How did people here learn GUIs

John J. Boyer john.boyer at
Sun Jul 17 20:41:56 UTC 2016

I';ve been trying to get a feel for GUIs for years. Sighted colleagues 
are no help. They only tell me how they use the mouse. They won't use a 
keyboard shourcut even when it is much simpler. For example, they will 
scroll down a long document instead of using ctrl+f to find something. 
i've tried unsuccessfully tpo find a Jaws trainer. After I reinstalled 
Windows 7 recently Jaws wouldn't install. I'm now using NVDA and I don't 
think I'll go back to Jaws.


On Sun, Jul 17, 2016 at 09:57:25AM -0500, Devin Prater wrote:
> I, being 22 already, was taught the Windows GUI early on, in around middle school. Everyone used Windows XP back then, and no one used anything else. So it was a shock when I got a laptop and it ran Vista. Everyone used Window-eyes then too, so you can see how secluded I was from even other screen readers. At the school for the blind I attended, back then it was Window-eyes and Zoomtext, and a few high schoolers with fancy braille notes that could be carried everywhere and could talk, without even needing to be plugged into a computer. I learned typing from a teacher that was good at the old tech, but wasn’t prepared for the exponential leaps forward in software and UI design. She taught us to use the basics of Microsoft word, tab around the system, and to let the half-sighted users do the Microsoft Access designer stuff. Later on, I learned a little of the Jaws cursor stuff, but the Windows screen readers have you operate them, more or less, than operating the system itself, and reporting the output. macOS does just about the same thing, with voiceover functions for things like drag and drop, viewing open applications, Windows, and things like that. I’ve recently learned to use Linux, Arch to be exact, with BRLTTY, Speakup in pure console if needed, and Emacspeak, even though the eSpeak driver is severely outdated so that aural-highlighting and such don’t work. I’ve even managed to sign up to the SDF network, so we’ll see where that goes, although the games seem to be just ASCII art. Funny how people seem to need pictures, even in text interfaces.
> Sent from my Mac.
> Devin Prater
> r.d.t.prater at
> > On Jul 17, 2016, at 5:38 AM, Sam Hartman <hartmans at> wrote:
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > John's comment about learning GUIs and not initially being good with
> > them was interesting to me.  I thought back to my initial  experience
> > with GUI environments, and realized that if it weren't for some really
> > great work, I would have found GUIs really hard to approach.
> > 
> > I'm curious, especially among those who do find GUIs easy to use, how
> > you learned to use them?
> > 
> > What resources did you use?  Are there any that are still available?
> > 
> > For me, I think the following factors contributed:
> > 
> > * Reading the Turbo Pascal 5.5 and 6.0 documentation on their text-based
> >  GUI environment.
> > 
> > * Reading the Desqview developer documentation on Window layout.
> > 
> > * Reading the discussion of GUI design in the Borland C++ support for
> >  Windows 3.1.
> > 
> > Some of the above dealt with text-mode GUIs, but all provided good
> > fundamentals in dialogue boxes, how to do layout, and that sort of
> > thing.
> > The documentation was in text for the most part rather than being filled
> > with too many pictures.  The documentation was focused for people
> > writing GUIs so it had a lot of explanation.
> > That kind of gave me a good grounding in what to expect.
> > 
> > But the real breakthrough happened when I had to use a Mac in the early
> > 1990's--probably around System 7.
> > There was a screen reader made by the same folks who made After Dark
> > (the screen saver)--Berkeley Systems?  Anyway, it came with a tape and a
> > few braille sample screen layouts.  It went through Mac UI
> > design--talking about what Apple recommended, what it looked like to a
> > sighted person, and then walked you through all the elements of the
> > braille layouts they included.
> > 
> > There product was both great and horrible.  It was great in that it gave
> > you access to the GUI at a level very similar to a sighted person.  You
> > really did have to drag things around with the (virutal--keyboard
> > controlled) mouse for most operations.  It was slow, but you really got
> > a feel for what was going on.  Also, because it was so close to the
> > actual GUI, asking for help was easy.
> > 
> > Then around 1995, I ended up having to use JAWS for Windows.  Its
> > documentation and explanation of Windows UI was sufficient already being
> > familiar with the Mac to be able to follow what  was going on.  However,
> > without that earlier work I doubt I would have been able to follow a
> > GUI.
> > 
> > Modern screen readers are both easier and more frustrating.  In
> > particular, web browsers and office programs hide a lot of the GUI from
> > the blind user.  (This is more true on Linux and Mac  that Windows)
> > In particular, I can't really tell in a web browser whether some element
> > is to the left or right of another element or above or below.  I can
> > tell whether one element is logically before or after another.  In an
> > office program, I lost access to the ruler sometime in the 1990's, and
> > haven't regained all the things I could do with that since.
> > 
> > I used to be able to do relatively competent layout of
> > documents--tables, figures, graphs, the like.  I'd need my work checked,
> > but I understood what was going on and was better at layout that some of
> > my sighted peers.
> > Sadly, as the screen readers have been getting better at presenting
> > logical information, it's harder to do that.  I don't think I could
> > produce great work in Libreoffice.
> > 
> > That said, I rarely need to worry about scroll bars, what's visible on
> > the screen or the like.  I don't need to worry much about how wide my
> > windows are, or where they are positioned.
> > 
> > I have no idea how I'd teach a blind users about GUIs today; I don't
> > know where the modern versions of those braille layouts and the great
> > explanatory tape are.
> > 
> > I'd love to hear others' stories.
> > 
> > _______________________________________________
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> > Blinux-list at
> >

John J. Boyer; President,
AbilitiesSoft, Inc.
Email: john.boyer at
Status: 501(C)(3) Nonprofit
Location: Madison, Wisconsin USA
Mission: To develop softwares and provide STEM services for people with 
         disabilities which are available at no cost.

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