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Monday, April 03, 2006

Three Months of Blind Confidential

I’ve written a Blind Confidential item almost every day since January 15. Thus, April starts the second quarter of our existence so I thought I would look back at the formative quarter and talk a little about how BC has found its voice and place in our community.

I would like to start by wishing everyone who read Saturday’s post a Happy April Fools Day. Truly observant readers noticed that the first letters of the first sentence, “’He’s a proud president, yelling about products relentlessly in live forums or over large systems discussing anything you care about assistive technologies,’
reads a quote in the ,London Financial Wire Service report about Doug Geoffray, CEO of GW Micro on the successful sale of his company to Microsoft,” spells out “Happy April Fools Day.” I stole this linguistic trick from the late genius, George Plimpton, who started an article in Sports Illustrated about a fictional baseball player using the same idea. If anyone actually reads the story and believes it could actually be true, I recommend they seek psychiatric help as soon as possible. The truly bizarre quotes and the thought of me getting Bill Gates out of bed should have triggered a notice of the date. If you were fooled just because you glanced at the item, please read in greater depth in the future, you can’t always judge a blog entry by its title.

Now for a few “thank yous” to people who really helped Blind Confidential grow from its first day when it only got 9 hits to today where more than 1000 people receive it on a daily basis. First, my friends Roselle and Gordon for all of their help with the HTML stuff, I am qualified to judge the accessibility of HTML and can repair some problems with a lot of hand holding from a product like Ramp but throw me into raw HTML and my ears glaze over. I would also like to thank friends including Will Pearson, Lisa Yayla and Mike Calvo for sending me items to write about as, without some prompting, I run out of ideas sometimes. The guys at Blind News have been an incredibly valuable resource (where have they been the past few days?) who have provoked a pile of my favorite stories. I would also like to thank all of my old friends from the AT world for forwarding BC posts onto their friends who have now become regular readers. I must thank the folks who have posted comments here either supporting, correcting or criticizing my posts, the debate with Peter Korn over accessibility APIs and, most recently, with the Macintosh militants have been fun and we can’t leave out Will Pearson’s terrific scientific explanations of some of the theory I present here.

It might be difficult to notice from the previous three posts but Blind Confidential has been trying to move away from assistive technology issues and do more about general items of interest to me and, hopefully, other blinks and our friends alike. The April Fools gag was premeditated a day in advance but most topics are selected the morning I write the piece so may contain factual errors. The style I use to build BC entries is to pick a topic and then sit down with MS Word, my laptop and a cup of very strong coffee. I then pretty much perform literary improvisation on the subject and see how it comes out. This is sort of like “riffing” in music, when I play blues with a friend, we might set out with a riff or two in mind and then just let the jam flow. At the end of one of these sessions, usually an hour or so from the start, I then run the spell checker and reread the item. The only changes I make upon rereading are to fix truly contorted sentences and statements I know to be absolutely untrue (if it’s not one of the fiction entries). Thus, people find errors in these articles which should be viewed as commentary and not journalism. I write “creative” non-fiction essays which means I don’t let the facts get too much in the way of a good story or else I write short fictional stories which, by nature, aren’t factual. Please, therefore, enjoy these posts for their entertainment value and their general themes which I do truly believe.

Now, onto the factual correction of the day. In the article on the inaccessibility of the iPod, I was absolutely incorrect in the assertion that UIA was not going to make it for the official Vista release. UIA is already in the alpha distributions of Vista and will be included in the commercial release as well. I had misread a piece after CSUN that said that most programs will not support UIA when Vista is released and, therefore, MSAA is still the best game in town. This is of course also true for the Macintosh and gnome accessibility APIs which, if a program is not written specifically for Cocoa or using the gnome API, it is also not ready for prime time with a screen reader. I apologize to my friends at Microsoft and to anyone else who may have been misled by this error.

What to expect from Blind Confidential in the future?

I think you can bet that there will be more fiction, satire and parody. There will be more items about discrimination, transportation and other issues I find compelling. Art will play a big role as will music and, to a lesser extent, technology. I don’t want to write about current AT products anymore as I’m a little tired of fighting the battles. Thus, when I write about technology, it will fall more on the side of theory and conjecture than a discussion of specific products out there. I’ve fought too many religious wars over technology: Windows v. Mac v. GNU, proprietary v. open or free, patent v. discovery, JAWS v. all other blindness products and many others. I’ve also been involved in the document accessibility wars having sent hundreds, if not a thousand or more emails to webmasters with pointers to W3C/WAI and Deque Systems so they can fix their sites or PDF or whatever broken digital format that I need to slog through a pile of crap to find my point of interest. I’m tired of fighting the battles, I just want to have some fun, invent some very cool new stuff and write articles that inform, entertain and incite in my spare time.

Finally, I want to state for the official record that I have no technological religion. I do not pray at the altars of Microsoft, Apple, Sun or any other technology company. All three of these companies as well as Dell, Sony, HP and others, including Apple, have, from time to time, sold me tools with which I can do my job. This morning, I received an email from a very smart guy who said that because a particular task was impossible to perform with Safari and the Macintosh VoiceOver screen reader that he would forego performing that task until the Apple guys got it right. He points to unethical business practices carried out by Microsoft to build their enormous market share. I don’t follow corporate law and don’t understand anti-trust laws very well so I won’t comment on Microsoft’s history. I will point out that anyone looking for “unethical” business practices should, perhaps, start by boycotting Chiquita (formerly United Fruit Corporation), Kimberly-Clark, Coca Cola, Exxon/Mobil and other businesses who have, throughout their history, hired their own mercenaries to kill actual human beings who tried to ask for a living wage but were unfortunate enough to have chosen their parents incorrectly and grew up in some third world backwater where corporations were given free reign by corrupt puppet governments. What about the companies notorious for discrimination, Denny’s and Cracker Barrel come to mind? What about Wal-Mart and its tremendously poor environmental record coupled with being the defendant in the single largest sex discrimination case in history?

Also, why don’t we blinks stand in solidarity against companies who blatantly discriminate against us? This list would take years to write down as it probably includes 99.99% of all of the corporations worldwide. In a recent survey done by the UK’s RNIB, although the EU, US, Canada, Australia and New Zeeland (a ton of the money in the world) have laws requiring web accessibility, more than 98.4% of web sites in the world have some to many accessibility problems. Why don’t we fight about the corporate practices of companies who build barriers to our success with complete disregard whether warned or not? Take a company like Intuit, for instance, they have received thousands of letters, phone calls and emails asking for them to improve their accessibility but they absolutely refuse to lift a finger.

As Ted henter taught me, technology companies provide tools and it is up to the users to put them to good use. Microsoft is not the enemy when it comes to blindness issues. They are a huge corporation who makes the software that most people with jobs need to use daily. I can’t go out and tell the hundreds of thousands of blinks who use Windows based screen readers to stop working until Apple gets around to filling their requirements. As of today, April 3, 2006, Microsoft Windows XP (Second Edition) is the most robust platform on which a blind person can perform their job, do their academic work, perform research, play audio games and perform most any other computing task they require. Maybe, someday, Apple or gnome will surpass the Windows platform and, possibly, there are already some specific instances where VO or ORCA or IBM’s thing may work better than JAWS or Window-Eyes but the overall package still tips heavily on the Microsoft side.

So, if you want to boycott something, how about Union Carbide for the 30,000 or more people they killed and refused to compensate? How about reading Professor Green’s “IBM and the Holocaust” or the grand exposé of Bayer and their collaboration with Hitler?

Now, back off of my soap box. I suppose readers can detect from my tone that these battles generate real passion on all sides and, frankly, I’ve run out of the energy. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the first quarter of BC as much as I have had writing it.

Happy hacking and go Gators!

3 Comments:

Blogger Aaron said...

Happy 3 month anniversary ! I like your blog a lot !

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read the last post in the blog The one about "98.4%" of all web sites being inaccessible.
Now I know why my precious shark crashes now.
Btw, Jaws 5.0 on windows 98.

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a nice guy! Where would we be without Chris Hoffstader AKA Blind Christian.

1:27 PM  

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