Peter and all,

While I mostly agree with you, especially given that we have fairly good
accessibility built into products that are much more complicated than those
of fifteen or twenty years ago, I think we are often affected more by change
than are sighted people.  There needs to be some thought as to how this can
be handled.  While this can affect the ability of a new blind user to learn
software, its greatest impact is on those who have used software for a long
time and have become efficient in its use.

For example, let's look at the Microsoft Ribbon.  This was a major change to
the way that options are displayed in Microsoft products.  However, even
though it can be frustrating for sighted users. It is usually possible to
locate options by visually inspecting the ribbon and then moving the mouse
directly to that item without serious delay.  The act of moving the mouse to
a given location and then clicking on it is a standard action that is not
dependent on anything that is unique to the ribbon or Microsoft Office.  The
complaints I hear from sighted users are more along the line of how much
space the ribbon takes, and there are even some workarounds for that.  I
don't read a lot of complaints about the ribbon any more in the general
press although I suppose there are complaints out there yet.

So why was the change to the ribbon difficult for us?  The ribbon has pretty
much always been accessible in a technical sense.  In my opinion, it is
because our greatest efficiency is achieved by our memory and our ability to
repeat a sequence of actions reliably.  When confronted with the ribbon
rather than a typical menu system, our method of finding an item is to use
the navigation that is built into Office to examine the ribbon sequentially.
If that navigation is sluggish, it will slow our ability even beyond what we
are already experiencing because of needing to look sequentially.
Therefore, even when accessibility is implemented, we depend upon more
levels of the software, operating system and specific software, to get the
information we need.  In addition, we are needing to access information
sequentially rather than being able to take the shortest path to the desired
item as can be done visually with the mouse.

We do get around all this in time by learning keyboard shortcuts and
accellerator keys.  As a rule, though, keyboard shortcuts and accellerators
are assigned to some degree by their locations in menus and ribbons.  In
menus, there were generally two keystrokes involved, the first to get to the
pulldown and the second to choose the specific item.  The order of the items
in a menu affect the keystrokes assigned.  Typing a letter will get one to
the first item starting with that letter.  If there is another item starting
with the same letter, the next letter of the item not already assigned is
used.  In the end, we generally figure out how to do this efficiently, and
we get these keystrokes reinforced by the menu system itself.

So what about the ribbon.  Pretty much all of the above approaches are
implemented in the ribbon.  In addition, there are keys to jump through the
groups as well.  However, many, if not most, of the accellerator key
sequences have changed there.  Rather than needing to look for a command or
function for an extra second or two, we can spend a great deal of time
working through the ribbon sequentially or trying keystrokes we think might
work.  The effect of the change on us is far greater than it is on people
using these same products with vision even though accessibility exists
technically.

I've used the ribbon as an example because it is probably one of the more
extreme examples and it is one we have often faced.  However, this
difference in how we access software is very true in other areas.  For
example, because of how accellerator keys are assigned, changing the order
that items appear in a pulldown menu can change which keys access them.  A
change in the order may hardly be noticed by someone clicking with a mouse
but needing to use different keystrokes to get there can have a much greater
impact on us.  It requires that we relearn a pattern while it requires only
a minor adjustment for the person using a mouse.  Moving an item out of a
menu into a toolbar might make it more quickly identifiable visually while
it might make it harder for us to find in some cases, especially if the item
is moved to a deeper level in a menu because it is now on a toolbar.  There
are other examples as well but I've already gone on too long.

The point is that although I agree with Peter that we are probably better
off then we think regarding accessibility, there are things about efficient
interfaces that are not really well understood.  This is getting worse as
software becomes more complex and developers struggle to make their
applications easier to use visually.  While there are basics that we can
insist be implemented, it is really not easy to make all of the above clear
to a developer.  Even if we can, it's not always that simple to know what to
do.  For example, if we somehow kept the same accellerator keys active on
the ribbon, it would make life easier for those who have used a product for
a long time, but the keystrokes would make no sense to a new user trying to
learn them.  While we might be able to get large companies like Microsoft to
understand this better, the ability to get all developers to think about
this is very unlikely.  While I am very encouraged by the innovations that
have allowed us to use touch screens, efficiency is not really a
consideration there.  Again, we may well remember where something is on a
touch screen and get good at activating it efficiently, but if the developer
changes the screen, we are going to need to do a lot of searching to find
out to where it was moved while the new location will be available quickly
using vision.

I am saying all of this for two reasons.  First change means more adjusting
for us, so as change comes faster and faster, it adds more overhead to our
ability to access software efficiently.  It is not all that surprising that
we are going to whine some about change.  Second, at some level, we are
going to have to think about how screen readers can fill the gap between how
we access software and how one accesses it visually.  This is especially
important for those of us using software in employment settings.  It means
that some of our feelings of frustration when things change are justified,
but it also means that we have to keep looking for answers and the answers
may not always be with those developing software.  It is going to take
people much smarter than me to find some of these answers.

Best regards,

Steve Jacobson

-----Original Message-----
From: Talk
[mailto:talk-bounces+steve.jacobson=visi....@lists.window-eyes.com] On
Behalf Of Peter Duran via Talk
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2017 2:13 AM
To: 'Window-Eyes Discussion List' <talk@lists.window-eyes.com>
Subject: Going Backward in Accessibility?

Hello All,

There are different issues in play when discussing accessibility.

Computer technology has changed rapidly and relentlessly since the first
computer made its appearance.  See the wonderful movie "Hidden Figures"
currently in theaters about 3 African American women mathematicians who
worked for NASA in the late fifties and beyond. They had to deal with
racism, sexism, and rapid change in their jobs.
Us blind folks, until Section 508 of the Accessibility law came into effect,
had alike discrimination in the workplace.  However, today,the major
developers of software - Apple and Microsoft - build into their development
efforts accessibility - perhaps not as fast as we would wish.

The marketplace drives Web and Internet developments, and that development
occurs rapidly and in unexpected ways.  All of that makes it hard for
developers of access technology to keep up.

I have been in the access biz for forty years and my customers have feared
being left behind with every marketplace innovation.  The reality is,
however, since Bill Gates of Microsoft made the commitment to accessibility,
things have been really good for us.

I have no doubt that progress will continue, yes in fits and starts,
nevertheless forward.

The core issue for us is whether third-party developers will disappear and
access left to mainstream software manufacturers.  Apple does a good job
with its VoiceOver software, and tech support of disabled users is solid!

iPhone technology has become the main communication tool for blind students
in college and in professional job environments.  It is dynosaurs like us
old dudes that resist change.  It took me lots of effort to get my wife to
switch from a flip phone to an iPhone; she still refuses to learn more than
she needs, but she now send text messages, pictures, cute visual effects,
and so on.  Sad to say, the older we get, the harder its is to change.  (I
have not as yet switched to Windows 10.  It is good to wait until the bugs
are under control, until access catches up, and until the need arises.)  I
did buy a Windows 10 HP laptop from QVC during their Christmas bash, and
will get to it this Spring when I have time to write a tutorial for Windows
10.

Microsoft, with the change of leadership a couple of years ago, rethought
its overall corporate structure and switched to a "vertical model" where all
development groups are required to incorporate alike software into core
products to ensure uniformity of functionality.  Last year, Microsoft
created a new access group withsignificant powers to oversee accessibility
issues.  It is my personal guess that Narrator  will become
A significant screen reader within Windows 10 and will rival the
accessibility features of VoiceOver of Apple and of Window-Eyes and JAWS.

Let us all hope for the best access and let our dinosaur tendencies behind.

Peter Duran

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