Accessible apps for news junkies, no rehab needed

If you know me at all, or if you follow me (@Accessible_Info) on Twitter, one thing you know about me is that I’m a bit of a news junkie. You’ve probably become aware of, if not actually annoyed by, my early-morning dissemination of articles, tweeted out to my followers, from a variety of news sources. This pattern is typically repeated at various points throughout the day, as I check in on all my favorite sites and apps.

I have always been the type to keep up with current events, but one of the ways in which I was changed by the events of September 11th, 2001, was in a radical increase in my news and information consumption behavior. In the years following 9/11, I began to obsessively monitor the news. This habit has now become such a part of my daily life that it was only natural that my very first iOS app, and many subsequent downloads, have been news related. Below is a short list of some of the apps I use, and a few comments as to what has worked well for me, and a few I’ve discarded.

My very first app download was the news app by Reuters. Interestingly, my “beginner’s luck,” as to a great accessible app that I use every single day has only been duplicated a few times…namely, by the NPR news and BBC news apps. This news and info trifecta has been a reliable and useful combination of global reportage.

I soon discovered, much to my disappointment, that accessibility can sometimes be broken when an app is updated. I started out with the Breaking News app and the AP Mobile app, but after an update, they ceased to function well for me. They were great to push out alert notifications, but after awhile, I became frustrated if I wanted to pursue a story but could not, due to the lack of accessibility. Ultimately, I would return to my three favorites. Delete, delete.

By no means have I stopped there. I said I was a news and info junkie, remember? you think I would quit at three? Don’t be ridiculous.

I decided I wanted audio news, not just printed news. one nice feature of both the NPR News and BBC News apps is the ability to listen to news stories, built right into the app. However, that didn’t stop me from downloading the Swell app, Hourly News, and Downcast, so that I could also hear my favorite news podcasts. More on Downcast in an upcoming article. Just recently, I downloaded 5By5 Radio, a streaming service featuring tech news.

Oh, but wait…there’s more. I also have to have my daily dose of Apple news, so I check out App Advice and Apps Gone Free every day. I also need to have a good dose of science info, so I rely on Phys.org to dish up intriguing science stories. Finally, I must have access to all the news happening in the blindness, accessibility, and assistive technology industry, so there’s the obligatory iBlink Radio app, Blind Bargains, and Access World apps. think I’m done? Oh, no.

Let us not forget newspapers. My favorite newspaper app for reading multiple papers is Earl. This is a terrific hands-free option for when I’m busy doing something, but want a story read aloud. There are several great accessible newspaper apps, but at this point, I might be duplicating myself. You think?

How do I keep up with all of this? I can’t honestly say I read every resource thoroughly every day…who could? So, to assist me in collecting stories for later reading, my enabler of choice is the Pocket app. It integrates seamlessly into so many other apps, it only requires a couple of quick taps to save an article to read it later. You can be sure on the days when my tweeps are particularly interesting, tweeting out all sorts of juicy tidbits for me to investigate, I am tapping on links and then tapping “save to Pocket” just as fast as my fingers can fly across the screen.

Unbelievably, this is not an exhaustive list. There are several assorted other informational resources I use less frequently, but love no less, and I haven’t even touched some of the info aggregation and magazine apps, such as Flipboard and Buzzfeed. neither proved to be usable for me, and I’m not sure if they are inaccessible or just flaky. I have tried, then deleted, several news apps for lack of access. most notably, the CNN app, which I actually attempted to use twice, and neither time was I able to get it to work. Come on, CNN, don’t tell me your app is inaccessible because you can’t afford to pay someone to develop an app that supports VoiceOver. if you check the sofa cushions in your break room, I’m sure you can come up with the coin. Puh-leez.

That’s the rundown of most of my news apps. Don’t be afraid to comment below and recommend your own favorites…bonus points for noting if accessible for VoiceOver users. Oh, and if you know of a news junkie support group, don’t bother telling me about it. I’m too far gone.

LL

Easy Chirp returns with new sporty features and more power under the hood

A few months ago, the social networking site Twitter made an important update to its API, which necessitated some serious scrambling by third-party users of the previous API version. One of the third-party clients was Easy Chirp, the accessible, cross-platform Twitter alternative. Many users were forced to find other ways to tweet their updates while Easy Chirp and other Twitter clients either faded into the sunset, or in the case of Easy Chirp, went down, but not out, for the count.

Dennis Lembree (@DennisL), creator of Easy Chirp, decided this API update presented an opportunity to rebuild Easy Chirp, updating the back-end architecture and adding some new bells and whistles.

After months of a from-the-ground-up rebuild, Easy Chirp is back. Just within the last week, Lembree quietly reintroduced Easy Chirp, with a middle-of-the-night tweet announcing a “soft launch.”

Happily, Dennis had already invited me to test drive the beta version, which can be found at www.easychirp.org for now. The revised app will be available on the regular dot com domain during the official launch, reportedly within a few weeks. I was so excited that my preferred web-accessible Twitter client was back, I immediately flew to the site to check it out.

The first thing I noticed, which surprised me, was that the new version is almost exactly the same as the previous version. For some reason, I had expected a completely new look and feel. However, the differences between old and new versions quickly became obvious. The “under the hood” changes are what make Easy Chirp 2 a new experience.

First, it is much faster. I am using NVDA as my screen reader and the latest version of FireFox as my browser. Wow…The page loads and navigation were blistering fast. Also, because of improved page organization in some areas, navigating from various elements has been streamlined.

Mr. Lembree partnered with Seattle developer Andrew Woods (@awoods) to complete the project. After considering a number of partners for the work, he chose Woods because of his experience with PHP. Mr. Woods recommended a PHP development framework called CodeIgniter. One reason Lembree decided to go with this framework was that it offers translation features, allowing Easy Chirp to be translated into multiple languages. First after English will be Spanish, says Lembree, which is “about 98% done.” German and Arabic translations are in the works, and other languages such as French are also planned for future availability.

While Woods worked on the back-end architecture, Lembree focused on the front end, populating the data and reworking many aspects of the user interface. “Between the new PHP framework and the new Twitter API, it’s a lot faster,” says Lembree. “Another one of the big coding changes is moving from XHTML to HTML5,” he adds.

There are a few new features of the platform. Notably, the option to choose a dark or light theme, which is useful for people who have light sensitivity or difficulty with light/dark contrast perception. One of Lembree’s favorite new features is the “quick search,” and the “go to user” functions, which are accessible modal windows. If that means nothing to you, I suspect this is one of those esoteric’s that only a developer can truly appreciate.

There is a short list of development tasks that are yet to be completed, which you can review on the Easy Chirp 2 home page. Among the most important of these tasks is the addition of a pagination type of behavior, available currently only on the main timeline page through a link at the bottom that reads, “view older tweets.” More tasks and features are planned but not yet made public.

If you enjoyed using Easy Chirp prior to the “API-pocalypse,” (I still can’t stop saying that, I’m so proud of it), then give Easy Chirp 2 a try. Don’t forget to click on the “donate” button on the home page, and thank Dennis and Andrew for their hard work by tossing a few bucks in the development tip jar.

About Dennis Lembree:

Mr. Lembree has over 15 years experience in web development. He’s worked for a variety of startups as well as large companies including Ford, RIM, Disney, and is now on the accessibility team at PayPal in San Jose, California. Mr. Lembree enjoys attending and presenting at conferences and social media. And besides Easy Chirp, he runs WebAxe.org, a blog and podcast on web accessibility.

You can follow Dennis on Twitter at: @webaxe or at: @EasyChirp for more info and updates.

LL

iPhone 5 as time machine: Updating my ancient tech, a progress report

As a follow-up to my post entitled “From Stone Tablet to a Bite of the Apple,” about my first foray into the apple product funnel, I thought I would write a post as to my progress thus far, now that I’ve had my iPhone 5 for six months. Several of my readers have asked for an update, along with a list of my preferred apps, and some comments as to my ongoing experience. Your wish is my command.

One of my first observations about the usability of iOS and the handset in general was that, unlike all of my experiences with Windows products, whether mobile or desktop, I never once uttered a horrified gasp at any point, thinking that I had done something wrong. The operation of the device was completely stable, predictable, and understandable. I never felt as though I was in any danger of breaking the device, losing data, accidentally deleting something important or feeling as though I had to tiptoe my way through the software. This gave me an immediate feeling of accomplishment and confidence in whatever choices I made, whether that was to download an app, delete one, change settings, update to a newer version, or try something new. The Apple experience with iOS is one that inspires the user to go from novice to power user in very short order. Little is permanent or non-fixable or otherwise irretrievable.

As a result, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and dive in as completely as I cared to, going straight for the apps and using the features that would permit the greatest productivity. I decided to make this little miracle gadget do everything it possibly could, and short of jail breaking the device, I believe I have done just that.

So as to keep the next few posts brief, as well as to serve as a reminder to my readers that I’m still here, despite my long summer writing hiatus that has lasted well into autumn, I will publish a series of articles featuring the various categories of apps I’m using, in case you’d like to try a few in one or more categories. Yes, I’m aware that there are already accessible apps lists on popular forums and web sites, but everyone has their own contribution to make, and if you happen to appreciate my point of view, then you might make some choices based upon my experiences. Besides, I’ve been away such a long time, I need to reintroduce myself, and to invite you to return. I’ll try not to be gone so long next time.

Read From Stone Tablet to a Bite of the Apple

LL