Archive for the ‘technology for the blind’ Category

Banks Brilliance!

May 10, 2011

In the past few years, not many would have ever thought anyone would call the banks brilliant but an experience I had today warrants such praise.

As visually impaired individuals, we often are discussing inaccessible products or services. But this morning when a package arrived from my bank, I was initially confused, then unsure and now extremely pleased and happy that a international bank would do what they have without being pushed into it by advocacy groups or implement the accessibility as an after thought.

I’ve been with HSBC since I was fourteen and in high school. I’ve always been pleased with the accessibility I have had with them. My letters and statements always having been in braille, the level of security they offer amongst the highest and overall, a good service has been experienced for me, so far.

I’ve used their telephone banking service for years and in the past few years their internet banking service which I’ve found to be incredibly accessible.

So when my peculiar package arrived this morning, which I was not expecting as I clearly didn’t really read the last letter they had sent to me, I was confused what it was for and was pretty sure it wouldn’t be accessible.

I opened a box containing a braille letter and braille instructions and a keypad that looks like the keypads we pay on our cards in stores, minus the car d slot. There was some headphones and I was truly baffled.

On a quick glance, I realised it was about security and as I said, if I’d read the previous letter, I probably would have had a better understanding of what this cool device would do.

Sitting down reading the instructions I learnt it was a security key which enhances the level of security of your online banking. Every thirty days or so, it’ll give you a code to enter and it is generated by the security key, or the cool key pad thing. So, you can imagine my scepticism. They’ve given me a device, which will generate a code and I have to read this code to access my online banking. Great, I thought, more inaccessibility. At this point, I joked that they had sent me accessible instructions for an inaccessible device. Boy, was I to be proven wrong.

I soon learnt that the regular customers have these security keys issued but their keys are the size of a credit card and I had noticed a speaker on the rear of the unit so maybe, did I dare to believe it true?

Further reading demonstrated that not only did this cool device speak but the instructions how to use it, set it up were all clear, concise and accurate. Even the point where you have to insert the security key’s serial number was accessible. Not only was it printed on the unit but it could be accessed through speech on the unit. Crazy right?

But within ten minutes, I’d activated my key, by entering my serial number into my account online and followed the online steps, inputting a random security code and hey presto, my account is now paired with a device that will randomly make me input codes every thirty days to prevent someone hacking into my bank account.

Until this morning, I’d not heard of a security key, and whether you think they’re a good security device or a pure pain in the backside, I’m ecstatic I have one that I can access independently.

New customers started receiving theirs in March of this year, current customers from April onward. So, HSBC get a huge thumbs up from me. They’ve made everyone’s account secure and made it a purely accessible process.

Part of me hopes that these devices can lead to further access to cash machines somehow. I’m impressed HSBC, it has to be said. If you can make all cash machines accessible to the blind, I’ll be incredibly thankful. Thank you for not making your blind and visually impaired customers an after thought.

Speed, volume can all be changed and it auto turns off after about a thirty-second standby.

If anyone else’s bank has done this, let us know. I’m lost for words how I appreciate what they have done. They didn’t just send me a regular security key, they thought about it, put it in place and all within the same timeline as all their customers.

So no matter what you may think about the banks and the economy of today, you have to give HSBC some credit that they’ve achieved this in the same time frame for all their customers in a perfectly easy, accessible way. Great job! Brilliant!!!

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The iPad: A Review

May 29, 2010

[Note to reader; I’m assuming you’re familiar with the iPhone OS to some extent in this article].

 

Since the US launch of the iPad at the beginning of April, worldwide customers hankered for the news of their own launch dates. Just a few weeks ago, UK customers, along with those from eight other countries, including, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Japan were able to pre-order their iPads for a 28TH May release date, while other countries still anxiously await their launch date, expected to be announced sometime in July.

 

I, along with many others, pre-ordered my iPad, opting for the 32 Gig wifi model and impatiently waited for it to arrive. It came early though, a day in fact and am I glad I was home Thursday morning to receive my new toy. I created an unboxing podcast and could not wait to play with the iPad.

 

Initial Reaction

GORGEOUS!

It’s sleek and very aesthetic, even to the touch. A slightly curved back with the smooth glass touch screen we were promised. Everything about the iPad, before you switch it on is beautiful. And I don’t believe I’m saying this because I genuinely love Apple products. The keys are seamlessly fitted into the device and nothing looks out of place on this sleek unit.

 

Setting Up!

 

The setting up process is such a breeze. Literally, plug it in, register it and turn on universal access and off you go.

[Note, the device needs to be connected to a computer running the latest version of iTunes for it to work so you do need a computer to utilise the iPad.]

setting up voice over or Zoom or contrast on the iPad is very similar to the way it is achieved on the touch, iPhone, nanos and the shuffles. In summary within the iPad, or as voice over calls it in iTunes, iPod scroll area, VO to universal access and select voice over on under the “seeing” section. Once the iPad has synced, voice over will come on as I’m sure the other desired methods will.

 

You have a choice to use back-ups from any other devices, I.E. iPhone or I’m assuming iPod Touch. I chose to not do this as I wanted to customise the iPad at my own leisure and although I have put a few of my iPhone apps on the device, I didn’t want them all there.

 

First Use!

 

Using the iPad is as Steve Jobs said, “Magical”. It feels at home under your fingers and when taking the experience at a leisurely pace, you can truly appreciate the style the iPad has. It is a lot bigger than other touch devices that people may be used to using but that is an advantage. Using apps like settings, mail and safari gives an intricate experience with the iPad screen. Now, you can select a general setting in the settings app and see all of your choices without having to go back to the previous page if you want to select the mail/contacts/calendar settings, for example in Settings. Mail is beautiful on the iPad, being able to see your emails in the left column and read the message in the main screen area. And Safari definitely utilises the screen giving the browsing experience a whole new level of smoothness and realness.

 

iBooks, worth it?

 

Although the UK store is not populated to capacity, and I am realistic about this fact, it will take time to become my primary book source, it is amazing. I’ve downloaded a few free classics so far and have searched the store for some titles and found a few that I shall be purchasing soon. The search function was a little tricky at first but this is where one of the new gestures comes into its own. Although, the four-finger-swipe can be used in apps like mail or settings to jump from the selection list down the left side to the content area and vice versa, I didn’t comprehend it would work in the app or iBook store. But it does. I four-finger-swiped and was able to type my search, swipe again and see the results. A wonderful edition to the Apple repertoire of gestures.

 

Actually reading on the app is wonderful. I can lay my iPad down and let it read to me or use my fingers to scan down the page. It’s a very personal experience of reading books I’ve not experienced before. Braille has to be read word to word and audio has someone else’s voice and interpretation while iBooks utilises the voice over voice, your own interpretation is very real.

 

Twitter, IM and social Networks?

 

As I no longer have a facebook account, I shall comment on the social networks I have used on the iPad. Twitter Apps are few and far between on the iPad right now. Some of my favourites have not yet transgressed to the iPad. However I’ve found an app for the iPad that is accessible and works good enough. Not had that much experience to comment on some features but it reads your timelines, you can reply, DM, retweet and such but no list support as yet. And I’m assuming there’s multiple account support but haven’t tried so don’t quote me on that. That app is Tweet and it’s free.

 

I haven’t found an iPad specific app for apps such as Fring or Nimbuzz which I use on the iPhone so I’m using the fring app for now. I have it in full screen mode and still works nicely. They tend to only work in portrait and seen as I have my iPad in landscape for the majority of use, this can be a slight annoyance but once the app is Ipad specific, [let’s keep hoping], it’ll work beautifully. There is a slight border around the screen in full mode but it is still workable.

 

Skype works nicely on the iPad too. In the UK, still no iPad specific app but I’m told they have one in the US now so we’ll just have to wait for our version to hit the App store.

 

Typing!

 

I immediately opted for touch typing mode which I love. This can be changed while in an edit field with the rotor setting. I am finding I’m becoming quicker all of the time but will still opt for my wireless keyboard for extensive use. Touch typing will become easier and feels very natural. When I go to type on my iPhone, I hold the key down to hear the phonetic letter and it of course never comes and often forget to split tap to enter text. I cannot wait for touch typing in 4.0 on the iPhone. Typing on an almost full sized keyboard feels good and even if your finger is a letter out, sliding it to the right letter and lifting up feels great. Double tapping here will lead you to the need of a lot of deleting.

 

The phonetic speaking letters are a welcome edition to the iPhone OS and will strongly be looking forward to utilising this function on the iPhone.

 

 

Sound quality!

One Word! Awesome! The speaker sounds wonderful and the US voice I opt to use sounds incredible. Music and videos perform nicely and even though I haven’t tried it yet, I’m assuming headphones will sound just as crisp and clear.

 

Weight!

 

It is heavier than the touch and iPhone but this seemed obvious to me. Its compact and durable and I like the weight so I don’t lose it somewhere. It is not so heavy you could not carry it around with ease and yet it’s not light enough that you will forget it’s on your lap.

 

Overall Impressions!

I waited eagerly since the announcement in January and I have to say I am delighted with the product. Is it worth the money? Ask me that after a few weeks of working with it but I will go out there on a limb and say yes, I’m glad I paid for such a revolutionary product. Do I think it’s an oversized iPhone? No! It’s a different product entirely and the beauty of it is, people will choose to use their iPads for their own uses. There’s no rule book when it comes to the iPad and that is what I love the most about it.

 

 

Anticipating The Big Bite?

January 25, 2010

And it is that time of the year again where we anticipate what Mr Jobbs and his buddies over at Apple have cooked up for us. As usual the rumour mill has been filled with all kinds of teasers and the grand unveiling is two days away but I had to report what I’ve learnt.

There is a rumour of an Apple tablet. a device that is somewhere in between a computer and a smart phone, all touch screen. But along with this piece of information, Sky News today reported that Apple are supposedly in talks with publishers, magazines and news Papers to allow the new Tablet to become some kind of reading device on the go. This of course is not new in itself but what is potentially interesting is the potential for Apple’s increasing scores of Visually impaired and Dyslexic users.

If as Sky News predict, and Apple are in talks and continue their dedication to their own policy of universal access then this could mean that books, news papers and magazines would be as readily available to not just their sighted users but to all of their users.

As a student, I really hope for this tablet to be three things.
1. accessible
2. the ability to buy and read books with voice over.
3. Relatively affordable.

If Apple can pull this off, surely some of the educational hypocrites could change their attitudes. But as I just told someone on Twitter never get complacent.

I hope for all of these things and would be shocked and very disappointed if the tablet isn’t in the least accessible to Voice Over users. So we will see.

Other trinkets of goodies may include an Iphone 4.0 update. That may be very interesting. Wish they’d sort the battery lives out, seriously. I’m tired of charging mine. And I personally suspect a new shuffle but we will see.

I’ll update when I know more.
Later Apple heads!

My Apple Mac

December 19, 2009

With all the choices on the computer market nowadays, the general consumer has more choice than ever before. However, as a visually impaired user, the only option I want to have is mac and Apple products. Here’s why.

On Thursday, I turned my trusty macbook 13 inch, 2008 model white onto to check my email and such to discover it wouldn’t boot beyond the apple logo and timer thing. I was so upset. I love my macbook so much, it recently travelled to the US with me and if I don’t take the time to at least boot it once a day, I’m sick.

Anyway, I called Apple care and booked an appointment to see an Apple genius the next day. The problem I next had was that I had to pull out my old sony Vaio laptop that runs Windows XP and has a version of Jaws for windows running on it. It wasn’t a prospect I was looking forward too, let me tell you. Nevertheless, I loaded it up and encountered twitter issues with the program I have running on that laptop, then had issues setting up my gmail account in outlook express, followed by issues with not only importing music to itunes but getting the damn program to work correctly for me. I was still fighting with Itunes at lunchtime when I left to go to my apple appointment.

I never realized how counter-intuitive windows was, and I missed my specialized features that voice over on the mac offers, such as spelling as I type. I missed hearing, “misspelled” which happens frequently when I’m typing a lot. Itunes was a complete nightmare, how anyone uses that program on windows with a screen reader is beyond me. And the screen reader itself frustrated me beyond belief, freezing on several occasions, jumping on others, it was just a nightmare I do not want to repeat.

Hasten to add, my macbook was fixed and is happily being used again. I know some people prefer windows but for me, it is mac all the way. snow Leopard can keep purring happily inside my pretty white macbook with voice over being its Captain. ☺

It Is Promised to deliver! Iphone 3GS

June 9, 2009

So after two hours of anticipation, my patience paid off. During the closing minutes of wWDC Keynote, the Iphone 3GS was announced to have accessibility with voice over built in. The new technology promises to deliver the universal access that apple boast for visually impaired and hearing impaired iphone users.

This is exciting to say the least, especially now that a phone out of the box will be ready for everyone to use. Apple were very insistent that you actually don’t need any sighted assistance and I for one was glad to hear that emphasis. so much of our society’s attitude dismisses the want and need of visually impaired people to be independent. so props to apple in that respect.

So you want to hear what the Iphone promises? I will give a brief outline but until I physically play with the phone, I am still a little bemused about how to do certain things. To see what apple have written about the Iphone and accessibility in regards to vision then Click here!

Briefly, the new technology means that a visually impaired user can now use the popular touch screen of the Iphone with the assistance of Voice over, mac’s innovative screen reader that comes built into the Os. As you place your fingers on the screen and move them around, voice over speaks the items beneath your fingers. Unlike the sighted users, VI users tap twice to activate an item on the screen.

Flip technology helps to move between characters or I’m guessing up and down menus, etc. The rotary wheel that they have introduced, allows a VO user to jump between elements on a webpage or change VO settings on the fly.

The voice activation feature sounds like it will be very interesting to use along side VO, giving VI users that much extra leeway and choice of how to use their iphone.

I have to say, this will take some getting used too but it’s a challenge I am excited to undertake. Praise to Apple for even attempting this feet that most of us were not expecting for another year or two. We knew it would happen on some scale but it is definitely sounding promising from what the website details. And we will all know once the Iphone 3GS hit stores, won’t we?

My only, and this is my only criticism of Apple and the Iphone. I really wish they were not limited to one network. This appears to only be happening in the US and the UK. i did hear Australia is not limited to a network and I only wish apple would implement that world wide. I will still have one, and just run out my contract on another network but it is a real pain in the ass. And I know some of my US acquaintances have informed me that upgrading customers are paying way more than the standard price. It does seem unfair and maybe in a few years to come, this will be sorted.

But let’s end on a positive note. The Iphone is here with accessibility and soon we will be able to see how accessible Apple have managed to make it.
JUNE 19TH