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Category Archives: Disability
When shame is deserved, it’s a good thing. It can cause us to renounce that which we should be ashamed of and make better choices in the future. But too often it is unjustified, and that’s when it becomes a destructive force. We can be free even from deserved shame by the cleansing that is available to us when we turn away from our sin and to the lordship of Jesus. He paid the price for us and took our shame.
Sometimes it’s the undeserved shame that is harder to purge. Because I know people who struggle with it, I’ll specifically address that which many feel related to their disability. I can because I’ve been there. For me it came because I believed that I was supposed to be healed. For others it may be because of the way they see disability or the way they imagine (not always without foundation) that others see them.
Shame is completely inappropriate when its basis is something you cannot change. It makes no more sense to be ashamed of disability than it does to be ashamed of, say, being of average height. I’ll ad since I am not that being ashamed of below average height is no more reasonable. On some level we probably all know that, but knowing it doesn’t help much. We still feel ashamed.
I wish I had a secret formula that I could share with the world to eliminate needless shame, but I don’t. In my own life it took decades, and when I get into awkward situations, it still shows up. What I do hope I can provide is a little incentive for anyone struggling with it to find ways to overcome it. Again I write from the perspective of disability because it’s what I know.
My wife and I have set out to minister specifically to the needs of people facing disability. We want to give from what we have been given. All of my life I have been affirmed and encouraged and never allowed to develop an attitude of disability or entitlement. This has allowed me to succeed in the working world. The more important parts of my life took a little longer to mature and I’m still growing.
The key for me was and is learning to trust in God. We repeat that until it becomes little more than a Christinese cliché, but we shouldn’t lose the truth of it. When I finally realized how little depended on me and how faithful God is to complete what He started despite my failures, I began to experience true freedom. I wrote that Jesus took our shame. He did this through His sacrifice on the cross. I was thinking of deserved shame that comes from guilt, but it is more than that. Jesus takes all of our shame. It is not through our own effort that this happens.
When we realize how much depends on God and how little on us, we realize that we have nothing to be ashamed of. At the root of unmerited shame is pride. When we are focused on ourselves, we think about what we can and cannot do. When we turn our focus to Jesus, we know that there is nothing He cannot do. His power is perfected in our weakness (2 co 12:9) and we can do anything He requires of us by His strength (Php 4:13.)
We all have a purpose. God has a mission for you, whether or not you are facing a physical disability. It may be that God wants you to share what He has given you with someone else facing the same or similar challenge. Often the best people to lead us through are those who have been there. But if you carry shame, you will not be very effective. It will cover you like a soiled garment, and it is all others will be able to see. Shame changes our behavior. We may retreat into ourselves. We may become anxious, defensive and unpleasant to be around. Why would anyone want to follow that? Throw away the worthless shame that hinders you from being all that God intended. Let Him take it from you. Live in the freedom and purpose that comes from being in harmony with Yahweh.
Yes, that’s a hash tag in my title. It’s a sign of the times. I only recently learned about it. And, no, I’m not about to talk about Twitter. I’m going to talk about two organizations who are unwittingly working together to bring about a revolution in technology accessibility for the blind. It may be my own opinion and it may not even be that well informed, but here’s what I think.
Ever since the first crude systems for braille and speech output began appearing on personal computers, two things have been axiomatic. It’s going to cost a lot, and it’s always going to be behind the curve, leaving the blind out of the latest and greatest trends in technology. Both problems are still with us, but times are changing rapidly and for the better.
Let’s start with Apple. As I understand it, it was not the first to offer some level of accessibility in its mainstream products, but it has certainly made the biggest commitment. From the Nano to the Power Mac, everything in Apple’s product line ships with full OS accessibility built in. It isn’t perfect. I’m not a Mac user, but I’ve been following some Apple forums and now know that office productivity apps such as Microsoft Office don’t work with Voiceover, the screen reader that Apple products use. That’s a rather major omission. Granted Microsoft may be part of the problem there, but Apple’s own productivity products for presentations and complex word processing aren’t working either from what I understand. I hope that’s something they will address, but still I give them credit for building so much right into their products.
I mentioned in previous posts that I recently bought an iPhone and I may never buy anything else again. Though I’m glad for the efforts Google is making with Android, Apple clearly has the lead in this area and I applaud them for doing such a good job. Knowing what I know now, I have to retract the statement I once made that if I were buying my first computer it would be a Mac. I need the ability to make presentations and do complex word processing. However, the fact that you can now buy a computer and have it work for you out of the box without the additional expense of software that may cost as much as twice the price of a lower end machine makes the somewhat pricy Mac products a good deal for the right buyer.
Is that still too much money? Enter free NVDA, a screen reader from non-prophet NV Access out of Australia. You may have to fumble along with Narrator (Windows’ rudimentary screen reader reportedly a little better in Windows 8,) until you can download and install it, but it is all many users will ever need. I have played with it before and written about it in previous posts, but it has grown a little since then. I used it for a few hours shy of a week this last time and didn’t really miss Window-Eyes, my usual screen reader that much.
In fact, the reason why I fired it up was that Window-Eyes is becoming a real pain in the backside with some pages in Firefox. NVDA handles things just fine. It’s much faster in Microsoft Word, though admittedly not as capable. Working with some applications requires navigating with the object model, which can be a little daunting, but I got used to it. Application specific configurations would cure a lot of the annoyances I did find with NVDA. Hopefully that will be something they add in the future. I definitely intend to send more donations their way in support of future development. This is a great product that is going to change the landscape of accessibility for the blind on the PC.
There may always be a niche for the powerhouse screen readers to fill. I still need Window-Eyes at work for sure and there are still a few tasks at home that I can’t do with NVDA. I wonder though how long that will remain true. The SMA I purchased a few months ago may be the last one I’ll ever need. I might just dispense with ZoomText too when that day comes. It is only the need for full-screen magnification combined with the fact that Window-Eyes is incompatible with Aero that keeps me running it now.
I have nothing against the for-prophet screen reader makers. They have performed a great service for many years. I like Window-Eyes and GW Micro, the company behind it. It would not at all surprise me if it finds a way to add value to Window-Eyes in the future that once again cements the program’s status as the only thing I would ever want to use. Now that the company has established Window-Eyes as the scripting superstar, perhaps it will turn its attention to taming the application’s increasingly frustrating behavior on web pages and updating it to use the latest accessibility standards. Of course now they also have to keep it current with Windows 8, so I can only hope the next release will bring both.
There’s nothing like competition to make products better for everyone. Between Apple and NV Access, competition just got a lot stiffer. More than ever a blind person has options. One company can’t hold a lock on the market by partnering with corporations and state agencies so that many don’t even know there are other options. The ubiquity of Freedom Scientific in the area where I live has frustrated me to the point that I contemplated trying to subcontract with the GW Micro dealer whose territory I am in to market what I consider to be a superior product to JAWS, FS’s screen reader.
I wonder what happens to the big players from here. Will all screen reader prices come down? Will they focus on specialized applications, abandoning the personal market for smaller niches and higher prices yet to compensate? Will they shift their attention to the hardware business? Will they find ways of adding value to their products such that those who can will continue to fork over the dollars for them? It will be interesting to see and I can’t help but think that consumers will benefit.
The hardware market is changing too, largely thanks to the iPhone. I now have a magnifier app that cost around $6 and replaces units costing as much as $800. One can play audiobooks on any i-device for free or just a few dollars depending on the format. E-books are slowly but surely becoming accessible. I have a $20 OCR app on my iPhone that replaces…well…nothing. Unfortunately that one isn’t working out so well, but I have hope. Specialized GPS units that cost hundreds of dollars are replaced in many cases with free alternatives, though you need to shell out a little money to get something that works well.
Like everyone else, we tend to complain about what we don’t have, but what we do have is so much better than what we used to have. I’m excited to see what the next few years bring, and thank Apple and NV Access for leading the way.
This story saddens me, but I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. We already advocate killing in the name of compassion. Why would maiming be off limits? If we don’t hack them up we’ll tell them we’ve got just the thing to help them out, and psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies will have a new revenue stream.
What they most likely need is a spiritual deliverance. My heart goes out to this man, and I pray he finds Jesus before he manages to get himself dismembered.
It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to lose a limb. But for people living with Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), it’s a burning desire that haunts them every day of their lives.
This may be short, because I’m writing it from the iPhone. On the other hand it may be long because I’m writing it with dictation. It seems to work pretty well, but it is not without problems. I just had to rewrite a sentence, taking out weird HTML tags. I’m also having some trouble with editing, though I’m sure I’ll get better at it. Cursor positioning seems to depend on which way you’re moving. I’m sure there will be mistakes in this post that I missed.
Now that I’ve used one I highly recommend the iPhone for any blind user who needs a smart phone. There is no comparison with Android. Ice Cream Sandwich is supposed to be better, but I don’t think it will touch this. Not every app works. Developers still have to mind their manners, but your chances are much better because of Apple’s controlled environment. I almost wish I had switched carriers to get one sooner.
Earlier this week, lifenews.com published the story of an elderly woman in The Netherlands who died by assisted suicide, the primary reason being that she was going blind due to macular degeneration. She was also experiencing other age related problems. This hit a little close to home and made me both angry and sad.
I am saddened because I happen to know that blindness is not a fatal illness. It needn’t have prevented her from doing any of the things she liked to do provided she made appropriate accommodation. This woman was in her 80s, but where does it stop? Did the fact of her advanced age make her life less valuable than someone who is half her age? Some would say it does. If there is any life worth more than another I think they have it backwards. The wisdom and experience that should accumulate with age make the elderly a precious resource from whom we should be learning, not discarding with the trash!
It’s bad enough that this can happen anywhere in the world, but it could have just as easily been here. Oregon, Montana and Washington have assisted suicide laws. It should not surprise us. Once we decided that the life of the unborn could be forfeit in the name of our convenience, why not anyone who becomes in our estimation more trouble than their worth? It pains me to know that many of the precious members of our church might not be here if some had their way.
Life is precious! Life belongs to Yahweh, the giver of life (Gen 2:7; Deut 32:39; John 5:24.) We have no right to take it on our own initiative, whether it is the life of someone else or our own (Gen 9:6). I for one choose to agree with God and encourage those who are struggling to find the value that He places on their lives; I will not agree with Satan, who comes to kill, steal, and destroy.
We’ve all heard the old proverb, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” It comes up any time we talk about the best ways to help the poor. Let’s add some new dimentions to the basic problem. What if the man is blind. Do you give him the fish? I fished once in my life and didn’t particularly enjoy it, but it seems to me there are no major obstacles to a blind man fishing. As long as he learns a safe way to bate the hook and has a safe plase to cast from he should be able to fish. What if a man has no arms? Do you give him the fish, or can he find a way to fish with his feet? It seems unlikely to me but if it can be done people like this guy would figure it out. What if he has no legs either? We’re running out of options, but thiss fellow might have some ideas.
My point is this. Though there are many programs out there aimed at helping people with disabilities find work, there is still a prevailing assumption that disability is…well…disabling. It would be ludicrous to say that there is no point at which a person is too handicapped to do any productive work, but I wonder Whether if we tried we might find even a little something to help many of them find a meaningful application for whatever ability they retain.
Why should it be that i, being reasonably intelligent and capable, could in the absence of income from my job apply for and receive public assistance for life just because I am blind? People rightly object to perfectly able-bodied individuals living off the backs of those who earn a living. I would be no different than they. I have been an SSI recipient. SSI is a form of social security available to those with disabilities and no other source of income. Though at the time I was on it there was a program in place to help someone wanting to work, the easy path would have been simply to take the check and any other public assistance available to me and spend my days as a loaf. It’s the worst form of self-perpetuating wellfaire. That’s not the way I was raised. I took it as a hand up, not a hand out.
Nevertheless, it still embarrasses me that I took it at all. I consoled myself with the facts that I would give it all back in short order after entering the workforce and that my family would have had it to share with me if the government hadn’t taken it from them in taxes. Simply handing out money and benefits without any expectation is destructive whomever the object of such generosity may be. Taking it away from someone else to do so is nothing but glorified theft.
I do not suggest that all such programs be immediately abolished. We need to find a compassionate way to gradually shift away from government sponsorship to agencies that will demand accountability and produce long-term positive results. The government needs to get out of the picture entirely, it has no constitutional authority to be there. Better heads than mine are needed to come up wiht details, but we all know we cannot afford to keep going the way we are.
Finally, societal attitudes need to change, and this is the hardest part. I don’t believe any human agency is capable of affecting that kind of change. We consider ourselves a compassionate people, but only so long as we don’t have to show it in person. Let the government do that. The problem is that the government can’t. It was never meant to. We are meant to do that individuals. We’ve now raised generations of people who look to government instead of God and who believe they have a right to anything they want. If we can’t change this our nation is doomed. We can’t, but God can, if we will turn to Him. This is why our churches need to be involved first in preaching the Gospel and second in practical ways of meeting needs that result in improvement and dignity for those we help.
The question we need to be asking is “what can you do?” We can start from there. People will always need our help. I will always need help in some areas. So will you for that matter, whether you face any kind of disability or not. The objective should be to build from the inside out. Allow each person to contribute whatever they are able. We have people in our church who can do little more than offer a smile, but that is not without worth. They cannot make themselves understood by those around them, but God can understand them perfectly and they can pray. I still don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I know that ideas like that form the foundation of what Linda and I are trying to accomplish. We want everyone to learn to fish, or to help in whatever way they are able.
Let me start by saying that authors and musicians have a right to be compensated for their products just as a carpenter expects payment for a piece of furniture. The fact that a song or book is now available in an easily reproducible form is not a justification for theft. It is not unreasonable that these professionals would want to protect themselves as much as they can. The reasonableness of the methods they choose is what I question.
I decided to take this on today because of my frustration with the availability of reading material for someone who is blind, but for illustration purposes let’s look at the recording industry. How well have their efforts to stem piracy paid off? I do not claim any real knowledge of the numbers, but I draw some conclusions from the state of things today.
Consider digital rights management (DRM.) It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the market has largely rejected it. Aside from Apple devotees, who are stuck with iTunes and probably not going to have a problem with the restrictions imposed on them, most of us quickly tired of the hassles of DRM. Some of us kept buying CDs. I suppose that propped up sales a little, but how many did it cost? I have abandoned the CD. I keep redundant backups of my music library, and I buy as much music as ever if not more. You can’t cherry-pick songs you like off a CD, so unless you like a song so much you’re willing to pay for the whole CD to get it, the artist makes $0. At least now they get 99¢. The few DRM ladened songs I once had got broken in the moves between computers and illustrate perfectly why I will not ever make that mistake again. I’m not alone, and even the RIA has seen the light on this, allowing companies to sell music without DRM. Apple will even sell you DRM free music now too, but at a premium. There’s no question the labels make less money now than they once did, but DRM didn’t help them.
The whole idea was to stem piracy. It didn’t really work. Though I hate to admit it, being averse to the RIA because of its heavy-handed and unscrupulous behavior in the past, the law suits it mounted against individuals and ISPs probably did more than anything else, but by no means is piracy obliterated. If people really want to steal, they will find a way. Just like locks on our doors, all the methods employed to combat piracy serve mostly to keep honest people honest.
The publishing industry is now facing some of the same issues, but I think they should consider their market. Though far fewer of us than I would like to believe would resist the temptation to acquire something for free that should be paid for, I doubt that e-books will ever face the level of theft sustained by the music industry. The something-for-nothing crowd doesn’t tend to have the patience to read a good book. If one is willing to wait, chances are good that he’ll be able to pick up what he wants at the library. Honestly, for most of the books I’ve read, once is enough. I wouldn’t put out money for them. Of the books I have purchased, only a very small number have been read more than once.
It may be that someday the e-book will drive out the printed book, and the harsh reality is that there’s not as much money to be made from the e-book. It’s no wonder that publishers are jealous of their content. However, I think that eventually they will end up in the same place as the recording industry, forced by the market to lighten up. I’m looking forward to that day, because with it should come something closer to universal accessibility than we have today.
I’m writing this on the heels of a disappointment I experienced with an e-book platform that originally touted itself to blind users as the answer to accessible e-books. The reality has fallen far short of the promise. The original roll-out wasn’t accessible. The PC version still doesn’t work with Window-Eyes. The iPhone app has problems, and the newly released Android app isn’t usable at all. Coming from KNFB, a company best known for its Nokia based KNFB reader for the blind, Blio is a surprising failure. The web site is also a disappointment. The categories are too broad and the selection too limited.
I’m thankful for what I have. Audible.com was a great leap forward, getting me closer than ever to being able to read what I want when I want. The National Library Service now provides digital audio recordings for download to eligible individuals. I have more than enough to read. However, I still long for the day when most any book I might want to read is available. Publishers only record in audio format the things they can reasonably expect to make money on. Small Christian publishers are less likely to be able to do that. The library service can only do so much, and is not likely to pick up more obscure titles. E-books keep holding the promise of accessibility just out of reach.
Ok, sorry everyone else. Today’s musings are once again related to access technology. Maybe at least that much of the blog needs to be redirected and promoted to the people it would serve best.
A couple of weekends ago I spent another day with the latest release of NVDA. Version 2011.2 finally reads Outlook 2010, and since I liked its handling of web pages in Firefox so much the first time I tried it, I decided to try it again. I was seriously considering that NVDA might replace Window-Eyes as my primary screen reader. As it turned out, the only reason I finally abandoned the idea was that NVDA still had too much trouble with some controls. Quicken was unusable, which is more Intuit’s fault than the screen readers’. Also there’s still nothing that beats the speed and responsiveness of Eloquence for speech synthesis. I purchased Ivona SAPI voices to try with NVDA, and they are the best I’ve used for speed and clarity, but they can’t match Eloquence for going really fast and still being reasonably understandable. NV Access, the non-profit behind NVDA, is looking at a deal to package NVDA with Eloquence for a reasonable price. That would definitely be a winner for people looking for speed above all. The free speech synthesizer that comes with NVDA is serviceable but worth about what it costs.
My near switch got me to thinking. The big players in the screen reader market need to rethink their approach. There will always be a need for what they do. There will always be specialized applications for which we require a powerful screen reader that can be scripted to read exactly what we need. I could not use NVDA effectively at work because I need the ability to script how text is read to me in our mainframe application. In the ISPF editor everything has line numbers and they are integral to the way one works with code. However, they really slow down reading. I need the ability to cut those line numbers out of what gets read to me. In the case of the application we use, that’s more complicated than it should be. Simple windowing should work, but QWS doesn’t reliably position things in the off-screen model even though they appear to be in the same place visually. So, I built a script to analyze each line as I move to it and excise the line number from what is read back to me. I have a toggle key so that I can hear line numbers if I want to. NVDA might become that powerful, but it’s not there yet.
I follow a JAWS user who constantly gripes about the problems he has with basic tasks. I do my own share of griping about Window-Eyes. Though I still believe Window-Eyes is the better of the two, I think they both have fallen into the same trap. They have sacrificed basic usability in favor of advanced feature sets. If the screen reader doesn’t work, it’s no good. I’m writing this blog entry in a text editor because with the release of Internet Explorer 9 Live Writer doesn’t read properly anymore and none of the various ways I can publish from Firefox directly has worked very well for several releases of Window-Eyes. To be fair, whatever Microsoft did broke NVDA too, so I can’t blame the live Writer thing on Window-Eyes. NVDA also has a little trouble now with Firefox that it didn’t have the first time I tried it. That’s probably due to the changes in Firefox. Keeping up with the latest technology has always been a problem for screen reader makers. Overall they do better than they ever have, due in part to greater awareness within the larger development community that blind people need access to their products.
The market is changing. Free NVDA is becoming a viable alternative for someone with basic computing needs. Windows 8′s Narrator will have new functionality that may give it enough power to be sufficient for many users. It appears from the elicit demo that I listened to that Microsoft took its cues from Voiceover on the Mac. The days of $600-900 screen readers being a necessary part of every blind user’s computing experience are numbered. Perhaps that is the reason for their focus on fancy feature sets. They are going to have to sell the product based on the things it can do that truly add value to the customer. Another company, Serotek, has taken this approach to a new level. System Access costs considerably less than the competition and offers additional services that blind users may find useful. I tried the program but gave up on it when it wouldn’t read menus in Firefox. I may hot have given it a fair shake, as I discovered later that Norton Antivirus was flagging it’s files as malicious and may have deleted necessary components.
I can see a day fast approaching when my home computing needs may not require the likes of Window-Eyes. I think GW Micro is a great company with a great product and a superior technical support staff, but the day may come when I simply don’t need to keep paying for upgrades. If I still need them for work I will still buy them, because our company approved screen reader is JAWS. I do not like JAWS and I do not like Freedom Scientific, the company behind it.
I have always said that the screen reader should just work. That has been one of the strengths of Window-Eyes throughout the years. The latest versions allow scripting and they do so using common languages instead of something proprietary, but the objective should be that no scripts are needed. Having said that, there is an advantage to adding functionality through scripting instead of in the base package. It allows the screen reader to be leaner. Users can add only what they need. If I’m the rare individual who doesn’t use word, I can remove the Word scripts and save memory. Window-Eyes just worked, and that’s why I stuck with it. I’m a programmer, but I’m paid to program for my company, not just to make my screen reader work like it should.
Lately that stellar reputation is getting smudged. Web pages are increasingly frustrating to work with. They constantly reload even though Window-Eyes is set not to do that. They constantly switch back into browse mode while I’m trying to edit. I have to remember to turn autoload off. The script that was supposed to fix that in Firefox only made browse mode even more unpredictable. NVDA appealed to me primarily for the one reason that it let me use Facebook’s standard home page without constantly reloading and making me lose my place. Discovering that It let me edit and even knew about new content though no reload was done. The fact that it also identified spelling errors everywhere and not just in Word was an added bonus. As I mentioned, editing wasn’t as smooth with the latest version of Firefox, but the latest version at the time was 5. I may try it with 6 and see if it works any better. My point is this. It just worked. A free program developed by one guy in Australia did a better job at some tasks than a behemoth on which I have spent probably something close to $2000 including upgrades along the way. The big players will always have their niche, but if they want to hold onto the average user, they’ve got to do better on the basics.
I’ve had my new Android phone for a couple of weeks now, and I’m finally starting to get comfortable with it. I have to give credit where it is due. Without Mobile Accessibility, it would be a lot tougher to use the phone, though certainly not impossible. However, there are a few shortcomings in the app suite/screen reader that surprised me.
First, let me step back and explain what Mobile Accessibility is. Code factory has developed a home-screen replacement which contains alternative versions of the major functions most people want to perform with their phones. If you stay within the application, all of the functions are accessible without resort to the phone’s hardware navigation keys. This is not so if you leave the app. This is a limitation of Android. Mobile Accessibility functions as a screen reader while working with the phone’s native interface or other applications. Accessibility is hit and miss here, but again that is a problem with the platform. Android provides an accessibility API, but as I understand it the developer is responsible for pushing content to it rather than the screen reader being able to extract the necessary information from the control. If that is an accurate description of the problem, I’m surprised that there are as many accessible applications as there are. See my post from a couple of weeks ago for some helpful links. What I will do here is talk through the built in functions and offer a few comments about the screen reader functionality of the phone. Doubtless over time I may learn some things that modify my first impressions. I’ll try to remember to revise or update accordingly.
Within Mobile Accessibility, everything can be done by touch. You can explore the screen with your finger and double-tap what you want, or you can swipe up and down to move between elements. Swiping left and right jumps several elements at a time unless you are within an edit control, in which case the app speaks according to the navigation setting. Triple tapping or using the menu button brings up general and specific settings to where you are, including the ability to change the navigation mode between words, characters, and sentences. Also hidden in this menu are options to check the status of your phone, get the date and time, and see system notifications. I would like to see some of these accessible more quickly, perhaps with multi-touch gestures. The system notification screen is direct from the phone, so hardware navigation is required. It seems to me this could easily be integrated. If your phone is multi-touch capable, two-fingered actions move you to top and bottom or back to the previous screen. Reading the manual is helpful, especially if this is your first experience with touch screen access. It didn’t occur to me to try two-fingered gestures until I read it.
If you are buying a new phone and know you need hardware navigation, chances are you will have a slide-out keyboard. This is a superior method of text entry, since it is faster to find and press physical keys. however, if you have a phone without a physical keyboard or for some reason don’t want to use it, Mobile Accessibility provides a virtual keyboard that works well. You can move around to hear the letter that will be typed and lift your finger to enter it. There is also a mode that makes the place where you rest your finger always be H. From there you can move to where you would expect the other keys to be. I haven’t tried this. I do occasionally use the virtual keyboard for quick corrections even though I have a slide-out. The Mobile Accessibility keyboard is selectable outside of the app for use as an input method for other applications.
You can also use voice input to enter text. Mobile Accessibility integrates with Android’s (2.2 and up) voice recognition feature, which works through Google. This takes some getting used to, but as I learn how to use it efficiently I am really getting to like it. If you are in a quiet environment where you can use it, you’ll put keyboarding to shame. And by the way, you can’t do this with an iPhone. Holding down the volume-down key and waiting for two short vibrations, you speak short phrases into the phone. It comes back with a menu of possible choices for what you said. You can move between them with swipes and use the volume-up key to go word by word. That little tidbit from the manual proved very helpful to be sure I entered what I thought. Double-tapping is supposed to select the option, but I had trouble with that. pressing volume-down also selects the current entry and I found that more reliable. The hardware navigation keys and Enter also work. You can use this feature outside of the application, though you get to it differently. I have not tried this.
The Phone as a Phone
You’re carrying around a little computer that runs circles around the desktop computer you may have used just a few years ago, but it still has to actually make and receive phone calls. At the top of Mobile accessibility’s home screen is the phone function. when you open it, you are presented with options to call by number or call by contact. The call log is also displayed, and you can double-tap any of the entries for a list of things you can do with it, including call, send SMS, etc. Choosing to dial by number brings up a telephone keypad that works like the virtual keyboard. Things break down once you have a call going. One of the first things I had to do when I got my phone was set up voice mail. Even though I used the settings screen to initiate the call, Mobile Accessibility’s call screen presents once the call is connected. all one can do from this screen is long swipe up or down to answer or disconnect a call. Yes, you can double-tap while the phone is ringing to hear who is calling. There is also an option to use volume keys to answer or end the call. The proximity sensor is used to allow the buttons to actually control call volume if the phone is next to your ear. Now here’s the problem. Voicemail wanted me to enter numbers. How am I supposed to do that? The hardware numbers on my keyboard didn’t work. I finally discovered that I could get the phone’s default number pad to come up by finding the right spot on the bottom of the touch screen, but that keypad has no accessibility. Getting it close enough to my face to see what I was doing caused the screen to go blank. I got it done, but the accessible phone pad needs to be integrated into the in-call functionality. I do not know if Android or my particular phone model could be the problem here. I do recognize the potential for issues with the program speaking over the call, but having it inaccessible is worse. That said, making and receiving calls is usually no problem. When you are calling by contact there is a search box at the top that you can use to track down the contact you want. I have not had much luck with Google’s voice recognition on this screen, but it is there.
Contacts and calendar data are pulled from the phone’s stock databases, so you can sync with Google and they’ll appear within Mobile Accessibility. You can maintain contacts as you would expect. My only complaint here is that there is no option to sort by last name, which I prefer.
SMS (Text Messaging)
Again, this works like you would expect it to. You can find a contact or enter a number. your previous conversations are shown in the log and each is grouped by contact. While you are in a conversation the incoming message is read. I have used the voice input function here, but I’m a little afraid that I might miss something really bad due to not understanding what was actually presented to me as a choice. Once a text is sent you can’t get it back. At least once some of the suggestions it brought back for what I said would have been quite embarrassing if I had accidentally chosen one of them. Review carefully. I feel better about using it now that I know how to go word by word before making a selection. It’s still faster than keyboarding.
This is a handy feature. You can set multiple alarms identified by name and have them be recurring. I have one set for Thursday mornings at 10:45 to remind me to contain the dog before the lady who cleans our pool arrives. They don’t get along.
The calendar is disappointing. What good is a calendar without reminders. I can’t find a way to set reminders on new appointments. Though the stock calendar app is not accessible, based on the settings I’m pretty sure it has reminders. I’ll have to wait until one of my saved appointments comes up to verify whether they work. Not only that, the dates differ from what’s in my Google calendar. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a problem with the program I’m using to sync up my Outlook calendar with Google, since Google and Outlook remain correct. I’m unable to see if the stock calendar app on the phone is also wrong. This may or may not be a problem within Mobile Accessibility.
The email function only accepts your Gmail account. I’m not sure why the app can’t leverage the Gmail account that the phone is set up with rather than making you re-enter this information in its settings, but once that is done it works very well. I would like to see an option to only check email when the email function is accessed. That would save data charges and battery if you don’t really need to know that you have email waiting. Unless something about Android prevents it a better option would be to rely on the built-in Gmail functionality for all of that.
To my knowledge,this is the best accessible web browser available. Given that other Mobile Accessibility features are hooked to outside functions of the phone, I’m disappointed that the web browser does not appear to be one of them. If you are using an external application such as Facebook and want to go into a web site, the system’s default browser comes up. If you install the Ideal web browser you can get limited screen reading functions, but you are never offered the option of using Mobile accessibility. I really hope this changes in the next version, or maybe there’s a trick I don’t know to make it happen. Within the browser, there are lots of navigation and reading options that can be found by bringing up the menu once the browser has started. I have not used this much yet, because the place I usually go on the web, Facebook, doesn’t work well. I don’t know where the problem is, but the whole page for the Facebook mobile site doesn’t load. I know that Facebook tries to optimize it’s presentation based on the phone model, so it could be there is a bug on their side. Whoever is at fault, the result is that I cannot see anything but the first few updates on Facebook from the mobile site and thus it is of little use. I have better results using the Facebook Android app, though it has its own accessibility issues.
Where Am I
Where Am I uses your GPS receiver to announce your current location. It can periodically report your location as you travel. I found this function to be of little value. As often as it reported correct addresses as I walked down a major street in my neighborhood, it also reported addresses from streets in the general vicinity. The accuracy was way off. I realize that is a function of the GPS receiver, but during the same walk I also experimented with Google Maps. Using the navigation function through Google Maps accurately reported where I should turn based on my location, so I’m not sure why Where Am I was so bad on that first trip. It seemed to work better the next time I tried it, using it in conjunction with navigation to give me clues along the way as to my location. It would be a much more useful app if it could identify cross streets as I approached them and get nearby business information from Google. Perhaps they plan an enhanced pay navigation app for the future. After all, their $800 Mobile Geo product cash cow is dead or fading fast.
Mobile Accessibility provides a menu by which you can get to other installed applications on your phone. You can use standard navigation functions to move through the menu or press a letter on your physical keyboard to jump to the first app that starts with that letter. Once you select an app, you’re on your own. That takes you out of Mobile Accessibility, so you’ll need the navigation controls on your phone and the good grace of the developer to use the app.
Mobile Accessibility gives you access to some basic features of your phone such as ringer type and vibration through this menu as well as settings for the app itself. For full access to your phone’s features, you’ll want to use the Settings App that came with the phone.
There are a few other things On my wish list and not yet mentioned here. I’d like to have quicker access to connectivity features such as bluetooth, 4G, and wi-fi. I’d also like to have a way to quickly turn on or off the GPS radio, since it quickly drains the battery. I suspect there are apps that can help with this. At least some of these are generally readily accessible on a phone’s stock home page, but Mobile Accessibility replaces the home page, so it needs to fill that gap.
This is a great first effort. It may sound like I’m not very happy, but I’m delighted to have gone out and purchased a phone that was basically useable out of the store. The iPhone still has Android beat for off-the-shelf accessibility, but that may very well be changing over the next year or so. I Commend Code Factory for making a way for greater accessibility in the meantime and dropping the price to something a little more affordable than their previous offerings. I’m a little disappointed at some feature gaps that shouldn’t be, but I expect the next version will fill them and add more useful functions.
Yesterday was a first. I walked into a retail store and walked out with a piece of modern technology that was blind friendly out of the box. It is a Samsung Epic 4G, otherwise known as the Galaxy S. The phone runs Android. Yes, the iPhone was first, but for various reasons both personal and practical I didn’t buy an iPhone.
I do need to qualify my claim. It was necessary for me to ask the salesperson to activate Talkback for me, which involved offering up my Google account credentials. After that, I was off and running. Android definitely has some accessibility issues, but it is useable. Add in Mobile Accessibility from Code Factory and you have a device that is easily capable of doing the things you expect your smart phone to be able to do. I should state for the record that you can manage the phone without the $97 app, but it will definitely improve your experience if you can afford it. Here’s a link that will help.
A couple of up-front tips will help the new Android user who is blind. Most importantly, you need a phone with some kind of physical navigation aid. A touch pad would do, though I imagine that would be difficult to use precisely. Physical buttons, whether on the body of the phone or as part of a slide-out keyboard, would be better. The problem is that Android does not provide a way for screen readers to implement alternative touch navigation to applications that are not specifically designed for it. The applications within Mobile Accessibility do allow for touch only navigation. Once you have it talking, another thing you will need to know is that the controls in apps are accessed by moving directionally to where they are located on the screen. In other words, moving just up and down may not bring you to all of the available controls. Also be aware that the application may not present everything in a grid pattern. It will take some trial and error to figure out how to navigate to some controls, and then you can only hope they are labeled. Android leaves it up to developers to design their apps properly. There are a few accessible applications out there. A growing collection of accessibility reviews can be found at Android Access, a site run by A T Guys, which markets Mobile Accessibility in the U.S. Their vendor site appears to be under a hack attack at the time of this writing so I won’t link to it.
My conclusion is this. Accessibility is not perfect but we have better options now than ever before. I am delighted to have walked out of a retail establishment actually using the device they sold me. The future looks bright. I’m expecting future developments to make things even better, and I’m crying no tears over the loss of my ever-crashing Windows Mobile phone.