Friday, April 29

Important Note for Those That Get Spam

Spam, or unwanted or junk email, is nothing new. In fact, if you don't get spam, then I'd certainly like to know how you've managed to avoid it, :) Anyway, I discovered a way to drastically cut down on the amount of spam that I get through my website, and those that have a website or know someone with one, might want to pass this along to them.

When I registered my site several years ago, I provided my contact information, including email address, to Go Daddy. My information, along with information for any domain name, is stored on a database run by, or something like that. Anyway, to make a long story short, today I found out that spammers were still spamming me through the email address that I registered with. I should mention for clarification, that I use forwarding addresses through my site, whenever I sign up for services. One more way I try to cut down spam and try to hide my real address. Anyway, I had taken the registration forwarding address down from my site some time ago, but I have continued to get spam from it. It wasn't until I was taking care of some other business on Go Daddy earlier, that I realized where the spam has been coming from with this forwarding address.

If you have registered your domain through Go Daddy, then it would be to your advantage to sign up for their privacy protection service. I don't remember the exact name, but the sales representative recognized what I meant when I said this to him. The service costs only $8.95 a year, and you can have it along side your domain name, so that when you renew the domain name, the privacy service is renewed as well, for the number of years that you renew the domain name for. If that makes sense. Anyway, this privacy protection service will hide your postal address, phone number, and email address on the Who Is database of domain names. For those that don't know, the Who Is database allows people to look up any available domain names and see who owns them. So, someone could lookup your domain name, see that you own it, and then have your address, phone, and email address to contact you with. This service from Go Daddy is worth its weight in gold, since as I discovered, when the email address is hidden, spammers can't get to you! If you are not with Go Daddy, then this might be a good reason to switch. Or, you might look into any similar program with whatever site you registered your domain name with.

Read more about the service at Go Daddy.

A Tiger with a Voice

Today, Apple has released a major upgrade to their Apple Macintosh computer line. Now, if you're wondering why I'm mentioning this here, since Mac's have typically not been real accessible for the blind, well its because Apple has done their homework and included some tools for us.

The new Voice Over set of tools provide keyboard shortcuts, magnification, and a screen reader like interface, all built into the operating system. Microsoft tried a minimal approach to screen reading some years ago when they included Narrator in their Windows 2000 and XP operating systems when they first came out. However, this is a minimal approach, and they even admit to the fact that Narrator was never meant to be a full screen reader. The difference with Apple, is that they apparently have strived to make Voice Over as full a screen reading package as possible.

This is very exciting to see from a computer/operating system manufacturer, and hopefully, since its won't be another year and a half or more until Longhorn comes out, Microsoft will make a concerted effort to overhall their Narrator so that its comparable to Voice Over.

Read more about Voice Over from the link above, or you can listen to a demonstration, recorded at last year's American Council of the Blind's convention last summer on their 2004 Convention Archives page. You will want to choose the Wednesday broadcast, and if you have the ability to jump to a specific time in your media player (such as Winamp), then the program item begins at the 195:40 point.

Though it's likely too early to tell if Apple's move will be an effective screen reading solution, it's terriffic to see a mainstream developer, much less a company like Apple, take up the challenge of reaching out to an under served population like the blind. Besides all that, we now have a potential alternative to the Windows environment. And, since Voice Over is built-in, that automatically eliminates the extra $600-$1000 that blind people often have to pay to get additional screen reading software. Therefore, this is awesome!

Thursday, April 28

Visual Verification Again

Google, my favorite search site, has fallen into the visual verification trap, as outlined in the article about Google Under Fire for Excluding Blind Bloggers. I'm a huge fan of Google, however, this problem of visual verification is not new. Basically, to prevent their site from being spammed or from having numerous robots sign up for accounts, many sites (not just Google) have a graphical code that you have to read and type into an edit field, before you can complete the sign up process. The main problem for the blind, aside from not being able to "see" the code, is that our screen readers (like JAWS), cannot "see" the code. Thus, we are not able to read the characters and type them into the edit field. Some sites that have had this problem, have offered partial solutions, like giving an 800 number for the blind user to call for assistance, or offering a pre-recorded audio file of a synthesized voice reading the characters. However, these solutions are not fool proof, since in the first case, its a pain to have to rely on someone to be there to assist in the registration process. And, in the second instance, some of the audio files are hard to understand. This is done on purpose though, so that not just anyone can sign up for the service. I remind you that the audio file approach, while it may attempt to be limiting in its approach, its meant to give better access to blind people

The problem of visual verification may continue for some time. However, if you would like to speak out against this, then please write a quick note to Blogger Support. This will take you to a form that you can fill out. Explain that the verification code is not a good technique to use, since it blocks the blind. The reason being that our screen readers cannot read the graphic and thus, cannot tell us the letter/number combination to type in.

One proposed solution that I've heard of, to solve this verification problem, involves having the blind person fill in their email address, and then have an email sent to them which contains the code to write in. In this manner, the user could get the code, and do in an independent manner. In addition, it's more straight forward than listening to a possibly garbled audio file with the code in it.

Truthfully, this is why I haven't posted in awhile. Though the move by Google have only happened in the last few weeks, I misunderstood and thought that they were blocking access for those that already had blogs, and presenting that verification code for composing new posts to your blog. It wasn't until earlier this week, when I posted that I realized that this wasn't true. However, they are still preventing blind people from independently signing up for new blogs, and this needs to be changed.

Wednesday, April 27

Longhorn Update

Read about the current update on Longhorn, which is supposed to be the next operating system from Microsoft. This article appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Longhorn was supposed to be released a year or two ago, and now is slated for release late next year. I wouldn't be surprised, at the current rate, if it didn't actually come out until sometime in 2007. Nonetheless, everyone gets excited, including myself, whenever there's talk of updating an operating system and wants to know what's going to be included. The linked article will give you that glimpse. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 26

Technology is Problem for the Blind

An article entitled, The Blind Struggle as Gadgets Proliferate, from My Way News, talks about some of the many challenges in adapting technology for the blind.