Blind Bargains

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Blind Bargains Top 10 Stories of 2014: 10. A Versatile New Braille Display

The ballots are in and the votes have been tallied. It's time to count down the top 10 biggest and most influential stories of 2014. This year's panel included Jeff Bishop, J.J. Meddaugh, Jamie Pauls, Alena Roberts, and Joe Steinkamp. Each panelist gave us their opinions on the biggest stories in assistive technology and we've compiled their votes to create our annual list. We'll reveal a new story each day on the way to number one. SO without delay, let's get started with number 10 and a popular new braille display.

Southwest Airlines Extends Schedule, Tickets Now Available to Fly to NFB and ACB Conventions

Southwest Airlines has now extended its flight schedule through August 7, 2015, meaning you can now book travel on the airline for the NFB and ACB summer conventions. Southwest is often the most economical way to travel to a convention considering they allow for two checked bags with your ticket. So if you take a lot of items to convention, there's a potential $100 savings or more. Contrary to popular belief however, Southwest does not always have the cheapest fares, so it's still best to shop around before making a purchase. Check the link to go to the Southwest Airlines website to book travel. The NFB convention will be held in Orlando from July 5-10 while the ACB holds its meeting in Dallas July 3-11.

A Major Rule Change to SSI Could Allow you to Save for Assistive Technology and More

One of the biggest changes to SSI benefits in decades is about to take place. Thanks to legislation passed by Congress this week, many recipients of SSI will be able to put money in savings without penalty.

It's Getting Hot in Here; Google Now Lets you Control your Nest Thermostat with your Voice

So you're lying in bed and you can't sleep because your vent is blasting hot air into your room. But the thermostat is so far away. Now, thanks to Google and Nest, you can just talk to your phone to solve this dilemma. You can now use a Google Now voice command such as "raise the temperature to 72 degrees" to control a Nest thermostat, assuming you've linked it to your Google account. In addition, Google can use location services to automatically adjust the Nest when you are headed home, and will display this info in a google Now card. Google purchased Nest earlier this year. While this helps make the connected thermostat a bit more usable for the blind, there are still several hurdles which have not yet been addressed, including inaccessibility of the initial set-up process and poor app design. This all existed before Google's purchase, so perhaps things will improve in the near future. There's more details in a post on the Nest site.

Wanna Get Hired? CAVI Offering New Employment Course

The Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired (CAVI) is offering an employment course in 2015. Topics discussed include motivation, traits that are helpful when marketing yourself, job readiness and more. There will even be an opportunity to receive feedback on your resume and a mock interview from staff responsible for hiring of employees.
Check the link on this post to learn more.

Jamie Pauls Tweets Resignation, Joins Others in Leaving Serotek

Jamie Pauls, host of the SeroTalk Weekly Podcast and content curator for Serotek, has decided to leave the company, according to a post on twitter. "I have chosen to bring an end to my relationship with Serotek. Thanks to the best group of people I have ever worked with in my life!" This brings the number of departures at the company to 6. Original CEO Mike Calvo is now taking a more active role in the company and promises that services such as the System Access Mobile Network will remain intact. This is a developing story and we'll post more as we learn of it.

Five Truths About Black Friday Deals

As a website who has been covering holiday deals for the past 8 years, we'd like to think we know a thing or two about Black Friday sales. As you start to plan your shopping strategy, there's a few Black Friday truths you should be aware of that could help you in your quest for the best deal. Here's five things to consider.

AI Squared Releases Window-Eyes 9 Public Beta 1 with Web Support Overhaul, Google Docs, More

AI Squared has released the first public beta for Window-Eyes version 9, formerly from GW Micro. Among the new features are completely rewritten web support for Internet Explorer and Firefox, which will handle modern web pages with dynamic content. In addition, support for Google Docs, the latest version of QuickBooks, and preliminary support for the Windows 10 preview are included in the update among other features. Increased responsiveness is also included, especially when arrowing around documents or executing other keyboard commands. The beta is free to try for users of Window-Eyes 8.4 or those with a copy of Microsoft Office 2010 or later installed. We've linked to the beta page which includes more information and download links.

Window-Eyes 9.0 Public Beta Imminent, Includes Completely Rewritten Web Support

AI Squared, who is now owners of the Window-Eyes brand after the merger with GW Micro, has posted several teasers leading up to the imminent release of Window-Eyes 9.0 Beta 1. Among the new features teased are completely rewritten web support for Internet Explorer and Firefox, which will handle modern web pages with dynamic content. The need for a rewrite to their web engine had been talked about by company representatives as early as the CSUN conference, and it appears to be the flagship feature for this update. In addition, support for Google Docs and preliminary support for the Windows 10 preview are included in the update among other features. The beta is expected to go public within the coming days and will be free to try for users of Window-Eyes 8.4 or those with a copy of Microsoft Office 2010 or later installed. We've linked to the beta page which includes more information.

Serotek Releases Statement, Says the Best is Yet to Come

Serotek has released a statement regarding the recent departures of 5 of their staff members, which emphasizes the company is not going anywhere. From the look of the press release and prior information we've received, it appears that Joe Steinkamp and Ricky Enger were given an offer to continue the Serotek Podcast Network with Serotek covering some of the costs. Both declined the new terms however and left the company. The three other departures happened later, and were perhaps not as expected by Serotek management. Other Serotek services, including the System Access Mobile Network, SA2Go, and the System Access Screen Reader remain in development. It also appears that former CEO Mike Calvo plans to take a more active role in the company which he founded over a decade ago. This is a developing story and we'll post more as we learn of it. The complete text of the message is below.

What Does the Box Say? New Blog to Offer Comcast XFinity Accessibility Demos and Articles

Comcast is set to launch new accessibility features for their accessible set-top television box, and a new blog has been created to offer podcasts and articles to demonstrate the new features. Liam Erven has launched "What does the Box Say" which will include demonstrations of the new service rolling out for XFinity cable subscribers over the coming weeks. Comcast is the first cable provider to provide accessibility to such features as the program guide, on-demand programming, and DVR viewing on a set-top box, a trend that is likely to evolve due to the passage of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Check the link on this post to view the blog.

Opinion: A Salute to the SeroTalk Podcast Network; Hosts with Class and So Much MOre

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 Loses 5, Future of Company in Doubt

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 Brings Screens that you can Feel Closer to Reality with Developer Kit

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.

Some Notes About VoiceOver Fixes and Bugs in iOS 8

With the release of iOS 8 comes a new version of the included VoiceOver screen reader. The new VoiceOver includes many fixes for several long-standing bugs, but, sadly, also includes many new bugs.

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

KNFB Reader Brings Premium OCR to iOS Devices

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.

Another audio demonstration is available in two parts: part 1 and part 2.

Fred Gissoni 1930-2014, The Loss of a Legend

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:

7-128 Software Releases their 2014 list of Top 25 Websites for Blind gamers

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.

the Android Accessibility Help Center

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 Tips for the Blind from Turbo Tax

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.

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