My Tech Experience, 1997-2007

In 1997, I was first introduced to the glories of Email. Well kind of, as for the most part our screen-reading software wasn’t exactly able to interact with the now primitive clients used to send and receive messages.
I’d taken a course over that summer at North Carolina State University. This was designed to prepare me for the academic side of life in college, which of course was rapidly beginning to include interactions with and an understanding of the Internet.
At that time, in order to work with the messages I occasionally had to receive, I’d have to get a sighted person to read them on the monitor. Also, I would take exams by writing the information into my affore mentioned Braille Lite and taking it back to the Rehabilitation Center on the campus of the Governor Moorehead School for the Blind to print it. This introduced some integrity issues, leading the professor to allege several times that I had cheated because I achieved no less than a 98 on any of the exams. I certainly hadn’t cheated though, and was able to prove my high level of understanding of the subject matter, Interpersonal Communication, during the group final. The group in which I was included obtained a score of 99, highest in the class by far.
By the time my freshman year began that Fall at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Job Access with Speech (JAWS) for Windows, was finally becoming more widely used. This is the screen-reading, (text-to-speech) program that Freedom Scientific developed. There were at that time a couple of other solutions for accessing information vocally, but JAWS was by far and away the preferred option as it was most able to support needed software in the employment setting.
Many different synthesizers work with JAWS and its ilk, but the one I still primarily use because it’s easiest to hear is Elloquence. Here’s a sample. I know you may find it challenging to understand still, but trust me it’s a far cry from the days of the Braille ‘n Speak.
I gained my first real exposure to this when having to take exams in the campus office of Disability Services. It took me a while to master all of the keyboard commands, and often if I even so much as accidentally alt+tabbed out of my exam’s file I’d be hopelessly lost.
By 1999, it had become clear that those of us who hadn’t grown up with the current technology would need to be fast-tracked so that we could get enough of a grip to remain competitive in class, work, etc. So, the North Carolina division of Services for the Blind put us through a week-long crash course in the Internet and email, also at the Raleigh Rehab Center. We were asked to type a sample paper into Microsoft Word to learn about spell check, formatting, tables, and the like. We also had to conduct searches on a site called 37.com, that supposedly aggragated the functionality of a bunch of search engines. This was certainly in the time before Google had risen to prominence. A highlight in that for me was finding the first video any of us had located online, a trailor for the Titanic movie after having been prompted by the instructor to type in “largest moving object ever built by the hands of man”.
I took my newly acquired skills, especially email, back to UNCC that fall and spent hours in one of two university labs that had computers with JAWS loaded on them. I browsed sports scores, read the newspaper, but used much of that time composing messages to people I wanted to get to know. One of those regular correspondences did nearly lead to a deeper relationship with a woman, as I ended up taking her number and going home that holiday season with a stack of long-distance calling cards so that I could continue chatting with her. For various reasons though, that kind of fizzled out.
By 01, the Division of Services for the Blind had begun providing personal computers to students on a larger scale. Many of these systems were used, and so they weren’t of the highest quality. Still, I found it very cool to finally have a machine in my dormroom, and to thus be able to hop out of bed at 2 AM and get online.
I slowly became more proficient, mainly because I was surrounded by some really gifted blind individuals who taught me how to do many things. They sat with me as I banged on the keys and swore at the unit as I struggled to configure instant messaging software. Plus they showed me the wonders of downloading music! Oh c’mon, I know y’all remember Audio Galaxy. It was magical to be able to type in a random song and suddenly hear it in my speakers. In my defense, I hadn’t realized that was illegal at the time, although I don’t know how as we weren’t having to pay for it.
When I had to relocate to Southern Pines in 03, actually an even smaller town called Pinebluff, I signed up for dial-up service with Earthlink. I hadn’t initially realized that I could dial a number in Southern Pines, and so was calling one in Fayetteville instead. Hello $250 phone bill. Oops? My folks accepted my apologies for that, as sadly I didn’t have the cash to reimburse them for it then. Lessons learned.
I could barely get online though, because by the time I finally won the phone wars with everyone else in the household it’d usually be well after 12 AM. And, it was so slow! I did think the sound made when one was connecting to dial-up was kind of cool though, it just sounded technological.
On moving back to Charlotte later in the summer of 2003, I acquired cable Internet access, and the rest was history. Finally, I could really stream audio online. Baseball, football, Internet radio stations, you name it.
I actually think that not a whole lot more significant happened between that point and 2007, and so I’ll go on with the rest in the next entry.

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