This series aims to shed light on the people who are the underlying driving force of change in the Jordanian society: The ordinary citizens with extraordinary ideas, stories or actions.
This week’s article is written by Mohamad Khawaja | @mkhawaja | http://www.spring2sky.com
Blind people in developing counties are usually brought up to believe that most tasks are beyond their control because of their visual disability. Mohammad Al Shar’ doesn’t believe so!
While some people may think that the primary function of ears is to hold your glasses, Mohammed Shar’s has been utilizing his ears in a different way while reading!
Many blind people have gone beyond the odds and found success. Mohammed Al-Shar’, who belongs to this less fortunate segment, has taken his confidence to a new level in challenging his disability by learning and mastering computer programming to help many of his peers adapt with life. Indeed, he is currently working as freelancer web developer after gaining vast experience as a technical support and training executive for Nattiq Technologies, an international firm that specializes in assistive (also called adaptive) technologies.
One of the major assistive technologies developed at Nattiq is a screen reader, which is basically a software program that tells visually-disabled individuals what is being displayed on the screen at any given event. This is accomplished by means of either speech or Braille. The event may be a dialogue box, an edit window, a chat session or even an internet webpage in order to facilitate effective interaction with personal computers, mobile phones and other supported digital devices.
For Mohammed a screen reader is his eyes to the digital world it readers all what it is displayed on the screen and helps him assure what letter he is typing NOW. A PC with a screen reader installed and connected to the internet is enough for him to surf the web and read numerous amount of digital content like WebPages, eBooks, blogs, articles, news feeds etc.., it also allows him to chat with his friends, exchanging emails, play his favorite music and even design websites.
“For me, a computer desktop is like a room!” He once said. “I can navigate it when ‘Mr. Screen Reader’ guides me with details and directions! And this is simply how I explore the digital interactive world. The cursor is one of in my hands; once I place it in any field or highlight on a button or link -by pressing tabs consecutively- I get my laptop speaking promptly updating me where I stand at that exact moment” he explained.
Al-Shar’ used to get help from pedestrians around when he crosses the crowded roads in Amman, Nevertheless, he is now able to understand the primary road grid of Amman and help you to decide on what place to meet at. He was able to teach himself this when he used public transportation to move from one area to another while listening carefully to the bus controller. As the controller called out each upcoming bus stop for riders, Mohammed was making careful notes in his mind.
People commonly prefer restaurants and cafes based on their menu and atmosphere, on the other hand, Al-Shar’ has a preference for those that play joyful eastern music and offer wireless internet! When he arrives Mohammed usually chooses a table next to a power socket to be certain he can continue using his laptop even after its battery runs down.
We hang out together from time to time. I remember how dynamic on the telephone he was that day, especially with his prompt perfectly spelled text message replies that usually end with a proper punctuation marks and a tilted smiley face 🙂
Though he wears no watch, he still arrived on time, with the support of the screen reader that reads scheduled reminders on his mobile. The friendly waiter led him directly to the peaceful corner of the restaurant that he enjoys the most, he greeted the waiter with a smugly smile before ordering a dish of “Maqlouba.” During the delicious meal Mohammed talked about one of his previous business trip to Oman and told me how the Omani trainees had become extremely interested in learning more about advanced techniques in screen reading tools. “They found my experience something to build on,” he said with a smile while holding the spoon firmly in his right hand.
For Mohammed, an outing is not perfect without surfing the web. He pulled out his laptop out of its carrying case, and switched it on. Through listening carefully to screen reader software uttering the characters he hit on the keyboard, he was able to position his hands on the initial typing position -where his forefingers pointing at “F” and “J” keys- just like what professional typers do.
Shortcut keys also help Mohammed access so many programs, actions and settings very quickly. Moving his fingertips quickly on the keyboard, he opened the web browser. There was always a robot-like voice going out of the speakers saying: “Address bar” … “double-u double-u double-u dot…..”. He Logged on google.com. “Web programming is my life’s joy” he said. “After reading so much tutorials and eBooks I’m now able to design professional websites myself, but I still need little support from sighted peers so that I could use proper colors for the websites I develop”.
In one of his blog posts, “My Perception of Colors,” Al-Shar’ writes: “Being blind since birth, I never really had an idea about the meaning of colors other than the theoretical perception gained by my imagination and the common knowledge I got from school, although it wasn’t much.” But with time and the sincere support and guidance Mohammed received from his friends, he began to “image” colors based not on where they exist (because he has never seen objects to link colors to) but rather on a color’s heat! “Red is a seductive color,” he said. “Cold colors are soothing and calm; they give you a feeling of tranquility when you look at them. Pink is a cheerful color, cold and sweet… It’s the color associated with girls. They generally like pink! This is the most appropriate way for me to define colors,” he explained.
After two hours of exciting talk, Al-Shar’ had to leave. I help him picking up a taxi since his mobile started alerting for the next meeting scheduled right after!