Assistive technology news and info.
Earlier this year, we heard about a new personal assistant service called Magic which works entirely via text messages. It can be used for everything from arranging deliveries to solving complex situations where you just don't have time to personally attend to every matter.
In their own words, "We have trained operators standing by 24/7 to answer every one of your requests." What exactly can Magic do? "Anything you want. As long as it's not illegal. Seriously. Just try it."
At Blind Bargains, we're always excited for new services that promise to make our lives easier. But we need your help in deciding a good test case for Magic. That's where you come in. In the comments, let us know what we should have Magic do. Perhaps you just want some sushi on your doorstep. Perhaps you need someone to come over and mow your lawn. Or maybe there's something access-specific that Magic could help with. We're clearly less creative than you tonight, so leave your best ideas in the comments. Who knows, we may act on your request.
To sign up for yourself, text the word hello to 83489. For now, you'll be put on a waiting list as the service expands to let in more users. We'll report back soon with our results.
Accessible Apps has released a major free update to its Chicken Nugget Twitter client for Windows. Version 3.0, which is perhaps the biggest update ever, includes support for Twitter's new direct message limits, which now allow users to send messages up to 10,000 characters in length. Among the long list of additional features is support for scheduling tweets using the Buffer service, per-user sound packs, and support for muting individual users. The complete list of changes is below.
If you had trouble receiving a reliable data connection while at one of the recent NFB conventions, network jamming may be the reason. Smart City LLC, the company which provides wireless Internet services to several convention centers including the Orange County Convention Center, has admitted to interfering with wireless networks to block signals from cell phone providers. Visitors instead were presented the option of paying nearly $80 a day for Internet access, often more than the cost of an entire month of 4G service from a cellular provider. Smart City has been fined $750,000 and has claimed to cease the use of their blocking technology.
According to the FCC order .PDF, "Smart City (i) admits that it prevented certain Wi-Fi users at these locations from establishing or maintaining a Wi-Fi network independent of Smart City’s network, (ii) will implement a compliance plan under which it commits to not engage in Wi-Fi blocking, and (iii) agrees to pay a $750,000 civil penalty."
Screen reading companies aren't the only assistive technology vendors needing to update their products to support Windows 10. Index Braille has released version 8.10 of their embosser drivers which includes Windows 10 support among other improvements. The drivers work for current generation V4 and previous generation V3 embossers, providing Windows 10 support for embossers more than 10 years old. The list of features from the Index website is included below.
Ian Humphreys of Spoonbill Software has added two game titles to his large roster of free games. This time, it's two variations on the game of Dominos, where you can play against the computer. As before, the games can be requested by sending an EMail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The announcement with more info is below.
Upgrading to Windows 10 has been a hot topic of late. We spent an entire podcast talking about its features and much more. AI Squared, makers of the Window-Eyes screen reader, has published a two-part series on how to upgrade to Windows 10 using speech hosted by Marc Solomon. Naturally, the videos use Window-Eyes but much of the information applies to users of other software. Part 1 focuses on the initial installation steps while part 2 is a more in-depth look at the rest of the process. Here's part 1 and part 2
The release candidate for the 3rd major update for NVDA in 2015 has been released. This release includes initial Windows 10 support, experimental support for the new Microsoft Edge web browser in Windows 10, improvements to allow for easier navigation in web apps and other sites, and a smattering of bug fixes. The complete change log is below.
A blind Paralympic athlete was recently prominently featured in a promotional video for the Uber ridesharing service. Matt Simpson is a member of the United States goalball team, which just took silver at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto, thanks, in part, to a thrilling overtime win over Canada last Friday.
The accompanying YouTube video shows Matt on the court and how Uber has enabled a more independent lifestyle where life isn't scheduled ahead of time for him.
PhD students from the Enhancing Ability Lab at Cornell University are looking for participants for a research study regarding using smart glasses while shopping for groceries. Participants must have some usable vision and will be compensated. We've included the announcement from the researchers below.
On the sad ccasion of the death of Jim Kitchen last week, Bryan Smart has released a mega pack which includes all of his Windows games in a single installer. It runs on modern versions of Windows including Windows 10.
In Bryan's words, "Jim was an extraordinary person that dedicated the later years of his life to creating free games for the blind community. Over the years, his games were released by the comically fictitious Kitchen’s Inc. As Jim’s game collection grew, the joke became that he had programmed everything except the kitchen sink. With his passing, I present to you The Kitchen’s Sink, containing all 37 of his SAPI-speech- based Windows games and apps, in one fun-packed place!" Follow the link to download the games.
Jim Kitchen, one of the most prolific developers of free audio games for DOS and Windows, has died. He was 58. For nearly as long as there has been accessible Windows computers, Jim Kitchen through his Kitchens Inc. website has provided a daunting supply of free games to pass the time or otherwise entertain. Among his most popular were his rendition of golf, which included an editor to create custom golf courses, and Monopoly, his take on the classic board game.
From Las Vegas titles to sports games, many timeless classics received the Jim Kitchen treatment. Kitchen has been creating and posting games since 1995, when the first DOS titles were released. From the random commercials in baseball to the sporadic Homer Simpsons quotes in many of his titles, his games always came with a bit of character. These were programs that were simple to learn, and a great way to teach computers or just kill a Sunday afternoon. We've linked to the complete obituary and you can post your comments and memories below.
A major update has been posted for the Duxbury Braille Translator for Windows. Version 11.3 includes improvements to UEB support including a way to convert older braille files to UEB. It also integrates with the TactileView graphics software. There's a whole host of changes, and we've included the info below.
It's often difficult to gain accurate information about blind users and their screen reader preferences. Companies rarely release sales numbers, and the industry's size makes it difficult to use standardized metrics. To this end, WebAIM has embarked on the sixth of their regular screen reader surveys, this one available through Friday, July 24. The one-page survey will take about 10 minutes to complete and asks basic questions about screen reader use and preferences. Follow the link on this post to take the survey.
Apple is making a rare public appearance at a blindness-related event. Sarah Herrlinger,Senior Product Manager for Accessibility at Apple will host a 75 minute session at this year's American Council of the Blind convention in Dallas on Tuesday, July 7. The session is free for convention attendees. We've included the session description below. Note that no meeting location was included with this announcement.
Accessible Apps has released a major release to QRead, its Windows-based file and book reader. The latest release includes direct Bookshare.org integration, support for tables using an embedded browser, improved support for modern Microsoft Office documents, Goodreads integration, and several bug fixes. The changelog is below. It's a free update for existing users. Read more at the QRead page on the Accessible Apps website.
Say Shopping, an app which allows you to order products online using your voice, is now available from the iTunes App store. We previously discussed the app with SayApps founder Chris Maury on Blind Bargains Qast 20 where you can hear an audio demo. Currently, the app interfaces with Target.com, with the possibility of other stores in the future.
Hartgen Consultancy is lining up some big discounts for convention season. Starting July 5, the Leasey add-on for Jaws along with other products including J-Dictate will be available for half off. You do not need to attend any of the conventions to receive this deal. Check the link on this post to learn more about these products. Deals end July 15.
Researchers to Demonstrate Their Solution for Cheaper Braille Displays at Chicago Haptics Conference
Stop us if you've heard this one before. A team of researchers are developing a multiline braille display that could dramatically reduce the cost and increase braille literacy. This isn't a rerun, rather another in a growing list of projects aiming to combat the fall of braille adoption in recent years. Sile O’Modhrain and Brent Gillespie, two researchers from the University of Michigan will present their findings at the World Haptics Conference in Chicago on Tuesday.
According to an article from the Economist, The screen of the device includes a grid of pins the diameter of Braille dots. Normally, the tops of these pins are flush with the screen’s surface. When needed, though, they can be pushed upwards to create patterns representing Braille symbols. This is possible because each pin rests on a silicone-rubber membrane that sits above a small cavity. The cavity is, in turn, connected to a tiny pneumatic line and valve. When air is blown through the valve into the cavity, the membrane balloons up, pushing the pin above the screen’s surface."
The researchers anticipate that a display the size of a tablet, with 26 lines of 40 cells each, could be sold for under $1,000.
If you were waiting to drop $10,000 on a device which allows you to navigate using your tongue, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just made your dreams come true. The BrainPort V100 uses a camera mounted on a pair of sunglasses, a remote control, and a small square device that rests on the users tongue. After training, users can navigate hallways, read short words, and even play darts. The device was approved in Europe in 2013 and is now making its way stateside after the FDA approval. Here's a 2011 BBC article on the technology. Check the link on this post for more info.
Tyler Spivey has done it again. Access to a popular text adventure on Game Boy may have been one of the last things that anyone thought was possible, but a new project has done just that. The Pokecrystal access project is a set of scripts which provide access to the game Pokémon Crystal using a Game Boy emulator and text-to-speech. As text is displayed on the screen, the scripts allow the user to read it, understand their surroundings, and play a game intended for a portable console. It's one of the few examples we've seen which gives access to a game on a mainstream gaming platform. Check the link on this post to get more details including a downloadable version that you can play.
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