FSCast #191

November,  2020

GLEN GORDON:  On FSCast 191, Christy Householter talks about Computers for the Blind, a place to get a refurbished computer if you live in the U.S.  Then a visit with JAWS scripting ninja Doug Lee.  We’ll learn about his life and why he scripts so many popular apps for free.  And, finally, a song about JAWS keyboard commands from the students at the Texas School for the Blind.

Hello, everybody.  Glen Gordon welcoming you to our podcast for November of 2020.  By now the 2021 editions of JAWS, ZoomText, and Fusion have hit the streets, or at least hit our website.  If you’re running a 2020 version of a product, you’ve already gotten the announcement of that.  Otherwise, go to the Downloads portion of the website, and you’ll be able to get it that way.  Either way, a whole bunch of new features.

And if you’re not up to date on what all of those are, we talked about a whole variety of them back in FSCast 189.  So if you haven’t listened to that, that might be a good thing to get a jumpstart on what’s new.  And as the months progress, we’ll have more and more training materials relating to the new features in 2021 products, as well.


A New Feature in Picture Smart

GLEN:  One of the features that’s been getting a lot of good feedback is our improvements to Picture Smart.  And we have an unsolicited testimonial about how that’s really coming in helpful from Debee Armstrong.

DEBEE ARMSTRONG:  Let me tell you how I love Picture Smart.  This feature doesn’t work in 2020, but it works great in JAWS 2021.  I’m taking an online class, and the instructor keeps posting instructions for assignments as screenshots.  I don’t know why she doesn’t just post them on the HTML page or as a Word document.  But I think she takes pictures from her previous courses so she doesn’t have to type the instructions again.

Anyway, I never used to be able to read them.  I had to find someone to read them to me.  Now all I do is do “g” for graphic when I’m on the web page, and I go to the graphic I want to have Picture Smart describe.  I do INSERT+SPACE for the layered keystroke, P for Picture Smart, C for Control, describe the control, and Picture Smart analyzes the picture.  And if it is actually a picture, a photo of something, it will tell me that.  Otherwise it’ll say it’s text, or it’s a screenshot.  And then I can go to more results, and it will actually OCR the instructions and read them to me.  I love this feature because now I can finally read instructions in online classes that are on the web and that are screenshots.

GLEN:  Well, thank you, Debee.  Really happy to hear that things are working so well for you with your class.  And the reason this only works with JAWS and Fusion 2021 is because before then you couldn’t use Picture Smart very easily with pictures on the web.  But we’ve resolved that in our latest releases.  Those latest releases will have their first updates come the middle of December, so be on the lookout for those.


JAWS Power Tip

GLEN:  Time now for today’s Power Tip.  It comes from long-time JAWS scripter Dave Baker, who reminded those of us who should know better that there’s a feature already built into JAWS for knowing what the real address is of a link that you may encounter, either in email or on the web.  This is particularly important if those links point at things that, let’s say, would require you to log in.  And you wouldn’t want to click on it if it really was an imposter because the name of the link doesn’t necessarily represent what it’s really pointing at.  I’m sitting here in Microsoft Outlook now with a piece of mail open that says it’s from the U.S. Social Security Administration.

JAWS VOICE:  To view your most recent statement, please visit link www.socialsecurity.gov/reviewyourstatement.

GLEN:  Now, this link is probably legitimate.  But to make sure, once you have the virtual PC cursor focused on the link itself, press INSERT+F7.

JAWS VOICE:  Links list dialog, links list view, www.socialsecurity.gov/reviewyourstatement.  One of one.

GLEN:  Now, the only reason I said to position on the link is, if there had been more than one link in the email, the links list always positions on the link that’s associated with where you are in the virtual buffer.  So it’s just an easy way to get there quickly.  Now that I’m here, if I press INSERT+PAGE DOWN...

JAWS VOICE:  Https://www.socialsecurity.gov/reviewyourstatement.

GLEN:  So I heard the link, and I am now sure that that really points at Social Security.  But sometimes the links are much longer and much more involved, and it’s hard to make them out just hearing them as one single thing.  So you can turn on the JAWS cursor and get to the bottom of the page and read the link, word or character at a time.  So I’m going to press INSERT+NUM PAD-.  That’s going to route the JAWS cursor to the PC cursor and turn it on.


GLEN:  Now I’ll hit PAGE DOWN.  Now I’ll do a “say word.”

JAWS VOICE:  Https:.

GLEN:  And then I can just move on by word.

JAWS VOICE:  //www.socialsecurity.gov/reviewyourstatement.

GLEN:  So an easy way to always know what a link points at and never click on the wrong thing by mistake.  I showed it to you in Outlook.  It works equally well with links on the web.  If there’s something in one of our products that you find particularly useful that the average user likely doesn’t know about, we’d love to hear from you.  Write to us at fscast@vispero.com.  If we use your Power Tip you’ll get either a year added onto your SMA, or a year added onto your Home Annual License.


Interview with Christy Householter

GLEN:  For several years now Freedom Scientific’s been partnering with Computers for the Blind.  They’re in North Texas, largely volunteer run.  They refurbish computers and then distribute them to blind people around the U.S.  On the line with me now is their executive director, Christy Householter.  Christy, welcome to FSCast.

CHRISTY HOUSEHOLTER:  Thank you, Glen.  Appreciate it.

GLEN:  So it’s hard for me to believe that this organization has a 25-year history.

CHRISTY:  Yeah.  It really is.  And you know what’s even more unbelievable is that some of the original volunteers that supported our founder are still around.  We still get to hear from them.  They still come in and volunteer occasionally.  But it’s a really neat full-circle story that started 25 years ago and is still going today.

GLEN:  So what is that origin story?

CHRISTY:  Well, Bob Langford was our founder.  He was a gentleman that lost all of his vision in an accident at age 16.  Now, he went through most of his schooling and his first part of his career not using a computer because it was before the time of computers.  And later in life, as a grown adult, he realized just how much better his life was with accessible technology.  So he started building and refurbishing computers to make them accessible in his garage, and he gave his first one to a friend back in 1995.  And that started our legacy.  Twenty-five years now we are getting very close to our 15,000th device that we’ve refurbished and sent out to a person who’s blind or visually impaired.  We’re very excited.

GLEN:  So how did you come to the organization?

CHRISTY:  Well, you know, Glen, I was – I’ve been in the blindness field for all of my career.  I was a TVI and an Orientation Mobility Specialist for 35 years, right here in the Dallas area.  The last 10 years I was an administrator.  And I knew when I retired that I wanted to go volunteer at Computers for the Blind.

So I started volunteering about two years ago.  And it took me about two weeks to refurbish my first computer.  Now, mind you, I was pretty excited about that.  But I later learned that it takes a 15-year-old young adult volunteer about 30 minutes to an hour to refurbish one.  So they decided that maybe I would be used in different ways at the facility.

So I just started helping out, making phone calls, fundraising, those kinds of things.  And before I knew it, I was working part-time as their executive director.  And that’s been almost exactly a year now, and just absolutely love it.  It’s so much fun to be in the field that is just a natural progression of all the time that I spent as a Teacher of the Visually Impaired and Orientation Mobility Specialist.

GLEN:  What’s the scenario that a computer takes from the time that someone donates it to the time that it actually makes it out the door to be given to a blind person who needs it?

CHRISTY:  We get individual donations and corporate donations of devices.  We then sort through them, and our IT folks will determine what’s usable, what’s not, what could be used for parts and such.  And then we have volunteers that come in.  Those volunteers will choose one of our devices that we have in our warehouse, a laptop or a desktop.  And they will start that refurbishing process.

Now, it is kind of like a two-page front and back instruction sheet on all the different things that they have to do to get the computer ready.  And basically it starts with cleaning it.  You’d be kind of surprised at how dirty sometimes they are.  And then about halfway through that refurbishing process the volunteer will choose a client.  That’s somebody who has called our customer service folks and has ordered a specific device with a specific, whether it be JAWS or ZoomText, whether it be a laptop or desktop.  And that volunteer will start specifying the device to that client, which is a really neat process for our volunteers.

They finish that process.  They then take it back to the back of our warehouse area, and they pack it up, and they send it off to the client.  And that takes usually about two weeks from that start to finish process.  We take a lot of pride in getting folks their devices within two weeks of their phone call because we know how important and how critical it is for them to be up and running as quickly as possible.

GLEN:  It does sound like it gives a little bit of a connection between the person refurbishing and the person receiving.

CHRISTY:  Right.  And not only that, but just the ability to see their name and their address and to know that they’re mailing it.  They are packing it and they are mailing it specific to the person that they’ve built this machine for.  It really is a neat process.  You know, we’ve talked a lot in the past about making things more streamlined, having more like an assembly line kind of thing.  But that just doesn’t give you near the satisfaction as a volunteer to do that complete start-to-finish process.

GLEN:  How has COVID impacted all of this?

CHRISTY:  That is one of those questions that’s huge right now for us.  Originally, Glen, we actually closed for two weeks.  Our volunteer population, as you can expect, are a lot of elderly folks that are retired.  And it was just almost impossible, you know, we’re a small staff, to go through everything that we needed to go through to make sure that it was a safe environment.  Then we started getting all the desperate phone calls and all the desperate emails about people who needed an accessible device.

So we figured it out.  It took us just a few days to get back and opened up with a skeleton crew.  At one point our IT person, Nathan, was coming in and refurbishing and building computers on his own.  He would leave.  I would come in and clean and then pack them all up and mail them out.  And so we just got a system going that allowed us to stay open.  Since then, we’ve been able to get volunteers back in a little bit at a time.  And we’re back to getting devices back out to two weeks.  But you know, not only just the logistical part.  There’s been so many other issues right now.  Our volunteer force was reduced by 90 percent, but our demand went up 60 percent between March and this summer.

GLEN:  Wow.

CHRISTY:  Yeah.  We’re hovering about 30 percent right now.  But even donations, corporate donations of devices is an issue right now.  We’re looking at about a four- to five-month supply.  And we need computer donations right now so that we can refurbish them.  We have some great partnerships with some of the larger companies, like General Motors, who does a wonderful job of packing and sending us their devices from other states.

Last donation we got was a very large one from General Motors that came with a truck driver, and they were all individually wrapped and boxed, and that was huge.  Some people are able to go to their local post office and send in devices individually with “Free Matter for the Blind.”  Sometimes that works also.  It’s another way that we have been able to get devices from folks out of state.

GLEN:  I always thought that Free Matter from the Blind was like braille and stuff.

CHRISTY:  So we ship all of our computers out to our clients Free Matter for the Blind.  And when they ship devices back in for repair, they use that same label.  So that’s why we always just tell people, go to the Post Office and ask if you can do it because they’re all very individual.  Some say sure, no problem.  And others might not be so happy for that.

GLEN:  The computers that people donate may be several years out of date with the requirements that people have who are wanting the computers.  How do you sort of match that and perhaps upgrade some of the computers if they don’t have enough oomph?

CHRISTY:  Well, you know, the great news is that any device that’s donated that comes to us gets used in one way or another.  So anything with a Core i5 processor or better is what we are using to send out to our clients, to refurbish and send out.  But if there’s something that’s not, then we work closely with a recycler who takes those kinds of parts and computers and recycles them and in exchange gives us memory, hard drives, things like that.

So people ask us that all the time.  One of those things is the only thing we don’t take are those CRT monitors that nobody wants to take except for your city that has the drive once a year in the community.  But other than that, we can recycle anything we can’t personally use.  And any of that recycling process does benefit us in the long run.

GLEN:  What do people do if they actually need a computer?

CHRISTY:  Well, I have always said our customer service folks are amazing at Computers for the Blind.  Several of them are assistive technology users themselves, so my first point of contact is to always tell people to call customer service.  That number is (214) 340-6328.  And they really can walk anybody through, especially folks who aren’t quite sure what they might need or if they need a desktop or a laptop or, you know, those folks that may be transitioning between JAWS or ZoomText, or do they need a large monitor or not?  So they just really have a great deal of knowledge and can really walk people through that process of what they may need.

GLEN:  Is there any charge at all, or is it completely free to the recipient?

CHRISTY:  A computer, the base price of our computers are about $130 for a desktop and $185 for a laptop.  And then from there folks can upgrade to larger monitor for a small fee of like $25.  They can upgrade their storage or WiFi capability for a small fee.  But the best part about our computers is that most folks who call in are eligible for some type of grant.  And those grants usually take about $60 off of that cost.  You know, as an executive director that’s my job is to continue to get out there and raise money so that we can continue to provide grants for students, for folks who are on SSI and SSDI.  To a veteran.  We even had a grant recently of course that anyone who was really impacted by COVID could receive a grant.  And that’s probably everybody in this world right now; right?

GLEN:  Yeah, exactly.  We should mention that, if someone gets a computer and wants JAWS or ZoomText, we’ll throw in a free Home Annual License for that first year.

CHRISTY:  Exactly.  That’s what makes our computers valuable.  Not only the cost that’s saving the person, but also just that it’s there.  It’s on their computer.  I mean, they start it up, and it is working.  So it has really been a great partnership.

GLEN:  Do you partner with any training organization so that when someone gets a computer it doesn’t end up becoming a big heavy paperweight?

CHRISTY:  This is one of those stories where you’re just having dinner with somebody one day, and you realize that one organization has a need, and the other one has a need.  And between the two of you, you can form a partnership.  I was having dinner just a little over a year ago with Sharon Giovinazzo from World Services for the Blind in Little Rock.  And I was telling her how so many of our clients receive devices, and they just don’t know how to use them.  And she mentioned that part of their training rehab program, one of those is training to be an assistive technology specialist.  And folks that are in their training program need to have hours teaching those assistive technology skills.

And so we thought, well, this is a perfect partnership.  Let’s try it.  And to date we’ve had several hundred hours with about 100 of our clients that have received training from World Services for the Blind over this past year.  It’s been an amazing partnership.

GLEN:  That was a great dinner.  Even if the food wasn’t perfect.

CHRISTY:  The food was great, too.

GLEN:  Oh, good.  How many computers do you do a year?

CHRISTY:  We started in 1995 with one.  And right now we’re up to about 1,500 a year.  As of today, we’re sending out about 155 devices a month.  So if you do that math, we’re going to exceed our annual amount by quite a bit this current year.  We anticipate that’s going to be the same, Glen.  We just really think that we’re going to – that business will stay this steady, even as the pandemic comes and goes.  We’re working really hard at Computers for the Blind to make our devices better, to provide more support after the purchase, and expand into other areas, if possible.  So we expect to keep going every year.

GLEN:  Christy, thanks so much for joining us.  I can’t believe that we’ve never interviewed you or someone from Computers for the Blind before this.  But I looked three times, and I don’t see it on our list in the archives.

CHRISTY:  Well, thank you.  You know, our partnership started over seven years ago with Bobby Lakey, and that partnership that we started with Freedom Scientific at that point.  You know, we’ve worked with you guys off and on for all these years now.  So we really appreciate the partnership.

GLEN:  Well, and it goes both ways because software doesn’t work real well without the computers.

CHRISTY:  Exactly.

GLEN:  Thanks again, Christy.

CHRISTY:  Thank you.

GLEN:  If you want more information about Computers for the Blind, you can go to their website at ComputersfortheBlind.org, or simply search for them in your favorite search engine.


Interview with Doug Lee

GLEN:  Back in the year 2000, give or take, I started hearing about this guy who was doing amazing things with the JAWS script language.  And when I say “amazing,” I mean doing things that I, as the person who implemented the language, was shocked that he was actually able to get done.  I speak of none other than Doug Lee.  It took us, I think, 14 years from then to ever have a conversation and to meet in person.  But I’m delighted that since then we’ve become regular contacts on topics technical and otherwise.  And he’s my captive guest for the next little while on FSCast.  So Doug, welcome.

DOUG LEE:  Willing captive guest.  Thank you very much, and thank you for having me.  It’s an honor to me to be here, as well, actually.

GLEN:  Well, thank you.  When you were growing up, I mean, a couple of questions.  One of them is how were your folks in terms of your blindness? And I assume it’s blindness from birth, but I don’t really know that.

DOUG:  I could actually see for 18 months, which I don’t remember any of.  So I had a form of cancer called “retinoblastoma” and lost my sight at 18 months old.  And my parents not only were into me being as capable as possible, but I think my dad started the tendency to record things in place of using photographs.  And he created a photograph quote unquote “album” for us to listen to later, going all the way back to when I learned to talk.  So at this point I actually have digital copies of Doug learning to say “microphone” and “tape recorder” and a few other things from 1969 or so.

[Audio clip]

BABY DOUG:  Microphone.

WOMAN:  Good.

[End clip]

GLEN:  That’s really clever that he thought to do that.  Now, that’s obviously more for you, perhaps, than for him.  Did they take pictures, as well?

DOUG:  They probably did.  I know that there’s a lot of pages in the baby book.  I also don’t know where that thing ended up by now.  My mom probably has it.

GLEN:  That’s really clever.  What was your passion growing up, before computers?

DOUG:  Ha ha.  Before computers, which obviously became my passion, I would say I was into audio equipment.  I was into mechanical stuff.  I liked to look at and take apart record players and things to see how they worked.  So my dad would go to these auctions and bring home a bunch of what he would call “junk,” and I would call “interesting stuff.”  And I would play with those.  But I eventually got interested in understanding speaker design.  I was at one point convinced of the idea that I know how to create a better speaker than I got for $2 at an auction.

So I had my dad take apart these cabinets.  I said, “I want you to build me a one-foot by one-foot by two-foot cabinet for each of these and put a portal in it so that it can have more bass.  And make it out of Masonite.”  Well, I said out of Masonite because it was thin wood, and I’d seen – my dad was a woodworker, and I’d seen wood in his shop.  And I thought, well, that looks right.  Well, he probably knew better than I did, but he somehow succeeded in making an entire speaker cabinet pair out of just Masonite.  And I quickly realized this leaks really badly.  So I said, “Okay, make the sides out of plywood and front and back out of Masonite.”  He did that.  And they were actually usable.  I used them for many years.

But they vibrated like a son of a gun because Masonite, which is a kind of particle board, is not exactly what you want in speakers.  So it’s probably just as well that I took a computer class because I don’t think I really would have made it as a speaker cabinet designer.

GLEN:  But how did you even know where to start?  How did you know the fundamentals of speakers?

DOUG:  Well, I looked at, yeah, this was before we could look up stuff on the Internet.  I looked at speakers in a lot of stores.  I had a friend who was into audio stuff, and we talked about it a lot, how the filters in mechanical form worked, you know, what a Butterworth filter was, stuff like that.  In mechanical terms he would tell me why the portal sometimes had tubes, which of course I didn’t have.  So my portal was just a hole in the wood.  So he gave me some ideas.  This is the same mentor, by the way, that got me to take a computer class.  I don’t think the two events were related, but I just realized that as I’m talking to you.

GLEN:  Was it love at first sight after that first couple of computer classes?

DOUG:  I would say, not only I would say that, but my teacher would say that because shortly after I started the class, and I started handing in assignments, he comes to me in class one day, says, “Doug, you don’t have to do all the problems I assigned as extra credit.”  It was like, “I know.”  But I was doing them anyway.  The way I was doing them, by the way, I was able to type those in.  But of course I didn’t have a computer.  So I was doing a lot of brailling of code.  And then I also learned that using a recorder to record code was very efficient.  So in high school and college I would do it that way.

GLEN:  So you would record it, and somebody else would transcribe it?

DOUG:  No, I would record it and then type it in myself.  So I would make recorded copies of my programming lines, and then I would go play them like a transcriber would do for typing, with or without a foot pedal, mind you.  But that kind of thing.  I made my own transcription tapes.  And then whenever I saw a keyboard next I would just put it all in.

GLEN:  When were you finally able to work really independently, with a synthesizer, with a screen reader, where you didn’t have to rely on anybody else?

DOUG:  Well, I’m going to answer that with a summary.  In my first year of high school I could independently do coding because I had a synthesizer, but I did ask for a lot of help with manuals and things.  My senior year I needed help for everything because there was no speech.  In college I could use computers at the rehab center independently some of the time, but not always.  So sometimes I had readers there.  I didn’t own a computer, well, I borrowed a computer in high school.  I borrowed an Apple to do word processing for papers once or twice.

But the first time I actually owned a computer was probably around my sophomore or junior year of college.  I forget which.  I bought a Zeos 286 with – I think it had one meg of RAM.  And it was like a 12 megahertz, mind you, that was before we had gigahertz by a long shot, 12 megahertz processor.  And of course to me it was fast and had a 65 megabyte hard drive, which was huge.  But that’s the first time I had my own computer with a speech synthesizer in it.

GLEN:  Was it liberating?

DOUG:  It was.  And it caused an interesting exchange.  I was used to being the person read to.  I’d had a sighted roommate in college, and we ended up with an unannounced trade where he would read me articles out of the newspaper, and I would read him headlines off of Usenet, the Internet newsgroup system sometimes.  So I felt kind of accomplished that I could read back to him because he didn’t have a computer.

GLEN:  So was your reading to him the synthesizer?  Or were you parroting the synthesizer out loud?

DOUG:  I was parroting the synthesizer out loud.  And at the time I was probably not a pro at it.  Years later, I would become the secretary of a small organization of blind people, and I would of course take my minutes.  And I got a little bit well-known for walking into the meeting with a tape recorder and an earphone and reading minutes with my voice while quietly listening to the same minutes on a recorder in my left ear because I could do that faster than I could do braille.

GLEN:  So your cadence was set by whatever was on the recording.

DOUG:  I learned to record it slower than I would listen normally so I could do a decent cadence.  And I’ve gotten mixed results on people telling me whether I’m good at a cadence.  You have to play it loud enough to hear over yourself talking.  And you have to play it in such a way that you can actually keep up with your own input.  But yeah, I could produce a cadence that was different than what was on the tape.

GLEN:  When did you learn braille?

DOUG:  I learned, probably started earlier than I even remember.  Preschool would be a good answer.  I was taught braille as early as can be, pretty much, because like I said, I lost my sight at 18 months, so they figured I would need that.  But I didn’t learn to read fast.  I tried, and it’s not for the lack of teachers, either.  I just never got very fast at it.  I got faster when I went to a training center in ‘91.  I jumped out of college to take it, which scared a lot of people, by the way, including my mom.

But I said, “I want to finish training and apply it in my last semester of college so that by the time I hit the job market, everything is cohesive.”  I said I wanted to take my last semester with the training in mind.  So I went to training.  I learned Grade 3 braille.  I learned better travel.  I went back to college, actually knew it well enough how to use Grade 3 in a slate.  I could sit in class and take my notes in real time.  And so I’m glad I did it that way, but it scared a few people for me to take off in the middle of college and go to a training center.

GLEN:  How did that end up working out?  Was your work experience radically different than you sort of thought it would be after the training?

DOUG:  It wasn’t radically different than I expected.  But it is somewhat radically different from what is true in a lot of school.  I thought long ago I should have written a paper called “The Two Kinds of Fair.”  In very brief terms, the first one is you do it when you get it.  You turn it in when you’re done.  And any translation, either direction, into or out of braille or whatever, is somebody else’s problem.  That’s one kind of fair.  The other kind of fair is you get a piece of paper, you write a piece of paper, and you turn it in in the same form that you get it in, in the same time they do it in.  And the fact that it’s not in braille is not their problem, it’s yours.  We do have accommodations.  But that is a real expectation to grapple with when you go into the job market is sometimes that’s going to happen, and you just have to be ready for it the best you can be.

GLEN:  So where do you come down on the two kinds of fair?

DOUG:  I think that we need to have the kind of meeting of the minds that I like to call the “60-60 rule,” that if I do more than 50 percent, and the employer does more than 50 percent, we’re never going to have a shortage.  So if they accommodate me by giving me my software and get some scripting done, you know, paid for to make the program easier, and I come to the table with a good knowledge of the screen reader and a good knowledge of the application once I can learn that, and I can work around problems that crop up, then we’re going to have a winning situation.

GLEN:  What was the nature of your first job?

DOUG:  The very first job I had after college was a programming job, programming for a company ironically called “Metro Vision Inc.”  I say “ironically” because it had nothing to do with vision, blindness, speech synthesis, or anything else.  It was just the name of the company before I showed up.  I was the only blind person to ever work there.  It was a very small programming company.  And my job was first to kind of improve the software they had started writing; and, second, to start writing some new applications.  And most of the applications that I wrote there were for database-type environments, health records, membership organizations.  And the most famous one we did, which they called the Lunch Program and I eventually renamed to Cafeteria Billing and Accounting, or CBA, was what the public schools used to manage their lunch programs.

GLEN:  Were you ready for doing this kind of stuff when you actually did it?

DOUG:  When I did it, I would say I was ready enough.  But to explain that, I think every new job I had did feel like a fish being pulled out of water because there was a lot of new all at once.  I felt it was extremely ironic that I was asked to write database applications and something akin to accounting because my boss when he figured out I was able to do these things said “I want you to write a program to manage our inventory and our invoices and our purchase orders.”  The two classes I did not decide to take when I was doing my computer science major in college were accounting and database management.  So I had a lot to learn about the domains of these particular applications I was writing.

Which led me to the point of saying to my boss – on another occasion he wanted me to write a program to manage property.  And I said, “Great.  I can probably do that.  But we need to get somebody in here who knows how to manage property because I can’t write a program to do something I don’t know how to do yet.”  And he wasn’t a property manager.

So I was ready.  But part of being ready, to finish answering your question, is the ability to ask, to figure out what to ask, where to ask, and to realize that I’m not expected to know everything right up front.  I am expected to figure it out, but I’m not expected to know everything immediately.  And that happened in spades every time I took a new job.

GLEN:  When did you learn Windows and get a Windows screen reader?

DOUG:  I was still using DOS Windows inside of Windows 95, 98.  And I was still using Telix, which was a serial program inside of DOS Windows, to communicate with Linux boxes to do my mail and stuff like that inside of Windows 95 and 98.  When I really jumped into Windows proper was when I started teaching – at the same training center I had been a student at, by the way.  This is Blind Inc. in Minnesota.  When I showed up there I had never seen JAWS, except for very briefly on my machine.  I tested it, but I hadn’t learned it.  I had never seen the Windows mail program.  I hadn’t done very much at all in Windows except use it as a multitasking system.  So when I said to the first student, “Let’s learn mail,” I meant “Let us learn mail.”  They gave me, I think it was one full day of having no students before I had a class.

GLEN:  Wow.  How long did it take you to use Windows because you wanted to, versus you had to because you were teaching people?

DOUG:  I still don’t use Windows for mail except for clients where I have to.  Obviously I use Windows for screen reading and a lot of applications I use.  I do a lot of editing in console windows.  I’ve done that for multiple operating systems and for multiple reasons.  So I really still use a mixture of the two.

GLEN:  It’s interesting to me hearing how much you like working at the console, and the number of scripts that you’ve written to support different apps in Windows that are tried and true Windows apps.  How did that whole process start?

DOUG:  So I decided that I didn’t really want to be a teacher forever.  That was not my preferred forte.  So I started looking for work.  And I did that by going to a job fair.  And at the job fair somebody that was not on my list of possible employers that I wanted to check out overheard me talking and kind of cornered me and asked me some questions and ultimately hired me.  But they said they wanted to hire me as a trainer.  And I said, “I don’t want to be a trainer.”

They had also said they needed a JAWS scripter.  And I, within my own head, quietly thought, I’m going to become a JAWS scripter so fast you don’t know what else to do with me.  And I kind of did.  I went there.  They said we need you to script, I believe it was Quicken Expensable, for us to use in-house.  And I did that in part of a week.  And they said, “Okay, we’re going to send you to Florida for this client to script for them.”  And that’s how it all got started.  I started scripting for people because I got good at it really fast.

GLEN:  Do you think your experience as a trainer helped you understand how to script in a way that would really be helpful to people?

DOUG:  In a way, yes.  But it’s a funny way.  What it taught me was that when I started seeing people at widely varying levels of knowledge, that it wasn’t that out of the ordinary.  I saw a lot of people as a trainer that had a lot of trouble learning computers.  Not just that they didn’t know.  They had a hard time learning how to be really good at them.  So when I saw people out in the world who didn’t know how to do a lot of things that were easy to me or what I considered basic, I wasn’t angry.  I was just like, okay, this is where they are.  This is what we do with that.  And so my scripts would get designed more around what I thought would be useful to them rather than what would be useful to me.

GLEN:  You’ve been working for years, scripting for your job.  And you spend probably more time than anybody I know of writing free scripts to support applications.  So the first part is, why the scripts to support all these applications that you make available?  And then the second part is why make them available for free?

DOUG:  Most of the stuff I’ve written, so Teams, Skype, Team Talk, Team Speak, Slack, you know, now I’m actually – I don’t know if I should announce much in advance, but I’m writing scripts for Discord, which I have already released, but I’m doing a lot more in them.  I’m just taking a little time getting them out there.  Those are things I’ve had occasion to use.  But then there have been a few programs that I scripted because somebody wanted them.

The answer to why I do them for free is a little more complicated than I can go into right now in great detail.  But I will say first of all, programming in general is what I’m going to do if you don’t give me something else, and you have a computer in my room.  That just seems to be part of who I am.  So it’s not only scripts.  It’s Python programs like Audir which is for directing sound, and a few other programs that I’ve written out there that aren’t scripts and aren’t specific to a screen reader.

Another reason, though, is in my job I encounter people who can’t get scripts paid for.  And so sometimes I’ve scripted something that’s too small to be a contract, but that I am still allowed to do.

GLEN:  If you’re writing scripts for yourself, you can sort of leave them in a little bit of disarray.  You know the warts and so forth.  If you’re writing scripts to release to other people, and you’re at all conscientious, you sort of need to bring it to conclusion.  Which at least for me turned it into much more of a job than it is just a pleasure.

DOUG:  Yes, that is very true.  And the biggest issue with that is documentation.  And I’m afraid the best example out there is the one that I call BX, which is a program or a set of scripts that I use to explore applications.  It’s a free program, or a free set of scripts.  I keep calling it a program because it’s big enough to be one, even though it really is a script.  But it has a fairly profound shortage of written documentation.  It has a lot of internal documentation, and the written documentation basically says here’s how to find the internal documentation.  But there’s not a lot of documentation, so there’s processes that I do in it that aren’t really explained anywhere.

And that is exactly what you’re talking about.  I ended up releasing something that you kind of have to almost be an expert to use, for some of what it’s there for.  For an application, yes, I tend to resist releasing it until I think it’s going to be reasonable for a user.  So documentation does tend to come out with those.

GLEN:  I’m married, and I’m married to a sighted woman.  And so some of the problems that people who are blind, either living alone or with other blind people, I don’t have.  And one of them is essentially, you know, how do you do things like pick out clothing and make sure that you’re sort of stylish and representing what you want to represent?

DOUG:  I’ve had some interesting solutions to that.  First rule of thumb is I have never, ever, ever wanted to go into a store and say to the salespeople “I need to buy this” because, I’ll tell you, they don’t know how to have my interests at heart.  It isn’t just money.  Things like I’ll tell them I don’t want to come back and buy another belt in two years.  I want to buy a belt that’ll last me for five.  So tell me what the real leather is.  They’re like, oh, that’s expensive.  Or my friends even, that I don’t know very well, will say that.  And I’ll say, you know, I’m not trying to be a rich guy.  I’m trying to say I know me.  I’m not going to come back here and do this again.  So if I pay three times for the belt, it’s because it’s going to last four times as long as the one you thought I should be getting.  Same with shirts.  I don’t want them to wrinkle easy because  I pack them in suitcases.

So my priorities are very hard to communicate.  So I try to shop with people that know me fairly well.  But when I haven’t been able to do that, I have actually a couple of times done shopping with people I met at a jobsite.  So it’s kind of hilarious.  I have bought a phone, and I’ve bought some clothes and a few other, you know, odds and ends while I’m way the heck out in somebody else’s state doing a job.

GLEN:  Oh, just like a coworker who you’ve met while you’re on the jobsite?

DOUG:  Yes.

GLEN:  And you go have dinner or something.  It’s like, you know, I’d like to go shopping, too.

DOUG:  Yeah, this has happened.  This is, well, usually it’s when I’ve been there long enough.  I mean, it’s not like in the first two days. I’m not literally going to ask because I think that’s an imposition.  But I am going to, if I think it fits into a conversation, I might mention it and see where it goes.

GLEN:  Yeah.  I can’t quite figure out how you’re going to fit shopping for shirts into – how that naturally occurs in a conversation.

DOUG:  Yeah.  That’s why I laugh, because I don’t remember how, but I remember it happening I think twice.  I’m absolutely sure it happened once.  And by now it’s been years enough ago, I don’t remember what location I was at.  Now, keep in mind, some of these locations I spend a lot of time at.  I had nine months in one hotel for a government job.

GLEN:  So you didn’t go home on the weekends.

DOUG:  Not for this job.  And in fact sometimes I would go other places.  I figured out that they just – they would give me permission to go home.  And I said, well – so in general terms are you saying you can fly someplace.  And I was like, yeah, well, do I have to fly home?  Well, no.  Just don’t cost us an arm and a leg.  I say, well, okay, I’m going to fly over here and visit this person.  It’ll cost you less.  And at one point I started setting up travel arrangements for that.  I just started saying, you know, if you want me to visit you with little to no notice, and you’re okay with that, tell me that, and I’ll see if I can.  And right after I said that to some people, the management of that particular contract changed, and they said you have to go home or you can’t go anywhere.  I’m like, aw, darn.

GLEN:  Yeah.  Just when you thought you had the system licked.

DOUG:  Yeah, yeah.

GLEN:  What do you do to relax?  Assuming you ever relax.

DOUG:  I do sometimes, believe it or not.  I talk to people in, well, sometimes it’s relaxing.  Sometimes it’s not.  But in chat programs, generally voice.  Basically whatever involves not typing, which is why I’m not known for playing a lot of computer games, because a lot of them require you to type.  A little side story, there was a group I was in at one point that played Uno by having each person with their own deck of cards.  It was online.  It was in Skype.  And we would put our discard cards down on our own tables and take terms in alphabetical order, and it worked.  Like we had one gargantuan Uno deck.  But it actually worked.  And that was the most normal lifelike type game I’ve ever seen played online.  And I always loved it as the best example of a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem.  I really thought that was cool.

GLEN:  I like that.  I may have to steal that for our family.  We’re trying to figure out what to do for the holidays this year.

DOUG:  Well, I can tell you that everybody says, “Well, you’d never catch anybody cheating.”  I said, “Yes, we did.  Not could, did.”  There was one guy who played too many wild cards.  And I began to figure it out.  So I started counting.  And finally I said, “Hey, you just played the fifth wildcard.  Your deck has not had time to recycle.”  If you know how many cards of each kind are in a deck, you can still catch people.

GLEN:  We should tell people how to get all your free stuff.

DOUG:  My index page/main home page is www.dlee.org (D as in Doug).  And there is a link to every project on there that is a public project, unless I made a mistake, which means somebody should tell me.  But I think it’s pretty current.  There’s a list of everything that I’ve done for free on there.  Each of  the links generally goes to a page that either has menu options to go to things, or it is the manual for that particular set of scripts.  And then there’s a download link for those scripts inside the manual.  So Skype scripts.  If you go to www.dlee.org/skype, or just click the link on the main page to go there, you’re going to land in the User’s Guide for the scripts, and then that has a download link for the actual scripts themselves.  And that is an installer you can just run to set them up.

GLEN:  And Teams and Slack and all the others are similar?

DOUG:  Teams and Slack and Discord.  But Discord is hopefully going to get upgraded soon.  And BX and other things, yeah.

GLEN:  Well, Doug, thank you very much for joining us.  There have been several people who’ve written to me since I’ve been hosting the podcast saying, you know, you really should have Doug Lee on.  He does so much for the blindness community.  So I’m glad you agreed to be a captive guest here.

DOUG:  Well, thank you very much for the invitation.


Signing Off on FSCast 191

GLEN:  That pretty much does it for FSCast 191.  I’m Glen Gordon.  We’ll be back soon with the archive of FSOpenLine for November of 2020.  I leave you with a great song, created by students at the Texas School for the Blind.  They have a teacher named Kat Heitman.  She was tasked with teaching students a bunch of JAWS shortcut keys and didn’t want to just have them  memorize it.  Figured she could make it more fun by taking a song, writing some new lyrics, and getting the music department to record it.  So here are some students from the Texas School for the Blind.


“The JAWS Song”

Yeah, I’m gonna write that blog using JAWS in Windows
I’m gonna type till I can’t no more
I’m gonna write that blog using JAWS in Windows
I’m gonna type till I can’t no more

I got my laptop in my bag, headphones in the jack
JAWS will help you master any task
 To hear open programs, press ALT+TAB
TAB will take you forward shift, TAB will take you back now

JAWS is gonna tell me something
I’m about to learn something
JAWS is gonna tell me something
I’m about to learn something

Open Start Menu, press Windows Key
Focus on the desktop Windows Key with D, yeah
Stop JAWS from talking, press the CTRL key
File Explorer, Windows Key and E now

JAWS is gonna tell me something
I’m about to learn something
JAWS is gonna tell me something
I’m about to learn something

Yeah, I’m gonna write that blog using JAWS in Windows
I’m gonna type till I can’t no more
I’m gonna write that blog using JAWS in Windows
I’m gonna type till I can’t no more

Read all, caps lock A, current word, caps lock K
Sentence, caps lock H, current line, caps lock I
Line by line press the ARROW keys
Spell a word, caps lock K twice quickly

Got no stress, I’ve been through all that
I’m like a JAWS rock star so I keep going back
Wish I could write that blog using JAWS and Windows
I’m gonna type till I can’t no more.

Yeah, I’m gonna write that blog using JAWS in Windows
I’m gonna type till I can’t no more
I’m gonna write that blog using JAWS in Windows
I’m gonna type till I can’t no more.


Transcript by elaine@edigitaltranscription.com


edigitaltranscription.com  •  11/24/2020  •  edigitaltranscription.mobi