Blind Reader Enlightened
Online, She Listens To The Courier
Deb Young loves reading The Courier. Every week she gets a cup of coffee, settles into her comfortable chair, puts her computer keyboard on her lap and “reads” the paper. Young is blind. She uses a screen reading program that speaks the written words to her.
Young lost her vision in 1993, but she has learned to use technology to keep her world alive. She listens to books on tape. Her fingers dance over the keypad of her smart phone, which is equipped with voice recognition and spoken cues. She can text, and the phone has a program that recognizes colors, so she can choose what to wear by herself. The phone has a money identifier too, but she doesn’t use it much in Glasgow, because people are so honest.
“I was absolutely delighted when I heard The Courier was online,” Young said. “Trying to sit down and get someone to read to you is ridiculous. I want to be independent. I can sit down and read it like everybody else does.”
The program Young uses is JAWS, Job Access With Speech. She learned it when she lost her vision while she was working at the BLM office in Glasgow. Looking for ways to stay employed, she traveled to Grand Forks, N.D., to a two-week school for the blind. They taught Braille there but she found it very frustrating, something better learned as a child. She took to the computer program though.
Young demonstrated the program, and it takes a bit of getting used to. A male voice pronounces the words on the screen, but very rapidly and without any inflection. It reads dates like separate numbers: 2013 is two-zero-one-three. But she’s used to it and calls it her lifeline.
The Courier-computer interface is not yet perfect, as we discovered while Young was saying she wished more of the newspaper were online. She enjoyed the lead stories but wanted the cop report, the births and deaths and the community correspondents. They are online but a critical graphic, the one leading to the whole page view, is not labeled so her cursor can recognize it. When the pages were accessed for her, she was delighted.
“Ohhh, that’s what I’ve been missing,” Young exclaimed. “I can’t believe it. I just flippin’ can’t believe it. This is awesome. I care because this is how I get my news. I don’t get out and around – and I’m nosy.”
It’s a challenge for the Courier’s computer whiz to overcome very soon.
Young was diagnosed with multifocal coraditis, a progressive disease that causes holes in the retina, when she lived in California and took an eye test for her driver’s license. She was surprised to find out that she had almost no sight in her left eye; the right eye had been compensating. A specialist in San Francisco, one of two in the world for this disease, assured her that while there was not much treatment available, she could possibly be very old before she lost the vision in the other eye.
Unfortunately, her 12-year-old son, Travis, was diagnosed with cancer in 1992, and the stress enhanced the disease. Within a month she began losing the vision in her right eye and it was gone in a year. She can see a bright light with her peripheral vision.
Young developed systems to cope with blindness during the 15 years that her vision deteriorated. She started with a magnifier, then went to the computer. She continued to work until 2008, when she had to take a disability retirement after 23 years as an administrative assistant at the BLM because her kidneys quit functioning. After a year of dialysis, she had a kidney transplant in 2009, a near-perfect match.
“It’s a challenge day by day as things change,” she said.
Her husband, Terry, has been in Missouri for a couple of months inspecting the welding on pipelines. Although she has help from her sons, she likes to do things on her own. These days she uses the Transit bus to get to a job that gets her out of the house and around other people. She does document shredding for the Mental Health Clinic.
“The biggest factor in the job is confidentiality,” she said. “I was a prime candidate.”