By BlindChristian, The Apple
They fired up the new super collider earlier today and I don’t believe we all got sucked into a newly generated black hole and ripped into zillions of nano bits; meanwhile, Apple announced that the new version of the iPod nano comes with a speech synthesizer and that we blinks can now use it. As I’ve criticized Apple very heavily for accessibility problems in the past, I now want to celebrate the three accessibility announcements they made yesterday.
When I turned on my laptop and retrieved my email this morning, my Inbox lit up with google news alerts regarding Window-Eyes and Apple accessibility. Most of the articles and blog entries that fit through my information filters talked about Window-Eyes 7.0 beta 3 and its support for Apple’s iTunes on Windows based computers. Other alerts told me of the newly accessible nano and I received a very nice email from an Apple employee telling me about improvements to Apple’s accessibility web pages and, specifically, some new content regarding applications that now work with VoiceOver.
I continue to learn more and more about the Macintosh and using it with VoiceOver but I still consider myself an Apple moron, hence the title of today’s article. I want to send out thanks to the Macintosh using friends who have helped me through some problems and provided me with pointers that make the experience as pleasant as possible. I do seem to have an odd problem with iTunes caused when I try to add a large number (over 3000) songs to my library from an external hard disk all at once. At first, iTunes seemed to hang while adding a song, yesterday, after a telephone consultation with a Macintosh/VoiceOver expert friend of mine the program got hung up (its menu in the Dock said “not responding” and, just to make sure, I let it run for a couple more hours without any notable progress) while trying to find the album artwork for an Angelic Upstarts record I forgot I owned. Nonetheless, I still have yet to create an iTunes library from my MP3 collection without allowing the files to be copied from the external disk to the one installed on the laptop. Today, I’ll install and try again with iTunes 8 and turn off the feature that downloads album artwork as I have no imaginable use for it and don’t want to clog up anything with a pile of pictures I can’t see. Of course, one man’s iTunes problems don’t add up to a hill of beans in this world so if I don’t get back on the laptop I might not regret it today but will certainly regret it someday.
For a long time, iTunes has sort of worked with JAWS with a set of scripts written by a volunteer user but, based on the comments of others, it didn’t work well. I do not have iTunes 8 or Window-Eyes 7 beta 3 installed on any computer to which I have access so I can’t speak to its performance but if it works anywhere nearly as well as it does with VoiceOver, the most widely discussed multimedia program will have really excellent support on Windows.
In the past, I’ve been fairly critical of what I believed was time wasted by screen reader publishers trying to get media players, chat programs and other software supported that do not have a direct effect on employment or education as these, in my mind, represent the most important problems people with vision impairment encounter. I especially find that Freedom Scientific’s decision to permit some previously supported applications (Microsoft Project, OmniPage, etc.) to stop working, which are important to professionals and students alike while pronouncing with excitement support for yet another chat program especially egregious.
Serotek’s approach to the “digital lifestyle” that approaches the screen reading problem with far greater emphasis on home and educational use than on supporting professionals has a lot of merits and does an excellent job of doing what they advertise. GW Micro seems to be looking for a middle ground and, with the addition of its scripting facility, will possibly become the most comprehensive screen reader for Windows relatively soon. These are certainly interesting times.
I’ve drifted way off from the titular subject of this post, specifically things to do with Apple and accessibility. In a few minutes I will install iTunes 8 onto my Macintosh and give it a whirl with VO, later, I will go to the newly updated Macintosh accessibility web pages and peruse the list of supported applications but I will not buy nor try the iPod nano as I’m very happy with my Humanware Vic and really do not need yet another gadget bouncing around in my gear bag.
I commend Apple for taking these steps to improve accessibility to their programs and look forward to whatever they do next in this market niche. I continue to think it is in the best interest of both Apple and the community of people with vision impairment to release VO under a libertyware license so the world of hacking blinks can take a whack at adding new features and fixing the odd bug. For now, though, I will admit that the version of VO that comes with the Leopard operating system releases provides access to virtually all of the application categories that I use with any great frequency and that the development tools that ship with the OS are very cool.