Accessible Remote Access with RIM
By Matt Hackert
Ever lost your mind when a tech support representative asks you to click “that gear-shaped thingie”, or to look for some icon “down at the bottom of the screen”? Have you tried helping a family member troubleshoot some problem, and when you ask them to click on Settings, they can’t find it? They just see icons on the screen with no text labels, and you have no way of directing them. There’s a disconnect between how sighted and blind users understand and navigate their computing environment. Often, it’s easier when tech support “takes over” the computer and eliminates all the talking past one another that occurs because technical folks and the rest of us have very different ways of communicating.
Pneuma—an accessibility-minded software developer—recently released a new, accessible tool that allows just that.
Meet the Remote Incident Manager (RIM). It’s an innovative, accessible tool that allows one person to use their computer to “see” and control another person’s computer regardless of location, so long as both are connected to the Internet. You can use RIM with assistive technology and others don’t have to know.
Let’s define some terms to help minimize confusion. “Controller” refers to the computer providing assistance, and “Target” is the computer being assisted.
To set up and install RIM: Type “getrim.app” in your browser’s address bar. Select the Download link. Your computer will install a small file. Open this executable from your downloads folder to begin installation.
The RIM interface is similar to a webpage. It includes headings, links, and buttons. Quick navigation commands work as you would expect them to, and entering information in edit boxes requires forms mode (JAWS) or object mode (NVDA).
The first time you open the RIM application, you’ll be asked for your email address. Enter the address associated with your account. RIM will send a verification code and will ask you to enter it into the application window. RIM takes you to either the “Receive Help” or “Provide Help” screen—whichever you most recently visited.
When the “Receive Remote Help” screen loads, focus moves to the Keyword edit box. You can immediately type a keyword provided to you by the control computer. Pressing Enter activates the Connect button, and you are ready to go. The computers will connect once the controller types the same keyword.
The other buttons on the “Receive Remote Help” screen are “Provide help instead”, “Add to RIM Account”, and “About”. “Provide help instead” switches the interface to the controller screen. “Add to RIM Account” is for larger environments with multiple employees’ computers running the RIM client under a master account.
The interface for the person operating the controller computer has some additional options, but is still simple. Below the heading indicating that you are providing remote help, you will find the Keyword edit box, a checkbox to toggle use of voice assistance, and a “Start” button. Once you enter the Keyword you provided to your target computer operator, press Enter (or click Start). The two machines are connected.
The checkbox to provide voice assistance allows both the controller and target user to communicate verbally while their computers are connected, using a microphone headset at each end.
The Provide Help screen also includes “Choose a machine”, “RIM Dashboard”, “Receive help instead”, “About”, “Logout”, and “Cancel” options. “Choose a machine” provides a list of computers you’ve configured for unattended connections that you can select from. “RIM Dashboard” takes you to the dashboard, discussed below. “About” provides your client’s version information, “Logout” logs you out of the account you last signed into, and “Cancel” closes the application.
The RIM Dashboard looks different depending on your account subscription tier, which range from $99 (personal) to $5,000 (enterprise) annually. The dashboard allows you to manage unattended target computers, create custom RIM installers, and view session histories. Pro and Enterprise accounts have additional features.
The Screen Reader Difference
Remote Incident Manager is a streamlined, low-latency remote access tool. I think its biggest strength is its ambivalence to and full compatibility with different screen readers. JAWS and NVDA both have tandem tools for connecting with other computers running the same program, but RIM doesn’t differentiate between them. RIM works whether or not a screen reader is running.
So, how does this work? Let’s first consider a blind technician wishing to control a remote computer without a screen reader installed. The controller machine must be running NVDA. RIM installs an add-on (developed for NVDA) which allows the local version of NVDA to act as the screen reader for the target computer. The target computer’s user has no overt sign that the controller is using access technology.
Let’s consider a sighted controller connecting to a target computer running a screen reader. RIM provides both the video and audio outputs of the target computer, and transmits both mouse and keyboard inputs. The person operating the controller would hear the screen reader on the target computer, but their work isn’t inhibited.
What if both computers are running screen readers? Once the connection is established, the person on the controller computer operates the target computer using its local screen reader.
RIM is a true breakthrough in remote desktop access, especially for blind Information Technology professionals. It’s a fast, simple, secure means of connecting to your home and office computers. Both remote and local users can operate the target computer simultaneously, making it a unique tool for providing one-on-one training. Pro and Enterprise subscription tiers offer a variety of advanced tools and functionality, even making remote access to Windows servers possible, without the need to install screen-reading software directly on the server. We’ve only scratched the surface of RIM’s capabilities, but are already seeing valuable benefits.