Assistive technology news and info.
Many of you may recall the VFO Group, then known only as Freedom Scientific, announcing the ElBraille just prior to last year's CSUN conference. This year, ElBraille is back with some upgraded specs and now seems destined for release.
Amazon is the latest company to launch a help desk for disabled customers. To access it from the U.S., call toll-free (888) 283-1678. In addition to the usual technical questions one may ask about using the website or Amazon's services, agents are able to describe product pictures or assist in the shopping process. Of note, they are not allowed to actually place an order for you. It's open from 6 AM-1 AM Eastern time, 7 days a week. Thanks to the Fred's Head Blog for the info.
Those of us who have participated in what is now known as the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference are used to typing a few short characters to use the conference's official Twitter hashtag. Last year it was #CSUN16. But conference organizers have made a change which has resulted in a new hashtag format for this year, #CSUNATC17.
Coming in Version 1.4 of the VarioUltra: Unlocking mobile devices with the Braille Display, UEB Support, and more
Though not publicly available for download, Baum has unveiled what's coming in version 1.4 of the firmware for the VarioUltra braille display. Among the included features is the public beta release of support for Unified English Braille (UEB).
NVAccess has Published the official release 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. In case you missed it last week, the complete changelog is below.
Researchers at Ohio State University have posted a short survey to examine racial perceptions as it pertains to people who are blind or visually impaired. According to the survey page, "The purpose of this research survey is to examine how indi viduals who are blind or visually impaired perceive race and culture. Through the results of this survey, it is our hope to better understand the perceptions of individuals who are blind within these areas in an effort to improve education and raise awareness of diversity among all individuals, including individuals with vision loss." No compensation is being offered, and the survey is expected to take 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Check the link on this post to learn more or take the survey.
Amazon continues to add accessibility to its lineup of products, and a recent blog post focuses on current and forthcoming improvements for Fire TV, Amazon's connected Smart TV product.
Amazon is focusing on the experience for speech and low vision users, including easy access to adjust the rate of speech, a review mode which can be used to reread information or spell names of actors and show titles, and global settings for higher contrast and closed captions. Apps like Netflix and Hulu now also play nicer with accessibility services, according to the blog post.
Amazon's Fire TV is a small device which plugs into an existing television or video display and displays and plays video content, such as television shows, photos, or videos. It's a direct competitor to the Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast among others.
You can read more from the Amazon blog post. Stay with Blind Bargains for more Amazon coverage from CSUN 2017.
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."
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