Department: Employment and Technology News
WINDOWS 2000: WHAT'S IN IT FOR USERS WITH DISABILITIES?
In this issue, we will explore the new Windows 2000 operating system, and its new access features. We will also spotlight a new job initiative program, and some useful Federal legislation that may enable persons with disabilities returning to the work force.
As we enter the new millennium, the world of technology is changing even as we try to make sense out of it all. The purveyors of hardware and software are leading this trend with new products and a seemingly limitless string of upgrades. Well, the newest thing from Microsoft is Windows 2000, a whole new operating system to learn and eventually appreciate or abhor. If you're employed, in school, or even thinking about employment, Microsoft Windows is a force of nature to be reckoned with, and burying your virtual head in the sand won't make it go away. Not intending to rub salt into the wounds, if you think that you can hang onto your old DOS programs and still remain competitive, nothing could be further from the truth. Like it or not, it is in the direct interest of persons with disabilities to become fluent in the Windows operating system in order to stay or become competitive.
For those refusing to let go of their legacy DOS software programs, this may be a good time to remind the readers that DOS was not 100 percent accessible, but we often think back to the "good old days" with revisionism, remembering our old DOS software as assistive technology friendly and intuitive. We forget that each and every DOS program was different under the hood, not to mention its "look and feel" characteristics. While Windows is certainly not yet 100 percent accessible, it is workable, and is slowly but surely improving. There are ways you can help shape the improvement of Windows. If you want to make suggestions on how Windows can be enhanced for users with disabilities, you can write directly to Microsoft on the internet at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can stay informed about the accessibility efforts at Microsoft by pointing your web browser at http://www.microsoft.com/enable. With all this in mind, let's look a little closer at Windows 2000 and some of the access technology built into the operating system.
Windows 2000 is actually several operating systems, and comes in five basic flavors. Windows 2000 Professional is similar to Windows NT WorkStation, and it is likely that this is the version of the new Windows operating system that most folks will encounter on the job. The other four flavors of Windows 2000 are aimed at network server applications, and are named Server, Advanced Server, and Data-Center Server. In their appearance all four versions of Windows 2000 look like the traditional Windows 98 screens, so users can apply the knowledge and skills aready gained. so what does Windows 2000 Professional offer for persons with disabilities?
The good news is that many of the features found in Windows 95 and 98 are present in the new operating system. The standard suite of Accessibility Options, StickyKeys, FilterKeys, MouseKeys, BounceKeys, SoundSentry, etc, are all part of Windows 2000. But Microsoft has added a screen reader to the mix to serve users with vision impairments.
Narrator is a basic screen reader that provides speech output for persons with vision, learning, or other disabilities. According to Microsoft, Narrator is not intended to be a full-blown screen reader, such as, Jaws from Henter Joyce, or Window-Eyes from GW Micro. Narrator works with applications that include Active Accessibility from Microsoft. It isn't trying to compete with the commercial grade screen readers all ready on the market. Narrator allows users to read many but not all Windows programs without the need to add any third-party software. The program will also read keystrokes as they are entered at the keyboard. There are settings to control speech volume, rate, pitch, standard in speech applications. Narrator requires a standard sound card and speakers.
Narrator can be used when writing documents, browsing the web, and reading directory listings. Narrator isn't intended to be a universal screen reader, and certainly isn't perfect, and doesn't work with all applications, but it is a good first step. It provides just enough speech to get you going until you can launch a more sophisticated screen reader. Narrator has one significant drawback in that it cannot be used when installing Windows. This may prevent blind computer users from being able to set up and configure servers and work stations. to start Narrator click on the Start Menu, Programs, Accessories, Accessibility Options, Narrotor.
Software based screen magnification programs have long been an important weapon in the arsenal of the adaptive technologist. For users with low vision, Windows 2000 now includes a native screen magnification program. For users with low vision, screen magnification software has proven to be an effective tool for accessing computers and the internet. Magnified images make a larger footprint on the retina at the back of the eye, and are thus easier to perceive. For many users, having a native screen magnification program built into the Windows operating system will immediately increase access for many users. This will enable users to log onto any machine and use that computer without the need to first load a piece of adaptive software. As is the case with Narrator, Magnifier is not intended to compete with the feature rich commercially available screen magnification software packages.
Magnifier, at this time, is highly unlikely to put Magic from Henter Joyce or ZoomText from AI Squared out of business. Magnifier lets you magnify the screen up to nine times, and should prove useful for employers and employees needing a simple magnification system. to start Magnifyer, click on Start Menu, Programs, Accessories, Accessibility Options, Magnifyer. Magnifyer can be used in conjunction with Narrator to obtain speech output and screen magnification at the same time.
To assist users who have difficulty using the standard computer keyboard, Microsoft has bundled an On-Screen keyboard with the Windows 2000 operating system. The On-Screen keyboard is not a physical device, but rather an interactive graphic image of a physical keyboard displayed On-Screen. The On-Screen keyboard contains the same set of keys found on a physical keyboard. To use the On-Screen keyboard, the user moves the mouse pointer to the desired key, then clicks the mouse to select the key. the On-Screen keyboard can be used with a wide variety of adaptive input devices such as switch-systems and head-pointing devices, etc. The On-Screen keyboard does not come bundled with switches or hardware of any kind.
MICROSOFT LAUNCHES JOB INITIATIVE
According to a story filed by REUTERS on October 25, 1999, Microsoft launched an industry-wide job effort to assist persons with disabilities. The initiative includes 21 North American companies, and has been dubbed Able To Work. To quote the press release, The consortium will explore strategies aimed at finding jobs for the 70 percent of 17 million Americans with disabilities that are unemployed. You can obtain additional information about the program by pointing your web browser at http://www.abletowork.org.
NEW FEDERAL BENNIES ENABLE WORKERS WITH DISABILITIES
Federal and State governments need to work together to enable persons who want to work, especially those close to the poverty line. As a person with a vision impairment, I can remember facing losing my health benefits when I first started to work as a consultant. I was faced with losing Social Security benefits when I started drawing a paycheck. At that time, I was clearly working, but far from standing on my own two feet. But now there may be light at the end of the tunnel on this front with a new piece of federal legislation that will let persons with disabilities keep their health insurance while working. The bill has passed in majority in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, and also has Presidential support.