The Blind Leading the Blind

Genevieve Nelson
Interactive Developer
The C2 Group sits down with Michael Kazmierski Dunn for an overview of JAWS, the most popular screen reader.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet Michael Kazmierski Dunn, a blind student from Alma College in Michigan. Michael came to C2 to job shadow me in order to learn more about web development and web accessibility.

Throughout the day, we discussed programming languages, accessibility best practices, and we even conducted a mock accessibility audit of a website. I introduced him to some online tools, such as the WAVE checker and the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines. I believe he found this time to be valuable.

One unintended byproduct of Michael's visit was that I learned a great deal about how Michael navigates his computer and the internet using JAWS, the most popular screen reader. Here are a few takeaways:

  • Michael uses Internet Explorer 11 exclusively to navigate the internet because it works consistently with JAWS.
  • He has a fear of making online purchases because he doesn't know if the experience will be accessible – or even possible. He prefers to call or email instead.
  • Michael is an iPhone user, but doesn't like to surf the web or text on his phone because the keyboard is not tactile.
  • There are many ways to customize JAWS (voice speed, intonation, accent), but some of these options are not easily changed. It is best to assume the factory defaults are being used.
  • Michael is self-assured and eager to learn; he will make a great advocate for web accessibility.
  • Last but not least, JAWS pronounces the file type ".gif" with a hard "G", so I am taking that as Gospel truth.

In short, I really felt like Michael was helping me to see my blind spots as a web developer, and for this I am grateful. The more I can learn about how a user with a disability interacts with the web, the more inclusive my websites will be. I hope that this is just the beginning of many such learning experiences.

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