GLEN GORDON: On FSCast 193 we’ll meet Taylor Cox. She’s our first Freedom Scientific Student of the Month. Then it’s over to Amsterdam for a visit with Mohammed Laachir. We’ll hear how he rapidly switched from using ZoomText to using JAWS full-time, and how he went from an FSOpenLine caller to a JAWS developer. All upcoming on our podcast for December of 2020.
Hello, everybody. Glen Gordon welcoming you to our podcast for the final month of 2020. And it’s hard to believe that halfway through next year we will hit Episode Number 200. That’s certainly worth celebrating. My question is how should we do it? It’s never too early to plan for things like your 200th podcast because it may require a bit of work. If you have ideas on how we can celebrate that occasion, by all means write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month on the podcast when we talked a lot about JAWS scripting with Doug Lee, I failed to mention that our sister company, TPG, offers a wide variety of scripting services. So if you are in the position of needing someone to script an application or a particular jobsite to make it easier to work with JAWS, by all means get in touch with me at that same email@example.com. I can put you in touch with the right TPG scripting resources.
Next month, being January, is Braille Literacy Month. Our training department has a bunch of tricks up their sleeves to celebrate that. To keep in touch with all things training, including information about our weekly training podcast, webinars, and other things that you can download and use, go to FreedomScientific.com/training for all the details.
We continue to get really good feedback about Picture Smart. This month I got a nice note from Jose Alvarez. He teaches computer science in Puerto Rico. He also has a need periodically when designing web pages to make sure that the graphics appear visually, and finds that Picture Smart is a great way to do that. He loads the web page into Chrome using the virtual buffer, finds the alt tag, does INSERT SPACE+P+C to call Picture Smart to life. If he gets a reasonable description, he knows that the picture is there. Otherwise he figures only the alt tag is available, and he needs to figure out why. So another great use of Picture Smart. Jose, thanks for the information. He also hosts a Spanish-language technology podcast called Tiflo Audio, T I F L O A U D I O, available in your favorite podcast app.
GLEN: Our Power Tip this month comes from longtime JAWS user and TPG project manager Ryan Jones, and it relates to selecting text. I think we’re all used to selecting text by holding down the SHIFT key and selecting by word, character, or line. But that gets kind of old if you’re really trying to select a whole lot of information. There is a simpler way built into JAWS having to do with place markers. And I’m going to show it to you briefly here. I have a document open that has lots of Power Tips in it, including this one. I’m on the first line and going to read it.
JAWS VOICE: We have all been faced with the need to select text. Sometimes we have found this difficult because we do not know if it has selected everything audited.
GLEN: So this is where I want to start selecting. And so I’m going to press INSERT+CTRL+K, or more accurately, JAWS KEY+CTRL+K.
JAWS VOICE: Marking place.
GLEN: Now that the mark is set, it’ll remain in place regardless of how we may move through the document. So we could do a FIND command. We could move by paragraph. In my case I’m just going to move down a couple of lines.
JAWS VOICE: First step is to put your cursor where you want to begin.
GLEN: So I’ve moved to the third word of the third line. I’m going to press INSERT SPACE, followed by M.
JAWS VOICE: Selecting between marked place and current position.
GLEN: So the text is now selected as if I had done it with those SHIFT and ARROW key commands. But in this case I can just press CTRL+C.
JAWS VOICE: Copied selection to clipboard.
GLEN: And there we are. So I’ll just move over to Notepad now.
JAWS VOICE: Untitled - Notepad. Untitled - Notepad. Edit.
GLEN: I’m in a blank Notepad document. I’m going to do CTRL+V.
JAWS VOICE: Pasted from clipboard.
GLEN: I’ll do CTRL+HOME to get to the top of the document.
JAWS VOICE: Top of file. We have all been faced with the need to select text.
GLEN: And just to prove that we only copied what we thought we did, I’ll do CTRL+END.
JAWS VOICE: Bottom of file.
GLEN: And then ARROW up one line.
JAWS VOICE: First step.
GLEN: And those are the last two words that we actually selected. Now, if you were listening closely, you heard that I positioned to the third word of that line. But the reason that we only selected the first two words is because I was on the beginning of the third word, set the bottom of the marked region, and that marked up to the point that I was positioned on, not anything after it. This works in most places that you can select text. I find it much more convenient than the standard text selection commands. Try it in either an editor like Word, Outlook, or an edit field on the web, or in a virtual buffer.
If you have a Power Tip, something that you use in one of our products that you figure most other people don’t know about, by all means write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org. If we use your tip, you’ll get a year added onto your SMA or your Home Annual License.
GLEN: We’ve just started a new program here in the United States called Student of the Month. The goal is to highlight the accomplishments of someone who’s using our Freedom Scientific technology to accomplish their educational goals. Yes, there is money involved, and it goes the right direction. It goes from us to you, an Amazon Gift Card of $500, if you are selected as the Student of the Month. You can nominate yourself, or you can nominate a student in K through 12 who you think is using our technology creatively to accomplish their educational goals. All the information is on our website, FreedomScientific.com/teacher. There’s also a blog post about it. Do a little bit of searching, you’ll find all the details.
We’ve primed the pump a little bit and already have our first Student of the Month. Her name is Taylor Cox. She was our summer intern this year. And she’s also my guest for this portion of FSCast. Taylor, welcome.
TAYLOR COX: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
GLEN: You’re in high school now; right? Senior?
TAYLOR: Yes. Yes, I’m a senior.
GLEN: What was it like for the end of last year and perhaps partially the beginning of this year being in school with a whole online curriculum?
TAYLOR: Last year they pretty much just threw everything to the wind. They took away grades, so basically I didn’t have to do anything. Teachers didn’t have to do anything. Some would just like put videos out there of their lectures and stuff. But it was mostly just busywork for the remainder of last year, if I’m being honest. And then this year they started to make us all go on Zoom for the first time and do class that way. It was a little more difficult, especially with math, because I would be working with my Braille teacher at the same time. So I’d have her on the phone, me in Zoom, working with a teacher in class, and trying to flip through textbooks, and we couldn’t see each other.
Now we’ve moved to a hybrid. That means I get to go to school Tuesday-Wednesday, and then Monday-Thursday-Friday I’m online. But it’s still really weird. It’s a weird feel at school. But I’m glad that we can at least see each other now.
GLEN: You use an ElBraille now.
TAYLOR: I do.
GLEN: What do you like about it?
TAYLOR: I love how comfortable I’ve gotten with the Focus. I always used the Focus for like reading and stuff. I’ve never really used it for like commands. And I’ve gotten to use that to my advantage and use it also with the computer more. And the ElBraille really reaches you how to use your Focus and also promotes braille use at the same time, which I think is a really good thing.
GLEN: Did you learn braille really early?
TAYLOR: Yes. My braille teacher was amazing. And also my parents were really onboard with it. They knew that that was how I was going to learn the quickest. So I started to learn, I’d say when I was like three. I was learning grade two by the time I was five. And it was funny because back when we were little, there was this thing called the California Standard Test, and it was all in grade one. And I was like, why is everything in grade one? And my teacher was like, well, technically you’re not supposed to know all your contractions yet. But I knew all my contractions. So I picked it up pretty quickly, and they started me really early.
GLEN: Am I right that you also use your Focus for texting on the iPhone?
TAYLOR: There are times when I have to use my phone in class, and I don’t want my teacher to know about it.
GLEN: Oh, very clever.
TAYLOR: So I just want to keep it very private. And I do like that aspect of texting with your Focus. It’s more private. And if you’re texting someone in the same room, like little jokes with my mom and my dad. I text, and they don’t know what I’m going to say. So it’s more like effective when they open up the text, and they’re like, oh. Like that’s kind of funny. And they don’t know what I was thinking beforehand. So that’s what I really like about it.
GLEN: I was just thinking in school you may be able to text more easily than your sighted friends because do you even have to get the phone out of your pocket? Or can you unlock it with the Focus?
TAYLOR: No, I don’t. I usually just have like an AirPod in my pocket and just use my Focus on my desk. And they think that I’m writing a paper.
GLEN: I have heard from my crack research team that you know jiu-jitsu. You know piano.
TAYLOR: Oh, my gosh.
GLEN: You’re a singer. I probably left some things out. But those are the ones I remember. Were those your idea? Or were those your parents’ ideas?
TAYLOR: I guess singing was kind of like in my blood, I guess, like I’ve always been singing from the time I was little. So I guess fate chose me for that. When I was like four, my mom was like, okay, like you actually have a piano lesson today. And I was like, wait, what? Like I didn’t know. I didn’t know. But over time I think it was my decision to kind of take off with it.
GLEN: Have you written your own music in addition to playing the music of others?
TAYLOR: I do. I do write my own songs sometimes. I find it really fun and like therapeutic in a way because I can like make my emotions known. My first song was just piano. And then I think I was like eight when I started to write songs with words. But it was so really fun. And then it just matured over time.
GLEN: I really admire this because somehow I lost the ability early on to be creative, either creative writing or writing music or anything. Not that I ever wrote music before. But I always had this thought that, like, whatever I do I’m making a fool of myself.
TAYLOR: That never changes. There’s still times where I’m like, oh, my god, like this is so awful. I hate this, what I’m writing.
GLEN: Yeah, but you keep doing it, it sounds like.
TAYLOR: Yeah. There’s nothing better than writing a good song that someone likes, or someone can relate to. It’s like the best feeling ever.
GLEN: So we left out jiu-jitsu. What caused you to learn that?
TAYLOR: I’d always wanted to do a sport because my older sister is super athletic, and she plays softball. So I wanted, of course, I wanted to be just like her. But I didn’t play softball. So they were like, okay, maybe swimming. Maybe that’ll work. Running, I don’t know. But our Braille Institute there was this blind guy who did jiu-jitsu, and he came and did this really awesome demonstration. And one of my other friends’ moms was like, hey, we’ve got to do this. I know that we were a little nervous. But it ended up, I ended up doing it for like five years. And then high school got in the way, and I had to stop. But I’m so happy that I did it.
GLEN: How was it that you came to be our intern last summer?
TAYLOR: My teacher actually reached out to my agent and was like, “Hey, do you think that an internship would be good? I have Taylor looking for a job.” Which I was. I wanted to make some extra money and just help out, too, with the blind community. And he was like, yeah. Like write a résumé, and we’ll see what happens with that. And it just kind of escalated from there. So you guys opened near me, and everything just fell into place.
GLEN: Now, were you supposed to work in the Huntington Beach office before COVID happened?
TAYLOR: I was. I was. I was supposed to have my own office space. I would get an access there so that I would be comfortable with riding there. Department of Rehab was going to help me pay for those. And I would have been driving to work every day.
GLEN: What were some of the projects that you worked on for us?
TAYLOR: I was actually helping out with the ElBraille, what it is and what it does. I think actually though one of my favorite things that I got to do was I got to do the closed captions, I guess you would say, for a TypeAbility webinar video that they were putting together. I sent it in for the first time, and Dan Clark took it and was like, oh, you did really good. You actually did a really good job with this. We’ll have you do more. So that was what made it really special for me.
GLEN: So how did you do it?
TAYLOR: I had it on my computer. And then I had the file on another device. I was playing the file from there and then typing it as quickly as I could. It’s just like something that I kind of enjoy doing because I like those jobs where you want to get everything as perfect as you can. So that’s why I liked it so much, I think.
GLEN: Was this your first job?
TAYLOR: Yes, it was.
GLEN: Were you surprised by the idea that you needed to come to work every day, even though it was working from home, and put in hours, and be responsible for projects?
TAYLOR: Yeah, I mean, it kind of reminded me of a way of going to school and doing group projects because everyone has a part to play. Everyone has something that they need to do. And you have to be responsible for your part. And if you’re not responsible for your part, then it doesn’t work.
GLEN: Everybody who worked with you said you worked out really well. So it was a great thing.
TAYLOR: Thank you.
GLEN: So one of the things I’ve noticed about you in our conversation is you seem to have a lot of confidence in yourself.
TAYLOR: I think I’ve been confident in certain areas of my life. Like, it’s crazy. I can talk in front of like a hundred adults. But when I have to ask my teacher a question, I’m like, okay, okay, like what do I have to say? How do I phrase this question? Or like, if I have to talk in front of peers, that is scary still to me. Like having to talk about blindness in front of like high schoolers still stresses me out. But I can do it in front of like adults. I don’t get it, but I think there’s definitely confidence in some areas and confidence where I lack in others. But I think it’s just like a building on top of each other kind of thing. And you just have to build that confidence over time.
GLEN: Yeah, absolutely. You graduate in June. Well, at least you’re supposed to. I assume you will.
TAYLOR: I hope so.
GLEN: What are your plans after high school?
TAYLOR: I’m kind of keeping it open. I think my number one plan right now is to go to Cal State Northridge, CSUN, and get my degree in music therapy, but also get a degree in assistive technology so that I can have both avenues open if I so choose. Backup plan is I just got my first college acceptance letter to Arizona State. It’s definitely crazy just having that option open and having that as an option to study music therapy there. But I really want to go to Cal State Northridge so that I can get my assistive technology degree, as well.
GLEN: Well, I’ll keep all my fingers and toes crossed for you.
TAYLOR: Thank you. Yeah.
GLEN: Is there anything else that you would like for us to talk about that you think people who listen to the podcast might be interested in?
TAYLOR: Whenever there’s an opportunity, just take it because you don’t know where it’ll go from there, and it will most likely turn out amazing.
GLEN: Taylor, thank you so much for being with us on the podcast.
TAYLOR: Thank you so much for having me.
GLEN: During the early episodes of FSOpenLine we got some calls from Mohammed in The Netherlands. He was always very well spoken, had some great ideas. And I just offhandedly one day said, “Well, would you like to come work for us?” And he said, “Well, you know, maybe I’ll think about it.” You know, these things most of the time never work out. But in this case, everything worked out well. I’m pleased to say that he’s now a contributing member to the JAWS development team and will be contributing to this next portion of FSCast. Mohammed, welcome.
MOHAMMED LAACHIR: Well, thank you, Glen. Glad to be here. And glad to be at Vispero or Freedom Scientific.
GLEN: So let’s start out when you were young. And when you were young, did you have 20/20 vision?
MOHAMMED: No. I had very poor vision, in fact. I don’t think I ever got about 5 percent vision. So from a very young age I started, like, needing electronic magnifiers and stuff like that. And I actually went to a school for low-vision and blind people. And it’s there where I learned my computer skills, as well. I started using ZoomText, I think it was around 1999 or 2000 when I started using a laptop with ZoomText on there, taking advantage of everything a computer could bring for a low-vision person.
GLEN: I would think that, with 5 percent vision, that using a screen magnifier, though possible, would not be all that efficient. How efficient did you find it to be?
MOHAMMED: Now that I think back on it, it probably wasn’t that efficient. But especially my teachers were – basically they subscribed to the vision that, if you leave someone’s eyes alone, and if you do not challenge them, they will get lazy, and you will not be able to use them effectively later. Only after I lost my vision completely did I actually realize, hey, there’s a lot of stuff that can be done more efficiently with speech.
GLEN: How efficient were you as compared to your sighted colleagues?
MOHAMMED: I was not able to read as fast, but I could memorize things much quicker and much better. And so where people had to read things twice, three times, four times, I would have to read it once, and I would know. And I had a relatively quick mind, as well, so I would understand things quicker, as well. So I wasn’t inefficient at all, which is why probably this problem slipped through the cracks. I was able to keep up quite well, luckily.
GLEN: What was the range of teachers you had in terms of how effectively they worked to help you cope with not having lots of vision?
MOHAMMED: I don’t think anyone was particular bad. That may have been because I didn’t let people be particularly bad. When someone would not help me, I would basically go to them and talk to them. I remember one maths teacher, he was a great guy, but a little bit strict sometimes, and sometimes also set in his ways. And I remember asking him the first time I went to his class, I think I was 16. I remember asking him, like can you please read the formulas you’re writing down and stuff like that. He shut me down. He said, “Well, you know what, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m not going to change just for you.”
And so I let the guy be for the rest of the lesson. And after that I went to him, and I said, “Well, you know, I mean, we’re going to have to do this together for a year. And I’m fine if you want to have me be here and have poor marks for the rest of the year. But you probably didn’t get into teaching for that stuff. So, I mean, why don’t we work out a system?” And from that point onward he basically helped me as good as he could, and he did a pretty good job afterwards. But it took a little bit of persuading.
GLEN: The attitude that you went in with, I would attribute that to someone who’d had more years of experience. I mean, that just seems like a very smart idea that takes a certain amount of maturity to get to.
MOHAMMED: So when I went from elementary school to middle school, I really floundered for a while, precisely because I wasn’t talking about issues. I had this guy who would come in and explain to the teachers like how to deal with me and stuff like that. So how do you do the tests, and what are the opportunities, and what technology can he use and stuff like that. And I basically left it at that.
When the first trimester was done, and my report card came in, I almost had no marks because I hadn’t finished any tests. I hadn’t done anything. And my dad had a good sit-down with me. And he said, “Well, look. You are in a normal school now. People don’t know what to do with you. Face that, and try to make the best of it. And if you cannot do that, you will to back to the special school, and you’ll go finish your education there.” And that was a really nice talk. It took a couple of hours. I think we sat there for two hours. And it really drove the point home that people don’t necessarily know what to do with you. And if you don’t take charge, you might have a very hard time getting somewhere.
And so from that point onward I started taking charge and see where it led me, basically. And I saw that people were very receptive to that; and, like, me talking about it made people think about it, as well, and made them help me more. So I did that all through middle school, all through high school, all through the university. And when the time came to get a job, I just continued doing that. And it works. It just works. It always works.
GLEN: So you’re working a job. You’re using ZoomText. You’re taking advantage of your vision as best you can. When are sort of the first signs that you need to sort of have a change in strategy?
MOHAMMED: I was trying to read some code that I had written, and I had a really hard time. I had to start again, like, time and time and time again. So I called over a colleague, I said, Andre, please take a look at this. Do you see anything weird with the screen? And the poor guy tried to help me. So he tried to basically find what was wrong. And so he would suggest things. And I would be like, no, no, that’s not the problem. And so at that point I knew, well, I may be seeing something that no one else is seeing, ergo, probably my eyes are getting worse. I left it for a while and tried to work around it. But then things got so bad at some point.
There was one experience when I was walking home from the bus station, and it was a Sunday afternoon. I had just come from work. And at some point everything went dark, and I could only see the sun like being a big white blob. But the rest was just invisible to me. I couldn’t see my cane. I couldn’t see anything else. And then everything became impossibly bright, and then dark again, and then bright again, and then dark again. And I thought, well, I should probably go to a doctor now because this doesn’t seem right.
So a couple of days later I went to a doctor, and we went through all sorts of searching what the problem could be. They never really located it. They always stayed vague about what it could be. So we don’t know exactly what caused me to lose my vision. But things after that got worse and worse and worse. And that day I also decided, well, I need to do something because, if I continue this way, I will not be able to do my job for much longer.
GLEN: It’s really interesting to me that this experience, which must have been terrifying on sort of an emotional personal level, that very early on you thought about the job things; right? I would have been concerned about more basic, more human needs. How am I going to function without the vision I’m used to?
MOHAMMED: Well, I mean, it’s not like that wasn’t there. But so I guess that’s where your computer science education helps you. You sort of try to divide a problem into steps. And instead of thinking about the huge wave that comes your way when you lose your vision, because you lose all sorts of things, you try to think, okay, well, all right. So what am I going to do to solve this particular problem? And for the job I actually had an answer, which was JAWS. I knew about it. I knew about Fusion, at least.
And I thought, well, let me test that and see if I can get that to work. And then as I encountered new problems, I would try to solve them. And for that moment I was still able to function just normally. And when I encountered a problem, I tried to solve it as best I could. But the job at that moment was the most immediate problem. That was getting to become impossible to do, and other things were still possible. So I started with the thing that was most urgent and continued improving, if you will, from that point on.
GLEN: It seems really hard to be learning JAWS at the same time you were supposed to be a productive programmer. How did you work that out?
MOHAMMED: So I worked at the Web Agency. We built fairly complex web applications for clients. And I was at that moment working for one of the biggest auctioning houses in Europe, building an online auction platform. And so the first thing I did, I went to my team, to the people I worked most closely with, and I talked to them, and I told them about what was happening to me. And then I went to the CTO of the client, and I talked to him. And I went to my own employer – this was all in the same day – and I talked to them about what was happening to me. And I was like, okay, well, we all know that with this happening, I cannot be a completely productive person. So how are we going to solve this?
And luckily for me, I was able to, or they really tried to accommodate me in trying to learn and improve with this new technology whilst also trying to get some work done. Because you don’t learn things by just reading about them. I have to try them, as well, in the setting that I usually would use them. So I would work normally for three days just using JAWS as best I could. And I would take the Thursdays and Fridays to learn JAWS scripting and to try to improve my JAWS workflow. And I think I did that for eight weeks. And after that I went to my employer and the client, and I said, well, I think I’m ready now to at least resume my work. And if there are still problems, I will let you know, and we can see if we can work towards getting a solution.
GLEN: So how was your performance, in terms of speed and efficiency, using JAWS as compared to using ZoomText? Once you sort of got over that initial hump.
MOHAMMED: I think some things with ZoomText were a little bit easier. I think my performance especially on the web with JAWS was miles above what I could do with ZoomText. In coding not so much because I think you remember from the FSOpenLine where I would ask you about IntelliJ, which had support for screen readers, sort of, but it was kind of patchy. So with IntelliJ I could, I think, especially in the beginning, do more with ZoomText, and faster than with JAWS. But actually I managed to narrow that gap as time went along. But especially reading stuff, going through my email, using Chrome or other browsers, using stuff like that, I was much, much faster with JAWS.
GLEN: It seems like your adaptation to being totally blind came really fast. Is that wrong?
MOHAMMED: No, that was not wrong. I am a fairly – I found out, because I didn’t know this about myself, but I’m a fairly adaptive person. I change my ways relatively quickly. I don’t tend to get stuck in the past. Now, these are all things I kind of sort of knew about myself, but that really became clear when I lost my vision. And I was really happy about that. I was really happy that I could adapt so quickly and so easily. The only way I knew how to deal with this was to take charge of it and to try to adapt to it as best as I could.
GLEN: Let’s go back to JAWS a little bit. So as you began to know it better, are there things about JAWS that you came to realize really could speed up your workflow, things that sharing might help other people in similar positions?
MOHAMMED: Yes. So there are a lot of things in JAWS that can really help you. A couple of months ago you had this guy on the FSCast that talked about like how you can learn to increase the speech rate in JAWS, which, I mean, when you use magnification, you cannot choose how quickly you read because you have to see the letters. And if you can’t see well, I mean, there is only so fast you can read. But with JAWS you can increase and increase and increase and get used to faster reading. And so that helps. That helps a lot. That helps in efficiency. That helps in how quickly you can get information and stuff like that. I really love the sound capabilities.
So what I did in my first job as a coder was I would get certain symbols and swap them for sounds in JAWS. Things that take a long time to say, but that don’t say much? And the thing that comes to mind is for example a comment, which is //. And if you think about it, that takes really long to say, just to know that there is a comment coming. So if you can say, hey, JAWS, if you encounter //, please play this little beep sound, that goes by really fast. You know that when you hear the beep, you’re in a comment. And that can also, I mean, it’s not much for one comment. But if you hear those comments all the time, it really helps.
GLEN: I’m smiling because, I mean, I’ve been using JAWS for lots longer than you have, and I still use a lot of stuff in its default configuration. By means of saying, yes, I typically hear “slash slash” and “heading one.” And yes, I realize that what you’re saying makes perfect sense. But I’ve not configured it for myself. And I’m sure I’m not alone.
MOHAMMED: No, you’re not alone. In fact, fun fact, I did that in my previous job. I have not gotten around to do it in Visual Studio for my current job. And I will configure it at some point for myself as well because it was really helpful.
GLEN: What was your response when we came to you saying, “Would you like to consider working for us on JAWS?”
MOHAMMED: I mean, I was pretty happy that you asked. I think that that was telling that you liked my ideas. Because of course in the FSOpenLine you’ve got a lot of people. A lot of them have very good ideas. And if I’ve impressed you enough to make you say that you would like me to work for Freedom Scientific, then, I mean, something must be good already; right? So I was pretty happy at that point. And when I talked to the rest of the team, I still felt like this is something that I would probably enjoy doing. And so I started seriously considering going to the U.S. at that point.
GLEN: I kept thinking, oh, yeah, this might work out until we sort of decided as a group it would be good for you to spend some time in the U.S. And I said, he’s not going to pick up everything and move to the U.S. for close to a year. But I was wrong. How hard was that decision?
MOHAMMED: It was a very easy decision, for me at least. Because, I mean, talk about a challenge; right? Just picking up and moving on your own to a new country? I mean, why wouldn’t you try that? At least that’s what I thought. There were people here in my family who were significantly less enthusiastic, but really happy for me. I wanted to see if I could do it. I think that was the biggest thing. And so I tried.
GLEN: And, I mean, your timing was perfect here. You came, what, mid-January?
MOHAMMED: No, so I came early January. I started working at the office. A colleague of ours, Karl, was nice enough to let me stay with him for a little while, whilst I was looking for a home. And when I found a home, I actually had my dad fly over to help me get used to the new environment. And he stayed for six weeks, and after that I was on my own. But of course when he left we got the lockdown, and I stayed at home for a very long time.
I learned to cook. I was a passable cook at the end. So I think that’s a positive thing that I can take away from it. And I know now that if I should go to a new country again, I could probably do it. I have the skills for it. So yeah, I think I’m happy I did that. But I also think I’m happy right now to be back in The Netherlands because I wasn’t doing much in the U.S. other than staying home and cooking and working from home.
GLEN: Do you have any interesting learning-to-cook stories? Did you set off the smoke alarm?
MOHAMMED: I don’t think I did that. I did, however, once forget that I had screwed the top off of a jar of spices, and I think my pasta was not edible after that. So for cooking at least you really need to plan out your moves because you can’t quickly do things. You can’t say, oh, well, I need a dash of this spice, so let me go get it and put it in because of course you don’t know what the spice is, so you have to have it ready and know where it is precisely so you know, okay, now I need a little bit of paprika, let me add that. Right?
GLEN: And did you do all of that by smell?
MOHAMMED: A lot of it by smell. I also video called with my parents and my sister a lot. And so they helped me organize my stuff before I got started. And they sometimes watched with me while I was cooking and helped me get my things in order. But I learned to make some very interesting dishes that way.
GLEN: So your first feature that you worked on for JAWS got quite a bit of really positive notoriety. I think we called it originally the Silence Player.
MOHAMMED: We tried to give it a more descriptive name. So it’s the Avoid Speech Cutoff When Using Bluetooth Headphones feature. Which is quite a mouthful, but at least it tells you what it does. And yeah, I mean, people were really happy with it. I heard Jonathan Mosen was pretty happy with that. So I was pretty happy to hear that.
GLEN: I know one of the things that people pointed out to us once this feature shipped was that it works great, but it didn’t work well with audio ducking.
MOHAMMED: Yes. So one of the things, like the way the audio ducking works in Windows is we basically tell Windows as JAWS, hey, we’re JAWS, and we’re an accessibility program, and we’d like you to duck the audio when we’re generating sound so that people can hear us. Of course, when we generate silence, it is technically a sound. We tell Windows, hey, we are generating sound. And so when we try to do that as JAWS, Windows thinks, hey, JAWS is making sound. Let me duck the audio. And so now the audio is ducked all the time. And we don’t want that.
So what we are going to do is we are going to move this silence playing, basically, the sound generation, into its own little process. And we’ll start that from JAWS. And now this EXE, this new process is actually generating the sound. So now Windows does not recognize that as an accessibility program, and it will no longer duck the audio.
GLEN: What are you looking forward to in terms of how you can influence JAWS over the next year or two?
MOHAMMED: I have an area where I think some of my biggest pet peeves were when I was still only a user of JAWS. One of them was specifically with the application I was using, which we talked about in the FSOpenLine, which is IntelliJ. That pet peeve is still there, but I don’t feel it as acutely anymore because I don’t use that program anymore.
GLEN: They’ve also made improvements, thanks to you; right?
GLEN: And you donated some patches back.
MOHAMMED: Absolutely. I contributed to that source code, which was pretty cool. And the other one is localization and the way we deal with bilingual users. And bilingual users don’t always get the best experience with JAWS, especially when applications and JAWS language do not match. And I would really like to improve that. And since I’ve come onboard here, there are other ideas that I think are really good and that I would like to work on and improve. I unfortunately cannot share anything right now, but we are going to try to improve our speech and sound system and make it much, much more accessible to every user and not necessarily just the user who likes to tinker with settings and files and stuff like that. So stay tuned for that. That’s coming. Not necessarily soon, but we are definitely going to work on that. It’s one of the biggest things on my list.
GLEN: That sounds great. I really am glad that you’ve both joined us at the company and, secondarily, joined us on the podcast. You’re just a young, refreshing voice in this industry of many veterans. But it’s nice to see that new people are coming up through the ranks.
MOHAMMED: Absolutely. And I’m happy to make my impact, and I hope I will make my impact for many years to come and improve JAWS a lot. And I’m curious to see where we take the product in the next couple of years.
GLEN: Thanks again, Mohammed.
MOHAMMED: Thank you very much, Glen.
GLEN: And that, my friends, wraps it up and puts a nice bow on the package for FSCast for 2020. I’m Glen Gordon. Thanks so much for joining us this year. Looking forward to spending time with you again in 2021. Have a nice holiday season.