Spring 1997, Vol. 8 No. 2

by Pamela Haggerty

Jim Barnhart works at Bell Atlantic in Philadelphia as a computer programmer/analyst. He is in his late thirties and is visually impaired. He did not lose his vision until he was eighteen, when he was a college student majoring in Surveying Technology at Pennsylvania State University. As Jim remembers it, his whole world changed when he began to lose his sight. He had to drop out of Penn State for awhile. He reapplied as a computer science major but was counseled to change his major to Business Administration. In 1983, he graduated with a degree in Business Administration with a focus in Business Logistics.

Jim is very independent. He lives alone and commutes to work each day via public transportation. He avoids rush hour traffic by leaving his apartment at 5:30 a.m. and leaving work at 2:30 p.m. His only orientation and mobility aid is a cane. His hobbies include reading and cooking. People with visual impairments can borrow books from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in Princeton, which provides books on audiocassettes, and the Library of Congress which provides books on diskettes. Jim prefers borrowing books from the Library of Congress because he likes their selection.

Computer Set-up at Work

Jim uses an IBM 386 computer with a standard monitor, QWERTY keyboard, and a screen reading system. He has an Accent-SA text-to-speech synthesizer made by Aicom Corporation. The benefits of the Accent-SA (SA=stand alone) are that it is portable and battery-operated and has its own micro-processor and ROM so it does not take up any of the computer's memory. He uses the Accent-SA in conjunction with the screen reading software JAWS (Job Access With Speech) for DOS developed by Henter-Joyce, Inc. This software works with all of the DOS programs on Jim's computer. Jim likes this program because he can create macros to save time and can control how the voice reads the text. For example, he can program the voice to read acronyms like IBM. He has the same computer system at home with a modem. This is important because he does not like to stay at work late because of the difficulties with commuting during rush hour.

The most important piece of technology for Jim is his Braille 'n Speak by Blazie Engineering. He would be lost without it. Braille 'n Speak is a portable electronic word processor which uses Braille input, speech output and a built-in reverse translator. It has a talking calculator, calendar, clock and stop watch. Jim uses it to take notes during meetings, to write proposals, and to store addresses, phone numbers, recipes, and books. He can hook it up to either a Braille or regular printer. He can also hook it up to his computer and transfer files.

Technology at Home

Assistive technology also helps Jim with everyday tasks and entertainment. At home, he has a talking clock that announces every hour, a talking calculator, and a VCR with a voice coach remote. His favorite television channel is PBS which offers Descriptive Video Service. This service provides an additional voice which describes all the actions taking place on the screen.

For the most part, the assistive technology Jim uses is effective. He is able to do his job well. There is only one problem. Bell Atlantic is starting to put information regarding benefits and company policies on its internal network. Jim's computer does not have the capability to run Windows 95 which is required to run the screen reading program which can guide him through this network. Until Jim's computer is upgraded, he has to have coworkers read the information to him.

Jim wants to get an upgraded computer so that he can navigate through both Bell Atlantic's internal internet and the World Wide Web. He believes that assistive technology is indispensable; it has helped him maintain his independence and advance in his career.

Pamela Haggerty is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.

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