Writer’s Rant: Unchain Me from This PC!

Hope springs eternal … at least until it is dashed on the rocks of reality. Whether it’s a month, a year or a decade, perceptions of that perfect house, job, community or relationship can switch from a beautiful thing to a pile of garbage. I’ve had my share of dashed hopes, but rarely if ever, have I experienced the whole process in less than five minutes. Even a disappointing meal takes longer to be served than what happened last week.

An Author’s Dream

6 Petal Lilly Flower: photo by Rich Hill

I have an HP Pavilion PC running Windows 7. Come on, you knew this was about computers, right? I also have this image of myself sitting by the pond, breathing in the pure mountain breeze. With the constant encouragement of my beloved frogs and birds, Heaven knows what masterpieces I could write.

Butterfly on Milkweed Flowers in Various Stages:  photo by Rich Hill

There’s more to it, though. I don’t like using the desktop in thunder storms – even with surge protection, and we get a lot of thunder. I’m also sick of traveling with a little cassette recorder to take notes on our adventures, only to spend hours transcribing them at home.

The Problem

Bee on Catnip Bloom: photo by Rich Hill.

The desktop is OK, but it doesn’t fit in my back pack. I was thinking of a tablet or a small laptop. I have to keep something else in mind when I shop, however. I’m blind, and I use a screen reader called Jaws (Freedom Scientific, St. Petersburg, Florida) to access the digital world.

Accessibility for those of us who navigate the universe nonvisually has “come a long way, Baby,” since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law twenty-five years ago, but it also isn’t perfect. In relation to the internet, it also “ain’t what it used to be,” which pretty much describes my hands. I doubt seriously that I could adapt to a virtual keyboard.


Strawberry Blonde Tabby with Blooming Amaryllis in Lazy Boy: photo by Rich Hill

I got a few suggestions and warnings from other blind people who have gone down this road before. Make sure it runs a full version of Windows not Windows RT (whatever that is), or you won’t be able to run your Jaws screen reader; the HP Stream 8 is on sale this week; the Dell Venue is nice; the Surface is really nice but really expensive; Apple iPads are great, but you’ll have to learn a whole new operating system and a whole new screen reader; Android has a built in screen reader, but it might not be as robust as you’re used to; and you can get a Bluetooth keyboard to use with anything.

OK, so I did some Googling. I’m a little touchy about online accessibility. Not only isn’t it what it used to be, but it also isn’t what it could be, if web designers used the free tools at their disposal to ensure that their sites worked for all users. No, there’s no enforcement for digital accessibility like the brick and mortar licensing process which ensures that buildings have wheelchair ramps, elevators and accessible bathrooms.

HP: Making Things Difficult for Blind Customers

I ended up coming away from my research with a bad impression of HP. The link to the “features” section for the Stream doesn’t work with Jaws. It seems to be a link, but the screen reader version of “clicking it” doesn’t get you anywhere. Think of knocking on a door and nobody answers.

Advocate that I am, I decided to tell HP about the problem. This is usually a waste of time, but short of literally making a federal case of it, it’s our only option. I found a handy Contact Us link. A quick perusal of the form fields brightened my spirits when I realized they weren’t going to ask me to solve any of those stupid security graphics. Jaws, like my sighted husband, doesn’t do well with security graphics.

So, away I go, filling out the form. Only problem was, the drop-down menu where you choose the subject you’ll be commenting on, isn’t accessible to Jaws. In other words, some person didn’t quite do the right series of 1s and 0s when setting up the form. Unlike me, however, that person is getting paid.

Author Lashes Out at HP

American Toad Singing: photo by Rich Hill

The subject is a required field, so without it the form couldn’t be sent. OK, now I’m angry. My only recourse at this point (if you exclude the joys of calling someone in another country) is to publically shame HP on Twitter. I found an account specifically for the Stream and sent them the following message via Tweetymail.:

Hey @HPStream8 HP’s Contact form’s subject drop-down menu is inaccessible to blind HP Pavilion user who was thinking of buying a Stream. #AT #accessibility #VisuallyImpaired

Well, how satisfying is that? I’ll probably never hear from them – usually a blessing, since when I have heard from companies in the past, they invariably run me around in circles.

HP: Redemption or Revenge

We visited several stores so I could get my hands on these things – Best Buy, H.G. Gregg and Staples. I learned that some of the tablets come with their own keyboard. My problem with these keyboards is that they have a mouse pad right where I might knock it with my ailing wrists. One salesman showed us that you can disable that, so that little road block didn’t last long.

HP almost redeemed themselves. My hubby noticed a Stream 11 at Staples with a 360 degree flexible hinge. Apparently, no matter what I had been telling myself, it’s rather important to me that this new contraption not only be small and have a keyboard, but that it be possible to tuck the display out of the way. What I really want is a keyboard with Windows 8 installed – no display. Well, that isn’t going to happen. But this 360-degree flexible hinge? You can fold the tablet and keyboard back to back.

We were over the moon! It would be just like having no display. It would be a nice little keyboard, small, flat. I could install Jaws and type away to my heart’s content.

Woops, one little problem. Folding the thing back on itself does something we hadn’t anticipated – it disables the keyboard. Yes, of course, what was I thinking. This was obviously, like so much of our digital world, not made with blind folks in mind. It’s for the sighted user who wants a keyboard for once in a while, but who mostly uses the touch pad.

But, maybe, just maybe, they have a setting to defeat the defeating of the keyboard. The sales person checked and no, that ain’t happening. What was all that clanging and clattering in my head? Oh, that’s right, it was my stupid hopes crashing to the ground.

Onward and Upward

Sooner or later, even if it isn’t quite perfect, I’ll be purchasing a small laptop or tablet complete with keyboard. Maybe not an HP, though.

About Donna W. Hill

Donna W. Hill is a writer, speaker, animal lover and avid knitter from Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains. Her first novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, is an adventure-mystery with excursions into fantasy for general audiences. Professionals in the fields of education and the arts have endorsed it as a diversity, inclusion and anti-bullying resource for junior high through college. A songwriter with three albums, Hill provided educational and motivational programs in the Greater Philadelphia area for fifteen years before moving to the mountains. Her essay, "Satori Green" appears in Richard Singer's Now, Embracing the Present Moment (2010, O-Books), and her cancer-survivor story is in Dawn Colclasure’s On the Wings of Pink Angels (2012). From 2009 through 2013, Hill was an online journalist for numerous publications, covering topics ranging from nature, health care and accessibility to music, knitting and chocolate. She is an experienced talk show guest and guest blogger and presents workshops about writing and her novel for school, university, community and business groups. The Heart of Applebutter Hill is available in print and e-versions at Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, Smashwords, Create Space and other outlets. It is also available through Bookshare for readers with print disabilities.
This entry was posted in Accessibility, ADA, authors, Blindness, Uncategorized, Visually Impaired, Wrighting and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Writer’s Rant: Unchain Me from This PC!

  1. As wonderful as technology can be it can also be a royal pain. I miss the days when we built things right the first time as opposed to this version 2.0 and so on. The trial version of ZoomText that I downloaded was a bust. I forgot what a major resource hog it is (my computer was so sluggish I could have taken the opportunity to teach my dog to use it). I had to uninstall it. So then I try Fisher Scientific’s MaGic and while it seemed to work better it only allows you to test drive it in 40 minute increments. I was so disgusted I uninstalled that as well. For software that costs upwards of $500 it’s my expectation that a trial would at the very least be 30 days. So for now I’m back to using Microsoft’s built in accessibility features (seriously lacking) but at least I can navigate my documents and such. I’ll be doing some additional research of my own to find a solution that works without killing my workflow.

    Liked by 1 person

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