Assistive technology news and info.
Google's Chromebooks have come a long way since their initial introduction, and now the ChromeVox screen reader is taking a major leap forward as well. The new version includes a variety of enhancements including an enhanced keyboard layout, stereo earcons which provide contextual and positioning information, a panel for teachers so they can follow along with what the student is hearing, and USB braille support with the ability to use braille keyboard commands. New ChromeVox menus allow the user to find various menu options, links lists, and other features. All of this and more is explained in more detail on Google's blog post.
It's time for what has become a bit of an annual tradition around here. This will be our 8th time attending the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, the largest such conference for the blind. We often 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.
NVAccess has Published the Release Candidate for NVDA 2017.1, the first milestone release of the new year. In addition to previously mentioned support for Kindle reading on PC, this update improves support for several Microsoft products including table reading in the Edge web browser and various improvements and changes for Word, and Excel as well as a variety of bug fixes. The complete changelog is below.
The VFO group has released Magic version 14, bringing several updates to the software. Improvements include upgraded Vocalizer Voices, updates to Mouse Echo, the introduction of audio ducking, and speech improvements to Office 2016.
A student team from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia is seeking to develop an iPhone game that can be played by both blind and sighted people and seeks your input. They've posted a short 6-question survey to gauge interest in the type of game they should create. To take survey, follow the link on this post.
The developers of NVDA Remote Access, an add-on to NVDA which allows users who are both running the screen reader to connect to each others' computers, have released version 2.0. One enhancement in this version is the introduction of Remote Braille. If each connected user has a braille display connected, the braille output should match along with the speech output.
If you use a screen reader, a research company wants to hear from you and will pay you for your time. User Research International has posted a short survey about screen reader usage. The survey can be taken on a computer, tablet, or mobile device and should take about 10 minutes to complete. Participants who qualify will receive $20 for completing the survey. Follow this link to take the survey.
Update: This survey is now full and is no longer accepting respondents.
Over the years, many blind users have wanted to use Kindle for PC just as easily as their sighted counterparts. This is especially true in the field of education. Though the Kindle for Accessibility Plug-in exists, it only permits the user to read text out loud and to configure basic speech settings. Last year, James Scholes released his latest tool, Codex, a conversion tool which permitted both braille and speech access to the Kindle library once the book was converted to a more useable format.
If you are attending the 32nd CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego this March or want to follow the action, you'll need to reprogram your brain to use a new hashtag. #CSUNATC17 replaces the traditional #CSUN17 as the official hashtag per conference organizers according to the CSUN Center on Disabilities [@csuncod](https://twitter.com/csuncod?lang] Twitter account. The change was made to avoid confusion with other events. In reality, you may just need to follow both hashtags for the time being, as tweets seem to be split between the old and new hashtags as of this article. The CSUN conference is the most tweeted about assistive technology event of the year with many participants, exhibitors, presenters, and media outlets sharing their finds and tidbits.
HumanWare has drastically cut prices on its BrailleNote Apex products, the second price cut for the previous generation notetakers since September. Customers can now purchase a 32-cell Apex for $2,995 or an 18-cell model for $1,995. That's a drop of up to $2,000 on the previous prices and just a bit over half of the original retail price. Last September Humanware dropped prices of the Apex shortly after the release of the Touch. The Apex runs a version of KeySoft based on Windows CE and has not received a major software update since KeySoft 9.5 in May of 2015.
Perhaps the only things certain in life are death and taxes, but at least the latter is a bit more accessible thanks to the efforts of the Internal Revenue Service. Hundreds of tax forms are available on the IRS accessibility website in large-print, text, accessible PDF, e-Braille, or HTML formats. Assistance in filling out tax returns is also available for qualifying individuals. Check the link on this post for more info. Taxes are due a bit later this year, on April 17.
DISH has joined a growing number of television providers to offer accessibility services as a part of its set-top boxes. In a recently-posted YouTube video, Joseph Hodge demonstrates the Hopper 3, one of the DISH receivers with text-to-speech functionality. Pressing the Option button twice launches the service which speaks the program guide, loads on-demand content and lets you record shows. According to Hodge, some of the apps including Pandora and Weather also speak, though others including YouTube and Netflix currently do not.
Text-to-speech functionality is available on the Hopper 2, Hopper 3 and Wally receivers and can be requested by contacting DISH sales for current or perspective customers. More information can be found on DISH's accessibility page.
What would you do with $25,000? The San Francisco Lighthouse is asking this question as it seeks to bestow the Holman Prize, an award which is designed to, as they put it, assist in "FUNDING THE DREAMS AND AMBITIONS OF BLIND INDIVIDUALS WORLDWIDE."
A founder and long time CEO of the Sendero Group is moving on up, literally. Mike May has accepted a job as the president of the Seattle Lighthouse. The Seattle Lighthouse is a nonprofit which employs over 400 people including over 260 that are blind and is one of the largest such organizations in the country. May takes his new post on April 3 and succeeds Kirk Adams, who stepped down in 2016 to accept the job of President for the American Foundation for the Blind.
Dictation Bridge, an open-source, crowdfunded tool which aims to enable accessible dictation of text using screen readers, has released a public beta of its add-on for NVDA. This version works with both Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Microsoft Speech Recognition, the latter available for free with modern versions of Windows. Users can speak text and have it typed into their favorite app, or control NVDA itself with commands for Dragon. JAWS and Window-Eyes add-ons are still on the roadmap for the near future.
You can hear more about Dictation Bridge on Blind Bargains Qast 55 where we interviewed Lucy Greco. For more details about the features below, check out the Dictation Bridge Public Beta page.
Captcha Be Gone, an online service which can decipher most visual CAPTCHAs on web pages, is now available for the Chrome web browser. This is in addition to support for Firefox and Internet Explorer which is already included. The service was launched last July and is available via a $3 monthly or $33 yearly plan. Both of these are introductory prices and may go up in the future.
If you had aspirations for attending both major blindness consumer organization national conventions, you can do this in 2017 and even have time to come home in-between. The National Federation of the Blind will once again hold their convention at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort though it will be later than in past years. Convention activities start on Monday, July 10 and continue through Saturday, July 15. This is the site used for the 2011 and 2016 conventions.
The American Council of the Blind's 2017 Conference and Convention is actually a day shorter than in past years, stretching from June 30 to July 7. It will return to the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nev. just outside of Reno. The ACB was last in Reno in 2011.
NFB online registration typically starts March 1 while ACB registration usually launches in May. Hotel reservations for both conventions can be made now. Check the links above for info.
Be My Eyes, an iPhone app which provides visual assistance to blind and visually impaired users, says that an Android port of their app is imminent. The original Be My Eyes app was released just over 2 years ago and was one of the first in a line of crowd assistance platforms. According to a recent Email, The app is now served over 32,000 blind and visually impaired users with the help of more than 450,000 sighted volunteers.
You can select this link to be informed of the release of the Android app.
Recently, Google's Eyes-free team released version 5.1 of the TalkBack screen reader for Android devices. This version is the first to only run on Android 5.1 and newer, which encompasses most current devices. Those running Android 4.4 or earlier received a bug fix release, version 5.0.7, which is said to be the last for these devices.
TalkBack 5.1 includes a list of minor improvements including announcing of page load percentages in Chrome, an assignable shortcut for the Quick Settings Panel, and improvements for scrolling in large lists. We've included the message from the Eyes-free mailing list below.
Facebook has announced that it is introducing a Live Audio feature that allows live broadcasts of audio-only content. The company will be testing the feature with a small number of established broadcasters including the BBC World Service and LBC. iOS users will get a worse version of the service than using Android devices: while Android users can continue listening to a Live Audio broadcast while using other apps, iOS users will need to remain within the app. You can, though, browse other Facebook content while listening. If you fancy yourself as a live radio host or live podcaster, the company says that it will be making the feature more available to publishers and people early in the new year.
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