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  • Windows 10s – A revolution for Accessibility

    Microsoft released the Surface laptop last week. As someone who absolutely loves the Surface Book, I’ve been following with interest the developments in the surface line. I’m not hugely blown away with the Surface Pro line but that’s a reflection of the state of touch screen access using screen readers more than the device itself. Physically, I think the surface pro is very nice to hold, powerful enough to run all standard productivity and development tools and durable enough to be used for both business and pleasure every day. The surface book however is the perfect computer. When relaxing on the bus on the way to and from work I can easily consume content but with this machine, an I7 with 16GB RAM and a 512GB solid state hard disk, I can just as easily run up a few virtual machines, Visual Studio 2017 and a suite of debug and analysis tools and it hardly breaks a swet. It’s perfectly comfortable to type on for 12 hours a day and the battery life is just brilliant. I sound like an advertisement for Surface Book which is fine. It’s easily the nicest laptop I’ve ever owned.

     

    The Surface Laptop doesn’t quite tick all the boxes for me but that’s a good thing at the moment. It is expensive. Maybe too expensive for most people but it’s what it represents that is important. The Surface line is aspirational. It’s expensive but it’s a product line that shows off the power of Windows. It’s Microsoft’s way of showing the world what can be done with devices that run Windows and as a result, PC manufacturers are following their lead. This means that although the Surface Laptop is at the higher end of the price scale, the introduction of Windows10S in parallel means that Microsoft partners are again following Microsoft’s example by releasing their own devices built on Windows 10S. This will mean lower prices for lower spec machines that although do less, still do more than a device like the iPad or Android tablet.

     

    What has all this got to do with accessibility for Blind people? The answer is unfortunately a bit long but please stick with me for a minute so I can explain. Because the result in a year or two could be huge if the current pace of change is retained.

     

    I love the Jaws screen reader for what I do every day. But for many people, all they need to use is a browser and Microsoft Office. I’m not sure if Jaws will be as compelling in the long term as it is right now for the average user with the recent developments in Narrator, the built in screen reader for Microsoft Windows. Not that I’m saying I could personally use Narrator every day. I think it’s still years behind Jaws but look at Voiceover, the built in screen reader for Apple’s OSX and IOS operating systems. It’s also years behind Jaws and it has quite a few bugs but yet, it’s probably the most popular screen reader in the world at the moment. It is highly likely that it has taken over from Jaws in terms of overall screen reader market

    share as more blind users have access to mobile devices than Windows PC’s I’m sure. Those same users might be happy paying $189 to $1200 for various specs of low powered laptops.

     

    For those of you who remember or paid any attention to Windows RT, this really isn’t that. From an accessibility perspective, Windows RT was completely unusable. But with Surface pro, Surface book, the surface studio and now the surface laptop, a blind user can turn it on, hit two buttons and get access to the core of the OS without a commercial screen reader. I bet Freedom scientific are very worried about this – and if they aren’t, they certainly should be.

     

    I’m talking to Microsoft in Ireland and the US every week at the moment about offers for education as that’s the area I’m now working in. I’m consistently delighted when they raise the topic of accessibility without being prompted. There’s a fella heading up the applications for children that includes Minecraft who is great at working on accessibility problems for many difficult areas.

     

    I think it’s a case of watch this space.

     

    I’m also putting my money where my mouth is. There’s an application called Whats up gold that isn’t working with Jaws at all at the moment. I’ve switched to narrator and Edge when using it as I get the best results. This should come as a huge shock for anyone related to the development of Jaws. It certainly shocks me. There are controls that Narrator is reading perfectly such as grid views, tree views and toolbars that Jaws isn’t even seeing in Chrome, Firefox or IE.

     

    I need Narrator to be more responsive and I’ve left feedback with Microsoft in relation to this so here’s hoping that it gets better. I can see myself using it more as time goes on unless Jaws gets a lot better for touch screen access.

     

    I travel a lot on busses so using the laptop isn’t always very comfortable. For that reason, I use a touch screen device such as my phone. I’d really like to be able to use my surface book more for consuming content on the go. If Narrator gives me this freedom first, then there will be no contest.

     

    This is coming from someone who has used Jaws as the primary screen reader for twenty years. So, I have a certain level of brand loyalty. So, the point I’m making is even with brand loyalty from a person who has used this software for 20 years, if Microsoft can take the lead, even I’ll switch. That should drive some serious innovation and changes in Jaws version 19. Because if someone like me will change over, someone who just uses a computer for browsing and Email will change much sooner.


  • I know I shouldn’t but…

    I wrote yesterday that I was mulling over the idea of blogging about the visit to Ireland by the Queen of England last week and the president of America this week. I’ve decided to write something shor t on the topic.

    In relation to the queen’s visit, my point really boils down to two simple questions. Firstly, if it really was “the right time” for the queen to visit then would they have needed so much security for her? A conservative estimate puts the bill for her security at over thirty million Euro. I’m not using that as a complaint for the money we’ve spent. The fact that our country is broke is completely beside the point. The issue is that if the country was truly ready for this visit they wouldn’t have required as many precautions.
    My second question is more about how the media handled things. Aren’t they meant to be impartial? Our national broadcaster RTE have seemed to be very one sided throughout the entire visit. A party that I know very little about, Éirígí, were particularly blamed for violent outbreaks. I can’t say with full certainty however the defence of the Éirígíparty by people who are not even members is quite adamant that the media coverage the party has received over the past year has been unbalanced, unfair and unjust. Again, I know nothing of this particular party however judging by the lack of equal and balanced coverage demonstrated in my view by RTE this is an entirely possible allegation.

    In my own view, I don’t feel it was right for a figure such as the queen to honour Irish dead while England still occupy six of the thirty two counties of Ireland. I personally believe it is hypocritical and disrespectful.

    While I’m on the topic of the queen’s visit, I would like to commend the Irish president for her fantastic speech last week in Dublin castle. Unlike the queen who skirted around the topic of her countries occupation of Ireland the president tackled it head on but remained respectful.

    Finally, I will finish my thoughts about the queen’s visit with one more observation. Every half an hour last week the media pushed one more nugget of symbolism down our throats. Again, if the country truly welcomed the queen and were ready for this alleged new chapter in our history would it have been necessary to force feed us this regular serving?

    Now, onto the Obama visit. Unlike the queen’s visit, I was actually quite happy to welcome the president of the United States to this country. There are millions of Irish people in America and I think it’s very important to continue that relationship. Bringing it back to the economy, tourism and our public image I think Obama did a fantastic job on Monday as well. I don’t think we could have bought that level of good will, positivity and generosity. I also think thatEnda’s speech introducing Obama was actually very good. Yes, it was copied directly from Obama’s victory speech in 2008 when he got elected as US president and yes, I think his speech writers got caught with their pants around their ankles but regardless, he did well considering the massive crowd he was speaking too and it was probably the best thing he could have done considering the time and place. I’ve also listened to Obama’s speech a few times. It’s been argued by a number of people in the media that it was dull, boring and is simply a rehash of speeches he’s made before. In fact, people have said he’d make a better motivational speaker than president. In my opinion, I think he did a reasonably good job. I think he did what he came to do. He kept the crowd going and he gave a lift to the people who needed it.

    Enda kenny’s speech introducing the president of the united states in College green, Dublin on Monday the 23rd of May 2011.

    President Barack Obama’s speech.

    A speech in Dublin castle by Mary McAleese President of Ireland introducing the queen of England on Wednesday the 18th of May 2011.

    The queen of englands speech in Dublin castle.


  • Speeches to encourage and motivate the masses.

    Over the past week we have had a number of important heads of state visit Ireland. I didn’t agree with many of the opinions voiced by Irish journalists and have reframed from making many comments in relation to the raft of observations they made. I won’t comment here yet either. However, I wanted to give you a few links to some of the more important speeches that have been made. Some are good. Some are rubbish. Decide for your self.

    Enda kenny’s speech introducing the president of the united states in College green, Dublin on Monday the 23rd of May 2011.

    President Barack Obama’s speech.

    A speech in Dublin castle by Mary McAleese President of Ireland introducing the queen of England on Wednesday the 18th of May 2011.

    The queen of englands speech in Dublin castle.

    I still haven’t made up my mind as to if I should write my opinions in relation to everything that has gone on in the past week . More deliberation is required.


  • I’m kind of surprised.

    Do you really think that the election in this country will make any difference?

    Hahahahahaha!

    It’s just laughable.

    Ok. I’ll explain it again. The politicians we have elected and the ministers that run our departments have no experience in general of the area they have been instructed to run. This isn’t their fault necessarily. They openly depend on consultation from people who should know about the area that they manage.
    Now, look at the consultants. Most of these are civil servants. The majority of civil servants are taken in and given a limited amount of training to ensure they can do the job that they’ve been instructed to do.
    These people are doing the best job they can. Ordinarily, from what I am aware, they have very little interest if any at all in the area they are working in.

    Do you see the problem yet?

    The people who are being advised are the ministers. They don’t necessarily have any experience or interest in the area they are representing.
    The people who are advising the ministers are the civil servants. They are basically in the same boat. They have a few advantages in terms of the training they have been given but compared to the people who have studied these areas they are amateurs.

    There are consultants who advise civil servants. These generally provide very technical and complex recommendations to people who with no disrespect intended at all, have really no idea what impact the recommendations will have. They heavily rely on the integrity, ability and impartiality of the consultants.

    This doesn’t mean that I have anything against the consultants either.

    No one part of this is the problem.

    The entire thing is what’s wrong. There are so many layers of consultancy and committees that the people who we hold accountable and responsible are actually far from it. Now, don’t get me wrong. They are not far from the problem but for the purpose of this point, they’re not the people we should be aiming to remove.

    Keep fianna fail in power. Keep anyone you want in power. But first, before you start marching to get the current bunch of wasters out, march to demand complete reform. The system we have is completely broken beyond repair. I’ve blogged about this before so I shouldn’t continue.


  • Take responsibility.

    Like every political post I write, these are my views and are strictly not those of my employer. I write this as an individual with specific personal political views and opinions. This post should thus be read as such.
    I genuinely don’t know where to start with this.
    I remember sitting in school learning about the plantations. The History teacher said very bluntly that the Irish were always a divided people so when the English enforced this during the plantations it became ingrained. It was his opinion that this lack of solidarity was why it was so easy for England to cement their rule. After all, in his opinion, the Irish were so busy fighting themselves they didn’t have anything left to fight anything else!
    There are a lot of things in Irish society that are hidden left over’s from the 16th and 17th century. I think it is obvious that this division is one of them.
    Ok. Getting to a specific example. Look at the way the entire country fights against the government. No matter what they do we have a problem with it. WE complain that the health service has too many managerial staff. They announce cuts of four thousand to the current number of seventeen thousand managerial staff, all be it in a slightly badly organized way, but cuts none the Less. In response, we give out that their not the right kind of cuts. There’s nothing they can do that we’ll agree with.
    We have fallen into the same old trap. But you know what is even worse? I don’t think we realise it. If you stopped reading, watching and listening the news do you except that your outlook on the entire situation would be more optimistic? If the opposition parties in the government were more constructive do you agree you would feel a little better about the situation we’re in?
    I blogged over a year ago about how the financial situation was going to get much worse mainly because of negativity and public perception. A small number of visitors thought my view was unrealistic but I continue to stick by it. It’s hard not to be negative when even the people who know more about the economy are negative and provide no positive options. The more people become uncertain about where their next euro will come from the more spending will fall. The more spending will fall the less income businesses will have. The less income businesses have the less taxes are paid. It’s a vicious circle. It doesn’t start with people but it certainly isn’t helped by them. I think it is our negativity and our over acceptance of doom and gloom that has prolonged this entire situation. There are thousands of positive thinkers in this country but there’s no public platform for them. As I said in previous posts, the system doesn’t allow for it. It relies on the jeering from the background from those whose sole purpose is to get into power to balance things out. Think about it. How can that ever work? I’ve explained why I don’t think the Irish parliament doesn’t work so you can read that again if you like.
    Hundreds of years after social division was our downfall we still haven’t learned. Instead of tackling this problem head on as one nation, we scuttle around it as organized as an army of mice on ecstasy.
    Let’s face it, not one opposition party nor Fianna Fáil has a hope of fixing this problem. I firmly believe that not one member of any political party be it Sinn Féin, Labour, the Greens, Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil have one member in government who has the potential to get us out of this. The only people we can rely on are ourselves.
    You know what, that alone scares the crap out of me. How is a country so disjointed ever going to help themselves? Everyone is looking to the government. The same government who have failed so many in the past. I’m no expert. I don’t consider myself as being particularly great when it comes to politics but to me that seems a little stupid.
    I think a change is needed but I think we don’t have time to wait for it. Politics is not the answer. Waiting for the government is not the answer. Fighting among ourselves is not the answer.
    Exactly when are we all going to grow up and take responsibility for our own country?
    It’s not their fault. It’s ours!
    Deal with it!
    Stop complaining. Get up and actually do what you can.
    Positivity is just as contagious as negativity.
    If you want proof look at the economy at the start of this year when the leading news report on every station was “Ireland is officially out of recession”. That posative story directly resulted in an increase in spending did it not?
    At the very least, it can’t hurt.