How Accessible Computers Can Enhance Personal Life For Blind People

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Most major retail outlets will have sites for people to purchase online from. If you find that you appreciate a certain brand of store in the real world such as Futureshop, you'll likely find the online site to be useful for checking on what new products might be available instead of having to actually go to the place. Also, take advantage of the "more info" and other links associated with items. When shopping for groceries, you may find useful information such as preparation instructions and ingredients. One blog called Blind Bargains is a place run by blind people keeping track of online bargains and sites which are particularly relevent to blind customers. Go to:

and check them out.
Nothing prevents stores from doing things differently. However, here's how you'll find they generally work. When you go to their site, you don't have to sign in before you start searching and adding things to your shopping cart. You'll find a search form where you can type in precisely what you're looking for should you know the name of it. If not, you can browse by categories or departments. There will either be links leading to each such category or a combo box which lets you select. Many stores have both methods available. Once you're in the category you're interested in, you can look at the products. There may be several pages of products which you will often be able to have sorted in various ways. For instance, you can sort items by price, brand or other such denominator.
Let's go to:

as an example. On that site for the Discovery Channel for television, you'll find a few links which lead to their online shop. This sells a wide range of books, dvds of their shows, toys, and more. Lets suppose I'm interested in their dvd selection. I can look for the link which will take me to the dvd department. Once there, I can look at bestsellers, specific shows, or go to the "new and just aired" section. I'm interested in recent additions so I decide to click on that link. One of the first things I come to is the sorting combo box. I can sort everything by best seller or popularity, price from high to low or vise versa, or by alphabetical order. I believe that what I'm interested in acquiring will be fairly popular so I decide to leave it sorted by best seller. There are a total of fifty-three items available. I'm happy to find a "view all" link which puts all of the items up at once instead of separating them by pages one has to use a combo box, numbered links or "next/previous" links to wade through. You may prefer having such divisions to more quickly navigate to what you're after. I don't end up finding what I'm interested in there. Chances are good that the Race to Mars and Mars Rising documentaries haven't been released in dvd sets just yet. I'm writing this not even two months after the shows have premiered.
Not quite ready to give up, I decide to check out the dvds by subject. I go there and find the "earth and space" category. There are 68 dvds in it so I choose to "view all" as is my preference. Alas, I'm correct that they haven't yet been released. However, while browsing through, I found the Cosmos: Carl Sagan DVD Set. I remember hearing a bit about that series. As I recall, the series was said to be quite captivating. I decide to give it a closer look despite its $129 price. I click on its link. This takes me to another page where a heading lets me quickly go directly to where information about the product starts. If you can, take advantage of things like headings to more quickly move around web-pages to what you're interested in. I hit the insert-f6 combination which Jaws uses to bring up a list of any headings on the current page. The first one is what I want so I tab over to "go to heading" and hit enter on that. There's quite a lot of information including product description, a preview clip, price, episode titles, the fact that the entire series is 13 hours, and a number of reviews submitted by obviously very happy customers in this case. I decide to listen to the preview clip and click on that link. It comes up nicely. I enjoy a few minutes and believe I may eventually save up some money and acquire it. However, it's well outside the price range at which I might have bought it on impulse. Had I wanted to, I would have looked for the "add to cart" link. Other sites have a button instead of a link. Some call it a shopping basket, shopping cart, etc. You'll have to review a site more thoroughly until you get used to how things are handled on it. There will be slightly different terminology and other such minor differences.
Once I had added any items I wanted to the cart, it would be time to go to the checkout process. At this stage, if you have an account set up at the store already, you should log in. This will greatly simplify making your purchases as things like your address, email, and possibly your credit card information will be already present. Otherwise, many places will let you simply fill in that information and make your purchase without registering an account with the store. I'll typically set up an account at most online stores which I suspect I'll be buying more than one time from. After you've registered with a site, you'll be able to log in using your user id such as your email address or name plus your password. A good habit to get into is to save any emails you receive when creating such accounts so that you have a record of your user identification on sites you plan on shopping from. I also have a file with passwords and such information all in one place. Keep any emails you receive after making a purchase. They can be helpful should any problems come up and you need to prove you purchased an item. I've never had such an issue in nearly ten years of online shopping. However, better safe than sorry. This is particularly the case if you're buying digital goods such as mp3s or software.
I hope this gives you a good idea of how online shopping works and what you can expect when visiting online stores. Keep common sense in mind and you ought to do just fine. Online retailers had to overcome a lot of initial consumer fears about buying things online. This has left a legacy where, for the most part, stores go out of their way to take care of their customers. There are usually numbers you can call if you have any questions as well as email addresses and feedback forms. Shipping and return policies are very clearly laid out for people to read. The newfound sense of consumer independence I've gained has given me at least an inkling of what these people who can spend entire days browsing stores must experience. Added to this is that online shopping gives us a means of obtaining many things which would never make it onto store shelves. Audiodramas are a terrific example of this. Take a cybernetic stroll to:

You'll find many audio treats there which you'd never otherwise have come across in a million years. When you download any digital content such as from this site, be certain that you right-click on the download links you'll be given. While using Internet Explorer, this lets you "save target as". This way, you'll save the file to your hard drive rather than have it open as soon as it has finished downloading. Don't worry if you don't get it right the first time. ZBS and other sites will usually give you more than one chance to download something you bought. You'll be able to download items for a given period of time or a number of times before your download links become invalid. Using Jaws for Windows, go to the link which will either say "download", or be an actual file name like Next, hold in the insert key or the caps lock key if you're using Jaws on a laptop. While holding the jaws key in, hit the number nine. That will simulate right-clicking with a mouse. The number eight is the left-click should you ever need that. This will bring up a context menu. Go down through it with the down arrow key until you come to the "save target as" option. Hit the enter key on that and make certain you're satisfied with the file name as well as where it will be saved. I have a "downloads" folder on my computer where I save things to. I can then know where everything new will arrive and move it to other folders after I've safely obtained it. Buying digital content is pretty much that simple.
Purchasing other items is conceptually the same. The only change is that you need to consider shipping costs versus how quickly you need the item. You'll have a choice of shipping methods most of the time. Best of luck to you in your online shopping adventures.

9-- Computer Games
Computer games are a major part of today's culture. In fact, it is often remarked that people spend more money on games than they do on movies. Even people who don't play video games know the basic idea of Space Invaders or Pac man. While the computer games industry for sighted people has been growing for the past three decades, the accessible games industry couldn't even formally be called one. It has only had around a decade of serious expansion of content as dedicated individuals have begun to explore what is possible and what profits there might be in producing accessible games. We're just beginning to scratch the surface. The average blind person would most likely not know about even the most successful accessible games produced specifically for their enjoyment. This is a shame. In my experience, there's no better way to truly learn about and become comfortable with computers. We learn best when we're having so much fun that we aren't even consciously aware that we're doing that at all.
Don't make the mistake of comparing apples to oranges. You won't find orchestral music, movie-quality sound and Hollywood actors doing voices for audio games. The market just can't support that kind of thing. That having been said, don't assume that you won't be in for high-quality fun. Developers have accomplished quite a lot with limited resources. The best art in the world can't make up for poor implementation and game play mechanics. Different doesn't mean dummed down or inferior. These accessible games are an excellent way for newcomers to computers to learn and practice important skills and get comfortable with their machines.
When I started playing computer games, text-based games were pretty much all there was for blind people. Things have certainly expanded since then. Modern sound cards and mainly the Windows operating system have made it possible for developers to produce sound-based games. Now, it's possible to play everything from Pinball and Pac-Man to racing cars, shooting aliens and driving tanks. This section will introduce you to these two types of games, text and sound-based games. In addition, you'll learn about games you can play via the Internet with people around the world. It has been an absolute pleasure for me to have been a part of helping this still very young industry to emerge. If there's enough of a call for it, I may eventually write more of a book on accessible games and my experience with them. In the meantime, those wanting more to read about accessible games than I've written in this guide should go to the following three sites on the web:

Go to this site and to the link called "fantastic games for windows and where to find them". Phil Vlasak is the proprietor of PCS Games and keeps a comprehensive and well-maintained list of available accessible games. This includes free games as well as commercially sold games produced by himself and his fellow developers. There are also games for other operating systems and accessible devices.

This site features up-to-date news on accessible games as well as all issues of Audyssey Magazine. In addition, it features more reviews of various games plus articles of interest to people considering game development or research in this area.

This site is run by the people currently responsible for the distribution of Audyssey Magazine and the management of the Blind Gamers list. This email list is populated by the most enthusiastic readers of Audyssey. If you have questions about accessible games, the people you'll encounter on that list ought to have the answers you're after.
I'm not about to sit here and cover every accessible game on the planet. There are well over a hundred now even if you don't count the hundreds of text-based games out there. The links I've given you above will pretty much do that for me. However, here are some sites which offer free accessible games to get you started:

Perhaps one of the most universally popular people in the accessible games scene today, Jim Kitchen has been producing free games for the blind community since the days of Dos. You'll find a wide variety of games for the taking on his site from Monopoly to Pong. For novices in accessible games, this site is one you truly shouldn't miss. Be certain to follow all instructions when installing his games.

This company produces many different games and offers a free demonstration set to get people started. You'll also find other resources such as links to other accessible games sites. Relatively new, this company has some fresh ideas and tends to focus on more simple slower-paced games.

This company is run by a generous developer. He has not only decided to produce a totally free turn-based strategy game. He has also set aside a section on his site where free games produced by other developers who can't host their creations themselves can be downloaded. I particularly direct your attention to some offerings from the former company Danzgames. All games from that company are now designated as freeware thanks to Dan Zingaro's good will. Thanks to Thomas Ward's generocity, you can partake in Mr. Zingaro's legacy. There are a couple of fantastic word games as well as Superdeakout, a superb example of what an accessible arcade game can be like. To go directly to these free offerings, go to:

That ought to get your itch for fun taken care of in the short term. Now, I'll go over the three categories of text-based games, sound or audio games, and the new frontier of online games.

9.1-- Text-based Games:
There wasn't much to explore in the one-room flat in Sarajevo. The only prominent furniture was an old dresser with a locked drawer. Faded art adorned the walls and an open window looked down to a street with a nearby cafe. I had been transported through time after correctly fitting a piece of a jigsaw puzzle into its proper spot plus making a few more deductions about how to proceed. Ending up in such an unassuming spot seemed a bit of a let-down after my sharp thinking. However, it was one of those times where quality wins over quantity. The attractive stranger who had lured me here from the 1999 New Year's Eve party I had started the game in was finally here and wanting to meet me. At last, I'm able to find out what all the fuss is about. The inventor of a time machine has staged the largest new Year's party in history in order to unlock the doorway of time. A monumental event was necessary to give the traveller a starting point from which he/she could hop to other major events in history like a surfer on waves. This gives Black a chance to attempt to change history. It becomes clear that the flat my antagonist and I are standing in was chosen so that World War I could be prevented. Black wants to kill the terrorist who is supposed to shoot the archduke and his wife. My antagonist brings in a sniper rifle for me to use. Good God! I was attending a New Year's party and now suddenly find myself at a turning point in history with a loaded rifle. The archduke's carriage pulls into view and stops. Suddenly, time is very much of the essence.
Either through my action or inaction, somebody is about to die. If I shoot the archduke, history will be preserved. World War I will happen just as it actually did. If I shoot the terrorist, history will change drastically. Who knows what happens when that Pandora's box gets opened up? If I do nothing, Black will shoot the terrorist. Should I shoot Black in order to preserve history as I've known it? Could I actually shoot someone who I find attractive given any provocation? Black is a character whose author, Graham Nelson, took pains to present as gender-neutral. I, being heterosexual, think of Black as a she. My next move will decide the fate of millions. However, I can take days to think over the ramifications if I wish. This is a piece of interactive fiction otherwise known as a text adventure. In such games, you are the central character in a story presented to you in text by the computer. You control the game by typing commands which generate responses from the computer as you try to advance the plot and solve puzzles.
The events I've described to you are the prelude to a journey through key events in twentieth century history which took me around two years of fairly constant playing to finally complete. In a quest to keep history from changing, I was lead on a pursuit through time to the sinking of the Titanic, Britain's decryption lab during World War II, the lab where Fleming discovered penicillin, a landing on the moon, and many more puzzle-filled key historical moments. It was another one of those experiences which brought history alive for me in a powerful way. Now, there was an ethical as well as an interactive dimension to it. There was also a text-based sixteen-piece jigsaw puzzle to be solved where the pieces were hidden in various historical settings. I was able to solve some sections in less than an hour. Others kept me stumped for months at a stretch. There were perhaps five occasions where I simply had to look at a walk through of the game to get the solution of a puzzle whose machinations absolutely stumped me or give up on the game entirely. The section on the Titanic was particularly poignant and frustrating. I had no real sense of what that ship was actually like until I could move around part of it and have my surroundings described to me. I suddenly had a much clearer sense of how massive the ship was and a new in site into the horrific disaster. I had no idea that the band kept playing even as the ship sank. A couple of the puzzles in that section kept me there for quite some time as I tried to figure out exactly what Black had changed.
There are literally hundreds of these text-based games around on the Internet. Stories ranging from romance to mystery to fantasy to comedy await you. Games come in different lengths and levels of difficulty. There are games for people of all ages. Not all of them are up to such superb quality as Jigsaw or the excellent adventures produced by Infocom back when this form of entertainment was in its glory. These adventures used to make their best authors a handsome living. Now, most such games are produced and given freely away for all to enjoy since there's not enough money in the art anymore. I've always been a strong advocate for introducing this wonderful mentally stimulating form of entertainment to blind people. It's a fantastic way to learn good typing skills while becoming engaged in something which is far more fun and can ultimately be very meaningful in its own right. The deep satisfaction I experienced upon completing Jigsaw after a two-year struggle was tremendous. These adventures were what truly inspired me to start learning more about my computer and how to type faster on it. I began to type faster not out of a sense of having to master a skill but because I wanted to know what happened next and was impatient to know what my actions would result in. I doubtless learned a lot more about objects and places than I'm fully conscious of while playing these games. Absolutely everything is described and manipulated by words. Having to grapple with the textual world rather than just absorb it like an ordinary story makes for a very interesting and often personally meaningful experience.
There are a few central points for interactive fiction on the Internet which you should be aware of. The first place to look for free text adventures is at:

This is the main repository for the many enthusiasts of interactive fiction around the world. There are likely more than a thousand games awaiting you there. Keep in mind that there are several different programming languages these games are written in. Some are for different computers. You'll need to find interpreters which will both run whichever kind of game you're interested in and will do so in a manner which is accessible to your technology. To play Jigsaw and hundreds of other games written in zcode, you can use the Winfrotztts interpreter. To obtain this, go to:
This special version of Winfrotz will speak the text of games out loud using any Sappi voice you have on your computer. There are many places you can obtain additional voices. Depending on the access technology choices you've made, you may already have several voices to choose from. One thing you should know about Winfrotztts is that it won't do as well at helping you to navigate a game's built-in help and hints. This is accessed by typing in the words "help", "hint", or "about" in most interactive fiction. To successfully use these menus, you have two options. you can simply count how many moves forward through the menu you need to make to select the option of interest. That can be hard when there are a lot of options. The other approach is to use your access technology on top of Winfrotztts. Within the help and hints menus, you hit the N or P key to go to the next or prior option. You then hit the Enter key to select a choice. Using your access technology while within a menu, read through the options with your review cursor. This way, you aren't moving the actual computer cursor and can find out which option it points to. Beside a selected option, you'll find a greater than symbol.
Finally, I should also point you to the only known source for commercial interactive fiction. Malinche Entertainment has produced a number of more lengthy interactive fiction adventures and sells them at a very reasonable cost. If you run into trouble, you can always send the author of the games a request for personalized hints written especially for you. This service is available to all customers. Check them out at:
These adventures aren't all the text-based entertainment there is. You can also find role-playing games like Nethack. It uses text symbols to form maps of the rooms and levels of a massive dungeon which you can adventure in. This can work very well with some screen-readers as well as braille displays. I can't think of a more amusing way to become an expert at using your screen review capabilities. If you become confused, you can rout your review cursor to your pc cursor and you'll find the at-sign representing your game character. Playing Nethack is about as unconventional a use of your access technology as you're likely to ever discover. There are also doubtless other more unconventional text-based games out there waiting to be found. Near the end of 2007 as I was working on this guide, another such treasure was found. It is called Smugglers 3

You can find it at:

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How Accessible Computers Can Enhance Personal Life For Blind People

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