Learning the Law: How Technology Helps a Blind Law Student
T. J. Meloy is a 24-year-old law student at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. He uses a BrailleNote mPower PDA (personal digital assistant) to take notes and his laptop with the JAWS screen reader for research.
As a law student, research is a major component of his routine, and he is able to do all that his sighted classmates do online. Westlaw, an online legal research service for legal and law-related materials and services, is particularly easy to navigate, T. J. said, because there is a text-only version of the site. It is also used by his law school for its online interactive system, TWEN (the West Education Network), which is a site where instructors post assignments and students turn them in. The only difficulty that T. J. has found in accessing materials is that publishers often provide his textbooks as PDF (Portable Document Format) files. These files then have to be converted to Word files by the university’s disability services office.
T. J. was the only student interviewed who is fond of Facebook. Although he does not have time to be on the site as much as other students may, he particularly enjoys checking for posts from his cousin, who is stationed in Iraq. T. J.’s cell phone is an LG 8300, which has many accessible features but cannot read text messages. His LG 8300 was too new when we spoke for him to have learned to use the MP3 player but that is one aspect he is looking forward to. A Maestro PDA with Trekker GPS (global positioning system) is another piece of equipment that he was in the process of incorporating into his routine.
Like other students, T. J. emphasized the importance of instant messaging in his social life. He uses AOL instant messenger with JAWS on his laptop to keep in touch with other people. “You can read an away message,” he said, “and know that someone doesn’t feel like talking. Or you can see if there’s a conversation going on that you may want to join.” A friend may ask if anyone else wants to go to a certain movie on Saturday night, he cited as an example, and that is often how social plans are made.
This piece first appeared in “Staying on Course: Interviews with Students Who Are Blind,” by Deborah Kendrick, AccessWorld®, July 2007.
Editor’s Note: Since this AccessWorld article was originally published, the BrailleNote mPower has been replaced with the BrailleNote Touch. Many blind people are now using smartphone apps such as BlindSquare and Nearby Explorer from the American Printing House for the Blind to help them travel independently. Finally, the cell phone technology mentioned in the article has generally been replaced with the iPhone running Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader and Android phones running Google’s TalkBack screen reading solution.