May 2006 Issue  Volume 7  Number 3

Letters to the Editor

Screen-Reader-Hostile Software

As I shop around for a good external DVD writer, I realize my problem is typical of the situation faced by most screen reader users. My hard disk is full of junk, including photos, music, scanned books, downloaded programs, podcasts and similar space-hungry data. I need to get it all onto DVD so I won't run out of room. I can buy a wide variety of writers, and each comes bundled with software to actually write the DVDs.

But suppose I pick a writer bundled with software that doesn't work with JAWS? JAWS doesn't come with specific support for any of the available DVD-writing software. In fact most of the specific application scripts for even the most current version of JAWS support only very out-of-date versions of software. For example, JAWS still supports only OmniPage 10, though 10 was the current version six years ago; today, OmniPage is up to version 15!

Last year I bought an Encyclopedia Britannica on CD for $50, only to discover it wouldn't work with any screen reader. It was completely graphical, and even though the subscription-based Britannica on the web is very accessible, the CD version was not. Of course once you remove the shrink-wrap you cannot usually return the product.

Still, often a program will work fine with all screen readers without needing additional scripts or set files. But I can't be sure. And often when a program is very user-friendly, it is screen-reader hostile!

I'd like to see AccessWorld review all the current DVD-writing packages and tell me which one works best with JAWS. But is this a good use of your resources? Often the bundled program has a scaled-down interface unlike the stand-alone commercial version. Next year, the bundled programs will be different. Though they probably don't want to admit it, Freedom Scientific seems to have gotten tired of playing catch-up too, which is why in my opinion they don't have support for any virus or spyware scanners and why they continue to ignore requests to script many other popular applications.

What the vendors of screen access really need to focus on is helping users to advocate for greater accessibility. For example, Freedom Scientific should write a document that explains precisely what a programmer should do as well as what software developers should avoid in order to make their applications accessible out of the box. If such a document existed, I could download it and send it to each company whose software I attempted to unsuccessfully use. I could follow up until I was positive that the software and project managers at these companies knew why their software failed to work with JAWS and what specific steps they could take to fix it.

But Freedom Scientific instead keeps adding bells and whistles to the parts of its program it can control. Sure, I love the speech and sounds manager, the improved access to HTML and the ability to create custom prompts. Every year they extort a hefty SMA payment from me for these bells and whistles, while the underlying problem, that commercial programs are becoming ever more graphical, goes unaddressed.

Screen reader vendors need to actively test modern programs and publish lists of what works. And since I have to pay a subscription to keep the software current, theoretically, they should have regular cash flow to fund this endeavor. I really need to know whether a program will work with screen access before I spend money on it, and I wish the screen reader vendors would help us users take a more active role in enabling this to happen!

Deborah Norling
Milpitas, California

The Use of Sounds

I just this morning received my e-mail notice of the March AccessWorld, and as always I am thrilled by its content. I'd like to say a big thank you for publishing Chris Hofstader's article "What Screen Readers Can Learn from Audio Games." I am a big fan of all sorts of audio games, those that require a screen reader as well as those that are self-voicing. I think all audio game developers deserve high praise for their work, and hopefully the future will see more of these audio games. However, I am also thrilled by the Speech and Sounds Manager in JAWS for Windows, used both in conjunction with the Voice Aliases and separately. I also like the idea of replacing dictionary entries with sounds, or having the sound played in addition to having the word or phrase spoken. The Speech and Sounds Manager has saved me time by allowing me to set up various sound schemes, and I commend Freedom Scientific for a job well done. Here's hoping that other AT developers will follow in Freedom Scientific's footsteps if the other developers haven't already done so.

Jake Joehl

Tagging a Monster

Thanks for the article "What's in a PDF?" by Jamal Mazrui in your November 2005 AccessWorld. I've been reading PDF files for a few years using Adobe Reader. Most of the time it was short articles. It seemed pretty responsive, though sometimes it did not get the reading order quite right. Sometimes I would save the file to text and read it there. But yesterday a co-worker gave me a file on encryption standards for medical records--700 pages! After twiddling my thumbs for a while I went to lunch. I can definitely recommend not adding the tags for the whole file if it is that big. The extra second or two taken to add tags each time you change pages is not too noticeable. Mr. Mazrui's article was very good. Though I still got frustrated loading that monster, at least I now know why!

Gerald F. Mackowiak

Another Source for Video Description

I read with interest Ms. Ingber's article on video description, "Please Describe What Just Happened" in the March AccessWorld. I wanted to inform you that CaptionMax has been providing video description for over five years. In fact, we have worked closely with local and national blind organizations on a variety of initiatives, notably the American Council of the Blind.

We consistently win Department of Education grants for description. As a consequence of those grants, we describe numerous programs, notably several popular children's shows such as "Max and Ruby," "Masie," "Lazy Town," and so on. We also do many documentaries and other mainstream PBS programs through NETA, APT, and other distributors. Please check out our web site: <>.

Jay Wyant

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