The Braille Monitor May 2005
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One More Exchange from Curtis Chong's Email Basket
From the Editor: In the December 2004 issue of the Braille Monitor, Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science, reported on a meeting he and Anne Taylor had last fall with the access folks at Microsoft. Then, in the March issue, we reprinted an exchange of messages about the article that Curtis had with Doug Geoffray of GW Micro. Now we have a second exchange on the same subject, this time with Madelyn Bryant McIntire, at the time director of the Accessible Technology Group at Microsoft. For those interested in the future of access to Microsoft products in coming years, it does seem to provide a bit more clarification. Here it is:
February 21, 2005
It was a pleasure to host you and Anne Taylor last September at our corporate headquarters in Redmond. I recently read your December article in the Braille Monitor about the visit with great interest.
As the Greek philosopher Heraclites said, "The only constant is change," and a few things have changed since your visit, so I thought I should update you.
Corporate commitment: You expressed the concern in your article that it was "difficult to comprehend how accessibility is being mandated at the highest levels of the corporation." Since the visit was intended to be a technical discussion directly with the individual engineers that are designing and writing the software, we did not spend time on the managerial aspects of running the company. I think that was the right approach to the meeting, given the time constraints, but that may have left you with an inaccurate view. Accessibility has become part of the way we do business. That does not mean we will always get it right, but we are trending up, and all of our executives are well aware of the importance of this work.
Automation, MSAA, and Longhorn: Another concern you express in your article is that "no one knows for sure how this new concept will be implemented in Longhorn." In that section you share your worries that we will remove old mechanisms. In the six months since your visit, several things are more clear. The implementation of UI [user interface] automation will be completed by ATG [Access Technology Group] and will ship with Longhorn. It will exist side‑by‑side with MSAA [Microsoft Active Accessibility] and AT [access technology] vendors will have the opportunity to evaluate and adopt UI automation based on the merits of the new interface. Some things that simply could not be implemented using MSAA given its design will be available with UI automation.
Terminal services: To ensure that users of screen access technology take advantage of what is available on the market today, let me clarify the Terminal Server accessibility solution. Terminal Server and Citrix are currently accessible, due to efforts by Citrix, Microsoft, and the screen access technology companies. The solutions from Dolphin and Window Eyes have been available to their customers since 2003. Freedom Scientific's Jaws for Windows version 6.0 includes compatibility with Citrix.
For Longhorn the Terminal Server team is building support for UI automation. The screen access vendors continue to be involved in Longhorn design and technical briefings. End users will reap the benefits of this work when Longhorn is released, which is currently scheduled for 2006.
Follow-up: After your visit to Redmond, I accepted Dr. Maurer's invitation to visit the NFB headquarters in Baltimore and the Jernigan Institute. I deeply value the time and hospitality extended to me by Dr. Maurer. The visit gave me an opportunity to meet key members of NFB and to hear their concerns.
All of the meetings reinforced the fact that we have common goals. Technology can and should be an equalizing force, and our work is not done until that vision is realized.
Madelyn Bryant McIntire
Director, Accessible Technology Group
February 27, 2005
Thank you for your comments about my article in the December 2004 Braille Monitor, reporting on our productive meeting in September of last year. I would like to take this opportunity to comment on some of the points you raised in your email.
Microsoft's commitment to accessibility: In your comments you point out that, since during our meeting we did not focus on the managerial aspects of running the company, I might have come away from the meeting with an inaccurate view of Microsoft's management policy on accessibility. Let me begin by saying that the focus of our September meeting was, from my perspective, right on target. I was deeply appreciative of the opportunity to discuss accessibility with engineers involved in designing and writing software. I was not interested at the time in talking about policy and management strategies to promote accessibility.
Based on past meetings I have attended at Microsoft during which Microsoft's policy on accessibility was discussed at great length, I believe that, while corporate executives may be required to address the issue of accessibility, they are not prohibited from releasing products that are not accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility is not the overriding priority that drives the company but is instead one of many competing priorities that corporate executives must consider. Fortunately for the blind, at Microsoft accessibility is more of a priority today than it was years ago. You say that accessibility has become a part of the way Microsoft does business, that you may not always get it right, and that the company is trending up. This is essentially what I believe I said in the article.
UI automation, MSAA, and Longhorn: You say that, when Longhorn is released, both UI automation and MSAA will exist side-by-side in this new operating system. You remain silent on the question of undocumented video hooks, which historically have enabled screen access technology to extract much of the information they provide to blind computer users. During our September meeting I was given to understand that these hooks would continue to work‑‑at least in the first release of Longhorn. Now it would appear that they will not. If this is indeed the case, then the blind have much to be concerned about. Many of the applications we use today work only because of the undocumented video hooks that have been implemented by screen access technology.
Terminal services: In the article I did not point out that at the time of our meeting both GW Micro and Dolphin Systems already had screen-reading software that provided access to the Citrix/Terminal Server environment. As you point out, today a Citrix/Terminal-Server access solution is also available from Freedom Scientific. What neither of us said, however, was that in order to have full access to this environment, access technology must be installed on the terminal server platform. While I fully appreciate the technological necessities that make this necessary, I do wish to point out that this requirement will increase the complexity of the technological issues that must be considered when a company is hiring someone who is blind.
I can also tell you that network administrators and information technology managers may have natural concerns about screen access technology running on desktop computers which we may be able to overcome, but they will most certainly resist the installation of what they perceive to be foreign software in their highly‑valued servers. Nevertheless, the access to this important platform does exist, and I plan to devote a major portion of the 2005 meeting of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science to a discussion of Citrix and the various technologies that are now available to use it.
General comments: Our meeting last September, my article in the Braille Monitor, and our exchange of correspondence are healthy signs of the times in which we live. You and I must continue to communicate frankly and productively with each other. Blind computer users must understand what awaits them in the future, and Microsoft must continue to receive information from people who are blind so that it can better judge the impact of the decisions it makes.
Thank you for continuing this fruitful exchange of information. It would seem that indeed change is the only constant. I truly hope that change does not result in adversity for the community of blind computer users and professionals and that Microsoft continues to play a positive role in our ability to use technology on an equal basis with everybody else.
President, National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science
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