Now, online shopping is as easy as chatting with a friend. Introducing Say Shopping.


If you are a screen reader or other assistive technology user, and have ever felt overwhelmed navigating an online shopping destination, then you may have turned to a smartphone app instead. Often, the main retail shopping sites are visually cluttered and can lack some useful markup that allows for screen reader users to quickly identify and navigate to necessary links and buttons. Many smartphone apps provided by retailers offer a user experience that is more streamlined, and therefore more efficient, due to the limited number of options available as compared to their huge web sites. Unfortunately, some of these same retailers have app’s that can be as confusing as their full site counterparts, since the limits imposed by app size and scope can leave little room for ubiquitous help, thereby reducing intuitive functionality.

Now, thanks to a new technology developed by Conversant Labs, using your smartphone to shop online is as easy as chatting with a friend. Say Shopping is an iOS app that enables users to interact with a retail establishment, in this case, Target Stores, by using natural language. Chris Maury, founder of Conversant Labs, sat down with me for a fascinating discussion of the Say Shopping app, algorithms, and natural language processing technology. Be sure to click on the link at the end of the article to listen to the audio interview with Chris that I posted for the Fashionability Channel.

LL: What is meant by “natural language processing,” and how have you furthered this technology in the Say Shopping app?
CM: Natural Language Processing or NLP allows a computer to understand the meaning behind the words people use. NLP has a wide range of uses from understanding whether someone is happy or sad or understanding that when they say “I ran out of toilet paper” they’re probably looking to buy more.
With Say Shopping we’ve taken NLP and applied it to the realm of shopping, and by doing so made it really easy for people to shop using their voice (something that’s never been possible before).

LL: Your technology will allow eyes-free, and eventually, hands-free interaction with other apps and devices. Where do you see the future of the technology headed?
CM: In the next year or so, we are finally going to see voice interaction move beyond simple virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now. With new products and services like Apple’s Carplay and the Amazon Echo, we are finally seeing devices where it is much easier to interact with them using voice than it is using touch. With these new products we’ll start to see more exciting features for voice-based services; Say Shopping and being able to shop online is just one example. Soon we’ll be able to read and follow recipes while we cook, order an Uber, and manage our email all from a voice client. And we’re building the tools that developers are going to need to create these new, voice-driven experiences.

LL: What can users expect from this first release of Say Shopping? Will there eventually be other retailers or use cases for your technology?
CM: You can search through Target’s entire product catalog, hear about product details and customer reviews, and order any products that Target will deliver to your house. We’re working to add the ability to order for in-store pickup as well which will open up shopping for groceries as well.
We want to make the best shopping experience possible for our users, so we want to make sure they have options in what they are shopping for and where they are buying from. We also want to bring Say Shopping to as many people as possible, so we are looking at supporting other platforms besides the iPhone such as Apple’s Carplay.

LL: How can other developers or potential licensees get involved in creating new platforms for the technology?
CM: We are finishing up work on our Say Kit Software Development Kit (SDK) which we used to build Say Shopping. We want as many people as possible building voice based experiences into their apps. We will be releasing the first version of the SDK in the coming months, but if developers are interested in getting early access they can reach me at chris@conversantlabs.com.

LL: Is Say Shopping available now? Where can readers find it?
CM: Say Shopping is available now from the Apple App Store. Download the app by following this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sayshopping/id969106932?ls=1&mt=8

You can learn more about the app at sayapps.com

LL: Anything else you’d like Accessible Insights readers to know?
CM: Say Shopping is still early in it’s development. We wanted to get it out there as soon as we could while providing something that people would find useful. There is still a lot we want to do with the app, and there is still a lot we can do to make it better. So if you have any ideas on how to make the app better, please let us know.

LL: I also want readers to know that Chris will be attending the National Federation of the Blind 75th annual convention the week of July 6th, 2015. You can find him bouncing between the booth for Target Stores, B43-44, and the Elegant Insights Braille Creations booth C6. You can try out the app, ask questions, and learn more about the technology. To hear a demo of the Say Shopping app, check out the interview I conducted with Chris for the Fashionability Channel podcast at http://fashionabilitychannel.wordpress.com/.

More about Chris Maury:
Chris was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Degeneration in 2011 and has been working in the accessibility community ever since. He is also the
co-organizer of the Pittsburgh Accessibility Meetup a group with 200
members discusses how to make the world around us more accessible to people across disabilities. This group has met monthly since it’s founding in 2013 and covers topics from accessible sports to emerging accessibly technologies from universities and companies alike.

Get in touch with Chris:
Website: Sayapps.com
Twitter: twitter.com/@cmaury
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Conversant-Labs/438191096263041

See you in Orlando, everyone.

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

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

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

Need access to better nutrition? There’s an app for that


Kel Smith, author of the just-released “Digital Outcasts,” and about whom you will soon read more here on the Accessible Insights Blog, has been reaching out to his fans, friends and colleagues in an effort to bring attention to a great cause. Just this morning, Kel sent out information about his project, and I was so eager to get the details to my readers that I asked Kel if I could post excerpted content of his email below. Want to make a real difference in the health and well-being of people with limited access to nutritious food? Read on to find out how.

Kel’s project is called Aisle Won. For screen reader users, note that the spelling is w o n, as opposed to the numeral one. It’s a combination mobile app and outreach program to connect people living in “food deserts” with sources of healthy, affordable food. Kel has been developing this for the past year or so, and just launched the pilot. Now, he is reaching out to folks to help spread the word.

Kel writes: “An estimated 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts and rely on unhealthy sources of nutrition, such as corner bodegas and fast food restaurants. To say that this is a health problem of growing national concern would be an understatement. For people with disabilities who cannot leave their homes, it’s an even greater burden.”

Here’s how it works: shoppers place an order and check a map to see where locally-grown produce is available in their neighborhood. They can maximize purchases according to individual budgetary and dietary needs. They can also peruse recipes that are delicious and easy to prepare. Local urban farms, then, expand their reach into more areas. Everybody wins.

Anikto completely self-funded the first pilot, now being launched in the Clifton Park section of northeast Baltimore. “We have participating support from the Mayor’s Civic Works office and a six-acre plot called Real Food Farm.” Smith says. “To get Aisle Won to the next level, though, I’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Wednesday was the first day and we already gathered 10% of our goal!”

So … if you follow nutrition literacy, are interested in urban farming, or just appreciate the importance of healthy eating — then please go to:

http://igg.me/at/aisle-won/x/3047094 where you’ll see details of the campaign, which will be live for 40 days. Please contribute to this delicious cause!

Connect with Kel:

215.285.2274
Kel.Smith@anikto.com
http://anikto.com
@KelSmith on Twitter
@DigitalOutcasts for info on Kel’s new book.
“Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward Without Leaving People Behind”
http://digital-outcasts.com

Mobile Accessibility is Now Available for Purchase


Making Android Phones Accessible to the Blind
Terrassa (Barcelona), Spain, March 30th, 2011
Mobile Accessibility, our screen-access application that allows people who are blind or have low vision to use an Android phone in an intuitive, easy and simple way, is now on sale.  Mobile Accessibility is the first accessible Android application that permits intuitive touchscreen navigation of Android phones, featuring text readback via natural sounding voices powered by Nuance’s Vocalizer® text-to-speech technology.

You can purchase the application directly from the Market application of your Android phone, or from the web page:

US English: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizerenu&feature=search_result
UK English: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizereng&feature=search_result
For more information on how to purchase your copy of Mobile Accessibility please go to http://www.codefactory.es/en/products.asp?id=415#getit

If you still have not tried it, you should do it now. Our 30-day demos are available here:

Mobile Accessibility Demo US: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizerenudemo&feature=search_result
Mobile Accessibility Demo UK: https://market.android.com/details?id=es.codefactory.android.app.ma.vocalizerengdemo&feature=search_result

Mobile Accessibility is only available in English at the moment. Languages to follow soon are:  Spanish, Italian, German, French and Portuguese.

Mobile Accessibility doesn’t support multiple languages at one time. If you buy the English version of Mobile Accessibility you will not be able to use it in another language like French or Spanish. There will be a specific version of Mobile Accessibility for each language and each version will have to be purchased separately. US and UK English are 2 different languages.

Mobile Accessibility is two products in one:
A suite of 10 accessible applications (Phone, Contacts, SMS, Alarm, Calendar, Email, Web, Where am I, Apps and Settings) that have been specially designed for the blind and visually impaired. They all have a simplified interface whose textual information is spoken using Nuance Vocalizer® voice synthesis.
A screen reader that allows users to get out of the suite and navigate the standard interface of their phone.

The major features of Mobile Accessibility are the following:
Touch navigation: You can use Mobile Accessibility not only with the trackball or the physical keyboard of your phone, but also with its touchscreen! Simply move your finger around the screen and the voice synthesis will read the text located under your finger. Or if you prefer, you can also swipe up/down/right/left and tap on the screen to navigate through the interface. And if you wish you can enable sound and vibration feedback.
Easy to input text: In or outside the Mobile Accessibility suite you can use the touch QWERTY keyboard as well as speech recognition to write text quickly and easily. Imagine writing an SMS or an Email using your voice only.
Voice synthesis: Code Factory has been making mobile phones accessible to the blind and visually impaired for many years now, and they know that the voice matters… and a lot! For Mobile Accessibility, Code Factory has partnered with Nuance® to leverage its trusted Vocalizer text-to-speech technology, providing consumers with natural sounding voice readback. 

Inside the Mobile Accessibility suite of accessible applications you can do the following
Phone: Make calls, answer calls, hear the caller ID and manage your call log.
Contacts: Manage your contacts, even those from social networks such as Facebook. 
SMS: Compose and read short messages. Manage conversations.
Alarms: Set your alarms.
Web: Full web browser experience, similar to what you can find on your PC. Jump by the control of your choice (links, paragraphs, headings, forms, etc.) to navigate faster to the information of your interest. Bookmark your favourite webpages.
Calendar: Create, edit and delete a calendar entry. View all events per day, week or month.
Email: Full access to your Gmail account
Where am I? : GPS application that gives you updates on your current location.
Settings: Change ringtone. Configure feedback and notifications (vibration or audio). Configure keyboard echo, punctuation verbosity, speech pitch and rate, etc.
Quick access to date and time, phone status information such as battery level and network coverage, number of missed calls and unread messages, etc.

To hear Mobile Accessibility in action listen to videos and audio demos at http://www.codefactory.es/en/products.asp?id=415#video

Mobile Accessibility supports all Android phones from version 2.1 and above. Please note that voice recognition is only supported with version 2.2 and above. Note also that if you want to use the screen reader functionality of Mobile Accessibility you will need a phone with physical navigational controls such as a trackball or trackpad. You can find more information about Android phones at http://www.google.com/phone/#manufacturer=all&category=all&carrier=all&country=all&reset_filters=1

To learn how to use Mobile Accessibility for Android, please consult the user guide at http://www.codefactory.es/MA/en/ma_1_0_manual.html. For technical assistance, please submit a ticket through Code Factory’s Help Desk at http://www.codefactory.cat/helpdesk/

For more information, feel free to contact Code Factory S.L.:

Code Factory, S.L., Rambla d’Egara 148 2-2, 08221 Terrassa (Barcelona)
HelpDesk, www.codefactory.es
Code Factory, S.L. – 2011

 

LL