New and Improved?

Constantly, the advertising world reminds us that some manufacturer has put out a “new and improved” version of their product.  Marketing firms and companies alike use this device to sell us everything from toothpaste to soap powder to automobiles to screwdrivers to software.  If I remember correctly, George Carlin once said something like, “Everything today is ‘new and improved,’ so, what were we using before, ‘old and shitty?’”

I’ve written in this blog about the SMA being the arbitrage of the AT industry.  As consumers, we buy an SMA because we choose to wager that the “new and improved” version of a product we use will actually do a better job than the one we have today.  I would like the readers of BC to comment if they think they have won this wager with recent releases of the products they use.  You can comment here anonymously or send me an email from which I will quote in the future.

I’ve recently found a number of upgrades disappointing.  The software upgrade to the Bose Lifestyles stereos no longer support the model I own so my “free” upgrade software DVD contains nothing of value to me.  Various “upgrades” to web sites I use have contained accessibility setbacks so, while they may work better for sighted people, I removed them from my list of favorites as I can’t use them as conveniently anymore.

As all of my readers know, I need to use AT to do my job.  Without providing specific details, suffice it to say that, the recent versions of programs I use professionally, MS Word, MS Outlook, MS Visual Studio .Net and others no longer work as well with the AT I own than they once did.  

I can hear the vendors of various AT products preparing their emails to me suggesting that I switch to their product.  I suppose that U. Florida, my employer, would make proper accommodations and buy me every AT product so I can switch back and forth depending upon which works best with the specific application I need to use at any given moment.  Of course, this means that I need to learn a pile of different user interfaces or customize the various accessibility tools to holy hell so I can feel comfortable in each.

Also, in previous Blind Confidential articles, I’ve written about how hard it is for an AT company to keep up with the constant flow of new releases from the mainstream.  Clearly, mainstream companies aren’t testing their new releases with AT as the new usability problems wouldn’t exist if they had.  Or, on the other hand, maybe the mainstream companies do test against AT and the AT vendors ignore the reports they get from such test frameworks.  As I’m no longer an insider and haven’t been for 19 months, I can’t really comment on this.

Frankly, I don’t know what to do.  I can, of course, use programs like Visual Studio in its command line mode and use a text editor that works better with AT.  Should this be considered a “reasonable” accommodation?  If I can’t use the debugger properly am I on a reasonable level playing field with my sighted colleagues?  

I will certainly find a work-around to get the tasks accomplished.  Can I send the bill to the AT vendors for the time I lose to fixing their broken software?  What about just for finding ways to avoid bugs and failures that weren’t there in previous versions of the products?

I’ve, in these pages, argued that AT should remain separate from the OS, I’ve put my neck on the line to say that the AT companies have the needs of its users in mind more so than do OS vendors.  I’ve used the examples of VoiceOver and the various blindness related products for gnome as examples of partial solutions and have applauded the Windows AT vendors for providing increasingly strong support for professional applications.  Today, however, I wonder if the AT biz has reached the point of diminishing returns where staying current with the mainstream applications AT users need in their jobs and studies has become impossible.  One recent screen reader announces in its new features list that it now supports Windows Media Player 10, which is nice except that MS has already been pushing the Windows Media 11 product.

Do the AT companies invest enough in remaining current?  As I am on the outside, I cannot answer this question either but there is something very wrong when an “update” contains more setbacks than advances.


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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

5 thoughts on “New and Improved?”

  1. Why can’t AT companies follow the Kurzweil model (keep it simple stupid)?
    The new K-NFB Personal Hand-Held Reader is elegant, simple and highly useful. My impression has been that SMA’s are just a way for AT companies to generate revenue and justify their existence at our expense.

  2. buy a mac. and if you already own one, learn it. and if you leanred it. code in it. went out like chito patato chips. code in a real lang like unmanaged c or if you really want to be hip run a interpreted lang like pithon.

    that’s why it isn’t smart to begin with to leanr pripritory languages anyways like m$ languages.

    sure I know vb6 but that was when I was young dum and still in the windows seen.

  3. Isn’t “new and improved” something of a contradiction? If something is new then it is generally taken to be something that didn’t exist before. However, improved relates to changes for the better to an existing item. Maybe this is just another piece of marketing hype that we, as with all marketing hype, shouldn’t believe.

    As for access technologies, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that adaptations do not mean equality. On a very superficial level, such as whether a blink can do something, then adaptations can deliver equality but beyond this adaptations fail to deliver equality in many other aspects.

    I could comment on some AT products, particularly those from one vendor in particular, but I’ll leave my comments for a time when that vendor angers me sufficiently.

  4. I am frankly becoming quite disallusioned with a particular AT vendor for the instability of recent versions of their screen reader, and the entire AT industry for failing to keep up with applications we need to use on our jobs? In more and more cases, employers may be willing to hire us if only our AT allowed us to use the required software!

  5. FS in my opinion is quite egregious in their pursuit of their annuity (SMA)
    With jaws in particular, you certainly get raked over the coals for missing a version even if that version would have served you no better then your existing version.
    I spent several hundred dollars to go from 5 to 7 and i don’t like seven any better.
    With k1000, i can theoretically go from version 1 to 10 and it will cost the same flat rate as going from 9 to 10.

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