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A quick round up of the last few days... On Thursday evening I went… - John C. Kirk

Jan. 28th, 2006

06:40 pm

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A quick round up of the last few days...

On Thursday evening I went off to the annual BCS/IEE Turing lecture - this year's talk was about the ways that technology can help/hinder disabled people, and it was very interesting. The speaker is from the Douglas Bader school of "not letting your disabilities get in the way", so even though he's blind he's done things like solo water-skiing across the English channel to raise money for charity, and he made his points in an entertaining way. I also thought it was a nice touch to have someone sitting by the stage doing sign language translation on the fly.

From my point of view, the most relevant issue is websites (since I'm not in charge of designing toilets or cashpoints). I'm all in favour of making them accessible, and most of my site is AA conformant; the only exception is the photo album (single A conformant), since it didn't seem worthwhile to provide detailed descriptions of all the photos. Mind you, I may not be the best ambassador for the cause, since my site has a fairly basic style - I'm sure it's possible to have a more interesting layout/colour scheme, while still being accessible. Similarly, I've used MathML/SVG where appropriate (rather than images). What I'd now like to do is to install some kind of text->speech converter on my PC, so that I can see how well the site works if you're blind. Unfortunately, JAWS for Windows (which seems to be the standard application) costs $895 for the Standard version (about £500). If you're blind, that's probably a reasonable price to pay, and if you're a big company then it's comparable to other software, but as an individual with a social conscience it's quite expensive. Anyway, I'm downloading a free demo version now, so I'll see what kind of functionality that has. The speaker did say that Apple Macs (OS X) come with a free screen reader built-in, so that could be useful to other people.

At the end of the talk they had a Q&A session, which did remind me of something that came up in my SJA radio training recently. When you use a radio on duty, everyone nearby will be on the same channel, so only one person can speak at a time; the advice I got was "think about what you want to say before you say it, and before you actually press the button on the microphone". At the risk of embarrassing susannahf, I thought that she made a good point (about the relevance of our ageing population), and that she said it clearly and concisely. By contrast, there were other people who just rambled on for a few minutes, and by the time they finished I thought "Was there a question in there somewhere?"

The IEE have the talk up on their website as a RealPlayer streaming video (although it didn't work when I tried it just now), so anyone who missed it can still watch. Next year they're getting Grady Booch (the UML guy), who was supposed to come this year but had to cancel due to ill health, so that should be interesting.

Today I went off to the Stratford Rex on SJA duty, for the Choice FM Under-18s Jam. Or at least, that was the plan; when I arrived, they said that SJA head office had cancelled the duty because they couldn't get enough people to cover it, so the event organisers went to EuroMed instead. I'm not particularly bothered about missing out on the music (I'm not a huge hip-hop/RnB fan), but it would have been nice to know in advance, before I'd schlepped all the way over there... Ah well, never mind - on the plus side, that gave me time to do a comics run on my way back home.

Speaking of comics, the Magnus Robot Fighter TPB that I mentioned in my last entry turned out to be a new graphic novel, i.e. a third version of the character. It didn't look particularly interesting, so I left it on the shelf. However, while I was browsing the manga section in Forbidden Planet I found an adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle; what's significant here is that they had the original Japanese version as well as the English translation, so I got the former. I do need to improve my Japanese reading speed, so that I can actually read a word at a time rather than getting a string of syllables and then figuring out how to pronounce the word, and I think that practice is the way to do that.

Thinking about it, that is an interesting difference in the way that various languages are taught (or at least, the way that they've been taught to me). When I did Greek and Latin, right from the start we were translating sentences into English (of increasing difficulty), and so it didn't take me long to get familiar with the lower-case Greek alphabet, although I'm less confident about the upper-case letters (since they are rarely used). By contrast, my Japanese classes have been more like French, where there's more of a focus on conversational skills (mostly spoken rather than written) and English->foreign translation.

Comments:

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From:susannahf
Date:January 29th, 2006 11:02 am (UTC)
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if you have Windows XP, there is a text-to-speech engine built in (or at least there is on my version of XP home). Bizarrely though, it's under Sound and Audio-> Speech rather than Accessibility, which isn't very accessible...
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 29th, 2006 01:35 pm (UTC)
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Ah, thank you - it's in XP Pro too, and I really should have known that, considering that I've passed all three XP exams :/

Anyway, I've had a play with that; KB article 306902 explains the process in more detail, including Narrator (which is in the Accessibility program group). Now that I've done that, it has given me slightly better insight into the things that he talked about on Thursday, e.g. the way that Narrator will describe every single IE toolbar button if you ask it to read out a web page. It works with IE and Firefox, but it doesn't handle SVG with either (I'm not sure about MathML yet).
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