Blind & Vision-Impaired Free Thinkers


Blind & Vision-Impaired Free Thinkers

Open to all, but primarily oriented to assisting blind and vision-impaired free thinkers with site  navigation issues, theist to tnon-theist struggles, and anything  the community desires. A mix of tech talk & Free Thought.

Members: 5
Latest Activity: May 28, 2013

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Comment by Free Thought Monk on December 13, 2010 at 3:05pm

I would be remiss if I did not mention one additional technological advancement in assistive devices for the vision impaired.  That is, of course, in the area of optical character recognition (OCR). 

Two primary examples of this are the optical book scanner and the 'Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Mobile Reader.

Most people are familiar with scanners but the ability to translate graaphical images of text into speech has undergone a long history of development and refinement, thanks primarily to visionaries like Ray 'Kurzweil.  Early OCR text-to-speech OCR devices were the size of washing machines.  Now, with advancements in computer memory and miniaturization, OCR technology now resides in my pocket-size cellphone with high resolution camera.  This is a stunning advancement and now permits blind and vision-impaired users to shoot a picture of a soup can, book, restaurant menu, snail nail or newspaper and have a human-sounding voice residing in cellphone memory read the text aloud.  This has brought a new level of independence to many of us, though cost is still fairly hefty but is now half of what it was a few years ago.

I admit to being perturbed when I hear blind people call it a "Godsend" or "gift from God".  It is a gift of human inngenuity and science, and visionaries working with the National Federation of the Blind.


Comment by Free Thought Monk on December 13, 2010 at 7:13am

I have been collecting quite a lot of You Tube favorites on free thought, anti-creationism and anti-intelligent design, and cosmology videos if anyone is interested.


Lots of lectures by non-theists, etc.  My You Tube page is called Free Thought Monk.


I am also Free Thought Monk on Twitter, but do not tweet much.


So there 'ya have it in a nutshell, as some of my relatives think I'm nuts anyway for not believing in the Bronze Age Beast who loves us.



Comment by Free Thought Monk on December 13, 2010 at 6:53am


For those unfamiliar with blindness or low vision, I would like to begin as if you are lucky enough to be slowly losing sight, like myself.   As it becomes more and more difficult to read a book or text on the computer due to dimness of letters, or squiggly worm-like patterns obscuring words or lines of text, or blind-spots covering center of sight, it is definitely time to find alternative ways to read text on a computer or a book - and definitely time to make an  overdue trip to an opthamologist!

Assuming the condition cannot be cured and at best arrested, then one must begin to consider several options.

Option 1 is to use screen magnification.  This can range from simply enlarging the fonts on your computer using the "properties" or "personalize" options of your operating system and browser settings, or using the system's "accessibility" option which may have a special magnification feature.  You may also wish to download a variety of screen magnifiers that range from free to quite expensive, but which usually have a free trial period.

Since some aspects of my particular eye malady are quite annoying when trying to focus for long periods - even with magnification - it soon became time to consider my next alternative, a screenreader that would convert text on the computer into speech that I could listen to. This decision was also hastened by my personal annoyance at how cumbersome magnification was to use, at times, when viewing articles and columns of text on a web site.

I eventually began my screenreader experience using so-called "clipboard text-to-speech readers".  After download and installation, "clipboard readers" reside in the background down in the system tray on Windows and simply read aloud to you whatever you cut-and-paste into your clipboard.  For about ten years, this was all I needed.  I would go to a website and hold down the left mouse-button and drag it down through an article, highlighting it as I went, and then I would pause at the end and click the right mouse-button and click "copy" from the list of options.  As soon as it was in the clipboard, I could just sit back and listen to the article or save it and copy more articles and save then for later clipboard reading, too, or even save them as audio files ("wav" or "mp3").  Pretty neat stuff.

But it eventually came time to move on to what is referred to as a "full screenreader" where the big boys and girls who are blind learn to really cope with the highly visually-oriented Internet.

I am still a child in their midst.  They have keyboard mastery that I am only still learning and most do not use a mouse  - it is, for the most part, a keyboard-driven world. 

That is a big hurdle for low-vision users.  We still cling to our mice with our lives, as we have used  a mouse for years, if not decades.

But when total or near-total blindness occurs, what good is a mouse pointer sweeping across the screen if one cannot see the pointer or the screen at all?  I can still make out vague details and have a big red mouse pointer I still can see in my milky peripheral vision remaining in one eye.  But if and when that is gone, too?  No question, I will unplug my mouse and hope to have learned enough keyboard commands on a full-function reader to still enjoy the net - though in a totally different way.

For those interested, here are links to the free, or free versions of,  software I use.

Note: These are for the Windows operating system.


Clipboard Text-to-Speech Reader:

 Full-Function Text-to-Speech & Braille Screenreader:

Other popular" full-function screenreaders" include JAWS, Window Eyes, HAL, System Access to Go, and more.

Other popular "clipboard readers"  include Text Aloud, Ultra Hal and more.

Meanwhile, I sincerely appreciate the courtesy and genuine concern expressed to me, personally, by Neal and Michelle upon my arrival at this website and when starting this group.  I hope we can have interesting free thought discussions here as well.

Comment by Free Thought Monk on December 13, 2010 at 4:04am

 MY HERO, Australian, Michael D. Curran!  He has been blind since birth and is a programmer and musician. He and a fellow blind programmer have developed the free and "open source" program called NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access) which is a full-function screenreader that converts text-to-speech on the computer.  I use it to navigate many programs and Internet websites, and to read email, etc. It costs nothing and competes favorably (and often better) than screenreaders costing 12 to 15 hundred dollars!  It is constantly being updated by contributors world-wide.

Comment by Free Thought Monk on December 13, 2010 at 3:44am

Welcome, Exile! I belong to about four blind and vision-impaired email groups that deal with various aspects of assistive technology and hope to get some of the closet free thinkers over here so we can mix tech  talk with free thought as well.

And, yes, there are many hurdles to overcome in usin the Internet but, luckily for me my vision loss has been gradual and I have enough milky and myopic peripheral vision in one eye to keep me from being totally lost on some websites.  I also have been using computers since before Microsoft.

  Nevertheless, there are many totally blind people I rely on to learn tricks and screenreader keyboard commands to make web navigation more efficient.  Many do not even use text-to-speech but surf the web by Braille, instead.  That really amazes and inspires me!

Comment by Atheist Exile on December 13, 2010 at 3:00am

I've known some amazing people who happen to be blind.  I used to pass by the Braille Institute of Los Angeles several times a day, right there at Vermont and Hwy 101.  I remember when they put in the sound signals at nearby crosswalks.

I know there's a lot that web designers can do make browsing easier for the blind and that it's something that's all too often overlooked.  As helpful and important as the Internet has been to me, it must be even more so to the blind.

I'm not blind but I'd like to understand the impairment better.  I'd also like to be an advocate for friendlier browsing for the blind.  To that end, this group might be a rallying point for feedback to Think Atheist and NiNG.

Comment by Free Thought Monk on December 13, 2010 at 2:22am

Hi, Michelle.  Thank you for being there.  I plan to write a little blurb on my own vision loss and coping with it in my retirement years,  after 25-years working at the Social Security Administration in the San Francisco Region and, nationally, at SSA headquarters in Baltimore.

I will be including a little primer on some of the technologies I have relied on to assist me on the Internet and elsewhere as my eyesight has waned.

Hopefully, others will come share as well, eventually.


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