Re: PowerBraille and JAWS

  • From: "Voy44" <voy44@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: <jfw@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 23 Sep 2009 17:18:44 +0200


the Powerbraille issue is surely to do with the new secure Braille Driver iniciative FS started recently.

This is from the J11 Help topic, and below that message, I am pasting an article published in the GW Micro blog, since many concerns have been expressed by Window Eyes users. This is not meant as a flame war, just an information that everyone can use and think for themselves.


JAWS Help:

Third Party Braille Displays
When installing the 32-bit version of JAWS, all braille display drivers previously shipped in earlier versions of JAWS will continue to be provided and work with JAWS 11 as expected.

For JAWS 64-bit, Freedom Scientific braille displays, such as the Focus, PAC Mate Portable, and PowerBraille displays, will be included and installed as part of the JAWS 11 installation. Third party braille display manufacturers will be provided separately from the manufacturers themselves. At the time of this writing, only Papenmeier in Germany has completed and published their drivers for JAWS 11 and JAWS 10 on 64-bit Windows.

After the support files are installed on your computer, you will continue to use the JAWS Synthesizer and Braille Manager to add a third party braille display to use with JAWS.

JAWS Help End

GW Micro Blog

I've been asked by many people what I think about the announcement from
Freedom Scientific entitled "Freedom Scientific Announces Secure and
Compatible Braille Display Initiative" dated August 11, 2009. The direct URL
to this announcement on Freedom Scientifics' web page is:

First, a little background. In order to get a Braille display to work with
any screen reader, a driver has to be written to specifically support it.
This driver is responsible for communicating between the hardware and the
screen reader itself. This way the screen reader doesn't have to get bogged
down with the technical details of each and every display. A simple
interface is provided and, as long as the Braille driver is written to talk
to this simple interface, the screen reader will work with it "out of the
box." According to this announcement, starting with JAWS 11, the developers
of these Braille drivers will now have to work with Freedom Scientific to
get their driver digitally signed by Freedom Scientific before JAWS 11 will
use the driver. Stated another way, until the Braille driver for your
Braille display is digitally signed, JAWS 11 will not talk to your Braille
display. This is all being done in the name of security and in fact the
announcement starts by saying "The goal of this new program is to follow
Microsoft's move to signed drivers to improve security and compatibility for
customers who use a Braille display with JAWS."

There is much confusion regarding this announcement ranging from, "Does this
make any difference," to, "Will this affect my copy of Window-Eyes?" Let me
state, very clearly, that this will not affect Window-Eyes in any way.
However, I feel compelled to comment on this announcement as it does affect
the screen reader community in general.

It is true that digitally signing drivers is typically a good thing. This is
why all of the necessary Window-Eyes executables and DLL files are digitally
signed using a valid certificate unique to GW Micro. In fact, we go to the
extra effort to have our mirror driver (which is used by Windows Vista and
Windows 7) thoroughly tested by Microsoft in order to get Microsoft's
digital signature. That's security on top of security. You may not have
noticed but as you install Window-Eyes on Vista or Windows 7, you never
receive a "Windows can't verify the publisher of this driver software"
warning. This is because we have worked with Microsoft to properly register
and sign our driver. There is a very minimal cost required for this service,
and we only have to pay for this service whenever we change our mirror

If you were to install JAWS 10 or 11 on Vista or Windows 7 you would notice
the "Windows can't verify the publisher of this driver software" warning,
asking if you want to trust the driver or not. This indicates the JAWS
mirror driver has not been digitally signed by Microsoft.

Security warning screen shot

Driver signing screen shot

I have a hard time accepting the concept of requiring digitally signed
Braille drivers in the name of security when the JAWS mirror driver itself
isn't digitally signed by Microsoft.

From unofficial sources I've heard that Freedom Scientific is charging a
great deal of money for the privilege of signing the Braille drivers. Unlike
Microsoft's policy of only charging a nominal fee when the driver changes,
they charge an annual fee, even if the driver isn't updated. Large Braille
companies may be able to afford this, but smaller companies cannot, and may
be forced to make undesirable decisions that end up putting the end user at
a disadvantage. It is easy to see how a Braille display manufacturer with
these increased costs might have to raise their prices.

I think it is worth describing how Window-Eyes communicates with its Braille
drivers. Under Vista and Windows 7, both JAWS and Window-Eyes need to run
with UI Access. This means we are running at an elevated security level.
With this higher security level comes responsibility. Because we are
elevated, we have to be very careful of what we do and what we allow the
user to do. There are many things that we prohibit, ranging from not running
any scripts on secure desktops (like the log on screen where you type your
username and password) to not allowing a script to receive key presses while
typing in a password edit box. We also do things like not allowing the
Braille driver we are communicating with to run at the elevated privilege
that Window-Eyes itself is running. This way, if a bad Braille driver did
somehow get installed (which would require admin rights to do, and a
confirmation by the end user) it still wouldn't have elevated privileges to
do anything really nasty. These kinds of security features are built into
Window-Eyes automatically.

So why am I writing about all this? First: Window-Eyes users should know
that Freedom Scientific's new requirement will not affect them in any way;
Window-Eyes will continue to openly support Braille displays without
additional requirements or cost to the driver developer. Second: know that
signing Braille drivers doesn't really help with security, especially if
security is greatly lacking in other parts of an application. Third: it is
important that the blind community be mindful of what is happening in the
screen reader arena. Review the facts, and approaches behind the changes you
read about, and make your own decisions.

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