GLEN GORDON: Graphs and charts are powerful visualization tools if you can see them. But what do you do if you can’t? One option is to turn them into sounds, and that’s what the SAS Graphics Accelerator does. We’ll get a stereo demo from Ed Summers and find out more about SAS and their accessible statistics software. So put on your headphones and stay with us.
Hello, everybody. Glen Gordon with you for FSCast 183 this May of 2020. We are nearing what would otherwise be convention time here in the United States. Both the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind typically have their in-person conventions in July. But we’re not in a typical year, and this year the conventions will be virtual.
And Freedom Scientific is adapting to the times. We normally have convention specials which require that you show up in person. But since there’s nowhere to show up other than to your computer, that’s how you’ll get our convention specials, as well. We’ll have more to tell you about that on next month’s podcast. But be assured we’ll have some discounts on annual licenses, and also some discounts on our various software and hardware products. Stay tuned for that next month.
Also next month will be the next set of updates for JAWS, ZoomText, and Fusion 2020. No updates in May, but June will be the next time you see updates come to a software product near you.
We’re also getting really close to the next FSOpenLine. We’ll be doing that on May 28th, that’s a Thursday, and we’re doing it earlier this time, 3:00 p.m. U.S. East Coast time, mainly to allow those of you who are in Europe to dial in without having to stay up half through the night. FSOpenLine, if you haven’t joined us before, is one of my favorite things to take part in, not just because I’m a frustrated talk show host, but also because it’s a great opportunity to talk to you real-time about some of the challenges you’re facing, either at work or at school or at home, when using our software products. And we’re always open to new ideas of things we can improve or completely new features we can add to the products.
We use Zoom for FSOpenLine. I have a feeling a lot more of you are using it now than were back at the end of February. If you want more FSOpenLine details, just go to our blog page and search for FSOpenLine – that’s blog.freedomscientific.com – or enter “FSOpenLine” in your favorite search engine. And remember to join us on Thursday, May 28th, at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.
GLEN: Time now for our JAWS Power Tip. And this month we have one from longtime JAWS user Don Barrett.
JAWS VOCALIZER: So many of my customers come to me and say, “JAWS won’t automatically read the comments, the footnotes, or the endnotes that are in Microsoft Word documents I receive. What am I doing wrong?” Well, the fact is you aren’t doing anything wrong. By default, JAWS is set to alert you if comments, footnotes, or endnotes are present, but not to read their contents. With this Power Tip, you can fix that in a hurry. Simply go into Microsoft Word and enter the JAWS Quick Settings menu with Insert-V.
JAWS ELOQUENCE: Quick Settings – Word dialog. Microsoft Word document edit, CTRL+E.
VOCALIZER: You will be in an edit box where you can type your search term for the setting you want to fix. Simply type the word “comments” without the quotes. Do not hit ENTER. JAWS will respond by saying:
ELOQUENCE: Comments, footnotes, and endnotes detection, one of one search results.
VOCALIZER: Hit DOWN ARROW once to get to the one search result JAWS just mentioned. You will hear:
ELOQUENCE: One search result list box. Comments, footnotes, and endnotes detection on. Reading options, Word settings.
VOCALIZER: Now, hit the SPACEBAR once and you will hear:
ELOQUENCE: “On with text, three of four.”
VOCALIZER: Tab to OK and hit ENTER, and you are done. What you have done is changed the detection of comments, footnotes, and endnotes from “on” to “on with text,” meaning that they will now read automatically when they are detected by JAWS while reading a document. Have fun, and enjoy the extra information you are receiving from your newfound document access. Don Barrett.
GLEN: Hey, thanks, Don, for providing us with that. I should probably add a little context as to why footnotes aren’t automatically read. And it’s simply that sometimes they’re really long. And if you’re reading a document, and suddenly you hear a long footnote intermingled with a sentence, it’s kind of hard to recognize what’s going on and understand the original sentence. Obviously your mileage may vary, and turning it on may be a better experience for the kinds of things you’re doing.
As a result of sending in a Power Tip, Don has his choice of either having his Home Annual License extended for a year; or, if he’s on the SMA program, we’ll extend his SMA for a year. And the same can happen for you, if you submit a Power Tip. And the kind of thing we’re looking for is things that you wouldn’t detect from reading the first few pages of the manual and would only know about after you’ve used the product for a while. So if you have something that fits that category, write to us at email@example.com.
GLEN: Joining me now is someone who I’m thrilled to have on the podcast. And we met under less than ideal conditions, on an FSOpenLine not that long ago. Someone asked about statistical software, and I offered up a couple of answers in terms of what was accessible. And he wrote to me and said, “You know, you left out probably the most accessible statistics program of all, and that’s SAS.” And I felt really stupid because SAS goes way back with me. I know it from back in the mid-’80s.
But I am just thrilled that he reached out because it turns out Ed Summers and everybody else at SAS have worked really hard to make sure that accessibility flows through their entire product set, or at least most of it, so that you don’t get stranded after doing a certain amount of work and then can’t go any further because the next stage doesn’t happen to be accessible. So out of misspeaking sometimes comes great things. Ed Summers, welcome to FSCast.
ED SUMMERS: Thank you, Glen. It’s a pleasure to be on the show. Thanks for having me.
GLEN: So I remember SAS when I was at UCLA in the early ’80s. That was the statistical package that lots of people used. But it sounds like SAS is a much older company than that.
ED: It is. SAS started as a research project at North Carolina State University, I believe in 1966. This is way back when computing was relatively new, and SAS was – the group of researchers who started SAS were tasked with creating extensible statistical analysis procedures. And over the next decade or so that grew into what we know as SAS, or the beginnings of it. And in 1976 the project left NC State and became a private company and moved across the street and set up shop. And that was, what, 44 years later we’re going strong with 15,000 employees. It’s a privately held company, and it’s just a wonderful, kind of a campus-like feel in a business environment.
GLEN: Did you take statistics when you were in school?
ED: I took two semesters of statistics when I was in school. I was a computer science major with a math minor. And I got straight A’s in every single computer science class. And I will disclose at this late stage in my career that I made B’s in statistics. But SAS still hired me.
GLEN: What were the kind of things you did early on?
ED: I started out working on compilers primarily, and have transitioned over into various parts of the technology over the years, and different UI pieces. In 2010 I was asked to – and by 2010, I had lost my vision years ago at this point, and I was asked to lead our accessibility program here.
GLEN: Given the size of the company, I speculate that you have no shortage of different programs and applications. How did you decide what to focus on first?
ED: That is an excellent question. So SAS is in the business of enabling people to make better decisions using data. And that’s across the board. One of the things that our customers use SAS for, and we’re talking about 80,000-plus customer sites around the world, they use SAS to, for lack of a better term, to crunch a lot of numbers, analyze data, and then publish artifacts such as charts, graphs, maps, tables of data, reports. And those artifacts enable a broader set of people to make better decisions using data.
So the way this plays out in the real world is that there might be a small group of people in a large company that are performing the analysis, and then they share the reports for a large number of people within a company, or even outside of a company. So pretty early on, when I started work on accessibility in 2010, it became really clear talking with customers and analyzing the business that we needed to focus on the ability for customers to share analytical outputs with a broad – for people either publicly on the World Wide Web or even on Intranets internal within organizations. And that was the highest priority, the best way that we could deliver value from the accessibility perspective.
And then the second area that clearly there is a need is the ability for people with disabilities to analyze data independently themselves so that they can go through college and learn how to use statistical analysis software, like you were at UCLA, and then after college get some of those wonderful high-paying jobs in the field of statistics and analytics. So those are our two main focuses.
GLEN: It’s really interesting that you chose output first because I think it’s usually the harder one in terms of graphs and other visually oriented results.
ED: That is true. That is true. But certainly if you look at the way this plays out in the field of analytics, the business that we’re in, it is so graphics-heavy. And if you don’t have access to those graphics, it’s hard to compete, frankly. And speaking as a blind professional, I can attest to that. When some of these visual tools that are available from SAS and others, they’re just visually so powerful, and you can see the insights so quickly.
We very much wanted to level the playing field so that people with disabilities, particularly people with visual impairments or blindness, can access that wealth of information at their fingertips, so to speak, and to do that as efficiently and as effectively as their fully able peers. That is one of our biggest goals is to enable that process.
GLEN: I know for myself, and probably extrapolating for a lot of other people, as well, we’ve become really good at reading tables on the web. And so if we can’t get something in tabular data, the first thought is, oh, it’s not accessible. And I’m wondering the degree to what you think we have handicapped ourselves in terms of those of us who think about tables first in all cases.
ED: Yeah, well, you know, tables are a wonderful way to access small amounts of data and summary statistics. And I, too, in the past have kind of fallen prey to “what accessibility means for data is a table.” And if it’s a table, like you said, then it’s accessible; if it’s not. Well, as you start to work with data more and more frequently, and as you’re dealing with larger datasets, what we call “big data,” that breaks down really fast. So a table that has a few columns and a few dozen rows, oh, no problem. Read that with your screen reader. A table that has thousands or millions of rows, it’s not going to happen. It just won’t scale. And that’s where data visualization comes in to provide insights in a much more succinct way. And that’s where we’re making this investment, in order to enable non-visual access to data visualization.
GLEN: Seems that a big part of your investment is in a tool you call the SAS Graphics Accelerator. Can you tell us about that?
ED: The SAS Graphics Accelerator is a free Chrome extension that’s available to anyone. You can go install it from the Chrome Web Store right now. And you can use it in a couple different ways. You can use it as an extension within Chrome, and you can import data into that extension, and you can create charts and graphs that you can explore interactively using sound. You can create maps that you can explore in a variety of ways. You can share those with your sighted friends. You can share those with your blind friends. And they can also access those graphs in the exact same way, using sound and other non-visual methods.
In addition to that, SAS Graphics Accelerator, the Chrome extension, is compatible with and integrates with various SAS applications. So, for example, let’s say you’re a graduate student in college, and you need to analyze data. Then you can use the SAS platform and the SAS programming language to analyze bigger datasets with more complex types of analyses. And the graphs that you’ve produced in that case are also accessible using SAS Graphics Accelerator so you can explore them interactively using sound. And of course that just parlays right off into the working world, as you’re working analyzing data in a career, wherever that may be. The enterprise class applications that we create, many of them, a growing number of them are also compatible with SAS Graphics Accelerator.
GLEN: How do you access Graphics Accelerator specific commands?
ED: The way you access it is by, within Chrome, just pressing ALT. And that’ll move your focus to what’s called the “Chrome button.” And from there, if you press LEFT ARROW, then you’ll move your focus across all of the extensions that you have installed. And when you find SAS Graphics Accelerator, if you just press SPACEBAR, that opens a pop-up. And from that pop-up you can extract data from the tables on the current page that’s showing on your screen. Or you can just go directly to your laboratory. There’s a link there for the User’s Guide, and other types of information are available within that pop-up.
GLEN: So I think now would be a great time for a demo. And for those of you listening at home, it would be a great time to put headphones on, if you don’t already have them, because in this case stereo really does matter. And Ed, before we started recording, you said you could take Tyler Littlefield’s CV Stats COVID-19 website and pull in some data into the Graphics Accelerator.
ED: Yeah, let’s do that. So I’ll just open a new tab.
JAWS VOICE: CTRL+D, untitled - Google Chrome. Address and search bar edit.
ED: And I’ll type in his address, which is C V S T A T S dot net.
JAWS VOICE: Stats.net.
ED: And this is our H1 here.
JAWS VOICE: Accessible COVID-19 Statistics Tracker heading level 1.
ED: Now let’s go down to the section that lists some of the data for every country with confirmed cases. And I’ll just pop down using the B command in JAWS.
JAWS VOICE: Country Stats heading level 2 button collapsed.
ED: And we open that.
JAWS VOICE: SPACE, expanded.
ED: And now let’s go find the table. I’ll press T.
JAWS VOICE: Table with 12 columns and 215 rows.
ED: Okay. So this is a great example of the kind of data that we find typically on the web. There’s 12 columns and 270 rows. It’s a lot of data. I’m not sure how many cells that is, but it’s thousands of cells. So early on we added a feature in SAS Graphics Accelerator that allows you to extract data from tables like this on the web. Okay. You can also import data from spreadsheets and CSV files and all that other kind of stuff. But this feature is particularly useful. I use it every day. So I’ll just do it really quick. I’ll just walk through it. I’m just going to go up to SAS Graphics Accelerator.
JAWS VOICE: Chrome button menu, customize extensions. SAS Graphics Accelerator has access to the site button menu. SPACE, dialog, pop-up.
ED: And I’ll extract tables from this page.
JAWS VOICE: Extract tables from this page button.
ED: Okay, and I’ll hit RETURN.
JAWS VOICE: ENTER. Laboratory: SAS Graphics Accelerator - Google Chrome. Prepare.
ED: This is the Prepare Table page. And I’ll just click through it, just take the defaults to bring this table data from Tyler’s web page into my laboratory.
JAWS VOICE: Save the laboratory button.
ED: I’ll press SPACEBAR to activate that.
JAWS VOICE: SPACE. Prepare Table - Google Chrome. Save the laboratory button. Table: SAS Graphics Accelerator - Google Chrome.
ED: This is the Table page.
JAWS VOICE: Table: To sort the table by values in a column.
ED: And I can click through the column headings in this table and view this data using graphs like bar charts and histograms. So I’ll just quickly go find one of our columns of data, and I’ll click through it to a histogram. This is exploratory data analysis. So I’ll just press T.
JAWS VOICE: Table with 12 columns and 28 rows.
ED: All right. And I’ll go across the tops of the headings here, column headings.
JAWS VOICE: Link Cases, column 2. Link Cases Reported Today, column 3. Link Overall Deaths, column 4. Link Deaths Today, column 5. Link Recovered, column 6. Link Critical Cases, column 7. Link Active Cases, column 8. Link Cases Per One Million, column 9.
ED: That’s the one I want, Cases Per One Million. I’m going to click on that.
JAWS VOICE: SPACE, untitled - Google Chrome. Variable: SAS Graphics Accelerator - Google Chrome.
ED: This brings up a page that analyzes this particular variable or this column of data. And I’ll jump down to the first unvisited link.
JAWS VOICE: Link histogram showing Cases Per One Million.
ED: And now I can access a histogram of this data. So I press RETURN.
JAWS VOICE: ENTER. Graph View: SAS Graphics Accelerator - Google Chrome.
ED: Okay. So this is Graph View. And we’re going to interactively explore this histogram. There’s different ways to do this, but the easiest way to do it is using something called Scan Mode.
JAWS VOICE: B, Scan Mode.
ED: And I’ll press the RIGHT ARROW. [Various tones]. Okay. So that played this histogram from left to right. And what we heard, I’ll play it again [various tones], is there are some high points over on the left which are lots of data points in that bin of the histogram. And then over towards the right it drops off really fast, and there’s low tones and a few empty bins there. This gives us a really quick way to determine the distribution of the data within one of the columns of Tyler’s table. So we’ve scanned the entire histogram quickly from left to right. And now what I want to do is change modes, and I want to go back over to the very beginning.
JAWS VOICE: Blank. Zero. 189.
ED: So in the first bin there’s 189 countries. And I’ll just move one bin at a time.
JAWS VOICE: 2,500, 14.
ED: Okay. So in this case we can tell that our bins, the size of our bins is 2,500, and there’s 14 in the second bin.
JAWS VOICE: 5,000, four.
ED: In the bin that starts with 5,000, there’s only four.
JAWS VOICE: 7,500, one.
ED: And then we’re going out.
JAWS VOICE: 10,000, zero.
ED: That one’s empty.
JAWS VOICE: 12,500, one. 15,000, one.
ED: Okay. So there’s a couple of countries with 12,500, 15,000 cases per million.
GLEN: And is there a way now to know what those countries are?
ED: Glad you asked that. Let’s close this.
JAWS VOICE: CTRL+W.
ED: Now we’re back on what we call the Variable Page. We just go press one in JAWS.
JAWS VOICE: Variable: Cases Per One Million, heading level 1.
ED: And if you scan this page just by your headings, you can find kind of a univariate summary.
JAWS VOICE: Summary, heading level 2.
ED: And then the next one...
JAWS VOICE: Comparison, heading level 2.
ED: ...allows you to compare variables against each other. So this variable we’re looking at is Cases Per Million. I’ll press H one more time.
JAWS VOICE: Country heading level 3 link.
ED: And underneath this heading there are some graphs offered that we can click on that will compare the country against Cases Per Million. So let me press TAB.
JAWS VOICE: Bar chart showing Cases Per One Million by Country.
ED: Okay. Cases Per Million by Country. Let’s hit RETURN.
JAWS VOICE: ENTER. Graph View: SAS Graphics Accelerator - Google Chrome.
ED: So now we’re in Graph View again; right? And let me just switch over to Scan Mode.
JAWS VOICE: Scan Mode.
ED: And now we’ll play the entire thing from left to right, which might take a little longer because of 202 – I’ll play the first, let’s say, 10 or 20 so we can get the gist. Now, these bar charts in this case are by default sorted from the largest to the smallest bars. So I’ll just press RIGHT ARROW. [Tones]. I’m going to stop it there because it’s going to get smaller from there. So now let’s switch over and answer Glen’s question. Which countries have the largest number of cases per million?
JAWS VOICE: Explore mode.
ED: And I’ll switch over to the far left.
JAWS VOICE: Blank. San Marino, 17,152.
ED: And go one to the right here.
JAWS VOICE: Holy See (Vatican City State), 13,733.
ED: Okay, that’s Vatican City.
JAWS VOICE: Andorra, 9,681. Luxembourg, 6,109. Qatar, 5,620. Spain, 5,311.
ED: And we can keep going from there, if we wanted to.
GLEN: That is really impressive. Thank you for showing that to us. I had read about it before I heard the demo and thought it would be interesting to play with. But now that I actually hear you demonstrate it, I want to go off and find tables on the web and do the same thing on my own. It doesn’t seem difficult. It doesn’t seem terribly intimidating. And I’m excited. There are great things in my life that I think I could apply this to.
If people want to read a little more about the Graphics Accelerator, what kind of documentation is available?
ED: We have created a site called the SAS Disability Support Center. And folks can reach that by going to support.sas.com/accessibility. So there’s no www in front of that. It’s just type in your browser support.sas.com/accessibility. Or you can type in “SAS Disability Support Center” into your favorite search engine, and it should be the first result.
So on that site you’ll find a User’s Guide for SAS Graphics Accelerator and many products, as well. We’ve started hosting webinars about the accessibility of these tools that can be used to analyze data, both SAS Graphics Accelerator and others. So you can also find examples of recent webinars and upcoming webinars on that page. And you can also find a few tutorials, and we’re adding those as we go, and samples that you can access. So, for example, “COVID-19 by the Numbers” on the SAS Disability Support Center is a great way to get started with some of that data.
GLEN: I think I’d like to turn now to people who actually are doing statistics themselves, either for school or for work. What kind of investments has SAS made in making sure all of that’s accessible?
ED: For many folks that are in a university, the lab computers at the university or the computers that the school gives to students, you can install SAS natively on those computers, let’s say a Windows computer. And when you do that, if you go to the Start menu, then lots of times there’s a SAS item in the Start menu. And that’ll open Windows SAS. So we’ve done a lot of work to make that windowing environment accessible so that you can write SAS code and run that SAS code and view the output.
And oh, by the way, if you turn on the accessibility options within SAS, then you can create graphs that you can explore interactively, just like we did today. In addition to that, there are some other ones, other kind of more modern applications. So, for example, something new called SAS Studio, which is a browser-based version of a SAS programming environment, is also accessible, and you can access the same types of features.
GLEN: So if someone has a choice, which would you say is easier to use and most flexible?
ED: It’s a great question. And it most likely will depend on the individual student. So if you need access to SAS right now, and you can’t wait for your professor to give you access or your school to give you access to install SAS, let’s say, then you can go to the SAS Disability Support Center and click through to a way to get access to SAS Studio in the browser, right now, without having to wait on anybody. And if you’re a student, you can use SAS Studio and the SAS programming language for free for the purposes of learning how to explore data. Oh, and I should also mention that, in addition to that, there is a nice collection of accessible training that are also available to kind of get you started with the SAS programming language and also the concepts of statistics.
Now, on the other hand, if your university has SAS installed on lab machines, or you can get it installed on your laptop, that might be a more powerful environment because you can run a native Windows application in order to write and run code, which is frankly what I prefer because I just like the native applications, if I can. And you might prefer that instead.
GLEN: If someone is not “in school,” but they’re wanting to learn statistics, does this apply to them, as well?
ED: It sure does. And we call that person an “independent learner.” So if you are an independent learner, let’s say you’re a few years out of school or whatnot, and you want to go back and pick up some of those valuable analytical skills, then you can do it using what’s called “SAS OnDemand for Academics,” which gives you access to SAS Studio. And if you go to the SAS Disability Support Center, you can see some links there for getting access to SAS OnDemand for Academics.
GLEN: Before you actually started doing your demo, and before we were recording, you were listening to JAWS really fast. And one thing led to the next, and you mentioned to me that you’ve done some blog posts on how people can learn to listen at really fast rates.
ED: Yeah, I have. And, you know, Glen, this strikes a chord for me because when I was losing my vision, I struggled to adapt to non-visual methods. And when I was making that transition from the sighted world to the blind world, I reached out to several people who gave me great advice, one of which was Sina Bahram, and he showed me how to consume information very quickly, auditorily, by reading. And through advice from Sina, I worked very diligently to increase my reading rate to about 600 words per minute. I think Sina and others are – they’re real speed demons. They’re faster than that. And it was been such an advantage in the corporate world to be able to consume information, you know, roughly twice as fast as a normal person, auditorily.
And I did a blog post, a series of blog posts on this topic on my blog, the Perkins Paths to Technology site. So if you search “Ed Summers Perkins Paths to Technology,” that’s Paths, P A T H S, Paths to Technology, you’ll find my blogs there. And if you look for the series on reading rates, learning how to read at 600 words per minute, there’s a series of about five posts there. And I’d love for people to check that out and let me know what you think. You can add some comments there to the blog, and I will get those. I’ll get a notification. I’d love to know what you think about that.
GLEN: I think I have my work cut out for me. I’m not nearly at 600 words a minute. And most other people, when they hear my JAWS talk, say how can you possibly understand it? And it’s a lot slower than you’re listening. So I’m going to gradually start increasing my rate by a tiny amount each week. And maybe I’ll be like the frog that gets thrown into the water as the water boils and not really notice that I’m getting faster and faster.
Ed, thanks so much for being with us on FSCast. It was great talking with you. And it’s also great to hear about some of the wonderful things that SAS has done to make doing statistics, and consuming them, accessible.
ED: Well, thanks, Glen. It’s been a pleasure. And my hat’s off to you and the rest of the team at Vispero for all the work you do to make JAWS and other tools accessible for all of us. It is a credit to the whole blind community, and you’re helping us do things like we do at SAS. So thank you.
GLEN: Well, thanks again for being with us. And if people want to get in touch with you, they can write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Accessibility@sas.com. That’ll get to Ed and a lot of the other people on the Accessibility team. And they’re particularly interested in hearing from you.
GLEN: Thanks to all of you for sticking with us till the end of FSCast 183. I’m Glen Gordon. We’ll see you next month.