A Response to NFB’s Blog Review of VoiceOver with leopard

In December, Tony Olivero of the National Federation of the Blind published an article for the NFB Blog reviewing VoiceOver for the Macintosh platform. Unfortunately, this article was less than accurate. We wanted a chance to address the claims made in this review.

The first concern presented by the reviewer is accessing the Quick Start guide on Command after the first time VoiceOver is run. It then goes on to describe access the VoiceOver menu, selecting the Help menu, and choosing the Quick Start. This is not appreciably different from accessing the JAWS or Window-Eyes control panels, accessing their respective Help menus, then locating a tutorial or manual. Additionally, the article ignores the other help features such as VO-H, which, if pressed twice in succession, brings up a menu of all currently valid VoiceOver commands. The VoiceOver menu, (VO-F7), provides quick access to all VoiceOver commands, organized into categories by type, keyboard help, the quick Start guide, and more. This is no different than Insert+J to access the JAWS controls, or Control+Backslash to access the Window-Eyes ones.

Mr. Olivero goes on to talk about the difference in screen navigation, calling it "much more complex". This is more a matter of opinion than fact, and the opposite can be easily argued. Unlike JAWS, there is no need to keep track or switch between numerous cursors, or blunder one’s way around the screen trying to figure out what the JAWS cursor is reading. By grouping some controls together in lists, toolbars, and other controls, users can more quickly familiarize themselves with new windows, only access the controls they need, and spend less time trying to sort out what’s what. He also does not make mention of VoiceOver’s option to use the numeric keypad for control, just like Windows screen readers. Mr. Olivero also comments that any type of control can be a group that might need to be interacted with. This is not true. You interact only with types of controls which can by their nature, contain other items, such as lists, toolbars, and scroll areas. You would not, for example, interact with buttons, checkboxes, or pop-ups.

Next, he moves on to discussing menu navigation, calling it "similarly complex". He claims that you have to cycle through all menus to find the ones you want. This is not true. Simply press the first letter or letters of the menu you want when the menu bar is active and you will automatically jump to it. That is not a VoiceOver option, simply the way the operating system works.

Mr. Olivero next discusses a perceived lack of intuitiveness in VoiceOver’s command structure. He fails to mention the fact that the numeric keypad is available to limit the number of keys needed to perform commands, listing multiple keystrokes for some commands as a shortcoming of the software. One thing that is required when making the switch to Mac OS X and VoiceOver is to abandon your conditioning from Windows and its screen reading options. Just because VoiceOver is different, that does not mean it is counter-intuitive.

Mr. Olivero states the incorrect command for accessing the desktop, (VO-Shift-D is the right one), and claims that Apple’s documentation instructs the user to use VO-Space to select a menu item. If the latter statement is true, I’ve not seen it. Pressing enter and tabbing between controls works much as it does in Windows, and that includes pressing enter on menu items.

To his credit, Mr. Olivero does note Apple’s new support for Braille Displays and the fact that blind and visually impaired users can install the OS independently. Unfortunately, his review was full of inaccuracies, unacceptable omissions, and, apparently, little research.