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Microsoft Backtracks On Accessibility In Windows Phone 7

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the potentially-affecting-tens-of-users dept.

Microsoft 54

beetle496 writes "One of the things Microsoft has done well for many years now (since they got called on the carpet about Windows 95) is providing compatibility with assistive technology used by the blind. Their current push is for a set of APIs called User Automation. Many of us in the field have remained skeptical of the early promises, especially those related to cross-platform compatibility. The news that Microsoft is now backtracking is disappointing, but hardly surprising. It looks like IAccessible2 is the way to go."

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54 comments

first post! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34541780)

suck my ass you faggots!

I love self-contradicting summaries. (4, Insightful)

Petersko (564140) | more than 3 years ago | (#34541794)

"One of the things Microsoft has done well for many years now (since they got called on the carpet about Windows 95) is providing compatibility with assistive technology used by the blind... The news that Microsoft is now backtracking is disappointing, but hardly surprising."

Which is it? If they've been doing it well for many years, what's with the "hardly surprising" jab? One would think that 16 years of excellent support would make the backtracking "very surprising".

Also....... (1)

recoiledsnake (879048) | more than 3 years ago | (#34541854)

How can you backtrack if you never promised support in the first place?

Re:Also....... (1)

mark72005 (1233572) | more than 3 years ago | (#34545412)

Reading the article, that was my impression. MSFT held a conference with these people, let them air their concerns, but what remains is that they made no specific statements about fixing accessibility, and moreover, basically acknowledged intentionally leaving it out.

I'm sure from their perspective it was just a business decision. They needed to make something that (idiots would believe is) competitive with the iPhone and Android platforms and this small sliver of the market, people with visual impairments, was just not as important.

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (1)

bananaquackmoo (1204116) | more than 3 years ago | (#34541862)

I doubt "hardly surprising" was a jab, it was more of an assessment that accessibility IN GENERAL is not given much thought, especially due to extra cost and limited audience.

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34543348)

This is Slashdot. It was, without question, a jab at Microsoft.

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (1)

vegiVamp (518171) | more than 3 years ago | (#34543930)

You are stereotypically accusing slashdot of stereotypically attacking Microsoft. Go figure.

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34542092)

Using "Fail" as a one-word rejection of something is unoriginal and idiotic. Real douchebags add "Epic" to it.

fail

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34542410)

troll sig is troll

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34542680)

At least you're honest about your intellectual shortcomings.

A lot better than Linux (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34542170)

At the first kernel update or glibc update everything needs to be redone! At the very least, Linus should start using meaningful version numbering...

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (4, Interesting)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | more than 3 years ago | (#34542184)

I've got a Winphone7 phone and I develop apps for it, so take this as you want.

I don't see why anyone with an interest in Winphone7 would be surprised. Especially a developer. Microsoft has stated numerous times that the current Winphone7 is an early, bare-minimum release, and that they'll be bringing out major updates in 2011 to bring feature parity (both on the user and developer sides) with other smart phones. I'm sure accessibility features are on their list of improvements.

The "providing compatibility with assistive technology used by the blind." comes across as a guilt trip to me, because it implies they singled out that industry when they finally broke compatibility. They didn't. On Winphone7, you develop for a mostly-Silverlight-but-sometimes-not platform using .NET. This broke compatibility with ALL old apps that ran on Winmo6.5, not just accessibility ones.

Accessibility may be one of the tougher problems to solve, as their current interface was designed from the ground up to be touch-centric. You pan around the screen than I've seen in any other phone. The OS does have pretty good voice recognition baked in -- it'll probably be the easiest thing to get working for everything. Letting people zoom in could also help, but the standard widgets and Visual Studio templates don't re-flow well to aspect ratios, so you'll have to pan twice (once between pages and once over the current page), which could get cumbersome.

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34542708)

Voice recognition doesn't help with deaf mutes, you insensitive clod!

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34545886)

They tend to use Blackberries.

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (1)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 3 years ago | (#34545300)

I see two things wrong with what you're saying.

1) it's at odds with what the article states re: accessibility

2) you're attempting to explain away a half baked OS coming to market late.

I'd suspect you were an MS shill, but I'd suspect it's more a case of delusion. Creating parity a year after release when they've had so much time to work on an OS and working out later any accessibility features is a bit lame for the largest software company in the world.

Re:I love self-contradicting summaries. (-1)

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Why? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34541800)

Who cares about faulty people anyway?

Blind people using a touchscreen? (1)

igreaterthanu (1942456) | more than 3 years ago | (#34541812)

How are blind people supposed to even use Windows Phone 7 in the first place?

I can somewhat understand a regular phone with keys, I can text without looking at my phone because I can feel the location of the buttons, etc.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (4, Informative)

MBCook (132727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34541912)

I've heard they really love the iPhone. Here [behindthecurtain.us] is an example article.

When I was in school a few years ago I had a blind gentlemen in a few of my classes. I remember him telling me about how hard (and insanely expensive) it was to get a new cell phone (Symbian based) that included voice software so he could use the menus and such, and that it was basically pretty bad.

The iPhone works as a phone, a web browser, a music player, a compass, and tons of other things, and doesn't cost $3k.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34541998)

A blind person, who reads stock charts for fun. My mind is blown.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (4, Informative)

vux984 (928602) | more than 3 years ago | (#34542022)

I've heard they really love the iPhone. Here is an example article.

Reading that article tells me that the enthusiastic user isn't blind. He's legally blind.

One of the problems /. (and the world in general) has with blindness is that we forget that many (perhaps even most??) of the people categorized as blind can still see. They just see very poorly.

However, in terms of accessibility of devices, and things like internet access its a huge difference. We think of the blind and then try to imagine someone ourselves operating a touch screen with our eyes closed and no tactile feedback at all and naturally scoff at the absurdity of it.

But try squinting your eyes almost shut so you can still see the phone, but can't read anything on it. Your now "legally bind", but you can still make out the little blobs for the apps... you can pick them out easily by touch -- identifying them by position and colour. A bit of slick software to read out the text you that you can see is there but can't actually make out by double-tapping it... and voila... a very useful device.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (5, Interesting)

das_io (1320349) | more than 3 years ago | (#34542376)

You can use an iPhone with VoiceOver with the screen completely turned off and there are really blind enthusiastic users [marcozehe.de] (this one was from Mozillas accessibility QA).

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (4, Informative)

arb phd slp (1144717) | more than 3 years ago | (#34542412)

Users who are using Voiceover aren't responding to colored blobs, they are using Voiceover's auditory scanning. It reads aloud what is on the screen, such as the labels on the icons, and the user doubletaps anywhere on the screen to select one. You don't have to see the screen at all.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34544372)

like any symbian phone since mathusalem.
any Nokia smartphone does that out of the box and they are faily inexpensive.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 3 years ago | (#34566258)

It reads aloud what is on the screen, such as the labels on the icons, and the user doubletaps anywhere on the screen to select one.

It sounded to me more like he double tapped on the screen where he wanted something read, suggesting that he could see well enough to know things were there.

He also specifically mentioned that he was able to use stock -CHARTS-; I admit I don't know a lot about voiceover, but it struck me that some level of vision would be necessary to process a stock chart.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34544390)

It looks to me as if he is pretty close to totally blind: no colour perception, and generally a very rough light/dark. From the sound of it, he could see a doorway but not an icon. He certainly seemed to be using the voice system for all his navigation and not looking at the screen, whether he could have or not.

I saw a demo last night by a blind computer user of how he uses the screen reader (on a Mac, but mostly web pages). He had enough vision to be able to see that the projection screen had something on it, not just blue, but once having ascertained that his computer was connected to the screen, he turned his back on it and used only the screen reader. I was surprised how fast he could use the system - in part because of the speed with which his preferred screen reader spoke - a near incomprehensible gabble to me.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34546150)

Your now "legally bind",

You're now "legally illiterate".

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34553876)

You have a poor understanding of what legally blind means. Read the article again closely -- he has no color vision at all, and can only make the difference between light and dark. He specifically talks about how he can't make out screen icons at all, which is why it's frustrating when sighted people give instructions that involve phrases like "click that icon at the top of the screen." Squinting your eyes is a very poor simulation of low vision, and completely misleading when it comes to people who, say, don't have any vision in the central part of their eyes. Low vision people can be helped by things like zoom and reverse video functions, but these accessibility features still have to be designed in, and many legally blind users still benefit from the kind of touch interface described in the article, which allows them to provide gestural input without reference to visual icons.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34554524)

If you can't see, get a phone with buttons. If you can see partially, use pinch gestures to zoom, and/or memorize icon positioning.

The whole *point* of a touchscreen is to provide visual interaction, so if your vision is impaired, a touch screen probably isn't the device for you. I'm sorry you can't enjoy a touchscreen to its full potential, and I'm also sorry that you can't appreciate a majestic vista, or recognize your kids faces. Honestly, I am. I'm sympathetic. But thems the breaks, and you can't change the world to fit your ideal. You just have to figure out how to overcome obstacles like everyone else. At least you're (probably) in the US, and most of the obstacles here are far lower than in the other 90% of the world. Or have you actually adopted an orphan from Darfur? No? Then STFU already.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34560930)

How did you miss the point that the touchscreen was being judged as better then other interfaces for the blind because it allowed gestural input, with audio output? The whole point of a touchscreen is to *let you touch it,* which, it turns out, with a little bit of interface design by people a lot more thoughtful and imaginative than you, is something visually impaired people can do just fine.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34542792)

And it's not just blind or visually impaired users either. Anyone with low literacy, dyslexia, etc, can benefit hugely from a screen reading technology like VoiceOver. Apple is years ahead of the competition in accessibility. Very disappointing that the biggest software company in the world can't get this right.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#34543666)

1) Duplicate existing, popular app with features for the visually and hearing-impaired

2) Profit

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34542206)

I'm guessing but probably you rework the software such that you can brush past buttons and get audible queues.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34542354)

...audible queues.

cues, not queues

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (1)

euphemistic (1850880) | more than 3 years ago | (#34542240)

I know a guy who is blind (light sensitivity only), he tried an iPhone the other day and loved it. I do a bit of interface design, and I thought it wouldn't work so well due to the lack of tactile feedback; apparently it wasn't even an issue. Provided you have a consistent learnable layout (such as the grid icon system of an iPhone for different applications), and/or at least an alternative way of "tabbing" through interactive items on the screen, plus obviously screen-reading capability, they're set. Up until now, the visually impaired have had to rely on third parties who cater to that niche to install software onto phones to give them the screen-reading capability, but the iPhone has made this unnecessary and from all accounts is quite popular with the visually impaired community for that reason.

tl;dr yes the blind can use touchscreen based phones provided they're designed/developed well

As an aside, watching the guy I know write text messages never fails to fascinate me.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#34542494)

In terms of accessibility to the blind predictability is also very important.

You do not have to be able to feel the location of the buttons as long as the same things happen when you do the same actions.

So stuff like "personalized menus/buttons" that change with usage make things unpredictable.

A totally blind person can learn to get around in a place pretty well, as long as you don't keep moving the furniture and stuff around. Once you move stuff around that slows them down immensely.

To help them more you could also have the phone play a very short unique sound effect for each location/mode/step in the interface, so before the phone "reads aloud the whole thing" the blind person already knows exactly where they are in the interface. So even if they make a mistake, they don't have to go all the way back to "Home" to start from a known point.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (1)

cdrnet (1582149) | more than 3 years ago | (#34543932)

Microsoft recently filled a patent for a new technology that can add a texture layer to traditional touch screens. One of its uses could be to turn it into braille pad.

Re:Blind people using a touchscreen? (1)

igreaterthanu (1942456) | more than 3 years ago | (#34544138)

That doesn't mean that it will be in stores anytime soon, obviously it would require a new version of Windows Phone 7 with new APIs.

No cut & Paste... (-1)

recoiledsnake (879048) | more than 3 years ago | (#34541816)

They didn't have time for even cut and paste or CDMA phones.... is this news a surprise?

Linux foundation?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34541860)

WTF is the Linux Foundation doing? Complementing a Microsoft API, to be used in Microsoft phones? Are they out of their freaking minds?!

Re:Linux foundation?! (2)

Cwix (1671282) | more than 3 years ago | (#34541926)

Precursor to 2012

Beware, for the Antichrist will come in the form of a penguin. And there shall be a 7 year peace treaty with MS. There shall be a massive fanboi battle that will take place. With Linux fanbois hacking ms users to /dev/null and and MS fanbois bashing the linux users with BSODS. Ohh the carnage, Magic cards and android phones everywhere....

hacked on (4, Interesting)

fermion (181285) | more than 3 years ago | (#34542124)

One reason MS Windows got called on the carpet was that so many things were hacked on and bloated., Recall that MS Windows could not change screen setting without a reboot. They added that feature but also other less useful things. When hacking on security MS fought between making users machines accessible to legitimate third parties and keeping it secure from less legitimate third parties. In the end, since security wasn`t designed into the product, security for all intents and purposes did not exist.

Accessibility has to be designed in. It is like multiple language capability in software. With the right design, it is easy. With the wrong design one will always have little places where words are not properly transited. If MS did not design accessibility into the basics of MS Windows 7,if they have to design it in after the fact, they lost an incredible opportunity.

Re:hacked on (1)

detritus. (46421) | more than 3 years ago | (#34543446)

Having done some AT consulting, Windows 7 has some great features for the blind. The new built-in speech recognition is incredibly accurate and for people who can't see the screen or navigate using a mouse/keyboard find it to be a godsend. Why they couldn't do this for Windows Phone 7 doesn't make any sense.

YEAH, RIGHT !! CAN'T SEE MY MOBE CUZ ME PEEPERS... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34542146)

... don't work !!

This is not an MS problem. This is a people's peepers problem. Get your priorities in order, slashdot !! u r staring 2 sound like whinny Californian liberals with 2-tight turtleneck wrapped around your turtleneck penis !!

TFA vs TFS (4, Informative)

Trelane (16124) | more than 3 years ago | (#34542212)

Summary:

One of the things Microsoft has done well for many years now (since they got called on the carpet about Windows 95) is providing compatibility with assistive technology used by the blind. Their current push is for a set of APIs called User Automation.

Article:

For the [non-minor visual, physical, and audio as well as any other] disabilities, access is via an assistive technology (AT) that mediates the user experience. This is where our the accessibility challenges lie. The challenges stem from the fact that Microsoft Windows doesn't provide a real accessibility infrastructure - as compared to UNIX systems with GNOME, the Java platform, or Macintosh OS X. In Windows, virtually all of the information needed by assistive technologies has to be obtained by patching the operating system, replacing/chaining video drivers, reverse engineering applications, and/or using proprietary COM interfaces to get at the data within an application. The first accessibility API Microsoft put forth for accessibility - Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) - fails to provide most of the information needed for screen reading and other AT uses, and is being supplanted in future Windows releases. What this means is that for an application to be accessible in Microsoft Windows via a particular assistive technology, that AT vendor has to have made a significant investment in customizing their product to that application. The greater the customization investment, the "more accessible" an application is deemed to be, at least via that particular AT. For example, the Windows screen reader with the largest market share, JAWS, has made a huge investment in customization of their product to Microsoft Office (and in contrast made a much smaller investment in customization for WordPerfect). For this reason blind folks generally feel that Microsoft Office is "accessible" (and that WordPerfect "isn't as accessible") - not because of work done by Microsoft or Corel, but work done (or not done) by Freedom Scientific, the creator of JAWS.

Quoth http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_UI_Automation [wikipedia.org]

In 2005, Microsoft released UIA as a successor to the older Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) framework.

Seems to be a decade missing there.

Am I missing something? (2)

ojintoad (1310811) | more than 3 years ago | (#34542496)

From the included link to IAccessible2 [linuxfoundation.org] :

IAccessible2 is a new accessibility API which complements Microsoft's earlier work on MSAA. This API fills critical accessibility API gaps in the MSAA offering. IAccessible2 was created out of necessity to produce a usable and accessible OpenDocument Format (ODF) based office suite for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. IAccessible2 is an engineered accessibility interface allowing application developers to leverage their investment in MSAA while also providing an Assistive Technology (AT) access to rich document applications such as the IBM Workplace productivity editors and web browsers such as Firefox. The additional functionality includes support for rich text, tables, spreadsheets, Web 2.0 applications, and other large mainstream applications.

Are you telling me that this will magically get Windows Phone 7 phones to have accessibility support? Because I'm not reading that.

Additionally, Microsoft seems pretty conciliatory on this. From the AFB link [afb.org] :

Andy Lees, president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, accepted responsibility, saying, "We were incompetent on this."

Quran (1)

Quran (1958434) | more than 3 years ago | (#34543264)

You are just too good at explaining things! I have found this extremely useful. Please keep us posted.

Where's the beef? (2)

El Rey (61125) | more than 3 years ago | (#34543332)

Where in TFAs does it say that MS is abandoning UIA?

I see it saying that they didn't implement it in the phone OS (probably to get it to market faster), but I don't see anything saying that MS is abandoning all future work on UIA in Windows in favor of IA2 from MSAA. There doesn't seem to be sufficient evidence from TFAs to draw that conclusion.

Did I miss something?

Re:Where's the beef? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567172)

I agree. There doesn't seem to be any connection between Windows Phone 7 accessibility and IA2 or UI Automation. IA2 is an extension of MSAA, so it's completely irrelevant here. Silverlight and .net already support UIA so it seems to be an obvious choice for the phone.

BTW, Microsoft products and accessibility vendors seem to be making significant investments in UI Automation: WPF, Silverlight, Office, Windows, and there are rumors it will make HTML5 accessible in IE9. IA2 is an extension of MSAA so it sounds like a dead end.

@beetle496 might want to do a bit more homework next time

M$ accisibility is still fucking shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34543500)

Its still shit, because the accesibility features can't be completely fucking turned off!

Doesn't matter what you set your preferences to, hold down the fucking shift key for 8 seconds and the motherfucking POS still brings up the fucking prompt. No matter what you set the god damn preferences to.

Give credit where it isn't due? (4, Interesting)

FullBandwidth (1445095) | more than 3 years ago | (#34543550)

I had to laugh when I saw Microsoft described as "doing well" in terms of accessibility for the blind. It's simply not true; their attempts at accessibility are token at best and largely ignored by the blind community. I know lots of blind people and I don't know a single one who uses a Windows desktop or mobile product without a third-party application such as JAWS for Windows, ZoomText or Nuance. Oh and while we're on the subject: Adobe's accessibility "features" are non-functional - not only are they totally inadequate standing alone, they also prevent those 3rd party applications from doing their jobs. PDFs and Flash are pretty much inaccessible to blind users. I am holding out hope for Pico on Android ... though I have yet to get it working on anything but the emulator that comes with the SDK.

So where is credit due? (1)

jmottram08 (1886654) | more than 3 years ago | (#34544058)

So what major company is doing better?

Re:So where is credit due? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34544616)

Apple. They have a screen reader integrated into their OS, and it is actually quite useable.

Re:So where is credit due? (1)

mikestew (1483105) | more than 3 years ago | (#34547630)

Second AC's choice of Apple. Not only are the bits built in and good quality, more importantly it's nearly trivial for devs to make accessible apps whether on Mac OS or iOS. (Said from the perspective of someone who used to be an accessibility lead at MSFT.)

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