Blind Bargains

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Seeing AI version 2.0 released with new features, including handwriting and currency recognition



Version 2.0 of Seeing Ai, the app which Microsoft released earlier this year and which has now been downloaded over 100000 times, was released today. In addition to now being available in 35 countries, version 2.0 of the app has introduced a number of new features likely to be of interest to blind and visually impaired users.

Virgin Atlantic offers audio description on its in-flight entertainment



We all hate flying. Its crowded, its risky, and no telling what security is going to ask next. However, if you fly the international airline Virgin Atlantic, your flight has just gotten a little better. Following in the recent trend of adding audio description to mainstream content, Virgin Atlantic has just added audio description to their in-flight media.

iOS Review: MindNode 5, AN Accessible Mind Mapping Tool for Writers



This is the first in what I hope will be a series of articles exploring various iOS writing apps. I hope to cover planning apps, writing apps, generic iOS apps, and explore ways these tools can best be used in concert with one another. Today we will be looking at MindNode 5, an accessible app for creating mind maps.

Company Seeks Feedback about Airport Check-in Kiosks



If you have opinions or experiences regarding airport check-in kiosks, a company wants to hear from you.

November's BrailleNote Touch Update could Make You a Graphing Pro



The November update for HumanWare's BrailleNote Touch is all about math, especially graphing.

Santa Again Contracts with the NFB to Send Braille Letters to Blind Kids



In what has become an annual tradition, Santa Claus has partnered with some of his elves in Baltimore to send braille letters to blind children.

Cash In with $1 Off Uber, $10 for Signing Up, Other Online Deals with the Free Ibotta App



If you are a frequent Uber user or enjoy getting money back for shopping, the Ibotta app may be worth a look, and now you can get a $10 bonus for trying it out.

NVDA 2017.4 Release Candidate Diversifies Browse Mode Support, Drops XP and Vista



Another season, another release candidate for NVDA. The 4th version for 2017 includes a variety of improvements and also drops Windows XP and Vista support.

Guest Blog: Apple Design for Most of Us



The following is a guest opinion post from Alex Hall. We thank him for sending in the below article.

Earlier this week, I saw a
couple
of
tweets
from Joe regarding Apple, usability, iPhone X, etc. Rather than engage over Twitter, I thought I'd write an article in response. Twitter may have recently doubled its character limit, but it is still quite a limited forum for long-form thoughts and discussions.

First, here is the text of both tweets. I've put it into a single paragraph for convenience.

I’m tired of Apple, and their loyalist brethren, telling me I’m a Luddite for not excepting change. Touch Bar, headphone jack home button. And all the changes have been added to pad apples production cost. Not because the change is benefiting the user.

The gist of Joe's opinion seems to be that Apple is making devices less usable, introducing features that aren't necessary and that serve mostly to make money. Remove the headphone jack, and suddenly, those AirPods are way more appealing. Furthermore, Apple doesn't make devices as usable as they used to (the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar and the missing home button on iPhone X being two prime examples).

My basic point boils down to this. The way I see things, Apple isn't interested in making devices that are the best to use for every single customer. Rather, they make devices that are best to use for the majority, then they try to make that design accessible to the rest. A prime example is the iPhone. Physical buttons are objectively easier to use by visually impaired people than flat, featureless touch surfaces, as evidenced by every blind person who has cursed their iPhone while trying to use an automated menu while on a call. But Apple didn't include a physical keypad around which was worked a touch screen because that wasn't the vision they had for the majority of their users. Instead, they added VoiceOver, to make the touch screen as accessible as possible to those who would be less able to use an iPhone. Other accessibility efforts have emerged since, from VoiceOver improvements to low vision and touch accommodations and beyond. However, Apple didn't set out to make a phone that was optimized for the deaf, or blind, or paralyzed, they made the phone they thought the world wanted, then made that design as accessible as they could.

The Touch Bar is a more recent example, and as a user of a MacBook equipped with such a bar, I can speak from personal experience. For blind users, the bar is a poor replacement for physical keys in many situations. It has some advantages, such as sliders for fine-grained control, or offering buttons at one's fingertips instead of the user having to remember keystrokes. But there are plenty of times I miss physical keys, and that's just in macOS; running Windows on this computer is even more of a challenge. Yet, for sighted users, the concept makes a lot of sense. A strip of seldom-used keys is replaced by a touch screen, letting developers put whatever they want on there. Sliders, emoji, typing suggestions, oft-used commands, macros, the list goes on. Is it the best for blind users? No. Is it the best for a certain kind of power user? No. For touch typists who rarely even look down at their hands? No. But for the majority of users, the idea makes sense. Apple then added great VoiceOver support to the Touch Bar, made the function key with numbers emulate f-keys, and took other steps to help blind users get the most from the bar. Those efforts, combined with key remapping in VMWare (which I use to run Windows) mean that my Touch Bar is fully accessible. To Joe's point, no, it's not as efficient or usable, and I'll be the first to admit that. I think about him saying that every time I have to tap the escape key, then double tap it to activate it. What I'm getting at is that Apple never intended this MacBook to be made for my specific needs or what I would find to be most usable. They made it for the masses, then made it so I could use it if I chose to.

There's also Apple's vision to consider. I'm not saying this vision is right, or even preferable, but the fact is, it's there. Apple has the vision, and they have the talent and the hardware and the developers and the money. Apple will follow their vision, and if the market hates it enough to not buy it, they'll adjust. But much of the time, the market is on board once they get ahold of the new device/design. I'm thinking of the iPhone here. The chief designer of the iPhone line has
said that the ultimate goal for iPhone is a single slab of glass.
No holes, no buttons, no nothing, just a glass-encased device driven entirely by voice, touch, and wireless. That vision is the goal, and iPhone X is the first step toward it. Is having no home button better or worse than having one? Depends, but the sighted reviewers I've read seem to not care about its removal at all. Will blind users? Yes, of course, but I've not heard much negativity toward the idea even from that group. Admittedly, though, the intersection of blind people I know/read, and the population that has the new iPhone, is very small, so time will tell on that point. Still, Apple did its best to make the new design accessible, with tactile feedback as the user's finger moves indicating where to start, and when to stop, moving. Is the new model the best for every user? No, but that's never been Apple's way. They do what they think is best, and then make it as usable as is practical.

This may also involve a shift in usage patterns. I've had my own iPad now for only a day or so, but I find myself rarely pressing the home button. Instead, I bring up the dock, and find the app I want there. Between apps I've placed there, and suggested apps, I almost never have to go to the home screen. A two-finger swipe from the bottom edge feels completely natural to me, after very little use; I don't doubt that many iPhone X users will experience something similar. They may not miss the home button because the way they interact with the device has changed. Even if they use the home command a lot, it could be a quick adaptation that seems quite normal after relatively little adjustment.

Joe's other point was that much of the design changes are to make money. First off, I agree. Since Apple is still a publicly traded company, it has to make money. The job of any CEO is, ultimately, to turn a profit with his or her business. Apple has always been expensive, and iPhone X is no different. But it's also no different from other Apple firsts. The company seems to do this quite often: make a new product category, or a radical redesign of an existing one, and charge more than expected. Then, as that new thing evolves and matures, the price will stabilize. MacBooks weren't always $999, and Minis weren't always $499. When prices do remain the same, the specs generally get better. See iOS device storage changes, or the bump in MacBook base model storage, or the increasing power of Apple Watch, for more instances of better value for the same cost.

Yes, iPhone X is super expensive. But that's normal for a new product like this. Apple has never gone bezel-less, never used Face ID sensors, never not had a home button, and never, to my knowledge, used a new alloy of stainless steel in any iPhone. Besides, they didn't drop all other options; they still offer the SE, 6s, 7, and the all-new 8, which was unveiled right next to the X. Eventually, I don't doubt the X form factor will be the only one around, but that's very likely years away. For now, everyone has options, and with the 8, users aren't even giving up performance or storage if they want the classic iPhone style.

As someone who does occasional device training, I know exactly where Joe is coming from when he talks about the difficulty of training someone on a gesture-centric device like iPhone X. Believe me, I had to suffer through the iOS 11 mail rotor bugs with someone who'd only just started to grasp using mail, and I've had to talk people through enough broken websites or random screen reader failures to know that pain all too well. If someone won't do well with no "get me outta here" button, though, they can pick up an older iPhone, or an 8. There are still options, and those who don't want to pay the early adopter/beta tester tax don't have to.

To sum up, I think Joe's points are that Apple is making changes just to make them, and that making new interfaces usable doesn't mean they're efficient to use. I'd say that they have to keep changing things, or they don't make as much money, and making money is why any for-profit exists. Besides, remember all the people saying how boring the old phone design was, when it didn't change in three years? As to usability, being a Touch Bar user, I absolutely agree. But what I've come to think is that Apple makes products for the majority, and in line with what they see as the future. Then, they make those as usable as they can. Sometimes, that's an ultra-efficient experience, like the actions rotor or braille screen input. Sometimes, it's less than great, like the Touch Bar. But just as visually impaired people don't always get the best experience, neither do sighted people. Is everyone happy with the notch in iPhone X, or the fact that MacBook Airs still lack retina displays? Not at all. Taking the good with the bad is part of owning any product, though, whether one is sighted or blind.

I'm not trying to change anyone's mind or start an argument. I just wanted to offer my own thoughts on this, providing some possible rationality for what I took to be somewhat undeserved criticism of Apple. I'm not saying, and will never say, that Apple is perfect or that everyone should use their products. I've tried to talk people into going with Apple, but just as often, I've told them Windows, or Android, or Roku would be their best choice. I've never suggested someone buy an Airport router, and I don't go out and buy the latest shinies just because they exist. I want to sometimes, but I don't. I'm also happy to criticize Apple when they deserve it, such as their not including USB-C adapters with the 2016 or 2017 MacBook Pro, or the release of past iOS versions with important accessibility bugs not yet fixed. I'm not a fanboy (at least I hope I'm not) despite how my Twitter feed may slant. But I wanted to respond to these tweets, so there we go. I know plenty of people will probably disagree, and that's great. These are important discussions to have, especially as we're in the early days of what is likely to be a new iPhone paradigm. Just remember that Apple is a business, and not one whose aim is to produce accessibility-specific technology.

Firefox Quantum May Slow Down your Screen Reader on Tuesday; Here's What You Can Do



Firefox 57 Quantum will be released on Tuesday, and many screen reader users may want to avoid the update.

Now you can Describe Chicken Nugget in 280 Characters with Version 4.5



Accessible Apps has released another free update to the Chicken Nugget Twitter client for Windows and now Twitter is twice as fun.

Breaking: Germany's BAUM Retec AG Files for Bankruptcy Protection as it Restructures, BAUM USA Still Open



BAUM Retec AG, the parent company of BAUM USA and makers of the VarioUltra braille displays, has filed for bankruptcy protection in Germany. Baum USA remains open, however.

One International Airline Now Offers Boarding Passes in Braille



While smartphones have made it easier to gain access to important travel information, sometimes you might just want a boarding pass in braille, and one airline is doing just that.

SuperNova 16.06 Fixes more than a Dozen Bugs



If you've experienced crashes in PowerPoint or Windows Live Mail or more than a dozen other issues, they may be fixed in the latest free update for Dolphin's SuperNova.

TalkBack 6.1 Beta Adds Quick Language Switching, Enhanced Navigation in Native Apps



A new round of beta testing for Android's TalkBack screen reader has begun as the first beta of TalkBack 6.1 has been posted.

JAWS 2018, not JAWS 19 Now Released



On the heels of another round of public betas JAWS 2018 is now ready for mass consumption.

APH Blasts Through Textbook Barriers with Free Advanced Transcription Tool



APH's New Braille Blaster may become an indispensable tool for transcribers and students, and it's available now for free.

The Bitcoin Whitepaper in Braille Can be Yours for Free Thanks to A Crowdfunding Effort



Those interested in receiving a free copy of the Bitcoin Whitepaper, complete with tactile diagrams can now place preorders thanks to a crowdfunding effort.

Join a Free Conference Call to Ask your Burning AIRA Questions



If you wanted to learn more about AIRA, a conference call is available this Wednesday to answer your questions.

Portion of Enchanted Hills Camp Destroyed by California Wildfires, Lighthouse Pledges to Rebuild



A major portion of Enchanted Hills Camp including staff and camper residences has been destroyed by the California wildfires.

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