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Showing posts from 2007

Talking to the Web

A fellow web development aficionado recently asked me a question I commonly receive concerning web accessibility, so I thought I'd share my thoughts here in hope that others might benefit from my ideas (and hopefully expand upon them). Here's the question: Is there anything in particular in terms of accessibility or even just coding in general that you find to be the most helpful when using the web? This is obviously a very broad question and to limit its response to a single blog post probably does not do it justice. However, it is indeed a very simple, honest concern that deserves a simple, honest reply, so I'll try my best to offer my advice here. Of course, you should keep in mind that my suggestions are focused on my own experience in accessibility. My vision and hearing are actually quite good, so I'm not as familiar in accessibility concerning those areas. But I can tell you a lot about how speech recognition works as far as web pages are concerned. I suppose the

Using the On-Screen Keyboard as an Alternative to Typing with a Physical Keyboard

As an individual with a physical disability who touts speech recognition so much, I occasionally get asked how I ever use the computer without having speech recognition available (since I cannot move my arms well enough to operate a standard physical keyboard)? This is a good question, since speech recognition is not one of the most portable tools around. For example, I've never come across a public computer at a library or hotel that was set up with a good microphone and sound card combo, which are necessities for using speech recognition. So, when the necessary hardware is unavailable, that means I have to look for software to simulate it--in this case, the On-Screen Keyboard . The On-Screen Keyboard is nothing new to Windows; it's been one of the standard accessibility tools for several versions now, not just Vista. It's pretty simple, really, but is extremely useful for users like me who cannot utilize a traditional physical keyboard. Basically, the On-Screen Keyboard

Using IE Procedural Surfaces to Generate Icons

Graphics are important to programmers. As much as we'd like to stick to foo and bar as much as possible, there always comes a time when we need to put a little thought into how an interface should look. That often involves graphics. In most of the applications I've created, the main type of images I've used have been icons. They're small, easy to work with, and help to enhance the visual interface of almost any application. Unfortunately, my computer graphics skills are quite limited, so, when the time comes to needing an icon, I'm usually stuck trying to find a nice affordable (read: free) one on the web. Lucky for me, not long ago, I happened to discover an excellent site called IconBuffet which provides a number of high-quality icons at no charge to its members. IB is more than just your average icon download site, though. The images are professionally done, and there is an interesting community of users to communicate with when swapping icon sets. Note that

Shoot Ghosts with Windows Speech Recognition

Sorry about the lengthy blogging hiatus. I've been extremely busy at work and just have not found the time to spend on fun things like my blog. I know that's a lame excuse, so I'll give you another one. In what little free time I've managed to find, I've actually been playing a game. :-) And, guess what, I've been using Windows Speech Recognition to help me win. What game have I been playing, you ask? Well, my current game of choice happens to be Desktop Tower Defense , a relatively simple but strategically complex game. In fact, I would have never known about it without reading Text Services Framework guru Eric Brown's blog . Thanks, Eric! Now, I'm addicted, too. The object of this free Flash-based game is pretty simple. Shoot all the little ghosts before they escape the maze of towers that you create. It sounds simple enough, but it can get extremely difficult as the game progresses. In fact, a lot of the challenge involves managing and u

Coding "Hello, World" with Windows Speech Recognition

There's a great article out on the Windows Vista beta experience portal showcasing Windows Speech Recognition by Richard Costall entitled " Look, no hands ". I especially liked his demonstration of using Visual Studio 2005 via speech. In it, he points out several frustrations that I have also experienced using the program, but he proves that there are many excellent features in Windows Speech Recognition that can be used to sidestep some of Visual Studio's accessibility issues. In fact, he highlights the use of the Start Typing command as his means of actually coding the obligatory "Hello, World" application that he is demonstrating. If you're interested in more details on using the Start Typing command, be sure to take a look at my earlier post as well.

Using a Simple File Mutex to Integrate Complex Disparate Applications

As a Windows developer, one of the most challenging (and fun) tasks I sometimes get to do is integrating multiple disparate applications so they can communicate with one another. Most of the time this involves blending a .NET application with an automation application and doing the regular COM interop one would expect. However, occasionally something more interesting comes along. One such occasion popped up recently for me, as I had to design and implement a solution to integrate our mainframe terminal emulation client with an intranet web application. The main goal of this particular project was to provide a way to pre-fill an existing web form application with data from a mainframe screen. Normally, the user would have to read the appropriate data from the mainframe screen, manually enter the data into the web form, submit the form, and return to the mainframe terminal and key in a simple log entry indicating that the process was complete. Obviously, due to the nature of jumping back

"Start Typing" with Windows Speech Recognition

As a software developer with a physical disability that makes using a keyboard practically impossible for me, one of the most important capabilities of speech recognition that I always look for is keyboard emulation.  And by keyboard emulation, I’m not talking about entering a bunch of common words and phrases like I’m doing while writing this article.  This is called dictation.  Rather, I’m referring strictly to the ability to key short (or not-so-short) sequences of characters and/or key combinations like myVariableName or myFile.doc .  Words like these aren’t easily understood by the built-in speech recognition dictation engine because they are not in any dictionaries I know of (nor should they be), so another speech recognition mechanism is needed.  This is called typing. Vista’s speech recognition tutorial and the what can I say Windows help documents suggest one good way to type single keyboard keys— Press X .  For example, you can say Press a to type the letter a , and you c

Microsoft Is Listening: Vista Speech Recognition Is Worth Talking About

As a professional programmer who also happens to be afflicted with spinal muscular atrophy (a severe neuromuscular disorder), PC accessibility is of paramount importance to me. Accessibility (or the lack of it) directly influences how efficiently I am able to work, which invariably influences my bottom line. More than that, it affects my state of mind. Being able to click that little red 'x' to close a window on your desktop may seem easy to most of you, but it can become quite tiresome or perhaps even be impossible to do for many users with disabilities. So when the world's most influential software maker introduces a new or updated accessibility feature, I take notice. And after test driving Windows Vista's speech recognition engine, it most certainly opened my eyes, er mouth! Why am I so excited? Well, for one, speech recognition has finally become a first-class citizen in Windows. Before Vista, speech recognition was never installed by default in Windows (and for g