Assistive technology news and info.
It's pretty common knowledge that Playboy magazine has been available in braille from the National Library Service for over 40 years. But younger readers may not realize that there was a time in the eighties where some members of Congress tried to stop the presses. This recent article from the Washington Post details the events that led Congress in 1985 to withhold money from the National Library Service for publishing Playboy magazine. After a lawsuit from several blindness groups including the American Council of the Blind and the Blinded Veterans Association, the magazine was restored. It's still available today from the NLS or the BARD app. For those not familiar, the braille version of Playboy does not include any pictures, picture descriptions, or advertising, leading to the often-told joke that blind people are the only ones that read Playboy for the articles. For further reading, here's the written opinion from District Judge Thomas F. Hogan.
What We Missed: NVDA 2015.4 Adds Support for Rich Text Editing in Firefox and Chrome, Better Excel Support
While we were eating lots of turkey, version 2015.4 of the free NVDA screen reader was released. This release includes support for the rich text editors found in apps such as Firefox and Chrome, several changes for Excel users, and a host of additional changes. Support for the Baum Pronto and VarioUltra are also now included. You can view the complete version history to see what else is new.
Braille Code Inc. is a company which has created a line of clothing especially for blind and visually impaired people. Created by a mother of a legally blind child, their lineup includes shirts and accessories which feature a braille patch which aids in proper dressing and matching of clothes. For instance, on polo shirts, the patch is on the inside of the bottom of the back of the shirt. You can browse their products from their website.
Here's some more information from the company's website. "Braille Code is not just a clothing line; it’s a brand that represents independence, self-confidence and pride. I want the kids to wear the brand and claim it because it was made lovingly for them. My wish is for them to step out and let the world know that they now have a clothing name especially made for them. My goal is to help and give parents like me a way to give our children a sense of pride, independence and acceptance of who they are with Style!"
Accessible Apps, makers of the Chicken Nugget Twitter client and QRead among others, has added to their collection of Windows tools with QSeek, a small program that runs in the background and provides information on demand. It can be used to quickly look up definitions or translate text, obtain stock quotes, or perform simple or complex calculations. Try it for free for 7 days from the Accessible Apps website, or purchase it for $10.
Version 0.80 of TWBlue, a free Windows Twitter client, has been released. This version, the first release in 10 months, includes support for multiple Twitter accounts, long direct messages, quoted tweets, and a variety of other improvements. Check out this blog post for a more complete list of changes.
Researcher and inventor Joshua Miele has launched a collaborative blog to aid in the development of accessible resources based on the Arduino platform. Arduino is an open-source platform aimed at electronics enthusiasts who wish to build digital devices and objects that interact with or control sensors or objects. One might build a robot, thermostat, motion detector, or scientific measurement devices with an Arduino board and programming tools. The blog aims to create a resource which would aid blind builders and tinkerers to accessibly and independently create projects and program the boards.
Here's an excerpt from the initial blog post. "With the advent of open-source, relatively standardized, microprocessor-based project kits like Arduino, the kinds of devices that can be built by the casual maker at home have become quite sophisticated. In fact, Arduino is an ideal platform for creating a variety of accessibility devices which blind makers and users might find useful. For example Arduino would be perfect for building tools like audio and tactile meters and gauges which could be driven by any manner of sensors and detectors. From accessible scales to timers, range finders, multimeters and beyond, Arduino could make it relatively easy to design and share accessible tools which can be endlessly modified, adapted, and improved to meet a wide range of applications and needs."
In what has become an annual tradition, Santa Claus has partnered with some of his elves in Baltimore to send braille letters to blind children. Parents or teachers of children under 10 can visit the Santa Letters page to request a braille letter from Santa, which will be produced by National Federation of the Blind elves and mailed to the child. A print version of the letter will also be included. Letters are free, and requests must be received by December 18.
Breaking: Vector Capital Combines Freedom Scientific and Optelec to create Assistive Technology Juggernaut
Vector Capital, a San Francisco based investment firm, has combined Freedom Scientific and Optelec to form what is believed to be the largest assistive technology company. The brands will continue to operate as independent units for the time being as the merger details are worked out. Formed in 1997, Vector Capital currently employs roughly 40 people and has amassed total assets of over 2 billion dollars and has invested in many well-known brands including Corel, WinZip, WatchGuard, and Register.com.
We are excited to bring together two of the industry s leading companies to create a global, diversified end-to-end technology provider to the low-vision and blind community, said Vector Capital's Andy Fishman.
Freedom Scientific was formed in 2000 as the result of another merger involving Blazie Engineering, Henter-Joyce, and Arkenstone. Here's a link to the official press release.
AI Squared has released ZoomText Fusion, a combination of its ZoomText Magnifier with the Window-Eyes screen reader. Fusion is especially designed for those with progressive vision loss, allowing them to transition seemlessly from a magnifier to a screen reader. It includes the magnification and highlighting features of ZoomText along with browse mode, braille support, and other Window-Eyes features. A free 60-day trial is available for all users, and the product runs on Windows 7 and above. ZoomText Fusion is available now for $999. You can read more on the AI Squared Frequently Asked Questions page. Listen to an interview from this year's ACB convention about Fusion with Shelly Brisbin.
Hims has released version 1.5 of the firmware for the Blaze ET Digital Multiplayer. With this update, the Blaze ET is the first digital book player to support braile displays via Bluetooth. Users can connect most Hims braille displays to the Blaze ET to read books or control other functions of the device. Improvements to the web radio and OCR features are also included. It's a free update for all current users. Here's more information from Hims.
HumanWare has posted a firmware update for its Brailliant braille displays. Version 2.1 includes support for Windows 10 and Jaws 17. The Brailliant now also supports the HID protocol, which should mean faster and easier connections to a computer, especially in Windows. Check the link on this post for more info and a download link.
If you are a member of the New York Public Library, a free Bookshare membership is waiting for you. The partnership was orchestrated between New York's Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library and Bookshare, which now hosts over 370,000 titles. The memberships are free to all qualifying members. Bookshare also offers a free membership to students through the U.S. Department of Education. We've linked to a post with more information.
64 Oz. Games is rolling the dice on a second Kickstarter campaign, this time to expand their collection of tactile dice for blind RPG and other gamers. The campaign seeks $3,500 to purchase a more modern 3D Printer which will be used to print a variety of dice as well as other game pieces and educational tools. They're already halfway to their goal in the first day of the campaign. Rewards are available for as little as $10, which will give you a die of your choosing. You can go here to view the crowdfunding campaign and donate.
Applications are now being accepted for the National Federation of the Blind's 2016 scholarship program. 30 students will win amounts ranging from $3,000 to $12,000, a free trip to the 2016 national convention in Orlando, and a variety of additional prizes. Those attending college in the fall of 2016 may apply. For more details or to view the application, visit the link on this post. Deadline is March 31, 2016.
Accessible Media Inc. (AMI), an organization providing described television and radio programming in Canada, seeks participants for its research panel. Canadians may offer to participate in focus groups, surveys, or phone interviews about programming and other related issues. Compensation is available for participants. To apply for the panel, follow the link on this post. Thanks to Ka for the tip.
Code Factory is now offering another way for you to get higher quality voices on the NVDA screen reader. The new Eloquence and Vocalizer Expressive add-on lets you use two popular synthesizers with NVDA. Unlike the previously-released SAPI versions of Eloquence and Vocalizer by Code Factory, these are tied to NVDA specifically, meaning you cannot use them with other apps. But with this limitation comes at a lower price, at 59 Euros or about $65 U.S. Dollars. It's available exclusively from Code Factory using the link on this post.
The American Council of the Blind has released ACB Link, a new iOS app to offer information and resources to members and potential members. Users can connect to affiliates and divisions, get general information on blindness, and listen to ACB Radio streams and podcasts. The app was developed by Mike Doise of iaccessibility.net and is available now for free from the iTunes App Store.
Signs of fall are in the air. Leaves are falling, Daylight Saving Time is about to end, and Freedom Scientific has released their annual update to Jaws. Version 17 of the venerable screen reader has just been released to the masses with a major focus on website productivity and scripting. Scripts can now be written for individual websites, and users can save website-specific settings. It includes support for the Windows touch keyboard as well as other new gestures and commands for touch screen navigation. Some features are also being removed, such as sports scores from ESPN and the settings merge utility. You can download the latest version now, which will cost one SMA count for existing users or run as a demo for others. Here's a link to the What's New file.
The wait is finally over for KNFB Reader fans on Android. Sensotec, in collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind, have released a version of the wildly popular OCR and text recognition app to Google Play. The Android version looks similar to its iOS counterpart and recognizes printed materials or imported files within a few seconds. Users can download a trial for free and receive 25 recognitions before needing to upgrade to the full version for $99.95. Android users will also be able to share files to other apps using Android's native share functionality, and read images using the voices on their device including Vocalizer and Eloquence. You can download the trial now from Google Play, which works on Android 4.3 on up.
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