Reading, making it a more pleasant past time.

All right, so I love love love to read!! I like fiction and fantacy, mystery and suspense, some romance, and even a few uplifting types. Many times, you can find audio books and I love them, most of the time. I have some favorite narrators that really make the stories come alive! All that said, audio books are usually quite expensive, weather you buy them at a book store or download them. They do have a few programs out there that offer books on tape, but you have to go through extensive approval processes and such things. I also have access to books in text or braille format, and many times, there is a wider selection of those than that of audio books. But in order to read those books in text or Braille format, I would usually have to load them onto my computer and listen to my screen reader read them to me. But here’s my issue. Personally, I don’t find it very relaxing to listen to Jaws read books to me. I would like to hear my books from a less mechanical, more human-sounding narrator.So what to do? Actually, what made me start thinking on these things more was a blog entry from Susan Gerhart, where she talks about book reading options. After reading her ideas and resources, I found several choices out there for book reading, more than I had previously realized.I listen to jaws reading all day long, in it’s synthetic voice or voices. I am used to it, but when it comes to reading for fun, I want to hear something a bit more natural. I also carry my ipod around with me everywhere and love to listen to books on there, rather than having to use my computer.So I started looking around for different options, to be able to convert text files to mp3 files that can be loaded onto my ipod and listened to. I have used kurzweil reader and it does have this capability, but its voices are also quite synthetic, and I have had issues getting this program to work with windows vista. There’s another program called text aloud, and you can actually buy voices for it that sound pretty decent. I’m looking for other programs that may do better, my goal is to have something that will sound as close to a live person as possible. This way, my reading time will be more relaxing, and less like listening to a computer voice in my sleep.

Accessible Flash, can it be?

Yes, it’s true, there is a such thing as accessible flash! Of course, it must be coded correctly, buttons labeled and all of that. I’m not a programmer, so I don’t know the logistics of what needs to be done, but I can give you a user’s perspective.

First I should tell you where my main experiences with flash have been. My little daughter is getting to the age where the computer is becoming increasingly important. There are so many interactive sites out there for kids, where they can play games, learn to read and a ton of other things. The problem I have is that, as a parent, I want to help her safely browse the internet, show her how to get around and all of that. Most of these pages are in flash media, and the buttons to play the games are not labeled, so I can’t even get her started. I had given up on her even using the computer without someone who could see to help her, simply because I don’t just want to turn her loose on her own and not be able to help her. I had decided she would just have to wait until she’s old enough to navigate without help, and thus miss out on lots of learning and fun opportunities the computer and the web can offer.

So now to a few examples of what I have encountered. I have seen many a flash page that, for varying reasons, I cannot access. The buttons are not tagged, so you have no idea of their functions. At the risk of putting a business on the spot, the following is an example of flash that is, well not so accessible.

My daughter attends the Joyce Willett Dance Studio
As you can see, in order to see class schedules, you have to press the buttons, and if you were to use a screen reader, you would not hear labels given for the buttons. Using jaws, I am unable to use this site at all, believe me, I have tried.
Now, on the PBSkids site some buttons are labeled, but there are a lot that are not. Most of the show names buttons are labeled so that jaws speaks them, but there are a lot of numbered buttons in between that I, as a blind user have no idea what will happen when I activate them.

I could spend all day giving examples of flash that simply does not work, or only partially works, but I want to show you a kid site that has successfully incorporated flash media and accessibility. Thea Eaton, founder and owner of Snert Studios, has created a very accessible, screen reader friendly flash site. Even if you don’t have a log in or password, you can see the work that has been done on the opening main page. Once you log in, there are several animated pictures and videos, all within the flash format, with all controls and buttons tagged. She even goes so far as to describe the videos and photos in detail. They are working on games as well, and I will be excited to see that!!