My Halo Broke

First. I apologize if this entry contains errors. I had to uninstall Microsoft Office, and haven’t managed to find a sighted person to read me the 2400 digit product code yet.

My idea for today’s post came from a conversation I had with Chris earlier today. He asked me if I’d ever noticed how shocked people seem to be when we blind folk use colorful language. I actually have found that the public’s expectations of me seem to be somewhat unrealistic. They either expect me to be a super hero or completely incapacitated. They also seem to think I wear a halo on my head, that I never engage in elicit activities, and that four letter words are not a part of my vocabulary.

So why is it that they often force me to be such a bitch? Yes. I said “Bitch.” Are you shocked yet? Actually, that’s a five letter word. No wonder I knew it.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been sitting in a Star Bucks (my second home), and someone has approached me, and said. “What a nice dog. Can I pet him?”

Unless they are a very young child (I always let kids pet my dog–unless they are especially ubnoxious or their parents seem to have no control over them), my answer is generally “no.” I do, however, try to begin with something polite like. “I’m sorry. He’s working right now, but thank you for asking.” Those of you who know me well, and understand my potential for non-politeness better not be laughing right now. I know where you live…especially since you’ve given me your addresses so I can send you a wedding invitation.

Invariably, said person will pretend to back off, but in a matter of seconds I feel their hand on some part of my dog’s body. Do these people think we’re stupid? Like I’m not going to notice that you’re petting my dog. The gigantic, ploom-like tail, fluttering back and forth certainly wouldn’t give you away. So then I’m forced to be more firm. At this point, I usually say (while brushing their hand aside). “I said no.”

They will sometimes leave at that point, but often I’m not so lucky. They will reply with something inane like. “Oh. Sorry.” But they say it in this disgruntled tone, as though they can’t believe I’m actually refusing to indulge their every whim.

I am now incredibly tense…because I know what’s coming. Within a few seconds of this exchange, the same person’s hand will shoot out, and they will resume their previous behavior.

So now I’m mad. Can you blame me? And I’m reduced to something incredibly rude like. “Get the hell away from my dog before I break your finger.”

Their response. “Well. You don’t have to be such a bitch about it.”

I want to point out to the persistent petter that I wasn’t a bitch about it the first two times they ignored my request not to touch the dog.

I think having a dog allows me to meet some of the nicest people, and some of the strangest. Some of my favorites have been:
“How did you know I was touching him?”
“I’ll pet him anyway. I’m such an animal person.”
“But he wants me to pet him. He told me so.”
“You don’t want me to pet the dog because I’m black.” (that happened to a friend of mine.
“Wuf. Wuf.” (I want to tell them that the dog doesn’t speak stupid.)
“You’re so mean to make that dog work.” (Let’s talk about the dog you leave at home in a cage all day.)
“That dog isn’t very smart. He just crossed the street when the light was red.” (Um…Apparently you aren’t very smart, or you would know that dogs are color blind.)

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Third Party JAWS Scripts and Why I Need Them

Once upon a time, I could do all of my computing with a single screen reader, namely JAWS.  Now, as I wrote a few weeks back, it seems that I need to use different screen readers for different tasks, I can use JAWS in most of the cases that I switch to another screen reader to handle but, in these cases, my efficiency drops dramatically.  Later this week, a new computer will arrive at my house with Windows Vista Ultimate loaded on it and I will take my first steps into the latest OS released by MS.  Virtually all of my friends who use Vista have told me that I am fortunate to have multiple screen readers at my disposal as JAWS alone won’t do the trick in Vista.


This morning, I read the announcement from TNT describing the interesting new sets of scripts that JAWS configuration wizard, Brian Hartgen has crafted.  I am very happy to see Brian broadening his product line and I’ll be very happy to see Brian make more money as his efforts in JAWS scripting are among the best in the world and he deserves every penny he makes.


What surprises me are the programs for which Brian has been writing scripts.  In the not too distant past, JAWS users expected the best support for Microsoft Office, including Outlook and its tricky calendar out-of-the-box.  JAWS users also expected that features of the operating system, in this case Vista, would work properly without installing third party scripts – those for sale or done as community, open source projects.


In those halcyon days of yore, people who made their living writing JAWS customizations, people like Brian Hartgen, Jim Snowbarger, the Dancing Dots gang, and a few others, did so for fairly obscure or exceptionally complicated applications.  Support for programs like Sonar, Dragon Naturally Speaking, SoundForge and others were sold to underwrite the cost of making the scripts and to make money for their authors.  In the recent TNT announcement, though, features like the Outlook calendar and the built-in speech recognition subsystem in Vista are supported in scripts users need to buy separately as JAWS 8, including its various updates, don’t provide this functionality as part of the $1000 purchase price anymore.


In those days gone by, JAWS included scripts for VisualStudio, an essential for us programmers.  That support stopped after VS 6.0 came out and, now, Jamal Mazrui and the gang on blind programming do the work.  Window-Eyes works great with Skype straight out-of-the-box but JAWS users need to poke around the Internet to find Doug Lee’s scripts to enjoy the full Skype interface with JAWS.


I applaud FS for supporting the richest configuration capabilities in the industry as without them and without the third party scripters (professional or volunteer) JAWS users would find fewer and fewer programs accessible with the world’s leading screen reader.


Years ago, I remember sitting in my office at FS and talking to Glen Gordon on the phone.  In a number of conversations, we would express pride in how we (meaning FS) were able to support a new operating system on or soon after the date which Microsoft released it to the public.  In the years since I’ve been gone, this seems to have lost its priority as the last time we had this conversation, we were talking about Windows Mobile 2003, which we supported in PM 2.0 in December of that year – FS has since skipped Windows Mobile 2005 and hasn’t released a WM 6 solution yet, operating system releases that Code Factory supported on or near the day they came out.  With Vista, people tell me that Window-Eyes and System Access do a better job than JAWS and have been doing so for months now but I can only wonder what has held JAWS back in the opinions of other users as I haven’t started using Vista yet.


Learning that, to use features built into Vista, like speech recognition and modules of Outlook 2007, like its calendar, will now require that I pay for the support, makes me question the value of the JAWS SMA I bought last fall.  In the past, one of the aspects of a bug that would get its priority raised in a JAWS development cycle was whether or not something worked properly in an earlier, especially the previous release.  We had such great pride in how we supported Microsoft Office in a manner that professionals could use it to do complicated jobs.  Now, I need to buy scripts from TNT if I want to upgrade to Office 2007.  Why has this happened? 


Meanwhile, every time I start up Window-Eyes or System Access, I find myself increasingly impressed by something they do right that either doesn’t work in JAWS or, most painful of all, worked in an earlier release of JAWS but doesn’t anymore.  In the article that Jim and Greg wrote that I pointed to last week, they ask why a blind person needs to pay $1000 for a screen reader in order to use a brand new $300 computer from Dell.  I would expand this and ask why I, an advanced JAWS user needs to buy JAWS for $1000, Window-Eyes for $900 and System Access (I got my copy of SA for free so I don’t know what it costs but I’ll guess $500) – approximately $2400 worth of Access Technology to use an 18 month old Toshiba laptop that is probably worth about $100 at Leroy’s Bail Bonds and Pawn Shop these days.


I understand that FS has an overwhelming market share with JAWS and that it might not make great business sense to invest much time or money in a product that the majority of the market already owns and, in most cases, has plunked down the SMA dollars for the next couple of releases.  From a purely dollars and sense standpoint, investing greatly in JAWS is probably imprudent as when one has a near monopoly position, why should they innovate?  What would possibly motivate FS to spend more than the minimum on a product where they already own the market?


BC readers should not blame FS for these changes in what JAWS does and does not support.  They are running their business following a very sensible strategy, invest in development in products in which they can take share and dollars from competitors and, therefore, grow their business rather than investing in a product which already has a lock on the market in which growth possibilities are fairly small.


Who then is responsible for the general malaise in the screen reader market?  A lot of people who make purchasing decisions, people who write “everything is beautiful” reviews of new product releases, users who do not refuse an upgrade that, in areas important to them, is in fact, a setback – in short, the community of people who are responsible for keeping the vendors honest.


I have no suggested course of action on how to change this situation.  I think Serotek is doing some pretty innovative stuff and that Window-Eyes has improved a lot in Office but, as I’ve said before, I still need JAWS to do many aspects of my job and will continue using it until System Access, Window-Eyes or some other solution provides me what I need on a daily basis.  So, I guess I’m more part of the problem than the solution, I’m willing to bitch about the screen readers I use but will continue paying for my SMA and, in a sense, fueling the fire with my dollars as my choices are sparse to non-existent.




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Journey to Japan

Last week, Jason and I decided to try out a new Japanese restaurant in our area. The food and atmosphere were amazing–even I could appreciate the large flames that came shooting out of the grill as our chef prepared an assortment of vegetables, rice, seafood, beef, and chicken. We also had wonderful soups and salads, yummy drinks, and exotically-flavored ice-cream for dessert. The whole experience reminded me of the five weeks I spent in Japan nearly ten years ago.

While in Japan, I had the incredible opportunity to work a guide dog in training at a Japanese guide dog school outside of Kyoto. The dog (a cute little Lab-Golden cross, named Olivia) was predominantly trained according to the British method, but there were a few very interesting differences.

First, if you are a blind couple in Japan, you are only given one dog to share. I’m not sure if this is due to space constraints, cultural ideas, or what, but there was a couple training with their one dog while I visited the school. I’m trying to imagine the challenges associated with matching one dog with two very differently sized, paced, and personalitied people. I think another reason for the single dog custom might be in the interest of preserving the integrity of the rice (or tatami) mats that are found in many public places. The Japanese feel so strongly about protecting these neat floor coverings, that their guide dogs are supplied with little cotton outfits that cover them from ankle to base of tail. The outfits keep in the hair as the dog sheds, and are removed in outdoor or non-tatami-covered areas.

In addition, the trainers strongly discouraged me from relieving or watering the dog in public. They actually separated her from me, and took her away to some undisclosed area to be relieved. I found the watering thing very difficult to swallow, as it was extremely hot that day, and I felt strongly that the dog should not be required to wait until we returned to the school to receive water.

Finally, one of the interesting training differences was that the dogs were taught a Japanese command which basically means “get over to the far left side of the walkway as quickly as you can.” I am certain this was meant to compensate for the crazy cyclists that ride freely down the sidewalks of major Japanese cities with little regard for the bodily safety of the pedestrians they are sharing those tight spaces with.

I welcomed my time with the dog, however, as I left my then guide at home. At the time I visited Japan, the country did not yet have a national law protecting the access rights of service animals, and I felt that it would be easier for all involved if I went dogless. In addition, given my dog, Rae’s breed (she was a GSD) I felt that we would encounter a great deal of fear, which would not benefit us in a country where we were already strangers to the culture and the language. I did take her successor, Gingko, to Spain, Germany, and France in 2001, which was an amazing experience that I will save for another entry.

Speaking of sidewalks, many of the sidewalks in Japan were equipped with brightly colored, tactile strips, that (while painful in thin shoes) are extremely helpful when traveling with a cane. They resemble the bumps that can now be found on many North American subway platforms.

There were lots of little accessibility marvels in Japan, in spite of the fact that I didn’t see many blind people out and about. One of the strangest things I recall seeing was a brailled toilet in one of the hotels we stayed in. I am not joking. There were a series of buttons along the side of the seat, and each had a braille symbol beside it. I say “symbol” because the braille was Japanese, and I couldn’t understand a single character of it.

As is the case when visiting a foreign country, humorous mistakes were unavoidable. Two of my favorites involved our search for the Canadian embassy and my search for a flushing mechanism in a restroom. Wow. I’m talking about toilets again. Those pesky things gave me a lot of trouble while in Japan.

In fact, before one of my speaking engagements, I remember asking our host for a “bathroom.” (I was living in Canada at the time.) He became quite agitated, and disappeared for a number of minutes. When he returned, he offered me the use of a neighborhood salon. When I asked him curiously why I might need such a facility, he explained that they had employee showers where I could bathe. I suddenly realized that he had mistakenly inferred that I wanted–not a bathroom–but a room in which I could take a bath. He was visibly calmed when I was finally able to convey that I only needed a place with a toilet.

Anyway…So I was in a one-person restroom at a prestigious Japanese university. I had already been in Japan for a couple of weeks by this point, so I knew that flushing mechanisms often came in very odd configurations. I was looking around for the one in this particular restroom, when I discovered a pull-chord above the toilet. I had already encountered such contraptions, so I gave it an expectant yank. Instead of a flushing sound, however, I was horrified to hear the ringing of a very loud alarm. Realizing that I must have triggered some “in case of an emergency” button, I rushed to open the bathroom door. Several anxious Japanese men were waiting outside, and because of the language barrier, I had a very difficult time convincing them that I was fine, and that I only needed to flush the toilet. Unfortunately, I had picked up enough Japanese phrases by this point to catch the word for “foreigner” being muttered repeatedly in very disgruntled tones.

In another adventure, we went in search of the Canadian embassy, which we needed to find because my passport (which my mother had unknowingly defaced when she corrected my misspelled name with permanent ink the day before my trip) had to be replaced. Following the directions we had been given at our hotel, we set off through the streets of Tokyo. When we came to the assigned street, we caught sight of a beautiful building. It had chain link fencing around it, and the architecture was stunning. We were pacing along the fence, looking for an opening, when we were surrounded by some very official and uptight-looking guards (equipped with nightsticks). When they demanded to know what we were doing we explained that we were Canadian, and that we were only looking for the Canadian embassy. In broken English, one of the men barked. “Canadian embassy across the street.” He pointed at a much less impressive building with his nightstick. “This Emperial Palace.”

Overall, I found our various Japanese hosts very gracious and helpful. Some of the most memorable parts of my trip were attending a religious ceremony at a tiny temple in the mountains, talking with an atomic bomb surviver (who was only 1.5 kilometers away from the hypocenter when the bomb fell), visiting Peace Park in Heroshima, and my time in Tokyo.

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Computer Access for All

This morning I read an article from the Blind News mailing list (link above) by old buddies Jim Fruchterman and Greg Vanderheiden that I recommend you read in its entirety at the link on the headline.  The article, entitled, “Everyone deserves access to technology” ran in the Sacramento Bee both online and in the print edition of the paper.



Jim and Greg are two of the most energetic and intelligent people I’ve had the privilege of getting to know in the world of technology for people with disabilities.  Jim, as you may know first founded Arkenstone and now runs Benitech, the home of  Greg is director of the TraceCenter at U. Wisconsin, one of the most important centers of research into technology and people with disabilities.  Neither Jim nor Greg self identifies as having a disability but both have contributed immensely to our community.


I have enjoyed working with Greg on numerous forums, committees and other projects and have very much enjoyed talking to and just being around Fruchterman as his genius and energy is highly infectious and can elevate the mood and intellect of any group of people with his larger than life presence.


I have only one area where I disagree with the point of the article: they say that the project should start with California and I want it to be Florida or Massachusetts as that’s where I spend most of my time.


The only other item that makes me bristle a bit is the question of why it takes two relatively wealthy sighted white men to make the argument about the absurd economics that blind people, who need a $1000 piece of screen reading software to use a $300 Dell Computer, to get into a mainstream newspaper?  I also wonder why the established blind publications aren’t asking this same question in every issue?


— End



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Update, Congrats, and Competition Commentary

First, I must apologize for my extended absence. I was in Canada visiting my family last week, and it was quite busy trying to catch up with everyone. In addition, I am getting married in October, so my Mom and I were doing a number of wedding-related errands. Everything seems to be moving along according to schedule, except for my inability to find a suitable pair of white shoes. I know some of you male readers are probably groaning. Don’t worry, I won’t spend the whole entry talking about shoes, but seriously. You’d think with such a thriving wedding industry, they’d be easier to find.

I returned to Minneapolis on Sunday, and attended a graduation party in the 96 degree heat. After spending a day unpacking, doing laundry, etc., I was all set to return to my blog-writing on Tuesday…when my fiancé discovered a litter (not sure if that’s the right word) of four bunny rabbits in our Ash tree. Since said tree is located in the center of our back yard, and we have three dogs (a Labrador, a Dachshund, and a Golden Retriever who has already killed a very large rabbit and brought it into our living room for my…um…inspection), I figured the little guys wouldn’t be long for this world once they were big enough to start hopping. This is a round-about way of telling you that I spentTuesday morning taking the cute, puffballs up to the Minnesota Wild Life Rehab Center. When I told Chris I would be going up to the Wild Life Rehab Center, he made some smart ass remark about how that was a strange place for me to go to “clean up.”

As you have probably noticed, this entry will be a mish mash of observations, opinions, and stories. I’m reminding myself of James Joyce right now. Not that I’m as famous as he is, but those of you who were forced to read him in high school will know what I mean. That dude covers more topics per page than any author I’ve ever red.

To add to Chris’ description of the upcoming collaborative Web site, I’m very excited about this project. I think it will be a great way to compile a bunch of information into one easy-to-find place, and that it will give many of us an opportunity to write about the issues that are most important to us (both personally and as a community). Who knows, maybe we can even emulate Desert Skies, and do some Podcasts. I’ve been wanting to learn how to do them for quite sometime, and I understand that there is a soon-to-be-released digital recorder from Samsung that has even more audio support than the current Olympus DS models. If anyone knows where to get one, I’d love to know.

Next. I’d like to offer my congrats to Mike and the whole Serotek group for both the resolution of the “Freedom” trademark issue, and the announcement of SAToGo. A friend forwarded me a commentary on this announcement this morning, and I have to say that I was somewhat dismayed to read it.

The author of the email (who incorrectly refers to the product as T A ToGo throughout his entire post) writes that he would only use SAToGo “as a back-up for when he is traveling or can’t get at his own computer.” That is the whole point of SAToGo. It is a fully functioning screen reader, but it is included as part of an individual’s purchase of other Serotek products. It is meant as a solution in instances when a person does not have access to a machine that is equipped with a pre-installed screen reader.

I will post additional excerpts from this email below with my comments interspersed.

“It takes money and resources to run access technology companies. Serotek is a smalltime operation as compared to Freedom Scientific and Gw-Micro.”

**Dena: While I agree that it takes money to run any company, I would question how well organizations like Freedom Scientific are using the financial resources they do have.**

“TATOGO looks fine as a demonstration; but will Serotek have the ability to respond when things break, as they will, and will the software have the
robustness of WE, JFW, or Hal.”

**Dena: In my experience, Serotek has been nothing but responsive when addressing customer concerns. When writing courseware for them a few months ago, I would occasionally encounter problems, or absent features. I would email Mike about whatever issue I was having, and it would be fixed or addressed within a matter of days. And…in terms of “robustness,” I encounter far fewer crashes and performance lags when using SA than I do with JAWS.**

“I view Serotek as perhaps having the forerunner product which, if it works and proves popular, to be surpassed by the industry mainstays. It takes dollars to run assistive technology companies; and there is a good
reason that JFW, WE, OpenBook, K1000 and similar products cost what they do.”

**Dena” I take exception to these statements. If the larger AT companies are so powerful, and if the ability to produce such products exists within their ranks, then why are they not releasing them? Why are features that used to work in JAWS disappearing in later versions of the product? Why does it seem that the product is becoming less stable as time goes by? And…in terms of product pricing. The markup for some of the products sold by AT companies can only be described as staggering. Largely, the “reason” why the products listed above cost what they do is very simple: we are a captive audience.**

“Another drawback is that TATOGO requires logging on to the company server for validation each time the program is started. This means that you cannot have the software boot up with your machine and
begin talking. What if that internet access happens not to be available at the point where you are trying to use the software, what if their server happens to be down at a given moment you are trying to validate…..With we, jfw, and Hal, I’ve got software on my machines that runs regardless
of the above.”

**Dena” I’m far less technically savvy than many of you out there, but wouldn’t Narrator work in this case? In addition, if I’m at my local library or whatever, chances are that I’m going to want to use the Internet connection to do research or check my email. If I can’t get a connection because of technical issues on the organizational side, I doubt I’m going to want to stay at that machine.**

“There is a market for this kind of a software solution; and it has some appeal from an economic standpoint. But, for the serious or advanced pc user, at least at this point, We, JFW, and Hal do rings around TATOGO. I’ll play with it while it is still free in beta, and I’ll testdrive the Freedom Box Network over the next month, but I don’t see this as a replacement for WE as my screen reader.”

**Dena: I think this individual is missing the point. The objective is not to “replace” other screen readers, but rather to offer choices (more affordable choices, I might add). No screen reader out there does everything we need it to. That is why it is a good thing that there are a few companies working on solutions.

Just because a product appears on the surface to be “simple,” doesn’t mean that it isn’t highly functional. Many of us forget that there are numerous blind computer users out there who are not “power” users. These individuals only want to do basic things like send emails, write basic letters, and read books. They don’t want or need anything complicated, and they certainly aren’t going to become proficient with products that are highly configurable (with Speech and Sounds Managers and Adjust Verbosity Settings Dialogs). Simply because many of us who read this blog have need of such customizable products, doesn’t mean everyone does.
Finally, how can the companies listed above “do rings around” SAToGo when they don’t yet have a comparable product?**

“It should be noted that both WE and JFW can be run off a thumb drive. And it should also be considered, as Dan and I have mentioned on Blindtech, that there are security issues involved here that may well preclude this from running in the types of places where it would be most handy. Someone running this on their home pc, utilizing voices that happen to be on their
pc, really isn’t telling us how this works (or doesn’t work) at their local library’s public pc, a similar pc at a hotel, for one while traveling and forgetting their favorite external synthesizer, and the like.
It’s this kind of application that, for the serious user, will tell if
TATOGO has a place in their pc toolchest.”

**Dena: These kinds of attitudes are very discouraging to me. You would think that, as a community, we would have struggled with access barriers to such a degree that we would welcome any product that could possibly eliminate more of them and create additional opportunities for us. Rather than writing off such an innovative product before it has even had time to prove itself is destructive, and beneficial to no one. Instead of dismissing a potentially affordable and viable solution with blanket statements like the ones above, why not work together as a customer base to test a product in real world situations, and offer valuable feedback about our experiences to its developer? I realize that competition in every industry is essential, and part of business. However, I think we often forget what our ultimate goal should be: to improve our access to as many things as we can. In a perfect world, all of the products out there would offer the same features andfunctionality. There would be no gaps in performance or accessibility. However, this is not a perfect world, and for now we must often glue multiple solutions together to maintain some semblance of productivity and equality, and continue to ask AT manufacturers for more of what we need.

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IP Law Applied to the Internet

Under US copyright law, blind and otherwise print impaired individuals have an exemption that permits distribution of the content of print materials in a format accessible to people with these disabilities.  This exemption permits NLS, RFB&D and Bookshare, among others, to produce the materials they distribute.


I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, so my reading of the law is purely from an amateur perspective.  But, when I look at the language in the exemption, I do not see any text that requires producers and distributors of such materials to go through an onerous process to ensure that the rights of publishers are protected.


As digital formats provide a much more convenient and feature rich way of delivering materials to people with vision impairment, the Internet functions as the most convenient manner of distribution.  Of course, nothing frightens the publishing industry more than the thought that people could access their entire body of intellectual property from any computer attached to the net.  To this end, the publishing industry insists on very tightly constrained licensing agreements with those who would provide written materials to those of us with vision impairment.


So, today, a blind person needs to provide proof of blindness in order to access web based written materials which fall under some publishing company’s copyright.  Thus, the more than one million books scanned by google for are not available to us blinks.  The Bookshare catalogue of 35,000 books in Daisy or Braille formats provides a good start but, recently, I wanted to read a book about the language of an ancient civilization which happens to appear in the google collection but is unlikely to ever show up in Bookshare as I probably represent 100% of the blind people who would care to read this book.


This brings me to the question of proof of blindness and the question of why publishers receive greater online protections than do children.  Specifically, why can virtually anyone go to a site that contains pornographic material and simply click on a link or button that says, “I swear I am at least 18 years old” and go right into a web site that demeans women or gay men, shows violent sexual acts, distorts the reality of human sexuality and certainly does nothing to advance the education of our children and may, in fact, cause our kids to learn some truly horrible concepts and believe some truly horrible things as they mature into adults.


Do not get me wrong, I do not recommend censorship in any way.  I never found much pleasure in pornography, even when I was young and sighted, as I always thought of sex as something one participates in rather than watches other people do.  I think that adults who want to look at such things have every right to do so and I think publishers of such material have the right to sell their products. 


I just question why any twelve year old who has just learned to masturbate can access pornography with a single click as proof of age but I, as a blind person, have to go through a bit of paperwork to prove to our friends at Bookshare that, indeed, I am blind and, even though google has books I would like to read and even though my blindness gives me the right to the exemption to the copyright law, protecting publishers intellectual property trumps my access to the library being assembled by google.


I think most Americans agree that keeping pornography from our kids is a good thing.  Likewise, I think most also agree that blinks should have access to books.  Why, then, is it so easy for a kid to circumvent the age restrictions on smut but so difficult and often impossible for we blinks to gain access to the vast majority of digitized books on the web?


— End

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Window-Eyes for JAWS (Satire)

Blind Confidential has always published parody and satirical fiction.  As we expand our team of authors and start heading toward the news based web site I mentioned the other day, we have started receiving entries from people interested in writing for the soon to be launched site.


Yesterday, I received the following phony press release from old buddy and fellow FS veteran, Brian Walker who now lives somewhere in the large, flat, corn growing part of the United States.  It made me laugh and I hope you find it funny too.


Window-Eyes for JAWS

By Brian Walker 


Ft. Wayne, Indiana… For immediate release. GW Micro is pleased to

Announce the release of Window-Eyes for JAWS. This exciting new product will revolutionize screen reading technology. Screen reading has never been easier. Window-Eyes for JAWS provides you the best of both worlds – the power of JAWS and the ease of use of Window-Eyes. Window-Eyes for JAWS reads what JAWS alone will not, provides ease of use JAWS cannot, and gives access to settings that no one can find in JAWS.


“Some people asked us why we’d release a screen reader for a screen

reader,” said Dan Weirich of GW Micro. But if they had ever used JAWS,

they wouldn’t have had to ask.”


Let’s face it. No screen reader is perfect. But JAWS has been remarkably foul of late. And even so, people and organizations just keep buying it.  Well at GW Micro, we’re not going to give up. Our motto is – if we can’t beat them, we’ll join them – and do it better. So our “middleware” screen reader, Window-Eyes for JAWS is a logical progression for us.


Here are answers to some questions raised by our exciting new product:


Q: What do you mean by “middleware” screen reader?


A: Middleware is normally a layer of programming that lets different programs talk to each other. Microsoft Active Accessibility is “middleware” that provides accessibility information. Well, Window-Eyes for JAWS is middleware that provides a usability layer, translating information from JAWS into human understandable terms, and organizing

JAWS settings into a comprehensible interface, to make it possible to actually use JAWS without years of study.


If you’ve ever used JAWS on the Internet, you know why Window-Eyes for JAWS is an essential addition. If you don’t code HTML by hand, you probably scratch your head when using JAWS on the Internet. Who knows or cares what a blockquote, onmouseover, or anchor are? With Window-Eyes for JAWS you don’t have to know!


Q: Will I have to change settings in multiple places?


A: Not once you install Window-Eyes for JAWS! Ever try to find where to

change punctuation in JAWS? You have lots of choices: the Voices dialogs, the Verbosity dialog, or two or three different places in Configuration Manager… No more! With Window-Eyes for JAWS, all your punctuation settings are in one location! In fact, all settings are easier to find and change.


Q: What about SAPI Voices?


A: They’re supposed to work in JAWS, but that’s only an unsubstantiated

rumor – until now! Get Window-Eyes for JAWS and use any SAPI synthesizer

you have installed, and with the added bonus of no crashes!


Q: How stable will this program be, running on such an unstable platform?


A: Window-Eyes has a rock cocaine solid reputation for stability. If we can do that

in Windows, we can do it in JAWS.


Q: Will I be able to use third party programs?


A: We admit, JAWS doesn’t support much more than Microsoft Office these

days, but with Window-Eyes for JAWS you can run all of your favorite programs.  Window-Eyes for JAWS extends the support you get beyond office environments. Life is about more than work so enjoy it!


Q: What about synthesizers and Braille displays?


A: Using these devices in JAWS has never been easy. Select it when you

install JAWS or reinstall it to get them to work. But with Window-Eyes for JAWS, just select your Braille display or synthesizer from a list, and you don’t even need to restart the program! And Window-Eyes for JAWS fully supports using your Braille Senseless as a display!


Q: I’m not a programmer; will I have to learn to write scripts?


A: Absolutely not! If you’re a real glutton for punishment and hate

yourself and life in general, you *can* write scripts… But with Window-Eyes for JAWS you don’t have to submit to such torture! And are you tired of frames that break every time you restart a program? No more! Window-Eyes for JAWS gives you all the easy to use customization tools that have been in Window-Eyes for years. Buy Window-Eyes for JAWS and never script again!


Q: Every time I install a new version of JAWS, I find that something I use

all the time is broken. Will Window-Eyes for JAWS help with this?


A: Yes! With Window-Eyes for JAWS, never worry about upgrading again. We

provide the consistency that JAWS cannot. And those commands that give three different results on three tries? With Window-Eyes for JAWS that will never happen again!


Get your copy of Window-Eyes for JAWS today!


Disclaimer: We accept no responsibility for anyone taking this “press

release” seriously, and offer no apology or sympathy for anyone without

a sense of humor. Have fun!





To those of you who missed the Serotek announcement on Main Menu last night, I recommend you go to the ACB Radio site and give it a listen.  For the first time in history, a screen reader now exists that requires no installation whatsoever.  It requires no USB key, just an Internet connection and a PC.  Users can go to any computer that’s online, type Windows+R to bring up the Run dialogue, type in the SA to Go URL and have a fully functional screen reader wherever they may be sitting. 


System Access to Go opens up possibilities that no other screen reader can provide today and, once again, Mike and Matt, the leaders of the tiniest player in this business bring breakthrough technology to the community of which they are members as well as vendors.


Congratulations Mike and Matt!


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New Technology Follow-Up

I received a number of comments to the “Cool New Technology” item I wrote yesterday.  First off, I’d like to thank old buddy Kelly Ford for his thoughtful commentary regarding the WindowsVistaMediaCenter functionality and how well it works with screen readers.  From what I gleaned from Kelly’s note, it is usable with the current generation of screen readers and, presuming a bit, it can be made to work very nicely with scripts or configurations of some sort.  As Circuit City lets one return a PC for a full refund, I think I might do the retail rental by buying one, checking it out and return it if it doesn’t do the job.


The second comment I received came by private email and pointed out my bias against Window-Eyes by reminding me that GW implemented Remote Access before any of the other screen readers.  This feature truly innovated access and went a long way to improving the lives of blind IT professionals.  When I wrote the piece yesterday, I had it in mind to include remote access and knew that GW introduced it first but, in my haste to finish the piece yesterday, I accidentally omitted it. 


I can’t quite remember when GW first released Window-Eyes with support for Remote Access but it not only provided very new functionality for Window-Eyes users, it really pushed the other screen reader manufacturers to catch up in this area.


Also, in private emails, readers asked why I didn’t include support for various applications in my list of innovations.  The answer is that I don’t consider adding support for additional applications to be especially innovative.  At this point, I must separate the definitions of the words “innovative” and “important.”  When GW Micro became the first to support Adobe Acrobat, Flash and a number of other programs, they provided important support for important applications to their users.  When JAWS became the first to support Java, Microsoft Project and other professional applications, Freedom Scientific became the first to provide support for these important programs.  That this support was “important” does not make it especially “innovative” in that supporting these and many other important applications extends the current behavior of the screen reader without inventing anything especially new.  Some would argue that supporting important applications brings greater value to the user, an entirely valid argument as, often more so than advancing the art with innovation, providing access to Acrobat or Java will provide more opportunities for screen reader users.


I will also attest to the fact that supporting new applications is not easy.  I don’t mean to trivialize adding support for programs that are of importance to some or many screen reader users.  Writing scripts or making internal changes to a screen reader to handle yet another slightly different variation on MSAA can be one of the hardest tasks an engineering team will face in any given release cycle.  From my history at Freedom Scientific, I can say that supporting Java and Lotus Notes were two of the most difficult projects my department ever attempted and that the hackers who worked on those projects probably lost years off of their lives from the intensity they required.  I don’t know how the process of supporting additional applications works at GW, Serotek or Dolphin but I’d guess it is pretty hard in the less standard programs out there.


In my private response to one of the email comments, I suggested that a formally researched article on the most important applications employed by screen reader users would be interesting.  A few of we blind bloggers have come to an agreement that we will soon launch a web site dedicated to news and commentary about issues involving our community.  I think an online survey about applications and how we blinks use them would be interesting, albeit not terribly scientific.  As we are just a bunch of blind people with blogs, we haven’t the resources to pay for a scientific study so we’ll need to rely on the honesty of people in the community not to stuff the proverbial ballot box and, even this way, the sample will be skewed toward people who choose to read our web site which will not be a truly accurate representation of the community.  Ok, I’m a bit of a statistics nerd and want to make sure that we don’t publish numbers that mislead but look official because they have things like percentages attached.


Finally, the soon to exist web site will replace the plans I had for  I think this new idea will better represent a broader range of opinions and will include more voices from different perspectives.  I will be sending an email to the people who offered to volunteer on the project to ask them to join us on the new project where you will recognize the names of all of the founders and even people who disagree with me will have a forum.  Lastly, we are looking for writers and editors to help with the new web site and we hope that people with expertise outside of technology will sign up as we hope to cover everything from cooking to participatory sports to legal issues and civil rights to guide dog care to fiction/satire/parody/humor so we’ll need a lot of help over time.  So, here’s your chance to become a published author, just write or call me or, when we launch the site, send email to the editorial team.


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Cool New Technology

Yesterday, I spent some time talking over Skype with my good friend and Serotek CEO, Mike Calvo.  While we talked, he demonstrated the coolest new piece of technology that I have witnessed in AT for blind people in many years.  From my perspective, the entire blindness technology biz seems to avoid innovation and, for the most part keeps up with operating system releases from Microsoft, does its best to keep up with new releases of Microsoft Office, competes heavily in support for web browsers and adds value by including things like additional speech synthesizers and such.


In my highly biased opinion, the last few important innovations in the blindness biz were (in reverse chronological order):  Serotek’s RIM and RAM remote access products that do not require anything installed on distant computers – a serious productivity boost to blind IT professionals; Serotek’s USB drive support that, unlike the entries from FS and Dolphin, required that nothing be pre-installed on the target machine;  JAWS Speech and Sounds manager that, although the interface can be made simpler, makes all of the elements exposed on a web page really useful by saving a ton of chattiness and, as a result, making web browsing much more efficient;  Freedom Scientific’s introduction of “Quick Keys” in the JAWS support for Internet Explorer – a feature that was quickly copied by GW Micro and Serotek, this feature improved the efficiency of web browsing for blind people by an order of magnitude or more and, way back in 1999, JAWS’ introduction of using the DOM for accessing information in Internet Explorer and, shortly after, in other applications.  Excepting the Speech and Sounds Manager, all of the FS innovations have turned up in Window-Eyes and System Access but those first introduced by Serotek have yet to appear in any other product.


What Mike showed me yesterday will improve access for blind people virtually everywhere in the world.  At this point, I am sworn to secrecy about the details of this highly innovative new bit of technology but I believe that the plan is to introduce it to the public on Main Menu this Tuesday night.




I am somewhat torn over whether to get a Tivo for my house and add the networking support so, using whatever screen reader I happen to have on at any given moment, use the ability to check out the TV listings and program it from another PC in my house or get a Windows Vista PC with a TV tuner card in it and access the Vista Tivo-like functionality right on the computer.


I have one blind person helping me find information about adding functionality to Tivo as the Internet interface seems only to come from after market vendors.  I have talked to a bunch of friends who use Vista with screen readers, the System Access and Window-Eyes users seem to be the happiest of the bunch, but none can tell me how well the multi-media features, including the Tivo-like DVR functionality works with any screen reader.


Retail stores that sell computers don’t seem to have any PCs that one can actually try.  On Friday, my wife and I went to both CircuitCity and Best Buy to look at these media center PCs.  Both stores featured computers with all of the features we found interesting but neither had one turned on.  I had my System Access USB key in tow but it did me no good as the computers weren’t even plugged into electrical power let alone online or attached to a cable or satellite television connection.  So, where can a screen reader user go to actually check out a product before bringing it home and being disappointed?


If anyone knows about this stuff with any screen reader, please post a comment or write directly to me as I am really very curious.


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A few weeks ago, I knew little about trademark law.  I understood that I preferred knowing that if I went into a store and bought something called Coca Cola, that I would get a bottle or can of the soft drink I’ve known and loved for most of my life.  Thus, I never really thought of trademark as anything but benign.


Then, I read the articles Darrell, Jeff and others wrote about the FS v. Serotek case and listened to my wife Susan as she described a trademark case she worked on in law school and suddenly this branch of IP law became a lot more interesting.  This morning, I read an article called, “Microsoft sued over Windows Vista name,” in PC Advisor.


In the United States, a trademark must be “protected” through regular use and by assertion of property.  A trademark can turn into a generic name if its owner does not claim ownership of said name.  The most famous of the cases where a trademarked name moved from proprietary to public domain is the word “Aspirin.”  Once, the Bayer company owned the word aspirin but due to lack of assertion of their ownership, the word fell into the public domain and now appears on the bottles of every company that manufactures the popular analgesic.  Other words like “catsup” and “ketchup” have had similar fates.  Some companies, like Kimberly Clark, for instance, have fought very hard to keep the word “Kleenex” from becoming a generic term for facial tissue and Xerox has struggle to keep its corporate name from becoming both a noun and verb that generically described “a photocopy” and “making a photocopy.”  With the recent popularization of the word “google” as a verb, I wonder how the search giant will fight back to protect its trademark?


The article about Vista reads: ‘A French television presenter has sued Microsoft for “violation of intellectual property”. Philippe Gildas accused the

Software publisher of illegally using the trademark “Vista”.


‘Gildas registered the Vista in October 2003. This was two years before

Microsoft  registered its Windows Vista trademark with the INPI (French National Institute for Intellectual Property).


“Philippe Gildas had registered the Vista trademark for a television channel aimed at senior citizens, Télé Vista, which was to have launched in 2003. The

Télé Vista project was delayed, but is now coming to fruition, with plans to launch the channel later this year.


‘Gildas sees Microsoft’s hogging of the limelight with its new Vista

operating system  as an obstacle to that launch, and so he decided to sue, arguing that he registered the Vista trademark “in all entertainment and media categories: press,

television, web and so on.”’


I can think of lots of other commercial uses of “Vista.”  LakeBuena Vista, over at Disneyworld comes to mind as a long standing entertainment use of the term.  A friend of mine owns Vista Travel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Buena Vista homes in Colorado may have a claim as they have an entertainment center.  If I remember long enough ago, I think there was a car, perhaps a Dodge, called Vista but I’m not sure. 


I don’t know anything about French or EU trademark law.  In the EU, patents go to the individual who is first to file for a patent on an invention;  in the US, patent protection is afforded the first to invent so, if you can show that you have invented the concept prior to another filing for a patent, you can maintain ownership.  So, if patent law has such a fundamental difference, maybe trademark does too.


Frankly, I doubt too many people will mistake a television show aimed at elders with an operating system and I doubt anyone will mistake New Freedom feminine napkins with Freedom Scientific but one never knows in this whacky world of predatory litigation who might get sued for what.  Hell, Donald Trump tried to get a trademark on the term, “You’re fired!”


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