How Accessible Computers Can Enhance Personal Life For Blind People




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Before we get any farther, we should first make certain we're all on the same page. The information in this area can be presented in some different ways. In an effort to make things more simplified, I'll take you through how to set this view up the way I have it. In the process, you'll learn why you might want to change this to better suit you and how to make such changes.

The first step is to go to your hard drive. To do this, you have to go downward in the "my computer branch making certain first that it is open. It will likely be so by default. If it isn't, just hit the right arrow key and it'll open. Next, hit the down arrow to start going through the contents of "my computer". You may have a floppy drive. If there's no disc in it, your computer might seem to freeze for a moment as this drive is checked for contents. You may have to hit a cancel button which you can get to via tabbing if necessary. However, chances are that you'll end up safe and sound on the c drive. This drive is usually the master hard drive of your computer. Once on this drive, hit the alt key and go over to the "view" menu using the right arrow key. Go down until you come to an option called "detail" and hit the enter key on that. This will make certain that items are organized in a single line. You won't miss anything because you didn't think to look left and right. You'll also find it easier to manipulate groups of files if they're all in a single line. Going one option further down brings you to a submenu which allows you to sort items in various ways. I prefer to have my folders organized to show the most recently modified file on the bottom. However, you might prefer to have your files organized by type of file or simply in alphabetical and numerical order via their names.


Once you've done all that, hit the alt key and go all the way over to the "tools" menu. Go down to "folder options and hit the enter key". There, you'll find you're placed in the "general" page. This has a couple of sets of radio buttons. You should set your system to use classic windows folders. The other setting I have is likely a default option to have a single click select items and a double click open them. The other tab in this dialogue box which might be of eventual use to you is the "view" tab. I have changed a few settings in there. For instance, I have it set to remember each individual folder's settings in case I find a reason to have a folder behave differently than others. You can learn more about these settings as well as the "file types" tab on your own via the Windows help system. These options are beyond what a beginner will need but certainly may prove useful as you become more of an advanced user. As usual, don't meddle with what you don't fully understand until you've at least noted down what the settings are so you can return things to that state if you have to. There is actually a button you can use to restore things in this dialogue to their default state called "restore defaults". Remember that to effect any changes you make, use the "apply" button before hitting the "ok" button.
Now that we've gotten all that sorted out, it's time to quickly cover how to manage files and folders. Files are stored on your hard drive or storage media in folders. When you go to one of your hard drives on "my computer", that is actually a folder which contains all of the contents of the drive known as a "root". Within that folder are a number of files as well as other folders which might well contain yet more folders. Think of a tree with branches which each have smaller branches which each have twigs and then leaves. To get to the files or leaves, you first have to go onto the right branch and twig. One thing to be aware of is that the folder known as "my documents" is a bit of a special case. It's a regular folder like any other except that each user of a computer is given his or her own such folder. As a result, you won't find the "my documents" folder by looking down the list of folders on your main hard drive. Instead, you'll find that folder as well as the desktop by going upward above the "my computer" folder. This makes it easier for a computer to be shared among multiple users.
When you first get your computer, there won't be any files or folders suitable for your experimentation. Until you have a good grasp of what's there and what it all does, don't delete or move anything. This is one of the few areas in this guide where I'll ask you not to meddle with things you don't understand. By deleting the wrong thing, you could accidentally render software inoperable. I don't believe in making extra work for people so I won't ask you to create a bunch of files to get the hang of things with. I'll simply explain the basics so you're ready to keep your files organized when you have some.
As I explained before, folders on your hard drive are where you'll find and add files. There is the root folder which has folders branching off of it. These branch folders may contain one or more folders branching from them as well as files. For instance, I have my root folder called "c:". One of the many branches leading from it is called "music". I don't go to the organizational extremes some folks do with my large collection of mp3 files. Some people make a separate folder for each artist and have each album in its own folder branching from the particular artist. They further divide these into folders for different styles of music. I divide my music into instrumental music and songs. If I have many pieces of music from a single artist or band, I may decide to put them all in a separate folder. For the most part though, I tend to just stick everything in either "songs" or "instrumental". While I'm writing, I tend to listen to instrumental music as songs have a way of jarring my flow of creative thought. When I'm relaxing, I'll listen to all kinds of music. If I'm entertaining guests, I stick to songs only as this seems to be more conducive to a social atmosphere. All I have to do is tell Winamp, the audio playing software I prefer, to play music from either the "music" folder or the "songs" or "instrumental" folders. One problem is that I can often end up with songs in the "instrumental" folder and occasionally, instrumental pieces in the "songs" folder. This is especially true with film scores or game soundtracks which frequently feature both styles of music.
When I purchase new music, I tend to grab a whole lot from a given artist or band at once. I have a folder made where anything I download is initially placed on my main hard drive. Naturally, this folder is simply called "downloads". The first thing I tend to do is copy these files onto my external hard drive into the most reasonable folder for whatever I just purchased. Recently, I bought the mp3s of the music from the first Narnia film. I'm actually not a big Narnia fan but found the music in the show quite nifty. Of course, it's mostly instrumental music so I copied it all into the "instrumental" folder. To move files, you first have to select them. I have hundreds of files in my "downloads" folder and only the last sixteen or so comprise the Narnia soundtrack. I have my folders organized so that the most recent additions are at the bottom. Therefore, I found the first file belonging to the Narnia soundtrack. I then held down the shift key and pressed the "end" key. This selected all of the files I wanted to copy. Sometimes, files you want to move won't be consecutively in order. In that case, you can select files by holding down the control key while moving up and down with the arrow keys. Keep the control key held down until you're done selecting files. To select or unselect a file, tap the space bar. When you're done selecting files, let go of the control key. Next, decide whether you want to copy or paste the files into a different location. You might also want to delete files. That's a simple matter of hitting the "delete" key. You may be asked whether you're certain you want to delete the files.
Copying files means that the originals are left unchanged where they are and that copies of them are made and placed in the new location. To tell Windows that you want to copy files, after you've selected them, hit the control c key combination. Once that's done, move through the tree view to the folder where you want the copies to be placed. Tab so that you're in the list view. Finally, hit the control v key combination. That's v as in victor. This tells windows to paste the contents of the clipboard which are the files you selected before hitting control c. If you want to move files from one location to another, The only difference is that you hit the control x key combination after selecting the files or contents to be moved. That's right. You can do this same thing to pieces of text in a word processing document. You can also copy and paste information from a web site or other programs and paste it into a document or another input field. Nifty, isn't it?
Anyhow, getting back to my example, the first thing I do is select the sixteen files I'm interested in. Once that's done, I want to copy them to my external hard drive. Therefore, I hit control c. The files are now in the clipboard and ready to be copied. I go down my tree view of folders onto the e: drive which is my external drive. I go into the "music" folder on it and into the "instrumental" folder where I tab into the list view and then hit the control v key to place copies of the files there. The files are still in my clipboard and will remain so until I select something else and either copy or cut that. I take advantage of this by next going to the "instrumental" folder on the c: drive and press the control v key while in its list view to copy the soundtrack there as well. My next step is to move the few songs in that soundtrack to the "songs" folder on my c: drive. I'm not going to bother doing this with my backup drive. However, I don't want to hear the songs when I'm expecting instrumental music while writing. Going into the "instrumental" folder, I navigate its list view until I reach the first file in the Narnia soundtrack. I then hold down the control key and start moving downward through the files. When I come to a song, I tap the spacebar to select that file. I end up with three files selected when I release the control key. I want to cut and paste these files rather than copy them so I hit the control x key. I then go into the "songs" folder within the "music" folder and go into its list view where I press the control v key combination. The files are moved into that folder and are no longer in the "instrumental" folder.
That pretty much completes our basic lesson in file management. It's quite safe to practice navigating through the tree view and list view to your heart's content. Just don't copy or cut and paste anything you haven't created. At best, you could waste a lot of space. At worst, if you cut and pasted parts of programs from their rightful places to somewhere else, you could do quite a bit of damage by preventing them from working correctly. In most cases, Windows should warn you before you do something potentially damaging on a large scale. You can't accidentally do something which would, for instance, render your computer inoperative. However, it might be possible to render your access technology unworkable which would basically amount to the same thing. Before you move or delete anything, have a good idea what it is and what it's for. It's very important to take responsibility for your own computer.
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2.6-- Surviving Software and System Crashes


Anybody who's used Windows for any length of time has doubtless experienced a moment such as I did during my final year at university. I was finishing up one of my last assignments of the year. It was well into the early hours of the morning upon which the paper was due. Oh come on! You know how that goes. Each year, you say to yourself: "I'll do things better this year and not leave things hanging until the last minute again." A major problem with earnest promises to oneself like these is that they fail to take many mitigating factors into account which would cause all but the most obtusely conscientious and studious scholars to break them. I'm talking about those once in a lifetime opportunities which suddenly present themselves right around when a paper is due. A chance to see a great movie with a bunch of campus friends or that fantastic keg party your fellow students decide to hold. You get the idea. I had obviously cast aside my better judgement and had leapt at one or more such opportunities. Now, I had to engage in the time-honoured student tradition of burning the post-midnight oil in a last-ditch attempt to pull off a nicely polished paper. It's called paying the piper...very dearly.
To keep my mind stimulated, I had Winamp playing music in the background. It was still early days for that program and on top of that was my speech software and Outlook Express. That was quite a lot for my little laptop to handle at the time. Caught up in the creative rush born of desperation, I hadn't saved my nocturnal strivings in quite some time. At least four hours of work were suddenly placed in high jeopardy of being lost when Windows95 decided to crash on me. That dreaded dialogue box opened to inform me that my system had experienced a fatal error and needed to restart. I won't lie to you here. I went through that heady cocktail of horror, anguish, desperation, the willingness to do whatever penance the flipping universe demanded of me in order to save my work, etc. Believe me when I tell you that I can completely sympathize with people who panic in such circumstances. I've been there too. Those words, "fatal error", can certainly have the effect of inspiring dread. Due to the frigging early time of day, I couldn't even yell in frustration.
Fortunately, I had been in a far less high-stakes situation earlier where another less critical document was at risk of being lost. After the initial moment where my emotions held sway, this occasion came back to me. I had discovered a little-known truth about Windows. Crashes don't always completely stop everything else from working. Nothing had gone wrong with Microsoft Word where my work was being done. However, the dialogue box which informed me of the fatal error was preventing me from accessing Microsoft word fully since it dominated the screen. Fortunately, I had memorized the file saving dialogue box in Microsoft Word and was able to save my work despite not getting audible feedback for my actions. I then closed everything down that I could and proceeded to restart my system.
Eventually, all users of Windows operating systems will experience this sort of thing. It comes with the territory. Having used the Windows operating system since my days in university, I'm a seasoned veteran of these at times supremely exasperating moments. My first such occasion has long since faded from memory. The trappings of a program or system crash are somewhat dependant on the circumstances. This is also the case when it comes to appropriate measures for dealing with a crash. However, there are a few tried and true rules and observations I can share with you to lessen the trauma. The most important thing of all was illustrated well by the personal disaster I shared with you above. It does you absolutely no good whatsoever to panic and act before thinking.
Keep as clear a head as possible and evaluate what has happened. Restarting your computer immediately is only occasionally actually necessary. In particular, listen to the name of whatever has crashed and think about what it is. If an application you are running such as your music player has crashed, you will simply have to hit the "close" or "ok" button to acknowledge that you've read the dialogue which has alerted you to this situation. After the program has closed, you can then run it again and things ought to work normally. There's no need to restart your whole computer. The same is true if your word processor decides to bite the big one. In that case, you'll potentially lose any unsaved work. However, once the application has closed, you can just run it again. Chances are that it will present you with a document containing recovered material. However, it's best to get into the habit of saving your work often or setting your word processor the task of doing that for you. Most good word processors will have that option. If you maintain your system well, truly serious crashes ought to be fairly rare. The most you will have to do given normal circumstances is simply restart your computer.
Rather than go right for the power switch, you may want to try shutting down normally. If Windows is allowed to properly shut down, it has time to tidy things up. There are some circumstances where it is impossible to shut down Windows normally. In such cases, you'll need to manually force your computer to shut down and/or reset depending on the buttons available on your computer tower. If you push the power button and nothing happens, don't panic. Your computer isn't rebelling and fighting for its life. It's a safety feature to prevent accidental shutdown of your system. Hold the power button pressed for up to ten seconds. Within that time, your computer will perform an emergency shutdown. You can then hit the power button again and your computer will begin the recovery process. If you need to either manually turn off your computer or use the reset button, Windows doesn't have time to clean things up and will have to check for any serious problems with the hard disc when you reboot your computer.
The recovery procedures incorporated into Windows systems are quite good. I've only ever ended up with a completely useless hard drive when the hardware actually wore out due to extensive use. Just remember that it will take a while to implement them particularly if you have a large hard drive. I've had my system take around half an hour to go through this process after a particularly serious crash. When you reboot after having to either reset or manually shut down your computer, you won't hear the familiar Windows theme. The recovery process will simply start and silently run its course before anything else is loaded. Believe me. I know how tense and nerve racking that can be. Chances are very unlikely that it'll take even close to half an hour in most circumstances. Give it at least fifteen minutes before you perform a second emergency shutdown and restart.
To minimize crashes, it is important that you keep your operating system and software up to date. You can have Windows automatically check for and download critical updates for you if you're connected to the Internet. Alternatively, you can go to the Windows Update site and have more control over what gets downloaded or installed and when this happens. I strongly prefer this method. In addition to critical updates, I can check for any non-critical hardware and software updates which might improve my computer's functioning. I also have full control over when things are installed so nothing else I might be doing will be interfered with. You can also have Windows automatically check for and install critical updates for you. This is one of many items we'll be looking into in our final stop on this basic tour of Windows.
The Windows task manager can also be very helpful. You can access it by using the control shift escape key combination. Hold down the control key plus the shift key plus the escape key. Assuming you're able to access this utility when one or more programs stop responding, you can force the crashed programs to close. This frees up memory for the remaining software to use. Sometimes, however, a crash will be so severe that you won't be able to use this approach. It's always better to close programs down naturally when possible. Once you've gotten into the task manager, you'll find yourself in the list of applications currently running on your computer. Move through the list with the up and down arrow keys. When you find the offending program, tab once and you'll find yourself on a button called "end task". Hit the space bar or enter key and it will attempt to do this. The task manager has quite a lot of options in there as well as other tabs in addition to the "applications" tab. You can also look at and end processes which might be causing problems in the "processes" tab. Don't do this kind of thing lightly or you could lock up or destabilize your system and have to restart. A lot of things in the "processes" tab are things running behind the scenes like some components of your security software. You'll also find any programs such as word processors, speech access, etc which are in your "applications" tab. Those are the two tabs you'll likely be using in the event of unresponsive programs. There are also tabs which let you view statistics on your computer's performance, networking communications, and the users on your system. Take the time to look at the Pull down menus available in the task manager. One potentially useful Pull down menu is the "shut down" menu which lets you turn off, restart, or log off among other things.
Should you ever do something you dearly wish you could undo, Windows provides a utility which will let you take back that rash change. This utility is called "system restore". It has saved my behind more times than I'd care to admit. Some space on your hard drive will be used to maintain snapshots of your system. Typically, ten percent of your hard drive space is reserved for this. It's a very small price to pay for the ability to effectively turn back time. If only the rest of life let us get away with that. The more space you allow system restore to make use of on your hard drive, the more points it can maintain for you to restore your system to. In practice, I have never felt that I should alocate more than ten percent of the space on my hard drive to this. If you need to change the space available to system restore or disable this function entirely due to some virus infecting your computer or similar circumstance, go to the "system" option in the control panel. You'll find a series of tabs. One of these is devoted to the system restore option. You can disable or enable the functionality and also set the amount of hard drive space available to system restore.
Making use of system restore is relatively simple. Just take your time and pay careful attention. The interface of this utility is essentially a web page. You can read it easily with your up and down arrow keys or other reading commands. The initial page you start on briefly introduces the service and provides links to further information and help. You will find a group of radio buttons. Selecting the appropriate radio button so that it is checked will let you restore your system to an earlier time, create a restore point, or undo your last restore. Most often, you'll be using the first of these options. If you can use it, you'll have no trouble with using the other two options.
Alright then. Let's say you've just made what you thought would be a good change and have found that you have in actuality messed things up considerably. Your speech software won't read the screen correctly but will still let you use the start menu. This has happened on several occasions to me. The first thing to do is go to the programs menu and into the accessories submenu. From there, go to the system tools submenu. Finally, go to the option which says "system restore". Once you hit the enter key on that, you should be taken to the system restore welcome page. First of all, we go down the page to the radio buttons and make certain that the first one is checked. That's the button for restoring your system to an earlier time. Next, You can either hold down the alt key and press the letter n or go down to the "next" button and hit the space bar or enter key when your cursor is on the button to activate it. This takes you to the page where you must select the restore point you want to use.
This calendar is the most challenging part of the process. You have to read down the page until you come to the list of restore points. Below the calendar, you'll find one or more restore points made by your system when things have happened. You can move backward to previous months by clicking on the button above the name of the current month and advance by using the button below the month name. These buttons are labelled by Less Than and Greater Than symbols but whether you hear that depends on your punctuation settings. As I look down my page of the current month's restore points, I find one which was made at 2:14 PM when my security software was updated. Jaws indicates that this entry is "clickable". That means that hitting the enter key while on it should select the entry. You can then hit the "next button or alt n. This is the last page before your system will be restored. Near the top of the page, you should see the restore point you selected. You will be instructed to save anything you're working on before continuing. The restoration process will take a moment to gather necessary information. It will then shut down and restart your computer as part of the restoration process. Be patient here. It'll take longer than it normally does to restart. If all goes well, you'll soon find yourself up and running. You'll be on a page which informs you that the restoration is complete and gives you a chance to undo the process if you desire. You can simply close the page and continue using your computer. Not so scary after all, is it?
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How Accessible Computers Can Enhance Personal Life For Blind People

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