Deafness-Related Issues for Windows 95

For related articles, click:

Microsoft sponsored conference

   TFA Special Report: Microsoft Accessibility Conference
                   Thursday, July 27, 1995

         Microsoft Accessibility Conference Report:
           Deafness-Related Issues for Windows 95

                    by Norman S. Williams
    Technology Assessment Program, Gallaudet University


Microsoft Corporation sponsored a conference for applications developers July 21-23 to review the accessibility features of Windows 95. I was fortunate to be able to attend this conference. I was the only deaf person there from outside Microsoft representing deaf issues, and thank Gallaudet's Grants Incentives Program for sponsoring my travel to this important meeting.

Microsoft wanted to receive input from the disabled community to improve the access features of its just-released Windows 95 operating system. Microsoft was especially interested to learn from accessibility developers how to achieve the best interface design between the Windows 95 operating system and the accessibility applications. They have logged complaints from disabled consumers. The suggestions may be included in the next accessibility updates that should occur quarterly. Microsoft also gave programming lectures with the audience to teach developers to write good accessibility software.

(Microsoft employees celebrated the release of Windows 95 while we were in the conference. Great news!)


  • Norman Williams, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC (discussed visual issues)
  • Cindy King, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC (discussed caption issues)
  • John Evans, Abilities, Seattle, Washington (business: General disabled area training and technical support)
  • Andrea J. Saks (discussed V.18 issues)
  • Betsy Bayha, World Institute on Disability (discussed issues of hard of hearing people)
  • Mike Bloomfield, Microsoft Corporation (represented Microsoft's deaf community)


The blind group was in the majority. They are very concerned that some blind computer users will be removed from their jobs when the Windows 95 environment must be adapted in the workplace. There is a lot of work to do in the blind area. The blind users will have to purchase third party accessibility software. Microsoft will provide the standard interface on the operating system (OS) level. An "engine" is needed to "talk" to the OS to acquire the screen information to be spoken to the blind user. Microsoft needed input before making the final interface.

Microsoft said that there is a company-wide policy to make new products accessible. They and the independent vendors showed interest to use OLE as the interface for accessibility. There were two days worth of technical discussion on programming, which will not be reviewed here.

There was a good discussion of a possible independent agency to grant an ACCESSIBLE logo to software products if all accessibility functions are met. For example, computer users with disabilities could look for the logo on multimedia CD-ROMs with faith that they would be captioned. (This was just discussed; there is no agency that does this at this time.)

Major new features can take as long as two years before they show up on the market.

Since there are deaf supports built in, it is not likely that deaf consumers will need to purchase separate accessibility software, other than a TTY program for V.18, if and when a V.18 modem comes out. There were few issues to be discussed. Most of the deaf issues are minor compared to the blind needs. However, Microsoft assured me that deaf issues will be looked at seriously.


Sound Sentry: It will flash in three different ways when a PC sound is produced. The three ways are: flash top bar of application program, flash entire application window, or flash entire screen. It also works for DOS programs whether it is windowed or in full screen mode.

Show Sounds: It provides a caption interface to Microsoft movie player using .AVI file formats. Since there is no demo file for the general public, this is still untested. The Windows 95 users will find this is just a switch, and they will not see any benefit for while. The switch will not be used by other movie players such as QuickTime, MPEG, etc. This is also for audio only file (.WAV). Kids Software Unit should have a product on the market next year with captions built in. The groups developing new versions of products like Microsoft Encarta are now aware of accessibility issues and are committed to adding captions. It is unclear if Microsoft or a third party vendor will fill in the gap.

TTY Hook: There is a hidden standard modem hook (support) for V.18 (TTY and other international protocols built into standard modems) General users will not find the interface. Because there is no V.18 product on the market, this remains untested.

The accessibility option of Windows 95 will be installed on all computers as default. This allows us to use the option on any PCs we use. This is good news for public access lab users.


  • Microsoft has said that the sound board sound display (.WAV) is their top priority for the next update. They wanted to have some kind of a small display on the bottom to show that there's a sound. This will be good for long sounds, but we may miss short sounds. They are aware of this. Microsoft is completely open to ideas of how the sounds be displayed at this time.

  • Add "TTY" tab to the phone books known as "Microsoft Exchange" where they keep fax numbers, E-mail addresses, street addresses, and so on. This was overlooked. I have suggested adding "DATA" tab for calling BBS, etc. This will be a generic tab that will hold a phone number for either BBS or TTY. It would be nice if we could make a data call from the tab using a terminal program.

  • Restore screen after beeping in a screen saver. Hearing users hear the beep; deaf users will miss incoming mail. I suggested that it should behave as if a mouse was moved when there is a beep. Deaf users could check the screen a minute later. If the screen saver has stopped, they will know something happened.

  • Fix the short/long sounds. Short sounds will become long sounds when the SoundSentry is used. This is because the sound is being left on while the screen is being flashed. This is annoying to users who can hear. This may be fixed. The concurrent function may be the solution.

  • Test ShowSounds. Once we get the working captioned demo file, we can make evaluations and give feedback to Microsoft. One concern we have is that we can not force AVI producers to include text in the .AVI files. I was told that the file format for AVI is still under development. This is one reason for the delay.

  • A new online service known as "Microsoft Network (MSN)" showed interest to set up a deaf center on the network. L. B. Irving, the MSN Category Manager, has set up disability areas on AOL, Prodigy, Genie, and some other services. I told him it would be nice to have a deaf related group of: Deaf-L, Deaf Chat, Deaf BBS, deafness-related World Wide Web listings, libraries, etc. all in one place. He said it is not a problem. Irving uses a wheelchair and understands disability needs. He asked me if it is okay to put "deaf" under the disability area. I told him that it should be fine if it is not medical oriented and is directable by a keyword of "DEAF". If you have a better idea, please send E- mail to Irving (see list of E-mail addresses below).


  • Decentralize sound settings. With the released version of Windows 95, the Sound Sentry switch is centered in the accessibility setup. This could be a problem for deaf people who can hear some sounds and want to use the computer sounds. For example, suppose a deaf or hard of hearing user wanted to hear a multimedia presentation running from a CD-ROM player, but did not want to be bothered with the flashing screens. The user could turn the central setting off using several steps which will be bothersome on daily basis. Another point is that if an E-mail message arrives in a background terminal program, the user may not hear a short beep behind a sound-producing program. I have suggested to Microsoft that they add one more data field to program properties (similar to .PIF file in older Windows versions) for individual program settings. This may not be adopted.

  • Test V.18 support. Microsoft expressed strong support to require modems to have V.18 to earn "Windows 95" logo on their product. I cautioned them that the V.18 specifications need to be tested first before making any commitments. Microsoft thinks Rockwell may be the most receptive manufacturer. Microsoft has suggested using Section 508 (government purchasing legislation) to require V.18 in all new modems. This is a very powerful requirement. Microsoft has admitted that this legislation has forced Microsoft to focus on accessibility issues when the disabled users have suggested blocking Microsoft products if there are no accessibility aids in products. This might possibly be invoked to get V.18 built into a modem.

  • Ensure that WINCHAT is being distributed in all packages. WINCHAT is a split screen text communication program over the local network. This is one nice way to communicate between deaf and hearing computer users. With Windows for Workgroups 3.11, it is distributed in all packages. With Windows 95, it is distributed only on CD-ROMs. Microsoft should realize that WINCHAT is an important communication aid for deaf users. This problem may not occur in some large places of business where a network administrator can properly install Windows 95 on many Pcs using their networked CD-ROM player, but could be a problem in smaller organizations.


This section used to have E-mail addresses of the following people. Those E-mail addresses were removed because they invite spammers and become obsolete over time.

  • Greg Lowney, Senior Program Manager, Accessibility and Disabilities Group
  • Charles Oppermann, Program Manager, Windows Accessibility Group
  • Joe Decuir, Microsoft V.18 modem support manager
  • Luanne LaLonde, Product Manager, Windows Accessibility Group
  • L.B. Irving, Microsoft Network Category Manager
Last update date: 
1995 Oct 7