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.