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Microsoft Backtracks On Accessibility In Windows Phone 7 54

beetle496 writes "One of the things Microsoft has done well for many years now (since they got called on the carpet about Windows 95) is providing compatibility with assistive technology used by the blind. Their current push is for a set of APIs called User Automation. Many of us in the field have remained skeptical of the early promises, especially those related to cross-platform compatibility. The news that Microsoft is now backtracking is disappointing, but hardly surprising. It looks like IAccessible2 is the way to go."
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Microsoft Backtracks On Accessibility In Windows Phone 7

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  • by Petersko ( 564140 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @09:02PM (#34541794)
    "One of the things Microsoft has done well for many years now (since they got called on the carpet about Windows 95) is providing compatibility with assistive technology used by the blind... The news that Microsoft is now backtracking is disappointing, but hardly surprising."

    Which is it? If they've been doing it well for many years, what's with the "hardly surprising" jab? One would think that 16 years of excellent support would make the backtracking "very surprising".
    • How can you backtrack if you never promised support in the first place?

      • Reading the article, that was my impression. MSFT held a conference with these people, let them air their concerns, but what remains is that they made no specific statements about fixing accessibility, and moreover, basically acknowledged intentionally leaving it out.

        I'm sure from their perspective it was just a business decision. They needed to make something that (idiots would believe is) competitive with the iPhone and Android platforms and this small sliver of the market, people with visual impairments,
    • I doubt "hardly surprising" was a jab, it was more of an assessment that accessibility IN GENERAL is not given much thought, especially due to extra cost and limited audience.
    • by PhrostyMcByte ( 589271 ) <> on Monday December 13, 2010 @09:52PM (#34542184) Homepage

      I've got a Winphone7 phone and I develop apps for it, so take this as you want.

      I don't see why anyone with an interest in Winphone7 would be surprised. Especially a developer. Microsoft has stated numerous times that the current Winphone7 is an early, bare-minimum release, and that they'll be bringing out major updates in 2011 to bring feature parity (both on the user and developer sides) with other smart phones. I'm sure accessibility features are on their list of improvements.

      The "providing compatibility with assistive technology used by the blind." comes across as a guilt trip to me, because it implies they singled out that industry when they finally broke compatibility. They didn't. On Winphone7, you develop for a mostly-Silverlight-but-sometimes-not platform using .NET. This broke compatibility with ALL old apps that ran on Winmo6.5, not just accessibility ones.

      Accessibility may be one of the tougher problems to solve, as their current interface was designed from the ground up to be touch-centric. You pan around the screen than I've seen in any other phone. The OS does have pretty good voice recognition baked in -- it'll probably be the easiest thing to get working for everything. Letting people zoom in could also help, but the standard widgets and Visual Studio templates don't re-flow well to aspect ratios, so you'll have to pan twice (once between pages and once over the current page), which could get cumbersome.

      • I see two things wrong with what you're saying.

        1) it's at odds with what the article states re: accessibility

        2) you're attempting to explain away a half baked OS coming to market late.

        I'd suspect you were an MS shill, but I'd suspect it's more a case of delusion. Creating parity a year after release when they've had so much time to work on an OS and working out later any accessibility features is a bit lame for the largest software company in the world.

  • How are blind people supposed to even use Windows Phone 7 in the first place?

    I can somewhat understand a regular phone with keys, I can text without looking at my phone because I can feel the location of the buttons, etc.

    • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Monday December 13, 2010 @09:16PM (#34541912) Homepage

      I've heard they really love the iPhone. Here [] is an example article.

      When I was in school a few years ago I had a blind gentlemen in a few of my classes. I remember him telling me about how hard (and insanely expensive) it was to get a new cell phone (Symbian based) that included voice software so he could use the menus and such, and that it was basically pretty bad.

      The iPhone works as a phone, a web browser, a music player, a compass, and tons of other things, and doesn't cost $3k.

      • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @09:30PM (#34542022)

        I've heard they really love the iPhone. Here is an example article.

        Reading that article tells me that the enthusiastic user isn't blind. He's legally blind.

        One of the problems /. (and the world in general) has with blindness is that we forget that many (perhaps even most??) of the people categorized as blind can still see. They just see very poorly.

        However, in terms of accessibility of devices, and things like internet access its a huge difference. We think of the blind and then try to imagine someone ourselves operating a touch screen with our eyes closed and no tactile feedback at all and naturally scoff at the absurdity of it.

        But try squinting your eyes almost shut so you can still see the phone, but can't read anything on it. Your now "legally bind", but you can still make out the little blobs for the apps... you can pick them out easily by touch -- identifying them by position and colour. A bit of slick software to read out the text you that you can see is there but can't actually make out by double-tapping it... and voila... a very useful device.

        • by das_io ( 1320349 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @10:27PM (#34542376)
          You can use an iPhone with VoiceOver with the screen completely turned off and there are really blind enthusiastic users [] (this one was from Mozillas accessibility QA).
        • by arb phd slp ( 1144717 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @10:33PM (#34542412) Homepage Journal

          Users who are using Voiceover aren't responding to colored blobs, they are using Voiceover's auditory scanning. It reads aloud what is on the screen, such as the labels on the icons, and the user doubletaps anywhere on the screen to select one. You don't have to see the screen at all.

          • by vux984 ( 928602 )

            It reads aloud what is on the screen, such as the labels on the icons, and the user doubletaps anywhere on the screen to select one.

            It sounded to me more like he double tapped on the screen where he wanted something read, suggesting that he could see well enough to know things were there.

            He also specifically mentioned that he was able to use stock -CHARTS-; I admit I don't know a lot about voiceover, but it struck me that some level of vision would be necessary to process a stock chart.

        • by AlecC ( 512609 )

          It looks to me as if he is pretty close to totally blind: no colour perception, and generally a very rough light/dark. From the sound of it, he could see a doorway but not an icon. He certainly seemed to be using the voice system for all his navigation and not looking at the screen, whether he could have or not.

          I saw a demo last night by a blind computer user of how he uses the screen reader (on a Mac, but mostly web pages). He had enough vision to be able to see that the projection screen had something on

      • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

        1) Duplicate existing, popular app with features for the visually and hearing-impaired

        2) Profit

    • I know a guy who is blind (light sensitivity only), he tried an iPhone the other day and loved it. I do a bit of interface design, and I thought it wouldn't work so well due to the lack of tactile feedback; apparently it wasn't even an issue. Provided you have a consistent learnable layout (such as the grid icon system of an iPhone for different applications), and/or at least an alternative way of "tabbing" through interactive items on the screen, plus obviously screen-reading capability, they're set. Up
    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      In terms of accessibility to the blind predictability is also very important.

      You do not have to be able to feel the location of the buttons as long as the same things happen when you do the same actions.

      So stuff like "personalized menus/buttons" that change with usage make things unpredictable.

      A totally blind person can learn to get around in a place pretty well, as long as you don't keep moving the furniture and stuff around. Once you move stuff around that slows them down immensely.

      To help them more you c
    • by cdrnet ( 1582149 )

      Microsoft recently filled a patent for a new technology that can add a texture layer to traditional touch screens. One of its uses could be to turn it into braille pad.

      • That doesn't mean that it will be in stores anytime soon, obviously it would require a new version of Windows Phone 7 with new APIs.
  • hacked on (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @09:45PM (#34542124) Homepage Journal
    One reason MS Windows got called on the carpet was that so many things were hacked on and bloated., Recall that MS Windows could not change screen setting without a reboot. They added that feature but also other less useful things. When hacking on security MS fought between making users machines accessible to legitimate third parties and keeping it secure from less legitimate third parties. In the end, since security wasn`t designed into the product, security for all intents and purposes did not exist.

    Accessibility has to be designed in. It is like multiple language capability in software. With the right design, it is easy. With the wrong design one will always have little places where words are not properly transited. If MS did not design accessibility into the basics of MS Windows 7,if they have to design it in after the fact, they lost an incredible opportunity.

    • Having done some AT consulting, Windows 7 has some great features for the blind. The new built-in speech recognition is incredibly accurate and for people who can't see the screen or navigate using a mouse/keyboard find it to be a godsend. Why they couldn't do this for Windows Phone 7 doesn't make any sense.

  • TFA vs TFS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Trelane ( 16124 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @09:56PM (#34542212) Journal


    One of the things Microsoft has done well for many years now (since they got called on the carpet about Windows 95) is providing compatibility with assistive technology used by the blind. Their current push is for a set of APIs called User Automation.


    For the [non-minor visual, physical, and audio as well as any other] disabilities, access is via an assistive technology (AT) that mediates the user experience. This is where our the accessibility challenges lie. The challenges stem from the fact that Microsoft Windows doesn't provide a real accessibility infrastructure - as compared to UNIX systems with GNOME, the Java platform, or Macintosh OS X. In Windows, virtually all of the information needed by assistive technologies has to be obtained by patching the operating system, replacing/chaining video drivers, reverse engineering applications, and/or using proprietary COM interfaces to get at the data within an application. The first accessibility API Microsoft put forth for accessibility - Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) - fails to provide most of the information needed for screen reading and other AT uses, and is being supplanted in future Windows releases. What this means is that for an application to be accessible in Microsoft Windows via a particular assistive technology, that AT vendor has to have made a significant investment in customizing their product to that application. The greater the customization investment, the "more accessible" an application is deemed to be, at least via that particular AT. For example, the Windows screen reader with the largest market share, JAWS, has made a huge investment in customization of their product to Microsoft Office (and in contrast made a much smaller investment in customization for WordPerfect). For this reason blind folks generally feel that Microsoft Office is "accessible" (and that WordPerfect "isn't as accessible") - not because of work done by Microsoft or Corel, but work done (or not done) by Freedom Scientific, the creator of JAWS.

    Quoth []

    In 2005, Microsoft released UIA as a successor to the older Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) framework.

    Seems to be a decade missing there.

  • by ojintoad ( 1310811 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @10:53PM (#34542496)
    From the included link to IAccessible2 []:

    IAccessible2 is a new accessibility API which complements Microsoft's earlier work on MSAA. This API fills critical accessibility API gaps in the MSAA offering. IAccessible2 was created out of necessity to produce a usable and accessible OpenDocument Format (ODF) based office suite for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. IAccessible2 is an engineered accessibility interface allowing application developers to leverage their investment in MSAA while also providing an Assistive Technology (AT) access to rich document applications such as the IBM Workplace productivity editors and web browsers such as Firefox. The additional functionality includes support for rich text, tables, spreadsheets, Web 2.0 applications, and other large mainstream applications.

    Are you telling me that this will magically get Windows Phone 7 phones to have accessibility support? Because I'm not reading that.

    Additionally, Microsoft seems pretty conciliatory on this. From the AFB link []:

    Andy Lees, president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, accepted responsibility, saying, "We were incompetent on this."

  • You are just too good at explaining things! I have found this extremely useful. Please keep us posted.
  • Where in TFAs does it say that MS is abandoning UIA?

    I see it saying that they didn't implement it in the phone OS (probably to get it to market faster), but I don't see anything saying that MS is abandoning all future work on UIA in Windows in favor of IA2 from MSAA. There doesn't seem to be sufficient evidence from TFAs to draw that conclusion.

    Did I miss something?

  • by FullBandwidth ( 1445095 ) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @02:39AM (#34543550)
    I had to laugh when I saw Microsoft described as "doing well" in terms of accessibility for the blind. It's simply not true; their attempts at accessibility are token at best and largely ignored by the blind community. I know lots of blind people and I don't know a single one who uses a Windows desktop or mobile product without a third-party application such as JAWS for Windows, ZoomText or Nuance. Oh and while we're on the subject: Adobe's accessibility "features" are non-functional - not only are they totally inadequate standing alone, they also prevent those 3rd party applications from doing their jobs. PDFs and Flash are pretty much inaccessible to blind users. I am holding out hope for Pico on Android ... though I have yet to get it working on anything but the emulator that comes with the SDK.
    • So what major company is doing better?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Apple. They have a screen reader integrated into their OS, and it is actually quite useable.

      • Second AC's choice of Apple. Not only are the bits built in and good quality, more importantly it's nearly trivial for devs to make accessible apps whether on Mac OS or iOS. (Said from the perspective of someone who used to be an accessibility lead at MSFT.)

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire