Assistive technology news and info.
The field for crowdsourced helper applications is growing rather quickly, and the latest entrant to this category, Specular, is now looking for beta testers. Specular takes elements of some existing services and adds some new twists, allowing blind users to take a picture of something and ask a question via audio. From the description, the app seems a bit more conversational, allowing the sighted or blind user to ask for clarifying information or a better picture. Since the company is looking for beta testers, go ahead and check the link on this post and apply to join the free program for yourself. Both iPhone and Android apps are promised. Only time will tell if all of these new services will survive, but the landscape is certainly becoming interesting.
The Be My Eyes app has become one of the most talked-about app launches for the blind in recent memory, receiving a whirlwind of mainstream attention not seen since the early days of Fleksy. Media sources and users have been weighing in, giving both user testimonials and prognostications of the future's viability.
HumanWare has posted a new version of the software for the New Generation Victor Stream without much fanfare. Version 4.4.12 doesn't include a changelog as of this post but does seem to include some speed improvements and support for FLAC audio files. One Twitter user reports speed improvements when transferring files from the main memory to the SD card. A bug that caused some users to lose their list of podcast feeds also appears to be squashed. Updates for the stream can be downloaded wirelessly, directly from the unit or from this HumanWare page. If you notice other improvements or changes, post them in the comments.
En-Vision America has released a free update to the software for the I.D. Mate Quest Bar Code Scanner which includes some new social features and bug fixes. Users can now share bar code results with the company to help improve the database. In addition, a history mode can be enabled that allows one to listen to the last 30 scanned items. The entire changelog is posted below.
Some Window-Eyes 9 users received an unexpected pop-up message earlier today, the result of a security breach on the company's App Central repository. AN updated copy of one of the default scripts was posted to the website by someone who maliciously hacked the server. AI Squared quickly defused the problem, though some users may need to go and redownload the GW Toolkit app. No personal data stored on your computer is believed to be at risk. We've included more info on how to fix the problem and a statement issued by AI Squared below.
In the world of accessible games, Super Liam was the first accessible side-scroller, taking many of its cues from Super Mario and other past titles. Now, you can relive this chapter in early 2000's accessible games by downloading and playing Super Liam for free. L-Works is releasing several of its older titles for free and users can expect additional releases including Judgment Day in the near future. Check the link to learn more and download the free game, compatible with most versions of Windows.
There's no shortage of quality text-to-speech voices available for Android users and now Code Factory, who already has made available a version of Eloquence for Android, has added to the available options by releasing Vocalizer voices for the platform. Vocalizer voices are most commonly associated with the iPhone, including Samantha which is the default United States voice. Similar to Acapela, a free app allows users to browse available voices (more than 80 in all) and individual voices can be purchased for $3.99 each. Early reports indicate the voices are quite responsive. Have you tried out any of the new Vocalizer voices for Android? Let us know what you think.
The Be My Eyes app we previously posted about is now available for free on the iTunes App Store. The app pairs blind or visually impaired individuals with volunteers who can help answer visual questions such as the expiree date on milk or the reading on a thermostat. We've linked to the page on the App Store from this post, and you can hear an interview with cofounder Thelle Kristensen in our Blind Bargains podcast.
Window-Eyes 9 Released with Web Support Overhaul, Google Docs, MathPlayer, Increased Responsiveness, More
AI Squared has released Window-Eyes version 9, the biggest update to the screen reader in a couple years. Among the new features are completely rewritten web support for Internet Explorer and Firefox, which will handle modern web pages with dynamic content. In addition, support for Google Docs, the latest version of QuickBooks, MathPlayer, and preliminary support for the Windows 10 preview are included in the update among other features. Increased responsiveness is also included, especially when arrowing around documents or executing other keyboard commands. Window-Eyes is free for users with a copy of Microsoft Office 2010 or later installed. We've linked to the press release from this post.
For the past two years, blind individuals in Denmark have been testing an app which uses the video chat capabilities of an iPhone to provide sighted assistance. Now The app is set to launch worldwide on January 15. Be My Eyes connects volunteers with people needing assistance for cases where an extra pair of eyes could be useful. Examples given include reading mail or adjusting the thermostat. Currently, the nonprofit is looking for volunteers to help run the free service, and is using Thunderclap, a tool to generate interest on social media, to do this. To learn more about the app or join the Thunderclap, which will send their message to over 200 accounts on Thursday, check the link on this post. And, here's a link to the Be My Eyes site. Thanks to Bryan Smart for the tip.
Intel's keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show included a demonstration of how their RealSense technology has the potential to help the visually impaired be more aware of their surroundings. In the video, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich introduces us to Darryl Adams, a Technical Project Manager at Intel who also happens to be visually impaired. They explain how vibration and other feedback is used to convey nearby information, and how it has opened up new possibilities for Adams. While opinions may differ on the effectiveness of this approach, it's another example of a mainstream company giving time to issues that affect the visually impaired in a major and well-publicized speech. We've linked to the relevant portion of the video in the source so you can watch it for yourself and share your feedback.
Google Docs has received the lion's share of attention when it comes to accessibility, but Microsoft has posted a blog message detailing some current and future planned enhancements to Office Online. Included in the changes are increased formatting notifications, virtual buffer reading for smaller files, and improved documentation. While much of the post centers around Narrator support, the help documentation also gives tips for screen reader use with Jaws and Window-Eyes. Check the source link for the post and help files. Have you tried Office Online, and how does it compare with Google Docs? Let us know in the comments.
Southwest Airlines has now extended its flight schedule through August 7, 2015, meaning you can now book travel on the airline for the NFB and ACB summer conventions. Southwest is often the most economical way to travel to a convention considering they allow for two checked bags with your ticket. So if you take a lot of items to convention, there's a potential $100 savings or more. Contrary to popular belief however, Southwest does not always have the cheapest fares, so it's still best to shop around before making a purchase. Check the link to go to the Southwest Airlines website to book travel. The NFB convention will be held in Orlando from July 5-10 while the ACB holds its meeting in Dallas July 3-11.
One of the biggest changes to SSI benefits in decades is about to take place. Thanks to legislation passed by Congress this week, many recipients of SSI will be able to put money in savings without penalty.
So you're lying in bed and you can't sleep because your vent is blasting hot air into your room. But the thermostat is so far away. Now, thanks to Google and Nest, you can just talk to your phone to solve this dilemma. You can now use a Google Now voice command such as "raise the temperature to 72 degrees" to control a Nest thermostat, assuming you've linked it to your Google account. In addition, Google can use location services to automatically adjust the Nest when you are headed home, and will display this info in a google Now card. Google purchased Nest earlier this year. While this helps make the connected thermostat a bit more usable for the blind, there are still several hurdles which have not yet been addressed, including inaccessibility of the initial set-up process and poor app design. This all existed before Google's purchase, so perhaps things will improve in the near future. There's more details in a post on the Nest site.
The Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired (CAVI) is offering an employment course in 2015. Topics discussed include motivation, traits that are helpful when marketing yourself, job readiness and more. There will even be an opportunity to receive feedback on your resume and a mock interview from staff responsible for hiring of employees.
Check the link on this post to learn more.
Jamie Pauls, host of the SeroTalk Weekly Podcast and content curator for Serotek, has decided to leave the company, according to a post on twitter. "I have chosen to bring an end to my relationship with Serotek. Thanks to the best group of people I have ever worked with in my life!" This brings the number of departures at the company to 6. Original CEO Mike Calvo is now taking a more active role in the company and promises that services such as the System Access Mobile Network will remain intact. This is a developing story and we'll post more as we learn of it.
AI Squared has released the first public beta for Window-Eyes version 9, formerly from GW Micro. Among the new features are completely rewritten web support for Internet Explorer and Firefox, which will handle modern web pages with dynamic content. In addition, support for Google Docs, the latest version of QuickBooks, and preliminary support for the Windows 10 preview are included in the update among other features. Increased responsiveness is also included, especially when arrowing around documents or executing other keyboard commands. The beta is free to try for users of Window-Eyes 8.4 or those with a copy of Microsoft Office 2010 or later installed. We've linked to the beta page which includes more information and download links.
AI Squared, who is now owners of the Window-Eyes brand after the merger with GW Micro, has posted several teasers leading up to the imminent release of Window-Eyes 9.0 Beta 1. Among the new features teased are completely rewritten web support for Internet Explorer and Firefox, which will handle modern web pages with dynamic content. The need for a rewrite to their web engine had been talked about by company representatives as early as the CSUN conference, and it appears to be the flagship feature for this update. In addition, support for Google Docs and preliminary support for the Windows 10 preview are included in the update among other features. The beta is expected to go public within the coming days and will be free to try for users of Window-Eyes 8.4 or those with a copy of Microsoft Office 2010 or later installed. We've linked to the beta page which includes more information.
Serotek has released a statement regarding the recent departures of 5 of their staff members, which emphasizes the company is not going anywhere. From the look of the press release and prior information we've received, it appears that Joe Steinkamp and Ricky Enger were given an offer to continue the Serotek Podcast Network with Serotek covering some of the costs. Both declined the new terms however and left the company. The three other departures happened later, and were perhaps not as expected by Serotek management. Other Serotek services, including the System Access Mobile Network, SA2Go, and the System Access Screen Reader remain in development. It also appears that former CEO Mike Calvo plans to take a more active role in the company which he founded over a decade ago. This is a developing story and we'll post more as we learn of it. The complete text of the message is below.
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