GUIs (was Re: A comment on Slashdot)

Martin G. McCormick martin at
Tue Apr 25 10:44:26 EDT 2000

	I am glad to read this thread as I see I am not totally crazy.

	Someone mentioned Midnight Commander.  I am not sure what that
application is, but the poster made an important point
that I will belabor a bit.  There are accessibility problems in UNIX
even without X windows, but they are a somewhat different grade of
beast than the Microsoft variety of problems.  There are applications
in UNIX that try to create a certain screen effect that causes our
linear method of reading to produce results that are hard to follow,
but the big difference is that we may be able to easily fix it if our
screen reader can be controlled in the way it reads to us.  That is an
important difference.  It is possible that we may not know how to make
the screen reader behave or that the screen reader is not capable of
doing what we need it to do, but it could.  I know that all sounds
contradictory, but what I am saying is that the data are present.  We
may not like the order they are presented in, but they are there.  A
little example is in order.

	There is a command in UNIX called df which system
administrators used to see how full a file system has gotten.  If I
just type

df -k /home

from the shel prompt, I hear

Filesystem         1024-blocks  Used Available Capacity Mounted on
/dev/dsk/c0t0d0s0    1893030 1167390   668850     64%   /

	This, by the way is from a Sun Sparc, so your mil age may vary,
but what all that was is two lines that form a little table.  The top
line is the name of the column headers and the bottom line consists of
all the values for those columns.  I must listen kind of carefully to
the stream of speech until I hear the very last element which, in this
case is 64%.  A better way to do that is to use nawk as a filter and
give a command like

df -k /home |nawk '{print $5}'

	That tosses out everything but the fifth column.  I hear


which is a little easier on the ears because you don't have to try to
sort out all the digits in the different columns.

	My point is that the data were there and I could doctor them a
bit to make them quicker and easier to read.  In the Microsoft-style
accessibility problem, the data are simply not anywhere to be gotten
using any kind of standard rules or functions.  Several years ago, I
seriously thought about diving in to Windows and trying to come up
with an open-source screen reader as my contribution to society.  To
be honest, I gave up right after I found out that each application is
its own little world and may or may not use standard function calls.
It is the ultimate nightmare scenario of the old DOS practice of
writing directly to the video buffer instead of using BIOS and DOS
function calls.  Microsoft tried to fix this with MSAA, but it was
like asking everybody to always say, "please" and "thank you."  It has
been an utter failure as far as I can tell.  The commercial screen
readers that are so expensive are so partly because one almost has to
practice Voodoo to tease out the data from various programs that each
do something different.

	I say flat out that MSWindows, NT, and 2K are all loosing
propositions as far as access goes as long as there is no sacred
method for handling I/O.  If this is ever fixed, it won't fix the
existing software base, but new software may work with some
applications having the second-level problem I previously described.
At least that would be a step in the right direction.

Martin McCormick

Janina Sajka writes:
>Isn't MSAA de facto evidence of the failure of MS operating and
>application environments for access. Put the other way, if Windows and
>Windows applications could directly support alternate interface
>technologies, would there still be a need for MSAA?

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