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Thursday, September 13, 2007


Since arriving in Massachusetts, I've had access to a wireless network
but I do not have my father-in-law's password for what was his Comcast
account and the huge ISP/Cable/Phone Company requires authentication
to use its outgoing server and it doesn't permit anonymous rerouting
to other SMTP servers. And, no, I cannot ask my father-in-law for his
password as he died in March and hasn't spoken to me since.

Ordinarily, I write Blind Confidential in MS Word and use the "Send"
item under the File menu to email the post to blogger.com. Once the
Blogger for Word button bar stopped working, I found that the email
approach, described to me first by Jeff Bishop (link to his Desert
Skies blog above) in a phone conversation a few months ago, suited my
needs better than anything else I could find. I understand that Word
2007 has some kind of interface for people who write blogs that sends
information directly to the host but I only have Office 2003 on the
laptop I brought with me up north and cannot comment on how well it
works with a screen reader.

So, in order to stay in touch, post blog entries and communicate with
people on my various research projects, I created a gmail account and
also tried to use the blogger online interface. On this laptop, I
have two Windows screen readers installed namely, JAWS and System
Access so I cannot comment on HAL, Window-Eyes or any of the others.

When one goes into the gmail page with JAWS, they quickly learn that
they cannot use the site unless they click on the link that reads, "If
you are using a screen reader, click here for basic html," or
something very similar. With System Access one can start using the
site and the dynamic content is updated properly, tables are
recognized as such and the links that JAWS reports as plain text
actually work.

Even in the "basic html" interface, JAWS exhibits some peculiar
problems. In the multi-line edit fields, when one tries to type a
capital letter that is also one of the quick keys in the JAWS virtual
buffer support, the leading screen reader announces that "This feature
is only available when using the virtual buffer on the Internet."
Oddly, this only happens the first time that any of the capital
letters are typed in such an edit field per session. Thus, capital F,
O, I, B and the other quick keys cause a temporary error when typing.
This isn't an enormous problem unless, like me, you type very quickly
and, when you review your message later, you find that some words are
missing their initial letter. Still, this is more of an annoyance
than anything else and I'd assume that it would be an easy bug to fix.

Because I'm running Visual Studio a lot, I tend to also run JAWS as
the scripts that Jamal Mazrui and the guys on the blind programming
mailing list have written as a team, are so good that VS .Net works
better with JAWS than any other screen reader/IDE combination out
there that I have tried. [If you are interested in these scripts or
any of Jamal's cool and highly accessible programs, go to his web
site: http://www.empowermentzone.com or one of the other sites that
provide ways to download this software.] I don't always feel like
jumping from one screen reader to another just to read mail or send a
quick response to someone so I have grown kind of accustomed to using
JAWS with gmail although I would prefer the System Access level of

The blogger interface also works better with System Access than with
JAWS but it is not as smooth as the SA gmail support. Yesterday, as
many of you noticed, my post "The RIM, RAM, SAM Scam" contained a
bunch of garbage and two copies of the text I copied from MS Word and
pasted into the blogger edit field. I don't know how or why this
happened but, somehow, the text I copied from Word got combined with
text in the JAWS virtual buffer and when I pasted it into the edit
field, it looked pretty crappy. I did the blog post right as my wife
and I were running out the door to visit an old friend in Jamaica
Plain so I didn't review the post and, given my luck with web
interfaces lately, it, of course, came out miserably.

Generally, though, the screen readers I tried (more so in the JAWS
case than SA) need to improve a bit before I would say that the gmail
or blogger interfaces are truly usable. SA, as I state above, does an
excellent job with gmail and performs adequately in blogger. JAWS
requires that one use the blind guy ghetto "basic html" interface for
gmail and works dreadfully in the blogger pages. I'm told that JAWS 9
is supposed to do revolutionary things on the Internet so I hope that
when 9.0 is released, it does at least as well as System Access on
pages built with AJAX that have a lot of dynamic content.

Mike Calvo wrote an interesting post on the "Who's to Blame" topic on
the Serotek blog yesterday (http://www.serotek.com/blog). I recommend
that BC readers check it out as I think he provides a more
comprehensive discussion of the issue than any of the other blogs I've
read recently.

I still think that ATIA, the industry association for access
technology companies, should try to coordinate an effort to develop a
document that web developers can use to better understand what AT
users will see, hear or feel when on their web sites. The precise
design of user experience should probably remain in the hands of the
AT companies as features like Quick Keys and others are issues on
which these companies compete and I, for one, want the screen reader
vendors to continue to try to innovate in order to beat each other at
the cash register. At the same time, though, I feel strongly that web
developers should have a easy set of reference materials on which they
can set expectations for how their pages will work with AT.

Mike Davies, the actual author of the blog post I accidentally
attributed to someone else last week, said in a comment he posted that
he would not like to have different expectations for behavior in
different screen readers and that he would also not like putting a
"best if read with screen reader X" statement on a web page as this
would be bad for standards and guidelines and would likely muddy the
waters of web accessibility. I believe this sort of thing is
inevitable whether the web sites state that they work better with one
screen reader or another or leave such a statement off and let the
users guess which AT might work best on which sites. I feel strongly
that the AT companies should try to adhere to the user agent
guidelines as closely as possible; sadly, though, I think that the
leading screen reader vendors will do whatever best suits their
business model rather than what best suits their users and rely on
companies like google to provide a blind guy ghetto "basic html"
alternative to all of the cool new dynamic content that people who do
not depend on AT can enjoy.


As the easiest thing I could find to fix the "RIM, RAM, SAM Scam"
article was to delete it and repost the entire thing, I also deleted
the comments posted before I put the corrected version up. Will
Pearson and Chairman Mal had sent in interesting comments and, if they
read this, I hope they will repost their comments as I found them
entertaining but I don't think they were online long enough for many
others to see them

-- End


Blogger Darrell said...

Blogger actually works rather well with JAWS, System Access and the other screen readers. It is critical to turn "compose mode" off in the Basic settings for your blog so that you can use a plain text editor rather than WYSIWYG. The only thing I haven't been able to accomplish in Blogger with a screen reader is use of drag-and-drop to rearrange page elements on my blog.

3:13 PM  

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