Roku added a spoken interface to its video streaming devices. This is good news for blind and print-disabled folks who like the idea of an inexpensive, easy-to-use, full-featured streamer. In this audio demo, I roll through the Audio Guide interface, and show you where it shines, and where it fails. If you have feedback or questions after listening, please hit me up on Twitter at @shelly.
Direct Download Link
I’m thrilled to announce that the new edition of my book, iOS Access for All, is ready and waiting for you right here. There you’ll find buy links, the table of contents, and many more words you can read. Get the ePub for $20.
I’m really proud of this one, and there’s a bit more new material this time than last. That’s partly due to Apple’s interface changes, and partly because I added depth to several topics. In addition to a complete update for iOS 10, you’ll find 80 pages of completely new material. I’m scheduling some dates with a few podcasters, so watch your feeds, as well as this blog for the plugs.
Learn all there is to know at the Web site, or just buy it right here.
Buy the ePub edition
Buy from the iBooks Store
I was honored to join Aleen Sims on episode #89 of her podcast, Less Than or Equal. It’s a great show, where you will meet a wide range of people, many of whom are not among the usual suspects of podcast guests (present company excepted, I guess.) We talked about the reasons accessibility is often invisible in the mainstream tech world, and why I get grumpy when I read (or don’t read) about accessibility in mainstream tech publications. I did that thing where I talk really fast, so increase the speed of your podcatchnr’s playback (Overcast is great for this) and have a listen. I would love your feedback, too.
I’m very excited to let you know that I’ve signed on as a contributor to the American Foundation for the Blind’s highly-regarded technology magazine, AccessWorld. My beats include tech products for low-vision users, and mobile stuff for both Android and iOS. My first piece is a review of the Revolution 22’, a hybrid consisting of a video magnifier and an Android tablet. It’s so much fun to be doing product reviews again!
Lately, I’ve been rediscovering my love of podcasting. For those of you who don’t know, and that includes a surprising number of friends and colleagues, I produced my first podcast in 2004, and continued to make shows on the regular for the better part of the next nine years. I have guested on many podcasts, and was active in the first wave podcasting community; the enthusiasts and semi-pros who congregated at the first few New Media Expo events. Oh yeah. And I ran Blogger & Podcaster Magazine, which sadly folded after a year-and-a-half run.
It’s weird to feel I need to summarize my podcasting resume, but I do feel that need. The real point is that after putting podcasting on the back burner as I hustled up writing work, and taught myself how to publish a book, I’m feeling drawn back into making audio.
My new show, now at episode #2, is called The Parallel: a tech podcast with accessibility sprinkles. As a consumer and a participant in both the mainstream tech journalism world, and the accessible tech community, I’m never entirely at home with the ways the two interact. My show brings these communities together for a conversation about tech that is informed by accessibility, but not dominated by it. Check out episode #1 for a slightly more detailed explanation.
Give it a listen, and if there’s anyone you think I should invite on, get in touch. The host plus two guests from different perspectives format could lend itself to some interesting conversations.
This morning, I retweeted a USA Today column by James Alan Fox, a legally blind professor. Because low-vision! Mainstream media outlet! Yay!
He writes about the experience of using airports as a visually impaired person. As I read, I ticked off each point he made, recognizing them as my own travel frustrations. I felt much more connected to this guy’s experience than I do to the usual gripes about flight delays and TSA policies. The article is mildly funny, so that didn’t hurt. I especially liked the bit about not trusting a bored teenaged kid to interpret a fast food menu to your specifications. Been there. And not just in the airport.
On reflection, I wonder whether the appearance of this point of view in the mainstream press, especially in the form of a commentary, is a good thing after all. Sure, we want people to understand how life works when you’re visually impaired, making your way in a world that imposes barriers to getting your sh*t done. But will such complaints lead to better travel experiences? And do they leave the impression that low-vision folks can’t travel effectively?
I have often said that an airport can be an easier environment for a low-vision traveler than a city street. Most people in the airport flow in a particular direction, completing steps in the same order, and following signs with arrows to numbered gates. We’re all on foot, and on unfamiliar ground, so the playing field is a bit closer to level. In the city, traffic patterns differ by road, intersection and neighborhood, and no two people aim for the same ultimate destination. Signage is random, and so are passersby one might ask for help. In recent years, smartphone apps have significantly improved the airport experience, if only in terms of providing up-to-date gate information, and providing a way to conduct transactions in an environment (the phone screen) that is accessible and tailored to your specific needs.
So is Professor Fox’s column useful? Most USA Today readers don’t design airports or those infuriating airline kiosks. And if our goal is to maintain independent travel experiences (rather than being held hostage to the whims of uninformed employees or fellow travelers trying to “help”) aren’t our efforts better spent lobbying airlines and educating architects about what does work for low-vision travelers?
I recently participated in a travel-related study; giving feedback about a system designed to facilitate independent travel within an airport. It wasn’t as emotionally satisfying to provide technical feedback as it was to cosign an article that mirrors my own travel gripes, but it’s a practical way to be a part of the change I want.
It’s an unspoken truism among people with disabilities that raising the consciousness of the non-disabled world can have unintended consequences. Cluing the mainstream in about “what it’s like for us” elicits sympathy, diminishing our stature as competent adults., and making it tougher to achieve the accommodations that facilitate independence.
If I were asked to summarize the attitude of enthusiasts toward Apple Watch accessibility, this would be my pull-quote:
“It was kind of weird for awhile, and I’m still not 100 percent sure what to expect, but everything will be awesome!”
(By the way, that’s less than 140 characters, leaving plenty of room for breathless hashtags.)
The chain of events leading to next week’s delivery of the first Apple Watches has not been without twists and turns. If you were to construct an announcement-to-ship day timeline, you might wonder what Apple was thinking, or perhaps why blind and low-vision people should be so eager to early-adopt this particular first-generation gadget. The answer, dear reader, is a simple one. Among Apple’s many assets is trust. Despite shipping delays, radio silence about accessibility features (until last week,) and in-store demo units with dimmed access settings, there’s little doubt among those I talk to that the watch will be a useful, fun, stylish, and accessible purchase. People just believe in this company.
I wrote last week about Apple Watch accessibility, mostly pointing to the first hands-on articles written by VoiceOver users. Many of our questions have now been addressed. VO is part of the watch, and so are some low-vision features, including zoom and grayscale. But during the long few weeks between watch pre-orders and watch unboxings, uncertainty obviously remains. In the larger context, that’s the point of the in-store try-on program, right? You use some combination of wrist, fingers, ears, and eyes to assure yourself that this new gadget is a thing you want, and will actually be able to use.
Last week’s first look stories told me much of what I wanted to know. But as a low-vision user whose primary interaction with screens happens through my eyes, two decidedly visual resources gave me even more clarity. Apple’s updated watch accessibility page, which I linked last week, includes great big screenshots for many watch features and apps. I mean, really big screenshots! From them, I learned that many screens use light text on a dark background; my preferred color scheme. This was welcome news, since there is apparently no Invert Colors option. Last night, I happened to see David Sparks’ Periscope broadcast of his visit to an Apple Store. His camera focused on a working Apple Watch (not the demo loop videos provided to try-on customers.) David and his companion scrolled through various screens, even responding to the questions of chat viewers, who wanted to see this or that app in action. Again, I got to see a lot of screens with easy-to-read text, along with the gestures used to manipulate their contents.
If I could leave just one mark on the tech world, it would be a giant mashup of access-focused and mainstream-focused product coverage. There’s so much we can learn from one another.
I snarked on Wednesday about the number of Apple Watch reviews, and the seemingly larger number of Apple Watch review roundups. A day or so after the big-picture coverage, we got a couple of write-ups that focused on Apple Watch accessibility. Which was terrific, and answered questions many potential watch buyers had been asking since September, and which Apple had only begun to address on its site within the past few days. (By the way, the Apple page continues to gain info and good screen shots, so keep an eye on it.)
AppleVis contributor David Woodbridge, and Steven Aquino, writing for iMore, each described their hands-on experience with the watch, compared its accessibility to iOS, and listed a number of accessibility-oriented features and options. David’s piece gives an in-depth, nuts-and bolts look at the Watch experience of a blind user, while Steven adds the perspective of someone with both visual and motor disabilities. He also attempts to place the watch in the context of how gadgets can improve people’s lives.
Both articles were great, and I’m pleased that Apple saw fit to give these writers early access to the watch. The detailed discussion of what is and isn’t accessible, and how the interface differs from iOS will make pre-ordering decisions easier for a lot of people. But as I followed the story of Apple Watch accessibility on Twitter, and in my RSS reader, I couldn’t help but notice that one of these two articles received a good deal of attention and linkage from the mainstream Apple press, while the other scored love and traffic inside the accessibility community. Even when the topic is access, it seems, there’s a weird divide between segments of this corner of the tech world.
A committee of the Maccessibility Roundtable chatted recently with Jason Snell, former Macworld poobah, and current proprietor of Six Colors. We talked about Apple accessibility, as seen from the mainstream tech world. I should note, too, that I’ve known Jason since we both worked at MacUser, back in the day. He and I covered the Internet, initially in our spare time. We also shared custody of an email server, from which we ran music mailing lists. No one from the former secretary of state’s office asked us for advice.
Outside the Box #3