Assistive technology news and info.
The American Printing House for the Blind has released a free version of its Nearby Explorer GPS app for Android.
For many, the expiration of a Netflix contract with Epix Movies on September 30 means the need to sign up to another service to watch a variety of hit movies. But for those who have been enjoying these titles with audio description, the ramifications are higher. Films including World War Z, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Star Trek Into Darkness will disappear from Netflix in under a week. And while these titles may soon appear on competing streaming service Hulu, the latter does not currently offer audio described content. Other audio-described titles affected include Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Here's a list of shows leaving Netflix in September.
The American Foundation for the Blind has been undertaking a large project to digitize the Helen Keller archive, and is currently seeking an additional $25,000 in donations to further this effort. Thanks to a challenge by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the $25,000 in donations would be matched, meaning that dollars received in this campaign would be doubled. The collection includes images, letters, drawings, and other items from her estate which have been donated to the AFB. It is promised that the collection will also be made accessible to the blind, an effort not often seen in digitization efforts. Donations, which are being accepted for this grant through September 30, can be made on this page. The full donation letter is below.
On Friday, from 12am EDT until 11:59pm PDT you'll be able to enroll in Prime for just $67. You'll also be able to buy as many Prime Gift Subscriptions as you want for $67 as well. Amazon Prime is normally $99 per year and is always subject to go up, as it has in the past.
Here's the cool part. Amazon Prime Gift Subscriptions never expire, so you can lock in the $67 rate for as long as you want! You can have Prime Gifts emailed to you now and you can file them away in a folder in your email. They will always be good for a full year of Prime and they will never expire.
When you send yourself a gift year of Prime you will get an email with a special link that instantly gives a year of Prime to whatever account opens the special link. The gift of Amazon Prime isn t auto-renewing like regular Amazon Prime. Just set your Prime not to auto-renew so that you don t automatically get charged $99 in the future. How's that for a deal!
The term "haptic"" is often associated with vibratory feedback, but in reality, it's a more general word that simply relates to the sense of touch. Adam Spiers, a post-doc associate at the Yale University robotics lab, has created a new GPS device with this notion in mind, called the Haptic Sandwich. While other related gadgets indicate direction by various vibration patterns, the top half of the Haptic Sandwich actually twists to indicate the direction of travel needed to reach a destination. Among the possible applications for the device is aiding sighted and visually impaired hikers by guiding them using an unobtrusive device. You can read more from the original article at Enginneering.com
Another middle school student is working to develop a solution to help blind and visually impaired students. Seventh grader Hari Bhimaraju of Cupertino, Calif. has developed a tool to help blind and visually impaired students learn more about chemical elements including their atomic structure. She is one of 30 nationwide finalists in the Broadcom Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering Rising Stars (MASTERS) competition which will be held October 2-6. She explains the tool in a recent article in the Marin Independent Journal.
"It's a tool which helps you learn about the elements in the periodic table. So you enter in an atomic number or a chemical symbol or a chemical name, then it will provide you with all these results," she said. "With that, it will draw the atom and then step by step while writing the electron configuration so that you can understand what part of the atom is what."
Winning the competition will net Bhimaraju $25,000. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View will host a public exhibition of the project's finalists on October 3.
According to the Broadcom MASTERS website, "Science fairs around the country nominate the top 10% of 6th, 7th and 8th grade students to enter this prestigious competition. After submitting the online application,
are selected and
present their research projects and compete in team hands-on STEM challenges to demonstrate their skills."
C-fes Co. Ltd. has released an iOS app which allows for the direct reading of braille files using speech. The $14.99 Voice Braille Reader reads .BRL and .BRF files, such as those downloaded from the NLS BARD service or BookShare. It can also import files from Dropbox, Evernote, iCloud, and other applications. It also supports adjustable reading speed, a synchronized display with the braille that is currently being spoken, and reading of braille inside .ZIP files. If you wish to try out the app before you buy, you can get Voice Braille Reader Lite which allows for up to five minutes of reading per day. Hat tip to David Goldfield for the discovery.
More companies are bridging the gap between desktop CCTV's and portable video magnifiers. Optelec has introduced the Traveler HD a portable video magnifier with a 13-inch screen. Weighing 4.5 pounds, it magnifies from 2.4X to 30X and also can store up to 1,000 images for later viewing. Optelec includes what it calls a Slide and Read mechanism which acts similarly to the X-Y table found on desktop models. It runs for 3 hours on a single charge and retails for $2,495.
You can learn more about the latest from Optelec from our NFB convention interview with Optelec from Joe Steinkamp.
Have you ever had problems holding a toothbrush, or squeezing the toothpaste in the correct direction? Some enterprising inventors from China have tackled this supposed problem with a special toothbrush for the blind. It includes guides to ensure that a blind person is correctly applying toothpaste to the toothbrush, and the toothbrush is facing in the correct direction.
Here's the patent abstract, translated from Chinese, courtesy of Google:
The utility model discloses a special toothbrush for the blind. The special toothbrush comprises a toothbrush wall and a toothbrush head. The toothbrush wall is provided with a braille holding area, and the toothbrush head is provided with a braille toothpaste squeezing area. The special toothbrush is reasonable in structure, is specially used for tooth brushing by the blind and guarantees that the blind hold the toothbrush to enable the toothbrush head to be opposite to themselves so as to squeeze the toothpaste; and the blind are simultaneously reminded of squeezing the toothpaste in a right area.
You can read the complete patent here. Thanks to Ka for the tip.
Graduate students at the University of Washington are interested in creating tools to benefit computer programmers who use screen readers. They are looking for screen reader users who have graduated with a computer science degree for a short survey. Participants will be compensated with a $5 Amazon gift card and also will give a higher award for participating in a follow-up interview. Check the link on this post for more info or to take the survey.
Hims has released a free update to the BrailleSense line of notetakers with a variety of improvements and changes. Version 8.5 includes an automatic book downloader for titles from the NLS BARD service. In addition, users can now search for text in files globally, and read many file formats in the new document reader. Email set-up is now been streamlined, with automatic account configuration for Google, Yahoo, iCloud, and other providers. A new web radio database includes thousands of Internet radio stations for immediate listening. YouTube videos can now be downloaded. In the calculator, UEB is now supported, and additional conversions are included, such as between binary and decimal.
You can download the latest updates directly from the unit, or from the Hims Resource Center page. The complete release notes are below, and also available in Microsoft Word format.
The American Printing House for the Blind has once again partnered with Orbit Research to make a mainstream calculator accessible. The Orion TI-30XS MultiView Talking Scientific Calculator takes many of its cues from the TI-84 Plus, an accessible graphing calculator released in 2013. A small attachment makes this scientific model, also from Texas Instruments, accessible by adding voice prompts and a review mode among other features. You can order it now from APH for $399 plus shipping. We've included more information from APH's September newsletter below.
The first version of Firefox for iOS has been released to parts of the world, and it includes accessibility features from the start. According to a post on Marco's Accessibility Blog, all of the options and settings pages in the browser are accessible with VoiceOver. In addition, audio cues can be played when a page starts or finishes loading, similar to sounds you might hear in NVDA. Apple's App Store requirements mean that Firefox will use the Safari engine for displaying web content, so many features, and also some Safari bugs, will also exist here. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons to install Firefox would be to sync your bookmarks and history across devices, including Windows, Mac, and Android. The new browser is rolling out slowly and currently available in Australia, Austria, and New Zealand. Expect it in more countries soon. If you're able to download and try out the browser, let us know your impressions in the comments.
Apple has posted an accessibility overview page for its new TVOS, the software powering the new Apple TV and many of the standard accessibility features are included as expected. For new users, press the Menu button three times to activate VoiceOver. Many of the same gestures including flicks, taps, and the rotor are included. While the Zoom magnification feature is enabled, users can double click the Siri button to speak the focused content and magnify text up to 15X. Bold text, increased contrast, and reduced motion are also included, features standard on other Apple products. While closed captions are specifically noted, there is no mention of audio description on the accessibility page, though it certainly may be available under settings or in specific apps. The accessibility shortcut (pressing the Menu button 3 times) can be enabled to toggle VoiceOver, Zoom, captions, or other accessibility features though like on other Apple devices, the shortcut isn't enabled by default. Here's a link to the TVOS accessibility page.
Amidst the flurry of announcements from Apple today, a new program is being launched which lets users upgrade to the latest iPhone every year. But with a little bit of effort, there's likely a better deal to be had. Apple will sell you the latest iPhone starting at $32 a month, which includes AppleCare+, a $64.50 annual value. So assuming you want the AppleCare+, that's $334.50 a year for your phone. So, what's the alternative?
If you purchased your iPhone 6 16GB for $649, you can sell it now before the new models hit. many of the trade-in programs will let you lock in a price now and send in the phone once you get your new one. Amazon is currently offering up to $414.27 for this model. assuming your phone is in good shape and you get this amount, that's a net cost of $234.73. This particular example pays you in the form of Amazon credit which you may or may not want, but other services offer similar value, often in cash.
You can up your game further by selling your iPhone through eBay, Craigslist, or our own classifieds, where current models are still commanding $500 to $600. Apple's new program is based in part on convenience, and you'll want to determine if the extra $100 or more cost is justified given your budget and priorities.
Update: The original version of this article did not take into account the new increased prices for AppleCare+, which is now $129 for the 6S and 6S Plus.
Apple announced a major update for its Apple TV hardware at its keynote earlier today, and Siri's Voice Search is a cornerstone of its design. Borrowing a concept from set-top boxes such as TiVo, Apple's Universal Search will find your favorite movies or TV shows across Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, HBO, and other sources. Siri is activated using a button on the new Bluetooth remote, which features both a touch interface and physical buttons for volume, play, and other functions. As expected, the New Apple TV will include VoiceOver support, as confirmed by iMore's Rene Ritchie. The new Apple TV starts at $149 with 32GB of storage and will be available in late October.
After being down for over a week the National Library Service's BARD website and mobile apps are back online. The outage started shortly after regularly scheduled maintenance to the James Madison Building caused several systems including BARD to go offline over a week ago. During this time, patrons were unable to download books or magazines using the website or the iPhone or Android apps. The site was online briefly after the maintenance but then experienced the longer outage.
The National Library Service's BARD website, app, and associated services remain down and won't be back up until late Tuesday at the earliest, according to an informational Email sent to patrons. The BARD service, which provides book and magazine downloads via its website and mobile apps, was disabled after regularly scheduled maintenance at the James Madison Building in Washington, DC resulted in an equipment failure. The outage also means that magazines and other materials that are normally sent to patrons on cartridges are also delayed, as these are loaded using the BARD service. Here's one sample message from South Carolina.
Voice Dream Reader is the latest popular app to make the jump to Android. Version 1 was recently posted to Google Play for the same $9.99 price and offers an accessible way to read a variety of formats including .PDF, .HTML, and unencrypted EPUB files. Like its iOS counterpart, features are designed to benefit both those with no vision as well as sighted users, with a variety of visual and auditory functions to customize reading. Direct BookShare integration is also included. Due to the nature of Android, any built-in voice can be used for reading, though premium voices will still be available which offer word by word highlighting. The author includes some additional notes on future plans for the app which we've included below. Thanks to Jerry for the tip.
The National Library Service's BARD application is continuing a prolonged outage, caused by network infrastructure at the Library of Congress. This is preventing users from downloading books or searching content on the online service. According to the website FCW, the outage occurred after an equipment failure after a regularly scheduled maintenance on August 29 in the library's James Madison building. Other services, such as the copyright registration system are also currently inoperable.
Below is a sample short Email sent out by one of the state cooperating libraries. Thanks to Bryan Smart for the tip.
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