Terry Bartlett is a blind entrepreneur based in Dunedin who runs his own business, Corner Enterprises (www.cornerenterprises.co.nz). Computers and the Internet play a major role in his business and he recently helped in the development of a version of CashManager accounting software for blind people. We invited him in to discuss his work and how computing works for the blind.
What sort of computer training have you had?
The first training course I did was connected to the North Shore Polytechnic and with the guidance of the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind. I am primarily self-taught and work alongside my technician, who guides and trains me in new technology and features of software that I am unable to get to.
What have computers done for your personal and business life?
Computers have given me a lot more independence than I would have once had.
I am able to communicate for both business and personal, I can print photos of people, I am able to scan documents for both and I can create documents independently and assist others, which I couldn’t do without the computer.
I am also able to receive information and surf the Internet providing the URLs that I visit are accessible. This isn’t always the case, as there are several products for screen-reading on the market and they all handle different situations differently. This can cause problems, but for every problem in making or finding accessible Web sites there is a solution.
What sort of computing tools are you using today?
Currently I am using a Windows based machine with Window-Eyes version 7.01 and Windows XP Professional.
Tell us about your Internet experience: How much content is accessible, and how much could it be improved for blind and partially sighted people?
My Internet experience has been very enjoyable and very much a learning curve also. A Web site built in Flash, for example, may be a little harder to navigate than a Web site built in HTML because not all screen readers handle Flash as well as each other.
I strike things like graphics that aren’t labelled, forms that don’t work, captcha (which is used for security) – which is understandable, but for us as blind people it makes our filling in of forms and submitting them impossible, as our screen readers don’t read the images that you have to enter. This frustrates me because I have to go ask for help and help isn’t always there, and so I tend to think, “Well if there’s captcha, I don’t want to go there!”
Are there any sites which deserve praise for being “blind-friendly”?
Yes there are: the National Bank, the New Vision Network, Accomplish Cash Manager, TelstraClear and more.
So how important is the Internet to your business?
The Internet allows me to manage my accounts, read and respond to email inquiries, publicise my company, allows people to communicate with me, gives me the ability to research information independently, and creates the challenge for me to go out and find clients that require and are interested in the products that I have to offer.
Tell us about your business and the customers you service.
The people that I service are people that want their sites tested for accessibility, people that want to learn how to use a computer easily, people that want an accessible Web site built, consultancy and provision of the best service that is available. The other side of the company delivers bulk coal and firewood to the home user, lawns, property maintainence and more.
You say you came across CashManager while searching the Web for accounting software. What were you looking for specifically and what impressed you about it?
What impressed me was the fantastic team who embraced accessibility with open arms. I was looking for a package that worked successfully from the keyboard; one that was easy to use, easy to understand, but powerful and effective. I can’t write on paper and I had to be able to produce print documentation for my company directors and the relevant authorities, and needed to do this with ease.
I need to be able to access bank transactions for accountability purposes and in finding CashManager I felt I had to tell the world.
So what did you do then?
I went to Accomplish (www.accomplishglobal.com) with a report that said, “To begin, let’s work on these things.”
Remember that adaptive technology is always behind in the technology trip and many people would rather say “it can’t be done”. Well I said it can, and I went, and Accomplish have and are doing so.
So are there other computer tools or applications you’ve spotted out there which could be made “blind-friendly”?
It comes back to software and hardware developers being aware that whilst we’re a minority we still have spending power and if they want to break a market, then design your products with accessibility and usability in mind. DVD players aren’t accessible, touch pad microwaves aren’t accessible, TVs aren’t accessible, mobile phones aren’t accessible.
Can you think of any computer tool or application that hasn’t been invented yet, and which would be greatly useful to you?
The most useful tool that would be advantageous to me would be a piece of software that spoke to me whilst I was reformatting a computer. I would also find it useful if all installations of software spoke and I could navigate them with a keyboard.