Last week, Curtis Chong, the seemingly permanent president of The NFB in Computer Science (NFBCS) published an article in Braille Monitor highly critical of accessibility at Microsoft, especially of the accessibility on its Windows platform. Chong presents a number of indisputable facts with which I agree entirely, there are many things regarding accessibility to people with vision impairment that Microsoft does very poorly. Chong is also correct that accessibility across the Microsoft catalogue is highly inconsistent with some programs providing excellent coverage and others providing none at all. I applaud Curtis for the shedding light on the problems he describes and hope Microsoft will take action to remedy them as quickly as possible.
I also felt that Chong’s article was misleading, that it contained statements that were either inaccurate or unverifiable but, worst of all, it lacks detail in the historical context, an elephant sized hole in the story.
Over the past month or so, I’ve been exploring the concept of leadership in the blindness and technology space. I’ve talked about the changing leadership paradigm in, “Anarchy, Leadership and NVDA,” I’ve discussed leadership in innovation through traditional paths in my CSUN 2015 report and, in my article about Be My Eyes, I discussed another path a team had taken to lead a project of significant value. This article will, in the context of Chong’s piece, explore leadership in technology from NFB and how it, in my opinion, has been a failure for decades.
This article was sourced through public records and through private conversations and communications with 2 former and 2 current Microsoft employees and a number of others who had witnessed some or all of the events described herein. In my role at Freedom Scientific, I was also party to and present at some of the discussions summarized below. Thus, my sources are not “anonymous” but, rather, “unnamed.” As some of these statements are controversial, I will not reveal my sources as they may face retribution. They can, if they choose, self-identify themselves in the comments section. It is very likely that at least one section in this piece will be broken out into a separate and more detailed account of that part of the history as I think you will find it very interesting.
What Curtis Got Right
First, I’d like to recognize that Curtis gets a lot correct in his piece. I’ll confirm that most of the facts I did check are true. The statement he makes in his opening paragraph, “For those of us who are blind, access to Microsoft products is not just something that we would like to have. Rather, full non-visual access to Microsoft products is essential if we are to have any hope of being able to compete in today’s technology-driven labor market, let alone maintain parity with our sighted neighbors at home,” could not possibly be more true.
Chong’s article lists a number of MS products that are mostly inaccessible. Chong’s conclusions, that MS still has a lot of work ahead of them to ensure true and universal accessibility is also true.
The Elephant Sized Hole In The Story
If you haven’t already, please stop reading here and read Chong’s piece immediately.
Now that you’re back, ask yourself, what piece of technology fundamentally important to users with vision impairment does Curtis not mention in his article? If Apple has VoiceOver, a fully featured screen reader, Google has TalkBack, a rough attempt at the same and the Gnome Foundation has Orca, why does Microsoft have no fully featured screen reader of its own? Curtis may have simply been careless in his reporting, he may have been so focussed on application accessibility that he simply forgot to include the missing screen reader in his analysis. Or, as I contend, Curtis left out this detail intentionally.
The elephant sized hole in the story is that NFB has been on the wrong side of the leadership argument in their interactions with Microsoft. NFB’s positions have prevented MS from making its own screen reader and, as we will see later, its continued support for third party commercial AT is part of the reason why Microsoft still has accessibility problems in its technology.
The pressure NFB has put on Microsoft into not building its own screen reader, preferring instead to accept that third party screen readers would provide access to the Windows operating system has been a failure. It is for this reason that, when one launches Narrator, the screen access utility from Microsoft, it tells the user that it is not a fully functional tool and is only useful as a temporary solution until the user installs a real one.
the economic realities of business in the 21st century meant that the “mom and pop” companies like HJ and Blazie Engineering would find their way into a merger/acquisition deal that would put ruthless venture capitalists in charge of JAWS, still the most popular screen reader. The same economic realities have shown the Window-Eyes share, once equal to that of JAWS, drop to single digits.
Perhaps the most notable economic reality that the NFB approach ignored was that, because a screen reader is necessarily a niche product, the only way an independent company can make one and be profitable is by charging a real lot of money for each license. The NFB tact of working against an MS screen reader cost blind people, their employers and their educators millions of dollars that could have been spent otherwise if a no cost one existed. . NVDA, led by volunteers, saw the inequity of blind people needing to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars and its leaders took it on themselves to solve this problem while NFB ignored it entirely.
The Third Party Screen Reader Hypocrisy
As we’ve seen, NFB insisted that MS not do its own screen reader. NFB would later insist that Apple and Google build their own screen readers to provide out-of-the-box accessibility at no extra cost to consumers. I wonder if NFB learned from the chaos on Windows system and realized that it would be better if a screen reader was built into the operating system. Chong seems to praise the Apple experience which, regarding out-of-the-box accessibility is the best available.
In his piece, Curtis suggests that application developers at Microsoft should be tasked with testing against screen readers. This actually makes sense on products from Apple and Google as every developer at those companies have a screen reader they can launch easily and, if tasked with testing for accessibility in their project plans, they need only test against a single user agent. Chong seems to suggest that developers at Microsoft, instead of testing for compliance with the accessibility API, also perform functional tests against third party software. I think it’s absurd to think that developers at MS should try to test against software over which they have no control. If they were tasked with testing with Narrator, it would make sense, MS controls both the application and the AT; suggesting that developers and quality assurance professionals at MS learn JAWS and NVDA (the only Windows screen readers with enough market presence to warrant testing) and test against them is simply absurd.
Is NFBCS An Effective Advocate?
Chong writes, “Year after year, the National Federation of the Blind and the Microsoft Accessibility Team engage in active and ongoing communication, and year after year, we have communicated our frustrations and concerns to this team.” To which I ask, “If Curtis and NFB have been working with the MS ATG for more than two decades and, as Chong expresses in his article, the accessibility job remains mostly incomplete, are Curtis Chong, NFBCS and NFB itself actually effective advocates for this community?”
The Notable NFB Absences
I contend that Curtis and NFB have done a poor job of understanding the technology and, as a result, are ineffective advocates in this space. I didn’t quite know how I could express how an advocacy organization was “ineffective” as proving a negative is a logical impossibility so, instead, I thought I might list a number of very important areas in accessibility for people with vision impairment that, as far as Google can tell us, NFB has not participated. To this end, I used the search engine to look for terms important in technological accessibility with “National Federation Of The Blind” and/or “NFB” in the search terms.
WCAG 2.0 is the single most important set of guidelines for Internet accessibility to all people with disabilities, including we blind people. I googled, “+NFB WCAG 2.0” and found that Google gave us 7 results, zero of which were on an NFB related site. I then googled, using “National Federation Of The Blind” in place of “NFB” and did find one link to an NFB site in the top ten results and it was the consent decree in an NFB lawsuit requiring the defendant to follow WCAG 2.0. I tried a few more search terms and found identical results, it is obvious that no one from NFB, not even Curtis the president of the computer science subgroup, participated in the development of the standard and that there isn’t a single article on the NFB web site explaining this somewhat complex and definitely esoteric set of guidelines. Searching on these terms without including NFB provides one with a panoply of tutorials and other useful information from the entire world of accessibility but, sadly, none of it comes from NFB.
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has another standard called Aria. Web developers use Aria to include the semantics that a screen reader can use to tell users about complex web applications. In brief, if you use a complicated but also accessible web application like Microsoft Office Online (quite accessible albeit a bit sluggish with NVDA and FireFox), you are enjoying the work the developers did using Aria. So, I googled “+NFB WAI Aria” and, guess what? I found zero entries on any NFB sites. When I spelled out the name of the organization, I find exactly one search result on an NFB page and, once again, it is about legal frameworks and not technology. Searching without the “+NFB” provides one with another large list of tutorials, analysis, explanatory information about Aria from everywhere in the world of accessibility but not NFB.
Microsoft’s accessibility API is called User Interface Automation, if Curtis and NFB are so concerned about the accessibility of Windows applications, surely they must provide readers of the NFB web site with information on how to ensure their applications comply with the API, right? Wrong. If you google “+NFB User Interface Automation” you will probably, as I did, get zero results and two advertisements for contractors who do work using UIA. No matter how we search, we can’t find anything from NFB on this important piece of technology.
The 21st Century Video and Communication Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) is the most important bit of new legislation regarding disability and technology to come along in quite some time. As with all such laws, the agency charged with enforcement must hold a public comment period to determine how it should proceed with the wishes of Congress. During the CVAA public comment period, Pratik Patel (then Curtis’ approximate equivalent at ACB), on behalf of his advocacy organization, filed hundreds of pages in public comments. The combination of NFB, NFBCS and Curtis Chong filed exactly zero. I’m neither a member nor a promotor of ACB but, on this very important task in ensuring that CVAA will be enforced, Pratik and ACB took on a leadership. I’ll assume that the reason NFB, NFBCS and Curtis made no comments was that they were overwhelmingly impressed by Pratik’s genius in this matter and were happy to have ACB speak for all blind people.
The Section 508 Refresh was passed by Congress and opened for public comment. Again, Pratik Patel and the ACB wrote up a ton of documentation and filed it in this important matter. Heck, on behalf of the Free Software Foundation (not a group known for its stellar record on accessibility), I filed a few pages of comment on 508 Refresh. The beauty of public comment is that it’s public so anyone can search the records and discover that NFB filed nothing on this matter. A friend who had attended the public hearings told me that NFB people did attend those sessions but that their only contributions could be summarized as, “blind people need to be involved in the process,” which was already true when they said it and, “NFB speaks for blind people,” which I contend is false as they don’t speak for me. I said the NFB deferred to Pratik on CVAA so I’ll suggest that Curtis and the NFB must have found my comments so brilliant, so illustrative that they chose not to do any of their own and let me speak for the community.
I could go on but, at this stage, I think you get the point. NFB and NFBCS, under Curtis Chong’s leadership, has steadfastly refused to participate in the most important developments in access technology. If, indeed, NFBCS, NFB and Curtis Chong have not contributed to the development, promotion, explanation of these and other extraordinarily important areas in accessibility, they are irrelevant as leaders. It’s easy to write articles like Curtis’, it’s easy to complain, to bitch and moan but it takes actual work to be part of the solution, work that Curtis and NFBCS have thus far refused to join in doing.
Gonz Gets Pedantic
I try to do my best to post articles that are as factual as possible. I may draw a controversial conclusion and use fairly aggressive prose when I express an opinion but, whenever a factual error is presented to me in an article I had published previously, I add a correction to the piece.
This blog is different from Curtis Chong’s articles in Braille Monitor (BM) for a lot of other reasons as well. First, I do not claim to be representing anyone other than myself and those who have given me explicit permission to speak for them. Curtis, in his role, claims to speak for “the blind” which, arguably, would include me. Second, Curtis, as is obvious by the introductory section in his article, claims to speak with authority, apparently derived from talking to other blind people; my own blog profile states that I am a loudmouth, crackpot stoner, I don’t claim any authority or expertise, I let my words speak for themselves and allow the readers to draw their own conclusions. Third, I allow you to post comments on this blog and no NFB publications, including Curtis’ articles in BM, permit any public discourse. If Curtis allowed for comments, we could have had this conversation as dialogue and the rest of you could have contributed as well but NFB sorts speak from “on high” and discourage interaction.
I, therefore, feel it is reasonable to hold Curtis Chong to a higher journalistic standard than I do even myself. He claims to be speaking for all of us and I, therefore, think he should be more careful with the way he states things. To wit:
Curtis writes, “Today only a small percentage of Microsoft products are regarded by the blind as comfortable and intuitive to use…” and as far as I know this may be true. As far as I know, this statement is false. I would like to know what was Curtis source for the things he states as fact, namely, the term “a small percentage.” I would also like to know Curtis’ definition of “the blind” in this sentence as I cannot find a supporting document in my googling.
Curtis, in the same section, continues by stating, “well over 80 percent of Microsoft products remain inaccessible to non-visual users.” I googled using as many terms as I could and could not find this 80% number published anywhere. I’m also curious as to the definition of “accessible” in this context. Did Curtis or others around the NFB actually test every program from MS and, if so, where did they publish their results. I dislike magic numbers when included in prose and, when used to discredit a corporation’s efforts, I believe that such numbers should not be used without a verifiable source as doing so is just ad hominem.
Chong writes, “There does not appear to be any user-experience research being conducted by Microsoft into improving efficiency for keyboard-only users, including the blind.” First, blind people also use crazy wild new fangled things like touch screens and track pads as well as keyboards these days. Second, many years ago, NFB itself published a valuable bit of UX research and is the command set still used on most braille keyboard based devices; as far as I can tell, with Curtis at the helm, NFBCS and NFB have not published any UX research in this area either. Researching user experience for keyboard only users would provide an excellent resource to Microsoft but also to Apple, Google and every other company that hopes to include effective keyboard control of its products. Perhaps, Curtis should be asking, why has it been so many years since NFB published actionable user experience research?
Curtis includes an oddly rambling paragraph on MSAA and UIA, the accessibility API in Windows. He writes, “the screen-access software vendors (very small companies in relation to Microsoft) had to devote considerable resources to make this happen. It would be better if these relatively small companies could spend more time and effort coming up with innovations that improve the efficiency and productivity of blind users of their software.” Or, one might say, if NFB hadn’t pressured MS into not making its own screen reader, we might actually have a company who can afford to keep up with OS releases like Apple can with its VoiceOver software? Why, decades later, Chong still insists that the broken system of high priced third party screen readers should continue is baffling.
In the same section on Windows accessibility API, Chong also neglects to state that FS actively opposed using standard API at all. I am part of the guilty party in this as, when I worked at Fs and for a few years afterward, I argued that an API solution could never provide the kind of accessibility that we could with JAWS using proprietary techniques. We argued vociferously that, rather than a generic API, applications should expose a VB like programming interface so we, the third party screen reader developers could craft custom solutions for each separate program we cared to support. An API solution was fine for simple applications but something fancy, Excel for instance, would always do better if we could write highly customized scripts for the UX. When HJ became FS, we stopped investing as heavily in JAWS development and it was our lack of investment in further support using these non-standard techniques that resulted in deteriorating in application accessibility, not MS. It was FS who rejected MSAA approaches and chose our own non-standard route to accessibility. You can’t blame MS for deteriorating accessibility in the third party screen readers which are entirely beyond its control. If you want to blame anyone, blame me, I fought hard against API back then, so did Glen Gordon and Eric Damery. MS was right, we were wrong.
Curtis writes, “For years Microsoft has left the blind with no access to Windows phones.” This is not true with phones based in Windows 8. I haven’t tried a Windows phone myself and reports from the field say it is a bit sluggish but, if the word “accessible” can be applied to Android as Chong does, it should also be applied to Windows Phone 8 as regards the more than 90% of blind technology users who prefer a synthesized voice interface, Windows Phone does not yet support refreshable braille devices.
About the MS Bitlocker software, Curtis writes, “A blind employee who is required to use a computer with Microsoft BitLocker installed will be unable to turn the computer on and get it running—not to mention use it.” This is strange coming from an advocacy organization that opposes accessible money, beeping traffic lights and other structural bits of accessibility. The fact is, Bitlocker is not “accessible” under any known definition of the word but, as I know a whole lot of blind people whose jobs require using the software daily, suggesting that it is impossible for a blind person to use is misleading. I asked a friend how she used it and she told me, “I turn my laptop on, I wait a little while, I type in my PIN and hit ENTER, my computer starts.” Yes, Apple has made their similar technology accessible and MS should as well but, as many blind people can work around it, it isn’t a functional impossibility as Chong suggests.
I believe that a “leader” in this space, someone who by his statements that he speaks for “the blind” should be much more careful in their publications. I’m a crackpot blogger, Curtis is publishing in an official organ of an advocacy organization that claims to represent our community. I think he should be held to a much higher level of journalistic standards and, as I illustrate above, Chong’s article is filled with problems and outright factual errors.
The community of blind computer users need effective advocacy but NFB, NFBCS and Curtis Chong have demonstrated poor judgement on technological, economic, political and structural issues of the gravest importance to this community. They have not participated in the most important discussions regarding standards, guidelines, API, user experience or anything else in this space. NFB seems to do nothing to promote use of accessibility development tools or standards compliance on any platform including Windows and provides none of the useful explanatory materials a developer hoping to make his work accessible might search on. As far as I can tell, regarding advocacy on technological matters, NFB, NFBCS and Curtis Chong have been present but irrelevant for a very long time now.
To clarify, this article is specifically about leadership and advocacy and discusses the Curtis Chong, NFBCS and NFB as spokespeople for our community. NFB does many other things including having funded the development of KNFB Reader, a really terrific iOS app that I enjoy using frequently. Unfortunately, KNFB Reader is a rare exception in a very large organization.
David Goldfield says
While this comment may not be entirely relevant to this piece, Last year Curtis Chong, in another edition of the Braille Monitor, published an article describing what he believed to be the pros and cons of the iPhone. His list of supposed cons was, in my opinion, almost laughable and I wrote a response to this article at
After recently rereading my responses, there are a few things I could add or revise but my opinion is still the same. He demonstrated, at least to me, that he was totally unqualified to write this piece and so I admit that I cringe when I see an article about technology with his name as the author.
brandon armstrong says
this man is a hateful, angry, and bitter person who absolutely hates modern technology. I think he’s just angry that we’ve moved on from dos, and I feel that he should not be a rep for blind people anywhere. he sucks, and he’s horrible, and needs to go in my honest piece.
Dan TeVelde says
This is an interesting debate. My only question is if you say that Windows Phone 8 is accessible why aren’t there any drivers for Braille displays for these phones? If there are drivers, I haven’t heard about them. I would caution the person who left comments on this site who attacked Curtis personally, these types of attacks don’t help us have an honest debate. I also think that Curtis should have a chance to respond to this article so he can, from his viewpoint set the record straight. In addition, you claim that NFB isn’t doing anything. How can this be possible when they have developed several useful iPhone apps. If ACB has apps for the iPhone, I haven’t heard about them.
Now let me get this straight. Microsoft has been criticized and taken to court here and in Europe charged with being a monopoly. Yet you want to have Microsoft do the very thing it has been villified for for decades, that is, be a monopolist in the screen-reader business. I expect you know enough about economics to know that monopolies lower the amount of innovation and reduce the quality of products they dominate.
If I can’t do something with one screen-reader, I have three others I try. I can do things often enough with another screen-reader that I don’t want this choice to be taken away. Yet, your position will do just that. Who would continue development of other screen-readers if Microsoft developed a high quality screen-reader. Please explain and justify your apparent advocacy of a position that will reduce access for many people.
Also, your argument that Microsoft can’t test accessibility because of the multitude of screen-readers is meroitritious. Why can’t Microsoft simply select one or perhaps two screen-readers and test for access using them. If something is accessible to JAWS or NVDA without scripts or add ons being specifically written to make the screen-reader work with the program, it would be expected to be accessible to Window-eyes as well.
I’m not going to comment on the NFB’s adequacy as a technology advocate. I don’t have the depth of knowledge to do so. I’m concerned with your positions some of which, I am not convinced, are beneficial.
Sky Mundell says
Hello Jim, I have to agree with you. if we only have one option for screen readers, it limits us in a way, because their will come a time where you’ll need to access other things and one screen reader doesn’t cut it. I think the problem is that when new blinded people go to an agency, etc, they are just shown one screen reader, and that is JAWS, and they often aren’t told about other possible options, or , if they are, they aren’t given the chance to try them out
I am not going to discuss the Federation’s adequacy as a technology advocate. I don’t have the depth of knowledge to do so. I will discuss positions you take that appear to diminish, not improve access by blind Windows users.
For decades, Microsoft has been vilified as a monopoly. It appears to me that market conditions have changed significantly and that this charge no longer has merit but you are advocating a position that will cause Microsoft to become a monopolist in the Windows screen-reader sphere. Who is going to continue to develop screen-readers if Microsoft develops a quality program.
What does that mean? Monopolies result in less innovation and lower quality. You haven’t convinced me that the question of monopoly does not apply in this case. Given the history of monopoly, simply making the assertions you do is not adequate.
If I can’t do something using one screen-reader, I have three or four others to choose from. I have found enough cases where I can do something with one screen-reader when I can’t with another or that I can do something considerably better with one screen-reader than another that I do not accept that any one screen-reader should become the only available program.
Are Apple users really better served with only one screen-reader? I doubt it. If you want to present arguments you consider convincing, I’ll read them. they will have to be powerful to convince me that this is a special case in which the general laws of economics do not apply regarding monopoly.
Also, I don’t find your argument that Microsoft can’t test for accessibility because of the multiplicity of screen-readers to be convincing. If Microsoft designs a program and it is accessible with JAWS and NVDA, why shouldn’t it be expected to be accessible with other screen-readers?
And finally, to return to the monopoly discussion, of course Microsoft programs are important to have access to. But there are a lot of other programs produced by a lot of other programmers and developers than Microsoft. In a point related to my previous discussion, what convincing arguments can you present that having only one screen-reader will give me as good a chance to get access to these other programs as having a choice of three or four screen-readers.
David Andrews says
The blog posting basically says that the reason there is no Microsoft screen reader is because the NFB stopped it. This is not true. There were various meetings in the mid 1990’s about this with a wide variety of people from the blindness community and Microsoft, and this was the majority opinion. Yes, it is how the NFB felt at the time, but so did many others.
Rodney Neely says
Dave, Is the NFB currently working with Microsoft to develop a screen reader for Windows 10? Could Windoweyes be included with Windows 10 since we can already download a free copy of Windoweyes if we purchase a copy of Microsoft Office?
I am fortunate enough to have a good job with the Federal government. But most of the frustration that I experience occurs when my Federal agency forces us to use inaccessible software like SharePoint. I have also been having some difficulty using version 11 of Internet Explorer with Jaws version 16.
Why isn’ the NFB more involved in making sure that Federal workers, and all other blind people, have access to a comprehensive screen reader that will function properly on all Microsoft products? Although I am fairly active in my local NFB chapter, I haven’t felt compelled to support some of the NFB’s priorities recently. I feel that my needs, and the needs of other well educated successful blind people, have been given a lower priority than the needs of say people with disabilities, who work in sheltered employment.
Tim Sharp says
First of all, I would like to say that I have been an avid reader of this site, finding out about it about a year ago. I am generally quiet in nature. Chris, I would like to thank you for taking the time to do what you do, post tech reviews, general thoughts on blindness issues and the like as well as random pieces you come up with. They have all been interesting and very informative.
Now I will comment on the latest post about the Braille Monitor. I think the main consensus is this is a good example of inaccurate journalism. I further agree with the fact that 80 percent of blind people not being able to access Microsoft programs is crazy. If that were true, please tell me who can not access Internet Explorer? Who can’t access Office products? Who can’t use Windows in general? These have all been accessible with various screen readers for nearly 2 decades. I want to know where that 80 percent came from. Further, a previous poster on this website suggested that we are not excluded from the laws of marketing and economics. I completely agree with that statement. There are no less than 4 screen readers for Windows that I know of personally. I now pose the question, if there is active development in the Windows screen reading space, why is there this notion that if Microsoft comes out with a version of Narrator that works and is not just a concept demo, all the screen readers will disappear into the great black void. I do not believe this for a second. The high dollar screen readers like JFW will most likely have a rough time of it, but NVDA will be around I have no doubt. Window Eyes will probably still be around. Why? Some users will not like aspects of Narrator for various reasons. If Microsoft makes it work and work well, there are still those who will prefer to use NVDA and third party solutions. If something breaks, the third party solutions will probably fix it faster than Microsoft will. Depending on the navigation scheme Narrator would use, some users will prefer to stick with the flat review layout if indeed Narrator incorporates something similar to Voiceover’s navigation.
There was also a post on this website that suggested that Mac users are not better off with one screen reader. I will no doubt rattle a lot of cages when I say that I do indeed agree with this. I have had experience with the Mac OS since late 2007. I had a Macbook then, I have since upgraded to an iMac last year. I remember in the early days of Voice Over, bugs got fixed faster, Voiceover itself was more stable and responsive, and it was generally very pleasant. It seems with recent versions of the OS, Voiceover has become something of an adventure. I am still on Mavericks because of all the hipe about people upgrading to Yosemite and all the problems being reported. I will be going back to an iPhone soon and will be upgrading to take advantage of the features that Yosemite offers, though.
Voiceover is a very comprehensive screen reader, and Apple should be forever commended for there efforts. That being said, there are certain aspects of Voiceover that I have a problem with. First up, the whole interacting model. While that is good for beginners learning an app that is very complex like Garage Band or X Code, it quickly becomes monotonous for an intermediate or advanced user to navigate these applications. One has to interact with this, move to that, interact again, move to something else, click a button, stop interacting 2, 3, or 4 times to get out of some elements. This is a hinderance for me, as it is very inefficient to use these programs. These are not the only 2 examples, the entire iWork line of programs is similar. All of these programs are accessible to Voiceover, but I just wish that there was an alternate flat review mode to get around the more complex apps. I never had the opportunity to use Outspoken on a mac when it was around, but I did get hold of a Mac simulator that had Outspoken built in, and it was a great experience. This was before I was exposed to Voiceover. It was a crude system, very basic web support, no iTunes or any modern apps we enjoy now. The concept of flat review with the num pad though was great. I contend that Mac users are not better off with just 1 screen reader. If you don’t like the navigation scheme, to bad, use it and don’t say a word. Don’t want sounds interrupting your say all because of misspelling, links and such? Don’t like grouping elements to make it a strictly a faithful representation of onscreen elements? Want an alternate method to navigate? Nope, not going to happen, don’t even think about it and don’t say anything. Be quiet, don’t say a word because that’s how it is. No, that’s not how it should be. I have since turned off all sounds because I seriously hate when I have to here a sound interrupt the speech for a half second and then speech continues. O and don’t even get me started on Braille support, specifically contracted input.
Long story short, if a third party ever had any plans to make a screen reader for the Mac, I would seriously think long and hard about supporting it. Would I pay several hundred or up to a thousand dollars for it? Not likely, and neither would most Mac users. Would I support a low cost solution or an open source community funded model like NVDA? You better believe it.
I’ll stop rambling now, and again thanks for this great website.
Joe Orozco says
@ Dan: Seems like Curtis has the opportunity to respond to his critics. No one is denying him the opportunity to come in here same as David Andrews did. As far as useful apps for the iPhone, I’m not seeing a whole lot beyond KNFB Reader, and even that was developed primarily by someone else. Newsline, though mostly awesome, has flaws the team over there isn’t willing to admit. I’m not going to classify the new NFB app as useful, unless useful is being defined as something that only really benefits its membership. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not basing the organization’s efficacy on two or three mobile apps, but if that’s where we’re evaluating their productivity, I’d hate to start thinking of other fronts where the organization is said to be influential.
@ Gene: It seems like you’re making quite the leap there with a monopoly argument. I reread the article and don’t see any mention of Microsoft being the sole provider of screen reading technology. It’s rather rich of you to speak of the laws of economics and Chris having to present powerful enough comments to persuade you, when actually, the economics have all been squarely in favor of the expensive screen readers. If, as your own comment suggests, MS were to build a, quality product, a quality product that would undoubtedly be offered free of charge, well that might actually help blind people economies. Just saying. Now, Apple is the only company that has sandboxed its operation to make it the only solution for its platform, but MS could do something similar for its operating system the same as Google has, because yes, it would be nice after so many years of market speak to get in there and actually make something happen. Hell, drop the pretense and make Window Eyes the official solution. WE takes some getting used to, but it would be better than propping up Narrator which could have a lot of potential if they ever dragged it out of the rudimentary stage. Also, I have to admit I wasn’t sure of this word you were using, “meroitritious,” to describe your objection to multiple screen reader testing, but even after I figured out you’d spelled it wrong, that you meant “meretricious,” I’m still not seeing how Chris’s argument is artificially lofty. It makes sense to me. JAWS and NVDA aren’t the only two screen readers in the neighborhood, but why should they test third parties at all? I applaud MS for making enough concessions for third party screen readers to be able to interact with their operating system. Perhaps they could make more, but I’m tired of Freedom Scientific’s default to putting the burden of accessibility off on anyone else but themselves.
Generally speaking, criticizing Curtis puts me in a very awkward position. I know him to be a real nice and down-to-earth guy but am not sure he took to the article with the best approach. We could scrutinize the technological efficacy of NFBCS, but then that’s not fair because I’m hard pressed to think of any NFB division that performs anything of value short of meeting at conventions. We could question the technological efficacy of the organization at large, but then I’d have to point to the backlash over their resolution last year regarding Apple. Almost a year later, nothing has come of it. Color me shocked. People actually saw the resolution as something more than symbolic?
Chris, keep up the writing, good sir.
Sky Mundell says
Hello Chris. I have to question your notives for cridisizing the nfb. In my experience, the NFB has had Michael curren from NV-Access last year, in case you didn’t know, and, they actually are supportive of the gw-micro Microsoft office offer partnership, which, I know you had problems with, but I personally find it a useful tool for those of us that could not afford a screen reader like JAWS. Sure you have to buy office, but, with the subscription version, it’ll cost you less in the long run than it would to get JAWS. Also, keep in mind, that their are people who aren’t going to like NVDA due to its symphetic speech, and robotic voice, called ESpeak. biginners to computers won’t want to go looking for add ons just to get a new voice if they don’t like ESpeak. Also, I think, only having a single screen reader, and one option, limits you. I also don’t understand why JAWS and NVDA should be the only two screen readers for testing. I would have thought that the Microsoft office offer, offered by Microsoft, and the currently merging AI squared, would allow it to become a compotition and contender product like NVDA. Sure it was lagging behind in the 8.4 release last year, but now in the new release, its the exact opeset. It might take a while before it gets well known. However, Their is a tek talk training session that I was apart of that took place on March 30, by Jeremy curry from AI Squared, and he himself admitted that they have been falling behind on the web.
brandon armstrong says
I would just like to take the time to thank joe for the reply because several persons on here just flat out didn’t make sense with their arguments. why should we as tim said have a one screen reader solution, and frankly he’s right. if microsoft does develop something worth using, I to do not believe for a second that third party screen reading technology will disappear into the great black void of nothing. when people come up with that as an argument, it just doesn’t make any sense.
David Best says
Although Chris has made a very good argument, I believe he has derailed from the overall purpose of the Braille Monitor article. Achieving accessibility with third party or proprietary screen readers, is not the primary expressed issue, but rather the focus of Microsoft to achieve an integrated accessibility strategy. The editor establishes the context around the user expressed expectations of Microsoft product accessibility. That is, Microsoft products dominate the desktop and laptop market, and Microsoft has had a great deal of experience in working on accessibility over the years. However, the high rate of user expressed frustrations, lost jobs, and opportunities never pursued is the overall theme. Are there more Challenges than Victories and should we expect greater levels of product accessibility?
Curtis provides some examples of the expressed Microsoft user frustration, and one major issue that stands out is the SharePoint product. Microsoft SharePoint is a robust, dynamic enterprise collaboration platform that is increasing in market share and is the established virtual office model for the future. In
fact, Microsoft made more money selling SharePoint than Windows, making it their most successful software solution. In North America, SharePoint is the collaboration platform of choice for about 90% of all government agencies, and about 80% of all fortune 500 companies globally. When you consider that about 70% of blind and low vision adults are unemployed, this represents a huge workplace barrier and a
huge employment opportunity. It’s all about Achieving independence and confidence
through employment. Assistive technologies can help improve workplace productivity, but only fully compliant accessible IT infrastructures will achieve the desired user satisfaction.
As Chris points out, it is about leadership and advocacy, in how spokespeople in our community represent the real issues. Curtis express our frustration with Microsoft very well. More Questions Than Results may inspire greater engagement for greater inclusion.
Hi Chris. Thanks for once again doing a great job. I seem to recall an article published in the Braille Monitor a few years back, where someone from their technology center supposedly evaluated VoiceOver for a week. It wasn’t Curtis Chong though. The article received some attention, and I can recall at least 2 podcasts where the article was read and commented upon extensively. Those 2 podcasts were done by Mike Arrigo and the folks over at Screenless Switchers in one of their episodes. The article contained many inaccuracies about VoiceOver, but then the NFB suddenly reversed course and came out with a more favorable article on the subject. Then they go and pass this resolution saying that each and every app must be entirely accessible to everyone prior to inclusion in the App Store. However, to my knowledge no further action has taken place regarding said resolution. So it seems to me that for the most part, the NFB is back to their old complaining selves again, and they’re not really walking the walk at all. Yes Newsline is as has already been stated great for the most part, but I still question their overall advocacy efforts. The other thing I’d like to say is that I’m in total agreement with those of you who contend that more than one screen reader is a good thing. One size doesn’t fit all, and I think it’s awesome that we have all these options. I haven’t given any thought to a cross-platform accessibility issue, but I suppose it’s an idea worth pondering.
Mike Arrigo says
Personally I would love to see a full screen reader built in to Windows. This would not prevent others from developing screen readers as well, but just about every other operating system has a built in, full featured screen reader now. This includes IOS, Android, mac OS 10 and Linux. This would not solve all of the issues with Microsoft programs, those would still need to be developed properly, but it would be a big step in the right direction.
I do wonder, if it would not be possible, for NVDA to be included in to windows. using windows default voices. and it could replace narrator. would this not be a start?