“I know what I would not be able to achieve without accessibility”

Mario Perčinić has lived and worked in Luxembourg since 2016. With him, we have talked about music, programming, shopping and, of course, accessibility.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Mr. Perčinić is working for the Centre pour le développement des compétences relatives à la vue (CDV) in Bertrange. He is transcriber, adapting books for pupils and students who are blind or partially sighted, in various formats (ePub, Braille or print, to list some of them). He is also a multi-talented musician, plays in a hard rock band The Velvet in Luxembourg, records albums and performs concerts all over the country. Last but not least, he is interested in technology and accessibility of all possible gadgets, which can provide better quality of life to blind people. As a blind person, he gets by in a world that does not always place accessibility at the centre of its concerns.

Photo of Mario Perčinić at the Information and Press Service
Mario Perčinić. Photo : Dominique Nauroy

How important is digital accessibility to you?

We have come a long way. Anything related to assistive technologies was at first designed for geeks... far from being mainstream. Today, I can walk into a store, buy any kind of PC or a smartphone, install Windows myself and get a free screen reader, which will perfectly do the job. Ten to fifteen years ago, this scenario was impossible.

You take the example of shopping in a physical place: is it easier for you to shop online today?

Sure. I cannot just walk alone into the store because I do not know how it looks. I can only rely on the physical assistance from the person who comes with me or the sales assistant working in the shop.

“During the pandemic (...) I was very much dependent on online shopping... it was good to survive!”

If I am browsing through the online shop, taking into account that the website is accessible, I can notice what is available under certain categories and buy what I want independently.

During the pandemic, I could not walk to supermarkets and nobody was able to give me assistance. I was very much dependent on online shopping... it was good to survive! Now that everything has become normal, I was hoping that there would be much more shops going online in Luxembourg, unfortunately this did not happen.

Besides, there is place for improvement regarding e-commerce. Many websites are not accessible, or they seem to be accessible until you start to dig deeper, for instance if you want to access detailed information about a given product.

Do you notice a difference in accessing the websites and apps, depending on whether they are public or private?

Of course. Especially since the directive started to enter into force in 2019. I also have to mention the very good job made here in the SIP (Information and Press Service). Most of my complaints have been solved out.

If you could change one major thing in the field of accessibility, what would it be?

“In 2023, we must have accessible public documents and forms, no matter what kind of disability do we have.”

PDF forms. I recently applied for Luxembourgish nationality. You have to complete PDF forms available on guichet.lu. They were completely inaccessible. In 2023, we must have accessible public documents and forms, no matter what kind of disability do we have.

With the help of the SIP, these forms have been fixed on guichet.lu and I have been able to fill them on my own. I have asked a sighted friend to check them and it was correct. I have submitted them, went to the commune myself and completed all the procedures on my own. At the end of the day, all this brings a huge smile on your face.

Blind people cannot fix PDF forms themselves, because neither Acrobat Pro – the main tool for fixing that – nor other software are 100% accessible.

On the other side, what progress have you noticed?

As a representative of the Access and Technology Committee, which worked on behalf of European Blind Union, I had the opportunity to participate in two accessibility summits at Google in 2013 and 2015. It is interesting to see from the insider’s point of view how such a huge company is devoted to accessibility. When giants like Google, Apple and Microsoft are really committed to accessibility by following the rules for universal access, this can change the quality of life for disabled population a lot, and it is definitely a huge game changer.

The screen reader from Microsoft, Narrator, has improved a lot. One thing is missing: scripting. For power users, JAWS and NVDA are scriptable. JAWS scripting language is quite easy to learn if you know the basics of coding. With NVDA, you have to know Python, also easy to learn if you are into programming. On a daily basis I'm using many add-ons for NVDA. They extend its functionalities, from different Windows apps to extending the usage and accessibility of browsers, web apps or e-mail clients.

Do developers today have a good culture of accessibility?

“We need people on certain positions of the organisations for disabilities who understand what digital accessibility is.”

I know good developers, but most of the time they do not have any clue on accessibility, even if this is changing slowly. You have to understand the topic. Otherwise, you fix things just because somebody else told you so. Then accessibility will always be a problem. People with disabilities are good candidates to this kind of jobs.

We need people on certain positions of the organisations for disabilities who understand what digital accessibility is. If we have people who are incompetent, or not educated enough about digital accessibility and usability, things can go wrong very badly.

I will always fight for accessibility. I know what I would not be able to achieve without it. Accessibility is helping everyone. We have to understand this. A basic thing like Control-S in Word is an accessibility feature. It is useful for everyone.

Do you have a few examples of digital barriers you meet every day?

About two years ago, I had accessibility problems with Luxtrust on Android. This authentication method is crucial in modern everyday life in Luxembourg for anybody. If you cannot use it, it is a disaster. I was probably not the only one who complained about this, luckily with the help from SIP we were able to fix the problem in a few weeks.

When an app gets a major update, it does not automatically mean that it is more accessible. Another example would be the Restopolis app, useful to find out what is on the lunch menu. I am using it every day. When version 2 had come out, it became completely unusable. Fortunately, major bugs for Android users have now been fixed.

I am also regularly using Adapto app, at first it was a total failure. Once again, in the last update of the app the most critical things were patched. It is not perfect, there are plenty of annoying errors, but I can use it. Also in the area of mobility: no website of the airline companies in Europe is accessible at this moment. I always have to ask someone else to help me buying a ticket.

I have seen many apps and websites evolving thanks to the complaints mechanism. But many people do not know about it.

Apart from digital accessibility in general, what would you like to improve?

If I had a few millions, I would definitely work on providing accessible solutions for blind musicians. For example, a typical guitar tuner which can be found on every corner is inaccessible for me. More and more guitar players are changing from a typical amplification on stage to various digital effect units, also called modelers: they are essentially using touchscreens and, thus, completely inaccessible to the blind community. The manufacturers who are making inaccessible products are leaving the group of users completely outside, which is absolutely unfair.

In The Velvet, I am the keyboardist and lead singer. Many modern synthesizers and keyboards are not accessible to blind musicians. Luckily for me, I was able to find a clone of the Hammond organ: it has no screen and therefore all the parameters can be changed directly via the buttons or switches.

The Velvet's "Electric Wizard" music video

My second keyboard, called Crumar Seven, is more complex and has a great system of deep editing. I can login into its web app through its Wi-Fi receiver and make all the changes. The interface shows up to be very accessible to all screen readers.

Blind people can be very good audio engineers and music producers. However, the tools needed for such jobs must be accessible. As a Windows user, I found out that I can make all the things by using Reaper as my main multitrack audio editor. It is cheap, very flexible and the developers of Reaper are very responsive when it comes to accessibility fixes. At the same time, the blind community from the developers to power users provides great additional library of scripts and add-ons enhancing the usability of Reaper (check here the Reaper Accessibility Wiki). Logic Pro is another good example: this app available on macOS is totally accessible via VoiceOver.

Again, I regret that the organisations representing the blind do not do more lobbying, saying: if you would fix these products, you would get more customers.