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Last month, I wrote here on abledbody.com about a new captioning application for the iPhone that lets deaf and hard-of-hearing moviegoers follow the dialogue of almost any movie in any movie theater in the nation. Subtitles, as this app is called, was developed by Dan Walker, who did not realize that it would greatly benefit deaf and hard-of-hearing moviegoers. Movies are hardly ever captioned; deaf and hard-of-hearing people usually frequent select movie theaters that show movies with open captions or use the Rear Window Caption System, usually at specific times of day. Because I am deaf, using the Subtitles app I was able to watch “Avatar” at my local movie theater in New York City, two blocks away from my home, for the first time — even though I have lived in this neighborhood for four years. Earlier this week, Dan Walker was notified by Apple that his app violated ... keep reading »
In Apple’s rush to debut the new iPad tablet it forgot one little piece of marketing: Accessibility. Apple has an accessibility page but it didn’t bother to add the iPad before launching it yesterday at its headquarters. And even though Steve Jobs’ keynote was likely prepared, Apple didn’t bother to add captions for deaf or hard of hearing reporters, nor did it add captions to the 46-minute video broadcast of Jobs’ speech or the video “demo” of the new tablet. Sheesh. Apple knows better. The good news is that all existing iPhone accessibility features will be available on the iPad: - VoiceOver. This is the screen reader made popular on the Mac thats speaks menus, texts and objects aloud for people who are blind or visually impaired. But not all of VoiceOver’s 21 languages will be available. - Screen zoom. This will make the page or text larger. Contrast can also be changed ... keep reading »
I wonder if Intel feels sheepish right now. Here they are, thinking they’ve just launched a great new product for the blind, a mobile device that reads text aloud. Intel partnered with assistive tech pioneer HumanWare and reached out to the blind community to get their input, too. But the Intel Reader, announced yesterday, has pretty much bombed in the marketplace. At $1,500, the Reader is overpriced and doesn’t have any more bells and whistles than other devices already out there. Intel should have known this would happen — or perhaps they don’t really care. After all, if they can get schools to pay for it under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, then they’ll make money. But making products that don’t represent the needs and wants of consumers — blind or not — is anathema to what technology companies should be doing. They should be innovating along a universal design ... keep reading »
The article in The New York Times about insurers refusing to pay for speech-generating devices has hit a sore point among the disability community. Today’s newspaper reserves a section for comments from people who use these devices, including Roger Ebert, the film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times. Says Ebert: I am one of those you write about who uses a computer voice after losing the power of speech as a result of cancer surgery. After trying an $8,000 custom device with little computing power and a small, dim screen, I tried the built-in speech software on my MacBook and found it much more practical … Anyone who uses a computer and has lost the power of speech knows that e-mail becomes invaluable. It’s stupid of insurance companies to insist on an inferior device costing 10 times as much. Augie Nieto, a former fitness champion who has ALS and is well known ... keep reading »
The New York Times has an excellent, if not disturbing, piece on insurance companies that refuse to reimburse people with speech disabilities for devices that help them speak. This isn’t a new topic: Insurers argue that many of today’s speech-generating devices, which cost upwards of $5,000, can perform other non-speech functions like Web browsing and e-mail — making it more of a “fun and games” device but not a “dedicated” piece of equipment that they normally cover for reimbursement. This principle has led scores of people with speech disabilities, including those with autism or neuromuscular diseases, to try to find cheaper products on the mainstream market. Many have had success with Apple’s $300 iPhone 3G, which has a downloadable app called Proloqu2go that performs text-to-speech functions. Others choose to buy the specialty speech device with all the “fun and games” removed, which meets the insurers’ requirements for reimbursement. But is it ... keep reading »
When Apple announced a host of new features for its next-generation iPhone in March, they unveiled a few surprises, but kept the best ones under wraps. Until today, at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple revealed gigantic news: its new iPhone 3G S has a built-in screen reader for people with visual impairments — bringing this group one step closer to total cell-phone accessibility. The 3G S introduces VoiceOver for iPhone, Apple’s proprietary screen reader that speaks what appears on the iPhone display. VoiceOver lets visually impaired users make iPhone calls, read email, browse web pages, play music and run applications. TOUCH-SCREEN TECH. VoiceOver is already built into the Mac and iPod Shuffle, but for iPhone this screen reader is a whole new ball game. Calling it the world’s first gesture-based screen reader, VoiceOver for iPhone reads aloud what is touched on the screen. Users can then gesture with ... keep reading »
Today Skype launched its free iPhone application, bringing its much-anticipated Internet-based phone service to Apple’s mobile platform. Generally, this is good news, as Skype has always held appeal for people with disabilities, particularly those with physical disabilities for whom using a computer is easier –and more affordable — than a telephone for making calls. People with other types of disabilities, however, won’t fare as well with Skype on the iPhone. One issue is accessibility with screen readers on mobile devices. Skype on the desktop has been modified to work with screen readers for visually impaired persons, though there are still some hiccups, like not being able to correctly read a contact list aloud. The iPhone and other mobile devices do not yet have screen-reader capability, and in any case touch screens aren’t accessible enough to people who are blind. “The Skype iPhone version doesn’t have any of the accessibility features that the ... keep reading »
Another neat iPhone application, this time in the form of a “Talking Email Keyboard” from G.P. Imports. The software uses speech to announce each key you type on the iPhone in a clear and understandable voice, preventing the user from needing to look at the screen while typing, according to technology blog ATMac. Interestingly enough, G.P. Imports is marketing the app for sighted users who might wish to compose a message while driving! A MacWorld journalist, John Fuller, sets the record straight, saying a more efficient use for the keyboard is for the visually impaired who may have a hard time seeing the iPhone screen. This is another small step in making the iPhone — the disabled population’s best bet for a smartphone thus far — more accessible. keep reading »
The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2009 conference in Orlando is off to a great start. I attended sessions on VoiceOver for iTunes, and Apple shipped in 50 or so brand-new Macs to demonstrate speech capabilities for the iTunes library, a new accessibility feature that will be rolled out by summer. A visually impaired attendee, Adam Gaffney, who works for Florida’s agency for blind services, whizzed through VoiceOver and pointed out potential goofs. I couldn’t hear on the available earbuds so I tried to follow along somewhat haphazardly. But it’s still a very cool feature. Microsoft presented the new built-in screen magnifier for Windows 7. A nice add-in for the visually impaired, if not basic. I also attended an awe-inspiring talk by Benetech’s Jim Fruchterman, who I met several years ago when he launched Bookshare.org, an audio book service for the blind that’s essentially like Napster for books (only he ... keep reading »
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Vision Free presented awards to 19 companies and organizations for making products that blind people can use. Vision Free is led by blind musician Stevie Wonder and several organizations that promote equality for visually impaired people. Among the awards this year were National Public Radio for their accessible digital radio broadcast services initiative; Apple for adding speech capabilities to its its iPod Nano and iTunes music library; and Audible.com for providing a good web interface and enabling Audible books on several devices for the blind. In an Popular Science magazine interview, Wonder says huge advances in technology have made life easier for people with physical disabilities, but there’s still much more work to be done. “I hear manufacturers say, ‘Oh, we forgot about that,’ or ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ Well, think! Make your products a convenience for everyone. Be an all-inclusive company,” Wonder said. ... keep reading »

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