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Window-Eyes 7.0: Releasing the Potential for Momentous Steps Forward in Accessibility for the Blind

September 22, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Window-Eyes 7.0 has just been released by GW Micro, featuring advanced object-oriented scripting and other capabilities that have the potential to unleash greater accessibility of mainstream computer software to the blind and visually impaired. Doug Geoffray, Vice President of Development at GW Micro, Aaron Smith, GW Micro’s Director of Technical Support and Web Development and Jeff Bishop, a blind software developer with the University of Arizona and an expert Window-Eyes script developer, spent time talking with me about all the advancements found in this new major release of a leading screen reader.

A screen reader simply enables a blind person to use the applications and operating system on a computer without sight by converting on-screen text into a Braille or spoken format. Intelligent screen readers like Window-Eyes deliver information in a linear format, interpret the active window, read complex web pages and perform many other advanced functions. According to Geoffray, “Window-Eyes strives to fill the role of a sighted assistant for the blind computer user.” Geoffray goes on to further explain the workings of screen reading software. In graphical user interfaces such as Windows, a screen reader must acquire text before it is rendered by the operating system. The screen reader gathers graphics, text and other relevant information into a three dimensional database known as an off screen model (OSM). The reliability of the OSM is subject to factors including the display fonts in use and the video card drivers installed on the user’s system. Current screen readers enjoy additional accessibility beyond the OSM. Screen readers can “talk to” standard Windows (Win32) controls directly, without the need to scrape text out of the off-screen model. Applications may use the Component Object Model (COM) to expose their user interfaces to other Windows programs, including assistive technology. Further, specialized interfaces such as Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA), User Interface Automation (UI Automation) and iAccessible2 allow mainstream application developers to specifically ensure their applications are accessible to the assistive technology on which people with disabilities rely. Geoffray says that use of direct Win32 controls, COM, MSAA, UI Automation, iAccessible 2 and all similar techniques are always preferred to the off-screen model whenever they provide sufficient information to make a piece of software accessible. The OSM should be relied upon as a last resort when all other techniques fail. Window-Eyes 7.0 strives to take advantage of many of these advanced techniques to increase accessibility, especially through its object-oriented scripting approach.

Although scripting is, by far, the number one enhancement found in this latest Window-Eyes release, other new features are noteworthy in their own right. Geoffray tells us that Window-Eyes is now 100 percent Unicode compliant. This enables access to foreign language text, certain PDF documents not previously readable, Microsoft Word’s smart quoting feature and any other situation where use of special symbols is required. Intelligent place markers may now be defined on dynamic web pages delivering quick access to a specific area of the page based not only on its virtual line number, but also on the text at the cursor. A new Eloquence speech synthesizer, access to the Firefox 3.0 web browser, support for the public beta version of Internet Explorer 8.0 and improved stability round out some of the other important Window-Eyes 7.0 features.

The truly revolutionary feature in Window-Eyes 7.0 is its industry standard scripting support. It has been implemented in such a way as to permit development using any object oriented programming language. JScript and VBScript hosting is built directly into Window-Eyes. “Scripting can enable access to software with dynamic, visually rich user interfaces”, says Jeff Bishop, the creator of scripts for the Winamp media player. According to Geoffray, “Many companies want to hire blind people without remaking their applications to be more accessible. In some cases, the employer may not have full control over the manner in which their applications have been developed. Instead, they hire out for scripting. Someone is contracted to write and maintain the scripts as the software environment changes.” Window-Eyes provides the facility to make custom, proprietary applications accessible through the configuration of Set files and the creation of scripts. “Scripting in Window-Eyes was developed as an additional capability to complement tried and true core functionality,” says Bishop. “It has not been built as a core framework like it has in other products. Scripts should be used only when necessary. If Set files would work, those are the best approach. They are simpler and less resource intensive. Especially with rich software architectures, scripting can provide a nice user experience. There are a number of cases for work situations in dynamic environments where interfaces aren’t accessible. Window-Eyes now delivers the ability to develop scripts to handle these cases.”

The new scripting functionality benefits end users the most. GW Micro provides a web site called Script Central where the efforts of a number of script developers are shared freely with the entire Window-Eyes user community. The site enables discussion and rating of all scripts. A few examples are especially noteworthy. Jeff Bishop’s Winamp scripts significantly increase both accessibility and usability of that media player far beyond that available with any other screen reader. Jamal Mazrui’s Install Packages script provides a painless way for nontechnical users to install just about any Window-Eyes script in 30 seconds or less! GW Micro’s Weather or Not script uses the free Weather Underground service to report the conditions for any number of locations simply by pressing a keystroke! Geoffray hopes that a number of open source collaborative projects will make scripts for complex applications available freely via Script Central. He also hopes some developers will invest significant resources into writing scripts for Window-eyes, making demo versions of their work available on Script Central along with relevant contact information for purchasing fully functioning copies.

Some in the access technology industry have expressed concerns about the potential for the Window-Eyes scripting approach to expose users to Trojan horses, viruses and other forms of malware. Bishop reminds us that the Windows operating system has relied upon scripting for many years, and these concerns are exactly the same as those we must all apply across the board with mainstream software. GW Micro has made every practical effort to minimize risks. Window-Eyes complies with any system software restriction policies set by a company’s IT staff, can be easily configured to run only scripts signed by a trusted publisher and supports encryption of scripts. Bishop believes proprietary approaches such as the one employed in JAWS are not safer than the object oriented model used by Window-Eyes. “You can run commands on the system in JAWS scripts. If anyone wants to be malicious, they will do it with either JAWS or Window-Eyes. It is a matter of IT security and user awareness. The Internet is not always a safe place.”

The future for Window-Eyes is bright. Geoffray reminds us that the web is changing. Browse mode, the core Window-Eyes facility enabling us to easily read the contents of web pages, continues to work primarily with static web sites. Browse mode will be “gutted and opened up to new web technologies.” These will include dynamic Web 2.0 (AJAX) content such as that created in accordance with the Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) standard. Since Java is used in many workplace applications, GW Micro plans to implement the technology in such a way as to expose it to scripters.

We at Blind Access Journal are excited about Window-Eyes 7.0. Enhancements to web browsing, intelligent place markers, support for Firefox 3.0, full Unicode compliance and many other core features and bug fixes make this release worthy of serious consideration for current and new Window-Eyes owners. The implementation of fully industry standard object-oriented scripting support takes this release over the top! Any competent software developer can quickly create high quality scripts that increase the accessibility of applications or improve the efficiency of Window-Eyes users in the classroom, the workplace and beyond. In the tradition of GW Micro, Geoffray declares: “Whenever we do something, we do it right. We don’t use buzz words and marketing speak. Three months of public beta testing and much more private testing have gone into the development of Window-Eyes 7.0. Many weekend hours have been spent by GW Micro staff, especially near the final release.” Finally, as GW Micro’s lead script developer, Aaron Smith concludes: “We’re talking at least an entire year’s worth of pretty much constant development. That’s another thing that’s so cool about Window-Eyes scripting. It took a year, and is already on par with JAWS scripting that’s been around for, what, 15 years?”

Categories: scripting

Press Release: Window-Eyes 7.0 is Now Available

September 18, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We at Blind Access Journal are excited about the release of Window-Eyes 7.0. In fact, we’re hard at work on an in-depth article covering this release. Please stay tuned.

GW Micro is proud to announce the official release of Window-Eyes 7.0. The maturity of Window-Eyes has reached unprecedented levels in this latest version.

The addition of scripting support provides users with the tools to enhance the accessibility and usability of third party applications, the operating system, and even Window-Eyes itself. GW Micro has always stood by the statement that Window-Eyes does not include complicated and proprietary scripting support, and that statement remains true with Window-Eyes 7.0. Instead, the addition of an industry standard scripting interface using tools that already exist in the Windows operating system allows users new to
scripting, seasoned programmers, and everyone in between to take full advantage of this powerful new feature without getting bogged down in a complex and rigid programming environment. Users not interested in creating scripts can still take advantage of scripts written by other users through an intuitive script management system. GW Micro is also proud to offer a centralized script repository where both script users and script developers can gather to distribute and discuss Window-Eyes scripts. Visit Script Central for more information.

Window-Eyes 7.0 contains several other features, including many Browse Mode enhancements, the inclusion of a new Eloquence synthesizer, support for both Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 8, and overall increased speed and stability. Window-Eyes 7.0 is fully Unicode compliant, allowing for more localization options for virtually any language. In addition, Window-Eyes 7.0 is the first screen reader to provide support for iTunes 8, including access to the Apple iTunes store.

Thank you to everyone involved in the public beta cycle. Window-Eyes continues to lead the way in adaptive technology because of the dedication of our customers.

Window-Eyes 7.0 is a paid upgrade for existing Window-Eyes users. If you own Window-Eyes 6.1, you may purchase an upgrade to Window-Eyes 7.0 for $175, plus shipping. If you already own Window-Eyes 6.1, and have an active SMA, you will be receiving your Window-Eyes 7.0 CD in the mail soon. Please be patient; all Window-Eyes SMA CDs are our first priority. You may also choose to download your Window-Eyes 7.0 upgrade for immediate installation. To download the Window-Eyes 7.0 upgrade, to check the status of your SMA account, or to determine your upgrade eligibility, go to the Window-Eyes Help menu, and choose the Window-Eyes Upgrade option. Alternatively, you can visit the upgrades page, and follow the instructions. If you own a version of Window-Eyes older than 6.1, refer to the GW Micro Window-Eyes Upgrade Catalog page for applicable upgrade costs.

Window-Eyes 7.0 supports Windows 2000, Windows XP (32-bit versions of Home, Professional, and Media Center), Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista (all 32-bit versions), and Windows Server 2008 (all 32-bit versions). If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at 260-489-3671, or

Categories: Uncategorized

Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father of an Evolving Natione!

September 14, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I made this post in my History (HST) 109 course discussion forum in response to the following class discussion question:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Ever seen these words before? Sure you have. They are from the Declaration of Independence and they were written by Thomas Jefferson. Did it ever strike you that these words about “all men” being created equal and having certain rights were written by one of the world’s largest slaveholders? How do we, as Americans, reconcile Jefferson’s words with Jefferson’s deeds? Is it just that TJ is cranking out political rhetoric to stoke a revolution that he hopes will preserve him from bankruptcy? Is he a racist who in using the phrase “all men” knows that his readers know he is excluding what he considers to be lower races (Native Americans, Blacks), or is he simply one of the premier hypocrites in American history? His putative sex life with a slave mistress would probably make even Bill Clinton blush. What’s your take on Jefferson? Which of the above categories does he fall into, or does he fit into “all of the above?” Why do we consider him such a great man?

In some ways, Thomas Jefferson was ahead of his time while in others he was not. On one hand, Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the overall foundation of the United States of America. These developments served to synthesize the works of people like John Locke and Thomas Paine into a real, workable national republic ultimately leading to what we have today as our American society. It seems quite obvious that Thomas Jefferson helped to initiate an evolutionary process of moving toward equal human rights for everyone. It is quite likely he had no clue that his actions would bring out such momentus change in the world. We must take special care to avoid judging our Founding Fathers according to our modern world view.

In the late 18th Century and early 19th Century, during the time in which Thomas Jefferson lived, white males were the only people recognized as full citizens in Western Europe and the American colonies. The man was expected to do the work, own the property and care for his family in all respects. The woman was expected to stay in or near the home, bare and raise children and otherwise support the man’s goals. By and large, she was not expected or permitted to act as an independent individual. For example, American women did not gain such basic human rights as ownership of property and the right to vote until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Native Americans were simply swept aside as white men of European descent mercilessly conquered the New World. It has never been the tradition of any society to recognize the basic human rights of those they wish to subjugate for their own purposes. The rights of African Americans were not considered based on the simple explanation that they were usually bought and sold as property in most of America. Finally, people with disabilities were viewed as being crippled and, thus, incomplete. Their individual needs and desires were never accommodated or considered. Such people were often sheltered by their families, forced to depend on meager charity or outright killed as a means of relieving a burden from the community. In all ways, prior to the late 19th Century, women, minorities and people with disabilities all had one thing in common: they were viewed as less than a complete person by the dominant white male society. further, no laws existed as a means of changing society’s attitude or protecting these groups against persecution.

In most respects, Thomas Jefferson was simply a product of his time. As a farmer and property owner, he was a part of the accepted dominant class of American society. Should we be surprised that he owned slaves? Of course not! Many of his contemporaries also owned numerous slaves. Few white males entertained the possibility that ownership of another human being might be wrong, and the opinions of those from other groups were simply not considered. Should we be shocked when we learn that Jefferson was promiscuous and unfaithful? Absolutely not! Remember, white males dominated. Anytime someone dominates, they hold all the cards. What power did Martha have in the relationship? How would we propose she was going to stop her husband from messing around and having children with other women? He could certainly divorce her if he became unhappy, while it was quite unlikely she would have been able to initiate her own divorce.

Ultimately, we see that the initial intent of the Declaration of Independence was simply freedom from British domination. The rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” applied only to white males in the dominant class of American society. Women, African-Americans, the “Indians”, people with disabilities, and all others were deemed less than full citizens and, thus, not entitled to the same guarantees provided by early American doctrines such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. While the Declaration of Independence signifies the beginnings of the United States, the Constitution is the document that gives real staying power to the new nation. It is quite fortunate, however, that our Constitution provides mechanisms permitting the United States to evolve toward a “more perfect union.” The Judiciary interprets the Constitution while the legislative branch can amend the actual Constitution! It is only through these amendment and legislative processes that the slaves were ultimately freed, women were finally granted the right to vote and people with disabilities are finally starting to have a real chance at participating as full American citizens! We can credit Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and the rest of our Founding Fathers for demonstrating the foresight necessary to establish a nation with underlying principles that allow it to evolve away from dominance by one small class of men and toward full inclusion for all its citizens!

Categories: human rights, opinion

New Internet Radio Station, The Ride, Serves the Blind Community and Beyond

September 7, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Deb and Rick Lewis, former broadcasters on ACB Radio, have just started a new Internet radio station called The Ride featuring the return of their Christian, country and oldies radio shows to the air. They are looking to expand by adding more shows in the future.
The new station remains quite accessible while operating under a licensing arrangement more friendly to broadcasters. The first show, Rick’s Oldies and More, is currently broadcasting live from 2:00 to 6:00 PM Pacific time. We are excited about this development as well as the quick return of Deb and Rick to the Internet radio scene.

Categories: broadcasting

Accessibility Query: Opera Property Management Software

September 2, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Karen and I have an urgent request for any Blind Access Journal readers who may be knowledgeable about the accessibility of customer relationship management and related enterprise management solutions. Karen’s employer will be switching to a new integrated solution by April of 2009. It is called Opera Property Management System, developed by a company named Micros. The only specific details we have from the IT department are that it is web based and may be developed using Java technology. Any additional details anyone may have would be greatly appreciated.

Categories: accessibility

My First Week Back in the College Classroom

September 2, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Many of you have doubtless noticed that I haven’t been doing much blogging for quite sometime. Recent entries have primarily comprised redistribution of existing content with little or no additional commentary. There are numerous excuses and explanations for this absence. Some of you know the story, while many do not. In either case, I will spare all of you, my loyal readers, the pity party, doing my best to get back to the business at hand. Though I will quite likely not be blogging at the same rate as I have in the past, I will, at a minimum, endeavor to catch up with some critical topics in the accessibility arena, assistive technology and the online blind community. I most certainly do have some things to say about recent events, such as the Freedom Scientific versus GW Micro lawsuit and the NFB Target web site accessibility settlement. While you wait for my thoughts on these meatier topics, I would like to tell all of you about one of the obstacles that has been keeping me from blogging: my return to college.


In February of this year, I applied to Benetech as a candidate for the Volunteer Coordinator position. A long selection process ensued, culminating in a visit to Benetech’s headquarters on April 16. As both a Bookshare subscriber and volunteer, I was excited about the possibility of being able to work with a group of people who shared my passion for accessibility. Alas, it just was not to be… On may 2, I learned that I was not selected. I was incredibly disappointed! In addition to my 13 years of direct experience working with technology, I decided I needed to complete a Bachelor’s degree, primarily for the purpose of increasing my likelihood of being selected for the positions I really wanted to pursue. Entry level technical support positions were just no longer enough.

After consulting many in my innercircle of family and close friends, I applied to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, where I was accepted in June. Though I knew I would be dealing with considerable challenges holding a full time job as a technical writer while attending ASU on a part time basis, I knew this was the right thing for me to do. It was time to start giving serious consideration to my long-term future, knowing that my current job could not last forever. Unfortunately, I didn’t know just how numbered my days of continued gainful employment really were. On June 12, I learned that SonicWALL, the company for which I had been employed to deliver technical support services on an outsourcing basis for the past five years, would be bringing all their support operations in-house. We would all have to reapply for our jobs with the new company. In early July, I discovered that I would not be getting an offer, and was ultimately laid off on July 18. I believe SonicWALL discriminated against me based on my blindness, owing to the company’s unwillingness to spend approximately one hour of a developer’s time to make its Siebel customer relationship management (CRM) system accessible to me in a “standard interactivity” mode. It is my hope that this matter will eventually be ajudicated in a court of law or settled in a favorable manner. This experience certainly finished off my desire to continue a career directly in the technology industry. It was a final sign of the long past time for me to complete my education to move on!


As a student with a significant disability, it was even more critical that I complete certain preparation steps prior to my first day of class on August 26. The most important of these steps included:

  • Enrolling in classes – I chose to start with one history and two journalism courses. Since one of those was a one credit class on English grammar for media writers, the total was only seven credit hours.
  • Registration with the Disability Resource Center – I knew I would need some additional assistance and reasonable accommodations from the university, so completing this step was among my first acts immediately after registering for courses. Regardless of one’s attitude with respect to accommodations, it is always better safe than sorry. Register for DRC, even if you think you may not need their help.
  • Acquiring alternative format textbooks – I acquired a list of all required books and requested assistance from DRC in receiving them in an accessible format. Rightly, it was necessary for me to provide receipts indicating I had purchased the print copies before the alternative format copies were delivered to me via e-mail. Alas, “accessible” does not always mean usable, and I’ll be covering this topic in greater detail later.
  • Paid my tuition and fees – This is rather self-explanatory. Almost $4,000 later, after purchasing books, paying tuition and fees, I was finally all set to begin!

When “Accessible” Does Not Always Mean Usable

It is unfortunate that, when it comes to proactivity, I did not score an A Plus with respect to ensuring the accessibility of my textbooks. When each file arrived, I performed a cursory review and saved it in an appropriate course related folder for later reading at the appropriate time during the semester. I trusted that “accessibility” and “usability” would be equivalent, despite the fact I knew better! How many times have we all run computer programs or visited web sites that were reasonably “accessible” but were so challenging as to be impractical to use on a regular basis without serious additional screen reader customization? Books are no different! Two of my journalism books have serious readability challenges! One contains characters substituted with strange Unicode values, missing text and run-together headings, while the other contains diagrammed sentence examples that are unusable to me in the “accessible” copy! While I am sure I will ultimately find ways to succeed despite these barriers, they do represent examples of the difference between “accessibility” and real usability. As always, any suggestions on how best to improve my situation with these books would be quite welcome and appreciated. The two books in question are as follows:

  • Dynamics of Mass Communication: Media in the Digital Age by Joseph R. Dominick
  • When Words Collide by Lauren Kessler

My Big Week!

As I already stated, I am taking three courses this semester. My history course (HST 109) is online, meeting one of the few outstanding general studies requirements I have yet to complete. The other two courses are specific to my major. The history and principles of journalism (JMC 110) is held at noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. English grammar for journalists (JMC 194) is held on Friday mornings. These courses are located in the downtown Phoenix campus, where the Cronkite School’s building is located. All my journalism courses will be held in this building. While the Tempe campus of Arizona State University is less than half a mile from my apartment, the downtown Phoenix campus is approximately 10 miles away. Fortunately, there are free intercampus shuttles available to make the trip. I ride three buses each way in order to transport myself to and from the downtown campus. Avoiding excessive listening to headphones or use of my cell phone during these trips, I have been able to socialize effectively with my peers on the shuttles and at the Cronkite building before and after classes. One of my new acquaintances has become a note taker in both my journalism courses. All in all, though a few challenges loom, I see my return to the university classroom after a nine year absence as an unqualified success.

Categories: journalism