Robbie and a Computer Course: A Case Study on Computing Access for Students who are Blind

Date Updated


My name is Robbie and I am blind. I have been using computers for several years and consider myself "computer-proficient". I access the computer via a combination of speech output (Jaws for Windows™) and a dynamic Braille display. I am presently enrolled in the Computer Programming program at the local community college. One of the courses required in the program is Database Concepts. The Database Application used in this course is Microsoft Access, an application that is run under Microsoft Windows™, a point-and-click environment.

Access Issues

The text for the course assumes that all students are sighted. All the examples and instructions involve the use of the mouse. The instructor was not aware of any keyboard shortcuts to accomplish the necessary tasks. I needed to develop strategies for finding keyboard shortcuts and suggesting an accommodation in the event that there were no keyboard shortcuts for certain tasks.


Together with the Assistive Technology Specialist at the Disability Support Office, I consulted technical support from Microsoft and Freedom Scientific and compiled and memorized a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts. In addition, I joined a listserv for blind computer users where I was able to obtain several helpful suggestions for accomplishing tasks where keyboard shortcuts were not available. In situations where the team was not able to determine a method for me to accomplish a task on my own, an assistant, usually the Assistive Technology Specialist, would perform the task with the mouse, based on my instructions. These ideas were presented to the instructor who expressed her willingness to work with the Disability Services Office and the Assistive Technology Specialist to arrive at the best possible accommodation for me.

In summary, the accommodations that were made in this class were:

  • Extended time to complete many of the assignments due to having to schedule time with the Assistive Technology Specialist and researching the keyboard shortcuts.
  • Assistance in performing tasks when keyboard shortcuts could not be identified.
  • Access to an adapted computer station.


This case demonstrates that:

  1. Close collaboration with the disabled student services office can facilitate creative and reasonable accommodations.
  2. An Assistive Technology Specialist can be instrumental in providing computer accommodations when one-to-one assistance is required.
  3. Specialized discussion lists on the Internet provide access to people who have solved some computer access issues for students with specific disabilities.
  4. The accessibility features in software can be difficult to locate and use.
  5. When software is purchased, the procurement officer should inquire about accessibility features and use this information during the decision-making process. Ideally, all electronic and information technology purchased is accessible to people with disabilities, with or without the use of assistive technology.