Help! I’m being updated to death!

Many applications and systems software take advantage of the “always on” status of networked PCs by performing frequent updates for security precautions as well as normal regular updates. These updates can be very intrusive, indeed competing with each other for attention, and sometimes cause havoc of their own. This Vision Loser just spent several harrowing hours overcoming a bad attack of update mania by Windows, Norton Security, and Mozilla Firefox.

I’ve been in transition from a notebook with a dead screen to a different notebook awaiting a new tablet PC. I was just setting up an external monitor, using the extended desktop which requires alignment of primary and secondary screens. With the multi-tabbed Display Properties dialog on the screen, my attention was rather rudely diverted to Mozilla Firefox announcing its intent to update and then failure during the process, probably lack of Internet or wireless connection. Turning attention back to the Display Setting dialog (so I thought), I clicked OK and watched in dismay as the pretty pastoral screen on Windows XP appeared. The problem for my weak eyesight is the extreme brightness of that display theme versus the High Contrast Black I work in comfortably. Apparently, I had changed the theme as well as monitor settings. For a while, I felt like the proverbial deer in the headlights,stunned, and immobile.

Well, OK, I’ve been through this before, but not on this particular notebook with this external monitor, both beaming away at my overworked photoreceptors. My remedies were there if I could see through the brightness, relying on the hit-and-miss, ugly-sounding, but often help Windows Narrator to talk me through the menus, tabs, and buttons:
1) Bring up Display Properties again and fumbled around for High Contrast Black
2) Go to Control Panel then Accessibility and find, I hoped, the Accessibility Wizard
3) Go to Start, All Programs, Accessories, Accessibility then, finally, the Accessibility Wizard
4) Work through the Windows Explorer into Windows then Accessibility folder to the Accessibility Wizard

For one reason or another, each of these failed. Either the Accessibility Wizard wasn’t where I remembered it or I couldn’t reach it in a cascade of menus nor could I locate High Contrast in Display Properties.

In frustration I resorted to a sighted person, a grumbling sleepy teenager, to talk through the Wizard and restore my relative serenity of dark background. Meantime, Mozilla and Norton were battling for attention to do their updating business.

So, what’s the big deal here? First, is the annoying disruptive practice of of semi-automatic updating that saps away energy and introduces user error opportunities. That is, for this Vision Loser, updating at the wrong moment is sometimes a major disruption. At least here the error’s consequences were totally visible rather than a small change like a check box that could have required a lot of trace-back and debugging to find, later, after I’d forgotten where I was making changes..

Second, since I rarely work in the normal bright Windows mode, I experienced a visceral reaction to the unwanted change. In a recent podcast, NosillaCast’s Alison Sheridan discussed this phenomenon in the context of the Mac Finder, expressed in terms as “physical assault” by a hyper-bright window. Often sighted people, especially designers, have the misconception that the brighter and more colorful the effect the better, and that this rule applies especially to partially sighted users. Rather the mantra for me is “Contrast, Contrast, Contrast”. A simple screen with clear outlines, a restful dark background and white or pale foreground, with images only that have clear meanings is the ideal. I’ve been working on this in the form of a Java framework for the @Podder podcatcher I’ll discuss in a future post.

Two improvements in my practice did occur from this little episode. First, I now have a better organized Start Menu with a special folder named “911 EMERGENCY” which stands out in a folder list in Start Menus and on the Desktop. It contains shortcuts for the Accessibility Wizard for which I’ve memorized the options and their order, as well as the Mouse Settings, and launchers for order and Magnifier, the built-in Windows accessibility tools. This is the equivalent of carrying a small first aid kit on a hike, and the lesson I learned today was never to leave home without it.

Another benefit of this excursion was a catch-up on the Accessibility Features of Mozilla Firefox, rightfully touted as low-vision friendly. I learned the setting that allows me to just start typing to find a part of a web page — neat! There’s more to learn and this confirms my recent decision to set up my browsing environment around Firefox and its add-ons (including the TextAloud reader and soomer).

Moral of this story: Beware of hazards of over-zealous updating applications and give them the right of way.

One more thought, wouldn’t it be nice if the updating applications could be spoken rather than pattern-matched out of dialogs, e.g. “Mozilla Firefox wants to update its XX and YY components to make your browser faster/safer/better. You’ll notice the following changes (or none) which may affect these add-ons…”. Just like a good dentist or other professional will give you a coherent explanation of its planned actions, so should software interact with its human clients

So, Norton, Adobe, Microsoft, Mozilla, and all you other update maniacs, think about every intrusion you foist your users Is that change really necessary? Could you, maybe, fix all your buffer overflows before the next release? instead of one at a time? How about checking if your user is using a screen reader, or has voices available, and give a polite request rather than only a dialog to join the window clutter? Could updates be no more complicated than an install? Could the dialog boxes at least be readable by simple screen readers like Narrator or even by low vision users? Come on, you inaccessible update bullies, mind your manners. Please, please, please, please don’t update me to death!

Author: slger

Susan L. Gerhart (slger) is a retired computer scientist. Her professional specialities included software engineering research, technology transfer management, and computer science education, see SLGer's Research Autobiography. Susan is active in a lifelong learning institute (OLLI) at Yavapai College in Prescott Arizona. She has facilitated courses on podcasts, Twitter, the Singularity, and climate fiction. "As Your World Changes" blog describes her journey with vision loss into the spectacular world of assistive technology and the frustrating practices of accessibility. She writes with the NVDA screen reader, reads books from Bookshare on a BookSense, and listens to podcasts on an iPhone. slger123 on Twitter records her favorite articles and occasional comments on life and politics. Creative writing courses led her to undertake "A Chip On Her Shoulder", a novel asking the questions: "how did we get into the privacy mess of modern social media?" and "Are we now just 'packets of data formerly known as people'?" She's enduring the 2020 Pandemic era and autocracy challenge by analyzing changes in progress, promising, and unknown. Times sure are changing! Contact: slger123 at

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