How can people who are blind operate computers?

DO-IT Factsheet #90
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/articles?90

Individuals who are blind cannot access visual material presented on the computer screen or in printed materials. Fortunately, specialized hardware and software can make computer systems usable by individuals who are blind.

Input

Most individuals who are blind use standard keyboards; however, Braille input devices are available. Braille key labels can assist with keyboard use.

Output

Speech output systems can be used to read screen text to computer users who are blind. Special software programs (called screen readers) "read" computer screens, and speech synthesizers "speak" the text. The availability of earphones for individuals using speech output systems can reduce the distractions for others nearby.

Refreshable Braille displays allow line-by-line translation of screen text into Braille on a display area where vertical pins move into Braille configurations as screen text is scanned. Braille displays can be read quickly by those with advanced Braille skills, are good for detailed editing (e.g., programming, final editing of papers), and do not disrupt others in work areas because they are quiet. Braille printers provide "hard copy" output for blind users.

[Hands are shown on a device with keys marked with Braille.] Select the image to the right to view a captioned video clip, in Real Player format, about computer access for individuals who are blind.

Documentation

Scanners with optical character recognition can read printed material and store it electronically on computers, where it can be read using speech synthesis or printed using Braille translation software and Braille printers. Such systems provide independent access to the text of printed documentation to students who are blind. Some hardware and software vendors also provide Braille or American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) versions of their documentation to support computer users who are blind.

For more information, consult Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology, Working Together: Computers and People with Sensory Impairments, and Technology and Universal Design.