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Accessible Instant Messaging iPhone App Hits the iTunes Store

August 13, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A highly-anticipated update to Shape Services’ popular IM+ iPhone app featuring comprehensive VoiceOver accessibility hit the iTunes Store Thursday.

According to its iTunes Store entry, the new version 4.30 of this app, renamed IM+ Pro, features “New themes and wallpapers, hi-res graphics for iPhone 4, full VoiceOver support, setting own display picture from iPhone 4 front camera, improved contact search and bug fixes.”

Blind high school senior Michael Hansen said he was delighted to learn of the accessible instant messaging option for his new iPhone.

“I use my iPhone mainly for various applications, messaging, and phone calls,” Hansen said. “I just found out about it this morning and I immediately purchased the app and tweeted to @implus to thank them for their work.”

He said IM+ Pro works better for him than other apps he has tried.

“I started out last week using Palringo, and I found that to be unsatisfactory because I could not log into Facebook and I could not read messages that were sent to me from AOL Instant Messenger,” Hansen said. “There went $4. I think that Apple should refund VoiceOver users if an app they purchased is not accessible. ”

He said IM+ works just fine with AIM, but he is having an accessibility problem connecting with Facebook.

“I have tried to connect to AOL Instant Messenger and Facebook; AIM worked fine, but Facebook did not,” Hansen said. “When I tried to add Facebook as a service, I got a message saying that I would have to tap the ‘Connect’ button to validate my information. However, I could not, for the life of me, find the ‘Connect’ button.”

He said he is confident the Facebook issue will be fixed quickly.

“I think that Shape Services has done the VoiceOver community a big service, and the Facebook connect button issue is a small bump in the road which I would imagine they could fix quickly,” Hansen said. “I just wish more app developers cared about accessibility—that’s the biggest problem with using an iPhone right now.”

Shape Services’ business development team official Natalia Kasyanova said the company has another nice surprise in store for blind users in the coming weeks.

“I would like to confirm that we are planning to release an IM+ Lite version with VoiceOver support by the end of August. It is a free adware version of IM+ which has the same functionality as IM+ Pro,” Kasyanova said. “We hope that it will make instant messaging even more available for blind users of iPhones and iPads.”

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

An Accessible Way to Manage Permission of the Programs on Your Computer to Use Skype

June 7, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This morning I received a call from a fellow blind Skype user asking for help with one of the program’s few significant accessibility quirks. He had installed a new program for automatically voicing Skype events, yet he could not figure out how to access the automatic prompt for allowing the utility to use Skype. This dialogue box is, in fact, inaccessible in all recent Skype versions. If you are a blind screen reader user who wishes to allow another program to use Skype, you are not out of luck. It turns out that an advanced configuration option exists to manually specify which software on your system is permitted to access Skype. Follow these steps to control the use of Skype by the software installed on your system:

  1. Run Skype or open it from the System Tray in the usual manner. In JAWS, press JAWS Key+F11, down arrow to Skype, press enter, down arrow to Open Skype and press enter to open the program’s main window.
  2. Press alt+t to pull down the Tools menu followed by p to access the Options dialogue.
  3. Down arrow to Advanced Settings.
  4. Press shift+tab three times to select “Manage other programs’ access to Skype” and press the space bar to open this window.
  5. Press tab to enter the list of programs about which Skype is currently aware. Arrow up and down this list. Notice that the program’s name is given along with information indicating whether or not it is allowed to use Skype.
  6. Locate a program whose settings you wish to change.
  7. Press tab to select the Change button and press the space bar to open the window.
  8. Press tab to move into the group of two radio buttons used to determine whether or not the selected program is permitted to use Skype. If desired, press down arrow to change to the opposite setting.
  9. Press tab followed by the space bar on the OK button to accept any changes made to the program’s status.
  10. Press tab three times followed by the space bar on the OK button to accept all changes made for the entire list of programs.
  11. Finally, press shift+tab twice to select the Save button followed by the space bar to save all changes made in Skype’s Options dialogue box.
Categories: Skype, tips

CallBurner Update Resolves Issues with Broken Recordings in Skype 3.8

April 20, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

From the better-late-than-never department…

On April 11, Netralia released an update to CallBurner resolving the half speed recording issue in Skype 3.8. A small number of additional enhancements have also been included. All customers are urged to apply this latest version now and to hold off on major Skype updates until a corresponding CallBurner update has been released or compatibility has been announced. We confirm through rigorous testing that CallBurner version now works well with Skype 3.8.

Categories: Skype

CallBurner Recordings Broken After Upgrade to Skype 3.8 Beta

April 4, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Users of Netralia’s CallBurner are urged to avoid upgrading Skype to the latest beta version 3.8. The audio in the CallBurner end of all recordings sounds like a cassette recorder playing at half speed. Netralia is continuing to work the problem, but no resolution is available at this time. It may be possible to restore proper recording functionality by rolling back to Skype 3.6.

Categories: Skype

CallBurner Updated to Version With Minor Enhancements and Fixes

August 11, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Netralia has just released version of the CallBurner Skype call recording application. The enhancements and fixes in this release are listed as follows:

  • Hang up shortcut now works (ALT-G).
  • Unpause shortcut now works (ALT-E).
  • Show Notes – JAWS now announces the “Notes” box.
  • There is also a new feature that allows you to hear a low level beep when recording is taking place (as confirmation that recording is working, without having to have JAWS read the stats tab). To enable this, check the “Play a periodic tone through your speaker(s) when recording” option in the Options window (recording tab).

At this time, CallBurner version has not been publicly posted on the company’s web site. It may, nevertheless, be downloaded directly as a public release in order to take advantage of the listed enhancements. Thanks go to Petro for this information.

Categories: Skype

Update: Accessible Version of CallBurner

July 8, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

It appears the CallBurner team has not yet made their accessible version available to the public. Since many of you have asked how you can get started right away, please feel free to download a copy of the accessible version. Since this version of CallBurner is not currently provided on the company’s web site, this software should be considered to be a beta release, with all the “play at your own risk” caveats that status entails. Stay tuned for another update as soon as the CallBurner Team has informed us of the public availability of the accessible release.

Categories: JAWS, reviews, Skype, tips

CallBurner: Finally, Fully Accessible Skype Call Recording is Here at Last!

July 7, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The people at Netralia, developers of the Skylook Skype call management and recording application for Microsoft Outlook, have recently released a new Skype call recording product that does not depend on Outlook. The new CallBurner application enables annotation and recording of all Skype calls while providing a clean, simple user interface.

After learning of the existence of this new product, I downloaded a trial copy of the software. While finding it reasonably usable for basic call recording, I found the call detail window largely inaccessible with any screen reader, including JAWS, System Access and Window-Eyes. I promptly wrote a short note to the company’s support e-mail address requesting accessibility enhancements to permit full use of CallBurner with screen reading software. On Thursday, July 5, I was absolutely flabbergasted to receive a response from the company’s senior developer offering a beta copy of an accessible version of the software for my testing! This response came in less than three weeks of my initial request!

After downloading the test copy of CallBurner, I immediately began to put it through its paces. After enabling “Screen Reader Compatibility” in the Accessibility sub-menu of the program’s System Tray icon, I was instantly delighted to discover extensive keyboard navigation, a tabbed Call Details dialogue box and full accessibility without need of screen reader configuration or scripts. Follow these steps to enable “Screen Reader Compatibility” after downloading and installing CallBurner:

  1. Minimize all running programs and focus on the Desktop by pressing Left Windows+M.
  2. Press JAWS Key+F11, Modifier+F11 (System Access) or Insert+S (Window-Eyes) to open the System Tray menu.
  3. Down arrow to CallBurner and press enter to right click its System Tray icon.
  4. Press enter on the Accessibility sub-menu.
  5. Press enter on “Screen Reader Compatibility”. This is the only option currently found in the Accessibility sub-menu.
  6. The following dialogue box is shown: “Screen Reader Compatibility is now turned ON. NOTE: You need to restart CallBurner for this change to become effective.”
  7. Press enter on the OK button to accept the change.
  8. Press JAWS Key+F11, Modifier+F11 (System Access) or Insert+S (Window-Eyes) to return to the System Tray menu.
  9. Down arrow to CallBurner and press enter to right click its System Tray icon.
  10. Up arrow to the Quit option and press enter.
  11. Press the Left Windows key or CTRL+Escape to open the Start menu.
  12. Press p to open the All Programs menu.
  13. Down arrow to CallBurner and press enter to open its sub-menu.
  14. Press enter on CallBurner to start the program. The Call Details window opens, presenting a tabbed dialogue box that delivers a fully accessible user interface to all CallBurner functions.
  15. Press the End key to move to the Help tab.
  16. Press the Tab key once to select Browse On-Line Help and press enter to open CallBurner’s documentation in a typical web browser window. This help will serve to get you started with CallBurner in short order.

The latest version of CallBurner, incorporating the “Screen Reader Compatibility” enhancement, has been made available as of Saturday, July 7, 2007. I highly recommend CallBurner to anyone, blind or sighted, who needs to record Skype calls. The ability and willingness of the developers to make their software accessible in less than three weeks of such a request demonstrates the commitment of this company to high quality, reliable customer service and technical support. We should all send a quick note of thanks to the CallBurner Team expressing our appreciation for their prompt attention to our accessibility needs and encouraging their developers to continue the excellent work in this area for all their software. Stay tuned to Blind Access Journal and other blind community online resources for demonstrations, reviews, tips and other information covering the use of this excellent application.

Categories: JAWS, reviews, Skype, tips