How many blind people use the internet

Surfing the internet like blind people

Surfing, chatting, looking for information - in the age of the Internet, all of this is possible with a few clicks of the mouse. It is more difficult for the blind. Nevertheless, there are many ways for them to find their way around the computer and the network

"Shit, everything lost!" Scolds Lukas. "Are you out of soldiers?" Asks Philip. Lukas and Philip are sitting in front of the computer. Two boys, 15 and 16 years old, absorbed in a computer game. Nothing conspicuous at first glance. Except that Lukas doesn't control the computer with the mouse, but only with the keyboard. Because Luke is almost blind.

Math problems on the computer

Lukas and Philip suffer from a hereditary eye disease that severely restricts their field of vision. When you look at a computer screen, you see almost nothing. Nevertheless, the two of them regularly surf the Internet, chat, play games or do their homework on the computer. "We do a lot with the computer, including in class. We even get our maths as a file," says Philip.

How does that work ?, one wonders as a sighted person. - "First you have to differentiate between the visually impaired and the completely blind," explains Klaus König. He is a teacher at the school for the blind and visually impaired in Hamburg and teaches the students how to use the computer. There are various aids for this.

Huge font for the visually impaired

Children and adolescents who are not completely blind can use a special program to enlarge the font on the screen: twice as large, three times as large or even nine times as large. The trouble is: If only a few words are visible on the screen, it's easy to lose track. This is why the visually impaired need particularly large screens. You can also see the mouse pointer more easily if it is particularly large and bright yellow.

Visually impaired children are usually very good at typing on the computer keyboard because they learn to type at an early age. "Chatting is not a problem, they can easily talk to five other users at the same time," says Klaus König, "because they type much faster than any sighted child!" But how can the completely blind read what is on the computer screen? There are tools for this too.

Small device with a big impact: the Braille display

One of them is the so-called "Braille display". This is a small device that can be connected to any normal computer and placed in front of the normal keyboard. In the Braille display, small pens push upwards and each form a line of the text in the so-called braille (which is also called Braille or - after its inventor Louis Braille (1809-1852) - "Braille"). The blind person scans the Braille display with his fingers and reads the line. With a control button he can jump to the next line. The pins then push themselves up again in a new arrangement. In this way, the blind person can go through and feel the text on the screen line by line.

Smart computers that read aloud

The voice output works faster. A special program, the "screen reader", reads the text that is currently on the screen to the blind with a computer voice. Pictures and graphics can of course neither be reproduced by Braille display nor by voice output.

This is why it becomes difficult with some Internet sites. Many of them are structured in columns, so that different articles are next to each other. You can't just read an entire line from left to right here. But there is also help for this: A formatting program brings the page into a form suitable for the blind, throws out all graphics and photos and shows the texts on the website one below the other.

This is what it sounds like when a blind person lets a "screen reader" read this article to him. Somewhat unusual - but a great help for the blind!

Also play and chat

"You have to fumble your way into it a bit. But as soon as you know how a page is structured, it goes very quickly," says 16-year-old Philip. Thanks to the computer voice that reads everything to him, he always knows exactly where he is reading on the website. Like everyone else, he can write messages, "grudge" friends (this is what the inventors of the Internet portal schü called the combination of "greet" and "cuddle"), and read reports - just looking at photos, that's not possible.

And what about computer games? Old-fashioned, text-based games like chess can be played by anyone who is blind. But even newer games are not impossible: Lukas, for example, likes to play the online strategy game "The Tribes" for life. As a blind person, you can cope with that quite well. Unless you've just lost everything - like Lukas did earlier. And that could really have happened to anyone.

more on the subject

The homepage of the Hamburg School for the Blind with lots of pictures, information and useful downloads

Detailed information on how the visually impaired can use the Internet and computers. The entire site was created by a blind man.