A few years ago, a good friend of mine, Joe Steinkamp, came to me with an idea. What if we put a few people together and record a show talking all about Android. At the time, I thought he was a bit crazy since after all, the number of blind users on an Android device was likely somewhere close to 0. Even if a few of us could successfully fill an hour talking about Google's fledgling operating system, who would actually listen? It was this willingness to think outside of the box that drove the popularity of the SeroTalk Podcast Network.
Serotek, the makers of the System Access screen reader and the company behind the Serotalk Podcast Network, have parted ways with the majority of their staff, leaving the future of the company in doubt. Those losing their jobs include Buddy Brannan, Ricky Enger, Lisa Salinger, Joe Steinkamp, and Richard Wells. Steinkamp and Enger were let go last week while the other three announced their departures earlier on Friday. The staff members let go produced and participated in many popular podcasts including The SeroTalk Podcast, Triple-Click Home, That Android Show, and End of line among others. This leaves a bare-bones staff including long-time programmer Matt Campbell and producer Jamie Pauls who remain with the company, at least for the moment. According to a post on the @serotek twitter account, the 5 left on good terms and the company is alive and well. More information is promised from the company, according to founder Mike Calvo. We know a lot of you might like to post your memories, comments, or well wishes to those who have departed. Feel free to do this in the comments. Update: An earlier version of this post stated that the 5 were fired. We based this off earlier information we had received but are unable to 100% confirm, so have changed the wording to reflect this. We apologize for any confusion. We'll post more updates as we receive them.
Senseg is one of several companies that have been working on bringing haptic feedback to touch screens. Haptic feedback makes it possible for you to feel a textured surface when you touch a screen, rather than a smooth surface. Some primitive systems have provided some feedback by triggering a device’s vibration capability when a finger is located at a specific place on the screen, but the Senseg technology uses variable electrostatic force on the surface of the screen to create the sensation of different textures. This article describes one person’s experience with using a demonstration of the technology earlier this year. This type of haptic feedback is not intense enough to produce refreshable Braille in a style that would be expected from a dedicated Braille display, but would certainly revolutionize the way that people that are blind access maps, charts, and other simple graphics that are not easily expressed with speech.
You cannot currently purchase any tablets or phones that offer Senseg’s technology, but the technology is far beyond the prototype stage. Starting now, software developers can purchase a developer kit, consisting of a specially modified Google Nexus 7 tablet and software, and begin experimenting with the creation of apps to make use of this new way of feeling a screen. Availability on commercial devices is expected with-in 1-2 years.
Quickly after the release of iOS 8, Apple released iOS 8.0.2. This version included fixes for several issues that were discovered after the initial release of iOS 8, but few VoiceOver bugs were included in the update.
For users of the oldest devices capable of running iOS 8, including the iPhone 4S, iPad 2, and iPad 3, frequent VoiceOver crashes have been reported. On these older devices, switching to the compact version of the VoiceOver voices eliminates most all of these crashes. However, if you have one of these older devices, and haven't yet upgraded, you will likely be better served by staying with the faster VoiceOver performance of iOS 7. Feature and bug lists courtesy AppleVis
The highly anticipated KNFB Reader app for iOS converts printed text into high quality speech to provide accurate, fast, and efficient access to both single and multiple page documents with the tap of a button on iPhone 5, 5C, and 5S.
The app includes many features that make it possible for blind users to obtain better reading results than other low-cost reading apps. A Field of View Report function helps to insure that you have positioned the phone's camera so that the entire document is visible. Vibration cues from the phone help you to be certain that the phone is completely level before scanning a document. Analysis functions automatically correct for many situations where documents are scanned at angles, such as signs.
Scanned documents can be read aloud with synthetic speech, including voices from Acapella, or read on your Braille display. Individuals with print disabilities will benefit from the synchronized speech and text highlighting capabilities.
As of this writing, owners of the app are reporting great recognition results, though some iPhone 6 Plus and iPad users are reporting sluggish behavior. The developers say that the problems are related to iOS 8, and will be fixed soon. The iPad, like the iPhone 4S, will run the app, but is not officially supported, and recognition results are inferior.
For a demonstration of the app, including video of it being used, look here.
Another demonstration (audio only) is here.
Blind Bargains extends its sympathy to the family and friends of Fred Gissoni, who retired from the American Printing House for the Blind in 2011 after 23 years of service.
Fred L. Gissoni was 84 years old and lived in the Crescent Hill area of Louisville, Kentucky. Fred contributed 60 years of service to people who are blind and visually impaired. Fred was known across the United States and around the world for his brilliant intellect, inventiveness, and impish sense of humor. He was born in New Jersey. Blind since birth, he did not, as he told it, go to one of the five widely renowned schools for the blind in that area, but rather, to a resource room in a public school, first in Garfield, NJ, and later in Hackensack. He was interested in amateur radio at age six or seven, and that marked the beginning of a lifelong passion for all things technical. He passed away Sunday, September 21, 2014.
In 1956, Fred took a job with a subsection of Kentucky's Department of Education. His boss was the legendary Tim Cranmer. Gissoni and Cranmer learned the abacus together, and Gissoni wrote detailed instructions for its use. That book, Using the Cranmer Abacus, is still available from the American Printing House, as is the abacus itself. Fred also wrote and taught a course on use of the abacus for the Hadley School for the Blind.
In terms of the technology blind people are using today, what stands out most notably in the work of Fred Gissoni would probably be the development of the Pocketbraille and Portabraille, collaborations of Fred Gissoni and Wayne Thompson, while the two were colleagues at the Kentucky Department for the Blind.
The Pocketbraille was built to be housed in a videocassette box (one for a VHS cassette, which was state-of-the-art in the mid 1980s.) One could enter data from a Perkins-style keyboard and hear it spoken through speech. When Fred learned of a braille display manufacturer in Italy, the project grew into a refreshable braille device called Portabraille. The Kentucky Department made only 12 Portabraille units -- two of which enabled blind people to retain their jobs. Rather than making a profit from the machines themselves, Gissoni and Thompson sold the detailed instructions for building the device for $5. Deane Blazie's interest in those plans, led to the birth of the Braille 'n Speak.
Fred was particularly proud of the Janus Slate, the double-sided interline braille slate that holds a three-by-five index card for brailling on both sides. When asked about the name of this product, he said, Well, Janus was the Roman God of portals. But I like to tell people that he was the Roman God of braille, and since we didn't actually have braille for several hundred more years, he didn't have much to do. That is vintage Fred Gissoni banter.
Other inventions he developed for APH were also small items including a pocket braille calendar and a gadget he called FoldRite, which simplified folding an 8-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper into thirds. When asked about his accomplishments, one of the things he mentioned his introducing Larry Skutchan to APH.
Fred always used an abacus and was never without a slate and stylus. Batteries die and chips fail, he said simply. On the Fred's Head web site, APH refers to him as a legend. He shared his tips, techniques, knowledge, genius, and generous spirit with blind people everywhere for more than 80 years. Fred's world of knowledge eventually became what is now the Fred's Head from APH blog.
Chec out a 2009 interview with Fred from Deborah Kendrick in AFB's AccessWorld.
A memorial service is being planned for the near future. In lieu of flowers, contributions are requested to American Printing House for the Blind, UCHM for food, or the Crescent Hill United Methodist Church. See more and sign his guest book at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/louisville/obituary.aspx?n=fred-l-gissoni&pid=172536773&fhid=10680#sthash.DC1xF6rC.dpuf.
If you are a computer gamer but you don't know where to go to get accessible games, 7-128 software has a list to help you out. The annual list from 7-128 software provides a link to the website and a description of what the site includes. The comments about each website are very useful and will help you find what you're looking for. It's awesome to see that more accessible games are coming onto the market and this is a great resource to learn about what games are available.
If you are a new Android user, or if you are curious about all of the accessibility options that Android has to offer, you can now get the information you need by visiting the Android Accessibility Help Center. The website provides information about: general android accessibility, TalkBack, Accessibility features common to applications, BrailleBack, and Android updates.
Tax day is just around the corner. If you still haven't filed your taxes for this year, Turbo Tax can help you save some money with their helpful tips for blind tax payers. There are a number of deductions that apply if you are blind. It's great to have a resource that outlines these tips in one place. Happy filing.
CVS Pharmacy announced today that it will be providing accessible prescription labels for their visually impaired customers. This announcement is a result of an agreement between CVS, the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the California Council of the Blind. Customers who are interested in using the ScripTalk labels should call 888-227-3403. The press release is pasted below.
CVS/pharmacy Now Offers “Talking” Prescription Labels for Individuals with Vision Impairments Through its Online Pharmacy
New service on CVS.com is the result of a collaboration with state and national organizations for the blind
Woonsocket, Rhode Island (March 18, 2014) – CVS/pharmacy announced today that it now provides ScripTalk talking prescription labels for prescriptions ordered for home delivery through its online pharmacy, CVS.com. The ScripTalk labels provide a safe and convenient way to access information on prescription labels for individuals who cannot read standard print. The ScripTalk labels are free to CVS.com pharmacy customers who are blind or visually impaired. Customers can also obtain a free ScripTalk reader from Envision America that will enable them to listen to the information on the ScripTalk label.
We are pleased to offer the ScripTalk service to our online pharmacy customers who are visually impaired. Enhancing access to important information about prescriptions is in keeping with our purpose of helping people on their path to better health.Josh Flum, Senior Vice President of Retail Pharmacy at CVS Caremark
Today’s announcement is the result of collaboration between CVS/pharmacy, the American Foundation for the Blind, American Council of the Blind and California Council of the Blind. These groups applauded CVS/pharmacy’s actions.
“The lack of accessible labels on prescription drug containers puts people with vision loss at serious risk of medication mishaps,” said Paul Schroeder, Vice President of Programs & Policy at the American Foundation for the Blind. “We applaud CVS/pharmacy for taking steps to provide speech access to label information for customers with vision loss along with its willingness to evaluate methods to improve large print labels.”
“This agreement is a positive step that allows for a greater level of privacy, safety, and independence for blind and visually impaired Americans of all ages who take prescription medications,” said Kim Charlson, president of the American Council of the Blind.
“The California Council of the Blind applauds CVS’s willingness to offer access to the information on prescription medication labels. As a result of this initiative, persons who are blind or visually impaired who use CVS mail order to fill their prescription needs will have the same direct, and independent access to label information as do sighted customers,” stated Donna Pomerantz, President, California Council of the Blind.
CVS/pharmacy, the retail division of CVS Caremark Corporation (NYSE: CVS), is America’s leading retail pharmacy with more than 7,600 CVS/pharmacy and Longs Drug stores. CVS/pharmacy is reinventing pharmacy to help people on their path to better health by providing the most accessible and personalized expertise, both in its stores and online at CVS.com. General information about CVS/pharmacy and CVS Caremark is available at http://info.cvscaremark.com.
About American Council of the Blind (ACB) and California Council of the Blind (CCB)
American Council of the Blind is a national consumer-based advocacy organization working on behalf of blind and visually impaired Americans throughout the country with members organized through seventy state and special interest affiliates. California Council of the Blind is the California affiliate of the ACB and is a statewide membership organization with 40 local chapters and statewide special interest associations. ACB and CCB are dedicated to improving the quality of life, equality of opportunity and independence of all people who have visual impairments. Their members and affiliated organizations have a long history of commitment to the advancement of policies and programs which will enhance independence for people who are blind and visually impaired. More information about ACB and CCB can be found by visiting www.acb.org and www.ccbnet.org.
About American Foundation for the Blind
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that expands possibilities for people with vision loss. AFB’s priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources. AFB is also proud to house the Helen Keller Archives and honor the over forty years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. For more information visit AFB online at www.afb.org.
Director, Public Relations
For the Blindness Organizations
President, American Council of the Blind
Chief Communications and Marketing Officer
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
Tel. (212) 502-7615
Simplified Summary: CVS is now offering talking prescription labels to blind customers who order through cvs.com. People will be able to listen to important information about their prescriptions. CVS will use ScripTalk talking labels. If you are blind or visually impaired you can get a free device to read the labels. You can call the cvs.com pharmacy at 1-888-607-4287. To find out more about the free device you need to listen to the labels, call: 800-890-1180. Back to the Press Release
Filed under Accessible Prescription Information, Health Care Access, News and Articles, Settlement Agreement Press Releases, Talking Pill Bottle Press Releases on Mar 18th, 2014
When renting a DVD, one of the most important things you might want to know is whether it includes a descriptive audio track. The Audio Description Project of the American Council of the Blind is keeping track of all DVDs that get released with descriptive audio, and now there's an alphabetical list. The list includes links to the movies where you can get more information about the film. This is a great resource for movie watchers. Just as a tip, the descriptive audio track can be accessed once the movie on the DVD has started playing by switching between the different audio tracks using the audio button on your DVD player remote.
If you're a JAWS user that is considering switching to NVDA, but is concerned about the learning curve of switching to a new screen reader, there is now a new guide on how to make the switch. The guide covers a number of topics including: voices for NVDA, cursers and their functions, forms mode, and scripts. The guide will not teach you how to use NVDA, but it gives you tips on how to transition from JAWS.
For the past five years, WebAIM has been surveying screen reader users around the world to find out which screen readers are being used, how comfortable users feel with using their screen reader, how proficient they are using the web, and more. This year's results have just been published. All continents were represented in the survey, although North America still had the highest numbers. The results this year show that how people use screen readers and what devices they use is continuing to change. For instance, JAWS is still the most used screen reader, but it's continuing to decline in use. Also, more respondants are using mobile technology. Visit the WebAIM website linked in this post to see the full list of results.
Many YouTube videos have captioning, but almost none have descriptive audio. Now thanks to a new tool from the Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Research and Development Center, anyone can add descriptive audio to a YouTube video. According to the article from Media Access Australia, here are the steps to add the descriptive audio track:
"1. Copy and paste a YouTube URL into the YouDescribe search box and click on Search .
- The YouTube video will appear with an option to 'Create/Edit Descriptions'. Select this option.
- Using the 'Play/Pause' option on the video player, pause when you wish to insert audio description.
- Use the 'Record' option to record your audio description then select Upload to upload the new audio file.
- Continue this process until the end of the video.
- When the process is complete you can log out or return to the YouDescribe search page where your video should appear at the top of the video list. The video can be played with audio description."
Hopefully this tool will result in many more youtube videos having descriptive audio tracks.
A number of companies have set up designated support options for customers with disabilities. Below is a list of the companies and the contact information for their disability tech support hotlines. If we've missed any companies please let us know and we'll add them to the list.
Fedora Outlier, the company behind the weekly access chats on Twitter and the book "The Old Hat Guide to iPhone Accessibility", has just started a new series on their blog called "There's an app for that". Each week they will feature a list of apps based on a category. This first week focusses on music. All of the apps recommended will be accessible to VoiceOver users. It's great to see another place where VoiceOver users can go to get app suggestions.
Creating your own website can feel like an impossible task especially if you use a screen reader. With the right tools and information though, building websites using WordPress is in your grasp. A new e-book called, "WordPress for Bad Eyes: A Beginners Guide" is designed with screen reader users in mind. Topics covered in the book include: buying a domain name, securing a host, and code for including different pieces of your website. The book also comes with a set of plugins that will help the user in developing their website. The book costs $9.99 and is available in Word, PDF, and DAISY formats. Those who want to try the book before they buy can also download it for free for one hour.
Smart phones can be a great asset to people with vision impairments, but sometimes it's hard to know which model or operating system will meet your needs. The RNIB has created a simple to follow spread sheet that lists a number of phone models with their price in the UK and the features that come with the phone. For those outside of the UK, the price will not be relevant, but in many cases, the phones themselves will be available where you live. Hopefully this guide will help users make informed decisions about what smart phone to choose.
AI Squared has many years of experience helping people with low vision access material on the computer. Now they're going one step further and offering web developers a simple way to add magnification and speech to their website. By adding a line of code, webpages can have these options without the programmer going to the extra trouble of building the feature into each part of the website. It also offers more usability than a person simply magnifying the entire webpage. No pricing is available, though it seems to depend on the size of the business and amount of web traffic served. Those that are interested can try it out for free or read the FAQ.
Vanda Pharmaceuticals announced today that HETLIOZ™ (tasimelteon) has received FDA approval to treat non-24 sleep-wake disorder. According to the press release, this disorder may effect as many as 80,000 totally blind people in the US. Non-24 disorder is caused when a person's circadian rhythms become misaligned from the 24 hour day cycle resulting in their bodies not knowing when to be awake or sleep. The end result is that many totally blind people suffer with insomnia or find themselves wanting to sleep during the day. Vanda hopes that this medication will become available during the second quarter of the year. This treatment will hopefully be a solution for people who struggle with this disorder. Find the press release pasted below.
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