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Apple Wins the Accessibility Game from Microsoft - Supernova 12.04 Now Support Internet Exploer 9

13 July, 2011 by Peter Verhoeven

Dolphin Computer Access today released a free SuperNova update for all version 12 users enabling people with low vision to access Internet Explorer 9. In a press release I received from Dophin, I read they are very proud with this release. Why is Dolphin so proud with this new release of SuperNova that never seems to get out of beta and what is the role of Microsoft?

Yesterday I received a press release from Dolpin announcing the release of SuperNova 12.04.
In the press release I read that magnification in SuperNova is the first to support the new performance enhancing technology called Direct2D, used in Internet Explorer 9.

Dolphin can be proud, because on the website of AI Squared, makers of the worrld most popular professional screen magnifier for Windows, I read that users of ZoomText are recommended to not upgrade to Internet Exploer 9 because of compatibility issues.

In the press release Colin Shales, a magnification tester at Dolphin and author of ‘Colin’s Column’, a Facebook blog on computer access for low vision people explains further:

“Whilst most of the sighted world got excited about the arrival of Internet Explorer 9, low vision people like me were feeling left behind. I have macular degeneration and rely on SuperNova to magnify the screen’s contents up large so I can shop online, write my Facebook blog and read the day’s headlines. SuperNova not only magnifies the text it also smoothes the letters so I can read them, a feature we call True Fonts. Without this ‘high definition’ font smoothing, the letters are jagged and almost illegible.”

With this quote Colin Shales suggests that he could not update his Facebook page without Supernova support for Internet exporer 9.
The truth is that you do not need Internet Explorer 9 to update your Facebook page and that by itself it is very hard to Access Facebook by Supernova itself.

For this "hard to access" problem I can not hold Dolphin responsible. Sites like those from Facebook and Google Docs are made by web evelopers without enough skills to design accessible pages and applicatiosns. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Adobe claim they are paying attention to accessibility, but in practice they push off all effort to make digital information accessible to visually impaired to others.

Because Microsoft does not take responsibility for accessibilty the millons of visually impaired users of the Windows operating system are dependent on third party copanies like Dolphin, Freedom Scientific, GW Micro, AI Squared, Serotek or the open source initiative NVDA.

Except NVDA (which is an exellent iniative and the screen reader is free) all these companies are trying to give visually impaired access to the digital world via Microsoft Windows by selling expensive screen readers. By itself these companies are not working together, while the devolopement of a screen reader is work for specialists!

All screen readers have in common that they try to output what is on the screen into speech. Screen readers like Jaws, NVDA, Supernova and Window-Eyes can also output to a braille refreshable display. Supernova is the only screen reader with support for Speech, Braille and Magnification.

So, all these companies are not working together to give visually imapired people the best access possible to digital information, instead they are competitors with a minimum support of Microsoft that must make profit to survive.

In this light you have to read the press release of Dolphin. In the game to support magnification for Direc2D in Internet Explorer 9 they won the race!

But there are more games to play by the companies in the screen reader industry. Internet Exploer 9 is one application, but Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 is another one.
GW Micro seems to be th winner in the UI Automation game.
Supernova does not support UI Automation at all.

UI Automation is the successor of Microsoft Active Accesibility (MSAA). Like UI Automation also a framework for application developers to create accessible applications.

So to make a Windows application accessible the developers of the application must use the UI Autoamtion framework, otherwise screen reader companies have a hard job to get these applications accessible. Beside MSAA and UI Automation there are more frameworks to make applications accessible. For Java and Flash there are also such frameworks.
What all these frameworks have in common is that responsibility for access to Java applications, Flash Applications and Windows Applications is pushed off to developers who mostly do not use these frameworks resulting in an inaccessible world.
Any time a new accessibility framework is released, screen reader companies have a lot of work to do.
Screen readers use these frameworks to get information from the application and translate it to alternative output formats (braille, speech, magnification). Users of these screen readers have to pay hunderds of dollars to upgrade to a new version of the screen reader to access to applications using these new accessibility frameworks.

That it is possible to make the digital world much more accessible to the visually impaired shows Apple.
Apple does not push off responsibility and cost for accessibility to third party companies and the visually impaired.
There is no screen reader market for the IOS operating system, because Apple is devoloping the VoiceOver screen reader for the IOS operating system themselves.
Products like the iMac, iPod, iPod Touch and iPhone are all accessible by default, because Apple had paid attention to it and included it into its product design.

Touch screens were always thought to be inaccessible to blind people. Apple shows the opposite by making all their touch screen products accessible to the blind, without any additional cost.

In the press release of Dolphin you can read a paragraph which well illustrates the push off responsibility for accessibilty strategy from Microsft.

Dan Hubbel Technical Evangelist from Microsoft said:

"Dolphin’s developers have responded quickly and effectively to the Direct2D challenge. With support for Internet Explorer 9, SuperNova is enabling people with low vision to realize their potential and experience the beauty of the web."

By saying "Dolphin developers have responded quickly and effectively", Dan Hubbel confirms Microsoft push off responsibiblity for accessibility strategy.

For Microsoft the visual impaired themselves are not interesting. Microsoft include minimum support for speech output and magnification in Windows. With these minimum speech and magnification features visually impaired can do less.
For good access to the Windows operating system and Microsoft Windows applications, visually impaired are currently dependent on small companies, who are not able to follow new and changing technology developments. This results in crashing screen readers with only support for old technology.

But it is nice that Colin Shales can now update his Facebook page in Internet Explorer 9 and I hope I can keep my job, because I can not access Visual Studio 2010 with Supernova!

I am glad that the free NVDA screen reader give me some basic support in Visual Stuido 2010 and helps me read a PDF file!
Microsoft was always good in buying companies holding technology they do not have in-house. It is time for Microsoft to compare accessibility features in Windows with those in Apple's IOS and start to close the gap!

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