THE ONLINE BIBLE:
A BENCHMARK OF ACCESSIBILITY
by Charles Lott
For over 10 years the Online Bible has been committed to making itself accessible to the blind and visually impaired. My first contact with this program was a copy of version 5.0 given to me by a friend. The manual for this DOS version contained several helps for visually impaired users, and the program gave the user the ability to set up custom colors for background, text and highlighted items.
Beginning with version 7.0 the Online Bible provided Windows editions, and continued its efforts to be sure that all, including the blind and visually impaired, could readily use the program.
Now, however, the producers of this excellent Bible study and search software have really outdone themselves in the realm of accessibility. With version 8.01, they have become, to the best of my knowledge, the first software vendor to go out of their way to test their product with leading screen readers for the blind. This version not only works decently with both Window-Eyes (GW Micro) and JAWS (Henter-Joyce), but comes with its own special files designed for these screen readers.
The special files for JAWS are automatically installed to the proper directories within the screen readers' installation. Although the Window-Eyes files are not automatically installed by the Online Bible, they are installed when you install Window-Eyes. Thus, they are ready for use when you install the Online Bible. The Online Bible now also asks you, during installation, whether you wish to enable Screen Reader Mode. This mode configures the program for best results with screen readers.
During a brief test using both Window-Eyes and JAWS, I found that not even the Online Bible programmers are yet able to make images such as the excellent maps, which come on CD with the program, accessible to the blind via screen readers. I was unable even to read the text identifying places on the maps. It is my suspicion that screen readers in general have a long way to go in their development before such images will be useful to blind users. The maps are, however, quite useful to a partially blind user such as myself, since the identifying text is in very clear type, and the images themselves are in very vivid color. I did find it a bit hard following the lines denoting the course of Paul's four missionary journeys; but I suspect that a lot of fully sighted people may be daunted by that feature, since Paul appears to have done a lot of criss- crossing, doubling back and meandering, especially in his first journey. Thus, this problem is certainly no fault of the original map designers or the Online Bible programmers.
Beside its ability to work hand-in-glove with screen readers for the blind, the Online Bible provides some nice features for the partially sighted. You can set the size of fonts to suit your needs, and colors can be set for background, text and highlighted material. There is a problem with regard to the online tutorial which is known to the programmers. This and some other parts of the help system will not be visible to people using black or dark screens because the text is always black and cannot be altered. They have tried various methods of correcting the problem, but have not had much luck.
Larry Pierce, who heads the whole project, has told me that it might be possible to create an alternate help file for visually impaired users with set colors that suit their needs. He did mention (and I fully agree) that this would be a rather awkward solution to the problem.
The Online Bible package includes approximately 14 English versions of the Bible, 40 other language versions, a Bible Dictionary, many Commentaries, and Greek and Hebrew Lexicons. There are several locked versions for which a royalty fee must be paid to obtain unlock codes. Locked English versions included the New International Version (British and U.S. editions), New American Standard Version (1977 and 1995 editions) and the New Revised Standard Version.
Given the thoroughly excellent job the Online Bible people have done in the area of accessibility and the vast array of resources on the CD, this program is really a must for anyone who wishes to have Bible study software on his/her computer. The Millennium comes with a 128-page print manual and sells for $34.95. Most of the material can also be freely downloaded from the company's web site. Complete information about the product, including ordering instructions, is also available at this site.
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