I was bitterly disappointed yesterday (Monday 29 August) not to meet the gentleman (or lady for I know not their gender) who entertained me with such gusto. I think they are a professional tap dancer as the loud noise reverberating throughout my flat demonstrated considerable skill in the art of tap dancing. As a poet/author, I’m always keen to make the acquaintence of fellow artists, hence I was bitterly disappointed that my neighbour failed to drop in. However I suspect that if he (or she) continues to show such verve when tap dancing or cabinet making it wont be long before they drop in literally (through the floor)!
Turning to more mundane matters. As a blind computer user who is unable to see a screen, I rely on Jaws software which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to have the contents of documents, the internet relaid to me.
For many years Gmail (my mail client of choice) has, very helpfully offered a “basic HTML” option which allows visually impaired users of access software to utilise Gmail with the minimum of clutter. Unlike “standard view”, “basic HTML” lacks bells and whistles such as “Google Hangouts” meaning that it is, as I said above, less cluttered and easier to use.
“Basic HTML” remains less cluttered than it’s all singing, all dancing cousin. However it has now been denuded with the ability to click to go to “older” and “newer” messages having been removed. The emails are still there but I and other visually impaired users of Google services are now having one heck of a job to get beyond the first 50 (or 100 depending on one’s settings) messages.
I have tried contacting Google via their contact form but the darned thing wont submit! Until matters are resolved I am going to have to struggle with “standard view” which is, for me much slower and more cumbersome than “basic HTML”. Thank you Google for checking that any changes you made to Gmail are compatible with screen reading software …
I like to follow other people’s blogs. Interacting with others is, after all part of the fun of blogging as sooner or later you get bored talking to yourself! Likewise I love receiving comments and commenting on other people’s blogs. To me a blog which does not accept comments is a dead entity. It may well contain interesting content but without the ability to interact with the blogger his/her site does, in my view lack a certain vibrancy.
One of the difficulties with allowing comments is separating the wheat from the chaff. My site receives a fair number of wheaty (have I just invented that word)?! Comments, however the blog also gets bombarded by chaff (spam)! Akismet (the spam filter used by WordPress) captures the overwhelming majority of junk mail consigning it to a dedicated folder where it can be reviewed by the blog owner. The beauty of Akismet is that it does not entail the person commenting attempting (often unsuccessfully) to solve a visual Captcha. Captchas are visual puzzles which must be solved prior to those wishing to comment or contact the site owner being able to do so. For a brief period I maintained a site on Blogger. Blogger employs Captcha and low and behold not a single comment did I receive on my site hosted there. Given that I receive a fair number of comments on my WordPress hosted site (which does not utilise Captcha) and I had none while using Blogger, I attribute my success in attracting comments (on WordPress) to the lack of Captcha. Unless a person feels extremely strongly on a given issue they are, when faced by a tricky Captcha likely to give up and move onto a blog where the Captcha monster is not lurking ready to pounce on the unlucky would be commenter!
As a blind computer user I have a particular detestation of Captcha. Screen reading software such as Jaws (the package I use to convert text into speech and Braille enabling me to use a standard Windows computer) only recognises text (it is not able to recognise images). Many sites have no alternative to a visual Captcha. Others do have audio alternatives, however most of these are, in my experience more or less unintelligible so, if you employ Captcha on your site you are, albeit unintentionally locking out many visually impaired people from the possibility of participating fully on your site.
As a blogger I do understand the problem posed by spam. Spammers are selfish individuals who ought to earn an honest living rather than spending their time bombarding site owners and e-mail users with solicitations for fake products. However spam is not going to disappear any time soon and we will continue to be faced with the issue of how best to minimise it’s pernicious effects. Given the existence of Akismet I can not see a valid reason for anyone relying on clunky old Captcha. If you must use Captcha then please choose a non-visual version. For example “prior to posting please add four and 3 and type your answer”. Such a Captcha can be read by screen reading software and is intelligible to the overwhelming majority of the human population. It also has the benefit of preventing automated spam bots from wreaking havoc by spraying your site with spam. Better still use a programme like Akismet which dispenses with the need for Captcha altogether!
I would be very interested to hear from other blind authors either via comments on this post or, if you prefer by e-mail to drewdog 2060 at Tiscali.co.uk )the address is given in this manner in order to attempt to defeat the scourge of the internet, spammers)! One of the frustrations I’m facing is my inability to independently use the Promotions Manager which forms part of Amazon’s KDP Select Programme. While I can click on most of the links in KDP Select without sighted assistance I can’t operate the Promotions Manager independently. I’ve experienced the same difficulty using both Firefox and Internet Explorer so it is not so far as I can ascertain a browser issue. I’ve contacted Amazon about the issue but they don’t seem to know what is causing the problem. As I say I’d be interested to hear from other blind authors either regarding this or any other matter and, of course anyone else who wishes to comment.
My three books (“The First Time”, “Samantha” and “Sting In The Tail”) have all been written on my Sony Vio Windows 7 Home Premium laptop. I purchased it in John Lewis approximately 3 years ago and it has on the whole served me extremely well. Being blind (I don’t possess sufficient vision to read the screen) I use screen reading software called Jaws which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to read the contents of the screen. I’m currently using Jaws version 11 which is several years out of date (the current version is Jaws 14) and given the march of technology I’m finding that an increasing number of websites do not work as they should or, more correctly Jaws can’t interact with them correctly. Jaws 11 cost over £800 and to upgrade from the current version to Jaws 14 would cost approximately the same amount. This seems crazy as the cost of my laptop was £529 so in effect I could buy another laptop and still have change for the money I’d spend purchasing the latest version of Jaws.
The alternative to the above is to buy an Apple Mac. The advantage to Apple products from the point of view of visually impaired people is that they come equipped with high quality built in speech known as voiceover unlike Microsoft PCS where the blind user has to purchase additional expensive software such as Jaws (I’m not counting Narrator which is next to useless).
I’m used to I pads so purchasing an Apple PC wouldn’t be a complete leap into the dark. However I am familiar with how Jaws interacts with Windows. I know the short cuts for interacting quickly with Windows and learning Voiceover on an Apple computer would be a bit of a challenge. However I need to bite the bullet sooner or later and decide whether to upgrade Jaws or buy an Apple Mac otherwise I’ll be left with an increasing number of websites and applications which either do not work with Jaws 11 or, at best work imperfectly.
I’m rather fond of my Sony Vio laptop. It has served me well in my writing and other tasks. There is nothing wrong with the machine and it could continue to be a good little work horse for years to come (famous last words)! Anyway this evening I’ll be borrowing a friend’s Apple Mac so I’ll have the opportunity to experiment with Voiceover and decide whether the fruit or Windows (with Jaws) is the way forward. What a shame that Microsoft don’t include a high quality text to speech facility with their computers then blind people wouldn’t be faced with these expensive choices.
I have never been a huge fan of Facebook. As a blind writer I use Jaws software which converts text into speech and braille allowing me to read my computer’s screen or, more accurately have the content relaid to me via voice and braille. Facebook is difficult for blind access technology users to navigate their way around, however it is, potentially a good means of promoting my book. Consequently I signed up for an author’s Facebook page (facebook.com/newauthoronline). A sighted friend assisted me in setting it up and with her assistance the first couple of posts where posted. However I am now finding that posts intended for my author’s Facebook account are ending up on my personal Facebook page! I’ve wasted several hours attempting to ascertain what is going awry but without success! My right arm is sore from me shaking it at my hapless computer, however I’ve now attained a state of mild amusement and am sitting here smiling. In the great scheme of things my inability to figure out Facebook comes far down the list of the world’s problems. I’m off out now for a nice cooling pint or two! I’ll return to the problem bright eyed and bushy tailed later.
(For my book, The First Time, by Kevin Morris please visit the Kindle Store on Amazon.com or amazon.co.uk).