Podcast Transcript: Mosen At Large episode 127, Janet Inber talks about her updated Mac Basics book
Jonathan: I’m Jonathan Mosen and this is Mosen At Large. The show that’s got the blind community talking. Janet Ingber has updated her book on Mac Basics. It’s published by National Braille Press. I’ll talk to her about her book, the Mac, and we’ll hear some listener comments about the current state of the Mac from Clubhouse.
Janet Ingber’s book about Mac basics has helped many people make the leap from Windows to Mac and even ensured that existing Mac users who run Voiceover are making the most of their device and we all want to do that. Now, Janet has updated her book once again, it’s available from National Braille Press and she joins me now to talk about this. Hi, Janet. It’s good to have you with us.
Janet: Hi, it’s good to be here.
Jonathan: Tell me about the new book. What does it cover and who’s your audience for this?
Janet: The book covers a whole lot. It covers the Mac basics and it integrates the big Sur updates. The other thing it does is it talks sometimes about going between Windows and Mac. This is the same one, a Mac or Windows, and this is different. I try to write it for the person who is going for the Mac for the first time and who’s on a Windows computer, or for somebody that knows a little bit about Mac and wants to learn a bit more. As I was researching, I learned some new things, so there’s a lot there.
Jonathan: That is one of the benefits of writing these books. Isn’t it? That you have to go into the detail into the weeds. Actually, as the author, you end up a lot more informed venue were before you started the project.
Janet: That’s definitely true and it’s true. I also write for Access World and I’ve learned things doing articles there too. There’s always new things to learn.
Jonathan: There will be people who I imagine have never used a Windows computer these days that they started with a Mac. It was their first computer. Do you think it’s easier for those people who just jumped straight into the Mac paradigm rather than go from Windows?
Janet: I think so. The Mac has more flexibility and you don’t get your two systems confused. There have been times I have a Windows computer that I used at work, and I’ve tried to put Mac commands on a Windows computer and vice versa. I wish I had started out with a Mac, but it wasn’t that way. I started out with a PC and Window-Eyes, and then when Window-Eyes went away, I went to NVDA, but the thing I liked about Mac was that when I switched over in about 2012, 2013, I didn’t have to buy a separate screen reader. The jump from iPhone to the Mac was a natural progression and I love that I had the same screen reader rather than having to go buy one.
Jonathan: Do you think that value proposition still holds true to the same degree now that Narrator is becoming a much more capable screen reader that’s built into Windows?
Janet: I think so. I think Voiceover is still a better screen reader. If you’re going to go for one or the other, NVDA is really good. That’s the one that I’ve used on my Windows computer. Once Window-Eyes went away. I can use both. I like NVDA better, but that’s really just a point of personal privilege.
Jonathan: We’ve been having quite a lively discussion on the podcast in recent weeks, actually that a listener brought up about Voiceover on the Mac versus JAWS specifically on Windows is the thing that the listener raised and what the advantages were. I suppose the big thing there though, is that you’ve got to pay for JAWS and they’ve tried to deal with that by offering a monthly subscription option to make that more viable. If you’re in employment, JAWS can make the difference between doing a job and not doing a job. How do you think the Mac stacks up on the job for a lot of people who do require that level of functionality?
Janet: I think that the Mac, I mean, you can get Word for Mac or you can put Windows on your Mac computer. I did that for about two months and got rid of it. Or you could use something like text Edit, which unless you’re doing really fancy word documents or reports, you can just use TextEdit, or you can use Apple’s version of Excel. A lot of it with a lot of jobs, it depends on the software that they require you to use. At one point I was doing something, we had changed their paperwork and had to use the software that was just ridiculous and totally unaccessible. They said, I’ll do it with Google Chrome and even that didn’t work the instructions and the screen reader feedback were not enough.
Jonathan: I remember coming to the Mac in 2012 and Microsoft Office, in general, was just really a no-go. I suppose to Microsoft’s credit, they have made a lot of progress in that regard. Whether the user interface is a good one or not is a debatable point, but at least I suppose they’ve tried to make Office work on the Mac to some degree.
Janet: The thing with using JAWS is really expensive and for some people, they just can’t afford it. It NVDA works well with basic things so does Narrator, but I found for 99% of this stuff, anything I can do in Windows I can do on a Mac.
Jonathan: Is it swings and roundabouts though, because it is true that JAWS packs a hefty price tag, but then so does the Mac hardware, doesn’t it? Do you really gain much in the end if you’ve had to spring for a more expensive Mac laptop when you may have been able to get a cheapish Windows device and then JAWS, do you come out about even?
Janet: I think that’s a personal choice. I switched over to Mac because I liked Mac better. I learned Mac initially. My daughter actually had a Mac. I learned the iPhone first and for any of you who were thinking of going to that, I will tell you that the first couple of days, couple of weeks I had it, I was ready to throw it out the window. With any computer or any device, if you’re new, understand that you’re going to have that time where you just can’t stand in and it’s not working. I think what it is too, it’s not only the hardware versus the software. It’s that the Mac is just so much more flexible and there are so many different ways to navigate or to have texts read or to do all kinds of things, which is great in my opinion.
Jonathan: One of the things that I don’t hear mentioned often, and it’s curious to me, because I used a Mac for four years and I deliberately bought mine at the beginning of a long summer holiday in 2012, because I agree with you, you just commit so much to muscle memory. You’ve got to allow yourself time to give something new, like a complete operating system shift, a fair chance. I deliberately chose a time when I was going to not need to be productive and just immersed myself in the Mac. I didn’t use Windows for quite some time. That did work for me. One of the things that I don’t hear mentioned often that I think is one of Mac’s biggest selling points in a Voiceover context is the item chooser. I think that’s an amazingly efficient productivity hit for the Mac.
Janet: Because it gives you a whole list of what’s available on the screen and it’s one keystroke and you’ve got all these options in front of you.
Jonathan: Essentially every element on the screen is searchable and if you know and well enough that something’s on the screen somewhere, you can quickly drill down and find that item, or even find a series of items that match your search criteria. It’s also on the iPhone, but I actually think the Mac implementation of the item chooser is a bit better than the iPhone 1.
Janet: I agree.
Jonathan: I want to get into the geekdom on this Janet because the geek in me wants to understand how you wrote this. What tools did you use to write this book? I presume that you did write it on the Mac of course.
Janet: I did it on the Mac. I did it in TextEdit. I could have done it in pages, but I chose TextEdit. It’s nowhere near as complex and doesn’t give you the same options as pages does, but I knew it was just going to be basically headings and descriptions for the most part. I did it that way. I work with National Braille Press and we did a brief outline of what was going to be covered and then built it from there as far as what I chose. I wanted to choose stuff that really you’re going to use every day or something like that.
I didn’t really go into the fancy stuff. Amadeus Pro for recording or anything like that. I didn’t go into the Mac’s version of PowerPoint. I didn’t go into the Mac’s version of Excel. I went to the basic stuff, emails, setting up writing, reading PDFs, things like that, that are going to be more common that the average user’s going to use that, remember this is a basic, there’s a lot more, but I wanted to at least get the reader started if they’ve never had any experience with the Mac.
Jonathan: Yes, because I suppose if you put those building blocks in place, then once people understand those essential concepts, they can take those and run with any application they want.
Janet: That’s a great thing about the Mac. It builds on each other and a lot of things, the commands are very similar and like your left-hand menu is always going to be the Apple menu was with all kinds of things. A lot of the menus are very similar and some are application-specific. I wanted to make it really clear and not have to go into any fancy tricks.
Jonathan: Sometimes on social media and programs like mine, Apple gets pinged a little bit for not giving Voiceover on the Mac sufficient love that there hasn’t been a lot of evolution. Do you think that’s the case? Is one of the reasons why you’ve updated this book, that there have been some substantive changes in Voiceover you wanted to tell people about?
Janet: There have been some changes. First of all, you can now put the control center that you have on your iPhone is now on your Mac. I discuss that and I discuss how to add and remove things from the control center. One big thing in the sound’s category is that for all you Mac users who have wondered where the startup sound went, it’s back, and you can find that in sound system preferences, but especially something like using the, it’s basically a context menu that, you’ve seen in Mac. Now you can open many different applications with a command field space bar and you’ll get a whole list of options for you right there. You don’t even have to go running through anything. It’s all right there. That to me is also one of the biggest things with Mac. The other thing is that they’ve added more Braille support and you can talk about that more than I can. I’m not a Braille user, but they’ve added Braille support. They’ve done quite a bit this time.
Jonathan: I’ll have to have another look. We do have an M1 Mac lurking about, and I have not connected a Braille display to that M1 Mac yet, but that is interesting.
Janet: If you want to get rid of it, I’ll take it.
Jonathan: I think Bonnie would be very disappointed if we got rid of it now, she’s been using it. We do hear about people. You already mentioned this. We hear about people who want to get into the Mac because they’ve had a really good iPhone experience. Then they think, “Wow, if the iPhone is this good, then I want to try the Mac. I want to switch.” Then sometimes I see people who say, “The Mac hasn’t lived up to my expectations in the same way that the iPhone did.” Do you hear that? If so, why do you think that is?
Janet: I do not hear that. The Mac is just the same ecosystem, but you’re working with a keyboard and there are all kinds of different things that you can do. Pretty much anything you can do on an iPhone, you can do it on a Mac. Unfortunately, Amadeus Pro is not one of those things yet, but if you are an iPhone user and you get a map with the touch bar, the touch bar basically works like the iPhone home screen. You just swipe around and you double-tap on whatever you want. If you’re coming from the iPhone and this is your first Mac, you might want to consider that. In mail, it gives you options on the touch bar to send and to reply and to reply all, in music you can increase or decrease your volume. There’s a whole lot of things that work like the iPhone instead of using keyboard commands, you can use the touch bar. Personally, because I’m better on a keyboard than I am on the touch bar, I rarely use it, but it’s there if I want it, not all the Macs have it. I don’t believe the Mac Airs do, but the Pros do.
Jonathan: That’s right. The MacBook Air that we bought with M1 does not have the touch bar. It just has a traditional row of function keys. I hear that Apple might be phasing out the touch bar altogether that it hasn’t been adopted in a way that they anticipated. The touch bar may well be a thing of the past shortly. It looks like.
Janet: Honestly, for me, that would be fine. I never use it. I am going to update my computer right now. I’m working on a, I think it’s a 2017 MacBook Pro, next one I get is going to be a MacBook Air
Jonathan: The M1 Macs have just taken the world by storm. Haven’t they? There’s absolutely no doubt you would have to be incredibly biased not to agree that Apple has hit it out of the park with this. The battery life is stunning. What they’re doing with these processes is just amazing. It’s a hardware triumph for Apple, and that’s really exciting. You haven’t got your hands on that yet yourself.
Janet: I haven’t. I usually like to wait when they start releasing something brand new, I wanted to wait a year just to see what happens, what bugs are in it. With the iPhone, I usually don’t do that but with the Mac, I sometimes try to wait. It was a matter of getting a new Apple Watch or getting a new Mac.
Jonathan: We’ve talked about the fact that you were able to write this book on the Mac, which is really impressive. I’m just thinking of a scenario, say where you’ve got a student and they’ve got one shot at the computer. That either is going to be funded for them or the family buys it for them or something like that. Do you know of students, for example, who are writing quite complex term papers with footnotes and references and the things that are required for that high level of writing, using Mac tools?
Janet: Pages will give you all of that. It’s part of the iWork suite. It is on your Mac. It was having a lot of accessibility issues way back, and they have actually improved that quite a bit.
Jonathan: One of the new things that excites people too, is a new technology that allows people to run iPhone apps on the Mac. Your favorite iOS app can come to a Mac near you as well. That really does open a lot of possibilities, particularly with the Trackpad on the Mac. That really makes it feel like you are running an iPhone when you use those gestures on the Trackpad.
Janet: No, definitely. I haven’t done it just because, I don’t know but from what I’ve heard, yes, the newer Macs work better with it. Mine’s a little bit old, but yes, I’ve done it and I’m just a creature of habit and I’m just so used to doing it on the iPhone but yes, I have heard good things about that. I understand that there is room for improvement but things change and computers get better. With my next computer, I will start doing it.
Jonathan: I realize this is an on-the-spot question. You may not have an answer for it, but is there one feature you can think of where you think I really wish Voiceover would add this to the Mac and it would just make the experience so much better and enhance my productivity?
Janet: I wish, especially the more advanced like pages or anything like that, the more complicated apps I wish Voiceover would say more than that’s basically it even now within the Voiceover utility, you can customize it. Voiceover tells you a lot but overall, I’m very happy with it. I’m much happier with it than I was with Window-Eyes or NVDA or Narrator.
Jonathan: What about Safari Busy? This is one thing that comes up on my podcast quite a bit. How’s that going these days?
Janet: I think it’s better. I think it’s a lot better than it was. I’ve heard a discussion about that there was an improvement. Safari Busy could be your map. It could be your wifi. It could be anything, but Big Sur in my opinion has improved that significantly.
Jonathan: Big Sur is the latest version of the Mac operating system. Do you see some benefits to blind people in some of the changes that have been made in Big Sur that have been rolled out recently?
Janet: Definitely the Voiceover and Braille things and just everything is more customizable, which is great because we all don’t do things the same. Like I said I love that menu thing. It’s quicker to go that way. There is just so much information available from Voiceover now. I think it works really well right now.
Jonathan: Interaction, Janet, that’s probably the biggest paradigm shift. I know that’s a buzzword but if you’re coming from Windows and even if you’ve used an iPhone interacting with content, probably one of the biggest things that you have to get your head around, they seem to have given you a little bit more choice in terms of the degree to which you must interact now, which I’m not sure whether it complicates things further. How would you explain interaction? I think you did a good job of this in the book itself, actually, having a go at explaining interaction.
Janet: The first thing about interaction is that I want to say, if you do it or you don’t do it, you will not mess anything up. Okay. What it does is that it has the cursor in a position where it’s going to stay within that one column or within that one area of information. If you try something and all of a sudden your cursor is all over the place, you can interact with it. There are a bunch of ways to do that. The keyboard command, Voiceover keys, plus the shift key and the down arrow to interact, and the best place to try that is probably the Voiceover utility and just play around with it. Most of the time, I don’t even do it. If I see something’s not going right. I’m not where I think I’m going to be, then I’ll do it. To me, it seems that there’s a lot less interacting required. Basically, it’s to keep you in the right place for what you’re doing.
Jonathan: Sometimes it’s hard to know when to, and when not to isn’t it, especially on menus and things, sometimes interaction is necessary. Sometimes it’s not necessary.
Janet: The same thing with the menu stuff with Voiceover keys and sometimes you don’t need them, but no matter what you’re doing, don’t panic. If you forget a key and there’s nothing you can do, if you went there after interact, you’re not going to do anything.
Jonathan: We’re not going to tell you the secret keystroke that explodes your Mac and shatters it to smithereens. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to find that one for yourself. All right. Let’s go to the audience and talk to Taroon, first of all. You’ve got a question or comment for Janet?
Taroon: I have a comment. Well, of course, I’ve been a Mac user for some time and I recently got myself a new Mac mini with the M1 chip. I was listening to your comments before, and I haven’t seen the Safari Busy syndrome for quite some time. In fact, it’s very snappy. I’ve also played with some applications, iOS on the Mac, using the Trackpad and the keyboard, and 99.9% of what I’ve tried worked for it.
Jonathan: So, what was the device that you now I running?
Taroon: I’ve got, a Mac mini.
Jonathan: Okay. With the M1 processor?
Jonathan: Pretty phenomenal stuff. Isn’t it?
Taroon: It’s very, very good.
Jonathan: Are you running iOS applications on yours to any great degree?
Taroon: Yes. Well, I’m working as a developer, so I’m doing that all the time, but I’ve tried a number of iOS apps that I run regularly on my phone also on the Mac, and there’s very little difference, particularly when you’re using the Trackpad.
Jonathan: Do you think that it would get to the point where they will unify the operating systems?
Taroon: I think they’re on the way already.
Jonathan: Yes, well, it looks that way.
Janet: Definitely, they’re on their way.
Jonathan: Yes, but they’ve got the M1 processor on the new iPad, for example, and it’s crying out for more capability. Isn’t it? It feels like it’s been constrained by the operating system.
Taroon: Yes. I felt that too. In fact, my suspicion is that we’re going to see basically eventually we’re just going to just see all these devices running various versions of iOS. I think they’re going to get rid of the idea of sideloading all together.
Janet: I have heard that especially running the iOS apps on your Mac, that you really need the faster processor so to do it. I agree. I think that eventually, it’s all going to merge. That we’re at the beginning of this. iPadOS, and iOS are basically the same thing, just that iPad apps can be run on the iPad, where they can’t be run on the iPhone. I think they’re trying to merge the system so that you don’t have to necessarily learn all these different operating systems.
Jonathan: The biggest backdown will be if they release a touch screen mac because they’ve been adamant. They’re not going to do that, but it just seems like such a logical progression.
Janet: I would buy one immediately if they did.
Jonathan: Really, why?
Janet: I don’t know. Sometimes it’s quicker and I just think it would be a lot of fun to use it. Again, it would make it more similar to the iPad, or iPhone.
Taroon: They might call it the Mac pad.
Janet: Yes, that’s fine.
Taroon: I like the distinction between, if I’m going to see a Mac with a touch screen, I might as well have an iPad.
Jonathan: It’s hard to understand where those product categories are distinct, increasingly it’s becoming a bit of a blur.
Taroon: The Mac traditionally was said to be the open platform, where you don’t have some of the restrictions, you can run any app that you like. I just re-installed an ARM version of Windows recently because of course being the M1 chip, it doesn’t run the Intel-based version. I need to discover there are no screen readers that work with it, but I think that’ll come.
Jonathan: We’ll talk to Desiree next. Hi Desiree.
Desiree: Hello. First comment. I hate the touch bar. Hate it. Hate it. Wish I could– [crosstalk]
Jonathan: Would you like to tell us what you really think Desiree?
Desiree: Yes. Every time I’m typing numbers, it’s just in the way. I recently got my work purchased the new Mac book. I was using an old, gosh, five-year-old Mac before, which is nice because they tend to last longer than Windows machines. If you know of a way to disable that thing, I’m all ears. The comment, I guess and question I wanted to bring up is I work in the education field. I don’t teach, but I work with assessments and different things. It’s interesting to me how little that Mac and Voiceover and things are taught to kids. At least accessible iPhones have been around for at least 10 years or I don’t know, long enough time now that I would think that they would start teaching that more, but they still revert to, I say revert but go back to teaching JAWS. Is it because it’s more universal or it’s what more of the jobs expect people to use or why do you think they don’t teach more Mac and Voiceover in schools?
Janet: It might also be because the state or the city or the county has a working relationship with, let’s say Freedom Scientific or something or somebody like that, but I understand the same exact thing that most of the kids and most people are getting JAWS and they’re getting Windows computers. I guess because either contract or because more people are using JAWS and more people are using Windows than Mac.
Jonathan: You don’t think it’s because there’s an argument among some AT instructors that it’s actually more capable. 80 odd, I think it’s nearly 90% of the world’s computers do run Windows. One of the things that really troubles me is just how poor Apple’s Braille support is particularly for input, the output is not so bad, but if you have a Braille device and you’re brailling into a document on your iPhone or the Mac, the back translation is incredibly finicky and difficult, and I seriously do worry given the attractiveness of the iPad. When I hold an iPad, I always go, “Wow. Yes, this is a sexy piece of equipment, and I just want to use it.” I don’t know why I want to use it. I just want to, because it feels so great, but if we’re giving iPads and for that matter, Mac, to kids in the school system and Apple declines to deal with their Braille problems properly for Braille input, that really does worry me. I’m all for user choice, but we’re talking about the next generation of kids and their literacy here.
Desiree: I think part of the problem too, and where I work, they use Microsoft products. That’s what we have to use Teams, and all of those work on the Mac, but it is more efficient. The keyboard shortcuts are a little reliable in different things on Windows machines, and I’d like to see that change because there’s a lot of people that I talked to, are like, “Oh, I hate Voiceover. I’ll never touch it.” They’ll never even try it, and there might be some capabilities that they lose out on by not knowing iPhones and Macs and Voiceover.
Jonathan: What’s your experience yourself, Desiree? Obviously, you’re a capable, seasoned Mac user. What’s your perception of the pros and cons of both platforms?
Desiree: Well, for me, it’s the going back and forth learning curve. Sometimes, I actually made my modifier key, the caps lock key for Voiceover because I’m so used to doing that with JAWS and I have to jump back and forth a lot. I love my iPhone and I like the seamless way that I can transfer stuff between my iPhone and my Mac. I, of course like that any time there’s an update that Voiceover gets updated. There’s a lot of functionality that I like with the Mac, but then I do go back to Windows when I need to really be on Zoom a lot or on Teams or using Excel or any of the Office products. For me, it’s important to know both, but that’s a lot of information to remember. That’s a lot of shortcut keys to memorize. They’re totally different, but I wouldn’t put Windows on my Mac machine just because I wouldn’t want to degrade from the functionality of the Mac. I think it’s important to know both myself.
Jonathan: Can you articulate what it is about Windows that causes you to go back to Windows for certain applications like Excel and Office applications?
Desiree: I just think it works better. When I’m in an Excel file, it seems to work a lot better. I am a Braille user as well, and you’re right and that it definitely feels different types, different everything, the Mac versus Windows. I guess too like everybody is using Windows at my work. If I do something on my Mac, unless I’m in Excel for Mac, I’ve got to convert it from numbers over to Excel, and I get lazy and don’t want to do that, so I just go back to my Windows machine for that.
Jonathan: That’s really interesting. One thing we haven’t talked about, but you alluded to which I’d like to explore with you both as expert Mac users is continuity because I think this is one of the really nice things about the Mac iOS combo is that you can do FaceTime calls on your Mac. You can answer, and send iMessages, and it’s all just so seamless, and that’s a very nice feature. I’ve got a Dell XPS 15 that I purchased a few months ago, and they are trying to emulate the same feature with a very hacky, Bluetooth connection to your iPhone and a special app, and you have to go through about a gazillion permissions to make it work, and then when you’ve finally done that, the accessibility experience, it’s nowhere near as good, and it’s just nowhere near as seamless as the continuity experience between the Mac and the iPhone.
Desiree: Yes. I tried installing the Windows for iPhone application or whatever, so you could type on your iPhone using your Windows computer, and some other things, and yes, you’re right. It just doesn’t work as well.
Janet: One of the reasons that I went to the Mac is because it is seamless. No matter what device I’m on, whether it’s my watch or my map or my phone, my Apple music library goes with me, documents go with me, all kinds of stuff that I obviously email, and now with having your iCloud documents folder and your iCloud desktop folder easily accessible on your map. You’ve got a tremendous amount of material automatically available to you on your iPhone.
Desiree: Yes, and iCloud for Windows is not so easy to use.
Jonathan: No, it’s just absolutely terrible. It’s terrible. Yes.
Desiree: You’re saying how you really feel?
Jonathan: I cannot believe that a company like Apple that normally at least makes an effort with accessibility has just left iCloud for Windows in the state that it’s in. It’s an abomination I tell you.
Desiree: iTunes too, that has gotten unusable almost
Jonathan: How do you both assess the Apple Music kind of general music playing experience on Mac at the moment?
Janet: We actually had to take out that whole chapter of the book because of space. Honestly, I like it better on the iPhone. I wrote that in the chapter that got cut, it’s just an easier interface on the Mac you’re jumping from thing to thing, and it’s much, much easier instead of going that way, just flicking right and left. It’s just a much, much better interface in my opinion.
Desiree: I just talked to Siri because I get sick of– Just play the song already.
Jonathan: Well, of course, that’s something I didn’t mention when I was talking about continuity. You’ve got Siri on the Mac as well as some Macs have touch ID. There’s a lot that’s familiar there.
Janet: I will say one thing about Siri on the touch bar map. The Siri button is right next to the touch ID/ on/off button. It is very easy to hit the Siri thing. That’s really annoying, and the other thing is the mute button is to the left of the Siri button. It is actually a little easy to mute your audio, those are two things I do not like about the touch bar. I actually disabled Siri on the Mac and every so often I get these things don’t you want Siri to come back and it all, this is what she can do for you. No.
Jonathan: Bring on the revolution and down with the touch bar!
Desiree: If they do get rid of it, though, those of us that have these fancy new Mac books or whatever elites, how do we– They get rid of the touch bar, but I’m still stuck with it.
Jonathan: Because they want you to buy new hardware. That’s what they want you to do.
Desiree: Well, I have to talk to my boss about that one.
Janet: If there was a way to disable the touch bar, even if it’s on your Mac, if you can disable it, that would be great but as far as I know there isn’t.
Jonathan: I do have one quick question for you Desiree before I let you go. Since you are obviously an Office aficionado. One of the things that I do a lot in my job, and we are an Office shop. We’re heavily steeped in the Microsoft ecosystem. We run Teams, we’ve got the whole 365 thing going on. One of the biggest game-changers, I overuse that term but for blind people in my opinion is the fact that I can go into a meeting room with my senior leadership team, and we can all have tablets or laptops open in, say a word document and working on text and I can see in real-time when people are updating that text, I can collaborate. It’s basically like an accessible whiteboard environment. I just tell my team, don’t use the whiteboard, bring in your device of choice and we’ll open a word document and if we need to wordsmith something, we can all do it in an accessible way. I love that. Do you know, can a Mac user play in that sandbox as well with the current state of Microsoft word?
Desiree: In the browser, maybe. When I do that kind of collaboration, I opened it in the Office, in the app, on my Windows machine. I don’t like the browser. I just don’t. You could do it in the browser on the Mac but probably I don’t believe you can in the Microsoft word app, the Office app for Mac yet that I know of.
Jonathan: Okay. If anyone knows different, let us know, because that for me is such a big accessibility positive about working in the Office environment and collaborating. I mean, you can do the same thing in Google Docs as well, but we don’t use Google Docs.
Desiree: We used to, and I’m glad we don’t anymore.
Jonathan: Yes, I was in a job that used Google Docs and it was one of the best things about leaving it.
Desiree: Anything that’s browser-dependent to me is just, it’s more difficult because I like going in the app and working through and having the ribbons and all those things accessible and not having to Shift + Tab or F6 or whatever the heck I have to do to get to all the formatting tools.
Jonathan: I think what this discussion, and hopefully you’ll both agree with me really illustrates is that I know there’s a lot of pressure on technology instructors and people making assessments and recommendations these days because we’re spoilt for choice. I mean, we’re going to be doing a big series shortly on the show about Chromebooks, which I think are often overlooked. They’ve come a heck of a long way.
Desiree: I have to use that too.
Jonathan: I’ll be interested in your thoughts on that when we get to Chromebooks. Really, I don’t think we’re at the point anymore where you can say Windows is best or Mac is best in every situation. You really need to understand what’s the use case for this individual and recommend the technology that works for this individual at the moment, and in as long a term as you can foresee.
Desiree: For sure.
Jonathan: Daniel is up next. Hi, Daniel.
Janet: Hi Daniel.
Daniel: Hey Jonathan and all. Braille– one of the things, you’ve commented already about contracted Braille, which I’m not very familiar with, but one of the things that really makes me go back to Windows whenever I try to Mac for work stuff mainly, it’s the fact the panning handling on the Mac is a little bit weird, and just to explain that what we are used to I guess all of us in Windows system when you pan through a line of text, you need to have, I don’t know maybe two or three pan movements to go to the next visual line if you want. When you go to the next visual line, just by using the pan buttons, the display just gets to the next line seamlessly. You don’t need to do anything at all. That was the case on the Mac some versions ago, I guess.
Now that seems to have stopped working. I’ve been in contact with several people, mainly in the Applevis forum and stuff, and that’s not fixed yet. As far as I’m concerned, maybe there’s something that I’m missing. That’s one of the things it’s not just contracted Braille, it’s also the for proofreading maybe made me you just typing Braille, and you think you’re putting a place on the test that where you can insert a word or maybe delete something and you can screw all the texts up if you if you’re not paying attention to where you are. That’s one bad thing related to Braille that I really hope they fix sooner than later. Now as the very good things and I think that’s not been covered yet here is what I would say, audio handling if you want.
It’s not just that the audio subsystem is much more robust on the Mac side of things. It’s also that there are applications that let you control pretty much every single bit of audio on how the order flows from one application to the other and how you can browse stuff. Maybe you could put all your voice-over and some bits of music that you want to stream to a Zoom call or something just by using applications on the Mac. That’s one of the good stuff. As you were saying, Jonathan, and I completely agree with that, it’s no longer a question of whether Windows is better or worse, but it very much depends on the use case. I would say, and I would strongly support Apple really taking Braille to the next step. They can do that, they have the resources to do that, and they have I’m sure the expertise to handle that properly and to move Braille onwards and make it even better than it is.
Janet: Have you tried Braille on Mac with Big Sur?
Daniel: I have, and I have a focus 40 blue and if you move the cursor — There’s many ways you could move through where you can use the rocker bars and you could use the panning buttons or you can use actually the built-in Braille keyboard to move by words or by line. The problem is when I use the panning buttons the ones that are to the very top edges of the display, the ones that are with marked with kind of an arrow signal there. That’s where if you keep panning through the document he insertion point just doesn’t move. You can read the document, but of course, if you are going to insert something in a particular paragraph, or just before a particular word, you have to remember that you have to click the cursor button, but not otherwise you would be resetting the word or whatever you want to put in the previous position.
Janet: I just wanted to check, because I know Apple did some work with Braille for Big Sur, but obviously a lot more needs to be done.
Jonathan: Is Apple engaging with you in a meaningful way on this, Daniel? Can you get past that first level of thank you for your feedback we’ll pass it on? Are you engaging with anybody who can make a difference?
Daniel: Not yet. I had a Mac several years ago and I sold that pretty much about the same time that you did sell your own Mac. Back in 2020, I think it was, I did buy a MacBook Pro and then I have another one of this new MacBook
M1 things. Everyone wants to have one of those. But no, I haven’t really started a serious conversation with Apple on that stuff. I just went around in fora, sorry. People tend to say, yes, this is already reported and there’s really no success with that. I do agree with Janet that Braille in general, as far as I can remember, back in the day when I sold my old MacBook Pro, it was in 2015 or something, as far as I can remember. They’ve very much improved the things they still need to go a little bit further with that.
Jonathan: I’ve got to agree with you 100%, Daniel, about the audio. The audio subsystem in macOS just blows Windows completely out of the water. There is no comparison and what also makes audio sing and dance on macOS is third party vendors like Rogue Amoeba who do some amazing tools with their audio hijack pro and loop back and various things like that. Even the ability within the operating system to create aggregate audio devices so easily and stuff like this, it’s just head and shoulders ahead of Windows and you don’t get those poxy, disgraceful realtek audio drivers either.
Daniel: Yes. That’s completely true. The other stuff that it’s been largely discussed in Mosen At Large and also in other places that in Windows Silensio and the JAWS script that keeps sending audio to the sound card, you just miss maybe first couple of milliseconds of award and this is not happening on the Mac at all. I see that happening now and then. I really can’t provide more serious feedback as to when it happens, but it’s certainly not as prominent as it is in Windows.
Jonathan: If you would like to know what it is like to be living the dream and running a MacBook with an M1 processor, then you need go no further than to talk to the highly enthusiastic Katie Frederick who will wax lyrically for hours on what it’s like to run an M1 Mac and she will do it for you now.
KatieFrederick: Hi, Jonathan. Hello, everyone. Thank you for allowing me to speak. This is actually my first time speaking in Clubhouse.
Jonathan: Nice. This is great.
Katie: Yes, it is. Hi, Janet. It’s good to connect with you again. I know you and I spoke back in the Fall when the M1 MacBooks had just been introduced and I got my hands on one. Well, my credit card said hello to Apple. I received my MacBook Air right around Christmas time. That was my Christmas/birthday gift to me. I’m actually running it now and I work for a company where we can use whatever computer we want or need to get the job done.
I’m actually throughout the last month or so, I’ve been really trying to use my Mac for virtually everything. This includes working in Teams, working in Office. We use Office 365 because we have Microsoft Exchange, so we can use 365. I’m really liking it. I do still have a Windows machine because some of the work that I do involves things like accessibility testing and looking at things and it’s just good to have multiple screen readers and browsers and things like that for testing. Overall, I’m doing, gosh, probably 90-some % of my work on my Mac. Again, that’s just a personal preference. That’s what I’m enjoying doing. That’s what works for me and my needs.
Jonathan: What’s your assessment of the Microsoft Office experience on MacOS at the moment then, Katie?
Katie: It’s really good. Microsoft has done some updates and I’m really impressed. Recently I was working in Excel and having to do some things that I could not get JAWS to do on Windows and I was able to do them on the Mac. Some filtering and things like that, that I couldn’t seem to accomplish with JAWS and NVDA on Windows. Again, that’s not to say that things are different on the Mac, for sure. I think we can all agree to that and it’s just how it is, not to compare them, but I personally, I’ve written things in Word.
I still use the Ulysses app for writing and then I transfer some things to word and that helps me with more of the formatting and visual aspects of working with documents. Of course, always having a visual, whether that’s through Aira or a colleague or something, just give it that once over is never hurtful either. I’m just really finding it a pleasant experience with the exception of– Microsoft Teams did an update recently and that has me pulling out some of my hair on the Mac side because it tries to do things like open profile cards and things like that but if I want them opened, I’ll open them myself. Thank you, Microsoft.
Things like that that are a little bit frustrating. Again, I personally find working with things like Teams easily achievable on my iPad and my iPhone, which is just an awesome experience for me. I think what I would stress is, again, that you said too, not to focus on one thing meets all solutions, because I think we live in a time where if we don’t know a range of technology or at least be familiar with it, it’s going to hurt us, especially if we’re trying to find employment.
I think people need to use whatever methods and tools work best for them. For me, again, I might choose not to use parts of Teams on my Mac or things like that, but I’ve done Zoom on the Mac, Teams on the Mac and again, using the Office products, including Outlook. Outlook on the Mac is a good experience.
Jonathan: Have you done the scenario that I was just talking to Desiree about where you might be collaborating in real time on a Word document, and everybody’s writing in that document, making amendments, that sort of thing. I’d be really curious to find out how that’s working in the Mac environment.
Katie: I have not tried that only because usually, like today we had a meeting that I was actually trying to facilitate. I wasn’t looking at the document. I have not personally tried that much. I think it can be done. I’ve seen it work in the web interface, but that has its own challenges, shall we say, or unique issues with just the way that Microsoft on the web works. It’s not exactly user friendly, shall we say, in my experience. I find it a bit frustrating, but I can not directly speak at this time to the collaboration things.
Jonathan: When you report, for example, that Teams is not as good as it was after an update. Do you feed that back to Microsoft? If you have done that, what’s the engagement like with them about really understanding what you’re saying and taking it on board and perhaps fixing it if there’s a problem there.
Katie: I have not yet, but I’m really tempted to. I think for me, I do know some people at Microsoft and I think I’m debating on how to best approach it, because I know they have the Microsoft accessibility account and things like that on Twitter and their disability answer desk, et cetera, et cetera. I guess I’m just wondering how to go about that approach so that I get to the people that need to hear the feedback.
Microsoft is a huge company so if there is a way that I can provide, I guess in my case, more Mac specific feedback, because I feel like I don’t know that that’s often heard, and so I’d love to be a part of that. If anyone from Microsoft is listening or I would welcome that opportunity. I’m looking at how can I do that and have some dialogue around this.
Jonathan: I have learned the hard way you would be amazed who listens to this show, you would be absolutely amazed. What about the iOS stuff, Katie, you running lots of iOS apps on your M1 Mac and how’s that working out for you?
Katie: Yes. That is actually really cool. I run some iOS apps, a couple of radio station things and different things that I’ve tried have worked really well. I’m enjoying that, probably not using it as much as I could or whatever, but very happy with things overall on the Mac. I love some of the– because of my work and things I have, my calendar set up to do the syncing and stuff like that. All of my calendar stuff goes from my Mac to my iPhone to my watch to everything.
All of that is nice. Just the continuity as others have mentioned is really good. The News on the Mac is good. The music app, someone mentioned earlier preferring music on their iPhone or whatever. I get that. I have tried music on the Mac and I find it to be a good experience, the new music app that recently came out. It works well for me. I too tend to generally listen to music more on my phone or something because I connect it to a speaker and I crank it up or whatever, but it does work on the Mac and it works quite well. You can view songs and go into your library and do all those things. I find the music app to be a good experience.
Jonathan: Okay, now you’re also a Braille user. Just before I let you go, tell me about your assessment of Braille on the Mac because it keeps coming up as being a bit of a problem area.
Katie: I do have a Mantis Braille display. My experience with Braille on the Mac might be a little different because I’m not using the Braille keyboard for input, I’m using the mantis keyboard. I’ve actually found Braille to be really good and I just recently connected my Mantis. The Bluetooth connectivity is improving with the Mac, which is great. It’s behaving a lot better between those two. I do think Braille is an area where things are different on the Mac, just the way how the screen looks on my Braille display is a little bit different. I don’t have a ton of complaints with Braille on the Mac.
Jonathan: Like you, I got the Mantis, and one of the big attractions for it was that it would liberate me from the contracted input foibles of Apple operating systems. It’s one of the best Braille hardware purchasing decisions I’ve made in a long time. I love the Mantis.
Katie: Yes, isn’t it great?
Jonathan: It is good. It’s a shame that one of the attractions is because of a bug in another operating system, but it’s still a good device in its own right. It’s a great device. Jason is next. Hi, Jason.
Jason: Hi there, Jonathan. It was a question for Katie, really, with the Office experience. How has she found two things, Tables and referencing because I do that a lot for work. Just her experience on that front.
Katie: Do you mean tables in word or?
Jason: Yes, in Word, sorry, I should have said.
Katie: No, you’re fine. So I have not had a lot of experience working with tables in Word, thankfully, I think.
Jason: I think sometimes I found it worked and sometimes it doesn’t work. It’s like, “Is it something I’m doing.” sometimes when I create a table, it works fine and when I try to do it from another document, it goes a bit off.
Katie: I don’t know too if you have the latest Office update.
Jason: I think that could be a key as well, which I’m not too sure.
Katie: That seems to have really fixed some things because I noticed too just in the past couple of weeks, there have been some really good improvements with office.
Jonathan: This is the thing. For me, tabular data is an absolute essential thing. I’m dealing with large tables full of financial data, and that just has to work.
Jason: That’s why I wanted to ask that question specifically because I’m dealing with financial data and stuff like, is it working there? I was clicking the word and it goes, “Maybe, I want to think about this.”
Katie: You might want to try Excel too. Like I said, that’s improved vastly for me.
Jason: I do a lot of bio references, lots of references. I do a lot of university writing. I’m referencing books and stuff, and I found that actually no. I’ve only been trying it for the last week, so maybe I’m just not quite understanding something somewhere along the line.
Katie: I don’t know if an app like Ulysses would help you where you could do your writing in that app and then export it to Word.
Jason: What’s the spelling of that app again? Sorry.
Katie: Ulysses, U-L-Y-S-S-E-S.
Jason: Okay. It’s not one I’m familiar with.
Jonathan: I have to tell you, Ulysses is the one thing that really tempts me back to the Mac sometimes. I use Ulysses on my iPhone, and I have to say, it is my favorite way to write on any platform. I write very long and quite complex things on Ulysses. The way I have my Ulysses set up now since I’m not a Mac user, is that it saves in Dropbox as markdown files. I then have a tool in Microsoft Word that basically natively imports those markdown files. I’ve got the best of both worlds, and I can write some really good, well-formatted things on my iPhone. Ulysses on the Mac is just as accessible as it is on the iPhone. It’s a wonderful writing tool.
Jason: Maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe that’s where I need to look. Thank you so much to both of you.
Jonathan: I better take this one as our last speaker because Bonnie Mosen is on stage now. Welcome, Bonnie, from the great state of upstairs.
Bonnie: Hi, everybody. Great to be here. Thank you, Janet, for all the information and all the great questions that have come in this hour. It’s been very informational. My question is, as Jonathan says, we have a MacBook Air M1 that I bought also for my Christmas present last year, and really love it. I Have been trying to spend some time with it, getting to know it, getting to use it, that sort of thing. What advice would you have, because I think that as someone was talking about earlier, JAWS and NVDA are the most common operating systems because most of the world does use Windows computers.
The office environment, most employers have Windows computers, so JAWS is just easier. Switching over to the Mac or at least being comfortable with the Mac, is it just a question of going cold-turkey with the Windows machine and using the Mac for several weeks to get to know it or what is your best advice for someone actually just learning it and being comfortable?
Janet: My best advice is don’t try to do everything in a day, do a little bit at a time. When I converted over, I had my Windows machine there for a couple of weeks just in case there was something I really needed to do. Little by little, I went over. If you want to just go for Windows, you can do that. There are and Jonathan has done them, David Woodbridge has done them, Applevis has. For somebody that’s new to the Mac, besides My Book, there are some wonderful podcasts out there for doing the Mac.
My suggestion is to look at those, learn one little thing a day. Learn your Mac keyboard, learn the keyboard commands. One of the things that you can do is I believe it’s VO+K. What that’ll do is that will put you into keyboard help. What it’ll do is it’ll tell you, you press a bunch of keys or whatever you press it, it will tell you the name of that command. Just practice with it, get to learn a few things at a time. Think back to when you learned Windows. How did you learn Windows?
You’re going to kind of do the same thing. Just do it very slowly. There is onboard help right there on the computer. Again, there’s podcasts, there’s articles, there’s all kinds of great stuff, do it slowly. That’s my advice.
Jonathan: Bonnie, you attended a course that you were quite positive about. Do you want to tell us about that?
Bonnie: Yes. It was a really good course that was done through the tech juggernaut, if anyone’s heard of that. That’s Matt, oh, gosh, his last name is escaping me right now, and Cliff Miller, part of that. It was really, really good. It was about four weeks, it was back in January. They are pretty much all Mac, very, very Mac-centric, which is great. A lot of good stuff came from there.
Jonathan: Well, we’ve got a wrap. Now, Janet, it’s really important for us to talk about how people can obtain this book, which is what this is all about. Hopefully, people are curious about the Mac. Of course, one of the things that’s challenging is, it’s not even as simple as borrowing a friend’s Mac for a couple of days to see what it’s like, because you really, as a screen reader user, I think the learning curve for anyone getting into new operating system is steeper because you’ve got this layer on top of what everybody else has.
You got to give something a fair chance, but at least buying the book is a way to understand the user interface and get a feel for how you might use a Mac. What’s the price and where can people get the book from?
Janet: The price depends on how you get it. If you’re just doing a Microsoft Word download, it’s $12 US for the book. The price has changed because you can get it on a USB drive. There’s a whole bunch of options. The book is from National Braille Press, which is www.nbp.org. Jonathan, I actually have the link if you’re doing show notes.
Jonathan: Of course. Yes, that would be great. We can include that on the show notes for the podcast version. The full title of the book?
Janet: Mac Basics, Big Sur update or something like that.
Jonathan: If you search on Mac basics on the NBP site, it’ll come up.
Janet: Yes. I will give you that information. I’ll give you the exact title too. We were just running it as Mac basics when we were doing the editing.
Jonathan: Super. I’m so grateful for you giving us some of your time. What I’m also grateful for is the tone of this discussion, because so often when you have discussions about people’s different technology preferences, it almost turns into a great religious war. That’s so unhelpful because there are pros and cons of every operating system and it’s nice to be able to have a mature discussion about what might work for some people, what might work for other people, genuinely being objective about the pros and cons and I feel like we’ve been able to do that. I’m grateful to everybody for being on the stage and doing that. We look forward to reading further articles from you, Janet, about the Mac and other things in the future.
Janet: Yes, I have one actually now in AccessWorld that just came out, which is about Apple Music.
Jonathan: Right and that’s going through some very exciting changes with the introduction of spatial audio and lossless and hi-res. Marvelous.
Janet: I didn’t cover on that. Basically, what AccessWorld was doing is a series on streaming services and on music services. We’ve been doing a whole series on them, how to operate them, what to do, what are the pitfalls, which have the best accessibility. I want to echo what Jonathan said that you guys were awesome, that you asked great questions and nobody was bashing anybody else. I’m very impressed. You have great listeners.
Jonathan: Wonderful. We hope to have you back some time and continue these discussions. I really believe information is power and it’s a big decision what screen reader will you use and what computer you buy. Makes a big difference to us all.
Jonathan: To contribute to Mosen At Large, you can email jonathan, that’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com by writing something down or attaching an audio file, Or you can call our listener line, it’s a US number 86460-Mosen, that’s 864-606-6736.
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