Sunday, September 12, 2010

Will the real assistive technology stand up?

I was just over at Planet of the Blind which is both a blog and a place as far as I'm concerned. I go there to read poetry some days. I also visit to hear the thoughts of author and professor Stephen Kuusisto. His blog writing has been hampered lately, as has apparently all his other writing, because of computer issues.

Today he writes about PC and Mac fails with assistive technology needs for the blind and visually impaired. It's a piece worth reading. It's a disgrace that computers still lack access for people with disabilities, despite their claims that onboard software offers accessibility solutions.

The new Windows 7 system is supposed to have its own screen reading software built in, along with screen magnification. "Huzzah!" thought I. "Let's give it a go!"

Well of course it turns out that the W7 "narrator" is just a stunt or a gimmick--it's not a fully functional screen reading program like Jaws (which though pricey does afford full functional access to most major Microsoft programs). So guess what? Blind people will still have to fork out the hefty price for Jaws or its competitors in order to effectively use the pc.

If you're a visually impaired person this is all familiar enough

On top of this, computers present compatibility issues with assistive software and operating systems. So what about Macs....

Given all the problems with Windows 7 and the Dell laptop and Jaws I began to think about switching to the new Mac. Apple has been touting (or is that "tooting"?) about its new "Voice Over" screen reading program that's built into the OS 10 operating system. IN effect they're bragging about how seamless and accessible the new Mac is for blind people.

So of course I tried it out with a loaner Mac from the university. What I discovered is that Voice Over doesn't work with Mac's version of Microsoft Office, the very productivity tool one needs to work at the University of Iowa. It doesn't work with the Mac version of "Outlook" which is called "Entourage" nor does it work with the Mac version of "Word". I spent hours last night combing through Apple's unfriendly assistive technology website trying to gain information about why Voice Over couldn't work with these essential tools. Lo and Behold, buried on a web page about programs that "do" work one finds by process of elimination that Voice Over won't currently function with these all important programs.

Go on over and read the rest- about the effect all of this has had on Steve's ability to get work done and the amount of time he's had to waste trying to get information, much less a solution to these issues.

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