Reading Challenges of a Visually Impaired Writer in the Digital World: Guest Post by Kerry Kijewski

Visually Impaired Writers

I recently met author Kerry Kijewski on my Facebook page. She commented that she really enjoyed the writing- and publishing-related posts on my page, but she couldn’t always access the links because she is blind. After some back-and-forth discussion, I learned that if I just added the links to the comments section, Kerry could access them with her reading software for visually impaired writers.

That conversation got me thinking about the other accommodations a blind reader/writer might need, so I asked Kerry to share her thoughts with us. Before I met her, I’d never considered how technology helps or hinders the creation and consumption of digital content. Now I know a bit more, and so will you:

Kerry Kijewski @TheIWanderer talks about the challenges of being a visually impaired writer. #blind #writers Click To Tweet

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I was born blind, but I had enough sight when I was younger to read and write large print. In the beginning days of computers I could use large print magnification programs. That seems like another lifetime to me now.

Over time my sight worsened to the point where I was unable to read a screen at all. I had no choice and moved to speech programs, one in particular called JAWS.

I learned braille when I was very young, at the same time I learned how to read print. I used them in unison until my vision worsened and I was strictly a braille user. Braille is less and less common these days with technology everywhere, but braille displays are still used. These are devices that produce electronic braille, like little typewriters. They can be connected to computers and used wirelessly with most phones and other devices.

A few years ago I moved to Mac and I now use my MacBook laptop to write my blogs and search the Internet. The speech program Mac uses is called VoiceOver and is built right into the operating system. This allows better function than others such as JAWS.

I discovered iPhone a few years ago and have been hooked ever since. Again the VoiceOver is built right in and all I had to do was go into “Settings” to activate it. I touch the phone’s screen and move my finger around, from App to App. The phone speaks as my finger moves and I double tap where I want. I am able to text and type with the touch screen keyboard.

As a blogger, writer, and book lover, I seek out people and resources that relate to these things. I came across Change It Up Editing and Writing Services and Candace, and I am glad I did. I was pleased to find a warmth and personal connection from the start. I hesitate sometimes to lead with my blindness and the problems that can cause because I don’t like to seem like a nuisance. When I wanted to read her helpful posts about writing, I found I was often unable to click on the links, mostly on my iPhone. I don’t pretend to understand why it works sometimes and not at others, but I believe it has something to do with screen shot vs. strictly a link. I am glad I spoke up and let Candace know that I was only able to click on her posts if she put them as a link in the comments. She has continued to do this ever since, and I very much appreciate that she took the time to listen to my concerns, but she never would have known if I hadn’t spoken up and explained it to her.

A lot of the Internet is visual. Photos and images are everywhere. This is the part of the Internet I am unable to access. Many sites are not set up to interact with VoiceOver. A mouse is useless to anyone without sight. The keyboard shortcut keys and commands work out most of the time. Sites aren’t set up for strictly keyboard commands. Maybe in the future they will take blind people into account when designing their websites, but Instagram is a reality and phone cameras are everywhere. The world is sighted and visual. I try my best to work and live alongside this world and to make technology work for me as best I can.

I am a shy person by nature and am always learning to speak up more for myself. Writing is the best way I have found to express myself and make my voice heard. I don’t wish to be defined by my disability, preferring to focus on what I have to offer the world. However, I am not ashamed, and I hope to educate people on these things they might not otherwise come across in their own lives. There are plenty of stereotypes out there about people with disabilities such as blindness. I hope to do my part to dispel such myths and make a difference and find a way to contribute to society in a positive way.

I use my ability to express myself through words to let people know I am here and I have something to offer the world. I fear that I won’t fit in and that I will be lost in the mix. I think I face all the same worries and fears about putting myself out there through my writing as anyone else. Some fears are universal. Writing is a frightening thing because you must open yourself up and let people in. It is a risk. I try not to hide behind my words, but instead to open up and be myself. I use words to let the world know who I am and what’s in my heart.

I want to thank Candace for giving me this opportunity to share my story here.

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Kerry Kijewski has a Certificate of Creative Writing and is working on her first novel, which she started writing during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

  • Visit her blog: kkherheadache.wordpress.com
  • Follow her on Facebook: facebook.com/herheadacheblog
  • Connect with her on Twitter: @kkherheadache
  • She’s also on LinkedIn: Kerry Kijewski

 

Thank you, Kerry, for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you let me know how to easily share information with you, and I invite everyone to visit your blog at http://kkherheadache.wordpress.com to learn more.

—Happy Writing,

Candace

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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.

For more great writing and publishing information, check out Change It Up Editing and Writing Services on Facebook, where I share interesting articles and links about writing and publishing.

35 thoughts on “Reading Challenges of a Visually Impaired Writer in the Digital World: Guest Post by Kerry Kijewski”

  1. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Kerry. I worked at a school for the blind (in the IT dept.) for several years. Although I haven’t worked there in a decade, I’m still connected with the community there. My husband was a teacher’s aid for a blind high schooler for four years, now he teaches special education. I was just speaking with my uncle who is blind about getting an iPhone. He’s a tech addict, but won’t use his braille skills. So, when I saw the title of this post, I was eager to read. I’m so glad I clicked this link. I’ve learned so much!

    What I hadn’t considered, despite my experience, is how Web 2.0–this interactive Internet–affects the visually impaired. Java and Flash were in their infancy when I was beta testing access tech and web sites, now every site is loaded with complex coding. You’ve given me a lot to think about to make the sites I manage through work and my own recreational pages better–accessible.

    You’ve got me excited to go to work! Thanks, Kerry and Candace.

    1. Glad to have gotten you excited to go to work. 🙂 I did not attend a school specifically for the visually impaired, but I know people that did. I did have special education and braille teachers all through my school years though and they made all the difference. Thank you to all you and your husband do. I am bad with technology, but it is necessary nowadays. I learn as I go, but I have others in my life such as my blind brother and my boyfriend who are much better with technology. I barely understand it. It can be like another language. I know a lot of blind people aren’t using braille anymore. With technology it is becoming a dying art. I still love it and still use my braille display, but others prefer just the VoiceOver.

  2. I recently noticed that Candace was including a link in the comments section of her posts and wondered why. Now I know! And I too will do the same. Thanks for pointing this out, Kerry! Yours is a great story of perserverance, and proving that when you are meant to be a storyteller, you figure out a way to do it. Wonderful.

    1. I have lots of stories to tell and am glad to finally have a place, my blog, where I can tell them. You can just never be sure others will want to read them, but I am sure going to find out. I figured others would be confused when they kept seeing the link reposted over again in the comments. That made me smile to think of it, but glad we could clear up the confusion for everyone.

  3. I am pleased to be on Candace’s site to talk about myself and my love of writing. Technology makes it a challenge sometimes, sure, but I do my best. Thank you everyone for reading.

  4. Thanks for expanding my understanding of the world just a little bit, Kerry. You have given me important things to think about. And please don’t be shy about putting your voice out there. We’re all part of the same circle.

    You may be interested to know that the owner of the company I work for has been blind since a childhood illness (I believe he can detect the direction of a bright light, but that’s about it). He has run a successful company for many years, became a college professor, and has written two business books and published multiple e-books and articles in business journals. He is 83 now and still comes to the office every day. He is very inspirational to the people around him, and I have no doubt I will be similarly inspired by you one day as I read your novel.

    (no pressure, ha ha!)

    1. I am becoming less and less shy as I write and share my writing more and more with others. It is a powerful feeling to know I am having an effect on others through my words. I am only one small person, but when I write and speak to people like you I feel like I have made a small difference. I know there are many visually impaired people running their own businesses and companies and working successfully. I know a lot who have struggled, including myself, but I believe everyone has a gift or ability to make something of themselves. I am glad you have an example of that in your boss. He sounds like a real hard worker. No, no pressure whatsoever. Lol

  5. Thank you for this post. I’m glad you got the courage to speak up, and that you were willing to share with us. This is incredibly useful to me because I want my own site and blog to both be as accessible as possible. It’s very easy for me to assume that technology has solved these problems, when the reality is that it hasn’t.

    1. Alison, thank you for sharing Kerry’s post with your followers. I, too, was surprised when Kerry told me how difficult it was to access many of the links I shared on Facebook, and the fix was so simple! I’m so glad Kerry agreed to write about this and help all of us make our blogs and websites more accessible.

    1. Yes, so much is visual. It can be frustrating at times, but that’s how most of the world does it and I can understand that. My own brother is a photographer and he creates beautiful images, even if I can’t see them. Thanks for reposting. Your blog looks interesting.

    1. Thanks for sending my post along. I know a lot of sites are created without considering the visually impaired and that’s understandable. I just wanted to do my part. I am glad I’ve given you something more to consider.

    1. That’s great. There wasn’t nearly the technology options when I was a child as there are now. The possibilities for blind children to learn and communicate through technology are endless. I wish you and your granddaughter lots of luck. It sounds like she is lucky to have you.

  6. Hi Candace,

    Thanks so much for helping me to discover Kerry! My sister was born blind and has such a similar story to Kerry’s, it’s uncanny. She wants to become a writer as well. I told her that in this day of self-publishing and eBooks, we could make her dream come true. The only thing holding us back is that she still uses the old fashioned brailler. She has no confidence with technology and has no one who knows how to help her.

    I am going to visit her this month and I can’t wait to read this post and Kerry’s Her Headache blog to my sister. It will give her some much needed inspiration!

  7. Reblogged this on Forget the Viagra, Pass Me a Carrot and commented:
    Something for all of us to consider – I am in the process of converting my health bites to podcast and my first novel – most of us can buy inexpensive recording options and editing packages these days. I have mine from production days and it makes sense even for people who are not sight impaired. My husband prefers audio books and goes through several a week. Great blog thank you and serves to remind us that our audience is diverse.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, the technology options available these days definitely make it easier to do most things. It is amazing how far we have come, but we can’t forget how much more we can still do. Thanks for reposting. I will check out your blog.

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