Thoughts on David’s Letter

I wanted to comment on two specific reactions of some members of the blind Mac users community I have read on various email lists. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinions and there is not necessarily a “right or wrong” answer in this particular case. However, I find myself having to respond to these two specific notions that have become common in the responses I have, thus far encountered.

The first area is the subject of iWorks and Apple’s responsibility in making the application accessible. I, of course, fully agree with this assertion. This, to me, is something that is definitely necessary.

The second line of thinking is what I feel is an almost “defeatist” attitude about it being a losing proposition to try to get Microsoft to fix the current accessibility problems in their Office suite for the Mac. I don’t believe that simply boot camping or using VM Fusion to be the acceptable solution nor do I even agree with the opinion of the importance of the current reality that Microsoft Office is as “dominating” a product in the business world today as some keep repeating.In regard to the point that many have made that Apple needs to get iWorks fully accessible and that this is a solution to the issue David presents below, I agree with this as far as Apple needing to “lead by example” by making all of their products accessible to the blind. I know there are a few specific individuals who have been overly harsh and not necessarily professional in their criticisms of the current state of accessibility of iWorks 09, the latest version of Apple’s productivity suite. By and large, it is accessible and useable by a VoiceOver user, but, again, I completely agree that Apple needs to tie down the loose ends and, specifically, get table interaction to work in documents with VoiceOver.

The reality is Microsoft Office is vulnerable and is losing favor in the work place. Significant changes to the interface with every new version and the high price for maintaining the product has led many companies to seek alternatives to Office. Without a doubt, since iWorks can save in and handle, for example, Word and Excel formats, this makes iWorks a very viable option. A few people have even pointed out to me that document formatting availability for document downloads in some places have even begun to include Pages format by default.

Nevertheless, with this said, the bottom line is that Apple has to make iWorks fully accessible for VoiceOver users. Table interaction overall in documents is probably one of the biggest “problems” VoiceOver users encounter at this point, and though there are a few effective work arounds that have been offered, it’s still a matter that needs to be addressed. Thus, letting Apple accessibility know that you are an iWorks user or potential iWorks user and would like to see all facets of the suite to be accessible to VoiceOver is surely something folks should consider and do. Passed experiences have convinced me that the accessibility people do listen, and I personally have no doubts that, like with iTunes, we will have full accessibility to iWorks in a upcoming release.

As for the “defeatist” attitude as it relates to the state of Microsoft Office accessibility on the Mac, I think that people have to not be so accepting and simply chalk it up to being a “losing battle”. Let me be clear here. Microsoft has deliberately chosen to make their product inaccessible to VoiceOver users. This is not a case of Microsoft bashing on my part. This is basic fact. The application was rewritten in Coco, the native language of OS x, yet the most important aspect of, for instance, Microsoft Word, the content area, is not readable by VoiceOver. Since accessibility is virtually built into Coco, one has to purposely MAKE their product inaccessible to VoiceOver. This is unacceptable and down right insulting.

Despite the fact that MS is losing market share to Apple, Google and other alternatives to their office suite and the claimed notion that 90 percent of companies uses MS Office is about 2 years out of date, one still needs to rattle their cage. Microsoft professes themselves to be a company that leads the way for the disabled, as demonstrated in many of their television commercials in the past. Of course, one can easily argue this point with Windows access alone, yet putting even that aside, why can’t they make Office for Mac accessible? Why do they choose not to do so? Publicizing this issue and calling them out on this is just as necessary as Apple making iWorks fully accessible.

Thus, where are the blindness organizations on this matter? They were quick to condemn Apple for lack of iTunes accessibility. I think that both organizations can make a pretty significant impact on Microsoft’s public relations if they were to make a few statements and resolutions in regard to this matter. This does effect the employment value of blind people, especially as the Mac gains traction in the enterprise market. No matter how “big” Microsoft may be, a big enough black eye or even enough small cuts will get their attention.

Remember the “$500 phone without a keyboard” Steve Balmer claimed no one would ever by in 2007 when the iPhone came out or how many people openly questioned and even mocked the iPad when it was first released in 2010? Simply don’t accept something because “everyone” says it can’t be done. Microsoft has to be held to the same standards as Apple, and it’s not enough to say that iWorks HAS to be made accessible, but Microsoft can receive a pass because they are too large of a company to challenge. Folks, need I remind you of who is actually the “bigger” company now as far as market cap and profits go? Write Microsoft over and over again and get the blindness organizations to step up to the plate to represent the blind, and not special interests alone. Office for the Mac can be made accessible, and it’s up to Microsoft to do the right thing and for us to push and prod them if we have to.

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