Please find the audio version of this post here:


Do you remember the silly questions like “What would you rather give up: Facebook or Sex?”  Silliness I know but “What if you lost your vision but you didn’t want to give up using the internet?” That is a very real question that was front and centre for me when I met blind [so she calls herself] local Kelowna artist Ruth Bieber this week.

Our local Kelowna Art Gallery opens a very unusual exhibit this week: Just Imagine is a show featuring works of artists who are blind or partially sighted curated by Ruth Bieber who has a parallel exhibit at the Rotary Centre of the Arts showing her own paintings and the collaborative pieces she did together with Rena Warren

Here are some images from the exhibit at the RCA featuring Ruth and Rena’s work – make sure you go, see and feel these amazing paintings!


As some of you may know I am very interested in the arts and exploring the visual artist in me is always on my to-do list. I am also very aware of all of my senses and how important they are for my life. The more I get into Social Media and creating websites the more I am aware of my sense of vision.

We hear so much about the importance of visuals – 2012 was the year of Pinterest and Instagram – when we buy TVs, tablets and smart phones the screen resolution is an important factor.

Just imagine surfing the internet with your eyes closed,

  • no screen
  • no mouse
  • no touch screen
  • only a keyboard to navigate
  • only your speakers as output

Ruth was so  kind to show me how she uses her computer:

The differences start with booting up the computer. [The visual part of the videos is secondary – try closing your eyes and try to imagine Ruth’s experience]

Note: I noticed that Windows8 seems more accessible to the blind – I found a review about this by

Now that Ruth fired up her computer she does what most of us do first, she goes to check her email. As someone that uses the mouse extensively it’s hard to imagine doing absolutely everything with key combinations.

I don’t know about you but I thought about all the useless email I’m receiving every day and how I delete a lot of them within seconds of reading the subject or glancing at the preview.

In the next video you can see Ruth navigate through her own website, Granted, the site is built on a vistaprint template that has its own limitations but I think most other sites would have similar problems. Ruth’s pages are very clean, no banners, unnecessary links, pop-ups or anything. The site is even responsive but listen to it….

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Find the full 8 minute version of my interview on my YouTube channel[/box]

I hope you took the time to listen to these videos. Ruth’s experience makes me re-think webdesign and the whole trend towards more visuals on the internet.
If you are a web developer with experience in creating websites accessible to users who are blind, please contact me. I would love to learn more about this!

For me the next step is to explore how people who are visually impaired  use Social Media sites. Right now I can imagine using Twitter but sites like Facebook and Pinterest with all the images and links seem to be impossible.


Web designers, do you keep users with different abilities in mind? [button link=”” size=”small” window=”yes”]Click to tweet[/button]

Do you know how people who are #blind or partially sighted use #socialmedia sites? Please let @tweet4ok know [button link=”″ size=”small” window=”yes”]Click to tweet[/button]


Published by Frithjof

Digital media strategist, coach, community manager and CEO of BlueBird Business Consulting. Blogger, podcaster, content creator and teacher with a passion. Favourite quote: “To succeed in the business of the future we have to become the very people we are trying to reach” ~ Brian Solis

Join the Conversation


  1. I used to work for GW Micro, the company that makes Window-Eyes. I don’t know which screen reader Ruth was using, but they have been a great stride in helping blind people get an education, find jobs, and have long-term employment. And working with blind people has also taught me about the importance of clean and accessible web design.

    Nicely done.

  2. When I was in “the biz,” Jaws was made by Freedom Scientific. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoft bought either FS or Jaws. It’s been 7 years since I worked in that industry.

    GW Micro is at, and they’re based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, about 90 minutes north of me here in Indy. Still a good company and doing some great work.

  3. Eriko Watanabe, one of the artists in the exhibit I mentioned sent me this comment by email:

    “Also, Ruth sent me the links to your blog post featuring how she navigates the Internet using her speech software. It was quite interesting for me to read your report; a lot of what we do with such assistive technologies becomes such a natural part of our daily life and we often don’t think much about how differently we do certain things from sighted friends. So I appreciate your input from a sighted perspective!

    Another thing I thought that might be interesting to introduce you and possibly your blog readers, where the Theme PCs and blind people is concerned, would be a braille display. Did Ruth show one to you? I am not sure if she has got one. I did not see any mentioning of it on your post unless I have overseen it. On a braille display, there is a thin strip consisting of a certain number of cells for braille, usually either 40 cells or 80 cells, depending on the size of equipment. When it is connected to your PC, the information on the PC screen will be turned into braille data and will be shown on the strip of the braille display so that a blind person can read it with the fingertips. The braille dots on the display are electric dots, so they will pop up and down as you scroll through the PC screen; they won’t stay permanemtly like on paper. This way, a blind person can not only listen to what’s on the PC screen using a speech software, but also read it with the fingertipgs. Like I said, there are different sizes of braille displays available; on a 40-cell display, you can read about half a line at a time, on an 80-cell display, possibly a whole line. The cool thing would be to have a display with multiple number of strips on it, for instance 2 strips, 5 strips or even 15, so that one can have accewss to the information of more than 1 line at a time in braille format. But for now 80 Cells is the max. I think a lot has to do with the production costs; an 80-cell braille display can cost easily over 10 thousand dollars! A braille display will not work with visual information such as photographs, graphic images charts etc., but it works wonderfully with text information. You can read a good part of internet pages, email, Word documents, excel data, etc.
    The prerequisite is of course that you can read and write braille, which is not always the case with all blind individuals. There is a braille literacy crisis in every country; the new assistive technologies are replacing braille, and braille is taught less and less to blind children. I personally find it very useful to have a braille display at hand, I work a lot in German or English, both of which are not my native language, for work as well as privately, and I can control the layout of a document or the spelling of words much easier on the braille display than just with a speech software. I could tell you more about braille displays or refer you to some comprehensive links if you are interested. Please let me know.

    Also, you were wondering in your web posting whether blind people can navigate through Facebook. I must confess I am not much of a social network person myself and choose not to use Facebook, but apparently there are many blind people out there using Facebook as part of their daily life. And recently I have received an announcement for a seminar on Facebook for blind individuals offered by an Institute called BOB (Bildung Ohne Barriere) here in Germany. The BOB offers interesting and innovative seminars and workshops, not just in the field of technologies but also with contents that are actually important to blind people and yet are rarely addressed in reality, such as body language, social graces,self-presentation at workplace, in social situations etc. I cannot tell you how well or badly one can work with Facebook as a blind person using assistive devices like a speech software or a braile display, but there is definitely a growing interest there.”

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