Sometimes you can’t read the text under the cursor

I had previously written on how you can retrieve the text under the cursor, and you may have noticed that it produces mixed results. It works great with some programs but not with others.

It depends on the program in question. Some programs were written with greater attention to supporting screen readers than others. Internet Explorer, for example, has excellent support for ActiveAccessibility because browsing the web is a great way for people with disabilities to get involved in the world around them.

Other programs don't do quite as good a job. For example, the program we developed to demonstrate various scrollbar techniques does not handle the WM_GETOBJECT message and is not accessible.

So whether ActiveAccessibility works for any particular program depends heavily on how much the author of that program had accessibility in mind when they wrote it.

[Raymond is currently on vacation; this message was pre-recorded.]

Comments (13)
  1. quaid says:

    Quick, somebody burgle his house.

  2. Hamburgler says:

    or at least HAMburgle it

    robble robble

  3. Vorn says:

    Considering that he’s not htere, there won’t be any hamburgers, unless he keeps the White Castle kind in his freezer – and Hamburgler appears to far prefer McDonald’s burgers. :)

    I imagine that he may have ground beef – but, then, if you’re going to be breaking into somebody’s house, why on earth would you want to cook supper while you’re there?


  4. Vorn says:

    And while I’m at it, I wonder if Windows has a built in text-speaking thing. Mac OS X does; I use it a lot when I have a headache, because it’s easier to listen to Stephen Hawking than stare at a screen.


  5. If you’re running XP, hit Windows key + U.

    The Narrator is the text-to-speech app.

    This may also work on other versions of Windows, but I’ve not tried it on others :)

  6. Splintor says:

    Narrator and Windows+U work on Windows 2000 as well.

  7. David Candy says:

    The speech SDK has stuff like this in it. And it was on some 98 (or maybe 95) disks. The Windows Sound System (for 3.1) also had toys like this.

  8. I hate to say it, but what incentive is there for developers to add ActiveAccessibility support to their product? If I had to venture a guess I’d say less than 1 percent of computer users use that feature, probably a lot less than 1 percent. So in the ever tight development cycle if the choice is between things like more features, fixing bugs, or adding ActiveAccessibility, I think the latter is going to get axed every time. In an ideal world with unlimited development time, most developers would probably add support for ActiveAccessibility.

  9. Raymond Chen says:

    My understanding is that software sold to the US government must be accessible (via Americans with Disabilities Act). That’s at least one piece of incentive.

  10. Mat Hall says:

    I hope third party screen-reader apps are better than the one supplied with Windows — in one of my legendary fits of boredom I tried turning my monitor off and using the PC just by listening to the screen reader, but the output it gave was pretty much meaningless. (More precisely, it gives too much information about the physical layout of windows but almost no useful context — even when it reads out the content of the narrator window it lists the four checkboxes and buttons but makes no mention of the accelerator keys for any of them.)

  11. Raymond Chen says:

    Yes, thirdparty screenreaders kick Narrator’s butt.

  12. Mike Edwards says:

    But then, if Narrator was excellent, all the companies that produce screen readers would tumble out of the woodwork shouting "anti-competitive practices" to all and sundry.

  13. Saurabh Jain says:

    Also, active accessibility is not just about screen readers, it is about making your program more usable and accessible. It is about making it usable without assuming the presence of mouse, a speaker (and may be a color monitor). Also, most of the times, you get it from free if you are using standard controls.

    Aaron goes in detail on this at "Accessiblity is not a feature" (

    Sara Ford’s blog is a good resource on accessiblity (

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