At The Speed of the Screenreader: A Blind Programmer Shares His Method

At The Speed of the Screenreader: A Blind Programmer Shares His Method

I love stories of humans who have managed to develop a closer bond with the machines. The optimist in me believes wholeheartedly that humankind is that much closer to the Singularity every time a new prosthetic arm is developed! Which is why this piece by Finnish programmer Tuukka Ojala, over at the blog for Vincit, his software development company, is THE BEST.

Ojala, who is blind, describes the nuts and bolts of his working procedure. Most of his strategies offer an experience that seems closer to the way a computer might “think” than that of sighted monitor-and-mouse users. (In fact, he’s long used a screen reader that fires off what he’s working on at a staggering 450 words per minute!) Ojala says he is most at home on the command line, the most text-based basic access point to a computer’s programming. But unfortunately, too much of his working style is dictated by a lack of accessibility among his tools (which is a problem in the industry).

“[G]iven my love of the command line, why am I sticking with Windows, the operating system not known for its elegant command line tools? The answer is simple: Windows is the most accessible operating system there is. NVDA, my screen reader of choice is open source and maintained more actively than any other screen reader out there. If I had the choice I would use Mac OS since in my opinion it strikes a neat balance between usability and functionality. Unfortunately VoiceOver, the screen reader built in to Mac OS, suffers from long release cycles and general neglect, and its navigation models aren’t really compatible with my particular way of working. There’s also a screen reader for the Gnome desktop and, while excellently maintained for such a minor user base, there are still rough edges that make it unsuitable for my daily use. So, Windows it is.”

In addition to coding like a demon, Ojala has taken up the mantle of general accessibility consultant at his job: “Or police, [depending] on how you look at it.” He has ideas about how to make coding, and web pages in general, more accessible for users who are blind or visually impaired. I’m looking forward to reading more of his blog, for the inside scoop on accessibility, as well as the wonderful world of coding. (Singularity, here we come!)