Archive for August, 2009

The New Cat’s On the Prowl!

August 30, 2009

So, like many other eager mac users, I purchased my £25 copy of Snow Leopard on Friday. Unfortunately, I was unable to install the new kitty until yesterday but I will now take you through the process and give a few feedbacks on the new cat prowling apple land.

Backing up and Installation

I am very pessimistic when it comes to installing important things onto computers. I can guarantee something will go wrong or I will forget to do something. First of all, I had to back up all of my data and precious mac settings, even though I was doing an update rather than a clean install. My macbook has been behaving fine and works no slower than it did when I purchased it so I saw no reason to do a clean install just yet. But, I had convinced myself I would somehow mess this up and with it being as a daunting task as it was, installing a new OS, [something I never thought I’d be able to do independently,] I was taking no chances. So I proceeded to back up all of my precious data by copying my library, home and app folders to an external drive. I already have my itunes library running from there so I didn’t have to worry about my music, books and movies. Once everything was safely backed up onto my externals, I cleaned a few things out of the trash and shut down the computer, ate dinner and returned to install my new cat.

What I like about apple is the simplicity of things. You get a DVD, stick it into your computer and the install does the rest for you. I currently have a macbook polycarbon 13 with a 2 gig memory, dual core processor and 160 gig drive. I had 120 gig, or there about, disc space free.

I started up my macbook, closing all applications and inserted the DVD. I attempted to read the instructions in preview, but for some odd reason they seemed non consequential. I had picked up enough on mac lists to have an idea of what I was doing. So I ran the installation, that asked me to confirm I wanted to install, agree to the license, which I did, and then it restarted with my user name and password being the key.

Upon restart, I waited for a good long time while the disc spun an spun and once it had silenced in the drive, I hit fn–cmd–f5. If you were on a desk top computer the keystroke would be CMD–F5 however. Once these keys had been hit, I heard another voice over voice telling me the process of the installation. It took around thirty minutes altogether and the computer restarted again. I personally wasn’t expecting this to happen and at this point really thought I’d hurt the kitty and the macbook. However, patience can truly be a virtue, for after waiting a few more minutes, I tried, gingerly the FN–CMD–F5 keystrokes and a man said, Welcome! This was where my smile got bigger as music started to play. I did have to hit the voice over command again to get vo running after the music, which I hit spacebar, just to learn the new features. being familiar with voice over already made this an interesting step, to learn the new features that I will discuss in the following sections. But the greatest thing of all was when I finished the voice over tutorial and my mac book launched my syrinx and mail apps which I have to start up as default. i felt the biggest sense of achievement, and I was totally proud.

The set up is easy, and as long as you listen and wait, everything should go just fine. It did for me and I can have the biggest disasters where computers are concerned. i’m forever tinkering and something was doomed to happen but it didn’t. In short, apple make it that easy! 🙂

New features!

All features will take some getting used too. The one feature I love is the quick nav mode, achieved by hitting the left an right arrow keys together. Voice over alerts you quick nav is on and you can simply use the arrow keys to navigate, including up, down, left, right and interacting. This has made for a great feature, although I sometimes forget to turn it off.

Another great feature is the rotor. If anyone uses the iphone this feature will remind them greatly of the iphone’s rotor system. By replacing the links chooser menu, you can now press vo–U and the rotor menu pops up. It basically tells you what different elements are on the page and by using left and right you can move between those elements, and up and down will take you to the elements. So if you have three headings on a page, you would move left and right to find headings and then up and down to see what each heading is. by selecting a specific element as you would in item chooser, vo–space bar or if quick nav is on, up and down arrows, you will be taken to that element on the page. Just another great way apple has made navigating a breeze on the mac environment.

If you thought their iphone ideas just stopped here, you were wrong. The sounds now remind you greatly of the iPhone 3GS sound scheme which are a lot more pleasant on the ears. It took some getting used to but now I’m quite at home with the sound scheme.

As well as the traditional numpad commander, voice over users now have track pad commander and keyboard commander to customize to their heart’s content. As I stated earlier, I have the polycarbon macbook so i do not, as yet, possess a multitrack pad. I have thus so far customized my numpad to my liking, as I work on an external for comfort sake while at my desk. However, these are great features and once I have the time, I’m sure the keyboard commander will be a great tool. Not only can you customize what voice over commands you need, but now apple script, automator and applications are implemented so the mac world is now our oyster. Set up keystrokes for all kinds of events. By default, option–T reads the date and time and so not to conflict with voice over, the right option key is used, but you can personalize this in system preferences.

There are features I too do not like that have been implemented, and most would argue I’m a mac snob, and fine, if that’s the case, so be it. I am disheartened that Apple felt the need to implement the insertion point change for voice over users. it was different when coming to the mac to suddenly not have the insertion point act as I was so used to, that it would always be to the right of the character. In using the mac, I learnt to use the cursor as sighted people do and now, it just makes sense. I realize Apple have been under great pressure from windows switchers, struggling to adjust, and the NFB to implement such features, but it seems sad that people cannot take the mac and voice over for what it is, a great built in access for visually impaired folks. Switchers argue it is a “real struggle” but others managed before it was implemented and now find it a hard time to go back to the babysitting ways of windows screen readers.

I recently wrote on an emailing list, stating the three implementations I do not like about the new voice over. I give Apple credit, they’ve really gone out on this update for voice over, I again, will emphasize, I feel sad that they seemed pressured by some that are unwilling to learn the OS to implement such features. The insertion point is my biggest gripe but here are the other two.

Web content can now be read automatically from top to bottom. The feature I don’t want you to confuse this with is the vo–a, which when pressed will read entire texts/pages, or VO–B which will read from the cursor onwards. These features are great, VO–A only worked in text areas previously, now works on the web also and I am glad they’ve been improved and introduced respectively. The feature I am talking about is the AUTOMATIC reading of the webpage. I hated this feature in Jaws, and am so glad Apple are giving me the choice to abandon that particular feature. If I wanted to sit and hear my entire web content to be read, wouldn’t I just hit VO–A? It just seems like voice over has been asked to be more like the windows-based screen readers, “babysitters”. Call me harsh, but I call a spade a spade and if you need your Screen reader to hold your hand, great! But it was a reason I left windows behind me, not the only one true, if I was to list all of them, we would be here all night, but it was a deal breaker for me to move.

The third one is voice over hints. OK, maybe I could let this one slide but until I changed it, voice over kept telling me I was in an HTML area, and I should interact. Erm, Voice over, didn’t I start using you because you did as I asked not what you thought I wanted you to do? If you learn the OS, learn how it is set out, it is very easy to know all of these things. As I said previously, thank God for Apple’s ability to give me choice.

There is so much more. For one thing, the ability to label, which I haven’t tested out as yet. If a button is unlabeled we are now able to label it. So much more has been given over the user in a way that makes it easy enough to customize and to be done well. The ability to export these customizations is also a great feature in my opinion and I look forward to using it.


So would I recommend upgrading? For the price and the stability and the new features yes. I know i bitched about the holding hand screen reader experience, but the beauty of apple is they are still giving their users the choice and not forcing the choice upon us. Plenty of opportunity to customize between users, to make things more accessible, have multiple ways of navigating, whether it be on the cool multitrack pad or by using quick nav, making endless shortcuts to make us all lazy, and for the constant care of Apple, keeping our screen reader experience up to date and always advancing with technology.

A Few Blindy Issues

August 25, 2009

Books for the Blind

I have discussed here previously of the lack of books for the visually impaired and yet still nothing seems to be progressing. rather it seems to be going backward all of the time. now iPhone app developers are also buying into the author’s gild’s incorrect perception of what text to speech really is and not considering for a second how imperative it should be for the VI individual to have the same access to books as their sighted counter parts.

this is becoming a frustrating issue because if there were more books available, study and recreational reading would be made so much easier. At present, we are either forced to pay subscriptions to audio book sellers, pay three times as much than we would have to for a paperback, or subscribe to organisations like Book share that still only has a limited amount of books on offer.

British charity, RNIBhave set up petitions to increase the three percent of all books published in the UK that currently get transcribed into an accessible format for the visually impaired but sadly no one seems to be hearing their pleas or the millions of visually impaired book users.

What do we have to do to make these people who deem it unacceptable to have all books published in a format that all vI users can use. Technology today makes it so easy for this to be done affordably for all. And the Author’s gild are trying to “protect” their “authors?” rather they are protecting the publishers. But if all books were made accessible, for example on Amazon as e-books, capable of being read on an accessible product like the kindle could be, or on their computers with their own screen reading solutions or on an app for a mobile device like the iPhone, then I can guarantee book sales would rise. You’d have a whole new market of readers capable of reading all books published.

The screen reader acts as the user’s eyes, both on the computer systems and mobile devices, so by refusing access for text to speech products, are you not indeed denying a visually impaired person of being treated equal? If a visually impaired person downloaded an ebook and read it with their designated screen reader, would it not just be the exact same way they would read a website, read an article or read their email? Text to speech is not a replacement for a human voice, and it never will be. No matter how amazing the developers make these speech engines, they will never truly sound like a human voice that is capable of interpreting and emotion. This seems to be simply a pathetic argument to keep the visually impaired community subsidising an extortionate, limited audio book market that cannot be a replacement or an open market. It is limited and expensive and without the visually impaired community paying for it, almost desolate, in my opinion.

The kindle with text to speech is not only a great solution for the visually impaired community but a safer method for people reading. Drivers, people cooking, no longer have to read pages and distract themselves, they can simply listen. It’s about time someone told the author’s gild about their severe misconception of what text to speech really is.

Adobe, flash friendly?

I guess I am giving you a few things to think about today. Adobe and its products is my second thinking point. Flash content has been difficult for screen reader users for a while now and it seems as though it just will never get any better. Jaws handles it, not well but sometimes is capable although users have to do a lot of guess work in order to use flash well. Mac users however, cannot do anything with the flash content or players in safari as the voice over will not detect it. This, according to apple is how adobe have designed their flash and apple have put out their accessibility API for a long time so this should not be happening. I do believe Adobe should do more to make flash and flash players accessible and the guide lines to design flash players should be a lot stricter and in accordance to the internet accessibility requirements. They suggest that it is not necessary to make flash accessible for the mac because there is not a huge visually impaired market on the mac platform but it is growing and this is becoming a poor excuse to say the least.

There are many and I mean many sites using flash that could be used quite easily if the content was accessible. And even though most web developers despise flash, the question remains, why does it continue to exist in such a poor way?
It would seem that this
issue has got to the point of voice over users wanting results and there is now a Petition that the Maccessibility network have put together and plan to submit to Adobe in January 2010. If you feel as strongly about this as I do, go to the petition and sign.

Blind Specific Products

This is purely my opinion but there seems to be two camps that visually impaired people fall into. First, the ones who’d rather mainstream products be made accessible and secondly, the ones who’d rather use everything that was specifically made for the blind. Don’t get me wrong, whatever products work for the individual but do we not all think that the blind specific market, that is to say, companies that specifically design products for the blind are benefiting from a unfair campaign that throws up incorrect facts about their mainstream counterparts.

Companies like Apple have had an integrated screen reader in their OS for four years now, with their third OS being made available this Friday that has enabled users to use their macs completely unassisted from the ground up. a visually impaired user can install their OS from the start and can set up their computers and freely use their computers both on a personal and professional level daily. True that some users choose to have windows also installed for a few applications but most of these users have to for work purposes. However, a computer can be bought at the same price as a screen reader for windows with its built in screen reader, not to mention all of the other benefits. So why does freedom scientific still hold ninety percent of the visually impaired market? Sure, the Mac OS with built in screen reader is fairly new and more and more users are migrating to the mac platform but is it not a question of those users who are brain washed into believing the “blind specific” product is better?

The iphone is also another example of a “mainstream” product capable of supporting the needs of a visually impaired person. Granted it may not suit everyone but should companies be pushing the visually impaired user into believing that the “blind specific” product is better simply because it is designed for them?

A small market demands more revenue from its customers to make the product viable but surely the cost of a whole computer for a piece of software does not get people thinking twice? i am the type of person who likes to keep my money close to my chest and find it hard to justify this cost when I can get a brand new computer with great specs for the same cost. The same deal goes with the mobile phone market. You would firstly have to get your phone and then pay a licence to have speech enabled. Yet, you can have a mainstream product work straight out of the box for a similar cost if not less in some cases, for example the UK. On O2 you could get a free iphone if you had a forty pound plan, and the most you’d pay would be ninety pounds which wouldn’t even come close to the one hundred and fifty pounds talks licence. What I am basically saying is that I understand why the market is so expensive but I am uncertain why some people won’t even give the mainstream market a shot? At least try it and then say it doesn’t work for you but there are too many individuals simply not trying the mainstream product because it wasn’t specifically designed for them.

Guess it costs you to be blind, you can’t read what books you may like as soon as your sighted friends or have a huge choice of what to read.
Flash doesn’t work at all well no matter what you’re using.
And it will cost you an arm and a leg to be able to do certain tasks if you stick with the “blind specific” products.

All of this is my opinion, feel free to post your thoughts.