Ranking Screen Readers In Windows10 Anniversary Update, Anything But Cool.

Introduction.

An article from Cool Blind Tech , was highlighted on my Twitter timeline. "Yawn yawn" I thought. This is not only going to spark some controversy but how accurate is it going to be? Having conducted evaluations of the performance of screen-readers in technical environments, both for public consumption through to departments within government, I understand how careful you have to be when making any statement. So I was keen to read how this article worked out, because apparently the results would surprise me. Yes, they certainly did.

Despite my misgivings I began to read and my worst fears were confirmed. The fictions, misconceptions and inaccuracies promulgated in the article invite examination, challenge and correction. The obvious lack of even the most cursory amount of research was also fairly astounding.

So, why am I commenting on this at all? Simply this. Cool Blind Tech since its inception has become a well-known and established resource through which people secure information. That is the reason. As I've done before, if I see an article in a well-known forum which is so blatantly misleading, I have no hesitation in challenging it so as to expose the truth.

Article Claims.

To place this in context, the article seeks to outline the user's experience when upgrading to the recently released Microsoft Windows10 anniversary edition. This was a major step forward from Microsoft providing many significant changes.

I will confine myself to the findings in relation to the comments regarding JAWS for Windows, since that is the product I work with and use. I will not, for a moment, even think about commenting upon the performance of other screen-readers because I know little about them, certainly not enough to write about them with any degree of authority.

The Article's Tone.

From the opening heading and sentence within the section of the article relating to JAWS, there is an immediate indication as to what we are in for: "JAWS Finishes in a Distant Third. This wasn’t even close! I don’t even know where to begin!"

There are two methods of obtaining the anniversary update: downloading it manually or waiting until it is delivered as part of the conventional Windows update process. The author Mr Oates' first apparent difficulty relates to the fact that he needed to uninstall the JAWS video display driver prior to applying the update. This was unfortunate. However, this was a difficulty with the Microsoft installer program which was incorrectly set to flag the video display driver as incompatible. Microsoft corrected this extremely quickly and Freedom Scientific thoroughly followed it up on their Twitter timeline with at least five tweets. On the JAWS side, it appears that everything that could be done had been done.

If a user had waited until the new innovations had been delivered through Windows updates, there would have been no difficulty. But to repeat, that particular problem is a thing of the past.

JAWS Does Not Work with the Microsoft Edge Web Browser.

This is such "an old chessnut" it seems ludicrous to even write about it, but I will do so.

As stated within Freedom Scientific's podcast number 129, there are good reasons why the company have not provided support for Edge. In essence, they will not do so until the access reaches a sufficient standard for people to be able to work with it satisfactorily. Microsoft need to do some further work on this. Interestingly, the developers of System Access, Serotek, endorse this view as stated in a Blog Post.

This is exactly the right approach to take. It is an essential requirement for individuals wanting to access web pages, people who are using browser-based applications in the workplace, and those who are not fortunate to understand even the basic concept of web-based terminology.

Just think about that last point for a moment. As a company, we have lots of customers who are simply unaware of terminology one may experience when browsing web pages, either because they have not been explained satisfactorily, or their capacity limits them from that understanding. Put those people in a situation where they've bought a new computer with Microsoft Edge as the default browser, with only half completed support within JAWS. How are they going to react if they hear something they do not expect or activating an element does not function as it should? How are Technical Support departments expected to assist a customer if the proper support is not as good as it could be to begin with?

Irrespective of the screen-reader we choose to use, as blind people we are so lucky at the moment, incredibly fortunate. If we have the skills, we can get access to so much information on the web and be very independent. And really when you think about it, how much of a difference actually is it going to be to have access to Microsoft Edge? I am more than happy with Internet Explorer, but screen-reader support exists within Firefox and Google Chrome, so it is not as if we do not have choice. I would far rather wait until Edge is properly supported than to have a "half-baked solution". Freedom Scientific are often slated for releasing products appropriate to a schedule rather than waiting until it is ready. That's exactly what they're doing with Microsoft Edge. It seems they're damned if they do and damned if they don't.

Apparent Convoluted Keystrokes.

The article claims that, "JAWS has also come up with some very convoluted keystroke combinations to interact with elements on webpages."

Well, whether they are convoluted or not, it is Freedom Scientific who have, "come up with them", and not JAWS, but that's by the by.

So, which keystrokes on the web are convoluted? The author does not tell us, which leads a bitter taste in the mouth, but perhaps he is referring to the keystrokes to bring into view a list of Edit Fields or Combo Boxes as examples, rather than all form fields, headings or links. But apart from the fact that these keystrokes can be changed according to the user's preference, or other strategies employed, I am unsure as to what the difficulty is. Please remember that most of my life's work has been to assist people who have dexterity difficulties as well as a visual impairment, so I think if there was anything unsatisfactory, I probably would have encountered it by now.

A Personal Crack.

Even if one considers the article to be in any way objective, we now come to the part where it gets personal. I just want to know, are the people at VFO serious about accessibility, or just interested in convincing people in enterprise and government that they are?

This is just thatuous nonsense. As the joint owner of a company specialising in working with JAWS, I can honestly say that we have thousands of customers on our database who are very satisfied with it, who want us to carry out scripting and training work, and who specifically purchase computers from us with JAWS installed. That is their choice and they want the best they can afford. They wouldn't do that if they didn't think that the level of accessibility was going to be high. Of course the company care about accessibility, which is why they work with Microsoft and others to ensure JAWS is the best it can be.

Before making spurious claims of this nature, I would ask people to think about not only the users of products like this, but also the company employees. If you were a Technical Support or sales specialist at Freedom Scientific, (and there are many blind people who are), how would you feel if you saw this kind of statement on a well-known forum in this community? Wouldn't it upset you? Would it improve your working day to think that there are people who are going to write statements of this nature regarding the company you work for? Of course it wouldn't, and I am totally appalled that there appears to be little regard for this kind of consideration in the Cool Blind Tech forum.

Conclusion.

If you want to obtain a full (and may I say accurate) picture regarding what you can expect from the Windows10 anniversary update, I recommend you read This article, (ironically from Cool Blind Tech), which is in my view a model of excellence in terms of summarising events.

In closing, I call for tighter editorial control of Cool Blind Tech podcasts and blog posts. Only then can we hope that people will be presented with a true and accurate picture of events.
As a community, rather than making harsh and inaccurate statements about a particular product or screen-reader, I think people would be much better employed if they assisted blind individuals with the tools that they have. We can all then make the most of the wonderful world we live in, which is full of technological innovation.

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