Skypecasts and the Blind Community, a Revolution!

By Jonathan Mosen

I will never forget the day when Shoutcast was released. On that day, I realised that this was going to be huge for the blind community. Broadcasting over the Internet had been democratised. using Winamp and a few free tools, you could netcast like the big boys.

Skypecasts give me the same feeling. Released in beta, Skypecasts allow up to 100 Skype users to congregate for any imaginable purpose. perhaps there is a common interest that brings together friends and strangers alike. perhaps it's a family planning what's going to happen at Christmas. perhaps a company wants to run a focus group, or perhaps someone wants to provide a lecture or tutorial, where listeners are muted initially, but where questions can be answered at the conclusion of the formal part of the presentation. If you combine Skypecasts with a plug-in that records the event, such as Skylook, you can upload the archive to your web site as a permanent record.

In a blindness context, this has phenomenal implications. Blind people have always keenly used the Internet for voice communication. Sites like Audio-Tips: and For-The-People: have provided a meeting place through which blind people can get together. Particularly where the I-Vocalize chat client is concerned, there are still services Skypecasts can't provide, such as the ability for moderators to take over the browser.

However, Skypecasts lower the barrier to entry for those who want to host large events of any kind. From an accessibility point of view, my initial findings are encouraging. it's not perfect, but it is useable.

When you join or create a Skypecast, a new browser window pops up. The window contains buttons and links pertaining to each participant. The Skypecast host can mute and unute participants one at a time, or mute and unmute everyone. You can send chats to your participants as well, and if necessary, the host can eject people from the Skypecast.

This is all very accessible, however the page does not appear to refresh in a screen reader's virtual buffer when a new participant joins, such as Window-eyes's Browse Mode or JAWS's Virtual Cursor. This means that it's necessary to turn your virtual buffer on and off again to ensure you have the latest view of who is in your Skypecast.

This is the only issue I have discovered so far. other than that, Skypecast works beautifully with screen readers. This, I predict, will be a huge hit in the blind community. Just watch it explode!

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