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

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

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

RFB and D audio books now available on Apple devices


RFB&D Audiobooks are Now Accessible on Apple iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch Devices

New assistive technology application dramatically widens accessibility of educational content for people with learning differences.

Princeton, NJ (Vocus/PRWEB) March 08, 2011

Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic® (RFB&D®) has released a new application enabling its entire library of downloadable DAISY-formatted audiobooks to be played on Apple iOS devices including the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

The new application, known as RFB&D Audio, is available to individuals for $19.99 via the Apple iTunes store. An RFB&D online account is required to use the product, which offers advanced features for accessibility like bookmarking, chapter and page navigation, last position playback, variable speed control and more.

Our members have asked for our content on devices they enjoy using in everyday life and we have delivered,” says Andrew Friedman, RFB&D President and CEO. “This new application is a major milestone, building on the momentum begun a few months ago when we introduced our ReadHear software player making RFB&D books accessible on PC and Mac computers – we will continue to bring leading edge solutions to our users.”

RFB&D Audio is fully compatible with all iPad, iPhone 4 and 3GS models, and iPod touch second generation and above devices. For visually impaired members, the app takes full advantage of Apple’s VoiceOver technology. Members can select from RFB&D’s library of more than 64,000 titlesavailable online and easily download books to their PCs and Macs. From there, they can use iTunes to easily transfer the files to their devices.

More information, frequently asked questions, a quick start guide, and customer service contact information to support the RFB&D Audio app are available at http://www.rfbd.org/apple/.

About Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic®
Founded in 1948, RFB&D serves more than 300,000 K-12, college and graduate students, as well as veterans and lifelong learners – all of whom cannot read standard print due to blindness, visual impairment, dyslexia, or other disability. RFB&D’s collection of more than 64,000 digitally recorded textbooks and literature titles – delivered through internet downloads, various assistive technology devices, and CD – is the largest of its kind in the world. More than 5,000 volunteers across the U.S. help to record and process the books, which students rely on to achieve educational success and entry into the workforce.

RFB&D, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Education, state and local education programs, and the generous contributions of individuals, foundations and corporations. For more information, call (866) 732-3585 or visit http://www.rfbd.org.

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Contact Information

Doug Sprei, Director of Media Relations
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic
www.rfbd.org
202-684-8915

LL