Part 2: Reach Out and Touch Someone
or Try To, Anyway!
Last month, in addition to giving some history, I sang the relative praises
of the newfound accessibility of America OnLine. This month, I'll get specific
about their e-mail, chat, message boards, and instant message features.
First, though, one quick postscript to last month's installment. Near the end
of the article, I stated a bit of confusion about finding the password at sign
on. Well, it appears that what had caused this confusion was the fact that my
wife, whom I love dearly, had saved my password, thereby making it unnecessary
to enter it again in the future. I only discovered this when running my AOL
account for the first time on a new computer.
So, the lesson here is, if you choose, you can save your password, or choose
to remember to enter it every single time you sign on.
Now, on with the show!
The experience of e-mailing on AOL, whether it is reading or sending is, overall,
pretty comfortable. A knowledge of the keystrokes for mail commands will get
you far in being productive in a timely fashion.
When you first sign on to AOL, there are (naturally) a couple of ways to get
to your e-mail.
- Press Alt/M for the mail options button on the AOL tool bar. This
opens a context menu that includes a read mail submenu, sending mail, setting
mail preferences, signatures, and the like. Due to time constraints, however,
I cannot cover all of these in great detail. If you have questions, feel free
to contact me, and if I don't know the answer, I'll find it out, promptly.
- Pressing Ctrl/R is the fastest, and most direct way to get to your
Now, once you've accessed your new mail, here's what you need to do:
- You will be presented with a dialog that contains numerous buttons and one,
very simple tree view. This acts as your list of e-mails. It gives you the
date, sender and subject, in approximately that order.
- If you know you don't want a particular email, you can just delete it
with a simple press of the Delete key, which is much simpler and faster
than tabbing to the delete button.
- If you want to read a highlighted message from the list, it's as simple
as pressing the Enter key.
- One of the nice things you'll notice, upon opening a message, is that (in
the case of JAWS 4.5) your message is automatically read to you without having
to use the say all keystroke.
- Closing the window isn't quite as simple as say, for example, Outlook Express.
You cannot merely hit escape to close it. This, like any window in the AOL
environment, is closed with a Ctrl/F4 keystroke. This is the teensiest
bit awkward, but once you wrap your mind around it, it actually makes sense
and seems sort of intuitive.
- Speaking of intuitive: anyone with a fair amount of computer savvy would
think that you opened a new mail message for writing with a Ctrl/N keystroke.
Not so in the land of AOL! To compose a new message, the proper keystroke,
which (apparently) can be used from anywhere in AOL is Ctrl/M.
- The tab order for the windows isn't totally spoken properly. When
you've entered the e-mail address of the person you are writing, then you
hit the Tab key, the focus moves to (essentially) the CC field.
The next field is the Subject field; however, my copy of JAWS 4.5 insisted
on calling this the copy to field. But, this is not the fault of the
screen reader, rather it's the fault of incorrect coding on the part of AOL
- Naturally, below the subject field is the area to write your message. When
you are done, though, the keystroke to send the mail isn't exactly intuitive.
The keystroke Ctrl/Enter closes and sends your message. At that point,
you are presented with a simple dialog informing you that your message has
been sent. Just press the Enter key, and you will go back to the last
screen you were in before composing the e-mail.
On the disappointing side of things:
It appears that there are no keystrokes for Replying and Forwarding.
I looked at the JAWS/AOL help file and didn't find any information or commands
listed under Mail Commands.
So, this must be, as annoying as this is, accomplished by tabbing from within
the list, or the e-mail, to the appropriate button(s). Just make sure, if you
tab from the list, that you have the e-mail you are replying to or forwarding
properly highlighted. I admit this is a rather baffling omission because replying
and forwarding are such common e-mail tasks.
There are, however, worse pitfalls in the AOL universe. That brings us to my
one vain attempt at entering an AOL chat room. If you are a blind computer user,
and my previous article made you optimistic about AOL, this will take the wind
out of your sails pretty quickly.
I attempted to enter a chat room, only to have JAWS barrage me with user name
and chunks of conversation. There was, however, no real flow. I am willing to
wager a Chicago-style hot dog that the text was scrolling too fast for JAWS
to handle. Just remember, I take mine without onions.
Anyway, this was futile, and I won't be trying it until I hear that some sort
of improvement has been made. Needless to say, since I am registered as a beta-tester,
I will let the powers that be know about this.
Want your voice heard? Good luck!
Okay, what I am talking about here is the message boards. This is another area
in which accessibility could be greatly improved. The only way, unfortunately,
I could even find to read a message on the AOL boards is with the JAWS cursor,
a wing and a prayer. You'll need an extra wing and prayer for replying to posts,
or posting original thoughts.
One word of caution, at this point, whether or not you are a blind AOL user,
be careful about posting in these areas, if you can even accomplish the task.
Posting in these areas can set you up for spamming at your AOL address. So,
unless you like having your finger readily on the delete key, think carefully
about posting on the message boards.
Well, they say bad news, often, comes in "Threes". That applies to
AOL, as well.
Thanks to the help of Harold, a pal of mine from a list I moderate, I tried
to use the IM (Instant Messenger) feature from within AOL. This could be done,
but nowhere as easily as in AOL's stand alone Instant Messenger program.
First of all, it is much slower.
Secondly, after you send the message, you want to Shift/Tab to the window
where the conversation is scrolling so that your screen reader catches the incoming
message from the person to whom you are chatting.
The other, extremely annoying thing is that, in my case, I kept hearing every
letter I typed when writing IM's spoken twice. I tried to change the verbosity
to "none", but that didn't help. The bad thing about this is that
you could be typing and miss any incoming messages from the person with whom
you are exchanging IMs.
So, while it sounds a lot like I am deflating my own balloon, I realized going
in that there would be pitfalls, imperfections and the accompanying frustrations
as I tried various things within AOL. Some things work better than others, and
some just simply don't work at all.
Next month, I'll cover AOL radio and some other AOL exclusive contentand
see how well it fairs.