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Accessibility and NFBCS

Chris Hofstader writes:

Last week, Curtis Chong, the seemingly permanent president of The NFB in Computer Science (NFBCS) published an article in Braille Monitor highly critical of accessibility at Microsoft, especially of the accessibility on its Windows platform. Chong presents a number of indisputable facts with which I agree entirely, there are many things regarding accessibility to people with vision impairment that Microsoft does very poorly. Chong is also correct that accessibility across the Microsoft catalogue is highly inconsistent with some programs providing excellent coverage and others providing none at all. I applaud Curtis for the shedding light on the problems he describes and hope Microsoft will take action to remedy them as quickly as possible.

I also felt that Chong’s article was misleading, that it contained statements that were either inaccurate or unverifiable but, worst of all, it lacks detail in the historical context, an elephant sized hole in the story.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been exploring the concept of leadership in the blindness and technology space. I’ve talked about the changing leadership paradigm in, “Anarchy, Leadership and NVDA,” I’ve discussed leadership in innovation through traditional paths in my CSUN 2015 report and, in my article about Be My Eyes, I discussed another path a team had taken to lead a project of significant value. This article will, in the context of Chong’s piece, explore leadership in technology from NFB and how it, in my opinion, has been a failure for decades.

Hofstadter’s blogs are hit and miss for me, as I imagine they are for many people. Frequently, I disagree with him vehemently. But sometimes, to me at least, he hits the nail squarely on the head. This is one of those times.

The Windows 8 Tipping Point

When one of your most steadfast supporters takes you to task, it’s time to reevaluate what you’re doing.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Paul Thurrott. Many things he has written have been interesting, but I’ve generally found myself completely at odds with his way of thinking. That isn’t surprising, since I’m an Apple guy who occasionally, begrudgingly, uses Windows, and he’s a Windows evangelist. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I appreciate and enjoy opposing views. Refusing to explore other sides of debates leads inevitably to stagnation. But I digress.

Looks like things may have reached a tipping point for Microsoft and Windows. Paul Thurrott has arrived at many of the same conclusions that those who do not like Microsoft products have been voicing for years. That group, incidentally, is not limited to Apple users.

Paul Thurrot writes:

Windows 8.1 Update 1 again proves that design by committee never works, and that by not strictly adhering to a singular product vision, the solution that is extruded out to customers on the other side is messy, convoluted, and compromised. Say what you will about Sinofsky, but Windows 8 was his baby. I can assure you that no one in Microsoft is particularly eager to claim this mess as their own. And Sinofsky must be beside himself with rage at what they’ve done to destroy what he created. More isn’t always better. Sometimes, it’s just … more.

I find it interesting that he calls Windows 8 “compromised”, which is precisely the same term Tim Cook and Apple have been using to describe Microsoft’s one-size-fits-all strategy for PCs and tablets. I’m not sure if that was done deliberately, but either way, it’s certainly damning.

Thurrott’s advice to Microsoft, near the end of this piece, also struck me as somewhat ironic, as it is essentially the same theme voiced by Marco Arment in his blog post. To quote Arment:

Instead of desperately trying (and failing) to be cool, hip, and “innovative” to consumers — a long-running flaw of Bill Gates, not just Steve Ballmer — Microsoft embraces and accepts its boringness, using it to their advantage.

Microsoft has been boring for quite some time. They haven’t done anything truly “cool” in many, many years. It’s time for them to stop trying, and focus on their strengths. At some point, Charlie Brown needs to accept that he’s Charlie Brown, and stop trying to be an NFL superstar.

Hopefully, unlike Charlie, Microsoft eventually learns when Lucy yanks the ball away for the umpteenth time.