March 28, 2016
Topic: Campus News
Screen Reader Specialist Brandon Werner utilizes his technology expertise and personal knowledge to enable blind individuals at the University of Michigan for success in day-to-day life and academic settings.
"As a blind person, you can get around. It's certainly possible," Werner says.
For example, when crossing streets, Werner stops and listens for parallel and perpendicular surges.
"You listen through a cycle of light changes and car traffic. You see what (cars) do and act accordingly."
Down at the Administrative Services Building, Werner focuses mainly on screen readers and the blind people who need them.
"Blind readers utilize screen readers in order to gain access to computers," Werner explains, referring to an essential aspect of collegiate life and learning.
Brandon Werner works with different U-M systems to ensure that the screen reader program works smoothly with each system. (Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)
Screen readers process information from the computer screen, and then the program sends it to a voice or Braille program for the user to interpret.
"As it turns out, the screen reader program works better with some systems than others," Werner says. "I show students how to use screen readers on campus with different systems, like Android or iPhone."
Werner works with different U-M systems like Canvas, Google and Wolverine Access, ascertaining that the screen reader program works smoothly with each system.
"It converts the three-dimensional to the one-dimensional," Werner says, explaining how the screen reader can connect to Braille readers through infrared and a USB port. "You can install different keyboards — so I'll use the Braille keyboard."
On his Android phone, Werner demonstrates the different keyboards he can use. Using six fingers, he calibrates the screen to a Braille keyboard and simply starts typing in Braille along the touch screen.
As a specialist at U-M, Werner tests systems on campus to make sure they are compatible with screen readers. Additionally, Werner works with blind students and staff, instructing them and helping them learn how to use screen readers in every day life.
"There's a good blind population on campus — I've worked with a lot — and there are some who can see a little bit," Werner says. "There are all degrees of impairment, from minor situations to those who can only see shadows to those with complete blindness."
Werner's most recent accomplishment involved blindness research and how math could be better presented to blind people.
"It was a huge project," Werner says. "Basically, I made a manual on how to use existing processes for another purpose — for blind people to read numbers."
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LaTex, a unique typeset originally used for textbook authors to write, can be read and understood by the blind because of the way it breaks down symbols rather than just directly printing them in ways the blind can't read. Werner's project worked to demonstrate how blind people can take advantage of this existing program in a new way and understand math in PDF documents.
"Math in PDFs isn't accessible to the blind because of symbols and formatting — but blind people can read LaTeX," Werner says.
Whether it's the newest blindness research, working one-on-one with students and staff or testing university systems, Werner values his time at U-M and anticipates his future here.
"I like the people — there are always new and interesting things going on."