Many have 2 or 3 monitors on their desks and the bigger the better… ; if I were sighted, I’d probably think the same way. The human brain is great at pattern matching and picking something out of a large field of view, and/or taking in lots of information over a wide area at a single glance, but there’s a paradigm shift for those who are totally blind.
Not only do multiple monitors not give the blind user any advantage, for the most part, screen readers rarely simultaneously monitor multiple windows on the same screen very well, if at all beyond split screen view on newer iPad models running iOS 9 or later. Some times a notification window will visually cover the window I’m working with , and sighted friends who are visiting get confused; voiceover doesn’t care and keeps working just fine.
The first times I heard people complain about how they felt working on a tablet was inefficient because they could only see 1 window at a time, I thought but that’s the only way I can use a computer or tablet. Now there are even apps like Duet that let the user have their iPad serve as a second screen for their MacBook.
Most of these thoughts are just thoughts to consider, to encourage sighted readers to think about how they might use a computer if they ever were blind, but there are some frustrations I have that actually have negative impact on my productivity.
Some times developers think “I’m only going to release my app for the iPad, no one would ever want to use it on a small phone screen anyway.” No one if we were all the same. For those who are totally blind, an iPhone with a Bluetooth keyboard can make a very powerful mobile system of productive awesomeness.
Yes, I can type on iOS touch screens, but I admit i’m not good at it so I just carry around a foldable keyboard and problem solved. I wrote much of this post with my iPhone 6 plus and an iClever foldable Bluetooth keyboard sitting out on my balcony. I even wish apps like iBooks and/or “Voice Dream Reader” existed on the watch using VoiceOver that would make it the world’s smallest book reader and it would work fabulously for blind readers, as well as the music player the Apple watch already is.
Voice Dream Reader now does work on the Apple watch, but the watch forces the listener to use a Bluetooth headset or speaker, so nowhere near as convenient as it could be. Sure, music sounds terrible through the built-in speaker, but I would find it still ok for just reading a book.
On the iPad you can press command-tab on a bluetooth keyboard to switch between apps like on the mac, but not on an iPhone, and to get a list of hardware keyboard shortcuts in the current app you only have to press the option key, this doesn’t work with VoiceOver currently. I would love if there was a iOS wide shortcut that would bring up a screen with a dismiss button with a list of keyboard shortcuts that VoiceOver could browse through, that would be awesome.
If you’re sighted, multiple screens and multiple windows increase efficiency, on the other side there are things that increase efficiency for blind users too. Using headphones instead of speakers help me with faster speech, system sounds and/or Earcons can tell the user about events in the background; I’ve noticed that many sighted people I know have sounds off completely, as for them sounds are only a distraction. I’m also finding on the terminal the less output from a command the better.
Is there anything for the blind that could be an equivalent to a second monitor for the sighted? kind of. I’m finding the Apple watch gives me dynamic information separately from what my iPhone is doing, I wrote about it. Back on the mac, beyond just system sounds, having programs actually speak bits of information even in the background at appropriate times could b very useful.