Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I seriously need a cell phone: Best bets for people who are blind

by Rachel Anderson, Program Coordinator

Rachel answers many calls from individuals who contact the AT Network with questions about assistive technology. Below is a Q&A based on a call she received from an individual who contacted the AT Network's toll-free phone line (800-390-2699).

Dear AT Network,

I have low vision and have recently started shopping around for a new cell phone. Many people are recommending the iPhone, but since it has a touch-screen that I can't see well, I am confused – how does this work? Are smart phones really better than the older mobile phones for people who are blind or have low vision?


iPhone iDon’t Know

Dear iPhone iDon’t Know,

This is a popular question here at the AT Network!

Many visually impaired individuals have found the iPhone to be a revolutionary device due to its built-in features of Zoom and VoiceOver as well as the hundreds of low-cost, useful compatible apps. In fact, once the phone is literally just out of the box and set up—by turning on the appropriate accessibility option—someone who is blind or has low vision can do all of the same things a sighted person can do using the iPhone – texting, sending and receiving email, surfing the internet, or, actually making a phone call, if you can believe that!

Whether the iPhone and related apps are worth the cost remains debatable among some folks, but it really comes down to one question: Are you going to use these added beneficial features? If you are thinking about getting a smart phone, I would encourage you to research more, read reviews and talk to the people who are using them. Also, there are many inexpensive and useful apps especially designed for people who are blind or have low vision.

For example, here are just a few apps that all cost $10 or less and perform valuable tasks. The LookTel Money Reader reads your bills out loud – even when they are folded! The LookTel Recognizer and VizWiz(free) can identify items for you, and the Ariadne GPS and Sendero GPS LookAround apps can provide information on where you are as well as how to travel to where you want to go with step-by-step detail.

I’m not trying to oversell the iPhone, but I wanted to share just a glimpse of what they are capable of doing so that you can decide for yourself if this device could be beneficial to your life and independence. The multitude of accessibility features on the iDevices is one of the reasons that they are gaining such favor and popularity among blind and low vision individuals.

However, some people really just want a basic, no frills mobile cell phone with large keys, and some voice command capability to call or text their loved ones. If you are one of those people, check out this Jitterbug J Cell Phone review. Or try the Samsung Haven which operates on Verizon’s network and offers voice output of all the basic features.

For more information and reviews on apps that identify items: http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw130404

For more detailed information on Accessible Cell Phones in General: http://www.etoengineering.com/vision.htm#Voice%20controlled%20cell%20phones

For more information and a complete review of the Jitterbug phone: http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw120508

Do you know of other useful and affordable apps or mobile phones to suggest for people who are blind? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reusing AT can save lives in the developing the world

By Shannon Coe, CFILC's Reuse and Finance Coordinator

In May 2012, the World Institute on Disability (WID) made a video using pictures to tell a story about my experience with the Peace Corps.  As a woman who uses a wheelchair, I had to overcome many barriers Peace Corps created because they did not think people with disabilities can work in developing countries.  After much persistence and advocacy on my part and with the help of letters from a lawyer, it took about 2 years before Peace Corps allowed me to join.  I served 2 years in Paraguay as an Urban Youth Development Worker, and worked on disability right projects.  During my service, I did not see many Paraguayans with disabilities in the communities, schools, or the workplace.  Most of them were abandoned and confined at home because they did not have mobility devices or assistive technology to be a part of society.

Click here to view the video of my time in Peace Corps Paraguay. Click here to view the video in Spanish. 

For this reason, when I returned from the Peace Corps I wanted to volunteer for US organizations that send reuse mobility devices to developing countries.  If you want to donate mobility devices or assistive technology that isn’t accepted in your local area, please consider sending them abroad.  Here are a few organizations to look into:

Do you know of any organizations that send reuse assistive technology abroad?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Apple Lineup to Become More Disability Friendly

We found this interesting article on Disabilityscoop.com:

by Shaun Heasley

The iPhone and iPad will soon be even simpler to use for people with a wide range of disabilities thanks to a new software update, Apple Inc. officials said this week.

Changes designed to make the popular mobile devices more accessible are expected in a forthcoming update to Apple’s iOS software, the operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

A new feature called “Guided Access” will be especially beneficial for students with disabilities like autism, Apple representatives said, by helping users to “remain on task and focused on content.” The offering allows parents and educators to limit access on a device to one specific app by essentially turning off the “home” button and restricting areas of the touch screen that respond to commands. To read more
click here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Is Social Media Accessible?

by Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

First, the good news; the AT Blog is on one of the most accessible social media platforms (Blogspot).  Now for the bad news; that's not saying much.

A recent study conducted by The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and Media Access Australia found that despite the rapidly growing popularity and use of social media by  people with disabilities, the most popular social media websites remain largely inaccessible.

The report, Sociability: Social Media for People with Disabilities details research conducted in 2011 by Denis Boudreau of Accessibilité Web. It compared five social media tools against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) and created a customized percentage score of accessibility.  Of the five tools; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and the recently launched Google+; LinkedIn received the highest score of 29% accessible followed by YouTube on 18%, Google+ on 9%, Facebook on 9% and Twitter receiving no accessibility score due to every element on the website having accessibility issues.1

The report details the accessibility issues of each social media website.  While the accessibility of most is improving in response to user complaints, many still do not provide equal access for people with disabilities.  It continues to be a game of catch-up and hurdling barriers with workarounds and alternative sites.

On blogging, the report noted "Popular blogging tools such as Blogger which is used by Google’s BlogSpot, and Wordpress.com have default interfaces which are reasonably accessible."

But YouTube was singled out for its largely inaccessible video player interface.  It noted recent improvements such as automated captions (not too accurate in my experience) self-captioning tools, and alternative portals to clips such as Accessible Youtube and Easy Youtube.

Twitter, a mostly text-based application, is almost completely inaccessible to screen readers, according to the researchers.  A number of workarounds and alternative sites are included in the report.

Even the most accessible site, Linkedin, requires some alternatives to get the best results.  People with vision impairments found it difficult to search for people and to determine the correct one when they used the site's own search tool.  Users reported better results using Google to find individuals and navigating from there to the person's Linkedin page.

This Australian report, published in February 2012, is the most up-to-date study of the constantly evolving world of social media. Many of its findings and suggestions may well be out-of-date already.  But it illustrates a persistent problem with the way the Internet has evolved. Why is access for people with disabilities almost always a revision or adaptation of web applications?  Why, when standards and guidelines for accessibility are well established and readily available, are designers and engineers continuing to build inaccessible sites?  I'll address that issue in part two of this series; Chasing the Digital Divide.

What is your experience with the accessibility of social media sites? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How does the new iPad stack up against the iPad 2?

Dane Geer, AT Advocate at Kern Independent Living Center in Bakersfield, loves technology and was one of the first people in his area to purchase the new iPad. He already owned an iPad 2, so we asked him to compare the two tablet devices. Here is his review:

The major differences between the iPad2 and the new iPad are that the new iPad has a better camera with five megapixels and a higher resolution screen, dictation capabilities, 4G LTE connectivity, more random access memory, quad core GPU and is slightly heavier than the iPad 2.

As a visually impaired user, I can only see a slight difference between the displays. Using the new iPad, I have noticed quicker responses when opening applications and navigating the iOS device. I feel that unless you really need to have a higher resolution screen and the dictation feature, then iPad 2 owners don't need to purchase the new iPad. Overall, the new iPad is a very solid device and the 4G LTE network capabilities are very nice.
Do you have a new iPad or have you looked into buying one? What are your thoughts on its value over previous iPad versions or other tablets on the market?