Assistive technology news and info.
If you are attending the 32nd CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego this March or want to follow the action, you'll need to reprogram your brain to use a new hashtag. #CSUNATC17 replaces the traditional #CSUN17 as the official hashtag per conference organizers according to the CSUN Center on Disabilities [@csuncod](https://twitter.com/csuncod?lang] Twitter account. The change was made to avoid confusion with other events. In reality, you may just need to follow both hashtags for the time being, as tweets seem to be split between the old and new hashtags as of this article. The CSUN conference is the most tweeted about assistive technology event of the year with many participants, exhibitors, presenters, and media outlets sharing their finds and tidbits.
HumanWare has drastically cut prices on its BrailleNote Apex products, the second price cut for the previous generation notetakers since September. Customers can now purchase a 32-cell Apex for $2,995 or an 18-cell model for $1,995. That's a drop of up to $2,000 on the previous prices and just a bit over half of the original retail price. Last September Humanware dropped prices of the Apex shortly after the release of the Touch. The Apex runs a version of KeySoft based on Windows CE and has not received a major software update since KeySoft 9.5 in May of 2015.
Perhaps the only things certain in life are death and taxes, but at least the latter is a bit more accessible thanks to the efforts of the Internal Revenue Service. Hundreds of tax forms are available on the IRS accessibility website in large-print, text, accessible PDF, e-Braille, or HTML formats. Assistance in filling out tax returns is also available for qualifying individuals. Check the link on this post for more info. Taxes are due a bit later this year, on April 17.
DISH has joined a growing number of television providers to offer accessibility services as a part of its set-top boxes. In a recently-posted YouTube video, Joseph Hodge demonstrates the Hopper 3, one of the DISH receivers with text-to-speech functionality. Pressing the Option button twice launches the service which speaks the program guide, loads on-demand content and lets you record shows. According to Hodge, some of the apps including Pandora and Weather also speak, though others including YouTube and Netflix currently do not.
Text-to-speech functionality is available on the Hopper 2, Hopper 3 and Wally receivers and can be requested by contacting DISH sales for current or perspective customers. More information can be found on DISH's accessibility page.
What would you do with $25,000? The San Francisco Lighthouse is asking this question as it seeks to bestow the Holman Prize, an award which is designed to, as they put it, assist in "FUNDING THE DREAMS AND AMBITIONS OF BLIND INDIVIDUALS WORLDWIDE."
A founder and long time CEO of the Sendero Group is moving on up, literally. Mike May has accepted a job as the president of the Seattle Lighthouse. The Seattle Lighthouse is a nonprofit which employs over 400 people including over 260 that are blind and is one of the largest such organizations in the country. May takes his new post on April 3 and succeeds Kirk Adams, who stepped down in 2016 to accept the job of President for the American Foundation for the Blind.
Dictation Bridge, an open-source, crowdfunded tool which aims to enable accessible dictation of text using screen readers, has released a public beta of its add-on for NVDA. This version works with both Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Microsoft Speech Recognition, the latter available for free with modern versions of Windows. Users can speak text and have it typed into their favorite app, or control NVDA itself with commands for Dragon. JAWS and Window-Eyes add-ons are still on the roadmap for the near future.
You can hear more about Dictation Bridge on Blind Bargains Qast 55 where we interviewed Lucy Greco. For more details about the features below, check out the Dictation Bridge Public Beta page.
Captcha Be Gone, an online service which can decipher most visual CAPTCHAs on web pages, is now available for the Chrome web browser. This is in addition to support for Firefox and Internet Explorer which is already included. The service was launched last July and is available via a $3 monthly or $33 yearly plan. Both of these are introductory prices and may go up in the future.
If you had aspirations for attending both major blindness consumer organization national conventions, you can do this in 2017 and even have time to come home in-between. The National Federation of the Blind will once again hold their convention at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort though it will be later than in past years. Convention activities start on Monday, July 10 and continue through Saturday, July 15. This is the site used for the 2011 and 2016 conventions.
The American Council of the Blind's 2017 Conference and Convention is actually a day shorter than in past years, stretching from June 30 to July 7. It will return to the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nev. just outside of Reno. The ACB was last in Reno in 2011.
NFB online registration typically starts March 1 while ACB registration usually launches in May. Hotel reservations for both conventions can be made now. Check the links above for info.
Be My Eyes, an iPhone app which provides visual assistance to blind and visually impaired users, says that an Android port of their app is imminent. The original Be My Eyes app was released just over 2 years ago and was one of the first in a line of crowd assistance platforms. According to a recent Email, The app is now served over 32,000 blind and visually impaired users with the help of more than 450,000 sighted volunteers.
You can select this link to be informed of the release of the Android app.
Recently, Google's Eyes-free team released version 5.1 of the TalkBack screen reader for Android devices. This version is the first to only run on Android 5.1 and newer, which encompasses most current devices. Those running Android 4.4 or earlier received a bug fix release, version 5.0.7, which is said to be the last for these devices.
TalkBack 5.1 includes a list of minor improvements including announcing of page load percentages in Chrome, an assignable shortcut for the Quick Settings Panel, and improvements for scrolling in large lists. We've included the message from the Eyes-free mailing list below.
Facebook has announced that it is introducing a Live Audio feature that allows live broadcasts of audio-only content. The company will be testing the feature with a small number of established broadcasters including the BBC World Service and LBC. iOS users will get a worse version of the service than using Android devices: while Android users can continue listening to a Live Audio broadcast while using other apps, iOS users will need to remain within the app. You can, though, browse other Facebook content while listening. If you fancy yourself as a live radio host or live podcaster, the company says that it will be making the feature more available to publishers and people early in the new year.
Microsoft Announces Accessibility Plans for 2017 including Built-in Braille Support and Unattended Installs for Narrator
At the beginning of 2016, Microsoft presented a Road Map moving forward which laid out their plans and visions for the future of accessibility on Microsoft products. Microsoft has now published a list of things they hope to achieve in 2017.
Microsoft is taking automatic picture recognition a step further in an online demo which recognizes and describes images. According to the home page, for CaptionBot, "I can understand the content of any photograph and I'll try to describe it as well as any human."
When it comes to issues of a personal matter, blind people are often left without an accessible way to perform tasks that they may wish to remain private. Team SEER at Rice University is conducting a survey seeking input on a possible accessible urinalysis) device, a tool which can detect blood in a person's urine. The survey is estimated to take 5 minutes to complete and no compensation is provided. We've linked to it from this post.
A new app aims to alert blind and visually impaired people of oncoming traffic lights. City Lights is a free iPhone app which will vibrate three times while someone is walking when they near an intersection with a traffic light. The app currently works in San Francisco, Oakland, Chula Vista, Boston, Manchester, Montreal, Victoria and Athens and other cities are being added regularly. An Android version is also being explored. Check the link to learn more or to download the app.
Roku, makers of the most popular line of streaming media players, has added a basic Audio Guide feature in its latest update. Version 7.5 allows the user to navigate through menus, adjust settings, and load some of the many channels available, though users report that accessibility in this initial release is spotty at best.
If you voted in the 2016 election in the U.S., the National Federation of the Blind wants to hear about your experiences good or bad. This year, there are two surveys available depending on the method you used for voting. Blind and low vision voters who cast their ballot at an early voting center, local polling place on Election Day, or by absentee ballot that was received by regular mail, should complete this survey Alternatively, blind and low vision voters who used a personal computer or tablet to mark their ballot should complete the electronic ballot delivery survey Responses are due by November 29.
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. Parents or teachers of children under 10 can visit the Santa Letters page to request a braille letter from Santa, which will be produced by National Federation of the Blind elves in contracted braille and mailed to the child. A print version of the letter will also be included. Letters are free, and requests must be received by December 16.
Nearly 6 years after the passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, rules have finally been put in place to ensure that quiet cars will make noise when traveling at low speeds. Most vehicles traveling under 18.6 MPH will need to emit an audible sound, though the ruling gives automakers flexibility on what exactly that sound would be. The rules have been delayed for years which has also delayed their implementation. The new rules are set to take effect by September 1, 2019 and cost the auto industry roughly $39 million annually.
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