Tag Archives: screen readers

Of Tap Dancers and Mail Clients

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 …


The Silence Is Deafening

One of the joys associated with e-books is the fact that most are accessible to people with a visual impairment. As a blind book lover who is not able to read print I relish my ability to read e-books either on my Kindle or using the Kindle app on my iPad, via the text to speech facility (on the Kindle) or by Apple’s in-built screen reader, Voiceover on my iPad.

I was disappointed to find that a book recommended to me by an acquaintance (and available in the Kindle store) does not have the text to speech facility enabled thereby rendering my purchase of the title in question pointless as I would be unable to read the work in question.

As an author I can understand the legitimate desire of writers to protect their work from copyright theft. All of my books are Digital Rights Management (DRM) protected rendering them virtually impossible to copy. However all of my books as with the majority of those available in the Kindle store have text to speech enabled thereby allowing visually impaired individuals to purchase them. I would never disable text to speech because, by so doing I would be locking out blind people from the possibility of reading my works independently.

I have sometimes heard it argued that authors disable text to speech because their book is also available as an audible download from companies such as audible.co.uk/audible.com. If the book is available as an audio download then what is the point (the argument goes) in providing a text to speech enabled version of the book on Amazon.

In answer to the above I would argue that visually impaired readers should have the same choice as to how they access books as their sighted friends and acquaintences. If a copy of a book which does not have tex to speech enabled is available from Amazon and, in addition as an audio download then the sighted reader has a choice of either purchasing the Kindle book or the audio download. In contrast the blind reader has only one choice, to download the audio version as the Kindle book is inaccessible to him or her. This is, to my mind grossly unfair as blind people should (as stated above) be afforded the same opportunity to access books as their sighted compatriots.

Certain works are only available as inaccessible (non text to speech) enabled Kindle downloads with there existing no audio alternative. Consequently blind people have their ability to access such books severely curtailed. They can request a sighted friend to read the book which negates their independence or request a charity such as the Royal National Institute of The Blind (RNIB) to record the work or transcribe it into braille. However the latter option can be time consuming and can leave the visually impaired person feeling like a second class citizen who must rely on others for his or her reading enjoyment.

I won’t name the book or the author as I hope to be able to make contact and persuade them to make their book available, on Amazon with text to speech enabled (there appears to be no audio alternative).

Most authors who sell their books on Amazon do make them available with text to speech enabled and I am, as a blind person grateful to the vast majority of writers who do the right thing. To those authors who don’t enable accessibility for visually impaired people, I am sure that most of you do not realise that the effect of your decision is to make the lives of blind readers difficult by reducing their choice of reading material. If you are one of those authors please look again and ensure that your books are accessible to all not just those who can read print.

In conclusion this post is not aimed at the vast majority of writers who make their works accessible by enabling text to speech (on the Kindle) or Voiceover (on Apple products), it is aimed at the minority of authors and publishers who do not do the right thing.

Calling All Blind Authors

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.

Anyone Fancy An Apple?

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.