Librarian of Congress Says "Yes" to Blind Hackers and an Afterward on Objectivity

On Thursday November 23, I read an article in my Blind News folder called, “US permits phone-cracking and DVD copying exemptions to copyright law,” from the UK based, PC Pro – London.  Today, I received another about the same decision by our Librarian of Congress called, “U.S. blind people are now permitted to circumvent any DRM on electronic books,” from the same publication.  Why I haven’t found this in a US based publication yet puzzles me but I suppose decisions by the Library of Congress get trumped by the oh-so fascinating gossip stories about Britney and her possible divorce.  Also, it was a holiday week and I suppose all the real journalists were gorging themselves on Turkey while stringers filled the pages of our newspapers with random bits of information they pulled off of the wire services.

The first article states, “The Librarian of Congress, James H Billington has granted six exemptions, the most ever, and for the first time has exempted groups of users en masse, including phone recyclers and people working on computer security,” from a variety of laws governing copy protection. “The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which introduced several strict copyright protections into US law, stipulates that every three years the Librarian examines the need for any exemptions and acts accordingly.”

Among exemptions permitting anyone to break the software lock on a mobile phone and use their device with any carrier and for film history education programs to break the copy protection on DVD recordings, “blind people are now permitted to circumvent any DRM on electronic books, so that they can use tools such as text-to-speech software to read them.”

The librarian of the world’s greatest library continued, “This is not a broad evaluation of the successes or failures of the DMCA.  The purpose of the proceeding is to determine whether current technologies that control access to copyrighted works are diminishing the ability of individuals to use works in lawful, non-infringing ways.’

The article continues, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it was disappointed that calls for an exemption that would have allowed the copying of DVD content so that it could be transferred to devices such as an iPod were rejected, but nonetheless welcomed the changes,” continued the article.

Blind Confidential also welcomes the changes and, while I can’t say if I care whether or not I can copy a DVD to an inaccessible toy from Apple, I am very happy to hear about the exemption on e-books.  I eagerly anticipated their arrival back when e-books were mostly a concept for the future, as, rather stupidly; I made the assumption that they would automatically be accessible to us blinks.  It turned out I was very wrong.

I haven’t read the text of the librarian’s statement yet so I don’t know if it applies to digital e-books that contain mostly text and are usually read with an Adobe, Microsoft, Sony or other product or if this means that digital talking books, from for instance, should also be liberated for use by people with impairments that prevent them from using textual content effectively.

All I can do is suggest to my blind hacker friends out there, whip out SoftIce and get cracking.  I will provide a $25 reward to the first blind person who sends me a crack to the e-book content sold on Barnes and Noble’s web site (  To qualify, you must include your source code so we can post it on for others to use as an example and to encourage the community to enhance and broaden its features.

Yes folks, the revolution starts now!

Afterward: My Lack of Objectivity

I’ve done a lot of soul searching in the past week or two and have concluded that I can not be truly objective when discussing specific brands of screen readers and, thus, Blind Confidential readers should read anything I say about specific screen readers with a grain of salt.

I worked at HJ/FS for six years and still use JAWS daily.  I have a lot of friends who work very hard on JAWS and are deeply dedicated to making it as good as possible.  Thus, when I talk about JAWS, it feels a little like I’m talking about my own family, I’m either over critical as I see the flaws too intensely or over praising as I enjoy seeing features added and improvements made over time.

On the other side of the coin, GW Micro and Window-Eyes competed hardest against us while I worked on JAWS.  I, therefore, spent a lot of time thinking of it as the competition which I must destroy (if you are going to play in a competitive capitalist world, you better play to win).  Thus, after six years plus of thinking of them as the enemy, I continue to hold some of the ideas about which I tried to brainwash the entire blind world with (many of which are true) when I talked about Window-Eyes in the past.  As a result, I can’t be even close to objective about GW Micro or Window-Eyes.  I will say, though, I’m happy their latest beta has a JAWS Compatibility mode so, when I do check it out from time to time, I won’t need to try to learn a different set of keystrokes every time I look to see some feature GW has added that I think sounds cool.

As a matter of full disclosure, I had also sent GW Micro a resume before I sent one to HJ.  I was actually a Window-Eyes user back then.  No one from GW even acknowledged receipt of my resume and HJ sent me a plane ticket for a trip to Florida, put me up at a hotel, had Joe Simparosa take me out to dinner and offer me a damn good job.  Thus, I still hold a bit of a grudge against GW for this too.

As go the GNU/Linux screen readers for the gnome desktop, I don’t have a PC around that runs gnome so can only comment on the things I read and the technical documentation in the accessibility API.  As for Apple, I’ve had so many battles with their corporate practices that I’m sure I will never have a truly clear thought about their business.  Thus, Gabe, go ahead, tell the world, “I told you so,” as BlindChristian has now officially admitted for all to see that I have a strong anti-Apple bias and cannot speak to their products with anything resembling clarity.

I do my best to try to remain objective when discussing System Access but I also readily admit that Mike Calvo, Serotek CEO, is a close personal friend and that I really root for him and his products to be successful.  Maybe if they gain a huge level of cash flow, he’ll hire me as a consultant or something and I can live off of his largess for a while.

As for HAL, I’ve never run the program for more than 10 minutes.  It seemed to have a confusing keyboard layout but, as I am so intimate with the one in JAWS, all keyboard layouts seem a bit confusing when you get down to it.  I have also, on the few times we’ve communicated, always really liked Mike Hill and think he’s a real smart guy so assume his work must be pretty good as well.

I think Thunder, the $0 scriptable screen reader and NVDA, the newly announced free (with source included) screen reader, are both interesting but will take a lot of time to mature.  I find the Thunder license a bit confusing and definitely prefer the one NVDA is using.  My only qualm with NVDA is that it is written in Python and I’m not sure how well blind programmers can work in an environment that has strict indentation rules.  If you are a blind Python hacker, please send in a comment and tell us how you get along with it.

So, I mostly use JAWS these days.  JAWS has features that none of the others have.  While it is possible to use VisualStudio .Net 2005 with other Windows screen readers, none come even close to the usability that blind hackers get using JAWS with the scripts written by the gang on the blind programming mailing list (link above).  No other screen reader for Windows does Java at all.  One might ask who cares about Java?  My answer is nearly any college student who wants to study computer science as Java has replaced C and Lisp as the primary programming language in computer science programs around the scholarly world.  Whether you like Java or not, if your screen reader doesn’t support it, you can’t do your Computer Science 101 homework and, therefore, you can’t move onto the more advanced computer science classes and get a degree in CS and get a really high paying job as a programmer where, in all probability,  you will need to use a screen reader with VisualStudio to program in Windows or with Eclipse to write Java programs and, thus, a screen reader that does not support Java or VisualStudio as well as JAWS does with the excellent scripts written by the community (demonstrating the power of why having a scripting language rather than just relying on an API for information is so important) I don’t really think you can call your screen reader a fully professional product as many professionals and students hoping to enter my profession are held back by lack of access to the tools they need to do their jobs by your screen reader manufacturer’s decision not to invest in Java or to provide a scripting language so you and your friends could provide the access you need for yourselves.

I think System Access has some awesome features and, without releasing any secrets, I will also say that I’m really excited about what I think Mike and Matt will do with it in the future.  I’m really happy to see that Peter Korn has come to the realization that an API, even a great API, will never replace a scripting language and I am looking forward to using ORCA in the future.  I really look forward to seeing what the community can do with NVDA, the first truly GPL screen reader for Windows and I look forward to the future as the lines between access and mainstream technology blur, life as a blink in the wired world will undoubtedly improve.

— End.

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Code Factory’s Excellent Support Service

As many Blind Confidential readers know, I’m a long-time user and big fan Of the Code Factory Mobile Speak line of products. I used the Symbian version on a Nokia 6600, numerous versions of MSP on various PDA devices and, most recently, I’ve started using Mobile Speak SmartPhone on a brand-new T-Mobile DASH.

The T-Mobile DASH arrived at my house 24 hours after I placed the order. After spending a very short amount of time familiarizing myself with the hardware, I hooked it up to my Toshiba laptop, went to the Code Factory website, downloaded MSS installed it using ActiveSync and started playing with the cutest talking device I’ve ever held. After checking out all of the MSS quick keystrokes I ventured into some more advanced parts of the Windows Mobile SmartPhone features. I decided to send an SMS to a friend. This is where some of my problems started to arise. It Seems That Mobile Speak SmartPhone had a nasty bug in its keyboard handling code that caused real problems on my new phone. Specifically, when I tried to use the portion of the QWERTY keyboard that, when one holds down the function key, doubles as the numeric keypad for the phone. When using these keys I would either get a numeral or, quite strangely, a Russian character. My wife, who knows the Russian alphabet, confirmed that the characters printing on my screen would correspond with the Roman equivalents that I typed on my keyboard. While this does have a certain level of entertainment value, trying to work with a 17 letter alphabet was severely suboptimal.

So, I wrote to Code Factory technical support explaining my problem. Roselle, perhaps the single most competent technical support person in the entire AT industry, responded almost immediately and said they would look into the matter right away. A few hours later, I received a follow-up communication that explained that the model of phone I had bought had not yet gone on sale in Europe but was expected to in a week or so. The Code Factory people explained that they would get one as soon as it became available and try to fix my problem then. As I could use most of the phone’s features without the QWERTY keyboard, I agreed and waited for the Code Factory people to get a unit on which they could reproduce the problem.

Yesterday, I received a Skype call and e-mail from Roselle as well as holding a Skype chat with Eduard Sanchez, Code Factory CEO, to help me work through my problem. Typically, when the CEO of an AT
company communicates with me, it’s usually a friendly phone call just to chat, a request that I run a puff piece about their latest and possibly greatest new release or to whine about something I wrote that they found on complementary.

My experience working on a bug fix directly with Code Factory CEO Edward Sanchez reminded me of the days that Ted still ran Henter-Joyce. Back then, when I had just joined the company, Ted would still take direct phone calls from end users and then come over to the software engineering department, stop us from doing whatever we were working on and insist we fix an individual user’s problem. Sometimes Ted’s requests would drive us engineering types crazy and I would try to make the argument that we had to focus on 25,000 users and not just one guy. Ted, however, would remind us that JAWS sales grew, “one guy at a time,” and then tell us the specifics of the users problem and remind us that this “one guy” might lose his job if we didn’t fix the bug.

My SmartPhone problem didn’t threaten my livelihood but I did feel annoyed that I bought a fancy Windows mobile five based device and was reduced to a 17 letter alphabet. The terrific response and quick bug fix by the Code Factory team made a tremendous impression on me. Granted, CF doesn’t have the estimated 200,000 users of a product like JAWS but, as far as I know, they probably don’t even have the 25,000 users that we supported back when Ted Henter was still in charge. They do, however, accept the responsibility of making their software work properly for as many users as possible. Nobody at Code Factory used the excuse, “We don’t have that unit on our list of supported devices…” or “with all of the non-standard stuff out there you can’t expect us to support everything…” but, rather, the CEO of the company himself contacted me and solved my problem in a timely fashion. Along with the terrific support Roselle always provides, I must say that this performance by Code Factory represents a great example of engineering level technical support and should serve as a model for the entire industry.

Speaking of Roselle, Code Factory’s popular Filipina princess, rumors abound that she will travel from her home island to attend the CSUN conference in LA this coming spring. Rumors also abound that she has already received numerous flirtatious invitations to engage in a romantic rendezvous over cocktails or a meal from employees and executives at competing companies. It looks like Roselle will not suffer from loneliness while in Los Angeles but she may be the object of other young women’s jealousy.

— End

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Thanksgiving Day (Cynical Fiction)

By Gonz Blinko

“Over the River and through the woods…” I hummed to myself as the ex-dog and I walked north toward Washington Square Park. It’s the only song I know that as any association with thanksgiving. Upon reaching Washington Square South a heard my friend Ivor, an immigrant from Romania, call me over to the table where he sat awaiting some sucker to play chess against him for money.

“Where is your girlfriend? He asked.

“Still sleeping,” I replied reaching into my jacket pocket to search for my one-hitter.

As I filled the bowl with some chronic, Ivor asked a fairly typical immigrant question, “What exactly do you Americans celebrate on Thanksgiving?”

I handed the pipe to my friend and as he took a hit I started in, quote it’s sort of a secular religious kind of thing.”

“Explain?” He asked as I inhaled the remainder of the chronic in the bowl.

How does one explain Thanksgiving to an immigrant who was raised under the oppression of communism, was well aware of American history and quite well knew stories of Hitler and the Turkish/Armenian ethnic cleansing’s. As I exhaled I began, “well, back in the 17th century a bunch of fundamentalist Christians felt oppressed in England so they got on a boat called the Mayflower and set sail for Massachusetts, a place already known for its liberal views and tolerance of even the intolerant.”

Ivor encouraged me to continue as I stuffed the bowl again. “Here, chemo sobby, take the peace pipe and I’ll share a bit of our history with you.”

My Romanian friend took the wooden pipe from me and as his Zippo flared, I continued, “it was summertime when their boat arrived on Cape Cod and, as their aristocratic descendents would do for years, they summered on the Vineyard. They enjoyed plenty of fresh fish, lobster bisque and other delicacies popular in that part of New England.” I took the pipe back from Ivor and took a long hit as he said, “it sounds like they found paradise.”

“Not exactly,” I continued, “the Vineyard is truly lovely in the summer but as autumn arrives it gets as cold as a witch’s Dick.”

“I didn’t know witch’s had Dick’s,” added my friend as I took another hit off the pipe.

“Cough, cough… that’s because you come from a country known for vampires, gymnasts and the odd playwright. Why would you know anything about witches? Most of them are hermaphrodites you know and their dicks are so cold that they often freeze off so many people except the myth that they are all women but that’s simply not true. You should visit Salem sometime.”

“Thanksgiving?” My Romanian friend reminded me of the topic.

“Yeah, right… so these upscale Cabots and Lodges were terrific at fundamentalist piety but actual work, like planting crops in such didn’t occur to them so they formed the Republican Party and discovered a way to make their living off the working people, to steal the workers land and, ultimately, after importing honest-to-goodness slaves who were far less annoying than these Indians, they took their ultra-white March to the west and killed tens of millions of them.”

“And your people saw fit to make a holiday out of this?”

“Gimme a cigarette,” I ordered and Ivor
Obliged. I lit the smoke and continued, “United States didn’t make it a holiday immediately, and they waited for Lincoln to become president.”

“Didn’t he emancipate the slaves?”

“Yes, but to appease the skinhead voters he created Thanksgiving is a holiday to celebrate the genocide against the different minority.”

“And you still celebrate this today?” Asked my immigrant friend incredulously.

“Well, skinheads, neo-Nazis and the KKK still celebrate the genocide and, in many ways, Americans in general are quite proud of how we killed the Indians — so much so they put Andrew Jackson, one of the worst murderers, on our $20 bill. We’ve also added rituals like worshiping giant flying cartoon characters, wrapping steroid crazed men in plastic and forcing them to run into each other and eating enormous poultry-based meals.”

“So, what are you giving thanks for?”

Quote that we were able to steal all of this wonderful bounty from the people who lived here before. According to Americans, especially Republicans, God loves us more than anyone else and for that we give thanks.”

I dropped my cigarette onto the concrete and squished it with my foot. “Let’s go over to St. Marks and get some Turkish coffee,” I said as I started to stand up. My friend agreed and we started walking North East.

“Where you going to have your Thanksgiving dinner?” Asked Ivor.

“Peking Duck House, down in Chinatown, want to join us?”

“You got more of that chronic?”

“Of course.”

“Then I’ll join you.”

— End

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JAWS 8.0 – First Look

With the JAWS 8.0 release looming, I picked up the phone And Dialed the Familiar Freedom Scientific Phone Number and, when the auto attendant answered I punched in the extension of an old and trusted friend in the sales department. He picked up the phone and I heard a very familiar voice say, quote Freedom Scientific, this is Willie Wonka, how may I help you question quote

I identified myself and we started chatting about this and that, a little gossip but mostly catching up on each other’s lives in the period since we last spoke. I then got to the point, “Willy, can you comp an old friend and SMA?”

With a little bit of embarrassment in his voice, he replied, “Uh, they don’t let me do that anymore. Quote

“Even Mike Pedestrian has to pay for his upgrades now.”

I got my first copy of jaws from Joe Lazarro When He Worked at the Mass. Commission for the Blind. I got all of my subsequent copies for free as either an HJ or Freedom Scientific employee. When 7.0 was released, a Freedom executive gave me a free SMA, now, for the first time ever, I Gave a Freedom salesperson a credit card number and paid for my upgrade. In just three days, I will reach the second anniversary of my last day worked At Freedom Scientific. I have struggled psychologically and emotionally with my separation from JAWS, PAC Mate and the really terrific team of software engineers that I built while working there.. It’s pretty hard going from the top job involving the development of the world’s most popular screen reader to being just some guy who seems to believe that he’s important in some way. Paying for a jaws upgrade seems to have helped me further separate myself from JAWS and Freedom Scientific. My therapist will be proud of me.

Yesterday, I downloaded and installed JAWS 8.0 and gave the “What’s New” list a solid once over. Eric Damery’s exhaustive list of new features and bug fixes is, as always, very impressive. I tried out as many of the new features as I could and must report that this is a very impressive release of the worlds most powerful screen reader.

I had planned on writing a longer piece about my experience with 8.0 so far, but, I have a few too many things to do today and, therefore, I don’t have the time to give this terrific product release the fully detailed description that it deserves. I will, however, say that I am glad to have spent the money to buy the jaws SMA as this release is well worth the money.

Thus, I recommend That You Go to the Freedom Scientific website (link above), read all about the new features in JAWS 8.0 and check it out for yourself. I’m confident you will enjoy this release as much as I do.

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New Telephony Product; Public Apology

Recently, I received an e-mail From a Blind Confidential reader promoting a new information over the telephone service for people with vision impairment. I found the letter she sent interesting enough to check out the website for the product. The product, If By Phone provides a whole lot of features at very reasonable prices.

If By Phone offers everything from voice-based e-mail and blogging to a news reading service. The price is all seem to range from about seven dollars to around $13 for user features and about $30 for advertisers and such.

If By Phone provides a panoply of features and can be used from any phone. I don’t know how it’s news reading service compares to that provided by NFB for free but providing Internet, e-mail, blogging and even games like Texas Hold ‘Em seems pretty cool for a low cost telephony solution. I haven’t had the opportunity to try this service yet but I hope to in the coming few weeks.

I do, however, have a bone to pick with the If By Phone website. If tested for accessibility, it would not pass. It Uses Flash which contains buttons that JAWS reads as 1, 2, etc. I strongly urge the If By Phone people To Remove Flash from their website as no matter what the Macromedia people say, Flash accessibility, excepting some really interesting content produced by WGBH, never provides better than mediocre accessibility and, most often, accessibility of Flash content is poor.

So, if you’re interested in voice-based telephony solutions, I recommend you check out If By Phone and send me any comments you have about it. As the voice telephony technologies fall outside my area of expertise, I don’t really know much about them and would appreciate Blind Confidential readers sending me information about your experience with this one and any others that are out there.


Some current employees of Freedom Scientific have alerted me to the fact that a number of them find the Gonz Blinko stories that satirize the fictional company Freeman Scientology pretty offensive. Gonz always intended to entertain, amuse and provide a thought provoking, hallucinatory romp through an alternative universe that crossed the literary styles of the great Hunter S. Thompson with some of William Gibson’s dark future where corporations replace governments, have their own paramilitaries and use force to solve business and personnel disputes.

I apologize to those who found these stories offensive. Neither Gonz nor I wanted to demean the hard work done by the very real people at Freedom Scientific or Human where for that matter. I still have a lot of friends at Freedom Scientific and hope I didn’t do anything to insult or discourage them with the satirical fiction.

Gonz will, in the future, continue to satirize the assistive technology industry but will try to do so in a manner using less specific similarities to real-world entities and people.

— End

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My Hands Hurt

Throughout the 10 months that I’ve been writing Blind Confidential, I have made frequent reference to my repetitive motion injuries.  When I do too much typing, my hands risks forearms and shoulders start to feel a lot of pain.  Recently, I’ve done a lot of programming and have written a substantial amount of text for a variety of different projects.

In the past couple of weeks, the pain has gotten bad enough to cause me to return to my physical therapist and, yesterday, to purchase, install, train and start using Dragon dictation software.  I bought a copy of Naturally Speaking 9.0 after Reading on the Nuance website that it requires little or no training.  In reality , 9.0 requires the exact same training as previous versions so I wonder if the marketing people actually ran the program before writing the literature.  This, compared to the pain in my hands, is a minor annoyance, didn’t take much time and the accuracy demonstrated in this latest version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking is really terrific.

I feel, however, that there exists some kind of connection between the writing Center in my brain in whatever part of my mind is responsible for the motor functions involved in typing.  I find it is much more difficult to thinking clear sentences while speaking than while typing.  Maybe my friend Will can provide some sort of cognitive explanation for this.

So, on this Saturday morning, I sit with headset on talking to my laptop.  I’ve used dictation software before, especially when the hands and shoulders chose to punish me for typing too much.  In the past I have used J.-Say and before that JAWBone as a bridge between Dragon and JAWS.  I think I’ll need to send my buddy Brian a note asking about his most recent software and to see if it works with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9.0 standard.

I hope to be doing a lot with dictation in the coming months.  I’m not getting any younger and my repetitive motion injuries will not heal themselves.  Thus, good old Blind Christian needs to start taking care of himself.

As this is the longest piece that I’ve written since installing Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9.0, I must say that I’m tremendously impressed with the accuracy in this new version of the product.  Without J-Say installed, getting proper feedback from JAWS 7.1 is a little tricky so my progress throughout this document has been a bit slow.  I find, though, that with echoes set to all JAWS talks too much but it does provide a reasonably good level of usability.  I still recommend that anyone who wants to use dictation software with JAWS should contact Brian and get his excellent bridge utility that combines jaws and Dragon in a more seamless manner.

A few years ago, while visiting Georgia Tech, I had an interesting conversation with a person from the RERC on workplace accommodations about a problem that I call quote Screen Reader Syndrome.  Quote I did an informal study that has no statistical significance, of approximately 40 software engineers working for the same company.  The age distribution between the 20 or so blind programmers and the roughly 20 sighted ones was nearly identical as was their years of experience in software engineering.  Computer programmers suffer from repetitive stress injuries more frequently than the population at large.  My little study of individuals working in a very similar environment showed that approximately 17 of the 20 blind programmers had some level of repetitive motion injury while only three or four of the 20 sighted programmers had any such injury.

While my sample was statistically insignificant and my study not scientific, I believe it demonstrates a reason to do further research into the different levels of injury experienced by computer users who access their machine using a screen reader versus those who use vision, a mouse and more mainstream techniques of accessing information.  I’ve also done a handful of other highly nonscientific tests were I compared the number of keystrokes it took me to find a piece of information in an unfamiliar Excel spreadsheet versus the number of keystrokes and mouse clicks required of a sighted user.  Depending upon the specific spreadsheet, it would sometimes require me to make more than 100 times the number of actions using my hands as that of a sighted user.  Thus, I coined the phrase quote Screen Reader Syndrome quote to describe injuries resulting from the higher level of stress placed upon a blind person’s hands than those of our sighted counterparts.

Some other screen reader users have described a variety of different techniques they use to decrease the amount of time in the number of keystrokes they use to find a piece of information.  These techniques typically require one to copy and paste information out of something like a spreadsheet where context is delivered through positional information and pasting the information into a text editor, where blank cells used for formatting purposes disappear and searching becomes simpler.  While these nonstandard techniques may work well for some, they are never included in screen reader training and, as they require leaving the major application, these techniques further separate a blind computer user from his sighted colleagues.  If the intent of a screen reader is to provide access to mainstream applications, these workaround techniques might provide value for some people in the short term but do nothing to improve the long-term goal of providing reasonably equal access to the applications used in a workplace.

Of course, in the cubicle farms of corporate America, dictation software might not be the answer to reducing the physical stress caused by using keyboard in tense access technologies.  On this matter, though, I have no experience and, therefore, no idea as to whether two blind people could share a cubicle and both dictate without interfering with each other’s work.

The answer to this problem will come from advances in user interface design for nonvisual computing.  Much more research needs to be done in this area and much more investment needs to go into trying out new concepts in the screen readers deployed to consumers.


The other day Mike Calvo sent a very long comment about my post on Web accessibility and my general ennui regarding the progress of technology transfer from the mainstream to systems that we blinks can use.  Mike is entirely correct in his assertion that I see the glass quote as half empty, quote he neglects to notice, though, that I also believe that my drink was poured into a dribble glass.  Thus, I not only take the pessimistic approach but I also have the paranoid feeling that the general ignorance of Universal design demonstrated by mainstream technology companies is part of some kind of intergalactic joke as, in an enormous number of these cases, adding accessibility would cost pennies and provide solutions for people like us as well as those who do not self identify as having a disability.

I agree completely that technology for people with vision impairment has improved tremendously in the decade or so since I started paying attention.  My frustration and sadness come from the knowledge of how mainstream technologies work and how inexpensive and simple it would be to apply the principles of universal design to these products.

As the chairman pointed out the other day, a large number of Americans are reaching an age where, if not a total disability, physical and health related issues will start causing minor vision impairment, hearing loss, decreased agility and other problems which, through the appropriate application of universal design principles to everything from home entertainment systems to refrigerators, dishwashers and other appliances, can easily be overcome and said individuals will be able to carry on happy, healthy and independent lives.  Universal design in mainstream products will go a great distance to creating an accessible world for those of us who use access technology or other suboptimal methods of dealing with various items around our homes.

— End

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Web Access Questions and My Current Ennui

Previously in Blind Confidential, I have discussed the differences in opinion between those of us who lost our vision later in life and those who have been blind since birth.  People around my age (mid-40s), who lost their vision in the past decade, like me, struggle with the things we lost while those blind from birth see the tremendous advancements over the past 25 years and tend toward a more optimistic view of technical progress.

I spend a lot of time reading about new technologies and inventions of all sorts.  My sources range from the densely academic to the industry rags and newspapers written for the not so technically inclined.  Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with a blind friend and the topic of our conversation came to my personal frustration, anger and depression.  Often, readers of BC point out that a piece I wrote sounded especially angry, hopeless or sad.  Without going into the cognitive psychological or sociological framework for why I feel the way I do sometimes, I’ll leave the staff of mental health professionals I keep around me to help me remain relatively sane out of this conversation and jump straight to what I believe to be the source of my frequent negativity.  Specifically, I know and understand enough about current technology and about audio and tactile user interfaces to know what, using technology that one can find in Radio Shack, Circuit City, Best Buy, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and other very mainstream stores, could become possible for people with vision impairments.

Since the day I joined Henter-Joyce, a little over eight years ago, I have taken it upon myself to learn as much as possible about this subject and to try to bring it to market.  Today, feeling particularly sad about things, I feel that my personal mission will never succeed.  The reality is that the technology exists today but I, along with my revolutionary comrades, cannot even scratch the surface of all that can and should be done as we are simply too few and too poorly funded.  To make matters worse, the more well funded refuse to make the investments necessary to really exploit the current technology, let alone start looking closely at the inventions currently still in the laboratory and discover how they might be used to improve technology for people with vision impairment.  

When I walk through a consumer electronics store, I hear a ton of gadgets that I know can be used in ways to further the state of the art of technology for people like us – I also know that no one is willing to invest the dollars into technology transfer to do more than scratch the surface.  We blinks are simply not the profit center that the super hip kids who buy portable media players are.  Their frivolous technology contains the components which can provide blinks with major advances but, alas, they will reside in the iPod and not in the BrailleNote or PAC Mate.

Web accessibility, in general, can be described as virtually done science.  The WAI guidelines are a number of years old, JAWS, Window-Eyes and Freedom Box, System Access and every other screen reader I can think of does a relatively good job of delivering reasonably accessible content.  Why then are we still asking the question about whether or not blind people have the “right” to an accessible web?  As I see things, inaccessible web sites are the “whites only” signs of the 21st century and, having had heated debates with sighted webmasters about their refusal to make their site accessible and watching the Bush administration discrimination division of Senor “Torture Memo” Gonzalez’s Attorney General’s office remain silent on the matter, I feel even more like we, as people with disabilities, don’t receive our due process under the law.  If Justice is blind, she probably doesn’t care much about web surfing.

Yesterday, I received from Blind News, a story from the New York Times titled, “Do the Rights of the Disabled Extend to the Blind on the Web?”  The insult to our population is contained in the headline; it is in the interrogative form, thus, the New York Times, our nation’s bird cage liner of record, still considers this issue to be a question.  So much for the liberal media loving us minorities.

“The National Federation of the Blind sued Target, contending that the company’s inaction violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because the Web site is essentially an extension of its other public accommodations, and as such, should be easily accessible to people with disabilities,” says the article.  As often is the case, I’m happy to see the NFB taking the lead on such an important matter.

Of course, “A Target spokeswoman would not comment on those assertions, but in court the company offered testimony from three blind users rebutting the federation’s arguments.”  Who are these house blinks?  Were they the  three blind mice of the famous song?   Are these people simply self hating or did they get paid for their sell out of our rights?

The article continues, “On Sept. 6, a federal judge in California held, in a preliminary ruling on the suit, that in some instances, Web sites must cater to disabled people.”  Which instances does the judge include in the definition of some?  The ADA is specific that it applies to all places of public accommodation so what part of “all” does this judge seem to believe actually means some?  Law is a system of language and linguists and lawyers often have very interesting conversations; I am quite confident, however, that both groups accept the relatively obvious differences between some and all.  This judge must be a bit deficient in her vocabulary if he fails to distinguish between two words that chimpanzees use in sign language.

Ah, the article offers a bit of explanation, “In denying Target’s motion to dismiss the suit two months ago, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of United States District Court in San Francisco held that the law’s accessibility requirements applied to all services offered by a place of public accommodation. Since Target’s physical stores are places of public accommodation, the ruling said, its online store must also be accessible or the company must offer equally effective alternatives.”  Why isn’t a web site itself a “place of public accommodation,” I wonder?

The article discusses and other companies with a web only presence but suggests that no one actually knows the answer.  It also asks whether or not a telephone customer service center is a reasonably replacement for a web site.  Of course, if I called Amazon to find a copy of Chomsky’s latest book and asked, “I’m looking for a book by that radical MIT professor who teaches about language but writes about politics, do you have it?”  The minimum wage lunkhead answering the phone would say, “Huh?” while a search including some of the terms in that question would lead me to Professor Chomsky and his book “Failed States.”

The article also mentions the pathetic attempt Amazon made at a text only site for people with disabilities.  I will remind Amazon of Thurgood Marshall’s statement that “separate but equal isn’t.”  The text only version of the site is missing many features of the main site and is slower to use with a screen reader than is their reasonably accessible main site.  A text only site with limited functionality is not an accessible solution but, rather, a ghetto into which we can be driven.

Without a footnote, the article says, “Most online stores go to great lengths to make sure that their sites are accessible to people with disabilities, simply because it is good business to allow as many people as possible to shop. And online-shopping technology specialists say it is not so difficult or costly a task.”  While I agree that many sites have improved quite a bit in the past few years, I wouldn’t go so far as to say “most” sites have made said improvements.  I would point to the study performed earlier this year by the British that said that 90% of all English language web sites contained one to many accessibility problems.  Thus, if nine out of ten have “some to many” issues, I think the Times has an odd definition of the word most.

The article continues with a quote, “’It’s very straightforward to make a site accessible,’ said Dayna Bateman, senior information architect at Fry Inc., which operates e-commerce Web sites on behalf of large retailers including Brookstone, Eddie Bauer and Spiegel.

“Ms. Bateman said that the more software coding a Web site could offer to help screen readers and other technologies navigate a site, the more likely it was that the Web site would show up on search engine results, because Google, Yahoo and others looked to the same coding for clues about the Web page’s content.”  While I didn’t know this about search engines, it certainly makes sense and is yet another reason we can give webmasters who don’t want to make their sites compliant to do so.

The article, which I recommend you read in its entirety, concludes with a few paragraphs about online education which, because it now can get Federal funds, must comply with both ADA and 508, need desperately to become accessible.  Oddly, though, it says that screen readers don’t work well with chat programs which is a myth.  Maybe five or six year old screen readers don’t work well with some chat programs and maybe some current chat programs are inaccessible but, like text only sites, dumbing down the technology is not the appropriate solution to accessibility problems.

The solution, as I started today’s article, is innovation and technology transfer.  There are literally thousands of useful inventions that with a reasonable investment can be turned into access tools.  There is no reason that any web site or technology remains inaccessible today other than a lack of will on the part of the people with the cash to pay people to do the work.  Give me four days of the war budget and I’ll give millions of blind people access that they can’t even imagine today.



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System Access’ Cooperative Remote Control Facility

In Blind Confidential, I have written about how cooperation is the key to innovation.  I’ve also written about how superfluous competition in a market as small as technology for people with vision impairment might actually do more to stifle rather than promote innovation.

A good friend of mine, a graduate of MIT in Chemical Engineering/Material Science and now a director in the manufacturing group at Intel, recently got her MBA in a concept called “coopitition,” a concept in which companies that compete with each other also cooperate.  Thus, a Motorola cell phone may contain some Intel parts as, that way, both companies make money and the consumers do not need to wait for each manufacturer to independently reinvent the wheel.

Thus, when I received a press release from Serotek followed up with a phone call from Mike Calvo to fully explain their latest innovation, I felt that the AT industry, led in this case by Serotek, might be using some of the logic that has been working in the greater technology sector for many years now.

Prior to the Serotek announcement, three screen readers, JAWS, Window-Eyes and System Access all provided some kind of remote control program.  A JAWS user could control another computer that had JAWS running on it, Window-Eyes could remotely control another Window-Eyes enabled box and System Access could do the same for its users.

What then does the trainer or technology specialist who has clients who use all three of these screen readers do to remotely work with his customers?  She can, of course, install all three tools so she is ready for most situations her clients may have.  Or, because of the technology announced last week by Serotek, she can simply use System Access to communicate with computers with no screen reader, with JAWS, with Window-Eyes or with System Access installed on them.  This flexibility sets System Access apart as the most flexible tool for people in a wide variety of different careers who need to remotely access other computers.

According to the press release, System Access now provides complete access to Jaws and Window-Eyes on all remote computers. If you are running JAWS or WE on your computer at home or the office, or even if a friend that you are trying to help is using one of these programs, then our software Will advise you that JFW or Window-Eyes is running on the remote computer. You will be told the version number of the program running so you will have a better idea of what is on the remote machine. When connected to the remote machine, System Access will step aside and allow the complete use of these other screen readers.”  If I remember correctly, System Access could already provide access to any Windows computer, with or without a screen reader installed, to provide accessible remote access to otherwise inaccessible computers.

The combination of stepping aside to allow a remote screen reader to take control or to give access to an inaccessible computer provides blind people with jobs as trainers, access technology specialists, JAWS scripters and other AT related jobs as well as blind IT professionals with the broadest range of possibilities for working with computers remotely and for increasing their career possibilities in these fields.

The release continues by saying that the Serotek solution is, “fully encrypted with secure SSL technology and HIPA compliant,” it can be used in the most sensitive privacy related situations.  As privacy regulations related to disability and medical products continue to grow stronger, this relatively boring sounding feature is actually tremendously important.

I don’t exactly understand how they accomplished this (I’m mostly a networking dumb ass () but the System Access solution, “doesn’t require Windows Remote Desktop.”  

As usual with System Access portability is a major factor.   “If you are on the go don’t worry you can use your U3 enabled Key To Freedom or PassKey to connect to a remote machine as well. Just find any computer plug in your Key and do your thing.”  The ability to plug in my own key on computers everywhere I go has been a feature I’ve enjoyed for a long time now.  Having the ability to connect to my home or office computer, where I do my programming using JAWS and VisualStudio 2005 makes this especially convenient as, like many programmers, I may forget to check in a file and, if out and about, using SA, I now have a way to fix a broken build by checking in the files my comrades need.

As my key to freedom is a full gigabyte U3 USB device, which weighs about two grams, it is easy to keep with me and to use anywhere.  One warning, though, USB keys do not like salt water so, if you plan on wade fishing, empty your pockets before heading into the water.

This is just one in a long series of very cool ideas that Mike and the Serotek guys are getting into Freedom Box and System Access.  If you haven’t given them a test drive yet, I suggest downloading a demo (link to web site above) and giving it a spin.


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CBGB and Gonz’s Youth: A Eulogy (Fiction)

By Gonz Blinko

“Someone called me on the phone, they said hey, hey is Dee Dee home, You wanna take a walk? Ya wanna go cop? Ya wanna go get some Chinese Rock?

“I’m living on the Chinese Rock, All my best things are in hock, I’m living on the Chinese Rock, Every thing is in the pawn shop…” blasted out the stereo as the phone sex blind chick and I stared at the emptiness that our non-functioning eyes let us see.  We smoked chronic and took a walk up the Bowery to where Bleeker ends just to touch the old building where CBGB used to be.

I recited a poem BC wrote a few years ago:

“Joey, Dee Dee and Strummer,
What a bummer.”

He had more in the poem but this little bit felt like an appropriate prayer for the ghosts that surrounded the legendary nightclub where it all began.  “It” of course, meaning the revolution against the glam and prog rock that dominated the seventies.  On this spot, where Bleeker meets Bowery, the ghosts of our fallen heroes remain alive and the cache of weapons used to kill Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes and all of those other, so pretentious that it makes me puke to think about them, bands remain hidden.

“Never trust a hippy!” I proclaimed at the top of my lungs standing there on the sidewalk a block north of my new home with my blind phone sex chick.

“Why not?”  Asked the sexy voice beside me.

“Saw a hippy standing in the road,
Chased him a few blocks and
Punched him in the nose…

Vi Lence!
Vi Lence!”

“Hippies suck!  That’s all there is to it.”

She chose not to argue and I spread my arms out wide and tried to hug the old building.  With my face pressed up against the grimy old grate I swore I could hear, “I am part of the blank generation, I can take it or leave it anytime…”  I started to weep and my sexy companion asked why this now vacant structure meant so much to me.

I sniffled and wiped some snot onto my sleeve which must be the perfect accessory for an Armani leather jacket.  I tried to catch my breath and tried not to start sobbing.  “This is ground zero honey, this was the headquarters, this was the room that rocked the world…”

I continued, “Joey, Dee Dee, Richard Hell, Patty, David, Tina, the Corporate Pig$ played their last gig with Boris and Tebbers together here, Dead Kennedy shows, MDC, DRI, Agnostic Front, Exploited, Minor Threat, Television, Shirts, Yachts, Kleenex, False Prophets, Clash, The Jam, fucking Sting before he got famous, Billy Midol…” I started to sob again.  

“Ira’s dead, so is Sparky, Dr. Sly, Teddy sniffing glue, fell from a roof on east 2 9, Jackie was eleven when she pulled the plug on 26 reds and a bottle of wine, Harley will never see the outside of Attica, Dee Dee, Johnny, Shulky, Allie, they’re all dead.”  I started to shake with emotion.

“Who are or… were these people?”  Asked my younger companion.

“They were the New York scene.  This place was our home.”  I said and started walking North with the X-Dog in one hand and my companion hanging onto the other.  We walked silently, with the exception of an occasional command or praise of the dog until we reached Astor place and I brought my dog and companion to the cube.  I sat on the sidewalk beneath it and got nostalgic.

“Gimme a cigarette,” I told my friend with the beautiful voice.

“No, you quit years ago.”

“Fine, gimme a fucking cigarette and I’ll go into the Betty Ford if I can’t quit.”

She laughed and handed me a smoke.  I lit it up and started talking.  “Right here, on this very spot, at this very rotating cube, Drunk Driving, a really cool band, once played a gig with no permit.  We all hung out and threw beer on passers-by.  It was performance art and it pissed off everyone from the opera crowd to the heavy metal kids.  Like Ziggy Stardust, we took it too far.  The cops came; we ran like hell, it was a lot of fun.

“CBGB, the building I was hugging, was the launch pad to the music that changed everything.  Way before the Internet, our movement had DIY at its heart.  Mainstream papers wouldn’t write about us, we started our own fanzines.  Radio wouldn’t play us, we started pirate stations.  Labels wouldn’t sign us, we started our own.  It all started at CBGB and now it’s all gone.”

“But there are lots of independent publications and alternative streams…” added my friend.

“No!  You don’t get it.  It’s easy today, we had to fight and die for it back then.  That building is a monument to the struggle.”

“You sound like it is more than a monument,” she added.

I thought, cried and said, “As long as CBGB lasted, I had a connection to my youth.  That’s where BC and I met, Boris too.  That’s where I wrote, they played, that’s where BC jumped off the stage and smashed his ugly mug into the speaker during a Flipper show, that’s where Dr. Sly got the shit kicked out of him by the Hell’s Angels while we all laughed, that’s where I last saw Shelly alive, that’s where it started, now, like my health, it’s gone too.”

“What about other places?”

“Max’s is still intact, sort of.  That’s where I first shot up, with Dee Dee, up on the second floor.  I actually first saw the Ramones at Max’s.

“It was October or November 1976, me and Red went to Max’s Kansas City to see the New York Dolls.  The Ramones, no costumes, just t-shirts, white guitars and leather jackets came out.  We laughed as we thought the opening act was a bunch of weenies from Jersey or the Island.  Then, Dee Dee yelled his 1 2 3 4!  Hey Ho, Let’s Go!  It was the stuff from the first album and it hit us like a fucking freight train.  Twenty minutes later, when they left the stage, every thing had changed.  When the Dolls came on stage, they looked stupid in their glam outfits and sounded slow as a godamned turtle.”

“What then?”  Asked my companion.

I wiped some more snot onto my jacket, my cleaner will love this, got up, took another cigarette and started walking east down St. Marks Place.  “A fucking Tower records on St. Marks Place,” I stuttered through the tears, through the fears, through the sympathy for my lost youth, for having grown into a lying liar of a corporate pig, for writing about the old days, for being unable to see a future, for craving freedom, with a lower case f, like we had when we had nothing left to lose.  I wanted some Chinese Rock, not chronic, China White, the potent shit, the real thing.

We entered the Middle Eastern restaurant I’ve eaten in for years and I continued waxing nostalgic.

“Right across the street, that was Club 24, Ira’s place… before he got sick.”

“Ira?” she asked.

“Live fast, die young!”  I pronounced a bit too loudly and the new residents of the now fashionable East Village looked at my old punk face and winced at the look of a pathetic middle aged bugger living on the memories of when he was cool.  “Live fast, die young?” I thought, “I really screwed up the second half of that…”

Our food arrived but I could only pick at my vegetarian meal.  I sipped my coffee and stared into the fog.  Lots of old lyrics came to mind, so did eulogies from the funerals for friends.  I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a woman’s voice, “Gonz?”

“Yes,” I said somewhat timidly.

“I thought you were dead,” said the voice sounding more familiar than not as its owner took a chair.

“I’m sorry, my pattern recognition isn’t working to well.”

The person from my past leaned forward and kissed me softly on the cheek, “It’s Allie, you old bastard.”

“But I thought you…”

“Died on September 11,” she finished my sentence.  “A lot of people thought that.  I moved to Austria that summer and, because I had been working in the towers people made assumptions.  Speaking of dead, what are you doing still living, breathing, ambulatory and in the company of a much younger woman?”

I introduced the phone sex chick to a person I assumed had been dead for five years.  “Austria?”

“I fell in love with a husband and wife and we became a triple,” she stated.

“Is it still working out?”

“Gretta and I came back to New York and we share men when we find them.”

“When you find them?”  I asked the former lingerie model.

She grabbed my hand and placed it on her waist, then her butt.  “With a belly and ass like this, people have no trouble figuring out why I moved into management.”

“You feel pretty good to me.”

“You, Herr Blinko are a lying fucking liar and, by the way, you are in the company of a woman at least twenty years younger than either of us.”  She laughed.  I squeezed her butt again and laughed too.

“I’m sure you still have the prettiest eyes on the Lower East Side.”

“That may be true but the ‘Wide Load’ sign on my ass breaks the magic,” she added. “So, explain your livingness?  Where have you been for fifteen years or was it twenty?”

“Here and there, traveling, writing, avoiding the ghosts,” I said and added, “Our young friend probably doesn’t want to hear all about a bunch of people she never met nor ever will.”

“Yes, I do, I want to hear all of the dirty little secrets.”

I thought I could feel Allie shutter at the thoughts of those days long ago.  Then, she jumped in, “When Gonz and I first met we were hanging out with Tebbers, Bradley, Wally and a bunch of others at Dr. Sly’s place.  The conversation came around to people’s ages.  BC asked the inopportune question of how old I was.  When I said, ’14,’ the silence ran all up and down the Bowery, I think even Chinatown got quiet for a second.”

“How old were the others?”  Asked my nosey friend.

“Bradley was only 16 but the others were either in college or had graduated.  Sly was about 24.  He didn’t know my age until that moment.  We continued as a couple on and off for… until he…”

“I told you that these stories aren’t any fun,” I said as I waved for the waiter and the check.

As we left, I invited Allie to join us down in the new condo.  She said she had nothing to do so we walked south.  At home, we shared funny stories about Tebbers dropping eggs on the floor, Bradley getting his forehead torn open when a stage diver forgot to shut his mouth.  We told stories about hitting people in tuxedoes with water bags from Sly’s porch and we told millions of stories of events at CBGB.  A combination of the chronic, exhaustion and finding an old friend caused me to drift off into sleepy land.  I woke up the next day to find Allie cooking breakfast and it nearly felt like 1983 all over again.


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