Learning JAWS at Hull College

JAWS is software designed to enable the blind or visually impaired to use virtually any function of a computer. I think it stands for “jobs achieved with sound”. Although I still have some usable vision, it is likely to degrade over time, so I thought I would look into these assistive tools while I still can.

I am lucky enough to live near Hull College which has  wwhat it calls a Sight Centre.. It is a resource centre within the College, dedicated to help those with sight loss learn computer skills. I cannot fault the staff and facilities. The centre is a relaxed and welcoming, with good access to refreshments in a vibrant FE college atmosphere. The only downside for me has been the actual location of the College. It is in one of the most awkward parts of Hull and it is taking a lot of getting used to in getting to and from my sessions. I chose a Friday as my wife is usually able to drive me there and pick me up. However, yesterday I needed to find my own way back to the city centre in order to get my usualbus home. One of the carers had to take time out to get me to a locationI was familiar with and I then had one of those palm sweating trips along an unfamiliar route into the centre. So, along with learning to use JAWS, I am having to learn new names, voices and routes. Challenges that left me feeling pretty tired yesterday. However, I think it’s important to keep challenging oneself rather than wither into a smaller and smaller bubble of familiarity. With a little planning and a willingness to ask for help when needed, I believe most of us can cope. I will be looking into bus routes, taxis and other options so that I am more prepared next time my regular chauffeur is unavailable!

Back to JAWS – In order to get the most out of it you need to know how to use a computer, its keyboard and programmes like word processing email and internet browsers. Don’t let that put you off, though, as the Sight Centre can train you in all the skills you need to use a computer.  Everyone is assessed and you can move through a well structured ttraining programme at a pace that suits the individual. My JAWS tutor had never used a computer before losing his sight and he now has impressive computer skills.

My progress has been good and the programme apppears to be very effective. You wouldn’t even need a monitor to use any function of a computer. A downside is that learning to use email or browse the internet is difficult as the college network prevents access to such facilities. So I am not able to assess how well these options work yet. However, my typing skills are improving and I can do it in the confidence that I will be easily able to correct mistakes or find out where I left off if interrupted. I am looking forward to seeing how well it helps me to browse and shop online, email friends and workmates, organise my music, audiobooks and use programmes such as Skype for phoning friends overseas.

 

JAWS is, however, very expensive. I hear quoted in the region of 600 pounds – and I think it only works on Windows machines. I will be blogging later on some of the alternatives I have found so far and hopefully provide links to some useful resources. JAWS is an excellent product, but I am not sure I can afford it. I find this a recurring theme in the area of technology for the blind and I will be airing my thoughts on that as well. feel free to join in.

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