Archive for October, 2009

Social Media for Seniors — Lessons Learned

October 31, 2009

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past 2 months while working on three projects related to this blog:

  1. “Learning and Sharing on the Social Web”, a lifelong learning course at Yavapai College

  2. “Using Things That Talk”, an assistive technology demonstration session at Yavapai College

  3. 2nd Tuesday AAUW Book Club

General Lessons Learned

  1. Blogs, blogging, and bloggers are still somewhat mystifying, although legitimized by the “Julie and Julia” movie. Some people will readily comment, while most need encouragement. It takes several trips around a blog to understand its structure, find the comment space, and adjust to the theme.

  2. Facebook has driven interest in social media, like “my family wants me to post and view pictures this way, now what?”. While I appreciate the attraction of everybody having a place on the web, similar to the spirit of the recently defunct GeoCities, personally I have several problems with Facebook:
    • I’m turned off by the use of “friend” for every opportunity to snag an email address. This demeans a very important relationship for the sake of advertising placements.
    • The privacy policy is a slipper slope, starting with request for birth date, then more and more info to link up wih “friends”. I do not want to personally segregate people and my personal information, especially when I don’t understand a complex policy.
    • All the interfaces I tried, m.Facebook, lite, and regular were cluttered and sometimes inaccessible with my screen reader

    • As a 30 year veteran of the Internet and early adopter of the Web, I don’t like to see the splitting off and duplication of fan or public sites even if this racks up more interaction.

    So, my Facebook page, says, I hope, that “Susan maintains a blog and an active Twitter stream. Please use these or email”. Uh, and, of course, my vision doesn’t support faces or pictures any more, so I’m outta there.

  3. Many people are perfectly happy with email, specially if they are primarily receivers or have limited interactions. However, anybody on mailing lists with members prone to “reply all” is looking for better solutions, especially if they are coordinators. That’s what drove the AAUW book club above for keeping track of future books, allied information, and questions. I have hopes for, but not yet tried out in a group, the Posterous email-based blogging service
  4. I personally favor using blogs as reference collectors. For example, in the AAUW book club blog are podcasts, articles, and other outlines easily linked in via comments whenever we encounter them. This leaves behind not only a great resource for new members but also for general web browsing. It’s just great to have a place to share a tidbit of information without the fuss of email lists or message replies.
  5. Presenting information in a classroom while visually impaired is easy enough with a helper to run the PC connected to the projector. Since I cannot see much of the projected web page beyond a white on white blur, I just talked away and kept my accompanists on track. However, this got harder when doing the assistive tech demos and the audience members couldn’t all see that well either.

More later when I think of additional or better explanations. By the way, all these activities are lots of fun, engaging me to work hard on my skills, and interact with neat people, whom I thank for the opportunities.

Story: A Screen Reader Salvages a Legacy System

October 30, 2009

This post tells a story of how the NVDA Screen Reader helped a person with vision loss solve a former employment situation puzzle. Way to go, grandpa Dave, and thanks for permission to reprint from the NVDA discussion list on freelists.org.

Grandpa Dave’s Story

From: Dave Mack
To: nvda

Date: Oct 29

Subj: [nvda] Just sharing a feel good experience with NVDA
Hi, again, folks, Grandpa Dave in California, here –
I have hesitated sharing a recent experience I had using NVDA because I know this list is primarily for purposes of reporting bugs and fixes using NVDA. However, since this is the first community of blind and visually-impaired users I have joined since losing my ability to read the screen visually, I have decided to go ahead and share this feel-good experience where my vision loss has turned out to be an asset for a group of sighted folks. A while ago, a list member shared their experience helping a sighted friend whose monitor had gone blank by fixing the problem using NVDA on a pen drive so I decided to go ahead and share this experience as well – though not involving a pen drive but most definitely involving my NVDA screen reader.


Well, I just had a great experience using NVDA to help some sighted folks where I used to work and where I retired from ten years ago. I got a phone call from the current president of the local Federal labor union I belonged to and she explained that the new union treasurer was having a problem updating their large membership database with changes in the union’s payroll deductions that they needed to forward to the agency’s central payroll for processing. She said they had been working off-and-on for almost three weeks and no one could resolve the problem even though they were following the payroll change instructions I had left on the computer back in the days I had written their database as an amateur programmer. I was shocked to hear they were still using my membership database program as I had written it almost three decades ago! I told her I didn’t remember much abouthe dBase programming language but I asked her to email me the original instructions I had left on the computer and a copy of the input commands they were keying into the computer. I told her I was now visually impaired, but was learning to use the NVDA screen reader and would do my best to help. She said even several of the Agency’s programmers were
stumped but they did not know the dBase program language.


A half hour later I received two email attachments, one containing my thirty-year-old instructions and another containing the commands they were manually keying into their old pre-Windows computer, still being used by the union’s treasurer once-a-month for payroll deduction purposes. Well, as soon as I brought up the two documents and listened to a comparison using NVDA, I heard a difference between what they were entering and what my instructions had been. They were leaving out some “dots, or periods, which should be included in their input strings into the computer. I called the Union’s current president back within minutes of receiving the email. Everyone was shocked and said they could not see the dots or periods. I told them to remember they were probably still using a thirty-year-old low resolution computer monitor and old dot-matrix printer which were making the dots or periods appear to be part of letters they were situated between.

Later in the day I got a called back from the Local President saying I had definitely identified the problem and thanking me profusely and said she was telling everyone I had found the cause of the problem by listening to errors non of the sighted folks had been able to see . And, yes, they were going to upgrade their computer system now after all these many years. (laughing) I told her to remember this experience the next time anyone makes a wisecrack about folks with so-called impairments. She said it was a good lesson for all. Then she admitted that the reason they had not contacted me sooner was that they had heard through the grapevine that I was now legally blind and everyone assumed I would not be able to be of assistance. What a mistake and waste of time that ignorant assumption was, she confessed.


Well, that’s my feel good story, but, then, it’s probably old hat for many of you. I just wanted to share it as it was my first experience teaching a little lesson to sighted people in my
own small way. with the help of NVDA. –


Grandpa Dave in California

Moral of the Story: Screen Readers Augment our Senses in Many Ways = Invitation to Comment

Do you have a story where a screen reader or similar audio technology solved problems where normal use of senses failed? Please post a comment.


And isn’t it great that us older folks have such a productive and usable way of overcoming our vision losses? Thanks, NVDA projectn developers, sponsors, and testers.