Big Tech Offers Easy Access to Real-Time Support

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If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of self-sufficiency — or at least learning how we might become more self-sufficient during times of great uncertainty.

This is especially true for people with disabilities who sometimes rely on others to be within six feet to assist with a particular task, routine, or potentially catastrophic computer snafu.

What many users may not know is that Big Tech has free remote help resources for people with disabilities, to save the day when things go awry.

Consider the case of an experienced JAWS user who, while adding a Gmail account to the Microsoft Outlook client, accidentally deleted the master account along with hundreds — if not thousands — of emails and contacts, and dozens of archived folders.

It was not a rookie mistake, but rather a simple glitch where the computer cursor remained focused on the primary account, rather than the secondary email account the user wished to delete, but JAWS read the secondary account information. Once the “delete” button was clicked, there was no turning back. Not even the familiar “Are you really-really-really sure?” prompt could save the situation.

Fortunately, Microsoft has a Disability Answer Desk ‒ a 24/7 telephone hotline specifically for people with disabilities comprised of both live chat and live phone and American Sign Language (ASL) videophone agents. The staff, versed in at least 20 different disabilities, help users troubleshoot Microsoft products like Office, Windows, Skype, Teams, and Xbox.

In particularly sticky situations a live agent can — with permission — “remote-in” to a user’s computer, quickly resolve many Windows problems, and spare both the user and IT staff in the user’s workplace major headaches and potential delays. Microsoft recently added Twitter functionality to the Answer Desk, so users can send and receive Twitter Direct Messages (DMs) while working out their technology problem.

But the pìece de résistance remains live Microsoft support through the Be My Eyes smartphone app, available for free download on the iOS App Store and Google Play. Similar to a Facetime or session, Microsoft support agents use Be My Eyes to access users’ smartphone cameras and microphones and help solve some of the most frustrating tech support questions like: “Is your device LED on or off?” and “Do you see an error message at computer startup?”

Google has also jumped on board with Be My Eyes and, like Microsoft, offers free live specialized help to describe accessibility features, functionalities, and native assistive technology support for products like G-suite, Android OS, and Chrome. The Google Disability Support Team can also be contacted through phone, live chat session, and email, provided users have a functional Google account.

Apple, which has long supported people with disabilities, has an Apple Accessibility Support team that can be reached by phone or chat. Users can also submit written accessibility feedback for any Apple product.

Find more reviews of technology for people who are blind at NIB’s Tech Corner.

Technology reviews are written by Doug Goist, workforce development program manager at National Industries for the Blind and a recognized leader in the field of technology accessibility who has worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, the military services, federal agencies, and private sector partners.