Freedom Scientific has released an update to JAWS 17, named version 17.0.1539. It includes fixes for braille, Adobe Acrobat, JAWS itself, Firefox, Microsoft Office, the Windows 10 operating system, and Thunderbird. This update also adds the notification of when a new episode of FSCast, Freedom Scientific's podcast, has been posted. It's a free update for JAWS 17 users, which can be installed from within the JAWS Help menu. Follow the source link below to learn more about the specific changes.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People has announced that the ONKYO braille essay contest is now open for entries. Contest entries can range from fact to fiction to poetry, as long as they are on the subject of braille and its impact on your life. Prizes range from $500 to $2000, so your story could be worth a lot of money! This part of the contest is only open to the UK, and entries are due by May 10. Please see the above link for contest rules and and entry form which must be filled out and returned with your contest submission.
In past years, the NFB has administered and collected applications for North America, but there are no indications as to whether they will do so again this summer. Stay tuned for further updates.
Swedish Research and Development Institute KCH Teams up with Wikipedia to Develop Free Text to Speech Engine
KTH, a Swedish based research institute, announced that it is working with Wikipedia to develop a crowd sourced speech synthesis platform which will be used on the Wikipedia website. While this text to speech engine will be developed to work optimally with Wikipedia, it will be open source, and expected to work with any website developed that uses the Wikimedia software. Open source means that anyone is able to freely develop plug-ins which work with other languages, or even screen readers.
3 languages will be supported from the start, English, Swedish, and basic Arabic. It is projected to be ready for launch in September of next year.
On Blind Bargains Qast 54, Liam stopped by and the gang discussed the Echo. One of the topics covered was the ability to give Alexa "skills". Think of them as small apps that perform specific tasks for you. Listen to the episode to learn more. The source Link is to a very lengthy list of the possible skills you can give Alexa. While this list was posted on March 2, several skills have been released since, including the Capitol One Skill, as reported by Mashable. Though the Echo app also lists skills, particularly for those who may be interested in the Echo, this list can be helpful. You can also check out the What's new page to keep up with the latest echo-related happenings.
uber has a non-life threatening emergency number that passengers can call. 800-353-8237 (800-353-uber), is
being represented as a non-emergency number where customers and drivers can get in touch with a live person if they
encounter an urgent situation. The number is only available in 22 cities in the US, though which exact cities
those are remains unclear. Anyone calling that number will be routed to one of the 2 call centers in Phoenix or Chicago. According to this article, Uber has stressed that this is not a replacement for 911, nor is it for simple issues like fair adjustments. The example listed in the article above is of someone forgetting medication in a car that they rely on, like insulin. To find out whether the number is supported in your city, open the Uber app and go to the account menu, and it will be listed under the "help" options. Even if it's not supported in your city, you can still call the number directly and be connected to a human being, even though you cannot do so from the app itself.
En-Vision America has quietly posted information about their 6th generation portable bar code solution to their website. The I.D. Mate Galaxy replaces the Quest and still will recognize bar codes on millions of items. This new version features a wand-like design for the reader which some have compared to the I.D. mate II from the early 2000's. The MP3 player and Wi-Fi support remains, though the camera, which saw limited use with the Quest, has been removed. Skype support, which was originally included with the Quest, was disabled in a previous update. It's listed on their store page for $1,295 though it is currently shown as out of stock. Their Galaxy product page includes brochures and user guides for the forthcoming device. We'll try to learn more about this one at CSUN 2016. Thanks to Bryan Smart for the tip.
As part of its effort to collect feedback regarding accessibility, Microsoft has posted an online survey which aims to collect more information about accessibility in their products. Users can suggest a new feature or how to improve a Microsoft product, report an issue with an existing Microsoft product, or share a story about how a Microsoft product has helped someone. SO if you ever wanted to give Microsoft suggestions on how to make their software and hardware more usable, this is your opportunity.
This is just the latest in Microsoft's efforts to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. 2015 saw the start of these changes, with more improvements outlined moving forward. A summary of changes and plans can be found in this blog post.
James Scholes has released version 2.1 of Codex, a Windows software tool which helps in reading protected ebooks such as those purchased on the Amazon Kindle. This version includes several new tools to make it easier for Kindle book owners to find and convert their titles, regardless of location. Several new configuration options have also been included.
Kindle books come with digital rights management which fight against piracy, but also make it more difficult to read titles using the software of your choice. Codex removes this protection from legally-purchased titles, meaning you can use standard programs or a portable book player to read your collection. Legally speaking, this is possible because of a Library of Congress exemption which allows the altering of files to enable access for people who are blind or visually impaired. Codex is free, though people who donate will receive access to beta versions of the software. Follow the link on this post to learn more about the changes or to download the latest version.
AI Squared has released another bug fix release for Window-Eyes, focused on stability improvements. The company is continuing the process of improving cross-compatibility between ZoomText and Window-Eyes, especially for its recently released Fusion product which includes both screen reading and magnification features. Version 9.4 also includes improved support for the latest versions of Java and updated Hims braille display drivers. Get the update now from the AI Squared website or by using the Check for Updates feature from the help menu. The 9.4 announcement is below.
American Printing House for the Blind Releases new Utility to Convert Documents in to UEB Digital Braille
The American Printing House for the Blind has released a free tool which allows for the conversion of files in to digital braille format. The utility, called Send to Braille, is available for Windows, and allows for the conversion of files from Microsoft Word (both doc and DOCX), Rich Text format (RTF), and plane text (txt), in to the BRL format. By default, the conversion will be in to the UEB braille code, but there are instructions on how to change this on the Send to Braille utility page.
Installation was very simple, and the Send to Braille option then appeared in my Send To menu as "braille". In my brief testing, the utility was able to convert files very rapidly, with a 500 KB RTF file taking less than 10 seconds. No formatting other than paragraphs were preserved, but headings appeared on their own lines.
At the bottom of the Send to Braille page, APH encourages the development of other such utilities for other platforms, which could mean that they will not be developing such a utility for Linux or Mac. Further information about this utility, step by step instructions on using it, and more about Send to Braile can be found through the link above.
Many stakeholders who support those requiring written materials in a specialized format have put their names behind the Marrakesh Treaty. The American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Benitech, Learning Ally, National Federation of the Blind, and the Perkins School for the blind are among the organizations lending their support.
The Marrakesh Treaty would facilitate the more rapid production of materials in a specialized format for individuals who have a print disability. Even with access to resources such as Book Share,, NLS, Learning Ally, and many more, the amount of materials in an accessible format remains low, even in the United States. If Congress agrees to sign this treaty, it would require the government to have an exception to their copyright law. This exception would permit individuals, organizations, and agencies to produce materials in specialized formats for people with reading disabilities without needing to get permission from the publisher first. Specialized formats include, but are not limited to, DAISY, BRF, or braille embossed versions of written materials protected under the copyright law.
This treaty also gives people and organizations the right to share content in specialized formats with their counterparts in other countries which have also signed the treaty. This means that someone who produces an accessible version of a written piece in South Africa, for example, could legally share it with someone in Australia or in the United States. This would prevent duplication of work, and would allow those with print disabilities to have access to more materials and resources worldwide in a more timely manor.
If you are interested in reading more about this treaty in not-so-technical terms, the World Blind Union has explained and summarized the treaty. A copy of the letter requesting "Rapid ratification" of the Marrakesh Treaty can be found at the source link below.
Last week brought us the first full week of spring training baseball, but it's not the only pre-season activity underway. The National Federation of the Blind has now officially opened up preregistration for its anual convention. According to the Convention Page, preregistering for the conference will save atendees $5 on a bankwit ticket, and also $5 on the registration fee for the convention itself. Attendees have until May 31 to complete the process to save money. Just like the past few years, the NFB convention will be held in Orlando Florida. Dates for this year's convention are June 30 through July 5.
According to theACB Convention Page, preregistration for their convention will begin in May. The actual event will be from July 1 through July 8, in Minneapolis Minnesota.
We reported on the Amazon Dot yesterday but were initially left without a way to preorder it. Now, a link has been found which will let you preorder the new Amazon Echo device. To order, follow the source link on this post. The Dot is available for $89.99 plus tax and will ship at the end of March.
Update: This method of ordering has now been disabled.
Listen up sports fans, this one's for you. A researcher at Drexel University is seeking feedback on the accessibility of sports team websites. The survey will ask about the website for one of your favorite teams including the shopping experience for this site, as well as your personal interest in sports. To take the survey, follow the source link on this post.
For those looking to master their iPhone or iPad, two new training options have been released with wildly differing price points.
Freedom Scientific has announced a new "training bundle" for VoiceOver users on Apple's iOS platform. The bundle includes over 10 hours of VoiceOver training in DAISY format which come pre-loaded on a 2 GB SD card. The training is said to be applicable to new users of the iPhone or iPad and covers the very basics, according to the press release. This training material also comes with a Plextalk Pocket, which allows you to play the DAISY content that you have purchased. The cost of this bundle is $599.
Shelly Brisbin has also announced her updated book, iOS Access for all. For $20, this comprehensive text tutorial, which covers VoiceOver, low vision settings, hearing aid features and much more, is available in ePub format, which is compatible with many readers on a variety of platforms. Brisbin reports on her blog that a PDF version will soon be available as well.
It's once again time for what has become a bit of an annual tradition around here. Every March when we talk endlessly about CSUN, the largest assistive technology conference for the blind, we hear from people who would love to go, if only it was within their budget. With room rates over $200 a night, a nearly $500 registration fee, plane tickets, meals, and other expenses, the cost often seems prohibitive. With this in mind, we've updated our list of tips for enjoying the conference on a budget.
Amazon announced 2 new devices today that use the technology behind Alexa. The Amazon Tap, is available for pre-order only to Prime members at $129 and is estimated to ship on march 31. This is a portable speaker set-up which also uses the technology behind Alexa. Think the brains behind the Echo, but not the higher profile hardware.
A new, trimmed down version of the Echo, called the Echo Dot, was
also announced. priced at $89, you will only be able to order this if you already have an
Amazon Echo or Amazon Fire TV. If you're interested in being an early adopter and checking this one out, say:
"Alexa order an Echo Dot" from either of the aforementioned Alexa enabled devices. The Echo Dot appears to
not have the complex speaker system in its larger counterpart, but does offer plenty of connectivity options
to a bigger sound system. Check out either of the links in this post for more specific info, or the source for the original announcements.
Freedom Scientific Releases Update to Openbook 9, Offering Support for 3 Video Magnifiers and Improved OCR
Freedom Scientific has released a new update to OpenBook version 9. In addition to improved optical character recognition, or in non-technical terms, improved recognition of text, this update adds camera support for 3 video magnifiers: The ONYX Portable HD, the TOPAZ XL HD, and the TOPAZ PHD.
Once you install the update, if one of these 3 devices are connected to your computer, they will show up as camera options under the Advanced menu of OpenBook. This means that you can use them like you would a Pearl or other supported camera/scanner to take pictures of text. This also means that you can use one of these magnifiers to display a live image of what's under the camera, allowing you to use the low vision settings in OpenBook to change the formatting, color, and other parts of the live image to better suit your needs. The one limitation to scanning is that you cannot use the Multipage scanning feature, as these video magnifiers do not have the necessary technology to support this functionality.
Existing OpenBook users with the program installed can update their software by going in to the "help" menu and choosing "Check for updates". More information about this update is available on the What's New in OpenBook 9 page on Freedom Scientific's website. The changelog is posted below the jump.
HumanWare is once again in the teaser business, distributing an Email hailing their next big thing. They plan to unveil what they're calling "the product that will reunify efficiency and accessibility" at this year's CSUN conference on March 23. The BrailleNote Apex was released over 6 years ago and has fallen behind competing products in terms of specs. The Victor Reader Stream 2 was more recently updated while the Trekker Breeze received a refresh in 2015. Check the link on this post to sign up to get more info, or read on for their brief announcement. We'll post more information as we receive it.
Dictation has been possible in Google Docs for some time, but now Google has introduced a way for select users to edit documents using their voice. If you use the Chrome web browser with Google Docs, you can speak formatting commands such as "Select all" or "Go to the end of the line" to format and edit documents without using the keyboard. With screen reader support enabled, additional commands such as "Speak from cursor location" and "Speak table column header" are also available. Google recommends using headphones when using voice commands with a screen reader. Check the link on this post for the complete list of available voice commands, and let us know what you think in the comments.
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