Sarah's wonder vision

September 18, 1998

Last month Sarah Morley, a 26-year old psychology research student at the University of Hertfordshire, jetted to New York. In an Oscars-style ceremony, Stevie Wonder handed her a $150,000 cheque, writes Tony Durham.

"I was told two days before I left," she says. "I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement so it was not public knowledge. There was a press conference for an hour and a half in the Plaza Hotel. I missed some of the dinner being interviewed live on TV by CNN. Then Stevie Wonder gave a two-hour concert which was fabulous."

The prize was not for a starring role in a movie. Ms Morley's achievement was to write a computer manual. Her guide to Microsoft Windows 95 is available in print, on disc, as a set of six audio tapes, and in Braille.

Her success in writing a Windows 95 guide for blind people won her the Vision Pioneer award, one of the three newly-established SAP/Stevie Wonder Vision Awards for people who are using technology to help integrate blind and visually impaired individuals into the workplace. The awards will be made annually.

Blind people can use Windows despite the mass of visual information on the screen. They have the choice of at least eight different screenreaders, products which read text from the screen either as synthetic speech or electronic Braille. Working without a mouse is quite easy: there are keystroke equivalents for almost every command.

The difference is that if you are blind you cannot blunder your way through. "Besides knowing the keystrokes, you have to have an understanding of what Windows is about," says Ms Morley. This is where her manual Windows 95 Explained comes in.

Instead of trying to provide instructions for every action a person might wish to perform, it begins with a high-level overview of basic Windows concepts. "Mainstream Windows manuals all leapt into advanced processes much too quickly, even for sighted users," she says, hinting that her book might appeal to anyone who has learned to get by in Windows but still wonders what it is really all about.

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