MobileMe or Die!

Firstly, let me say that I write this using an awesome program called Mac Journal. It lets me work directly with my blog. I hope this works. Now, onto business.

For a while, I wanted to get MobileMe set up on my iPhone, iPad, iMac, and MacBook Air. MobileMe keeps contacts, calendars, bookmarks, notes, and other things in sync. It also gives you an iDisk, where you get 20 GB including a public folder. Apple builds it into their devices, and makes it very easy to use. If you want to do some things effortlessly on Apple products you have to do things their way, so I figured I needed a MobileMe account.

I went to sign up. On the second page, a visual captcha stopped me in my tracks. A blind person cannot enter the characters in the image if they cannot see it. Some sites have audio captchas, but not this one.

I decided to call Apple Care. I spoke to an Agent, whatever that means. She had an accent and read from a script. She kept telling me to sign up on the page. I kept telling her I couldn’t because I couldn’t see the image. Round and round and round we went. Finally, I felt so exasperated. “So what you’re telling me, is that you can’t help me create a MobileMe account?” “I’m sorry.” “Me too.” I hung up in disgust.

I would not give up. I emailed the Apple Accessibility team. They apologized for the inconvenience, and assured me that they knew of the accessibility problems with the MobileMe site. They promised that they would have someone from the MobileMe support team contact me. This happened last week. I hadn’t heard anything by Monday, so emailed them again. They followed up and finally I heard from Mark, a MobileMe Senior Advisor. Very good. I explained my situation, and he requested my phone number. This evening, he called.

He had the idea to take a screen capture, then email him the image, and he would read the captcha to me. Good enough. By the way, he had me remove my credit card number before sending the images, a wise percussion. Unfortunately, we had some wrinkles. He wanted to use the Grab program to take the screen capture, but we couldn’t figure out how to get it working with VoiceOver. I also tried using the VoiceOver command to save a screenshot of the VoiceOver cursor. We didn’t have initial success, and he told me I could always go to an Apple store and get them to help me set it up. I also said I could get a sighted person to help, but we both considered this a less than ideal solution. I thanked him for his help, and we hung up.

I started going through the events in my head, then my phone rang. He called back with an idea. First, I had to go into Safari preferences, then Appearance, and check the “Display images when the page Opens” option. I remembered that a keyboard shortcut exists to take a screen capture, but couldn’t recall the actual key sequence. Neither could he. We both started searching. It felt weird to look up information with an Apple employee on the line. He found it first – Command-Shift-3. Excellent. Now I could send him the file with images, and he could read the captcha.

Next, we realized that I had to check the box that I said that I agreed with the agreement. The whole problem actually came down to this legal point. They could not just check the box for me. I asked if they couldn’t just take my word for it, but nothing doing. The agreement doesn’t actually have a standard HTML checkbox, just clickable text, so nothing doing there either. We discovered that a standard VoiceOver select with VO-Space would toggle the checkbox, but would not announce the change. So now I had to send him images until we got the checkbox and captcha right.

The form still wouldn’t submit. He wondered if I had to select my credit card type. I saw unlabeled images of card names, but didn’t consider clicking them, since VoiceOver didn’t announce anything special. I clicked on the appropriate card, and it worked. Again, this happened without any announcement, but it happened.

We finally had it all straight! We had the credit card type. We had the agreement checked. We had the stupid captcha. I finished filling out the form, and submitted it. It worked! I had my account! I shouted for joy. “This is what the blind have to deal with every day.” I told him. Look how much time it took for us to fill out this form just because of a few little things. He considered it an educational experience, and assured me that he would pass along the notes he had taken to the right people. I figured I’d write this article just to capture all the salient points.

We stayed on the phone and chatted a little. He gave me a little tour of the Mac and iPhone side of things. He told me about a feature called “Back to my Mac.” I joked that Apple may have felt inspired by that for their “Back to the Mac” event. He agreed that perhaps some reference had occurred. We finished up, and he thanked me for my patience.

That brings me back to Mac Journal. Their download form links to their MobileMe public folder. The web interface to MobileMe’s file sharing has not yet become fully accessible. It has more of that almost but not quite entirely inaccessible clickable text. You can select folders, but you can’t download a specific file. I emailed them to get a direct link, but the link they sent me didn’t work. Mark gave me an awesome tip that helped! If you go to Finder, you can then go to the Go menu, then iDisk, then Public Folder. Enter it in and there you go, you can browse the whole thing from right within Finder. Quite cool. I just copied and pasted the installer to my Downloads folder, and it worked beautifully. I love this program, but now I have a different problem. Their registration form doesn’t work either! Here we go again.

So how do I feel? On one hand, Apple cares. Mark had a good attitude, and we solved my problems together. All of the client-side functions work perfectly. He even gave me a little tour. I have things set up on my Macs and iDevices beautifully. I can also access my iDisk through Finder. I got my account, but had to do a lot to get it. It solved the problem for me, but not for everyone. I have faith that Apple will do the right thing and improve the accessibility of MobileMe.