The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

December 27, 2008

disABILITY: Painfully updating my computer skills

As a blind computer user, I don’t use a mouse to navigate my way through program functions, menu systems or web pages. Instead, I use the keyboard for everything. I am able to use the number pad for a lot more than writing calculations. I also make use of the function keys and hot key combinations to get to different elements on a page.

The fact I have access to most everything sighted people have access to on a computer makes me happy.

From time to time, though, I do face barriers. There are times when I don’t have equal access to software programs or websites, although the community of blind lay people and manufacturers are working to close the disparities between sighted access and blind access as quickly as possible. I have to say we’ve come a long way in the accessibility of technology as compared to even five years ago.

Learning key commands wasn’t a problem for me. I grew up with access to a computer running DOS. When I got a computer of my own and learned to use the keyboard and navigate by use of keystrokes rather than sliding a mouse controller to and fro over a rubber mat, I did fine. Using the keyboard is as possible to do in Windows as it was in DOS, it’s just that most people don’t know how to do it. Most people like the ease of clicking a mouse on icons and not having to worry about memorizing key commands for everything.

In all reality, keystrokes have become pretty second nature to me, so I don’t feel slighted when I have no mouse to grab for on my computer desk. I’ve been at this for more than a decade, though, so things are quite habitual by now. Recently, I made changes to a number of keystroke functions on my keyboard. Because I am doing work pertaining to medical transcribing, I need to be quick on the keyboard. It’s one thing to type fast, but it’s another thing to type fast when you are editing your work and switching your hands between typing on the main keyboard and navigating by way of the number pad way off to the right of the keyboard.

In a field like medical transcription, time plus speed equals money.

I knew I had to make the changes and I knew it would be a real headache and slow me down in a big way, but I went ahead and did it.

It was a horrid transition. I had a headache after the first, second and third days of making the change and I got so little done. It was a sacrifice I made, though, because I knew it would yield great results in the long term.

At this point, I am doing better with the new means of navigating around my computer programs and the Internet, although I am still a tad slow.

It seems so contradictory that I have to mess myself all up and take away from my current productivity in order to get faster. Like many things in life, though, you have to take the plunge at some point, do what feels difficult, or very marginally tolerable, in order to reap rewards.

So here I am, making myself as productive as possible by making myself thoroughly confused and slow. Once I get a feel for it, though, it will be as second nature as it was when I was using the old keystrokes that I first learned years ago. This time, however, I will be much faster.

Change is a challenge, whether it’s on a keyboard or on the path of life. Change takes patience. In my case it takes a lot of patience with myself. Unfortunately, being patient with myself isn’t my strong point, but this has shed some light on my weaknesses and I’ve had some time to ponder how to strengthen those weaknesses.

There’s always so much to learn when you face a challenge, whether self-imposed or not. Struggles can go a long way to making you stronger, if you let them. Cliché, but true.

Kate Pavlacka, a graduate of the State University College at Oneonta, has been totally blind for 11 years.