Driving While Blind

People with guide dogs can still drive, right? In my last post, I noted that I taught my guide dog, Darren, to bark for green and red, so I would know when to go. Of course, I’m just kidding! Darren has no way to know when the light is red or green. And, to satisfy the curiosity of one elementary student, he doesn’t know when the light is yellow, either.

However, years before I had a guide dog, I did drive blind; well, legally blind. I’m not referring to driving unlawfully, but rather, legally driving while legally blind. In the great state of Indiana where I live, there is a program called bioptic driving. An individual can be completely blind in one eye and not have great sight in the other eye, and still be able to drive. By, “not great”, I can’t remember the exact acuity, but it is something much higher than legally blind. A device is mounted on top of glasses that provide a small telescope for the driver to look through, enabling spot-checking objects in the far distance; and the driver must be able to see a minimum of 20/40 through the telescope. Some of you reading this may think this sounds dangerous, but there is a barrage of tests that one must go through to be able to do this. You can’t simply go down to the local BMV, fill out a paper, and start bioptic driving. A bioptic driver candidate must be seen by a specialized doctor, and go through many visual assessments, including visual field tests. The training and tests don’t stop there. After it is determined that the candidate has enough vision to be a bioptic driver, then reaction tests are taken to ensure the driver can go from accelerating to stopping quickly. It ensures the eyes are talking to the brain correctly. Then, the candidate has to go through driver’s training just like a new driver with a specialized bioptic driving trainer. Keep in mind that I had already driven for about five years prior to getting to the point where I could no longer get a typical driver’s license. Even with all of that experience, I had to undergo many hours of training, as if I had never driven before. Once the trainer signs off, then there is a written test followed by a driving test with a specialized instructor, who is familiar with how bioptics work. By the time the training is complete, a bioptic driver typically has twice as much training as a regular driver. And, the statistics on bioptic driving generally show they have many fewer accidents than the general public because they are much more cautious. In fact, I drove with bioptics for many years safe and sound with only one extremely small fender bender – I don’t even think it did any damage to my car. With the right technology and the right training, people can do anything!

There are many similarities to how a person who is blind or visually impaired drives a car and how he/she “drives” (i.e. uses) a computer with assistive technology. People who are blind or have very little usable vision use a screen reader, which is a software product that reads everything aloud from the screen or transmits the information to a refreshable Braille display. People with some usable vision use screen magnifiers to magnify the screen. When those users have even less vision (like me), they use a screen magnifier with speech.

You might be picturing a screen magnifier as a device that sits on top of the monitor and magnifies the screen like holding a magnifying glass over top of it. That’s the general idea, but instead of hardware, it is all done via software. Let me give you an idea of how this works for a user. Below, you will see a web browser with the Interactive Accessibility webpage open.

Interactive Accessibility home page displaying in a browser without any magnification

A fully sighted user sees the entire page all at one time. But, imagine you can’t see the screen and need it magnified. This is what the same screen might look like if you magnified it:

The same Interactive Accessibility home page displaying in a browser, but it is magnified, so only a smaller portion of the screen is displayed. The user sees the IA logo, part of the company name, and the clipped title of a recent news article since magnification is used

You will undoubtedly notice that when the screen is magnified, it is not possible to view the entire screen all at one time. This is a simple property of optics, which is that if something is magnified, the field of view is limited. Therefore, a screen magnifier user has to use the mouse or keyboard to scroll around the screen to find what they are looking for.

Fortunately, most screen magnifiers, like ZoomText, provide specialized tools within the software to find content. For example, ZoomText can list all of the links that are on the current webpage, making it easy for a low vision user to find what they are looking for.

ZoomText Finder listing all of the available options to find including All items, sections, headings, links, images, tables, lists, forms, and controls. The dialog shows the user interface controls used to find these items.

As there are a number of different types of vision loss, ZoomText not only magnifies the screen, but it also enables the user to change the size of the mouse pointer or the color of the screen.

A magnified screen with reverse color contrast on, so that the user sees white on black text instead of black on white text.  All of the colors on the screen are reversed

These are just a few of the features offered by screen magnifiers. Just like driving a car or “driving” a computer, people with disabilities can do anything when the proper tools and training are provided.

Of course, when driving a car, there is an expectation that the correct infrastructure will be in place, such as roads, signs, etc. There are standards in play that make driving a consistent experience for everyone. When “driving” a computer, the same is true. There are standards to ensure that everyone has a consistent experience. Of course, if the standards are not followed, then chaos can ensue. And, in the case of screen readers, screen magnifiers, and other types of assistive technology, it is extremely important to correctly apply accessibility standards and design principles. Just like with bioptic driving, there were qualified instructors and experienced examiners. These people knew what the laws and regulations meant for bioptic driving, how to train bioptic drivers, and ultimately how to verify if the candidate was able to pass the exam by properly driving. In this same way, Interactive Accessibility understands the laws and regulations that affect digital accessibility, and our experts are able to help your company apply those concepts into tangible code and design changes to ensure you have an accessible website. If your company needs help making certain they meet these standards for your website or documents, please consider contacting Interactive Accessibility to make sure that all of your website visitors have a consistent, accessible, and pleasant experience.

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