A plea for realistic reviews of Mac Apps, using Adium as an example

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macOS & Mac Apps
Under Accessibility Comments for Adium in the Mac App Directory, it simply says “Works perfectly.” Under Usability, it says “The app is fully accessible with VoiceOver and is easy to navigate and use.” While these statements may be true, they do not tell the true story. The truth is that without some considerable configuration at the start, Adium is not usable in any meaningful way by a VoiceOver user. If we compare the experience of using MSN messenger on Windows, with a screen reader such as JAWS, to using Adium with VO, the difference is startling. When using MSN messenger, you hear a sound when a friend logs in, a sound when they have sent you a message and have a keystroke to read that message to you. When using Adium, you hear a sound when a friend logs in. When using MSN messenger, you have single keystroke access to the last ten messages, with message 1 always being the newest and message 0 the oldest. In Adium, the messages from you and your friend appear in an HTML area, with the most recent message being at the bottom. You navigate this HTML area using standard VO commands and in my experience, end up spending a lot of time listening to your own messages. The good news is that it is possible to configure Adium to give the VO user a much more pleasant and useable chat experience. My point is that by not mentioning this and by insisting that Adium works perfectly and is easy to use, this does a disservice to new Mac users and potentially damages the credibility of the Mac platform for visually impaired users.

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Submitted by Jakob Rosin on Tuesday, June 12, 2012

hi. i'm going to be a mac user in few weeks. as a msn and facebook chat user, I would like to know, what I could do for making adium more accessible. I was able to use a mac for a week in december last year, thoug as this possibility appeared very quickly, I wasn't able to make research about some accessibility points, and got bit annoyed. now, I've read tons of articles and blog posts, listened several hours of podcasts on mac and i'm thinking differently now. So my question is, can you provide some instructions how to set up adium accessibly?

Submitted by Walei on Tuesday, June 12, 2012

In reply to by Jakob Rosin

When you install adium, you can use it with voiceover right away. I think what JT is talking about is customizing it so that it announces things like incoming messages, contacts signing on and off, transfer requests etc. I'm gonna give a description of how to do that and if you want more details let me know. They are called events and they are in the preferences dialogue. You can bring up preferences in most applications by pressing the keyboard shortcut Command and comma. From there you need to interact with the toolbar and choose the events tab. In the events tab, theres a table that contains many different events such as "you connect," "You disconnect," Contact signs on or off, MEssage received etc. This table is like a tree view. Bring the voiceover cursor to it and then use the up and down arrows to scroll through the events. When you press right arrow on an event, it expands and you can read what, if any, actions are associated with it. If you want to add an action to a specific event you can VO right arrow and press add. From there, you get a dialogue where you can choose from sounds, visuals, and speech. So for example, if you want it to speak out incoming messages, you would go to the events table, then find message received, VO right arrow and press add, then choose speak event out loud from the combo box. Additionally there are check boxes for speaking the time and name of the person who sent the message. Hope this helps.

The SpeakOutloud action only works if you are using the US English legacy voice Alex. So, the only way to get a half decent chat experience is to have sounds played when messages come in and read them manually. I'll be uploading a complete guide to configuring Adium in the next day or two.

I actually did not set up adium to read incoming messages to me. I never had that option in msn messenger an during jaws. so for me adium especially the nightly builds are accessible an that's at what they do. I can also add a lot more accounts so for me the app is usable or what ever that states is 100 percent true. As for the voice you can change the system voice to speak out messages to vicky or the custom voices that ship with lion so again there's where one of the posters is very wrong. Iv'e done it. lol!

I'm just curious as to what is meant by "legacy voice," in this comment? Alex has been updated with every new release of OS X, and ardly seems deserving of the term "legacy," to me. It's still one of the best-sounding TTS options available on any platform. As for Adium, there are a couple ways to configure it. You can set it to speak events aloud itself, or using Growl, the general cross-application notification framework. Each approach has advantages, though I tend to like Growl just because of its interoperability with other programs. I think application-specific guides on how to get the most out of them with VoiceOver can only be a good thing. YOurs, Zack.

Submitted by JT on Thursday, June 14, 2012

In reply to by Zack

I use Samantha as my VO voice, setting up Adium to speak messages does not work. It does if I change my VO voice to Alex. Mary, you mentioned the system voice, which I guess is not the VO voice. This might be why we and others, have had differing results. Did you atually read my post? I didn't say Adium couldn't be used. My arguement was that out of the box, it is not a very good experience and that people recommending it to newbies should make this clear. Otherwise, some peple will not use the app and will be left with the wrong impression. I've seen the Alex voice referred to as a legacy voice and assumed this to be the case.

Submitted by David Goodwin👨‍🦯 on Thursday, June 14, 2012

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team
JT, Discussion has wandered a little away from where it started, but I would certainly endorse your original request that people provide accurate and useful information when posting apps to the App Directories. With so many apps falling somewhere between fully accessible and totally inaccessible, the more information that we have on any issues, the better placed we are to make an informed judgement on whether we are likely to be able to use an app. To that end, I've just updated the help text that accompanies the text box where you enter your accessibility comments when submitting an app. Of course, if anybody has additional information on the accessibility of any apps that are in our App Directories, please be sure to post it in a reply to the original entry.

Submitted by Nicolai Svendsen on Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wow, I'm not even sure where to start with this one. The app comments in the Adium application submission are completely true. Adium can be used without any real configuration, and in a meaningful way by VoiceOver users. Would you quit with the assumptions please? While being respectful, the statement "The truth is that without some considerable configuration at the start, Adium is not usable in any meaningful way by a VoiceOver user." is ridiculous. What you so blatantly refer to as what apparently is a meaningless way to use Adium is an experience without what you call "handholding." It basically refers to any content which is automatically read, or content that applications assume you want read to you, or changed interfaces based on scripts and so-forth. The automatic reading of text can actually be more annoying than anything else. While I will agree that the configurable options should have been mentioned for speech output, saying that by not doing so you are doing a disservice to new Mac users and damaging the credibility of the OS X platform is an assumption. Actually, what does damage the credibility of OS X is when people make assumptions based on a previous platform the user might have used, or create misconceptions based on inexperience or what a poster perceives to be "easy to use." Setting up the options you mention, or making the comparison that you make does not guarantee that the experience becomes more pleasant simply because JAWS may do it this way. I really wish people would think outside the box. While these are most likely your experiences and opinion, I just don't understand your arguments despite having used the features you describe under Windows with JAWS for a pretty long time. This is why I am nitpicking. Any chance that you care to elaborate as to why, exactly, Adium isn't useful in a meaningful way without the mentioned configuration options?

Submitted by JT on Thursday, June 21, 2012

In reply to by Nicolai Svendsen

First of all, I am a blind person with more than twenty five years experience of using screen readers on a variety of platforms. I've been online for twenty years and have been an enthusiastic user of chat from the start. I got the first of my Macs three years ago and Adium was the first app I installed. What you dismiss as assumptions are my opinions, based on my experience and I am more than willing to ellaborate. My post is about using Adium to chat, online. A chat is a conversation, one person says something, the other responds and so on and so on - this is known as a Dialogue. Adium facilitates this two way process for sighted people with a variety of visual indicators. A sighted user doesn't need to constantly switch back to Adium to see if his or her friend has replied. What you call hand holding is simply the replacement of data delivered in one sense, visually, in an alternative sense, sound. Adium does not work perfectly as a chat program without being configured. It is not easy to chat using Adium without configuring the program. You can not use Adium to chat with someone, in a meaningful way, without configuring the program. You've accepted that this is true, you accept it should have been mentioned in the post. I accept that once configured, adium is a perfectly useable program and it is possible to chat using it. We are in total agreement. Now, imagine if I wasn't someone with twenty five years experience using sreen readers and twenty years experience using chat clients. What if I was a happy iPhone user who decided to get a Mac and eagerly read this review because I was an avid fan of instant messenger on my Windows machine that I accessed using JAWS. What would I think of the chat experience on the Mac using VoiceOver? I'd think it was utter rubbish!

How many years you've had in the industry as a blind user does not necessarily contribute to your post. Can you define meaningful? Visual indicators or not, VoiceOver discretely tells you when a new chat tab appears. It will say there is a new window, and a badge icon shows up. This badge is similar to those on IOS, indicating a new event has occurred. Sighted users will see the badge icon and the blinking icons in the dock, and these obviously cannot be communicated to VoiceOver. Sighted users also do not see login notifications unless setting it up via Growl or any alternative methods, and they actually only see that there is a new chat tab and from who. VoiceOver isn't able to tell you this information via dock icons, however, but it requires just as many steps to go into Adium and check the tabs as it would via the dock in any case. This discussion provides the perfect opportunity to set up Adium from the start, since I just got my MacBook Air several hours ago. In the Growl version bundled with Adium, you get the odd "system interact" dialogs. this is a failure with Adium's built-in notifications, and not Growl itself, since the Growl notifications sighted people use can be read with VoiceOVer with no modifications. That having been said, I still fail to see how Adium is not easy to use. I say that because you're the first person I know who's actually thought to point this out, and no one else has even as much as mentioned potential damage to the Mac platform except you. They are default settings, and they don't have a real impact on the actual interface of the application. IF you wish to re-read your chats, you still have to use VoiceOver to do so unless making use of AppleScripts. Not using sounds or spoken incoming message notifications does not mean difficult to use, which seems to be your opinion, which is why I am asking you to clarify. I've used JAWS myself on Windows when it was my only platform, and my messages were read automatically at the time. I didn't really mind it, because I didn't see fit to change it. Why I call it "handholding" as explained in my previous comment, is because the message is actually spoken and this is what Windows screen readers more often than not tend to do, as well as offering you information automatically even if it's insanely verbose. There isn't any real good reason that VoiceOver should do the same, regardless of which background you come from. It sounds more like people need to adapt to another platform, rather than instantly assuming it should work like the platform they used in the past. With Adium it's possible to have automatic notifications and sounds if you want them, but it has to be configured because obviously it's not a default choice. It's not catered to visually impaired people. Neither is MSN Messenger/Windows Live, but scripts handle what the applications may not. The extra configuration options should have been mentioned in the app submission, but I'm not sure how it would make it easier to use necessarily. That's where I'm asking you clarify. I still don't grasp your "meaningful" way of using a chat program. people have different opinions, and while these are yours, I'm not sure how "realistic" comes into play regarding reviews since this is not an impartial review.

of what I referred to as the dismissive nature of your use of the word assumptions. I thought I'd defined meaningful as a chat or dialogue between two people that flows back and forth in a manner that is easy, pleasant and natural - we are talking about having a chat afterall! In my up-to-date version of Adium, running under up-to-date Lion, when I am in the Adium widnow, chatting, absolutley nothing at all is spoken hwen my friend sends me a message. If I could see, I would, I assume, see there message appear? Without configuring Adium, I could sit here to kingdom come and not know that they were talking to me. I don't really see what more I can say. If you can't understand what my point is, then I can't think of any other way to explain it. Some people have agreed with me and some have disagreed. AV is not a dictatorship and this is allowed, your opinion will be on this post for ever, so new readers can make there own minds up. It will probably bore people if we keep this up backwards and forwards, but I'm not being passive aggressive, so please reply to this post. If you like, I'm more than happy to keep this going via instant messenger. Finally, I'd just like to ask you to reread this last reply of yours, see how technical you got? I don't know you, but you seem like a very tech-savvy person. Not everyone is as tech savvy as you, some people might like their hand held. You hate people making uneducated snap judgements about Macs and VoiceOver don't you? well, all I'm asking for is well thought out and honest realistic reviews of apps. If you email me, I'll give you my IM address. Don't feel you have to.

That's a point taken, and one I actually didn't consider. I usually exit the window when I send off a chat, and so you don't need the sounds or spoken notifications. VoiceOver assumes that you want to read any information, or most of it anyway, without any help from the screen reader itself. Thus, VoiceOver generally goes by the assumption that you're going to take a look just like sighted users do, which I suppose can be quite frustrating when you're not either used to it or simply don't want to keep looking. That having been said, you have some very interesting views that I'm both in agreement with and some that challenge mine, which usually provides some refreshing content. I'll go ahead and grab your e-mail since I'm very interested in continuing this privately to not bore everyone.