Wednesday, October 05, 2016

#Writing Wednesday: #Blind #Writers And #Authors

"How do blind people deal with the writing and publishing process?"

I've been asked that question - or some form of it - so many times I've lost count.

First of all, let me make one thing clear: there are as many different ways for blind writers to approach the writing process as there are for sighted writers. Now, most of the time people do take this in to account, and spacifically ask how "I" approach it, but I have had the question worded in the way I posted it above too, as if all blind writers are the same. We aren't. No writer is exactly the same, whether they can see or not.

A sighted writer may write in a notebook first, and then type it up. A blind person has the option to do something similar using a hand-held writing frame. Some sighted writers like to use an old typewriter, and worry about getting the stuff typed up later. Blind writers have the option to do the same using a perkins brailler (a very chunky braille writing machine, which looks a bit like an old typewriter, but has a lot less keys). Other sighted writers immediately go down the technology route, using phones or tablets, or simply skipping straight to using a word processor on a laptop or desktop computer. Again, the same is true of blind writers, though admittedly there are some devices that aren't accessable to the visually impaired, and special software is sometimes required to make others accessable. Like I said, it varies.

Personally, I hate the hand-held writing frames, because they're a little awkward to use, in my opinion, and most of them require you to write each character backwards. Using one of those is a last resort for me, and when I do I keep it really short. Partialy because I have to, since my writing frame is a small one (it's around the size of a credit card, though a little thicker) and partially because I find it takes so much work to write even a short note. Besides, with the need to remember the characters backwards, combined with how fiddly I find using the frame, I find anything longer than a few words is forgotten by the time I've done a few words anyway. However, there are blind writers who do use this option, some of whom will quite happily set up a larger frame and write out a full sheet of paper in this manner. Like I said though, this option isn't for me, and if I'm forced to use it, I simply take down a couple of key words that will jog my memory later. Mostly I try to avoid being forced to use this option though. To me, this is like the sticky notes some sighted writers use to remind them of key points, or make short notes to remind them later of an idea they didn't have time to work on.

Then there's the brailler. I don't really mind using the brailler, and can quite happily tap out pages and pages on it. However, I rarely do. Why? Well, for one thing, the brailler isn't very portable since it's so heavy, and mostly I figure I might as well use the PC if I'm at home and save the effort of typing up what I already "typed" on the brailler. But also because that thing is quite noisy. You know how noisy the old typewriters used to be? Well, maybe you don't, but if you don't then just ask anyone who dealt with them, and they'll tell you. Anyway, imagine several of those tapping away in unison, and you'll have some idea of the noise of the brailler. This means I can only use it at certain times, unless I want some rather upset neighbours, and since my hours are all over the place, it means I'd be limited as to when I could work on my writing projects if I made the writing on the brailler phase a regular part of my writing process. Instead, the brailler is a sort of backup option for me, which I very rarely use. There are, however, some people who prefer to do their first drafts on a brailler, much like there are still sighted writers who like to use an old typewriter, or who prefer to write their first draft by hand.

When I need to write something and am not at my computer, the option I generally go with these days is to use Apple Notes on my iPhone, which always has voice over (Apple's text to speach software) turned on. This is a relatively new addition to how I do things, since I've only had the iPhone for about a year, and it took me several months to get to grips with the touch screen keyboard, and I still don't like to use it for long writing sessions, since touch screen keyboards are annoying. Yes, I know there's the option to dictate to Apple Notes, but if you've ever tried this, you'll know it's equally frustrating, since the voice to text software doesn't always get your words right. Still, I do write short pieces - a scene here and there, or a short poem - and send them to myself via my iPhone. I don't consider it an important part of my writing process though, since mostly I know I'd get up and go to the PC if I didn't have the option to use Apple Notes... Just like I did before I had it. I know of a few sighted writers who do the same, whether they use it for just short pieces like I do, or write longer pieces.

The important tools for me are Microsoft Word and JAWS. I could use Open Office instead of Microsoft Word if I wanted to, but I'm more used to Microsoft Word, and since I have a copy, I use it. JAWS stands for "Java Access With Speach" (or something like that) and is my screen reader. It's how I know what's on my computer screen, whether I'm using Microsoft Word to work on some writing, browsing the internet, or pretending to be doing something important while really playing GMA Cards or BG Scrabble (card and scrabble games for the PC, which are designed to be accessable to the visually impaired). As long as JAWS is working, I can just type away happily, and then have JAWS tell me what I just wrote. I was taught to touch-type while I was still in school, and am a fast typist as a rule... Unless I'm working slowly because I'm thinking. Typing straight in to Microsoft Word is my prefered method of writing, both because I can write fastest that way, and because I then have the option to edit at will (something more difficult with the iPhone, and even more so when it comes to using braille). Plus, since I use the internet to publish, it means my work is already right there on the computer for me to use. I think, if I'm not mistaken, this is the prefered method of most sighted writers these days too, though they obviously don't have JAWS. I happen to know that a couple do use screen readers - cheaper ones than JAWS though - as an option for helping with proof reading their books, so what they do isn't all that different from my own method.

This brings us nicely to the publishing process...

To be honest, I haven't a clue how other blind authors deal with the publishing process. I can only tell you how I do it. In fact, I'm not even entirely sure how most of the sighted authors I know do things.

Anyway... Remember how I said JAWS lets me use the computer? Well, there are a few things it can't handle. Visual things like images, for example. When it comes to the things JAWS can't handle, I simply grab sighted help. Nine times out of ten, this sighted help is my hubby, Kelly. He acts as my eyes for things JAWS can't handle, or things off the computer (like checking out the proofs for my paperbacks) and puts up with my frustration when I get cranky about JAWS not being willing to do something I think it should do. However, things JAWS can handle, I do myself.

That's basically it. I hope this answers the questions everyone has on the subject. If not, however, feel free to ask about whatever I didn't explain about in the comments section of this post. Also, feel free to post any comments you have.

Please note that this invitation to ask questions extends to other things as well, and not just my writing and publishing methods. Don't fall in to the trap of those involved in the "How Eye See It" campaigne. You can't put on a blindfold and understand how things work for a blind person. The blindfold test is not an accurate one, since anyone trying a new method of doing something is obviously going to find it difficult, whether they're blind or not. If you want to know how I manage to do something, just ask, and I'll do my very best to answer.


IntenseGuy said...

You do amazingly well - and slowly the technology should improve and make it easier - month by month.


Jeanie said...

This post is really interesting. I guess I always figured you probably used the computer for writing but wasn't sure on spell check or those things. I guess long ago I had heard of the Brailler but I had forgotten about it.

You're right -- everyone has their own way of doing things whether it is writing by hand, typewriter, computer or Brailer. As long as you write...!

Victoria Zigler said...

Yes, every day there seems to be something new. Not all of it is good, I think, but most of it is, and most of it is potentially very useful, especially to those with disabilities or health issues that make doing some things difficult.

I'm glad you found the post interesting. I agree: it doesn't matter what process people use, as long as they get the thing done. Especially when that thing gives them as much pleasure as writing gives me.

Rita said...

As you know, I don't usually comment on your writing posts but this one grabbed my attention. I learned about systems alien to me and how you manage to do all that you do. :) :) Thanks for sharing that! Where there's a will there's a way, right?

Victoria Zigler said...

Yep, where there's a will, there's a way!