Localizing in the dark: experiences of a visually impaired software localizer

by | Aug 14, 2017

Software localization is a massive business nowadays, due to its centrality in a company’s worldwide marketing success. It’s certainly one of the most profitable areas for a translator to dive into.

Before I get into the core of the matter, let me say that with the superb advances in technology in recent years, a lot of jobs which were purely unimaginable in the recent past have now become available for people who have a physical impairment. Even though there are many types of those, I will solely concentrate on visual impairment, since this is what I know best.

Well, translation is just one of these jobs. Thanks to computer technology, me and many others can now be professional translators with the same proficiency as anyone else.

But how does it work? – you’ll be certainly asking yourself. Indeed, to understand where the challenges arise, I need to briefly explain how a blind person operates a computer.

Basically, they do so thanks to a software called a screen reader, which interprets the output and reads it aloud, through a piece of dedicated software called a speech synthesizer, or displays it in braille, through a special hardware device called, guess what, a braille display.

Nowadays, there are screen readers for all major operating systems.

For input, the normal keyboard is used, with the user memorizing the position of the letters.

Thanks to this technology, a blind person is well able to carry out a translation: the screen reader makes the text available, the translator types the translation and can instantly read back the target language version he or she is producing.

But why software localization?

There are certainly countless types of texts for which translation is demanded on the market, and software localization is certainly one of the most challenging for a visually impaired translator for the reasons I shall explain shortly. However, there is also a very important reason why many of us indeed choose this particular field:  technology has become a central part of our lives. It has empowered us in a tremendous way, and this is why a lot of us use it every day and possess quite an above average computer knowledge. This is true for many translators, who find computers and software a field of which they have almost naturally absorbed the vocabulary.

So, what’s the problem?

As much as visually impaired translators can be really excellent software localizers for the reasons explained above, there really are a few aspects which make this particular field a very difficult one.

One of these is the length of UI strings. In many cases, what translators generally do to respect the limits is visually look at the interface to have an idea of how verbose they can allow themselves to be. This doesn’t work for a visually impaired translator. If a character limit is not specifically set, they can only more or less count the original string length and make sure the number of words they use does not exceed it by an excessive amount. And, even if a character limit is provided, there is really no easy way to count words with a screen reader for each segment.

Next, accessibility of the software to be localized is a decisive factor. Generally, translators work in-context, operating the part of the interface they are translating so that they can choose the right terms. However, if the software is not properly read by a screen reader, there is no way to do this for us sightless beings. This means having quite a number of guesses at what term we should use, and whether you get it right or not could potentially mean either “more work for you” or “better call someone else next time”.

Finally, the decisive factor, which really could decide whether you get a particular job or not. And it’s not just software localization related, every translation job is concerned: CAT tool accessibility. Sadly, most translation companies or clients require you to use a particular CAT tool, and in most cases this tool is inaccessible. Either it does not have good keyboard support, or the screen reader poorly reads the text, provided it reads anything at all. Having more accessible CAT tools in the future would really mean a dramatic change for the better with regard to translation and localization jobs for blind people. It is something the entire community should stick together and advocate for. Wordbee has taken a step in the right direction, by allowing me to have an active involvement in creating a platform that is accessible to everyone, thanks to which the future of blind translators could become way brighter.

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