Assistive technology news and info.
A new app suite is now available for Verizon Wireless customers which provides a customized home screen and a variety of additional tools such as OCR, GPS navigation, and object recognition. VelaSense by Visus Technology runs on Android devices with version 4.3 or higher and is available exclusively on Verizon at the moment. It offers a variety of built-in apps including Contacts, a phone dialer, and currency recognition and features as well as a simplified home screen and voice recognition. Verizon customers can get a 30-day free trial of the app before paying the $14.99 monthly fee.
July 1 is a big day when it comes to video description on television, as stations in 35 additional markets will now be required to carry described programs. NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX stations in the top 60 television markets are required by law to carry at least 50 hours of described programming each quarter, or roughly 4 hours per week. In addition, the top five cable television networks are also bound by this requirement, meaning most cable systems, regardless of location, are also required to carry described programs. An FCC order released today outlines changes that will take effect in July, including the addition of the History Channel and the removal of Nickelodeon from the top five cable networks. This all means that in addition to new described programming, 35 additional television markets will now receive the described feed. We've included a list of the top 60 television markets as of 2014 below, so you can see if yours made the cut.
Microsoft has posted a survey to gauge opinions of blind users of Twitter and how they interact with posted images. As explained on the survey page, "This survey is part of a Microsoft Research project that aims to improve the social media usage experiences of people who are blind by gathering data about the extent to which people who are blind use various social media, the purposes for which they use it, and the challenges they face in participating in this increasingly important aspect of modern social life." The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete with roughly 25 questions total. Upon completion, $1 will be donated to one of several blindness organizations. The survey is available through March 31 or until 1,000 responses have been received. Check the source link to take the survey.
Update: The survey has now closed.
A WordPress.org team is looking for new members to test the accessibility of various WordPress themes and add-ons. The WordPress Accessibility group meets each Monday to discuss current projects and also has an Email list where testing results can be discussed. For more information, check out the source link on this post.
The NVDA Remote project we posted about earlier this week looks like it's going to become a reality, thanks to overwhelming support from over 150 donors and climbing. The project has raised $11,258 in just over two days, shattering its $10,000 goal with over a month remaining. Donations are still being accepted through April 21, and will mean more time is spent on the project. In addition, users can donate $100 or more to be a part of a beta test group for the project.
AI Squared has posted a free update to the Window-Eyes screen reader, version 9.1. This version includes support for the Chrome web browser, the ability to copy both plain text or formatted text from web pages, the return of the placemarker feature, and an enhanced element Many other bug fixes are also included. properties view for websites that may be very useful to developers. It's a free update for users of Window-Eyes 9.0 or the Window-Eyes for Office edition. We've linked to the complete change log from this post.
Remote assistance has often been one of those screen reader features that was out of reach for many, often due to its cost and complexity. Christopher Toth, the developer behind popular software programs including QRead and Chicken Nugget, is leading a team to change this. A crowdfunding campaign has been launched for NVDA Remote Access, a forthcoming add-on which will enable remote access support for the free and open-source NVDA screen reader. As explained on the crowdfunding web page, "NVDA Remote Access builds on the open source screen reader NVDA, allowing a blind person to send commands to and hear the speech from another user's computer. This provides an ideal tool for real time communication between workstations and opens doors for a variety of previously-inaccessible job tasks."
The team is currently seeking to raise $10,000 to pay for the development costs for the app, which will be released for free upon completion. In addition to helping the project succeed, various perks are available including beta access and a year of free tech support for the app. You can go here to read more or donate We've listed some of the advantages of NVDA Remote as described by the developers below:
The Android Talkback team has released version 4.1 of Google's built-in screen reader. It includes improvements which especially will benefit the upcoming release of Android 5.1, but also additional changes and bug fixes including Improved latency and enhancements to web support. We've included the changelog below and you can get it now from Google Play.
Apple has released a minor update to its iOS operating system with improvements in HealthKit and support for the forthcoming Apple Watch. iOS 8.2 is mostly a bug fixe release, and includes the new Apple Watch app which cannot be deleted. As one would expect, the Watch App is accessible according to some early users. It's available now as an update for anyone running iOS 8 or later. While VoiceOver improvements are mentioned, the changes seem minor. If you find anything we didn't mention, be sure to post a comment. Here's the complete changelog you'll see when you install the update, courtesy of BetaNews.
Hims has posted a free firmware update for the Blaze EZ Multiplayer, bringing it up to version 1.1. This version enables playback of National Library Service titles, includes a directory for Internet radio stations, and also features improved OCR capabilities for more typefaces. A smattering of additional bug fixes are also included. The update can be downloaded wlirelessly from the Blaze unit itself. We've included the complete changelog from Hims below.
Google's Roger Benz has posted several new educational videos on Youtube which describe and demonstrate features of many of the company's web apps. The videos include how-tos and demos for Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Drive recorded using Firefox and the NVDA screen reader. The videos have also all been subtitled. We've linked to all of the videos below.
There has been a lot of talk surrounding Comcast's Talking Guide, the first of its kind in the United States. Earlier today, the company gave users a chance to ask questions of Comcast's Tom Wlodkowski, the employee leading the company's accessibility efforts. Among the topics discussed were some features planned for the future of the software, including the ability to adjust speech rate and verbosity, a talking Spanish language interface, and the ability to filter programs by audio described content.
The family at Acapela is growing with the addition of Sharon, a new female voice which was debuted recently. Sharon is an expressive female voice which features some rather natural intonations. Here's a sample posted to Soundcloud of Sharon reading part of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. You can try it out for yourself with Acapela's interactive demo. Acapela voices are available in a variety of screen readers and apps including NVDA on Windows where she is available now, as a download on Android, and as an add-on for Voice Dream apps on iOS. No word on when Sharon will make an appearance on other platforms. Thanks to Jason for the tip on NVDA.
A survey has been posted by the accessibility group of the International Game Developers Association to assess the current state of accessible gaming and what can be done to improve this. The results wil be shared at a session during the Game Developers Conference titled "Building a manifesto for game accessibility" panel on March 5. Check the link on this post to take the survey.
As a part of its merger with AI Squared, the phone number to reach the Window-Eyes team, formerly of GW Micro, in Ft. Wayne has changed. The new number is (802) 362-3612. Despite the new area code, the staff is remaining in their Indiana offices.
A new update to the knfbReader app for the iPhone has been posted with several improvements. Version 1.4 includes the ability to perform OCR on images from an Email or the camera roll, vertical tilt guidance, and a redesigned file explorer. It's a free upgrade and available from the iTunes App Store. The complete list of changes is below.
The first major release of 2015 for the free NVDA screen reader is imminent. NV Access has posted a release candidate for version 2015.1, which will basically resemble the final release assuming no major bugs are found. This version includes a browse mode for Microsoft Office and Outlook similar to the one used on web pages, enhanced support for Skype 7 and above including the reviewing of recent messages, a silent install feature from the command-line, and a host of additional changes and bug fixes. Follow the link to read the update post or download the new release. Here's a complete list of changes in this version.
Three Monkeys is a new PC fantasy roll-playing audiogame created by UK-based company Incus Games and they're currently seeking some funding on Kickstarter to see the project through. Currently, they've reached over 10 percent of their 28,000 pound goal. Backers will receive codes for the game upon release, a copy of the game's soundtrack, and early beta access among other perks.
Touchscreens are great for lots of things, but often it is less efficient to type using one, despite a variety of available accessories. A company called Tactus Technology is working to solve this dilemma and has announced a new product called Phorm, which will provide a tactile keyboard experience for the iPad Mini. The $99 accessory uses a lever that when pressed, exposes a physical keyboard on the iPad's screen. This is done using microfluidic technology to raise and lower buttons on demand. The product is targeted for a summer release, with iPhone and other models to follow.
Having affordable and reliable transportation can be a very liberating experience. Though ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft still have some accessibility challenges to overcome, we've found a lot of creative ways to use the services. Here's five potential uses you may not have thought of. And if you're new to Uber, you can sign up and get a free ride, which is up to $30 as of the time of this post.
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