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Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

As it is Christmas, I want it to write something to thank all of my readers for our first year of successful blogging here at Blind Confidential.  Every day the increasing number of readers, those who make comments and the private e-mails I receive from others have, in many ways, been the best gift I received in all of 2006.

As this holiday reminds us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, I suggest that all BC readers spend some time today outside of the crass commercialism of the consumer vision of this holiday and reflect on the message Jesus gave us and the positive ways his words have affected our lives.  I suggest this to all readers no matter of belief system if you are a believer, an agnostic, an atheist, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Moslem, Zorro asked, Hindu, Protestant, Catholic, Druid or whatever Jesus’ message contains something for you.

Today, I contemplate the beautiful Beatitudes, The Sermon on the Mount and other wonderful parts of the Christian Bible.  I'm certain that if this old cynic can find great piece in these words that the messages truly universal and I recommend to everyone that they spend some time in reflection.

I wish all our readers, a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Currency Events

About a week ago I started feeling the symptoms of an influenza virus.  Since then, my wife has come down with a similar affliction.  In fact, a number of our friends have been struck down with this virus and we're walking around with that vapid, NyQuil look on our faces.  My mind is blurry and everything around me seems to be moving very slowly.

I haven't been able to spend much time paying attention to the news, in fact, paying attention to anything for too long seems far out of my reach and isn't a skill I possess today.

I did learn, though, that Attorney General Al "Torture Memo" Gonzalez, head of our Injustice Department had ordered his minions to appeal the decision made by the courts that would have forced the U.S. Treasury to make our currency accessible.

So, for the second time in six months, the United States federal government stands apart from the rest of the world on issues involving disability.  First, the nation to which I pay taxes elected to opt out of the International Convention on Human Writes and People with Disabilities as John Bolton, presumably ordered by President Bush, refuse to sign the international treaty on people with disabilities.  Our government doesn't believe that we deserve the same civil rights as afforded to us in the rest of the "free" world.

So, to add insult to injury, AG Gonzales elects to appeal the one good thing that's happened for blind people this year.  The NFB case against Target was an excellent accomplishment this year but that battle was between blind people and the private sector -- the Injustice Department is responsible for upholding the Constitution and in this case has chosen to ignore the equal protection under the laws section of the Bill of Rights as it applies to us blinks.

Nearly every other democracy in the world has accessible money.  To my knowledge, no nation outside of the US that claims to be a free and open society discriminates in this way but, then again, I don't believe that any other democracy celebrates a genocidal maniac like Andrew Jackson on their currency either.
At least for not being rounded up and forced onto reservations.

I think it's time for this country to wake up and recognize that people with disabilities have the right to be independent.  I admit that I rarely encounter a time when there isn't somebody I trust around to identify my money for me.  What is missed, however, are the large number of jobs that require an employee to handle and sort currency.  Given an accessible terminal and accessible money a blink could work as a bank teller, in the counting rooms in Las Vegas and in lots of other cash-based jobs.

I recommend that BC readers write to the Justice Department expressing disgust with their decision to appeal this ruling.  On this matter, I respectfully disagree with my friends at the NFB and I strongly support my friends at ACB, I just wish we could all work together toward the common goals of achieving greater independence for us blinks and other people with disabilities

-- End

  • Anonymous Jake
  • Blogger Chairman Mal
  • Anonymous Jake

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Radio, Radio

Yesterday evening, I received an e-mail from Mitch Perry, News Director at WMNF Radio (88.5 FM) in Tampa.  He informed me that one of my lifelong dreams, that of becoming a radio personality, had come true.  I will start my orientation early next month and, in February, I will join our community radio station and cover stories regarding discrimination and civil rights involving people with disabilities and the elderly.

This will probably lead to Blind Confidential having a bit more of a local Tampa Bay feel as, for the most part, I will be reporting on local issues.  I do expect that I will cover issues involving people with disabilities apropos to a national and international audience as WMNF  is a Pacifica and Free Speech Radio News affiliate.  The station is also connected with National Public Radio but I strongly doubt that npr will find my volunteer broadcast pieces will meet their standards.

Although I didn't know about the community radio gig at the time I scheduled it, I will be interviewed on Main menu by Jeff Bishop today.  I don't know when ACB will be running it but I very much look forward to discussing a variety of issues with the guy is smart and insightful as Jeff.

As I am entirely new to radio, I hope that some of my old friends like Jeff, Marlena and maybe Jonathan can call or write with a few tips.  I have taken a couple classes in journalism and understand that when reporting for the news I can't enjoy the flexibility of bias and playing fast and loose with the facts as I can in a blog.  I don't know how this may affect Blind Confidential -- it may become more journalistic as I start thinking that way or, to contrast my radio work, it may become more gonzo and contain more fiction in the future.  In all probability the results will be somewhere in between as I will not be able to cover access technology issues on the radio as, frankly, few listeners would actually care.

So, look forward to me posting about my training and providing links to podcasts of my stories in the coming months.

-- End

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Legalize It!

As I do every morning, I sat down with my coffee to read my morning email and, as is the case on many days, the majority of it was from Blind News.  One headline from, The Hindu, an English-language newspaper out of India caught my attention and I read it immediately.  The story, "Visually-impaired man driven to ganja smuggling,” brought a smile to my face.

I was happy to hear that the blind person got a ride and didn't have to walk across the border to do is smuggling.  I couldn't quite imagine a blink tapping his cane through the Himalayas, through the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan to make a big score and then bringing it back into India on the back of a guide yak.

The article states that are friendly blind dope dealer, "Employs a person with 'full vision' for the purpose," of running his business.  I'm always happy to hear about blind people finding employment in roles traditionally held by sighted people.  I've known of two blind hydroponic chronic growers here in Florida and, unfortunately, neither has any for sale right now.  

"Curious as it is, the story of poor Bhimrav Durge depicts the tragedy of present times. Despite complete impairment of vision, he allegedly indulged in smuggling of ganja while being astute enough to employ a person with full vision on a wage of INR. 50 excluding expenses."  I have to give our blind friend here credit, so many blinks around the world are exploited by sighted people and here's a blink paying a sightie for approximately 1 penny -- the article does not say how much time a servant had to work for his half a rupee but, when you're only paying .5 INR for anything, you're getting a pretty good bargain.

"This visually challenged person's calling is begging for alms in front of the local temple.”I grew interested when a fellow villager told me over a `puff' about easy availability of ganja in Andhra Pradesh. I thought I can make small packs of the ganja and sell it for INR. 5 a piece," even if this is only a single grammar may be enough just to make one joint, five rupees is approximately $.10 so our blind friend seems to provide a good product at an excellent price.

Unfortunately, it seems that his low cost, cite it employee was not entirely competent as the pair managed to get caught.  "According to Durge's confession, he employed Raut to execute the caper. Both reached Jainoor mandal headquarters from where they purchased 10 kg of dry ganja for INR. 900. The duo also spent about INR. 850 during their two-day travel to reach the place. "I got the money from my savings of about INR. 3,500," said Durge who has four children who assists him at the temple."  Nonetheless, finding 2 kg of ganja for $18 demonstrates this individual is a shrewd businessman and, tragically, silly prohibitions of possession and sale of marijuana products are going to force him back into a life of begging -- 1 which seems to involve his children as well.  Finally, a blind person reaches a senior position in an entrepreneurial capacity and the government forces him to return to taking handouts.  "Realizing the seriousness of his alleged crime he vowed to go back to his village and take up begging again."

Marijuana, hashish, and the other derivative products from the hemp plant should be legalized globally.  Recreational and medicinal use of the substance is profoundly safer than alcohol and many pharmaceuticals.  Likelihood of addiction is low and the probability of one acting violently while on the drug is even lower.

-- End

Monday, December 18, 2006

Code Factory's True Public Beta

Blind Confidential articles have focused an awful lot on various technology issues lately.  Both Sue and I have the flu so dictating is a relatively painful experience for me.  I'm also still struggling a bit with the skills required to dictate while also writing creatively.

Thus, Gonz has been fairly quiet lately although I think he and some of his New York friends are enjoying the holiday season, the great Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, the windows at Barney's and the other New York holiday festivities.  I'm fairly sure he's doing something paranoid and is probably taking an ironic view of it all but, when I talked to him the other day, he said he was planning another trip to Florida and that he wanted to meet with Mr. Sidney greenbacks himself.

I've been thinking a lot about technology lately (spending a ton of time in Visual Studio will do this to a person) so, I've been writing a lot about technology.  The software that I'm making is designated for the mainstream market but because it uses principles of universal design we blinks can enjoy it too.

I received a press release, copied in its entirety below, about the upcoming Code Factory Mobile Speak public beta program and thought I should bring it to the attention of BC readers.  To my knowledge, this is the first time in assistive technology company has done a true "public" beta.  To run their new software all you need is a telephone that supports the appropriate platform and an Internet connection from which you can download the beta.  There's no need to purchase a license until the final version is released.

This is how big companies like Microsoft handle beta programs.  Windows Vista, for instance, had 6 million beta testers none of whom had to pay for the software.  I'm happy to see this practice, common in the mainstream technology world make its way into the access technology community as well.

What follows is the Code Factory press release copied verbatim so if you have a problem with it called them and not me:

Mobile Speak V3.0: News and invitation

By Roselle Ambubuyog

Dear valued customers,

We are approaching the release of Mobile Speak Version 3.0 which includes the following features:

- Support for all currently-available Symbian Series 60 3rd edition phones
- Multilingual Braille support for a variety of popular Braille devices
- Support for the new generation of standard Series 60 applications

Now we bring you more exciting news! Code Factory believes that the best way to meet the needs of the blind and visually
impaired is to base our products on the rich feedback from the users themselves. With this in mind, we're looking for users
with Symbian Series 60 3rd Edition phones to join our beta program and help us make Mobile Speak V3.0 even better before the
final release.

Testers will be able to use Mobile Speak for free throughout the beta cycle and may be eligible to receive free commercial
activation codes or second TTS licenses based on the quality of their contributions.

This is your opportunity to evaluate a working screen reader for Series 60 3rd Edition absolutely free of charge and
personally make sure that the features and support for applications most important to you are implemented in the final
release. Code Factory wants the best for its customers, which means not only a product with the fewest bugs and the most
useful features, but a product that is worth the money you intend to spend.

If you are interested in participating in the Mobile Speak Series 60 3rd Edition beta program, please email us at

and provide us with the following details:

1. Your full name.
2. Symbian Series 60 3rd Edition phone on which you want to test Mobile Speak.
3. The IMEI number of your phone found by pressing *#06# at the standby screen.
4. The firmware version on your phone found by pressing *#0000# at the standby screen.
5. Languages you want to test.
6. Email address you wish to subscribe to the beta list.

All data provided to Code Factory will not be sold, rented, or distributed to any third party, and all personal information
will be stored in a secure database managed only by authorized Code Factory employees.

We eagerly look forward to your contributions to the beta team and the best mobile phone screen reader for the blind and
visually impaired. Thank you for your continued support!

Best regards,
Code Factory

-- End

  • Blogger Leon Gilbert

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Peter Korn's History of Access API

This past Thursday, long time accessibility advocate, Sun Microsystems Accessibility Architect and one of the smartest and most energetic people you'll meet in the accessibility business, my friend Peter Korn, wrote an excellent history of accessibility API on his blog.  As Peter has been around this business more than twice as long as I have, he has a lot a terrific experience in this area as well as bearing the scars of many of the battles fought over this stuff.  In addition to the article I reposted by Aaron yesterday, I strongly feel that anybody interested in this topic read peters (link above) article on this matter as well.

It simply wouldn't feel like reality if I didn't have some areas of disagreement with Peter.  First off, I noted the he neglected to mention the work done by the ATIA AT/IT quote bits and bytes” working group in which he, Richard, I, Aaron and, very importantly, June Parrot as worked very hard to come up with a harmonized API.  While my involvement in that committee ended years ago, June, especially, served as the scribe and Mary Beth Jaynes, from Apple, served in the capacity that can only be described as somewhat between "den mother" and "referee."  It's unfortunate, however, that with AND MBJ's great contributions Apple Computer seems largely left out by this party..

Next, comes the idea of the the vocabulary wars.  When I describe something using the description, "first generation access technology," I referred to purely textual based interfaces some of which are still used by people in the GNU/Linux world and if you old timers who have a tattoo on one arm that says quote MOM" and on the other quote DOS.”  When I refer to second-generation access technology, I describe programs that running graphical environments like Windows or gnome.  My idea of third-generation is one which breaks the boundaries a unidimensional, single vocabulary token at a time interfaces, and moves into a multidimensional audio space.

Peter writes, "20 years ago - in 1986 with the inLARGE screen magnifier from Berkeley Systems - the assistive technology industry developed a set of reverse engineering
techniques to determine what desktops and software applications were doing. With the information gleaned from this hackery, these assistive technologies
provided an alternate user interface for people with a variety of disabilities. These techniques in accessing the graphical user interface were part of
a 2nd generation of access - the first generation being access to text-based systems like DOS, C/PM, and Apple II, and the 3rd generation being Accessibility
APIs (you might find my
IDEAS presentation in 2004
a good background on this evolution)."  On further reflection, I agree that peters use of such terminology is correct and I will henceforth refer to my multimodal and multidimensional work as G4.

Otherwise, I find I agree with Peter entirely and I really hope that this new API takes off.

[I have a nasty cold and I dictated this post so please be kind and don't beat me up about peculiar homophones and other mistakes that Drag in might make while listening to a sick old  fucker like me.]

I'm happy to hear that this new interface is entirely open source and I truly hope that some Macintosh hackers ( are you listening Gabe?  )  And will bring this system over to help make MBJs dream come true.

-- end

  • Blogger Chairman Mal

Friday, December 15, 2006

IBM Announces New Accessibility API

The debate between “screen scraping” and “accessibility API” seems to have been won by the proponents of the API model.  Sun and Microsoft have done excellent jobs with the gnome Accessibility API and UIA respectively and now IBM gets in with an interesting entry that may win the day.

In the article pasted below, copied verbatim from Blind News, Aaron Leventhal, one of the real heroes of AOL and most recently IBM accessibility projects, describes the new API in detail.  I haven’t read all of the supporting information but this one looks like a winner at first glance.

I still believe that a lot of attention needs to be paid to accessibility as regards context and do not know if this provides such a facility but, alas, it is a major step forward from MSAA that won’t require a total rewrite of the accessibility portions of a program.

Aaron’s article:

IBM and the Free Standards Group (FSG), today announced IBM's donation
Of a new accessibility API, called IAccessible2, to the Free Standards

** Why a new API?

The need for the development of this new accessibility API was clear:
1) Crucial features added: the first generation Windows accessibility
API, called MSAA or IAccessible, lacked crucial features, such as
Support for the caret and selection, accessible relations, rich text
editing, multiple actions and many other features necessary for quality
Support in assistive technologies.
2) Accessibility efforts preserved: an evolutionary path was needed for
Applications which already had MSAA (IAccessible) support, to support
these new features. Rather than throw away the MSAA support that
applications already had, it was considered less expensive for both
applications and assistive technologies to grow new solutions on top of
today's code.
3) Harmonized with other platforms: an API was needed that did not
require separate accessibility implementations for each platform. The
amount of different code between the ATK/AT-SPI implementations for UNIX
accessibility, and IAccessible2 implementations will be minimized, thus
saving resources.

This API draft was developed with consultation from a number of groups,
including assistive technology vendors, application developers from
Mozilla, developers working on ODF accessibility, and others.

** What is IAccessible2?

With the new API, an assistive technology will be able to QueryInterface
from an IAccessible*, to IAccessible2*, and to any other supported

The IAccessible2 interface itself collects important ATK features from
other areas, as well some completely new methods and features. These
tend to be methods that you may need on any object. For the most part,
features were added either to bring Windows capabilities up to the level
of ATK/AT-SPI, or in order to support the features of ARIA (previously
known of DHTML accessibility). For more information on ARIA, see the
links at the end of this email.

There are also specialized interfaces which are used only on objects
with the given capabilities of that interface. These interfaces
generally have a very close equivalent under ATK.  In the following list
of interface matchups, ATK interfaces are prefaced with "Atk" and
IAccessible2 are prefaced with "IAccessible":

AtkText ~= IAccessibleText
AtkEditableText ~= IAccessibleEditableText
AtkHyperText ~= IAccessibleHyperText
AtkHyperlink ~= IAccessibleHyperlink
AtkImage ~= IAccessibleImage
AtkTable  ~= IAccessibleTable
AtkAction ~= IAccessibleAction
AtkValue ~= IAccessibleValue
AtkRelation ~= IAccessibleRelation

That should give a rough idea that what we're doing is expanding MSAA
while matching ATK/AT-SPI to a very helpful degree. For more detail than
that, please see the draft interfaces, available here:

** What are some benefits of IAccessible2 for application developers?

1) Support advanced features while preserving investment in MSAA
2) True support for editing: new events and methods to expose selection
changes, caret movement, text changes and text formatting will help with
features such as rich text editing and "select and say" in Dragon
Naturally Speaking. These features will also remove the need for screen
reader hacks to find the caret and selection. Currently, Windows screen
readers must replace the video driver on the system and look for screen
draws of vertical blinking lines.
3) Maximize code reuse: for example, Mozilla has in already moved most
of the ATK/AT-SPI support code out of the Linux-only files into a
cross-platform area of the code. The code still supports ATK, but it is
now also ready to support the IAccessible2 interfaces once they are
dropped into the codebase.
4) Support AJAX applications: IAccessible2 has object attributes which
will alow browsers such as Firefox to expose any author-supplied ARIA
hints to help make live regions of a web page accessible. In general
there are a number of features for the delivery of advanced ARIA
features, such as extensible roles, relations and actions.

** What are some benefits of IAccessible2 for assistive technology

1) Preserve investment in MSAA: because IAccessible2 is
backwards-compatible with MSAA, the current support of Windows screen
readers and other assistive technologies can continue to work on
applications that add IAccessible2 support. However, the newer
IAccessible2 capabilities will also be exposed, and thus newer assistive
technologies will be able to take advantage of them.
2) Enable more powerful features in more places, such as rich text
editing and features such as "select and say" in Dragon Naturally
Speaking, and sensible support for powerful widgets in rich internet
applications, in browsers that support ARIA through IAccessible2.
3) Simplify maintenance: over the long term, IAccessible2 is a rich API
that will simplify screen reader maintenance. For one thing, it reduces
the need for interference with the low level drivers on end user systems.

** Where can I learn more about IAccessible2?

1) FSG IAccessible2 Home Page:
2) IBM Announcement on IAccessible2:
3) Showing the Accessibility Way: IBM Contributes Project Missouri to
the Free Standards Group by Andy Updegrove:

4) IBM project aims to help blind use ODF applications - InfoWorld:
5) IAccessible2 announcement in Japanese:

Where can I learn more about ARIA and accessibility for rich internet
1) Roadmap for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA Roadmap):
2) Roles for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA Roles):
3) States and Properties Module for Accessible Rich Internet
Applications (ARIA States and Properties):
4) Mozilla ARIA documentation:

Where do I learn more about ATK, AT-SPI and UNIX/Linux accessibility in

This is an exciting time. A number of people worked very hard on this
API, and as the press release indicates, a number of organizations have
come out to declare support.

Feedback and questions are of course welcome.

Thank you,

Aaron Leventhal
IBM web accessibility architect


About a million years ago, when I worked for Turning Point Software, we had a lawyer named Andy Updagrove.  I wonder if he is the same one mentioned in this article?

-- End

  • Blogger Ranger1138

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Blind Bargain Site

As virtually everyone in and around the AT business has written, it is hard to find bargains on items important to us blinks.  In the Fred’s Head Companion, Michael delivers a very good set of items in an article I read via Blind News.

My own opinion is that prices will drop as the market grows and we, in the blindness biz, manage to find more off-the-shelf hardware with which to work.  For instance, the MSS example I’ve been writing about lately is far cheaper than a BrailleNote and has many more features.  Leveraging the mainstream will be the key to our economics in the future.

Michael starts by saying, “There are lots of sites that track the lowest prices for computers, music, electronics and TV's. It's often hard to find who has the best deal for a talking watch or an accessible cell phone.”  This is true and, sadly, the AT industry, with giant margins probably does what it can to avoid too much price comparison.  I will add, however, that one gets what they pay for.  If you shop at Wal-mart, you can expect mostly self service; go to Saks or Nordstrom’s and a salesperson kisses your butt while you pay triple for the same item.  In AT, if you want full service, training, local technical support, etc. you will pay extra, otherwise, buy from a catalogue if you don’t think you’ll need this kind of service and get the Wal-Mart treatment. features deals, coupons, bargains, and the lowest prices for blindness-related items, whether they are designed for the blind or just happen to work for us. They won't post all of the deals, just the lowest prices by reputable merchants,” continues Michael’s article.  I visited and I must say I’m really impressed.  As FHC states, it’s not just stuff designed for us blinks but, rather, all kinds of great bargains from the mainstream, furthering my argument for technology transfer, that are really impressive.

An example of a great bargain that we blinks can enjoy but is far out of the ghetto from Blind Bargains, “Linksys Phone Adapter for Vonage for $93 Profit has a Linksys 2-port phone adapter for $52. Pay via Google Checkout to drop the price to $32. Then, sign up for new Vonage phone service and use
A $125 mail-in rebate to gain $93 profit. Vonage is a broadband phone company that charges $24.95/month for unlimited calling. Rebate ends December 31.”  So, while this doesn’t exclude our sighted brethren, it is a real sweet deal for people on a fixed income.  

Of course, one needs to continue shopping around as Blind Bargains has advertised, “Western Digital Passport Portable 2.5" 160GB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive for $115.56 shipped. has lowered its price on the Western Digital Passport Portable 160GB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive for $135.56. Pay via Google Checkout, and the price
Falls to $115.56. With free shipping, this is $8 lower than our last mention and the lowest price we could find for a 2.5" drive of this capacity.”  Maybe I don’t know much about hard disks but I just bought a Western Digital at Circuit City that holds 250 GB for $99 but mine may be slower or bigger or something.

FHC concludes, “Note: The Blindness Auction Gateway is a part of this site, allowing you to search for blindness-related items on Ebay.”  This is yet another cool feature of the Blind Bargains site.

Overall, I think this site is really cool.  Give it a try if you plan on buying me a Christmas present (contact information below).


Recently, I’ve been talking a lot about MSS.  I have, however, been talking about a version that is not available to the general public.  I don’t know the CF schedule for release but I’d bet that the version I’m using will be out by ATIA.

-- End

  • Anonymous J.J.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Loyalty? Who Needs It?

In our culture, many people speak of the virtue of loyalty.  We hear radio stories about soldiers who oppose the war in Iraq but returned to the desert to fight beside their band of Brothers.  When loyal employees of corporations retire we give them gold watches and often invite them back as consultants.  In the United States, it is our presumed duty to be loyal to God, family, country and, in our corporate culture, to our employers.

Once upon a time, corporations were also expected to return said loyalty to their employees.  Sadly, corporate human resources are today, more often than not, treated like office equipment – they are beloved until they are worn out at which point they are discarded.  This holds true for the access technology industry as well as any other and, while I was an executive in this industry I readily admit that I behaved with the goals of the corporation above those of my fellow employees and of the users who purchase the products I made..  To make matters worse, I have perpetuated certain myths about the AT industry in the articles I’ve written on BC and, hence, I am a lying liar just like the rest of the greedy fuckers in corporate America.

For this past behavior, I apologize.  I deeply regret choosing the side of corporate greed over virtues like loyalty and honesty and promise to avoid doing so in the future.  I ask my readers’ forgiveness for these indiscretions.

Last week, I learned of an AT dealer who had been selling products from the same manufacturer for something on the order of ¼ of her life losing her distribution contract for said products.  Only a few years earlier, she had received a ridiculously large and heavy trophy for being the top seller in the eastern third of the nation for the company who now felt they no longer needed her services.  She was dismissed without warning and without a stated reason.

This woman, someone whom I know more by reputation than by contact, is blind and has an intimate understanding of the products she sells.  In New England, blind people have come to rely upon her and her great staff for service, training, installations and all sorts of other activities that assist them in using what can be very complex products.  She is the consumate professional and, after well over a decade of service, deserved far better than the, “Good bye and thanks for all the fish,” that she received.

I have started as a portal for open source AT projects and Adlib Technology, a company you will be hearing much more about in the coming months, to dedicate my time and energy to products built under the principles of universal design.  As I often repeat, we do not make software for blind people – we are blind people who make software for everyone.

I intentionally set up Adlib in a fashion that makes it impossible for me, the CEO and Grand Poobah, to have too much power.  I can break ties on the executive committee level but, mostly we are designed to build consensus and function as a group.  My management metaphor is to defer to the expert and, on many days, that is our 20 year old hacker and not our 53 year old CFO.  Age and experience matter less than good ideas and implimentation strategies.  Adlib Technology and are not about me, they are about the team and the community they serve.

In the coming weeks, I will be writing a number of articles with the intent of dispelling the myths of the AT industry, many of which I have perpetuated while in the biz and have continued to do so in this blog.  In all honesty, I have tried to wrap the bullshit in language that made it sound like the lies that is but, alas, without a lot of insider knowledge, many people would assume that my stories are true.  I apologize for this too and promise not to do it in the future.


My colleague in blogging, Ranger, proprietor of the Ranger Station blog (link above) wrote an excellent comment about the open source article I wrote on Sunday.  I wanted to point out a few small things about it:

I never said that altruism was the driving force behind the open source screen readers; in fact, if it was, I don’t think it would be making such excellent progress as we see in LSR and ORCA.  Section 508 motivates these projects, as it did VoiceOver from Apple, but, no matter the motivation, good screen readers available as part of the OS distribution is a good thing.

Ranger also reminded me about the GW lease to own program.  I neglected to mention it and, in all honesty, I had forgotten it existed.  Ranger is correct that this is an excellent, low cost way of test driving a product outside of the product line of the biggest game in town.

-- End

  • Anonymous Will Pearson
  • Anonymous Anonymous

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Open Source Screen Readers?

A few years ago, a handful of Stanford University Computer Scientists and professors from their business school worked together on a paper discussing the relative security of free and open source systems versus security in proprietary software systems.  They concluded that GNU/Linux servers were considerably more secure than those from Microsoft, Apple, Sun Microsystems and Others That Use Proprietary Software.  The Paper Proffered the Notion That Open Source Software Had Fewer Quality Problems Because There Were Literally Tens of Millions of Programmers with Access to the Source Code, Hence, an Enormous Number of Programmers Were Available to Fix the Bugs in the Open Source Programs.  At the Same Time, Though, Few Open Source and Free Software Products Have Become Popular among the Average Users As Microsoft and Apple Provide Much More Friendly Interfaces to Application Level Software.

There Has Been a Flurry of Activity in the Free and Open Source Communities for Making Software That Is Accessible to People with Disabilities.  As I Wrote the Other Day, along with a Handful of Partners, I Have Launched to Serve As a Portal to Open Source and Free Access Technology Programs.  The Question Arises, Though, if the Open Source Community Cannot Provide Interfaces That People without Disabilities Find Desirable will We Be Able to Succeed in doing so for Our Community?  I Feel That the Answer to This Question Is, Probably.

The Source of My Optimism for Open Source Access Technology Comes from the Same Theoretical Basis for the Explanation As to Why the GNU/Linux Systems Are Able to Provide Greater Security Than Solaris and Other Proprietary Systems.  Having Worked at Henter-Joyce and Freedom Scientific and Remaining Active on Mailing Lists Populated by Blind Computer Users, I Can Attest to the Great Expectations That Our Community Places up on the Developers of Software We Use.  Sometimes, the Criticism can be so Strong and Feel like Such Terrible Hostility That Some Programmers Will Shy Away from Listening.  In Most of the Cases That I've Observed, However, People Who Make Access Technology, Especially the Open-Source and JAWS Script Hackers, Listened to the Suggestions from the Community and Work Their Asses off to Implement the Features Requested.

On the Gnome Desktop, There Are Currently Two Open Source Screen Reader Projects Underway.  LSR from IBM and ORCA from Sun Microsystems.  The Non-Visual Desktop Application (NVDA), an Open Source Solution Written in Python, Has Recently Been Released for the Windows Operating System.  There Are Also Quite a Number of Free and Open Source Screen Reader like Programs for the GNU/Linux Text based Console Systems.  I Have yet to Use Any of These, so My Opinions about Them Are Informed Entirely by Other People.

JAWS Scripts, However, Probably Represent the Largest Body of Open-Source Access Technology in Existence Today.  People like Brian Hartgen, Doug Lee, Jim Snow Barger, Jamal Nazrui and Far Too Many Others for Me to Be Able to Remember Them All Right Now, Extend JAWS and Provides Support for Applications That Freedom Scientific Chose Not to Make an Investment in.  In Some of These Cases, the Scripts Developed by People in the Community Provide Access to Essential Programs Required by Many of Us to Do Our Jobs.  These Free and Open Source Script Sets Get Updated and Have Features Added Far More Frequently Than Organization As Large As Freedom Scientific Would Be Capable of Doing.  Without Some of These Open Source Scripts, I Could Not Do My Job and I Expect There Are others out There in Similar Situations.

Thus, I BELIEVE THAT THE JAWS Script Example Can Be Applied to a Free and Open Source Screen Reader for the Windows Platform.  NVDA Has Just Been released so the Jury Is still out on Whether or Not the Community Will Embrace It or Not It (My Single Complaint with NVDA Is That It Is Written in Python, a Language with Strict Indentation Rules That I Am Uncertain about How Well a Blind Person Can Interact).  Other Than That, Though, It Looks like a Pretty Good Start.

To Expand the Possibilities of Mainstream Operating Environments and Open Source Screen Readers, Though, I Recommend That Microsoft Released Narrator for Vista and Apple Release Voiceover As Open Source in the Same Manner That IBM and Sun Have Done with LS Are and ORCA.  With These Tools in Hand the Blind Programming Community and Its Friends Will Have a Solid Launching Point on Which to Build a Tremendous Level of Support for the Programs We Use on a Daily Basis.  Having Access to the Source Code Will Also Give Those of Us Interested in Exploring New User Interface Paradigms a Solid Framework from Which We Can Work.

Will Open Source Screen Readers hurt the Current Access Technology Companies?  They Will Certainly Put a Dent into the Software Income but, If a Blind Person Can Save a Thousand Dollars by Getting a Free Screen Reader They Might Turn around and Purchase a Braille Display, an Embosser or Some Other Cool Gadget.  Meanwhile, to Survive, Programs like JAWS, Window-Eyes and the Others Will Have to Provide a Compelling Reason for a User to Spend Their Hard-Earned Money to Buy a Screen Reader If a Credible One Is Available for Free.  I Believe This Will Certainly Fuel Innovation and the Net Effect Will Be That We All Benefit.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Prices, Quality, Rumors

I don't have a really well formed theme for today's blog entry so Blind Confidential today will be kind of a stream of consciousness blabbering of thoughts going through my mind at the moment.  I'll try to maintain some reasonable level of organization but no guarantees okay?

The High Prices of Access Technology

Recently, a good friend an old access technology hacker remarked to me over a meal about how sad it is that the majority of blind people in the world cannot afford screen readers.  He specifically pointed out that such products are considerably more expensive than the computers they run on.  While we agreed that the market as small, we found ourselves scratching our heads trying to find a different category of technology product where the prices have increased while the market for said product also grew.

Our conversation led me to pull my little T-Mobile DASH out of its carry case and to start contemplating what such a massively complex device would have cost 30 years ago when I first started programming professionally.  This smart phone is tremendously more powerful than the mainframe on which I worked back in my Lincoln Savings days and it didn't cost over $1 million to purchase nor does it require an entire staff just to keep it running properly.

This leads me to remember a mistake I made in my article about Mobile Speak Smartphone and my cute new T-Mobile phone that I wrote the other day.  I had forgotten that MSS sells for roughly $300 and not the $500 that Code Factory charges for its PDA cousin.  Thus, at the maximum price for this particular phone, a copy of MSS and a Bluetooth keyboard comes to approximately 820 five dollars, a little more than a third the cost of a blind guy ghetto PDA.

I find that due to the near monopoly position held by JAWS that few agencies, training centers and other places people by or are given access technology products rarely even consider lower-cost alternatives.  While I wrote here recently that to do my job, I NEED TO USE JAWS, many other users, however, use a computer primarily for Internet browsing, e-mail, instant messaging, word processing and a few other chores.  The training centers and other access technology organizations should take a serious look at System Access and Freedom Box as it is highly probable that they can save a tremendous amount of money without taking a single feature their consumers actually use away from them.

In the last couple of days, I received a story from Blind News that John McCarty wrote for The Fred's Head Companion blog about a website that keeps track of prices for products of interest to people with vision impairment.  I browse to the site and bookmarked it and comment if you're interested, you can read Michael's entire article at

More on Screen Readers

The other day, Also through Blind News, I received the press release announcing the latest and greatest version of Window-Eyes.  Like I do with most access technology announcements, I read it with interest.  The press release contained a statement that said that Window-Eyes 6.0 was, "the first screen reader to support the Outlook calendar."  I took exception to this phrase as I've been using the Outlook calendar with JAWS for a long time.  So, I said "flame on" and wrote an e-mail to Doug Geoffray with the intent of reminding him that we've had this feature in JAWS for a long time.

As is often the case when I shoot my mouth off before actually trying software, I learned that my e-mail to Doug was entirely unfounded.  He responded by suggesting that I actually try the product before complaining about it.  So, I did.

I apologize to Doug for sending him such a rude e-mail without even trying his latest version.  Fortunately, I didn't write anything in Blind Confidential about this feature before writing privately to Doug who is a big boy and who knows me well enough that I can't say anything that would actually hurt his feelings.  I will take this opportunity to tell anybody who uses the Outlook calendar with any frequency that they should try the latest window eyes.  While I disagree with Doug's assertion that they were the "first" to support this important feature of Outlook, I will agree entirely that the new window eyes sets the bar for working in the Outlook calendar and does a much better job than any other screen reader that I've tried using in the Outlook calendar.

Congratulations to the GW guys for getting this difficult feature to work terrifically.

The Goddamn Rumors

The access technology industry is always rife with rumors.  I've been known to pass on quite a few while gossiping with friends and I enjoy hearing a lot of the rumors that bounce around the biz.  I've made no secret that I've started and a commercial venture called Adlib Technology.  I've heard all sorts of rumors about and Adlib and, frankly, I find it pretty flattering that people take the time to make up and spread stories about the things we may or may not be doing.

I take offense, however, when the rumors bouncing around name people who are not involved in these projects and who work for Freedom Scientific and other companies in the access technology business.  While I have a lot of friends at these companies and envied their talent pool, none of them will be coming to work for any of my ventures anytime soon.

People working in the software field's can get in a lot of trouble if word gets around that they are even interviewing with other companies, let alone one run by a former employee of the company where they work.  Please, believe me when I say that no freedom Scientific employees or engineers at other access technology companies will be joining Adlib technology or in the foreseeable future.

I do see these people on a social basis and sometimes tell them about things I'm working on but that's a far cry from recruiting them to work on my new projects so, if you feel like spreading rumors that can seriously mess up someone's career, think before you talk.  Working in the access technology business is stressful enough in these people don't need to worry about the bullshit rumors that might get them in trouble.  Feel free to say anything you want about me but, when talking about my friends, please shut the fuck up!

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  • Anonymous Will Pearson

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

T-Mobile DASH and Mobile Speak Smartphone

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am passionate about the concepts of technology transfer.  In brief, technology transfer sometimes called T2, means taking (or transferring) mainstream technology into access technology by making certain adaptations that provide the features that a person with a disability needs in order to operate the technology in question.  Universal design, a concept about which I'm also passionate, means designing products for everyone to use without regard to disability.  Universally designed products, however, remain rare while the concepts surrounding T2 are all around us.

Virtually all screen readers demonstrate examples of technology transfer.  By installing JAWS, a user transfers mainstream technology like a Hewlett-Packard desktop computer, a Toshiba laptop, Microsoft Windows and lots of software designed for the mainstream market into products that are mostly accessible for people with vision impairment.  Thus, one needn't purchase a special word processor, spreadsheet, text editor or whatever other programs a user employs while running JAWS.

Unfortunately, while most computing tasks are handled using screen readers and, therefore, leverage the enormity of the mainstream market to benefit from the highly competitive prices on computer hardware and mainstream software, handheld devices seem mostly to remain in the blind guy ghetto.  A few companies, Nuance, with its Talx screen reader for Symbian cell phones, Dolphin Systems, with Pocket HAL for mainstream PDA devices, Humanware with Trekker and Maestro on mainstream PDAs and, most impressively, Code Factory with screen readers for Symbian And Windows Mobile cell phones and Windows Mobile handhelds.  Other than Talx, I'm only really familiar with the Mobile Speak line of products from Code Factory.

I've written twice already in Blind Confidential about my experiences with the brandy new T-Mobile DASH.  The first detailed my trials and tribulations trying to get Audible Player installed on the device and the second about the terrific service I got from Code Factory when I found some nasty bugs In Mobile Speak SmartPhone (MSS).  Now that I've lived with the device for awhile, I would like to proffer my opinion on it.

Plain and simply, MSS on my little T-Mobile DASH is without a doubt the coolest talking device I have ever touched.  At approximately 4 ounces (119 g) it weighs in at roughly 1/8 that of the blind guy ghetto speech only products but it's packed with far more features than any product from an access technology company.  Among other things, this little device includes quad band GSM, Blue Tooth, 802.11 B and G, Edge, access to the most popular instant message systems (Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo), has loads of applications, a 1.3 megapixel camera and a ton of other really nifty features.

A user can add a ton of off-the-shelf programs Available for Windows Mobile like the audible player and other cool stuff like Microsoft voice command and almost anything else you can imagine.

In my opinion the coolest thing about it is that MSS reads nearly every application flawlessly.  The software from Code Factory is not perfect but I find far fewer bugs with it than I do in any other screen reader that I use with any frequency.  Also, Code Factory is really good at fixing bugs quickly and getting builds out to the consumers as rapidly as I’ve ever seen any company deploy updates.  The nature of Windows Mobile Smartphone Edition that makes it especially nice for us blinks is that it is designed to be entirely keyboard-driven.  So rather than having to simulate screen taps, the screen reader has keystrokes native to the system itself and only needs to add a few additional ones for screen reader specific features.

MSS And a Windows Mobile Smartphone is my favorite solution for my personal portable computing and communication needs.  If you are looking for a notetaker or a PDA with the fully featured Windows Mobile five, programs like Word Mobile and Excel Mobile, you would probably be happier with either a PDA phone like the Hewlett-Packard iPAQ 6915, a regular iPAQ like the 2495 or something similar.  If you plan on doing a lot of typing and you want to use either a Windows Mobile Smartphone or an off-the-shelf PDA running Mobile Speak Pocket or Pocket HAL you would probably benefit from adding a Blue Tooth keyboard to your collection of portable devices.  All of the Mobile Speak products support Blue Tooth Braille displays but as I've never tried them at all I can't comment on how well they work.

The economics of a Mobile Speak Smartphone solution is pretty intriguing.  This morning, when I did a quick Google search to find the weight of the T-Mobile DASH, the page on which I found it is offering the phone for free, after rebate with a new T-Mobile contract.  I paid approximately $300 for mine with a one-year T-Mobile contract extension and unlocked versions of the phone have been seen on eBay for around $450.  A Blue Tooth keyboard runs about $50 and MSS cost about $500.  Thus, at the maximum price, the cutest little system I've ever seen comes to about $1100 -- almost exactly half that of the blind guy ghetto solutions.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Birth of the Cool

"Birth of the cool," The first album Released by Miles Davis as a bandleader, radically changed the way we would perceive American music forever.  It contained the seeds that would take us from standard bebop into modern jazz.  Recently, Joe Lavano released a new album with help from the great Günter Schuler, one of the original members of the Miles Davis band that made the historical recording back in the late 1940s.  The new album preserves in a near museum like manner the original Gil Evans arrangements but introduces us to how they would be played by some of today's hottest musicians.  If you're a jazz fan I strongly recommend checking this album out.

The release of "Birth of the Cool" also introduced the word "cool" into popular American English describe something other than temperature.  Today, nearly 60 odd years later, virtually all Americans understand what one means when they say "Samuel L. Jackson may just be the coolest man in history."

Over these same 60 years, the value of "cool" has increased dramatically and I'm certain that somebody at a business school or some MBA type somewhere has some equation that can be applied to the market value of the relative "cool" of a product.  Thus, companies that sell consumer products, especially those who want to sell products to young people, do whatever they can to maximize what I will call "the cool quotient."

I fully understand why Apple products, especially the iPod, seem "cooler" than their competitors.  Apple Computer spends far more time and money on maximizing the cool quotient in their products than do their competitors.  This makes sense for a product like the iPod as its primary selling factor is the "coolness" of the device.

What happens, though, when the "cool quotient" causes problems with accessibility?  Furthermore, why do authors of products with little or no "cool" potential waste their time and development dollars making flashy, nonstandard and fundamentally inaccessible interfaces for their software?

Recently, I bought a USB Blue Tooth dongle to use to test some of my programs.  The dongle is tiny, pops right into my USB port and, unlike my previous Bluetooth dongle, chose to be incompatible with the Windows hardware profile for such a device.  Kensington, the manufacturer of this product, for no reason apparent to me chose to add a bunch of useless software on top of their hardware and by doing so they threw away the convenience of what is usually a "plug and play" experience.  To make matters worse, all of their so called value added software was very difficult to use with a screen reader.  Virtually all other brands that make USB dongle's are happy to have their customers just plug the thing in and start working, perhaps with a few settings you might want to tweak in the Windows Control Panel where standard Blue Tooth devices are configured.  What, if anything, did Kensington improve with its "cool" interface to what is ordinarily a highly standard and highly accessible type of hardware?

This morning, I went into my home office with the intent of hooking up my brand-new APC UPS.  When you live in the county where people have the highest probability of being struck by lightning in the entire United States, one takes continuous power supplies and surge protection very seriously.  I attach the cable from the UPS to one of the USB ports in the back of my trusty old Dell desktop and inserted the setup CD.  The installer read nicely with JAWS and I thought things were going smoothly.  Then, I ran its configuration program.  I found that I can get some information by poking around with the JAWS cursor but I received no indication whatsoever about whether or not I could click on something, change a setting or do anything else.  With the PC cursor turned on all that JAWS would say is "blank" and the tab key and other standard navigation keys did absolutely nothing.  What could the APC developers be thinking when they decided to make a nonstandard interface to the configuration program for uninterruptible power supply?  What can possibly be "cool" about an UPS device?

For the past six months or so I've been dabbling in programming using Visual 2005.  With the scripts written by the guys on the blind programming mailing list (available on the empowermentzone website and, soon, on, a blind programmer can do a credible job of slapping together a very usable, albeit not likely very pretty, user interface.  To remove basic accessibility from an application built using the Visual Studio designer actually requires extra effort.  So, companies like APC and Kensington are probably using older tools but, nonetheless, ignore accessibility entirely in hopes of having a unique or "cool" interface to products that at best have a very low "cool quotient."

Other products that seem superfluously inaccessible because of an attempt by their authors to create a "cool" interface include spam filters, virus protection products and other security related programs.  The only time a person with or without a disability cares to interact with such software is when they're installing it and when something has gone terribly wrong.  Lots of flashy graphics, animations and other user interface elements intended to make the product look "cool" has nothing to do with the purpose of such products whose users rarely interact with them and, when they do, they may be in a total panic.

Of course, even the programs with the highest potential "cool quotient" with the most extremely nonstandard interface can be made accessible with a minimal amount of extra effort on behalf of its developers.  When it comes to these programs I'm frankly quite sick and tired of hearing mainstream developers first say, "for our audience it has to be very, very cool..." and, even worse, "we'll build a separate, text only version for your people."  Returning to Thurgood Marshall, "separate but equal isn't," so my advice to the mainstream developers of the world is to make your software or website as cool as you want but, follow the well-established accessibility standards and guidelines and learn principles of universal design and you can make super cool programs and websites that can be enjoyed by everyone -- with or without a disability.


Recently, I've read a few things in Blind News about Google's accessibility improvements.  While I applaud Google for making the effort to create an accessible search facility, I am discouraged by their approach to solving this problem.  Only a tiny fraction of users with vision impairment who use computers require a special, text only interface to Web content.  Dr. Raman has made tremendous contributions to the world of computing for people with vision impairment but, it's time to realize that it's no longer 1985 in that text only solutions are no longer necessary nor optimal for blind computer users.

Google should reevaluate this strategy and choose a path that follows the guidelines and standards that have been widely adopted for Web accessibility.  Access technology software that are not compliant with the user agent guidelines do not provide the level of access necessary to level the playing field for people with disabilities.  As I say above, separate but equal isn't and suggesting that developers, web or application, maintain separate interfaces for each group of people that may have different use needs is simply ridiculous.

In my well-informed opinion, the solution to universal accessibility will only be achieved with universal standards exposed by technologies and then read by as many different user agents as necessary to serve as interfaces for as many different use cases as possible.

Returning to the Google example, a user who prefers a text only console for doing their work can use a text-only web browser as long as said browser is compliant with the user agent guidelines.  If such text only browsers, most popular on the GNU/Linux platforms do not comply with the user agent guidelines, that is not the fault of web developers but, rather, of the people who work on such browsers.  In the GNU/Linux case, the source code to at least two text-only browsers is freely available so anyone with a few programming chops can make them compliant with the user agent guidelines.  Thus, I respectfully request that the anachronistic, text only aficionados shut up and program instead of whining at the world of technology has progressed since 1984.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

The website was scheduled to go online today.  As this is a project run entirely by volunteers, many of whom have day jobs, we fell behind by a bit.  So, the website has what amounts to an “under construction” page that describes the goals, values and what we expect to be the future of  So, if you want to take a peek at what were planning head on over to the page and I hope you find our ideas interesting.

One of the major aspects of the website is to encourage volunteerism among the community of people with disabilities.  Another is to promote a community-based mentoring system in which people with disabilities who want to learn a new skill can match up with experts in the field and work on professional quality open source programs that people with disabilities can use without impediment.

The community of people with vision impairment, the group of people with disabilities that I know the best, has authors tremendous amount of energy.  Some members of our community focus on applying this energy to constructive purposes; others, grow frustrated and spend a lot of energy yelling about problems but offering no solutions.  I hope that our volunteerism project can help channel energy toward solutions rather than just criticism.

The  site also hopes to serve as a one-stop shop for people with disabilities to find free, open source programs that they will enjoy using.  In the beginning, we will be focusing on Windows and Windows Mobile software as that is what we know best.  I expect that scripts for JAWS will dominate the early content on the site as all of the blind people working on this project use JAWS and that is the area with which we are most familiar.  Some time in early 2007, when the site will have its Windows section in some reasonable order, we'll start adding software for the GNU/Linux platform and after that software for Macintosh and other platforms.

If you are interested in volunteering on this project in its early stages, we mostly need people to help us research and find as many free and open source projects pertinent to people with disabilities that run in the Windows environment.  We need help finding all of these projects, categorizing them in writing a sentence or two describing them for people who visit the website.  If you think you're interested in helping, visit the under construction page and click the link to send a mail to

Blind Confidential will announce important changes to the website but it's probably best to check their from time to time to watch it grow.


The other day I described how I had trouble being objective when talking about commercial screen readers.  Since then, I've received a number of e-mails asking me to recommend a sites where people can find more quote fair and balanced quote reviews of technology products for people with vision impairment.  I had intended, in that post, to suggest a few places but I managed to forget to do so.

At the top of the Blind Confidential page, you'll find a heading labeled “Blog Related Links."  In that list you'll find a link to Desert Skies, Ranger Station and a number of other blogs written by blind people about technology issues.  Also, there is a link above to Access World a terrific publication that has all sorts of news and reviews of products involving our community.

Undoubtedly, there are others out there and if you do a blog or find some sites especially helpful that I don't have on the list above, please send me an e-mail And We'll Add It to the Blind Confidential page.

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  • Anonymous Anonymous