I was interested, when Tiger arrived, by the new VoiceOver technology which claimed to make the Mac accessible for blind users. I didn’t experiment with it for more than a few moments though, until yesterday. As a sighted user it’s pretty darned annoying to hear every single thing being read aloud: all the buttons and incidental text, and if you can see the screen anyway it’s simply annoying.
Last night though I did a little homework, in preparation for a session toady where I spent a couple of hours working with a woman who is very familiar with screen readers on Windows but was new to the Mac. Last night I found I needed to visit Apple’s website and download the VoiceOver Quickstart demo which explains the basic key commands, and it was useful to also grab the keyboard cheat sheet.
The session this morning had its problems. The frequent unexpected appearance of Dashboard, for example, caused a degree of havoc, and we often needed to refer to the documentation I’d downloaded. Mind you, that’s not too surprising for a whole new application. Progress was slow and erratic, and possibly hindered by the external non-Mac, USB keyboard.
It also became fairly obvious that if you don’t already know the Mac interface, it’s pretty hard to use it without seeing it. As a web designer, I was thinking that every web site is different and new, which must also bring its problems for blind users: they don’t know what to expect, so the elements which make sense to sighted users who can glance at the screen may be a total mystery to someone who can’t easily get that overall impression.
All in all it was a very interesting experience, for both parties. I’d say the technology has real potential, but there’s an evident need for some good training materials. Apparently software such as Jaws includes audio training materials to help the user become familiar with the software.