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.