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Phoenix-Area Blind iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch Users Asked to Fill the Room at Upcoming iOS Developer Group Meeting

January 29, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The Phoenix iOS Developer Group (PI) will be holding its February meeting on the topic of accessibility. Justin Mann, a blind iPhone user, will be presenting on the use of Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader with several innovative iOS apps that enable business productivity, social-media participation, identification of items in the surrounding environment and much more.

Anybody is welcome to attend. This is an excelent opportunity to show some app developers that accessibility matters and that blind people are using iOS devices in number. Let’s fill the room with as many Phoenix-area blind people and their talking iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches as we possibly can!

The meeting will be held at the University of Advancing Technology located at 2625 West Baseline Road, Tempe, Ariz., from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 2.

We look forward to seeing all of you there.  

Exploring the iPod Touch and Learning Braille Using the Refreshabraille 18 Display

January 6, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Tyler Juranek demonstrates the iPod Touch with VoiceOver and the Refreshabraille 18 display.

Tyler covers a number of topics in this approximately 30-minute podcast, including:

  • A physical description of the Refreshabraille 18 with commentary and a demonstration of its durability.
  • A thorough demonstration of the process for pairing the Refreshabraille with the iPod Touch using Bluetooth.
  • Remote control and navigation of the iPod Touch using the controls on the Refreshabraille from a distance.
  • Contracted Braille keyboard text entry.
  • Using VoiceOver Practice Mode to demonstrate a possibly easy means for teaching and learning Braille.

I am honored to welcome Tyler to the Blind Access Journal podcast for his excellent debut. We are looking forward to many more contributions.

Download, Play or Pause: Exploring the iPod Touch and Learning Braille Using the Refreshabraille Display

iPhone App Maker Justifies Charging Blind Customers Extra for VoiceOver Accessibility

December 23, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A recent version 2.0 update to Awareness!, an iOS app that enables the user of an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch to hear important sounds in their environment while listening through headphones, features six available in-app purchases, including one that enables VoiceOver accessibility for the company’s blind customers.

Awareness! The Headphone App, authored by small developer Essency, costs 99 cents in the iTunes Store. VoiceOver support for the app costs blind customers over five times its original price at $4.99.

Essency co-founder Alex Georgiou said the extra cost comes from the added expense and development time required to make Awareness! Accessible with Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader.

“Awareness! is a pretty unusual App. Version 1.x used a custom interface that did not lend itself very well for VoiceOver,” he said. “Our developers tried relabeling all the controls and applied the VoiceOver tags as per spec but this didn’t improve things much. There were so many taps and swipe gestures involved in changing just one setting that it really was unusable.”

Essency’s developers tackled the accessibility challenge by means of a technique the blind community knows all too well with websites like Amazon and Safeway that offer a separate, incomplete accessibility experience requiring companies to spend additional funds on specialized, unwanted customer-service training and technical maintenance tasks.

“The solution was to create a VoiceOver-specific interface, however, this created another headache for our developers,” Georgiou said. “It meant having the equivalent of a dual interface: one interface with the custom controllers and the other optimized for VoiceOver. It was almost like merging another version of Awareness! in the existing app.”

As an example of the need for a dual-interface approach and a challenge to the stated simplicity of making iOS apps accessible, Georgiou described a portion of the app’s user interface the developers struggled to make accessible with VoiceOver:

“Awareness! features an arched scale marked in percentages in the centre of a landscape screen with a needle that pivots from left to right in correspondence to sound picked up by either the built in mic or inline headphones. You change the mic threshold by moving your finger over the arched scale which uses a red filling to let you know where it’s set. At the same time, a numerical display appears telling you the dBA value of the setting. When the needle hits the red, the mic is switched on and routed to your headphones. To the right you have the mic volume slider, turn the mic volume up or down by sliding your finger over it. Then you have a series of buttons placed around the edges that control things like the vibrate alarm, autoset, mic trigger and the settings page access.”

Georgiou said maintaining two separate user interfaces, one for blind customers and another for sighted, comes at a high price.

“At the predicted uptake of VoiceOver users, we do not expect to break even on the VoiceOver interface for at least 12 to 18 months unless something spectacular happens with sales,” he said. “We would have loved to have made this option free, unfortunately the VoiceOver upgrade required a pretty major investment, representing around 60% of the budget for V2 which could have been used to further refine Awareness and introduce new features aimed at a mass market.”

Georgiou said this dual-interface scheme will continue to represent a significant burden to Essency’s bottom line in spite of the added charge to blind customers.

“Our forecasts show that at best we could expect perhaps an extra 1 or 2 thousand VoiceOver users over the next 12 to 18 months,” he said. “At the current pricing this would barely cover the costs for the VoiceOver interface development.”

Georgiou said payment of the $4.99 accessibility charge does not make the app fully accessible at this time.

“It is our intention that the VoiceOver interface will continue to be developed with new features such as AutoPause and AutoSet Plus being added on for free,” he said. “Lack of time did not allow these features to be included in this update.”

Georgiou said the decision to make Awareness! Accessible had nothing to do with business.

“From a business perspective it really didn’t make sense for us to invest in a VoiceOver version but we decided to go ahead with the VoiceOver version despite the extra costs because we really want to support the blind and visually impaired,” he said. “It was a decision based on heartfelt emotion, not business.”

Georgiou said accessibility should be about gratitude and he would even consider it acceptable for a company to charge his daughter four to five times as much for something she needed if she were to have a disability.

“Honestly, I would be grateful and want to encourage as many parties as possible to consider accessibility in apps and in fact in all areas of life,” he said. “I would not object to any developer charging their expense for adding functionality that allowed my daughter to use an app that improved her life in any way. In this case, better to have than not.”

Georgiou said he wants to make it clear he and his company do not intend to exploit or harm blind people.

“I first came into contact with a blind couple when I was 10 years old through a Christian Sunday school (over 38 years ago),” he said. “They were the kindest couple I ever met and remember being amazed at the things they managed to do without sight. I remember them fondly. I could not imagine myself or my partner doing anything to hurt the blind community.”

A common thread in many of Georgiou’s statements seems to ask how a small company strikes a balance between doing the right thing and running a financially sustainable business that supports their families.

“I don’t think you understand, we’re a tiny company. We’re not a corporate,” he said. “The founders are just two guys who have families with kids, I’ve got seven!”

Georgiou said he understands how accessibility is a human right that ought to be encouraged and protected.

“I recognize that there is a problem here that can be applied to the world in general and it’s important to set an acceptable precedent,” he said. “I think I’ve already made my opinions clear in that I believe civilized society should allow no discrimination whatsoever.”

In spite of accessibility as a human right in the civilized world, Georgiou said he believes this consideration must be balanced with other practical business needs.

“When it comes to private companies, innovation, medicine, technology, etc., It’s ultra-important all are both encouraged and incentivized to use their talents to improve quality of life in all areas,” Georgiou said. “The question is who pays for it? The affected community? The government? The companies involved?”

Standing Foursquare for Accessibility

November 17, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 30-minute podcast, I demonstrate the foursquare iPhone app and describe opportunities for improving its accessibility to blind users who rely on Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader.

Advocates have started a topic on foursquare’s Get Satisfaction community forum and blind foursquare users are asked to post comments about their experiences with the app and to describe how they would like to see its accessibility improved.

I have also created this demonstration for the benefit of those at foursquare with whom a number of us are in discussions about opportunities for enhancing its accessibility.

Download, Play or Pause – Standing Foursquare for Accessibility

Categories: accessibility, advocacy, iPhone

AT&T Describes How to Fix iPhones in Arizona Whose Time Fell Back by One Hour on Nov. 7

November 7, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

While Arizona did not observe the Sunday end of Daylight Saving Time, some iPhones in the state configured with default settings did, falling back an hour along with those in the Pacific time zone.

April, an AT&T customer service representative, reported that the issue involves the configuration of time zone support in the iPhone’s Mail, Contacts and Calendars settings. By default, time zone support is on and set to Cupertino.

April provided the following instructions for disabling time zone support, so that this information can be obtained from AT&T’s network:

These steps will work for sighted users who are not running the VoiceOver screen reader for the blind. Instructions for blind users follow.

  1. Tap Settings on the Home screen.
  2. Tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars.
  3. Tap Time Zone Support.
  4. Tap the button to turn Time Zone Support off.

If you are a blind iPhone user who relies on Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader, follow these steps to turn off time zone support:

  1. Press the Home button to move to the Home screen.
  2. Flick left or right to locate the Settings icon. This will be found on the first page of most iPhones.
  3. Double tap Settings.
  4. Flick right several times to locate Mail, Contacts, Calendars.
  5. Double tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars.
  6. Flick right until you locate “Time Zone Support, On.”
  7. Double tap “Time Zone Support, On.” You are now in the time zone support window.
  8. Flick to the right a couple of times to find a button labeled “Time Zone Support, On.”
  9. Double tap the button to turn this feature off. The iPhone will now pull all its time zone information from the cellular network.

Once the time zone support setting has been deactivated, close the settings screen by pressing the Home button and test the time change by following these steps:

  1. Press and hold down the Sleep button on the top of the iPhone for two seconds.
  2. Double tap the Power Off button. Single tap the button if you are not using VoiceOver. The iPhone will announce it is shutting down.
  3. Wait 5 or 10 seconds.
  4. Hold down the Sleep button for two or three seconds to start the iPhone.
  5. Allow 10 to 15 seconds for the iPhone to fully power up. If you use VoiceOver, its active status will be announced.
  6. The iPhone starts in a locked state, with the current time shown. Flick to the left a couple of times to hear it announced. Flick to the right twice and double tap to unlock the iPhone and go on your merry way.

As always, comments, corrections and all constructive feedback is useful.

Let Your Voices be Heard at Foursquare

November 3, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The popular Foursquare iPhone app used all over the world to check into and learn about new places is usable by blind people, but it’s accessibility could be significantly improved by the developers.

A new topic was posted Tuesday on Foursquare’s Get Satisfaction forum asking for labeled buttons, fields and other controls to reduce confusion and make the iPhone app easier to use for blind people who rely on Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader.

We ask all who regularly read this journal or follow us on Twitter to review this topic and leave your own comments. This app has featured many unlabeled controls for a long time now. It’s only through vigorous participation that we’re going to get Foursquare to pay attention to our concerns and fix the accessibility issues.

Going Fishing with oMoby

November 2, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Karen brings me an interesting grocery package to identify with oMoby. A demonstration and discussion of iPhone camera orientation follows.

Follow these steps to use oMoby:

  1. Locate oMoby on your Home screen and double tap its icon to launch the app.
  2. Four-finger flick down to move to the bottom of the window, where you will find the Settings button.
  3. Flick left once and double tap the Take Photo button. Options for adjusting the camera are shown.
  4. Four-finger flick down to the Take Picture button.
  5. Orient the iPhone in the vertical position with the Sleep button on the top and the Home button on the bottom to take the picture in portrait mode. If a wider view is needed, orient the iPhone 90 degrees to the left, counterclockwise, of the vertical position so that the Home button is on the right to take the picture in landscape mode.
  6. Place the camera against the object to be identified and gradually move the iPhone upward to a distance of six to 12 inches. If you know you have good lighting, you may want to try allowing the camera to auto focus. Stop moving upward when you here VoiceOver say “auto focused.”
  7. Double tap the Take Picture button. A camera sound is heard and a snapshot of the object is taken.
  8. Four-finger flick down to the Use button and double tap it to have oMoby upload the picture for analysis.
  9. Flick left and right around the screen until you locate the newest entry in the list that says “searching.” Once the object has been identified, another screen will appear containing the identity of the object along with a lot of search results you may not find useful. Use the two-finger scrub gesture or find and double tap the Back button to return to the list of identified objects.

Download, Play or Pause – Going Fishing with oMoby

Categories: iPhone, tips

Music Identification iPhone App to Get Restored VoiceOver Accessibility

October 31, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

New versions of Shazam Entertainment’s music-identification iPhone apps will restore VoiceOver accessibility for blind listeners.

23-year-old blind computer programmer Jason White said the inaccessible Shazam update interfered with VoiceOver on his iPod Touch even after switching away from the app, forcing him to completely close the app in order to restore VoiceOver accessibility.

“When I attempted to use Shazam, speech from VoiceOver ceaced or was extremely sluggish,” White said. “I was quite disconcerted when the problem first occured, because I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t tell if Shazam was causing VoiceOver to freze, or whether the entire unit had just frozen, since Voiceover is my primary access method to the iPod.”

Peter Mahach, a 14-year-old blind iPhone user from Poland, said he used Shazam to identify the music in sound clips he enjoys collecting.

“shazam was a really great tool which allowed me to identify a sound clip and listen to the full version of the song via YouTube,” he said. “When shazam 3 came out, it did get expanded but also got considerably more unlabeled buttons and the youtube feature, which before would load up the first match now displayed some search results, and if you tapped on one it did absolutely nothing.”

Mahach said Shazam became inaccessible after a recent update, and he has missed the ability to use the app.

“I did have issues with voice over stopping speech when the app began tagging, so what I did to stop recording was disconnect my headphones from the iPod which effectively caused the app to stop recording and identify the song,” Mahach said. “Now the app completely stopped being usable for the moment and if I need to identify something I have to fall back on trying to hear as many words of the song as possible, then googling for them.”

Shazam Entertainment got bug reports from customers about audio management issues and crashes after the update.

“When we implemented version 3 of our application on the iPhone, it was a very big scope, there were a number of bugs, a few people complained about crashing and one of those bugs was that VoiceOver stopped working,” said Roy Rosenthal, legal counsel for Shazam Entertainment. “When the microphone is on, the app can’t also implement VoiceOver. We actually have a copy of a long e-mail from someone who voiced this concern. It was the only one we did have, but our fix to it was go into your Shazam settings and turn off your microphone.”

Rosenthal said the company moved fast to squash the bugs.

“As of two days ago, we submitted version 3.1 of Shazam Free, and that has fixed the bug,” Rosenthal said. “VoiceOver will be back in as soon as the approval process goes through, which usually takes three days to a week on Apple’s side.”

Rosenthal said the VoiceOver fix will find its way into the paid-for Shazam Encore app on its next release, version 3.1.1, slated for the middle of November.

He said the company values customer feedback.

“It’s frustrating for us, because the bigger complaint we were getting from customers was that it was crashing and, so, we scrambled like crazy to fix that and that’s why 3.1 is coming out so quickly,” Rosenthal said. “I think we have a good reputation with our users and we’d like to keep it that way, so if there are issues of accessibility out there we’re going to act pretty quickly to take care of those.”

Categories: iPhone