ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY (STEPHANIE)

There was a time when people with disabilities did not have as many opportunities to live independent lives and play an active role in society. As time goes by, however, adaptations and accommodations are continually being created in order to provide people with disabilities the opportunities they did not previously have. One such adaptation is known as assistive technology, a term used for any kind of technology that improves the lives of people with disabilities and helps them live more independently.


One form of assistive technology that has opened up a new world of possibilities for people who are blind is called a screen reader, a program that speaks the information on the computer screen. With the help of my screen reader, I can now do many things that a sighted person can do on the computer. Even touch screen smart phones, tablets and laptops can be used by blind people thanks to screen reading technology.


Another form of assistive technology that has made life much more convenient for blind people is the refreshable Braille display, which functions as a Braille computer screen. Just as the print on a screen instantly changes as a sighted person manipulates the computer, the Braille on a refreshable Braille display instantly changes under a blind person’s fingers as various tasks on the computer are performed. The Braille dots on the display are made of tiny pins that rapidly change to the desired combinations of Braille dots as needed. Refreshable Braille displays can be used to read the information on smart phones, tablets and laptops. They can also be used with talking note takers specifically designed for people who are blind. They allow blind people to read and write quietly in public places because the speech can be turned off when the Braille display is being used. A perfect example of this is the need to take notes in class. A braille display also provides a way for a blind person to read something out loud in front of a group of people without having to use multiple sheets of Braille paper that take up space.


Unfortunately, refreshable Braille displays and the highest quality screen readers for Windows computers are very expensive. As computers and operating systems change, screen readers must be updated to keep up with the changes. It costs a lot of money to purchase the screen reader that I use, and there is an additional charge for purchasing what is called a software maintenance agreement that allows me to get two additional upgrades to the program. The talking note taker with a refreshable Braille display that I would greatly benefit from is also very expensive.


Assistive technology is necessary in order for me to work effectively for Dawn of Hope Ministry. I use the computer with a screen reader to download songs that I want to learn. Because my screen reader can be used in the Spanish language, I can find lyrics for the Spanish songs I want to learn online, paste them into Microsoft Word documents, and read them with my screen reader. I also use my computer to make use of Facebook, which I use for Dawn of Hope Ministry, as well as to keep in touch with people who contact Dawn of Hope Ministry via our website. I have written a variety of devotionals, many of which I want to put into book form, and, without my computer and screen reader, I would not have been able to write them in Microsoft Word.


A talking note taker with a refreshable Braille display—which I do not have—would help me a great deal. It would allow me to quickly write down dictated information and check what I’ve written without having to listen to both the screen reader and the dictation. Since the note taker is small, I can use it to lead out in singing hymns at church by reading the Braille lyrics and singing at the same time, just as a sighted person does with a print hymnal. Not having a note taker forces me to memorize any hymns I don’t know in advance before leading them out. This kind of note taker would also help me when learning Spanish songs. Since I am not fluent in Spanish, learning Spanish songs involves more work and takes longer than it does for me to learn English songs. IN order for me to learn Spanish songs, I need to have a recording of the song, as well as the written lyrics. I read the lyrics using my screen reader in Microsoft Word documents, which means I have to continually pause the recording so that my screen reader can read the lyrics. If I could read the lyrics in Braille using the Braille display on the note taker, I could listen to the recording and read the lyrics in Braille at the same time. I could also sing the lyrics while reading the Braille as part of the learning process if desired. Reading a passage of Scripture in front of a church would be something else I could do with this note taker. Currently I can only speak Scriptures if I have memorized them.


My current computer is old and starting to cause me problems. I do not have the current version of my screen reader, and the current version I have is becoming problematic with my computer. I also do not have a talking note taker with a refreshable Braille display. Your generous donation would make it possible for me to purchase a new computer and screen reader, as well as a talking note taker with a refreshable Braille display, all of which would make my work for Dawn of Hope Ministry much easier.


The total cost for these assistive technology items I'm requesting donations for--including a new computer--is $7,890.