Happy Friday! Fedora Outlier’s Follow Friday interview series is back with a vengeance and I just know without a doubt that you are going to enjoy reading about this Friday’s guest. Who is it? Well, you will have to keep reading to find out. So grab a cup of coffee, sit back and take a few minutes to read all about this Friday’s guest.John Panarese of MacForTheBlind first started his journey into the realm of assistive technology back in 1994 when he started his own company, Technologies for the Visually Impaired. He felt it was important that the blind and visually impaired learn the skills and obtain the knowledge to be productive, independent members of society.
John started becoming involved within the Apple community along with Apple accessibility and by 2008, with the economy not doing so well, decided it was time to make a change and I guess you could say the rest is history.
John is an trainer and teaches the blind and visually impaired how to use VoiceOver for the Mac and iOS devices such as the iPhone or iPad. He also created and maintains the website which is a wealth of information for everything Apple.
John’s philosophy in regards to teaching and informing the blindness community about everything Apple is just one reason why follows via Twitter. Come join me as I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with John Panarese from MacForTheBlind.
Brie Rumery: How did you become interested in assistive technology, especially Apple’s products and how has it enhanced your life?
John Panarese: I have always been interested in assistive technology. This goes back to college when I used a VersaBraille II. I ended up being an assistive technology vendor for 16 years with my company, Technologies for the Visually Impaired, and very much enjoyed being involved with the blindness market and using the latest gadgets. I have had family and friends using Apple products for years and years, and I couldn’t wait until I would be able to use a Mac. I never had the opportunity to use Outspoken for the Mac, but jumped on the VoiceOver train right away when it became available. I just feel Apple gets accessibility, and by including it for free in just about all of their products, it has opened up the world of technology to so many people. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to be able to share in what used to be simply “mainstream” technology we could never enjoy as blind people with the same kind of access.
BR: Why do you think the Mac has become so popular these days within the blindness community?
JP: I think there are a few reasons. Firstly, VoiceOver is part of the operating system and is, thus, free. There is no “blind tax” or penalties involved as far as purchasing your screen reader. Also, the Mac is just a stable machine and you don’t have the system crashes, virus concerns and all of the other nonsense the Windows user has to contend with. If you have to to any system maintenance, everything is accessible on the Mac. You spend your time getting work done and Using your computer with a Mac without the operating system in your face, while you spend too much time battling with the operating system and not getting your tasks done with Windows more times than not.
BR: What are some of your thoughts in regards to state agencies that are apprehensive in providing clients with a Mac instead of a Windows computer?
JP: I think its ignorance and the basic resistance to change at this point. Yes, Macs are more expensive than PCs at the start, but if you add the screen reader and all of the additional costs for making a PC accessible, you are saving money with a Mac. This doesn’t even include not having to deal with the whole virus and malware aspect of Windows life and the need to reformat your system that plagues the PC world. I just think too many counselors simply don’t do their research or are so used to recommending Windows or fall into that ten year old mindset that we live in a “Windows world”, which, of course, is no longer true. I really recommend that blind people advocate for themselves and do not settle for what they don’t want. Push for the Mac and you’ll be surprised just how many agencies will buy them today.
BR: What would your advice be to someone who needs to switch from Windows to a Mac and is quite overwhelmed with the thought of doing so?
JP: Remember that you’re learning process and adjustment to Windows was not an easy one. Recall the struggles and frustrations. I say this because too many Windows folks seem to forget this reality and, thus, for some reason, believe learning the Mac and VoiceOver will be a walk in the park. It’s a learning curve. Be patient and realistic. One day at a time and one task at a time should be your approach and only use your Windows experience as a reference point and not a comparison or measuring stick. Put the time and effort in and you will be rewarded with success.
BR: What type of information and/or resources can one find on your website MacForThe Blind?
JP: Basically, I have tried to provide a wide range of resources and information for both the Mac and for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. This includes “how to” instructions, “tips and tricks” material, documentation that can be freely downloaded, demonstration podcasts and tons of links to other resources and websites. I am always looking for material, so anyone is welcome to contribute similar things to me that they will receive credit for. It’s a labor of love, and I enjoy maintaining the site.
BR: The following statement, “today is the best time for an individual to be blind,” has been said several times within the blindness community. Do you believe in this statement and if so why?
JP: I definitely agree. I’m 46 years old, and I try to explain to younger blind clients just how fortunate they are to have all of this technology at their fingertips and the types of resources for education and potential employment to empower themselves. I didn’t have a great deal of it when I was in school. I wish I did. I think understanding exactly what is out there goes a long way towards appreciating it. We have access to so many things that we didn’t even have just ten years ago.
BR: What words of encouragement would you give to the blindness community when it comes to assistive technology and “born accessible” products?
JP: Take advantage of all that is out there. Make it your business to know and advocate for yourself. Don’t be afraid. It might seem overwhelming at first, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing compared to Not having enough available to you. We live in a great time for access technology, so embrace it and use as much as you can to make your life better.
BR: In regards to social media, what are some of the advantages of using platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn within the blindness community?
JP: Honestly, the whole social networking thing is new to me and I am the type of person that feels we sometimes overload ourselves with the constant ability to be in touch with the rest of the world. However, from the blind perspective, it is a way to keep in touch with friends. It’s a way to meet people and promote yourself. With all the ways we have to access the social media world, we can take full advantage of it. In reality, we have virtually the same opportunities and avenues that sighted people use to connect and stay connected by way of those outlets.
I want to thank John Panarese from for allowing me the opportunity to talk with him about himself, his company and how Apple is enhancing the lives of the blind and visually impaired. For more information about John’s company or if you have questions for him, you can reach him at Finally don’t forget to add to your list of Twitter followers so you can keep up on what’s going on at MacForTheBlind.
What scares you the most? For the author of the Old Hat Guide to iPhone Accessibility, iOS7 Edition, it was learning how to use an iPhone. Brie Rumery of Fedora Outlier, LLC is no longer “scared to death” when it comes to using an iDevice but she understands how overwhelming it can be. Read how she conquered her fear and now never leaves home without her phone! Don’t let the fear of learning something new keep you in the dark!