Assistive technology news and info.
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.
The American Printing House for the Blind is researching the possibility of bringing its Nearby Explorer GPS software to iOS devices including the iPhone. This detail is one of many included in its annual report, published to its website each fiscal year. In addition to this possibility, the release of a demo version and international expansion are also on the roadmap. Nearby Explorer is currently available for Android devices for $99 and is also included on the BraillePlus 18 notetaker. We've linked to the entire annual report which includes info on this and many other APH projects.
MIPsoft, the company behind the popular Blindsquare GPS app for the iPhone, Comcast, and Odin Mobile were among this year's winners for the American Foundation for the Blind's Access Awards. The AFB the Blind annually recognizes companies, organizations, and people who have broken down barriers to accessibility in extraordinary ways.
Users of the free NVDA screen reader now have another option for obtaining enhanced voices. Acapela Group is now offering two voice packages, which both include a variety of voice styles and languages and work on up to three computers.
Cambium Learning Group has released version 14 of its popular Kurzweil 1000 OCR program. The popular Windows-based scanning and optical character recognition tool now can create PDF files from extracted images and includes a host of additional improvements which we've listed below. Upgrades from any previous version remain at $125 and are available now.
A team of researchers has recently raised over $10,000 to create an alpha prototype for BLITAB, a full-page braille display project which has been in development for three years. The claim on the project's page as the "world's first tablet for blind people" is perhaps a bit misleading, but the project itself has some lofty goals. The BLITAB would include braille translation features as well as a GPS and support for obtaining information from NFC tags.
It may be at least 2018 until regulations governing sounds made by quiet cars takes effect. According to Green Car Reports The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has delayed their rulemaking procedures on the issue until the end of 2015, which also has the effect of delaying implementation of the rule. IN 2011, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act became law, a bill which required quiet cars to emit a sound to alert pedestrians including the blind. The [U.S. Energy Information Administration]( http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=93&t=4) estimated over 11 million vehicles which use alternative fuels were on the road as of 2011, though not all of these vehicles would be considered quiet cars. Check the source link for more details.
The wildly successful adult party game Cards Against Humanity is now accessible to the blind, thanks to a kit from 64 Oz. Games. The company specializes in making kits which make card and board games accessible, often accomplished by using plastic overlay sleeves. To achieve this, you would purchase the Cards Against Humanity game and then the accessibility kit. It'll be necessary to find a way to read the printed cards so they can be matched with their corresponding braille overlays. Once this is done, you'll have a completely accessible version of one of the most popular games in the world.
Hims is adding another model to its line of Blaze portable DAISY players. The Blaze ET will include additional features including a dictionary, calculator, and other applications. A redesigned layout is also a possibility, given some of the features and requests from users of the original Booksense models. This presentation outline from this week's ATIA conference gives some additional information. No pricing info has been released. We'll be sure to post more about this as our ATIA coverage unfolds. Update: Earlier we reported the inclusion of a Skype application, based on the above link. Hims has now said this feature will not be included, at least for now.
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