Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Year That Was In A.T. 2013 Part 4

Before you go on to read what I had to say about 2013, you can hear what this year’s panel had to say about it by listening to the SeroSpectives archive of the Top Ten list at…
And remember to visit Blind Bargains to read any comments posted there about the list. Or, if you would like, leave SeroTalk an iReport in iBlink Radio or drop a line to with your feedback about the panel’s list. Now, back to the countdown!
6. Amazon Kindle HDX has accessibility built in, Kindle iOS and Android Apps also accessible
Tee hee, my Top 10 is actually 11. Tied for number 6 was this neat new spiffy update from Amazon. The unit not only sported some iPad Mini weaponry with the higher pixel count screen, lighter design and of course the age old chestnut of all iPad competetors… price, Amazon also went stark raving mad telling us all just how fantastic the new HDX was in every conceivable way and through every media outlet possible. Attack ads and a no interest payment plan for the unit during the Holiday season demonstrated just how bad Amazon wants you to have the new Kindle. The cool thing is that the access to it is improved over last year’s first attempt at a talking Kindle Fire. This is partly thanks to google’s improved Talkback, (see my thoughts on Android access circa 2012.) The modified Android v4.2 uses the basic Google framework but then goes off into some interesting directions. Oh, and the iOS and Android Kindle apps got speech friendly as well. They have come late to the party, however Amazon did a lot in 2013 to shed their anti-blind tag and its enough of an effort to garner my tie for the 6th story of 2013.
Check out SPN’s own Buddy Brannan’s take on the HDX here…
And hear his thoughts in an interview with Jamie Pauls on SeroTalk….
5. iPhone 5S and 5C released with iOS 7
There are a few things of note here beyond the general “Apple does it again’ remarks. Firstly, no one say a thing ever again to me ever about iOS nonfragmentation… ever! in one fell swoop, Apple not only fragmented the ecosystem more between iPad, iPad Mini, and iPhone, they went on to break the iPhone model of distribution too. The 5c seems, on paper, to be a good idea for those people [like me] who don’t want their biometric data in the hands of any large monolithic companies. The hardware changes from it to the 5s, namely 64 bit support and the motion chips, due mean that we once again have a performance difference along the various devices that can run iOS. So, when you think about say iOS 7 testing you have to think along the lines of, ahem…
iPod testing
iPad 2 testing
iPad 3 Collector’s Edition testing
iPad 4 testing
iPad Air testing
iPad Mini first gen testing
iPad mini with Retina testing
iPhone 4, 4s, 5, 5c and 5s performance testing
mind you its still not as crazy as the average year of Samsung devices in Android, but still, the idea some clung to out there that Apple had no fragmented experience for users rates right up there with the classic denial of “security through obscurity”, given that most of the world’s malware comes from Adobe via both Windows and mac. Besides, those people end up putting Windows on the mac anyway making the hole “macs don’t get viruses’ thing kind of moot.
As a whole, and you will be shocked, this doesn’t really bother me. No really, my recommendation has always been to buy the Apple product you think you can afford then choose the next model up to avoid compatibility or memory issues later on when Apple votes your device off the “models we Support in version x” island. Long time watchers of Apple, and I do consider myself one of those, have known this for years. However, apple has many new devotees coming on board and to watch them all struggle with confusing messaging and multiple models was somewhat funny to see in what used to be a “pick up and go” purchase philosophy under Steve jobs.
These days, if you aren’t low vision, talking Apple got just a little more complicated as to what device would fit a person’s needs. But if you are low vision, iOS7 did one heck of a number on you between the color scheme and the icon/motion in iOS 7. I have not been asked for Android tablet and phone recommendations more in any year than in 2013 due to many in the low vision Community having general frustration with what came about in the latest version of the Apple Mobile OS. The lure of larger screens, more customization and things like nova Launcher did much to sway some out of the land of the Genius Bar. And this upheaval, along with several new flavors of iDevice, was enough for me to toss this one in at number 5 of 2013.
Here is an interesting article about Tech as a Religion that echoes that “Screen Reader as a Religion” post from 2011. Always neat when we hear about something we think is Blindness specific but is actually just run of the mill human behavior.
Oh, and be sure to listen to some very knowledgeable Apple Acolytes over at Triple click Home for the latest in Apple news and opinions…
4. Windows 8.1 Released with a Start Button Again
Sure, sure Microsoft did a lot of giving in and giving up in 2013. Backtracks on Skype, Xbox One and “here’s your freaking Start button back you whiners” were newsworthy. But, for those of us using Assistive Technology, the issues with Windows are bigger than a button or a bread box. For the first time ever, we had two Windows releases in two years with a third coming in 2014 plus a revamped version altogether in 2015. Conceivably, if MS holds to prior behaviors, we could be looking at an early Developer Preview of the next major version of Windows [not sure if that would be called Windows 9 or not] in 2014 at the same time development is going for what could be considered Windows 8.2.
Taking XP off the table, starting this April, that means you have the zillion flavors of 7, Windows 8, 8.1 and 8.2 [in 32 and 64 bit configurations] in active support. Along with IE 9 through 11 or even 12 if released in 2014. While Google has killed support for lots of Googly things for IE 9, several major banks have not, and they look at IE 11 as an extraterrestrial First contact opportunity. In other words, its alien to them.
Now if you think about the number of Firefox versions released in a year, the fact mark wants Facebook to always evolve and the other things that come along with the rapid release mentality of “drop the code and fix later’, things like User interface standards and Web Standards seem more like an afterthought than ever before.
VoiceOver already sees changes, both good and bad, in each version that comes along. And the support for various basic navigation and reading can change dramaticly from version to version. Windows, however, had the corner on solid and relatively boring safe old dependable trusty dusty Windows going for it. Well minus those who were in the “when it has SP1, we’ll test” aditudes. For good or bad, you kind of knew what you got with Windows and the various Windows based Screen Readers. That floor dropped out in October with the release of Windows 8.1.
Now Windows is going toe to toe with Mac OS with yearly updates. Technologies, like Skype, get leveraged into the Windows OS making access something more than a “nice-to-have” and more of a “want” on the wish list of access. And if employed, here is where it gets really interesting, legacy operating systems and Screen reader support is just the tip of the iceberg of what you have to be aware of when it comes to obtaining or maintaining your level of access on the job. Naturally there is the classic need for MS Office access, gulp Sharepoint, but then there are more and more “off-the-shelf” sales and HR packages driving many parts of both big and small business. And those things usually work better in newer environments. Which then begins the “battle of IT” for legacy versus the BYOD (bring your own device) needs of the modern users which require that newer and newer tech be introduced which may or may not just be Screen Reader friendly. Throw that in with the tons of people who want the latest shiny Facebook thingy to work on day one of its release, sigh, and something has to give.
Earlier this year there was a discussion about Screen Reader innovation that I found to be interesting. The concept was centered around features and stagnation. The problem is that ten years ago the scope of support was basicly Internet Explorer, Microsoft office and Windows. Anything else, Quick Books ha ha, was a nice bonus. Now all bets are off. Look at how Twitter peeps moved from FlipZu, to HeyTell, to Zello and now to AudioBoo all within a span of three years. The good news is that most people access those services via mobile apps. But each one has, or in some cases had, a web interface and in each case users said it should work with a Screen Reader. Well, there is a finite amount of time, resources, testing resources and effort you can spend on a project. With yearly updates to Windows now a rule rather than the exception, development time will go there first. Meaning more things will have to move from the obscure to the mainstream in order to gain direct first level support.
About two years ago I apologized to Eric Damery for being kind of a jerk about scope of product support when I was a Government Agent. Now that I’m on the outside, footloose and fancy free, I told him that it was like moving from being a Food Critic to the role of Chef. I get it in so many more ways than I did as a well-educated user and beta tester. And just when I think I do have a handle on it, something like yearly releases of Windows comes along and resets the compass to a new true north. And its why I think this is a huge story for 2013 and beyond.
3. Unified English Braille to become official code in 2016
I don’t have much to say on this other than it seemed to be a big discussion point during the summer of 2013. I saw this in lists, social media, Summer Convention events and more. Personally, I don’t have a dog in this hunt. But I did see that many did and I was fascinated to hear the wild debate on this from those inside the United States versus those from other parts of the world. The tons of talking about Braille, which is always a great thing, meant that this was a big story for 2013 in my opinion. Let’s see where these changes take us in the new year.
2. NLS Bard App released for iPhone
The very definition of the Blind equivalent of the “white whale” when it came to mobile apps, hoo-freaking-ray, the Bard mobile app was released. No more “when’s the Bard app coming out?”, or “have you heard anything about the new Bard app?” And the always fun “I’d like to test the bard app, do you know anyone you can suggest I talk to about that?” questions at conventions, at chapter meetings, at parties, standing in line at the airport, direct messages in Twitter, from out of nowhere in Voice Chat rooms or when riding to a tour of Minnesota Talking Book in a chartered bus by someone who was sighted but had heard about the app from others who asked him and thought I might know. Its out, finally, and now what app could possibly take its place in the “please don’t ask me, go ask them’ camp for 2014? Honestly, I don’t know but am very relieved that this number two story came to pass in 2013.
1!!!! Tap Tap See changes their pricing model
There were a lot of good stories this year that showed much reflection of the “App Economy”. We managed to get a few of those Developers on “Triple Click Home” this year and I was astounded at just how open, frank and honest they were about what it costs and what it will continue to cost to develop their current and future apps. On SeroTalk, we said more than once that good code doesn’t grow on trees. And the freemium model can’t work for everyone. Now enter the gang at Tap Tap See.
The app is great. Many use it for a myriad of things. At the same time, due to the “no cost” nature of its initial release, I also know that some users just went plum crazy scanning things. So, as what I believe was a reasonable response, TTS introduced their new pricing model to the masses… I was shocked and dismayed to see the reactions that were beyond negative, and down right hateful, from our Community.
Moreover, although at their sanity’s expense, I was thankful for TTS taking this on, as it is a conversation with points we are going to really have to face moving forward. I’ve said this online a few times but I’ll say it again here. User expectations change dramaticly when evaluating software that costs money versus software that doesn’t. in my mind, and only talking from my standpoint, the value proposition and justification for what makes good from great, or bad, has a price Is Right rangefinder attached to it And I do admit to being guilty here in this sliding scale of warped value. I kick myself in the lower leg often when I do the deep sigh upon seeing an app I bought at full price go on sale or drop in price. At the same time, I do recognize that I was in on the ground floor and my contribution helped that app reach more people because I was a supporter of the developer in the beginning.
But the controversy in this case went beyond simple User revolt. There were out and out negative social attacks, 1 star review barrages and people doing some of the worst armchair quarterbacking on the subject than I’ve seen in a long time. Comments comparing Tap Tap See to Netflix only work for me when it comes to unlimited pricing. Problem was: many forgot that the price of the plans didn’t go directly to the company. No, 30% went to Apple and the rest went to them. However, to make the need for a cost based system easier for people, they took the hit and went the more VoiceOver friendly route. I thought that even more commendable of them.
Lastly, this story really did push the Community to look themselves in the mirror and realize what market forces really are when it comes to using technology to meet their daily needs. Its one thing to wish for the paradigm of traditional A T to be made irelevent and balk at the price of bananas, but it’s a whole new realm of concern when users debate the pricing of an app that is helpful to them and lets them break from that traditional A T delivery system. It’s disheartening to see these users spout such negativity at a developer who is clearly needing user support to keep the flags flying under the pressure of a very small, but demanding, market.
What I’m really afraid of in 2014 is the rise of the Grant-Funded app. That model doesn’t seem realistic at all with more budgets and services being cut, both private and public, plus the insane rate that all operating systems are being updated… if there isn’t money set aside for future development and upkeep,, what happened to Tap Tap See won’t be a “one off” situation. More ‘save this app’ campaigns could arise. Or more will go the paid route when the funding dries up. Or, even worse, some apps will just fall off the various App Stores, period. There are already some out there falling into the “abandonware’ status of those who were the early pioneers of the App Land rush of 2009. My hope is that Tap Tap See, a very worth while app, isn’t a casualty of “the new normal”. And congrats, I think?, for being my 2013 number one story of the year.
To hear an interview with the developer of Tap Tap See, from Triple click Home, visit…
As always, its been a pleasure to once again be able to spout off about what I think in regards to being an Assistive Technology user. I’ve been using Video magnifiers, talking computers of one kind or another since 1979. And, like I said before, this year was one of the strangest I’ve experienced. I’m not at the “Get off my lawn you lousy kids and your buttonless interfaces”.Bbut I can honestly understand why some do feel that way now more than ever. What it takes to be current, takes up more brain cells. That shows no sign of slowing in 2014 and beyond. Is traditional A T dying? Perhaps. Is traditional A T dead? Nope. However, with several years of VoiceOver and TalkBack under our belts, the traditional definition of A T is evolving. Today’s touch screens will be the old veterans sooner than you think. And they too, like all technology, will have to surrender to the next “new normal”. I just hope that future involves hoverboards… Thanks for reading and listening!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Year That Was In A T 2013 Part 3

Enough of the star gazing, lets get on with the countdown!
10. Google wins victory over Authors Guild
This one falls a bit into the personal bias camp. Let me explain why. I’m a Board Member of Houston’s Sight Into Sound Reading Radio. I’ve also spoken at, and am on the Technology Committee, for IAAIS. There are some concerns about books and how they can be read or broadcast that are up in the air. One of the questions I’ve asked at IAAIS national Convention noted this case and the importance for reading Orphanworks. It’s really a complicated matter, see the WIPO Treaty for even more complexity, when you talk about books and Authors and access. And the whole darn thing astounds me because the tech of the issue clouds the simple fact that sighted people pass one another books all the time and there doesn’t seem to be a credit card slot on a paperback of “50 Shades” or “Harry potter”. Sometimes the Guild makes the MPAA look like amateurs in their approach to desire for control. So, on just the audacity for Google’s desire to know everything and having the power to take this to court and win, I’m impressed enough to say that this was a big story for me at least in 2013. Now here comes the absolutely expected appeal.
9. Fleksy comes to Android, but is not accessible
Let me tell you a story about a small team that has a great idea and it goes from being one thing, but after a little water and a lot of sunlight, the idea grows into something much bigger for oh so many more people. That is an over simplified description of Fleksy in 2013. Many wonder what It would be like for a product aimed at what would be considered an Assistive Technology audience to hit the big time and see mainstream recognition. Well wonder no more as these guys and gals are doing just that. Perhaps you are a fan of their iOS work and their recently released SDK? Perhaps you are a disappointed Android user who is now playing with Swipe because they moved first with TalkBack. Or, perhaps you just like a good view from the side lines to see what a company will do under this kind of microscope with this much funding and this much notoriety? No matter what, Fleksy’s win loss record proved to be a hot topic of debate for many in 2013 and it moves from my biggest pick in 2012 to my number 9 seat in this year’s rankings.
8. Voice Dream Updated to support more DAISY formats
In the same vain about an app and its audience Voice Dream started out as one thing and then evolved to become something else. In a roundabout sort of way the app’s journey reminds me of, say, EverNote. The options just kept piling on, the core experience kept improving and the feedback between the Developer and the users just made things better in each successive release. We aren’t a huge market in mobiles, no matter what others may think or say, so the crazy attention to detail and the level of commitment to the needs of their users impressed me a lot. And it’s one of the best examples of a winning approach I can point at for the aspiring Developers out there who want to join in the fray.
Take a listen to what the developer had to say during their interview on Triple Click Home,
7. Humanware Releases Victor Stream 2 with Wi-fi
This one landed on the list not because it was a break out hit, or that everyone had to have one. No, this entry was newsworthy in the decernable numbers of social media mentions and water cooler discussions it inspired. There was the “all from iOS or nothing at all” camp pushing conversations in one direction with others who find the need for non-new media devices outlining their justifications for why a device aimed at them was a better fit for their needs. Both sides had valid concerns and both sides were wrong for the right reasons. Standing in the middle of this maelstrom was an updated version of the modern day APH Tape player making the case for why it is here to party. Five years ago this device would have had lines around the block drooling for a chance to hold one, five years ago the iPhone and VoiceOver were just rumors or in the hands of brave first adoptors. No matter which side you align yourself with, chances are you go into some kind of heated conversation about the merits of this Humanware release. We did on SeroTalk, that’s for sure. About two months worth of emails, calls and blog comments in fact. And that was just enough to land it in the number 7 spot on my list.
6. Android 4.4 Kitkat Released, improves access especially for web apps
yeah, I hear everyone now. Its okay, you can say it. . . Fanboy. But, if you listen to all my reviews on SPN or follow me on Twitter, you know I’m an equal opportunity offender, which means I poke at the good and bad of just about everything. And after three years plus of using Android, y’know, this release was pretty amazing. Like how did we use this before kind of level of amazing. No, scratch that, the kind of level of support that lets us finally put to bed once and for all that notion that Android TalkBack users are some sort of Troglodytes living underground using that Operating system unworthy of attention at your local Advocacy Chapter meeting. The hardware options are many, the access is great and getting better, BraileBack was held up as a rousing success at both NFB and ACB National Conventions by several! Braille Display makers, the same makers who had some not so nice things to say about divergence and Braille and decisions by some other company in Cupertino. That’s right, I said it. Android v4.4 does much in a year that saw multiple updates to TalkBack and BraileBack: a cornucopia of access goodness. Ahem, and the new Web View access is nice too. Anyway, not that you couldn’t before, Android users hold your heads and devices high. And if not on v4.4, look at a ROM. Still safer than a Chinese App Store Jailbreak.
And you can catch lots of commentary on the state of Android Access, both good and bad, over at “That Android Show”…
Remember, you can see what the others on the panel chose for the big list over at Blind Bargains…

The Year That Was Pt. 2

Okay, these lists generally involve some kind of bias due to experience or familiarity or they held a wonderful birthday party one year at Showbiz Pizza. No wait, that was my voting for who took over as the president of the Sci Fi Club in High School. Never mind that last one.
For real, the general concept of these lists can border on lots of strange and unique factors. This post, however, is just me recognizing some stories that while not the biggest… well I just found them to be cool or interesting. My honorable mentions for the year if you will.
I do a lot of app reviews for our SPN show for Low Vision users “high Contrast”. That means I get to play with lots of apps and call it working by the way. While working this year, ahem, I tried many an app for nonproductivity. One such entertainment-focused iOS outing ended up becoming more than obbsession, it became more like something you would talk about in group meetings for those battling with OCD.
Solara, by Esper labs, is an innocent little tower building game that lulls you into a false sense of security that you can stop playing at any time. Any time you want to, just put that iOS device down and walk away. For me, and many on the SPN Staff, that wasn’t the case. The thing gets its tallons in you like some kind of Esper Dragon and holds on tight while you count down the minutes, hours and sometimes days before you can act on a particular game related milestone. Oh sure, there are battles with cute little people beating up things. And there are nice Game Center options and social connections to play with friends. But all that pales in comparison to the glory you feel when earning the right amount of gold to level up that character you didn’t know would be the key to victory on that dam story mission you have been staring at for three freaking days despite trying every party configuration mathamaticly possible to only end up losing and reading some generic thing that claims to be some kind of helpful “tip” for obtaining victory that… so yeah the game is fun and you should totally play it and all. Oh, and they are awesome with their commitment to making everything work with VoiceOver. Like describe in text what stores and costumes look like committed. Seriously, sstop reading and go get this thing already!
And to hear my interview with Paul from Esper Labs, go here.
AI Squared Releases ZoomText for Mac
Many on the internet said “Why?”. And Ai2 said to those critics “Why not?”. Despite those being the final words of Timothy Leary, no kidding: check Wikipedia, I give a standing ovation to a company who dared to do something on a platform that has built in screen enlargement. Of course, he says knowingly, the same thing exists on Windows. But, just because it has that Cat and now California inspired Operating System on it, the story becomes instantly more noteworthy as few are trying to make a dent in that OS beyond the “make your pointer huge” variety. Tenacity, in 2013, thy name is Ai Squared.
To learn more about ZoomText for mac, visit…
And to hear the awesome Maurie Hill, from the Zoomed In blog, in audio form… listen to “High Contrast” found on the SeroTalk blog.
APH no longer sells a cassette player,
Nothing seals the deal for me on what was, and what will be now, more than this story. How ubiquitous these things were to anyone over the age of 30 can’t be summed up in prose. It was just something you had. Like a slate and stylus or bold-lined paper or O&M lessons or a bad date. You had one and it might be a good thing because at some point you would need to listen to, or record, something very important and it may take that half speed tape to do that with before you’re next class. But I digress. This thing could have come in the mail with sample boxes of Tide. Or, perhaps it did in some subdivisions depending on the mail schedule. And being dependable was what this thing exceled at for many years. Everyone had one, we all made really dumb experimental radio shows with them and it was always a bit of divine intervention when someone you knew would let you borrow theirs because you left yours at home. Good night sweet prince, let Angels bulk erase you to thy rest… R.I.P.

The Year That Was In A.T. 2013 part One

Try as I might, I wish upon this star tonight, I can’t seem to get geared up for this year’s look back. Normally, whatever that is, I can rattle off stories of importance. The movers and shakers stand out and I can point to this or that and say “Yes, that is a thing and it was good or bad that it happened.”. 2013? Nope.
Part of the reason for this comes down to a few simple factors. This year, as seen by the list I finally managed to cobble together, is more about trends. No specific story did the damage or the deep impact. No, it was more like a death of a thousand cuts. This led to that, which then meant this happened and poof, the year is over.
Another factor, and one I mention on SeroTalk, is that we are moving through this strange transition phase from one type of computer access to another, or, what is called by others who aren’t just me, “the new normal”. This phrase implies that massive or dynamic changes in a traditional business or delivery model have come about, and the newly established model ends up becoming the acknowledged standard for doing said thing. This is known as the “love it or leave it” line of thinking.
Moreover, I’ve never ever liked the term “Post PC” era. Mainly because its more marketing buzz word salad than anything, however, the very idea of a Personal Computer is … well, your phone. Thereby meaning that until you have wearables with always-on “in the cloud” computing (or some other nifty Sci Fi Cyberpunk inspired tech) you still are living the PC era, just in its miniature form. Anyway, the move away from the., cough cough, traditional PC has effected many who don’t use those devices for daily or access to employment. Hold on to that last sentence, I’ll be back to that in a bit. The traditional PC, underfire from its smaller cousins, made changes in 2013 to “Keep up with the Joneses” resulting in changes with traditional A.T. that must accept this “new normal” to varying degrees.
Assistive Technology users in 2013 find themselves, depending on their comfort and skill level, either facing a squeeze play for ability to handle changes in devices/operating systems or with an embarrassment of riches with more options than they can throw an old school tape recorder at for just about any task imagined. The gambit for the spectrum of users is so wide now that at times things seem, and this is one of the reasons why I gave up just about all mailing lists, that every problem is a corner case issue… or that of someone who refuses to learn/research/read how to use their technology accordingly. The Intermediate User is slowly becoming the unicorn amongst a large field of uber novices or Google Group trolling power users. Again, mailing lists, blah.
Between the need for a rapid release schedule, the desire over at Facebook to alter what didn’t work before into something that really doesn’t work now every six weeks and the sheer fact that to test something for access means the results have the shelf life of mayonnaise sitting in the sun… all of it formed my thoughts on what I used to know versus what I have to know today. As in like this day, tomorrow you may have to go through the testing, updating or whatever process all over again. 2013 made me sit back and really say to myself that I don’t envy those working the vocational Rehab market under the shadow of so many new and unknown aspects to technology that leads to employment. The job I used to do at Texas DARS was tough enough back then. I feel for those there, and my friends in other States, who do it now. And, not surprisingly, I’m not shocked by the names and numbers of those I knew in that life who currently ponder or are taking retirement. I left the key under the mat ladies and fellas.
Consequently, the most common question I get asked offline these days at events or meetings is: “what’s the best job for me as a Screen Reader user?”. And, like my lists in prior years”, I could talk to someone and gauge what they like for a semi good answer with a few caviats. However, recently I hesitate more and more when helping someone as their question now comes with a scroll of conditions to what they feel comfortable using or what they will only use as a matter of principle or availability. But, for those who express the want for jobs within an “Apple Only” universe, while more than 95% of existing jobs still use legacy OS, I end up scratching my head as some of these concerns are valid rather than being the classic “I want, I want, I want” that I would hear from others in my field when it came to summing up the patrons they worked with from time to time. The “one size fits all” approach is gone. Fragmentation exists on all major platforms now and the days of staying on version X because of program Y are just about over thanks to, BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device. Welcome to “the new normal” I guess.
Andy over at TWIT’s “Mac Break Weekly” makes mention of this “new normal” term every so often and he’s a smart fella. Hearing it a few times stuck and I’ve adopted his take on this because, now that we have some pretty darn good access on the mainstream popular tech, what happens there happens to A.T. users. So, here is to “the new normal” and its influence on my version of the list this year.
That’s my headspace for the list that is and was 2013. As you read my list of big, and moderately sized stories, keep the above in mind ‘cause it will show up a lot as I summarize my Top 10.
Before we begin the countdown, some light reading…

Monday, January 06, 2014

A Warm Up To My Top Ten A.T. Stories of 2013

My list is done. my so called opinions are actually edited this year, but as we all well know, that doesn’t mean that they will make any sense what so ever. However, before we start reading these stories of 2013, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on matters that influenced my choices.
I write a few things on SAMNet, System Access Mobile Network, to our Community Users about what tech is and does in order for them to get an idea of what our Technical and Customer Support look at when considering a technical request or suggested bug report. The below is one such post that I made recently that sums up just how crazy tech is now then say five years ago.
“An Internet Explorer By Any Other name…
Several people have been giving us some great feeback on issues with internet Explorer and we really do thank all of you for letting us know what you are experiencing with the browser. As a bit of an idea what we look at within Support, here is just a list of possible versions that we have to consider when looking at bugs and testing. I’m posting this in hopes that everyone can be a bit more specific about posting bugs, moreover, its also to let you know that saying IE causes more confusion for some now in the good old modern age of Windows.
Internet Explorer on Windows 7 can be loaded as a 32 bit version and a 64 bit version. And you can load the 32 bit version on a computer running Windows 7 in 64 bit flavors of the operating system. The major changes here are the way that IE handles security and processes in the browser. Due to the larger popularity, and price, of Windows 32 bit based systems… this version is still the most common version encountered and it runs by default on Windows 7 64 bit versions. Mostly, but not exclusively, the 64 bit versions of Internet Explorer are used within large Enterprise based companies and are not recommended for daily use outside these environments. You will find that more breaks with 64 bit IE than works because of the 32 bit default dilemma, and that sites are generally not optimized for the 64 bit versions. You can, and probably will, see strange screen reader behaviors if you choose to use this browser more often.
Next, the version of IE 11 on Windows 8, and now 8.1, is enhanced with Windows Defender and other background processes. Complicating matters is the addition of the Windows modern, or Start Screen, version of internet Explorer. Technically, Windows 8 machines have two browsers. There is the version of IE that you can run from the standard Desktop, then there is the version you can get to if you run it from the options listed on the Windows Start Screen [i.e. by hitting the Windows key and choosing Internet from that section]. Here again we have 32 bit and 64 bit versions of IE. And they both pose interesting, but similar problems, to their Windows 7 cousins. Generally, as in most cases for many of our users, running the Desktop version of Internet Explorer 11 in 32 bit is the way to go and it should provide the path of least resistance for most internet surfing.
Then there is the SAMNet Browser, while based on Internet Explorer, the SA Browser is not exactly the same experience as running native IE. I’m not going to go too far into this, however, it does help us a great deal to hear if you are reporting something within the actual internet Explorer on your Windows machine or if you are finding something that is happening exclusively within SAMNet. They both require their own testing routines and knowing which one is acting strange lets us find an issue, or try to reproduce, it more easily.
Next, remember that not all browsers are created equally. You can’t assume that the internet is just text on a screen anymore. A website will act one way on Firefox, one way on Chrome and something altogether different on Internet Explorer. Web developers do not implement code the same way on various websites and they might even tailor-make a look and feel if they see you come to them with say firefox as the browser. The way this code is written can throw screen readers off if it is too customized. And its why you see some Assistive Technology flourish on some parts of the web more than others. You can aim at using web standards, yet if Web Developers don’t use those standards, it can be an unfun day for all. Therefore, it should never come as a surprise that Screen Reader X acts better or worse than Screen Reader y on a site. The focus for each technology could be aimed at a specific style of audience and those users, for what is perceived as the best way to interact with a website, will see good and bad results if the Web Developer has followed the various Web Standards to the letter. In other words, it’s a crapshoot. If there is a new trend in doing say a menu box, and there is no standard for this new look at everyone wants to use, then its entirely possible that this unfamiliar code will react in altogether unique kinds of ways along all screen reader lines. There isn’t always a way to avoid this or futureproof for it as these things change so often and so fast that what may be a trend today, flyover menus, becomes old hat and forgotten in the next revision of the website in question. For example, oh I don’t know, say Facebook.
There used to be a time where you could say a website, is a website, is a website. But with the way that websites utilize 3rd party ads that can take up the whole screen until you do a mouse click on them, the way that placing focus on an element can make you almost deaf because the audio is blaring something at you because you placed your focus there for a moment or just the fact that mark at facebook thinks that if the site looks the same for more than six weeks its not hip anymore… well you get the picture. It’s a more interesting world we live in now with Access Technologies and just when you think you have a handle on it, like use the mobile version of Facebook instead, they go and stick ads there making the experience just as confusing as the main site.
Oh, and before I forget to mention, it is very, VERY! Important to let us know if you are using things like Classic Shell on Windows 8, Windows via Boot Camp for Mac or any other way of using Windows on mac hardware. While it might kind of feel or look like your standard copy of Windows, it isn’t. there are specific things that have to be tested for when using those machine configurations and they can be some of the more strange behaviors you will ever see when using Windows with any technology. At the end of the day, no matter what, Windows was designed to run on Windows hardware first and running it in other ways, even something like Classic Shell, is considered a modification and it can cause issues that would not show up if running Windows by the default look and feel on native hardware. Its not only its own animal, it can be its own Zoo entirely!”
As clear as mud no? Well I’ll be mentioning more things like that on my list and on the upcoming “This Year In A.T.” program that will air this Wednesday on SeroSpectives. you can hear that via iBlink Radio or later from the SeroTalk website…
And if you want to read more posts like this, and hang out with some of the best darn Community members on the internet, run and get the 14 day trial of SAMNet from the Serotek website.
Be sure to say “hi” to me on the boards or voice chat rooms!