So for the last two years I have been saying that Vista is going to be a real learning curve for a lot of Assistive Technology users out there. And I have stayed stead fast in my belief that all currently active AT Venders will find ways, upgrades or patches to make their products work with Vista. Either 3 hours, days or months after Vista emerges for said updates but it will happen. After all Windows is the standard in our industry and our lives. Therefore to make money everyone must be Vista compatible.
With all that said I have also stuck to my guns that the biggest issue regarding Vista for those who use alternative screen access hardware and software will be the fun, okay frustration that will come in getting to know the new desktop and features of Vista. Case in point below:
Now the Windows Key will play a role in tabbing from one place to another. Pretty neat eh?
You must be saying to yourself "I'm blind so why do I even care what happens with all this 3d stuff anyways". And that's not wrong of you to think that. However we are now moving forward in such a way that putting your machine back to "Windows Classic" hurts you competitively in the work place.
See everyone else will be doing this 3d thing and more. And that spills over to things like technical support or simple navigation. You just saw above that ALT + Tab now has a friend in Windows + Tab. And that is just a smidge of the changes in store for you in Windows Vista. The way you navigate through Windows Explorer is even diferent. So again retreating to Classic Mode won't save you from having to learn new hotkeys and methods of doing what you do now in a general Windows session.
Here's the real part that will get some steamed. The real losers in the next round of Windows won't be the totally blind. You read that right. Believe it or not low vision users will actually find it harder than those guys using that JAWS stuff. Now listen to me a bit longer before you throw a big old rock my way.
Screen Readers have come a long way in detecting multiple items on any given screen at one time. Virtual cursors, buffers, quick navigation keys,, modes and lists abound that can now give the Screen Reader user a leg up on navigating various applications. Low Vision users who rely on Screen Magnification programs, however, either must track accross vast areas of a page or resort to just looking at the center of the page with hopes that the info they are seeking is there in easy reach. And Vista prefers that you use a widescreen display [although this is no longer required now to run Vista] which in turn means that low vision users are now looking at a smaller amout of the screen than in prior versions of Windows. Think “Square in side of a rectangle” and you see that even at 2x a larger portion of the screen is not visible when you compare XP to Vista. I will go one further by saying that the minimum resolution continues to rise so even 800 by 600 isn’t the way to go because I doubt you can even get the display that low in the next round of flat panel monitors without making things look really distorted.
But that's not all . You see along with the Windows Taskbar Vista has a Windows Sidebar. The sidebar runs along the left or right of the screen and it displays a whole host of information that is not even closely related to what's shown on the Taskbar. RSS feed updates, instant messaging and tons of stuff that used to show up in various balloons at the bottom of the screen will now reside on the Sidebar. Better yet shortcuts to applications will sit there too. Some are similar to what we have now in the Quick Launch bar. Progress bars, battery meters, USB sync and other things that run actively can be seen on the Sidebar as well. Need the current weather? Just click on the Sidebar for a live updated look at what’s going on around you outside. Mac users call these little programs Widgets and Vista users will call them Gadgets.
Let’s take a step back though for a second. An example of how hard life will be can be illustrated below. First let’s set the stage. We have two users on the same Vista machine and the settings are the current big flashy 3D Arrow Glass interface we read about earlier in that above link. There is a widescreen monitor at 75% of it’s normal resolution and the Screen Magnification person is at 5x and the Screen Reader person has a Vista enabled Screen Reader. The lights come up on each viewing a Google Desktop like program for work. Visually the screen has three columns of text in the center with a row of links on either side of the page.
We see that the Screen Reader user ignores “Say All” and quickly jumps from column to column with quick navigation keys. They then jump to the specific link they want which sits right in the middle of the left side of the page through a list of links generated in a easy to navigate list by the Screen Reader it’s self. For an encore quick navigation keys are used again to jump focus to the Windows Sidebar and the person then gets a Podcast that’s been recently downloaded by Juice.
The Screen Magnification user finds that things are a lot more slow going for him. Not only is he losing his place on which one of the three columns he is reading from but he has to scroll the mouse over to the Sidebar to find if the same Podcast is ready for him. And he has gone through the trouble of memorizing how many links down on the left side of the screen he needs to be to find that one special one found by the Screen Reader user in seconds. His brains came out of his ears as well as he gave up on using his Split Screen CCTV which gives him only half of the computer display and half of the CCTV display.
The scenario above is quite real. And again I say that the Screen Magnifier user must be prepared to wear out a dozen mousepads that will come from excessive scrolling, zooming and panning due to all that stuff being on the screen at one time.
Still holding that rock? Is it heavy? Okay but I need you to hold it just a little more.
The future trend in the Web 2.0 metaverse will be to have as much info on the screen as possible. It looks cluttered and ugly as all hell but people love it none the less. I have actually seen a stock ticker, news feed, a small box with video, a download progress bar and two columns of text displayed all at the same time in one Vista demonstration. Is this the norm? Heck no, however, it’s possible which means that it could be the norm very very soon.
While Screen Reader users are at a disadvantage at first in any new application or document a Screen Magnifier user [at higher levels of magnification especially] is slower at taking in the entire view of any given environment. And I don’t mind placing a bet on the Screen Reader user at all in a race in applications that they know intimately.
The first rule in making something `accessible` is to build the program from the ground up with accessibility in mind. The old “build ramps rather than stairs so you don’t go back and build ramps later on” philosophy. And when we take the rose covered glasses off we know from our past experience that this rarely ever happens. So the task then becomes the long job of modifying something without breaking it down. I.E.: Windows Classic.
You shouldn’t have to lose functionality to make something more accessible. Moreover, you shouldn’t hinder yourself by taking away features and options that others will be using on a regular basis. I beat the XP Desktop Vs. Classic Windows argument drum pretty loudly in my work. And that’s because with the jobs I have helped to make accessible rarely can you take a machine back to Classic without it causing problems. But not from the mechanical or technical front.
Generally those darn sighted people get used to working in that big graphical world. And communicating with them means that you need to be in that world or at least know what they are talking about when you retreat back to the land of Classic Windows. You can no longer expect the world to come round to the way Windows 98 looks and feels when it’s about to be 2007 in six months. Oh and here’s a little hint. Windows 98 will lose it’s support from just about everyone when Vista rolls around.
The circle is now complete. While we know for a solid fact at some point some day your access program of choice will work with Vista you and only you will be the stumbling block on the road to using Windows Vista.
I don’t say that sarcastically or with malice either. With each new flavor of Windows we have seen more and more complexity involved in what the Operating System can do natively. The computer has gone from being a big calculator and holder of simple data bases to the current portal to the world of music, movies and information found on the internet. Wireless communication has increased the ease of setting up a network as well. And Vista takes all of that into consideration and more. So be prepared to learn a whole lot more than hotkeys over the next year as this is virtually the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
And yes.. you can put down that rock if you want..
I wrote this post as a pre cursor to a major presentation I am doing on Vista. I’m sure more of my diatribe on this subject will cross over from work to Blog. Just ignore the preachy ness of this and some other posts over the next month as they are written for a less tech savvy audience at my day job.