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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Some People Just Don't Get It

People who have commented on this thread about Apple’s patent strategy have, as Matt commented yesterday have for the most part been, “carefully sidestepping the titular subject of this post.”  

Matt (is that Matt May?), did so intentionally so he could discuss the costs related to accessible web development and the difficulty that people who try to make web sites accessible have keeping up with changes in screen readers, browsers and their related DOM interfaces.  I still do not believe that screen reader vendors should give a discount to developers while we blinks pay full price but, on the matter of web standards, I recommend to all web developers to test with one of the many web accessibility test tools (I have a personal preference for Ramp from Deque Systems) and, if the testing tool suggests that you comply with the standards or guidelines that you should then report any misbehaviors that occur with one or more screen readers as bugs to their vendors as it is as much the job of the AT vendors to comply with standards as it is for web developers.

  Usability testing is much harder and I think Chris Westbrook’s idea of getting a web accessibility mailing list (like the one I started a couple of years ago) restarted will probably, if properly moderated and publicized, attract a pretty good group of volunteers.  It could even be a good opportunity for someone who wants to dedicate a lot of time and effort to the cause to start a non-profit that collects a small “dues” from a lot of web development companies and can offer both paid and volunteer services.  This could work like any of the voluntary membership driven standards and guidelines testing groups where an official “stamp of approval” can be issued to participating companies that pass both the automated compliance tests and the trials run by we “whining” blind people who are never satisfied.

Which brings us back to others who have left comments and, “the titular subject of these posts.”

Gabe, who has now posted twice on this subject wrote yesterday, “for one, Nice cheap shot you took on my writing on the last comments I posted, but in reality I didn't expect such a childish response about obvious missed
keys due to fast typing.”  If Gabe’s previous post had just missed a few keystrokes, I wouldn’t have commented on it.  If you look back at his original, it missed entire words and sounded like it had been authored by a C minus ESL student.  But, neither his comment on the perceived “cheap shot” nor my response to it has anything to do with the central theme of these articles about Apple and its aggressive legal tactics.

Gabe continues, “You still seem to not get that if FS really seemed to genuinly care about its customers, it would lower down its price of its cheesy broken screen
reader,” and continues with a statement about the number of bugs in the most recent JAWS beta release.  I’ll leave the grammar in this sentence to others to criticize and ask, what does the price of JAWS or the number of bugs in its beta have to do with patent applications regarding self-voicing interfaces or an all-in-one user agent?

If I had been writing about the costliness or relative quality of different screen readers, Gabe’s comment would be apropos to the topic at hand.  Instead, he chooses to mix Apples with Sharks and doesn’t seem to grasp the theme of this thread.  Specifically, that Apple’s recent patent filings have the potential to limit choices for electronics consumers with vision impairments in the future.  I thought the detailed collection of definitions of various segments of US intellectual property law might have pointed him to the subject matter I’ve been discussing but, alas, blinded by the rainbow tinted glasses, he attacks me for “cheap shots” and Freedom Scientific, a company that is not a party to this discussion at all, for their pricing strategy and bug list.

In another attack on me and, seemingly anyone who agrees with my position, Gabe continues, “also, you and all the hum drum you're trying to drum up is the reason why companies could give a damn about blind persons, when making a product. because
you sit here and wine and wine and eat your cheese with that wine and complain about big bad apple making a super duper all in one talking product, and
just because it doesn't have the name blind in it some where in the description, you want to buck against it and call it bad because a known blind company
didn't make it.”  Has Gabe been reading the articles I’ve been posting to Blind Confidential on this matter (there have been five prior to this one) or is he posting comments to a different blog?  

If I remember correctly, at least once in each of the previous five items on this subject, I included language that said Apple’s patents could prevent any manufacturer, AT or mainstream, from adding similar functionality.  I used the MPower as an example a number of times as it demonstrates published prior art to the Apple patent application on the self-voicing interface.  I also mention, though, that I would like to have this functionality in products not just from Apple but from HP, Sony, Panasonic and anyone else who wants to make a multipurpose talking device.  I understand reading comprehension has fallen in the US but rereading the posts I’ve made in the previous week demonstrates that I’ve repeated the idea that I would like to have these features on nearly any product I find in Best Buy or Circuit City and not just on products from AT specialty companies.

Gabe, in the quote above, also asserts that I don’t want Apple to make this product.  Quite the contrary, I want Apple to make this product and applaud them for adding a self-voicing interface to the iPod.  My objection is not to Apple adding these features to their products but, rather, to the patent strategy that they have taken which, if fully approved, can prevent other companies, mainstream and AT alike, from adding the same features.  Gabe obviously doesn’t understand the distinction between building products and adding new features to them versus taking a hostile legal stance vis a vis patents and competition.  Is this concept so hard to understand?  Have I been unclear about the difference between features of products and patents afforded them?

“I laugh at you and all the other hard core wining blind babies because it is because of you why we as a whole, group of the blind, will not advance, because
istead of worrying about more important stuff about taking on employers that wouldn't give the blind the time or day, you want to work on apple who is
just trying to make life easier for everyone, not just blind people,” Gabe says.  Well, I enjoy a good laugh at my own expense.  I am not, however, laughing at the Apple patent strategy which is designed to make adding new features to other products much more difficult.  If they are trying to make things “easier for everyone,” they wouldn’t be assembling a legal strategy that will prevent all other portable media players, some mobile phone handsets and some PDA units from adding similar features.

Apple has a good, albeit not original, idea in adding a self-voicing interface to an iPod and gradually extending the iPod from just a media player to a multipurpose device that can act as a user agent.  These six items I have written about the topic do not criticize Apple’s ideas, their features or their products (in fact, at least once, I state that VoiceOver, if it provides everything a user needs, is a highly credible screen reader at a modest cost).  My criticism is of their legal strategy and their attempts to prevent other manufacturers, AT and mainstream alike, from doing the same thing and perhaps selling it at a lower price.  Thus, I have been saying, perhaps in language Gabe can understand, “features good, patents bad.”

Afterward

Sorry for the cheap shots.  Sorry for the ad hominems that have plagued BC the past few days.  I just find it difficult to comprehend how anyone who has actually read these articles cannot understand the distinction between opposing patents while not opposing the features or ideas they cover.  I have been arguing in favor of promoting competition, for adding features and functionality that would make consumer products easier to use by people with vision impairments, for allowing Sony, HP, Diamond, Panasonic, Nokia and any other consumer electronics company to add the features Apple wants to hoard for themselves and for increasing the options available to we blinks.

Why can’t people understand this simple concept?  Have I been writing in Sanskrit, Aramaic or some other ancient language?  Has blogspot left out most of the text I’ve written or has someone hacked BC to change the content of these posts?  Or, is reading comprehension in this country really as bad as this seems?


BTW:  Gabe, not as a criticism but, rather, as a professional courtesy, I do recommend you get yourself a copy of or access to the online edition of “Elements of Style,” by Strunk and White.  Writing in clear sentences that follow the basic rules of our language, the way other people who comment here like Joe Clark, Matt, Chris Westbrook and others do goes a long way to helping get your point across.  You will find that you can express yourself in fewer words and people will take you more seriously if you can write reasonably well.

6 Comments:

Blogger Joe Dolson said...

Having been following this for a while, I find it equally difficult to understand why so many people have this difficulty. Admittedly, patent law is confusing. Perhaps some people do not comprehend that the granting of a patent is not something which is of benefit to the world as a whole - merely to the company which holds it.

I just wanted to post this comment and make it clear that there are people reading this who fully support your perspective. Software patents have done little to benefit any groups, as far as I can tell, and any patent which restricts the use of a feature which could act as a great benefit to certain disabled populations is nothing but damaging.

Although I will admit that I find it highly improbable that Apple will be able to demonstrate a lack of prior art on this topic - as you mentioned, this is pretty far from original. Nevertheless, patents have been granted on any number of topics where they probably shouldn't have been!

On the subject of whether web developers should pay lower costs for screen readers - no, they shouldn't. Speaking as an accessible web developer, it would be GREAT if we could. However, I see little justification for providing a discount to a group whose use of the product will be exclusively used in a profit-based manner. The blind may need it to do their jobs; accessible web developers would ONLY use it to do their jobs. This strikes me as a significant point of difference.

Well, that was longer than I expected. Anyhow, I would also like to confirm that you have not been writing in either Sanskrit or Aramaid, unless I've also amazingly developed the ability to read those languages.

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Will Pearson said...

I stand alongside Chris in his stance on this particular patent application. This will certainly limit the choice available to blind people, potentially forcing them to pay a premium for accessibility, but this patent could also hold problems for sighted individuals. Looking at a visual display whilst moving around in the environment is potentially dangerous. People need to see what obstacles are around them in the environment, altering their spatial relationships to avoid these obstacles as they navigate the environment. Failiure to do this could result in nasty, potentially even fatal, accidents, such as falling down steps, maybe being hit by a bus, as after all presumably these people will be using headphones with a resulting degradation of environmental sounds. Therefore, I view this particular patent application, if granted, as something that could potentially endanger the safety of individuals.

Given the potential enhancements to safety that could be made through the use of non-visual displays, I have to question whether Apple are acting in the best interests of humanity in filing for this patent. Having worked for some pretty unethical companies in the past, I'm yet to be convinced that commercial organisations can be good corporate citizens. However, potentially endangering human life in the quest for profit is, to me at least, the ultimate in questionable ethics.

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Will Pearson said...

I stand alongside Chris in his stance on this particular patent application. This will certainly limit the choice available to blind people, potentially forcing them to pay a premium for accessibility, but this patent could also hold problems for sighted individuals. Looking at a visual display whilst moving around in the environment is potentially dangerous. People need to see what obstacles are around them in the environment, altering their spatial relationships to avoid these obstacles as they navigate the environment. Failiure to do this could result in nasty, potentially even fatal, accidents, such as falling down steps, maybe being hit by a bus, as after all presumably these people will be using headphones with a resulting degradation of environmental sounds. Therefore, I view this particular patent application, if granted, as something that could potentially endanger the safety of individuals.

Given the potential enhancements to safety that could be made through the use of non-visual displays, I have to question whether Apple are acting in the best interests of humanity in filing for this patent. Having worked for some pretty unethical companies in the past, I'm yet to be convinced that commercial organisations can be good corporate citizens. However, potentially endangering human life in the quest for profit is, to me at least, the ultimate in questionable ethics.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Mia said...

Just another person chiming in to confirm that, yes, you have made your points perfectly clearly and that it is others comparing (and conflating the issues of) apples and sharks.
I also agree with you that Apple's would seem to be a specious patent claim, since there is plenty of prior art.

I'd wondered if Microsoft's own Voice Command software for the Pocket PC would demonstrate same, since it does have the ability to recite track and artist listings on command (or at least did when I played with it in 2003).

4:47 PM  
Blogger TheBlindTech said...

Dude, when willl you and all the other bloggers kill the blind pitty party.

but this I'm blind, I'm hated by the sighted wourld and I'm gonna go eat slugs, shindig is outragious.

let me give you an example of not taking sighted people's crap.

I went to castles and coasters, with my sister and her husband and my woman a week ago. after I, the blind guy, that holds a job and works hard for his money, was done paying for the day passes to get on all the rides and got a receipt, the lady who gave me my passes and receipt said, "Now.... you need to go to customer service and sign a waver"

I was taken back by this, maybe cause I couldn't believe that a theme park that I visited about 20 times before was telling me to sign a paper, at first I thought this was something everyone signed because the park did in fact have a couple of rides get stuck in the recent past, etc. I then asked, " is this a waver everyone signs?" and she replied "no, its a form we have all disabled customers sign because incase you get hurt, you can't sue us" I replied with "You got to be fucken kidding me right?!" and she replied, "please visit customer service seir" and I asked ffor the manager of the park to meet me there.

when I walked in to customer service, a woman, handed my sister a paper and said, "here can you help him fill this out" I reached for the paper and ripped it out my sister's hand and stated " woe, hold the hell on, get me a manager now!" she complied and a person named kerk showed up and I started by, "look! for one lets get something straight, I don't have a care taker, for two, I work like everyone else in this place and it is both embarassing and humiliating for you to try and have me sign this because I'm blind" he replied with the typical" we're sorry its a mistake, go have fun in the park" after leaving the office and when my sister and her husband was on the rides, Iput in a call to the park and reached kerk via phone, kerk was very apologietic and seemed to know the ada, the discrimination which was implied and apologized alot, he told me, which I'm convinced to try and connect with me or something, that he had a blind father in law. and told me he agreed that there was no reason for anyone to feel that form out because it was an illegal form.

now the example from this story is that I didn't think and still don't that the big bad sighted world is out to get me, and keep me away from the freedom we are all granted in this country and in this life. I am blind tech, and I am gabe vega, I don't advertize my blindness to hide, I am proud who I am and will not, stand up for idiots trying to use it against me.

Gabe
The BlindTechs Network

5:57 AM  
Anonymous Matt May said...

Sorry, Chris, but with respect to developer costs, I don't think you really addressed my comment at all. What I wrote was not a defense of discounted versions of ATs, but a call for AT simulators designed for developers.

If you wanted to learn how to be an airplane mechanic, you'd have to train on actual planes. You're not expected to go buy one of every model. Even if you had the money, it'd be a horrible waste of resources, since your goal isn't to use them for transport, it's to familiarize yourself with their inner workings. That's where the argument about "discounts" and discriminating against PWDs falls flat: developers aren't demanding cheap airplanes. But they do need access to them to figure out how they work.

There are companies in the mobile world that sell live access to every phone in use in a given market. Developers pay an hourly fee to access all of them. It would almost be useful to have the same thing for AT -- almost -- but for the fact that the developers still don't know how to use the thing.

What I would pay for is, as strange as it sounds, an AT adapted for visual users. If it were reasonably cheap, I'd buy it outright. Otherwise, I'd pay by the hour to access it, and pass that cost on to clients.

In any case, though, simply reading and following web standards is not sufficient, as developers who have experience doing that know that the ATs don't adequately support web standards. For years, I asked AT vendors to improve their standards support, to support the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines, and so on, but I don't feel any progress has been made in that time. If that's the case, then the only real route to progress is for developers to explore the limits of specific ATs, and figure out how to work around them. I wish it were a better situation, but that's where we are in 2006. I feel like a whole lot of time has been wasted.

12:39 PM  

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