Hey programmers! We’re down here!

It strikes me that half the e-mail I get in my inbox is useless to me. All the technological newsletters talk about is Windows versus Linux/UNIX, open source or “indie” software versus Microsoft, and so forth. If you depend to any great extent on speech recognition, you still don’t have a choice. It’s usually Windows and Microsoft all the way, because like it or not, Microsoft is the only one who’s explicitly going to make things accessible for us. (Not everything — see Visual Studio — but more than most.) Many programmers don’t seem to give a damn, or they’re quick to blame everything on Nuance or Windows Speech Recognition. (There are a few exceptions, e.g. Jarte.)

Now, it galls me to stick up for a company whose technical support is rude and/or clueless, and who’s taken to borderline false advertising, but I will say this much: at this point, Nuance seems to have done as much as they can. Compatibility with assistive technology goes 2 ways. Speech recognition can’t work fully with applications that don’t support SAPI. SAPI is the brain, or central nervous system, of speech recognition. Speech recognition can’t run on anything else but SAPI. Supporting SAPI-dependent technology is, like it or not, the other programmer’s job. Also, it looks even worse if the other programmer can’t even be bothered to use general menu controls such as Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) or its successor. MSAA is not SAPI, but it helps a lot when we want to access menus vocally.

Compared to something like screen magnification or screen readers, speech recognition is a newer technology (though it’s been around for quite a while), so I don’t fault programmers for being possibly unaware of SAPI. Also, I am aware that integrating technologies is difficult and takes time. So I don’t fault programmers for saying that it’s difficult, or having to go through quite a lot of trial and error. But from some of the attitudes I see — “Oh, it’s faster for me to just reach over to the keyboard and mouse, why would you need speech recognition?” “I can type 100 words per minute, that’s lazy” — it looks on a bad day like they just can’t be bothered. If compatibility can’t be achieved because of a genuine program-language barrier, that’s understandable and acceptable. But what gets me is that, with so much apathy, there’s no way of knowing whether the problem is that nobody can do it, or just that nobody’s thinking about it. If you’re one of the programmers trying to do something about it, I’m not referring to you, and I thank you.

P.S. I don’t mention Macs because they do, at least, have MacSpeech Dictate — though I hear it’s still catching up to the Windows Dragon. Also, I am aware of the OpenOffice API Project, though I don’t know if they’d have anything to do with SAPI. I am also aware that Linux truly cannot physically support Dragon, as is explained here.

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3 Responses to Hey programmers! We’re down here!

  1. Marko says:

    It’s sad… even gnome’s ATK hasn’t been seriously worked on since 2005 and it would be the foundation for working speech recognition. Gnome markets as user friendly desktop. Most sad is that MS windows even has no “auto mouse click” tool.

  2. hand2mouth says:

    Wow. I figured development would be bad, but yikes. 😦

    Yeah — it doesn’t seem like auto-clicking would be a difficult feature for them to add. But in the meantime, Point-N-Click is supposed to be very good, and it’s free besides.

  3. Marko says:

    As most programmers are concerned it would be best if one day they wake up and all of the people with disability of some kind is gone from their perfect little mouse-keyboard world. And that Linux Zen ideology is fine and all but what is a person with disability supposed to do in terminal oriented operating system? Spend little of it’s strength left on chasing apt-get install on semi-working on-screen keyboard? I say no. Viva La Revolución!

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