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ATU515 – Speaking Access with Christopher Mutch

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guest: Christopher Mutch – Owner and Inventor of Speaking Access
https://www.speakingaccess.com
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—————— Transcript Starts Here ——————
Christopher Mutch:
Hi, this is Christopher Mutch and I’m the owner-inventor of Speaking Access. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 515 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on April 9th, 2021 on today’s show. We’re super excited to have Christopher Mutch on, and he’s here to tell us all about Speaking Access. Now let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Are you a developer interested in learning more about web accessibility? Join renowned web accessibility professional Dennis Lembree for a full day of training. This webinar training begins with a background on disability guidelines and law. Many techniques for designing and developing accessible website are then explained. The main topics include content structure, images, forms, tables, CSS, and ARIA techniques on writing for accessibility and testing for accessibility are also covered.

Josh Anderson:
This webinars put on by the INDATA Project in Indianapolis, Indiana, and will take place on May 12th, 2021 beginning at 11:00 AM Eastern time. Don’t miss out on this wonderful training to learn how to make sure that everything you create is a little bit more accessible.

Josh Anderson:
Do you find yourself with a little bit more time on your hands. Maybe you’re really busy and only have a little bit of time to listen to podcast or maybe listening to this has you thinking. What about this, what about that? Well, if you’re short on time, or if you have questions about assistive technology, we have other podcasts that might just fit your needs. The first one is Accessibility Minute. This one minute long podcast gives you a little taste of assistive technology and really kind of wets your whistle to have you go out and find out more about a piece of technology and how it might help those you work with, yourself or maybe a friend or family member.

Josh Anderson:
If you happen to have questions about assistive technology, we have Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions or ATFAQ. The show is hosted by Brian Norton and features yours truly along with Belva Smith and Tracy Castillo as we all talk about assistive technology with questions that come in from email phone calls and other means. We also don’t always know the answer. So it’s very important that we have listeners that can help us out with some of those questions, because while we like to think every once in a while that we may know everything we’re proven wrong, almost daily on that one. So if you’re looking for more podcasts to listen to, if you’re short on time and need a really quick podcast, or if you have questions about assistive technology make sure to check out Accessibility Minute and Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Anderson:
Computer access is a barrier for a lot of individuals with varying levels of impairment. Vision, mobility and cognition can greatly affect the user’s ability to fully access the computer for work, for school or for leisure. Well, our guest today is Christopher Mutch and he’s the creator and owner of speaking access. And he’s here to tell us all about this new, exciting technology, Christopher, welcome to the show.

Christopher Mutch:
Thank you josh, thanks for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, you’re very welcome. Well, I’m really excited to get into talking about the technology, but before we do that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Christopher Mutch:
Yes I will. And the reality is I went back to a few of your episodes and just got a sense of your style. So I have to think about the answer a little bit more honestly than I thought I was going to. And it made me do a little bit of soul searching actually. Because the answer I originally had was quite technical and kind of boring, but the real answer once I thought about it was I grew up with a grandmother who was in a wheelchair and to be blunt, she’s really my only mentor. And it wasn’t that she was in a wheelchair that identified her. It was that she led her life and in a wheelchair and didn’t let it her hold her back. It was the first time I’d ever seen technology, this was back in the eighties and nineties and she was in a wheelchair. And at 81 she would drive about 5,000 miles every year. And she had a Cadillac, a big old Cadillac. Remember those old green Cadillac, size of a boat.

Christopher Mutch:
And then she’d have this little trailer on the back and then she’d go on this like a huge road trip. And she had a special thing that allowed her to drive her car. It was way back. I don’t know if I can describe it. But yeah, it let her drive her car with her hand. And that’s where I realized that technology could change. Like technology changed the picture for people. In the sense that technology can adapt to the user. Like for example, my new software blind people actually have an advantage because it’s an audio program. So that’s what got me into it. The other thing that I just wanted to point out is that I also was born with cleft palate. So that put me in situations in my youth where I would need to be a little bit more empathetic to people that stand out in society. If that makes sense.

Josh Anderson:
No that definitely does make sense. And since you listened to a few of the episodes you know that probably one of my favorite parts is just learning folks’ motivation. Why do they do this? Why do they use their skills to do these things? So I’m glad you listened back and stayed away from the technical and told me really what we were looking for right here.

Christopher Mutch:
Well, you’ve got a regular listener now. I found some fascinating information. Thank you very much.

Josh Anderson:
Well excellent, well speaking of fascinating information, Christopher, what is Speaking Access?

Christopher Mutch:
Okay, speaking test was developed, the beta version was literally a new kind of dictating. It’s based on Windows 10 and Windows has a speech to text like a voice control and that they give developers access to. And it’s actually been left over. I mean, it’s technology leftover from 2017. So all the research I did was actually very dated. And it’s kind of a technology they left behind, but I saw potential with it. And that’s where I went with it.

Christopher Mutch:
The way the concept works is that access isn’t meant to eliminate the keyboard. Because when I went to go look at trying to do the screen reader. I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t learn it. It just was so frustrating. I lost count at 450 combination keys to operate the entire computer. That number doesn’t seem unrealistic to you, does it Josh?

Josh Anderson:
No, Not at all. I was just sitting there thinking, I was like, “No, there can’t be… Oh wait.” Well, yeah, I guess when you look at everything because so many of the folks we work with it’s so specialized, it’s for a job it’s for this one group of tasks. But yeah, when I think about all of them, yeah, that sounds about right.

Christopher Mutch:
I think for the listeners, I mean, they may not be considering the ones that don’t know screen readers. I mean, that controls your desktop. And the other issue say that you just need to get into ease of access once in a while. Then you have to remember that I + Windows key. You don’t remember the key very often. So anyways, and the other thing that was a problem is because I was a newbie at it, if anything was to be questioned, it was me or the screenwriter. I always questioned myself. Because I was so new at it. So anyways, that led into speaking Access. And then I realized once I have no visual components that you eliminate the keyboard, because all the screen reader, voice commands have been changed over to voice commands. And voice commands, control your computer.

Christopher Mutch:
So say that instead of hitting control C you just say copy selection, or instead of hitting all tabs to switch between programs, you say navigate programs, and then you can use word commands like up key, down key to navigate just like a program. And what that allows you to do, I realize, is that I literally can unplug the keyboard and operate 90% of the entire computer, including dictating without a keyboard. So obviously if you suffer pain using a keyboard, that would save you a lot. Even if you don’t use the dictating part, because there’s a lot of people at type really fast. But it’s for those repetitive movements. I don’t know how old you are Josh, but my arms are starting to get a little sore.

Josh Anderson:
No, I can definitely relate there. I can definitely relate there.

Christopher Mutch:
So it takes a little getting used to, but once I had come back to the computer and I’ve shut off access for some reason, I’m starting to use the keyboard your brain goes “What am I doing? I’m not using the keyboard. I want to use my voice.” I based the technology and what I call conversation. When I first saw a screen reader without a stream, I realized that there’s a tremendous amount of information that gets passed between two people having a conversation.

Christopher Mutch:
Because what’s wonderful about speaking access is that as a visual person, a blind person or an audio user won’t necessarily pay attention to this because they won’t have to. But as an initial person, say that you’re in word. Access is working then as an audio program. So we don’t do everything. You can include dictate a program with it in the background. So you literally can stare at the Word document, say whatever you want to say as a document, and then post it to it. You never actually have to… You can have access show, But it’s not necessary. So it’s actually a third interstate through your computer. Am I making sense?

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. Completely making sense. That’s very great. And I know we kind of talked about it could help individuals with visual impairments. We could help folks with discomfort using the keyboard, but I could also see how that could really help folks with maybe other print disabilities, dyslexia, other learning disabilities like that. Just because getting their thoughts out or remembering those keys, getting your hands going the right way and everything on the keyboard, it could really help out those folks as well.

Christopher Mutch:
That is totally right. And do you mind if I give a shameless plug for a font developer?

Josh Anderson:
No go right ahead.

Christopher Mutch:
It’s at opendyslexia.org and it doesn’t have a bunch of scientific papers around it, but it’s a dyslexic person who’s taken the time to develop a special font. You’d seen the example on my website, but also when you’re dictating. Access has what we call the word box and everything that you dictate comes out in this opendyslexia.org font. And I have no reason to question the science. And it’s a nice looking font, actually. So that works really well. And the other thing that’s really important with the research I found is that with dyslexia it’s really hard from… I mean, I’m not an expert, but from the research I’ve done is that there’s many forms of dyslexia, it’s not like a cut and dry thing.

Christopher Mutch:
So it makes really hard to predict, to read, use your eyes. So a lot of alternatives and from my research, the most basic thing you can do with dyslexia is audio programs, a screen reader. That’s what’s wonderful about my program, it’s a mid-level. The screen reader is a wonderful [inaudible 00:11:25]. Speaking access is designed to be used with NVDA Screen Reader, have you heard of that one?

Josh Anderson:
Oh yeah.

Christopher Mutch:
Of course you would have, yes. For your viewers it’s a wonderful open source or by donation screaming or developed by a partnership of blind people out of Australia just to plug them too. So what this does is that you can shut off the screen reader and Access will… Say that you have a word on the screen that you can’t see it. Or the dyslexia’s having trouble, you have in spelling it out. So then you just highlight it and then you would say spell selection, and it will spell the entire thing out for you.

Christopher Mutch:
So that way that eliminates… Because through the audio, they don’t have to worry about looking at it. They can always double check it as a second reference. It’s a really good that way. And I’m just trying to think of any other features. Because when you’re using the browser too, you can control the browser and the new Microsoft Edge, Chromium has some really neat features for that kind of stuff. It helps most with the visually impaired there’s a new speecher called Texts and what I’ll do for blogs and I’m sure it would work on your website too, but what it does is… Well your website isn’t heavy with a lot of web links and stuff. But what it’ll do is it’ll strip all the major stuff out of it and just show pictures and texts in large print format, you can use access to control, Chromium Edge will read out the websites and highlight the text. Chromium Edge has been quite good for that kind of stuff. So yeah, it’s exciting like that.

Josh Anderson:
Christopher, you actually have Speaking Access set up right now. So could you give us a little demonstration that we can hear?

Christopher Mutch:
Okay. So Access does all kinds of stuff, but we’ll just do something more fun. I’ll open the menu and we’ll go and find some sound effects. How does that sound?

Josh Anderson:
Sounds great.

Christopher Mutch:
Access menu.

Speaker 4:
Now in main menu. Six items in list, one speaking access command.

Christopher Mutch:
Speaking access commands.

Speaker 4:
Presently in speaking access commands. Five items in list. One commands to know, two post mode commands, three word box commands, four access sound effects.

Christopher Mutch:
Access sound effects.

Speaker 4:
Now in access sound effects, three items in list, one drum roll, please.

Christopher Mutch:
Description one.

Speaker 4:
Plays a drum roll.

Christopher Mutch:
Drum roll please… So that was kind of cool.

Josh Anderson:
I want to build that in for any bad jokes I might work into the show. Christopher, you said that this kind of does work on Windows 10. What kind of specs would someone have to have on their computer just to make sure it’d be able to run this while it’s running their other programs?

Christopher Mutch:
Well, speaking access itself actually is quite a small program. It’s only about 40 megs so far, and it operates with about 2% or 3% of the CPU. And that seems to be a cross platform kind of thing, but nothing against NVDA, but it is a very powerful program. And NVDA actually is what requires a lot of resources. And safest I would consider safe is that I’ve got a running, it runs a little slow, but it does work, is a 1.6 gigahertz with four megs of RAM, which is kind of an older computer anyways. Wouldn’t you consider it?

Josh Anderson:
Oh yeah, for sure. And just to kind of off the top of my head, I think that’s about the minimum that NVDA recommends as well. I know the four gigs of RAM, which used to be huge kind of back in the day, but now, like you said, that’s almost kind of the entry level it seems like these days and that’s kind of changed. Christopher kind of just getting into, and this may go on forever, but I know you said you can control 90% of Windows using speaking access just a quick rundown. And I guess we can’t get into everything, but what are some of the things that it can control?

Christopher Mutch:
Why don’t we say the things we can’t control.

Josh Anderson:
That may be even better. I just always hate to ask the can’t question.

Christopher Mutch:
No, but the can’t is wonderful in this sense, is that the can’t for dictating it doesn’t require an internet connection because the one thing I should state I interviewed 100 blind people to come up with a six point list of the things they wanted to accomplish. One was no internet connection because for obvious reasons you don’t want to have the… Yeah, your command of your computer. Why would you want that hooked up to the internet?

Christopher Mutch:
So that’s it. So you can control the browser, the email client, and what you can’t do is obviously if you’re sitting in a public library and you’re using a screen reader and you want to get access to your bank account, you’re not going to exactly say your password to the entire building. And the other thing it comes down to is Access because it doesn’t have an internet connection. It’s really good for like common phrases and stuff like that. But it has difficulty with homonyms. Do you know homonyms?

Josh Anderson:
I sure do. I sure do.

Christopher Mutch:
What about your listeners? A homonym is a word that sounds alike, like four, for. Like you got four things or you can do something for someone. Well, because it’s an audio program and you have to keep an eye on that. And I had to put creative features to do that. And sometimes you just [inaudible 00:16:43]. The best example is if you were… Say that you were in the middle of a sentence and you just want to add the word, ketchup, like you’re putting ketchup on a burger.

Christopher Mutch:
Well, it doesn’t like the word ketchup by itself because it’s not hooked up to the internet. So it’ll always say catch up, catch up. No, I don’t want to catch up. What you have to say is a bottle of ketchup. So that’s what I mean by it doesn’t control the last 10%. And the other thing that’s noteworthy is they do not give you, and I also did not push a lot, is that access does not control the higher functions. Like it can’t shut off a computer, you can’t go into the task area. And for some reason you can’t use that Access to go into the settings of NVDA. Just random things like that.

Josh Anderson:
Well that’s still… I mean, if you just have to use the key strokes or the commands for that, that’s much less than the 400 or some odd that we talked about earlier.

Christopher Mutch:
Yeah, like for example, if right now say that I wanted to open desktop notifications. I don’t know about you, but trying to remember the keys for desktop… I’m going to move my microphone away so it doesn’t talk. So if I want desktop notifications, I would literally say, instead of whatever the shortcut keys are, you would literally say “desktop notifications,” and then notification pops out and it tells you what your notifications are with the screen meter or you can see it with a screen reader off. And then when you’re done with it, you just say escape key.

Josh Anderson:
Nice.

Christopher Mutch:
It’s that simple. Or show desktop icons or show desktop task area… No, desktop task areas to get to the desktop icon. I know it’s a lot to absorb, but it really does control the computer. And if you go to our website, which I’ll tell you after it, I’ve got about an hour’s worth of videos to prove it.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. And I liked the way that you made it, like you said, conversational. Just because speaking of the notification center that is… When it first came out for Windows 10, I think it was one of the biggest pains for screen reader users, because you’d hear a noise, but then how the heck do I get over to it?

Christopher Mutch:
Yes, thank you for pointing-

Josh Anderson:
And it wouldn’t automatically read sometimes, it’d steal your focus. But most of the time it would just, “I hear a noise. Okay, great I got a notification, oh gosh, how do I get over there?” How do I open that? How do I actually read that information?” And if you can’t go down and just click on it, sometimes it caused a major issue.

Christopher Mutch:
Exactly. Thank you for pointing that out. Sometimes it’s hard to remember real world applications. But what’s also nice about it. And I’ve used it myself because I’m… The one thing that’s funny about all this is that when they invented the car, they had to invent two things. First, they had to invent the car, but then they had to invent driving the car. A lot of people misunderstand that that’s actually probably a big part of the equation.

Josh Anderson:
True, true.

Christopher Mutch:
So I had to learn how to use my own program. So what’s great about that is if you forget even just a simple thing like that, you can go to the menu like we did, but you don’t have to say access menu every time the command is in desktop commands. So you just say to access desktop commands, and then it’ll read it out to you. And then that list will be the command, you just say it. And then in the menu, the menu will go away, execute command, and do its thing. Isn’t that cool?

Josh Anderson:
That is very cool. That is very cool.

Christopher Mutch:
It took six months, 800 lines of code.

Josh Anderson:
Well, you make it sound easy.

Christopher Mutch:
So it better be cool. Six months and 800 different attempts. [inaudible 00:20:07] to come up with a completely new way of programming for myself. It was, oh my gosh, I still have hair though, Josh.

Josh Anderson:
That’s good. That’s really good. Well, Christopher, you kind of mentioned this. If our listeners do want to find out more or maybe even get kind of their own copy of Speaking Access, what’s the best way for them to do that.

Christopher Mutch:
They can go to speakingaccess.com and the program is not going to be available until about… I still have a few things to work out. I’m hoping mid-April for delivery date. But what I’m really hoping for, Josh, is I’m hoping for, I’ve had all kinds of experts test it, but I want… This program was designed for people like me who starting out, that have absolutely… Like they’re average people. You and I have a fascination in technology because it’s a fascination, but it helps care of bills as well. Whereas the average person that’s using a screen reader, they don’t necessarily care on how to get into like the registry with a narrator. Not Narrator but NVDA. So what I’m looking for is just average users who are willing to do a little bit of horse trading for time for the program, just so I can get their thoughts on it.

Christopher Mutch:
And not only that, and not just a one time shot, but as I come along and these… Because that’s just going to have several new features, like a timer, this is just the foundation. And so, yeah, I’m just looking for different people, someone who’s like dyslexia, someone’s blind, a couple people who are visually impaired and some people that don’t use the keyboard. If you have time, I would love to show you this one feature that the blind people and you would be fascinated by it.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, most definitely. We got a little bit of time left.

Christopher Mutch:
If you do have time.

Josh Anderson:
Oh yeah, we do.

Christopher Mutch:
Okay. So one of the biggest thing, like I said was homonyms. So if you’re dictating, how do you do that? So let’s just go through the first line of an email and I’ll show you that. Open post mode.

Speaker 4:
Post mode is now ready.

Christopher Mutch:
Dear Josh comma new line.

Speaker 4:
Dear Josh symbol comma, command, new line.

Christopher Mutch:
Dear Josh comma new line.

Speaker 4:
Dear Josh symbol comma new line.

Christopher Mutch:
Thank you Access.

Speaker 4:
I am paused.

Christopher Mutch:
Okay. So I paused access so just didn’t clue what’s going on. If I say something like Access time, that’s its way of saying that I’m dictating, I just got a phone call or something and or I’m talking to someone on a podcast, don’t interrupt me. So it just says, dear Josh comma, new line. But you don’t know if it’s D-E-E-R and you don’t know if a Josh is capitalized a whole bunch of information is missing. So Access has two features. One, you can go and check the words by themselves. Hello Access.

Speaker 4:
Start talking.

Christopher Mutch:
Access words.

Speaker 4:
Word one, dear, word two, Josh.

Christopher Mutch:
Access word two.

Speaker 4:
Word numeral two, Josh symbol, comma command, new line.

Christopher Mutch:
Access letters.

Speaker 4:
Capital J-O-S-H symbol comma.

Christopher Mutch:
Thank you.

Speaker 4:
I am paused.

Christopher Mutch:
So you notice how you can zero in on a word.

Josh Anderson:
Oh yeah, yeah.

Christopher Mutch:
Okay. And then that would take forever. So this is the quick way to do it. Hello Access.

Speaker 4:
I am here and ready to rock and roll.

Christopher Mutch:
Proofread word box.

Speaker 4:
Word box reads. Upper case, dear upper case, Josh symbol, comma command, new line. Dear D-E-A-R.

Christopher Mutch:
Thank you, Access.

Speaker 4:
I am paused.

Christopher Mutch:
So what it did there is it first reads through the sentence and it reads out, so once he hits a capital word, it says before it reads the words, it says upper case, dear, uppercase, Josh comma, new line. So reads out everything in the sentence. And what it has in the word box is it has a homonym detector. So it realized that dear is a homonym. So it spelt it out to you so that you can verify it was the right homonym. Does that make sense, Josh?

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, it does.

Christopher Mutch:
And what I found fascinating by when people say they’re a visual learner, it’s not a joke. It really is serious. I’ve had people listen to the menu before we put in a visual component that said they were visual learners. They could listen to the entire six item list, but because they couldn’t see the list, their brain would make the connection to save… Because of the menu’s designed to interrupt. So when you hear a speaking access commands, you would say it.

Christopher Mutch:
Well, they literally couldn’t say unless they saw it on the screen. And it was the wildest thing. So that’s why we incorporated the menu to do that. So you can see it as well. What my point was, is that it’s great for sighted people to train themselves to use an audio program. That you could see the advantage of staring at your document. And instead of having to open up a window to dictate in it, you just dictate in your ear. And when you like what you hear you just say post, and it’ll take what you’ve written and put it onto the screen.

Josh Anderson:
I can definitely see how that can help a lot of the folks and a lot of the folks we work with. Well, Christopher, we’re almost out of time. So can you do me a huge favor and let folks know that website again? And we will put it down in the show notes as well.

Christopher Mutch:
Okay. Yes. And mine is speakingaccess.com.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We’ll put that in the show notes. Well, Christopher, thank you so much for coming on and we can’t wait until it’s all out and we actually get to get our hands on it and try it. But we may have to have you on sometime in the future, as you get more updates and add those extra features you were talking about.

Christopher Mutch:
Well, if you don’t mind, I would like to propose a challenge. I figured out how in about a month or maybe more that you could actually control access over the phone, just in this conversation. Does that sound intriguing?

Josh Anderson:
That does sound intriguing.

Christopher Mutch:
Yes, I’ve got the technology. I just, before we do it, I want to make sure it works.

Josh Anderson:
That sounds like a great idea. Well, we’ll have you back on and we’ll give that a shot and get it on up and working. Well, Christopher, thank you again so much.

Christopher Mutch:
Thank you very much for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com. Assistive technology update is a proud member of the accessibility channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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