Monday, August 20, 2012

Never Stop Learning

I have got two major personal self-education projects that I am working on. One involves taking some online courses so that I can create accessible iOS (iPhone/iPad) apps. The other one is something that I became able to do last week, as the result of finding a VERY reasonably-priced braille notetaker device on eBay. To be fair, the first thing I did when I saw this Extremely Inexpensive Device (by comparison to its price from the manufacturer) was post about it to a deaf-blind techies mailing list I belong to. But there were no takers -- no one contacted me for additional information, and no one jumped onto eBay to track it down and bid on it in their own right.

So, with hours remaining on the auction, I put in a bid and wound up being the only bidder. That's how I came into possession of a PacMate QX400 with a 20-cell braille display. Refurbished versions of this item from the manufacturer, Freedom Scientific, cost about $1800 more than the closing price of that eBay auction, to give you an idea of what kind of saving we're talking about.

This is a used item and it's an older model of device, which is part of the reason WHY its price was low. But about 99% of it works just fine, and the VERY few glitches I've found so far are simple to work around. I can't get online with it yet, though, but I'm getting some advice on that from a PacMate mailing list I joined.

Anyuway, the long and short of it is that my second self-education project involves learning computer braille, which has some differences from the braille that appears on paper. If I intend to become an assistive tech trainer at some future time, then I am going to have to know this information. And I'm taking it one step farther. I created a text file, containing the text from this news article and then proofread it... tactilely. Yes, I am not satisfied with just being able to read braille visually. I feel like if I am going to really know a tactile alphabet, then I am going to have to have at least a passing familiarity with what it feels like. So I typed the article into a text file, muted the voice (which would have read the file contents aloud to me), and painstakingly went through the article letter by letter.

I know there are legit training courses for blind people who are learning to read braille, and there are exercise drills that, should I figure out how to track them down online, would make my life TONS easier. But I decided that proofreading a short article was still a valid form of practice, and guess what? I was able to identify some typos I made, via this method of proofreading. In fact, I found ALL of the three mistakes I'd inadverdently introduced into the document. I'm certainly nowhere near ready to run out and read War and Peace in a tactile fashion. Not even close. Not even CLOSE to being close. But I still feel like I've accomplished something by bringing some significant brand-new information into my brain. It's information that will help me, should I venture into the field of assistive technology, but beyond that, it's supporting my desire to Never Stop Learning.

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