I recently telephoned an out-of-state friend to talk. He became legally blind just after birth due to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which the National Institutes of Health defines as a “potentially blinding eye disorder primarily affecting premature infants weighing about 2.75 pounds or less and born before 31 weeks of gestation.” Most cases leave no permanent damage, but in more severe cases about 500 U.S. infants each year become legally blind.
My friend, who I’ll call Tony (a pseudonym), age 35, said he had been able as a child to see shapes and colors, but now could sense only light. He uses a white cane. His current concern has been over trying to participate in the digital revolution.
In a telephone interview, he said, “In terms of print, I learned to read Braille when I started school years ago. I was fortunate to have a teacher who taught it. I was able to get a lot of my books in Braille, too. Now I just get Rolling State and Science News magazines in Braille. They don’t cost me anything. I also have a Braille Bible that takes up two large plastic crates (to store), and my New Testament alone has four large volumes.”
While reading Braille publications comes easy, he finds using the Internet problematic. Online content doesn’t come in Braille, of course. He does have a text reader called JAWS, which converts text to speech, but other online content, such as pop-up ads (the worst, he said), videos, photos, and the like, makes perusing many websites impossible.
He said, “One particular website I used to visit, Worldnetdaily.com, reformatted its web page and now it has so many graphics (JAWS) can’t make heads or tails of it. They’ve lost me as a reader because of the change. As for the musical site Pandora.com, I can visit it now, type in an artist and hear music, but I’m unable to add variety, delete music I don’t want or give feedback. I’ve been told Pandora.com is fully aware of its accessibility problems but has no desire to change. So I don’t go there anymore either.”
He also would like websites to figure out ways to describe videos and photos over his text reader, so at least he could get some idea of content. For example, he would visit Facebook if the site offered blind people basic photo descriptions, such as “three men smiling.”