ARRL Responds

In the person of Steve Ford, WB8IMY, QST’s editor, I have received a response to my email from Thursday evening. You can see that email in the previous post.

I forwarded the email I sent originally to Mr. Ford, along with aRRL’s, president, CEO, and first and second vice presidents, and received the below response about 20 minutes ago. Well, I read it about 20 minutes ago, I received it earlier than that.

Needless to say, I am truly angered by his response. SO accessibility was merely an unfortunate casualty of a cost cutting measure? Maybe it will be accessible in the future, because HTML5 is better than flash. Which it is, but HTML5 is not inherently inaccessible. The fact is that accessibility is not, and has never been on ARRL’s radar, in spite of the fact that the issue was brought to its attention.

I’m a lifetime member, but had I not been, I would definitely have to consider keeping my membership, even at the “blind” membership level. As I said before, if I had access to QST, the full QST, when everyone else gts it, I would definitely join at the full membership level and not the “blind” one. But now that I see exactly what my membership organization feels about me, well…

Here’s Steve Ford’s response:

Buddy: We made the transition to the PageSuite platform as a cost saving measure, and also because it offers us the ability to expand and upgrade our e-newsletter offerings, something we have been very eager to do. After careful research, we determined that PageSuite was the best choice to balance cost and features.

Unfortunately, there must always be compromises in a situation such as this. Compatibility with reading software for the visually impaired is just one of them. PageSuite could no doubt create a customized package to address every shortcoming, but the cost would be such that it would eliminate any savings. Unless ARRL wishes to divert the necessary financial resources to create a customized solution, I’m afraid we must work within the capabilities of the standard PageSuite package.

Since PageSuite is based on HTML5 rather than Flash, it is possible that compatible reading software may exist. If that doesn’t prove to be the case, there is still the possibility that such software may eventually be developed. HTML5 is becoming the standard and Flash is in decline, so I suspect we will see increasing software development in this area.


Steve Ford, WB8IMY
ARRL Publications Manager

Regarding Access To Digital Publications: An Open Letter To the ARRL

Several years ago, the ARRL, our country’s ham radio organization, began publishing its monthly membership magazine, QST, electronically, both on the web and in a smart phone application. Unfortunately, the web version was Flash based, and the iOS version just plain didn’t read with Voiceover. Naturally, the blind ham community was pretty disappointed, because, while we do get QST from the NLS talking book program, it’s delayed from the printed and electronic edition, and doesn’t include advertising. (It used to be even more delayed and not include a bunch of other stuff, too, so that’s improved.) Parenthetically, of course we want to see the ads. After all, it’s the best way to learn about new gear, right?

Back in 2014, my friend Rob and I had the chance to talk to QST‘s publisher, steve Ford, about this problem of their inaccessible magazine. He told us then that they would look into it more, that a publication usable by us was possible, they just had to figure out the best way to handle it, words to that effect at any rate.

A week or so ago, we got word that the electronic QST was changing formats, and since this new one was HTML 5 and not Flash, maybe i would be usable. I was pretty hopeful anyway, as HTML5 is not inherently problematic in the way Flash is.

It was not to be, however. First, we got suggestion that it should work, because it worked with this thing that I’d never heard of. Then, this evening, we got another note saying that no, it didn’t work with JAWS or Zoomtext. Sure enough, I tried the sample provided, and it didn’t work on the Mac either.

I wrote the below email a couple hours ago and sent it to the person who was in touch with another blind ham. Apparently Allison Mclellan works with Steve Ford on QST.

Anyway, here’s my reaction and what I wrote to the ARRL via Allison. Some may think I’m overreacting. That’s OK. But the fact is that the ARRL had offers of assistance. Even if they didn’t, they know who in the membership roster signs up for the blind membership and could have asked. (They didn’t have to, I know I’m not the only one who offered to help or asked about this.) So what other conclusion can I have drawn?

Hello Ms. Mclellan,

Please feel free to share my comments with whoever should see them, including the general membership if you so desire.

Thank you for corresponding with Tom Fowle and others on this issue. I was excited, if apprehensive, about the changes that are going into effect for the new digital QST. I remember talking to Steve Ford about the issue of access to the digital QST by blind hams during the 100th ARRL anniversary convention. At that time, he told me and my friend Rob, KB5UJM, in his office, that accessibility was possible, they just had to figure out with the publisher how to implement it. I was disappointed to see no real movement on this, but I understand how slowly change can be brought about.

I really must express my extreme disappointment, therefore, at how the issue of accessibility was, or rather was not, handled while implementing the changes ARRL has. While I’m pleased that you have apparently been tasked with dialoguing with our community, it seems to me that this is playing catch up, at best, and a token effort at worst. Here you have an untapped resource that is willing and able to assist you: a group of tech savvy blind members, and I know at least a few of us had volunteered our assistance directly. Untapped, yes; during these developments, was any effort made to reach out to your tech savvy blind members to ask for help, even with testing to see if the solution you had could be made to work? I was certainly never contacted, and, judging by your response, neither was anyone else.

Before I go on, you’ve hit a couple of the major accessibility tools. Voiceover on the Mac and iPhone, and the free NVDA screen reader, are a couple more. I had a quick look with Voiceover with as little success as you had with JAWS and Zoomtext. I don’t think the accessibility tool in use will make much difference.

Here’s the real question. Are we or are we not valued members of the amateur radio community in general, and the ARRL in particular? Does the League, an organization to which I have a lifetime membership, consider me fully able to contribute to the hobby, or am I just a charity case that this great hobby can only serve to be a little bright spot in my otherwise pathetic little life?

Of course we all enjoy the recorded version of QST. We’re pleased that we now have very little of the content removed now. We enjoy it several weeks after everyone else. While this has certainly improved since I first became a ham 29 years ago (now we have, say, a three-week lag instead of a six-week or more lag), even that lag sometimes leaves us scrambling to keep up with events, not to mention being left out of the conversation when all the other guys in our radio clubs are discussing the new QST that just landed on their doorsteps. I understand completely that this used to be unavoidable, and the recorded version was, and still is, a great solution. But now, with the advent of readily available (and cheaper) hardware and software that we can use, we should have options, and many of the barriers to full inclusion are becoming more and more artificial. Including access to digital publications.

Of course we’re willing to help make better access happen, but we can’t do it without the ARRL first asking for help and providing us with the ability to help. Of course we want to be full and equal members of the ham community. And, for my part, I’d happily pay full membership price, not the blind rate, for full, equal, and timely access (yes, including all the ads, we want to drool, too!) to QST.

An Idea For the 2012 FDIM Buildathon

Hi y’all,

I just received the following Email from Wayne, N6KR, at Elecraft. FDIM stands for “Four Days In May”, a sort of convention within the Dayton Hamvention, sponsored by QRP International. The Buildathon is an event where a bunch of people get together and build a kit from a bunch of parts. What Wayne suggests here is very exciting. Speaking as a long-time blind ham, I for one would be very excited to be able to build something and take part in an aspect of the hobby that I have to this point not been able to enjoy.

I can already see some objections by some blind hams to some of the stipulations Wayne has listed. I would be interested, personally, in your thoughts on this. I, for one, am totally in.

Here’s Wayne’s Email, which I was copied on:

Hi Ken,

Hope things are going well for you this year. I’m really busy with the KX3 and other products, as you can imagine.

We have a number of blind customers using K3s, etc. I was discussing with one of them (Buddy, copied on this) the fact that there are no radio or electronic kits (that we know of) that could be constructed entirely by a blind hobbyist. I then mentioned that I’d think about how to do this 🙂

Then I realized this would be a novel theme for the FDIM building contest in 2012, assuming it hasn’t already been tried. It would be a challenge for both the kit designers and target builders. For best results, they’d need to work together.

The most important thing about such a kit is the sense of empowerment it would provide the blind builder. From all my conversations with blind hams, it’s clear they feel left out being unable to participate in some basic hands-on aspect of the hobby. I’m sure that’s true of would-be blind builders in other genres as well. (Buddy may have thoughts on this.)

Even a simple kit would be a challenge. Here are some potential constraints (again, Buddy will know better than I):

– probably no soldering (safety concern)
– suggest twisting component leads, or use spring terminals
– no high voltages
– all components that have the same size/shape must be carefully tagged or bagged
or have a tactile label
– all components with more than two leads (e.g., a transistor) must have
an asymmetrical package so leads can be clearly identified; better yet,
one lead can be extended beyond the others
– no use of color codes (obvious!)
– nothing sharper than a component lead
– hardware should be large (#4 or larger)
– if a PCB or other substrate is provided, it should be asymmetrical or have
tactile guides
– if knobs are used, they should have tactile pointers
– manual either in Braille or in accessible electronic format (use with a PC screen reader)

With care, one could build a simple transceiver that satisfies all of these constraints.

Anyone entering such a kit into the contest should pair up with a blind builder — or try building it blindfolded — to prove that it works.

Any interest in this idea?


Programming the Wouxun Dual Band Handheld Transceiver

I seem to have become the go-to guy for the Wouxun dual band radios. Not only have blind people found my “eyes-free” guide useful, but apparently, and surprisingly, so have sighted people. I’ve had a few people ask for a podcast walk through on this radio, setting it up, and programming procedures, and I’ve promised one for a while. Finally, in Budcast #9, because you asked for it, I get up off my lazy duff and walk you through unpacking, setting up, and programming one of these fantastic little radios. Follow along by downloading my Wouxun Eyes-Free document here As always, you can Email me at buddy (at) brannan (daught) name or by following me on Twitter.

Building a Wifi Radio Out of a Cheap Router

For a long time, I’ve been interested in those Internet radios. You know, looks like a radio, tunes stations from the Internet using your wifi Internet connection, acts like a radio, ostensibly to allow one to listen to streaming content without tying up/sitting in front of a computer. There were only two real problems I had: 1) they cost more than I really wanted to pay, and 2) even if I did want to pay the freight ($150 to $300) for one, rumblings are that the things are fairly inaccessible. Well, that’s a shame, since many of them, such as the ones based on Reciva’s platform, are GNU/Linux underneath with proprietary bits added. So it’s conceivable that it could be made accessible if someone wanted to bother, though not easily owing to the aforementioned proprietary bits. But then, there’s the Sharpfin project. Great idea, but it’s moving slowly, due to lack of smart programmer types interested in the project. I’m interested, just not smart. And besides, I want to spend less. Or at least, feel like I have.

So I did some more searching and found two similar projects. This one is very detailed, detailed enough for me to follow it even, so that’s where I started. Although, I found this one first. I expect I’ll borrow from it as well.

But there’s one little thing. Being blind, and, more pressing, all thumbs, I wasn’t about to tackle adding a serial port to my Asus WL-520GU router. Not only do I not need or want an LCD, I’m sure I’d toast something, and I didn’t have anyone nearby that would like to tackle it either, I’m sure. So, I’ll have an uglier box with more junk on the USB connection. No matter.

So, I didn’t tackle the hardware mods, nor did I do anything about the LCD display. Which meant I had to telnet in and do everything over the network. When I goofed up the channel assignment, that set me back a little bit, but not for long. Thank god for spare ethernet cables. So, a couple of speedbumps later, I actually have something that plays music! It isn’t pretty, but if I add things to the playlist, they play. Ultimately, here’s what I want to do:

  • Control the player from a USB numeric keypad
  • Have a speech synthesizer announce the current stream or song when asked (via the numeric keypad, using espeak
  • Possibly use vlc or mplayer with no output (just the bits that play the audio) in order to get Windows Media streams as well as MP3/ogg/etc.

Obviously, this will all take some time, and I’m sure I have a lot to learn to make it work, but it should be a fun diversion. Anyone wanna play with this with me?