How iSee the future with iTv

August 25, 2010

How I Foresee the Future with iTv

Whether this could happen, or I am merely living in a fantasy world, time will only tell.

I’m no expert when it comes to technology but I know potential when I see it. There are a few jumps companies like Apple, Comcas in the US and Sky Satellite in the UK would need to do to ensure this possible, which as we all know is a huge ask, but the potential of what ITv would bring to the visually impaired market is astounding.

The iTv product, regardless of the controversy of its name, shared with a major television network in the UK, poses an idea of change. And maybe the big techs at Apple have foreseen my own revelation and are working toward this very idea, not for the sake of their visually impaired customers, who until have not been able to utilise the Apple television but for a combined and easier experience for all consumers. It is safe to say that what will remain on the Apple TV is the ability to stream your own media or media of that from the internet. What has not been discussed, but I will speculate upon, is the idea of cable and satellite companies utilising the iTv device to create a single unit experience.

IOS4 will be running on the device, this is certain and we all know that IOS4 includes voiceover, contrast, zoom and mono hearing. These accessibility technologies give us an opportunity to dive into the future and speculate a little.
Imagine, for one moment, coming home with your $99, as it has been proposed to cost, Apple iTv and connecting it to power, switching it on, registering it independently, going to the iTunes store and downloading your relevant television service app to your iTv device. Log in with a user name and password and any other information that may be required from your television provider and hey presto, it must be magic. Now sitting before you, in a completely easy to navigate screen is the interface of your television provider’s menus. Now, not only can you see your show and what is coming up, but you can browse through the menus and record, view, delete shows you have watched or check out the television guide. Hell, if you really want to go wild, head over to the interactive and use it to your heart’s content.

I’m no technical expert, and anyone in the know, feel free to tell me it’s not possible but from what I’ve seen, this could work.

Now jump forward a few months if you are in the uK, and imagine, huge television providers are being backed into a corner because the new equality is about to launch and every digital provider is proverbially wetting themselves because they now know they have to provide all digital content in an accessible format. Wow, iTv steps in, you develop an app that works with voice over, not only do your low vision users, which is a high percentage of the population, elderly included, now have access but so do many severely visually impaired users all around the country. What a job, you just made a lot of people happy.

And maybe i’m jumping on the dream boat but I think if this could happen, Apple will just have revolutionised another part of my blind world. Hey Apple, hotpoint called, they want IOS4 installed on all of their washing machines. Oh, and Bank of America say they want speech on their ATMs with the ability to have a bluetooth braille display. Apple, the core of what could be is purely in your hands, run and solve the segregation problems and allow visually impaired users of all technologies enjoy the technical revolution.

OK, I’m back to reality but it’s nice to dream and who knows, it could happen. Couldn’t it?

The Kindle and Accessibility

August 25, 2010

I’ve blogged about this issue before, and how Amazon had been backed into a corner. But with the launch of iBooks, with the use of text to speech being allowed, that corner is opening up. I won’t reiterate the arguments I’ve stated previously about text to speech verses audio books but we all know they are not the same thing.

However, I tried to install the mac kindle app tonight, just to see if it would work. It doesn’t. You can’t get past the registration screen. So I emailed Amazon, to see if we get a response. It would be nice if we as visually impaired people had options opened to us. iBooks is getting there, it’s still young and I don’t doubt it will continue to improve but the kindle offers a lot more books and the option to subscribe to papers and magazines also. Having both platforms accessible to us would be fantastic and give a broader choice of books and competitive prices.

Below is the email I sent to
kindle-feedback@amazon.com

For a long time I’ve hoped to download an app, either via the appstore or the mac kindle app and be able to not only use the user interface but read books on my mac or IOS devices. I’m an avid book reader, the only problem is that i’m totally blind and therefore depend on text to speech, Apple’s voice over, to read screen content to me. Sadly, the apps are inaccessible from the start and so I assume, maybe incorrectly that the books are unreadable also.
iBooks have opened a whole new world to me as a blind reader and I hope that Amazon can join the competitive Ebook market, not only for the sighted world but for those of us who depend on a screen reader to communicate the information on a digital screen.
Could you please inform me if there is anything being done, and a possible time line if so for the kindle devices, kindle apps on various platforms becoming accessible to the blind, low vision and dyslexic readers out there?
Thanks for any response.

If you feel like dropping them an email also, I don’t see it would do much harm. The more they are aware of another potential market, the better.
I’ll keep you posted with any response.

How dO You See Me?

July 23, 2010

I’ve always perceived my blindness as a part of me but it seems as though society may have a very different view about what being blind is truly about.

A recent documentary shown on the BBC has made me think long and hard about how the “sighted” world views us as blind people. I know who I am and I’m comfortable with every aspect, I’m a performer, i’m a student, I’m a fundraiser, I’m a writer, I’m a woman, and I’m blind. It’s a fact of my life but when I walk down a street with my trusted guide dog by my side, what am I to others? The blind woman with the guide dog. And this does bother me.

As a blind individual, we are then categorised with so many stereotypes and the majority of us hardly come close to any of those bad habits that some blind people are guilty of. We are not all recluses, we do not all rock, and we do not all need someone to take us everywhere and do everything for us on a daily basis. There are a percentage of us who work, study, own our own homes, have families and live active and social lives without adhering to even one of the stereotypes the general public like to believe we are a part of.

I see some tweets from ignorant sighted people who believe we cannot watch movies, or should not be walking down the street, are shocked to see an attractive blind person or indeed that we are incapable of having sex. Those of us who are out in the world and are interacting with abled bodied people are forever questioned about our abilities and when those individuals are enlightened, utter shock seeps from their every pore.

Blindness does not stop us living our lives and yet still, documentaries are giving a very slanted view of what being blind is really all about.

The one positive point, I, as a blind person took from this BBC documentary, called “the blind me” is that it also represented the flaws of the sighted world and their treatment of blind individuals. Some sighted people patronise the blind, or think us to be stupid along with deaf as they walk away giggling about the blind girl who will not know they just left and I’m happy to say this is not true for all sighted individuals. But to those who have ever used a person’s blindness against themselves, shame on you. It’s not big and it’s not clever. Just remember this, most of us have sighted friends who can tell us about the rude gestures or even our own hearing can betray your rudeness and ignorance.

Just take a moment to think of how, if you are sighted, you perceive a blind individual, and if you are blind, do you really think the sighted world has an accurate assumption of what you as a person are all about? If you could dispel only one stereotype, what would it be? And is it fair for the sighted world to continue to make assumptions?

Personally, I believe there should be more representation of people with disabilities within different media outlets wherever possible and should definitely be more represented within soap operas that are meant to be close to representative of British culture as possible. And if those creators decide to develop a part, research should be done honestly and realistically instead of making blind people either into rocking wrecks or super heroes that can drive ten ton trucks.

I know how I see myself, but I also know the majority of the sighted world see me as a lesser individual with limited independence and desires and goals for my own future. Ah well, I’ll keep proving them wrong, shall I?

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.

 

 

Nambu: A twitawesome App

May 23, 2010

Twitter has become a huge part of many people’s lives. From celebrities keeping their fans up to date with their lives, to news stations and sports teams keeping us all clued in to your sister telling the world of her boring existence, twitter has truly taken off. Even within the blind community.

 

Other Twitter Clients

 

On the Mac with voice over, we have had a choice of the web, the accessibility twitter page, twitterific and syrinx as our choices for twitter clients. Adium also offers a limited service but the desktop apps are limited in their various ways and for those of us who manage more than one account, or crave to add our comments to others tweets in the form of a retweet, Syrinx and Twitterific and Adium lack functionality.

 

I am an iPhone owner and have discovered many other twitter apps that are much more feature rich than those available on the mac. They are up to date with everything that twitter offers, such as the new lists feature that allows users to group their followings into a desired list. For example, all the news tweeters to a news list so you can prioritise who you read about first thing in the morning over your cup of coffee.

 

Enter Nambu!

 

So the search continued for an accessible twitter app for the mac. All seemed relatively accessible if you didn’t feel like reading any time line whatsoever. Until this past week when after requests from several twitter users to implement more accessibility, the nambu network came through for all of those voice over users yearning for a new environment to tweet in.

 

Positives

 

Nambu is currently in public beta so many of the features are new and still improving. Here are some of the major features that attracted me to Nambu.

  1. Ability to manage multiple accounts on the fly.
  2. The traditional RT feature.
  3. The option to view your twitter lists’ time lines.
  4. Different notifications for different tweets, mentions/direct messages and new tweets.
  5. The option to translate tweets.
  6. Hide tweets.
  7. Mute hashtags or users which is a very nice contribution.
  8. The ability to read your own sent tweets.
  9. The option to search for trending topics and an across twitter search.

 

Old, familiar Features

 

Some of the features you can get in Syrinx that are not lost in Nambu

  1. Conversation view. [great if you forget what you were talking about when someone replies].
  2. Reply, dM, delete own tweets, RT, Open links all with keyboard shortcuts.
  3. Follow or unfollow and block people.

 

Design

 

I think the most wonderful thing I like about Nambu is the design and feel of the app. On http://nambu.com site they state they based it on the feel of iTunes and this is certainly true. There are two views, combination view and outline view. Both are accessible with voice over and so how you use it is your choice.

 

Combination View

This view does what it says. It combines your tweets into a timeline, including your other accounts if you have them all connected. With voice over you can move through the buffers with option and right arrow or left arrow respectively. It makes the window a little less spread out and works fine but I have three accounts running and don’t want all of my accounts in one timeline so outline view is my preference.

 

Outline View

 

Imagine iTunes, you have the sources table and whatever is highlighted there is shown in the songs table. This is true in outline view within Nambu. so for example, my personal timeline home timeline is highlighted in the first table, my timeline is then visible in the buffer section which is always labelled with which kind of buffer it is, I.E., mentions/sent, etc. It does not say which account it is focussed on but this can be found out if you jump to the first table or VO to the service pop up.

 

Other Business

 

Nambu also lets you know how many characters you have left as most other apps do. And it allows you to customise sounds if you would like to and this includes a sent sound. The option to have sound schemes may be a nice add on if anyone could find a way of doing this.

 

 

One of my favourite designs in nambu is the ability to interact with the tweet and see any hashtags you can VO-Space and it will list all of the hashtags in the timeline for you. Hitting a link will take you to safari and you can also use CMD-o to open any links.

 

Conclusion?

 

Nambu is still being worked on and so features that are currently missing or not quite complete will hopefully be updated in the future. The lists works great for reading your prepared lists but the ability to edit your lists or add new members to your lists is not currently available. I have left feedback for the developers and their continued support for all their users has been a great experience.

 

Give the app a try and see what you think and if something isn’t working then visit the feedback page and give the team a constructive piece of feedback.

 

Overall, Nambu is a clean, highly functional app with a lot of potential to take over mac voice over users’ macs in the near future.

The iPad is Coming! the iPad is coming!

May 7, 2010

The iPad is coming! The iPad is coming!

Apple today announced today, 7TH May 2010 that the iPad is being rolled out to Australia, Canada, the UK, Spain, france, Germany, Italy, Japan and switzerland on 28TH May. So far, UK pricing has been released as follows:
Wifi 16 gig, £429
Wifi 32 Gig, £499
Wifi 64 Gig, £599
Wifi + 3G, £529
Wifi + 3G, £599
Wifi + 3G, £699
All prices include VAT and can be pre-ordered 10TH May with apple. all models can be bought through Apple’s online store or their retail stores and through selective third party retailers.

The iBooks app will also be released in these countries on the same day but release dates, pricing for other countries is expected in July.

So finally we have a date. Now the choice is in your hands, if to buy, which model do you get your eager hands on?

My Apple Journey

April 30, 2010

the technology market has exploded over the past 30 years. It’s hard to believe that the first computer was the size of an average room and now we have computer power in our pockets in the shape of smart phones. But the technology for me, as a blind person is very different. I want to take you on my journey through the UK educational system and the support I received in the form of technology and how I and my computing preferences have changed.

When I was in primary school, the computers we used were the early macintoshes. I remember watching things on the screen but my partial vision was difficult to be capable with a mouse. Independent computer use was not at all possible but I was taught to touch type on again, a macintosh when I was around nine or ten years of age. There was no audio output and so I relied on my learning support assistant to tell me if I’d typed something incorrectly do other functions such as save or print.

When I reached high school, information technology was a compulsory class until year nine and again, my teachers had to be the screen reader and controller for me. Hasten to add, I didn’t learn much and my IT skills were minimum at this point.

I remember seeing the jaws screen reader when I was fourteen or fifteen and thought, wow, how cool would it be to be able to use a computer independently. But not until I was sixteen would I know how great that concept would be.

Sadly, I did not get jaws to begin with as there were other kids who would utilise the magnifiers so to save costs my local education authority purchased a licence for supernova, a basic screen reader and magnifier. at least it was then.

The internet was out of reach at this point and only when I went to the US did I discover the net and all it could offer as there were computers with jaws in the disabled student services lab. I learned jaws very fast and was delighted with what I was able to do on the computer. Sadly though, my personal computer still had supernova on it and when I got home, I struggled doing all of the things I’d been used to doing in the computer labs.

When I returned to university in 2006, after being exposed to Tiger on the mac and hating it, I was glad to get jaws and have the full accessibility again. The Tiger story is a rather sad one. I was being shown the system by people who had never used a mac before either, with a manual in their hands and no clue how the system worked let alone the screen reader. so I dismissed the mac, rather ignorantly and returned to windows and jaws.

However, I was getting increasingly tired of system crashes, viruses despite the antivirus software on my PC and the constant inability of jaws to work without a bunch of scripts. The nano was announced to be accessible and I had pined for such a cool music MP3 player for a long time then. However, I knew jaws and iTunes did not work very well together and looked into buying another windows computer and window eyes which I knew was slightly cheaper. My sony Vaio was slowing up and I needed a new computer too but when I looked at the cost, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford it. So I longingly listened to a podcast on the nano and heard the guy demoing it was a mac user. I thought, if he can use a mac, so can I. So, I researched the mac and voice over, visited the Apple retail store and played with a macbook and two weeks later I brought it home with an iPod nano.

That was almost nineteen months ago and I have never looked back. My productivity is way above what I could achieve on windows; my typing has improved thanks to voice over’s ability to inform me of misspelled words; I have access to far more applications without scripting than ever before and my headaches have been cut down dramatically. If I have an issue with the mac or its accessibility, all I need to do is contact Apple’s great customer service people or their accessibility team. No more worrying about system crashes, if it should happen I can reinstall the OS with no worries independently and if that should fail, Apple care is there to help.

The mac experience hasn’t only moved my technology preferences toward Apple for computing but now for touch screen phones. I now can openly walk into an Apple store and buy most products with the confidence that the product will work out of the box. And when I should get it home, I will be able to set it up and be off within minutes without the headaches windows and its third party screen readers presented for me.

But moving to Apple also changed my attitude about accessibility. Before, I would assume a product to be inaccessible to the blind but now, with Apple’s products at least, I have faith that they will do their upmost to make the products as accessible as possible from the start.

Once the macs became accessible with voice over, they continued to develop it. We waited for the fourth generation iPod nano to become accessible and the third generation iPhone and iPod touch but with the iPad, the first generation was accessible. It shows that Apple have committed and continue to commit themselves to their policy of universal access, delivering accessibility to all of their users to the best of their ability at no extra charge.

This is probably the greatest point for me and one that makes me extremely happy I moved to the Apple mainstream world.

Would I go back?

If Apple bizarrely took away their accessibility features, I would have no choice but given that choice, no, I will not go back. I will do everything within my power to not be subjected to the instability, virus prone, and most importantly expensive side of the blind specific world. If I can use mainstream products, I will and all of my technology is Apple.

Do I believe competition is goood?
Of course. Providing it is done well and done fairly, competition is what makes the world work so well.

Do I believe anyone else can do this?

Sure, if they wanted to but most companies do the bare minimum that is required of them.

Do I think companies making assistive technology have a place in the world?

While other companies refuse to implement accessibility, yes of course. Apple products will not be for everyone, that I understand. They work great for me and for many others but I think far too many people are comfortable with what they know and are afraid of trying something new so they bas it. Companies who provide assistive technology will deny Apple’s great accessibility to be an exaggeration to save their own skins but it is down to us as the consumers to spread the word. If someone tries it thoroughly and still wants windows, go back to it but at least give the macs, the iPhones and such a chance.

Where is my own technology heading?

At this present moment continuing with Apple. With the prospect of getting an iPad and a second macbook later this year, I can’t imagine moving away from Apple for my computer and communicational needs.

I love Apple. Not everyone does or ever will but I really wish all of those people who refuse to give Apple a chance would do so and then make their own informed opinion. And for those new switchers who continuously run back to windows, research a little, you may find the mac has an answer. With the increase of macs being bought every year, more and more developers for mainstream products are considering the mac. No longer is the world going to only revolve around windows, slowly but surely the market is shifting and with major products used within the workplace such as microsoft office being utilised on the mac, time will only tell where this takes us.

I for one think the world is ready and waiting to see what Apple will surprise us all with next.

Strangely enough, my journey began with the macintosh and I hope it continues with the company I praise so much for what they have done for me as a blind, avid, technology addict.

Apple and the blind world

April 20, 2010

With the increase of mainstream accessible products from Apple, it was only time that the “blind organisations” decided to put their opinions into the mix. However, I don’t think some of these people are very well informed.

An article on the RNIB Website has continued my thought pattern of situations that have occurred in recent months, with not only British “blind organisations” but those of other countries.

Assistive technology was necessary for years and due to low market demand, prices are high. Whether you agree with those prices or not, they are fact and it would seem little can be done to change that. However, Apple has made a commitment to accessibility in the majority of its product line, only the Apple TV and IPod classics remain out of touch for its visually impaired end users but all of its computers, third gen IPhones and IPod touches, fourth gen nanos and shuffles and now the newly anticipated IPad boast accessibility features for a huge group of disabled customers from various backgrounds.

Not only are these products accessible, and yes, RNIB, out of the box, but they are no more expensive than our sighted peers would have to shell out for. Similar tablet devices, and I say similar because there are few that can be compared to the IPad, would be able to boast the same level of accessibility without third party software and the price tag, although a little more than what people would want to pay is no more than what everyone else will be paying.

For once as a generation, we are able to buy a mainstream product and not be penalised because we our visually impaired.

The article has some fair pointers, I say fair as I am A, not a low vision user and B I haven’t touched an IPad yet, about certain features or there lack of. The screen reader component is relatively accurate to all attempts and purposes, I realise this as I have A heard someone else recount their IPad experience and B use an IPhone and the experience sounds similar but it almost feels that this article is doing what it can to put off users without “lying”.

One issue I take strongly to is the “not accessible out of the box” line. This is ludicrous. If any of you have used an IPhone or an IPod touch or indeed the mac, or the IPod range, you will know all of these products only require you and your computer to get them going. Unlike a PC computer or a smartphone from another company you can literally plug your apple product in and get it going independently. For RNIB to say it is not accessible out of the box is a blatant understatement and I’m sure they know this as later on they write the accessibility features can be activated in Itunes. Well, RNIB, I’d like to point out you need to link the device to ITunes in order to register it and in that summary section you can indeed activate your chosen accessibility feature.

It almost feels like they are picking as can they honestly say that any product from Nokia or the windows side of the world has automatic turn on accessibility features. On the windows platform alone, you need sighted assistance to turn on narrator or someone to assist you closing apps when you need to install software so I deem the Apple line up as “accessible out of the box” as a completely accurate statement.

RNIB, like other organisations are sticking strongly to “blind specific” products as a rule. Yes, they may acknowledge these products exist and indeed recommend the IPhone on their list of accessible phones, but do they promote them as a viable alternative? I’d say no.

Their sister organisation is not even aware that macs are a viable option. And plenty of IT technicians that are allocated to the blind community either do not know or in fact refuse to train on macs. Slowly, through user demands, I’m aware that several higher education students have received macs through funding but I believe this is more to do with the individuals demanding it rather than it being posed as a viable alternative.

Apple has committed to their accessibility since 2005 and continues to implement its features and invent new ones on its increasing line of products so when will these organisations that are meant to be supporting the VI community catch up and offer the lower cost, potentially alternative solutions? Or will these organisations never take the chance of moving toward a medium where both mainstream products and “blind specific” products are offered as equals? For the time being, I’m saying it’s up to those of us who use these products to advertise their benefits and demonstrate the facts.

Opening The Door with Apple’s IPad?

April 1, 2010

With the launch of Apple’s next big thing on the US horizon, it is hard to escape the many articles either reviewing or speculating about the IPad.

When it was announced back in January that the IPad, otherwise known as the much anticipated Apple Tablet, rumours began to fly about all kinds of things. For those of us interested in the accessibility, Apple did not fail to deliver, including the much loved and used voice over feature on the IPad.

Since its introduction last June, the voice over feature on the IPhone and IPod Touch consequently in september, has enabled thousands of visually impaired users to utilise the products as freely as their sighted counterparts with no extra cost. Despite everyone being uncertain whether it would be introduced last year, it has possibly become an assumption that Apple would not leave out this excellent, innovative feature. And even as the IPad was launched, we soon learned that voice over was indeed featured on there too.

However, questions began to rise in conjunction with a new Apple store launching and what it would mean for the visually impaired and dyslexic users of the IPad and its technology. IBooks promise to potentially open up doors never as open as before. As true that there are organisations in many countries around the world that offer merely a fragment of printed materials in alternative formats, the amount of that content available compared to the general market is miniscule.

Enter the IPad

At launch, this product seemed as though it could be the answer to many avid readers’ dreams. Especially those with a “print impairment”. If the voice over stretched to the IBooks feature at least. However, anyone who has been around this debate for the last year or so, will know that there has been many fights about whether Text to speech is actually a violation of audio copyright.

Most of us sensible people would state that audio books are completely different to those read by a screen reader. However, the author’s gild did not agree with that notion and filed a suit against Amazon and its Kindle reader last year to ensure a feature was available to authors/publishers to turn off the speech functionality of the Kindle if they so desired.

granted, I realise that this protects the content somewhat from hackers but as no expert in the matter I will comment no further on this except to say, while you’re keeping the hackers out you are also blocking millions of readers from accessing the material because of an impairment. Even though the Author’s gild still seem rather adamant about the reading aloud situation, I’m not entirely certain Apple will back down as easily as Amazon did.

Apple’s policy of universal access would completely be in disarray if Apple allowed the voice over feature to be turned off on certain books. Not to mention the fact that it should be an individual’s right to choose how they read a book. For those who are print impaired, walking into a bookstore and picking up a book is not an option. Audio books are only on occasion made in comparison to publication of print books so Ebooks seems like the most viable option to not only avid readers but to students alike.

Imagine, trying to study and be unable to get hold of the core text because it is simply not available in the format you need. Thousands of print editions but no other alternative and if there is, I.E. an Ebook you are unable to read it because the devices capable of doing so have been blocked access because the author’s gild deem your screen reader as equivalent to a human voice.

It does seem Apple have not gone into this with their eyes shut, they rarely do but after reading and rereading the statement on their Ibooks feature page where it says,
“iBooks works with VoiceOver, the screen reader in iPad, so it can read you the contents of any page.” and maybe I am reading too much into this but it says can read the contents of “any page”. That suggests that the DRM ability like so many other devices has protected against the “print impaired” users accessing the books does not exist here. Apple does not state, will read all the content on an unprotected book’s page or anything to that affect. So, I do conclude that Apple have
A. Thought this through and
B. are keeping to their universal access policy.

The IPad, along with being a potentially fun and innovative way to do work on the go or watch movies in the car could also possibly open up the reading and studying world for millions of people that has remained firmly closed because of simple red tape.

Welcome the IPad and yet another product from Apple that just keeps making me and many others love their products more.

Changing How Voice Over Says things

March 26, 2010

Ever wanted to change how voice over says something? Well you can. Here’s how

Hit VO-F8 to open the voice over utility.
arrow down through the categories list until you get to speech.
VO-right and on pronunciation hit VO-Space to select it.
Now to the right of the pronunciation button is a table. Mac automatically edits the way some symbols are spoken but to add your own vo to add.
You should be in the first column where you type your word. So for example, the phrase lol should read laughing out loud. So type lol in the first column and then VO-right.
You need to hit VO-Space here to enter your new word, otherwise it just types your word in the first column. So where it says substitution, hit VO-Space to ensure you’re about to edit the word in the write column, it should make a pop sound to allow you to know its in the right place, type laughing out loud.
To add another word repeat the process.

You can change a word for certain applications, so if you want Lol to only work in your IM client then you can select that from the applications menu within the table.

To delete an entry
Simply highlight it in the table by putting your voice over cursor on it, stop interacting with the table and VO-right to delete and vo-space to carry out the action.

To edit an entry.
Interact with the table.
Find the entry with your VO keys you want to edit.
Ensure you VO-space on the entry you want to edit whether that be the word or the substitution before you attempt to edit it.

Hope this helps you guys.
Any questions please let me know