• Tag Archives Jaws
  • 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.


  • Using PuTTY with Jaws 18.

    Please be aware that I don’t recommend that you use PuTTY exclusively for SSH access. Especially in Windows 10. There are a number of better alternatives out there at this point for most day to day use. I’ll add links to one or two below. However, there are times when PuTTY or Putty as it’s pronounced is just the best tool for the job so it’s important that you can get some feedback from Jaws.

    Note as of 26th October 2017

    Please note that this post is now out of date. You should use these fantastic PuTTY scripts instead as they provide much more complete functionality.

    I had posted a script before that worked with previous versions of Jaws and in fact, it would probably work with Jaws 18 as well but the SayNonHighlightedText function in Jaws 18 has been updated so it’s only right that I tweak it slightly and publish it here to be used in a PuTTY.jss file.

    Here’s the code:

    Include “HjGlobal.jsh” ; default HJ global variables
    Include “hjconst.jsh” ; default HJ constants
    Include “HjHelp.jsh” ; Help Topic Constants
    Include “common.jsm” ; message file
    include “MSAAConst.jsh”
    include “UIA.jsh”

    const
    NavigationByLineTickThreshold = 200
    globals
    int LastLineNavigationTick

    Void Function SayNonHighlightedText (handle hwnd, string buffer)
    ; NonHighlightedText Function for speaking all newly written nonhighlighted
    ; text.
    If GetScreenEcho () > ECHO_NONE
    && hWnd == GetFocus()
    If GetWindowClass(GetFocus()) == “PuTTY”
    && GetTickCount()-LastLineNavigationTick > NavigationByLineTickThreshold
    ;New text should be spoken only if it is not a result of navigation by line.
    ;This prevents double speaking when navigating through a command history,
    ;since the SayLineUnit will already have spoken the new text.
    Say(buffer, OT_NONHIGHLIGHTED_SCREEN_TEXT)
    ;Now clear LastLineNavigationTick, just in case more new text appears shortly after the navigation.
    LastLineNavigationTick = 0
    Return
    endIf
    endIf
    if (GetScreenEcho() > 1) then
    Say (buffer, OT_NONHIGHLIGHTED_SCREEN_TEXT)
    endIf
    EndFunction

    There are a number of great alternatives to PuTTY.
    Over on Git Hub, Microsoft have a rather nice SSH Powershell module that provides a method of accessing an OpenSSH server on Linux from within Powershell.
    The best way to use SSH on Windows in my opinion is to install Git. Be sure that you choose to make git features available from the command line so that you can use SSH without starting the Git Bash shell first.
    Lastly, another really good option if you are using Windows 10 is to install Bash or Linux for Windows. This is an add on that you can install from within Programs and Features\Windows Features.

    There are now more ways than ever to access your Linux servers over SSH from within Windows. Have fun!


  • Jaws 14 now requires Internet Access to run.

    I have encountered a problem with using Jaws on servers since the release of Jaws 14.

    fsbrldspapi.dll is loded by Jaws during Installation if your installing it while standing in front of the server but if your installing Jaws remotely using the /type remote switch the installation doesn’t speak or provide Braille output. Therefore the fsbrldspapi.dll file will be loded when you run Jaws for the first time.

    When you are installing or running Jaws on a system be it a server or workstation running on Windows 2008, 2008R2, 7 or 8 without Internet access you will encounter the following error message:

    JFW.EXE. Referral returned from the server.

    It would appear that this issue began popping up around April with an update of Jaws 13 that was released around that time.

    The problem is that the Jaws driver signing program requires trusted certs that are downloaded from Microsoft on an as needed basis.

    More details about how trusted certs are downloaded in Windows 2008 and 2008R2 can be found at the following Microsoft KB link:
    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/931125

    In previous versions of Windows up to XP and 2003 Windows updates included these certs.

    However, it would appear that it is all but impossible or at best very difficult to apply these certs to servers that are off line. The only way I can see of doing it at the moment is to find the required cert and install it on each system. Probably through a SCCM advertisement.

    I have asked FreedomScientific to get back to me on this but although I know that a lot of their staff are on vacation this week due to the thanks giving holiday I have no confidence that they will resolve this new dependency.

    In my opinion this is a bug that should be resolved. At the very least, a specific error message should be provided when Jaws cannot start due to this issue. What really should happen is that when certs can not be used Jaws starts as much functionality as possible without loding this DLL. In other words Braille wouldn’t be available.

    I know that some users really need braille and I’m being a bit selfish here so I’m really sorry.

    I have reported a large number of bugs to FreedomScientific since the release of Jaws 14. I am hoping that they will be resolved however I get the usual answer of “No one else has reported this” and “We cant reproduce that problem here”. I feel like i’m fighting an up hill battle.

    If anyone has any suggestions then I’m all ears. Otherwise, if you could Email FreedomScientific support with any problem your having with Jaws 14 we might get some pressure put on the developers to prioritise a bug fixing excersize.


  • Window Eyes verses Jaws?

    It’s that time again.
    Do I spend €445 on a Jaws upgrade and another SMA or do I move to a rival screen reader. Really, Window Eyes is the only application that comes close to competing with Jaws in my experience so it is the only one I am considering. Hal by Dolphin is just so far behind that I haven’t given it a second thought. This is just my opinion though. If your going through a similar decision then I encourage you to keep all of your options open.

    I’ve downloaded a demo of Window eyes and I’m currently running it through it’s paces. I’ll have to blog about this in more detail but right away, I miss some of the more advanced features of Jaws that don’t just make applications accessible, they make applications more intuitive and more efficient. When I talk about access, I don’t just need the basic screen reading functionality, I need an application to assist me in accessing data as quickly as possible.

    I like some features of Window eyes though. For example, the open scripting framework allows for standard development languages to be used. This is a major selling point.

    I’ll write about this in a little more detail over the next few days I hope.


  • The accessibility of virtual desktops.

    This probably could be a much more scientific approach to a review or analysis of the accessibility of a Windows guest running on the ESXI hypervisor however, I don’t really have the time to write such a document at the moment. However, this will serve as verification to some that access to this environment is possible all be it in a limited way.

    For the less technical people out there, basically what I’m talking about here is running a Windows computer inside a virtual machine.

    You need a more basic description? No problem. Try this. Let’s say you have one large computer. Virtual machines are machines that run inside this big computer. Think about it as if it was a building. This building might have ten different companies. True, each company could probably have its own building but there’s no need. It only needs a certain amount of space. An entire building would be over kill. So, the one building hosts all of these guest companies. Just like one large server can host dozens or hundreds of virtual machines be those workstations that users work with or servers that run the companies IT systems. Having one building hosting all these smaller companies cut down on the space required the cost of maintenance and the cost of power. When you hear the word hypervisor, I am basically talking about the building or the large server that hosts all the virtual machines or companies. When I talk about a guest, I am talking about the companies in the building i.e, the virtual machines. Get it?

    • Building = Server / Hypervisor
    • Company = Guest or virtual machine

    Ok. I’m glad we have all of that cleared up. You can take a break for a few seconds before I move on to the next part because it’s going to get a little technical again. Don’t worry. You’ll understand it now that you have a grip of the basics.

    For one reason or another, I spent some time yesterday tackling the problem of how a blind person can independently and efficiently access a Windows 7 PC that has been virtualized using a thin client. A thin client for those of you who aren’t aware of the term is a basic PC. It has very limited storage, limited RAM and a low power processor. The idea of this machine is to give a user a platform from where they can access a virtual computer. All it does is start a cut down version of Windows and provide the user with a log in box to start their virtual system.

    There is one barrier to accessibility when using thin clients. No additional software can be installed ordinarily as there isn’t enough space to facilitate it. This means installing a screen reader isn’t an option. Even a pen drive version of Jaws won’t work because it requires the installation of a mirror driver. Fortunately, NVDA will work very well. Just download the portable version and run it. If I was to make one suggestion it would be to put NVDA to sleep automatically when the PC over IP or the RDP client started as it can get a little confusing when modifier keys such as caps lock are pressed. I know this can be done using scripts though and it is something I would look at doing if I was using this as my workstation every day.

    So, you can now use the thin client to log into your workstation. That’s the first hurdle out of the way. Now what?

    With VMware you can log onto virtual machines using two protocols. RDP which is Microsoft’s remote desktop protocol or PC over IP which is the protocol used by VMware. PC over IP is more efficient for a number of reasons but in later versions of RDP Microsoft have gained some ground. I won’t explain the benefits over PC over IP in this post but very quickly, PC over IP is less bandwidth intensive so the experience of remotely using a virtual machine is a little smoother.

    You’ll be happy to know that relaying sound back to the thin client is supported by both of these protocols however you won’t get instant feedback like you would if sitting at your own PC. The delay is in the realm of about fraction of a second but if like me you expect instant responses from a screen reader this fraction of a second may as well be an eternity.

    Relaying sound back to the thin client is very important. Jaws, my preferred screen reader crashes every time it is started in a virtual machine using the PC over IP protocol. Without fail, it refuses to run. NVDA on the other hand runs very nicely in a virtual machine using the PC over IP protocol. Of course, using NVDA sound mapping to your thin client is vital which is why I made the point earlier.

    Unfortunately, there you have it. What I’m saying in a very long winded way is, yes, you can access a virtual machine using a thin client if you’re stuck but I wouldn’t think it’s usable every day. The sound lag is just too pronounced. NVDA’s ability to work in this environment should however be recognised and commended. Jaws, a leader in screen reading software seems to fail badly.

    Please don’t’ take this as an endorsement or a criticism of any screen reader. I am simply stating what I have found to be the reality here. I have written this post to highlight this area and to show that improvement is required. More and more organizations and companies are moving to virtual desktops to replace physical machines as they provide significant cost savings. I have a genuine fear that assistive technology companies are not aware of this trend and blind computer users such as me will be left clambering to keep up with my sighted colleagues. I strongly believe that it is vital that companies such as Freedom Scientific, NV Access and GW Micro listen to users and when possible, utilize their experience and expertise. I for one offer it freely.

    Systems used are:

    • ESXI 5.0
    • VMWare view 5.0
    • Windows 7 X64 and 32 bit.
    • Thin client running a cut down version of Windows XP.
    • 1GB network connection.
    • Virtual machine had two processors and 4GB of RAM.
    • Thin client had 1GB of RAM and 1 processor at 1.5GHZ.

    I should finally note that I do not see RDP as a viable solution for accessing virtual machines using a thin client. Especially for screen reader users. If by some stroke of luck you get Jaws running on your thin client, you would then use Jaws on your virtual machine to tunnel the data back to your locally running instance of Jaws on the thin client. That’s fine, however, what if like me your a system administrator and you will need to establish connections to other remote systems from your virtual machine. You will not be able to use Jaws to establish a second or third connection as you are already using jaws through one RDP session. Drawing on an article from IBM this seems to be a viable solution for some researchers however from the perspective of someone who both administers and uses a virtual environment every day, I would not be able to depend on RDP due to this limitations. PC over IP is a protocol designed and optomized for he VMware virtual platform. We should be able to use it.


  • Internet explorer 9 and Jaws 12.

    So this is kind of interesting!

    Internet explorer 9 installed in about five minutes without any fuss at all. In fact, it was probably the cleanest and responsive installation I have ever done when it comes to Internet explorer upgrades.

    Now, keeping in mind this is a beta, some ofthis could change when the final version is released but so far so good!

    What have I noticed so far? Well, this is a short summary.

    1. A few shortcut keys have changed..
      Control J no longer brings up the feeds menu for example. this is now replaced with control and g. I have no idea why they didn’t just leave control J for feeds and make control g the download manager. Perhaps it was to standardise with MOzilla’s Firefox but I doubt it some how.
    2. All the tool bar buttons are accessible by using the tab and the arrow keys but this was true of the previous version of IE also. What you will notice though is the lack of buttons. Everything is hidden until you need it. The menu bar is not displayed on the screen at all however it is accessible still using the keyboard using alt and f for file, alt v for view alt t for tools etc.
    3. The download manager seems to be totally accessible which is great.
    4. Notifications are now not presented in dialogue boxes or on the top of the Internet explorer 9 window. It looks like IE are following the example of Firefox again by having all notifications standardised in a small bar that appears on the bottom of the screen. This is a major change and it’s one that Jaws seems to work well with but it’s not as seemless and reliable as the notification method used in Firefox just yet. Who knows, maybe this is something that FreedomScientific is looking into.
    5. Pages do seem to load a little quicker.
    6. I’m loving the way that the auto complete works in the address and search bar. That’s another thing I’m liking also. the search and search bars have now been mearched into one. This follows the example set by the Google Crome browser some time ago.
    7. The jaws cursor does not work at all in the Internet explorer 9 window. This is kind of unusual however may have something to do with the direct GPU rendoring. This may be a show stopper until FreedomScientific, the makers of the Jaws for Windows screen reader resolve this.
    8. I was unable to write into edit form controls while writing this blog post until I turned off the virtual PC cursor. This iis definitly a show stopper. I will have to down grade to Internet explorer 8 until this is resolved.

There you have it. It looks like Jaws 12 has some minor support for Internet explorer 9. When you press insert and q it informs you that Jaws 9 scripts are loaded however the lack of Jaws cursor support and the problems with form controls seems to indicate that the support is unfinished or baddly written.

It will be interesting to see what Freedomscientifics response will be to these problems. I really hope they get sorted faster than the other issues that I and others have reported in relation to Jaws 8, 9, 10, 11 and indeed 12.

WE can only but live in hope cant we?