By Michael Barber
[tweetmeme service=”idbonline”] If someone had told me three years ago that I would be a fan of the Apple Macintosh (Mac) computer, I probably would have growled and/or made some disparaging remarks. Most everyone I knew used the Windows operating system, whether it be Windows XP, Windows Vista, and now Windows 7. Some were still using Windows 98, for heaven’s sake!
Back in 2008, I had the opportunity to attend Camp VoiceOver, a training class for the Macintosh held in Casper, Wyoming. I was not impressed with that class. Maybe it was the instructor, or maybe it was my attitude toward the Mac which caused me not to be as impressed with the Mac as I could or should have been. I was impressed with the VoiceOver screen reader, which was built in to the Leopard operating system. Would you believe it? It breathed at strategic points as it read through documents! But I just felt at the time that it was too keystroke intensive and not as efficient as Windows.
On June 28 of this year, I participated in yet another training session, this time from Handy Tech North America and its Mac Academy, which occurred at the Iowa Department for the Blind. It was evident from the start that our instructor really knew his stuff. He uses the Mac daily at Handy Tech for every aspect of his business. His excitement and enthusiasm about the Mac were picked up by the rest of the class. This time we were using the new Snow Leopard operating system and an improved VoiceOver screen reader. There were the same supposedly inefficient keystrokes as before. So what was different?
I think it was that I had finally decided that the Mac really could be a viable computer for a blind person to use. After all, you really have to hand it to Apple for developing a screen reader that allows you to install the operating system and set up your computer all by yourself.
Yes, that’s right! No sighted assistance needed. That’s huge!
I could navigate menus with ease. I could set up my own command keys without having to know any programming language. The Mac found my Bluetooth Braille display, and the display worked wonderfully without my having to install any drivers. I could plug in the same display to a USB port, and it was ready to go!
After I worked with the Safari web browser for a while, I found, contrary to what one person said, I could browse the Internet with relative ease. In fact, at the end of the training class, I used the Safari browser to go to the Internet page indicated to fill out the evaluation form in a very short period of time.
The on-board tutorial that verbally walks you through learning to use the VoiceOver screen reader does a great job of explaining in a succinct fashion how to use VoiceOver. It even gives you a chance to practice each aspect of the tutorial.
Although the MacBook and MacBook Pro cost more (about $500 to $1,000) than many PC laptops, you must keep in mind that you don’t have to purchase a screen reader or screen enlargement software plus the software maintenance agreements that go with them.
Give it a try! You can go into the Apple store, walk up to one of the computers, press Command plus F5 and VoiceOver starts. You can then test out the computer. You can’t do that with a Windows-based computer.