Transcripts of Living Blindfully are made possible by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies. On the web at http://PneumaSolutions.com.
Welcome to 228
Voiceover: From Wellington, New Zealand, to the world, its the Living Blindfully podcast living your best life with blindness or low vision. Here is your host, Jonathan Mosen.
Jonathan Mosen: Hello! Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has started another social media network to capitalize on all the chaos at Twitter, (and that concerns me), standing up to e-scooters, and Shelly Brisbin talks all things Apple and the latest edition of her book iOS Access For All.
As always, it is marvelous to be back with you for Episode 228 this week.
And 228 is the US area code for Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson in the state of Mississippi. So hi, Mississippi.
I always had trouble spelling that when I was a kid. Not that I often had to, I must confess. And it’s a part of the US I have never been to. I’ve met some very nice people from Mississippi, but have not managed to make it there yet. Anyone want to give me a speaking gig or something? All expenses paid. I’d be happy to come and talk about the Living Blindfully podcast.
I’ve never been to Togo either, by the way; and Togo has country code 228. When they last checked how many people were living there in 2020, there were just over 8 million people living in Togo, and it’s received quite a lot of assistance with debt. And so it’s currently debt-free. So if you’re listening in Togo, a warm welcome to Living Blindfully.
Pneuma Solutions Arrives on Mastodon
Thank you to everybody who’s taken the time to send very kind and positive comments about the Mona tutorial. And it’s great to see the uptake of Mona and even more people making it to Mastodon. Not just people, but companies as well.
I want to give a big shoutout to our sponsors at Pneuma Solutions, who have also now made it to Mastodon in a comprehensive way, because they’ve set up their own Mastodon instance. And this is one of the really cool things about the Fediverse architecture. You can set up the software yourself. And when you follow an account that belongs to a domain name that you recognize, you can have confidence in its authenticity.
So in this case, if you want to follow the main Pneuma Solutions account, you follow
That address again, PneumaSolutions (all joined together) @social.PneumaSolutions.com.
We are now starting to see which companies actually understand what the blind community is doing, how the blind community engages with social media, and those that either don’t understand it or are not nimble enough to respond in a sufficiently timely manner. We are talking about technology, and some of these companies that are not yet on Mastodon that ought to be in the blindness space are technology-related themselves. They ought to know, they must know, that technology is a quickly moving thing. And I hope that we will see these companies on Mastodon very soon; because as I said back in episode 225, even then, it was long overdue and that was 3 episodes ago.
A Reality Check on Bluesky
While we’re talking about social media, there’s no doubt that Twitter’s implosion is leaving a vacuum and that there are various attempts being made to fill that vacuum. One of those attempts, (which has been getting a bit of attention of late), is called Bluesky. That’s how it’s pronounced, but it is all one word, and there’s no mixed case. So when your screen reader says it, it may well pronounce it as Blueski. Even its name conveys suboptimal accessibility, and there’s plenty more where that came from.
And Bluesky is something that’s been in the hopper for a wee while from Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey. They are rolling out Bluesky in a way that is designed to create buzz; because at the moment, you have to be invited onto the platform. We’ve seen this a few times before. And I think, the last time that we saw it pan out big time in the blind community was Clubhouse.
Remember Clubhouse? It is still going. They just fired half of their staff because it had its moment, and that moment has passed for most people.
I think there were a combination of things that contributed to that moment. One was this same thing that Bluesky is now doing. For a long time on Clubhouse, you had to be invited. And if there’s one thing that creates interest and a bit of mystery and demand, it is it feels kind of elite to get invited. And some people really enjoy that sort of thing, that they’ve got this coveted invitation. So there was a bit of a mystique around Clubhouse for a while.
The other thing, of course, is that many people were locked down. And being able to talk to people, just talk no matter where you were, how you were feeling, what you were wearing, was incredibly comforting. So it came around at the right time, and the invitation thing that was going on for so long certainly helped. So now, Bluesky is doing the same thing.
And who do you give the invitations to? People with massive follower counts on existing social networks politicians, celebrities, influencers. Because when all of their followers hear that they’re on this new social network, and they’re talking it up and they’re saying, “Oh, it’s great! The atmosphere here is so cool!”, people want it because all these influential people have it, and are on it. It’s very good psychology, very good marketing.
And people are calling out on other social media networks: “Does anybody please have a Bluesky invitation free, so that I can have a look at this?”. It is appealing to human instincts that are so prevalent among so many people to be on the inside, to be with the in crowd, and to have this early access.
Bluesky claims to be open at its core, but they are not based on ActivityPub. As you will have heard (if you heard my Mona tutorial in the last episode in 227), ActivityPub is an open standard officially adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium and it’s under active development. ActivityPub will improve. It’s not perfect, but the community is building it together.
Bluesky has chosen to do its own thing, citing some deficiencies in ActivityPub. And to be fair, I think they’re absolutely right about some of those deficiencies that they identify in ActivityPub. There may well be a bridge that emerges so that these two different standards can talk to one another, but it does seem unfortunate that there is another protocol that has emerged when for years, the wider community has worked on this open standard. It seems a bit proprietary, and it seems reminiscent of the kind of stuff that Jack Dorsey has got up to in the past.
It’s also going to be very difficult for Bluesky to gain any traction on its alternative protocol because ActivityPub is gaining traction big time since the implosion of Twitter started in November, 2022. I can back that up with specifics. Even Meta, the company that do Facebook and Instagram, (much to the chagrin of some users of the Fediverse), are looking at introducing a Twitter alternative based on ActivityPub called Barcelona. That’s its codename, I think. I don’t think they’re going to keep that name if it ever goes live. But that means that Meta, potentially, is becoming part of the Fediverse.
Flipboard has already become part of the Fediverse, and so has Tumblr. So on and on it goes. Every WordPress site now has the potential to become part of the Fediverse. I mean, this is the irony, isn’t it? That Freedom Scientific, for example, runs a blog. I know that because when I worked there, I set it up. It’s based on WordPress. They post training material and FSCast on that blog by installing one WordPress plugin. They’d make it available to the Fediverse, and we could all follow it on Mastodon and other ActivityPub-related protocols. It’s not difficult.
I’ve heard one or two, (frankly), ill-informed blind people trying to spread the myth that somehow, the adoption of the Fediverse is a uniquely blind thing. That blind people are moving away from Twitter in large number because of the accessibility issues, the lack of third-party apps, but that you can’t find your sighted friends on Mastodon.
Well, I can tell you that as I put this podcast together, Mastodon is now at 11.6 million accounts. It had only a million accounts or so back in November of 2022. It is a juggernaut. That is phenomenal growth.
And sure, there may be a disproportionate percentage of the actively engaged social-media-using blind community on Mastodon. I don’t deny that for a moment.
But the Fediverse is a happening thing. It’s a big deal. And one other way that you can get a glimpse of this is to listen to a recent episode of The Vergecast.
If you’re not familiar with The Verge, it’s a pretty credible tech publication. They post really interesting things and sometimes, on the Living Blindfully Mastodon account, I will share some content from The Verge because I read it a lot and it’s interesting.
They have a podcast called The Vergecast. And about a week or 2 ago, they published a very long and detailed episode on the Fediverse, and why it’s so important for us as end-users to embrace it, to seize this moment (which may never come again), to truly do social media differently.
And then here’s Jack Dorsey doing his own thing, not being particularly constructive in trying to help us build this better social networking environment where we, the end-users, are respected and in control, and not manipulated.
So am I wary? You bet your life I’m wary. Let’s not forget that this is the same person who was happy about Elon Musk buying Twitter. He thought it was a good thing. He thought that Twitter was in safe hands.
If you have suffered my podcasts all the way back to The Blind Side, (I believe it was 2017 that I did this interview), I spoke with the creator of Twitterrific from The Icon Factory. Many blind people loved Twitterrific for good reason. It was a fantastic iOS app, and it was also available on the Mac.
Jack Dorsey founded Twitter, and then he went away for a while. And he came back in 2015.
Before he came back, there was a fantastic golden age of third-party apps for Twitter. Some of them were blindness-related.
But we can also remember things like Tweetings and Tweetlist. Remember how many of us used Tweetlist in the very early iOS days? That was a great app. There was a lot going on.
Then Jack Dorsey came back in 2015, and they started clamping down on third-party apps the apps that many of us used to get a good Twitter experience.
I’ve discussed on this podcast before the reasons why it may make commercial sense to clamp down on third-party apps the fact that they can control the user experience, the fact that they can put advertisers in front of more eyeballs.
But apps became less capable. Remember Twitterrific used to do push notifications? The push notifications on Twitterrific were just as fast as the push notifications on the Twitter app. But they created an API pricing structure that was so prohibitive, that no popular app like Twitterrific could possibly pay for it.
They also took the streaming API away. Now for the non-technical, what that means is that the moment a tweet came in, you used to be able to see it in Twitterrific the instant it was available. They took that away. They made it too cost prohibitive. They made it too expensive. So you had to set Twitterrific to refresh every so often.
They essentially gutted the third-party app experience under Jack Dorsey’s leadership. He is responsible for setting the groundwork that allowed Elon Musk to decimate it.
Now has he learned his lesson? Is he a reformed character? Well, maybe. Hopefully, we can all become better people from the mistakes that we make.
Except that I know that not many people read the terms of service. They just tab to the checkbox (or flick to the checkbox, and press space or they double tap I agree), and then they hit the submit button, because they’re so keen to get on with it, especially if you’re one of those people with the coveted invitation.
But I would encourage you, if you do seek one of these invitations and get one, to read the terms of service. Because just like on Twitter, you are granting Bluesky a license to use your content. Basically, if you post to Bluesky, they are saying “The content belongs to us.”, and that has attracted the attention of the savvy tech press. There have been several articles about this. It does sound like the same old characters who got us into this proprietary social media mess up to the same old tricks again.
There are other pretenders to the throne. There is a thing called Post (which is another Twitter alternative), which is proprietary and got a bit of publicity a few months ago. And at that time, people went to Post and they said, “What about accessibility?”. And they came back and they blatantly said, “Accessibility is not on our roadmap at this time.” In other words, “Go away, disabled people. You are not part of the discourse that we are going to have.”
So what about Bluesky accessibility? Well first, let me preface these comments by making this very important point. Bluesky is not some sort of new thing that has suddenly emerged to take advantage of the fact that Twitter is imploding.
Bluesky was conceptualized by Jack Dorsey in 2019, 4 years ago. So while he may well have rolled out this alpha of Bluesky quite quickly, (and I want to talk about the alpha status of Bluesky in a little bit), he has had 4 years to plan it. And that means that he has had 4 years to ensure that accessibility is at the very foundation of Bluesky.
Are you really surprised to learn that it is not? Somebody posted this on Mastodon. It’s a copy of a WhatsApp message, presumably either from a blind person or someone with a good accessibility background. And this is what it says:
Snagged a Bluesky invite to check it out.
It is usable, but none of the controls have valid roles. You can tell what most everything does, but it is all clickable text. Things like reposts, likes, whatevers, aren’t labeled as such. They just show the numbers. So it’s pretty confusing.
Also, I didn’t see much alt text over there. But I only looked for a few seconds.
The crowd is very influency-heavy politicians, journalists, celebrities, etc.
So if that’s your bag, it might be worth following. I’m not going to, though.
Again, it is reminiscent of Twitter where disabled people had a massive battle getting a serious commitment from Twitter to accessibility. And it may improve over time. But I guess the question is, how?
Are you willing to donate not only your content to Bluesky, (basically give them the content for free that might make it a compelling platform) and on top of that, donate your accessibility expertise?
There’s a lot of talk these days in the disability community about intersectionality. It’s a pretty important thing to think about.
Well, this is intersectionality of different types of exploitation. They want to exploit your content, and they want to exploit your accessibility knowledge, (possibly, if you can get someone’s ear to make it better sometime).
Meanwhile, over on the Fediverse, there are many open projects where accessibility is embraced, where you can have direct input, and where alt text is encouraged.
In the next version of Mastodon, it’s going to be even more obvious when someone ignores alt text and declines to use it when they’re putting an image on Mastodon. And I have seen quite a few people saying to others, “I’d like to boost your post, but I’m not going to do it because you don’t have alt text on it, and I’m not prepared to boost images that don’t have alt text.”
And the good thing is that the infrastructure is there already for someone to go, “Oh, okay.”, and they can edit their post and add the alt text after, if they accidentally forgot, or somebody has brought it to their attention.
Mastodon can be a little bit geeky, and it’s certainly perceived to be a little bit geeky for several reasons.
One is just getting on the thing in the first place. And I talked about this in the Mona tutorial in episode 227. The idea of picking an instance is just something that’s too complicated for many people.
And now, Mastodon is changing its onboarding process. It’s creating a bit of controversy among traditionalists. But you will be offered Mastodon.social by default if you just want to sign up, get on the platform, and send something. And then, if you want to move to a smaller instance later, you’re free to do that. So that’s a very sensible, pragmatic decision on the part of the creator of Mastodon.
The second thing they’re doing is making discovery easier. Some people are having enormous trouble finding the people they want to follow on Mastodon. It’s got to get better if this thing is going to be the winner in all of these social media wars caused by Twitter’s implosion.
Finally, there’s the subject of quoting posts, and I made reference to this in episode 227. Quoting posts on Mastodon has been very controversial. Mastodon’s controversial decision to bow to the inevitable and allow quoting, (which is what most new users want), is causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And of course, there are other platforms on the Fediverse, so some of the purists may well migrate to them, and that’s good. Choice is a good thing. But most people want quoting, and they are going to get quoting. So some things are being fixed.
Are they being fixed quickly enough to attract some of the people that make people miss Twitter? I’m talking about journalists, or political figures, decision-makers, and even companies.
And I think, as I said when I welcomed Pneuma Solutions to Mastodon, the fact that you can set up your own instance is really good news for companies and government entities. So Mastodon’s got a big head start.
But it’s also (in some circles), got a bit of an image problem because of the complexities that some people have found when they looked at it before, even though Mastodon is now dealing with those complexities. And it is hard to shift those first impressions.
As I have said, since the penny dropped for me far later than it should have in November of last year, we have a slightly different set of things to think about. We obviously want a platform where our friends are. And increasingly, people are adopting Mastodon. It takes a while, but those numbers don’t lie.
And some sighted people that I’ve read who’ve got one of those coveted invitations to Bluesky are saying, “Oh, it’s so wonderful over there. The culture is so much better. It’s more kind of informal and less earnest, and it’s great! And we’re all just working together. And this is brilliant!”
Look. Every social media platform I’ve ever used at its early stages has that. And I was even fortunate enough to join Mastodon just early enough to experience that on there.
There was a real sense of camaraderie, a sense of, “Oh, wow! You’ve made it here, too.” It’s kind of like having taken refuge from something horrible, and we’re all starting to congregate in this new place. We’ve made it to the other side. It’s great.
What inevitably happens with social media is critical mass. We want the people over there. But then when they get there, we kind of resent it because it feels slightly larger and less personal.
And inevitably, you get the toxic people who make it to this new platform, who you were hoping to get away from when you left the last platform. It’s a vicious circle.
And the thing is that because of the invitation nature of Bluesky, some of those people aren’t there yet. But when it opens up, they’ll be there, too.
Not only that. But because Jack Dorsey clearly sees some potential in the current state of flux, (and that’s a sensible entrepreneurial thing to see), he’s released this thing very much in an alpha stage, and people are starting to come in there.
At the time I’m recording this, there’s only about 50,000 compared to 11.6 million on Mastodon. But that may well increase quite quickly.
The trouble is, there are no moderation tools. There’s no ability to block anybody. So as the net spreads and more people come to Bluesky, you are going to find people that you’ve blocked in the past that you can’t block there. I imagine they will try and take care of that quite quickly. So we need to think very carefully about the underlying philosophy and technology of what we’re using.
As a community, it’s so critical that we support a platform that is truly open, where there’s a robust API, where third-party developers can build great tools that are accessible and help us thrive.
And I hope, as a community, that by and large, we will vow that never again will we allow our access to social media, our access to the town square, our access to public discourse, to be at the mercy of 1 or 2 individuals, or even one single entity.
That is the beauty of the openness of the Fediverse. Even if you don’t like the direction that Mastodon is taking, (And I do. I think it’s more inclusive.), you can go somewhere else other than Mastodon that uses ActivityPub, and you won’t necessarily lose the connections that you’ve already made.
That’s the way social media should be about choice, about openness, about interoperability, about you owning your data.
So never say never. You know me, I can change my mind if a piece of technology meets my needs for some reason.
You know, if I found that Android would better meet my needs for some reason, I would drop my iPhone tomorrow.
I don’t believe that technology is a religion. We shouldn’t be wedded to one particular thing just because we’ve always used it.
We should always be evaluating what suite of technology tools best meet our needs.
But at this moment, it would take a lot of persuasion for me to trust Jack Dorsey with my social media content.
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Those Dreadful e-scooters, A Canadian Perspective
Voice message: Hello, Jonathan, and what do we call the listeners now? Living Blindfullyers? Living Blindfliens? I’m not sure. There’s a contest for you.
This is David Lepofsky in Toronto, Canada.
I’m taking Jonathan up on an issue he recently raised, and that is the issue of electric scooters.
As a blind individual living in Toronto, as a lawyer, (now retired), and a part-time law professor, and as a disability community rights organizer and advocate, I have been very active over the past 3 years advocating against allowing electric scooters in public places in the province of Ontario.
Now previously, they were just illegal. But unfortunately, in the summer of 2019, at the behest of the corporate lobbyists for the e-scooter rental companies (and they are all over the place in other jurisdictions), our Ontario government refused to listen to us and just said, “Hey, municipalities. You can do a pilot project over the next 5 years of allowing e-scooters with minimal safeguards built in.”
What’s happened is a bunch of us who advocate for disability rights, including the rights of people with vision loss, banded together to oppose this. We oppose it for multiple reasons. I’ve appeared before committees of municipal governments in Ontario, in Toronto, in Hamilton, in Mississauga, Brampton, Ottawa, London, (and probably somewhere else that I can’t remember), over the past couple of years.
And our argument is this. Electric scooters are a silent menace that endanger us all. They race along, ridden by unlicensed, untrained, uninsured, unhelmeted joyriders. They could be racing in excess of 24 kilometres an hour. You don’t know they’re coming if you can’t see, because you won’t hear them coming. And frankly, you won’t know if they’re coming if you can see and if they’re coming at you from behind.
They really provide 2 dangers from a perspective of vulnerable people with disabilities, seniors, little kids, and others.
The first is that as a silent menace, they endanger us because they could hit us, send us flying, or they could be left lying on the sidewalk and therefore, a tripping hazard.
The second danger is for people with mobility disabilities. If they’re left lying on the sidewalk, they can block safe passage by somebody using a wheelchair or a walker.
So we see allowing electric scooters as creating new serious safety and accessibility barriers against people with disabilities.
Now some have thought that, “Well, why not just allow them on the roads but ban them from sidewalks?” Well, what we know from research from all over the place where they’ve been allowed, and from our own experience is that you ban them from riding them on the sidewalks, and people ride them on the sidewalks anyway.
And at one level, you can understand it because if you’re on an e-scooter, you’re a sitting duck if a car or a truck hits you, so you’re going to decide, “Well, it’s safer to ride it on the sidewalks.”
But not only that. We know that people don’t have to worry about enforcement, because most cops aren’t going to be stopping and arresting people or ticketing them for riding on the sidewalks, so they know they can get away with it.
Now, some people might say, “What’s the difference between an e-scooter and a bicycle?” And our answer is: For one thing, a bike makes some sound. For a second thing, you can’t get up on a bike if you’ve never ridden one before and within seconds, throttle up to 20+ kilometers an hour and become a hurtling projectile. The third thing is the slower you’re going, the less injury that an impact could cause. In other words, if somebody is riding a bike and they hit you at 8 or 9 kilometers an hour (and that’s going to hurt), it’s not as dangerous (though it is dangerous), it’s not as dangerous as somebody hitting you at 20 or 30 kilometers an hour. The other thing that we’ve pointed out is that these laws, (even when they put in restrictions), they’re not readily enforceable even if they’re cops. You get hit, you go flying. How do you identify who the person is who hit you so that they can be prosecuted or sued? If all your identification is, (if you were sighted), is “Oh, somebody was racing away. I saw them from behind. They were like wearing jeans and a jacket.” That doesn’t prove anything. If of course, you’re blind, good luck. How are you going to identify them at all if you’re hit and you go flying?
Some have argued that, “Oh, these are great. They’ll reduce traffic and they are good for the environment. They’re going to be good for concern about climate change.” Nice try, but doesn’t actually turn out.
Turns out that most people who ride an e-scooter (according to studies we’ve seen) are people who would have been walking, which is not bad for the environment, or would have been on public transit. So it’s not really taking people, in a significant way, out of cars.
Not only that. But if we’re trying to reduce traffic on the road, having somebody darting in and out on an e-scooter on the road, in traffic, with a speed limit that’s lower than the speed limit on the road, is going to actually create traffic problems, not reduce traffic problems. It’s bad.
Why is this going ahead anyway? Well, what we’ve found is that the corporate lobbyists for the e-scooter companies are backed, I guess, by a lot of money. And they are everywhere, pushing their product.
Now, the good news is that at least in 2 of Canada’s biggest cities, the e-scooter rental companies were told, “No, thank you.” Montreal tried allowing them, and then decided it wasn’t working and said, “No, thanks.” Toronto was on the verge of allowing them, until we organized and in a major victory, we got Toronto City Council first a couple of years ago to say, “No, we aren’t going ahead till we get a report on the insurance impact and on the impact of people with disabilities.”
Toronto, which is Canada’s largest city, had its staff prepare what were 2 excellent reports that showed that the problems presented by e-scooters are real, that the dangers to people with disabilities are real, and that the e-scooter companies don’t have any effective solutions. More about the solutions in a minute.
The result was that our city council voted 2 years ago unanimously to say no to e-scooters, not to allow the pilot.
Now, the problem we’ve got in Toronto is that while the rental companies weren’t allowed in, there are any number of people who are actually riding e-scooters that they privately own. It’s illegal, but the city is not enforcing the law in a serious way.
So we’ve still got a battle ahead of us, and we know that the e-scooter corporate lobbyists are out trying to push politicians to reverse their decision.
A number of other cities in Ontario, Ottawa being the worst offender, have allowed this to go ahead despite serious disability objections. And when we’ve read the report, (and I’ve read most of them from city staff, the municipal staff), let’s just say there’s a remarkable coincidence that they sound a whole lot like the arguments that the e-scooter rental companies make. And the disability concerns are not ever disproven, they’re just kind of marginalized.
Now, what happened in Ottawa was when the disability community were raising a number of these concerns, the e-scooter companies came out and said, “Oh, we have solutions. Get ready for these.” They said, “We’re going to put a beeping sound on the e-scooters.”
Now, most places don’t have them, and they’re certainly not on the ones you buy. It would only be on some that are rented, so it’s not a total solution.
But when they brought together a number of people with disabilities including people with vision loss to test out the beeping to see what they thought of it, they picked the best of the worst of a bunch of lousy options, but none of them were good enough. None of them were loud enough so that they would be heard, oh, let’s say over trucks going by, or a lot of traffic noise, or so on. So it’s a way to look like they’re solving it when they’re not.
Another idea they came up with, (I’m not joking), an e-scooter company came up with, (I don’t know if they actually are doing this or not), but an Ottawa City staffer actually urged it as a good solution, is so that a blind person could know what to do if there’s a problem with an e-scooter rider, having a Braille marking on the e-scooter of a phone number you can call.
So what does this mean? Either an e-scooter goes whipping by, so a blind person is supposed to run after them at 24 kilometers an hour, groping to find the Braille? Or somebody leaves the e-scooter lying on the ground so that you go tripping and flying over it, and then you’re supposed to crawl back and start feeling all over to see, “Oh, it’s an e-scooter. I wonder if there’s a Braille marking on it?” I’m not joking. I’m not making this up. This is actually what some people actually proposed.
They claim that they’ve got geo-fencing to track where these e-scooters go in a place where they’re not allowed. But as far as I know, GPS is not precise enough to shut an e-scooter down because it goes 10 inches one way on the sidewalk versus 10 inches the other way on the road.
I should mention that some municipalities have talked about only allowing them to park them in certain areas, but how do we enforce when they don’t?
Or others have said, “Lock them to a pole on the sidewalk.”, which again means a barrier you could run into.
Either which way, what that all means, (any of these options), is that our sidewalks, which the public funds for people to walk on, are becoming a free parking lot for these e-scooter rental companies to make money.
What’s the solution? Solution is not to allow them in public places because there is no effective enforceable regime for regulating them that anybody has proven that works.
The other solution is effective enforcement of the law. We’ve looked for other alternatives because people have said, “Isn’t there a better way to at least allow them and regulate this?” But in community after community, it’s been proven that it just doesn’t work.
You want to learn more? Two things I’m going to offer you. One is we have an e-scooters page on the website for the coalition that I am the volunteer chair of. It’s got a long name, but a short URL. We are the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. I’m the chair, David Lepofsky, on Twitter, @DavidLepofsky, D-A-V-I-D-L-E-P-O-F-S-K-Y. Our coalition is @AODAAlliance on Twitter.
But our website has an e-scooter page. Just go to www.aodaalliance.org/e-scooters and you will see all of the briefs we’ve submitted. You can see a number of the reports that have been filed on this by municipalities where we’ve gotten a hold of them and our critiques of them when they ignore or marginalize our concerns. You can see a report that we made public where we went through the Toronto lobbyists registry and showed the feeding frenzy of corporate lobbyists trying to get City Hall to allow e-scooters, a feeding frenzy that we somehow managed to overcome. You’ll see action kits on strategies we’ve used to try to oppose them. And you’ll see a collection of 25 news articles from around the world that some of my volunteer law students pulled together, showing the kind of literal horrible injuries and even deaths that e-scooters have caused to others, to innocent pedestrians, and to e-scooter riders.
We basically said, look, enough is enough. It’s wrong for people with disabilities to have to sob all the way to the emergency room while the corporate lobbyists are laughing all the way to the bank.
Want to let me know what’s going on? Best to write us at
And by the way, just to plug, I want to applaud the great work that Jonathan is doing. I’m proud to be one of your Living Blindfully plus folks and I encourage others to do, if they can, the same thing.
Voiceover: On Living Blindfully, we hear the opinions of blind people from all over the world.
So why not share yours?
Drop us an email. You can write it down, or attach an audio recording. firstname.lastname@example.org
Email us today.
Or if the phone is more your thing, phone our listener line in the United States: 864-60Mosen. Thats 864-606-6736.
the Police’s Engagement With Blind People
John Riehl is writing in, and he says:
Just listened to Episode 226, and wanted to respond to your question about interactions with the police.
I’ve had several interactions with the police over the years, (not as a criminal)
I’m glad we cleared that up, John.
and all of them have been very professional.
When I lived in an apartment, I was robbed twice while I was at home. One occasion was at night. The thief took some money from my desk drawer and left.
The police came and took my statement and were very professional about it. The second time, I got out of the apartment and the police actually found and retrieved stuff the thief had taken and hidden in the woods behind my building. Again, very professional.
I’ve also reported several incidents in my neighborhood over the years, including hearing shots fired early in the morning. Each time, the cops came and took my statement, and my blindness was never an issue, except I had to remind them that I was blind and hadn’t seen anything.
On one occasion, I called the police because I thought a new Perkins Brailer I received in the mail had been stolen. The cop who came looked around but couldn’t find the package, so he took my info. I later found the package myself under the bushes by the door where the mailman had left it. It’s quite possible that it would be a completely different ball game if I were to be attacked on the street. Hopefully, I never have to find out.
Love the new podcast, which is pretty much the same as the old one.
Thank you very much, John, and I’m really glad that you shared those positive experiences because it’s important for us to record the positive as well as the negative.
Caller: Hello, Jonathan! This is Jane Carona from Silver Spring, Maryland. I could say, “Hello, Mosen at Largers”, but I guess we’re not Mosen at Largers anymore. We’re Blindful Livers, or something. That sounds very strange. Anyway, we’ll have to find out what we can call ourselves.
I just finished all six episodes of “What Happened to Holly Bartlett?”. Thanks to Bonnie for mentioning that on the last episode, which I got early since I’m a plus member. Yay!
But I had an experience with the police not being as diligent as they should have been.
In 1980, I was hit by a bus. I was crossing the street with my dog. We were hit by a bus. It turned in front of us. He says he didn’t see us, apparently.
But the police never talked to me. The police report, which I got from someone who worked in the police department, said, I read the police report and it said that blind people just don’t know how to cross streets, which is not the case. So I never talked to the police. The bus driver never talked to me. So it happens.
I don’t know what they think, how we got to where we are in our adult lives without being a competent human being. But that was my experience. So thank God it never happened to me again. But I was very frustrated with the police during that incident. They never did talk to me.
Jonathan: That sounds like an appalling experience you had there, Jane.
In New Zealand, if we had something like this happen, we could go to the Independent Police Conduct Authority, and that is run by an entity which is independent of the police. They will do a thorough investigation.
And one would hope that a situation like that would be remedied, that you’d get an apology, that there would be a proper investigation. But of course, who can say? Because expectations are so low, so widely, that it’s the luck of the draw whether you’ve got somebody who realizes that blind people can and do live full, rich, independent lives.
Jenny Axler From HIMS Responds to Recent Feedback
One aspect of living blindfully that I’m particularly proud of is that not only do we hear from blind people from all around the world about issues that we’re facing, product recommendations, whatever it may be. But we also have the ear of many key people in the blindness community, including the people who make the products that make such a positive difference to our lives.
And I can tell you that there are a number of companies who don’t choose to respond publicly on this podcast, who listen and take note of what you’re saying. And I take that responsibility extremely seriously. If a company’s been mentioned on the podcast, they are always welcome to a right of reply.
And it’s in that spirit that I read you this email that’s come from Jenny Axler from HIMS. Jenny writes:
Hello, Jonathan and all,
I would first like to make it clear to your listeners that I work for HIMS at the headquarters in South Korea. Thus, I do represent the company.
However, I’m writing for two distinct reasons. I would, of course, like to address some of the specific recent comments on the SensePlayer directly from the manufacturer. But I would also, on a personal note, like to make some general comments about reporting feedback to any company about any product. I will refer to previous comments on the show.
However, please know my intention isn’t to call anyone out or criticize their comments. But in order to make some of these points in practical terms, it will be more effective to refer to examples listeners are familiar with.
First, let’s talk about some of the recent feedback you have received. I’d really like to thank Vaughn for his fair review of the device. He also reported his feedback to the dealer in Australia. And I believe, much of what he has requested and/or expressed concern about in terms of dealing with audio book files will be addressed in release 2. The same is true for Brian Hartgen’s requests.
Regarding the headphone issues, let me first assure you all that this was fixed internally before we even received public feedback about this, so is sure to be in the first patch update for the player. I do also, though, want to make it clear what the issue is, as I don’t think this has been explained well. This happens only when booting from a complete shutdown when headphones are connected. This will not happen when waking from sleep mode as is usually the case in daily use, just as it is with your cellphone. Most people just put it to sleep rather than shutting it down completely. And in that case, this will not be a problem.
In regard to Brian’s feedback on the quality of the audio at faster speeds, we did reply and let him know that we were exploring other solutions. And that we would likely have a fix by the summer upgrade with the mobile screen reader, if not sooner. He chose to return the player and that is absolutely his right.
However, we have in fact, found a more modern module to address this issue, and will do so as soon as possible.
Brian also sent additional feedback. Some of the fixes for which were already in process, and the rest which comprise very minor, easy adjustments which we will also make.
Finally, in regard to Ali’s comment on why he returned the player, I have no idea what his issue with the daisy player navigation is. We haven’t heard one word about this. And while there was reference to a previous episode of this podcast, I don’t know which one.
And this is a perfect segue into the personal comments I’d like to make. There is a saying that worrying is like rocking in a rocking chair. You may feel like you’re doing something, but it’s not getting you anywhere. Complaining about something on social networks and podcast forums without also contacting the company with which you have a concern is equivalent to doing the same thing.
These are great places for people to gather, share information and impressions, etc. But I cannot understand why I find, time and time again, strongly worded threads on social networks and other forums on problems with our products that we’ve never heard about. And it happens more and more as these forums become more popular.
While my comments will reference HIMS and SensePlayer-related material, I view this as a general issue that applies whether we’re talking about the new Victor Stream, the SensePlayer or any product from any company.
Social network threads, no matter how explosive or viral, are not equivalent to providing direct feedback, as you cannot guarantee in any context that your feedback will be seen by the company in question.
To return to Ali’s wish for Daisy player navigation, I cannot say if we could address it or not. But chances are highly possible that we could. But one thing I can guarantee for sure. It definitely won’t happen if we don’t know anything about the request.
I think, even the host of this show will agree that if you do want to be an effective advocate for improving the products you use, you need to contact the companies directly. That doesn’t mean you have to attack with guns blazing. Remember, we don’t know that you want something if you don’t ask. And sometimes, it really is as simple as making a request.
Not to pick on Brian, but you all are familiar with his comments so it is a good reference point. In his case, it was, in fact, as simple as making a request. And despite the fact that he has returned his player and purchased a Stream instead, his feedback is still being acted on.
Something else to remember in this case, although this is central to his use of the device. What you request may not be as central to the general market as you might imagine. Don’t assume negligence on a company’s part just because something important to you isn’t as you think it should be. It may be a situation where things are a work in progress and improvements are already planned, or it may be a situation where it hasn’t been previously brought to our attention. Best to ask before making assumptions.
For example, here are just a couple of reasons why playing audiobooks at speed may not come up as an issue: 1. with the advent of libraries like Bookshare and Kindle, as well as more high-quality TTS voices, many more people are reading with TTS rather than with human narrators so as to save storage space, download times, etc. 2. Users often use popular apps like Bard Mobile or Audible to read human-narrated audio, which have their own speed controls and modules.
Either way, while I have been personally aware for some time that our speed control library could use some modernization, it hasn’t been reported as a customer issue. Thus, it has not been a development priority.
When any new product reaches the wider market, it highlights contingents of said market that it will not be serving as well as it could. But a responsive company, when it realizes such things, does remedy the situation where it can.
In general, I don’t think we realize that we had such a sizable contingent of users who continue to regularly use traditional audiobooks. However, as it seems we do, we will of course address those related issues. Again, all that was necessary was for them to be brought to our attention.
For both HIMS and Humanware, this is release 1. Now is the time to tell us what you think and want. We don’t often know the best way to shape and enhance what we do until something gets out into the wider market. This is the case with any company and any new product.
Consider any product or software you’ve owned particularly in regards to accessibility. Think about where these products were when they were released, and where they are now.
I can tell you, as someone who works for a manufacturer, that most of the development priorities for enhancing existing products come from user feedback. And the more users request something, the higher priority it receives. Sure, we try always to be innovative and think up new ideas. But the largest share comes from user requests and suggestions.
Also, remember HIMS is based in Korea and may not always be as aware of what is important to all international markets at the outset. But I can second what Earle said about the implementation of customer feedback. HIMS is one of the most responsive companies I know of in this regard.
However, I genuinely believe that all accessibility companies have an interest in doing everything they can to help us get the most from their products. I don’t think they would be in the business if they didn’t.
So whether you use a Victor Stream, a SensePlayer, a BrailleNote Touch, a BrailleSense, a Braille display (with an uppercase B, I must say),
That’s good news [laughs]
screen reader software, mobile apps, etc., (more than you may think), if technically possible, improvements are a matter of asking what you want. Not always, of course, but often, it is truly the case, even if it takes longer than you would like.
And also, please remember in terms of both the Victor Stream 3 and the SensePlayer, we’re dealing with release 1. The Stream 3 isn’t even available yet in some countries. Accessibility companies usually have limited development resources due to the nature of what we do. But we are all committed to creating accessible products.
So please, if you have something to say, ask us directly for what you need and want, but also allow us some time to make it happen.
One last thing I’d like to ask. Be careful in terms of what you speculate on publicly. It’s not fair to any company for you to mischaracterize or over-speculate on their intentions, thus stirring up resentment or controversy for issues that may already be in the process of being addressed.
If you don’t receive a response, or if you receive a genuinely negative one, okay, shout it from the rooftops and make all the waves you want. But if you do receive a response, share the exact response, not just what you assume it means. Speculate all you want, as long as you share the original, which will allow others to interpret it as they would as well.
I really feel that the world has enough drama. And while it may sometimes be necessary to stir things up to get things done, it doesn’t always need to be the first response.
Give all companies, (not just HIMS, and not just accessibility companies), give all companies the benefit of assuming they will work with you, until you know for sure that they won’t. There is just simply no reason to create complications and drama that don’t exist. And doing so may actually hinder the productive forward movement you might otherwise promote with effective proposals for improvement and enhancement.
If you wish to provide feedback on the SensePlayer or other HIMS products, please contact the dealer from whom you purchased the product or email us at HIMS, (and then I will spell the rest of the address @S-E-L-V-A-S-H-C.com.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Thanks very much for writing in, Jenny. Appreciate it.
Ali’s comments on the SensePlayer, were by and large very complimentary. He was excited about his new device, were in episode 219. So you can go back and check the audio or the transcript.
And as I understand it, his comment is that there are so many ways to navigate by different levels and by different time increments that it can be difficult to get to the ones you want. And he wanted some degree of control over the granularity there.
You make a good point regarding engagement with companies. I always find that if a company is willing to engage, if they’re willing to respond to you, have a dialog with you, obviously you’re going to get a much better, more constructive response if you approach the company constructively. And I always believe that you should always assume goodwill until you have incontrovertible evidence otherwise.
And so obviously, in the case of Brian’s feedback, he clearly wrote to HIMS and explained the problem clearly and said look, for him, this is a showstopper. And HIMS has now responded (much to HIMS’s credit, I have to say).
So as long as that climate exists, there’s a partnership there. There’s a dialog. And together, if you feel like you’ve got an investment in the product, (and that doesn’t mean that you will get every single feature that you asked for). But if you can have the dialog and someone can say to you, “Look, we’ll add this to the list, it’s not a high priority.”, or “Yes, we’ll get this fixed. This is a nasty bug. We apologize. It’s coming very soon.). Then I think people feel like they’ve got an investment in this thing, that they are helping to build it. And that does build loyalty.
Sadly, not all companies are like this. And that’s where frustration is, I think, justified.
Not to mention any names, of course, but Apple. You can send all sorts of feedback to Apple. Multiple people can send feedback to Apple about serious degradation, serious things that impact your productivity, and basically not get any traction whatsoever. And that kind of ghosting is contemptible. And as you put it in your email, shouting it from the rooftops at that point is highly appropriate because we depend on these things.
But sure. I don’t own any HIMS products myself, actually. But if I were to engage and find I’m getting that kind of dialog, then I’d be satisfied with that.
So good for you to write in. I’m sure people might have some comments on what you’ve had to say. And if you would like to offer them,
is how you can get in touch. You can attach an audio clip to that email if you want, and let your voice be heard. Or you can write the email down. You can also call the listener line in the United States. It’s 864-60-Mosen, 864-606-6736.
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Extremely Sluggish ZoomText
This email says:
Hi Jonathan and Living Blindfully people,
This is Pauline from Sunny Tower, just down the road from Mosen Towers in Johnsonville.
Well, Granada Village, actually. but you know, it’s close enough to Johnsonville, Pauline, so I’ll give you that one.
I did it. I managed to join Living Blindfully plus. This may not seem like much of an achievement, but as a technically challenged, partially sighted person, I’m rather pleased with myself.
I use Overcast as my podcast player. And I admit once getting the RSS feed, I then had to use Google to find out how to paste that feed into Overcast. And hey presto, it worked.
Well done, Pauline, and thank you so much for your support. Really appreciate that.
And actually, there are some instructions on
pertaining to Overcast, but they are actually quite voiceover centric. So that may have been an issue if you’re not a VoiceOver user.
On another matter, I’ve been meaning to write something for a while now. As I have already said, I have some vision, and I’ve always gotten by using magnification software and reading print.
Although increasingly, I’m using various text-to-speech functions, especially when I have to read a long document. And when I’m reading for pleasure, it’s usually a talking book and sometimes Kindle so I can blow up the text to a reasonable size.
Oh no, I don’t think she means blow it up like that.
For the past 30 years (and yes, that makes me feel old), I’ve been using ZoomText magnification software and I’ve loved it. I wouldn’t hear of using anything else. It always worked well for me.
I lived and worked in England very successfully using ZoomText for nearly 20 years.
Then in 2018, I returned to New Zealand. And all of a sudden, ZoomText became a real pain to use. It worked just fine on my home computer. But at work, when you were on a system that has a lot of other heavy duty programs that need to run, suddenly, I had problems.
The computer crashed all the time. Writing email was slow and laborious because it took so long to open a message. And then, there was a time lag between me typing something and those words appearing on the screen. Opening programs such as MS Word would take an age, and my productivity at work plummeted as my computer took so long to perform the most basic task and would frequently crash.
This was incredibly stressful for me, and I couldn’t figure out the problem. There were days I’d leave work at the end of the day in tears.
I wondered if the computer was faulty, but it wasn’t. We got a computer with more memory, but that didn’t really resolve the problem either. We wondered if it was the hub or docking station that couldn’t cope with the load.
This was incredibly stressful. I pride myself on my effectiveness at work. And suddenly, I was really struggling.
Eventually, (and not because of the software issues), I changed jobs, and I made sure I asked my manager for a computer with more than average memory, which I was given.
But still, the computer was frustratingly slow. And once again, it impacted my work. Using email is very slow, and opening any program (I could pretty much press open, go make a cup of tea, and it might be working by the time I got back).
Finally, a couple of blind friends said to me, “Pauline, I think it’s ZoomText. I don’t think it works very well with the latest version of Windows. Why don’t you try SuperNova?”
Eventually, I was convinced, and I got SuperNova.
And what a difference it made. It has a few bugs, too. But by and large, it’s working much better, and I’m not having to put up with the computer being on a go slow.
My effectiveness at work has increased. Hooray!
I know that most people who contribute to this podcast don’t use magnification, but I wondered if anyone else has experienced this problem?
I also wanted to share it in case other people, like me, didn’t know what the issue was, and have wondered why their computer user experience has become so awful and are just struggling on as best as they can.
I still like ZoomText, and it still works fine on my home computer. But it’s going to have to improve significantly before I ever go back to using it at work.
Pauline, I’m so grateful that you sent this in. Yes, we do tend to be a bit blindness-centric on this podcast. But we have many low vision listeners, and it’s important we reflect their issues, too. And obviously, as someone who’s totally blind, I have no direct experience of ZoomText. But I would be interested in any feedback from other listeners on this issue.
is the email address. You can call us 864-60-Mosen in the US, 864-606-6736.
And when we get an email like this and I know that I’m likely to get a response, I will reach out to the company concerned to see if they’d like a right of reply, and just give them a bit of a heads up because I think, that’s constructive, and polite, and all those good things.
So I reached out to Ryan Jones. He’s the Vice President of Software at Vispero.
And he responded with this:
Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with ZoomText and your work computer. I appreciate your loyalty over the past 30 years, and I’m sorry to hear about the issues you’ve encountered.
Your feedback is invaluable, and I want to make sure we address your concerns and find out what is going on.
Firstly, I understand how frustrating it can be to deal with a slow and unresponsive computer, especially when it impacts your productivity at work. I am a JAWS user myself and can relate to the challenges of dealing with both the assistive technology software and the productivity software we all need in order to do our jobs. I apologize for the struggles you have faced with using ZoomText, and I want to assure you that we are committed to continually improving it and providing the best possible experience for our users.
Based on your description of the issues, it seems there might be compatibility problems between ZoomText and your workplace computer’s configuration or other software programs. Factors that often affect performance include the ZoomText version, video driver installation, antivirus software on the machine, and your system policies that might unintentionally impact ZoomText.
I understand that you have recently switched to SuperNova and experienced an improvement in performance.
While I am glad to hear that you have found a solution that works for you, I would appreciate the opportunity for us to help you resolve the issues with ZoomText and regain your trust.
If you are open to giving ZoomText another try, our technical support team would be more than happy to work with you and your IT department to diagnose and resolve the issues you’ve experienced.
You can email me, and I will make sure to get you connected with the right people on our team.
Again, thank you for sharing your story, and I look forward to helping restore your ability to use ZoomText at work.
So that’s a great response from Ryan Jones. I’ve passed the details on to Pauline, and we will see if anything comes of it.
Hints on NVDA and Braille
- doo doo doo doo! No, it’s not the airport. It’s NVDA.
Hello, Jonathan and community,
Thanks for introducing us to the Living Blindfully concept so thoroughly, Jonathan. Good luck with this new version of the Endeavor.
Thank you, Imke, and thank you also for your Living Blindfully plus support.
In episode 221, a listener mentioned having trouble reassigning keys on the Brailliant BI40X, I believe, when using NVDA.
While I use a different Braille display, I’m wondering whether the listener has tried to use the input gestures dialog box in NVDA to change the assignments.
- Start NVDA with your Brailliant connected to the computer and turned on.
- Press NVDA+N to enter the NVDA menu.
- Press P to enter the Preferences submenu.
- Press N to enter the input gestures dialog.
- Your focus should now land in a tree view that lists different categories of commands. In my version of NVDA, Braille is the first category. If your focus is not there, use the tab key to reach the tree view and press B until you reach the Braille entry.
- Now, expand the Braille category by pressing the right arrow. If you have speech turned on, you will hear NVDA say expanded.
- Now use the down arrow to move through the commands available within this category. If you wish to explore what keystrokes have already been assigned to a command, you press the right arrow to reveal that list and use the down arrow to scroll through them.
- The commands for scrolling the display backward and forward both start with scrolls. When you have located the command you wish to assign to a specific key on your Brilliant, press ALT+A or TAB to reach the Add button and press Enter.
- Now, press the key to which you wish to assign the command. You may get a warning if the key is already assigned to another command. In that case, you can choose OK to proceed. When the key is assigned, your focus should land back in the tree view, now on the entry for the key you just assigned, under the command you had chosen.
- Assigning a key does not remove other key command assignments that trigger the same command.
What? What? 10? Aren’t we up to 11 now? Oh man, where’s the count when we need them?
- If you wish to remove a key assignment from a command, select the assignment within a tree view and press ALT+R or press TAB to reach the Remove button and activate it.
(which I think is 12)
- Should you find yourself wanting to start over completely, you can press ALT+D to restore the factory settings of all key assignments. This method works regardless of whether you want to assign a key or key combination on your braille display, or a keyboard combination on your QWERTY keyboard to a command, or, if applicable, a touch screen gesture.
Now to the Optima and ThumbKey navigation. Also, I was excited to hear about the Optima. Personally, I hope that they will also offer a model with an 8-dot Braille keyboard plus some function keys for those of us who find it more efficient to enter text and operate the computer that way.
In episode 220 or 221, it was mentioned that the earliest thumb keys may have been on a PAC Mate.
Actually, no. I think we were talking about the BrailleNote mPower. The PAC Mate never had thumb keys, so that wasn’t stated by anybody. But actually, I’ll go on.
Actually, the first time that I encountered them was on the Navigator from Telesensory. It was a “dumb” Braille terminal that was released around 1990, and could be connected to a laptop or desktop computer. It had a braille display near the front and space behind that braille line where a laptop could be placed. In front of the display, the tops of the housing slanted downwards towards you, and on that slanted surface were the navigation keys. I found this to be quite ergonomic at the time.
The other braille device I owned that used thumb keys was the Super Braille from Advanced Access Devices.
Yeah, I wondered if anybody would talk about the Super Braille because that really tried to do what the Optima is now trying to do, didn’t it? Mate, that was an expensive device.
Like the Optima, it was a Windows-based computer with a built-in Braille display. Its thumb keys were on the vertical front of the housing. The Braille display was more than an inch above the desk, and the QWERTY keyboard behind the display was elevated still further.
I found out that this design encouraged one to bend one’s wrists upwards. I believe that this arrangement, together with the position in which I used the device and the amount of work I did on it at the time, contributed to my developing repetitive stress injury in the form of tendinitis in my wrist, thumbs, and lower arms that I have to carefully manage with wrist braces by limiting how much I type and read Braille at a time by using voice input and output when possible.
Since then, I have also been paying very close attention to the ergonomic arrangements of any braille device, and I avoid all thumb keys because they would aggravate my thumbs again. I do use the joystick on my Handy Tech ActiveBraille and Actilino somewhat for navigation. Therefore, I hope that the Optima will offer various choices for Braille navigation to accommodate different ergonomic needs.
After using the Super Braille for a few years, and the David from Baum before that,
Yes, that was another one, mate, that also ran Windows I think, and that was a very expensive kahuna.
I decided that while it was extremely convenient to have everything in one device, it was also extremely inconvenient to have to send in the entire computer for repair when something was wrong with any part of the device.
I am glad to hear that the plan is to design the Optima such that normal computer repair can be performed by a local computer repair shop, but the problem will still exist when something happens to the specialized components.
For all of these reasons, I am skeptical that the Optima will meet my personal needs, but I will be very interested to continue to follow its development.
Thank you very much, Imke, for the great instructions for NVDA users and also for your thoughts on Braille displays. You go way back, and all those device names certainly bring back memories.
I am so sorry to hear that you are dealing with the RSI. Once you have got it, it is really hard to get rid of.
This is one of the reasons why I have always personally discounted HIMS Braille displays (at least, the recent ones). I was quite intrigued by the QBraille and the concept of it before Mantis came out, but the reason why I would not personally want one is because of the way you have to tuck your thumb under to press the spacebar, because the spacebar is above the braille display rather than below it, quite close to the keyboard. And for me, it really rang alarm bells.
I have been very fortunate to avoid the RSI at this point, up until now (knocking on the wood) regardless of all the typing I have done over the years.
And when I felt my hand having to curl my thumb under to press that spacebar, it made me very uncomfortable. And so for me that was a showstopper. I appreciate it is not for others, but the ergonomics are really important to me.
Shelly Brisbin Discusses Her Latest Edition of iOS Access for All and Apple-related things
Your fears have been quelled. You can rest easy because the iOS 16 edition of Shelly Brisbin’s book, iOS Access for All, is out.
This is a book many in our community look forward to. And people beyond that community, too, since the book looks at the vast array of accessibility features in iOS. And I always enjoy catching up with Shelly to find out what she thinks of the state of Apple Things, because she has always got something interesting to say. And she does not require much editing.
So here she is, Shelly Brisbin. Welcome back.
Shelly Brisbin: Hey, Jonathan. Thanks! Now I have to not be edited. Okay. Well, I will try to speak coherently, but with brevity as well. [laughs]
Jonathan: Yes. This is your challenge. Am I right in thinking that this one took a little bit longer to hatch than it used to?
Shelly: [sigh] Yes, and that has less to do with the material than the fact that I have taken on too many things in my life, and it just took me a while. And there was work, and there were podcasts, and there were a few technical hiccups here and there. But this time, I cannot blame it on Apple releasing new versions of software, which they did, but it means I get to say that I am fairly current, but it was more life circumstances than anything that caused the delay.
Jonathan: We do have people who have joined this community over time. So can we do the elevator pitch at the beginning and talk about what your book is? How do you explain it to someone who has not come across it before?
Shelly: Well, I try to do it in the title, which is iOS Access for All: Your Comprehensive Guide to Accessibility for iPhone and iPad. And what I’m doing is giving you information about all of the accessibility-focused features for the iPhone and iPad platforms, and it’s organized in such a way that you’re going to get the This is a long elevator ride, Jonathan. I apologize.
Shelly: It’s organized in such a way that you get chapters that are focused on what disability you might have, as well as other chapters where we talk about the features of the iPhone and iPad with an accessibility perspective.
Jonathan: Does it help you that we seem to have gotten to this really cool cadence where Apple uses Global Accessibility Awareness Day to tell us what’s coming up in the next version of iOS, so even before WWDC, we now get a taster of what’s coming up in the operating system?
Shelly: Yeah. I mean, to be honest, it’s not about saying, “Okay. Well, I need to add this feature to the book.” Obviously, I will. It’s about thinking of what questions to ask if I’m fortunate enough to get to talk to folks from Apple, or what I might want to test first when I get the beta software in the summertime. And frankly, because WWDC is hit and miss in terms of how much accessibility information you get, the Global Accessibility Awareness Day announcements kind of just give me a better gaze at what things Apple’s focusing on.
So for example, this past year we got door detection. So okay, we’re talking about LiDAR features. And I got to say a lot of things on podcasts, and when I wrote stuff about how that might portend what Apple is doing with a headset that they may or may not come out with sometime soon.
So I guess I would say that it has some positive impact on the book, but it also makes me a better pundit in the rest of my life.
Jonathan: There you go, another talking head, making the search.
Shelly: [laughs] That’s me.
Jonathan: Yes. [laughs]
Shelly: That’s what the world needs, another pundit.
Jonathan: You mentioned on Mastodon (where we’re all hanging out and having a lot of fun) how much you were impressed by the Dynamic Island in iOS 16. And I detected a sense of skepticism from you about how good this was going to be for a VoiceOver user. But you seem to have been convinced.
Shelly: Well Dynamic Island, I mean, is a fundamentally visual feature. The idea is that you can look at the top of your phone and see whether it’s your sports scores or some sort of notification. And I was assuming that it was VoiceOver compatible, but I kind of wondered. Would a VoiceOver user have an interest in, or benefit from interacting with the Dynamic Island in a different way or a better way than they do with Notification Center? Or if they have a watch, with their watch?
And I was impressed that not only did it just work in the way that you would kind of expect Apple to make a feature for iOS work for VoiceOver, but that it did a couple of clever things specifically for voiceover. And it just, it seemed like there was a lot of thought and care given to it. And you can tell when Apple does that.
There are features where they’re like, “Oh yeah, we need to probably cover the accessibility basis.”, and there are other features where they go, “You know what? We can do something really cool with this.”
Jonathan: Yes. I was a little bit underwhelmed for a while because I got the new phone. I skipped last year’s, but I did get this one. And I couldn’t wait to, for example, find out where my food delivery is, or where my Uber is.
Jonathan: It’s taken a while. I mean, only in the last few weeks has Uber come to the Dynamic Island. And I love that, because I can be working in an app. I can be taking notes, and drafts or Ulysses, or reading email, responding to it, and just quickly check how far away is my Uber.
It’s a fantastic feature, but take up is taking a while. And sometimes, I see this with cool new Apple features where Apple goes quite hard in the pitch for these features when an operating system comes out. There’ve been various things over the years (iBeacons, other things like that), where there’s been a lot of chatter. But for whatever reason, the development community has shrugged its shoulders.
Shelly: Well, Dynamic Island specifically, it’s because it’s only on those top 2 phones. And obviously, Apple will tell you, (and you can see if you read market stuff about Apple), that the Pro and the Pro Max, (especially the Pro Max), have done really, really well.
But developers, I’m sure, are keeping their powder dry in terms of, well, when is it going to come along to the next level of phones? Because still, volume is, you know, older phones.
I don’t excuse developers not supporting it because it’s a feature that I like. But at the same time, most people who have iPhones don’t currently have access to Dynamic Island. So I’m sure that for some developers, they’re kind of trying to figure out, well, is Apple going to support this and encourage it? Or is it going to be another feature that kind of goes dry? Should I spend my time doing something for Dynamic Island when only 2 versions of the phone, (and the fanciest 2 versions at that, are supporting it?
Jonathan: You can use live activities to get the same effect, though. Right? But perhaps not conveniently.
Shelly: Yup, yup. Right.
Yeah. On the lock screen, absolutely. And I’ve done that. And it’s fun! Dynamic Island is great, because, I mean, if you’re using your phone anyway, like if you’re, yeah, as you say, if you’re browsing social media, or if you’re writing or something like that, but you want to keep track of something that’s coming to you.
And to me, it’s timers. Like, I’m a nut for timers, because I’m always cooking something, or doing something where I want a timer.
Do I have an Apple Watch? Yes. But timer does this annoying thing where you set a timer on the Apple Watch and it goes away. And so I like the idea that I could sit there and swipe up to the top of the phone, and it’ll tell me, you have 30 seconds left. Last time you asked, it was 45 seconds. OK? You know, a little attitude maybe would be all right.
But yeah, I like the feature as it’s applied in Dynamic Island. And I guess the big question for us is going to be, is Dynamic Island something that’s going to come to the regular versions of the phones (or the non-pro versions, as it were), this time around? And I hope that’s the case. And I feel like that’s going to cause some developers to feel more encouraged to support it.
Jonathan: Another one that’s good is the way that Drafts has implemented the Dynamic Island. And I feel like I’m one of the last people on the planet to really understand the power of Drafts because it’s been around a long time. And over my summer, I just really finally got into it and something clicked in my head. And now, I can’t talk enough about Drafts. I’m one of the worst sort of reformed people ever.
Shelly: Oh God, I’m the same way. [laughs]
Jonathan: [laughs] Yeah.
Shelly: I love Drafts with all my heart. I really do.
Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know why it took me so long to truly appreciate what it’s for. But now, I’ve done these amazing things like I can write a blurb for the show and with one press, Drafts publishes it to my blog with the right category in place, and it emails it out to my email community, and it invites me to enter the show slug. I mean, look. It’s just genius. It’s pure genius. [laughs]
But anyway, where I’m going with Drafts is they’re using the Dynamic Island so that you can, if you want to, pin the most recent Draft, the one that you’re working on, to the Dynamic Island. That way, you can look up other information and it’s right there. You just tap on it in the Island, and you can go back to it.
Shelly: It’s funny because I’ve used Drafts on both the iPhone and the iPad for a long time, and I have a widget for Drafts so I can do a similar thing.
I think of the iPad as a writing device. I don’t think of the iPhone as a writing device, but I’m in plenty of meetings where I want to.
I don’t take a lot of notes if I don’t have a keyboard, but there are occasions when you want to be able to write something down on the phone and Drafts is my default for that. And chances are very great that if I write something down in a meeting or during a taping for the radio show where I work, I’m going to want to refer back to that information very quickly. And so yeah, that’s a very cool thing to have.
Jonathan: You talked about LiDAR earlier and the door detection feature. We’ve demonstrated that on this podcast and a lot of people found that demonstration interesting.
But there is a series of marketing rather than technical decisions that are being made at this point. And it feels to me like Apple’s got to the point with the maturity of this technology now where it’s essentially rationing the feature set to try and maximize return. That era of innovation in the iPhone really has passed now.
Shelly: I felt a little like that because I know when people detection first came out, and I had the opportunity to talk with some Apple folks about it, and to see it demonstrated, and then to play with it myself. I was sort of on the train of saying they’re showing us what they can do with a combination of LiDAR and machine learning.
That’s also sort of a subtle cue that the accessibility of any wearable device that they create is something that’s in mind. And door detection was a little bit the same way.
But it does kind of feel like now, okay, we get it. There’s a focus on accessibility on some level. But yeah, what more can we do with LiDAR?
And I’ve always said, can we have that in non-pro phones? And I think the issue with that from a mainstream point of view is LiDAR is perceived as this high-end photographic feature and whatever a sensor might cost, (and I don’t know what it costs) whatever a sensor might cost, it seems like it’s continuing to be pro feature. And I don’t want to see somebody who’s blind decide, “Oh, I have to buy a pro or pro max, even though I’m blind and I don’t need a bigger screen.” just in order to get this LiDAR feature that’s probably not as fully functional as it could be.
Jonathan: I traveled last year quite extensively internationally, and I did use the door detection feature. And it was quite interesting in certain places.
And we have had somebody from this podcast, a listener, say that routinely every day, they will catch a bus, and they get on this very crowded bus, and they use the people detection feature to find an empty seat.
I don’t know whether I have the comfort level to use my phone in that sort of situation, but perhaps I should.
Shelly: I think it can be a backup. I think it’s always a good idea not to trust technology completely, people detection especially. I mean, you’re going to want to do whatever you would otherwise do as a blind person to be sure that you’re not going to sit in somebody’s lap, but you have at least a starting point, right? If it tells you it’s empty, confirm that it’s empty. If it tells you it’s full, just assume it’s full and look for another.
And door detection, I mean, my issue with it is it’s kind of slow and it’s really surprising because you have a combination of this LiDAR sensor and the fastest processor in the phone available. But my experience has been that it’s really kind of slow and no, I’m not rushing through an airport trying to find a gate or anything. I was just walking around in my office, given the fairly low light situation, but I was like, find me the door. And it would find the door all right, but it would not necessarily identify it or give all the information that it had available. And some of that was sort of a beginning user situation. But yeah, I find the feature interesting.
And I do talk to mainstream audiences all the time about how this is not only a proof of concept for what might be coming in terms of wearables AR and VR, but just a way in which somebody at Apple figured out that this could be turned to an accessibility feature. And I hope it goes beyond the proof of concept stage so that people like me don’t have to keep saying, “Oh, Apple, thank you for the little feature.”, you know, that we do as much as we possibly can with the hardware and software that’s already included in iOS.
Jonathan: And we have this conflict between interest and need, and ability to pay. So some of these pro features are interesting to blind and low vision users, but they’re out of reach because of the socio-economic factors in the blind community.
Shelly: Absolutely. And that’s my concern about LIDAR. Again, the way I asked it when I had a chance to talk to Apple people, And I say that like it happens all the time, and it does not. And so I’m not bragging about that. I’m just saying that on the few occasions that I’ve had the chance to talk to them, you want to ask a question that’s both meaningful and that they will answer.
And so I ask questions about things like the relative cost of LIDAR, which they’re not going to answer. But I listen in their non-answer to see if I can learn anything. And unfortunately in this case, I have not, because I sort of made the point.
I said, “Well, this is really great.” And there are some blind users who will either choose to buy those pro phones for those features, or in the case of, say, if somebody who’s low vision, they might buy it because it has a bigger screen, or they might buy it because they just want the newest, fastest, especially with the 14s, where you had a difference between the processors and the pro phones and the non-pro phones. And then the 13s and the 12s, they’re all the same processor. So if you were blind and you didn’t care about LIDAR and you didn’t have a need for a larger screen, there wasn’t much point in buying a 12 or 13 pro or pro max.
In my opinion, that’s not a universal opinion. There are plenty of blind nerds out there who’d be like, “Hey, let me tell you why I bought that pro max.”, And they’re perfectly justified.
But you’re right. There’s a lot of issue with ability to pay. And do we load those really important features, (especially as we make them more important), or do we load them up only on the pro end of the line?
Jonathan: Yeah, I have bought the plus-sized phones since the 6+ came out. And so I have the pro max at the moment. And primarily, that’s because of Braille screen input. I like having a little bit of extra real estate to Braille on. But of course, now you’ve got the 14+, which would serve that purpose.
Are there other features in iOS 16 from an accessibility perspective that you think are particularly noteworthy?
Shelly: Well, I think the addition of the Eloquence voices is noteworthy.
Shelly: Not because I’m an Eloquence user. I’m not. But the idea that they went ahead and licensed something from somebody else just as a way and means of Apple doing something is noteworthy.
And for some people, Eloquence is familiar. It’s a friend. It’s a productivity assist because people can run those voices at a very high rate of speed. So I think it’s notable on both those counts.
I also think the custom sound recognition thing is great for folks with hearing disabilities because I mean, I had that first thought. There’s like 15 or 20 sounds in the original sound recognition, baby crying and doorbell and things like that. But if I want to hear my rice cooker or my washing machine or whatever particular sound is in my environment, it seemed fairly straightforward to allow a custom feature to be available.
And the last thing I’ll say as a low vision person is I really enjoy magnifier activities, which is basically a way to put several magnifier settings, filters and zoom level and the like together in one setting. So I use an activity that sort of more focused on, well, what if I have a label on the back of a package I want to read, which is very different than what if I want to read a sign across a room. And so that’s a quick way.
I’m a super fan of automation and macros, and like combine a number of settings that I already use together. I’ll give them a name and later, maybe let me sync them across devices. But for now, I’m just happy I can put them together as a group.
Jonathan: I agree with you about the eloquence thing because often, I think the features you can imagine that’ve been planned over time. There’s been a brainstorming meeting, and Apple’s engineers have essentially come up with this really cool thing that they think might be worth trying. In this case, though, that was a very customer-focused thing to do. Everybody has got to have understood the blind community to the extent that they would know that eloquence on this iPhone would go down really, really well.
And it’s funny you mentioned this one. Because this morning, I was taking a look at the most listened to episodes of all time of this podcast out of the well, over 200 that we’ve produced. And the one where I demonstrated eloquence in the first developer beta is right up there as one of the most listened to podcasts of all time. I mean, that was such a goodwill gesture on Apple’s part. [laughs]
Shelly: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It seems like fairly low, I don’t know if literal cost. I have no idea what they paid for that, obviously. But it seems like a fairly Specificity is the thing.
Shelly: The fact that it is literally a feature that is designed to answer either specific customer requests or just an understanding of the way the community wanted to use its devices.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah. Very good stuff indeed.
What’s your assessment at the moment of the state of play in terms of reliability and bugs? You know, you and I have talked about this before. Everybody talks about this. The fact that sometimes, it feels like Apple gets a lot of applause for helping these disabled people, but nobody ever talks about how rough some of these features are. And it feels like just in the last, I don’t know, 2 months or so, oddly right in the middle of the cycle, things are regressing again. And there’s a bit more of a murmuring about the quality of the software.
Shelly: It is unfortunate. And I have read the AppleVis report card, which sort of brought that much more to mind because people were very specific in their responses to iOS about what bugs they were experiencing in their lives, and the ones that are showstoppers. I mean, there are certainly folks in our community who are going to find something fairly small and believe it’s the end of the world and maybe yell a little louder than others of us might. But there are other things that are showstoppers for people, and that the frustration that they have has to do not only with the actual bug, but the fact that it’s often difficult to tell whether you’ve been heard.
You and I have talked about this many times before, that Apple’s corporate secrecy culture, which I don’t blame specifically on the accessibility teams because they’re living under the structure that’s provided to them. But that secrecy culture often means that it’s hard for us to tell, as users, whether our bug reports are going where they need to go, or whether those bugs are being recreated by virtue of something else that’s happening in the operating system and what ability the accessibility engineers have to make fixes to those.
And so I always feel really uninformed about that when somebody says, “Well, what about these VoiceOver bugs? And I say,”Well, they’re terrible and I hate them and I’m sorry that you’re dealing with that. But I don’t know how to say other than communicate with Apple either through feedback, doing radars if you have access to the betas, or by going to
And it’s frustrating because as I say, even when they’re fixed, you don’t sort of have that closure of saying Apple acknowledged there was an issue and they said, all right. We’re going to fix it in the next version. And then, they did.
Sometimes, they magically go away. Sometimes they’re replaced by other bugs. And I know for Braille users, it’s an especially big deal. And that’s one of my greatest frustrations is when I hear that.
Jonathan: Yeah, I have to be careful how I say this, but I think you’re probably in a similar position. There may be a number of us who are where a number of these really big issues do get resolved through what I would call back channels, where there’s a little bit of clandestine reaching out on the part of certain people to truly understand the problem. And podcasts like this make a much bigger contribution than I think people realize. And so there was a little bit of surreptitious reaching out. And then, an issue might get fixed.
And for me, the question then becomes what is functionally wrong with Apple systems that everybody just can’t email
and have confidence that a genuine issue is going to get addressed?
Shelly: Well yeah, and I think as you say, there are members of the community who, because they’ve done what you’ve done, which is made up a podcast empire or whatever you want to call it, you’ve created a presence for yourself. You’ve gotten a lot of listeners who contact you regularly. There are folks like AppleVis, who I know Apple knows about and is in touch with because I know they’ve gotten interviews with Apple folks. And so that implies further contact behind the scene. There are folks like me who occasionally get that kind of access.
But I always wonder what’s being missed. What do folks who use switch control want? What does somebody with a different low vision situation than I have want? And this is not to say that when I’ve expressed an issue in whatever channel I had, that I’ve gotten the results that I would like or that I’ve even gotten Apple’s attention.
I’ve had occasional indications over my career that folks at Apple are aware of what I’m doing, and I’m aware of that as a responsibility that I have. So that when I mouth off about stuff, I try to do so in a way that’s both honest but that also is aware of who might be listening both on the user side of the world, and the Apple side of the world because I’m never going to be a shill for Apple nor am I going to be somebody who’s just going to rant and rave about things.
But I wonder what parts of the community are not necessarily being heard. Again, especially outside the visual community because I think folks who are blind, visually impaired because of Voiceover’s preeminence in accessibility.
There’s a way in which we have the ear of Apple perhaps a little better than some other communities do even when we experience real negative situations with bugs.
Jonathan: You posted an interesting blog post the other day that had been written by someone about the responsibility that journalists have to better cover assistive technology, and I thought that was a particularly interesting read.
When I was on your podcast, we talked about this with Jason Snell as well. That really, what the industry wants to hear is how marvelous all of these companies. This is not an Apple thing exclusively. All of these companies are for helping disabled people. They do not want to get into the weeds and I think, there is responsibility there.
And one area where I’ve seen this work, you mentioned switch control and I’m pretty sure this was the technology that a guy in the UK was wanting to use. and he was able to talk to, I believe, it was The Verge about a series of very serious bugs with switch control, and it wasn’t until then that Apple started to listen and implement change and he eventually got what he wanted.
And so there is a responsibility, I think, on the part of tech journalists to actually tell the truth, and not get sucked in by the marketing.
Shelly: Absolutely true. And I’ll just be 100% honest and tell you that because Apple is the way it is about communicating, there’s an opportunity to become seduced when you have that luxury, when you get to talk to Apple.
Shelly: There’s an opportunity to feel like you need to protect that access. And I, as somebody who remembers very well when I had zero access, try extremely hard to sort of walk that line.
It’s funny because in my day job, I’m a journalist in a general news radio program. But some of the hardest journalistic work I do is in accessibility because I have this sort of off again, on again opportunity to talk to people who work at assistive technology companies or places like Apple. And so, I take that opportunity seriously, both in terms of like how I communicate to them, and then how I communicate to the readers and listeners about what I learned because it’s too easy. Like if you get a review unit, or if you get to talk to somebody on your podcast that’s really interesting, it’s too easy to sort of tailor not your coverage to their access but your awareness of the fact that they’re listening out there. And it’s, you know, I hope people will call us out when we don’t live up to that standard.
But it’s really important, and it’s not something I think a lot of journalists who cover accessibility have had to think about because the access has been so limited in the past that those issues of access are more the kind of things that you think about when you talk about people who cover politics like people who live in Washington DC, or Auckland, or wherever, and maybe they have access to a political leader and they don’t necessarily live up to the journalistic standards they should all the time.
Jonathan: Yeah. And when you go down that rabbit warren, you lose the confidence of the very people who made it possible for you to have that access in the first place.
Jonathan: And that is that the end users who essentially have given you that access. They’ve given you the authority by virtue of trusting you, and it’s so easy to destroy that trust by being a little bit less emphatic than you otherwise would be in order to protect that access.
The trouble is if you are overly emphatic, you’ll lose the access. And then, you’re just sort of howling at the moon, aren’t you?
Shelly: Yeah, absolutely. It is a fine line to walk, and I love having these conversations with you, Jonathan, because it’s not even something that’s easy to explain or have a conversation with the folks that I know in the sort of mainstream tech press because they have sort of a different set of issues. They certainly have access issues, but I think they perhaps, have more information outside of that access than you and I might necessarily, because Well, for a variety of reasons, but it’s a challenge and all I can say is I work really hard at it. [laughs]
Jonathan: It is definitely a challenge.
One of the things that has really deteriorated over time is what’s happened with made-for-iPhone hearing aids and the way that they hand off between devices.
So not that it matters in Apple’s incredibly wealthy existence, but I actually had to give up iPad entirely as a product category when I, at some considerable sacrifice, moved to made-for-iPhone hearing aids because they took the headphone jack away, which was a huge accessibility loss for many people who work in particular ways. But at that point, I have never as a VoiceOver user been able to successfully hand off between an iPhone and an iPad with made-for-iPhone hearing aids, and that required me to essentially dispense with the iPad as part of my workflow.
This is one of the examples of where you just can’t break through. I have tried to raise this on several occasions. It’s not, I guess, a very compelling narrative when you say to Apple, “Well, I can’t use this anymore. I’m going to have to sell my iPad.”
Well, they kind of shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, okay.”
But there must be others in my situation who have actually had to exit a whole product category of Apple devices because we can’t get this sort of thing sorted.
Shelly: Yeah, and I think there’s probably some sort of opacity. You’re trying to basically make the case that will resonate with them, and there is some sort of opacity about, well, what is that case?
And I think that’s the trouble that sometimes we get in our community because your problem, (and this is not to discount your bugs or my bugs or anything that we’ve experienced), but your problem is very individual to you and you naturally explain it that way. You’re not the only person that has that problem, obviously, but there’s a way in which you don’t know whether it’s being taken as, oh well, this is Jonathan’s problem or Shelly’s problem, versus, oh, this is something that probably affects a lot of our potential customers or our existing customers, and we should work on that.
And it’s just an opacity thing. You don’t always know what’s going to work. [laughs] I’ve had that experience.
I mean, whenever I see somebody, (this is sort of off the specific subject), whenever I see somebody on Twitter who has gotten a response from Tim Cook, I mean, that is not that they made a profoundly compelling case and Tim said, “Of all the emails that I’ve gotten in the past month or whatever, this is the one I’m going to respond to.” There’s a series of factors, a lot of which have to do with public relations, and a lot of which have to do with just like this is a story Apple already wants to tell that are going to lead the CEO of a company or whoever works for him in this project to write back to some individual.
And I suspect that applies to the way people respond to individual complaints, or letting people know about some situation that affects them in a really individual way.
Jonathan: So how do we address this? I mean, there are people who have invested in Apple technology. They fundamentally believe still that it is the best option. But there’s a high level of frustration that things are not working as they ought to, and that they’re not making any progress. What’s the remedy to this, do you think?
Shelly: Yeah, and I don’t know that there is one. I think, that’s the trouble. I do think, (and I love my friends at AppleVis, they’re going to be on a podcast of mine very soon.) I do think as long as the responses to the AppleVis report card that they published are, I think more of that where it’s out in public, it’s on websites or podcasts or in other mediums where folks in the “mainstream” or Apple specifically are listening. I mean, that helps. The degree to which it helps on an individual basis is unpredictable.
You want results, right? You want to say, I’m going to do this in order to accomplish that result. And you don’t necessarily have the ability to do it, but continuing to make the effort has some benefits.
I will tell a brief version of my sort of third-party story where I had some real issues with a particular Mastodon client, and I wrote a long thread about it. And the response I got from the company was very sort of shruggy and very, very non-satisfying.
The features, however, have improved considerably, and I’m using that as using, I’m not mentioning them on purpose. They know who they are. If you read my Mastodon feeds, you know who they are.
Jonathan: Yeah, I know who they are. Yeah. [laughs]
Shelly: Yes. Of course, you do. But I’m using that product, right? I’m using the beta version of that product because it’s generally speaking, a good product. But their attention to accessibility and their unwillingness to even admit to their attention to accessibility irritates me. And it did at the time. And I put together a very thoughtful thread where I said, “Here’s some issues. I’m not, I’m not ragging you. I’m going to tell you what my past experience with you is, with your products is, and then I’m going to tell you specifically and constructively what my experience with you is.
And things change. Whatever caused that to change, I don’t know. But I feel like I can justify my methods.
Jonathan: I like to think the culture of Mastodon is helping with that, because their Twitter client was not particularly good with accessibility, either.
Jonathan: So that’s why I didn’t have a lot of hope there.
But I particularly recommend the Mona test flight beta to you. It’s an amazing app.
Shelly: Yes. I didn’t get in one of them. I think I got on the Mac one. There’s some reason I’m not on Mona that has to do with not being able to get in. I can’t remember which one it is. But yeah, I’ve heard great things about that one.
Jonathan: Yeah. And yet, it’s easy to get to the little guys. I like the app community that has built around Apple, the whole ecosystem of app developers. Because in my experience, the smaller the app developer is, the more likely you are to find the developer and talk directly with them, and they will kind of get accessibility. They can become excited about accessibility.
And I’ve seen apps go from completely inaccessible. It’s like this exemplar of accessibility in a very short space of time. Because some blind person has approached them the right way, and they just got the religion.
Shelly: Right. And once you get it a little bit, you realize, “Oh, I can do a lot more.” And Mastodon is a great example, because there’s literal accessibility of the app. And then, there’s things like reminding somebody to put in alt text, or making it easy for them to do so. Even if you don’t nudge them, just saying, “Okay, it’s right there.” Because I’ve experienced a few Mastadon clients where yeah, they support alt text, but it’s very easy to post without creating it if you aren’t thinking about it.
Jonathan: And in terms of the future of Apple products, what are we likely to see, do you think? I mean obviously, you know, new iPhones and iPads, and it looks like an M3 Mac this year, and it’s going to be the best iPhone ever. USB-C is going to be great.
Shelly: [laughs] Oh yeah, you bet.
Jonathan: Yeah, the USB-C is going to be brilliant.
But other product categories that Apple is thinking about, that’s what interests me. And whether we will actually see anything this year. Do you think we will?
Shelly: I don’t know what’s going to happen with this headset. I think we’re going to get some sort of developer version of the headset, which means a lot of us won’t get our hands on it, and we’re going to do that thing we do when there’s a new product category, and we’re going to wonder about, “Well, what is the accessibility?”
It’s not a matter of a binary. Is it or isn’t it accessible? It’s a matter of how accessible is it going to be?
And if it is some sort of developer-focused product that’s put out there in the world so that developers can make AR and VR solutions, create a catalog of those solutions before it goes out to the larger market, we’re going to be lacking a lot of information.
And I also think that doesn’t bode well for accessibility-specific applications. Like you have a headset that’s designed to essentially be a set of Aira glasses, or some other device that would not only have accessibility features, but facilitate greater accessibility. I think if we get that from any sort of Apple headset, it’s going to be down the road.
And so I think we’ve got this sort of breathless year or two coming up, where we kind of wait around to see what’s going to happen. And that feels like the category that Apple’s going to focus on.
And my worry about that is that if they do focus on that, I know that different teams do these things, but are we going to lose focus on the accessibility of fundamental products that we’ve talked about having significant bugs already? Because the iPhone and the iPad, whatever you want to say about how long in the tooth they may be, they’re still fundamental devices to the way we compute. And macOS could use some VoiceOver improvements and hasn’t had them.
And so I guess my question is, is Apple going to lose focus on some of those fundamentals with regard to accessibility in order to focus on headsets and things?
Jonathan: Do you think the gap between iPhone and Android is declining as Google speeds up? Because I keep hearing this from Android users. But then every time a WWDC comes along, something significant happens at Apple that to me, just widens the chasm yet again. They just seem to have such a headstart.
Shelly: It’s so weird because I feel like sometimes, blind Android users that I know are as much evangelists for that platform as blind Apple users have been in the past. And so I, because I rely on them. I’m not a daily Android user. I have Android devices, but I rely on people in the accessibility community to sort of tell me what’s the state of that platform.
And a lot of times, there’s this sort of defensive, “Well, I can do that. I mean, let’s not talk about BrailleBack. But TalkBack is great. I can do this, I can do that, and the other thing.”
And so I sometimes feel like I have a lack of real objective perspective. And maybe, what I should do is go out and get a Pixel and write about it. [laughs] Maybe I should just do that.
But it does feel like the things that Apple sort of extends though are like the LIDAR features that not everybody gets to use anyway. And so I think, the question for a long time is still going to be, which is better, VoiceOver or TalkBack? Are they equal from a perspective of like how you want to use your device in the first place? You know, Google apps versus iCloud, and that sort of thing. And then, is the accessibility on Android usable in such a way that if you get an Android phone because it’s less expensive, or because your friend recommends it to you, or you’re given it as a gift or whatever, can you, as a blind person, make it work for you?
And I still feel like, (and again, not a daily Android user), I still feel like that unless Braille is a significant thing for you, you can probably get by with Android. I can hear my Android friends talking in my ear right now. “Get by. Come on! It’s great!”
Shelly: So yeah, I know. I guess I should just get a Pixel and learn something is what I should do. [laughs]
Jonathan: I think that’s a fair enough analysis.
I got an S21 a couple of years ago.
My quest to get back into Android really started because I heard that they’d gotten rid of the angular gestures, and it was much easier to operate the screen reader.
Shelly: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Jonathan: And even that was a mission because then, I found that there had been some sort of stitch up where those non-angular gestures were only available on Pixel devices, which are not sold in New Zealand. People sometimes forget that Google’s quite limited.
Shelly: I did not know that. Wow!
Jonathan: Yeah, Google does not come here. So we couldn’t get that.
So I bought a Nokia phone that had vanilla stock Android and I thought this is bound to do it. And it didn’t because there was some sort of licensing agreement at the time that made those multi-finger gestures exclusive to TalkBack on Samsung and on the Google devices.
So I had to return several devices until I got one that supported multi-finger gestures. [laughs]
Shelly: Wow! That is a deep cut that I would not have known, and why we need people looking at all these devices and not being like me and making assumptions. [laughs]
Jonathan: It was just extraordinary. I think it’s better now. You know, these things change all the time. But the trouble is, it tarnishes things when you have a bad experience like that.
Jonathan: But the main reason why I’m not into it is because Android devices don’t support Braille HID over Bluetooth. I think that is an extraordinary oversight on their part because they were out there promoting HID.
Shelly: I agree.
Jonathan: They were out there with Apple and Microsoft. And you cannot use a HID Braille display. NLS is distributing them. Humanware entered into HID in good faith.
So for me, Android is literally not an option until Google get its act together.
So what I’d like to see, I want the nirvana where you and I can have the same discussion that fully sighted tech users are having about the pros and cons of the operating system. We’re not past that first base yet because we’re still talking about the accessibility limitations.
Shelly: Right. And that’s kind of what I was getting at before. It’s so frustrating because yeah, I can talk to you about the Google versus iCloud environment. I can talk to you about how I feel about giving my data to one of those companies versus the other. I can talk to you about prices of devices. But if you tell me that you can’t use it for reasons of gestures or that it doesn’t support the Braille interface that you want, then we don’t have much of a conversation to have. [laughs]
Jonathan: Right. Yeah. No, no, we can’t.
So tell me a bit more about the iOS Access For All book and how people can get it. Because I guess as we’ve discussed before, when we’ve had you on the podcast, there are 2 groups of audiences, broadly speaking, and there are some categories within this audience. But one will be interested in just they want everything that’s new on their device because they’ve paid good money and they want to make sure they’re maxing it out. But you also do quite a lot of teaching in this book, both for tech trainers and for people who are coming to a smartphone for the first time.
Shelly: Yeah. So the book covers iOS 16. But the way I address new features is to point them out.
There’s a section early in the book, what’s new in iOS 16. And then as we go through things, I’ll say this is new in iOS 16, or this is not.
But if you read the book, it’s intended to be comprehensive so that you don’t have to start with previous knowledge. Or if you do, I tell you where you can get it. And that’s because it can be confusing. You’re like, well, OK, wait, I’m teaching kids how to use VoiceOver for this first time, or I’m learning voiceover for the first time.
Well, you’re going to get step-by-steps that are going to show you how to do that. Sometimes in excruciating detail that for people who have experience, might be a little challenging to get through. But there is plenty of guidance as to this is new, that’s new. Here’s what’s new in terms of the interfaces for accessibility. And here’s what’s new in terms of the features within iOS, and how they interact with accessibility.
So for example, I remind you that we have these new lock screen widgets in iOS 16. But if you’re a low vision user, those don’t support dynamic type. So when you install one, don’t be surprised that the text is very tiny and that you’re not going to be able to do anything about it.
So that’s kind of, there’s a little defensive description of accessibility in terms of this feature is new. Accessibility might interact with it in a positive or negative way or just in a different way. And so I try and explain that.
And I have a lot of people who read the book who are trainers, and who are finding ways. And I’m actually kind of curious about how they do it because the book is really quite long, and it’s intended to be a reference so that if you are hearing impaired and don’t read chapter 3, which is the one all about VoiceOver, it won’t hurt my feelings, I promise. And the reverse is also true. If you’re a VoiceOver user and your hearing is typical, then don’t feel like you have to read chapter 5.
It’s intended as a reference book, but I think it’s priced fairly and there’s enough information in the table of contents that you can get to just the information you need and hopefully at the level that you’re at as a user.
Jonathan: And how much is the book?
Shelly: The book is $25 US. I sell it in an EPUB and a PDF format because that was what the customers wanted. And then a couple of editions ago, I added a combo version, which is a zip file that contains both an EPUB and a PDF version. And that’s $30 US.
Jonathan: Am I right in saying you had major issues hatching the PDF version this time?
Shelly: [laughs] I always do.
Shelly: It’s less of an issue each time, and I did not do what I usually do, which is complain ad nauseam and describe in excruciating detail how I made the PDF because for a while, (and I did a whole podcast series about this like 6 years ago), but partially, it was cathartic for me to explain it. And to be brutally honest, if there wasn’t customer request for it, I probably would not make it.
But I’ve learned a lot. I have learned that Microsoft Word is not at this point as friendly for making accessible PDFs as some of the open source office like OpenOffice and LibreOffice are for taking your XML content, which is how the EPUB comes to be, putting it into an office environment, formatting it so that it is both visually attractive and has the tags that you want for an accessible PDF, and then turning it out into an accessible format. And I find that without getting into using Adobe Acrobat, (which is just a wall I don’t want to climb even though I have it), I find that LibreOffice and OpenOffice tend to be pretty darn good at making accessible PDF versions.
So if you really want the PDF version, (although I really want you to want the EPUB version because that’s easier for me to bake), if you really want a PDF version, you can have one.
Jonathan: Well, all right then. See, over in the wonderful world of Windows, I would write this sort of thing in Word. And then, I can save as PDF and it creates a beautifully marked up PDF file with all the headings in the right place. I mean, it literally takes two seconds to go from the original Word version to a PDF.
Shelly: I think it might be a Mac thing because you can do it in the Mac. But also, Word seems to have farmed out some of the PDF creation. You can literally create a PDF in Word, but it’s not as well formed as it would be if you sent it over to Acrobat.
Especially one of the things I did this version is I changed the fonts. I’m a big fan of an old typeface called Futura, but I wanted it to be more legible to everyone. And so I’m using a face called Atkinson Hyperlegible, which is from the Braille Institute.
And in order to embed fonts, there are challenges. I know as blind folks, we don’t necessarily think about fonts. But for those who do, I learned a lot about embedding fonts this time around.
Jonathan: And what are you writing it in? I mean, when you’re sitting there and you’re actually tapping away, writing your words, what tool are you using at that point?
Shelly: Because the book’s history is, and I’ve thought about it. I’ve gone into InDesign, I’ve tried it in Word, I’ve done all these WYSIWYG tools. But ultimately, I’m writing it either in a tool called Textastic on the iPad, which is an HTML editor basically, or I’m writing it in BBEdit on the Mac, which is a tool I love, but that I will hasten to add has never been VoiceOver accessible and that should cause me to stop writing in it. But that’s the one instance in which I have not lived up to my principles and I continue to work in BBEdit because it’s such a good editor.
Jonathan: And I take it that it is available in the Apple Bookstore. But obviously if people buy from there, then it’s not giving you as much as it would if people bought from you directly.
Shelly: Right. Apple gets their 30% and if that’s more convenient for you, then feel free to do it. If you’re feeling like you can support local writers for the same price, you’re welcome to go to my website.
The orders are fulfilled through PayPal, but you don’t have to be a PayPal subscriber. You can use a credit card and I’ve had good luck with international customers. So the price is the same whether you get it through Apple Books or through my website.
Jonathan: So tell me about that website. Where do we go?
Shelly: That is
and there are buttons on the side for buying it in all of the 3 formats that are available for me, plus the Apple format. And again, it’s $25 US for either the EPUB or the PDF version, and it’s $30 if you want the zip file that includes both.
Jonathan: Well, thank you for making sense of all of this complexity for us every year, and I always enjoy it when we get a chance to chew the fat and talk about all of these things. [laughs] So I appreciate you coming on the podcast.
Shelly: Same here, Jonathan. It’s always lovely to talk to you.
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The VarioUltra Is Still Around
Let’s set the record straight about something I said last week. And this email comes from Steve Nutt. He says:
In this week’s podcast,
He’s referring to 226.
You stated that the VarioUltras had been discontinued.
This is, in fact, incorrect. We still sell them in the UK.
[wrong sound effect]
Baum was taken over by VisioBraille, and you can find them on the web at https://www.visiobraille.de
and still sells them.
However, I do agree they haven’t updated it for years.
Having said that, it still works on my Android phone using Android 14 beta 1. It also still works very well on iOS 16.4, I believe.
I just thought I’d let you know.
Thank you very much, Steve. I appreciate the correction. We don’t want to spread misinformation.
So if you still like the VarioUltra, you can indeed buy those.
And Steve is, of course, the very hard-working proprietor of Computer Room Services in the UK.
Wanting Recommendations for Fitness Resources for the Blind
Let’s go to Malaysia for this email.
Hey, Blindfully friends,
Kavein here from Malaysia. I hope this email finds you all in good health and high spirits.
I’m writing to seek your guidance and support as I embark on a journey to re-grow my wasted muscles and increase my overall strength, dexterity and endurance.
I have type 2 diabetes, which has caused me to lose muscle mass in my hands and legs.
As a result, I’m looking for a workout plan that is minimally reliant on external tools and utilizes my existing environment and body weight/movement.
However, I am open to purchasing a few items like a bicycle for long term use. My primary goal is to increase my stamina and overall muscle health.
As a science enthusiast, I am also interested in learning the fundamental fitness principles behind each workout activity. Furthermore, I’m interested in learning about the various fitness protocols that you are using and how you are able to find physical activities and warm-up instructions that have good text descriptions.
For those who have lost a significant amount of fat/muscles before, I would love to hear about your rebuilding journey. As a resident of a Global South country, I’m also interested in learning about good diets that can complement my daily activities.
Please feel free to share your favorite apps, books and tips that can aid my learning and physical activity.
Thank you for your time and support. I hope you have a great day.
Well, best of luck on that journey. The Living Blindfully/Mosen at Large connection has a number of things that could help you here.
In episode 178, we talked about the Revision Fitness app, and that sounds like it could be a very useful step on this journey that you’re taking, because it has blindness-specific descriptions, plenty of workouts. It gets into the science of why particular things work the way they do. And it’s a brilliant app. It’s been updated since we produced that episode 178.
So do check out the episode for an interview with the developer, and also check out the Revision app in the iOS app store.
You may also like to listen to episode 58, where a number of us talk about the success we’ve had on the low carb lifestyle the ketogenic lifestyle. Now obviously, there are many schools of thought about diet and what’s good to eat. I subscribe to one because it’s worked for me. And I also know of several instances where type 2 diabetes has been reversed as a result of adopting a keto lifestyle. So episode 58 might also be of use to you as well.
You might also want to check out some of the 7-minute workout apps that you can get because they give your various muscle groups a good old workout, and some of them are free or very low-cost. They’ll get you up and moving, and fit as well.
So it’s certainly possible to do a lot and to get active without having to rely on too many expensive gadgets, and opinions may vary about this one. So I welcome any alternative points of view.
But if I had to pick one gadget because I could only get one, I think I would pick a rowing machine. And the reason for that is that it deals with a bit of cardio and strength training at the same time. So you should build muscle mass and you’ll also get your heart rate up using a rowing machine.
If you have anything to contribute and some encouragement to offer on this subject,
is how you can be in touch, or give us a call at 864-60-Mosen in the United States. 864-606-6736.
Closing and Contact Info
Speaking of which, I suppose it’s about time I got out of the studio and onto my bike. I can’t tell you how many times people have said on your bike, Mosen. well, maybe I’ll get on the treadmill instead.
Anyway, I will go.
Thank you so much for listening this week and for your contributions, and particularly to our amazing Living Blindfully plus subscribers who make the podcast’s ongoing production viable.
Have a great week.
Remember that when you’re out there working your guide dog, you’ve harnessed success. And with your cane, you’re able.
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If you’d like to submit a comment for possible inclusion in future episodes, be in touch via email,. Write it down, or send an audio attachment:
Or phone us. The number in the United States is 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.