Some Yay and Some Ugh

My computer is on its last virtual legs, I think. Today while trying to compile the accessibility issues with WordPress’s Add Media panel, JAWS suddenly popped up a bunch of strange installation errors. And after trying to resolve those, my entire computer crashed. And now it’s doing all manner of odd things. I would very much like my new iMac to get here already. Seems like it’s been forever since it was ordered.

On the sort of brighter side, today I had an appointment with my rheumatologist who pretty much unequivocally ruled out nearly all of the speculated possible diagnoses I had for the pain issues, including fibromyalgia. He thinks the initial issue from last year was likely a pinched nerve from sleeping weird coupled with strained muscles and feels the continued issues are due to bursitis. So, in point of fact, my worry that working the dog had actually caused and/or exacerbated the issue were quite well founded. Though, thankfully, he doesn’t think I’m in danger of causing myself more harm by continuing to use my guide dog.

He gave me a bunch of exercises to add to my yoga routines, a script for a pretty powerful anti-inflammatory, and wants me back in two months. If I continue to have pain after all that, he wants me to have a cortisone injection. Well, actually he wanted me to have one today, but I’d rather try something that’s more sustainable since yoga has helped greatly over the last several months. Though, having said that, the poke-and-prod session has predictably left me feeling especially achy and a good part of me is regretting not jumping on the idea of an injection.

Making the Switch?

I’m computer (window) shopping tomorrow. My PC has been on a slow path to impending doom for awhile now and hopefully admitting that will not send it hurtling into the great beyond. I’m not having the best luck with technology the last few weeks, especially printers.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking long and hard over the last several months about taking the leap over to a Mac. I’ve heard all the pros and cons more times than I care to admit, but one major sticking point for me has always been the lack of accessibility that a Mac presents . . . Except that’s totally not an issue anymore because VoiceOver is pretty darn awesome!

Thing is, I do actually need to have a PC since I’m in the rehab field and, well, I anticipate it’s easier to teach other people how to use adaptive software like JAWS if I still have access to it myself. So, it’s not like I’m abandoning ship because I hate PCs.

It’s that my main desktop is a piece of crap and upgrading it while maintaining full accessibility for my needs is actually more expensive than a 27″ iMac. The Mac will probably be more compatible with some work stuff I’ll be doing. And it takes up a ton less real estate. I want to get a new desk and redo my home office anyway, but more actual desk space is always a plus, especially since I have my monitor so close to my face. Not to mention I already use a bunch of Apple products, so things will actually talk better with one another.

However, I would also like to have the portability of a laptop, so I’m conflicted about spending a bit more on a MacBook Pro and a Thunderbolt display for that simple luxury. I’d have the same screen size as the iMac, but my history with laptops is, um, none too great. (I drop things.) So, I just don’t know how wise a decision it is to have my main computer be something that may likely get stepped on when I try and locate it after knocking it off the coffee table.

Of course, I could just wait on the MacBook altogether and get it as a secondary computer later on. (More on this another time, I think.)

Anyway, not making any decisions this second because I want to check things out in person at an Apple Store and see what set up works best for me. I don’t think there’s going to be much difference between them that it will matter, but I’d rather know well before I place my order online and have a computer shipped to my front door.

I also have to buy a new printer. Bah.

WordPress and JAWS

I’m not shy about admitting my deep appreciation for WordPress. I’ve been using it exclusively to blog with since March 2004. And I’ve been a member of WordPress.com since it was in beta! I think it’s quite possible I was the only blind person that frequented the support forums back then and it’s likely I still am, but there are a lot more people using WP these days so I won’t swear to that.

WordPress has evolved a lot over the years. We all might call it a blogging software, but it’s far more aptly a content management system (CMS). Entire websites are powered with it and don’t utilize the features that are inherent to its original core and that’s all fine and well. This isn’t a post about how WordPress is evolved or can be used.

No, it’s a post about how it’s changed in the sense of accessibility. The first issue I ever had with accessibility related to WP was actually at the support forums, which are run on a sister software called bbPress. It’s a very bare-bones message board software and back then it had even fewer features than it sports out of the box now. The feature that broke my ability to use the forums a bit was the addition of tags, which were initially placed in a cloud right above the topic threads. This meant that JAWS very happily read the ENTIRE wall of text before it found the forum topics. I made a cranky complaint about it on my blog and Matt personally responded with a quick edit that allowed me to jump passed the tags and to the content.

As WP has expanded and become more sophisticated other things have cropped up that have taken some adjustment. The admin panel was a bit of a mess for me in a few versions when they WYSIWYG was added — and it remains to this day one of the least accessible parts of the software, though it’s not impossible to navigate and it can be turned off.

Screenshot of comment form with JAWS forms mode showing two edit comment fields

Well, no, I take that back. The comment form is now the most inaccessible because of the simple fact that it affects a far greater number of blind people. And in a completely backwards logic kind of way, it doesn’t seem to be a problem in Internet Explorer! But in every other — arguably better — browser I tried out, my screen reader picked up two separate “edit comment” fields. One is the actual field that the message would go in, the other I have no idea but it seems inconsistent as to which is the REAL field on any given page. This isn’t an issue for any WP install using standard comments, but it does affect every single blog hosted on WordPress.com and any self-hosted blog running the Jetpack plugin comments feature. That’s still a lot of blogs, people! (Add in the people using IntenseDebate or Disqus to power their comments and the mind boggles at the sheer bulk of inaccessibility, but those two are a separate thing unto themselves.)

What saddens me is not that the issue exists. Sighted people don’t routinely run a screen reader through its paces to make sure websites work for blind people and expecting otherwise is to be continually disappointed. No, it’s the fact that this is an issue that dates back to at least last October when it was first brought to my attention by a participant in the ADBC I hosted. (Well, possibly three participants but each of them had different issues and one was able to comment without a problem eventually.) I couldn’t recreate the problem myself because for some reason in Firefox when I was logged in it worked fine and I was testing it logged out in IE where the form apparently works perfectly. I did update JAWS recently and it made all manner of wacky things go wrong with my computer, so that in itself might have been the cause, though it’s not exclusive to me obviously. I’m truly baffled and mildly amused that IE is the only browser that isn’t effected.

Kvetching aside. I’ve emailed Automattic, the company behind WP.com and Jetpack, about this issue and I’m sure they’ll get back to me in a timely fashion as they always do on Support matters. And at the end of the day, people can comment, they just have to play a bit to figure it out. Which I know is hardly a solution but it’s also not the end of the world. (FWIW, here at Gentle Wit, there’s always the option to email me and that form works just fine so far as I’m aware!)

I am pretty bummed about it, though. I’m upset at the sheer magnitude of this issue and how long it’s gone unnoticed. And it’s unfortunately timed given the imminent Blogger interface change.

Anyway, I will most certainly keep you all informed as I hear things on this.

ZoomText USB

ZoomText is one of the leading adaptive software programs for screen enlargement. I’ve been using it for over ten years now and one of my biggest gripes about it is that you must acquire a license for every single installation. That may not sound so bad, but take for instance my own experience: I had three licenses purchased and installed a copy on both my desktop and laptop. Then my desktop died and had to be reformatted. At the time I didn’t think about that I was using another license to reinstall my copy of ZoomText, but when I brought the program to work to have it put on my computer there, I wasn’t able to because I’d exhausted my licenses. Granted, a quick phone call to AI Squared resolved this dilemma, it was still an inconvenience and I ended up wasting an entire day at work.

Today I was reading the latest issue of The Braille Forum and saw an announcement for a new version of ZoomText on a USB drive. Not only can ZoomText now be brought quite literally anywhere, one doesn’t need to purchase multiple licenses to install it more than once. I’m wondering how plausible it is to get that as my next upgrade.

Now I just want to see a portable version of JAWS!