Thursday, January 5, 2017

Spell Check - An Accessibility Story

“One piece of wisdom a writer quickly learns ~ typos keep you humble.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri

“Mr. Tulliver did not willingly write a letter, and found the relation between spoken and written language, briefly known as spelling, one of the most puzzling things in this puzzling world. Nevertheless, like all fervid writing, the task was done in less time than usual, and if the spelling differed from Mrs. Glegg's,- why, she belonged, like himself, to a generation with whom spelling was a matter of private judgment.”
― George Eliot


I'm sure the Spell Check tool was planned to be more of a convenience rather than an accessibility  tool, but for me, it was a life saver, a teacher, and the best reference tool ever created, besides Google.

I've always been a pretty rotten speller. I don't remember a time I've ever passed a spelling test with an A or didn't manage to flip letters around as I write. Typewriters were a little easier and a computer, oh boy, AMAZING! The Backspace was the first miracle of modern technology I worshiped, and I haven't stopped since it showed up in my life a very long time ago.

I've always liked reading. I've always liked writing too. But my brain does funny things to words sometimes. They can jump or move, make my eyes tired, and the more difficult the material I'm trying to learn or write, the harder it gets because I try to concentrate on it even more.

It's annoying having Dyslexia. I have a very mild form of it. Just enough to make things difficult, but not so hard that I couldn't train myself to write with the correct spelling for things over the years. It has absolutely taken years to learn some words.

I've managed to learn most of them via Spell Checker.

The first ones weren't as intuitive as the versions we have now. I can write phonetically and pretty much have the spell checker catch exactly the word I'm trying to get to.

Back in the day, the internet didn't guess at what you were trying to look for or type (type-a-head and autocomplete didn't exist), so I went with whatever the closest thing was I could generally figure out. In college, I walked around with a pocket dictionary, but I still sucked at spelling. If the word was something I knew, it was easy to look up and get it right. If the word wasn't anywhere near what the sound in my brain was, I became lost in a dictionary that couldn't help me. This was the same for computers and word processing software back then too.

My brain also has a funny habit of skipping words in a sentence because I see the word in the sentence already. Especially the small words like 'it', 'a', or 'I'. I had to learn over a lot of time to fix this problem. {You'll notice that I've highlighted the words in red. These were originally skipped and then caught on a read-through.}When I'm rushed or distracted, you can tell in my writing. I skip over these words sometimes and others like them.

Taking Latin in high school made this spelling problem worse, even in my typing. I would add 'ae' or 'e' to the end of many words that didn't need it. I also combined words like "withe" - that's 'with the' just in case you might be wondering. It took a few more years to break the habit of Latin additions in my writing.

If Spell Check had never been created, I don't think I would be writing now. I honestly don't think I could have been seen as an effective communicator and I probably never would have survived working in the communications field for as long as I did.

Spell Check has literally opened a whole world to me that might have not been possible if I had been born a few decades earlier. I probably would have still managed to figure out ways to deal with my mild affliction, but it certainly would have taken more time and a tedious amount of attention to accomplish the same thing Spell Check has done for me.

Here's Where It Ties Into Testing

If you are out there right now adding or testing accessibility features for an application, thank you. Maybe they didn't understand when they added Spell Check to Word Perfect that it would be a kind of accessibility tool for some of us, but that's what it became to me.

We need more moments in software that allow those epic leaps forward for everybody. The easier we make it for people to have access to technology in any way we can, the more minds and hearts we can foster and give some of the capability of truly being able to communicate regardless of any limitation.

So many things could have been so very different without computers, especially for me. I certainly credit my mother with having some amazing foresight to take her tax return and plunk it down on a Tandy SL 1000 and make sure there was a word processing program on it. Who knows where I would be and what I would be doing if it wasn't for her and that Radio Shack computer.



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