Internet Benefits for the Blind
by Rev. Tom Vos, pastor of First CRC, Wellsburg, Iowa, and Regional Disability Advocate for Classis Northcentral Iowa
While the Internet has opened up a vast amount of information to all computer users, computer screen reading software has also given me, as a blind person, access to that source of information and communication. My software lets me listen to what is on the screen through a computer generated voice.
I am old enough to remember when the encyclopedia was a set of books on the library shelf, and later as stand-alone software. Now I can access the same up-to-date information that anyone else can read—news, medical and scientific information, and almost any other topic.
I enjoy woodworking and handyman work around the house, so I am part of an email list with other blind woodworkers and handymen in which we can ask each other questions and share ideas. Often the way blind persons do things has to be a little different from our sighted counterparts. Email groups devoted to helping us learn the unique skills for using our computers with screen reading software are also available.
I encourage people to send me email, since it is easy to read it on my computer, and to read attachments too. If I receive a print letter, I need to scan it first and convert it to digital text before I can read it, and if someone sends me a handwritten note, I must ask someone else to read it to me. I enjoy receiving daily email from my parents and my children.
As the director of Optasia Ministry (www.optasiaministry.org), the Internet has given me the ability to communicate with people around the world, and to make available to them Christian theology and reading resources that blind persons could not access in any other way. This week I received a request from a blind man who is training for mission service in Costa Rica, and I was able to provide him with a Spanish Bible to help him in his language studies. An Internet tool like Drop Box is accessible to blind persons and useful for sending larger files.
Web site designers are learning how to design websites that make them easier for blind persons to navigate. While a sighted person can use the mouse to scroll down a web page, my software allows me to jump to headings, choose from a list of links, or search for words or phrases on a page.
One of the benefits of the Internet that I enjoy along with many others is the blessing of Skype. With grandchildren living over a thousand miles away, we can talk with them. Even though I can't see them, they can see me. I pretend to see them do their somersaults and praise them for their new skills.
As a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, I can access many of the resources on the denomination’s website. I appreciated being able to keep up on synod news this summer.
Not everything works well. Web pages are designed visually; sometimes I come to a form that I cannot fill out accurately or a Care Pages website that is difficult to navigate with my software.
While the Internet has opened up great possibilities for anyone with a computer, it offers unique benefits to blind persons, and I am very thankful for the ability to use it.