CES & MacWorld

In the access technology industry, even the biggest conferences are relatively small when compared with Comdex, MacWorld and the huge Consumer Electronics Show (CES). These mainstream shows are truly monstrous and bring between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people into the cities where they are hosted. Two of the big ones, Consumer Electronics and MacWorld are going on right now and although I attended neither, I have been following the news from both and, of course, thinking of how these new technologies will affect those of us with vision impairments.

Also, for the first time that I know of, and access Technology Company is making a big splash at one of the consumer shows. I’m not surprised, however, that it was Mike Calvo who chose to bring the assistive technology bandwagon to Las Vegas to show the mainstream what we’re all about.

Today, at the consumer electronic show Mike Calvo will announce the official release of Freedom Box System Access (FBSA) for Microsoft’s new Vista operating environment. FBSA, today, becomes the first and, to date, only credible screen reader released that supports Vista without modifications or any requirements to drop back into a legacy user interface mode.

“I don’t see it as a real big deal,” said Mike to me on a telephone call, “every mainstream software company has a Vista version coming out and none of them require their users to downgrade the UI. I don’t quite understand why the assistive technology industry is making such a big deal out of what everyone else is doing without much fanfare.”

Setting Mike’s humility aside, Blind Confidential sends him a huge congratulations for being first to market with a screen access tool that we blinks can enjoy in Microsoft’s latest release. I’m looking forward to seeing him at ATIA and, when I get a PC with Vista loaded on it, I’ll put the new System Access through its paces.

As regular Blind Confidential readers know, I spend a lot of time thinking about how consumer products can be made accessible. My research at University of Florida (go gators!) Involves a lot of smart technology and, philosophically, I feel strongly that smart homes and other user agents useful to people with disabilities should be based primarily on mainstream technology. Many of the announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show, including Microsoft’s new Home Server, the Xbox set-top unit and all of the new media PCs look like they will be great platforms for systems built using the principles of universal design.

At MacWorld, however, Apple demonstrated that it is entirely ignorant of the accessibility portions in the Telecommunications Act, specifically section 255. As is their norm, Apple released a new product this time the phone — pod or whatever the hell they chose to call it, and entirely inaccessible cell phone. There are screen readers for the Microsoft phones, they’re screen readers for the Symbian phones but, alas, Apple tells our community to screw off once again by releasing another cute yuppie toy of no value to a person with vision impairment.

As I stated in a previous post, I have a strong bias against Apple Computer that goes back for over 20 years to the days when they first got involved in the absurd lawsuits over user interface copyright. Back then, I reminded them and the rest of the world that “only a whore charges for a look and feel,” and I’m proud that, at least in part do to the efforts by people like Richard Stallman and me, we won the battles over user interface copyright in the United States Supreme Court and no longer need to deal with Apple’s litigation attacking the rest of the industry’s innovation.

Today, however, I feel like I’m shouting at a brick wall when I criticize Apple Computer. Friends of mine like Gabe Vega for instance, will write to me asking why I continued to pick on Apple. I will ask them why they have such a religious attachment to a company that brashly and blatantly ignores the needs of our community.

So, starting today, Blind Confidential recommends that all people with vision impairment and their friends boycott all Apple products and make as much noise about Apple Computer’s refusal to acknowledge Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. Please do your best to publicize this boycott and, if you are inclined toward direct action, go visit one of those pretty Apple Computer salon shops with a copy of the text to Section 255 and ask the manager to demonstrate how the new phone-pod complies with the federal law. If you do choose to take such action, please do so as politely as possible as the poor bastards who work in the retail arm of Apple Computer are not responsible for the idiotic decisions made by Apple management. Also, if you happen to have a fax number that goes to a machine inside Apple, I recommend that you send them as many copies of the text to Section 255 as you can find the time to. You might also consider e-mailing the text to as many people at Apple as you can. Finally, everyone should visit the marginally accessible Apple Computer website and post a message of outrage to their consumer affairs division.

I do so enjoy making trouble…

— End

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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.

9 thoughts on “CES & MacWorld”

  1. Dude? What the fuck? why are you being a panzie and acting as if they are the first cellphone manufacturer to not make an accessable cell phone? sure there are screen readers for the M$ phones and other phones but that is just it, for the m$ phones M$ didn’t write the screen reader, code factory and talkx did. You got to get that anger out of you bro, why mot go after lg, motorola, samsong, etc about all the other inaccessible phones out there. this is bull shit, give me a call so I may yell at you my frustration via voice, 1-866-714-4244, extion 2863.

  2. Hi,
    I think what Chris is trying to say here is that Apple, who is a huge company, is refusing to make their products accessible to the blind, because they don’t see us as having an impact on their market. Look at iTunes, for example. It is one of the most inaccesible software programs out there. Because of Apple saying “We don’t give a damn about accessibility”, we have to pay for scripts to use a program that sighted people get to use free of charge, merely due to the fact that they can see.
    Oh sure, they have included a screen reader in the latest version of OSX, which is extremely limited. I’ve tried it myself, and I find it almost painful to navigate around the screen. That, combined wiht the small number of accessible apps on a Mac, in my opinion, do not make it a viable choice for the blind.

  3. Apple the company that includes a screen reader in every computer sold rather than expecting the blind and dyslexics to drop another $800 to make it accessible. to say nothing of the “upgrades” needed every time Microsoft changes the OS

    Now I’ll admit that not every program work with it. Apple can’t control third party developers. And they could and should do more to make sure that their own software is accessible. I have told them so.

    All that said however the critical functions of the MacOS including web browsing, email and word processing are accessible out of the box something Windows can not claim.

    Further you don’t know if the iPhone is or isn’t accessible. Jobs quite naturally only showed the basic features which will be used by the majority of uses. The iPhone may have a voiced interface or some form of VoiceOver interface. You don’t know.

    Finally if Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. does require that all cell phones be accessible to the blind then Apple is joining a VERY LONG list of phone produces who are not in compliance with that law. Are you ready to call for boycotts s of them too?

  4. I too have a bias against Apple because I went to college in the 1990’s at Boston College which was 98% a Mac shop. At that time the level of access to the Mac platform was very limited (using Outspoken) when compared to the access avaialble in Dos & Windows with Jaws. I feel I did not get nearly as much out of the schools computing environment because of the accessibility gaps. I also saw this love of apple that people had at the time.

    I am pleased that Apple has started on a screen reader for their OS, however, why doesn’t it work with Itunes? Why doesn’t Itunes work well with AT in general? Why doesn’t the Ipod and quite likely the new phone work for people who are blind?

    While Apple, Inc. has done a few good things (like putting the screen reader in) I think still on balance many of their products and services were and are not accessible. They have known for quite some time about the lack of accessibility of Itunes & Ipod players, and I am not aware of any tangible progress on that front? And all indications would be that this new touch screen phone is also inaccessible?

    I also agree with the other poster we should not let the other cell phone manufacturers off the hook either who have also collectively for the most part left the blind out in the cold and the dark and not given a damn about it.

  5. Howdy Comrades!
    Oh great–another screed about the Pod people to get the old apple juices flowing for the New Year! I guess I’ll have to purchase another couple shares of Apple stock so I can claim to be a serious investor as I wave my copy of Section 255 at the cops as they drag me to the gulag again! My criticism of the much ballyhooed I-Phone goes beyond its probable inaccessibility to blind folks, however. Most people don’t realize that you must switch to Singulair in order to use it. That’s soon to be renamed AT&T again, but it’s the same corporate entity as the old Southwestern Bell, a company that ranks right up there with Halliburton in terms of corporate ethics. The primary reason SBC purchased AT&T was to get the brand because SBC had such a terrible reputation. I know because I saw the results of their massive survey, and this is well known in the telecom industry. BC, I share your possible irrational hatred of Apple mainly because Ut-Austin was hip deep in Macs when I was finishing my degree in Journalistic Propaganda back in the ‘90’s. I got so sick of my instructors telling me I had no reason to bitch that we only had two computers I could access when all the Macs had outspoken. All those Macs did for us was tell the time, over and over and over again. The cadre of blind students I help to lead finally unplugged the damned pieces of shit and stuck them outside our reading rooms with signs begging other students to steal them. It sounds like Apple may have improved the speech access somewhat since those days, but their dog still don’t hunt, as we say here in the Live Music Capital of the known Universe. Onward through the fog!
    Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the Peeps!

  6. Hello Chris,

    I am not at all surprised that Mike Calvo is the first up with Vista support. Matt Campbell and he were the first to give us access to Windows 2000 and XP without seriously modifying someone’s system.

    It was wonderful again only yesterday to be able to help one of our church members with a printing problem without having to install any access technology on her new XP home machine.

    I cannot wait to test drive Vista with System Access.

  7. Go Cisko!!!

    In case you weren’t aware, the BBC ran a piece in their business news this morning that was related to the iPhone. Apparently, Cisko reckon they own the iPhone name and are taking Apple to court over it. As a result of this news Apple’s stock price fell a little.

    I think we only have a single Mac in the department, and that is only being used by a single project. It was only brought because a couple of people in the department are developing some video annotation software that is intended for use by social scientists, and for some reason social scientists like Macx. I’m friends with the RA who is working on the project and he often remarks that Java is better supported by Sun on Windows than it is by Apple on the Mac. He also had to wait a stupid length of time to get the Mac fixed when it broke. It was still under warranty, being under a year old, but it took something like six weeks to get fixed, and that’s six weeks in which the Mac portion of the project ground to a halt. I don’t expect it to take that long to fix a computer and if, for whatever reason, it does then at least Apple should have provided a temporary replacement, which they didn’t.

    If the only reason to purchase a Mac is the fact that it comes with a free screen reader then I’m not going to bother as, after all, why should a free screen reader be of interest to me when I can build my own? I see lots of disadvantages to owning a Mac, especially as you get locked in to Apple’s hardware as well as their software, and so count me in for your boycott; my future is with Windows, especially as the API’s I use for my haptic work are not available for the Mac.

  8. As many already know I am so not a part of the Cult of Apple. Any company that controls that much of a market, being the digital music space, can’t then cry about Microsoft stealing their ideas. The same Microsoft who lent them 150 million dollars to stay alive just a scant decade ago. And why would Microsoft do such a thing? For the same reason why Microsoft will never build in a Screen Reader or Magnifier or any other hardcore Assistive Technology into Windows. They would be royally sued for Anti Trust by the Access Industry in mass.

    The Apple mentality is this. We will build a high rise skyscraper with wheelchair ramps and braille signs on the doors. Just don’t expect to find any elevators to reach our 35 floors. The people who work and live inside the building will have to make a pulley system to get you up there. By this odd ball analogy I am saying that the User Interface and the core Apple products are given the most attention in OSX’s Universal Access department. After that the community of Apple devotees must go the next nine yards to make this access work.

    How is that different than Windows? Well with Windows I am not totally dependent on some pool of developers to get things right with the ONLY! Screen Reader available for the Mac. A Screen Reader that will now see Braille support for the first time in .. the NEXT version of OSX.

    Microsoft has been reaching out to Assistive Technology venders for a very long time durring the Vista development cycle. They have been using Window Eyes in Vista demonstrations for almost a year. And in the next six months we will see more ATVs supporting a new version of Windows than the same group in the same amount of time after launch when compaired to the Windows XP days. It is truly a new world for all of us . unless you use Apple products.

    I bought an Archos 604 because it has the screen size of today’s hand held CCTVs and I could add/delete songs via hard drive mode through Windows Explorer. I run Windows because I believe in the ecosystem that has evolved over the years that has supported me in allowing me to have a job through computer access. I have no Apple products anywhere near me except for Quick Time and even that is now starting to come bundled with iTunes and an Apple Software Update module. Funny that as the company that says “Think Different” never applies that statement to when it .. copies Microsoft when it too bundles it’s applications and forces them upon their user base.

    “Think Different… buy the same thing like everyone else..”

  9. It is has been some time since your last screed against Apple. In the interest of full disclosure, how many Macs and iPods have you purchased since then? I am counting the ones you bought, or caused to be purchased, for your own home, family, or work.

    Most of your faithful readers will be curious to learn that this number is not zero! Will you be asking your relations to stop using their gifts?

    Anyway, instead of calling for a boycott (which, at worse, will only highlight the anemic economic power of our consumer group), how about a tactic that offers more potential for success? This is a product announement after all, it is early. How about leveraging your ire into action by a group has actually has sufficient influence to get Apple’s attention? Have you considered petitioning the FCC not to approve the iPhone unless Apple commits to a mode that is operable without vision? This is the legal requirement after all, and with the iPhone incorporating most of OS X, Apple (unlike the other cell phone manufactures) cannot credibly claim that such a thing is not readily achievable!

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