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iOS Review: MindNode 5, AN Accessible Mind Mapping Tool for Writers



This is the first in what I hope will be a series of articles exploring various iOS writing apps. I hope to cover planning apps, writing apps, generic iOS apps, and explore ways these tools can best be used in concert with one another. Today we will be looking at MindNode 5, an accessible app for creating mind maps.

Cash In with $1 Off Uber, $10 for Signing Up, Other Online Deals with the Free Ibotta App



If you are a frequent Uber user or enjoy getting money back for shopping, the Ibotta app may be worth a look, and now you can get a $10 bonus for trying it out.

Guest Blog: Apple Design for Most of Us



The following is a guest opinion post from Alex Hall. We thank him for sending in the below article.

Earlier this week, I saw a
couple
of
tweets
from Joe regarding Apple, usability, iPhone X, etc. Rather than engage over Twitter, I thought I'd write an article in response. Twitter may have recently doubled its character limit, but it is still quite a limited forum for long-form thoughts and discussions.

First, here is the text of both tweets. I've put it into a single paragraph for convenience.

I’m tired of Apple, and their loyalist brethren, telling me I’m a Luddite for not excepting change. Touch Bar, headphone jack home button. And all the changes have been added to pad apples production cost. Not because the change is benefiting the user.

The gist of Joe's opinion seems to be that Apple is making devices less usable, introducing features that aren't necessary and that serve mostly to make money. Remove the headphone jack, and suddenly, those AirPods are way more appealing. Furthermore, Apple doesn't make devices as usable as they used to (the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar and the missing home button on iPhone X being two prime examples).

My basic point boils down to this. The way I see things, Apple isn't interested in making devices that are the best to use for every single customer. Rather, they make devices that are best to use for the majority, then they try to make that design accessible to the rest. A prime example is the iPhone. Physical buttons are objectively easier to use by visually impaired people than flat, featureless touch surfaces, as evidenced by every blind person who has cursed their iPhone while trying to use an automated menu while on a call. But Apple didn't include a physical keypad around which was worked a touch screen because that wasn't the vision they had for the majority of their users. Instead, they added VoiceOver, to make the touch screen as accessible as possible to those who would be less able to use an iPhone. Other accessibility efforts have emerged since, from VoiceOver improvements to low vision and touch accommodations and beyond. However, Apple didn't set out to make a phone that was optimized for the deaf, or blind, or paralyzed, they made the phone they thought the world wanted, then made that design as accessible as they could.

The Touch Bar is a more recent example, and as a user of a MacBook equipped with such a bar, I can speak from personal experience. For blind users, the bar is a poor replacement for physical keys in many situations. It has some advantages, such as sliders for fine-grained control, or offering buttons at one's fingertips instead of the user having to remember keystrokes. But there are plenty of times I miss physical keys, and that's just in macOS; running Windows on this computer is even more of a challenge. Yet, for sighted users, the concept makes a lot of sense. A strip of seldom-used keys is replaced by a touch screen, letting developers put whatever they want on there. Sliders, emoji, typing suggestions, oft-used commands, macros, the list goes on. Is it the best for blind users? No. Is it the best for a certain kind of power user? No. For touch typists who rarely even look down at their hands? No. But for the majority of users, the idea makes sense. Apple then added great VoiceOver support to the Touch Bar, made the function key with numbers emulate f-keys, and took other steps to help blind users get the most from the bar. Those efforts, combined with key remapping in VMWare (which I use to run Windows) mean that my Touch Bar is fully accessible. To Joe's point, no, it's not as efficient or usable, and I'll be the first to admit that. I think about him saying that every time I have to tap the escape key, then double tap it to activate it. What I'm getting at is that Apple never intended this MacBook to be made for my specific needs or what I would find to be most usable. They made it for the masses, then made it so I could use it if I chose to.

There's also Apple's vision to consider. I'm not saying this vision is right, or even preferable, but the fact is, it's there. Apple has the vision, and they have the talent and the hardware and the developers and the money. Apple will follow their vision, and if the market hates it enough to not buy it, they'll adjust. But much of the time, the market is on board once they get ahold of the new device/design. I'm thinking of the iPhone here. The chief designer of the iPhone line has
said that the ultimate goal for iPhone is a single slab of glass.
No holes, no buttons, no nothing, just a glass-encased device driven entirely by voice, touch, and wireless. That vision is the goal, and iPhone X is the first step toward it. Is having no home button better or worse than having one? Depends, but the sighted reviewers I've read seem to not care about its removal at all. Will blind users? Yes, of course, but I've not heard much negativity toward the idea even from that group. Admittedly, though, the intersection of blind people I know/read, and the population that has the new iPhone, is very small, so time will tell on that point. Still, Apple did its best to make the new design accessible, with tactile feedback as the user's finger moves indicating where to start, and when to stop, moving. Is the new model the best for every user? No, but that's never been Apple's way. They do what they think is best, and then make it as usable as is practical.

This may also involve a shift in usage patterns. I've had my own iPad now for only a day or so, but I find myself rarely pressing the home button. Instead, I bring up the dock, and find the app I want there. Between apps I've placed there, and suggested apps, I almost never have to go to the home screen. A two-finger swipe from the bottom edge feels completely natural to me, after very little use; I don't doubt that many iPhone X users will experience something similar. They may not miss the home button because the way they interact with the device has changed. Even if they use the home command a lot, it could be a quick adaptation that seems quite normal after relatively little adjustment.

Joe's other point was that much of the design changes are to make money. First off, I agree. Since Apple is still a publicly traded company, it has to make money. The job of any CEO is, ultimately, to turn a profit with his or her business. Apple has always been expensive, and iPhone X is no different. But it's also no different from other Apple firsts. The company seems to do this quite often: make a new product category, or a radical redesign of an existing one, and charge more than expected. Then, as that new thing evolves and matures, the price will stabilize. MacBooks weren't always $999, and Minis weren't always $499. When prices do remain the same, the specs generally get better. See iOS device storage changes, or the bump in MacBook base model storage, or the increasing power of Apple Watch, for more instances of better value for the same cost.

Yes, iPhone X is super expensive. But that's normal for a new product like this. Apple has never gone bezel-less, never used Face ID sensors, never not had a home button, and never, to my knowledge, used a new alloy of stainless steel in any iPhone. Besides, they didn't drop all other options; they still offer the SE, 6s, 7, and the all-new 8, which was unveiled right next to the X. Eventually, I don't doubt the X form factor will be the only one around, but that's very likely years away. For now, everyone has options, and with the 8, users aren't even giving up performance or storage if they want the classic iPhone style.

As someone who does occasional device training, I know exactly where Joe is coming from when he talks about the difficulty of training someone on a gesture-centric device like iPhone X. Believe me, I had to suffer through the iOS 11 mail rotor bugs with someone who'd only just started to grasp using mail, and I've had to talk people through enough broken websites or random screen reader failures to know that pain all too well. If someone won't do well with no "get me outta here" button, though, they can pick up an older iPhone, or an 8. There are still options, and those who don't want to pay the early adopter/beta tester tax don't have to.

To sum up, I think Joe's points are that Apple is making changes just to make them, and that making new interfaces usable doesn't mean they're efficient to use. I'd say that they have to keep changing things, or they don't make as much money, and making money is why any for-profit exists. Besides, remember all the people saying how boring the old phone design was, when it didn't change in three years? As to usability, being a Touch Bar user, I absolutely agree. But what I've come to think is that Apple makes products for the majority, and in line with what they see as the future. Then, they make those as usable as they can. Sometimes, that's an ultra-efficient experience, like the actions rotor or braille screen input. Sometimes, it's less than great, like the Touch Bar. But just as visually impaired people don't always get the best experience, neither do sighted people. Is everyone happy with the notch in iPhone X, or the fact that MacBook Airs still lack retina displays? Not at all. Taking the good with the bad is part of owning any product, though, whether one is sighted or blind.

I'm not trying to change anyone's mind or start an argument. I just wanted to offer my own thoughts on this, providing some possible rationality for what I took to be somewhat undeserved criticism of Apple. I'm not saying, and will never say, that Apple is perfect or that everyone should use their products. I've tried to talk people into going with Apple, but just as often, I've told them Windows, or Android, or Roku would be their best choice. I've never suggested someone buy an Airport router, and I don't go out and buy the latest shinies just because they exist. I want to sometimes, but I don't. I'm also happy to criticize Apple when they deserve it, such as their not including USB-C adapters with the 2016 or 2017 MacBook Pro, or the release of past iOS versions with important accessibility bugs not yet fixed. I'm not a fanboy (at least I hope I'm not) despite how my Twitter feed may slant. But I wanted to respond to these tweets, so there we go. I know plenty of people will probably disagree, and that's great. These are important discussions to have, especially as we're in the early days of what is likely to be a new iPhone paradigm. Just remember that Apple is a business, and not one whose aim is to produce accessibility-specific technology.

Opinion: Shady Code Alert: Amazon iPhone App Detects Voiceover and Quietly Disables Alexa



Earlier this week, I presented a brand new workshop on conversational assistants at the library where I work. Our discussion-based tech events are a chance for blind New Yorkers to explore what's new in accessible technology, And I was pretty excited to share how Google, Apple and Amazon have designed simple, conversational interfaces that work well for blind and sighted people alike.

Getting Creative With Braille On Windows: a Look At Beta Braille Support With the Windows 10 Update



When Microsoft announced its plans for 2017, one of those plans was to implement support for braille displays through Narrator. With the release of the Creator's update, Microsoft has begun delivering on this promise. According to the December 2016 blog entry, "The (Windows Creators update) beta will support braille displays from more than 35 manufacturers, using more than 40 languages and multiple braille variants, including grade 2 contracted braille."." How well has that come to pass with the public release? Read on to find out my experiences from installing and running various devices on the new Windows 10 update.

Preorder Vaux, The Speaker That Turns Your Echo Dot in to a Portable Battery Powered Device



VAUX is the first battery-powered speaker designed specifically to house the Amazon Echo Dot. Its cordless portability, enhanced audio quality and beautiful modern aesthetic lets you enjoy VAUX anywhere in your home environment. Plug, Play. Enjoy.

Live on the Edge, or have an Ultra Lifestyle? An In-depth review of HIMS and Baum Braille Displays



Some of today's braille displays do a lot more than just display braille, but which one is right for your needs? In this in-depth article, I compare the VarioUltra (VU) from Baum and the Braille Edge from HIMS. I chose These 2 units because they both have 40 cells of braille and are what the market seems to now call "smart displays", a term given to devices which do not perform all of the functions of a traditional notetaker such as playing music, GPS navigation, downloading email directly to the device, or browsing the internet. At the same time, these devices are able to accomplish more than just connecting to an external gadget such as a computer, tablet, or smart phone. While these braille devices are in the middle in terms of functionality, they're also in the middle in terms of their price point when compared with other categories of braille devices. This article will examine both the Braille Edge and VarioUltra for their connectivity, support while connecting with some external devices, their internal applications, and physical appearance.

Apple Rundown: The “Don’t Throw Away The Gift Receipt” Edition



The holidays are usually a fun and happy time. You sing carols around the Festivus pole or holiday tree. You countdown the hours until midnight during New year's Eve with that shiny new Apple Watch. And you reflect back on the year that was with a sense of reverence. Um, yeah, that is how it is meant to be unless you factor in the party pooper of all years 2016. Not even the company Steve Jobs built was immune to the harshest of years as you will see in the stories below. Moreover, and I cannot underscore this enough, I had to quit capturing links for this edition because it was frankly making me depressed. Dogpiling, kicking you when you are down or even opportunistic doesn t begin to summarize the wide array of sadness that comes from Apple watching these days. Here s hoping that 2017 brings us an Amazon Echo competitor, foldable iPhones plus self driving iCars!

Blind Bargains Qast 2016: By The Numbers Listener Edition



BEFORE YOU READ THIS!!!!!

The Blind Bargains Qast can t thank enough our friends, fans and cast of Regulars. Chancey, Jeff, J.J., Joe, Liam, Patrick, Scott, Shelly and Ricky all work hard to bring you information and entertainment that we think our Community will enjoy. Our Sponsors deserve a huge round of applause as well, as their support allows us to bring you event coverage. However, and most importantly, you, the listener, matter most of all. Submissions, emails and social media mentions have enabled us to grow our download numbers by 30% over 2015 s download numbers. We can t wait to see where we will go in 2017, however, we can t go anywhere without your feedback. Please feel free to send us your ideas and suggestions to feedback@blindbargains.com or leave comments in the section below. Or, as you will read shortly, click on those shows and interviews that interest you the most. Your input shapes BBQ even if all you do is pass along a link to our content.

Cooking with J: Dead Simple Chicken Tikka Masala in the Instant Pot



A cooking column? This may be one of the last things you'd expect me to embark on but here we are. First of all, let me be completely honest. I am not a chef, nor do I know a lot of the intricacies of gourmet cooking. I do know that I like good food and meals which are simple to create. With these things in mind, I was enamored with the idea of the Instant Pot pressure cookers for their ease of use and the possibility of making all sorts of delicious dishes using only one pot. To learn more about the basics of the Instant Pot, check out Blind Bargains Qast 78 where Ricky Enger and myself discuss and demo the appliance in depth. And if you wish to purchase one, check out this page on Amazon which usually has the best prices.

Okay Google… Find Me First Impressions of Google Home



It seems like we are going to have yet another first mover advantage debate in our community. Yep, Windows versus Mac is new again. Android versus iOS was over before the war even started. Now we can add Amazon Echo versus Google Home into the fray as many out there have started to form factions on which Digital Assistant they would like to use for asking everything from How far is the Taco Bell on 3rd street? to ordering an Uber to take you to get a crunchy taco on 3rd street.

The Apple Rundown: The Command Triple Click Home Edition



September 19th seems so long ago.
Back in those halcyon days of a month and a half ago, when I knew another Apple event was on the horizon, I mused that I would have little to post other than the iPod turning 15 years old. Maybe a few articles on the new mac OS would be in order. And, if it made the street date, I'd have some things to post about iOS 10.1. Sure, there would be the 4th quarter earnings report to ponder. And I'd end the article with something funny in regards to the headphone jack.

then 2016 happened with its ability to upend everything you know and expect in a rational universe.

Apple Rundown: The Scratched Jet Black Edition



Perhaps you are sitting patiently with a tracking number in hand waiting for the delivery of a shiny new product that has winged its way from China, designed by Cupertino of course, and will be the greatest thing you have ever owned ... until the next Apple keynote, in which you will start the buying process all over again like so many salmon swimming upstream. It is the "Circle of iLife" in perpetual motion. Or, you might be clicking in to see what links I've compiled for launch day based upon my previous posts under this banner. in either case, welcome to a few stories from around the net that deal with the subject of Apple.

Sling TV offers new users a 32GB Apple TV for $89



One of the mentions in Monday's Apple WWDC keynote was the addition of Sling TV, a subscription service that brings over 20 popular channels to your device for $20 per month. With this news came the announcement of a promotion that new subscribers can receive a 32GB Apple TV for $89 when three months of service is paid for in advance ($60). This is a $209 value as the device itself sells for $149. You're basically receiving a free three month trial with a purchase of an Apple TV.

Sling TV offers over 20 channels in its base package that includes ESPN, HGTV, TBS, TNT, and more. You can add up to an additional 65 channels such as HBO, Cinemax and more. If you ve been looking to cut the cord, this is a great way to get started. Use the provided link to take advantage of this offer. Note some users report having accessibility issues with this app as it currently stands.

A Mock Election: We Tested 3 Modern Voting Machines for Accessibility



Recently, I had the opportunity to test three of the latest voting machines equipped with accessibility features. The Michigan Bureau of Elections held a Mock Election which allowed testers and poll workers to experience each of the machines and tabulate votes for both disabled and non-disabled voters. From my testing of the three machines, it was apparent that the usability of each system ranged from pleasant to downright frustrating. Below are some initial impressions of each machine, presented in the order they were tested.

Review: Which is it: the iPhone SE or iPhone 6S?



Among the announcements at Apple's latest event, was the introduction of the iPhone SE. IT has most of the same features as the current flagship 6s and 6S Plus models, but was much smaller. After learning of this announcement, I became intrigued. As an iPhone 6S user since September of last year, one of the few complaints I had about the 6S was its size. While I could get used to the larger phone, and kind of did, it always felt a bit too big for my liking. While an increase in battery life with the 6S Plus models were something I wanted to have, and having more real estate to work with Braille Screen Input is a nice feature, I could buy a battery case for less than the cost of the difference in price. TO add to that, Braille Screen Input isn't something I make very heavy use of. These were the things I considered when weighing the 6S against the 6S Plus.

The Blind Bargains Guide to Attending #CSUN16 on a Budget



It's once again time for what has become a bit of an annual tradition around here. Every March when we talk endlessly about CSUN, the largest assistive technology conference for the blind, we hear from people who would love to go, if only it was within their budget. With room rates over $200 a night, a nearly $500 registration fee, plane tickets, meals, and other expenses, the cost often seems prohibitive. With this in mind, we've updated our list of tips for enjoying the conference on a budget.

How to Turn Any Wired Speaker Set Into Bluetooth Wireless Speakers



The Logitech Bluetooth Audio Adapter connects to any PC powered speaker, home stereo system, or AV receiver with a RCA or 3.5mm jack and essentially turns the system into a Bluetooth speaker setup that is capable of receiving audio streamed from any device that features the Bluetooth chip. The adapter comes with integrated long range wireless , meaning that audio can be streamed from approximately 50-feet away from the device, a perfect range for the average house.

The Logitech Bluetooth Audio Adapter also ships with the ability to pair multiple devices at once, meaning simultaneous pairing of a smartphone and a tablet is possible. That pairing is also made extremely simple with an easy pairing feature, and automatic re-pairing when the device is switched on. Given how useful this little device is, and given the fact that there s no requirement to tinker with wires and altering existing audio setups for wireless compatibility, it s pretty much a no-brainer purchase for anyone looking to make a set of speakers wireless.

So if you have an old stereo system that you just don t use much because of the need to connect your audio source to it using a wire, this $27 investment will give your system a whole new lease on life.

Record Phone Calls with Your iPhone Case? Now You Can



Have you ever wanted to record a phone call? If you've ever thought that recording a call on an iPhone is something that could be of benefit to you, then you might want to check out this new iPhone case.

Available for $29 as part of an Indiegogo campaign that s hoping to raise $30,000 in order to get started, the Just In Case call recording iPhone case is actually a self-contained device that doesn t connect to your iPhone at all, and that s what makes it so useful.

While obviously providing somewhere to keep your iPhone, the Just In Case iPhone case has a well-placed microphone that is capable of capturing both your voice and that of the other caller and then saving the call as an MP3 to the included 2GB SD card. Buyers can, of course, put their own, larger card in there, but given the fact this is audio, we expect 2GB to be plenty for most.

The case not only records audio but also timestamps it for later retrieval, and the JIC only has two buttons, making it super easy to use. One button is the start/stop recording button, while the other is to initiate playback through a speaker on the back of the case. There s a rechargeable battery included that is said to be good for 8 hours of use. That $29 is early-bird pricing, so if you think this is something that you may want, now would be a good time to get your order in before the price goes up. JIC is available in red, black, blue, white, yellow, and green. It's designed for iPhone 5 and above, and will start shipping in May 2016.

Blind Bargains Top 10 Stories of 2015: 4. A Perfect 10?



The ballots are in and the votes have been tallied. It's time to count down the top 10 biggest and most influential stories of 2015. This year's panel included Jeff Bishop, Shelly Brisbin, Ricky Enger, Chancey Fleet, J.J. Meddaugh, Jamie Pauls, and Joe Steinkamp.
Each panelist gave us their opinions on the biggest stories in assistive technology and we've compiled their votes to create our annual list. We'll reveal a new story each day on the way to number one and announce the winner on the next Blind Bargains Qast. The 4th biggest story of the year may not impact you just yet, however, its footprint could be felt for years.

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