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Blind Access Journal Posts

CSUN: Allison Sheridan – A Sighted Geek’s Adventure in Computers and Accessibility

March 4, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 28-minute show, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow chat with accessibility evangelist, engineer, tech geek extraordinaire and all-around amazing Allison Sheridan all about her adventures with computer technology in general and accessibility in particular.

Allison Sheridan (@podfeet) hosts a weekly show called the Nosillacast Podcast, “A technology geek podcast with an ever-so-slight Macintosh bias.”

We thank Jeff Bishop (@jeffbishop) for his tireless hours of dedicated work on the audio editing of our CSUN podcasts. These efforts made it possible for us to share our CSUN experience with all of you and expand our knowledge of the assistive technology field.

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).

CSUN: Perkins Products Mini Braille Display

March 4, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow chat with Gayle Yarnall and learn all about the Perkins Products Mini Braille display.

We thank Jeff Bishop (@jeffbishop) for his tireless hours of dedicated work on the audio editing of our CSUN podcasts. These efforts made it possible for us to share our CSUN experience with all of you and expand our knowledge of the assistive technology field.

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).

CSUN: Freedom Scientific Focus 14 Blue Braille Display

March 4, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow talk with Ryan Jones all about Freedom Scientific’s soon-to-be-released Focus 14 Blue Braille display.

We thank Jeff Bishop (@jeffbishop) for his tireless hours of dedicated work on the audio editing of our CSUN podcasts. These efforts made it possible for us to share our CSUN experience with all of you and expand our knowledge of the assistive technology field.

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).

World Radio Day: What Radio Means in a Technology World

February 13, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared Feb. 13 World Radio Day to emphasize the ongoing value radio contributes to an ever-changing technological world. Despite the proliferation of the Internet, radio remains the single most important medium for communication and information access to the widest possible audience. Radio still goes many places the Internet infrastructure can’t, especially in many of the world’s developing nations. So, why do we need to give special emphasis to radio and what does the technology mean to us?

Have we taken radio for granted in our high-tech world? I think the answer is an emphatic “yes!” We may not realize this, but many of us are constantly on the air nowadays. It’s no longer just about the DJ on the broadcast radio airwaves, the ham radio operator keying Morse Code on a primitive transmitter or the pilot talking with her air traffic controllers to ensure a safe flight.

The world is now comprised of an uncountable number of tiny radios found in many electronic devices we have come to enjoy and use every day. We know, for instance, that an iPhone 4S contains at least six distinct radios: a radio capable of receiving and transmitting signals on the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band, a radio that can talk to Bluetooth devices such as headsets and keyboards, two different radios for talking on the CDMA and GSM cellular frequencies, another radio to facilitate Internet access through the cellular data networks and, finally, a GPS receiver. When you use your iPhone, it is safe to say you are probably using at least two, if not more, different radios all at the same time!

How is it we have come to forget about radio and take it for granted in our highly-developed technological society? I think the answer is that radios are not as obvious as they were once upon a time. In the not-too-distant past, if you listened to the radio, you were looking at a separate box with buttons, dials and switches and a set of headphones or a pair of speakers. If you were a radio star, you held a microphone and faced a bewildering panel of carts and controls. If you talked on a two-way radio, you probably had a special license or it was part of your job and you either held a small walkie-talkie type box or you sat in front of a bunch of equipment with lots of buttons, dials, knobs, meters and switches. In any case, the radio part of the task you were performing was front and center. That’s not so now.

When do you think about radio today? Perhaps, most of us really give it serious thought when we’re riding in our cars or listening to our stereos at home. Otherwise, although the radios in our lives are present, they’re usually buried. When I was talking with a friend about the radios in the iPhone, she thought I was referring to all the radio apps out there for listening to broadcast stations streamed on the Internet. Despite the shrinking of radios into tiny chips on circuit boards hidden inside our favorite electronic devices, we’re using them more often today than we ever have at any time in the past. When we talk on a cordless or cell phone, we’re talking on a radio. When we use a laptop computer to go online from our favorite coffee shop, we’re on the air. Believe it or not, we are all radio stars!

What does all this mean for the world? I think we’re slowly forgetting about radio’s past and, in the process, we may be leaving many people in disadvantaged populations and developing nations behind. The advent of Internet streaming and satellite radio has been cited as justification for massive cutbacks in the availability of programming on the shortwave radio broadcast bands, despite the fact that these radios are the only way hundreds of millions of people may be able to gain timely access to entertainment and important information about their world.

The long-time switch from the inherently non-visual radio medium to television and, now, streaming video on the Internet has meant that it can be more challenging for blind people to enjoy many forms of entertainment that were once more accessible. This is probably a significant reason for the resurgence of old-time-radio listening in the blind community.

How about emergency communication? What happens when the cell towers are blown down in a hurricane? What would happen if a significant number of the satellites we rely on for communication and navigation suddenly became unavailable? What would the world’s survivors do in the event of a massive electromagnetic pulse or nuclear war? The uber-geeky amateur (ham) radio operators have the enthusiasm, innovative spirit, qualifications and access to older equipment it would take to communicate during an emergency and coordinate the reorganization of the world when our high-tech gadgets and infrastructure become useless.

Unfortunately, the world’s governments continue to deemphasize radio. Shortwave broadcasts to many parts of the world are cut every year. Fewer and fewer people are interested in ham radio and there’s no longer a Morse Code requirement for any class of amateur radio license in America and many other countries. Morse Code can cut through radio noise like no other mode of radio transmission, but who is going to know how to use it when it is needed most?

How can we continue to move forward into the bright future of a technology-driven world while ensuring our safety and promoting stability and security? I think one small thing we can do is to keep radio in our minds and think about it a little each day. When you’re checking your email, talking or tweeting on your iPhone, remember that you are using several tiny radios to make it all happen. When you’re listening to satellite radio or streaming your favorite station through ooTunes, think about all the people in the developing world who don’t have access to this content and remember that an older technology called shortwave radio can reach them if we ensure its continued existence. Finally, think about those of us who have passed numerous qualification exams and learned Morse Code to earn our ham radio licenses, which we may someday need to use as a means of providing life-saving communications services in the event of a disaster.

I’d love to hear from readers. What does radio mean to you? Please feel free to post your story in the comments or mention me, darrell on Twitter.

Talk and Drop: DropVox Voice Memo Recorder for iOS

February 7, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 14-minute podcast, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow demonstrate the DropVox voice memo recording app for iOS.

This show features a special surprise musical treat sung by Allison!

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.

Take Your Favorite Podcasts on the Road: Downcast for iOS

February 2, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 30-minute show, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow demonstrate searching for, subscribing to and playing podcasts using the Downcast app for iOS.

Downcast allows anyone with an iOS device to independently enjoy podcasts without having to connect to a computer and use iTunes to subscribe and synchronize the content.

All instructions assume VoiceOver is running on the iOS device.

Searching for Podcasts by Category

Follow these steps to browse and review podcasts by category. We use This Week in Tech as an example of a good technology show to consider adding.

  1. Make sure the Downcast app is open.
  2. Touch the bottom left corner of the screen to locate the Podcasts tab.
  3. Right flick twice and double tap the Add Podcasts tab.
  4. Tap the top of the screen once with four fingers to move to the upper left corner.
  5. Right flick to and double tap the Technology category.
  6. Right flick to and double tap This Week in Tech – MP3 Edition.
  7. Right flick to and double tap View Podcast Feed. Note the Subscribe button and other information available as you right flick across this screen.
  8. Right flick across the list of available podcast episodes and double tap one to start listening.
  9. Double tap with two fingers to pause playback.

Search for Podcasts Using Keywords

Follow these steps to search for podcasts by keyword. We like books, so that’s our keyword search example.

  1. If you were playing a podcast, double tap the Back button three times or use the two-finger right-to-left scrub gesture three times to return to the Add Podcasts screen.
  2. Right flick to and double tap Search for Podcasts.
  3. Type books into the search field.
  4. Double tap the Search button in the lower right corner of the screen.
  5. Tap the top of the screen once with four fingers to move to the upper left corner.
  6. Right flick to and double tap the Books on the Nightstand podcast in the list of search results.
  7. Right flick to and double tap the Subscribe button to add this podcast to your favorites.
  8. Double tap the Back button twice or use the two-finger right-to-left scrub gesture twice to return to the Add Podcasts screen.

When the podcast you want is not in Downcast’s directory, there are three ways to bring it into the app. We did not cover these advanced topics on the audio portion of our show.

Adding Podcasts from a Link on a Website

If a website has a link to an RSS feed for a podcast, you can browse to it using Safari on your iOS device and easily add it to Downcast by following these instructions. The podcast page on the GW Micro website serves as our example.

  1. Open Safari on your iOS device.
  2. Visit http://gwmicro.com/podcast
  3. Right flick to and double tap and hold on the link to the GW Micro – GW Insider Podcast Feed (XML).
  4. Right flick to and double tap the Copy button. This makes the link available to other apps such as Downcast.
  5. Open Downcast.
  6. Touch the bottom left corner of the screen to locate the Podcasts tab.
  7. Right flick twice and double tap the Add Podcasts tab.
  8. Tap the top of the screen once with four fingers to move to the upper left corner.
  9. Right flick to and double tap Add Podcast Manually.
  10. Right flick to and double tap the text edit field after the Feed or OPML Address heading.
  11. Select “Edit” using the rotor VoiceOver gesture.
  12. Flick down and double tap Paste. The URL copied from Safari now appears in the text edit field.
  13. If needed, enter the username and password under the Login Information, If Required heading. This will rarely be used. It is not needed for GW Micro podcasts.
  14. Find and double tap the Done button in the lower right corner of the screen.
  15. Tap the top of the screen once with four fingers to move to the upper left corner.
  16. Right flick to and double tap the Subscribe button to add the podcast.
  17. Double tap the Back button twice or use the two-finger right-to-left scrub gesture twice to return to the Add Podcasts screen.

Manually Adding Podcasts

Follow these steps when you know the URL of the RSS feed for the podcast you wish to add.

  1. If a Back button can be found near the upper left corner of the screen, double tap it as many times as necessary or use the two-finger right-to-left scrub gesture as many times as necessary to return to the app’s main screen. This will typically be Podcasts, Playlists, Add Podcasts or Downloads.
  2. Touch the bottom left corner of the screen to locate the Podcasts tab.
  3. Right flick twice and double tap the Add Podcasts tab.
  4. Tap the top of the screen once with four fingers to move to the upper left corner.
  5. Right flick to and double tap Add Podcast Manually.
  6. Right flick to and double tap the text edit field after the Feed or OPML Address heading.
  7. Enter the URL of the RSS feed exactly as it was given to you. Leave off the “http://” at the beginning.
  8. If needed, enter the username and password under the Login Information, If Required heading. This will rarely be used.
  9. Find and double tap the Done button in the lower right corner of the screen.
  10. Tap the top of the screen once with four fingers to move to the upper left corner.
  11. Right flick to and double tap the Subscribe button to add the podcast.
  12. Double tap the Back button twice or use the two-finger right-to-left scrub gesture twice to return to the Add Podcasts screen.

Adding Podcasts from an OPML File

Downcast can use OPML files to backup and restore the list of subscribed podcasts. This technique also allows users to bring in lists of podcasts from other apps and to share favorite podcasts.

Follow these steps to import a list of podcasts from an email.

  1. Open the Mail app on your iOS device.
  2. Open the email containing the OPML file attachment.
  3. Right flick through the message until you reach the name of the file. This may be something like podcasts.opml.
  4. Double tap the file’s name to open the attachment.
  5. Right flick to and double tap the Action button.
  6. Double tap Open in Downcast. The app will start dinging as it downloads the new podcasts.
  7. Double tap the Podcasts tab in the lower left corner of the screen to see the revised list of subscribed podcasts including those just added from the OPML file. Beware: Downcast imports everything found in the file without checking for duplicate entries.

Playing Podcasts

Now that you have subscribed to several podcasts, you’re probably anxious to start listening to them. Follow these instructions to get started.

  1. Double tap the Podcasts tab in the lower left corner of the screen.
  2. Right flick across the list of subscribed podcasts until you reach the show you would like to hear.
  3. Double tap the podcast to bring up the list of episodes.
  4. Right flick to and double tap an episode to start playing the audio. Each episode has two entries in the list. The first allows you to download or stream the audio and the second provides details. Double tap download or stream links to play podcast episodes.
    • The two-finger double tap gesture plays and pauses audio.
    • The Play button is found in the middle of the bottom third of the screen. It changes to a Pause button while audio is playing.
    • The Reverse button is located to the left of the Play button. Double tap it to move to the previous episode. Double tap and hold it to rewind in the currently playing episode.
    • The Forward button is located to the right of the Play button. Double tap it to move to the next episode. Double tap and hold it to fast forward within the currently playing episode.

There are many more features available in the podcast playback screen. For instance, we demonstrated the ability to increase playback speed in the audio portion of our show. We urge you to listen to the entire demo, get the app for yourself, explore and start enjoying podcast listening on your iOS device.

Additional Resources

Please feel free to give us your feedback 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.

Never Leave Home Without Your Books: Bookshare Read2Go for iOS

January 3, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 27-minute podcast, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow demonstrate finding, downloading and reading with Bookshare’s Read2Go iOS app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

We demonstrate reading with Read2Go’s built-in text-to-speech voices and VoiceOver while explaining the process in our typical step-by-step format.

Please feel free to give us your feedback 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?

Listen or Pause – Read2Go Demonstration

Download – Read2Go Demonstration

Sticking On Labels: Making the GetGlue iOS App Accessible

November 27, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In this approximately 45-minute podcast, Allison Hilliker and Darrell Shandrow use the new iOS 5 VoiceOver custom-labeling feature to make the GetGlue social-entertainment iOS app accessible. Join us to learn about an exciting, useful iOS feature and have some fun along the way.

Custom Labeling Step-By-Step

  1. Locate the unlabeled button by dragging your finger or flicking to it on the screen.
  2. Double tap with two fingers and hold them in place. This is also known as a two-finger double-tap-and-hold gesture. You will hear three tones followed by “Alert, label element, text field, is editing.”
  3. Type a short label for the button.
  4. Locate and double tap the Save button. It can be found above the keyboard on the left side of the screen.

In addition to making the controls in an app accessible, the custom-labeling feature can be used to describe pictures in other contexts, such as the photos in your iPhone’s camera roll.

Allison asked an excellent question: Are custom labels backed up to iCloud or iTunes? Please feel free to answer in the comments.

GetGlue Information

GetGlue is a Foursquare-like social network for entertainment. It is available on smartphones and the Web. You can check into your favorite books, movies, music, TV shows and much more and share information about all the fun you’re having with your friends. The primary GetGlue.com website works best with browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari on computers. The mobile m.getglue.com website is intended for use with smartphones. It may be a more accessible alternative to the primary site for some computer users.

Tip from Allison: I recommend signing up on the GetGlue website before logging in with the iOS app.

There are two ways to get started:

We’d Love To Hear From You!

Do you like the show? What would you like us to cover next? Please give us your feedback in the comments.

Listen or Pause – Custom Labeling Demo

Download – Custom Labeling Demo

New Blio for iOS app: A Brief Demo

July 14, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This approximately 18-minute podcast represents a brief run-through of the new Blio ebook reading app for iOS developed by KNFB Reading Technology, Inc.

While the Blio app is VoiceOver accessible, I have reached the following observations, which are clearly demonstrated in the podcast:

  • The app is sloppy and clearly not ready for primetime. I’m surprised Apple approved it in its current form.
  • The Blio reading experience is unsatisfying.
  • Blio for iOS lacks important navigation, such as lines, sentences and paragraphs, one might expect while reading books.
  • Finally, the app lacks a help section or tutorial page.

Listen or Pause – Brief Blio Demo

Download – Brief Blio Demo

Updated SoundHound App Restores VoiceOver Accessibility

June 19, 2011 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

SoundHound restored VoiceOver accessibility for its blind customers in the app’s June 16 version 3.6.3 update. This approximately 14-minute podcast demonstrates the improved navigation and reading of music identification results.

The update represents a significant move in the right direction. While all information is now available by flicking through the results window, its unstructured layout could cause confusion. It is not immediately apparent which field represents a song’s artist and its title. Labeling of fields and use of VoiceOver hints would significantly increase readability.

We thank SoundHound for its responsiveness and look forward to future accessibility enhancements.

Listen or Pause – SoundHound Accessibility Update

Download – SoundHound Accessibility Update