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Alternative Reality: Navigating uni with a disability

What are the obstacles for college and uni students using campus and online technologies?

Including discourse of the lived experience that is not that of the sighted-world, can help navigation of non-inclusive technologies and tap potential uses of existing IoT.

There is much talk and excitement these days about virtual reality, and its close cousin augmented reality. While these technologies have been around for a couple of decades, they are only now becoming a regular part of life. Unfortunately for some members of the community neither of these exciting new ideas will be of use. I'm talking here about people who are blind or people who have low-vision. People in fact like myself.

Speaking for myself, I like to think I'm living in an 'alternative reality' This is not some computer-generated landscape or totally immersive game, this is real life lived in a world populated by sighted people. I can only speak for myself as each person's reality is different, and while this applies to all people, it applies more to people with a disability. So, this blog is about my experience as a blind person living in a sighted world.

Char (of Psych n Stats Tutor) has asked me to write some articles on people with a disability studying at University. Now, anyone who has done any kind of University study knows that it is hard work, whether it's essay writing for a first-year subject or completing a doctoral thesis. Having a disability adds to this workload. Fortunately, thanks to modern teaching and modern technology, any obstacles can be overcome. I'm not going to tell you that it is easy, because University study is not easy, but if you have the academic ability then anything is possible.

So, back to my alternative reality. Since you're reading this on a computer we'll start there. How do you read this web page when you're blind? There are two options, a screen-reader or a braille display. A screen-reader makes use of text-to-speech software to read the contents of a web page using a synthethised voice. You can navigate around the page using special key combinations. A braille display connects to your computer by USB cable or via Bluetooth, and converts lines of text into braille, and as these devices usually have a braille keyboard it can become an input device as well. These technologies also work with mobile phones and tablets.

Of course, screen-readers and braille displays work with other software besides web browsers. Unfortunately, not all software works well with these technologies. Web pages are of note as these can be very complex visually, and very complex behind the scenes and becomes extremely frustrating trying to work out where you are on a page. This is not to mention the fact that websites tend to be updated frequently, which means you must start again learning how to navigate around the site.

That is a taste of my alternative reality, it is not horrible, just different. Remember, I'm using the previously mentioned screen-reader to help create this blog post. More posts like this are planned and I'm more than willing to answer any questions.

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