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BibleWorks 10, 9, 8

Review concerning Accessibility for Blind Users

Ray McAllister

June 2015

For the last few weeks I have been evaluating BibleWorks Version 10 concerning its accessibility for the blind.  In recent years I evaluated BibleWorks 8 and 9, and since the versions are somewhat similar, this review is written to concern them all, with special emphasis, though, on BibleWorks 10 and its unique features.  I am blind myself and hold a PhD in religion, Hebrew Bible major.  I can, then, offer well-considered information concerning this software. The following paragraphs concern such.

It must first be noted that I use the screen reader, WindowEyes which is not the only screen reader on the market.  Nonetheless, problems faced by one screen reader are often faced by others.  The things that work well with one often work with others.

My evaluation is in three main parts.  First, BibleWorks (BW) for short, is evaluated concerning general matters.  This includes installation issues as well as general use concerns.  Then, BW is evaluated with reference to its accessibility for a lay audience.  Finally, issues more relevant to blind scholars and clergy are considered. In general, I found BW extremely accessible with some minor issues, most of which can be resolved with little or no software revision.

General Analysis

Installation was fairly easy.  My wife had to help me some, but she has had to help me install many programs.  I had found it amusing, though, that once I installed BW 8, some time ago, one of the first utilities available was the electronic user's manual, explaining how to install the program.  Sighted people would just look at the print manual as my wife did for counsel during installation.  For BW 9 and 10, the company sent me information by E-mail, complete with instructions on how to upgrade from the previous version.  The install of versions 9 and 10 were a lot smoother.  I only needed my wife to type in the serial number for BW 9 and 10.  I'd recommend, then, simply, offering to e-mail to a blind purchaser, installation information, or, even, the first few chapters.  If the serial number could be sent by e-mail when a phone purchase is done, that would be helpful, too, since I had to have my wife read that.  But, these are really quite minor issues in the long run, since people usually only install programs once, maybe twice if there is a computer failure.

The software works excellently with screen readers.  I actually felt, for a time, like a child exploring a new, very large house.  There were so many exciting things to explore and discover, like new rooms in a mansion.

In BW there are many keyboard shortcuts and logical menu arrangements whose headings read easily with text-to-speech software.  The command line search is especially helpful.  Yes, I have to memorize a list of search commands, but the blind are accustomed to memorizing entire walking routes through cities.  It's a lot easier just learning where to put a period or apostrophe in a search command than to try to navigate graphical search systems.  Since the commands can be revised and edited, one may start with a simple search and build.      Passages read very well in the browse window, sometimes almost as well as in a regular word processor. 

One of the most useful features is the option to export text, entire Bibles even, into other formats.  Sighted people take for granted the ability to just pick up a book and read it.  The blind, though, must find books in accessible formats. Bibles, like the entire NASB, or the entire Greek New Testament can be exported into a number of formats, such discussed later.  This means that one can move these files onto smaller, more portable computers for reading in other environments, or, so they can be browsed easier with Braille displays. 

I’d also like to note that the manual in the program is highly accessible, readable by just moving the cursor around with the arrow keys.  There’s even a section in the manual set aside specifically for shortcuts.  This means that one must just spend a little time in the manual to learn what is needed.  The commentaries, dictionaries, grammars,  and other such resources are also easy to navigate and read with screen readers. 

Lay Use Analysis

BW is very accessible to those using it for lay purposes.  Strong's numbers are easy to access and search by, with however complicated a search method is needed. Parallel Bibles in a number of modern languages, many English, can be displayed, and with the touch of a key, one can advance from one verse to the next.  Using the Resource Window, words can even be looked up, and the original language roots are spelled out in pronounceable Roman letters that screen readers can, at least, make an educated guess at how to say.  I was even able to copy to the clip board Bibles in Asian languages I don't know so I could print verses for Asian foreigners to read during a small worship service. 

Obviously the maps are not accessible, and I have no idea how one would make them such on a computer.  I would not expect such to be accessible.  I was able to locate them and read the informative text about the geography and history, though, so I could direct a sighted person to them.  So I will not hold this against anyone.

Scholarly Use Analysis

BW is highly accessible for scholarly use, though I wouldn't quite say perfectly accessible.  Most of the problems, though, can  be worked around without great trouble.

One tool that works really well for scholars is the command line search.  I can build and edit searches easily, once I know the instructions, which are clearly listed and accessible in the manual.  There is even an Aramaic grammar with Unicode characters used for the Aramaic.  Unicode is recognized by WindowEyes Versions 7 and above, and I hear JAWS screen reader can work with this format.

The main problems center around the original language texts.  BW does not use Unicode for these on the main browse window.  I'm not sure the technical term, but it appears a form of re-assigned ascii characters is used, consistent with the BW fonts for word processors.  A is alef or alpha, B is bet or beta, e is tzere or epsilon. Since symbols are stacked, overtyped, as an alef with a petach, they don't always show up well on screen readers.  What seems to happen is that the screen reader reads the Hebrew as unpointed and the Greek as unaccented.  A screen reader doesn't actually read the Greek and Hebrew, but the Roman type-in character for the font.  It is best, then, if blind, and planning to read off the screen, to just use the keyboard commands to hide vowels, accents, and breathers.

This is not totally damning, though, for BW, in fact, hardly damning at all. There are many ways to work around this.  First, it must be noted that Greek and Hebrew were originally written without those over-typed marks.  It is possible with some experience and a basic knowledge of the English of a verse (which parallel Bible browse mode gives) to figure out what the words should be.  Hebrew, of course, must be read right to left, letter by letter, but WindowEyes allows the mouse pointer to do that well whenever the cursor keys don't work perfectly.

One may also get digital Braille Hebrew and Greek Bible files from various online charities that help the blind.  These files may be read with a Braille display in a separate window, and then one may jump into BW briefly, and use the screen reader to search the screen for the right unaccented form.  I've done searches this way, and it works quite well.

BW also allows material to be exported in other accessible formats.  One can use the pop-up copy window to choose, by typing in, verses or chapters to place on the clip board.  When these verses are pasted, they appear in Unicode.  These verses could be pasted into MS Word, converted to Braille code through Duxbury Systems, or moved into any other useful program.  Then, one can follow along in whatever format desired. 

One may also use the export option from the Tools menu to export whole verses, passages, or entire Bibles into a rather obscure but highly useful format known as CCAT.  The Center for Computer Analysis of Texts, (CCAT, for short) has used this ascii-based system for encoding Biblical language materials since the old glory days of Dos.  The schemes used are slightly different and slightly less space efficient than Braille systems, but the letters easily show up on Braille displays set to read computer Braille.  Morphology files even export with the original language material transliterated but the English coding unchanged.  This is extremely handy.  What most blind people would find better than this, even, is the fact that in BW 10, passages exported to text format end up in Unicode.  One can export an entire Greek or Hebrew Bible in full Unicode and process it as needed. 

Before I recently started learning Syriac, I'd never even thought of looking for the Syriac New Testament in an accessible format.  I have taken Hebrew and Aramaic, and with the PHA Peshitta file which has Hebrew letters with accents, I can pronounce the material fairly well.

In BW 8 The small window that shows parsing right under the cursor does not seem to show up on screen readers.  But this is no problem.  One need only open the resource window with a couple quick key strokes, and it's all right there.  One may then use the mouse or cursor to choose what word one wishes to look up. 

The Analysis Window, as expressed in version 9 and 10, where parsing and lexical entries for original language words show up beneath the text is quite handy.  The cross-reference listing and note taking features in the analysis window are helpful and accessible also.  The trouble is that I had difficulty accessing the controls to change what shows up in this window, and, thus, use these other options.  WindowEyes has a hot-key, ctrl-shift-b, known as the “boundary rotor” key, which changes the size of the area on the screen to be considered.  Apparently, the control I needed was outside the default usable screen boundary for WindowEyes.  The hot-key didn’t work because bW uses that hot-key for copying text to the clip board, and this BW hot key is so enforced that it overrides any other program’s use of it, even in a different window. (Usually WindowEyes has override power and must be temporarily held back.)  When all was said and done, I had to redefine the WindowEyes hot-key as something else, ctrl-alt-b, and then I could search the “full screen” and find the controls to change what the Analysis window shows.  It works fine, now.  I might suggest BW not make that ctrl-shift-b hot-key so universally binding and dominating, if possible. 

Some additional comments on original language resources must be considered.  Lexicon entries may either be read by decoding the ascii type-in code or by copying and pasting them into MS Word and reading the Unicode letters.  It's really not too impractical learning the type-in codes for Greek and Hebrew since any time one would search for a word, it's those letters that would be used.  The grammars don't seem to convert to Unicode when copying them to MS Word. The Aramaic grammar is already in Unicode, but the other ones just need to be read by decoding the type-in schemes.  It's actually not that difficult to do that.

This is where I would make some suggestions.  First, and this one is the easy suggestion, make the charts for the font codes more accessible.  The keyboard layout charts are very difficult for screen readers to figure out.  I basically figured out the system by copying Genesis and Matthew into Text format, not CCAT, and compared between CCAT documents I had to determine which letters to use.  Since segol is a different symbol depending on which letter it points, I had to develop exception clauses to allow for that.  Usually it is gimmel, waw, zain, yod, and non, that need the alternate vowel symbols for typing.  The GUZIN, letters, as I call them.  It would be good if there were a simple chart, as appears in brief below, explaining this.  Such could just be e-mailed to blind users. Hebrew.

a  alef

A  holem waw

b  Bet

B  Bet with dagesh

...

;  petach

:  petach on GWZYN letters.

Etc.

Greek would be written out the same way.  One needs just a simple chart like that without all the fancy visual displays.

After mentioning this to BW, they said they’re willing to provide such a table which I have set up.  One may ask BW for such.  

BW also has macros one can install on MS Word 2003 which convert BW Greek and Hebrew font into Unicode.  The instructions for how to access these should be made available to the blind along with the font code charts so the blind can convert BW text into more screen-reader-friendly characters.

In addition, BW does need to finish going Unicode to achieve absolute accessibility. I can tell that BW is moving in the right direction, but BW needs to have versions of the Greek and Hebrew, with all tags for morphology and lexical work, available in Unicode.  This way, the newer screen readers would be more equipped to read the text. 

I did check the graphical search engine, and I don't see it working well with screen readers, but, as with the maps, I wouldn't expect that it would.  The command line offers enough power for my needs.  As long as the command line is present, I'm satisfied.

I also am impressed with all the audio files that come with BW.  You can access them in the program itself or in the program’s folder on the computer’s hard drive.  One can listen, for example, to  people reading the Greek New Testament or pronouncing Hebrew vocabulary words.  The audio paradigms are especially helpful.  One can listen to someone pronouncing various forms of Greek or Hebrew words.  One can even choose between Erasmian and Modern Greek for the pronunciation scheme of Greek word forms.  One never knows who will be reading from the Greek in any given situation.  The Hebrew word forms are only presented with Sephardic pronunciations, which is the dominant system in the world.  I’d encourage BW to offer Ashkanazi pronunciation also so people could be familiar with how some more “old-school” Jews read Hebrew.  This is especially important for the blind who may not always have the benefit of a printed text in front of them and so must rely on hearing. 

Conclusion

I’ve checked out a number of Bible software systems on the market like Logos and Accordance.  I find BibleWorks, even with the limitations, the most accessible, especially for deep scholarly research like Greek and Hebrew word studies.  What one must ask then is if BW 10 is worth the $389 or so for purchase.  I would say, definitely, yes.  I paid $210 for a less sophisticated Bible program in Dos in the 1990s that didn't do a fifth of what BW does and didn't have a fifth of the materials BW has.  It may or may not be worth it for a blind person to spend the $200 or so to upgrade from versions 8 or 9 unless he/she plans to make heavy use of the Greek manuscripts or the lexical work in the Hebrew morphology spaces.  The Unicode text export option in Version 10, though, is quite handy and may just make this version worth the upgrade costs. 

Whatever one chooses, BW is a good product.  The changes I recommend, I only recommend because BW is already so accessible.  If the main menus didn't work well, I wouldn't bother suggesting improving Greek and Hebrew displays. So, I think I can give BW 2 thumbs up, and say to just keep up the good work.  Don't get rid of the already accessible attributes like keyboard short cuts and the command line, and, especially the export with Unicode option.  God will continue to bless this ministry as He has in the past.

Ray McAllister has a Ph.D. in religion and was a Hebrew Bible major.

 

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