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Warning: Blind Screen Reader Users Urged to Avoid Early Skype 4.0 Beta

June 18, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Doug Lee, creator and maintainer of the popular JAWS scripts for Skype, reports that there appear to be some significant accessibility concerns with the Skype 4.0 beta in its early form:

This is a bit long, but I have a lot to say…

As has already been announced here, Skype 4.0 Beta has been made public, though I don’t think it’s yet being made loudly public. Skype 4.0 is a very significant change from Skype 3 in its appearance and in how things are done. It is also still taking shape, which means that a number of features and basic functions, including accessibility in some places, are still being worked out. In this message, I will discuss some of the changes, comment on the status of accessibility in this beta, and provide information important to anyone who wishes to try it. In summary though, I do not recommend the beta for most JAWS users yet, but I am working with Skype developers, and actually meeting some of them in person, to accelerate the implementation of full accessibility for Skype 4. Anyone who still wants to try this beta should read this message to its end, get the beta scripts I will announce, read and regularly check back with my web page on Skype 4 and the Skype 4 scripts, and report any issues that are not already shown there to me and/or this mailing list.

Before I say more, let me demonstrate what I mean by “very significant change” by describing a few things that have happened:

  1. There is now the concept of a “conversation,” which includes chats, calls, contact detail requests, etc. between you and someone else. One significance of this is that a “missed call” will no longer show up in an Events panel but will instead show up as a line in a conversation window, right along with chat lines you may have been exchanging with that person. Our Ctrl+Shift+E command still reads the Account panel, which contains your name, mood text, and account balance; but there aren’t any events there anymore. I am making Alt+numbers continue to read chats, so this is where you would now find missed calls.
  2. Chat windows, which have always been separate from the Skype window, are now contained within it. This means that you will generally only have one Skype window and will just move among things inside it to move among conversations, calls, etc. There is actually a way to “open” a chat window and make it separate as before, but this
    is not the default way to handle chats now.
  3. Conversations are listed in a list box, sort of like the Contact list. This list is sometimes called the Inbox now. You can still start a conversation by right-clicking on a contact in the Contact list, but you can also move among active conversations by pressing Enter on conversations in the Inbox list.

There’s a lot more I could say, but you get the idea: A lot has happened to Skype!

As for grabbing and trying the beta, I do not recommend this yet for most JAWS users. I am working closely with Skype developers on making things accessible, and there is a notable amount of accessibility already in the beta; but we still have a ways to go before the whole picture is painted, so to speak. I am actually personally meeting with some of the Skype developers this weekend to discuss how to make things more accessible to us, and I can tell you firsthand that the commitment is there. As I said in an earlier message this morning though, accessibility is far from the only thing not complete at this stage.

Now, for those of you who simply won’t be warned off by such an announcement (), here are some things you should know if you plan to play with this Skype beta:

  1. The current JAWS scripts for Skype 3 will not work very well with Skype 4, and the Skype 4 scripts (see below) will not work very well with Skype 3. There is just too much changed to make it wise or practical to have one set of scripts support both environments. Therefore, I recommend that you back up your Skype 3 scripts before
    trying Skype 4. The easiest way to “back up” the Skype 3 scripts is just to keep a copy of the installer for them, which you can rerun any time you want those scripts back. Also keep an installer for your Skype 3 version of choice, so you can beat a full and hasty retreat if necessary.
  2. My web site now hosts a set of beta scripts for Skype 4.0. Please read the material there carefully, including the admittedly long list of known issues, before downloading and installing the scripts. Note that this page is *NOT* findable from the main Skype script page yet; this is not an accident.
  3. There is a bug in this Skype 4 Beta release that causes Skype to crash under certain conditions if JAWS is running when you press Tab or Shift+Tab in a conversation pane. This issue is being addressed by Skype itself and not via scripting. The web site mentioned above explains how to get around this safely.

To all of you who prefer to stay in more comfortable and calm waters, rest assured, Skype 4 accessibility is stabilizing right along with Skype 4 itself, and both I and the Skype developers and company are committed to making this happen.

If you do decide to try these early Skype 4.0 beta versions, Please review the Skype 4.0 Beta 1 for Windows post on the Skype blog and provide your constructive feedback directly to Skype for consideration.

Categories: Skype

2 opinions on “Warning: Blind Screen Reader Users Urged to Avoid Early Skype 4.0 Beta

  1. It sounds like all the effort to make Skype accessible came out only as a warning in Skype’s download page, http://www.skype.com/intl/en/download/skype/windows/ , that it’s still better to use Skype 3.8. And that is still not the worst part: Non-English speakers don’t have this warning translated. At least, they didn’t translate it to Portuguese, Spanish and Itallian. Also, they have removed accessibility features in places that were already accessible like file receiving via keyboard, so it doesn’t affect only blind users, but also people who cannot use a mouse for moving disabilities. But let’s see if that changes!!!

  2. I was trying, since Skype really is removing accessibility in places it already had, like to close Skype via system tray, to use Ekiga, an opensource software for Windows and Linux, but it is not accessible at all for screen readers. Since it is an open source program, wouldn't it be easier if we tried to talk to the developers in its discussion list about making it accessible instead of waiting for Skype? After all, by what I understand, Ekiga is already accessible in Linux, for Orca users, at least by the e-mail I received from its main developer, although I have not tested it, so when it becomes accessible for Windows too, it will be for everyone!

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