Step 1: Introducing Jackie
Jackie lives with her mother and has chosen a university which will allow her to stay at home while she studies. She is 20 years old, halfway through her first year and she is an extremely bright student. This is partly because when she was at school, she had private tutors to help her, but mostly it's because she studies diligently and reads voraciously.
She has all of her textbooks on audio cassette, which she listens to on a special cassette player that can intelligibly play the tapes at three times their normal speed with minimal distortion. She has been blind for eight years.
Since she was not born blind, Jackie understands sighted concepts like colours and she still talks about colours with her mother in terms of things that were in her life "before". The one thing she does not talk about is the car accident that killed her father and left her blind. She only refers to it indirectly by prepositions: "before" and "after". "This is green like the walls of the living room before." "It's sort of like that pink jumper you wore before, only lighter." And so on.
Jackie is two years behind her peers, due to her difficulty adjusting to life immediately after. She had few friends in school. She spent most of her time with her mother and the rest online.
University has been a good experience for her so far. She has made new friends and she has been able to do much more online:
- Reading class schedules and course notes
- Submitting papers
- Instant messaging and social networking with her lecturers and classmates
She spends over £100 a month on audio books, music and gadgets. Most of her audio books are still on tape, although she is finding more and more interesting reading material that she can download and have her Kindle e-reader read aloud to her.
Music and gadgets, gadgets, gadgets, all from online retailers. It's not that online shopping is necessarily easy, but it's light years ahead of going to the shops and trying to get an assistant's attention.
Also, shopping online is something she can do without her guide dog, Arthur. She dislikes Arthur. He's not as good as her previous guide dogs, Lancelot and Guinevere, both of whom are now retired and live with her and her mother. She tells them apart by their collars: Arthur has a smooth collar, Lancelot's is spiked, Guinevere's is grooved.
Like the majority of blind people, Jackie knows very little Braille. She has a Braille label maker but she can't read Braille books because they are written in grade 2 Braille, which she has never learned.
When Jackie studies, shops and plays online, she uses the latest version of JAWS, a screen reader that integrates with her web browser (she uses Internet Explorer on Windows). JAWS uses an advanced text-to-speech synthesizer to read websites aloud. It also has a mind-numbing array of esoteric keyboard shortcuts for navigating through websites, all of which Jackie has memorised. She can read well-designed websites even more quickly than she can read her audio textbooks.