At long last, an accessible screen sharing solution: Zoom


By the time you read to the end of this post, if you are a screen reader user, your employability potential could be vastly improved. At long last, there is an accessible screen sharing platform that can make the difference between participating in mainstream work, running a remote demonstration independently, leading a video conference, or giving an online presentation, without sighted assistance. What’s more, this is not a work-around. It’s cutting edge, elegant, and best of all…mainstream technology.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the pervasive unemployment situation in the blindness community has been the inability to access some of the most commonly used technology that is standard in many businesses around the world: Screen sharing. the most widely-used platforms, referred to by names such as Go To My PC, along with Go To Webinar and Go To Meeting iterations, Web X, Log Me In, and others, have long been inaccessible for screen reader users. If you have ever found yourself forced to reject a job opportunity, or being forcibly excluded from one, simply because you cannot use this type of technology, you are not alone. Years ago, I had to leave a lucrative position because the job duties included the implementation of a screen sharing program, and I was no longer able to do the work. There was no accessible solution, and at the time, no amount of plying the development team with requests for accessibility support proved fruitful. this heartbreaking situation is no doubt repeated throughout the community, as the technology landscape seems to widen the so-called digital divide.

Recently, I found myself in a similar position. I was presented with a remote teaching opportunity that, seemingly, I would be unable to accept, thanks to the inaccessibility of the platform being used, one of those mentioned above.

The job requirements included that I not only teach my content, but that I also interact with the students, fielding questions, taking a regular roll call, keeping tabs on who was focused on the presentation screen, as opposed to surfing the web, launching video, using on-screen handouts, and reporting on student activity statistics. As the “host,” or moderator of the class, content producer and presenter, I would be required to manage all these tasks while teaching extended continuing education courses lasting several hours. Aware that the platform already in use by the company with which I was contracted was inaccessible, I hired a consultant to assist me in finding an alternative. I was told that if I could find such an alternative, the job was mine. Otherwise, the job would go to a sighted educator.

The consultant evaluated a half-dozen screen sharing products, from well-known tech brands to blindness-specific conference room chat platforms. If one of the options suited the technical specifications of the company I would be working with, such as attendee size, real-time uptime support, or audio/video quality, it failed on the access piece. If accessibility to any degree was supported, then it seemed to favor the attendee, rather than the presenter. If a platform proved to be usable with a screen reader, it failed to meet my audience management or interactivity requirements. Frustrated beyond belief, I interrogated my consultant friend, demanding to know why there was no accessible platform available. None of his answers were satisfactory on any level. This was not, however, for lack of trying. Accounts were opened, or, borrowed. Developers were contacted. Support tickets and bug reports were submitted. Mock presentations were crafted. Apps were downloaded, remote screen reader control was used, calls to colleagues were made. Finally, he concluded, there was just no accessible solution to be had.

I was livid. I ranted and raved and paced the room while I had him on the phone, railing at the injustice of it all. It was maddening to me that but for an inaccessible video player/launcher, or some such triviality, I would be denied meaningful work. this was totally unacceptable to me. My consultant offered to create a work-around, something that would enable screen sharing that re-routed the audio from my screen reader and video in such a way that the audience could hear one, but not the other. Something about a mixer…a second sound card…I don’t know…I was in a rage fog. “It may be too complicated,” he warned me. “You’ll have to manage all this on the fly. And if it goes down, there’s no one to get you up and running.”

In a fit of fury, I pounded three words into a search engine: Accessible video conferencing. Insert clouds parting, glittering golden rays of sunshine pouring forth while the angels sing an alleluia here.

Enter Zoom. Zoom is the first mainstream accessible screen sharing platform that is robust, mainstream, feature-rich, mainstream, and accessible to both presenter/content originator and attendees. Did I mention it’s mainstream?

This is the solution you’ve been waiting for… this is the answer to the interview question, we use X Y Z product here, and the job requires you give presentations…or demos…or consultations…or product training…or teach classes…or collaborate with team members in a satellite location…does that sound like something you can do?”

Now, with Zoom, the answer can be yes.

The Zoom web site is loaded with lots of what you would expect with regard to features and benefits, but this is what jumped out at me right away: The Accessibility page. I only have three words for you…compliance, compliance, compliance. Zoom is not new, but their accessibility improvements are. From the Zoom web site:

“Zoom is committed to ensuring universal access to our products and services, so that all meeting hosts and participants can have the best experience possible. Zoom’s accessibility features enable users with disabilities to schedule, attend, and participate in Zoom meetings and webinars, view recordings, and access administrative features across our supported devices.”

Here’s the link to the Zoom home page:

Click here to go to Zoom home

Zoom actually has a dedicated accessibility team, and the update notes are logged as recently as February in some cases, and last week in others. Zoom services are compatible with standard screen readers such as VoiceOver on iOS and OSX platforms, TalkBack on Android devices, and NVDA for Windows platforms. Check it out on the Zoom accessibility page:

Click here to go to the Zoom accessibility page

Apologizing in advance for my use of hyperbole here, this product is revolutionary. For me, it is going to make the difference between being able to do work or not. As with many similar platforms, there are several levels of feature sets, all with tiered pricing, but there is also a free basic level that is better than just a trial version or a limited-time demo. For those of you who have been trying to solve the problem of interviewing multiple people in different locations while recording everyone for a podcast without sounding like one or more of you is talking from the bottom of a trash dumpster, this is your solution. Want to start up a speaking business? Offer classes? Show off your work product without compatibility concerns? The free, basic level lets you interview or screen share/chat with one person with no time limit, or more than one person for 40 minutes. You can record directly from the dashboard. Need to present to 100 attendees? 1000? 5000? You can…for any number of competitive pricing models.

I don’t know who I could contact on the Zoom team to thank them for what amounts to a technological miracle for me, but I am thrilled. And did I mention it’s mainstream?

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I did apologize to my consultant for yelling.

LL

It takes just 7 minutes to achieve better health with the Seven App


About 18 months ago, I decided it was time for me to get back into shape. Like many, keeping my weight in check has always been a challenge. While there have been times in my life I have been in better shape than others, most recently, the loss of my husband five years ago resulted in the understandable shrinking of my universe to a laser point of pain and grief. Then came a couple of years of icy numb, after which I awoke to find myself uncaring about my appearance or physical health. I had neglected myself for so long, I hadn’t even realized I had packed on pounds, and when I did, I simply didn’t care. Thinking of myself as patently unattractive seemed like a convenient means by which to keep people away from me. I wanted to be invisible to the world. Then, inevitably, I began to thaw.

There can be many things that motivate us to want to improve upon our overall health or to get into, or in my case, back into, shape. A desire to be around longer for our children, feelings of unworthiness or self-loathing, a wish to wear the latest styles and look great in them, or a medical wake-up call. for me, it was none of those. For me, the motivating factor was that I got hit on by a really hot 26-year-old. Very inspiring.

I began by taking a closer look at my diet, and making some changes. I am a vegetarian, and I do not eat fried foods, and the number of times I eat at a fast-food place can be counted on two fingers in a year, if that. For me, it must have been something else. So, I broke the starchy carb habit and switched to whole grains, I counted calories and generally consumed less. It worked for a while, I lost perhaps five pounds over several months, but that wasn’t going to be enough to enable me to reach my goal. So, almost a year ago, I took my shiny new iPhone5 in hand, and started slogging through the myriad fitness apps in the Apple app store. I had heard of a health study about fitness that claimed one could achieve the equivalent of many hours of moderate workouts by switching to what was called “interval training.” The study claimed that short bursts of vigorous exercise, followed by short rest intervals, could be as beneficial as hours in a gym. As a result of this study, a fitness trend was born, called “The 7 Minute Workout.”

Now, I must pause for a moment here, and explain that I am a person who detests exercise. I hate everything about exercise. I hate sweating. I hate flopping around like a fish on the deck of a boat. I hate the clothes. Seriously. Polyester never touches my body. Athletic shoes? Don’t even talk to me about strapping on a pair of rubber slabs that look like something a tire threw off. You know that feeling of euphoria you are supposed to experience after exercise? Give me a break. I’m miserable afterwards. Okay, and during. And, thinking about working out beforehand. Getting the picture? you won’t catch me pumping my fist and hooting some ridiculous rah-rah cheer while flopping around like a fish in my hideous polyester workout clothes. ugh.

Needless to say, devoting seven minutes to exercise sounded like a cause I could commit to. So, when I saw the Seven App in the app store, based upon the “7 minute workout” concept, I grabbed it.

There are many apps in the app store based upon the 7 minute workout idea, but the one that was best for me was the very first one I downloaded. The app is called the Seven App, and it is by perigee. here is the link to it in the app store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/7-minute-workout-seven-high/id650276551?mt=8

Of all the similar apps I downloaded subsequent to the Seven App, this first was the most accessible. It wasn’t perfect, there were a few unlabelled buttons, but only inconsequential ones, and an email exchange with the developer proved to be very satisfying in that he was very responsive to my requests for accessibility improvements. There are still 2 unlabelled buttons, but they are the Twitter and Facebook share buttons, and I think you can easily self-label those, since they have not changed in any app update.

The Seven App offers a full-body workout as a starter, and a new workout is unlocked for every two months you stay in the program. Rewards are only one of the motivational tools offered. Achievements, tracking, and the aforementioned sharing of your progress with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are all part of the training toolbox. The catch? You must use the app every day. Yes, you read that right. you must execute your 7 minute workout every single day. No days off…but remember, it takes only 7 minutes, literally.

The way the app works is based on the study, mentioned earlier, suggesting interval training is as effective as longer, less frequent workouts. You perform 12 exercises in 7 minutes, each lasting 30 seconds, with a rest interval of 10 seconds. Believe me, 10 seconds hardly feels like a rest period, since you must position yourself for the next exercise, which keeps your body in motion nearly continuously. The exercises require no more than a chair, the floor, and your own body weight. No gear needed. There is a learn mode that walks you through the exercises and describes the movements. Some of the descriptions are a bit vague, though, and when I asked of the developer why some of the wording was a bit sparse for some of the descriptions, he explained that he wanted the instructions to be easily understood in any language into which the app was translated. So, if you need better descriptions of an exercise, you can search the web, or check out YouTube for more complete explanations.

The results? Because I was able to devote 7 minutes to my daily exercise routine, I have achieved my weight and fitness goals. My goal was not to become a swimsuit model, my goal was to increase strength, endurance, balance, and muscle tone. Losing the extra pounds seemed easy, once I settled into what was, for me, a really brutal first few months with the app. Many of my Twitter followers read about my progress, replete with bitter complaints and vehement objection to the entire necessity of exercise. Not to mention a blistering indictment of workout wear in general. But the first time I slipped into a pair of jeans a full size smaller, I was hooked. Now, I have purchased a recumbent bicycle, and have sought ways to add more fitness minutes to my day. Hey…swimsuit season is just a month or two away. if that doesn’t do anything for you, I’ll have the 26-year-old give you a call.

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

Boo! Come on, you know you want to. Check out Audioboo, an audio sharing platform


What on Earth is Audioboo? Audioboo is a sharing platform that allows users to record and post audio on the fly, from anywhere, using just about any device. Individuals from morning deejays, and random deejay wannabees, to big companies like The Guardian, use Audioboo to post and share their content. you can follow your favorites to hear short installments of audio “boos,” as they are called. The service is free to use for everyone, as long as you are willing to limit the length of your recordings to 3 minutes. If you need more time, you can pay for a monthly subscription, and get 30 minutes per recording. As you browse the site, you can read the show notes and profile info of the person who recorded the boo, and you can subscribe to, or follow, their offerings.

You can also download an app for your IOS device. The original app, simply called Audioboo, can be downloaded from the Apple app store. There is another version of the app, meant to be an update, called Audioboo2, which you will also find in the app store. There seems to be only superficial differences between the two apps, and of the two, I prefer the original, since it seems slightly more straightforward. I have no idea, however, how long Audioboo plans to continue to support the original app.

For my small business, Elegant Insights Braille Creations, (@ElegantInsights), I plan to use Audioboo as a sort of audio catalog. I will provide company news, product descriptions, style tips and vision-related convention and events news. You can follow my boos here:

http://www.audioboo.fm/ElegantInsights

Here’s another fun tip: Do you like to listen to podcasts? If you have an Apple device and like to download and listen to favorite podcasts using Downcast or another podcatcher, you can hear the Elegant Insights Audio catalog, or any of your favorites, as a podcast! In fact, if you are reading this on your Apple device right now, just tap on this link:

http://audioboo.fm/users/1248733/boos.rss

and your favorite podcatcher should recognize the feed URL, open, and subscribe you automatically. Now, whenever I publish a new recording, it will automatically download into your device along with your other podcasts. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Audioboo provides the RSS feed URL, as well as the URL to the user profile page for users who want to follow their favorites on multiple device types and platforms.

If you don’t have an Apple device, and none of the above appeals to you, fret not. you won’t be left out. I’ve attached the Audioboo account to Twitter, so if you follow me @ElegantInsights on Twitter, you’ll see the tweets with the link to the recording in your Twitterstream. Just click the link, and you can hear me right from Twitter. You can also share your boos on Facebook. Audioboo currently does not support FB business pages, but you can attach your own audioboos to your FB profile page for your family and friends.

Randy Rusnak, (@thebigr), long-time audio engineer, co-host and producer of the Accessible Devices podcast (www.accessibledevices.com), has used Audioboo for years. Randy is certified by the State of Minnesota as a technology instructor, and he uses Audioboo to augment his podcasts by offering short tips and reviews of a variety of assistive technologies.

Recently, he posted a terrific boo in counterpoint to the excellent “Siri vs. Google voice” showdown as published by Applevis. You can hear the Applevis podcast here:
http://www.applevis.com/podcast/episodes/siri-versus-google-voice-search-which-better

and then listen to Randy’s satirical version here:

http://t.co/7LnR7C5V82

You can follow Randy’s boos by going here:

http://www.audioboo.fm/thebigr and click follow.

While Audioboo has been around for several years, I only recently became aware of it when I spotted Randy’s uploads on Twitter. Then, I read an article about Audioboo recently published in the Sacramento Bee, describing how Audioboo is rapidly becoming a social platform of choice amongst the blind and visually impaired community. Read it here:

http://is.gd/R6I1zm

A great feature of Audioboo is that you can not only publish to a group of followers, but you can send private direct messages as well. Uploading a recording is easiest when done using an Apple device, but you can record and upload directly on the Audioboo web site. The apss and web site are accessible and support Voice Over on your IOS device.

Hope to hear from you soon!

LL

Maintain situational awareness while accessing audio input with AfterShokz


Sometimes, a good sales pitch can begin with a story. What follows is a story about someone I met at the recent CSUN13 conference. If you can stay with me until the end, I will try to make it worth your while.

One morning during the conference week while sitting alone at the Grand Hyatt Starbucks, at a tiny table adjacent to the busy lobby coffee bar, a voice said, “Excuse me, Mind if I join you?”

I looked up. “Of course not,” I answered, hurriedly clearing away the detritus of my coffee and muffin. “Thanks,” he said. “Tables are at a premium here.”

We introduced ourselves, and he asked if I was attending the conference. I said yes, then realized that I had not noticed that he was using a service dog, nor did he seem to have a white cane. “Are you?” I asked. “Are you exhibiting? A vendor?”

“Not exactly,” he explained. “But I’m here to market my product to the blind community. Here. Let me show you.” Then, he placed something on the table in front of me. “It’s a pair of headphones,” he said.

I picked up a feather-light, super-streamlined piece of gear, noticing immediately that it resembled no pair of headphones I had ever seen. “They’re called bone-conduction headphones,” he continued. “Let me put them on you.” He placed the headphones around the back of my neck, placing what would normally be the portion worn over the ears at my temporal bone instead. Then, I experienced a surreal sensation. I was hearing both full volume music coming from the headphones, along with the ambient noise of the crowded coffee shop. I could…feel…the sound, while not only hearing it, but also being fully aware of the activity around me.

Dennis Taussig is the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer VP of AfterShokz, a company that has produced the world’s first open ear bone -conduction headphones for runners, cyclists, sports enthusiasts, and now, thanks to the blind community, an ingenious application for us, too.   
 
Originally, the technology was created by VoxTech, one of the leading companies in the world to supply this technology to the military.  Dennis worked on a number of projects with the principle of Voxtech, and one day Dennis was contacted to find out if a consumer version of this technology was possible.  Within months, a company was formed, and AfterShokz made it’s debut at the Consumer Electronics show )International CES in January, 2012. 
 
AfterShokz bone- conduction headphones are ideal for anyone who wants to maintain situational awareness while still listening to important audio cues, such as that which is provided by text-to-speech GPS navigation devices.  You can travel to your destination while hearing instructions from your iPad or iPhone, listen to music or a podcast while on a bus, or work out at the gym to your favorite motivational guru and still hear the tap of your white cane, the driver call out your bus stop, or your personal trainer counting off the reps.  It’s a fascinating product, and Dennis credits the blind community with providing the ideas that expanded the business. 
 
“I was getting calls from people who are blind,” says Taussig.  “And they kept asking if the headphones could be used with their Bluetooth devices for navigation.” 
 
Since his exposure to the disability community, Dennis has gone “all in” with respect to his commitment to accessibility.  He volunteers at Syracuse University working with disabled students, and he has assisted educators to enable their blind students to learn math by providing the headphones so that the students can hear their screen reader and the professor at the same time.  “They’re not cut off from the teacher, nor the teacher from them,” Dennis explains. 
 
The sonification lab at Georgia Tech has conducted a study on teaching systems for blind students, who are learning math graphing using audio.
AfterShokz is providing equipment for the testing, enabling the students to hear the sonification and teacher at the same time.
 
Dennis wants these headphones to be available to all of us, and he is so emphatic that they should not be financially out of reach that he has permitted me to offer my readers a generous discount towards the purchase of AfterShokz.  Go to the AfterShokz web site at www.aftershokz.com and choose from one of several models.  If you’d like to be able to make/take calls, order the Sportz M2 which features a microphone. If you require a headset that isBluetooth compatible, choose Bluez. Enter LL40 at checkout, and you’ll get 40% off the price.  No, I do not financially benefit, I just want my readers to experience the AfterShokz phenomenon.  Since I know my geek friends love a good technical specifications deck, just write to me using the accessible contact form on the page, and I’ll send you product data sheets on the different models, along with spec info.
 
Don’t forget to enter LL40 when you check out to save some serious coin. 
 
LL   
 

From stone tablet to a bite of the Apple


If you are among those who follow me on Twitter, you are likely already well acquainted with my recent changeover from one mobile phone platform to another. My intention to do this, as well as my reluctance, has long been a topic of discussion among my friends and fellow geeks. I’ve taken quite a bit of good-natured ribbing from people who, for nearly two years, have wondered how on Earth I can claim any expertise in accessibility, when clearly I am using technology from the Jurassic period. What follows is a short exposition on my long-overdue transition from the Windows Smartphone-based Motorola Q to the Apple iPhone 5.

The Moto Q, which my friends have dubbed The Stone Tablet, has been my only mobile device since 2007. To the dubiously named “Smartphone” operating system, I added Mobile Speak, a text-to-speech program by Code Factory. One feature I really liked about the Moto Q was the tactile qwerty keyboard, which made text entry easy. It seemed that most of the new devices were making use of touch screen technology. How could text entry be easy with a touch screen? I wondered. It’s not that I was unaware of the tidal wave of Apple products sweeping over the globe, it’s that I didn’t care. One could hardly avoid the constant din of Apple zealots, though, especially those for whom accessibility is a priority. But my setup served the purpose, it worked for me, and I had no real desire to give it up…that is, until the phone began to suffer from the ravages of old age, and yes, obsolescence.

For a variety of reasons, one of which was the necessity of accepting credit card payments when exhibiting my Elegant Insights Braille Creations jewelry at conferences and trade shows, I decided to at least entertain the possibility of switching to an Apple device, although I had no idea which one. My first foray into an Apple store was over a year ago at holiday time, when I stopped into my local Apple Store to buy a loved one a gift card. While there, I decided to ask the Apple associate to show me an iPad, which seemed like the best option for me at the time, and maybe get a demonstration of Voice Over, the text-to-speech feature built into Apple devices that makes using a touch screen possible for users who are blind.

Upon explaining my request to the associate, I was greeted by an awkward silence, and, according to my companion, a blank stare. “I don’t know what that voice thing is,” the young employee said, “I don’t think an iPad does that.”

“All of your products have Voice Over,” I declared, as confidently as I could, not entirely sure if that was true. “It’s built into the iPad, and if I knew how to bring it up, I’d show you.” Okay, now that was a bald-faced lie, I had never so much as held an iPad or IPhone in my hands, and I just really wanted to see one. But he never so much as let me touch one, since he began to back away, realizing that he would be unable to assist me, and the store was packed with people whom he could assist. I left the store empty-handed, except for the aforementioned gift card.

My interest was more recently piqued, though, when a friend showed me a variety of tablet sizes and models at a recent conference. I marveled at the full-size tablet, which seemed to be nothing more than a wafer-thin sheet of glass, reminiscent of a tray on which I’d served cheese at a dinner party.

After polling some tweeps and conducting a bit of my own research, I decided that in fact the device that would be best for me was the iPhone. While I had really enjoyed paying only $40 a month for my ancient cell service plan, I realized that having the phone combined with the iPad features would solve the most of my problems and meet the most of my needs. So, for my birthday, I decided to buy myself the gift of an iPhone 5.

Before it arrived in the mail, I gathered as many articles, podcasts, and user’s guides as I could get my hands on, and began to prepare for what I was sure would be a steep learning curve. Between the new operating system, the touch screen gestures, and a new speech interface to learn, the entire Apple IOS lexicon loomed large and intimidating before me.

Cutting to the chase, it took only a few days, once I got up and running, to master the device. Now, I can confidently claim fluency. However, it was the part of the process that occurred prior to the ‘after I got up and running,” part that I want to make note of here, simply as a way to help others who may be considering a similar switch. There are a few things you ought to know, and these things can make the difference between delight and utter frustration when it’s time to pull the device out of the packaging.

The first thing you ought to know is, people who know nothing about Apple devices really do know absolutely nothing. There isn’t much that can compare the Apple user experience to other devices that are made by other manufacturers, so do not under any circumstances listen to anyone who does not actually use an Apple product. This may include, but may not be limited to, cellular service providers.

Just to give you one example of what I mean by this, realize that there is a difference between activating the new cellular phone service plan, and activating the device. You may think this point to be obvious, but one hapless Sprint customer service associate who was unlucky enough to answer my call did not. Further, I was told, in response to my question about where I might find the serial number that is required to complete the setup process, I was told that it is located inside the phone. I was told to remove the back panel of the battery compartment, and enter into the phone the numbers printed on the decal.

In case you don’t know, you cannot remove the back of the iPhone. There is no battery compartment from which to remove the back panel, the serial number is either printed somewhere on the packaging, or it is on file with the cellular service provider from which you ordered the phone.

You should also know that it is possible to set up the device yourself, right out of the box, without sighted assistance. However, if you are a person who is easily frustrated, know that there is an easy way to accomplish this, and a hard way. I was determined to get my phone working on my own, but if you know you have a short fuse, just do it the easy way…take the device to an Apple store or the store that supports the cellular service provider, and have them set it up for you. At the time, I had no access to a nearby store, so unless I wanted to wait for someone who was available and willing to drive me some distance, I had few options. I was impatient to get going. Ultimately, though, doing it my way may have actually taken longer than waiting for four wheels and a couple of eyeballs.

Setting up the phone requires quite a bit of data entry, and if you are unfamiliar with how text entry is achieved on an Apple device, it also requires quite a bit of patience. Text entry was a matter of some concern to me, but as it turned out, I caught on quickly, and was able to enter the required information easily enough. What I found frustrating was that I wasn’t always entirely sure I understood what the phone was asking me to do. To express this idea in terms of the English language, the Apple dialect is a bit unfamiliar, word choice, usage, and syntax is different than what I had been accustomed to when using the “stone tablet.”

If you have not yet decided to change your outdated technology to an Apple device, are reluctant, or maybe just reject all things Apple out of hand, one reason you may feel this way could be due to your concerns about privacy. If you are among those still clinging fast to the illusion of privacy, I’m sympathetic. You should know that the moment you complete the setup process of the new Apple device, you have slipped from the edge and are now freefalling into the Apple abyss. You should carefully and thoroughly read the terms and conditions of use, as well as the Apple Corporation privacy policy, and that of the “artificial intelligence” assistant, Siri. Furthermore, you should scrutinize the TOS and privacy policies of any apps you download, whether free or paid. Frankly, I had to delete a number of apps, simply because their privacy policy, a misnomer if I ever heard one, made my skin crawl. If you have not already done so, and you are a blind user who has downloaded some of those object identification apps, you should take the time to learn what happens to the images of the items you photograph. It’s a little disturbing. If you are taking pictures of documents and mail for text recognition,place or object identification purposes, don’t think for a minute that you are the only one privy to the contents of that photo. Same goes for your use of the voice dictation features. There’s more, but I’ll let you make that horrifying discovery on your own.

I’ll say this for my new iPhone: Since it arrived, it has seldom left my side. I have never been one to keep my cell phone strapped to my person, I have never enjoyed using a cell phone, I dislike talking on one, I don’t like the way it makes voices sound, it’s harder to hear, it gets hot in your hand, and other than the few times it has been extremely convenient that I’ve had one, I find the overall experience of using a cell phone to be mostly dissatisfying. Since I’ve loaded up my IPhone 5, however, I’ve come to think of it as simply a hand-held computer that happens to sport a phone. I can easily see a day when I will, as eagerly as everyone else, anticipate the latest release of IOS, the newest app to drop, or the sleekest, lightest, most feature-rich iteration of the device itself. So…What’s next?

LL

Try this accessible tool to increase blog readership: Subscribe To plugin


Anyone who wants to build a regular blog readership, or who wants to start their own blog site, knows that attracting and holding onto the restless and fickle eyeballs of the information-seeking public is a challenge.  The content needs to be interesting, of course, but all the experts say that you should probably post updates several times a week.  Further, offering customers a reason to come back, providing some interactivity, as well as some "sticky" content that keeps your readers on your site for more than a split second, also helps.  I suppose the purpose of this last is to encourage those impatient eyeballs to rest upon the ads you have sprinkled around your site.

 

In the case of this blog, however, I have no such ads, and if you are one of my regular visitors, you drop by to absorb the occasional pithy little wisdom pellet dispensed here.  Today I want to alert you to a Word Press plugin I’ve just installed to make that a bit easier.  Why it has taken me this long to offer this feature is beyond me, but if you want to subscribe to alerts about new posts, you can now click on the "Subscribe" link on the page and sign up to get my aforementioned wisdom pellets dropped into your email inbox.  I’m like a one-woman digital Pez dispenser.

 

While the "Subscribe To" Word Press plugin is one of the most popular in the sharing plugin category, I didn’t find it to be the most intuitive I’ve ever installed.  I’ll say this, though, it was mostly accessible, with some decent menu options that allow for some nice flexibility.  I cannot urge you strongly enough, however, to read the readme.txt file included with the download files.  On another of my blog sites, I used one of the suggestions made by the developer to create a "dummy" blog user, set as an administrator.  Give the dummy user a dedicated email account just for sending out new post alerts.  Since most web hosts allow you to create a gazillion email addresses, just set one up that you only use for this purpose.

 

Finding accessible plugins has not been easy.  For me, "accessible" means that I as the administrator must be able to install and configure it myself, without sighted assistance, and that my blog users must also be able to use the features.  Subscribe To, for example, allows you to enable an Ajax style subscribe form, or for visitors that do not have javascript enabled, a choice to use a widget or not.  On most blog sites, many plugins get a test run, then are deactivated and deleted.  Here on the Accessible Insights Blog, you can check out a list of the plugins I’ve used, some of which are currently deactivated.  I had to uninstall a popular sharing button because as of the latest version, it became inaccessible for my screen reader users.  I wrote to the developers of this sharing plugin to ask if they provided an accessible alternative, and I was told that the button does not support screen readers as of the current release, and there are no plans to make the button accessible in the future.  Out    it went.  To see a list of plugins used on this site, just click on the "plugins used" link at the top of the page.  Plugins Used is actually the name of a plugin that creates a page, then deposits on it a list of all the plugins you are running.  All those that I have installed and are currently active should be accessible for all users.

 

So, please subscribe to my blog.  Yes, new posts are tweeted out, thanks to Twitterfeed, but if you aren’t following me (@Accessible_Info), you don’t always know I’ve posted something new.  The Subscribe To plugin makes acquiring content more convenient, because readers need not frequently check for new posts.  Also, a site visitor does not have to register, although if you do, you can make some adjustments to your preferences as to how you want the content delivered.  I’ve selected the text-only option for the email updates I’ll send, since this blog isn’t exactly a multimedia production, anyway.  Subscribing is a simple, opt-in sequence that takes seconds.  You’ll only get an email when I post something new, so fret not that you will be inundated with messages.  My purpose here is to inform, not harass.

 

Click here to go to the Subscribe To plugin page.

 

Thank you, as always, for your eyeballs, text-to-speech engine, or whatever you use to consume my content.

 

LL
 

CSUN12: The ultimate user experience


Sitting down to compose this post, I found myself unsure as to how to begin.  I wanted to write a wrap-up of sorts of the 27th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, sponsored by CSUN, but I had not attended the event from the very first day.  I thought others would be more likely to write a more thorough recap of the event.  What could I contribute, having only attended the conference for three days?

 

In fact, I would not have attended at all were it not for the kindness of a stranger.  Unable to find a room in the San Diego area, I realized I had waited too long to make a hotel reservation, and the nearest available room was almost fifteen minutes away from the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the conference venue.  Tweeting my frustration to an online friend, I received a tweet from Elle Waters (@nethermind).  "If you need a place to stay," she tweeted at me, "you can share my room."

 

"Are you kidding?" I tweeted back, incredulous.  "How do you know I’m not a psycho killer?"

 

"I’m optimistic."  Elle tweeted back. "I’ll send you all the info and my contact details."

 

True to her word, she did just that.  With an extra bed in the room, Elle explained, it was no problem for her to share the space, and she left a room key for me at the front desk, enabling me to sleep in a far more preferable condition than on a bus bench or under an exhibit hall table.

 

Upon arriving at the hotel, I discerned immediately that the plane on which I traveled to San Diego could have easily landed directly into the lobby.  it was so cavernous, so without landmarks, and so filled with the sounds of voices, cane tapping and assorted other hotel lobby sounds, each echoing around the interior space in a way that I found difficult to interpret for good navigation, I feared a very troublesome experience.  I need not have been concerned.

 

Throughout my stay, I found myself lost many times.  However, I barely went astray ten feet before someone at the hotel, either staff or volunteer, had redirected me with courtesy and professionalism.  There was nowhere I could turn without an almost immediate inquiry as to whether or not I needed any assistance.  I traveled from point A to point B in the hotel with surprising efficiency, and I did not find myself frustrated even once.  Again, the kindness of strangers helped make my stay an enjoyable one.

 

This was my fourth CSUN conference on disability, my first since the move to San Diego.  My first was probably around fifteen years ago.  It was a very different event then, there was no Twitter or other social media to connect attendees in advance of the event, therefor the atmosphere felt very different.  Since this was my first conference as a "tweep," I really felt a tremendous amount of anticipation to meet the strangers with whom I have been "tweeting" for years, but have never actually met in the ‘meatspace."  I was excited about the opportunities, yet also a little anxious over the possibility that I might be the oldest person in the room.  I wasn’t sure if now, all of the online technophiles were all under the age of twenty-five.  Would I feel out of place?

 

Again, I need not have been concerned.  Upon meeting many of my Twitter contacts, I was delighted to realize that the vast majority of them thought of me as a friend, not a stranger, and it felt more like "old home week," than a collection of strangers uncomfortably ignoring each other in an elevator.  I was greeted with warmth and enthusiasm, some seemed genuinely glad to meet me in person, I was invited here and there and everywhere for socializing and education, and even individuals whom I have regarded with a certain amount of awe were cordial, engaged, even affectionate.  My head was spinning.  The last thing I expected was to be treated like I was welcome, valued, and interesting.  These were no strangers, as it turned out.

 

For many years, one of my own accessibility mantras has been that true accessibility is more than a mandate, it’s a mind-set.  What makes any place accessible isn’t only the architectural enhancements, but the attitudinal ones.  I have always believed that access is as much about excellent customer service as it is about wheelchair ramps or Braille dots.  Yes, the educational sessions were brilliant, the technology was fascinating, and the weather was superb, but it was the people with whom I interacted at the CSUN conference that made it the ultimate accessible, user experience.

 

Thank you to all whom I met at the event, all of those strangers who will never be strangers again.

 

LL 
    

An accessible place in the meeting space: Accessible Event


Anyone who has read a few posts on the Accessible Insights Blog has read my rants about barriers to accessibility.  Little is more aggravating to me than when I can only proceed so far into a process before I can proceed no further, due to an unlabeled and therefore invisible graphic I’m to click on, or links and buttons labeled simply as "link."  Most of us who use assistive technology to navigate our world find ways to overcome these barriers, either by memorizing the layout of a page, the sequence of steps, or creating scripts or purchasing other types of end-arounds that at least get part of the job done.  Much of the time, however, we find that we are unable to utilize every feature of a web site or service, because only some aspects are accessible.

A specific example is the online collaboration, meeting and presentation space.  I’ve been unable to conduct my own online seminars or presentations because I’ve been unable to helm the service from beginning to end without sighted assistance.  Now, I can.

 

Thanks to an invitation I received to participate in a podcast, I made the fortuitous discovery of a service called Accessible Event.  If you have struggled with using the online virtual meeting services and have been hoping for an accessible alternative, check out this solution by Serotek.

 

Accessible Event can be used concurrently with Go To Meeting and other virtual presentation services, which allows for people who have hearing or print disabilities to access the same material available to their non-disabled counterparts, at the same time.  The interface is streamlined and straightforward, with the FAQ’s and user’s guide right on the home page.

 

what has me excited to use Accessible Event is the pricing schedule.  Unlike some of the other services that require a monthly fee, Accessible Event has a per-event option.  If you don’t hold enough online meetings or webinars to justify the monthly cost, you can use Accessible Event when you want to, and pay as you go.  Or, you can pay for a monthly, yearly, or enterprise server option.

 

There is a new version coming out soon, so check it out now, and check back to learn about the latest release.

 

Click here to go to Accessible Event home page

 

LL

ACB 2011 wrap-up featuring LevelStar orion and Braille t-shirts, part 3


This final installment of the ACB wrap-up focuses on two exhibitors at opposite ends of the access spectrum.  One high tech, one no tech.  What do they have in common?  Both make ingenious use of Braille.

 

If you don’t already have an Apple iPad, it is likely you want one.  If you don’t want one, you likely have one of the competing tablet PC’s.  If not, then you either prefer hieroglyphics or, like me, there are about ten thousand things you need to spend the money on first.

One reason, though, you may have skipped the tablet craze might have more to do with accessibility and the desire to have one gadget do many things, instead of carrying several hand-held devices that serve a variety of purposes.  I found myself intrigued by the LevelStar Orion.

 

Here’s the scoop, right from the literature, about Orion 18:

Packed with the most advanced features ever integrated into a Braille notetaker, like cellular phone and 3G communications, full  GPS navigation, and a camera with text recognition, the sleek Orion 18 Braille tablet by LevelStar is compact enough to fit in a  purse or coat pocket. Orion combines its quiet and stunningly ergonomic Braille keyboard with an 18-cell Braille display and  router keys, talks with human-like Ivona Speech, and is The World’s first notetaker for the blind powered by Android, the fastest  growing mobile environment in the World.

 

There seems to be a dichotomy in the access community about whether or not mainstream gadgets should be made accessible, or whether devices specialized for people with disabilities are preferable.  I can understand both points of view.  The benefit of having a specialized gadget is that presumably, the manufacturers "get it," hopefully innovating with a complete understanding of the needs of the population they serve.

 

On the other hand, specialized gadgets can be prohibitively expensive, and if mainstream options can be made accessible, then the price usually goes down in proportion to the size of the market.  Simple supply and demand.

 

On Monday, July the 25th, at 8:00 PM Eastern Time, Tek Talk will feature the LevelStar Orion 18 Braille tablet during a one hour- long program. Following a product presentation and demonstration by Marc Mulcahy, Marc and Guido will answer your questions live.

 

How to participate:
Approximately 15 minutes prior to the event start time; link to The Pat Price Tek Talk Training Room at:
http://conference321.com/masteradmin/room.asp?id=rsc9613dc89eb2

Alternatively, Select The Pat Price Tek Talk Training Room at: www.accessibleworld.org
Enter your first and last names on the sign-in screen.

Want more info?  Tek Talk is a feature of Accessible World, a division of Helping Hands For The Blind, a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit organization. For  more information about Accessible World and Tek talk, please Contact:
Robert Acosta, Chair
Accessible World
818-998-0044

 

Among the exhibitors at most trade shows, you’ll often find the requisite selection of souvenirs, whether in the form of customized promotional swag, gift shop fare, or T shirts.  At the ACB 2011 event, however, you would have found Braille T Shirts by Alice Lynch.

 

Alice is an artist who creates her Braille T Shirts using metal dots or sparkly crystals, all set by hand.  In training as a certified Braille transcriptionist, Alice sets the dots according to appropriate specs for proportion and spacing, making her shirts eminently readable, as well as fashionable.  You can find her here:
http://www.brailletshirts.com/ and follow her on Twitter here:  @brailletshirts.
 
Please share your own reviews of products or services exhibited at ACB 2011.  Anything blow you away not mentioned here?  Don’t forget to read my previous posts, parts 1 and 2 of the wrap-up.

LL