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Tag Archives: accessibility
Yes, that’s a hash tag in my title. It’s a sign of the times. I only recently learned about it. And, no, I’m not about to talk about Twitter. I’m going to talk about two organizations who are unwittingly working together to bring about a revolution in technology accessibility for the blind. It may be my own opinion and it may not even be that well informed, but here’s what I think.
Ever since the first crude systems for braille and speech output began appearing on personal computers, two things have been axiomatic. It’s going to cost a lot, and it’s always going to be behind the curve, leaving the blind out of the latest and greatest trends in technology. Both problems are still with us, but times are changing rapidly and for the better.
Let’s start with Apple. As I understand it, it was not the first to offer some level of accessibility in its mainstream products, but it has certainly made the biggest commitment. From the Nano to the Power Mac, everything in Apple’s product line ships with full OS accessibility built in. It isn’t perfect. I’m not a Mac user, but I’ve been following some Apple forums and now know that office productivity apps such as Microsoft Office don’t work with Voiceover, the screen reader that Apple products use. That’s a rather major omission. Granted Microsoft may be part of the problem there, but Apple’s own productivity products for presentations and complex word processing aren’t working either from what I understand. I hope that’s something they will address, but still I give them credit for building so much right into their products.
I mentioned in previous posts that I recently bought an iPhone and I may never buy anything else again. Though I’m glad for the efforts Google is making with Android, Apple clearly has the lead in this area and I applaud them for doing such a good job. Knowing what I know now, I have to retract the statement I once made that if I were buying my first computer it would be a Mac. I need the ability to make presentations and do complex word processing. However, the fact that you can now buy a computer and have it work for you out of the box without the additional expense of software that may cost as much as twice the price of a lower end machine makes the somewhat pricy Mac products a good deal for the right buyer.
Is that still too much money? Enter free NVDA, a screen reader from non-prophet NV Access out of Australia. You may have to fumble along with Narrator (Windows’ rudimentary screen reader reportedly a little better in Windows 8,) until you can download and install it, but it is all many users will ever need. I have played with it before and written about it in previous posts, but it has grown a little since then. I used it for a few hours shy of a week this last time and didn’t really miss Window-Eyes, my usual screen reader that much.
In fact, the reason why I fired it up was that Window-Eyes is becoming a real pain in the backside with some pages in Firefox. NVDA handles things just fine. It’s much faster in Microsoft Word, though admittedly not as capable. Working with some applications requires navigating with the object model, which can be a little daunting, but I got used to it. Application specific configurations would cure a lot of the annoyances I did find with NVDA. Hopefully that will be something they add in the future. I definitely intend to send more donations their way in support of future development. This is a great product that is going to change the landscape of accessibility for the blind on the PC.
There may always be a niche for the powerhouse screen readers to fill. I still need Window-Eyes at work for sure and there are still a few tasks at home that I can’t do with NVDA. I wonder though how long that will remain true. The SMA I purchased a few months ago may be the last one I’ll ever need. I might just dispense with ZoomText too when that day comes. It is only the need for full-screen magnification combined with the fact that Window-Eyes is incompatible with Aero that keeps me running it now.
I have nothing against the for-prophet screen reader makers. They have performed a great service for many years. I like Window-Eyes and GW Micro, the company behind it. It would not at all surprise me if it finds a way to add value to Window-Eyes in the future that once again cements the program’s status as the only thing I would ever want to use. Now that the company has established Window-Eyes as the scripting superstar, perhaps it will turn its attention to taming the application’s increasingly frustrating behavior on web pages and updating it to use the latest accessibility standards. Of course now they also have to keep it current with Windows 8, so I can only hope the next release will bring both.
There’s nothing like competition to make products better for everyone. Between Apple and NV Access, competition just got a lot stiffer. More than ever a blind person has options. One company can’t hold a lock on the market by partnering with corporations and state agencies so that many don’t even know there are other options. The ubiquity of Freedom Scientific in the area where I live has frustrated me to the point that I contemplated trying to subcontract with the GW Micro dealer whose territory I am in to market what I consider to be a superior product to JAWS, FS’s screen reader.
I wonder what happens to the big players from here. Will all screen reader prices come down? Will they focus on specialized applications, abandoning the personal market for smaller niches and higher prices yet to compensate? Will they shift their attention to the hardware business? Will they find ways of adding value to their products such that those who can will continue to fork over the dollars for them? It will be interesting to see and I can’t help but think that consumers will benefit.
The hardware market is changing too, largely thanks to the iPhone. I now have a magnifier app that cost around $6 and replaces units costing as much as $800. One can play audiobooks on any i-device for free or just a few dollars depending on the format. E-books are slowly but surely becoming accessible. I have a $20 OCR app on my iPhone that replaces…well…nothing. Unfortunately that one isn’t working out so well, but I have hope. Specialized GPS units that cost hundreds of dollars are replaced in many cases with free alternatives, though you need to shell out a little money to get something that works well.
Like everyone else, we tend to complain about what we don’t have, but what we do have is so much better than what we used to have. I’m excited to see what the next few years bring, and thank Apple and NV Access for leading the way.
This may be short, because I’m writing it from the iPhone. On the other hand it may be long because I’m writing it with dictation. It seems to work pretty well, but it is not without problems. I just had to rewrite a sentence, taking out weird HTML tags. I’m also having some trouble with editing, though I’m sure I’ll get better at it. Cursor positioning seems to depend on which way you’re moving. I’m sure there will be mistakes in this post that I missed.
Now that I’ve used one I highly recommend the iPhone for any blind user who needs a smart phone. There is no comparison with Android. Ice Cream Sandwich is supposed to be better, but I don’t think it will touch this. Not every app works. Developers still have to mind their manners, but your chances are much better because of Apple’s controlled environment. I almost wish I had switched carriers to get one sooner.
Let me start by saying that authors and musicians have a right to be compensated for their products just as a carpenter expects payment for a piece of furniture. The fact that a song or book is now available in an easily reproducible form is not a justification for theft. It is not unreasonable that these professionals would want to protect themselves as much as they can. The reasonableness of the methods they choose is what I question.
I decided to take this on today because of my frustration with the availability of reading material for someone who is blind, but for illustration purposes let’s look at the recording industry. How well have their efforts to stem piracy paid off? I do not claim any real knowledge of the numbers, but I draw some conclusions from the state of things today.
Consider digital rights management (DRM.) It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the market has largely rejected it. Aside from Apple devotees, who are stuck with iTunes and probably not going to have a problem with the restrictions imposed on them, most of us quickly tired of the hassles of DRM. Some of us kept buying CDs. I suppose that propped up sales a little, but how many did it cost? I have abandoned the CD. I keep redundant backups of my music library, and I buy as much music as ever if not more. You can’t cherry-pick songs you like off a CD, so unless you like a song so much you’re willing to pay for the whole CD to get it, the artist makes $0. At least now they get 99¢. The few DRM ladened songs I once had got broken in the moves between computers and illustrate perfectly why I will not ever make that mistake again. I’m not alone, and even the RIA has seen the light on this, allowing companies to sell music without DRM. Apple will even sell you DRM free music now too, but at a premium. There’s no question the labels make less money now than they once did, but DRM didn’t help them.
The whole idea was to stem piracy. It didn’t really work. Though I hate to admit it, being averse to the RIA because of its heavy-handed and unscrupulous behavior in the past, the law suits it mounted against individuals and ISPs probably did more than anything else, but by no means is piracy obliterated. If people really want to steal, they will find a way. Just like locks on our doors, all the methods employed to combat piracy serve mostly to keep honest people honest.
The publishing industry is now facing some of the same issues, but I think they should consider their market. Though far fewer of us than I would like to believe would resist the temptation to acquire something for free that should be paid for, I doubt that e-books will ever face the level of theft sustained by the music industry. The something-for-nothing crowd doesn’t tend to have the patience to read a good book. If one is willing to wait, chances are good that he’ll be able to pick up what he wants at the library. Honestly, for most of the books I’ve read, once is enough. I wouldn’t put out money for them. Of the books I have purchased, only a very small number have been read more than once.
It may be that someday the e-book will drive out the printed book, and the harsh reality is that there’s not as much money to be made from the e-book. It’s no wonder that publishers are jealous of their content. However, I think that eventually they will end up in the same place as the recording industry, forced by the market to lighten up. I’m looking forward to that day, because with it should come something closer to universal accessibility than we have today.
I’m writing this on the heels of a disappointment I experienced with an e-book platform that originally touted itself to blind users as the answer to accessible e-books. The reality has fallen far short of the promise. The original roll-out wasn’t accessible. The PC version still doesn’t work with Window-Eyes. The iPhone app has problems, and the newly released Android app isn’t usable at all. Coming from KNFB, a company best known for its Nokia based KNFB reader for the blind, Blio is a surprising failure. The web site is also a disappointment. The categories are too broad and the selection too limited.
I’m thankful for what I have. Audible.com was a great leap forward, getting me closer than ever to being able to read what I want when I want. The National Library Service now provides digital audio recordings for download to eligible individuals. I have more than enough to read. However, I still long for the day when most any book I might want to read is available. Publishers only record in audio format the things they can reasonably expect to make money on. Small Christian publishers are less likely to be able to do that. The library service can only do so much, and is not likely to pick up more obscure titles. E-books keep holding the promise of accessibility just out of reach.
Yesterday was a first. I walked into a retail store and walked out with a piece of modern technology that was blind friendly out of the box. It is a Samsung Epic 4G, otherwise known as the Galaxy S. The phone runs Android. Yes, the iPhone was first, but for various reasons both personal and practical I didn’t buy an iPhone.
I do need to qualify my claim. It was necessary for me to ask the salesperson to activate Talkback for me, which involved offering up my Google account credentials. After that, I was off and running. Android definitely has some accessibility issues, but it is useable. Add in Mobile Accessibility from Code Factory and you have a device that is easily capable of doing the things you expect your smart phone to be able to do. I should state for the record that you can manage the phone without the $97 app, but it will definitely improve your experience if you can afford it. Here’s a link that will help.
A couple of up-front tips will help the new Android user who is blind. Most importantly, you need a phone with some kind of physical navigation aid. A touch pad would do, though I imagine that would be difficult to use precisely. Physical buttons, whether on the body of the phone or as part of a slide-out keyboard, would be better. The problem is that Android does not provide a way for screen readers to implement alternative touch navigation to applications that are not specifically designed for it. The applications within Mobile Accessibility do allow for touch only navigation. Once you have it talking, another thing you will need to know is that the controls in apps are accessed by moving directionally to where they are located on the screen. In other words, moving just up and down may not bring you to all of the available controls. Also be aware that the application may not present everything in a grid pattern. It will take some trial and error to figure out how to navigate to some controls, and then you can only hope they are labeled. Android leaves it up to developers to design their apps properly. There are a few accessible applications out there. A growing collection of accessibility reviews can be found at Android Access, a site run by A T Guys, which markets Mobile Accessibility in the U.S. Their vendor site appears to be under a hack attack at the time of this writing so I won’t link to it.
My conclusion is this. Accessibility is not perfect but we have better options now than ever before. I am delighted to have walked out of a retail establishment actually using the device they sold me. The future looks bright. I’m expecting future developments to make things even better, and I’m crying no tears over the loss of my ever-crashing Windows Mobile phone.
I’ve been putting up with a couple of really irritating quirks in both ZoomText and Window-Eyes for some time, so today I thought I’d try something different. I shut them both down and loaded up the latest NVDA and Windows Magnifier. I was so excited when Windows 7 introduced full-screen magnification. ZoomText was working fine at the time, but it’s expensive and just one more thing to load down and complicate the system. I was disappointed to learn that full-screen wouldn’t work while running Window-Eyes. I need text so large that other modes aren’t practical, so ZoomText made the move to my new PC. With the latest upgrade, ZoomText has developed the extremely annoying habit of losing the ability to track properly after running for some time. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the trigger for this problem. Technical support didn’t seem to be tracking with me either, so I gave up on them. I just have to shut the thing down and restart it. It’s worse on my XP machine at work.
Window-Eyes has been my screen reader of choice for as long as I’ve used Windows. In part that’s because I was already a user of Vocal-Eyes for DOS and considered it superior to anything else I had tried, but also because my experiences with JAWS for Windows have not been good. I still say that if you need a full-power screen reader window-Eyes is your best choice. Even if NVDA proves adequate for my home use, I will almost certainly need to keep using Window-Eyes at work.
However, Window-Eyes is also contributing to my frustration level at home. It seems to have gotten worse than ever about switching into browse mode on web pages when I’m trying to interact with controls on the page. GW Micro recently released a script that was supposed to address this problem. It did help, but had its own drawback of often leaving browse mode inactive when it should have been on. That’s the setting for my little experiment. I didn’t spend a lot of time on it today since it’s a work day. There are still a couple of applications I’m curious about, but I think I have come to a conclusion about the program’s usefulness in its present form.
Things were going pretty well until I started Outlook 2010. There were some minor inconveniences but no more than a user of access technology have come to expect. Magnifier doesn’t have a toggle for turning enlargement on or off, so you have to use the zoom shortcuts to do this. At least on my relatively fast machine that’s not a big deal. It doesn’t get quite as large or track quite as efficiently as ZoomText, but at least it’s consistent. I think I can live with it. It’s just augmentation for when the screen reader isn’t doing what I need anyway.
NVDA is doing pretty well in Firefox. One major Window-Eyes annoyance is that in certain edit controls, including the ScribeFire form in which I am currently writing, it will re-read all or part of the line as I am typing. So even after taming the hyperactive auto load, editing in Firefox is a pain. NVDA is handling this perfectly, even pointing out spelling errors. Window-Eyes only does that in certain word processors as far as I know. It certainly doesn’t do it in Firefox, which is one of the reasons I relied on ZoomText so heavily to begin with. Having said that I’m sure some interesting typos will escape my notice when I post this.
The real downer came when I started Outlook. NVDA can’t even seem to find the in box, much less read the message list. By manually moving the mouse I can get it to read, and it knows the various icons without me having to define them. Once a message is open, it seems to do OK, though as of this writing I haven’t thrown anything difficult at it. Sending an email is also problematic, as it doesn’t read the email suggestions when typing an address. In fact, it doesn’t read the email addresses at all. Another of my favorite applications, Media Monkey, Isn’t working so well either, but at least with that one I can find things with the review cursor and activate them. I managed to find the play list I wanted and start it playing.
Now the big one…How will it do with Facebook? actually, very well! Unlike Window-Eyes, it handles dynamic content without constantly reloading the page or making you do it. If I have a complaint it is just that there is no audible indication in some cases that something changed, so you just have to explore whether you got what you expected. Only once thus far did I need to reload the virtual buffer; it was necessary to get NVDA to report the changed state of checkboxes on a page of Facebook messages. Navigating through the regular Facebook home page was no problem at all, though it does help to know how the page is built to understand the meaning of some of what is read. I couldn’t find the link to play an imbedded YouTube video, but I could go listen in YouTube directly. However, NVDA didn’t identify some of the buttons on the YouTube page. I was able to subscribe to the channel even though it did not identify the subscribe text as a button. I could not find the Like button at all. I resorted to Magnifier to do that. Sharing a link from the Facebook news feed was a bit of trouble, but no more than with Window-Eyes. I usually resort to magnification for that anyway. I do seem to be having some trouble with activating links from time to time, but it may be just that I’m not used to the way NVDA reads things and I am not actually on the link. Of all the places to run into that, it was in the NVDA mailing list archive.
After a day of light usage my advice to blind users is not to ditch your commercial screen reader just yet, but NVDA shows great promise. If you spend your time on the web, it may even be sufficient. It is encouraging to see the price of accessibility slowly coming down to a level where most people can get it without government assistance. Apple leads the way by building it right into the products it sells. Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the NVDA Project, we can expect the Microsoft world to at least become a little more competitive. As NVDA improves, The rest will have to work to make their products worth the extra money we have to pay for them. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a crusader against the “evil corporation.” What they do satisfies a small niche and they deserve to profit from their efforts. It is only that I know from personal experience the frustration of limited accessibility that can only be improved by sacrificing large sums of money and still falls short. If there can be a day when this is no longer the case without the necessity of immoral government coersion, I await it eagerly.
Attention Mark/Office of the President – Accessibility of Intuit products for blind users
I was given this email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and informed that your company has expressed an interest in knowing what the potential user base would be should you make an effort to bring greater accessibility of your product line to blind users. I am almost blind. I have been a Quicken user since version 3 for DOS. Each new version of the software seems to bring with it more accessibility challenges due to the use of non-standard methods for creating controls on the screen. I do not know that I could keep using Quicken if I did not have just enough vision to employ magnification to navigate the program. With each new release I fear that I will no longer be able to use it at all, and your recent policy changes regarding the access of older versions to online data may eventually force me out of the program I have relied on for over twenty years. There are no accessible alternatives that come close to Quicken’s functionality.
Accessibility issues are not limited to Quicken. The stand-alone versions of TurboTax have been unusable with a screen reading program for perhaps a decade. The web versions work better, and I commend your efforts there, though there are still some problems.
I understand that Intuit, like any corporation, exist to make a profit. It is reasonable to ask whether your effort will result in an offsetting rise in revenue. I don’t’ have the data to make that call, but there are some things you may want to consider.
- It’s the right thing to do. If this email address reflects the truth, then that alone should be sufficient motivation. Microsoft has provided accessibility APIs that can be employed to define screen elements without having to alter the look and feel of your applications. I do not have the expertise to conclusively state that it would not take that much effort, but as a programmer I suspect your concerns about the cost may be unwarranted.
- The population is aging, and with age often comes visual impairment. The potential market is growing. The individuals who may find themselves in need of accessible financial software will have the means to procure it. The software is not priced beyond the reach of most who would want it. Why not be the only and best option?
- It makes you look good. Put it in your advertising. Let the world know that you really do care and thus gain even more customers. I know the company who makes my screen reader of choice, GW Micro, has already contacted you on more than one occasion offering to work with you on accessibility issues in your software. See this as an opportunity rather than a threat.
- There is a legal danger in failing to address this problem. It is only a matter of time before some group decides to bring suit over the accessibility of Intuit’s products. Regardless of the appropriateness of such a suit, it would at best bring with it negative publicity. In a litigious society with an increasingly oppressive socialist government, it may be advisable to make the first move and forestall anything like this from happening.
I hope you will give serious consideration to this issue and do the best thing for your company and your customers both existing and future. Work with the access technology companies such as GW Micro and implement a solution that makes your product line accessible to all.
We really do live in in an amazing time. Today I read an article by Jonah Goldberg on the National Review web site that pointed out how much better we live than we used to and how inexpensively. That’s not to deny the economic trouble that is upon us and bound to worsen, but it helps to have some perspective. We have it good.
I was just thinking about this from the perspective of someone who is blind. I’m sitting in front of a computer that is reading the words I type and magnifying them to somewhere around twenty times so that I can see them too. While the system doesn’t always run smoothly, it is amazing that I can sit here and type at full speed while it tracks right along with me. Sitting to my left is the laptop I use for work, outfitted with the same software combo. It’s not a perfect world. The reason I’m writing to you at this moment is that they’ve pushed some kind of install that has kept the laptop tied up all morning, but a mere twenty-five years ago what I am doing now would be near impossible. There were things out there, but they cost as much as a small car and few of us could acquire them. Beside that is a CCTV magnifier that allows me to put printed material or anything else that will fit under it for a highly magnified view. Those unfortunately haven’t come down very much in price.
Now I don’t even need to go to the office, but if I do, the bus will automatically announce the streets as it takes me to the train station. The train will do the same for all the stops. I take along with me a cell phone that keeps me in touch online and reads everything out just like the computers do. That is possible because the thing has its own computer that has exponentially more powerful than the first PC I used back in ’88. I can use the phone or my dedicated digital audio book player (a Victor Reader Stream from HumanWare) to access all kinds of reading material. We wouldn’t call these items cheap, but I don’t currently know anyone who needs them who hasn’t managed to get one, though admittedly this is often with help from the government. Though I will not deny that government has played a role in advancing the availability of some of this technology, knowing how intervention distorts markets makes me wonder what amazing things we would be seeing if assistive technology companies couldn’t rely on state contracts to keep prices high and had to design and build directly for the consumer. That’s another topic for another time.
Now we’re beginning to see things I doubt many of us thought would happen. I don’t know which is more exciting, the advent of functional open-source free software for the blind, or the inclusion of accessibility in mainstream products made for the general public. I’ll tackle the latter first, since I don’t yet have any personal experience with it. Whatever you think of Apple, the fact that fully functional accessibility features are now integrated with all of their major offerings from the IPod Touch to the Power Mac is an industry first. If I were going to buy my first PC today, it would probably be a Mac. They cost more, but if I bought a PC with add-on software I would have to spend an absolute minimum of $300 extra. That as I recall is the low-end price for the least expensive commercial screen reader on the market and I’m thinking I’m short $100. That more than offsets the extra cost of the Mac. It’s likely that I would have to spend considerably more to get what I really need, amounting to the cost of the PC plus a Mac. I almost bought one when I went shopping for a new PC earlier this year. The only reason I backed out was the investment of time and money I already have in PC based software.
I can’t say that without pointing out one thing. I don’t have any specific information on this, but I do wonder if Microsoft’s tepid attempt at a screen reader doesn’t have at least something to do with the opposition it encounters when it is perceived as running other companies out of the market. Though I’ve been a fan of GW Micro and Window-Eyes for years and would hate to see them suffer the upheaval of having to find other markets, that’s economic reality. I can’t help thinking that if MS is willing and felt free to do so they could build a complete screen reader solution that would work better than anything we have today since they know the platform.
Of course, I could go with a free screen reader. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s called NVDA, and I’ve been trying it out on some other computers. It lands somewhere between Windows Narrator and a commercial solution, but initial tests are encouraging. So far I have only used it to do some light web browsing and word processing, but it has done a good job with Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word 2003. It is supposed to work with Open Office, something Window-Eyes can’t do. I have not verified this but I don’t think any of the commercial packages do. I haven’t given this a try yet.
NVDA did get me out of a jam. My wife’s new laptop runs Windows 7. We took it to church to run a DVD video for the class she is teaching, but it did not play as expected. Neither of us knew how to navigate out of the wrong video that was playing and get to the right one. I had already learned the hard way that Windows Media Player will not show protected video with Window-Eyes (or JAWS for that matter) running, but I needed speech. Having foreseen that this might happen, I had brought NVDA along on a USB flash drive. I quickly loaded it up and was able to find the navigation controls to get us back on track. It worked because NVDA does not hook into or disable features in the Windows Video subsystem. More time and testing will tell, but it looks like I could take this free screen reader to any PC that will allow software to run from a USB drive and have instant accessibility. If this proves out I will gladly donate to the project.
There’s other good news on the operating system front. If you go back a few posts in this blog you’ll find my first look at Vinux, a fully accessible installation of Linux. One common problem blind computer users face is that even if accessible solutions are available for their operating system of choice, there is no way to install the OS itself without help. Vinux addresses this problem by loading a fully functional copy of Linux from a CD. One then starts installation to the computer via a desktop icon, allowing the process to be spoken with the Orca screen reader. Since my original post a new Ubuntu based version has been released that addresses many of the problems I had with the older version. I have not had a lot of time to play with it, but so far I like what I’m seeing (and hearing.) Unless I just trashed it the other day trying to install MySQL, this version will be the platform from which I learn Linux and the tools I will need to set up a web server.
Accessibility is always a challenge. There are standards, and if all developers followed those standards then it would be easy to build solutions that allow the blind to use the same tools that everyone else is using. In the real world this doesn’t happen. That would not have to be a problem if any new elements or techniques were designed from the beginning with accessibility in mind, but most people are not aware of the problem. That or they think it will be too expensive or compromise their design to implement accessibility. That’s why there will always be room for add-on products that bridge the gap.
I recently encountered such a product, and amazingly it also is free, though donation is encouraged. I am still evaluating it and I’m not sure it isn’t causing some stability issues on my system, but with so many things running and updates constantly being applied it’s hard to tell. I think it’s a keeper. It’s a programmed with a name that makes you wonder what they were thinking. It’s called Qwitter. The site would probably tell me, but I’m guessing it’s a combo name for something like Quick Twitter. That would be a good way to describe it. My Twitter account exists primarily as a conduit for getting content to Facebook with the added benefit of exposure through another popular service. I always have Firefox open and use an add-on called Twitter Bar to quickly post status updates. My blog feeds Twitter which then feeds Facebook. That’s a bit redundant since FB picks up the blog anyway, but its RSS interface is not exactly timely, so the effect has been to spread notifications out over a few hours thus increasing the possibility that people will see it.
I follow a few people on Twitter using its RSS feature, but mostly I stick to Facebook. That may change now. For one, I hear there may be plans to add Facebook functions to Qwitter, but even without that this program is a uniquely effective way to handle real-time Twitter monitoring and participation for a screen reader user. It works directly with your screen reader of choice or you can use Windows’ SAPI speech interface. It relies on a collection of hotkeys much as your screen reader does and therefore can be used from anywhere. There is no need to switch to the window where it is running. It’s as close as you will get as a blind person to having a docked program on the screen like a sighted person might use for a similar purpose. It notifies you when new things come in and you then interact with it through the keyboard to read and respond to the posts. There are a lot of keystrokes to remember, but they are mostly tied by pneumonic to functions you’d expect. It can do just about anything with Twitter that you can do on the web site. The only exception I found was changing basic account information, which I suspect Twitter doesn’t provide API calls to do.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to Rick Harmon of the Blind Geek Zone for turning me on to this program. Check out his site for all kinds of info on all things technological as a blind user.
All that is just to say we are blessed to be living here and now. I don’t know what the future holds. In fact if things go the way I think they might, a statement like that may not be so easy to make in a few years. That is unless Jesus’ return is immanent, which seems very likely though we cannot know for certain. For now, appreciate what you have. Find ways to share with those around you. This is a pretty amazing place, but nothing compared to that which awaits those who trust in Jesus. If you don’t yet have Jesus, all the cool toys aren’t going to be worth anything in the end. I’d be thrilled to talk to you more on that subject if you are interested.
I am not vane enough to imagine that anyone missed me, but because it has been a while since I wrote anything I thought I would explain why. My old PC that was becoming a daily test of my patience and commitment to purity of thought and speech has now become my new toy. I recently bought a new desktop, so I got two for one. I’ve been itching to get my hands on Linux for several years, but the obstacle was always that it didn’t have a screen reader. The only thing I knew of was an operating environment called Emacspeak. From the sound of it you need applications that are coded for it. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a replacement OS, though ditching Windows wouldn’t bother me in the least. I certainly wasn’t looking for one for which access to applications would be limited. I decided to wait until someone came up with a better solution.
In the last couple of years, thanks to building the web site for the church and foreseeing a need to become more expert in the most likely OS for building out servers in the future, I’ve become interested again in trying it out. I ran across Speakup, an integrated solution for making the GNU Linux console speech enabled. Fortunately I still had my old Dectalk serial speech synthesizer, since most of the installs that are speech enabled require a hardware synthesizer. That includes the one I chose. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I still don’t. The Speakup modified distribution of Fedora I chose basically because I recognized the name didn’t just start talking when I put in the DVD I had burned. Right in the middle of my effort the site where I got the image disappeared, so I couldn’t get to the documentation. It should have been a red flag when the link from the Speakup site to the documentation didn’t work the first time I tried it.
With a little trial and error and the knowledge that all the flavors have similar command sets, I was able to get the install talking. Once done and rebooted, it stopped talking. I worked that out too, but I have yet to learn how to make it boot that way every time. Now I’m ready for the adventure. I went and found a few beginner Linux books to get me started. I had hoped for a speech enabled graphical environment, but the power of Linux is in the command line anyway, so maybe being forced to learn it up front will serve me well.
So, if I remain silent, you’ll know where I am.