Window-Eyes Great New Extension Facility/Eating Crow

In the past week or so, I’ve received a number of phone calls from friends who are also experts in the screen reader segment of the AT market.  Some calls, from friends who work for GW Micro’s competitors told me about all of the security loopholes that are opened up with the new Window-Eyes scripting facility.


I then read up on the feature and agreed that, indeed, it did have some holes.  Last week, I posted a message to the blind programming mailing list which started out by celebrating all of the power that is now available in the Window-Eyes 7 beta and that I was excited to see what the community will make of this major advance in screen reader technology.


I also mentioned that there were some security issues in the feature that users should be aware of.  I overemphasized the security issues as the notion held center stage in my thoughts on the matter resulting from the calls I received from friends who work for GW competitors, definitely not an impartial group.


After posting the email to the BP list, I got some emails and phone calls from Window-Eyes aficionados, equally expert in the often nuanced ins and outs of the screen reader biz.  This group scolded me for bashing GW and felt that my email to the blind programming list was unfair.  After rereading my post, I agree with the Window-Eyes supporters, accept that I overstated the security problems and, with this post, I would like to retract my Chicken Little, “the sky is falling” statements.


The Window-Eyes people also reminded me that one can build some very nasty malware in JAWS scripts, especially if the interface DLL is used.  They are correct in this assertion and, once again, I’m eating a bit of crow as my email to the BP list was clearly unbalanced.


I do feel strongly that the new scripting facility in Window-Eyes is one of the coolest and most important steps forward in the screen reading business that we’ve seen in quite a long time.  People with the ability to program in a wide variety of languages can make some pretty amazing software using this model and I expect we’ll see an explosion of creativity from the community of users in the recent future.


Virtually every program that exposes a COM interface can now work reasonably well with Window-Eyes and programs like MS Project, dropped from the JAWS radar a number of years back, can be supported by the community and, therefore, more blinks will be able to get promotions into the jobs that require project management tools.  There are a ton of programs out there that a Window-Eyes hacker can really make sing in a manner that no screen reader could in the past.


I would like to recommend that as many WE extensions as possible be distributed under GPL or Mozilla or one of the other free software licenses and, of course, include source code.  As we learned above, all such scripting facilities can open security holes and, if we have the source code, we can ensure that none of the predatory sorts of software vandalism can be performed by said program.  Also, open source and free (as in freedom with a lower case “f”) software provides the community with the ability to control our own future and design our technological destiny rather than keeping it in the hands of sighted CEO types who report to sighted boards of directors who only seem to care about the profit line.  GW Micro, Serotek and the guys who make the iCon remain, as far as I can see, the most user centric companies in the biz and also deliver real innovation.  Humanware deserves an honorable mention for their recent book reading devices which are truly the bomb.


Finally, I haven’t worked for FS nor held an executive position in any AT company in nearly four years.  I work on some very cool projects for some very cool people but just because I was a VP of Software Engineering at the biggest screen reader company around doesn’t make my statements on any of this technology any more valuable than any other so-called expert.  Thus, if you read an email or blog post that I’ve written, please remember that I’m just one voice in a crowd and that you should read opposing opinions as, god knows, I’m wrong at least half of the time.


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Sad News Around AT Biz

Over the past few weeks and months, the AT family has lost a number of people who will be missed for a long time to come.


A couple of months back, Eric Damery lost his father.  Eric’s dad had a major influence in an entirely indirect manner on the history of access technology for people with vision impairment (PWVI).  He did not invent anything nor did he define new and exciting features; what he did was give us Eric Damery. 


Eric, already a resident of this part of Florida went to the Henter-Joyce office to buy a copy of OpenBook for his father.  While there, the HJ staff was so tiny that Ted handled the sale himself and then gave Eric a demo of JAWS (the DOS version back in the Paleolithic era of AT).  Eric was so enamored conceptually by the power of the screen reader that he practically camped out on the HJ doorstep until they hired him as their only full time sales person.  Eric then went to as many places that would have him, he would sleep on friend’s sofas or at the cheapest motels around.  Eric believed in the future of PWVI in the workplace and while competitors spent much less time educating the population, Eric went on a mission which resulted in a vastly greater acceptance of screen readers and PWVI in the workplace.


So, if Eric’s dad didn’t need a copy of OB, the zealousness and verve of Eric’s effort may never have been sparked and, observing the history of the industry, I cannot find another evangelist with so much energy and such a deep belief in the future of these products who would have picked up the ball the way Eric did.


Susan (my lovely wife) and I sent our condolences directly to Eric but everyone should remember that the kismet that caused an explosion in JAWS sales and a huge reduction in unemployment for we people with vision impairment was started by Eric’s dad who caused the dominos to start falling.  We all owe Eric’s dad and Eric himself a great debt of gratitude as, without them, the real advances in screen reading, mostly invented by HJ/FS may never have happened.


By now, most of us have heard of the death of GW Micro salesman Clarence Whaley.  Clarence was one of the real sweethearts of the access technology family.  With him, it was never about competition (which we all took seriously) but, rather, when off the clock, we were all buddies.  His charm and friendliness helped a lot of us lower our stress levels and enjoy the after hours times at many a conference.



Stephen Guerra, the commissioner of beep baseball and the greatest salesman at ILA lost his mother to a heart attack last week.  I don’t know anything about Stephen’s mom other than she raised a really terrific son and we at BC send our heartfelt condolences to Stephen and his family.


Peter Scialli, a founding employee of Benetech, home of, also passed away last week.  About Peter, Jim Fruchterman wrote, “Peter’s impact on the field of access technology for the blind was major. He moderated email lists, organized conference sessions (I particularly remember Dueling Scanners) and wrote articles for the journals in the field. Peter believed strongly in the power of technology to help people with disabilities, became an expert in the field and then committed himself to sharing that expertise widely.


His knowledge, sense of humor and dedication will be sorely missed.”


BlindConfidential sends its deepest condolences to all of the families of these dearly departed individuals.  If anyone has an address to send a contribution to a charity in memory of any of our recently departed please post it as a comment to the blog so we can send what we can afford.


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AT as a Synonym for Application Compatibility

By Will Pearson


[Editor’s Note: Although the blog has been mostly writing for entertainment value lately, I still work in the field and enjoy hearing various theories about user interface.  Will is one of the most well studied in this field and one of its most insightful thinkers.]


I’ve recently found some time to continue with my work on simulating human visual attention using audition.  This involves using multimodal user interface
techniques to simulate or provide the characteristics of a particular human behaviour, which in this case is visual attention.  Working on simulating behaviour
has caused me to think about how the approach of providing accessibility by simulating behaviour differs from the current approach of treating accessibility
as a synonym for application compatibility. 

The main problem with taking the approach of treating accessibility as a synonym for app compat is that it turns accessibility into an infinite set of problems
with no end in sight.  Software developers are continuously producing new software products or modifying existing ones, and these have to be made to work
with assistive technology or vice versa.  So, accessibility becomes a continual problem and the only beneficiaries of this are members of the accessibility
industry as they are guaranteed a continual revenue stream. 

Providing accessibility by synthesising human behaviour has a significant advantage over the current approach of app compat.  Humans have a limited set
of behaviours that need to be synthesised, and this means that accessibility can be viewed as a finite set of problems.  Having a finite set means that
we can view accessibility as something that has an end point rather than something that is continuous.  If we can find ways to synthesise all of the behaviours
that a particular disability affects then we would find ourselves in a situation where everything was automatically accessible to people with that particular
disability.  Simply put, providing accessibility by synthesising behaviour makes complete accessibility an achievable goal rather than one we can never
achieve because to solve it requires that we solve a problem set of infinite size. 

Unfortunately, when talking about computer based accessibility we do need to retain the idea of app compat in one instance.  Assistive technology generally
acts as a translator that participates in the process of communication by translating between different types of sensory stimuli and or different lexicons
and sets of perceptual symbols.  Communication involves passing messages between different parties.  In the case of computer based assistive technology
the only party that the assistive technology really needs to communicate with is the operating system, and so the notion of app compat between assistive
technology and operating system will need to remain even if the view of accessibility changed so that accessibility was provided by synthesising behaviour;
however, if accessibility became a synonym for synthesising behaviour then we could eliminate app compat everywhere else. 

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A Silence

“All we are saying is give peace a chance…” John and Yoko Lennon.


I gave Tebbers a boost up to the lowest branch and Red did the same for me as a line of young, mostly male punk rock looking types climbed a tree in Central Park.  On the distant stage, Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussein two of the world’s finest musicians played mournfully in the traditional sense of Indian classical music.


I sat beside Tebbers on a healthy feeling branch and we listened to the music quietly.  Red asked, “Is there room for three?”


“Probably but not safely,” I replied.


Red moved to the other side of the tree’s trunk and found a solid limb on which to sit comfortably and within chatting distance.


Tebbers looked around and started pointing in all directions.  Curious, I started looking at that which he found so interesting.  “Holy shit,” I mumbled.  Our tree grew out of Shepherd’s Lawn in the central part of Central Park.  People stood, sat, lay For as far as our eyes could see from our perch.  Later that night, Walter Cronkite would tell us that CBS estimated the crowd at 1.25 million, maybe more as it was too hard to determine how many people packed the side streets in upper Manhattan.


Ravi stood up from his sitar and, with his very recognizable accent, said a short prayer followed by, “God bless John Lennon.”  He and Hussein left the stage which we could see at a distance and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band set up as Alan Ginsburg read his requiem for the former Beatle.


The poet left and Bruce and Linda Rondstadt took hold of microphones and jumped straight into what I thought must have been the greatest version of “Devil in a Blue Dress” that I’d ever heard.  My memory jumbles up events from that era, did this incredible duet happen at the No Nukes rally lead by Nobel Peace Prize winner Helen Caldecott or did they play at the John Lennon Memorial service?  I know I sat beside Tebbers in trees at both events and can’t remember whether The Boss jammed out at which event or both.  I suppose some historian of the counter culture could tell you but I’m too lazy to even wikipedia it right now.


After the band left the stage, Yoko Ono, the grieving wife slowly approached the microphone.  Every night since her superstar husband took the bullets from the deranged Mark David Chapman’s gun, she passed through a crowd of hundreds if not thousands standing in front of her apartment building wanting to express their grief and support for this wonderful woman.  Rather than letting her body guard goons rush her inside, she stopped and thanked people for coming, for sharing her grief, for the rare occasion that a large group of New Yorkers would gather in a collective act of love.  Yoko refused autographs but gave me and others who asked a hug and helped many others wipe away tears.


On the stage in Central Park, Yoko spoke for about ten minutes pouring her heart out to what may have been the largest gathering of people in New York City for any reason at all.  Then she asked the crowd for five minutes of silence in memory of John.


More than a million people stood, sat, reclined or took a position that worked for them and said nothing.  No busses, sirens or automotive traffic could be heard.  A few birds cooed and chirped but they seemed confused at a large chunk of Manhattan falling silent. 


Nothing seemed real as we sat in a tree in a part of the park the city would later rename Strawberry Fields.  Five minutes of silence, interrupted occasionally by the hum of the engine on the Goodyear blimp while surrounded by more than a million people brings one’s mind to a place that even large doses of LSD 25 can’t reach.  The notion that we gathered out of love, peace, respect, honor made it all the more queer.

During those five minutes, if the sky had opened and John Lennon returned to his wife’s side, no one would have been surprised.  As the five minutes ended, the millions started, softly at first and then rising to a near deafening loudness sang “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” as Yoko cried silently on the stage.


— End

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Something to Hold Onto

“New York, New York, It’s a hell of a town, The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, the people ride in a hole in the ground…”  Sung by Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in the classic musical, “On the Town.”


I ran up the stairs in the Newark Railroad station, taking two at a time to get to the PATH train platform before the next train to mid town pulled out, which would have caused me to wait about fifteen minutes for my next chance to get to 9th St. where I would continue running to campus so as not to arrive too late for class.


I rammed my hard plastic Samsonite briefcase into the subway’s shutting doors and heard someone yell at me, “What are you?  A fucking retard?”  I didn’t waste my time with a response and started looking for something to hold onto.


The train lurched forward and I hadn’t taken my subway surfing stance yet.  I bumped into an attractive young woman who immediately called me, “Fucking pervert!”


The train took a hard turn and I crashed through someone’s Wall Street Journal.  “Fucking asshole punk!”  He said to me and I tried to right myself again.  I didn’t get my legs entirely until flying around, crashing and thrashing into other commuters.


When the train stopped at

Christopher Street

, I saw the first guy who called me a retard getting off.  I couldn’t hold back my NJ/NY attitude any longer and yelled, “See you later Frank!  Good luck beating that rape charge.”  People stared at him, a few laughed but most just let their mouths drop open.


Of course, planning my revenge distracted me from finding a strap to hang on and I didn’t get  into my surfing stance before the train leapt forward and, this time, I didn’t land on a relatively soft human but, rather, hit the floor pretty hard causing a lot of amusement for my fellow commuters. 


When we pulled into

9th St


, I had already gotten up and, somewhat embarrassed at my demonstration of a lack of subway skills, I got off and started running to

Washington Square





This is another entry for the daily exercises on the BSO writing club.  I banged it out pretty fast yesterday but hope you find it amusing.  To be upfront about everything, I stole the “Good luck on beating the rape charge…” line from David Sedaris, one of my very favorite writers who attributed it to his sister Amy.




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