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Friday, September 21, 2007

Do Screen Reader Developers Have The Skills To Design The Future?

One of my research projects involves designing a user interface for
delivering mathematical equations through an auditory system. I,
therefore, find myself thinking a lot about human short term memory
and the amount of information a typical student can retain while
listening to their computer speak an equation. I also need to concern
myself with techniques to deliver this information in a unambiguous
manner, a task equal in difficulty to the short term memory issues and
possibly more important as my users can review the equation with
cursor keys to refresh their memory but would struggle to calculate
the correct answers to problem sets if our system cannot properly
disambiguate the information.

I have spent a lot of time over the past few years thinking about and
working on models to improve the efficiency with which a person can
use devices which expose their interface through audio. This
obviously includes screen readers and other programs that people with
vision impairment employ to more easily perform various tasks. I also
concern myself with other applications for speech and audio user
interfaces; namely, I study the application of auditory user interface
concepts on mainstream devices and look for ways to leverage the
market size of consumer electronics as applied to access technology.
Finally, my research includes looking into auditory interfaces for
people who may have a temporary disability (motorists can only safely
use one hand and no vision when driving, military personnel cannot
take their eyes off of a target or their hands off of their weapon,
etc.).

As I've documented throughout the history of Blind Confidential, I
struggle badly with repetitive stress injuries and have started
calling my form of RSI "Screen Reader Syndrome" because of the
disproportionately large number of keystrokes that a person with
vision impairment must use to achieve the same goal as a person with
sight using the same software packages.

I have a very high level of respect for the software engineers who
write screen reader software. I have met most, if not all, of the
lead technical people at the various vision related software
businesses and all have impressed me with their intellect and
dedication to the work they do. Doug Geoffray and his team have built
a really solid code base and continue to deliver relatively
interesting upgrades on a steady schedule. Mike Hill, of Dolphin, has
always impressed me as one of the smartest guys with whom I have
discussed technical issues. Matt Campbell certainly deserves the title
of hottest newcomer to the biz as he continuously creates interesting
solutions to very difficult problems. Of all of the people working on
different solutions for people with vision impairment, I know the
least about Willy Walker, the Sun Microsystems lead developer on the
orca screen reader, but I do find his answers to questions and the
other information he sends to the orca mailing list to be very useful.
I've only tried NVDA and Thunder a couple of times and don't know any
of the folks involved in their development so I will withhold comment
on them. I have met Travis at Apple who works on VoiceOver and he
also seems like a very smart guy.

Of all of the people in the biz, I know Glen Gordon much better than
the others as we talked on a near daily basis for six years. In the
nearly 30 years since I started working on software professionally, I
have enjoyed the privilege of working with a lot of really smart
people on all sorts of interesting problems. Glen Gordon stands at
the top of my list of truly great hackers along with Richard Stallman
and many other really smart folks.

While Glen, Doug, Mike, Willy, Travis and Matt all have excellent
technical skills, do they and their teams have the skills necessary to
take the audio user interface paradigm to the next level, one in which
people with vision impairment can use software with a level of
efficiency similar to that of our sighted peers?

If we explore the skills most necessary to build the current
generation screen readers, we find two major skill sets: really low
level operating system hacks and taking information from API and DOM
and organizing and presenting it in a manner that a person with vision
impairment can use effectively. Peter Korn would argue that the
operating system hacks insert a level of instability to the screen
reader and to the entire system and he may well be right. At the same
time, gathering information from an API or DOM will miss information
that an application developer neglected to code properly to conform to
the API or DOM upon which the screen reader relies. Thus, the low
level techniques might produce instability but can often deliver
information unavailable to an API driven solution; meanwhile, screen
readers that rely on API can provide really excellent information,
including contexts and relationships that do not lend themselves too
well to the screen "scraping" techniques. Obviously, both systems
have their strengths and their problems. As far as I know, all of the
Windows based screen access programs use a hybrid of operating system
hacks and API/DOM to collect information while orca and VoiceOver both
rely entirely on API and DOM for their data.

In my six years at HJ/FS, I hired quite a number of people into
software engineering jobs to work on JAWS, MAGic and our other
programs. In virtually all cases, we looked for people who had at
least some low level hacking experience because JAWS, like its Windows
counterparts, uses a lot of operating system hacks to collect data
with which it populates its off screen model (OSM) and MAGic, like all
Windows magnifiers, must do some very delicate bit twiddling at the
operating system level. Thus, we looked for programmers with a bit of
silicon under their fingernails and a solid understanding of Windows
drivers and low level graphical functionality.

The last large step forward to improve the efficiency with which a
screen reader user can hear information came with the introduction of
the Speech and Sounds Manager in the JAWS 5.xx series. By using the
Speech and Sounds Manager, one can cut down on the number of syllables
they need to hear while also hearing a sound simultaneously with text
read by their synthesizer which, depending upon the application which
the user needs, can cut down on a substantial amount of time required
to achieve a given goal. I know that Serotek System Access uses some
sound augmentations when in a browser, that HPR did some of this in
the past and I've heard people tell me of some now defunct screen
readers doing a bit of this as well. No one, to my knowledge, though
has implemented a system nearly as comprehensive as the one in JAWS
which one can use in many areas of their computer usage to deliver
more than a single dimension of semantic information at any given
instance.

Before Speech and Sounds Manager, JAWS defined the state of the art
with its incredible collection of information augmentations gathered
from various DOM in the Office suites and other applications that
exposed a rich API. In most cases, these added data items did not
appear anywhere on the screen but contained very useful information
for users of these applications. For example, in the time prior to
JAWS' adding DOM support and information augmentation to its support
for Microsoft Excel, a person with a vision impairment could open and
even edit Excel files but, especially when trying to read an Excel
worksheet that someone else had made, they had to spend a lot of time
poking around just to find which cells had data and what the row and
column headers might say to identify what the value in the cell might
mean. All of these initial augmentations were delivered in a textual
format read by the speech synthesizer. Thus, JAWS users could learn
more from and with a greater level of efficiency work with
spreadsheets and other interesting applications.

These augmentations provided a screen reader user with a lot of extra
semantic information about the document of interest. It cut down on
the amount of time and keystrokes a user had to spend while working
with said document as the augmentations provided them with a way of
ignoring information that they had no interest in and for finding the
items of greatest interest to them within a specific task.

In the years that have followed, most of the Dom based methods of
improving efficiency through delivering additional meaning to the user
and the quick keys method of navigating a web page more rapidly than
had previously been possible have been imitated by most other screen
readers on all platforms. The Speech and Sounds Manager remains the
only major method of increasing the semantically interesting
information in any given amount of time that resides entirely in JAWS.

Unfortunately, I have not seen any truly innovative user interface
improvements in any screen reader release since the JAWS 5.xx series.
Certainly, Window-Eyes and System Access have added a large number of
new features in each of their releases but, for the most part, they
have been catching up to the 2003 releases of JAWS. Meanwhile, FS
hasn't done much to raise the bar that its competitors must reach to
catch up in the past three or four years.

In terms of innovation, FS seems to include incremental new features
of little interest and the other screen reader vendors, on Windows,
GNU/Linux and Macintosh, seem hell bent on creating a JAWS clone. In
conversations both Will Pearson and I have had with people at various
screen reader companies, the notion of increasing the number of
semantic dimensions delivered to a screen reader user in a single
instant has been called a "gimmick" and some individuals have told us
that, "it can't be important, none of our users have asked for it…"

Many years ago, when HJ still made JAWS, we commissioned a market
research project to help us determine what our users actually wanted.
One of the results most difficult for us to understand was the line
that said that less than 2% of blind computer users wanted to use
Excel. I recall discussing this with Eric Damery and we concluded
that blind users would use Excel if it worked reasonably well with
JAWS. Thus, although the market research told us that no one cared
about a spreadsheet, we hired a contractor to write scripts for Excel,
I worked closely with the contractor on features and such and today,
about eight years later, many people who use JAWS and most other
screen readers also use a spreadsheet. Thus, the argument that "no
one has requested a given feature" continues to be baseless as the
majority of screen reader users don't know they want something until
it shows up in their AT. It's a classic chicken and egg problem.

What user interface structures might help improve the efficiency with
which a blink can interact with their computer? A number of different
theorists and researchers could provide a lengthy list of ideas
ranging from concepts like synthetic vision to 3D audio to a method
with which a screen reader user can quickly move their attention from
one conceptual group to another (the method which a sighted person
employs unconsciously by moving their gaze. There are a fairly large
number of other ideas bouncing around the research community but
absolutely none of the screen reader vendors seem to spend any time or
effort seeking the next major step forward for their users.

At this time, I cannot blame these companies for their lack of
enthusiasm for finding a more efficient user experience. Many of the
products out there spend most of their time trying to catch up or jump
past JAWS and, perhaps more to the point, none of these companies have
people with the design skills to invent a model that will improve user
efficiency.

Thus, the titular question of this article, do the screen reader
vendors have people with the skills necessary to move the state of the
art forward? I think not. I do think that all of the screen reader
vendors act in good faith and believe they make the right decisions
regarding user interface but, unfortunately, they do not have anyone
on their staffs dedicated to studying such problems, suggesting and
designing new UI metaphors and improving the efficiency of absorbing
information delivered by a screen reader.

The missing skills can be a bit obscure. The first necessary skill
would be in human computer interaction (HCI) with a strong background
in non-visual interfaces. It would also be valuable to have people
who understand cognitive psychology, learning theory,
psycho-linguistics and other disciplines that can be applied to
defining the next step in audio user interface design. Such people do
exist and many have computer programming in their skill set as they
tend to demonstrate their models in software simulations.

Today, the only groups I am aware of who are exploring
multi-dimensional audio interfaces for use by people with vision
impairment are the people like David Greenwood who make really cool
audio only real time action games. Shades of Doom, Greenwood's most
famous title, plays up to 32 simultaneous sounds and a user can
understand what is going and, react to the situation, kill the mutants
and save the world from the mad scientist. Obviously, the information
delivered by a action/adventure game would differ substantially from
that delivered by a screen reader in a word processor but Greenwood's
work and that of the other audio game hackers proves that blinks can
understand much more information than the single syllable or pause
produced by a speech synthesizer.

Will the screen reader vendors try to move the state of the art
forward? I certainly hope so. Audio user interfaces will start to
appear in mainstream products. People with a number of smart
appliances, blind or otherwise, will not want to look at a display
every time they want to change the state of a device in their house.
These people will want to issue verbal commands and receive audio
feedback. These people will also expect their systems to function
very efficiently as a smart home and smart appliances that take longer
than their predecessors to function will be rejected out of hand. The
screen reader companies do have a lot of knowledge about blind users
and their needs and, in my opinion, if they added people to their
staffs who could help them develop systems that deliver richer
information, they will find themselves on the cutting edge of design
for non-visual interfaces for both people with disabilities and for
the mainstream consumer.

-- End

13 Comments:

Blogger Darrell said...

The market research concerning Excel is very, very interesting, indeed. The situation is definitely one of those "if you build it, they will come" cases. I think Salesforce.com, Siebel, SAP and other similar job related applications are in the same boat. The screen reader folks have done a woefully insufficient job in these areas, too. I think, rather than asking their blind users what they think they want from their inadequate knowledge of the technology world, screen reader makers should go out, determine what apps are being used in the classroom and the typical workplace, then put their noses to the ground making those apps more accessible! Period. Access to workplace / educational apps, Web 2.0, CAPTCHA. Things like that, even more so than semantics. Just give me enough info to start to do my job, then the rest will be nice, icing on the cake. If our screen reader folks don't start innovating in a serious way very soon, I see a crisis on the horizon!

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Will Pearson said...

I agree, my experience has been that the screen reader developers don't have the skills or knowledge that are necessary to design advances in user interfaces. What is also quite clear is that screen reader developers fail to realise that advances in screen reader user interfaces are needed to reduce the disparity between sighted and blind people.

At the moment accessibility is built around a flawed assumption. The assumption is that listening to speech is equal to reading. Listening to speech is functionally equivalent to reading, and so people can be somewhat forgiven for believing that the two are equal, but beyond the shallow level of functional equivalence the two are not equal. There have been a lot of scientific studies conducted in to the differences between listening to speech and reading and these studies have shown that listening to speech is slower and requires more work than reading. Other forms of accessibility, such as talking books, make this assumption and so the flaw isn't unique to screen readers but it still remains a flaw in the design of screen readers.

The use of serial presentation methods by screen readers also place blind people at a disadvantage. Serial presentation methods, which present information a piece at a time, have several disadvantages to parallel presentation methods, which present multiple bits of information at a time. As a person only senses a single piece of information at a time with serial presentation they cannot alter the focus of their attention to navigate around the information. Whilst screen reader developers currently do a reasonable job of simulating attentional focus they are missing one vital element. Research has shown that attention is based on perceptual groups. At the moment screen readers fail to simulate this fully; they allow a user to navigate between perceptual groups that are represented by a specific programatic element but not other perceptual groups. Attention also enables someone to switch their focus to any perceptual group that is currently being sensed and doesn't require someone to navigate through the perceptual groups in a particular order.

Serial presentation also means that information is only presented temporarily. If you can only present one thing at once and you want to present another piece of information then you have to get rid of the piece of information that is currently being presented. This leads to people having to remember more with serial presentation than they would have to with parallel presentation. People have a limited capacity for their working memory. A greater demand for remembering things and a limited capacity memory can cause problems because people often cannot remember everything.

These disadvantages and others still exist even when things work perfectly with a screen reader. They exist because of the design of screen readers and therefore the only people who can make them disappear are the screen reader developers.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Mike Calvo said...

The Serotek Prospective
More than 160 million people worldwide are blind or low vision. This number is provided by the UN’s World Health Organization in it’s 2002 surve7 and study of preventable blindness. The distribution is as follows:

The ration of blind to visually-impaired is about 3.4 visually impaired people to one legally blind person, which places the world’s blind population at 36.9 million. The number is actually lower than previous estimates. It should be noted that these statistics are only estimates. There is no formal detailed world reporting on prevalence of blindness. Occurrence generally tracks population and income levels therefore the greatest occurrence is seen in the South East Asia, Western Pacific, and African regions.

More than 80% of blind people are age fifty or older, although this age group accounts for only 19% of the world population. There are an estimated 1.5 million children younger than age fifteen who are blind.

Computer and Internet Use

There are approximately 8 million visually impaired people in the U.S., 1.3 million of whom are legally blind. 1.5 million visually-impaired people use the computer and/or Internet; 1 million on a regular basis. Fewer than 200,000 totally blind people have access to the Internet and/or computers in the U.S. and only 102,000 use these valuable resources regularly. In essence, computer use in the U.S., one of the most technologically advanced and wealthiest countries, is about 12% for the visually impaired and less than ten percent for the totally blind.

Extrapolating this data and assuming that U.S. usage and European usage are comparable, but that all other countries lag far behind, we estimate that worldwide usage by totally blind people is at best 500,000 and by the visually impaired perhaps ten to twelve million. That represents a significant failure for the Assistive Technology industry.

The Digital Lifestyle is Key to Independent Living

In fact, the lack of access to digital information is a more severe handicap than blindness itself when it comes to independent living. The digital lifestyle provides instant access to information of all types. It is a superb medium for social networking. Using these tools a person can shop from his or her home; participate in a wide range of educational opportunities; communicate at very low cost with almost anyone on the planet, and be gainfully employed – all without the need to necessaraly leave the home. As Internet access becomes ever-increasingly mobile, one can maintain this connection to the world wherever one is. Travel is no longer a major limiting factor in a blind person’s life. Internet access improves quality of life in all dimensions. To be denied this access is to be excluded from an ever-increasing percentage of the human experience.

Serotek believes that universal digital information access delivers the following benefits:
• Community: individuals can interact and share information and experiences with other like-minded individuals at will
• Awareness: The Internet provides nearly instant access to news and information of all kinds. People using this source of information are significantly better informed and aware of world events than those who do not have access.
• Information: The Internet is the best single reference source for information of all kinds. With the aid of a search engine, a user can access the vast library of government publications plus an even larger library of private information sources. There are few, if any, subjects that cannot be successfully researched via the Internet.
• Employment: Computer usage is virtually essential for any meaningful employment in the modern world. Via the Internet, persons can not only be employed but often work from their homes.
• Entrepreneurial activities: The Internet makes it possible for any individual to sell goods and/or services to a worldwide market.
• Education: A computer and computer skills are essential for modern education. Via the Internet, a person can pursue a wide range of educational opportunities ranging from acquisition of technical skills to completing high school, to acquiring a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and/or Ph.D. from accredited online universities.
• Entertainment: Via the computer and Internet one can enjoy virtually any desired entertainment from described DVD’s or downloads of popular movies to thousands of Internet radio channels, to games of all types, and all manner of hobby-related forums.
• Health services: Self-care, healthy living programs, health coaching and ask-the-doctor information is all available on the Web.
• Shopping: From necessities to luxuries, one can buy anything via the Web, all without leaving the comfort of one’s home.
• Finance: Online banking, investing, loans – almost any financial activity can be carried out over the Web
• Creative arts: writing and music are two creative activities that the blind can enjoy using digital technology.
• Counseling: Online support groups are available for a wide-range issues from grief-management to depression to cancer survival.
• Spiritual: Whatever your path, the Web has resources to support you ranging from virtually all conventional religions to a huge array of less conventional spiritual paths.

These benefits add up to increased independence and higher quality of life. Visually impaired people of any age who lack access to these resources live a lifestyle that is unnecessarily diminished. Serotek's mission is to open these resources to all.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Will Pearson said...

I agree with Mike Calvo's view that the lack of access to information is a more severe handicap than blindness; however, I would expand this to include the view that using a screen reader is currently a more severe handicap than blindness due to the manner in which screen readers present information. Information can be communicated more efficiently and more effectively through none visual sensory channels than the levels that screen readers currently achieve.

The lack of an efficient means of navigating and processing information really place screen reader users at a disadvantage when it comes to education and employment. Educational courses typically have to be completed in a fixed amount of time, and the inefficient techniques that screen readers use to communicate information means that screen reader users take longer to perform a task than other people of the same ability and who apply the same amount of effort. Therefore, screen reader users are more likely to be unable to complete a task, such as an educational course, in a fixed amount of time. The typical way around this is to extend the time allowed for a screen reader user to complete a course but this isn't always possible and it isn't really equality any way. A similar problem exists in employment. A screen reader user will take longer to complete a piece of work than someone who doesn't use a screen reader of the same ability and who applies the same effort. Given that recruiters often want to employ the person who will produce the most work for their organisation and to the highest standard it is unlikely that a screen reader user will gain employment if the only difference between candidates is that one of them uses a screen reader.

All these problems are caused by the current design of screen readers. In essence screen readers are nothing more than a mechanism to communicate information between a computer and a user in a none visual manner. The sole purpose of a screen reader is to facilitate the communication of information and navigation around that information yet screen readers do this relatively poorly compared to what they could potentially achieve. This isn't the fault of a web developer or application developer but is solely the fault of screen reader developers. Screen reader developers choose how information is presented to users and it is these choices that are responsible for the inefficiencies.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Ricky said...

Very interesting stuff, I use a lot of layers of different types of audio to alert me to different things and I don't even use a screen reader!

I just thought you might be interested to contact the guy who writes a blog here: http://cjkarr.vox.com/ - I don't know him except that I use some of the software he wrote, and he's interested in a lot of the topics that I am interested in - which are the ones like HCI and cognitive science related stuff that you talk about here. He doesn't know me from a bar of soap :)

r
(http://atmac.org/ - ATMac, Assistive Tech for Mac OS X Users)

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recently, NVDA has added a rather interesting feature. When you move the mouse around the screen, NVDA uses audio beeps to communicate the relative position of the mouse cursor, using a combination of increases and decreases in pitch and panning in the stereo field. Another interesting feature is that the volume of the beeps increase or decrease, depending on the brightness of the pixels under the mouse cursor.

If they could add this feature to keyboard navigation as well, in my opinion, it would allow blind people to better understand the layout of objects on the screen, and allow them to comceptualize them similarly to the way a sighted person would.

2:05 AM  
Anonymous Mike Calvo said...

System Access has had audio feedback for the VMouse in the form of audio and stereo placement for years now. It is documented in the help. We also use sound to provide feedback for links on a page and when the computer is busy processing a webpage or System Access function.

I don't mean to sound flippant, but why don't you assemble a team of developers and write a screen reader Will. It seems to me that you spend much time writing about the problem but not much on it's solution. Now I have seen some of your writing on the solution and I think you may have the makings of a good adaptive technology solution. Remember all of us AT companies started as the brainchild of a founder that said "hey something's got to change.". Maybe I will stand corrected but all of us started with an idea and not much money so funding isn't an issue. You could also join forces with the NVDA folks and help them get funding for this great product they are developing.

If you don't agree with the current way AT companies are doing it then by all means be a capitalist and open a company that does it better. This is the great thing about open markets.

I am not attacking you Will, I mean what I say. You should really do it man. I am all about thinking outside the box and I think that so are you. Outside the box thinking is what brings change to any market.

I do have one question though. So, should we blame Louis Braille because most folks that use Braille are slower at reading, taking tests, and doing jobs? Should we bash him for not being more of a forward thinker? Just food for thought.

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,
I stand corrected. What I meant by saying that the mouse beeps should apply to keyboard navigation as well, was that, for example, as you moved to different objects on the screen, there would be audio beeps just like the mouse. One could use the pitch and stereo panning of the beep to determine where that object is located in the screen. I apologize if this feature has already been implemented in System Access.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Will Pearson said...

Mike,

I appreciate your perspective. It's very true that I could start my own business to produce my own screen reader. It's something that I've thought about before but an idea that I keep on rejecting. Previous experience, mainly from one of the other screen reader vendors, has taught me that I really don't belong in industry; I don't function well in the world of business and I don't like all the crap that goes along with business. I have thought about an open source AT product before and did start discussions around developing one. The main problem I found with an open source solution is that democracy kills it off. Most people seem to want a free version of JAWS and I don't feel that a free version of JAWS is the best for blind users in the long term.

I'm not really motivated by money, and this is probably one of the main reasons why I haven't set up my own AT company yet. What does motivate me is coming up with new ideas, investigating those ideas, and proving the correctness, or incorectness, of those ideas. This is why I'm drawn to academic research rather than industry and why I keep on rejecting those job offers that people send me. I feel that I can make my biggest contribution to accessibility by conducting research and not producing products.

Will

12:13 PM  
Blogger Toonhead said...

I'm a bit late coming into this, but I think what Darrell says makes a whole lot of sense. If we don't do something soon, we may reach a day when we'll log into an important site like a bank or some other kind of institution that keeps sensitive data and we need to access it. But guess what? Because of the captcha, and if there's no audio or other alternative way of accessing the numbers to type into the box, we my friends are essentially locked out. It's an old saying I know, but there are more than one ways of skinning a cat and I think there could be alternative methods of getting past the captcha, but if we can't get at it, we won't be able to do much. I wonder if there's any way of contacting the developers of the actual captcha system and finding out if some changes could be made? We seem to be contacting the websites that use the system and asking for an alternative method, when the real problem is the system itself, and that system obviously had to be developed by someone, and it just seems to me that if they were made aware of what's going on they would be interested, hopefully, in coming up with an alternative? Now if all this has already been done then I'm obviously unaware and quite obviously it hasn't worked, but it was a thought.

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Jake said...

One of the comments here mentions beeps that would pan from left to right or right to left, thereby giving us users information about the task bar and such. There are now a set of JAWS scripts that apparently do this, but I haven't yet tried them out to verify how well they work. Just go to http://www.dlee.org , and I think the program is called something like JGauge. I think this guy works at the same company as my brother. Non-Visual Desktop Access has a feature like this, which may be toggled on and off. It is only used to indicate the percentage of a download though, and I don't believe the tones pan from side to side but just increase in pitch as the download progresses.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Linda said...

Interesting, very interesting. No, listening and reading are not at all the same, one is passive while the other is active. And if you cannot control the speed at which information is spoken, you are forced to slow down substantially.

Furthermore, the inability to get the "big picture" - what is on-screen and where it is located in relation to everything else that is on-screen - decreases productivity and increases frustration. It's a lot like using a screen magnifier which only allows you to focus on a small area of the screen at any given time. This is not how most folks use a computer, nor is it necessarily the best way to use a computer. Certainly, this is not terribly efficient.

I am not a programmer, nor am I an entrepreneur. But I think it must be possible to redesign screen readers to provide the user with a better sense of what is currently on-screen. Perhaps Open Source is the best way to go - to entice the widest array of people with the appropriate skill sets needed to think about the problem from a different angle, from a new perspective. Perhaps it's time to start from scratch, and build from the ground up instead of figuring out how to tweak and hack the current crop of products to make them a little bit better.

Like I said, I'm not a software developer. I am an end-user, and I want a more functional product for my money.

12:10 PM  
Blogger michael said...

Coming to this late -

I'm incredibly optimistic about non-visual UI development based on the mass populace acceptance for temporary vision loss in mobile computing. We are abandoning the keyboard, mouse, screen paradigm as processing power migrates from our desk to our hands. The cellphone is the new way to compute and the evolutionary DNA is based on an auditory experience. Along with this shift, applications are moving server side. Data transmission and rendering for the browser is more important than display translation or understanding of discrete apps.

I'm not a developer or hacker, rather a designer and observer of user experience, however, I see and hear a mainstream need for for what the visually impaired have been asking for.

At eTech, I presented some concept work on auditory UI, http://www.fermatatime.com using layering and spacial placement. The attendees that were the most interested at the end of my talk were not people thinking about accessibility, rather companies like eBay and France Telecom interested in how to deliver better information via the mobile device. Nuance and others are making far more practical headway in this field than my experimentation but all-in-all I believe there is a positive shift.

In the same way that uTube and video blogging opened an un-intentional window of opportunity for the deaf community, a computational power-shift to the small screen may open the same for the visually impaired.

3:54 PM  

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