Podcast Transcript: Mosen At Large episode 123, Brian hartgen of Hartgen Consultancy
Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen and this is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. On the show today, Brian Hartgen joins me from Hartgen Consultancy. We’ll discuss the JAWS scripts, tutorials, and other products they offer, as well as taking a look at the state of the screen reader industry.
Jonathan: I thought we were long overdue for a chat with Brian Hartgen from Hartgen Consultancy, not just because he has a number of products I’d like to talk about and that he has insightful knowledge of the screen reading industry, but also just to catch up on his interesting career for those who aren’t aware of it. He’s been around a while now, has Brian. Brian, welcome to Mosen At Large.
Brian Hartgen: It really is lovely to be with you on the podcast. Yes, I’m getting quite old now. We all are.
Jonathan: I was just saying before we started recording, that there’ll be some people who are listening to this that weren’t born when we started getting into this sort of stuff, which need to inform those whippersnappers. I thought I’d just find out how you got into working with assistive technology in the first place. How did that journey start?
Brian: Back in the early ’80s, I actually began writing computer games on the computers that were around at the time, the ZX Spectrum particularly, made by a company called Sinclair. I was writing in a language then called machine code, because back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were people, particularly on our street where we lived, sighted people who were playing computer games. It was the age of the computer game and the TV game that you could hook up to your TV and start playing football and tennis and things. I thought it’d be a really good idea.
I went along to a computer club for sighted people that was held near to where we live. I used to go when I could get away from boarding school and I learned machine code. I started writing various games, such as a space invader game, that would be used with musical notes. You had various notes to determine where you were, where the ships were, and so on. I went on to create some adventure-type games, text adventure games that we all played at school, things like that for the BBC Micro, as it was called, made by Acorn. Then when I left school and went to work, I did some things that were not related to assistive technology at all.
Then in the mid-1990s, I went to work for a rehabilitation center in the North West of England, working with people who had recently lost their vision. One of the things that I did notice particularly, was that a lot of these people could not use the keyboard at all. It wasn’t that they couldn’t type, they had no typing skills, but it was that they had additional disabilities as well as visual impairment. Perhaps they had no hands to work with or even that they just had some learning challenges which were causing difficulty in understanding some of the core concepts of Windows, as it was at the time.
In the early 2000s, I actually learned JAWS script writing, which is programming, learned to get to grips with it and experimented and sent out some of my scripts, some of my work to people to see what they thought of it, and people seemed to latch on to it. I then wrote a program called J-Say, which links together JAWS and Dragon naturally speaking. This was the culmination of my work within the rehabilitation sector.
Jonathan: Coming back a little bit, how were you accessing those computers in the 1980s, the Sinclair devices?
Brian: They were through speech synthesizers. You had a cartridge which would slot into the back of the computer and depending upon the computer that you were using, would depend upon how you accessed that screen. You could type phonetically into it, type your own programs and get it to read that. When I was using the Apple IIe, I was fairly lucky because I was introduced at school to a Braille display for the very first time, and that was something called the Braille Link. I don’t know if anyone’s heard of it or remembers it.
Jonathan: What was that like?
Brian: That was good. You could put tapes, little cassettes into it if you wanted to store information onto it, but essentially, it was a Braille terminal and we had it hooked up to the Apple IIe and also the BBC Micro as well because the BBC Micro had a Teletext adapter. That gave us access to a lot of information, news, current affairs, the weather, what was on TV, that sort of thing. It was very, very good.
Jonathan: Yes, Teletext was available here in New Zealand, too, and I used to drool when I heard about how some blind people were accessing it in the UK. The Braille Link device, when you say little cassettes, were they standard-sized compact cassettes or were those microcassettes?
Brian: No, they were microcassettes.
Jonathan: Interesting. Do you know who manufactured that?
Brian: I really can’t remember now, but I’m sure that’s what it was called.
Jonathan: Yes, because I was using the Versa Braille, which was from TSI, and that did use standard tapes. You could hijack your C60 tape and put it in there and store documents on it. The poor thing felt like it was going to shatter itself to death every time you tried to load a file. You would have been using things like Braille Edit on the Apple IIe and that sort of thing with the Echo speech synthesizer?
Brian: Yes, that sort of thing. That was all very good back in the early ’80s.
Jonathan: I wonder whether because it was all so basic, if you’ll pardon the expression, it was a bit basic around back then, in those days, we had to go under the bonnet or under the hood a lot, didn’t we? I suppose that’s given some of us, who had to go through all of that, a grounding in IT and problem-solving that may still be useful now.
Brian: I think it does. You need a lot of patience. You certainly needed it back then. In some cases, you need it now as well in order to really get behind a lot of the applications, find out how they work, perhaps from a visual perspective, and then translate some of those thoughts and concepts into something that is keyboard-navigable. If it isn’t available, if it isn’t keyboard-navigable, then try and work out a way that you can program it to make it so.
Jonathan: People often think of JAWS scripters as these wondrous wizards who can come in either in person or these days via JAWS Tandem and script an application, but what if somebody is listening to this who wants to learn? What does it take? What kind of mindset do you need to have to successfully write JAWS scripts, either for an application that you might want to use yourself or in your workplace or even just make your environment more efficient?
Brian: It’s a good job that being a computer geek necessarily or wizard, as you described it, isn’t a requisite for doing this because I’m definitely not from a programming background. Nevertheless, fortunately, I have made a career and a business out of solely JAWS scripting and training, so it definitely is possible to do. I would say that it needs a logical mind and you need to understand the tools required for scripting and the scripting language.
I was very lucky actually, because, and I often talk about this, I had a book written by somebody called Ken Gould in the early 2000, and it was called Everything You Wanted to Know About Scripting but Didn’t Know Where to Ask. It was a very good book because what it did was, it put it in real-world example terms, how you might go about undertaking JAWS scripting. I set about using that and working through all the examples. I think having a background in training and working with people is part of the scripting process. Anybody can sit at a desk and do JAWS scripting and so on, but I find it helpful to be in touch with people, even now, talk to them, listen to their thoughts and ideas about how they’re working with the technology, because if I’ve got a handle on that, then I’m more than halfway there.
Whenever I get a new idea for a new feature for one of the projects that I’m working on, the first thing I do, always, is go to our beta testing team and say, “Here is a sketch of what this feature is going to look like. Pull it apart and tell me what you think of it. Tell me what you like about it and what you don’t like.” Then once I’ve got those ideas, I can start working on it, but I think working with people and a training background certainly helps in terms of understanding what’s required and also in terms of writing the documentation to go with it, because I’ve always thought that the documentation is just as important as the scripting itself.
Jonathan: I must say, I find this interesting in the Apple realm. I was able, in a previous life, to make a pretty good living out of what I really perceive as writing Apple’s documentation for them with respect to voice-over. Every new major iOS release, I would be able to publish a book that sold by the thousands because people wanted essentially what was the missing manual for voice-over for that particular release of iOS. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that people have frowned on documentation.
I think what people sometimes don’t appreciate is that when you add a screen reader into the mix, you are inevitably adding another layer of complexity. If you’re not careful, that serves as a barrier to entry to those people who don’t find this technology intuitive. It saddens me when people thumb their noses at people who don’t find this technology intuitive. Hell, I don’t find cooking intuitive. That doesn’t make me a silly person, it just means that we’ve got to provide them with the resources. It interests me that companies like Apple haven’t really done a very good job of that.
Brian: I think that is right as well particularly with computing products as we’re going to be talking about. I think as well as that, on the scripting side, what I’ve always tried to do is to keep the keyboarding commands, the keystrokes of the concepts as simple as possible. That’s not to dumb down the feature or to make it not so good for people who are advanced screen readers, but what I’m trying to do is to make it usable by people right across the board, really.
Jonathan: You have associated yourself very closely with JAWS and you do JAWS scripting full-time. Do you have concerns about the place of JAWS as technology evolves because it feels like it’s being squeezed on two fronts? You’ve got NVDA which is open-source and definitely, there has been considerable take-up of NVDA in recent years, but then you also have Narrator where anybody can walk up to a windows machine and press that keystroke and get their computer talking with increasing competence. I wonder whether if Narrator ever comes out with a version of that screen reader baked into the operating system that offers scripting, what you would do in that situation?
Brian: Well, I would take a look at it and see whether we would be able to adapt what we’ve got now to that platform possibly. Certainly, at the moment, I don’t think that’s possible for all kinds of commercial reasons in terms of NVDA that we explored several years ago, but also, particularly, in terms of efficiency. One of the things that is at the heart of all the products that I’ve tried to create over the years is to enable blind people, A, to be able to use the product successfully, but B, to become efficient and productive at what they do.
Particularly in the workplace, we, as blind people and quite rightly strive for equality and we want the same access rights and the same employment rights as people who are fully cited. On the other side of the coin, we must be able, in the workplace especially, to be able to perform the tasks at the same kind of rate as a cited person would be able to do if not faster. I have really tried to make sure that our products are very efficient in terms of what they do and how people can use them.
If there was a time when there was an alternative platform such as Narrator and it did contain that, providing that we could get the same kind of efficiency and usability, then it certainly would be worth exploring. I’ve only got probably just over 10 years of my working life to go. [laughs] I don’t know what will happen then, but certainly, it’s worth thinking about.
Jonathan: You’re saying that in the case of NVDA, you’re not supporting that because you can’t be as efficient with NVDA as you can with JAWS, or is it that it is difficult to protect your intellectual property and the investments that you make into building something on the NVDA platform?
Brian: Well, I think it’s a bit of both really. Skating on thin ice, I’m quite sure, but I have not personally in any audio demos or anything like that of anything relating to NVDA, seen anything like the efficiency that we can get out of products that are produced for JAWS. Maybe I’m missing a whole load of things. That’s absolutely fine. We can only do what we can do, but I’ve not heard anything that is comparable to what we can achieve with JAWS even without specialist products. There are some tools in JAWS which just do not seem to be available in NVDA.
Jonathan: I imagine you have two categories of things that you work on and you can correct me, of course, if I’m wrong, but you would be working with individuals who may be in a proprietary situation at work where they have some funky application and if they can’t get this thing to work efficiently, then it impedes their productivity. Then you’ve got these mass consumer items for want of a better term such as Leasey and the StationPlaylist script and J-Say. Is that a fair summary of what you do?
Brian: That’s a very fair summary, actually, because since we started the company back in 2014, a lot of what I was doing was traveling around the UK working with people in government organizations and any company that would take our scripting services to script in-house applications for visually impaired people. Obviously, last March, that all stopped. What I’ve had to do is to concentrate more perhaps on the consumer side, as you quite rightly described it, but fortunately, as well, there are a lot of organizations that have allowed me to do work remotely and have been very sympathetic in that regard. That’s been good. Yes, I’d say that’s a fair summary.
Jonathan: Let’s have a look at some of the consumer solutions that you offer and also we mustn’t forget the tutorial so we will come to those. A lot of people do talk about Leasey. Before we talk about what Leasey does and what’s new in Leasey because there are some very interesting things there, is there an argument that says given how much people pay for JAWS, why isn’t JAWS just doing this stuff? Why doesn’t Vispero buy Leasey off you and put it in there?
Brian: They’re very welcome.
Brian: I don’t know. You’ll remember, I know, because we go back a long way, you said that back in the days of say JAWS 4.5, if you can think back to those times, I would go to events such as Sight Village and I would see Eric Damery presenting some really groundbreaking innovations within JAWS. I remember quick keys on the internet, for example, quick navigation keys. We used to get all kinds of really exciting features like that.
I’m not saying that JAWS does not have exciting features in there now, but obviously, because of changes to applications and windows and so on, I guess their staff are quite consumed with keeping pace with those things. It seems that a lot of the productivity features and some of the things that Leasey is doing, they are not present in JAWS now. You don’t get that.
Jonathan: One of the things that GW Micro did really well, I thought, was to create their concept of apps and they had this app central repository where you could go and I’ve always thought that that sense of community is missing if there could be some user interface in JAWS itself where you could preview a range of scripts, where you could download trial versions in the cases where the scripts cost, that would foster that sense of community and really encourage blind people to create these things.
I’d love to see that community build up because there are so many people doing good things, but it’s like looking at mobile platforms before the app stores came along, they’re disparate, they’re scattered, they’re all over the place.
Brian: That is very fair. To be equally fair, I think that is something that NVDA does well because it does have a repository for apps and you can install them and try them out and you can read about them and so on.
Jonathan: You mentioned something and it’s a bit of a sidetrack, but I want to come back to this. You mentioned that you felt that Vispero staff were busy dealing with changes to applications and things like that. Obviously, so many people are using the Office Suite and various other core applications. What’s your view on what Microsoft has done in recent times? I’ll preface it by saying I really am concerned that you and I are both efficiency nerds. We both feel the same way about efficiency. Only hearing and seeing on your Braille display what you need to get the job done and you should have as much control over that content as possible because everybody’s preference will vary.
Microsoft, I think, has killed us with kindness, with some of the changes they’ve made to Microsoft Office of late where Office has become far more verbose, convoluted, and they think they’re doing the right thing. In my view, some of the changes they have made have been absolutely disastrous.
Brian: I completely agree. I’ll tell you something, towards the end of last year, a lot of people said to me, “You really must do a training course on Microsoft Teams. You’ve just got to do it. There isn’t anything available of the complexity that we need for Teams.” I started looking at it and I found exactly this, because you navigate to different parts of the application and it’s just saying far too much, and it isn’t acceptable to be pressing the control key liberally to stop this or another key stroke in order to stop it.
We want to be able to customize it. The same is true of Outlook as well, particularly in environments like the calendar where it’s just not very efficient and of course, you’ll know that Teams and Outlook, particularly on the calendar side, work very closely together. When I started getting into this, I thought, “Oh my goodness, we’ve got our work cut out here.” I’ve had to do a lot of scripting in order to try and stop some of this information to be spoken, to make some of the areas of Teams, which are still not keyboard navigable, navigable, and various other things as well in order that people can really have a good experience of working with it.
Jonathan: That must be tough because Microsoft is sending a lot of this verbiage out through UI automation, which means that no matter what screen reader you use, you get a very similar experience. I personally don’t want that. One of the reasons why I have been a JAWS user all these years is because there is so much control over what is spoken and Microsoft, actually taking that control away from me and getting all sorts of praise for their accessibility efforts.
Brian: On the other side, and again, being a little bit careful, I do feel that Vispero are coming away from scripting some of these applications that had some very heavy scripting applied and just thinking– I don’t know what their thoughts are, but it seems to me that they’re just thinking, “Well, Microsoft are pushing this information out. We don’t need to do it anymore.” It’s not that it’s not possible to do it. It’s just that it’s not being done because I am doing it, so I know that it can be done. It’s often not perfect, but it is possible for example, in the Outlook calendar to make it really quite efficient. It is possible to stop in Teams, some of this superfluous tutorial information from being spoken. It is possible if the effort is put in.
Jonathan: I suppose the dilemma we have is that we pay a premium for a good quality screen reader and undoubtedly JAWS is that, and then we may have to pay you to clean up the verbiage.
Brian: Well, unfortunately, that’s how it is, but from a business side-
Brian: -we have what we have.
Jonathan: Indeed. Then let’s talk about what we do have from the Hartgen Consultancy Stable. Should we start with Leasey because we started there? What does Leasey do? It does a lot of things, doesn’t it? How would you describe it if somebody had never used Leasey before? In a nutshell, what is it?
Brian: Well, Leasey is a product and it was created in 2014. It was originally designed for new computer users who were just getting started. You might remember that we all remember those days. Leasey basic, as we call that element of it, is centered around a menu structure, allowing you to carry out common tasks such as being able to write a document, manage email, and browse the internet all from a menu system, but it did include as well and does include a lot of other tools as well because the intention was always, hopefully, that a person would perhaps let go of that structured menu system and graduate to many other features to help with working in applications or for screen reading in general.
Leasey Advanced was then part of the product. If we skip forward seven years, by far, the majority of users are those working with Leasey Advanced. There are hundreds of JAWS users now working with Leasey Advanced. I usually give a product about five years to bed in and so we’re past that now. I’m very, very happy with the shape that Leasey is in.
Leasey Advanced is really packed to the rafters with lots of different features for all kinds of tasks, whether it be internet browsing, email management, word processing. I can’t remember how many features there are, but there are certainly a lot of them. Can I just show you a very quick example that’s very relevant to your podcast?
Jonathan: Please do.
Brian: Okay. You were talking about the Brave browser and I think it’s absolutely fabulous, by the way. I think it’s really good. I’ve been using it all week. Brave is Chromium-based, of course, so Leasey works fine with it. What I’m actually going to do is just load up a web page now so that I can show you something here. Okay. Let’s just go to Amazon for a moment.
Device: Select amazon.co.uk, low prices in electronics.
Brian: Okay, that sound, incidentally, means that a new page has loaded. We can just stop it speaking. That wasn’t what I was going to show you. You were talking about favorites and some people were saying that with certain browsers, it was a little bit cumbersome in order to move through the favorites dialog and be able to recall their favorites. I remember the days, of course, when we were using Internet Explorer and we could put all our favorites in one folder and we could navigate it through File Explorer, we could easily organize them and so on. We have exactly the same thing here. I’m on Amazon. I’m going to press alt-A.
Device: Store favorite dialogue, please enter the name of the favorite then press enter edit.
Brian: Okay. I’m going to type Amazon here and press Enter.
Device: The favorite is saved as Amazon.
Brian: Perfect. I can Alt F4 out of that now if I wanted to. If I go to this temporary favorites folder that I’ve created for this podcast, and that’s one of the important things as well, they don’t have to go in your favorites folder. They can go wherever you want, wherever you set them to go. Let’s just go there and we should– and there’s our shortcut and all we would have to do is to press Enter on that.
It’s a regular windows shortcut and that takes away that headache. That’s just one little feature probably out of about 50 or 60 features that Leasey has to really help people to get the job done that they need to get done.
Jonathan: Okay, groovy, because that is a standard windows shortcut, if you decided to switch away from the Brave browser and go back, then that windows shortcut would simply launch your default browser, wouldn’t it?
Brian: Perfect. Yes, it would indeed.
Jonathan: You have done quite a bit recently with ElBraille. Are you using ElBraille yourself?
Brian: I use it for testing purposes. Can I just prefix this though, by saying that I am really passionate about Braille and I mean really passionate about it. It’s served me very well throughout my life. You’ve been talking recently about pride particularly. Well, I’m proud of the fact that I can read Braille fluently so I can deliver presentations, I can carry out my work, I can do whatever I want to do. I could not do a lot of those things if I didn’t have Braille. I’m very pleased and proud of my educators who did make it possible for me to do all these things with Braille.
The point that I’m getting to is this, that I will go a long way to ensuring that people get access to Braille and they can use their Braille devices. Since the ElBraille was launched, yes, I do have an ElBraille and I’ve done quite a lot to try and back it. I have created a training course so that people can get to learn to use it and so on. What I was really concerned about was the learning curve of many of the keystrokes, the screen reading ones are not too bad, but it’s the ones which emulate windows keystrokes, which are quite difficult. The concepts are well thought out, but it does take a lot of adjusting to be able to, again, use these things efficiently.
I accept people can do it, else they wouldn’t be selling this unit, would they? A lot of people can’t, and the customer has paid thousands of dollars for this product. They should be able to use it without all this training which is within a few minutes of getting it out of the box, I think. What I tried to do was to get around this and I’ve developed a Leasey feature called Elegance for ElBraille. It can do a number of things, but mainly what happens is that you just type in what you want to happen providing you know the Windows keystroke for what it is that you want to do or the screen reading keystroke, you can do that.
When I put this idea to our beta testers and our Leasey community, I did receive quite a few comments from people saying, “Oh, thank goodness, somebody has actually done something about this.” That was quite gratifying, really, because you have these ideas sometimes and you think, “Well, is it just me that thinks this?” Clearly, it isn’t and particularly, when I’ve been talking to some rehabilitation specialists in the US, they were very much onboard with this. Can I take you through this for a couple of minutes?
Jonathan: Yes. Can I just, while I remember to ask you, this would also just be applicable for anybody with a focus display, wouldn’t it?
Brian: Yes, it would, but the original intention was for the ElBraille, but, yes, if you want to use it with a focus display, you want to drive your focus and you can’t remember the keyboard commands for the Windows procedures, yes, you can do it with that as well.
Jonathan: I must say, I do enjoy brailling in contracted Braille, say, in a Word document. It really feels like you’re actually brailling in a contracted Braille file. It is so seamless and elegant. There’s a natural tendency for you to use the keys on your device if you can, so any focus user might benefit from this. By all means, give us a demo of this.
Brian: Okay. Let’s keep it simple first of all. What you would do is you would type the Of-Sign on the focus, Of-Sign with space, so Of Chord. What’s going to happen then, when I do that, I get a little clunk sound, and that means you’ve got about 30 seconds to do something because the keyboard is then frozen. Whatever you type from this point is not going to be processed by the application that you’re working with. What I am going to do is press this keystroke and then I’m going to type, first of all, Windows, so it’s W-I-N-D-O-W-S Space D, and then I’m going to press the Enter key, and we should end up on the desktop. Let’s try it.
Device: Folder view, list view, Brave 3 of 60.
Brian: Okay. Perfect. Now if you wanted to do something like ALT-Tab, of course, you can do that.
Device: D, favorites. Items–
Brian: I’ve ended up in File Explorer there. Windows key R. Any Windows key combination would work absolutely fine. If you were, let’s say, on the internet and you wanted to carry out a screen reading command, you could type Insert Space F7. This is computer Braille, so you do have to write it in computer Braille. Don’t worry, if you are not using computer Braille before you start this, we restore your settings back once that Enter key is pressed. That was my first incarnation of it.
When you’re on a webpage, you can, for example, type Insert Space F7 and press Enter and it will bring up the list of links, or you could do Insert Space Down Arrow. The Space is the separator. Once I got over that, the rest was quite easy because I thought, “Well, you’re not going to be wanting to type out, for example, Control Space Shift Space O, so you’d want some abbreviations, wouldn’t you?”
You can type, to go to the desktop, for example, W Space D, or if you want ALT-Tab, you’ll type A Space Tab. All of the main keyboard shortcuts such as Windows, Control, ALT, Shift, they all have abbreviations. They all have their first letters that you can type followed by the Space character. That’s how that works. If I, again, go into this and type W Space D-
Device: Folder view.
Brian: -and press Enter, I’m right on there. It doesn’t take any thinking about at all in order to do these things and obviously the keyboard combinations are fairly limitless. Then I thought, “How would it be if we could assign particular abbreviations to common Windows functions that we actually want to be able to achieve?” You can actually create your own shorthand in order to do some things. For example, I would want to go to the desktop regularly, I could type the word desk in order to get there. That does not require a press of the Enter key. Whenever you create an abbreviation, as soon as it sees that abbreviation, it is going to execute it. Again, we’ll use desktop. If I type the word desk here-
Device: Folder view.
Brian: -it’s right there. How do you customize these abbreviations? There is a configuration file. I’ll just very quickly take you through it so that you can see the kind of examples of things you can do here because there’s quite a bit. I do supply this file with my comments with the Leasey product. I’m just going to get into this now, and there is a way of doing that.
Device: Elegance dot in a Notepad. Edit.
Brian: Here we are in the file. let’s just go through it
Device: Elegance, semi-colon, comment, conventional windows keystrokes. Desk equals Windows + D.
Brian: The format is, it’s abbreviation, then an equal sign, and then the keyboard command that you actually want to execute, so desk would be Windows D.
Device: Run equals Windows+R. Close equals ALT+F4.
Brian: Rather than typing ALT-F4 or the keyboard combination for it, you can type Close.
Device: Semi-colon, comment JAWS keystrokes.
Brian: So here’s a few examples of JAWS keystrokes.
Device: Say all equals Insert+Down Arrow. Links equals Insert+F7. SP equals Control+numpad 5.
Brian: I put that one in that same paragraph, that’s what that represents. On the focus, it’s actually very difficult to do that one, so that’s why I put that one in.
Device: Semi-colon, Comment for TWBlue.
Brian: TWBlue is a Twitter client and it’s a little bit difficult on the focus to get around TWBlue. This is why I put some of these in as examples of what you can do.
Device: RT equals ALT+Windows+Right Arrow.
Brian: Whenever you type the Of-Sign Chord followed by RT, you’re going to get to the next buffer to the right.
Device: LT equals ALT+Windows+ Left Arrow. Semicolon, Comment for ElNotes.
Brian: This was an interesting one. This was my last stage of development. I thought it would be rather cool if you could type an abbreviation and it would run a program or it would run a document that you would frequently use. Could be a Spreadsheet, could be a Word template, whatever it was. The derivation for this was that my keys on the top of the ElBraille to launch different applications, and one of those is the note-taking application called ElNotes, wouldn’t function. None of the buttons would work at all. Sometimes they’d work and sometimes they don’t. I thought, “Well, we have to have a way of getting around this.” The idea with this one–
Device: ElNotes=C:\Program Files (x86)\Elita Group\ElNotes\ElNotes.exe.
Brian: You type the abbreviation, then the equal sign and then path of what it is you want to launch. In this case, that’s the full path to the ElNotes application. There’s quite a lot of control over this and the feedback that I’ve had so far is really positive. It doesn’t, for some reason, at the moment that I need to get to the bottom of, work on the very old ELBraille units. I think it may be a processing issue or something like that, but it’s going to be quite difficult to track that down, but it’s certainly working well on all the newer models, the ElBraille 40 and so on.
One of the things that I heard when this particular feature was launched was someone wrote the ElBraille list and I knew they were a Leasey user. They said, “How do I press this particular keystroke on the ElBraille?” I said, “Well, this is what you need to do. Press the Of-Sign Chord, type whatever it is, press Enter,” and he was so pleased that he could do it. When you get a reaction like that, it does make the months of development and testing worthwhile.
Jonathan: Is this a feature that would only work with focus displays or could it be made to work with other Braille input Perkins style displays, which of course are the majority?
Brian: This was a question which I was asked at the very early stages [chuckles] so I’m not surprised that you’re asking it now. The focus is the most flexible, and it just happens to be the one that I can test with. I’m a regular user of the QBraille, and it would be nice if it works for that although perhaps it isn’t as necessary. The problem with the QBraille is that it translates as it goes along anyway. It doesn’t always use computer Braille. All of these Braille displays have their own little quirks and things that you need to get used to. It will be a question of perhaps loaning some of these Braille displays in order to test them.
If we were actually going to support a particular Braille display, then as a business case, we would have to invest in that particular model of display because I wouldn’t be prepared to support something that we couldn’t actually test for any problems in the future. The potential is there, and if people continue to like this particular innovation with the focus, I’m definitely open to exploring it.
Jonathan: There you go. Donate your Braille display to Brian Hartgen today.
Jonathan: It’s a nice idea. That’s impressive. Anything else in Leasey that you wanted to highlight from recent additions?
Brian: I think the other thing that I really wanted to focus on, I was thinking about this, was Leasey search because this is one of the things that people really do buy the product for. You may have heard of the JAWS research it feature. Well, it’s a little like that, but it’s got a lot more in it, if I can say so. I think the other major difference is that where possible, we do not rely on web pages to get our information because of course, we all know that web pages can change. There are lots and lots of APIs that you can tap into, and obviously, we’re a business so we do pay commercial rates for the use of these APIs. If I could perhaps just give you a very quick tour of some of the facilities in Leasey search. If I bring up Leasey search, now.
Device: Leasey search dialogue, list one, list view. Google. 1 of 31.
Brian: Okay. The first one is one that perhaps wouldn’t be obvious to some, but it’s Google, so if you just want to do a quick Google search, then you can do that, but I’m more interested in showing you one or two of the other options here.
Device: News 2 of 31,
Brian: The next one is news. When you go into this, there is a whole raft of news sources where you can tap into and get the headlines. Just to give you an example of some of these.
Device: Edit, Leasey news dialog. List one, list view, ABC News, 1 of 81.
Brian: You’ve got all these different news sources.
Device: ABC News all. Associated Press, Australian financial review, 5 of 81.
Brian: Let’s say we wanted the BBC. Why not?
Device: BBC News 7 of 81.
Brian: I used first letter navigation, of course, to get there and we’ll just press Enter on it.
Device: Edit, please wait. Ready. Leasey news.
Brian: Now, if I go down this screen, it’s all in the results viewer.
Device: Leasey news link Columbia protests, UN deeply alarmed by bloodshed in Cali. The United Nations rights office says police opened fire on demonstrators on Monday. Blank. Link, the newborn calf that crashed our wedding.
Brian: I’ve separated each item with a new line, a blank line, and you’ll notice that the headlines are hyperlinked. If you press enter, you’ll go to the page for that news story. When you’re finished reading it, you can just Alt F4 out of it. We’ve got all these news stories we can tap into. Let me show you a few other things here.
Device: Leasey news, RSS 3 of–
Brian: There’s an RSS capability. In most of these things, some of them I wouldn’t have even thought of, but I was definitely asked for them and RSS was definitely one of them. You can put an RSS feed in there, and I think we have the ability to– No, we don’t have the ability to search for RSS feeds, but you can certainly put one in there. Again, you get a virtual viewer-type screen, but I thought you might be interested in the next one-
Device: Podcast search 4 of 31.
Brian: -which is podcast search. This allows you to search the Apple repository for podcasts. Anything they’ve got, we should be able to track, and then you can add it to, loosely, I would describe it as a favorites list so that you can go in there and get the latest episodes. If I just go in here–
Device: Leasey cast dialog. List one, list view, search for podcast by name or category, 1 of 7.
Brian: We’ve got a few items that we need at the top here and underneath that little list, you have all the podcasts that you have added, and the one that I did this morning–
Device: Mosen At Large, 7 of 7.
Brian: If we were to go into this particular one here.
Device: Please wait,
Brian: Let me take you through this.
Device: Link, list of episode, titles only.
Brian: What that’s going to do is it’s going to bring up a vertical list of all the episodes that it’s found so far, but I’ve tried to format this in quite a nice way so it’s easy to navigate and to read.
Device: Bank, heading level one, episode 119. Blind pride. Accommodations we don’t want at airports. AirTag thoughts and more. Blank Kia ora Mosen at Largers. many great contributions on a variety of topics.
Brian: Et cetera, et cetera. If I were to press the letter H right now.
Device: Heading level one episode 118.
Brian: That takes you to the next one and just above that heading.
Device: Blank link download or stream episode 119. Blind pride. Accommodations we don’t want at airports. AirTag thoughts and more.
Brian: If you were to press Enter on that link, what it actually does is it will either play it for you or you can download the MP3 file to your computer if that’s what you want to do. For a lot of us, that is what we want to do. Other highlights in Leasey search quickly are things like, there’s a very, very comprehensive weather app which is extremely good, if I can say so myself. You can put in any location in there. It will give you thorough forecasts including moonrise and moonset times, sunset and sunrise, you can get an hour-by-hour forecast for the day, you can look ahead, you can get a forecast for several days.
We have the ability to track a package. If you want to put in a parcel number in there, you can definitely do that. We can search various libraries such as NLS. I did get great cooperation from NLS in America to allow that to happen, but you can also search other libraries as well. There’s a currency converter in there. You could search on YouTube. You can search on Disney+ for movies.
The good thing about that, that’s a recent thing, by the way, but a good thing about when you search on Netflix, Disney+, or YouTube, when you’re playing the individual movie or video, whatever it is, you can do things like pause the video, you can skip forward and skip back, and do all those kinds of things that you would typically want to do. Let’s remember, everybody, that all of this, that is in our Leasey products, including all the things that I’ve shown you in Leasey search is done using JAWS scripting. There’s nothing else in there. I don’t have any other programming knowledge. It has to be done this way, and I have managed to pull it off.
Jonathan: Yes, that’s one hell of an advert for JAWS scripting, I have to say. How much does Leasey cost?
Brian: It is £50 in the UK. That’s probably about $60 to $65 at the moment.
Jonathan: You have a number of other projects, including the StationPlaylist scripts, which you have refined over time. My next question is, one you know I’m going to ask you, what about interaction of your script? I am actually a Leasey owner, but StationPlaylist studio is my first love, and I tend not to be a person who keeps multiple versions of JAWS around. I just have the latest one. How is co-existing going with the various products?
Brian: Well, some do co-exist and some don’t. In the case of StationPlaylist and Leasey, that’s a no-go at the moment, but there is a version of the StationPlaylist scripts, which is almost complete now, and that will allow those scripts to sit alongside Leasey. The StationPlaylist user will need to make some small accommodations for us to perhaps learn one or two different keystrokes, but these are just global keystrokes that you would use within other applications that conflict with some of our Leasey ones.
It is a small learning curve, but if you’re prepared to make that accommodation, then yes, we do have a version coming up, which will make that possible. J-Say and Leasey is definitely not possible. There are just too many conflicts and too many files to be able to combine those. It’s just not workable and really, we’ve hardly been asked for it anyway.
Jonathan: Right, because J-say is a self-contained environment in a similar way to Leasey except that it’s by voice, isn’t it? So I would imagine that you can do a lot of the same things with J-Say that you can with Leasey just by voice.
Brian: Yes, you can, and if there is a feature, for example like the currency converter or the podcasting, what I was particularly asked for, for J-Say, I tried to put it in there anyway with appropriate voice commands in order for the person to navigate it. Usually, the Leasey users try out some of my ideas and thoughts first, and if there are any rough edges to be ironed out, that can be done and then they can be fed to J-Say users who may be a little bit more vulnerable and need quite a bit more support so that they can actually get those features.
Jonathan: I’m disappointed by how much of a bad rep dictation has gotten, really, because of cloud-based solutions but when you’re using something like J-Say with Dragon naturally speaking, it’s a remarkably accurate environment when you’ve gone through the correct processes. In fact, it can really liberate you if you’ve got, say, a Bluetooth headset, and you’re doing things around the house, doing the dishes, whatever, you can seriously be productive.
Brian: You definitely can, and Let’s not forget that for some people it is their only option. In those cases, people have learned to adopt strategies and again, patience to get around various issues because it’s the only way that they can do it. I have worked with people who have written books, have had them published, have had television dramas published and things like that, who are using J-Say and can use no other form of technology, so it can be liberating in that way.
Jonathan: What’s the state of J-Dictate at the moment, particularly in an era where Microsoft’s dictation is becoming more capable, and of course J-Dictate was the version that just offered enough functionality to get you dictating into your computer when you didn’t need full control of the computer?
Brian: That’s still selling. I’m very pleased about that. Whether we will go over to a Microsoft-based system for interacting with dictation there, I don’t know at the moment, but certainly, we’re not ready yet. Dragon is still, in my view, by far the world leader in voice recognition accuracy, having done extensive tests with both. We’re still where we are, it’s still compatible with JAWS 2021, Dragon 15.6, which is the latest, which leads me on to all the other script packages that we have. They all fit together.
It’s just those small exceptions where they perhaps don’t work together in the same JAWS version, but if you really wanted those, if you were a trainer, for example, and you needed to demonstrate, say, J-Say and Leasey, you can install different JAWS versions on a laptop and take it to the customer’s home and work with it that way.
Jonathan: How finicky is it? I’ve used Dragon and I really love what it does, but I’ve also found myself thinking if I just wrote these things down because I have the ability to, of course, if I just wrote these things down rather than spending all this time troubleshooting what’s happened to Dragon this time, I might actually have been more efficient writing it down. I do find it quite a finicky, fiddly program.
Brian: I don’t think it is really, and particularly if you have J-Say especially because you don’t have to use the keyboard then. There are various commands in there which allow you to select parts of text for easy manipulation, for example, you can say things like insert before and follow by a word where you want to place the cursor and things like that. There are all kinds of tricks that you can employ to get around your document and correct it. If you have Braille, with a capital B, of course–
Jonathan: Oh very good.
Brian: Yes there’s no doubt about that, by the way.
Brian: If you have Braille, of course you have an advantage, because you can see it right there under your fingers, whatever it is that you’re dictating. If it’s made a mistake, then you know that, but there are ways of being able to do it and we do have a J-Say tutorial as well, which people can purchase, and that will guide you through a lot of these strategies so that you can get the most from it.
Jonathan: Those are all really good points and I love how well Dragon works. My question was not phrased very well. What I was really getting at is that sometimes for me, Dragon breaks. When it’s working, it’s beautiful and I love it but I have found myself over the years, having to spend a bit of time thinking, “What is it on my system that has caused Dragon, say, to stop responding at the moment?” Or something like that. It seems to be quite fiddly and when something happens to your profile or something like that, it can be quite a convoluted process to recover it or restore, that kind of thing. That’s more the thing I was thinking about that sometimes troubleshooting it when it’s not behaving itself is what takes the time.
Brian: Yes, a couple of things about that. The most troublesome issue by far is when it doesn’t interact with Microsoft Outlook, and that is a problem with Outlook itself because what’s happening there is that Outlook sometimes takes quite a while to load and the reason it does that is because it sees a whole load of add-ins there. Little programs in the background, one of which links it to Dragon, and it thinks, “Oh, this shouldn’t be here.” It’s making quite a problem for Outlook, so it’ll disable it. You have to go into the options and enable it and unless you know how to do that, it’s quite difficult.
In terms of restoring the profile in J-Say particularly, we have a method for doing that. There is an easy way that a person can independently backup their profile by voice, and if they have some keyboarding skills or if their assistant has mouse or keyboarding skills, they can just simply run this little script and it will delete the old profile or replace it with a new one and you should be back up in business again.
Jonathan: You also, of course, have the Zoom scripts, and you and I were using Zoom before it was cool, I tell you.
Brian: Oh yes.
Jonathan: Everybody’s been using Zoom lately and I’m sure that those scripts have been most welcome. You have provided a basic version of those scripts that now get bundled with JAWS, but then there’s also the premium version which offers additional features.
Brian: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. The basic scripts just are so that people do have a reasonable amount of access to Zoom, and they don’t go beyond that, really. The pro version, they offer a lot of useful facilities, again, that people have asked for, such as an abbreviated form of information when you move through the participant’s list, there are keystrokes to get you to where you need to be at specific times. Things like that, really, particularly when you’re hosting meetings, they are very useful for that, so yes, that set of scripts is available as well.
Jonathan: Anything else in the script family that I have forgotten about that you’d like to talk about?
Brian: Just two other things, really. First of all, we have a product called The Muse.
Jonathan: Oh yes.
Brian: I launched this last December, just in time for the Christmas market and this is a product which allows you to do a lot of music-based searching so if you’re a fan of music and the charts or if you present radio programs, you’ll definitely find this useful. There are all kinds of things you can do with this, you can search various charts to find out when songs were released, you can actually have a look at different charts in the UK and the US, singles, and albums, you can input dates as to when you want to retrieve those charts.
You can look up biographical information on various websites. You can use a function which will tell you when a song was released in the UK and the US and do a cross-chart comparison to tell you the positions. There are lots of features in The Muse. People can go to try our website and they can have a look and that does come with a free audio recording of a webinar, which we did run when The Muse was launched, and it takes you through a lot of these things as well. That is the first thing, but perhaps to end the scripting on a bit of a positive, because I was talking about Teams earlier on, and our Microsoft Teams course has been running.
It’s still ongoing at the time of this recording, and it’s going to end next week, so if people want to buy that archive of the training with the scripts, they certainly will be able to do that. There’s over eight and a half hours of material on Teams that you can go through if you really want to, but what I was coming to was that we are going to release these scripts for Teams that people will be able to purchase. I think that’s probably going to be in early June, at this point. One of the features that I wanted to tell you about and I’ve not talked about this before is a feature that we call ClickBoom.
The relevance of that will become clear. The idea with this is, let’s say you were working on a webpage and you got in a message from Teams or Microsoft Outlook. What you can do is you can press a keystroke and you get straight into that message and then you can do whatever you want with it. You can reply to it, you can upload a file or attach a file to it and send it off.
Then, you can press a keystroke and you will get right back to where you were. You’re clicking to a message and then, boom, you can get right back there. That is one of the features of the scripts, but I’ve already alluded to some of the other functionality earlier on in this interview as to what else might be in there. Do keep a check on our social media and website for information about that.
Jonathan: Will the scripts come with the tutorial or will you make that a separate purchase?
Brian: It’s either/or.
Brian: You will be able to buy it with the training, and people can still do that now if they want to do that, or people will be able to get them separately.
Jonathan: You have tutorials on a range of things. Outlook, Powerpoint, Word from memory, I’m sure there are many others that I have forgotten about.
Brian: Oh, I rather lost count now. I think there’s about 25 different tutorials on the website at the moment, archives of courses. Even the very old ones, people are still buying them. Someone actually bought one of the older ones today.
Yes, they’re still being produced. I try to do usually about two or three a year but they do take, obviously, quite a lot of research. This one, especially, has taken a lot longer than I thought it would but Teams is a massive application.
Jonathan: They do take a very long time to produce properly. When do you make the call about when to pull something that may have been around so long that its relevance may be in question?
Brian: Again, it depends on the circumstance. If we can get away with providing some supplementary notes, then that is sufficient, I think. For example with the JAWS Scripting one, there was one significant change from the time that was recorded to now, so that could be dealt with by a supplementary note. In terms of other courses, one was definitely pulled because the application no longer exists. We have another one, which is relating to Reaper. That was originally produced back in 2017. It was going to be completely redesigned and rerecorded last year, but obviously, we got into the pandemic then and my priorities most definitely had to change.
That got put on hold, but that is going to be done this year as well. We’re going to pull down the old one and produce a much better, even longer one. I felt that the last one was quite long but this one will be much longer, more in-depth, covering, obviously, a range of issues. There’s not only been changes to Reaper and OSARA but also the JAWS scripts are available now, produced by Jim Snowbarger.
I did have a little hand in helping him to refine those a tiny bit so that I was happy with the performance of them before I started teaching. This has been in the planning stages for quite a little while. I’m very much hoping that as we head towards the summer, that is something that will be started.
Jonathan: It is a fantastic tool, Reaper, isn’t it? You can just have so much fun in there.
Brian: Oh yes, most definitely, not only with audio but with video as well. It’s very good at least, notwithstanding a few, quite obvious, visual issues. If the project is kept simple, it’s really nice if a blind person is able to carry out some basic video editing.
Jonathan: It’s incredibly liberating. I produce video messages for my staff in my day job and I record it in the camera app in Windows, which just makes M4V video files then I bring them into Reaper and process the audio. One thing I have to be careful of, and I just don’t think there’s a way around this, is that if you edit because maybe you’ve made a fluff and you want to just edit it out, sometimes your facial expression has changed so radically between when you were talking and when you made the edit that it looks jarring to the audience.
There’s just no way for a blind person to know that, but then people tell me, “Look, there’s some horrible editing on YouTube all the time and you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much about that.”
Brian: That is very true, there is some ghastly editing on YouTube. Anyone can create a video these days. It doesn’t matter what your talent is and people watch those on YouTube all the time. I don’t think it matters quite as much as perhaps we would suppose.
Jonathan: No, it probably doesn’t, but you probably relate to what I’m going to say. I just don’t– [crosstalk] I do not like putting out content whose quality I can’t verify.
Jonathan: I take pride in putting out good quality content.
Brian: I completely understand.
Jonathan: There’s a lot in here and people can go to your website. To what extent do you have demos of some of the scripting products that we’ve talked about, for example?
Brian: We certainly have one of Leasey, anyway, and the Zoom Scripts, obviously, you get a demo of that when you install JAWS. Anyway, I don’t know that we have too many demos of some of the other products, actually, but that isn’t to say that we couldn’t do one.
Jonathan: I think Studio has– the StationPlaylist [crosstalk]
Brian: Oh, Studio Scripts has. Studio Scripts, they’ve always had one.
Jonathan: Where can people go and be in touch to find out more about what you’re doing?
Brian: That would be great if they head on over to hartgenconsultancy.com, that’s H-A-R-T-G-E-N consultancy.com, they can get chapter and verse on everything that we do there.
Jonathan: Well, see, they don’t call this show Mosen At Large for nothing. It’s been good that we’ve had quite a wide ranging discussion about all sorts of things.
Brian: We certainly have. I’ve very much enjoyed it.
Jonathan: Thank you for all the contribution that you are making. It is considerable and often thankless, to be honest. You’re making a big difference to people’s lives and livelihoods, in fact. I’m really grateful that you’ve come on the podcast and had a chat about all the things that you’re doing.
Brian: Thank you for those kind words, and thank you for the opportunity. Look forward to hearing many more episodes.
Jonathan: To contribute to Mosen At Large, you can email jonathan, that’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N, @mushroomFM.com by writing something down or attaching an audio file, or you can call our listener line, it’s a US number. 864-60MOSEN. That’s 864-606-6736.
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