Things I Learned About Programming for the Blind

Today, I looked at this very interesting Stack Overflow page and I read the stories of how blind programmers set up their development environments, and what programs they used.

The user from the very first answer (Jared) uses Jaws to read what appears on the screen. He Uses Eclipse because it’s a fully featured accessible IDE but he did not say why it is accessible. For .NET programming, uses Visual Studio 2005 because it’s compatible with Jaws and he is familiar with it. He uses Cygwin for C and C++ programming. He uses synthetic speech for situations where punctuation matters but is complicated.

According to user Jonathan Chacon, it is incredibly frustrating for him as a blind developer because companies think websites should be accessible but not the development environments. Somehow, they think their clients may be blind but not their own developers. Python is in particular not usable for blind developers because of the indentations.

Some blind users use Braille displays that displays Braille using some cool technology that you attach to the laptop and it raises/lowers the Braille dots when you’re on a web page. But it is very expensive. You should not rely on blind users having this technology. Some blind users also have a bit of sight in them, so high contrast displays can help these users see what the layout looks like.

It’s absolutely amazing that so many blind developers shared their stories. But it does raise a few questions. How do you make web sites compatible with Jaws and Braille readers? And how do companies create accessible IDEs?

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