Re: Visually impaired technical writers

Subject: Re: Visually impaired technical writers
From: Jill Burgchardt <jburgcha -at- PESTILENCE -dot- ITC -dot- NRCS -dot- USDA -dot- GOV>
Date: Thu, 2 Jul 1998 16:03:01 -0600

One of our hotline support people is blind. He reviews the
documents that I write and does a great job. Here's my take on
issues that might come up if he were doing my job with the
equipment he uses.

1. His screen reader software doesn't work on PDF files. He reviews
the Word version. Technical writers supporting web sites
frequently create and add links to pdf files. His system reads
only the "page 1 of 8," "page 2 of 8," . . . "page 8 of 8"
information on each page. I can't imagine how he could use
Acrobat Exchange to add links or even tell whether the file
converted to pdf as expected on a page his system "sees" as blank.

2. His system reads the callouts I attach to graphics, but the
graphics (mainly .tif, and .vsd (Visio)) are a problem. He knows
the system well enough that that's irrelevant for using the
documents. I think a person would need some location cues (verbal
or visual) to modify screen captures or attach callouts to a
specific spot on a graphic. The current system provides neither.

Disclaimer: I don't know if other word processing packages,
graphics formats or auditory screen readers work better than his
system does. A person would have to investigate the capabilities
of specific systems and applications. He's been doing hotline
support for a long time, so it's quite possible his system is out
of date compared to the latest and greatest models. Also, his
system is not designed for a technical writer.

In answer to the original questions:

Can the visually impaired work as technical writers?

Yes, but the type of position *may* be limited by the technology
available to support some tasks. (You might want to contact
companies that market screen readers or Braille displays and ask
them about graphics formats and pdf files.) Best bet: Don't
assume--either way--without checking it out.

Jill Burgchardt
jburgcha -at- pestilence -dot- itc -dot- nrcs -dot- usda -dot- gov

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