365 Days of Random

Random musings about nothing at all

VoiceOver

I am not sure if any of you out there are at all familiar with “VoiceOver” for Mac… but it’s been frustrating the crap out of me all day so it’s what today’s post is about.

VoiceOver is the built in Mac (OS X Snow Leopard) Screen Reader. It has been developed to assist visually impaired and blind people interact with their Mac computers… both desk top and laptop. It can be set up to some of the same gesture commands that VoiceOver for iPhone uses and from all the reading I did today it sounds like a pretty simple to use tool.

For the first time in the 18 months I’ve been using Mac I am totally and completely flustered by something they built. I read their user guide and their getting started guide. I wrote notes about the short cuts to use. I practiced on all the sessions they had within their beginners tutorials. I watched all the videos they had on their website for setting up and using it. I could not for the life of me figure it out.

One of my responsibilities at my job is Accessibility. I run our testing and client outreach programs. I am the internal contact for all things Accessibility (well my boss and I both are). Yesterday we got an email from our Client Support team that they have a client at Ryerson University in Toronto that claims that using VoiceOver with Safari or Chrome crashes her browser… but only when using our product. First of all I can’t see how that would have anything to do with it crashing… but that’s the report so off to ‘testing mode’ I go. Since 90% of visually impaired users are still PC users (because generally Accessibility support is concentrated on that platfrom) our internal testing processes focuses on PC based browsers (IE and FF and even to some extent Chrome) with the most popular screen reader tool (JAWS). Over the last few years I’ve gotten fairly proficient at using this particular screen reader and can assess the components of our product rather thoroughly in no time at all. VoiceOver however is not a tool I’ve ever tried to use. As this is the tool that our client was reporting problems with I decided to spend the biggest part of my day trying to learn the tool.

Seriously… I still can’t figure out how to navigate ANY web page… let alone my complex Web Based Application. Very little worked the way it was described in the documentation. I couldn’t manage to get it to DO anything… I’ve been working in IT and software development focused positions for a very long time and it’s not often that I struggle to learn how to use a new piece of software… especially not when I have the user guide sitting in front of me and I can flip through it to learn the convoluted key strokes required to access a list of page headings or move between sections. This was one of the most frustrating days I’ve had in a very long time.

Not only am I no closer to an answer for our client (who apparently HAS managed to figure out how to use VoiceOver) but I am still just annoyed at that darn program. I haven’t figured out a single thing about using it in the 5 hours I’ve spent playing around with it today. This does not bode well for me being able to provide some helpful information to either our support team or our development team (if there is something going on that we have to fix).

But, I’ve had enough of screen reader testing for today… Perhaps tomorrow I will magically figure out how to make VoiceOver do what it’s supposed to do. But I will probably go back to some normal JAWS testing first – since at least I know how to use that product.

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June 28, 2011 Posted by | Accessibility, User Experience | , , , , , , | Leave a comment