Monthly Archives: September 2011

Getting Gmail working well with speech commands

By Kimberly Patch

If you haven’t used speech commands to control a computer, it might not be obvious that single character commands, for instance “y” to archive a message in Gmail, can present a challenge.

Single-character commands seem like a great idea, especially for Web programs, because your Web browser already takes up some common keyboard shortcuts. Gmail has a lot of single-character commands, and once you get to know them you can fly along using the keyboard. In general I’m all for more keyboard shortcuts because it’s easy to enable them using speech.

Command conundrum

Single-character commands that can’t be changed, however, can get speech users in a lot of trouble. Say a command or make a noise that’s misheard as text in a program that doesn’t use single-character shortcuts and either nothing happens or you get some stray text you can easily undo. Do the same thing in a single-character-command program and you can cause many actions to happen at once.

A stray “Kelly” in your Gmail inbox, for instance, will move the cursor up one message (single-character command “k”) and archive it (single-character command “y”). “Bruno” causes even more damage.

Turn off the keyboard shortcuts, though, and the program becomes fairly inaccessible for speech users. We need the shortcuts, and we can combine multiple keystrokes into single utterances to make things even better. It’s having little control over them that presents a problem.

Speech-safe single character shortcuts

Google Labs has a nifty extension that presents a simple fix. It lets you change the characters you use for keyboard shortcuts, including using two characters rather than one. Add a plus sign (+) to the beginning of every shortcut and they all become speech-safe.

Here are step-by-step instructions.
– go to your Gmail account, click the settings gear icon at the top right of the screen
– click “Labs”
– search for the “Custom Keyboard Shortcuts” extension and click to download. This will add a ”Keyboard Shortcuts” tab to your Gmail settings
– now, click the settings gear icon at the top right of the screen
– click Keyboard Shortcuts
– add “+“ to the beginning of every command

If you’re using Utter Command 2.0 you’re now all set. Say “Plus” and any one- or two-character command. Say, for instance “Plus j” or “Plus Juliet” to move down one item. You can also say a command multiple times in a single utterance. Say “Plus j Repeat 5” to move down five items, for instance. And you can combine two commands: “Plus j Plus y” moves down one item, then archives that item (say “Question Mark” to call up the keyboard shortcuts list.)

Raising the bar

The Google Labs add-on enables Gmail for speech users, but there are many other programs out there that use single-character shortcuts, including other Google programs, and other Web-based programs like Twitter. Message for Google: How about one facility that would let us control keyboard shortcuts across Google programs?

It would also improve things if we could have a larger number of characters available for a given character shortcut, the ability to also control control-key shortcuts, the ability to save and share different sets, and the ability to apply at least some shortcuts across applications

Important Note: If you were a beta tester or received the Utter Command 2.0 pre-release, you might not have the “Plus” set of commands. If this is the case, send e-mail to “Info” at this web address, and we’ll make sure you have the release version. The release version shows 15 new sets of commands on the “New commands for 2.0” list you can open from the Taskbar icon menu.

Tips, tricks, productivity, accessibility, usability and all things speech recognition.

Good signs around Google accessibility

By Kimberly Patch

It looks like Google is stepping up its accessibility effort and resources.

– Google accessibility page:

– Google Accessibility Twitter account:
@gooogleaccess Google Accessibility

– Accessibility Google Group

Here’s a tweet about accessibility in Google+:!/googleaccess/status/86442474523992065
“We considered accessibility of Google+ from day 1. Find something we missed? Press Send Feedback link & let us know.”

I do think there’s a lot missing.

For starters, Google+ is quite short on keyboard shortcuts (the Google Manager addon addresses this in part). It’s also short on basic keyboard navigation — in a perfect world, the down/up arrows and enter key should allow you to navigate anything that looks like a list or a menu.

Asking for feedback like this is a very good sign, however. One thing I’ve use the Send Feedback link to point out is once you get past a dozen circles or so it’s important to have a list view unless you’re willing and able do a lot of unnecessary scrolling.

Here’s a recent Google blog post about accessibility in Docs, Sites, and Calendar that talks about additional keyboard shortcuts:

Some Google applications are gaining more keyboard shortcuts. You still can’t use down/up arrows on everything that looks like a list or a menu, however.

The bottom line is there are some channels open and some good intentions. This is great. Now let’s hold them to it, and keep the keyboard shortcuts coming.

My #1 request as a speech user is the ability to adjust, organize and share keyboard shortcuts across apps. An adjust-your-shortcuts facility that works across apps would not only be good for many different types of users, it would address a special problem of speech users and the type of keyboard shortcuts that web apps tend to use. More on that issue next.

Change People’s Lives

By Kimberly Patch

If you’re anywhere near Boston this week, make sure to check out the Change People’s Lives Conference and Expo this Friday, September 23 at the Hynes Convention Center. The event is hosted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Governor Deval Patrick will be giving the keynote address. Event collaborators include The Institute for Human Centered Design, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, Work without Limits, and Easter Seals.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking maker Nuance is exhibiting, and Peter Mahoney, Senior Vice President & General Manager of the Dragon Business Unit, is scheduled to give a talk. Information about Utter Command will also be available at the Nuance booth.

The expo is free. It costs $75 to attend the conference sessions. Registration details are here:

Making filling out forms fast and easy

By Kimberly Patch

Here’s a simple way to make filling out forms in Firefox easier.

If you find yourself frequently putting the same old information — name, address etc. in a Web form, this will save you a lot of time, and it’s probably worth the time to set up even if you fill out forms just a few times a year (speech instructions are for Dragon plus Utter Command):

– Click on this link to download the Autofill Forms extension:
– In Firefox say “Under Tango Alpha” to Click Tools/Add-ons
– “Shift Tab”, and if necessary “1-10 Down” to Navigate to Autofill Forms
– “2 Tab · Enter” to Click “Options”
– “2 Tab” to Navigate to the first field
– Fill in all applicable fields
– “Enter” to save your information

Now anytime you find yourself in a form field say “Under Juliet” and applicable fields will automatically fill in.

That was the quick easy setup. If you want to change the keyboard shortcut or set several different profiles, take a look at the options. There’s a lot you can do with this add-on.

Feel free to +Kim Patch if you want me to add you to my Utter Command Circle on Google+