Podcast Transcript: Mosen At Large episode 158, new Realtek driver causes problems for some Dell owners, presenters describing themselves at meetings, and more on Chromebooks
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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. And this is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. This week, a warning for users of Dell laptops, and my new laptop is being built. Plenty more reaction on visual description at meetings, and there’s more Chromebook demonstration and discussion.
Chorus: Mosen At Large Podcast.
Jonathan Mosen: Welcome into another episode. Fantastic to have your company. Thank you very much for downloading this week’s episode. Wow, I want to burst into song, and I may well do that shortly, but at the moment I’m thinking, oh, what a beautiful morning. The birds are singing. Mosen Towers borders onto a beautiful reserve, and so we have lots of New Zealand native bird and native bush nearby. Because I’m recording this intro at about five in the morning on a Saturday, the bird song is absolutely amazing. So if you hear some of it leaking through, that is why, and it is so certainly making me feel summery and Christmasy. I’m going to be taking a break, finishing on the 17th of December. So the last Mosen At Large for the year will be released on the 19th of December, New Zealand time, and I’m taking a nice long break, as is my habit, and as the habit of many New Zealanders. We’ll come back at the end of January. So there’ll be a nice long hiatus for Mosen At Large, while I rest and recharge.
And my son, David, is getting married to a lovely young woman named Joanna, so we have that to look forward to over the summer period as well. If you’ve been following my work, you will know that one of the subjects that I feel passionate about is the damage that ableist language can do. It leaks into our unemployment statistics. It leaks into perceptions of disabled people. It has very serious consequences, and it’s something I’ve spoken out against for decades now. And it’s wonderful when you feel like people are catching up. In this week’s Top Tech Tidbits newsletter, there was a very interesting article on Buzzfeed that they pointed to all about ableist language. And in case you are not subscribed to Top Tech Tidbits, I will put a link to that Buzzfeed article in the show notes.
I know that we have listeners. There’s not universal agreement, of course. There never is about anything, except that Super’s terrible. No, there’s not even universal agreement about that. I don’t understand that. Anyway, I know there’s not universal agreement, but there are a lot of people who appreciate the damage that this language does. And this Buzzfeed article is superb. I highly encourage you to read it, particularly if you’re still on the fence about the subject of the harm that ableist language does. But now,
Chorus: The Dell. The Dell. The Dell. The Dell.
Jonathan Mosen: The Blind Man and the Dell.
Chorus: The Dell. The Dell.
Jonathan Mosen: The Blind Man and the Dell.
Chorus: The Dell. Ahh, [crosstalk 00:02:56]
Jonathan Mosen: Hi, ho, the Mosen Oh the blind man and the Dell. Welcome to another exciting installment of The Blind Man and the Dell. And here’s Heidi Taylor, coming to you from the other side of town direct via Cleanfeed.
Heidi Taylor: Hello.
Jonathan Mosen: How’s it going?
Heidi Taylor: All right. How’s everything with you?
Jonathan Mosen: All right, except that we have quite a saga to tell. Previously, on The Blind Man and the Dell, we had found out that the Dell was taking forever to load. And when we were trying to troubleshoot this, your response was to say to me, “Your display looks weird, Dad.” And so, we realized that the display had broken. And I think the moral of the story we’re about to relate is never assume cause and effect, right?
Heidi Taylor: You’re right.
Jonathan Mosen: Because I had assumed that when we got the display fixed, all our problems would be over, just like that Have yourself a merry little Christmas song. From now on our troubles will be out of sight. So I got the call from Chris, who is the man from Dell. Thank you, Chris! Chris, the Dell man, called me up on Monday morning, and he said, “I am going to come to Mosen Towers and give you a new display.” And I said, “Wow!”
Speaker 1: Dude!
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah, that is a really good idea. Yeah. So he said a time, and I said to you, “Would you like to come over and sort of supervise this thing?” Partly because I had meetings, and I didn’t know how long it would take, but partly because it’s always good to just have somebody lurking over these things.
Heidi Taylor: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jonathan Mosen: So you came over, and we met Chris the Dell man, and he was a very nice Dell man. Wasn’t he?
Heidi Taylor: Yes. He wasn’t officially from Dell. He was just from a company that services Dell products.
Jonathan Mosen: But he was in his capacity as Chris the Dell man at that time, because,
Heidi Taylor: I guess that’s fair. I just don’t know if he’d want to be separated from the company that is Dell. [crosstalk 00:04:45]
Jonathan Mosen: Yes, he would. He called me up, and he said, “Hello, Jonathan, it’s Chris from Dell speaking.”
Heidi Taylor: Oh, okay. Cool.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. So I’m sticking to my identification of him as Chris the Dell man.
Heidi Taylor: Okay.
Jonathan Mosen: Anyway, he came over, and it seemed to be quite the mission to change the display.
Heidi Taylor: It actually seemed like it went pretty well. [crosstalk 00:05:04]
Jonathan Mosen: It took ages.
Heidi Taylor: It just takes a bit of time.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah.
Heidi Taylor: Well, he had to disassemble your laptop.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes.
Heidi Taylor: And pull off the whole screen and lid unit. And so you got a whole new screen lid camera unit.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. So we did this, and with much anticipation, we ran the diagnostics. And the diagnostics came back clear. They have quite a big set of diagnostics in these Dell laptops that you can run. So we couldn’t run the diagnostics before because we couldn’t see what they said.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: Because the display was broken. So they all checked out, and then he handed it over to me in triumph, did Chris the Dell man. And he said, “Turn it on and give it a shot.” So we switched it on, and we waited. And we waited, and wait- and still, it was taking, what did we see on the timer?
Heidi Taylor: It was about two minutes and 20 seconds, [crosstalk 00:05:59] on average.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. Basically, two and a half minutes basically to reboot the computer.
Jonathan Mosen: And we were just really disappointed, because we thought that it was all going to be fixed. And, to his credit, he did hang around a bit longer. We tried a couple of things. Because we turned on this mode when we first got the Dell called “headless mode”, which makes me think of something out of Harry Potter. Nearly-Headless Jonathan mode, or something.
Heidi Taylor: (laughing)
Jonathan Mosen: And that mode is supposed to just carry on regardless, keep calm and carry on, if there’s an error. Because I think we did encounter a situation where it was getting stuck before it booted. It was waiting for a response, and I couldn’t see that it was.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: So we turned this headless mode on to avoid that. So we turned headless mode off, and setup was taking a long time. And basically they got to the point where they said, “Sorry, we’re not going to do any more unless you reset the machine to factory defaults, to the way it came when you got it.” And I understand this. If all the hardware diagnostics are running fine, it’s really what you have to do. So we reset it. I was skeptical, but sure enough, the moment we did, it was booting up like a champ, within like 20 seconds or something.
Heidi Taylor: 13 seconds, in most cases.
Jonathan Mosen: 13?
Heidi Taylor: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. So it’s a big gap to go from 13 seconds of boot up to nearly two and a half minutes of boot up. So, having confirmed that it all worked, and we set the Windows account up and everything, I then did have to go to a long string of meetings. And so I said to Heidi, “Heidi,” I said, “would you mind updating to the latest build of Windows 10, all the updates that are pending, the hardware updates, all that sort of thing, and install a couple of things. And that would be much appreciated.”
Heidi Taylor: Yep.
Jonathan Mosen: But little did I know the saga that was about to unfold. Take it away, Heidi.
Heidi Taylor: So I set about doing the Windows updates, and Windows updates can be funny sometimes, where you’ll install one and it will decide, cool, that’s good. And then it will give you the next one. And so, during this process, I’d got through a couple of iterations, and then suddenly it’s taking a really long time to boot again.
Heidi Taylor: And I’d been checking what was installing each time. That install had been 11 different drivers, a combination of drivers and firmware.
Jonathan Mosen: You must have had a really sinking feeling when it did it.
Heidi Taylor: Oh, my stomach dropped. I was like, “Oh no.” Because at that moment, I realized we probably didn’t have to reset the computer if it had just come back. We could have, like, but how would we have known in advance what was causing it?
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah.
Heidi Taylor: So I’m going through the list, and I’m getting quite flustered and overwhelmed. And I’m like, “I’ll call Henry, because he’s very good with technology, as well. And he knows this sort of stuff.” And I called, [crosstalk 00:09:06]
Jonathan Mosen: This is Heidi’s husband, for those who are not in-depth with the minutiae of the Mosen family. Yes.
Heidi Taylor: Yes. And he did some Googling, while I was doing some Googling. And one of the drivers that had been installed was a Realtek driver.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah.
Heidi Taylor: And he found this forum post about someone who had a Dell XPS laptop who’s had installed a Realtek driver update, and it had suddenly given him incredibly long boot times. He’d found the solution was to replace the driver with the Microsoft generic audio drivers.
Jonathan Mosen: We should have known. We should have known that, if anything was to blame, its Realtek. I’m sorry, but I cannot even articulate how annoyed I get by Realtek. If there’s one thing that would drive me to Mac, it’s Realtek, because they are just hideous. So you installed the Microsoft driver.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah. Well, first, we tried to see if we could just use an older version of the Realtek driver, but it wasn’t very happy. It would just automatically update every old version we installed to the latest version. So we did end up putting on the Microsoft driver instead.
Jonathan Mosen: When I Googled this, after you discovered it, I found that there are quite a wide range of Dell laptops affected by this. So if there are listeners to Mosen At Large who haven’t run Windows updates where they go all the way down to the driver level or the Dell support assist app, then this could be coming to a Dell computer near you imminently. The reason why it affects blind people so much is that, by default, Windows has a fast start option enabled. And when you leave it enabled, you’re not affected by this when you power the computer on. You’re only affected by it when you restart the computer. But when you turn the fast start off, you will get this every time you start. And that’s what, at least Vispero used to recommend, they have said that fast start interferes with JAWS. And I haven’t heard anything to the contrary. So I always turned fast start off. So this is why it’s a particularly big deal for blind people.
There are two side effects of the installation of the Microsoft driver, one positive and one not. The positive one is that your speech does not cut off so quickly when you aren’t using JAWS, or, for that matter, any screen reader. You don’t need to turn that speech cutoff protection feature on in JAWS that gets around this or run Silenzio to send silence to the sound card. So that’s a positive side effect. The second one is not. And that is that if you’ve got a Dell system that really has very good speakers, like the Dell XPS 15, which sounds every bit as good as the MacBook Pros used to sound. I’m sure the MacBook Pros that have just come out sound even better. You have the speakers on the Dell sounding like a transistor radio. It’s hideous. There’s just absolutely no base at all. And it’s pretty disappointing. So that’s the negative side effect.
So I, later in the week, ran the Dell support assist. And, sure enough, it installed the old RealTek driver again!
Jonathan Mosen: It hasn’t been updated. So I actually sent a very gently worded but firm email to Dell. And I said to them, “This has been reported by multiple users. There are multiple posts in the Dell community and other places about this issue, about the Realtek driver, which came out late in October. Did it not occur to anybody that, when I called with a Dell XPS 15 that was booting slowly, that I might be suffering from this? Where’s the communication breakdown that meant that first level techs weren’t told about this issue so they could pass it on?”
And I said, “I really want an explanation for that. And I also want to know when it’s fixed. When is there a driver update for this?” And they sent a very terse email back saying, “Oh, we’ll have to look into this.” So, in the meantime, I thought to myself, we are getting to the point now where we’ll probably be doing a bit more traveling. I have always missed the lack of cellular support in this laptop. I did have cellular on my previous one. I went through a phase of about 10 years in the early part of the century where I ran ThinkPads. And I loved my ThinkPads. I had very good luck with them. If I ever had an issue, including somebody on a Southwest flight spilling Dr. Pepper all over one, they replaced it really easily. I had a warranty where I just sent it off, I think it was into Georgia or something, because I was living in the United States. And they sent me a brand new laptop.
A couple of weeks after they replaced it, I went into the Koru Lounge, the frequent flyer lounge at Air New Zealand. And they handed me a beer, which the Koru Lounge attendant then proceeded to spill all over that laptop.
Heidi Taylor: Oh, no.
Jonathan Mosen: Enough of that. I really enjoyed my ThinkPads. And for some reason, I was shopping with The Laptop Company, which is a company that I really like. Their service was good. And they didn’t sell ThinkPads. They got me into the Toshiba computers, which were very small and cute and all that sort of stuff. So I got out of the habit of having ThinkPads. But I always really enjoyed them. And so, I just thought, this is sort of the last straw, really. I make a lot of use of my laptop. At the moment, I’m very fortunate that I can afford it. Why don’t I just build the computer of my dreams? Why don’t I just do that? And then, if I get the warranties where they’ll come to your house next day and lock it in for, say, three years, and get a laptop of my dreams, then I go, I think, going to stick with that laptop. I had a really careful thought about, okay. Is this the time to make the jump back to the Mac? What are you thinking about the new Macs, by the way?
Heidi Taylor: I think they look really cool, and I’m very impressed by all the M1, And what are they calling the new ones? M1X?
Jonathan Mosen: M1X and M1 Max, I think, isn’t it, or something? [crosstalk 00:15:26] M1 Pro.
Heidi Taylor: I can’t remember exactly.
Jonathan Mosen: I kind of get confused with all their brands. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:15:29] Because you bailed out when your Mac did a great big sort of explosion.
Heidi Taylor: Oh, yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: You didn’t want a replacement Mac because of the butterfly keyboard, right?
Heidi Taylor: Yeah. The keyboard they had at the time when my Mac bit the dust, the keyboard was so bad.
Jonathan Mosen: Another Mac bites the dust.
Heidi Taylor: And if it wasn’t for the keyboard, I probably would’ve got another Mac, because I really loved my Mac, but I just, I could not stand the keyboards.
Jonathan Mosen: And that touch bar was pretty silly, too. Wasn’t it?
Heidi Taylor: It was. Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: But now you’d be happy to go back to Macland with the new ones.
Heidi Taylor: I think so. I mean, at the time, I was studying, and I really needed a portable device. But these days I don’t have as much of a need. So I’m not sure if I even would, if my current laptop decided to die.
Jonathan Mosen: So you might not get another laptop at all. Because you’ve got your mobile device. You’ve got the iPhone, which is powerful.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah. And then I’ve got a, [crosstalk 00:16:32]
Jonathan Mosen: That may be all you need is a consumption device.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah. Because I’ve got my phone, and then I’ve got a desktop computer that Henry built me.
Jonathan Mosen: Yep.
Heidi Taylor: So that’s what I use most of the time.
Jonathan Mosen: So I have huge admiration, better turn that off, admiration for the MacBooks. I think Apple’s done a phenomenal job. They’ve turned the industry on its head yet again. And we’ve got an M1 Mac that Bonnie and I use jointly, just to kind of play with.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: And I thought, shall I get a MacBook Pro and be done with it? And I was seriously tempted, but there were two reasons why I haven’t done this. The first is no cellular. I don’t understand why Apple is making a laptop for professionals that doesn’t have a cellular option. They do it with the iPad. Why wouldn’t they do it on the Mac? Just seems extraordinary to me.
Heidi Taylor: It is a bit bizarre.
Jonathan Mosen: It is! And the other thing is, I just don’t think I can have a laptop where I cannot run Windows accessibly. And of course with the Intel Macs, you could do that. Whether it be through Fusion or Boot Camp, you could run Windows. And the reason for that is just my particular use case. So I’m certainly not suggesting that every person or every blind person or whatever needs to be able to run Windows. But I do. Specifically, I’ve got the station playlist suite to think about. Sometimes I will use my laptop to record my radio show using the voice tracking technology. I can’t do that on the Mac. And I also might be able to make remote desktop work. I know there is a Mac version of remote desktop, and I think some blind people are using that, but that wouldn’t help me with the voice tracking. It would help me with the maintenance part, but not the voice tracking.
I also far prefer word processing on Windows in Word. So, in the end, I was really tempted. I thought about it seriously. But I’ve gone to the Lenovo website. And of course this is where I also involved Heidi, because we like to geek out on the tech shopping. We do a lot of window shopping. We look at tech that nobody buys just because it’s fun.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: But I decided, look, if I sell this Dell now, and get something I really want, that ticks as many boxes as possible, I’ve only had it for a little under a year, and so the resale value will be quite high. So if I buy a really decent laptop now, and sell this Dell, the Dell will significantly subsidize it. This is the business case that I put to the CEO of Mosen Towers, AKA Bonnie. And she seems to have gone with it. So should we talk about the new Lenovo ThinkPad, the computer of my dreams? I’m super excited to be getting back to ThinkPads. It’s been a little over a decade, maybe 12 years actually, specifically 12 years since I owned a ThinkPad, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to them because I had nothing but good experiences with ThinkPads.
Heidi Taylor: Do you want me to talk about what you got?
Jonathan Mosen: Can you remember all the details?
Heidi Taylor: I can remember most of the details.
Jonathan Mosen: Okay. Off you go!
Heidi Taylor: Okay. You got a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
Jonathan Mosen: Ninth generation. From 2021.
Heidi Taylor: Yep. That one. With an Intel i7 11th gen core. And,
Jonathan Mosen: It’s the big one, that boosts up to 4.8 gigahertz.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah. And 32 gigabytes of RAM.
Jonathan Mosen: Wow. I mean that definitely deserves a,
Speaker 1: Dude!
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah.
Heidi Taylor: And a one terabyte hard drive with the new PCIe 4.0 connection, which means it’s twice as fast as PCIe 3.0.
Jonathan Mosen: You can actually now get a two terabyte option, and I was really tempted, but that was just putting the price into the stratosphere. It’s bad enough as it is. But, yeah, the two terabytes was just making it really, really, really expensive. So I had to stop at some point.
Heidi Taylor: And you got the fun touch screen.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah.
Heidi Taylor: Though I’m not entirely sure on that one. Why do you need a touch screen?
Jonathan Mosen: Because you know what I’m like with technology, right?
Heidi Taylor: Yes.
Jonathan Mosen: I like to keep up to date and all that sort of stuff. I think this laptop, because it ticked so many boxes, I’ll stick with for a long time. But just in case I don’t, I thought that the touch screen would actually increase its resale value.
Heidi Taylor: That makes sense.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. Also, it’ll be good for you, you know, when you’re helping out with stuff.
Heidi Taylor: I guess so.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. It’s the Heidi component.
Heidi Taylor: The Heidi component. So I don’t have to just keep turning the track pad on and off.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah, yeah. Yes. I can leave the track pad thingy turned off. That’s true. Yes.
Heidi Taylor: And, to top off the whole package, you got the 5G!
Jonathan Mosen: The five Gs! Yes. Yes. That is so cool. And I talked to my carrier yesterday. And I said, “I’ve just got this laptop that they’re building.” And they actually do have to build this. This is a custom build, because it’s not one you can just pick up off the shelf. So it’s going to take a few weeks. But I called my carrier, and I’m quite good to my carrier, actually. Because we’ve got quite an elaborate set of SIMs throughout the family. And I said to them, “I got this really cool laptop with the five Gs.” And they said, “Oh congratulations, Jonathan.” I said, “Yes. So what are you going to do for me?” So they are going to send me a SIM that gives me unlimited data.
Heidi Taylor: Ooh.
Jonathan Mosen: In the thing. So what that means is that, once it’s in there, I can turn the ThinkPad on, and get 5G data. No hotspotting that drains the battery of the phone. You just switch it on. And as long as you’re in cellular coverage, you’ve got internet access. It’s as simple as that. And I’ve really missed that about this current laptop. One of the things I do like about the ThinkPad line is the ports. Should we talk about the ports that this has? Because this is another slight niggle for me about the XPS 15: no USB-A at all.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah. So this has the fun little headphone microphone combo port.
Jonathan Mosen: Yep.
Heidi Taylor: And two USB-C ports, which I think were Thunderbolt 4.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes, I think so. Yep.
Heidi Taylor: Yep. And then, is it two USB-A ports?
Jonathan Mosen: Yep. Two USB-A ports.
Heidi Taylor: An HDMI port, just in case.
Jonathan Mosen: Yep.
Heidi Taylor: And I think it also has a micro SD card slot. Does it?
Jonathan Mosen: It does not, unfortunately.
Heidi Taylor: Oh, was that one of the other ones we looked at?
Jonathan Mosen: There’s no SD slot. And so that’s something I am giving up that I’m a bit sad about, because with the SD slot in the XPS 15, it’s been super easy for me to take the card out of my Zoom products, the F6 and the PodTrak P4, and just pop them into the XPS 15 and copy the files. I mean, it’s no big deal to have a little SD card reader, I suppose. But what I like about this is that I’m going to have to worry about far fewer dongles with those USB-A ports. I do, in my job, have to do a lot of PowerPoint, just go and give presentations. So having the HDMI port is going to be super handy. And the battery life, I’ve read a lot of reviews, because I kept saying to myself, “Do I really want to do this?”
You know, and I’m normally quite decisive, but I thought long and hard about this. But when I read the reviews, they were all just so positive. And apparently the battery life on the ninth generation X1 Carbon is phenomenal. People are regularly clocking up 15 hours of battery life.
Heidi Taylor: Ooh.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. So it sounds like it’s going to be a great purchase, and I’m looking forward to eventually getting it when they build my laptop for me. So it’s been an interesting [inaudible 00:24:30] isn’t it? This is one of the big pluses of working with Apple, by the way. This whole experience I’ve had with this XPS 15, which I’m still using, of course, for now, and I’m still waiting for two and a half minutes every time I boot the laptop, is because Apple controls the whole user experience, you would not have an issue like this with Apple’s stuff, where somebody’s third party driver does this. And it can’t be rogue generally. That’s the interesting thing. There’s something about Dell computers and this RealTek driver, which I presume is quite generic. You could choose Windows 10 Pro or Windows 11 Pro for the ThinkPad. And I have actually chosen Windows 10 Pro. I just think Windows 11 is still a bit rough around the edges, and I see no particular advantage in being an early adopter. So I’ve gone with that. And the other thing people have commented on is that, apart from a couple of Lenovo utilities that are important, it’s Windows 10 that is bloatware free. So I really appreciate that. So, looking forward to when it turns up.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah. It’ll be very exciting.
Jonathan Mosen: We’ll have to do a little review or something.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah. And then we’ll have to install all the programs.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes. Installing a new computer is always a hassle, especially when you have as many third party apps and custom settings as I do. But the nice thing is that, these days, in this era of cloud storage, it’s actually really easy to get your documents and stuff back. And because I’m really careful about having the same username on all my computers. So I’m J Mosen everywhere.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: So the folders are the same. And the benefits of that are that you can go. So, for example, if I install REAPER and a number of other apps like it, I can just then go into the app data folder and copy those folders over from my desktop to my laptop, or from my old laptop to my new laptop, and I get all my settings back. And that saves a lot of time.
Heidi Taylor: Very smart.
Jonathan Mosen: And I want to thank you for the incredible initiative. You must have been very chuffed to work out what the culprit was when you found that rogue driver.
Heidi Taylor: Yeah. It was a relief to actually figure out what the cause was.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. Oh, the Sherlock Holmes of computing.
Heidi Taylor: Well, thank you.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes. Yes. All right. We’ll keep people posted on The Blind Man and the Dell, or we’ll have to think of a catchy name for the Lenovo thing.
Heidi Taylor: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jonathan Mosen: All right, then. Thank you very much.
Heidi Taylor: All right. You’re welcome.
Chorus: Mosen At Large podcast.
Jonathan Mosen: Let’s talk Scribe for Personal Documents, which is officially launched last week after our demo. And, yes, I’m annoyed with myself. A couple of times at the beginning there, I called it Scribe for Meetings, which is a completely separate and great product as well. I tell you, you can’t get the staff these days. John Gasman writes in, and says, “Hi, Jonathan. I just finished listening to the Scribe demo. It is very impressive. Occasionally at work, I get an email with an image embedded in it and no text. So JAWS has a difficult time reading it, even with OCR. I wonder if Scribe can do anything with it, assuming you can get the image uploaded to the page. The last time this happened at work, I sent it to Eric Damery, and this situation is now being looked at by Vispero. So we’ll see what happens.”
Now, this is a very interesting question, John. I’m sure that if you could save the email in its entirety and upload it to Scribe, it will work its magic. But when I was doing a lot of flying around the place, I used a service called TripIt. I still have TripIt, but obviously I don’t use it as much as I used to. With TripIt, you can forward itineraries, confirmations, anything that you get from a travel-related service, be it hotel confirmations, booking reservations for buses and trains and planes, and TripIt builds an itinerary. It’s all very accessible in the app. It’s a really good service. And if you are interested in it, check out tripit.com. Tripit is all one word. They have a free service, but they also have something called TripIt Pro. And if you’re a frequent traveler, it is definitely worth getting TripIt Pro for all the bonuses.
Anyway, lest this seems like a complete non sequitur, where I’m going with this is, wouldn’t it be cool if you had a Scribe account and you were able to forward this kind of email to a unique email address that belonged to you, and Scribe would then work its magic on the document that you emailed, perhaps as an attachment, or maybe in the body of the email, and then just send it back to you. Maybe that is something that Numa Solutions will consider.
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Terry: Hi, Jonathan. This is Terry from Phoenix, Arizona. Wow. What a exciting thing that you happened on here about description of people in photos and meetings and so on. Back in 19, I’m sorry, 2014, I started working with our university web team at Arizona State University. And one of the drums I beat long and loud was that photos of students, faculty, and staff that were put up on the web to show diversity or to demonstrate a broad diversity of people should be described, including ethnicity. And I got a lot of pushback from that and never was real successful in pushing that. Still today, they don’t put that kind of information on a photo caption and I still fervently believe they should. Because the reason they show these photos to demonstrate is to put the university in a positive light of welcoming people from various backgrounds. Well, let’s not explain it or put it in words for people who are blind or visually impaired because it just makes it too. I honestly, I don’t even remember the kind of arguments I got, most of the arguments I received was silence.
Jonathan Mosen: Good to hear from you, Terry hope you’re doing okay. And I agree with you. What they’re actually doing is depriving blind people of information that other people have. And I don’t think there’s any justification for that. Tristan Claire is writing in and she says, hi Jonathan, just wanting to weigh in on the issue of providing visual descriptions at meetings. It’s not something I’ve personally come across, but I have contributed to a few conversations about it on social media. So I’d like to put in my 2 cents worth here. I feel like visual description is something that sighted people think I should want because they can’t imagine going to a meeting and not knowing what people look like.
This is a fair point that I personally wouldn’t want the first 40 minutes of a meeting taken up with visual descriptions, just on my account. It would make me feel singled out and embarrassed and it would put the focus squarely on my disability when I just want to blend in and participate in the meeting. I can usually do so without knowing that Phil has frizzy hair and glasses and Anita is wearing a sparkly headband. I would also feel really bad if people were made to describe themselves when they don’t feel comfortable doing so. Some people have body image issues, or maybe they’re going through medical treatment and don’t think they look so great right now.
If they are being forced to describe themselves on my account, then I’d hate to be the cause of discomfort just for an accommodation that I don’t personally care about. Secondly, if 40 people are required to provide 40 different physical descriptions of themselves, then I am obligated to listen and possibly to respond with gratitude. After all, they all went to the trouble of describing themselves for my benefit. So it would be rude of me to tune out. It’s also data in data out in many cases. I’m probably not going to remember, so you are the guy with the beard, unless you have a very distinctive voice. Finally, there’s a difference between the way sighted people take in visual information and the way we do when it’s described to us, it’s a bit like hearing bird song or someone’s washing machine in the background. It’s information that you take in then store at the back of your mind because it’s not important.
But if someone was to draw your attention to that noise, then your focus is taken away from the actual purpose of the meeting. While you talk about the bird song or the noisy washing machine. So yes, you’re getting the information that sighted people are about what everyone looks like and what they’re wearing, but it’s been prioritized for you in a way that it isn’t for sighted people because they would take in that information, but not do a lot with it. So my thoughts on whether to provide visual description of these, do it for a space, that’s going to have a large population of disabled participants. If it’s going to be a busy conference, perhaps ask people to provide a short description in the chat function, if they’re online or make it a part of your bio if you’re in a physical conference.
This has the added advantage of the participants being able to access the information at other times, in an informal setting at a physical conference. But if you are doing it just for me, please, don’t, absolutely I’d like to know what gender pronoun you prefer to use. And if you think it’s relevance that you’re a person of color, or a guide dog user, then please feel free to incorporate it into your content. But I’m not interested in 40 minutes of people rambling on about what they’re wearing and how they’ve styled their hair today. I’d rather just get on with what I’m here to do. Thanks so much, Tristan. Every accommodation that I have fought for in my now lengthening life has been met with the thin end of the wedge argument. And it sounds like this is what you are trotting out here. I haven’t heard anybody suggesting that you’re going to get 40 minutes of description.
The debate has been about whether a presenter at a conference should describe themselves at the beginning of the presentation. So you’ve taken a suggestion that would take all of 10 to 15 seconds and somehow turned it into 40 minutes. I suppose it does come down to how curious we are about the world around us and the people in it. I find people fascinating and I like to learn about them and what’s current and some people don’t, they’re just there to get the business done, and that’s fine.
I do take the point about being the only blind person attending a conference or a meeting where the presenter is describing themselves and you experience what I like to call accommodation shyness. I definitely relate to this because I’ve had this issue with my hearing impairment. Sometimes I have struggled on in larger meetings, even when I had a piece of technology that would help me here in that environment better, say a roger pen or a similar piece of technology that you can just hand to speakers and say, please make sure you’re talking into this when you are talking, because then I can hear you and I’ve got better at it now. Largely because I’m the chief executive and people generally want me to hear them, but also because I’m in a place that feels safe and comfortable to disclose.
And actually I was at a meeting a few months ago where I felt this discomfort. It was a big meeting and a big meeting room and there was a huge heating fan on and it was July. So the heart of winter and it was really noisy. And if I tried to turn my hearing aids up, what I got was more of that really loud fan, just cutting into everything. And in the end I just got out this technology and I said, I’m really going to have to use this. And one of my staff actually turned this into an advantage and really took that accommodation cringe away for me because he said, this is the talking stick, and unless you have the talking stick, you can’t talk. And actually people appreciated that because it meant that they knew they weren’t going to get interrupted. They had time to gather their thoughts while their raised their hand and waited for the assistive hearing device to turn up.
So I think we’ve got to overcome those accommodation cringes and accept that we are just as entitled to participate in society as everybody else. We’re just entitled to access information and proceed accordingly. But if you are in a meeting and you are the only blind person in the meeting, you might be able to say, look, I know some blind people prefer visual description. I’m not one of them. You can skip that. Please, I’m just not interested in the information, but be aware that some blind people would like it and I’ve think that could be a way around it as well. I, for one would be very grateful if I’m the only person in the meeting and a presenter got up and just took 10 to 15 seconds to do a visual description of themselves at the very beginning of their talk. That’s all we are talking about.
John Mcdeo says, regarding the use of visual description. I think that it’s a good idea if it’s implemented effectively. In the interest of efficiency, this information should be provided in text format that can be read with a screen reader or an audio format as an audio video file to which people can view slash listen at the user’s convenience. In general, everyone’s time is valuable. So it should be used wisely. In my opinion, this approach should be able to save time during meetings and provide people with vision loss, with the convenience of reviewing the visual descriptions of people at their own convenience and discretion. We in the vision loss community, and I’ll just pause and say, I don’t count myself in that category because I’ve been blind since birth. So I have not lost vision. I’ve never had it I’m blind. And as I’ve said before proudly, so anyway, I go on, we in the vision loss community don’t have to agree on everything, but we should be open minded enough to discuss these topics and come up with potential ways in which to cater to as many people’s needs as possible.
Thanks in advance for listening. And I look forward to hearing from you, great to hear from you, John. And I hope you’ll write in again, and thank you very much for your contribution. I suppose that the one downside I see of the providing of a file in advance is that when you hear somebody talk at the time, you associate their voice with the visual description if they describe themselves, but if they were to produce the audio or the video, then you are hearing someone’s voice at that point, aren’t you? So that would take care of that problem, I suppose. The one other downside I see of this is that, if somebody does it just briefly say for 10 to 15 seconds at the beginning of their talk, then it reminds others to do it. It becomes the standard practice, the pattern at the beginning of meetings.
If you segregate it, put it somewhere separate, then people don’t get the exposure to the descriptions and it may not become a pattern. Okay. And having said that there was one downside, I’m now onto my third, but this is important to me. I do like to know what people are wearing. I think that that is interesting. And it actually gives me some context to understand perhaps what a usual form of dress is in a given situation. So if I’m a blind person and I turn up to Google wearing a suit and tie, I’m probably going to really stand out. And if I got visual descriptions of people, I would soon work that out. If you get people to submit their descriptions in advance, they would have to either work out what they’re going to wear on the day, possibly weeks ahead. If the description is to be submitted with the conference agenda, or just not mention what they’re wearing.
And I think that that’s a really interesting part of all of this, is learning how people are dressed. Aaron Linson writes, I would like visual descriptions before meetings, but would feel it would take away from the meeting. However, I believe that getting to know people is more important. I’ve got a question on a professional level, have a person who I’m working with that is giving me the feeling that I’m pulling teeth to get information that I need. I support this person in a TA capacity.
And this person’s success depends on the information that I receive. How do you go about developing this relationship that is beneficial to the both of us? Thanks for any help you can provide. Aaron, I can understand why the question’s a bit vague because you don’t want to identify anybody specifically. But I think based on what you’ve said, I would simply say to the person, I really want to help you. I’m keen for this relationship to be successful. I’m keen for you to be successful, but I’m not able to assist in the way that I want unless you’re able to give me this information, let’s work together.
Let’s make this relationship happen. So I hope that’s of some help. I wish you the best of luck with that. Kelly Pierce sends us greetings from Chicago. There’s something that few blind people know about the visual descriptions at the Microsoft conference. A man with a Mohawk hairstyle did not say he was sporting a Mohawk, a visually arresting hairstyle usually not allowed for workers at banks and courts. This shows that forms of appearance not widely accepted or not accepted by the ruling class would likely not be described in a public setting. The demand for people to describe themselves, forces people who look different to describe their nonconformity and perhaps explain the reasons for it.
It is not just hairstyles, it could include unnatural hair color, piercings, dreadlocks, face and neck tattoos. Some of these may be of cultural or religious significance. It seems a little off forcing Orthodox Jews to describe their unshaven and untrimmed long beards. Arab men describing their beards in the image of Muhammad, Muslim women talking about their hijabs, the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand describing their face tattoos. These are deeply personal practices and identities. A few years ago, I visited a guitar store to buy good speakers for audio editing, the man at the store who helped me was patient respectful and demonstrated multiple speakers in a listening room before I picked classic Yamaha speakers to buy. My driver told me on the way home with the speakers that the man at the guitar store had more than 10 piercings, many quite large on his nose, eyebrows and ears.
I never expected the man at the store to tell me about them and I did not need or want to know. Similarly, I am a power lifter. Most men in the sport lift heavy and eat a lot of food. From the eating and lifting, many men are large in size compared to most people. When lifters compete at meetings, we are weighed. And what we weigh is a matter of public record as is how much we lifted. Most people though are uncomfortable saying they are 290 pounds. Do the advocates of visual description, expect someone to disclose their weight and waist size. Visual descriptions can be highly judgmental and create static in a relationship between a person and a blind individual. Those demanding people describe themselves may not fully appreciate the implications of their request. Thanks Kelly. I think in all the examples that you cite, I would respond by saying that all that blind people who are advocating for this are asking for is access to the same information that a sighted person has.
In your power lifting example, a sighted person doesn’t know exactly how much somebody weighs. So there’s no need at all for the sighted person to disclose that information to a blind person. Every sighted person in the room can see a beard or interesting facial markings. And if it causes some people concern, then presumably they would cover that up or change their style. They are presumably proud of who they are or they wouldn’t go out in a public environment looking that way. It is really interesting that you mention presumably the Moko is what you’re talking about, which is a Maori tattoo. That’s actually quite prestigious and naturally coming from New Zealand I have a bit of experience of this. And I can tell you that it’s something that people are very proud of. And in fact, I was at one meeting where somebody had been away and got one of these tattoos and it was celebrated and it was described because it was a source of pride.
If someone can clearly see by someone’s dress what religion they are, then they’re not hiding it, are they? So why hide it from a blind person? What is it about us that means that we should be deprived of that information when everybody else in the room has it. I do agree with you completely that sometimes visual appearances can cause distortions and can cause discrimination. When someone sees someone with a tattoo, sometimes people think worse of that person and that’s really unfortunate, but should we somehow be shielded and protected? To me, that’s the same sort of logic as those people who say, you can’t possibly have books in the talking book library that have violence or sexually explicit content, because you might corrupt the poor blind people. In the end, we need to have access to the same information as everybody else.
Abby Taylor: Hello. This is Abby Taylor in Sheridan, Wyoming. I am going to be blunt. I don’t care what people look like. I think that in many cultures too much emphasis is put on people’s looks, which contributes to eating disorders and other problems caused by self consciousness, over the way we look. So I feel that describing oneself, especially in a business meeting is unnecessary and will only add to any self consciousness people may have about their looks. Now, if you are in a chat where you’re just talking about whatever and somebody wants to describe themselves fine, but any other setting, this sort of thing is just not relevant or appropriate. Now, as to your screen, that looks weird, dad. Mr. Mosen you have a lovely daughter. Well actually it’s Mrs. Brown, you have a lovely daughter, but since you are not Mrs. Brown, Jonathan, I expect that really wouldn’t work.
But anyway, seriously, most of my windows computers have been Dell computers and I haven’t had any trouble with the computers themselves. I’ve had difficulty with the screen reader, I’ve had difficulty with internet and other things, but never the actual screen or anything like what you’re having Jonathan, which is a good thing because I’ve heard that customer service and technical support at Dell is less than adequate. So naturally I was surprised when you said that a representative from Dell would come to your home. Well, of course, since that hasn’t happened, at least since the last video you recorded that podcast, I am starting to wonder about that. So please do keep us posted. And the reason I was surprised about the representative coming to your home is that I thought they were based here in the US, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they were in New Zealand or maybe they have a field office in New Zealand.
So I’m curious to see how somebody could come all the way to your home, unless that person is planning to travel from the US to New Zealand, which would be highly unlikely and impractical. Well, I don’t know impractical, but definitely, maybe not as feasible, but hopefully I hope you get that straightened out. I know that’s got to be a pain in the anatomy. At least you have a desktop, thank goodness for that. So anyway, good luck with that. Please keep us posted and everybody stay safe and well, thank you for a great podcast. We’ll talk again another time.
Jonathan Mosen: Well, they certainly couldn’t come from the US at the moment, Abby, because you can’t get into New Zealand. So that’s right. Dell is a multinational company, like all of these big laptop manufacturers, they were founded by Michael Dell in the United States, but they now have offices all over the world, including a significant presence in Australia. And as we talked about earlier in this episode, they do contract with a lot of people to do this kind of work. Thanks for your feedback also about the visual description. I guess my only comment would be, I really respect the fact that it doesn’t interest you, what someone looks like, but the reality is everybody else in the room can tell. And why should a blind person who is interested be deprived of that information? You are absolutely correct. It is very disappointing and very sad that so many people put too much stock on people’s weight and physical appearance, but that’s a different thing I think from just saying, I am a Caucasian male and today I’m wearing whatever it is that they’re wearing.
What you illustrate, and I think to some extent, what Kelly illustrates too in his thoughtful contribution is that there do need to be some clear boundaries and guidelines set around this. So, I’m interested personally in knowing, for example, that somebody has a beard and how they’re dressed, but I don’t think I need to know that they are significantly overweight or anything like that. So I think it is a work and progress. And we have to talk as a community about this and get the balance right. But I think those who say that we just shouldn’t have any description at all, the genie’s out of the bottle now we’re not going back there and nor should we. Regarding the visual description rights Dean Charlton, if I were in the situation being on the zoom all the time it’s a no brainer, I would want to know what people are wearing and what they look like.
I mean, the sighted have that luxury of seeing us. So it’s only fair that we are on the same playing field. When I meet someone new in any setting, such as cafes or retail stores or someone randomly saying hi to me on the street, I instantly form an image in my mind as to what they look like. Someone’s voice plays a big part in this for me also. Janet Ingber is writing in and she says, I completely agree with you about visual description. In fact, when I did the Access World interview with you, I asked you to describe yourself. Here’s the text, personal information it reads Mosen, 48. Oh, I’m a bit older now lives in Wellington. He is 173 centimeters, 5.35 feet tall. He remarked the surprises some people because they think I sound taller. He used to have ginger hair, but it is now a brownish color.
He has always been totally blind with no light perception. Thank you, Janet. I had completely forgotten that when you interviewed me, you asked me that question and when you did, I thought, I have never been asked this before in any interview that I have done for any blindness publication. And it did take me by surprise. But then when I thought about it, I thought, why the heck not? If there was a photo of me in this publication, a sighted person could see me. They might not be able to derive my height from that photo, but they would get the other information. So why should a blind person be deprived of it? So yes. Thank you for the reminder, Janet and good on you for asking me that question. I think it’s a really cool thing to ask in an interview, in a blindness publication.
Petra writes, this is another interesting subject. I disagree with you about asking people to describe themselves. I think it would make some, if not most people uncomfortable, embarrassed, and self conscious. Many people are already a little uncomfortable being around a blind person, the more comfortable they feel, the more likely they are to interact with a blind person in the future. In my opinion, what someone is wearing or their skin color has nothing to do with the kind of person they are or how valuable their ideas are. Many people are judged wrongly by their appearance. Isn’t justice supposed to be blind? People should be judged by their inner character, not their outward appearance. Yes, sighted people can see each other, but maybe blind people are better judges of character. I had a supervisor who always described himself as looking just like the sexiest actor in Hollywood. See, this is interesting because all of these comments that are coming through from people who don’t see value in this seem to want to impose their lack of interest on everybody else.
I find that quite concerning really. And I wish it were the case that somehow our lack of sight made us saintly in some way, but it doesn’t really. Does it? We are just as susceptible to racial prejudice by other means, be it people’s accents or whatever as anybody else. Racism is about hating difference, not being able to tolerate difference. And we as blind people will find ways even if it isn’t a visual way of classifying difference. That’s what racism is, that’s what sexism is. Anyway, here’s Imke, he says, hello, Jonathan, thank you for continuing to provide so much useful information and discussion in your podcast. I know there must be a lot of work and I’m grateful for the service you are providing. Thank you so much. Below are comments and questions on of a variety of topics. One, description of what people look like.
I find this to be a very thought provoking topic. For one thing, I am wondering if Microsoft introduced the practice solely for the benefit of the blind or also for the benefit of audio only participants of all kinds, such as those joining by phone. That’s a really interesting question. And it’s another example of the fact that when accessibility accommodations are introduced, many people benefit beyond the initial target audience. The email continues, from that perspective I could see value in this is for speakers or small groups participating in audio only meetings as well. If the information is of value, then presumably that is the case in all situations. Second, aside from the practical value of knowing someone’s gender and race for communication purposes, I am wondering what information slash value sighted participants derive from seeing someone’s clothes and hair color versus hearing a factual description of type of color or clothing and hair and do blind participants derive the same information from those facts.
You could ask that a particular session not be recorded. I don’t know if that is still the case or whether the policy has changed since I looked. I’m not a big Be My Eyes user, so I haven’t looked at that policy for a wee while. But because you are dealing with a massive number of volunteers, I can absolutely understand why it would be important in that scenario to have a recording of the conversation, just in case a volunteer exploited a situation in some way. And if somebody lodges a complaint, you’ve got to have an accurate record of what went on.
Three, Braille keyboard shortcuts in NVDA. Quite a while ago, I sent a contribution regarding the ability to operate windows from the Braille keyboard in NVDA. Subsequently, I found out that these commands can be customized from the NVDA menu under preferences, input gestures. There, you can also assign a keyboard combination to pressing and holding the control alt, shift and windows, keys, and separate commands for pressing and releasing those same keys. That then opens a wide range of commands that do not require the use of the qwerty keyboard. There you go. Thanks so muchImke, appreciate the email.
In our next installment in this occasional series, looking at the Chromebook in conjunction with the ChromeVox screen reader, today, we are going to focus on Braille, of course with an uppercase B. I’ve deliberately left a gap between showing you some of the accessibility features that I think are very impressive, and coming back to Braille, because sadly, like Android, I think Braille is Google’s weakest accessibility link at least for blind people. There is Braille support in Chrome OS, and it is true to say that Braille support has become substantially better in recent years, but there is a chasm between the quality of Braille support available in Chrome OS and any other non-Google operating system, be that mobile or desktop.
What’s really cool about the Braille support is that if you plug in a USB Braille display and ChromeVox isn’t running, when Chrome OS detects that a Braille display is connected, the screen reader starts. That is a lovely touch and I’m not aware of another operating system that does that. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no way to configure things like reversing the panning buttons, which is the first thing that I do on any operating system when I connect my Braille display, is make sure that the left hand thumb key pans to the right and the right hand thumb key pans to the left. I wasn’t able to find a way to do that.
I have my Chromebook now on my homepage, which is the mushroomfm.com homepage, and I have the Focus 40 Blue from Freedom Scientific here. I’m going to plug a cable from the USB-C port of the Focus 40 Blue to a USB-A port in my Chromebook. I’ve just made that connection. Now what’s come up right now on my Braille display is, “No screen.” And when I first saw this, I thought, “Oh man, I wonder what the matter is.” If I tab around here.
ChromeVox: Skip to main content. Link.
Jonathan Mosen: I’m still seeing, “No screen.”
ChromeVox: Press search plus space to activate.
Jonathan Mosen: … On the Braille display. So I’m going to press control-alt-Z to turn ChromeVox off. And now I press control-alt-Z to turn ChromeVox back on again.
ChromeVox: Skip to main content. Link.
Jonathan Mosen: And yeah, the Braille display has come alive and I am now able to read on the Braille display what is on. In fact specifically, it says A-L-R-T, which is the short code for alert in ChromeVox, Braille display connected. I note that Braille has an uppercase B on this message, which is fantastic. I’m going to tap a thumb key.
ChromeVox: “Mushroom FM, the Home of the Fun Guys, with Four Decades of Magic Mush-”
Jonathan Mosen: There are ways that you can emulate certain keys and I’ll talk about that in a minute, but I’m going to press DOTS 1-2-3 CHORD
ChromeVox: Skip to main content. Link.
Jonathan Mosen: And that has taken me to the top of the page. And if I press DOTS 4-5-6 CHORD.
ChromeVox: Copyright. Copyright. Mushroom FM 2021.
Jonathan Mosen: We’re at the bottom of the page. So it’s great that Chrome OS is following those conventions. I’ll go back to the top of the page.
ChromeVox: Skip to main content. Link.
Jonathan Mosen: I’m going to press dot four cord now.
ChromeVox: Home, visited internal link, Mushroom FM, visited internal link.
Jonathan Mosen: DOT 4 CHORD is navigating me forward by object. DOT 1 CHORD will navigate me backwards by object. If I press DOT 5 CHORD.
ChromeVox: FM home of B.
Jonathan Mosen: You can hear what that’s doing. That is navigating by word and DOT 2 CHORD will navigate me backwards by word. Similarly, DOT 6 CHORD and 3 CHORD will move me forward and backward by character respectively. Unless you have sticky mode on, ChromeVox doesn’t really have the concept of a virtual cursor mode, which is kind of nice when you are entering a lot of data into form fields. Because of that, you might normally expect in other operating systems just to press letter H for a heading or B for a button. When you’re on the webpage, you chord those commands in Chrome OS. So if I press H CHORD.
ChromeVox: Recent blog posts. Heading two.
Jonathan Mosen: I’ve jumped to the next heading and that’s recent blog posts on the mushroomfm.com website. If I press E CHORD.
ChromeVox: No next editable text field.
Jonathan Mosen: There’s no edit field on the page and it says, “No next editable text field.” So a lot of those commands that we’ve already covered, the navigation keys, do work on your Braille display, you just have to use a space bar in conjunction with them, in the same way that you use the search key in conjunction with them on a QWERTY keyboard. So there is consistency there. And when you get to somewhere where you want to type, you simply start typing. And here’s where it starts to fall down a little bit. I can press G CHORD on the display.
ChromeVox: Switched to 8-dot Braille
Jonathan Mosen: And G CHORD again.
ChromeVox: Switch to 6 DOT Braille.
Jonathan Mosen: What this toggle does depends on the tables that you have chosen in the options. We saw those before. So you go into the search key with O and then O again, and then you navigate to Braille and you can choose from a very large number of six dot Braille tables. There are well over 106 dot Braille tables in a wide variety of languages, including various English derivatives. So you’ve got English UK, English US and English UEB, all on contracted and uncontracted. I have my six dots rail table set to English Unified Contracted. We have been using UEB in New Zealand for quite some time now. So I’m seeing that on the Braille display, as I navigate English Unified Contracted Braille. However, when I try to enter text into an edit field, I am not able to input in contracted Braille. I don’t think this is something I’m missing, but I’m happy to be corrected if that is the case, but I haven’t found a way to enter contracted Braille using the Braille keyboard and in 2021, that is incredibly unfortunate and a shortcoming that needs to be addressed.
If you want to action an item, for example, activate a link, then you can press a cursor rooting key above, say, where the hyperlink is. And it will activate that link. When a Braille display is connected and if you’ve set the accessibility setting accordingly, you can see the Braille commands in the ChromeVox menu. But one of the easy ways I found to just learn what the Braille commands do is to go ahead and put yourself into the ChromeVox learn mode and press the keys. So I’m back on my QWERTY keyboard and I’ll press search with O and then the letter K.
ChromeVox: ChromeVox learn mode, press a QWERTY key, refreshable Braille key or touch gesture to learn its function, press control with W or escape to exit. ChromeVox learn mode heading 2 press a QWERTY key, control, stop control. Stop speech.
Jonathan Mosen: If I press a cursor routing key here.
ChromeVox: Click the item under routing key eight.
Jonathan Mosen: Right? I happen to press the eighth cursor rooting key. So that’s incredibly descriptive. I’ll press one of the little rocker bars to the left of the Braille display nav rockers I believe they’re called.
ChromeVox: Braille next line. Braille previous line.
Jonathan Mosen: So that’s what it does. If I push one of the buttons above it, they are not assigned in ChromeVox. Similarly, if I press a thumb key.
ChromeVox: Pan backward.
Jonathan Mosen: But if I go to the right and press one of the rocker bars, the first one on the display.
ChromeVox: Standard underscore key. Standard underscore key.
Jonathan Mosen: So not clear what that does, if I press the other rocker bar though.
ChromeVox: Braille next line. Braille previous line.
Jonathan Mosen: And I can also press single letter keys. So let’s say B CHORD.
ChromeVox: Next button.
Jonathan Mosen: A lot of these are the same as the keyboard commands, which is brilliant for consistency. The one thing they have had to change of course, is L CHORD. Because DOT 1-2-3 CHORD is a standard convention dating all the way back to the versa Braille for taking you to the top of a file or a document. So they’ve adhered to that convention and that’s absolutely right that they’ve done that. It does mean though that there’s another command for link. It’s not l, it’s not mnemonic. You press DOT 4-5 CHORD.
ChromeVox: Next link.
Jonathan Mosen: You can definitely consume content very well with this. I’ve sat and read material from newspaper websites and other things like that on the Braille display and it seems to work quite well. Not withstanding that my preference is to remap the keys so that the thumb keys are reversed.
So it’s okay for consumption. If you would like to brail and contracted Braille, I don’t believe there is a way to do that. Very similar to JAWS, you do have a way of entering control or alt or shift or combinations of those keys. You can commit those keystrokes to memory if you want to use them. And that should allow you to keep your hands on the Braille display most of the time, if you are willing to commit those commands to memory. Over its evolution, Braille on iOS has become a bit more reliable and considerably more configurable, but there’s no doubt that contracted Braille, while it is supported on iOS, is still really quirky. And this is one of the reasons why I purchased a Mantis from APH, the American Printing House for the blind in the United States. I have mentioned the Mantis several times on Mosen At Large, and we’ve recorded an episode where I reviewed the Mantis.
It’s a Braille device with a QWERTY keyboard. It had a range of note taking and book reading functions. When I started looking at Chromebooks, at the beginning of this year, the Mantis wasn’t supported. And that’s when I got into using the Focus 40 Blue Braille display, which has a traditional Perkins style Braille entry keyboard with the Chromebook, but Chrome OS is updated regularly throughout the year. You will know if you’re a Google Chrome user on any device, that Chrome is updated regularly. Chrome OS is updated on a similar cadence. And with it, you do sometimes get significant ChromeVox updates. And joy of joys, as part of one of those ChromeVox updates, we got support for human interface device Braille displays. This is a new protocol, and it’s designed to make it easy for screen reader manufacturers to implement Braille display support. As I understand it, at the moment, there is one significant limitation to the HID Braille display support.
And that is that it does not work with Bluetooth. If you pair an APH Mantis display via Bluetooth, it will act as a QWERTY keyboard that way. And it in fact always has, but you won’t get Braille. If you want to use your Mantis as a Braille display, then you’re going to have to connect it via the USB cable. As I’ve mentioned throughout these reviews, I’ve got a lot of ports to choose from USB-A and USB-C. And I’ve got a cable here that goes from a USB-A connector at one end, to USB-C at the other. I’ll take this cable and plug in the USB-A end to one of the USB-A ports on the left hand side of the Chromebook. And I’m now going to set the Chromebook aside because I definitely won’t be needing the Chromebook itself anymore.
So I will place it on the floor, on the left here in the studio. And now I have the APH Mantis, and I’m going first to power that on. I’m going to terminal mode, of course the Mantis is not a speech device, so you’re not hearing anything, but I’m in terminal mode. And now I can choose connected devices on my Mantis. The first option I have is USB connection, and I’m going to press enter on the Mantis to select that. And now the Mantis says Braille display, so we are in the right place. I’m going to take this cable that I plugged into the Chromebook and connect it to the USB-C port of the Mantis.
ChromeVox: Braille display connected dot.
Jonathan Mosen: We get the prompt that the Braille display is connected. And I can read that in contracted Braille on my Mantis. The first thing that you need to know about using the Mantis with ChromeVox is that if you press the caps lock key, which is the search key, typically on ChromeVox.
ChromeVox: Caps lock off. Caps lock off.
Jonathan Mosen: You’ll find that it’s performing its standard caps lock function. And this had me flummox for a little while because I didn’t check any documentation. So I did watch a YouTube video that APH put together, on using a Chromebook with a Mantis. And I found that they’ve done something eminently sensible. Why use the caps lock key when you’ve got a spare key? The Mantis has a key on the left hand side of the keyboard. That acts as an option key when you are paired with iOS or a Windows key when you are paired with a Windows machine. And so that has been used as the search key on ChromeVox. So you’re going to have to get used to holding down what you might think of as the Windows key or the option key to get your ChromeVox functions. For example, if I hold down the windows key and press right arrow.
ChromeVox: Mushroom hash, announce email list, join us.
Jonathan Mosen: I’m moving through because what I’m doing now is pressing ChromeVox with right arrow. In the same way that we got familiar with what the keys do on the Focus 40 Blue, we can do this when we use the Mantis in keyboard learn mode. So I’m going to press the search key with O and then K.
ChromeVox: Chrome box learn mode. Press a QWERTY key, refreshable Braille key or touch gesture to learn its function. Press control with W, space with Z, swipe left with two fingers, or escape to exit. ChromeVox learn mode. Heading2 . Press a QWERTY key, [crosstalk 01:13:52].
Jonathan Mosen: All right, now I’m going to press one of the thumb keys to find out what they do. So we’ll start with the left most key
ChromeVox: Pan backward.
Jonathan Mosen: That is pan backwards and press the next one, which is the bigger thumb key for those familiar with the Mantis.
ChromeVox: Braille previous line.
Jonathan Mosen: We’ll move past the little round button, which is of course, the home button for the Mantis, and we’ll press the bigger right hand thumb key.
ChromeVox: Braille next line.
Jonathan Mosen: So there’s some logic, and that means that the next one is obviously going to be…
ChromeVox: Pan forward.
Jonathan Mosen: Now, can we shift with any of these?
ChromeVox: Shift, pan backward.
Jonathan Mosen: No, we can’t.
ChromeVox: Shift. Braille previous line.
Jonathan Mosen: So those are the functions that we have. And again, to the best of my knowledge, you cannot remap these keys. I would dearly love to be able to reverse these keys, but I’ll press the escape key now.
ChromeVox: Join us. Link
Jonathan Mosen: And we are back onto the Mushroom FM homepage. With the mantis connected, I really feel like I’ve got something usable here, because I have got contracted Braille and I’ve got QWERTY keyboard entry. So you can understand why the combination of a Chromebook and a Mantis in the classroom could be a very attractive solution indeed, in education, I’m going to press Alt + shift + L to get to the launcher.
ChromeVox: Launcher. Button. Shelf. Tool bar, window. Press search plus space to activate.
Jonathan Mosen: I will do that. So I’ll press the windows key with the space bar.
ChromeVox: Search your device, apps, settings in web. Use the arrow keys to navigate your apps. Edit text. Launcher, partial view, window. Group.
Jonathan Mosen: Now this is going to go on and be very verbose. So I’ve tapped the control key, and I’m going to type the word “docs”
ChromeVox: Unselected. Displaying six results for docs. List box. Group. Docs, installed app. List item. One of six. List box with six items. Group. Press search plus space to activate.
Jonathan Mosen: In fact, I’m going to press enter to launch Google docs.
ChromeVox: Web content. Web content. Main. Previous 30 days last opened by me. List box. Press search plus space to activate.
Jonathan Mosen: I’m now on a list of my Google docs, and I don’t use Google docs very often in fact, but I’ve got a couple of documents in here.
ChromeVox: First Chromebook test, Google docs owned by me last opened by me the 23rd of October, 2021. More actions. Popup button. List item one of two. Previous 30 days last opened by me list box with two items.
Jonathan Mosen: I’m going to press enter to open this document. It’s just a scratch pad type document that I’ve created to have a play.
ChromeVox: For first Chromebook test. First Chromebook test – document content. Text area. Application end.
Jonathan Mosen: Now I can read this on the Braille display. I can read hello, and that is in computer Braille because the word is highlighted and there is a little blinking cursor over the letter H and then I can read, “this is my first document timed on my new…”
Jonathan Mosen: Now you see that’s muscle memory kicking in there. You heard ChromeVox say the word explore. And the reason why it did is because I pressed the left hand thumb key, because that’s what I always have assigned to scrolling to the next line. And I can’t do that on the Chromebook, to the best of my knowledge, and it gets me every time. So I’ll press the right hand thumb key.
ChromeVox: Document content. Hello.
Jonathan Mosen: And I’m back in the document content, and I’ve got that first line. I will press the right hand thumb key, and we’ve scrolled over, typed on my new Google Chromebook. I am quite impressed that you can run an Android app on this device, which expands its capability considerably. So I’m just reading away here and scrolling on the display and it’s scrolling really fluently. As I write this, it says, it is early in the morning of Waitangi Day, that’s the 6th of February when I started playing with this Chromebook, happy times. I am now dictating using voice typing, which we will come back to, and I am seeing how accurate it is. So I’m just writing nonsense in here, really, as I’ve been playing with this. I’m going to press control + A, to select it all.
Jonathan Mosen: And delete.
Jonathan Mosen: Now I’ve got a blank document and I can start typing. So I write good morning,
ChromeVox: Capped G. Application end.
Jonathan Mosen: Good morning I’ve written. What’s interesting is that there doesn’t appear to be any command in ChromeVox to read the current line. You could up arrow, I guess, then down arrow again, but they don’t seem to be current commands, like read current line, read current word and things that you would expect on any screen reader, but I’ve written good morning. I am typing this message on my APH Mantis, while I record a section of my Chromebook review that focuses on Braille, with an upper case B, I’m going to press control + home. “Good morning. I am typing this message on my APH Mantis while I record a section of my…” so it is reading that back and I can scroll through on the Braille display. So that does appear to be working quite well and as I scroll through, it’s keeping up. What I don’t yet know though, because I haven’t got a document that’s long enough to verify this is what happens when a document spans multiple pages, but the Braille support is good enough, particularly with QWERTY input.
That you could get some work done. I’m just not embedded in the Google ecosystem enough to give thisa thorough test. For example, I don’t collaborate with people on Google docs. That’s something that I do in Microsoft office. I’m going to go to the bottom of the file.
ChromeVox: Chromebook review that focuses.
Jonathan Mosen: And if I then control + shift + S now.
ChromeVox: Voice typing turned on.
Jonathan Mosen: Voice typing is now turned on and I am dictating into my document. As I speak, I am able to read what I am saying on my Braille display. I’m not sure why it is saying deleted in the way that it is. This is being typed into my document.
ChromeVox: Voice typing turned off.
Jonathan Mosen: I’ve now turned voice typing off. So you can do that by pressing control + shift + S in some of the official Google office applications. As I was dictating that I was able to read what was coming up in the Braille display and the way I’ve got this set up in my studio, at the moment, I have the Chromebook, actually some distance from me because I don’t need to touch it anymore.
Since I’ve got the QWERTY keyboard on the Mantis and the dictation, even at that distance, was quite reasonable. The Google dictation offering has always been impressive. What I have found when using dictation though, is that sometimes Focus with Braille can get very messed up, once you’ve exited dictation. If that happens, what seems to sort it out is pressing a cursor rooting key, just so that the Braille display is sure about where Focus should be. In Google docs and similar applications, you’ve got a menu bar, and although this is all web based, it really does feel like an application. So if I press alt + shift + F for Foxtrot.
ChromeVox: File. Menu item with sub menu, one of nine, expanded.
Jonathan Mosen: We’ve got what looks like a standard menu bar. So I’ve got file. And if I right arrow.
ChromeVox: Edit menu view, menu item, insert, menu item, format, menu item, tools, menu item.
Jonathan Mosen: There are quite a few things here, but I’m going to down arrow through the tools menu, because there are a couple of things that you should check, if you are starting to use Google docs for the first time.
ChromeVox: Spelling and grammar, right pointer, menu item with sub menu of word count W control plus shift plus C. Menu item of.
Jonathan Mosen: If you’re going to use Google docs regularly, then you will want to commit a lot of these keyboard commands to memory, and just like Microsoft office, there are a lot of commands in Google docs and the other Google applications.
ChromeVox: Review suggested edits U, control plus alt plus O, control plus alt plus U. New compare documents M. Menu citations K. Explore R, control plus alt plus shift plus I. Linked objects L. Dictionary D, control plus shift plus Y. Translate document T. Voice typing V, control plus shift plus S. Script editor E. Make preferences P. Accessibility setting C. Menu item of accessibility setting C. Menu item of.
Jonathan Mosen: It is being quite repetitive. This seems to be something new in the latest version of ChromeVox that we have. But anyway, this is the accessible settings option, and it is something that you’ll want to check and make sure that it’s configured to your tastes. I’ll press enter to activate that.
ChromeVox: Accessibility settings, dialogue. Accessibility settings, dialogue.
Jonathan Mosen: And no more feedback so I’ll press tab.
ChromeVox: Turn on screen reader support. Tick box, ticked. Required for Braille support and collaborator announcements. Learn more about screen reader support. List item, list with two items, press search plus space to toggle.
Jonathan Mosen: So if I press tab.
ChromeVox: Learn more about screen reader support, link. Press search plus space to activate.
Jonathan Mosen: I’m going to press enter on that link and just see what we hear.
ChromeVox: Untitled, tab. Accessibility for docs, editors, dash.
Jonathan Mosen: I’m going to press the ChromeVox key with H and see if we can get to a heading on this page.
ChromeVox: Accessibility for docs editors, heading one.
Jonathan Mosen: That sounds like where we need to be. So I will now perform a continuous read by pressing the ChromeVox key with R.
ChromeVox: Accessibility for docs editors, heading one, Region Maine. The Google docs editors are designed to work with screen readers, Braille devices, screen magnification and more.
Jonathan Mosen: All right, can you hear what’s happened here? Somehow along the way, we’ve got a bit too much punctuation being spoken. We can fix that, of course, we’ll press the ChromeVox key with A and then P
ChromeVox: No punctuation. I think that’s a bit too little, so we’ll do it again.
Jonathan Mosen: And we’re on some punctuation now. So let’s continue reading
ChromeVox: Computer tab list, Android tab, two of three iPhone and iPad tab, three of three. Tab list end. Use a screen reader heading 2, if you already use screen reader software in your computer, such as ChromeVox, NVDA, JAWS or voiceover. Follow these steps to get started with the doc’s editors. Step one, turn on doc’s screen reader support. Heading three. The first time that you use the doc’s editors with a screen reader, you need to turn on doc’s screen reader support. One, list item, list with three items, go to Google docs, link and open a document. Two, list item in the tools menu, select.
Jonathan Mosen: I will pause that because this is telling us to do exactly what I have just verified, but there’s excellent documentation for Google docs here, and the whole office suite from Google, for all platforms, I’m going to press control with W
ChromeVox: List item, accessibility settings, dialogue.
Jonathan Mosen: Now we’re back in accessibility settings, and I’m going to continue to tab through.
ChromeVox: Turn on Braille support. Tick box, ticked. Works with third party Braille hardware. List item, list with two items, press search plus space to toggle.
Jonathan Mosen: Braille support is on. And even if you don’t use Braille, but you are going to use Google docs with JAWS. Although this is obviously a ChromeVox tutorial, it’s important to have Braille support on, JAWS works a lot better in Google docs when Braille support is on. I’ll press tab.
ChromeVox: Turn on collaborator announcements. Tick box, ticked. Know when people access and exit your files. List item, press search plus space to toggle.
Jonathan Mosen: When I worked for Aira, Aira was a Google docs shop. And so I did get used to working with Google docs. And this is great, you can tell when somebody else is working on your file and editing where you are editing.
ChromeVox: Turn on screen magnifier support, tick box, not ticked. Works with third party screen magnifier software. Learn more about screen magnifier support.
Jonathan Mosen: I’ll press tab.
ChromeVox: Learn more about screen magnifier support, learn more, link. Cancel, button. Okay, button.
Jonathan Mosen: Okay. So we can press okay, but just in case I’ve changed anything inadvertently I will press escape .
ChromeVox: Document content.
Jonathan Mosen: And now we’re back in our document. So it’s not my intention to go through an extensive Google docs tutorial, although that may be a very interesting subject at some point to explore in great depth, but what you’re seeing is that we’ve got reasonable access here. I’m not saying it isn’t quirky, at times it is. And as I say, there will be times when you’ll need to do things to force the Focus, but it does appear to work reasonably well. And in fact, Google docs generally works quite well with most screen readers. The important thing is to make sure that screen reader and Braille support are both enabled. You can do that by pressing Alt + shift + F to get to the menu bar and moving through to tools and then going into accessibility options. And as you do that, feel free to explore the extensive menu system, because you’ll get a real appreciation for just how powerful Google docs actually is.
So my thoughts on the Braille are that it’s not too bad for consuming content. If you have a Perkin style Braille display, what would be really nice, is contracted input, that doesn’t seem to be possible on the Focus 40 Blue. And it would also be very handy, for all Braille displays, to have a keyboard manager where you can map the keys, at least, for navigation, if there was a checkbox in accessibility settings that let you reverse those thumb keys, that would make a significant difference. Now, the next time we look at the Chromebook, we will explore finding and installing Android apps on your Chromebook, a very powerful feature with some limitations. That’s coming up in a future episode.
Speaker 4: What’s on your mind? Send an email with a recording of your voice, or just write it down. firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s J O N A T H A N, @mushroomfm.com or phone our listener line, the number in the United States is 86460 Mosen, that’s 8646066736.
Jonathan Mosen: This is an interesting email, from Lou Lasher, who introduces himself. He says, I am a cited person who is interested in accessibility issues for blind people. I am a retired software engineer. I first became acquainted with blind people nine years ago, when I started as a guide for blind cross country skiers, incidentally, this was my first experience with people using mobile devices for productive purposes. I am a member of the Boston area computer group VIBUG, an acronym that I personally find unappertising, but it stands for Visually Impaired and Blind User Group. And VIBUG is a very active and very effective organization. Yes, I’m familiar with VIBUG Lou, it goes way back in the very active and effectual, he continues. My first accessibility project was to make a tactile trail map of the ski trails, where the New England group had a yearly ski trip. In the process, I learned Braille, with a lowercase B, so that I could include trial names on the map. I don’t use Braille, but I keep in practice by trying to read it wherever I find it in public. And I have reported several instances of erroneous Braille. My second project, which was much more important was to make handmade tactile room numbers for the old dormitory where the ski group stays. My third project, somewhat taking myself out of retirement as a software engineer, was to start writing Android apps. And I published a GPS navigation app specifically for blind users called “get there”. My fourth project was to take up audio description as a hobby, that started when I went to the United States national ski event for blind cross country skiers. They gave out free DVDs of a very charming, low budget documentary that was not accessible for the many blind people attending the event. Since then, I have done amateur description of about a dozen full length films. And for the first season of the original TV series, “The Twilight Zone”. I also got a paid gig once doing audio description for live theater. A couple of years ago, I got an instant pot and wrote up a consumer guide for blind users on the product.
I got a Chromebook, a low end HP, a couple of weeks ago because of the so-called Black Friday sale price of a hundred US dollars. I was curious to see what it could do and how accessible it was, I took detailed notes on the accessibility of the initial setup process, because that is the critical usability factor for any product. Then I turned off ChromeVox, and investigated the Android Linux features of the Chromebook. I was intrigued that such a basic cheap device could be used for software development. I found, unsurprisingly, that the Android development tool, Android studio, required a much more powerful computer than my twin core seller on with four gigabytes of Ram. However, older simpler development tools for example, compilers did work within the Linux terminal T D Y consult command line. I’m happy to report that I compiled my first Cobol program ever on the Chromebook, initial startup assumed that I wanted to hear voice.
My very first impression of the Chromebook was that, when I started it up for the very first time after perhaps 15 seconds, a voice came up, and invited me to press the space bar to turn on ChromeVox. I thought this was an excellent first impression. I haven’t tried to reproduce the experience with the delightfully named power wash, because I have too much in place now on the Chromebook. ChromeVox starts talking when I open the lid as you mentioned, my Chromebook does reawaken when I open the lid. If I have ChromeVox enabled, then it will start speaking to let me know that it is awake.
During the initial setup, I had to enter my Google password of course, and as is typically the case, the password was visually disguised as a series of dots and ChromeVox echoed the password as dots. As a sighted user, I could see that the text entry field was followed by a button to show the password. Considering how well done the majority of the setup process was handled, I would’ve preferred to have had the option to have ChromeVox echo my keystrokes as I entered the password. The same issue came up when entering my wifi password. That time, I turned on show password after I entered it, but that was insufficient, because ChromeVox did not describe my password in a case sensitive fashion as is necessary for passwords.
I’ll just interrupt here and say different strokes and all that. I’m personally very nervous about the verbalization of passwords in a situation where your password is going to be broadcast to the world as it were over a speaker. So I’m quite relaxed about the way that Google have this set up, that may have been the feedback they received from blind users.
Next we have terms of service. I find it cumbersome to listen to that page. Yes, I guess it is cumbersome, but you can tab straight away to the accept button, if you really don’t want to read it. The tutorial did not explain how to handle radio buttons, while the tutorial did an amazing explaining how to navigate through a dropdown list. It didn’t help me with the radio buttons that came up in the initial setup, where I had to self-identify as, A) an adult. B) A child. Tutorial didn’t explain how to handle a check box, or maybe you call this a “tick box”. However, I correctly guessed to press the space bar to toggle the check or tick. There is possibly a quick way to get to accessibility settings. I just found this, if you go to the status section by pressing alt shift S, then you can press the tab key repeatedly to get through the quick settings available there. It usually takes nine tabs to get to accessibility, unless some of the other settings have been expanded. In which case it takes a couple of extra tabs.
The welcome to Chromebook page was difficult for me to navigate using ChromeVox, the setup process culminated at what could have been a very helpful, welcome feature, but the organization was too complicated for me to navigate. Also, I wasn’t sure how to go back to the helpful welcome feature at a later time. I just now discovered that I can get to it by searching in the launch search box for “get help”. And then the actual app is called “Explorer”. The non-web features were confusing. Several important Chromebook settings, files and Explorer appear in their own non browser window. What is it? As a sighted person, I could see that all three of these features were organized with a set of topics on the left and the details on the right, but I did not have a conceptual basis for understanding how to navigate them using ChromeVox.
That’s interesting. As a blind user, I had no difficulty whatsoever understanding how that was laid out, so we will come back to that as we move through the Chromebook review. In my testing ChromeVox basically stopped working when I ran any Linux app. This appears to be a big gap in accessibility. I haven’t heard though, if anyone else has confirmed the problem. The one thing that ChromeVox does do in a Linux app, is to read window titles, including the title on dialogue boxes, but everywhere else I navigate within the app, ChromeVox is completely silent. The one exception is the so-called terminal app, which is what I would call a TT Y console for the Linux command line. Within the terminal app, ChromeVox does echo my keystrokes, and it does read the text that comes back after each command. I reported this problem to Google, and it has been recently entered into their bug tracking system. So I will be able to follow the progress, which I hope will follow.
Another defect regarding Linux apps on Chromebook is that many of the standard Chromebook keyboard shortcuts do not work while running a Linux app. The example that seems particularly significant to me, is that there doesn’t appear to be any keyboard shortcut to close the window for a Linux app. Neither control w, nor control shift w has any effect. This problem affects the Linux terminal too. However, it is possible to exit the Linux terminal by typing control d. And Lew comments on general issues. USB ports are very handy. My low end HP Chromebook came with two of the standard type a sockets, as well as two of the newer USB C sockets, which I only use for plugging in the AC adapter to charge it. Not sure why I need two of those, but I can recharge from either the left or the right side.
The standard USB port is a nice advantage over a mobile device, and two such ports is even better than one. For example, I can plug in my other Black Friday purchase, a five terabyte external hard drive, as well as perhaps a mouse or Braille keyboard while charging the Chromebook simultaneously through the USB C socket. Android apps don’t always work perfectly. The main example I can think of, is that Android has a different concept of its file system from Chromebooks. It doesn’t help that Android made a huge switch in the concept of its own file systems, right around Android version 10. Prior to Android 10, the Android file system was more like windows. That any program could access pretty much any folder, except for a few that were reserved for system use, and therefore required Administrative privileges. More recently, Android has tried to limit apps to use only a few shared folders, as well as the app private folders that are invisible to any other app.
Also, prior to Android 10, many apps wrote their own user interface for selecting files. New apps use the standard Android file selector, which has a better chance of integrating well with the Chrome OS concept of its file system. The Linux subsystem is poorly thought out. I already previously mentioned the huge accessibility problem, but even if that gets fixed, the Linux subsystem has other problems fitting into Chromebook. The fact that Chrome OS is itself built upon Linux, does not help as much as you might think, because Chrome OS builds a completely different user experience from what is typical in Linux. For example, most Linux users are comfortable using a command line interface. And in particular, the almost deliberately cryptic heritage of Unix commands. Linux does not have its own app store. So like windows, typically users are on their own to find, and install programs. On Linux, this is typically done using the command line, although there is also a special file type, like an APK file on Android or a self installing dot EXE file on windows that can also be used.
There are two unofficial app stores for Linux that can be installed, but they are beyond Google’s control as far as selecting programs that would be appropriate for a Chromebook. Linux programs definitely expect you to be familiar with a Unix style file system, even though Chrome OS provides pass through mechanisms so that Linux programs and Chrome apps can get to each other’s files. You are made very much aware that you are patching two different things together. Linux probably has its own keyboard conventions. Although I can’t remember if they have something like alt F four on windows, to close a window. The Linux command line comes with full privileges. Because the Linux that is made available to is a contained system, I don’t think a user can screw up the rest of the Chromebook, but I think it is at least theoretically possible for a user to type in commands that will reek havoc upon the Linux subsystem.
Having said all this, I’m personally happy that the Linux subsystem gives me extra value for my $100 Black Friday special. Because I am sighted, it doesn’t impair me that ChromeVox doesn’t work at all for Linux apps. And because I’m a retired software engineer with experience working on Unix systems, I am not phased by the Linux command line, or by the Unix file system. The big question I have about the Chromebook is, who is it intended for? I understand the advantage of having something cheap and simple for high schools to give out for free to students. And I understand that there are people with simple needs and little technical expertise. I’m thinking of my mother who is sighted. I also agree with you that there are a great many blind people who could benefit tremendously from computer technology, but who don’t have a lot of money.
I hate to have to say this, but I’m thinking especially of the United States, which tends to lag the rest of the developed countries when it comes to social services. My assumption until now was that blind people with little money would do well to get a low end Android phone. I think this is what is most common in the list of developed countries. For example, my Android navigation app has gotten most of its users from Eastern Europe and Latin America. A few years ago, I mailed a very low end $30 Android phone to a friend of mine in Detroit, along with instructions for how to use it. He already had some kind of home computer, but not a mobile device. What is the advantage of a Chromebook over a low end Android phone? The only advantage that comes to my mind is that the Chromebook has a real keyboard.
But if that is the main thing, I’d get a $25 folding Bluetooth keyboard. If someone doesn’t even have a computer at home, then what are they going to do for internet access? With a mobile device, you could get a cheap prepaid cellular plan, and be careful to minimize your use of the data plan, and mobile phones nowadays probably have more storage than Chromebooks have. Well, Lou, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your analysis. Blind kids are going to school, and the school system is giving out Chromebooks. So it’s really important that they’re accessible. I think the school system would be reluctant to give out mobile devices. And this is obviously a lucrative market, because just in the last couple of weeks, Microsoft has announced its attempted entry into this space with the windows SE operating system based on windows 11.
And it is squarely targeted at that Chromebook education market. Which I think strengthens what you are saying actually, because if you can get a similarly priced computer that’s running windows with narrator on it. You are probably going to get more support from the blind community, certainly in Western countries, in terms of how to use the thing. The other thing too, is that there are people who do struggle with touchscreens, and even if you did furnish somebody with a $25 Bluetooth keyboard, which would solve the solution of efficiently getting data into the device, it doesn’t mean that they would never come into contact with a touch screen. And particularly where Android is concerned, where the majority of the devices out there are using those convoluted angular gestures, that can be quite a barrier. So I think that the keyboard is familiar. It’s easier for a lot of people, and it’s just a more friendly traditional environment.
In terms of internet access, I don’t know what options are available in the United States, but here there are internet options available. Which are very cheap, give you excellent speeds, and they are subsidized for people on low incomes. And a concluding comments, the new Linux features on Chromebook aside from the many ragged edges in its integration, raises a question about what Google thinks the purpose is of the Chromebook. They are now talking seriously about marketing the Chromebook as a tool for software development. I don’t understand this because I’m content to use my non mobile home PC for software development, which is much more powerful than a Chromebook, but costs less than a non-black Friday Chromebook. Nonetheless, Google seems ready to abandon the original concept of the Chromebook as affordable and simple.
Thanks again for your amazingly informative podcast. Well thank you for writing in Lou. It’s really good to know that there are sighted people listening to understand how blind people are using technology. Some of the things that we’re debating within our community and thinking about. So you’re very welcome and I appreciate you writing in.
Well, perhaps that music isn’t quite as catchy as the blind band and the dell, but it is the typical theme tune for the Bonny bulletin, which means in the studio once again, it’s Bonnie Mosen!
Bonnie Mosen: Hi guys.
Jonathan Mosen: How is it going today?
Bonnie Mosen: Good, cool, chilly.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes, it is a bit chilly, but it gets warm in the day.
Bonnie Mosen: It does get really warm, I don’t think I really thought about how chilly it was because when I took the dog out, it wasn’t that bad, but now I’m cold.
Jonathan Mosen: I’ve been listening to this interesting series from Mark Hyman. Who’s written some good books about paleo eating and low carb eating and things. And he’s one of these functional medicine practitioners, and he has been talking about sleeping. He’s been talking about these devices called a “chili pad”. It sounds like that old song about the little white duck, “He took a bite of the chili pad,” Anyway, and apparently these chili pads, you put them in your bed and they keep you cool, because apparently the body responds better to cooler temperatures when you need to sleep.
Bonnie Mosen: Oh, Interest… Yeah, I guess it’s hard to sleep when it’s hot.
Jonathan Mosen: There you go.
Bonnie Mosen: You can always get warm but you can’t always get cool.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes. Shall we give the eclipse update? Because there’s good news!
Bonnie Mosen: There’s very good news. Eclipse got her lab results back this week and she’s clear. So that’s a really good thing. She doesn’t need any further treatment, so she doesn’t have to have any chemo or anything like that. The vet talked to the pathologist, and they just said to, if any other lumps come up, we definitely have to remove them and check them. But the type of cancer that she had, mass cell tumor, they’re three grades of it. Three stages. Hers was the lowest, and it has less than 10% chance of recurrence. So just monitor as you would with any dog really. And she’s clear, she just got her stitches out yesterday and she’s good.
Jonathan Mosen: It’s really good news.
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah, really good news. And just one thing that I’ll say, anyone that has a pet and particularly a guide dog, and this is one thing that we’re taught in the school, is grooming and really being in touch with your dog’s body condition. The lump that I found on her leg, the vet couldn’t even see. So I really had to point it out to them. I was petting her during actually lockdown, because we always snuggle up and well, we snuggle up every morning and I just noticed it. And then when I was able to get to the vet. So anything you find on your dog or cats that’s out of the ordinary. Check it out.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. That’s very important.
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: How’s her tail getting on?
Bonnie Mosen: Her tail is very funny looking.
Jonathan Mosen: Is it growing back?
Bonnie Mosen: It is growing back and I’ve been joking with people. I was going to tell them it’s growing back yellow, because Eclipse is black, but she’s half golden retriever. So I was going to tell people that it was growing back in yellow. It’s not, but it’s very funny looking.
Jonathan Mosen: We are also making way for this new baby to come to our house. The new Lenovo think pad X one carbon [crosstalk 01:49:25].
Bonnie Mosen: It’s a million dollar baby. Like a keenly yearling.
Jonathan Mosen: Because, I had such a good run with the decade of think pads when I had them. But you didn’t did you? Because I thought when you were in the market for a laptop… three or four years ago, I thought “oh we’ll get you a think pad and all our troubles will be over, because they’re so reliable.” You had nothing but trouble with yours.
Bonnie Mosen: Mine was the battery. I mean the battery kept dying and I don’t know what the deal was with that. We had to have the battery replaced what? Twice?
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. Twice.
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. And it really was just depleting. It [crosstalk 01:49:59].
Bonnie Mosen: It was when I was a journalist, it’d start out at a hundred percent and then I’d start my story and down to 20. I’m like what is going on here? And you can’t have that.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah.
Bonnie Mosen: So, I stayed plugged in all day in the newsroom.
Jonathan Mosen: And we bought this from a computer store.
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: Rather than from Lenovo directly. And their service really wasn’t very good at all.
Bonnie Mosen: No.
Jonathan Mosen: It was totally the polar opposite of what I had experienced with the reliability of the think pads I’ve owned. So, in this instance, I’ve bought directly from Lenovo. I’ve got a really robust service contract, which include things like, accidental damage and coming to your house to fix it. And the other thing I didn’t say when we were talking with Heidi about this, is that the audio on the think pads has apparently improved substantially and the audio gets a lot of praise in the reviews. So, I’m looking forward to hearing how good it sounds. It’s got Dolby Atmos on it.
Bonnie Mosen: I still have my think pad, and I just plugged it in the other day to charge it. So I should take it off charge and see what happens. See how long it’ll go.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. And it’s a lovely machine. Isn’t it?
Bonnie Mosen: It’s a really good key keyboard.
Jonathan Mosen: Very light.
Bonnie Mosen: I had forgotten how good the keyboard was. And I currently have an HP, which I really like. I have an HP specter.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah.
Bonnie Mosen: But it’s funny how keyboards are so different because, the HP specter has a nice keyboard, but I’ve been using it with an external keyboard, mechanical keyboard. And then I picked up the Lenovo, my think pad the other day, I’m like, “this is a really good Keyboard,”.
Jonathan Mosen: It’s got a very nice keyboard because it’s really a business laptop, it’s designed for people who do a lot of typing.
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: I have enjoyed the keyboard on the Dell X PS 15 as well. It’s quite Mac like that that keyboard.
Bonnie Mosen: I was having a lot of trouble with my work computer yesterday, which is a very old laptop. It looks like the older laptops.
Jonathan Mosen: For some reason they seem to have got it into their heads that blind people need number pads.
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: And I don’t know why? See, even on my desktop, I have jaws set to the laptop.
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah, which is so much easier.
Jonathan Mosen: Well, it is because it’s so much easier to just keep your hands on the home row and control all your jaws functions from the home row.
Bonnie Mosen: Then last week when I was working from home, my mechanical keyboard is having, its older I guess.
Jonathan Mosen: No it’s not you just haven’t looked after it.
Bonnie Mosen: I have looked after it!
Jonathan Mosen: The mechanical keyboard here in the studio, it’s older because I got mine first and then you sort of coveted it and you said, “Oh this is a very nice keyboard.” So I got one for you after I got this one.
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah. But somebody…
Jonathan Mosen: My one’s in perfect working order.
Bonnie Mosen: Well someone through mine and it wasn’t me, someone moved it. And then, we lost the nine and then, but the other day the jaws key popped off and fell on the floor. I’m like, that’s not a good thing, but I managed to find it, put it back on.
Jonathan Mosen: Well, now that we are getting this laptop, which will hopefully last me for the next few decades.
Bonnie Mosen: Hopefully.
Jonathan Mosen: We can start saving for the next big thing. Because the word is, that by 2025, apple will have launched its autonomous car. There’s even some suggestion that it won’t come with a steering wheel. And I am so excited about this. Although, can you imagine the scenario, you’re sitting there and apparently it’s going to have this iPad like screen in the center of the car, which will allow you to interact with the vehicle. So you’ll probably be able to say H E Y S I R I and it will go, beep and you will say, take me to the supermarket and Siri will go, “Hmm… [inaudible 01:53:29] Working on that.”
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: “I found something on the web about, take me to the supermarket, take a look.” Isn’t that exciting? Are you going to come for a spin in my [crosstalk 01:53:40].
Bonnie Mosen: The Jury is still very out on these.
Jonathan Mosen: I cannot wait. I will remortgage the house if I have to, to get that.
Bonnie Mosen: I don’t know. I’d have to see it in action. I’m still very suspicious of them. I just do not trust them.
Jonathan Mosen: Live the dream. It’s going to change the lives of blind people.
Bonnie Mosen: Well, most blind people won’t be able to afford them.
Jonathan Mosen: Well I accept that too.
Bonnie Mosen: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: But, wow.
Bonnie Mosen: A Tesla is what? 80,000.
Jonathan Mosen: I have no idea. Where did you get that price from?
Bonnie Mosen: Someone I know that just bought one.
Jonathan Mosen: What? But there aren’t any apple cars yet.
Bonnie Mosen: No, not apple car I’m on about the Tesla.
Jonathan Mosen: Oh wow. I’m not sure if I’d buy a Tesla on principle.
Bonnie Mosen: Hey, you got to like Elon. He’s a little unique, but you know, he did put us back in space.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes. Well, thank you for the updates and we look forward to further updates in future editions of the Bonnie bulletin.
Bonnie Mosen: Thank you.
Jonathan Mosen: It’s another note from Lena and says.
“Hello Jonathan, in order to get bus schedules here in San Diego, we use an app called one bus away. It has worked well for voiceover users until the most recent update. I point this out because apple allowed this update into the app store. Even though, the update makes the app unusable by voiceover users. We can’t get bus schedules using this app. I have contacted the developer. The app does not respond to standard VoiceOver gestures, and some of the buttons are labeled incorrectly. Apple allows this. There is an app in the app store, which many educational institutions use for their students to log their reading. It is called read square. It is completely unusable by voiceover users, but it is allowed in the app store.
Yes, I did email Phil Schiller. I am glad you were getting involved with the committee, looking at abuse in the school for the blind. My only experience with the school for the blind, was the summer I taught summer school in one. I have not yet learned how to be an advocate, but I was horrified by things that were done to students. Supposedly as punishment. I did go to the local police, and I was told that those kids had it even worse at home. Keep in mind, this was 50 years ago, but I will never forget.”
Thanks so much for your email Lena. As it stands at the moment, lack of accessibility of an app is not a reason that apple uses to withhold approval for an updated app or indeed a new engine into the app store. There was a resolution that was debated at an NFB convention some years ago now, which suggested that apple should do exactly this, that they should test for accessibility. And if an app fell short and it was the kind of app that could reasonably be expected to be made accessible, apple should decline it, until it was fixed.
And I’m pretty confident in my recollection that that resolution was not adopted by NFB. It’s a really good talking point. I’d be interested in what people think all these years later. If app stores have an approval criteria, should part of that criteria be that the app should be accessible? Now, obviously you would have to set some criteria around the accessibility requirement. If you’ve got a highly visual game or something like that, it may not necessarily be reasonable to expect it to be accessible. But are there certain sorts of apps that should not be in the store if they’re not made accessible. Should that be done and what would the criteria look like?
Marisa is writing in and says, “I really enjoyed your adventures and Android podcasts. I have thought about switching from an iPhone to Android. I know that most phones such as the Google pixel come with stock Android. And I also know, that is usually the preferred Android version to use. If that is not possible. What are some alternatives? I reside in the United States. Does Android work similarly to iOS in the sense that updates are generated for all devices at the same time? How about talk back? How does it compare to voiceover? Any advice on Android would be great.”
Well, Marisa you’ve probably got some of these answers since you wrote this email, because we talked to Ed Green. We’ve had some other features about Android. It seems to me that stock Android isn’t so important anymore. It may be a bit of an advantage and you can get stock Android on Nokia devices as well, of course, on Google’s own devices, and the Google pixel six is out now, and that sounds like a pretty impressive phone. Although, if anybody’s got a Google pixel six, I wonder how you’re getting on with the under screen fingerprint sensor. Because one of the advantages previous Google pixels had in the minds of some, was that physical fingerprint sensor, which you could also assign gestures to, which was pretty jolly handy.
No. Android updates definitely do not come out at the same time for all devices. If you want to get the latest and greatest, you are probably best with a Google pixel or a stock Android device. The Google pixels are likely to get the updates first, and they trickle out to other devices. They are getting better at it because people have been annoyed about how long updates have taken to permeate. Samsung, for example, is in beta right now with their Android 12 release, but it’s on pixel phones now. We’re still waiting for the official release for Samsung devices. So it’s definitely a lot more staggered on Android than iOS, and also you don’t get updates for as long. It’s pretty amazing. Even though, there are some limitations, that the iPhone six S is running the latest version of iOS, you would not see anything like that in Android.
I’d love to hear from you. So if you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to Jonathan, J O N A T H A N at mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States, 8646066736.