The Mac interface has been lauded for its accessibility – unless you’re disabled, in which case Macs can be completely inaccessible. Joe Clark examines the sad state of adaptive technology for the Macintosh. Also this week, Jeff Carlson shoehorns a second hard drive into his PowerBook; and we cover PowerMail 3.0.8, Conflict Catcher 8.0.8, Storyspace 2, and Google buying the Deja.com Usenet archive, plus, we ask how you want to receive TidBITS.
Poll Preview: How Do You Want to Read TidBITS in Email? We’re considering new ways of publishing TidBITS, and we need your help. We published our first 99 issues via email in HyperCard, then in 1992 switched to the text-only setext format you see in email now. Along the way we’ve added a Web edition, an individual article database, and most recently a handheld edition. We also experimented (unsuccessfully) with push technology and a channel based on Microsoft’s defunct CDF format. We don’t want to waste time and effort like that again, so we need to know how you want to read TidBITS in email. Possibilities we might add to our current approach include the full issue in a simple HTML format (few or no graphics) akin to what you see in our article database, a short text-only announcement with links to articles in our database, or a short HTML-formatted announcement with the link URLs embedded in article titles. Learning the true opinions of our readers is important to us, so please register your vote in the poll form on our home page. [ACE]
Conflict Catcher Updated to 8.0.8 — Casady & Greene has released Conflict Catcher 8.0.8, adding support for Mac OS 9.1. Specifically, the new version adds Mac OS 9.1 All and Base sets, and updates the Clean Install System Merge for Mac OS 9.1. In addition, you can define a default set for use under Mac OS 9 running in Mac OS X’s Classic mode. The update is free for registered users of Conflict Catcher 8 and is a 1.4 MB download. [JLC]
Eastgate Systems Releases Storyspace 2 — Eastgate Systems, long-time publishers of hypertext tools and hypertext writings, has released Storyspace 2, a total rewrite of the company’s innovative hypertext editor (see TidBITS-095, an entire issue devoted to the program). Storyspace 2 is now PowerPC-native, supports drag & drop throughout the program, uses contextual menus, and boasts a multiple undo feature. Improved typography, new map views, and curved link lines make working with complex hypertext webs easier. Finally, customizable, template-based HTML support and a new Storyspace reader offer better ways to distribute hypertext writings to readers. Updates to Storyspace 2 for registered users are free if you purchased after 01-Jul-00 and $95 otherwise; new copies cost $295. A 3.6 MB demo is available. [ACE]
PowerMail 3.0.8 Adds HTML & Authentication — CTM Development has released PowerMail 3.0.8, a notable update to their internationally savvy email client (see "Migrating to New Climes with PowerMail" in TidBITS-530.). PowerMail 3.0.8 adds support for SMTP authentication (a secure way for mail servers to enable valid users on remote networks to send mail without opening the server to abuse by spammers), and can view HTML-formatted messages by linking to the latest version of Apple’s HTML rendering engine under Mac OS 9.1. Apple’s HTML rendering is limited, but often enough to get the point across, and you can choose to view a message as text, or in your preferred Web browser. PowerMail 3.0.8 also supports importing and exporting email from Microsoft Entourage, along with numerous other small features. PowerMail 3.0.8 requires a PowerPC-based system running Mac OS 8.5 or higher, and offers preliminary support for Mac OS X. PowerMail costs $49, and a 30-day trial version is available as a 2.6 MB download. [GD]
Google Acquires Deja.com Usenet Archive — The popular Google search engine and Web catalog, currently our favorite search site, has acquired Deja.com’s Usenet Discussion Service, the archive of every Usenet posting since 1995. That accounts for over 500 million messages – a terabyte of discussions. Back when it was called DejaNews, Deja.com initially provided just a Web-accessible archive of Usenet postings, but they caught portal fever and lost focus (and presumably a lot of money – eBay’s Half.com acquired Deja.com’s Precision Buying Service). Although it will take Google some time to develop the tools necessary to provide a good interface to all 500 million postings, they are making postings since August of 2000 available with a relatively sparse feature set. We’re pleased to see Google taking over this essential resource – few Internet companies providing useful services have come close to matching Google’s focus on usability, performance, and design restraint. [ACE]
Best Book Bytes — We’re lousy at blowing our own horns, but we thought we’d mention several books written by TidBITS staff members garnered prizes in MyMac.com’s third annual Book Bytes Awards. Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg’s REALbasic: The Definitive Guide was selected as Best Programming Book, while Adam Engst’s Crossing Platforms: A Macintosh-Windows Phrasebook (co-authored with David Pogue) was selected as the Best Mac-Win Book under $30. Not to be outdone, Managing Editor Jeff Carlson pulled in two awards: one for his Palm Organizers Visual QuickStart Guide and another for Real World Adobe Golive 4, which he co-authored with TidBITS contributor (and former NetBITS editor) Glenn Fleishman. (They recently published an updated edition for GoLive 5.) These books and others by the TidBITS staff are linked from our BookBITS page. [GD]
Late last year, I pulled the original 4.5 GB hard drive from my PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard) and replaced it with an inexpensive 12 GB drive. Not only did this give me more room for my data, it enabled me to store more than a gigabyte of MP3 files from my music collection. However, this meant that my perfectly usable 4.5 GB drive ended up in a drawer. I’ve had no complaints about my new drive, but in the back of my mind I regretted that the old one was sitting unused.
At the last Macworld Expo, I found a way to press that drive back into service: the Xcarét Pro Expansion Bay Hard Drive Kit by Mac Components Engineered (MCE). This $150 kit lets you place a 12.7 mm (or shorter) IDE hard drive into an enclosure that fits into the expansion bay of a PowerBook G3 (MCE sells kits for the 1999 and 2000 PowerBook models, as well as the 1998 model, which has a different-sized bay). The company offers enclosures with hard drives already installed, but I was more interested in the enclosure kit itself to give my 4.5 GB drive a new life.
Drive Me Crazy — Since I’ve swapped out dozens of PowerBook drives in my time, I figured that installing my old drive into the enclosure would be no sweat. And, in fact, it may have been simpler had I not tried to follow MCE’s instructions step-by-step. Amazingly, there are no photos accompanying the steps: even grainy, oft-photocopied pictures would have helped enormously. I suspect that the documentation problem arises from a recent redesign of MCE’s drive enclosures. The Xcarét Pro 99/2000 Drive, which fits my machine, is shown in a second user manual as a wider enclosure that resembles the PowerBook’s CD-ROM module; the one I received is narrower and shaped more like a battery.
The biggest problem I ran into was with the copper connecting ribbon, which apparently needs to be bent in order to fit the drive into the carrier. It was initially stiff, and required that I bend it backward so that the kit’s drive connector (a thin green circuit board that bridges the black plastic connector and the connector that fits into the bay’s internal slot) is turned 180 degrees. The drive also needs to be pushed a bit toward the center of the enclosure for it to fit, so the ribbon now looks more like a partially furled flag than a smooth sheet. These contortions aren’t mentioned in the documentation, and I finally ended up carefully nudging it into place and hoping for the best.
With the drive circuitry connected, I needed to secure it into a silver kit base that holds the drive steady within the enclosure. Fortunately, it fits only one way in its designated space, but this was where I ran into screw problems. The kit contents lists 4 silver bevel head screws, 2 silver (or brown) round head tapping screws, and 2 black flat head screws. In my kit, I received 4 silver flat head screws, and 9 black flat head screws. The black screws hold the kit base in place, and also secure the outside enclosure, so the silver screws must be used to hold the hard drive in the kit base. However, the silver screws were too thin to thread into the hard drive’s screw holes; I used one to at least try to keep the drive from sliding in the kit base, which seems to be working, but the other screws wouldn’t stay put and rattled inside the enclosure.
Luckily, there aren’t that many parts to deal with, so if you’ve already taken a hard drive out of a PowerBook, you should have little difficulty figuring out how to make them work. Still, I’ve been doing this for years and spent nearly an hour trying to figure out the mechanics.
Hard Driving — Fortunately, things improved considerably once the enclosure was assembled. I initially shut down the PowerBook, inserted the drive into the right expansion bay (my PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard) has both right and left bays; the left is only for the battery; see below), then powered the computer back up. The disk icon popped onto the desktop as if it were built-in. I used Apple’s Drive Setup to initialize it, and within minutes I was faced with 4.5 GB of freshly minted storage space. To inaugurate the drive’s new lease on life, I quickly copied over 1.2 GB of MP3 files.
In almost every respect, the drive operates as if it’s an internal mechanism. It uses the Energy Saver control panel’s settings to spin down when not in use and has no trouble sleeping when I put the PowerBook to sleep. To eject it in favor of an extra battery or CD-ROM drive, I only need to make sure no application is currently using data from the drive, then put it away (by typing Command-Y, dragging the icon to the Trash, or selecting Put Away from the File menu), and pop the Xcarét module out using the PowerBook’s ejection lever. When I return the Xcarét to the bay, the drive appears after a couple of seconds.
Having two hard drives running simultaneously impacts my battery life, but not as much as I expected. To test this, I listened to music using iTunes from the drive continuously while working until I got a battery warning. After charging the battery overnight, I ran without the Xcarét loaded. The difference in this (highly unscientific) test was about half an hour of extra usage time when not using the Xcarét, which is completely acceptable for my uses. I would imagine that using it as normal storage (versus reading from it continuously), would improve the battery performance.
Running Mac OS X — I ordered the Mac OS X Public Beta when it was first available, but never got around to installing it on my PowerBook because it’s my main machine, and I don’t have any other computers that will run it. So despite my curiosity to play with Mac OS X, I didn’t have the time or desire to run a beta operating system on a daily basis.
With an expansion bay hard drive available, I finally had an opportunity to play with Mac OS X. Installing it, however, was trickier than I thought, through no fault of the Xcarét drive. The Mac OS X Beta must be installed from the CD as a startup drive. My initial thought was to use the CD-ROM in the right bay, and the Xcarét in the left bay, with power supplied by the AC adapter. The Xcarét seems to fit into the left bay but was a very tight fit, and I didn’t want to risk forcing it and possibly damaging my PowerBook. Good thing too: although the original 1998 PowerBook G3 Series can accept devices in both bays, my 1999 Bronze Keyboard model uses the left bay for batteries only. That day’s lesson became: check Apple’s Tech Info Library (or your manual) before forcing anything.
This meant that I couldn’t have both the CD-ROM and expansion bay drive installed at the same time. Borrowing a colleague’s USB CD-RW drive proved fruitless as well, since the computer couldn’t be started up by the external device. I had reached my last resort.
With a full backup of my data in hand (I’ve learned my lesson: see "DriveSavers to the Rescue" in TidBITS-495 to learn why I back up my data every night), I pulled the 12 GB drive out of my PowerBook and swapped in the 4.5 GB drive that was in the Xcarét enclosure. I was then able to use the CD-ROM module to install Mac OS X, then swap the drives back into their respective places.
Now, I can start up the machine in Mac OS X by using the System Disk control panel (located on the expansion bay drive) to specify Mac OS X as the active system, then restarting the machine. When I’m done, I can restart under Mac OS 9 running on the internal 12 GB drive.
Hard Driven — Although it sounds like it was a rough road to add 4.5 GB of storage space to my PowerBook, the worst was short-lived and is now over. I’ve used the Xcarét module frequently with no problems whatsoever, and I’m happy to have pressed a perfectly functional piece of hardware back into service.
By now, Mac users are mature enough to admit that the Macintosh isn’t better than Windows in every respect. I go back 20 years in accessibility and disability issues, and I consider myself nothing less than a Macintosh separatist, so it pains me to say that pretty much any computer user with a relevant disability ought to be using Windows, not a Mac.
Ponder that for a moment. Can you think of any other entire population that should not use Macs, that should actively favour Windows machines? (Grandparents? Muslims? Icelanders? Orthodontists?) Can you think of another group that is almost completely locked out of Macintosh use, but well situated to work on Windows?
Did you even know this was a problem?
It wasn’t always this way, and things may improve in the Mac OS X era, but at the moment we’re facing major roadblocks when it comes to disabled people’s use of the Macintosh: The issues involved with accessibility are poorly understood and elicit fear and resistance, while at the same time the actual hardware and software a disabled Mac user may need is difficult to come by and quite often inferior to what the other platform can provide. Moreover, Apple has neglected disabled Mac users for years, and is set to make a major blunder with Mac OS X.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Access 101 — With computers having expanded beyond pure computing to become communication devices, people with disabilities want to use computers in ever-increasing numbers. However, certain disabilities interfere with computer use – or, more accurately, the way computers are made today presents barriers to some disabled people.
How many people with disabilities are there? It’s simply impossible to find reliable numbers on the many relevant disabilities worldwide. The forms disability takes are so widespread that even defining disability is tricky. (I once worked for a government project team that spent two years trying to do just that.) But as just one example, the American Federation of the Blind estimates there are 900,000 blind or visually-impaired computer users in the United States.
Moving away from statistics, here’s a useful way of looking at things: is your disability severe enough to affect your use of a Macintosh? In some cases, the answer is a clear no. A single-leg amputee, for example, has no barriers at all to using a Mac. But other disability groups do face barriers.
If you’re blind or visually-impaired, how do you read and interpret the text, graphics, menus, dialog boxes, and other visual details on the screen? How do you read the legends on the keyboard? How do you read software documentation? What about multimedia? How do you surf the Web?
If you’re deaf or hard of hearing, how will Macintosh alert sounds actually manage to alert you? How do you benefit from soundtracks found in multimedia?
If you have a mobility impairment that prevents you from moving the mouse or typing on a keyboard, what do you do?
Accessibility is about accommodating characteristics a person cannot change by providing options.
Adaptive Technology — Even five years ago, it was quite possible to find a wide range of so-called adaptive technology – hardware or software designed to eliminate barriers to using a Mac. The "institutional support" for the entire issue of accessibility was also worlds apart from what we have now. Starting in 1985, Apple’s Worldwide Disability Solutions Group (WDSG) worked on everything from Apple II accessibility to online communities for disabled kids. Crucially, the WDSG also worked with developers to produce adaptive technology and to make existing software and hardware accessible (with, admittedly, patchy results). But Steve Jobs fired the five-person WDSG in January 1998, saving a paltry million dollars annually.
Since then, despite Apple’s financial resurgence, accessibility has had no official champion inside Apple and none of the official importance an entire department provides. All you can find now are a few skimpy, feel-good pages on the education section of Apple’s Web site. (The emphasis on education seems to imply that disabled Mac users cease to be disabled once they graduate from school.)
Meanwhile, Microsoft and even IBM have maintained and expanded their own accessibility divisions, keeping up with software and hardware development and crucial consciousness-raising among developers.
Shutting down the WDSG coincided with the ascendancy of the Internet, which suddenly added entire new layers of inaccessibility, particularly for blind computer users. (I’ll explore Internet accessibility in a future article.)
Further, people with disabilities have legal rights. In the United States, Canada, Australia, most of Western Europe, and other nations, it’s illegal to fire or refuse to hire a qualified disabled person (among other related rights). Employers are required to "accommodate" disabled employees. That can involve altering the job itself, providing adaptive technology, offering different work hours, or any of a range of modifications that do not threaten the existence or nature of the business. That might end up meaning that even all-Mac shops would be forced to buy Windows machines for disabled employees. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act is the primary law enshrining rights for people with disabilities. In other countries, it’s typical for human-rights legislation to cover disability issues.
Ignorance and Fear — Disability is commonplace in human society, but, just as it is often difficult to expand your sphere of friends outside your own race or religious group, it’s unusual for a non-disabled person to have a disabled friend. People lack real-world role models – actual people they know and trust from whom they can learn about disability.
And, in any event, even if you have a deaf friend, neither you nor your friend necessarily knows anything about blindness or paralysis. Disability is too diverse. The depictions of disability on television and film are notoriously hackneyed, stereotyped, and simply inaccurate, so take them with a grain of salt. Dealing with people with disabilities, then, requires you to contemplate being disabled yourself. That’s tough for many people.
There’s no quick fix for the anxiety issue. It takes person-to-person acquaintanceship and simply getting used to disability over time. The integration of disabled people into the workforce aids in that goal.
The Accessible Future — In my next article, I’ll run through the relevant disabilities and provide a buyer’s guide to the adaptive technology available to reduce barriers on the Mac. There isn’t a lot.
Simply put, everything is better on Windows when it comes to accessibility. You’ve got support from Microsoft itself, the fact of corporate and government standardization on Windows as a guaranteed sales base, and the simple momentum of the world’s most popular, if not best, operating system.
You have, moreover, many more software and hardware products. Nearly all the vendors of Mac accessibility products sell the same products for Windows systems and also many other Windows-only products. Some vendors and distributors, like Madentec and Prentke-Romich, are effectively Windows-only and offer large catalogues of products.
Do a Web search for adaptive technology vendors and the resulting list is notable for its length and its near-exclusion of Macs (and, indeed, anything other than Windows). And we can all remember the course of development of continuous speech recognition on personal computers: Windows first, Mac later. That’s quite representative of adaptive technology in general.
Windows adaptive technology runs the gamut from word-prediction software that helps kids read and write to sophisticated combinations of screen readers and Braille displays, letting a blind person simultaneously hear text that’s presented on-screen and read system commands (like menus and status-line messages) in Braille. Ironically enough, an onscreen keyboard included with Windows 2000, developed by Madentec, started out as a Mac-only program.
Although it may be a bit much to expect a blind computer user to retouch JPEGs in Photoshop or produce a set of PowerPoint slides, adaptive technology makes it possible for people with a wide range of disabilities to perform pretty much every computer task encountered in an ordinary office… on Windows, at least.
OS Hooks — There’s also the issue of system "hooks." It is quite possible to design an operating system that works elegantly with adaptive technology, but the operating system must be actively designed for that purpose, providing hooks, or background functions, that programs like screen readers can use directly.
As a parallel, think of Macintosh menu commands: You can select Quit from the File menu or press Command-Q (or Command and then Q, if you have the right adaptive technology). The system provides a hook for a keyboard equivalent of a menu command. Access provisions work the same way, effectively giving you more than one way to accomplish a task.
It’s necessary to build access provisions into the operating system from the beginning; retrofitting is always more complicated and spotty. Microsoft has less than a perfect record in this respect, but at least they’re trying, with something called Active Accessibility, among other efforts.
The holy grail is a set of system hooks that work with all software and hardware. The reality is that manufacturers of adaptive technology have to program their own hooks and workarounds. Can you say "reinventing the wheel?"
Lou Grosso of Alva Access Group tells me that, based on his conversations with Apple’s own developers, the first full release of Mac OS X and its candy-coated Aqua interface will contain no access hooks at all, but that subsequent releases might. (Apple did not respond to several requests for comment.) As far as Apple is concerned, does lickability trump accessibility?
Over here in the land of the overlapping minorities (Mac users who also are disabled), things will probably get worse before they get better. Paradoxically, several developers contacted for this story hinted or stated outright that development for Mac OS X will reinvigorate their product lines. That seems dubious at best; even some die-hard Mac supporters are not exactly salivating at the prospect of an entirely new operating system. If adaptive technology developers found it too expensive or too difficult to develop for a platform that’s been around for 16 years, how can we expect a sudden surge of development for an operating system that’s still in beta?
Moreover, Mac OS X is more visual than any previous Mac operating system. Contrary to popular belief (among, say, Web authors), it is not necessary to reduce visual complexity to make a system accessible. But the lack of accessibility hooks in Mac OS X is a serious issue, and, in the twenty-first century, brand-new operating systems simply should not exist without thorough access provisions. It’s unforgivable.
Forcing Apple’s Hand — Steve Jobs has been in no hurry to reinstate the Worldwide Disability Solutions Group or something akin to it. (One Apple source did explain that the company employs an assistive technology partnership manager, but that could not be confirmed.) That may, however, have to change. The U.S. government has set deadlines in 2001 by which desktop computers, government Web sites, kiosks, telephone systems, and other forms of information technology must be accessible.
There isn’t a big-name software or hardware vendor that doesn’t sell to the U.S. government, including Apple. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory alone reportedly has 12,000 Macs (and provides a page of Mac baseline equipment standards).
Both existing computers and new purchases will be covered by the accessibility regulations throughout the U.S. government. Without significant recommitment to accessibility, Apple might lose government accounts altogether.
Accessibility on the Mac has been neglected and damaged by Apple’s own actions and that perennial bugbear, "market forces." A great deal of catching up is in order. Only time will tell how Apple will respond to this pressing need. In my next article, I’ll offer an adaptive-technology buyer’s guide to help you find today’s accessibility solutions for the Mac.
[Joe Clark is a former journalist in Toronto who’s followed, written about, and worked in the disability field for two decades. Explore his many online accessibility resources at his Web site.]