On October 25, 2012, I attended a meeting at Avid in Daly City to discuss the current issues we face with Pro Tools accessibility. There were several people in attendance and I was encouraged by that fact. It's always been clear that the intention of the folks at Avid, at least the people involved with Pro Tools, has been that accessibility through VoiceOver is something they support. One of the problems has been the integration of that work into Avid's programming and UI design. While the original work was done under the auspices of a few key people, it was never really made "official."
As we discussed the current issues, Rich Holmes, who is now in charge of Pro Tools, suggested that the concept of accessing Pro Tools through VoiceOver is not really different than accessing it in another language. He pointed out that there was a push for international language support in Pro Tools 10 and that, if it could be made official from the top management at Avid, it would be easier to incorporate the work into UI design and in-house testing. I agreed that this would be the best case scenario and that I would write a letter to Gary Greenfield, CEO of Avid. Rich agreed to do the same and I left the meeting with a clear goal in mind.
I sent a letter to Gary Greenfield and within a few days I received a positive response. Mr. Greenfield recognized Rich Holmes' commitment to making Pro Tools accessible and encouraged us to continue working with the team. This news, coming right before the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, I'm sure, gave many people something a little extra for which to be thankful this year and I mentioned something to that effect in my response to Gary.
I'm looking forward to continuing the work along with the wonderful team at Avid. It's been a pleasure getting to know them and they truly are a talented and dedicated group of people. As always, I'll post updates here and, of course, there's the PTAccess list at Google Groups for discussions on all topics related to Pro Tools and accessibility.
Since the initial work regarding accessibility of Pro Tools was completed almost 2 years ago, much has changed at Digidesign. Well, for one, they're now known as Avid. The introduction of Pro Tools 9 saw the untethering of Digidesign hardware so users could operate Pro Tools with virtually any interface—even Core Audio. Amid the exciting changes, however, there have been some changes that have deferred much of the accessibility work that still remains. David Gibbons, who took a personal interest in the issue of Pro Tools accessibility, has left the company. Before having left, he passed that baton to Bobby Lombardi who was also involved in our earlier meetings.
Through the many corporate changes that Avid has been going through over the past two years, we've stayed in touch with Bobby, although there haven't been any accessibility changes as of yet. We're starting to see areas where we might potentially have issues with new code and access to certain areas of Pro Tools. I've alerted Bobby to this and we've scheduled a meeting for late October in Daly City to discuss our concerns. We've seen Pro Tools go from version 8 to 10 without major changes to accessibility. That's both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because we're seeing that, once something is made accessible, that doesn't automatically break with each incremental version release, even across major releases. It's bad in the sense that, as completely new windows and controls are created, the small amounts of coding needed to classify windows and controls, if not done at the outset, end up falling by the wayside. Of course, if these bits of coding are left untouched for a year or two, accessibility begins to suffer.
Fortunately, the amount of work necessary to correct such issues is not insurmountable. With resources at avid stretched as they have been, it's understandable how things have gotten to this point. Hopefully, we'll be able to pick up where we left off and proceed to make the necessary changes and get back on track.
It seems that the fruits of many people's labor are finally beginning to show. After years of interfacing with Digidesign, now known as Avid Technologies, we're seeing the results of our efforts to gain access to Pro Tools. Changes to the code base of Pro Tools that make it easier to navigate the user interface with VoiceOver in OS X were implemented in version 8.0.4. In early June, the HD version was released with the LE and M-Powered versions to follow soon.
While there was a great amount of work done to help make Pro Tools useable with VoiceOver, it is by no means a completed project but rather a work in progress. While major aspects of the application are accessible, there remains some areas that will need to be addressed in future versions. We always knew that the issue of accessibility to Pro Tools would need a long-term solution. We hope to see improvements to be rolled out over several releases in the coming years.
Although Avid Technologies has made changes to Pro Tools to specifically work better with VoiceOver, it has no plans to announce it as an official feature, per se. Regarding it as a feature would imply thorough testing and full customer support from the perspective of usability with VoiceOver. Naturally, one wouldn't expect Avid to troubleshoot issues regarding accessibility and the use of a screen reader. Essentially, what Avid has done is they've begun to label UI elements according to Apple's programming guidelines. The rest of the user experience has more to do with how VoiceOver works and best practices as blind users of the operating system and application software.
Again, since this project is still a work in progress, it's still somewhat experimental as we discover what works and what doesn't. Although Pro Tools is not yet 100% accessible in all of it's areas, I'm glad that the work done thus far was included in the 8.0.4 release. It will allow blind users to begin learning the Pro Tools environment and workflow with plenty of features to explore and master. In the mean time, Avid is aware of the PTAccess email list at GoogleGroups.com and will direct any inquiries from blind users to the growing community of users in the group. Any issues of accessibility can be discussed there and any bugs or feature requests will be aggregated for future submission to Avid.
I'll continue to post any major updates here but for the latest information go to
At the end of August, I received an email message from David Gibbons, vice-president of product marketing at Digidesign, informing me that they were about to hire a software engineer who would specifically work on issues of accessibility in Pro Tools. This person would focus on VoiceOver compatibility for approximately six weeks before other duties would take priority. Although we had supplied Digidesign with a sort of "top 10" priority list, we agreed that it would be quite helpful if someone could give Pro Tools a test run once some of the work had been implemented.
The engineer, Xiang Cao, accomplished a great deal in his first week of working on the Pro Tools user interface. He and I exchanged a few email messages discussing specific questions about common practices both for VoiceOver and blind Pro Tools users. I planned a trip to Daly City, California, to visit with Xiang and to spend several hours trying out the newly accessible interface. Also, it was a good opportunity to plan a meeting with some other key people at Digidesign who either already supported this project or were interested in learning more about the issue of Pro Tools accessibility.
On Monday, September 28, I finally got a chance to meet Xiang in person at Digidesign's headquarters. We sat down in his office and settled in for an in-depth evaluation of his work thus far. He launched VoiceOver and then launched Pro Tools and proceeded to navigate the application's interface while VoiceOver provided feedback about selected tools, edit modes, counter positions, meter values, etc. It was truly an extraordinary and overwhelming experience to finally have access to items that were, in previous versions, completely inaccessible to blind users.
We spent over three hours going through a plethora of UI elements within numerous windows and dialogs, discussing priorities, evaluating the user experience and planning for future work. It was always clear that, given Pro Tools' complexity, this was going to be a long-term project and that accessibility improvements would need to be rolled out over several software releases, but I hadn't expected to see so much progress at this point. I was truly impressed with how much Xiang was able to accomplish over the past couple of weeks, especially having never dealt with accessibility features of VoiceOver before. He informed me that Apple's documentation was extremely comprehensive and very straightforward.
That afternoon, we took a break for a scheduled meeting with other key people at Digidesign. I shared with them some background information about Rick Boggs' successes with Pro Tools accessibility in the mid '90s and how the move to OS X broke the accessibility that blind users had under OS 9 with the outSPOKEN screen reader.
After a few questions and answers, we gathered in Xiang's office for a brief demonstration of the work done thus far. Xiang was able to effectively demonstrate how VoiceOver was able to identify controls and their various states, manipulate their functions, navigate the interface and interact with many areas of the application. It gave everybody a better understanding of how a blind user could access the very same controls that a sighted user would use without the need for an alternative interface or any extra software.
After our brief demonstration, Xiang and I continued to identify areas that still needed work and we made a new list of priorities for the completion of this phase of the project. I left Digidesign at the end of the day feeling both exhilarated and exhausted, as if I had been on an emotional roller coaster, experiencing rushes of excitement in between moments of concern over certain challenges. More than anything, I felt very optimistic about the achievements thus far and Digidesign's commitment to future improvements to Pro Tools accessibility. Personally, as a longtime Pro Tools user, finally seeing tangible results after years of planning, meeting and discussing the issues was very encouraging.
That evening, I had dinner in San Francisco with Xiang and David Gibbons, who has taken a personal interest in this project. When we met for the first time several years ago, I could tell that David recognized the complexity of making Pro Tools accessible to blind users but I do believe that he also recognized its importance. Over dinner, we discussed our next steps and made plans for the coming weeks. I asked if I could share the news and update this website to reflect the latest developments. He encouraged me to share whatever information would be helpful and gave me permission to disclose any information I wanted.
In the near future, I'll be a guest on the Maccessibility Podcast to speak in greater detail about some of the issues we encountered and the problems we've had to solve in the process. For now, I would say that it's probable that an upcoming release of Pro Tools by the early part of next year will include a user interface accessible through VoiceOver with enhancements to be rolled out over several software versions in the future. More details will be available at this website as things develop. For more information or if you have specific questions, feel free to contact me at s l a u [ at ] m i n d s p r i n g [ dot ] c o m
We had an opportunity to meet with David Gibbons of Digidesign at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim. He described the current status regarding the work to make Pro Tools accessible. Several users are now putting together a list of top priorities to help focus the efforts and resources most efficiently. Here's David's response below:
From David Gibbons:
We have continued to develop the infrastructure of the Pro Tools application along the lines I described in my last note. In December 2008, we shipped Pro Tools 8.0, and it featured a completely redesigned graphical user interface. The new interface provided a cleaner and more modern aesthetic appearance, and simultaneously updated most of the code which we use to create graphics and draw them under Mac OS X. This work went well, and we are now in a position to embed annotations into the code which utilities like VoiceOver can use to identify the part of the interface which the user is addressing.
We will look at our upcoming development schedule to see how we can manage to accomplish this work. Due to the large number of graphical objects within Pro Tools, we are likely to take a piecemeal approach and add these annotations over the course of several releases. We intend to continue the dialog with Slau Halatyn to hear on behalf of the blind community where our priorities should lie: by creating a priority list which nominates the most important dialog boxes for attention, we'll try to ensure that we address the most impactful areas in order.
We appreciate everyone's perseverance as we work through this process, and look forward to progress.
Vice President, Product Management, Digidesign
Since publishing the statement from Digidesign in Spring of 2007, we have received numerous requests for further information concerning the future accessibility of Pro Tools for visually impaired Macintosh users. In keeping our commitment to pursue this matter to its final conclusion, we have maintained regular communication with the appropriate representatives at Digidesign. Those of us who participated in achieving accessibility for Pro Tools in the early 1990s offer a reminder that the process for that achievement began years before its successful conclusion in 1995. While we assert that access to Pro Tools for blind producers is vital and must be achieved in the shortest time possible, we do recognize that sufficient development time to address technical issues must be expected. The most current news from Digidesign posted below does not offer immediate accessibility for Pro Tools. However, it does confirm Digidesign's commitment to resolving technical barriers that currently prevent accessibility via the VoiceOver screen reader aspect of the Apple operating system. We remain confident that when accessibility is finally achieved, it will be a lasting solution.
From David Gibbons:
We have concluded our research on how to change to technical underpinnings of the way Pro Tools draws graphical objects that I described in my email below, and are at work on migrating to a new graphical architecture. Due to the size and complexity of the application, we expect this architectural change to take most of the year. This change provides a foundation which will allow some future version of Pro Tools to have screen reader capability under OS X, but as I explain below, a second process will be required to ensure that each graphical object identifies itself correctly to the operating system. It's most likely that we'll have to do this second stage progressively over a period of a few years, meaning that screen reader support would gradually emerge over the span of several Pro Tools releases.
I appreciate that this slow pace is frustrating to a community that has few alternatives, and I personally am committed to helping ensure that people with limited vision can also share in the creative rewards that come from using our products. I hope that you will take heart from this message, and know that the wheels are turning to make this happen (even if they are turning slowly!)
Feel free to check in with me at any time for an update,
VP, Product Marketing, Digidesign
Thanks to all of the people who signed the petition as well as those who contacted us after the petition was closed. We've been very successful in communicating our request to Digidesign. In fact, Digidesign learned of the petition several weeks before we officially presented it and requested a meeting to be held at their headquarters in Daly City, California.
On October 6, 2006, Slau (also known as Jerry Halatyn) met with David Gibbons, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Digidesign and Wendy Abowd, Senior Product Manager for Pro Tools. This meeting offered a hands-on demonstration of the accessibility of earlier versions of Pro Tools under OS 9 with the outSPOKEN screen reader as well as a close look at the current state of accessibility with VoiceOver under OS X Tiger. It gave all parties an opportunity to learn more about some of the issues surrounding both VoiceOver and Pro Tools. It was the beginning of what we hope will be a fruitful collaboration with the Digidesign development team that will eventually lead to the accessibility of Pro Tools for Mac OS X.
Since that initial meeting, we've maintained our communication with Digidesign through e-mail and meetings at industry conferences. Since we've received many inquiries about the results of the petition, we've posted a written response to the petition from Digidesign below. If there are any developments, we'll post them here.
Dear Slau and Rick,
Thanks for all the time you've spent with us discussing the requirements for the blind community and the way you expect to work and interact with Pro Tools. As you know I've been having meetings over the last few months together with a few senior engineers and managers from our applications development team on the problem. They are aware of the history of this issue, and have close ties to the technical folks at Apple on all sorts of issues. They now understand better the exact capabilities which would make Pro Tools viable. They were also able to describe the mechanism which is currently preventing VoiceOver and OS X from "being aware" of the graphic objects with the Pro Tools user interface, and therefore allowing you to tab between them using the short-cut keys. Put briefly, due to the approach we originally took to creating graphical objects in the early days of Pro Tools (which we did to ensure cross-platform support, and for easier integration with the development tools available at the time,) we can't pass messages to the operating system which describe all those objects in the way VoiceOver needs. Apple's guidelines on this are helpful to development of entirely new applications, but don't help for apps like Pro Tools where thousands of graphical objects are already in existence.
Although this is very bad news, there is one other possibility we are exploring. One of the graphic services we depend on is an Apple operating system component called QuickDraw. This component is old and out of date now, and is even likely to be discontinued in some future 64-bit version of OS X. As a consequence, we are re-engineering some parts of our code which handle graphic objects to use newer operating system services. As we go through this transition (which we are right at the beginning of doing), we may have an opportunity to update the graphic objects to "identify themselves" to VoiceOver. We will be keeping this opportunity on the table as we work through the transition over the next year or so, but we won't know if it can produce the results we are looking for until we get a little deeper into the work. I can give you another update once they have "got their hands dirty" in the code, which I expect to be in late April or early May 2007.
I'm sorry that this is a long and somewhat technical note, and that there is not more positive news. I did want to make sure that you were aware of what we're up to though, and that results may be some time in coming. I'm still pleased that we are giving this issue visibility with the right people internally. Feel free to ping me for an update anytime.
- David Gibbons
Senior Director, Product Marketing, Digidesign
Blind audio engineers, visually-impaired consumers, advocates for accessible electronic products, and professional educators
The undersigned parties to this document hereby initiate a united effort to insure the future of professional opportunities for audio engineers, producers and students with visual impairments via the use of accessible Digidesign products. We, the undersigned parties, urge the leadership at Digidesign to commit to a course of action that will result in Pro Tools compatibility with the VoiceOver screen reader feature of the Apple Macintosh operating system. We request that Digidesign make an official commitment by December 1, 2006 concerning the company's intent to provide this reasonable accommodation.
In approximately 1994, Digidesign consulted with Berkley Systems Design, a third party developer of screen reader software for Apple Macintosh computers, and willingly adapted elements of the Pro Tools software resulting in accessibility for blind Pro Tools users. Since then, an international community of blind audio engineers has developed to share best practices and technical assistance information to support professional opportunities in the field. Dozens of blind producers and engineers have forged successful careers and businesses in the audio production field using Pro Tools. Digidesign made special arrangements through its sales channels to allow a particular retailer in North Hollywood, CA to sell Pro Tools systems to blind consumers who could then receive specialized installation and technical support not normally available through traditional sales channels. Upon the first release of Apple's OS X operating system, the third party screen reader software ceased to exist. With the release of the OS X Tiger operating system, Apple included the VoiceOver screen reader feature in the operating system itself, making it the most widely installed screen access software in the world. Full compliance by third party developers with Apple's developer guidelines results in accessible applications for blind consumers. Numerous requests have been made to Digidesign during the past two years, seeking an official commitment to insure that Pro Tools will become compatible with the VoiceOver screen reader feature of the Apple operating system. To date, Digidesign has made no response to these repeated requests.
The undersigned parties seek an official commitment by December 1, 2006 from Digidesign to insure Pro Tools compatibility with the VoiceOver feature of the Apple operating system. Efforts to spread awareness of this issue will continue until a resolution is reached. Once future Pro Tools accessibility is achieved, the undersigned parties will similarly publicize the availability and importance of the accessible version of the Pro Tools software.