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In a World Ravaged by Inaccessibility, Aira Brings New Hope to the Blind Community

May 28, 2017 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Do you cringe every time you think about that huge pile of print accumulating in your mail basket? Are you worried you might miss something important to your family or be forced to pay a late fee on a bill for the stupid reason that you missed the print notice that was mailed to you last month? How about all the cans in your pantry? Would you like to be more helpful to your child participating in recreational opportunities outside your home? Would you just like to receive sighted help on your schedule, rather than someone else’s?

Aira, the self-styled “Visual Interpreter for the Blind,” is here to help. Aira really is like OnStar for the blind! Simply open the Aira app on your smart phone, dawn the supplied glasses, press a few buttons and, voila! You have near-instant sighted help! Even better: they know what they’re doing!

It’s almost that simple. There are a few caveats:

  • Aira currently requires you to have a smart phone with a data plan and a decent level of knowledge about how to use it effectively.
  • With pricing starting at $89/month for the most basic plan, the cost is out of reach for most blind people.
  • Although Aira goes to extensive lengths to serve everyone in the United States, including providing a AT&T MiFi hotspot for the glasses, it remains limited by the availability of network infrastructure. Your smart phone must have a good signal to your carrier or you must connect it to WiFi in order to use the service.
  • You must be comfortable talking with people, patient with the need to aim your phone’s camera or turn your head and some prior experience working with sighted readers is helpful.
  • Using Aira is not the same as true accessibility. A sighted person is helping you work around a barrier that might otherwise exclude you or prevent you from enjoying the benefits of full participation.

If you can maneuver past these caveats, though, Aira is amazing!

In the week and a half since our family started using Aira, we have used it to help us:

  • Clean our refridgerator: An Aira agent read the expiration dates of numerous items so that Allison could decide what to throw out.
  • Settle the bill: Aira helped Darrell read a Cracker Barrel receipt so he could separate the items he purchased from those his mother bought.
  • Identify medication: Aira helped Allison read the labels on several pill bottles.
  • Go to baby school: Aira described the motions of the teacher and the overall scene to Darrell as he and Allyssa participated in a music therapy activity.

We know we haven’t even begun to touch the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. Last month, Aira helped a blind man run a marathon!

Although Aira is not perfect, they’re off to a great start. We are looking forward to Aira’s continued evolution as an important part of a blind person’s toolbox of alternative techniques, skills and technologies used to enjoy a full life on terms of equality with the sighted.

Are you using Aira? Would you like to learn more? Please feel free to tell us about it in the comments.

We love hearing from our readers! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the blog better? What topics would you like us to cover in future articles?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Teaching and Testing iOS App VoiceOver Accessibility Webinar

August 5, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This approximately one-hour podcast is an audio recording of a real-world demonstration for following a systematic plan that explores, evaluates and tests iOS apps for accessibility with Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader for blind and low-vision users. The August 3, 2016 webinar was presented by Darrell Hilliker and hosted by the Arizona Technology Access Program. A video, including closed captioning, is also available.

Teaching and Testing iOS App VoiceOver Accessibility Webinar Notes

Introduction

Webinar Purpose: introduce and demonstrate a step-by-step plan that provides a straightforward way for advocates, developers, educators and others to quickly explore, learn and improve the accessibility of all apps in Apple’s iOS ecosystem.

What is a Screen Reader?

  • A form of assistive technology
  • A Software program that turns information shown on a screen of a computer or mobile device into Braille or speech
  • Screen readers and accessibility enable blind people to learn, work and live in a technology-based world alongside sighted people.

VoiceOver

  • One type of screen reader that was created by Apple
  • Has been a built-in feature on all iOS devices since 2010
  • Enables Braille and speech access for users who are unable to see the screen
  • Speaks screen elements aloud or enables them to be displayed in braille

Accessibility

  • True accessibility means that all parts of a platform’s features, benefits, information, policies, procedures, products, responsibilities, rights, services and technologies are developed and implemented in ways that are usable by people with disabilities.
  • VoiceOver and other screen readers work best when apps are deliberately developed in ways that ensure compatibility.
  • Important for blind/VI individuals to be considered during development and included in the testing process.
  • Apple provides developers guidelines for making apps work with VoiceOver.

The Benefits of a Plan for Evaluating and Testing AppAccessibility

  • Advocates may use the plan to identify the accessibility issues they report to developers.
  • Developers may follow the plan to test their apps.
  • Decision makers may incorporate the plan into their user-acceptance testing and other procedures.
  • Educators may use the plan as a framework for evaluating the non-visual accessibility of iOS apps.

Starting VoiceOver

  1. Press the Home button on the iOS device. (round button located on the bottom middle of the screen)
  2. Tap Settings.
  3. Tap General.
  4. Tap Accessibility.
  5. Tap VoiceOver.
  6. Hold the VoiceOver switch and swipe to the right to turn it on.
  7. (Recommended) Hold the Speak Hints switch and swipe to the right to turn it on.
  8. (Optional) Triple tap the screen with three fingers to enable the Screen Curtain. This feature blanks out the screen, resulting in a more realistic environment for nonvisual accessibility testing.

Use Any of These Techniques To Activate VoiceOver Without Sight.

  • Press the Home button three times quickly. (Works if the Triple Click Home option in the iOS device’s accessibility settings is configured to use VoiceOver)
  • Hold down the Home button and ask Siri to “turn on VoiceOver”
  • Connect the iOS device to a computer running iTunes and turn on VoiceOver under the accessibility configuration screen.

The Plan

  1. Open the app to be tested.
  2. Tap the top of the screen with four fingers.
  3. Flick to the right through all elements on the app’s home screen.
    1. Are all controls labeled in a way that makes sense when you listen to VoiceOver without looking at the screen?
    2. Are you able to choose all buttons and other controls by double tapping them as you hear them spoken by VoiceOver?
    3. Does VoiceOver stay focused throughout use or does it become jumpy and read items out of order?
    4. When one or more items in a list is highlighted or selected, does VoiceOver say “selected” or provide any other indication of its status?
    5. If a list typically enables a sighted user to pull down with one finger, is a VoiceOver user able to update the list by swiping down with three fingers?
    6. Are all elements available to VoiceOver or are some items not spoken?
    7. Are there features that require the use of custom gestures that are not available to VoiceOver users?
    8. If visual cues, such as color, are important, does VoiceOver speak this information?
    9. Are all elements presented in a logical order as you move around the screen? If the relationship between elements is important, is it clearly conveyed nonvisually?
    10. Listen for special hints, such as “double tap to play,” spoken after the name of each element. If these hints are never heard, make sure hints are enabled in VoiceOver settings.
    11. If audio is playing, does its volume decrease, or duck down, while VoiceOver is speaking?
    12. Does a two-finger scrub (Z-shaped gesture) activate the escape function of the arrow in the upper-lefthand corner of the screen?
    13. Does the app offer accessibility enhancements such as direct touch, keyboard shortcuts, magic tap or specific support for Braille displays, switches or other forms of assistive technology?
  4. Flick to the left through the same home screen. Make detailed notes of anything that does not seem to function as expected with VoiceOver enabled.
  5. Tap the top of the screen with four fingers.
  6. Flick to the right, one element at a time, and double tap the first item where choosing it should lead to another screen.
  7. Repeat steps 3 through 5 on every screen the app contains, testing and noting any issues found with all elements.

Reporting and Resolving Accessibility Bugs

If you are a developer, using the notes obtained from testing, make all bug fixes necessary to deliver a fully accessible experience for users who rely on VoiceOver. Consider prioritizing the correction of accessibility bugs according to the order suggested in the plan. See the resources at the end of this presentation for details.

If you are reporting accessibility bugs to a developer, consider using the following format:

  • Description: A few concise words explaining the accessibility issue.
  • Steps to reproduce: Write down the exact steps you followed to cause the accessibility bug to happen.
  • Current behavior: Summarize the incorrect or unexpected behavior you are observing.
  • Expected behavior: Summarize the behavior you expect to observe once the accessibility issue has been resolved.
  • App and hardware information: Include a statement concisely providing as much information as possible about the version of the app being tested and the iOS device on which it is running.

Example Bug Report

The following accessibility bug was recently filed with Facebook against an important feature in the company’s iOS app.

Description: The details of event invitations are inaccessible to VoiceOver.

Steps to reproduce:

  1. Make sure VoiceOver is turned on in Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver on the iOS device.
  2. Open the Facebook app.
  3. Open any event invitation.
  4. Tap the top of the screen with four fingers.
  5. Repeatedly flick to the right through the event invitation, pausing after each flick to listen to the information provided by VoiceOver.
  6. Note that important information, such as the event’s date, location, time and other details, are not spoken.

Current behavior: In its current implementation, event invitations are inaccessible and virtually useless to blind people using Facebook’s iOS app.

Expected behavior: Blind Facebook users should be able to access event invitations on terms of equality with their sighted friends.

Facebook version 60.0.0.37.141 is running on an iPhone 6 with iOS version 9.3.3.

Accessibility Testing

  • If you are a developer, check your work using blind alpha testers, followed by a select group of beta testers from the blind community.
  • If you are an advocate, thoroughly test the app according to the plan,then provide detailed feedback to its developer along with your accessibility request.
  • If you are an educator, test the app against this plan and any additional laws, policies or regulations your institution may have in place before recommending its use for your blind students.
  • If you are a decision maker, test the app against this plan and any additional laws, policies or regulations that apply to your agency, company, organization or personal conscience, then do not recommend or purchase the app if it is not accessible. Provide feedback about your decision to the company that owns the app.

Resources

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Picture Imperfect: Our Family Explores Photo Management on iOS

August 2, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately one hour and 49 minute podcast, Allison, Darrell and baby daughter Allyssa go on an adventure through their photo library, experiencing fun and frustration with accessible and inaccessible iOS apps.

We found Moments by Facebook completely inaccessible with VoiceOver. Please submit feedback to Facebook’s accessibility team.

We were looking for a good way to organize and store our family’s memories, photos and stories, not unlike sighted families the world over. We tried Keepy, on the recommendation of a parenting podcast we like, only to find it almost, but not quite, accessible enough to use. Please send customer feedback to the developer asking for improved VoiceOver accessibility.

On a positive accessibility note, we enjoyed adding descriptions to our photos using TapTapSee and BeSpecular. We appreciate the work the awesome BeSpecular volunteers do to help blind people see.

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Asked to Make Your iOS App Accessible to Blind People? There’s a Plan for that!

May 14, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Are you a developer who has been asked to make your iOS app accessible to blind people using Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader? Are you uncertain how to respond, why you should care or where you can go to get started? I hope to demystify these questions and encourage you to create and improve your product in ways that empower and include all your customers, even those who can’t see the screens of their smart phones and tablets.

How should I respond to a request for VoiceOver accessibility in my app?

However you choose to respond, I would encourage you not to simply ignore the request. As a professional, you expect a timely response to communications you initiate, so please afford your blind customers that same courtesy when approached. Please consider the following ideas for communicating with users regarding accessibility requests:

  1. Respond to the request right away informing the customer you have received it and you will take steps to follow up promptly.
  2. If you have a bug-tracking or case management system, create a ticket and escalate it as needed in order to get an answer.
  3. If you do not possess the authority to make this strategic decision, please work with your company’s owner or executive leadership to urge them in the right direction. If you do have the necessary authority, please read on for information on how you can open your doors to your blind customers.
  4. If your business has decided to be inclusive to blind people, please respond affirmatively to your customer, utilize the resources provided here and elsewhere online and start working actively with the connected, online blind community.
  5. Regardless of the outcome, please remember to follow up with your customer by providing updates as you are able to release information to the public.

Why should I care?

There are at least four reasons why you should incorporate accessibility into your apps:

  • Accessibility is simply the right thing to do. Would you create an app designed to categorically exclude women, African-Americans, Chinese or any other group of people? If not, then why would you want to exclude blind people or anyone else with a disability? The answer to the accessibility question determines whether or not everyone, including people with disabilities, will be afforded the opportunity to learn, work, enjoy leisure activities or otherwise participate in the benefits your app offers.
  • There is a business case for accessibility.
  • Accessibility can be easy, fun and interesting. In 2015, the White House and several other U.S. government agencies sponsored a hackathon demonstrating and discussing techniques for improving the accessibility of several forms of technology.
  • Accessibility is the law of the land in many parts of the world. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and numerous other lesser-known laws require accessibility and full inclusion of people with disabilities in activities, education, employment, products, programs and services offered to the public at large. Similar laws are on the books in many other nations. Failure to empower people with disabilities to use your app may result in complaints, lawsuits, loss of business, negative publicity and a poor reputation.

Where can I go to learn more about iOS accessibility and get started with developing my apps in an inclusive manner?

Apple provides an excellent overview of all the accessibility features available on its iOS platform. The Applevis online community hosts Information For Developers On How to Build Accessible iOS and Mac Apps. Finally, a comprehensive, systematic plan has been published to aid developers and others in beta testing and evaluating the accessibility of iOS apps with VoiceOver.

iOS 8 Accessibility Call to Action

September 17, 2014 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

iOS 8 hit the street with accessibility bugs that severely impact bluetooth keyboards, Braille support, screen scrolling and other critical areas of the operating system on which blind VoiceOver users rely in order to effectively use iOS devices. A list of The Accessibility Bugs in iOS 8: From Serious To Minor effectively describes the situation on iOS 8 launch day.

Accessibility bugs impact not only people who want to stay current with the latest version of iOS on their existing devices, but they also affect those who have purchased a new iPhone 6, where there is no choice to downgrade the version of iOS.

Let’s help the decisionmakers at Apple understand that we want an equal seat at the Apple table. We want to be able to use our iOS devices on terms of equality with the sighted. Since VoiceOver is built into iOS, that means we need Apple to make correcting accessibility-related bugs a high priority.

How You Can Help

If you are a blind or low-vision iOS user, or you are someone who cares about one, we ask that you please take at least one of the following action steps:

  • If you upgraded to iOS 8 or you bought an iPhone 6 or 6+, email accessibility@apple.com or call Apple’s accessibility team at 1-877-204-3930 and ask for resolution of the accessibility bugs found during the iOS 8 developer beta.
  • If you have not yet upgraded to iOS 8, or you are hesitant to purchase a new iPhone, email accessibility@apple.com or call Apple’s accessibility team at 1-877-204-3930 and explain how your upgrading and purchasing decision is being impacted by new accessibility barriers introduced in iOS 8.
  • Email Tim Cook (tcook@apple.com) or tweet him @tim_cook asking him to direct Apple’s iOS developers to address the accessibility bugs discovered by blind VoiceOver users during the iOS 8 developer beta cycle.
  • Post on Twitter about your iOS 8 accessibility concerns by mentioning AppleAx and including the #apple, #ios8 and #a11y hashtags.

Let’s all take action today to insure a brighter future for blind, deaf-blind and low-vision people in the Apple ecosystem.

iOS 7 First Impressions

September 19, 2013 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 18-minute podcast, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow demonstrate a few of the exciting new features they discovered after updating their iPhones to iOS 7.

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Categories: iPhone, podcast

CSUN: It Won’t be Hard to Access BARD with the Upcoming iOS App from NLS

February 27, 2013 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 26-minute podcast, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow are honored to speak with Judy Dixon, Consumer Relations Officer with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, all about the upcoming release of the agency’s BARD Mobile app for reading Braille and digital talking books on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

Judy gives us a firsthand look at an alpha-test version of this exciting new app, so you won’t want to miss this show!

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

We thank Jeff Bishop for doing the post-production work on our CSUN 2013 podcasts.

Get Hooked on Books with Nook for iOS

November 29, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 36-minute podcast, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow demonstrate the accessible Barnes & Noble Nook e-book reading app for iOS. They add a book through the nook.com website, read it with VoiceOver and explore the use of the app with a Braille display.

Additional Resources

  • Visit the Nook website to create your account to buy and add books to your iOS device.
  • Install the Nook app on your iOS device.

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Categories: iPhone, podcast

Jingle All the Way with Christmas Songs for iOS

November 29, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 32-minute podcast, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow carol through the evening as they demonstrate the Christmas Songs iOS app.

Whether you just want to listen to your favorite traditional Christmas songs or you need a convenient way to access song lyrics while caroling, this easy-to-use, fun app may just be the ticket.

We mentioned a number of additional ways to enjoy holiday music on your iOS device:

  • Check out the AccuHolidays genre on the AccuRadio app.
  • Install Christmas Radio on your iOS device to hear your favorite holiday tunes being played live on radio stations around the world.
  • Buy the accessible ooTunes app and browse the Christmas genre for even more Christmas radio listening enjoyment. If you are new to ooTunes, we invite you to listen to our podcast to explore and learn more about how to use the app.

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Categories: iPhone, podcast

Drop It While It’s Hot with Droptext for iOS

August 13, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 16-minute podcast, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow demonstrate Droptext, a simple iOS app for creating and editing text files in Dropbox.

We love hearing from our listeners! Please feel free to talk with us in the comments. What do you like? How could we make the show better? What topics would you like us to cover on future shows?

If you use Twitter, let’s get connected! Please follow Allison (@AlliTalk) and Darrell (@darrell).

Categories: iPhone, podcast