Quirky, Yes: But Hey The Ice Cream’s Worth the Price of Admission

The Washington Post ran an article on Madison, Wisconsin in a recent travel section. I wasn’t born in Madison but in many ways consider it my home town, or at least my home town from adulthood.
The article, brief as it is, captures much of the essence of Madison. Afternoons on the Memorial Union Terrace are some of the fondest memories I have of my nine years of living in Madison.
Then too there’s the Babcock ice cream which is a must have for any trip to Wisconsin.

Apple’s VoiceOver

On Friday Apple released their latest operating system Tiger with a screen reader named VoiceOver included as part of the operating system. I dropped by a local Apple store today to take Tiger and VoiceOver for a spin.
First off I think it is great to see a screen reader for the Macintosh again. Since development of outSPOKEN was stopped a couple years ago, the newer Mac operating systems haven’t been accessible to people that are blind.
My initial impression, based on about 60 minutes of exploration, is that VoiceOver has potential. I wasn’t thrilled by the speech synthesis (there are much smoother options out there) but I was able to interact with the machine and get around.
The real test of course is how productive one can be. Zipping around an OS is one thing but the end goal is to accomplish the tasks you bought the computer for. My explorations today didn’t get far enough to launch any applications beyond the VoiceOver help and OS navigation so now I’ll need to decide if I want to invest the time and money to relearning the Mac environment.
In playing with VoiceOver today the thing I was reminded of again is how much longer it takes to learn technology if you are blind. Back when I was actively teaching technology this was a point I emphasized to my students. There’s a strong temptation for instant gratification when it comes to technology but I believe spending a bit of time in learning how to fully use something pays off.
On one hand this is a bit frustrating. I know that folks that are sighted can often grab a mouse and point and click their way to productivity with a new application in a few minutes. By contrast it can take hours to learn a new application with a screen reader.
Since working at Microsoft though I’ve also gained an inside knowledge into just how much research goes into making that point-and-click environment seem obvious. I don’t think the mainstream technology industry is at the point where it is really understood what it takes to move beyond basic accessibility to an application. In general the focus is still on ensuring that basic access is available.
If you think of accessibility as a journey, then Apple’s release of VoiceOver means that a few more destinations are again available to people who are blind. Hopefully over time we can move to more discussions of how to enhance the journey and not just ensuring that people who are blind can take the trip.

Finding a Name

I’m looking to move the Webwatch and Disability-News e-mail lists I moderate to my own hosting service. Finding a good domain name to attach to the lists has proven frustrating.
I’d like to avoid using a hyphenated name but most of the two word combinations that interest me do not sound good when read with a speech synthesizer. The words are frequently run together and the result sounds like mush.
I have to laugh a bit at myself. At work I can get bored when discussions drag on about whether some image is a pixel or two off but in my own way I guess I’m just as picky.

Missing DVS

This evening I opted to watch Control and it made me realize how much I miss Descriptive Video (DVS) when it isn’t available.
As movies go Control was certainly not one I’d recommend. That said it is a bit frustrating to sit through a movie, only to have it end with the sound of a gun and not know which character or characters die at the end.
A recent article in the Quad-City Times gives a good explanation of how DVS works. The short version is that movie goers that are blind get a small walkman-like device that is used to hear a special audio track for the movie. Gaps in dialog are filled with descriptions of actions, scenes and character appearance. A sample from The Lion King is available online.