Blind Bargains

Blind bargains Qast 88: The Year In AT 2016: Part 2

The run up to the biggest Blindness and Low Vision stories of 2016 continues. Shelly, Jamie and Joe provide commentary on the results of the BBQ Regulars poll of what events impacted the community the most in 2016. Then, as per the tradition of our group over the years, some minor speculation transpires on what our hosts believe might be some of the big news for 2017.

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Number 5: object identification tools, including Facebook, AIPoly, Microsoft CaptionBot

Several services came along to provide needed descriptions to pictures through machine learning or good old-fashion human input. The accuracy of these tools can vary depending on the service used. Moreover, like with the voice assistants discussed previously, some may also have some privacy concerns with how this data is obtained or stored. it still can be nice to hear some description of family photos on Facebook though.

Number 4: Accessible TV and set-top box movement/movies

Verizon FIOS, Roku and a few more joined Comcast and Apple TV on the "over the top" talking TV box market in 2016. Throw in Voice View for Amazon Fire TV and the ability to use iOS and Android apps to send video to Chromecasts to the mix for even more conversation confusion. And that's all before we muse about the new rules for audio description in the movie theater or how Pixar allowed you to take your phone into the cinema to provide your own personal described version of "Finding Dory". Video description isn't just Netflix and iTunes anymore it seems.

Number 3: Orbit Reader 20

A $500 Braille Display was a pretty big story in 2016. And it may have even been the number one story had it not been for the announcement that the Orbit will now see a mid 2017 launch. Yet the Orbit was really a small part of the news made by APH during the year. Landmark agreements with VFO for the distribution of JAWS and Magic to Education popped up during CSUN. The rumored Talking Typing Tutor for iOS was mentioned at the summer conventions. And then there was the release of Nearby Explorer for iOS. Which just so happened to propel the company to the heights of a Golden Apple Developer as bestowed by the Apple Vis community. Oh, as you will hear, Jamie wants one of those talking maps thingies too.

Number 2: Microsoft products accessibility: What to expect in 2017

This entry on our countdown, and the number one story, were the only two items to appear on each panelist's list. This was due partially to the recent moves by Microsoft to increase their access support in many of their hardware and software lines. Braille support is coming to Narrator. That alone is a sentence you might not have thought you would ever hear. nor did many think that you would be able to install Windows cleanly with Narrator. But those amazing features are just barely scratching the Surface of what Microsoft acomplished in 2016. We'll cover some of the Office highlights and a little about Xbox as well.

Number 1: VFO Group, owners of Freedom Scientific and Optelec, Acquires AI Squared

The merger of Blindness AT powerhouses might have started in 2015, however with the addition of Low Vision-centric Ai Squared, VFO became an irresistable force in 2016. The group now has several brands that overlap amongst the stable of acquisitions -- which begs the question: "Who remains on the island?" This is something many of our listeners asked us this year and we really don't know yet as to who goes and who stays. We also don't have a clear picture on what life will be like for those users of the many products in the VFO portfolio. What we do know, when viewing the industry from the perspective of mainstream companies developing their own AT solutions, is that you must be a giant in order to take on the other giants in the playground.

Honorable Mentions:

These did not make the countdown, however, they were listed by someone on our panel as being a story that had an impact on 2016.

Harriet Tubman Isn't the Only New Feature of the Next $20 Bill
Baum debuts the new vario 340 Braille Display
Uber Settles With NFB: Will Deactivate Drivers who are Barking up the Wrong Tree
Something Else shuts down Papa Sangree, Papa Sangree 2, The Night Jar, Audio Defense and makes Papa engine open source
Marrakesh Treaty is Now a Reality for some
Google promotes accessibility with new features for Android, Chrome OS, and Google Docs
ADA Trolls, later 60 minutes coverage
Blind man chosen as first person to test Google's driverless car
RS Games shuts the box on only computer playing, goes Apples to Apples with iOS
City Lights App Will Alert you of Upcoming Traffic Lights
Your Captchas can be Gone, For a Nominal fee
NBP Releases B2G

Did your Top Ten, or even Top Five, mirror those from the BBQ Qast of Regulars? Let us know what you think we were right about, what we got wrong or what we just plain missed in our reflections back on 2016. Send us a line at or catch us on Twitter. or, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Episode 89 will find us playing catch up with all the news that happened during 2017. And no, that won't take us 2 plus hours to record. Okay, we hope it won't. You never really can tell these days.

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Joe Steinkamp is no stranger to the world of technology, having been a user of video magnification and blindness related electronic devices since 1979. Joe has worked in radio, retail management and Vocational Rehabilitation for blind and low vision individuals in Texas. He has been writing about the A.T. Industry for 15 years and podcasting about it for almost a decade.

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