or character-by-character using arrow keys. As this takes a long time, screen readers also allow users to find elements such as headings or links directly using keyboard commands. This makes navigation much faster. Provided that the content is structured hierarchically and comprehensibly. Finding the beginning of an article that does not have a main heading can be very time-consuming.

Smartphones and tablets

Smartphones and tablets can also be used by blind people. However, the operation is somewhat different compared to the PC. However, the output methods remain the same. Here, too, there is the option of having the content output both spoken and in Braille.

Input

As with sighted users, the input is done via the touch screen of the device. However, what happens when touching the touchscreen is different. If you touch the touchscreen, you are told which element is in that position. The finger on the touch screen thus makes it possible to find out what is on the screen. If you double-tap on the touchscreen, the element that was previously read out is activated.

The advantage of devices with a touch screen is that it allows the layout of the content to be transported. This works better on tablets than on smartphones because a larger surface is available.

Summary

The use of computers, smartphones and tablets differs from that of sighted users. Nevertheless, it is possible for blind people to productively use even more complex programmes such as OBS or Reaper.

To try it out for yourself, there are free options on all common operating systems, which we have already summarised here. We also have a short comparison between JAWS and NVDA and a comparison between a Google Pixel 2 and an iPhone 7 from a blind perspective.

If you want to get an impression of what blind people perceive when using a computer without having to try it out yourself, the following video gives you the opportunity to do so:

Screencast with GEMA-free music by musicfox

Profile picture for user DeepL

DeepL is a deep learning company that develops AI systems for languages. The company, based in Cologne, Germany, was founded in 2009 as Linguee, and introduced the first internet search engine for translations. Linguee has answered over 10 billion queries from more than 1 billion users.

Profile picture for user dennis.westphal

Dennis Westphal

Dennis is an IT consultant at the Company for the Development of Things. His field is accessibility. Helpfully, Dennis has been blind since birth. He creates his screencasts with open source software.