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John first discovered the popular DJ software VirtualDJ on YouTube. He was sifting through various app reviews and tutorials, listening intently for any utterance of the words “accessible” or “visually impaired-friendly”.

And while VirtualDJ was neither, it seemed to have a large user base, which made John think that the software’s developers might be open to using their resources to expand their audience even further.

After exhausting the limits of what he could do with the standard version of the software, John used Google Go on his Android (Go edition) smartphone to find VirtualDJ’s website. With the help of his TalkBack screen reader, he located the developer’s email addresses, then pasted them into Gmail Go and dictated a note. The message: I’m blind. I want to become a DJ. Can you make your software more accessible?

Navigating the internet and communicating digitally are skills John mastered long ago. DJing, however, was a different story, and would require persistence and accessible tech for him to succeed. But fortunately, John had learned to adapt to new challenges at a young age—he’d had to. He was just 10 years old when he first noticed the changes to his vision.

One year and two ineffectual surgeries later, John enrolled in a school for the blind. At night, he and his father would listen to records and Homeboyz radio, the home of his favorite Kenyan DJs, which became a great source of comfort and strength for him. Over the next decade, John mastered braille, graduated from high school, and enrolled in Tangaza University in Nairobi. Whenever things stood in his way and he grew discouraged, he would turn to his favorite gospel, classical, and RnB records for motivation.

“I used to love Homeboyz radio, the deejays there—they really inspired me. So, I decided why can’t a blind person also do this thing?”

In February of 2019, one month after sending his email to the founders of VirtualDJ, John got a response. The message, which his phone read aloud to him using the TalkBack speech-transcription application, said that he was absolutely right: They needed to make their software more accessible. Three weeks later, VirtualDJ delivered a software update that included an in-app screen reader with the full suite of deejaying tools.

“Learning these skills with the help of YouTube and Google Go will enable me to create more accessible software, accessible websites, to make the work of being visually impaired easier.”

In August 2019, John put out his first DJ mix, which he created using the accessible version of VirtualDJ. Still new to the software, John only shared this collection of Kenyan, Ghanaian, and Nigerian hits with close friends and family, who were amazed with the progress he’d made with the technology in such a short time. Around the same time, he started teaching VirtualDJ to a handful of aspiring jockeys at the Kenyan Society for the Blind. One month later, John felt ready for his public debut, and the University of Tangaza hired him to DJ their back to school party.

John could hear the whispers of surprise from the students as he took the stage inside the campus’s performance hall. But as soon as the speakers started blasting his soundtrack of dance hall, reggae, and Afro hits, John could feel the skepticism melt away. It was a powerful, incredibly meaningful moment for him—and he listened with a smile on his face, as hundreds of students danced to the sounds only he could have chosen.

How John does it.

YouTube.

John uses YouTube to discover new music and source the latest DJing applications, which is how he discovered his go-to DJing software, VirtualDJ. YouTube allows him to save his favorite songs and tutorials for repeat offline listening without using extra data.

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Google Go.

To complete his degree in counseling psychology, John uses Google Go to search for research and have those websites read out loud to him. He uses YouTube to save his class lectures offline to listen at his convenience, and reviews typed notes from class using TalkBack, a screen reader on his Android that gives you spoken feedback so you can use your device without looking at the screen.

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Gmail Go.

John sends all his emails—including the message that convinced the creators of VirtualDJ to make their software accessible for people with vision loss—by dictating his message into his phone using Android’s native speech-to-text software, then sending it using Gmail Go.

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