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How a “Temporary Error” Encouraged Me to Meet the GMail Standard View Challenge

October 14, 2021 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

It was one of those Mondays… No, wait. It was actually Tuesday morning. I opened my work GMail and pressed the button to switch to Basic HTML view only to encounter a temporary error that stopped me in my tracks!

I had dabbled in GMail’s Standard view from time to time, but I always returned to the old, faithful basic HTML to get work done. But, now it was time to take Standard view more seriously, at least until Google got around to fixing the problem. I reviewed Vispero’s Using JAWS with Gmail in Standard View webinar before diving right in and I was pleasantly surprised.

I discovered that Standard view had become quite accessible and actually works well with both the JAWS and NVDA screen readers! The list of emails can be easily navigated with the Virtual PC Cursor turned on or off (Vispero recommends keeping it off for this purpose), there is plenty of underlying structure for navigating the user interface and lots of keyboard shortcuts for accomplishing critical tasks such as deleting, replying to and sending emails.

Change can be challenging, especially when it involves something as fundamental as the way we access email. In this case, making the leap to Standard view is well worth the learning curve. Some settings, including the ability to schedule out-of-office responses, are only available in Standard view. Calendar and Chat integration also work only in the Standard view, along with other features such as autocompletion of email addresses, the spell checker and the ability to add or import contacts. Google’s article, See Gmail in standard or basic HTML version, outlines the differences between the two views and provides direct links for quickly switching back and forth.

As of Wednesday, Oct. 13, Google fixed the “temporary error” and it is, once again, possible to easily switch between Basic HTML and Standard views at will. But, will I go back? My answer is an unequivocal “no”, not for anything except an easier way to work with labels, which are GMail’s way of organizing email messages in to folders. Standard is the modern view, and it is the view where all new features will be developed, tested and implemented moving forward. If you are still in Basic HTML view, I hope I have encouraged you to try, and stick with, Standard view. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Please tell us how you and your family are handling social distancing, feeding yourselves, vaccination and generally getting along, especially from a blind perspective, as we move out of the time of the Coronavirus. Please send an audio recording or a written message to darrell (at) blindaccessjournal (dot) com or tell us about it on our social media channels.

Blind Access Journal, and the Hilliker family, must frequently rely on sighted assistance in order to get important, inaccessible tasks done. In most cases, we have chosen Aira as our visual interpreter. If you are ready to become an Aira Explorer, and you feel it in your heart to pass along a small gift to the journal or our family, we ask that you use our referral link. Your first month of Aira service will be free of charge, we will receive a discount on our bill and we will thank you for supporting the important work we do here at Blind Access Journal.

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

Categories: accessibility, technology, tips • Tags:

F6 Is Your Friend

June 20, 2021 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

From enterprise collaboration software to web browsers, the little-known F6 keyboard shortcut can do many things that make our lives as blind computer users much easier and more productive.

In Slack F6 moves between the major portions of the window, such as channel navigation and workspace selection. It is, in fact, virtually impossible to access critical functionality, such as channels and direct messages, without pressing F6. Please review the Use Slack with a Screen Reader article for additional documentation. J.J. Meddaugh’s fantastic AccessWorld article An Introduction to Slack, A Popular Chat App for Teams and Workplaces provides a great starting point for using Slack from a blind user’s perspective.

In the Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox web browsers, F6 jumps out of the address bar and moves focus directly into the currently loaded web page with the screen reader’s browse mode or virtual PC cursor active and ready for immediate action. It is not necessary to press tab several times to move through the browser’s toolbar.

In Microsoft Office apps, such as Excel, Outlook and Word, F6 moves focus between major elements of the window, such as the ribbon bar, list of messages, document area and the status bar.

Let’s discover together all the additional productivity boosts we can achieve through keyboard shortcuts like F6. What is your favorite keyboard shortcut? How does it increase your productivity?

Please tell us how you and your family are handling social distancing, feeding yourselves, vaccination and generally getting along, especially from a blind perspective, as we move out of the time of the Coronavirus. Please send an audio recording or a written message to darrell (at) blindaccessjournal (dot) com or tell us about it on our social media channels.

Blind Access Journal, and the Hilliker family, must frequently rely on sighted assistance in order to get important, inaccessible tasks done. In most cases, we have chosen Aira as our visual interpreter. If you are ready to become an Aira Explorer, and you feel it in your heart to pass along a small gift to the journal or our family, we ask that you use our referral link. Your first month of Aira service will be free of charge, we will receive a discount on our bill and we will thank you for supporting the important work we do here at Blind Access Journal.

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

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 website works best with browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari on computers. The mobile 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

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.

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

Touch Typing Your Way to New Apps and Social Networking on the iPhone

October 28, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Kevin Chao demonstrates shopping in the iTunes App Store, posting to Twitter and sending a text message by entering text on the iPhone’s virtual on-screen keyboard using the touch typing method.

Follow these steps to switch between “standard typing” and “touch typing” modes:

  1. Move to a field that requires typing and double tap to start editing.
  2. Positioning two fingers on the screen, twist them like a dial several times until you hear “Typing Mode” spoken.
  3. Flick up or down to toggle between “standard typing” and “touch typing” mode. Standard typing mode is the default, which requires double tapping or split tapping on everything in order to type. Touch typing, which is the mode being demonstrated in this podcast, allows automatic entry of text as soon as the finger is lifted. Touch typing mode can be faster for advanced users.

Download, Play or Pause – Touch Typing Your Way to New Apps and Social Networking on the iPhone

Categories: iPhone, podcast, tips

What is that thing anyway, oMoby?

October 16, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Kevin Chao demonstrates oMoby, a visual-search application for the iPhone that enables users to take pictures of objects and identify them quickly.

Originally intended for use by sighted people as a shopping tool for locating similar products and making price comparisons, visual-search tools like oMoby and Noogle Noggles are helping blind people independently count their cash, identify their groceries and hear visual descriptions of many other objects.

Download, Play or Pause – What is that thing anyway, oMoby?

Categories: iPhone, podcast, tips

Dancing Around the World of Barcodes with Digit-Eyes

October 16, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Kevin Chao demonstrates Digit-Eyes, an iPhone app that scans the barcodes found on commercial products and enables the creation and use of audio or text labels that can be easily attached to items found in the home, on the job or at school.

Digit-Eyes relies on the iPhone’s camera to scan barcodes. Correct positioning of the iPhone is critical for the successful use of Digit-Eyes, Noogle Noggles, oMoby or any other app that uses the camera. There is a learning curve for most blind people who wish to use these apps, but employing a systematic approach and staying patient can really pay off in the long run.

Follow these steps to start scanning with Digit-Eyes:

  1. Find and double tap the Digit-Eyes icon on the Home screen.
  2. Flick to the right to locate the Scan button and double tap it to get the party started.
  3. Digit-Eyes immediately begins scanning and a ticking sound is heard to let you know it is working.
  4. While Digit-Eyes is scanning, position the iPhone so that it is lined up with the product being scanned and follow our camera-handling tips for best results.
  5. You will hear a beep and VoiceOver will speak the name of the identified item when the scan has completed successfully.
  6. If you are unable to complete the scan after several minutes, flick to the right to find the Cancel button and double tap it so you may try again later.

We thank Nancy Miracle, president of Digital Miracles, the company that develops and sells Digit-Eyes, for providing some quick tips for successfully using the iPhone’s camera:

  • Make sure the screen curtain is not enabled. Digit-Eyes can’t see anything when the iPhone’s display is blank. Triple tap using three fingers to toggle the screen curtain on and off.
  • Make sure there is light for the camera to acquire a good image. If you are indoors, it may be necessary to turn on a light.
  • Place a finger immediately to the right of the camera, which is located in the upper-righthand corner of the iPhone when it is facing away from you. This will help you line it up with the item to be scanned.
  • Place the iPhone approximately two inches above the object and gradually move it upward. The recommended approximate distance varies according to the device being used. Place the iPhone 3 G S approximately six inches away from the object being scanned. The iPhone 4 should be placed between six and 12 inches away. The new iPod Touch should be placed 12 to 20 inches distant.
  • Never move the iPhone from side to side while scanning. The camera’s automatic focusing technology apparently can’t capture a good image under these conditions.
  • Gradually turn round objects like bottles, cans and jars clockwise or counterclockwise in increments of 60 degrees while scanning. Simply scan the four sides of rectangular and square objects. In most, but not all, cases, the barcode will be found on the front or back of a box.
  • The barcodes on many grocery and other products typically found in stores may be located in unexpected places. For example, the barcode may be located on the bottom of a box of breakfast cereal. It may be helpful to think about the way a product might be positioned on the conveyor belt in the grocery store during the check-out process to determine where to look for its barcode.
  • Keep in mind that the camera in the iPhone does not work like the ID Mate or other products based on laser barcode scanners. Using products like Digit-Eyes is going to require a great deal of patience and practice in the beginning while you learn effective techniques for estimating the correct distance between the iPhone and the item being scanned and lining the iPhone up with the product so that a clear picture can be taken.
  • The Digit-Eyes website contains exhaustive information and tutorials covering the effective use of the product. It even gives you the ability to print practice sheets of barcodes you can scan with your iPhone.
  • Nancy and I discussed Digit-Eyes and the iPhone’s camera in depth in a two-part interview broadcast on the July 24 and July 31 episodes of ACB Radio’s Main Menu technology show.

Have you found a technique for using the camera that works well for you? Do you have an interesting story to tell about how Digit-Eyes and other camera-based iPhone apps have helped increase your independence? If so, please share it with us in the comments.

Download, Play or Pause – Dancing Around the World of Barcodes with Digit-Eyes

Categories: iPhone, tips, tutorials

Posting Ratings and Reviews in the iTunes Store Using VoiceOver on the Mac Demystified

August 2, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Some blind users of Apple’s built-in VoiceOver Mac OS X screen reader have reported an inability to rate content or post reviews in the iTunes Store. Apple has responded with a solution that has been confirmed to solve the problem effectively.

The trouble is found in the way the ratings widget interacts with VoiceOver, said Nate Doss, a member of Apple’s executive relations team.

“Each review requires that you rate the product you wish to review,” he said. “The normal VoiceOver command for pressing a button does not set the star rating. Instead, you would have to try the “Move Mouse Cursor to VoiceOver Cursor”
command (Control Option Command F5) which would then set the star rating to whatever rating desired.”

Doss said there is a secondary issue involving notification of blind users when the content on a dynamic page has changed.

“To start writing a review, there is a link that you press called ‘Write a Review’ or ‘Be the first to write a review’,” he said. “When you press that link, the review writing tools are revealed within the page, but the application does not notify VoiceOver that the page was changed. This is a common problem with websites that use JavaScript to change the part of a web page instantly without reloading the entire page. From your perspective, there was no change in the page. However, if you were to explore the page, you would discover that there are new elements on the page.”

Doss said Apple’s developers are aware of this issue and are working to fix it in a future update.

Follow these steps to rate a product in the iTunes Store:

  1. Browse to or search for an app, podcast, song or other content in the iTunes Store.
  2. Follow the link to view its page in the store.
  3. Move down to the “Rate this application:” section of the page.
  4. Move to the desired star rating you wish to assign.
  5. Press Control+Option+Command+F5 to move the mouse cursor to the position of the VoiceOver cursor on the desired star rating.
  6. If you explore past the end of the star ratings, you will now see a description of that rating. For instance, “it’s great” will be displayed if you positioned the mouse cursor on the “rate five stars” option. If this description is not present, you have not succeeded. Try again.
  7. Move back to the desired star rating and press the typical Control+Option+Space Bar command to rate the content.
  8. If you explore past the end of the star ratings, you will now see the word “thanks.” This means you have successfully rated the content in the iTunes Store. If you do not see “thanks,” you have not succeeded. Try repeating these steps.

Follow these steps to post a review in the iTunes Store:

  1. Browse to or search for an app, podcast, song or other content in the iTunes Store.
  2. Follow the link to view its page in the store.
  3. Move down to the “Customer Reviews” section of the page.
  4. To start writing a review, follow the link called “Write a Review” or “Be the first to right a review.”
  5. Follow the steps previously described for rating content.
  6. Fill out the title and text body as appropriate.
  7. Move to the Submit button and press the typical Control+Option+Space Bar command to post the review.

We thank Apple for their diligent work in getting to the bottom of this perplexing issue.


Another solution exists that enables posting of reviews without the extra mouse cursor movement command. It involves changing VoiceOver preferences that affect its cursor tracking behavior everywhere on your system. This supplementary solution may not be the right one for everyone.

Follow these steps to modify VoiceOver preferences so that the mouse cursor always follows the VoiceOver cursor:

  1. Press Control+Option+F8 to open the VoiceOver Utility.
  2. Press Control+Option+Down Arrow to interact with the categories table.
  3. Press n to move to the Navigation category.
  4. Press Control+Option+Up Arrow to stop interacting with the categories table.
  5. Press Control+Option+Right Arrow until you hear “mouse cursor.”
  6. Press Control+Option+Right Arrow once more to move focus to the popup associated with this field. The default setting is “ignore VoiceOver cursor.”
  7. Press Control+Option+Space Bar to open the popup.
  8. Press down arrow until you hear “follows VoiceOver Cursor.”
  9. Press Control+Option+Space Bar to select the option to have the mouse cursor follow the VoiceOver cursor.
  10. Press Command+Q to close the VoiceOver Utility.
  11. Post reviews in the iTunes Store at will.

Pairing the iPhone 4 with the Freedom Pro Bluetooth Keyboard

June 28, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The Freedom Pro Bluetooth keyboard from Freedom Input may be used as an alternative to the touch screen for typing text. This can be particularly helpful for performing text entry tasks such as taking notes and writing e-mail.

As of June 28, Freedom Input has not provided instructions for connecting the keyboard to the iPhone in its knowledge base or manuals. This document provides those instructions in a format that is especially useful for blind people.

The gestures and instructions in this document assume VoiceOver is enabled.

Preparing the Keyboard

Follow these steps to prepare the keyboard for use:

  1. Place the keyboard on a desk or other hard surface and orient it so that the rough plastic end is to the left and the rectangular raised button is to the right.
  2. Press in on the button to release the keyboard and open it to its full size.
  3. Locate the hinge on the top of the keyboard near its middle.
  4. Locate the indented lever to the left of the hinge and pull it to the right using a fingernail. This keeps the keyboard open during use. Move the lever back to the left before folding the keyboard.
  5. Locate the raised, round, vertical battery cover at the far left end of the keyboard.
  6. Pull the top half of the battery cover forward and up until it has been removed.
  7. Insert two AAA batteries flat-end-first.
  8. Replace the battery cover.

Pairing the Keyboard with the iPhone

Follow these steps to pair your keyboard with the iPod Touch or iPhone:

  1. Disconnect the iPhone from the data cable so it is not docked or plugged into the battery charger or computer.
  2. Turn on your iPhone.
  3. Tap the Home button.
  4. Double tap Settings.
  5. Double tap General.
  6. Double tap Bluetooth.
  7. Move to the Bluetooth button and make sure it says “on.” If not, double tap the button to change its status. The iPhone will start searching for available Bluetooth devices.
  8. On the keyboard, locate the two slide switches near the lower left-hand corner.
  9. Move the top switch to the right to select HID (Human Interface Device) mode.
  10. Move the bottom switch to the left to turn on the keyboard. Move it back to the right anytime you won’t be needing to use the keyboard.
  11. Locate a small hole immediately above the two slide switches.
  12. Using a pen or stylus, press and hold the button in the reset hole for four to five seconds. This makes the keyboard discoverable so it can be paired with the phone.
  13. Flick left or right around the Bluetooth screen on the iPhone until you find the Freedom Pro Keyboard button.
  14. Double tap the button to start the pairing process.
  15. Listen carefully to VoiceOver until you hear four numbers. Remember these numbers.
  16. Enter the numbers you heard on the keyboard and press the enter key.
  17. VoiceOver should say the keyboard has been paired. Double tap the OK button.

Now that the keyboard has been paired successfully, you can use it to type in apps such as Mail and Notes. Simply locate Mail or Notes on the Home screen, double tap and start using the Freedom Pro keyboard anywhere you would normally have to use the on-screen keyboard.

Major thanks go to Jon, a technical support representative with Freedom Input, for his patience and thorough assistance with the Bluetooth pairing process on the keyboard.

Please feel free to add a comment to this post if you encounter any problems following these instructions or I can help in any other way.