The Braille Monitor                                                                                                  March 2005

(back) (next) (contents)

Clarification from Curtis Chong's Email Basket

Curtis Chong
Curtis Chong

From the Editor: Curtis Chong, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, recently sent me an exchange of correspondence that serves to clarify a statement that he made in the article, "Accessibility to Microsoft Products" in the December 2004 Braille Monitor. I invited Doug Geoffray of GW Micro to amplify his response to Curtis's message. Here is Curtis Chong's cover note to me, his message to Messrs. Geoffray and Damray, and Mr. Geoffray's response:

Please find below an exchange of correspondence I had with Doug Geoffray from GW Micro and Eric Damray of Freedom Scientific. It relates to the article published in the December 2004 Monitor about accessibility to Microsoft products and my statement that Citrix continues to be largely inaccessible to the blind. In my message I acknowledge that my statement could have been more specific (see below).

In his response Doug says, in effect, that GW Micro and its screen reading program, Window‑Eyes, are not properly recognized as a pioneer in this industry. I believe this to be true. Window‑Eyes introduced the concept of a virtual cursor on Web pages before JAWS; Window‑Eyes worked with the Acrobat Reader to read PDF documents before JAWS; and Window‑Eyes supported access to the Citrix terminal server for more than a year before it was included with JAWS.

I would point out, however, that JAWS for Windows does tend to work with a broader set of application software and that GW Micro is only now beginning to catch up. Note, for example, Doug's reference to Window‑Eyes' enhanced support for Microsoft Word. This support is now included in a beta version of Window‑Eyes. I do not know at this point whether the support is comparable to, worse than, or better than that provided by JAWS. However, I will be taking steps to learn more about this. Regarding such programs as Microsoft Excel and Access, JAWS still would appear to outperform Window‑Eyes.

In any case, here is the correspondence.

Yours sincerely,
Curtis Chong

Doug and Eric:

It has come to my attention that some of my comments in the December edition of the Braille Monitor regarding Citrix have caused some concern and perhaps a belief that I am not acknowledging the good work that both GW Micro and Freedom Scientific have done to make it possible for users of their products to run applications on a Citrix terminal server. My statement that "So far Citrix has been inaccessible to the blind despite the best efforts of all screen access technology vendors" seems to have caused the most concern.

On its face this statement is not correct, given the heroic efforts by both of your companies in this area. For the record, I am well aware that as of this writing (January 2, 2005), both GW Micro and Freedom Scientific have implemented and are now distributing versions of their screen access programs with full support for Citrix. In retrospect, what I should have said was, "So far Citrix can only be made accessible to the blind by installing a copy of the screen access program on the terminal server, despite the best efforts of all screen access technology vendors."

I apologize for the misstatement. It was made in the context of a discussion with Microsoft in which I was trying to communicate my concerns about the need to install any screen access technology at all on a server platform. Despite everybody's best effort in this area, if we cannot install JAWS or Window‑Eyes on the Citrix server, there is simply no accessibility to applications running on the Citrix terminal server. Moreover, this requirement does give rise to a host of security concerns that only add to the possible difficulties already in the minds of potential employers who are reluctant to install any so-called foreign technology on their desktop platforms--let alone a critical server potentially threatened by hostile programs rampant on the Internet. If my understanding of what I was told by Microsoft is correct (and it may well not be), in a couple of years there should be no need for any screen access technology on the Citrix terminal server. We all know that this may never happen, but wouldn't it be nice if it did? Please feel free to share this communication with anyone who you think will have an interest in it.

Yours sincerely,

Curtis Chong, President
National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science

Here is the statement that Doug Geoffray prepared in response to Curtis Chong's message.

Doug Geoffray
Doug Geoffray

I feel the need to correct some misinformation or perhaps misconceptions about Window-Eyes after reading your article concerning Citrix in the December 2004 Braille Monitor. You made the statement that "Citrix has been inaccessible to the blind despite the best efforts of all screen access technology vendors."

This is a mistake. GW Micro and Window-Eyes have offered Citrix support for sixteen months. GW Micro was the first company to give a live demonstration using Citrix MetaFrame XP and Terminal Services during CSUN 2003. Window-Eyes was also the first screen reader of any kind to offer this support in a public beta (Summer 2003) and a final release (September 2003). Dolphin followed shortly thereafter, while Freedom Scientific released its first official version in December 2004.

We realize that Citrix can only be made accessible by installing Window-Eyes on the terminal server, but this is an issue with Citrix, not with screen readers. That's because Citrix images are pushed to the remote computer as graphic images, not as actual data, which makes them unreadable by any screen reader. It seems unrealistic to assume that an accessible session could be used without installing anything on the server side. Microsoft is looking at new technology (UI Automation) but it scares me to put so much pressure on Microsoft to make this happen without installing anything. To do so forces them to turn their backs on legacy applications. This means that, even if Microsoft comes up with something, it would be usable only with operating systems and applications written to take advantage of it. In today's world this just doesn't seem realistic.

I would rather pressure be put on the corporate world, educational institutions, or governmental agencies that use remote access to be assured that installing stable products like Window-Eyes is not an issue. We at GW Micro have gone to great lengths to make Window-Eyes the most stable screen reader available today. We realize this is important in any environment, but especially when installed on servers for remote connections.

Large numbers of Window-Eyes users use Citrix in corporate and educational settings, and they have been able to do so since September 2003. To say that "Citrix has been inaccessible to the blind" does disservice to the efforts made by GW Micro to create new accessibility to new technology and ignores the hundreds of people who are able to work thanks to those efforts.

The fact that any screen reader can access Citrix results from GW Micro's having blazed the trail. We were asked by Citrix to make it accessible, which in turn helped every other screen reader company. We have made similar advances with and for other software companies, like helping Adobe make PDFs accessible and MacroMedia make Flash accessible.

Ultimately I am troubled when incorrect information is presented to the public. Obviously this hurts blind people's chances for employment when they are led to believe that their potential employer can't make existing technologies work together. People have lost jobs because of technology incompatibility.

I hope you can understand the points I have raised. Access solutions should be criticized when appropriate but should also be praised and recognized when that is appropriate. Let's continue working together to insure that screen reader users are aware of the solutions available to them from all screen reader manufacturers in an accurate and timely manner. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Doug Geoffray,
GW Micro, Inc.

(back) (next) (contents)