GLEN GORDON: On FSCast 219, I’m joined by Ryan Jones, our new Vice President of Software Product Management. He’ll give us a bit of his background, talk about what’s coming in the JAWS, ZoomText, and Fusion 2023 product betas, and demonstrate the new JAWS Smart Glance feature. Then a visit with Svetlana, a recent Freedom Scientific Student of the Month.
Hello, everybody. Glen Gordon here. It’s our podcast for August of 2022. Thanks very much for making us a part of your day. I often mention our various Freedom Scientific training opportunities. One of the things that I don’t talk about often enough is our training podcast. Over the years we’ve begun to make training materials available in more and more ways. Used to be that they were just on our website, and before that just as training tapes.
But now you can find things on YouTube, and you can also find Freedom Scientific training in your favorite podcast app. And if you subscribe, you will get an episode every week, some piece of training content. It’s not that it’s unique to that podcast, but it is packaged for podcast listening. So if that’s your preference, as it is mine in many cases, Freedom Scientific training is the thing to subscribe to in your favorite podcast app.
As I frequently say, hearing from you is one of the high points of my day. And so if you have not written to this podcast before with an idea or a question or a problem, by all means feel welcomed. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
GLEN: Back at the end of December, when Ryan Jones was our guest on FSCast talking about his Christmas light display and how he used JAWS to sequence all of that, I don’t think either one of us could have predicted the series of events starting out with Eric Damery deciding to retire and us looking for a new Vice President of Software and Product Management to Ryan getting into this role. But Ryan is the perfect person for this, and his past experiences in this industry and with Freedom Scientific and TPGI have kind of prepared him for this like very few other things could have. So Ryan is back with me this time to talk about some completely different things.
RYAN JONES: Thank you, Glen. It’s good to be back. And, yeah, we’re here at the busy time of the year for us, getting ready for the upcoming software releases and getting the public betas out the door soon. And so there’s a lot going on right now.
GLEN: Am I right, you joined us in 2005?
RYAN: I did. I started in a training department in 2005. And then I did take a break for about three years, and I worked for one of our dealers helping bring assistive technology into the Caribbean area of Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, and some places there. And I also worked a lot in the Washington, D.C. area. So I took a break for a few years and did that, and then I rejoined back in 2010. So this has been 12 consecutive years and 13 years overall.
GLEN: When you originally started doing training, had you had training experience before this?
RYAN: No. In fact, I didn’t even know that I would like to do training. I was just a couple years out of college and had been working in some IT areas and had never really done training. But I found out that I loved it when I started. But I had no idea that it would be something that I would want to do till I got going with it.
GLEN: It strikes me as being a really interesting skill set to have, especially if you have a group of people in a classroom. How did you acquire that?
RYAN: I’ve always felt comfortable speaking and communicating with people. I never was afraid of public speaking when I was growing up or in college. I was always the one in group presentations who would be the leader and do the most part of the verbal presentation. So that part was natural to me. So really getting into training at the Freedom Scientific side was just a matter of extending those skills. And of course back in the mid-2000s we didn’t do webinars yet, so the trainings that we mostly did were either in person, or we were doing audio recordings of trainings. And so those skills came naturally, even though I didn’t necessarily know that I could apply them in the realm of training.
And then of course as we got into 2010 and beyond we started doing the webinars. And that’s obviously quite different in that you don’t have the one-on-one interaction that you do when you’re with a group of people in the room. You’re basically just talking to yourself for an hour, and you’re hoping that people are engaged and listening. But you don’t have that real-time feedback like you do when you’re in a classroom. So that was a whole different set of skills that I learned then of how to communicate in a webinar, like a one-to-many kind of relationship.
GLEN: I think when you joined us you were low-vision in 2005. Is that right?
RYAN: I had a little bit more sight than I do now, but I was still a JAWS user. I transferred from being a magnification user primarily to a screen reader user, probably between about the year 1999 and 2002. So over that three-year period or so is when I lost most of the functional vision I had. I was always legally blind. I was still needing large print, still using screen magnification. But over that three-year period or so I lost most of the rest of it where I have now, which is just light perception, but no ability to read print. But I do have that visual perspective. I remember what a lot of things look like. So I have the concept. But I always tell people what I remember of what a website looks like is probably the style from 1999, which is quite, quite old now. But that’s sort of the image that I might have in my mind of what things looked like 20-plus years ago.
GLEN: I think there’s some real advantage to the fact that you were a screen magnifier user for a long time because it gives you a perspective that those of us who’ve always been blind don’t have.
RYAN: Yeah, I would agree. I mean, just to understand the idea, the concept of Windows and what buttons might look like and checkboxes might look like. I can kind of conceptually understand in my mind the layout of a dialog box. So like I said, it may be from 20 years ago, but I still generally understand the concept of that. So in thinking about with JAWS and the way that we want to interact, certainly many more people who use screen reading software did have or do still have some level of sight. And so any time that we can help make sure those concepts move over to people, I think that’s certainly helpful.
GLEN: About six years ago you decided to make a switch and do some work for our TPGI consulting side of the business. What prompted that?
RYAN: Well, I thought working in the consulting area, kind of at the enterprise level, would give me a different skill set, which it did. So it helped me start to understand the challenges that corporations, companies, organizations, government agencies are facing as it relates to accessibility. So on the product side, the hardware, the software side, we sort of have our own view of the world and how things should work. You know, when we’re thinking about JAWS, we think how it should work and how it should interact with websites and applications.
But what I learned and what I was hoping to learn is what does it look like from the other view of this? What does it look like from a corporate side when they’re having to deal with what tools to purchase for people, what online services to purchase, what HR systems or payroll systems or what point-of-sale systems are they purchasing? And then how does that affect the accessibility?
And so what I learned is the unique challenges that people face on the other side of screen reading software. And I think that helped to give me a much better balanced view of the whole picture. What is it like for JAWS when we’re trying to work on features and functionality of JAWS, and how that interacts with a real-world website, and what those website companies are facing, and then what those corporations or government agencies are facing when deciding what to purchase. So I was really hoping to get a very balanced view. And I think those years working on the consulting side gave me a much better appreciation. We’re all going for the same thing, but we’re seeing it from different angles. And I think that’s really valuable.
GLEN: So time passes. And several months ago now you got offered this position. I’ve not talked to you about that. What was your response? Was it surprise?
RYAN: It was because, you know, I’ve known Eric for many years. And I never knew exactly how old Eric was. I had my guesses. And I was generally right, as it turns out. But I didn’t know how long Eric would be here. He’s just one of those people. Eric’s always around. Just like you, you know, Glen’s always around. And so I really hadn’t ever thought about, you know, Eric was going to retire, even though he had obviously been thinking about it for some time, as we all learned later. So it just, it really wasn’t crossing my mind about what would happen when Eric left because I really didn’t think that would happen probably for a couple more years.
But so it was very surprising to me because I first heard, well, Eric’s going to retire. And then I heard, well, he’s looking at you to potentially replace him, and what do you think about that? So it was probably one of the most influential phone calls that I think that I’ve ever had, where certain things come out in one phone call. Now, there was a lot of work to be done, and it certainly wasn’t a done deal or anything like that. There was a lot of things still to happen. But it certainly opened a door that I didn’t even know at the time was there.
GLEN: What challenges you about this, and what terrifies you?
RYAN: Well, I think what challenges and terrifies me is I don’t want to mess things up; right? This is extraordinarily important for me, not only for my personal goals in life, but it’s important, what we do is important to so many people out there. And I think having done the training and consulting and being out traveling, especially in the U.S., and meeting so many of our users, what that taught me is how important what we do is. And so to have responsibility for that is extraordinarily humbling and terrifying at the same time because I don’t want things to go wrong for anyone. I want us to have the best software that we can and to have it usable and attainable by people. And so it’s a very humbling thought. And I wake up many mornings thinking, wow, this is a huge responsibility that I have to help lead this team that’s doing this.
But on the other side I’m so grateful that we have such a strong team. And many of the team, yourself included, have been here for so many years. And so we have such a good legacy and foundation to build on. So that really helps me keep going because I rely on our team so much. I mean, really my job is just getting all the pieces in place, getting the personnel in the right place, and looking at the strategic view. I’m not the one writing the code. We have brilliant people who are doing that. So I figure if I can do my job and keep us all going in the right direction, everyone else is going to do their job of actually building everything and coding it and making it the best that it can be.
GLEN: We’re very close to Public Beta 1 of our 2023 editions of JAWS, ZoomText, and Fusion. Why do you think public betas are so important?
RYAN: I think public beta, it’s really critical for us and for our users. And I unless you work in the software field, you probably don’t have a great appreciation of what happens when software is built. And I think it’s that there’s some importance here to kind of share how that works. And when we build the software, when our developers are building features or fixing bugs or whatever it is, they’re doing that on computers that they have for work. And those computers are, you know, it’s one computer. Maybe they have a couple that they use. But it’s a very narrow user profile of what they do when they’re building things. And so obviously what works on one computer, if you can think about Windows and how many different versions of software there are and different types of computers, I mean, just go to a Best Buy or look on Amazon or something and see how many types of computers and hardware platforms and software platforms are out there.
The challenge that we have with JAWS, ZoomText, and Fusion, we’re not just one piece of software. We’re one piece of software that’s trying to work with every other piece of software that’s out in the world that someone might use. And that is such a different way of thinking and building than someone who’s building Microsoft Office or a PDF reader or a web browser. Those programs generally don’t have to interact with all the other programs on your computer. But JAWS or ZoomText or Fusion, they do.
And so that means the amount of testing that needs to be done is monumental. And we have a really, really fabulous test department. Many of them have been here since before 2005, since I was even around. And they do a magnificent job, but there’s only a few of them. They can’t conceivably test every different type of software configuration, every different build of Office or Windows. And so we also have a private beta team. And the private beta team, people can sign up for that. There’s an application process. And we involve them in our testing, as well, because that helps us reach quite a few other people who have different functions. You know, some are employed. Some are not employed. Some may be students. Some may have different countries that they work and live in. And so that team helps us get some more exposure to different platforms and different versions of things. But even that is still a fraction of what’s actually out there.
So the public beta process lets us get the software into the hands of anyone, and it helps us get a much wider net cast of testing so that we can get better feedback, and that we can get better intelligence and information on what’s working and not working because again, there’s no way we could come up with every scenario that JAWS is going to operate in, or ZoomText, or Fusion. So it’s actually one of the most important things that we do. And it’s something that we really ask our users to help us with because we want to make things as best as we can for everyone. We want to make it work as smoothly as possible. But we also need help. We need contributions from our users to do that and help us. And that’s what this public beta process is really about.
GLEN: And this is after the private beta testers have kicked the tires a lot.
RYAN: It is. And the private beta testers, they work with us all year, every time we do a minor update. We release updates to our products about every six to eight weeks. And for all of those updates our private beta team is having involvement in that. We give them builds or updates to our software to test every couple of weeks in most cases. And so they’re helping us constantly throughout the year. And so that private beta is helping us validate that everything is generally working in the right way. Then that public process helps us ensure that that is the case across a much larger scale.
GLEN: Let’s start out by talking about what’s coming in JAWS in Public Beta 1. What are the things you’re most excited about?
RYAN: Yeah, I think there’s a couple things that I want to mention. And even before I do that, I think it’s important to note that our goals with the software are that we will be releasing features and new functionality throughout the year. So the features that we might release in the initial new update are not the only features that are going to happen. There’s plenty of things that we have on the road map that we will put into JAWS 2023 that are not going to come out in this first release in October. And that’s simply because there’s just not enough time to get everything done in one release. And we also want to hear the responses of people as they use things, and we want to learn from that.
So I think having that context is important so that we don’t think about whatever’s in October is the only thing that we’re going to be doing this year because it’s definitely not. But one of the big things that I think that I want to highlight on here for 2023 is a feature called Smart Glance. And the idea of this is that when someone who is sighted or has eyes and is looking at a page, they are able to visually scan around that screen, use their eyes, and within one or two seconds they can usually get a quick overview of what’s on that screen. And web page developers use a lot of different techniques to make things stand out for people visually. It may be color. It may be the size of the font. It may be some font is bolded. Maybe some font is underlined or italicized or all these different visual things that web page developers do to catch your attention.
Now, most of those things, they should also be done in web page coding so that screen reading software can find them. So if we think about things like headings or landmarks, if those are done properly, they will help a JAWS user understand the main sections or the breakdown of that screen. However, as we know, not all web page developers do that. And even some things are visually set to stand out, but they don’t necessarily have coding to tell you that they stand out. So I’m thinking of somewhere on the screen you might have some contact information and a phone number, and you might not normally want to put that as a heading because it’s not really its own section of the page. But it’s a piece of information that a web page developer may want to highlight to someone who’s visually looking at it.
Smart Glance is a way to have JAWS try to identify different things on that page that it thinks may be of interest to you, or it thinks that the web page developer wanted someone to visually see. So it’s another tool in the toolbox that we have of ways to explore a web page and try and understand exactly what’s on that page to find the information that we’re looking for.
So I’m on an Amazon Prime customer service page. And this is just a page on Amazon’s site where they talk about some of the benefits and the features of Amazon Prime. And on this site there are several headings. And if I move through those headings, I will find different information, and the headings are used like they typically would on most any site. In fact, I will just navigate to a few of them by pressing H.
JAWS VOICE: Amazon Prime Heading Level 1. Shipping Heading Level 2. Streaming Heading Level 2. Shopping Heading Level 2. Reading Heading Level 2. Other Heading Level 2. Prime Supplemental Membership Heading Level 2. Amazon Prime Heading Level 3. Quick Solutions Heading Level 3. Wrapping to top. Amazon Prime Heading.
RYAN: So there were a few headings there. And if I had pressed the DOWN ARROW key after moving to them, I would of course find the information under those sections. But after that last heading about solutions, there was actually quite a lot more information on this page, but none of it was tagged with a heading. And the Smart Glance feature will actually help us discover that. So I’m going to – I’m at the top of the page, or near the top, anyway. And I’m going to press the letter “Y” as in “yellow,” which is the command to move to the next Smart Glance highlight. So I’ll press that now.
JAWS VOICE: Get to know us.
RYAN: And I heard JAWS say “Get to know us,” so that’s some text here that JAWS has determined might be interesting to me. And if I scroll down beneath that with the arrow keys...
JAWS VOICE: List of eight items. Link careers. Link Amazon newsletter.
RYAN: So there’s a list of eight items here, and these are various links about Amazon. I’ll press the letter “Y” to move to the next Smart Glance highlight again.
JAWS VOICE: Make money with us.
RYAN: And here’s another section called “Make money with us.” Again, this is not being identified as a heading because it’s not coded as a heading. But the font does stand out visually, and that’s why JAWS is alerting us to it. And if I scroll down beneath this text...
JAWS VOICE: List of 10 items. Links all products on Amazon.
RYAN: There’s another list of some items. I’ll press the command to move to the next Smart Glance item again.
JAWS VOICE: Amazon payment products.
RYAN: And then beneath this text...
JAWS VOICE: List of eight items. Link Amazon rewards Visa signature cards.
RYAN: There are eight items here. I’ll move to the next Glance highlight.
JAWS VOICE: Let us help you.
RYAN: And then I’ll press it again.
JAWS VOICE: Wrapping to top. Get to know us.
RYAN: And now I’m back around to the beginning. So there were actually four areas or four Glance highlights that JAWS identified might be useful. And beneath each of those were a list or lists of items or links there that Amazon has put. So the Smart Glance feature let me discover these things that I might not have found if I were just navigating by heading or by region because these areas weren’t tagged as headings or regions. Now, of course I would have found them if I were just using the arrow keys to move through the page. But there’s quite a lot of information on this page. And so Smart Glance brought some of these things out to me. And actually when I’ve been using this myself over the past couple of weeks I discovered these, and I didn’t really even realize all these links were here in different Amazon pages because they weren’t necessarily marked up in a way that I would have easily discovered them without arrowing through the entire page.
GLEN: It’s funny you should mention that because Joe Stephen, who was the developer that put this together, discovered that the Smart Glance highlight on the Freedom Scientific home page is our phone number. Which makes intuitive sense that someone would want to draw a person’s eyes to the phone number.
RYAN: It is. And that’s a great illustration of how Smart Glance can help uncover things to on a page that we as a screen reader user might not necessarily find, but someone visually looking at the page will identify them.
I want to demo one other page briefly. And this page is a page that has actually no headings on it. It’s a very large page. And so the back story here, I’m kind of a weather geek. I enjoy looking at things about weather. And I grew up in Florida, so I was always accustomed to hurricanes and tropical weather. So I kind of like to keep track of what’s going on with that type of weather. So I visit the National Hurricane Center web page quite often. And unfortunately their main page has no headings and no regions. So I’m going to show that real briefly.
JAWS VOICE: National Hurricane Center.
RYAN: So if I try to move by heading...
JAWS VOICE: There are no headings on this page.
RYAN: Or by region...
JAWS VOICE: There are no regions on this page.
RYAN: But there are well over 100 different links on this page. So it’s quite a lot of information. But some of those areas that they’ve defined on the page and did not mark them as headings, they actually – the font does stand out. And so Smart Glance will find them if I press “Y” to move to the next Smart Glance item.
JAWS VOICE: Atlantic. Atlantic – Caribbean Sea – Gulf of Mexico.
RYAN: So there’s the section where there’s information about the Atlantic and the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. And if I were to DOWN ARROW, there’s links about the forecast, the tropical weather outlook, and things like that. And if I press the letter “Y” to move to the next highlight...
JAWS VOICE: There are no tropical cyclones in the Atlantic at this time.
RYAN: There’s the text that’s standing out saying there’s no cyclones here. If I move to the next one...
JAWS VOICE: Eastern North Pacific.
RYAN: I get to areas about the North Pacific.
JAWS VOICE: There are no tropical cyclones in the Eastern North Pacific at this time.
RYAN: And then next one.
JAWS VOICE: Central North Pacific. There are no tropical cyclones in the Central North Pacific at this time.
RYAN: So what used to take me quite a while, and the way I used to find these sections of the pages I would have to remember a word or a phrase that was near the beginning of those sections and do a CTRL+F and search for that to quickly find it because there’s dozens if not hundreds of links above all of this. And so finding those parts of the page could be quite challenging. But now Smart Glance will let me find them very quickly because those are visually standing out on that page.
GLEN: And this is a work in progress. So if you actually have someone with you with eyes who spot things that you think stand out on the page based on their feedback, we’d love to know about it because we can tune this algorithm and make it even more useful over time. Besides Smart Glance, what else is coming in the first public beta?
RYAN: I think one of the other things to mention is around the issue that many people have had over the last couple of years with a tool that some Dell computers use. And it’s a tool called Waves MaxxAudio, and it’s built into many, if not all, Dell computers. And it caused some challenges with JAWS in particular around, after using it for a long time, the computer would basically use up much of the memory. And so, Glen, I think you actually were really instrumental in this investigation, and this took quite a while because there was a lot of different layers and things going on. But I think we have a really good solution for this issue now. Do you want to describe some of what that’s going to be like and what you did?
GLEN: Yeah. And I do want to mention that we have reached out and interacted with Dell on this topic. And they just were not able to change the architecture of their software. But they gave us enough information and enough clues for us to be able to craft a solution. And once we worked that out, and it did take a while to figure out what the right solution was, once we worked that out, several people now have tested and said that with Eloquence, Vocalizer Expressive, and Microsoft Mobile, which are the three synthesizers it’s in initially, this problem pretty much has gone away. So if you have a Dell computer, and you’ve disabled Waves Maxx and you want some of the features back, once you get the Public Beta 1, you can reenable Waves Maxx and see if your results are as good as those who’ve found this useful.
RYAN: And I would have to say, Glen, for myself I have a Dell computer and have had Waves Maxx disabled for quite some time. And using this update and the work that’s been done here recently, it has completely solved the instability issue. I’ve turned Waves Maxx back on. Everything’s working just as it should be. And so I think this is also a great illustration, as I mentioned earlier, the complexity that is dealt with when you’re working with JAWS, ZoomText, Fusion, that have to interact and work with all kinds of other applications, even applications that no one really knows about that may be running in the background on the computer. This is an example of those challenges that we’re not only trying to work with Microsoft Word or Excel or Chrome or Edge. There’s all kinds of other programs that are interacting with us on a machine.
GLEN: Many people have already tried the JAWS 2022 beta of ARM64 support. And it’s moving from beta to officially part of our JAWS 2023 releases; right?
RYAN: It is. And in fact with starting with JAWS 2023, the installer, when you go to install JAWS, it will automatically detect if you are using an ARM64-based device. And if you are, it will install the correct version of JAWS for ARM64. So in the beta with 2022 when we released it recently, you had to actually download a separate installer. So you had to know yourself, is my machine running an ARM64-based system? Or is it not?
And so with the 2023 release you will not have to know that yourself. The installer will figure that out. And that’s important because what we’re seeing is that there are many more computers that are being released by major computer manufacturers that are using ARM64-based processors, but you don’t necessarily know about it as an end user. If I go on Amazon, or go to a store and buy a computer, or any other website, I’m not going to necessarily know that it’s an ARM64-based computer. It doesn’t usually put that in the list of features because it’s sort of invisible to most people.
But it does make a difference for JAWS and for assistive technology. And so with the 2023 update we’ll be able to detect that automatically, install that particular version for ARM-based platforms. And continuing that down the road, we will be working on ZoomText and Fusion for ARM64. So right now with the initial release of 2023, it will still only be JAWS that will be able to work in ARM64. But as we go forward in time, we’ll be putting the efforts toward getting ZoomText and Fusion over to ARM64, as well.
GLEN: Speaking of ZoomText and Fusion, we’ve had this idea called Tethered View for probably six or seven years now. And we finally got all the stars to align to make that work.
RYAN: Yeah, this is an interesting one. And so this is where the fact that when I was younger and used screen magnification is really helpful because I do have a concept of the challenge that we’re trying to solve for people. So when you’re magnifying the screen, obviously you’re only seeing a very small portion of the screen at once. And it depends on how much you’ve magnified. So if you have it at 1.5 or 2x, you can still see a reasonable amount of the screen. But if you magnify 3, 4, 5x, you’re only seeing a very small piece at one time. But often applications are trying to show you different things on different parts of the screen based on what you’re doing.
So a good example of this is the Windows Start Menu. If you open the Start Menu, and you start typing in that you’re wanting to search for something, so if I start to type in Chrome, for example, the edit box where I’m typing in Chrome is down at the bottom of the Start Menu. But as Windows starts to produce the auto search results for me on the screen, those are up at the top of the Start Menu. And depending on your magnification level, the size of your monitor, they may not even be in your visual field of view. We’re going to actually be able to place that in the visual view right above that edit box where you’re typing in the search text in the Start Menu so that you won’t have to scroll the mouse up to the top to find that visual list. And you can even click on it with the mouse if you see the one that you want. You can click on it right there in that Tethered View, and it will activate it just as if you had clicked on it up at the top of the screen.
One other area we would love for people to test this, and I think it will be useful, is in Excel when you’ve got a cell that has a formula in it, there’s a formula bar that’s up at the top of the Excel window. That’s where you could visually see the formula. So someone who is looking at the screen, maybe not using magnification, they will look at the formula or the results of the formula in the cell. And if they want to see what formula is actually being used to create those results, they’ll just glance up at the top of the screen and read that formula in the formula bar. When you’re using magnification, you have the same problem as I described in the Start Menu. You may have to scroll all the way up to the top, read the formula, and then scroll back down and find the cell that you were looking at.
So with Tethered View, we will be able to bring the text of that formula bar right to you, right above that cell where the results of the formula are. So you’ll be able to easily see what the formula is that is assigned to that cell. There’s quite a few other places where this can come in handy. There are some things in Microsoft Word where this can come into play. So I think there’s a lot of potential in this feature as we go forward. And again, one of the reasons that we do this public beta program is we want to get feedback. We want to hear how people are using it. We want to hear how what is working, what is not working, what you might want to see improved so that we can get as much of that work done for the release, the official release, as we can. And then of course we’ll continue to make updates to those features throughout the year going forward.
GLEN: Anything else you want to call attention to for people in the initial Public Beta 1?
RYAN: So you may recall that back in the June update of JAWS we released a feature called Notification Manager. And this was a way to filter out or change the way that JAWS would announce different events that were triggered. So these might be events or messages that Teams would automatically speak, or the web browser. I know Edge provides these announcements when a page loads or when it’s continuing to load or when it’s paused. And so the Notifications Manager allowed us to filter out or change the way that those notifications were presented to us.
So in the 2023 update we are continuing to add more capabilities to the Notifications Manager. And I think this is just an illustration that when we’re releasing or creating a feature, it’s going to be worked on. It’s going to be improved. We’re going to add things to it. It’s not all done at one time necessarily. And so there’ll always be ways that we can make things better. And sometimes that’s based on user feedback, as well. So you’ll see some enhancements in Notification Manager now in the initial release of JAWS 2023, and then I’m sure that you’ll see continued enhancements to that feature as we go forward as it has been a very well-received feature and something that quite a lot of people are using.
GLEN: One thing I’m really excited about in what’s coming in Public Beta 1 is Notifications Manager now has regular expression support, which makes it easier to pluck certain key pieces out of notification messages and just have those announced. I will be showing that, not this or next month, but in the October edition of FSCast. I’ll show you exactly how regular expressions can be used to further customize certain messages.
That’s kind of the whirlwind tour of what you can expect in our upcoming Public Beta 1. When is it actually coming?
RYAN: So the schedule is that Public Beta 1 will be released on September the 6th. That is a Tuesday. Here in the U.S. that’s the day after Labor Day. And so you’ll want to look for it that day. We’ll have it up on the FreedomScientific.com website. We’ll also have a form that you can fill out to give us your feedback if you notice problems with it. If you want to give us feedback on features you’ll be able to do that. So look for the initial release on September the 6th.
And one other note that I would add is in Public Beta 1, and of course when we get to the final release of 2023 in the second half of October, not only do we have new features, but we have a lot of other work that happens under the hood to make things more stable for people, to fix bugs that have been introduced or been brought to our attention throughout the year. We also do a lot of work to keep updates going, to keep in sync with Windows or the web browsers or Microsoft Office, for example. So those are things that are sort of ongoing throughout the whole year. And there’s a lot of focus put on those things, as well, in the initial release. So you should notice improvements in other areas, as well, as you try out our public betas, not just in the actual features themselves.
GLEN: So Ryan, you’re well on your way to having as many FSCast appearances as Eric. I think you only have about 37 to go.
RYAN: I’ve got a lot of work in front of me.
GLEN: Welcome aboard, and we’ll do this again soon.
RYAN: Thank you, Glen. Look forward to it.
GLEN: Time now for this month’s Power Tip, coming to us from Theódór Helgi Kristinsson. And it has to do with the JAWS pass key through command. And this is very useful if you find you press a key expecting the application that you’re in to do something, only to find that that key invokes a JAWS command instead. And in that case you can use the pass key through feature, which is JAWS Key and then 3 on the number row. You press that combination, followed by the key combo that you want the application to see. And even if it’s assigned to something in JAWS, the application will see it instead.
So that’s great if you’re not going to be doing something that requires passing keys through multiple times in rapid succession. If you’re on the web, and you need to do the rapid succession thing, it probably is easier to toggle off the virtual cursor. And you do that with JAWS Key+Z. Virtual cursor will be announced as having turned off, and then many of the single letter keys and arrow keys that otherwise would be used by JAWS in the virtual buffer will be sent along to the application instead. So whether it’s pass key through with JAWS Key+3 on the number row, or temporarily toggling off the virtual cursor with JAWS Key+Z, either way those are two ways of getting keys passed through to the application that JAWS would otherwise see.
And for sending in his Power Tip, Theódór gets a year added on to his JAWS license. If you have a Power Tip, something that you know about and find particularly useful, but don’t think gets enough love in our documentation and other discussions, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GLEN: You may or may not know that most every month throughout the year we have a Freedom Scientific Student of the Month. This is a student in K-12 education here in the United States that uses one of our Freedom Scientific products to reach their personal or educational goals. And if someone is selected as Student of the Month, they get a $500 Amazon gift card. If you are a student and think you’re worthy or know of a student that is, you can go to FreedomScientific.com/studentofthemonth, all lower case and all run together, you’ll get to the Student of the Month page. We feature each student of the month on our website. And now and then I have them on FSCast, as is the case right now. Our Student of the Month in July was Svetlana, and I was quite taken by her video because there were a couple of topics that I wanted to dig in deeper with. Fortunately she’s agreed to be with me and is on the line now. Svetlana, welcome.
SVETLANA: Glen, you’re welcome.
GLEN: What is it that’s going on for you or in the world that gets you most excited these days?
SVETLANA: I would say these days – so I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking and so going out and talking about different topics. And so it’s always interesting to be able to talk about them and then see the reactions of my audience of what I was able to convey to them. For instance, I spoke at our Assistive Technology Conference. I talked about structured discovery, which is a – it’s a way of teaching where you let the student problem solve and figure things out for themselves. So it was essentially from a student perspective on how to teach and how we really appreciate teachers teaching us. And so that really excited me, to be able to do that.
GLEN: Is that how you learned and have been learning?
SVETLANA: Yes. Basically because, well, my mom probably used it, and she wasn’t aware of it until very recently. So it was like really, really recently. And she’s like – I was like, oh, Mom, I think you’re using structured discovery. And she’s like, yeah, I think I am. So, I mean, just, you know, using JAWS and cooking and everything was self-directed.
GLEN: You were originally from Armenia; is that right?
SVETLANA: Yes. I was originally from Armenia. I have a whole speech that I wrote on it, kind of talking about adversity and how it can be a blessing.
GLEN: So can you talk a little about that now?
SVETLANA: Yeah, so I basically talked about how the hardships that I went through in the orphanage was, yes, it was difficult at the time. And, you know, I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through something like that. But it really taught me that adversity exists in life, and we can’t avoid them, and we take it as a learning experience. And when we go through something else, it might not be as difficult or you’ll be able to bounce back because you’ve gained so much resilience.
GLEN: And were you able to bounce back when in the orphanage? Or did this only really occur to you after the fact and after you were in the states?
SVETLANA: Yeah, it really occurred to me after I was adopted because I don’t think I had the understanding to figure out what I was into. Because at the time, I didn’t necessarily think it was difficult. I just assumed that that was a way of life because I had nothing else. So I just assumed that that’s how life goes on. But then when I came to the United States, and noticed life was significantly different, then it was like, oh, okay. That was a hardship. So then that’s when – I think that’s really when the adversity mainly kicked in is really realizing that, yes, that was actually a hardship.
GLEN: How old were you when you came?
SVETLANA: I was nine years old when I came.
GLEN: When did you start learning JAWS and other assistive tech?
SVETLANA: It was probably three years after I came home because the first couple of years was spent learning how to – basically learning how to learn because I’d never had education prior to that.
GLEN: And was that all done at home with your mom doing home schooling? Or did you go through some other programs?
SVETLANA: Majority of it was done with my mom home schooling. We tried the public school, but I was learning faster than what they could do. They were like, oh, you’ll take a year to learn the alphabet. And we had already learned the first half during the first week. And we were going to work on the second half by the time we got back to see them. So it turned out not to be very effective.
GLEN: How did you learn to do public speaking? And were there some situations where you thought you were ready, and you might not have been?
SVETLANA: How I started was my mom put me in speech and debate. And in the beginning I really didn’t necessarily care for public speaking. I don’t think anyone does when they start to learn. But when she put me in the program, I really figured out this is really what I wanted to do. And that program really taught me how to, you know, speak with passion and how to debate is really what NCFCA taught me.
GLEN: One of the things I remember from my very brief debating career is you have to sort of make note of what your opponents have said so that you can refute their claims. How do you do that?
SVETLANA: That’s one of the most difficult tasks that we’re still kind of figuring out as we go along because they teach – they teach us how to flow, which is a technique of taking notes in columns and rows which doesn’t necessarily work because they don’t allow computers in the round. They’ve allowed me to take my notetaker, which is great. But it’s kind of difficult to do columns and stuff on there. And so the only thing I could figure out was to take the notes that they were saying so I could take their key points, write them down, and what they said. We also learn how to kind of think ahead of what the opponent is going to say and kind of prepare your notes that way. And so that’s really taught me to make sure that I’m always thinking one step ahead of my opponent.
GLEN: And then are you reviewing notes in braille? Or are you reviewing notes in speech before you actually are the one speaking?
SVETLANA: For my constructive cases, I will read them. And then from my notes I will take my points and quickly memorize them and then just go and address them that way. That seems to be the most effective.
GLEN: And did you need to advocate on your own to change things when you first began? Or were they pretty understanding and knowledgeable?
SVETLANA: Not in the beginning. In the beginning it took a little bit of advocacy on my part. And really it was just like, for instance, you know, they didn’t allow us to take electronics, electronic devices in the rounds. And so I told her, well, there’s no other way for me to take notes. Well, actually there is one way. I could bring my braille writer in, which is very loud, but that would be disturbing to my opponent and my judges. So is there a way that we can stick with electronics? And she was like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s fine.” You know, I just had to make sure the Internet connection wasn’t there.
GLEN: How do you think you learned to self-advocate?
SVETLANA: I think a lot of it was my mom not advocating for me. I mean, she did advocate for me. But a lot of it was up to me to advocate. Like the other program that I’m in is Civil Air Patrol. I think it was on the Student of the Month video. And with that program, that’s where I really learned my most advocacy because initially I wasn’t progressing in the program. And that was partly on my fault because I wouldn’t advocate for myself because it can be daunting to advocate for yourself. And so once I figured out that I wasn’t going anywhere, I really need to figure something out.
So then I started to advocate. I taught a few classes to make sure that people weren’t discriminating against me. And I ended up figuring out that they were all violating their own policy that the program had already established that I wasn’t aware of. And so once I started progressing and, you know, I had some rank, I was finally able to get into some leadership positions. And that was because I advocated and stood up for myself. My biggest issues was the testing software. I thought, oh, well, it’s not accessible. But that was only because I wasn’t very proficient in JAWS. But then I was bored one day, so I went back on the site to see if I could figure it out, and it was working. So I kind of jumped through the program and started promoting, and that’s really what helped me during that time.
GLEN: I don’t know anything about the Civil Air Patrol. I vaguely remember it had something to do with wars and looking for stray planes or enemy planes.
SVETLANA: Okay. So the Civil Air Patrol is the United States Air Force auxiliary. And so we have three different missions that we focus on. One’s Cadet Program, so focusing on developing leadership skills, character building. So you follow the Air Force rank structure to help develop those skills. And then we have Emergency Services, and that’s where you get the searching for downed aircraft. That’s our ES portion. We do communications for disaster relief. We’ll go take photos – I don’t necessarily do that part, but that does end up happening. And then there’s the Aerospace portion. And that’s where you get to go fly aircraft. And yes, I actually got to go fly aircraft. So I probably did it like three or four times. And it was fun. The pilot actually, you know, they got me up to a certain altitude, and they handed me the controls, and I was flying with their guidance.
GLEN: Very cool.
SVETLANA: Oh, yeah. It was a blast. And I also got to fly a glider, which is way different from an aircraft because a glider you can feel the pressure changes more. So I was able to tell if I was going up versus going down, versus turning, versus turning left or right.
GLEN: I understand that this could theoretically lead to someone being in the Air Force. But is there a path for people who are involved with this that don’t choose to make the Air Force their career?
SVETLANA: Yes. So I don’t intend to go in the Air Force because I don’t think that would happen. I mean, if it did, that’d be great, but I don’t think it will. My mom just put me in the program because she thought it would really help me, and it turned out to be that it did help me. Because I want to become an attorney. That’s my goal. But I also know that the skills that I’ve learned in Civil Air Patrol I can take into any other area in life.
GLEN: What skills in particular?
SVETLANA: Mainly leadership skills. There is direct leadership, and there is indirect leadership. And so direct leadership is where you’re involved with your people every second, and you lead them. But then the indirect portion is where you are working from the scenes, leading the operation. And so that’s what I’m learning now is how to be an indirect leader and make sure that the mission is accomplished.
GLEN: You’re just starting your senior year of high school. What do you plan to do after that?
SVETLANA: We had talked about going to a community college. But I recently talked to my counselor, and she had mentioned that going to a university might be more effective than going straight to a community college, just because of trying to move over credits might be a little bit more difficult. Plus I guess courses are more rigorous at a university versus a community college.
GLEN: So is there anything I should have asked you that I haven’t?
SVETLANA: So I mentioned that I do public speaking. So if anyone’s looking for speakers, I will. I’m available. I have many topics. I’m working on a few more. But currently I have the Structured Discovery and the Adversity one, how adversity can be a blessing. And currently I’m doing it just to develop more skill. My mom and I have talked about maybe doing it as a side business in college. So, yeah.
GLEN: And what advice do you have to other blind students walking a similar path?
SVETLANA: Especially in high school, trying to be as independent as you possibly can. So I would say don’t let your teachers do all the advocacy for you because that seems to be what’s the case a lot is that teachers just advocate for the student. And then the student gets to college, and then they’re like, oh, no. Now I’ve got to advocate for myself. How do I do that? And so they have to take a year to learn those skills, when you can develop those skills while you’re in high school or even earlier, you know.
GLEN: Well, Svetlana, thank you very much for being with me on FSCast. You did not disappoint.
SVETLANA: I’m glad.
GLEN: Thank you very much for being with me.
SVETLANA: Oh, absolutely.
GLEN: That does it for FSCast 219. We’ll be back in your podcast feed mid-September with a replay of the August FSOpenLine, and then back later in the month with a full FSCast for September. I’m Glen Gordon. Thanks very much for joining me.