Transcripts of Living Blindfully are made possible by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies. On the web at http://PneumaSolutions.com.
Voiceover: From Wellington, New Zealand, to the world, it’s the Living Blindfully podcast – living your best life with blindness or low vision. Here is your host, Jonathan Mosen.
Hello! Apple’s Vision Pro headset is fully accessible and creating quite a buzz in the blind community, the social platform Reddit is set to lock out blind people from meaningful access but it’s feeling the building pressure, and more on Bookshare’s new pricing and its relevance in 2023.
This is episode 234. Take it away, Paul. [Paul McCartney sings 234, upbeat version] Or if you prefer a more mellow Paul, [Paul McCartney sings 234, mellow version]. But whichever Paul you prefer in this era of even the most basic facts being disputed, (like the fact that soup is horrible), we do know that this is episode 234. No one can dispute that.
And also, no one can dispute that area code 234 is an area code in Ohio in the United States. It covers some interesting places in Ohio, like Akron, Youngstown, and in fact, most of Northeastern Ohio. So we must have some people listening from area code 234. In which case, a warm welcome to you. enjoy this moment. Savour it. It will never come around again, at least not on Living Blindfully.
Meanwhile, 234 is the country code for Nigeria. There are 224 million people in Nigeria. [Dude! sound effect] That is a lot of people. One of whom, by the way, is a former president of Nigeria, whose name is Goodluck Jonathan. Now that is just one of the coolest names ever. So welcome to you if you are listening to us from Nigeria.
Because I know that there are so many people who are interested in the way that this podcast is produced and audio things in general, I should say that episode 233, the one that we did on the WWDC keynote, was the first to be produced with our new audio interface.
We have replaced one of the fundamental bits of gear in the studio. We were running a Focusrite Scarlett 8i6, which is an excellent audio interface. Trouble is, the software is completely inaccessible.
I’m sure that that will be fixed in time. It may well be fixed quite soon, because we have talked about the Focusrite Vocaster interface, which is designed specifically for podcasters. It’s a great product, and they’ve taken extraordinary care over the accessibility of that product.
It’s not quite trickled up to the Scarlett yet. The Scarlett range has options that offer many more inputs and outputs, and I need those not just for this podcast, but also for the live broadcasting work that I still do on occasion on MushroomFM.
I’ve heard very good things about audio interfaces from a company called Audient. And increasingly, they’ve been engaging with some people in the blind community (some very respected people involved in audio engineering), to make their products more accessible, and they have become increasingly so.
There is software now available for the Audient Evo range, which is just brilliant in terms of its accessibility. I have to say, it does work a bit better with NVDA than it does with JAWS. This is something to do, I think, with the way that JAWS is not quite as capable with supporting the JUICE framework, which is all important in these audio interfaces. So it is unfortunate that the experience you get with JAWS is not as good in terms of tabbing through the controls and knowing precisely what you’re controlling. Sometimes, the controls talk, but not all of the controls give you meaningful labels.
Anyway, if you are interested in this, I may well play the Audient Evo 16 demo and review that I produced for the Blind Podmaker podcast at some point on this podcast. But if you don’t want to wait for that, you can check it out on the BlindPodmaker feed. Just search for The Blind and Podmaker is all one word, and you’ll find my look at the Audient Evo 16.
Really loving this interface. Audient is well known for the quality of its preamps. Everything is accessible. And actually, the way that everything is laid out on the device itself is pretty intuitive as well.
But the software is just the icing on the cake. Like, for example, being told if you are clipping, which is a very important thing to be told about. The smart gain feature is similar to what’s offered by Vocaster, too. But of course, you’ve got more input and output options with this range of Audient Evo interfaces.
So that’s what we’re doing, all shiny and new with this new audio interface in the studio – the Audient Evo 16.
Most people may find the Evo 16 overkill for their needs. It’s got a lot of things. But Audient also produces an Evo 8 and an Evo 4 if you’re interested in checking those out.
In other news, (as they say to segue from one thing to another), if you are going to Houston this year for the National Federation of the Blinds convention, so am I, and I look forward to seeing you there. One of the reasons why I bought that Zoom microphone that we reviewed a few episodes ago is that I knew that I was going to NFB, and having a really good quality little 32-bit recorder that’s just a microphone that you can take with you everywhere means that I will never be caught short in terms of a good recording device to capture the moment, wherever and whatever that moment is.
I do appreciate the invitation from President Mark Riccobono, not just to attend the NFB convention this year, but also to speak to it. I’ll be giving a presentation at the general session on the final day of the convention called Living Blindfully Together. I hope you enjoy the presentation. There are some things I want to comment on. And that will be on the 6th of July. If you’re not there live, of course, NFB does stream their general sessions, so you’ll be able to tune in.
But looking forward to catching up with friends old and new at NFB. And Bonnie’s coming along too, so that’s going to be super fun.
We haven’t attended an NFB convention since 2012, so it’s been a very long time – the longest time in my adult life that I’ve gone not attending an NFB convention. In fact, my first was in Chicago back in 1995, at the Hilton there. It was quite a transformative experience, and I am looking forward to getting back.
As a hearing impaired person, you know, the noise and the hubbub of those things can be a bit challenging. But the companionship, the sense of replenishment that you get from attending a convention like this, or specifically an NFB convention actually, can’t be beat. So I look forward to seeing you there if you are coming to Houston.
Advertisement: We can make transcripts of Living Blindfully available, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Pneuma Solutions. Numa Solutions, among other things, are the RIM people.
If you haven’t used Remote Incident Manager yet, you really want to give it a try. It is a fully accessible, screen reader agnostic way to either get or provide remote assistance.
These days, not a day goes by that I’m not using RIM. And one of the ways I use it is to either receive or provide technical support from family members.
I’m kind of the tech support guy in our family, so I quite often get questions from family members that they want me to solve. It’s not realistic to expect them to install a specific screen reader, even the demo. So before RIM came along, I found myself having to try and talk them through what they needed to do.
Now, I can tell them to go to GetRIM.app. that’s G-E-T-R-I-M.app, install a simple application on their Windows PC, and just by exchanging a code word, I can have a look at what’s going on. I can either run Narrator on their system, or if you’re using NVDA, you don’t even have to do that.
It’s an amazing tool, so do check it out. RIM from Pneuma Solutions at getRIM.app.
And I’ll certainly look forward to using RIM extensively when I’m at the NFB convention to just continue to do the MushroomFM computer maintenance that keeps the station alive and well.
Now, you would expect post a WWDC keynote, we have quite a bit of Apple stuff to talk about and recap.
In episode 233, when Heidi, Judy, and Mike joined us to talk about all of the things that were discussed in WWDC, (and thank you so much to everybody who responded so positively about that episode), I did say that I didn’t have any doubt really that Vision Pro, the new spatial computing device, as they call it from Apple, would be accessible, that it would have VoiceOver on it. Because although we can justifiably be concerned about quality control issues at Apple, (and we’ll have more to say about those quality control issues in a moment), it is true that Apple tends to get the fundamentals right.
VoiceOver was on the Apple Watch from day 1. There was a little bit of nervousness about that, and that nervousness was misplaced.
We also have VoiceOver on Vision Pro from Day 1. And clearly, based on some of the workshops, (at least, 1 specific workshop that was delivered at WWDC), Apple’s given considerable thought at the concept stage to how not just blind people, but many disabled people will engage in the spatial computing era.
VoiceOver is on in Vision Pro, and there’s a series of VoiceOver gestures that get enabled once VoiceOver is on. Although you can disable VoiceOver gestures in certain environments. This is kind of like direct touch on the phone, where there might be certain games or other environments where it’s actually preferable to have the default gestures and not the VoiceOver ones, you can do that.
But normally, if you were moving around this environment, what you would do is you would pinch with your thumb and your index finger of your right hand to move forward. So essentially, you’re flicking right at this point if you’re looking at it from an iPhone point of view.
You’ll pinch your thumb and your middle finger if you want to move back, so think about flicking left through the environment.
So you’re navigating, you’ve found something that you want to, in iPhone terms, double tap. What do you do? That’s when you pinch with your thumb and your ring finger on your right hand, or your thumb and your index finger on the left hand, and that’s going to select the item that’s currently in focus.
You will also be able to connect your Braille display to Vision Pro. There’s support for audio descriptions.
You’ll be able to customize the experience on a per app basis for low vision users. Zoom is on the device and the implications, the possibilities for low vision users with this device are pretty exciting.
You’ve got dynamic type. You can reduce transparency, reduce white point, and there’s color filters too, bold text, voice control, spoken content, background sounds, pointer control, dwell control, button shapes.
There’s the accessibility shortcut. So there is a digital crown on the device. And just as you would expect, you know, you put this thing on for the first time and you think, well, how do I turn voiceover on? You just triple click the digital crown. So some good consistency of user experience there.
There’s assistive touch and support for MFI devices. So presumably, that means that MFI hearing aids are also supported. Subtitles and closed captions, switch control, full keyboard access. So as Heidi mentioned in episode 233, you will be able to connect the Bluetooth keyboard to this.
You’ve got image descriptions and guided access, reduce motion, left right balance. And if you want to put the whole thing into mono, then you’ve also got mono audio, too.
There’s been a lot of buzz about some of the apps that will be available for Vision Pro. One that people talked about is an instant translation feature. So when you’re wearing this thing, if you’re in a country where your native language is not the one that’s typically spoken, it will do instant translation for you, just by wearing this device.
It will also translate signage into your preferred language as well, just by wearing it. And obviously, this has all sorts of implications for blind people. If it’s picking up signage and reading that to you, then you’re walking around getting all sorts of information about the built environment that you may not have been able to access before, or that might’ve been a little bit clunky because you’re holding out your iPhone in front of you.
So you can certainly envisage a very capable platform where a wide range of blindness specific applications appear on this device. And I think over the next few months, because we do have some time until Vision Pro goes on sale in its first market which will be the United States, hopefully, we’ll learn a lot more about what application program developers in the blindness space will be able to do. But just imagine if you have Aira, Envision, and some of these players on this device with the accurate sensor data and cameras that are on this thing. I mean, even if it’s just the cameras they have access to, imagine the wide range of views that you’ll be able to get without having to turn your head in specific directions, and all of that kind of malarkey.
It’s very interesting. It’s also super expensive as well. But I’m quite optimistic. And it was really interesting over the last few days to participate in and watch the discussions on Mastodon about this, and the way that blind people are imagining what they might be able to do with Vision Pro.
And as Judy said in episode 233, it’s going to take some time for this to play out. It may be years until we fully realize the potential of this device.
And congratulations to Apple for so thoughtfully integrating all these accessibility features from the get-go. They really do get this stuff right.
iOS 17 is available as a developer beta right now. It’s developer beta 1. Now developer beta 1s are normally pretty rough and ready. This is, perhaps, a little more polished than most developer beta 1s I have seen in my time testing these things.
But typically, I would say that beta 1, especially developer beta 1 of any Apple software (or any software in general actually), is not for the faint of heart. Apple’s really clear that you should deploy this on a device intended for testing.
So if you’ve upgraded your phone and you kept your old one, which is actually what I did, (Normally, there’s this massive line of kids who want my old iPhones. But somehow, we’ve caught them up now, mainly because a couple of them don’t like the big max sized phones that I get.) So I’ve got a spare iPhone. I think it’s an iPhone 12, or an iPhone 11, or something. It is getting a bit long in the tooth now. And there are a couple of the new features that I can’t access. But if you have one, then you might want to chuck the first developer beta on there, particularly since Apple has changed its policy this year.
At first, when this became evident, people thought it might be a bug and that they might fix the bug. But apparently it is intended.
What they’ve done is they’ve made the developer beta available to everybody. So you can go into settings, and then general, and then software update. And you may need possibly to sign into the developer.apple.com service for this to become available. I’m not sure about that because I have an Apple developer account specifically to test these early builds and try and get feedback in at a formative stage.
But it’s available to everybody. You don’t have to pay the, I think it’s a $150 a year to get access to this anymore.
Now that’s encouraging in the sense that the earlier you can get in and report these bugs, hopefully, the more time Apple has to address these bugs and make sure that they’re dealt with by the time iOS 17 is released. And we expect that sometime in September.
While it’s in pretty good shape for a developer beta 1, there are bugs. And are we going to grumble about that? No we are not, because that’s what you sign up for when you agree to beta test. [laughs]
I think we have every right to grumble when there are very significant bugs remaining in final releases that everybody puts on their phone in good faith. But this is not one of those builds, so test at your own risk.
And if you want to get your hands dirty on compatible phones, there are those features that Apple talked about at Global Accessibility Awareness Day such as the change to the magnifier that allows you to touch certain things and find out what you’re touching such as appliances, that kind of thing.
There’s also the personal voice feature, which takes about an hour to train. I have not had the time to do that at this point, but I understand that is working pretty well.
And something that we didn’t expect, which is a nice little feature, is a lot more customization of the voices. When you choose a voice, you’re able to flick down and get new actions, one of which is the ability to customize the voice. And this is particularly impactful for eloquence, where you can do all sorts of customizing of eloquence, including breathiness, inflection, all sorts of parameters that you can now adjust. You can also have a higher sampling rate for eloquence, if you like. That is not to everyone’s taste, but that’s precisely why it’s an option, right?
Eloquence is also available on the watch in watchOS 10, and it’s available on Apple TV as well. So Apple got the word. We were all delighted. Well, most of us, most of us were delighted when eloquence came to the phone last year. And now, they are spreading eloquence far and wide. Great customer responsiveness there.
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Not surprisingly, Apple things to talk about.
This week, Jeanie Willis starts us off. She says:
I, too, am frustrated by the ongoing bugs in iOS 16 that don’t seem to have been resolved. Sometimes, when we get to a nice, stable .5 version, I will hold off the update to the new iOS when it is launched until some bug fixes are worked out. But here we are at 16.5, and I still can’t use handwriting properly.
This started back in 16.2 when suddenly, no one could write the letter i, lowercase. This seemed to be a universal bug. And there was no workaround, forcing me to either use other methods, or try to avoid writing texts or filling in edit fields with words containing i’s.”
“This finally got fixed in 16.4 only to find that now, most of the time, when I write an E, it comes out as L. Now, I could understand the i previously coming out as an L because maybe it just wasn’t allowing you to lift the finger and add the dot. But in no part of this universe does a curly line E get misinterpreted as an L, and I couldn’t believe some people tried to tell me maybe I wasn’t doing it correctly.
This bug still persists with me into 16.5. It is not a universal one. Sometimes, on the odd occasion in certain apps, it works, and not everyone is experiencing this one.
However, I have recorded log reports etc for Apple some time ago. And yet, it still remains.
The handwriting with the update to 16.4 became generally much more sensitive and harder to use. It used to work best when you wrote very big letters. But now, you have to be very careful, small and tidy, or an A will write as a D or R and O’s have a habit of growing into H’s.
I know this isn’t a feature a lot of blind people use a lot. But for those of us that were still using a pen to write at around the same time our sight deteriorated and we started using VoiceOver, handwriting on the screen is the most intuitive, quickest method for short amounts of text.
I think they have reconfigured it for how sighted people who can see the result are using it as the watch got a significant change to its handwriting/scribble feature at the same time.
The other bug that is persisting for me and for some others here in New Zealand is that the native podcast app in early versions of iOS 16 had the chapters listed, and you could flick through them with individual time stamped entries. However, for a lot of people, they often wouldn’t activate.
But now that list has disappeared altogether. It says it is there, the page scrolls with a 3-finger scroll as if there is a lot of content, but no flicking or touching the screen will reveal those individual entries.
This also started with iOS 16.4, and did not get fixed in the recent release. Very frustrating!
I’m off to download Overcast and check your instructions on how to import my feed.
Oh. And just in case anyone else has the handwriting bug, if you write an E and it says L, just perform a two finger flick down and you will hear it change to an E. This same two finger flick down will cycle through other alternatives including various accents on letters and alternate punctuation that is hard to draw.”
and I think it’s really important to emphasize – it doesn’t really matter how many people use a given feature. If Apple has chosen to include a feature, then they need to support a feature. And when it breaks, we are entitled to expect it to be fixed in a timely manner. Blind people aren’t exempt from consumer law by virtue of being blind. They are entitled to have a product that works properly and once Apple release something, then they’ve got to make sure it works as advertised.
I have also heard of this bug with Apple Podcasts. I’m not a fan of that app. A lot of people use it because it’s easy, it’s there, it’s built right into the phone. I completely understand that. And some people use it now because there is some unique premium content in the app.
But other than that, my goodness! There are such better options out there.
Nevertheless, it should work, it should be accessible.
There has been this accessibility regression with respect to chapters. And believe me, when chapters don’t work, I hear about it. I hear about it a lot because people really appreciate the chapter marks in the podcast and when this happened, people thought it was me. They were blaming me. Don’t shoot me, I’m only the podcaster. But it was actually an Apple accessibility regression.
Voice message: Hey, Living Blindfully community.
I just watched Apple’s WWDC keynote. And with particular interest, I watched the announcement of Apple’s new AR product, the Apple Vision Pro. During the main keynote, they didn’t seem to mention, as far as I could tell, anything about accessibility on the device.
However, Apple, on the first day of WWDC also does another keynote called Platform State of the Union, in which they give a broader overview of what’s new for developers of apps for the Apple platforms. And in there, during the part about the Apple Vision Pro, there was a little mention about accessibility whereas they mentioned that developers could label objects in this 3D space that their app creates.
I’m very much looking forward to more sessions within this WWDC conference about the Vision Pro to get more info, hopefully, on the accessibility story for this device. But also, if I’m honest, I’m mostly interested in getting audio information from this device.
And it seems a little bit ridiculous to pay an exorbitant amount for a device that so much of the hardware is spent on pushing pixels, and so much of the money for hardware is spent there. That wouldn’t make sense for me to buy it.
What I would love is some kind of device like glasses or headphones with a camera that can process the world around me and just give me information via headphones. Now I know that a bunch of these headphones and glasses already exist. And I’ve seen some demos for them. But it seems like there’s always quite a bit of delay in getting a response from these devices. And I still have some remaining vision and I feel like currently, I’m better off using the magnifier on my phone to zoom into things, to read them or to look at them in more detail versus using one of these assistive devices.
But I would love it if, like with the Reality Pro, we get more assistive devices that can do the processing of the camera input on device so that we can get a much more rapid response. I also, as an added bonus, think it would be good for privacy to have all of this happen on the device. I’m kind of hopeful that AR devices are evolving in this direction. Maybe starting with Apple’s very expensive device and seeing the accessibility features on there, some company will think, oh, let’s see if we can put something like this in a smaller form factor, a cheaper form factor that doesn’t have screens.
Jonathan: That’s Frederik with those thoughts.
And this is what typically happens. Apple will come out with a product. There will be a number of other manufacturers who seek to imitate it and undercut them.
Apple said at WWDC they’ve got over 5,000 patents on this thing, so the extent to which others will be able to duplicate this will be interesting to see.
Christopher Wright says:
“For the most part, the event was boring. The new OS updates appear to contain minor tweaks, though not always.
I’m very curious to find out what’s been added and fixed for voiceover users in MacOS and iOS.
The Vision Pro seems mostly useless for a blind person, unless we can use all those cameras with apps like Seeing AI, Aira, and Be My Eyes. If that’s the case, it could take visual interpretation to a completely new level.
I’ve heard it includes VoiceOver, so that won’t be a concern.
The price is outrageous, though hopefully, this will come down over time, unless it spectacularly flops. I’m sure extreme enthusiasts will have no problem coughing up that much money, but for the average consumer and especially blind people, that’s highly impractical. If the price was around $500 to $1,000, it would be justified, assuming it benefits blind people in the same way the iPhone does at the same price point.
I’m not a fan of more facial recognition nonsense, and controlling the device with random gestures in the air sounds like it’s going to be yet another thing that makes us look weird and ostracizes us further from society, similar to the rocking phenomenon. If I remember correctly, Google Glass failed because people didn’t want a bunch of cameras looking at everything. What makes Apple think they can succeed here?
This is a first generation product. Never ever ever ever buy first generation products.”
We are, of course, interested to hear what you think of Vision Pro and any other Apple things. opinion@LivingBlindfully.com is how you get in touch. You can also give us a call. 864-60-Mosen in the United States. That’s 864-606-6736.
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Quite a few comments coming in on Bookshare, the price increase, and also its relevance in 2023 when there are accessible mainstream options available.
Anexis starts us off and says:
I was very surprised to hear about Bookshare raising their subscription. I either missed the email, or it hasn’t been sent to me.
I’ve been a Bookshare member since I was 13. For most of these years, I haven’t paid for my membership as I’m a student. I paid for one year when I took a break from college.
Personally, Bookshare has made a difference in my life. When I finish my Bachelor’s degree, I’ll renew my subscription and happily become a paying member.
Unlike with Voice Dream Reader, I use Bookshare for reading very often.
I agree that there are a lot of options like reading books that are available to everyone. However, I believe that Bookshare still serves a purpose. This will definitely depend on the person but from my experience, it’s best to have as many options as possible.
While I love Bookshare, it’s not perfect. I’ve very recently gotten into light novels. These are Japanese short novels that target high school students. Bookshare doesn’t have many of these. And unfortunately, it takes some time for them to have books available after requesting.
As an author however, I can say that providing books to Bookshare is very easy. Simply email them at AuthorDonations@bookshare.org and express your interest in working with them. They’ll send you a letter of consent, and you have to sign it. And then, email your book in either Microsoft Word or EPUB. You also have the option to tell them where to pick up a copy of your book.
Since I’m a very avid reader, I use several options for reading. Besides Bookshare, I have an Audible subscription, I’m registered with NLS Bard, and I have a library card. I also use YouTube if the audiobook is available. I mainly use YouTube when I’m taking literature classes. All of my reading options have, in my opinion, pros and cons.
I’ll give you my thoughts in a moment, but first, I’d like to discuss Kindle and Apple Books.
I tried reading with the Kindle app once. I didn’t enjoy the experience because I couldn’t scroll through the book the same way I would any screen with VoiceOver. I found this inaccessible because I personally get very distracted if a screen reader reads continuously. I honestly remember nothing about the book I read through Kindle. I know that you can go page by page, but if you want to read less words at a time, you have to change the font.
While Kindle Unlimited allows you to read many books, the problem is that you can’t always get new releases. Through Kindle Unlimited, you’ll probably get a lot of self-published books that are enrolled in that program. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good enough selection to pay close to $10 every month.
You can read Kindle books on your Amazon Echo. This is more accessible than the app, but I prefer human narrators over AI narrating. For me, it’s not a viable option unless I’m reading my own stuff for editing.
Finally, it doesn’t seem like you can read Kindle books through a website, which might make it more accessible. I know some people read using their Braille displays, but I haven’t tested it out in the Kindle app to see how accessible it would be. I don’t use my Braille display with other devices.
As for Apple Books, I only used it to see if my book read well before I approved the formatter’s work. I found it to be more accessible than Kindle, but I don’t have a lot to say on that. I had to go from page to page in order to read parts of my book.
I read a lot of books in Braille. Bookshare is the best option for me in order to access a large collection of Braille books.
I appreciate that Bookshare is an option, and that they try to add as many books as they can. Also, Bookshare sometimes has incomplete series.
Finally, since there are a variety of formats, I love that I have the option to choose how I want to read. Audible is great for the most part. I get all the new releases. There are very few books that aren’t on Audible.
I think my only negative is that books on Audible are very expensive. So if you don’t have a credit, you may not be able to pay for it.
Previously, NLS Bard would add new releases about three months after they were released.
However, they’re behind on new releases. They don’t have every book, including light novels. They also have incomplete series.
Finally, last I checked, their Braille collection is not as good as their audiobook collection. Their older audiobooks don’t have the best quality since they were recorded for cassette players.
Public libraries don’t have enough books. Your choices are limited. So if you want to read a specific book, you may not be able to get it from your public library.
I think all these options are great. If anything, the amount of options available increases people’s willingness to read. Because of everyone’s different reading preferences, everything should be available, in my opinion.
With Kindle, Apple Books, and Audible, I think the biggest issue is money. Bookshare offers a paying option. But if you’re a student, at least you get a free subscription. Apple Books has no subscription. And as far as I know, Kindle Books and Audible don’t offer a student price. In my opinion, Apple Books, Kindle, and Audible aren’t always viable options since not everyone can afford them. This is why I think Bookshare still has a purpose.
I’m very curious to see what everyone thinks about this. Has anyone found Kindle Books more accessible than me? I’m excited to hear from you.”
I find Kindle Books pretty good on the whole. There have been some problems with Braille scrolling, but that’s yet another iOS Braille bug. I just let it rip when I want to read continuously with text-to-speech. I perform a 2-finger flick down to read all, and let the book read.
Sandra made this point in last week’s episode, and I responded then, but we got Callie’s message after last week’s episode was recorded. So here’s Callie Pierce. He says:
“Greetings again from Chicago.
There’s a crucial idea missing from your analysis about Bookshare, and the contention that blind people pay a relatively small amount for access to an enormous number of accessible books and should buy what they actually read.
Many people, blind and sighted, cannot afford to buy large numbers of books, enabling them to be informed about our world. This is why public libraries were created.
The American Library Association reports the Chicago Public Library has 5.7 million books. Chicago is in the state of Illinois, and the state-run and funded University of Illinois is America’s second largest university library, with more than 13 million volumes. Both libraries are nearly completely funded by taxpayers, including myself. Those living in communities with small libraries can receive books on loan at no charge from their big libraries, also provided at taxpayer expense.
If sighted people can obtain books at no cost, should blind people not be able to obtain accessible books from a very large collection with no audit cost as well?”
Good point, Callie. And I guess, I reiterate the comment I made last week. Well maybe then, if we’re paying taxes for a service that is inaccessible, perhaps we should be getting Bookshare at no additional charge, and the cost should be met from the providers of those inaccessible libraries.
Debbie Hazleton says:
It is always lovely to get your podcast.
I want to say that in this discussion around Bookshare, while I think it does seem like a high rate change, I can understand what you say about how it’s in line with inflation. While there are those who want something for nothing and perhaps many services would be improved with more funding, I believe it is also fair to say that in general, everyone is feeling hit by rising inflation.
Be that as it may, I choose Bookshare many times even though I know the Kindle is available. With Bookshare, I am able to find the latest books quite easily and download them in BRF format and read them instantly on my Mantis or the Reader. I choose many books that I want to read in braille” (with a lowercase b), “not having to hook up my phone to a device, etc. It is easy, it is portable. I am amazed to see the number of books that are available. We have come a long way.
With Kindle, I often have to listen to them if I don’t feel like hooking up my phone to a device, etc., and I don’t always want to listen to some of the books. I find I want to read them. I want to feel them for myself.
Cookbooks, other how-to kinds of books, books about essential oils,” [laughs] Don’t get those essential oils on your Mantis, Debbie. you’ll have to send it in for a clean. “Those are just a few examples.
As with many things, it is not an either or for me. It is both. It is a right to choice. I know you know about that.
As always, many thanks.”
Caller: Hey, Jonathan. Jim from Florida. How are you doing?
Listen. I was listening to the podcast about Bookshare and I wanted to share a few things because I’ve had a membership since around 2001 or so.
First off, Bookshare was originally started as a project for students to be able to get accessible books, you know, while we were fighting over copyright accessibility and things like that.
But the one thing I want to share at the outset is that anyone in the US who works with an organization that gets any federal dollars, as well as if you work with an organization like Hadley in the US, you can still get an education or a student membership even if you’re an adult to take a course. I mean, even if it’s like learning Braille or learning other types of things. I mean, something that may not even be a reading-intensive thing if you’re a client of a rehab agency like I am. I am an adult independent living client for my state agency right now, and I don’t have to pay for my membership. I did for years.
I’ve actually donated books, and they give you credit for that, you know, by scanning and proofing them and all that. I’m a registered volunteer with Bookshare.
As far as the price goes, yeah. If I was a regular everyday working person, I think the price is fair. Yeah, it sounds a little steep. But I think it’s fair because, you know, there’s a lot that goes into it.
But if someone is a student, college, university, high school, elementary, middle, whatever, if they are a client of a rehab agency, you can even get your case open and post employment or adult independent living. And then, you are well qualified to be a Bookshare client – the customer for free because they do get US government dollars and they don’t, you know, they’re very upfront about that.
So there’s ways to do it. Someone may just have to do a little legwork and gosh, you know,it might be worth someone for some self-improvement or continuing education with one of the organizations to do that. It doesn’t cost anything. Your tax dollars at work, just like the library. It’s kind of how I look at it.
Of course, I also use Libby, and I use the Bard system here in the US, and lots of stuff. So you got lots of options.
But you know, sometimes, things can get quirky. I’ve even had a few challenges once in a while with Kindle. I’ve gotten pretty good with it now with the Libby books that I get.
And of course, then there’s the Braille conversation. If we get commercially produced books, do we have Braille access for those of us that want it? And I also heard that you can actually get Bookshare and have narrated books. I haven’t had that experience yet. Maybe by a person or something, otherwise just using the computer voice.
I know it’s a long message, but I had a lot of thoughts about this. As you know, I’m a rehab mental health professional and retired now in disability. Somebody didn’t barricade a construction site. When using a cane, I walked into it between docks. So I do lots of volunteer work.
Jonathan: Thank you, Jim.
Robert Kingett is in touch, and he says:
“Hello, Jonathan and others,
The Bookshare discussion intrigues me from both sides of the coin – as an author and a reader.
I’m not here to say who should use it. In fact, in this time of censorship here in the United States, libraries and even services for the blind are relatively untouched.
For example, across my country, US patrons are banding together to de-fund public libraries. As a result, they can’t afford to buy books.
Bookshare is one place people can go if their library is de-funded. That being said, you can get a non-residential library card for libraries across the US, and even if you reside outside the US.
Here in the States, Libby is our preferred platform of choice for most libraries apart from Hoopla. I read books via audio and Braille using a Braille display provided by NLS. It is not perfect, but you can read a book in Braille in the Libby application.
I’d like to iterate a philosophical point about using Bookshare rather than public libraries or purchasing the e-book. For those not in the know, authors get paid if the public library buys our books. This is why authors love libraries so much.
For reasons we all know, Bookshare doesn’t buy the books it scans/acquires. Since Bookshare is now providing commercial audio books as well in addition to the e-books, our narrators do not see royalties on that, either.
It’s the same for NLS. NLS doesn’t buy the books, either.
but again, I’m not here to disparage anyone for using these services. I use them every day, but I’d like to point out that NLS has Braille-formatted e-books to read as well.
I’d like to ask (even if you use Bookshare and other blindness libraries or services), I’d kindly ask that you take a minute out of your day to request your local library buy our books, even if you’re international. This helps us continue to write, and it helps the team I’ve worked with to get this book produced.
I tell my literary agents to always refuse DRM on all acquired titles. I’m traditionally published. And this means not all my publishers are aware that there is a Braille-ready format they can have alongside the other e-book options.
This may be contentious, but I’m experimenting with having in my publishing contracts the right to sell a DRM-ready version of the e-book alongside the other e-book offerings at the same price as the regular e-books.
I don’t know if Bookshare is useful to me personally, because I’ve got so many other sources for e-books. But I do think there needs to be an additional conversation about supporting blind authors while maintaining the freedom to read in an accessible format.”
You raise a really interesting question, Robert, about blind authors in particular. Because I ran into this a few years ago, and it was quite scary for me at the time. I believe it may have been something like one of the iOS Without the Eye series, or even the iOS Without the Eye bundle that I ended up putting together.
And there was one particular library for the blind that contacted me and said, “We don’t have to buy your book because we are authorized under our Copyright Act to put it in the library.”
And the difficulty with that, of course, is that with blindness-specific titles that teach blind people how to use technology, if every library for the blind did that, it wouldn’t be profitable to write the book in the first place. I mean, it takes hundreds of hours. And in those days, it was my full-time job. So the idea that a library would just take that content that was so blindness-specific without any kind of recompense for it was really scary. It was an existential threat to my livelihood.
I did contact librarians from other accessible format libraries to talk about this, and most of them had a very pragmatic, sensible approach and said, “We tend to stay away from those books for that very reason, that it is a niche market, and you take someone’s niche market away.”
Luckily, I was able to complain to somebody higher than this person in the particular library at the agency concerned, and the matter was taken care of.
Rich Beardsley says he’s become a member of Living Blindfully plus. Thank you so much for your support, Rich. It means a lot.
And he writes:
“As a US student, I get access to the service for free, and it has helped me in college.
While my school does offer e-books through a service called Yuzu, it is not the most user-friendly solution. It does work with a screen reader, but it takes you a lot of time to navigate around the textbook.
With a service like Bookshare, the book has been indexed to make navigation much easier. Not only do you have the ability to navigate by different levels to find the sections you’re looking for. But depending on the device you’re using, you can search for specific text in a much more user-friendly interface.
At this point in time, I do not know if I will pay for the service when I finish school. If they increase their selection of human-narrated audiobooks, I may consider it. But right now, I don’t know.
One reason a lot of people may prefer this to a service like Audible is because the cost is significantly cheaper. With Audible, you’re paying about $15 US a month, or about $150 a year.
Bookshare is $80. And with the discount, it’s $70. That being said, Bookshare is probably a better option for those who are on a tighter budget. $70 or $80 is probably much easier to come up with than $150, or even $15 a month.
When I can, I get my books from Bard, and it works well. The only problem I have is that they still have a lot of older recordings, and whoever indexed them did not do it properly. So you can’t jump between parts and chapters. The title and author information is its own section of audio. The chapters are in another section, and the closing announcements are another section. This makes it hard when trying to find your place in a book if you lost it.
So is Bookshare worth the cost? It all depends on the person and how much you plan to use it. It’s no different from justifying the subscription to a mainstream book service or music service like Spotify.”
Maria Kristic says:
I thought I would type for a change, especially as I am enjoying using my new Mantis to create this message.”
Oh, well done, Maria. Isn’t it a great device?
“You raise an interesting question”, she says, “about the continued need for Bookshare, and I have considered whether my response simply represents an attachment to the service. But I believe it is a valid argument given especially the Braille-related iOS bug I mentioned below.
To me, the root of the continued justification for Bookshare is to offer us an equivalent experience and amount of choice to those who are sighted or otherwise non-print disabled have in consuming books.
A sighted person can choose fonts and colours when reading a book electronically. The options may vary based on the app, but there are always several types to choose from. To my way of thinking, I believe that having the choice to read a Braille display and to have a wide choice of text-to-speech engines is the equivalent of it.
Regarding Braille, at the time of writing with iOS 16.5, a Braille display-related bug from the past has re-emerged in an even more serious form – that is the issue of panning with a Braille display not moving between pages when the turn Pages When Panning setting is enabled. This time, however, if one tries to pan to a different page, not only does nothing happen, but one cannot use panning keys to pan anywhere in iOS again until VoiceOver is restarted.
This bug has appeared and been resolved quite a few times over the years. And in the past, Voice Dream Reader has not been affected. But unfortunately, it is this time. I have seen this bug reported on email lists and Facebook groups with several Braille displays. Thus, reading in Braille is not as pleasant or efficient of an experience on my iPhone now as compared to my Mantis.
And with Bookshare, I am able to read content using my Mantis’s library application. It is much more likely that the reading experience on my Mantis will remain stable as compared to iOS.
Of course, with Android not having HID support, reading in Braille using something like Kindle or Play Books is not even an option for some.
In terms of text-to-speech, with iOS currently, I have a much wider variety of text-to-speech engines and thus, voices to choose from in Voice Dream Reader as opposed to the Kindle and Books app where my options are only the built-in iOS voices. I admit that this point may be verging more on the subjective attachment since the number of built-in voices and engines have increased lately in iOS, and it is likely not as much of an issue with Android, given the ability to use TTS voices system-wide.
Let’s not forget also that we are a subset of the Bookshare using community. I know, for example, that Voice Dream Reader has text-to-speech synchronization wherein the word being spoken is highlighted which I am sure, is beneficial to those with certain types of learning disabilities. And while my knowledge of the same is limited, I am not sure if similar options are available in apps like Kindle or Books.
Benetech has certainly articulated a continued value proposition to publishers, even as Bookshare co-exists with mainstream digital bookstores.
Bookshare has even begun to offer some commercial audiobooks in the US. I certainly do have a lot of Kindle and Audible content as well, and I am grateful that they are also available to us. When content is available on Bookshare, I do prefer it to the mainstream e-book version for the above reasons.
I agree with you about the price increase being justified. My renewal this year happened to fall the week before the price increase took effect, but I will be happy to pay the new price starting from next year.
By the way, to answer quickly a couple of other reading-related questions you have posed previously, I, too, prefer reading with thumb keys as compared to scroll keys on the top face of a Braille display, and I have happily sped up audiobooks to 3x or 3.5x without feeling like I have lost any of the performance.
Love the new name, by the way, and I look forward to the episodes each Saturday as a plus subscriber.”
Well, thank you so much for your support, Maria. I really do appreciate that.
So my question for you then, given what you’ve said in your email is, might the availability of Bookshare be letting some of these mainstream manufacturers off the hook? If there wasn’t Bookshare built into the Mantis, might there be more pressure for Kindle and Apple Books to come to the party on those platforms?
And also to let people know that system-wide voices from third-parties are now possible as of iOS 16. We haven’t seen a lot of adoption of this. But hopefully, there will be more adoption of it over time.
Voice message: Hi, Jonathan, and listeners of the Living Blindfully podcast. This is Lachlan Thomas from Melbourne, Australia.
I wanted to address the topic on Bookshare and whether there is any justification for using the service, given that we have access to mainstream electronic book services like Audible, Amazon Kindle, and Apple Books, etc.
I understand Lena’s concerns about the price increase of Bookshare subscription. But also, Jonathan, I understand your defence of their increase to their subscription service.
Now, to move on to the discussion about whether there’s any need for Bookshare in an environment that we have today where we have access to all these online services. Bookshare, I know, provides quite a bit of educational material. Is it possible for students in school to gain access to that material in Braille or in Daisy e-Text or Daisy audio like how Bookshare provides it to you?
I also should point out that in Australia, we have two means of accessing Bookshare. The first is through the Bookshare.org website, of course. And in Australia, we can sign up and we have to provide documented evidence of our disability here. I presume you have to do that in most parts of the world where Bookshare is available.
But also, we have access to Bookshare through the Vision Australia library, and that’s how I access the service.
I don’t use Bookshare terribly frequently. I’ve only been using it since last winter, last August, I think.
If you are a client of the Vision Australia library, you must request access to Bookshare and the library will provide it to you at no charge. So you have access to Bookshare in Australia for free through the Vision Australia library.
Now, there is a caveat there. You can’t keep the books you download from Bookshare through the Vision Australia library. You have to return them after 6 months, as is the case with all the material from the Vision Australia library or at least, all their digital material.
So for me, there is justification for using it. I don’t use Apple Books or Kindle. I’ve never used them.
Now, one of the disadvantages to downloading content from Bookshare is that of course, it’s all electronic text and it does need to be read by a voice synthesizer. They do, Vision Australia and Bookshare, do provide content in Daisy Audio but it is narrated by an electronic voice which a lot of people don’t necessarily like. And I don’t like it, but it gives me access to books that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise unless I were to buy them.
And that’s my key point is that I can borrow them for free from the library. If I was paying for Bookshare.org access then perhaps, I may not see quite as much justification.
I would be curious to know if other library services around the world provide access to Bookshare for free. I presume the National Library Service in the US does not, but I could be wrong. But what about the library in New Zealand, or libraries in Europe?
As Brian Hartgen pointed out, there are some books I can’t access here in Australia through Bookshare due to copyright reasons. Like I say, I’m not a regular accessor of Bookshare, but I’ve already found some benefit to using it.
Last year, for example, somebody told me about the You series of books based on the Netflix TV show, and I was able to get the first book from that series from Bookshare.
Jonathan: And William Nolan says:
“my argument would be that Bookshare addresses an imbalance. Yes, we now have access to things like audible and more widely available, accessible digital books.
However, we do not have the same access to books that the sighted community does. A sighted person can walk into any charity shop or second-hand bookshop, and they immediately have access to a trove of information at a significantly reduced cost.
Maybe as time goes on and OCR technology improves, we might get to a point where everyone has a device that scans physical books and makes them accessible. However, until that point, I think Bookshare is a necessary tool to increase equity of access to literature.
Love the podcast! I have low vision, and work as an assistive technology assessor and trainer in a university, and your show is one of my weekly tools to keep up to date with some of what’s happening in the industry.”
Thank you so much, William. Really appreciate your thoughts and everybody’s thoughts on this topic. It’s been a really interesting philosophical discussion.
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Let’s go to the UK, where Ali has a question that I hope will elicit some responses from listeners who will have views on this, I’m sure. He says:
I have enjoyed all of the various demos and thoughts you have regularly offered about your various Sonos devices.
Based on your demo, I bought a Sonos Roam which I really enjoy using. When I bought it, I was an iOS user. I later switched to Android and found that the Sonos app for Android is just as accessible as the iOS app.
At this point though, I have a decision to make. I want to kit my house out with really good smart speakers, and the choice appears to be Sonos or Bose. By all accounts, both companies’ speakers are outstandingly good and head and shoulders above everything else.
I do, however, have concerns with both. The lack of Google Assistant support in the new Sonos era series concerns me, since I am buried in the Google ecosystem. And if BARD is coming to the Google Assistant soon as expected, then that would be for me, yet another reason to stick with the Google Assistant.
However, I have heard bad things about the accessibility of the Bose app. I can’t really put it through its paces properly without owning a Bose product.
So I am curious to know if you have tried any Bose speakers and what your views are, not only on accessibility, but also on how Bose and Sonos compare in other areas. If there are no serious accessibility issues with Bose, I may be inclined to go down that route. But given that speakers are expensive, I think it is a decision which I need to get right at this stage before heavily investing in speakers from one company or the other.
If you have had negative accessibility experiences with Bose, have you ever reached out to them about this?”
Well, I hope, as I say, we’ll get some feedback on this, Ali. And I appreciate the email. Thank you for it.
Certainly, Sonos and Bose are the most well-known brands. But there are alternatives out there that have particular claims to fame, including supporting higher bit rates and being able to do a better job of playing local content on local devices. So others may have some recommendations beyond the traditional Sonos and Bose lineup.
If voice assistants are important to you, then it’s possible that Bose is a better choice, if Bose is supporting Google Assistant still.
You can (on the older Sonos speakers), have Google Assistant support. I never found it particularly reliable. And to be honest, I’ve found Google Assistant a much inferior experience to the soup drinker anyway, so I haven’t been particularly upset about that.
I started our journey of getting out our house with a multi-room audio system back in 2016. And in those days, as an iPhone user, there was no competition.
I did like whatever the little Bose speaker equivalent of the Play One was, in the sense that it had a series of buttons on the top of it which you could pre-program with radio stations you listened to regularly. So we could have set up a MushroomFM button, for example, and just walked up to the speaker and pressed that physical button, and it would have started to play.
But the accessibility challenges of the Bose ecosystem was so great at that stage, and Sonos on my iPhone was so accessible that there was absolutely no question that we were going to go with Sonos.
An appliance store let me bring a Bose speaker home, and I tried it. I explained the situation, and they said no problem. If it’s not accessible for you, bring it back in saleable condition. We’ll be good. And I did, and I have not regretted going with Sonos for a moment.
Did I contact Bose at the time? No, I didn’t, because I had a perfectly accessible alternative. And when you’re buying and you’re faced with two options, one of which is very accessible and the other of which is horrible, you just buy the accessible option and move on with your life.
You mentioned that Sonos is also accessible on Android, and I’m really pleased to hear that.
There is one thing you should be aware of, though, which is that at the moment, TruePlay is iOS-only. You won’t have come across TruePlay, I don’t think, if you only have a Sonos Roam. But for their speakers that are not portable, TruePlay is a very important feature. It uses the microphones on your iPhone, and it customizes the sound of the speakers to fit your room. And for whatever reason, they haven’t got that working on Android.
It’s less of a problem with the new speakers, the Sonos Era 100 and 300, which as you rightly point out, do not support Google Assistant, because they have a new version of TruePlay that I believe is not quite as good as the iPhone version, but it does work on device, so it’s agnostic in terms of what smartphone you are using it with.
What I can say is that the Sonos Era 300 with a single speaker gives you Dolby Atmos, and it’s quite exceptional.
I don’t know if Bose has an equivalent product because once you get into one of these ecosystems, you tend to stay in it, unless you have a very good reason not to. Because obviously, it’s a huge undertaking to replace all the hardware that you’ve bought over the years.
Some years ago, before Bonnie and I went on a holiday and we wanted something portable, I did buy a Bose speaker. This would have been maybe in 2017 or 2018, I think. I was still doing The Blind Side, and I did unbox that Bose speaker on The Blind Side. So that will be in The Blind Side archives and you can listen to that.
The sound was really good. It was portable. In those days, there was not a Sonos Roam, and the Sonos move was just a little bit big for the purposes that we were wanting a portable speaker. So we bypassed the move and we bought this Bose speaker, and the accessibility had improved a little bit.
When I was working for Aira, I also got a Bose device called Bose Soundwear. I’m not sure if it’s still available. But it’s quite nifty. It’s a little device that goes around your neck. You wear it like a collar, and it has quite good sound. And I haven’t had any difficulty getting that paired. But to be fair, it’s also a generic Bluetooth device, so it doesn’t rely on Bose’s own app.
I think the key question is, if you’re going to get right into this stuff and set up rooms, group rooms, all that kind of thing that you do with a good multi-room system, is all of that accessible? And I simply don’t know. I’m forever the optimist.
It’s possible that things have improved. And I say that because there was a lot of buzz in the blind community about the Bose Frames, which I believe have now been discontinued. These were glasses that didn’t have a camera. But the form factor of the glasses and the fact that the speakers were right by your ear also made that product very useful for Aira.
There was a useful dialog going on between Aira and Bose, and I believe that some work may have been done on accessibility at that point. So certainly Bose’s collective corporate consciousness on accessibility has been raised since I last took a look at their multi-room offering.
It’s also hard to know whether Google is pulling back on external support for Google Assistant, which is essentially what Sonos is saying – that Google is changing its policies, and that’s why they don’t have Google Assistant on their new speakers. Or whether what’s actually happening is that the consumer is the victim of this legal dispute that is ongoing, which Sonos is winning at the moment I have to say, where, without putting too fine a point on it, Google has been found to have stolen Sonos’s intellectual property.
I obviously love the Sonos ecosystem. I think they have an ongoing commitment to accessibility. If there’s a glitch, I actually let the CEO know, and he makes sure it’s taken care of, so I like being able to have that relationship.
But Bose is a very popular brand. They make some great audio products with superb sound.
So if anyone can comment on the accessibility of the Bose multi-room systems and how you control those with apps for both Android and iOS, I’m sure people would value that information. Drop us an email with an audio attachment or write it down to opinion@LivingBlindfully.com. you can also call in if you want in the US, 864-60-Mosen, 864-606-6736.
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Aira is also on the Blindshell Classic, so you’ve got access to your phone at the touch of a physical button.
And it’s on your PC and Mac as well, which makes it always within reach when you come across an inaccessible website, or you just want to speed up the process when you’re on a busy website and time is of the essence. Aira’s there on your device, on your terms.
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Imagine you’ve been a part of several online communities for years, and you know many of the people who, like you, contribute regularly. Some of these communities provide support, others help you to pursue a hobby, some keep you informed.
And then, out of the blue, you learn that your access to those communities is about to be cut off because the company whose service hosts those communities is making it too expensive for the accessible third-party apps you use to retain access to that service.
Well, there’s no need for blind users of the popular Reddit platform to imagine all of this, because it’s playing out right now. Unless something changes, blind people are about to be locked out of effective access to Reddit.
Fortunately, although the impact of this change is perhaps most egregious for blind people, it’s affecting others as well, and protests are building on the platform.
To discuss the issues with me, I’m joined by one of the moderators of the r/blind subreddit, which is the name that you give to the communities on Reddit. He goes by the handle MostlyBlindGamer, and he’s here to discuss these issues in a personal capacity.
It’s great to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much.
MostlyBlindGamer: Hey! yeah, thank you for having me so much. This really means a lot to have this platform, since we’re in risk of losing the other one.
Anyway, yeah, I’m MostlyBlindGamer. I tell computers to move things. I play games, and I complain about accessibility on the internet.
Jonathan: But there’s a lot to complain about, isn’t there? [laughs]
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah, yeah. I’m here for the third one right now.
MostlyBlindGamer: Also trying to be a little hopeful, and maybe help people understand the situation a little bit more.
Jonathan: Can we start at the beginning then, for those who don’t know about Reddit and who haven’t used it? How would you describe Reddit?
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah, you did a good “explain like I’m 5”.
MostlyBlindGamer: There’s a whole community on Reddit called explain like I’m 5, where you go and you say I have no idea how this works. I don’t understand this. Please explain this to me like I’m 5.
And you get that kind of an answer, right? – An approachable overview of a topic. So let me try and do that.
Reddit’s a social media website. I guess, think Facebook, but it’s very, very different. It’s part of sort of an older kind of internet.
It’s anonymous. It’s very niche for a lot of things. They used to call it the front page of the internet. You go to Reddit for whatever. You go to Reddit to have people explain a topic to you like you’re 5. You go to Reddit to talk about your favorite sports league, or your favorite team. And you talk about your very specific hobby in cooking. You talk about grilled cheese sandwiches.
And then, somebody comes in at one point and says, “Guys, slow down a grilled cheese sandwich only has cheese in it. What you guys are talking about is a melt because it has more ingredients to it.”
MostlyBlindGamer: That’s sort of one of the quirky Reddit legends, I guess, Reddit history landmarks in a way.
So it’s a really diverse place. There’s a subreddit for basically anything you could think of. And if there isn’t a subreddit for it, you can go ahead and make it.
You have to moderate it because we want the internet to be free, but everybody should understand that, you know, we also have to be good to each other, right? And we have to take care of each other.
Jonathan: And people aren’t always so, are they? I mean, there is a bit of trolling that goes on on Reddit.
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah, yeah. There’s the light-hearted stuff, and some communities are more oriented in that direction than others.
But there’s been bigger things. And a lot of responsibility for keeping that stuff in check, if you will, is on moderators. A lot of it is on Reddit itself, including giving moderators tools that allow them to do their jobs.
And I say do their jobs here. That’s a complicated word, right? Because you don’t get paid to moderate Reddit. You’re moderating your community out of passion, right? You believe in that community, and you want to work with it.
So it’s not like we’re talking about people that Reddit hires to do this. To be fair, they do have that to an extent.
But yeah. When you hear about Reddit moderators, generally, that’s going to be just people who have this specific passion.
Reddit’s a link aggregator. You find an article that you think other people are going to care about, and you post it to r/news and people will comment on it. They’ll vote on it. They’ll upvote it and downvote it. And then, that kind of decides what gets more viewed and what doesn’t.
So what I’m getting at here is that it’s a very big machine. There’s a lot going on in it. There’s millions upon millions upon millions of people on Reddit every day.
Jonathan: Of course, the big thing that people hear about is the AMA – the Ask Me Anything. And there have been some pretty famous people who have done those AMA sessions.
MostlyBlindGamer: Oh, yeah.
Jonathan: How long has Reddit been around for? Because it seems to me like even though it’s primarily text-based, which is another big advantage of Reddit, it was kind of off limits for blind people for quite a long time.
And then suddenly, there were these accessible options that sort of percolated through. I think there were a few die-hards that used the website for a while.
Jonathan: But it hasn’t really been, it seems to me, for that until the last few years or so that Reddit gained any kind of critical mass in the blind community.
MostlyBlindGamer: There’s people in the r/blind moderation team who’ve been on Reddit for like 17 years now.
Jonathan: Right. OK.
MostlyBlindGamer: But it used to be kind of this unapproachable part of the Internet because it didn’t look very good to a sighted user. It was very information-dense. It had a lot of buttons with no icons, lots of places with no pretty like icon with a heart, just, you know, actual words, actual text.
Jonathan: What a radical idea.
MostlyBlindGamer: And that interface still kind of exists. We call it old Reddit. You can get to it through old.reddit.com.
But it’s been replaced for the most part, and it’s not really getting updated. It’s not getting the tools that people need to do all the new things that you can do on the Website to access the new things and to moderate the Website.
So new Reddit came out a few years ago, and it really brought Reddit a lot closer to what I would call the modern Web. That’s well, more visual for sure, but very click-oriented and engagement-oriented in ways that I think people who use screen readers can relate to that.
You can understand how a company wants to, on one hand, make the Website easier to use for a great portion of their user base.
But also, they’re a private company. Ultimately, they have a responsibility to their shareholders to make money with the Website. And that’s obviously what they’re interested in right now. [laughs] And you can’t blame them for that, fundamentally.
But in that process, new Reddit is harder to navigate. It’s harder to use.
And what really got a lot of people into the Website were some apps that are just better than other interfaces. Certainly, we got mobile apps for the Website before Reddit themselves even ever thought of it.
And yeah, when you have someone like a moderator, who’s like mostly a user and they get into this, and they’re passionate about it – maybe they’re in college and they’re working on this project, they’re trying to learn and make something that they would like and that other people would like, or they’re doing this commercially, but they need to appeal to their customers directly in what they can produce, which in this case is the third-party user interface. You get different results in your end product than you do from Reddit itself, right?So multiple third-party apps out there.
I remember years ago, emailing the creator of a new project saying, “Hey, I’m visually impaired. I’m loving your app for Reddit, but the text size is just too small for me.”
And they come back to me and say, “I don’t understand. This is gigantic.”
And I say, “Listen. Here’s what I’m going to need from you. You take whatever size you think is absurd. And then, you make it bigger and that’s probably going to be OK.”
And that’s what I got because I wasn’t talking to a gigantic company. I was talking to an individual who goes like, “Oh, wow! I didn’t realize that this was a problem. OK. What can I do to help?”
And even today, we have things like this.
So I personally had to deal with a situation on r/blind a while ago, where someone made a comment that was very triggering, very uncomfortable for other people.
And the truth is being blind, being disabled isn’t easy. Life’s complicated. And sometimes, we have to have conversations about things that don’t make us feel good.
But it’s important to allow people to approach that conversation in their own terms. It’s at least, nice. It’s considerate to be able to say, “Hey, I’m going to talk about a topic that is important to me that I think is important for other people. Please be aware that this may upset you.”
And then, you add a spoiler tag. So people then have to click through the spoiler tag to read it. And if they’re just casually scrolling through or VO right through whichever way that they’re going through this content, they get to skip that.
Jonathan: Right. It’s somewhat analogous to the content warnings in Mastodon.
MostlyBlindGamer: Exactly. Well, that doesn’t work on Reddit’s website for multiple platforms and screen readers I’ve tested with.
MostlyBlindGamer: And we made a bug report, and nothing’s happened.
Jonathan: So there are some challenges there with the existing Reddit offerings?
Jonathan: And there are various options that are out there that are accessible. I know that people have been lobbying Apollo, which is a huge Reddit client which faces extinction as a result of the changes we’re about to talk about.
There’s also one called Dystopia that’s been in TestFlight forever, but it continues to be updated and made available. And that’s a very accessible option for VoiceOver users on iOS. There are a couple on Windows as well.
Why is it, do you think, that given the fundamental textual nature (primarily anyway) of Reddit, that Reddit itself has not really engaged and they haven’t seen accessibility as some sort of market? I mean, even Twitter before the revolution had an accessibility team. Facebook has an accessibility team. It seems like Reddit’s a bit of an outlier in this regard.
MostlyBlindGamer: And sorry, let me just wrap up that last point, which is Reddit is struggling to engage with this. But the dev behind Apollo immediately jumped on my comment about this particular bug and said, “Okay, what can I do about this? Is this implementation better? Is that implementation better?”
And this gigantic organization who knows that they’re not complying with the standards did not. So why not?
Well, one thing I think I can challenge here is that I’m not so sure that the current Reddit is text-based so much anymore to a significant degree. In fact, I believe that I read that when there was a leak of some of Twitter’s algorithms and you know, you can question that, of course, but they value tweets with images and videos over just text tweets in the algorithm.
And again, you’re running a business. You want to get the engagement that you’re looking for. I understand that. It seems that one can ascertain that content with images, with videos, with gifs is more engaging.
Honestly, I find that when I post on other social media, I get a lot more feedback on something that has an image with attached alt text. I don’t know how many people are actually going and looking at the alt text, but that doesn’t matter because it needs to be there. [laughs]
You can’t add alt text on Reddit. There’s no feature for that.
You can add alt text on Mastodon. You can add alt text on Twitter for a while, right? You can add alt text on Discord.
You can’t do that on Reddit. So you have an entire subreddit that’s backed by a nonprofit that’s dedicated to transcribing image posts on Reddit. It’s not like they haven’t noticed that people who can’t see the images would like to enjoy the images. You know what I mean? They know about Transcribers of Reddit. They’ve talked to the people behind Transcribers of Reddit. [laughs]
Jonathan: So why are they ignoring blind people?
MostlyBlindGamer: Honestly, I think they didn’t think we were that big. This is my perspective. I don’t think they felt like our market was big enough. And this is not unusual.
And it could be that people in Reddit who think we matter said, “Okay, we have this issue with accessibility. Let’s take our time with it. We don’t have to rush because we don’t need to add alt text right now because Transcribers of Reddit is doing it for us. And we don’t need to work on making our mobile apps accessible because third-party apps are working on that. We’re okay. There’s alternatives. They’ll be fine. If they really want to use Reddit, they can go to these alternatives.”
And it’s possible that the people within Reddit who think this are not the same people who think we have a business case to charge huge prices for API access and aren’t making the connection that that API access is what ultimately allows blind people to use Reddit.
Jonathan: This is obviously why we have you on now because these third-party apps are facing extinction because of exorbitant charges that Reddit wants to charge for access to their application programming interface, the API.
Is it purely a commercial decision? Or are they concerned about the branding differences?
I know that one of the arguments that Musk made at Twitter was that when you use a third-party app, Twitter loses control over the experience. You know, experience is the big word in software at the moment. And the experience you get with a third-party app can be quite different from the experience that the creator of that entity, that service, wants you to have.
So is this a money grab, or is it more of a branding thing, or a little bit of both, do you think?
MostlyBlindGamer: There’s no way I could read Reddit’s minds. Also because again, I feel like they may have more than one mind working on this at the same time and they may, or may not be in sync. But here are a few points.
Reddit started the process for an IPO, an initial public offering. So they want to be a publicly traded company. They started this process in late 2020, when people were using the Internet at home a whole lot more.
And since then, their valuation has, last I read, gone down by about 40 something percent.
If I had an interest in selling a company I owned, I could see myself saying, “Hey, my product and the access to my product is worth a lot of money.”
This is the thing that would probably get investors to start doing some math and go like, “Oh wow, if they can charge this much for API access, well, that means they should be very valuable, possibly more than we thought they were.”
I’m not an economist. You can read into my thoughts how you’d like, but this is one possibility in my mind.
At the same time, we have the expanding issue of AI and chatGPT, and very large language models. So these tools are trained on human data. So they learn from reading things that people wrote. Books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet.
So a company like OpenAI working on training their product will have certainly read through all of Reddit through the API.
So one could consider this and say, “Okay. Well, they have a company who’s using their free API, and they’re using that to develop their own product.”
Further, they’re developing their product based not even on Reddit’s intellectual property, but that of its users. I mean, that’s a perfectly reasonable start to a motivation to rework your perspective on do you or do you not want to have a free API?
Jonathan: So it has been completely free until now, is that right?
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah. There’s rate limits, so you can’t just go and access everything at the same time.
So an application programming interface, that could be a lot of things. And in this context, what the Reddit API is, it’s a technical system through which other programs, other websites can communicate with Reddit and send information and get information back. And this is something that’ll be used by your third-party app to read and interact with Reddit. And it’s something that’s used by what I imagine, right? OpenAI and other companies like that to get the data for their training. It’s something that’s used by bots, so programs with a specific goal in operating in Reddit.
So for instance, Transcribers of Reddit uses bots to link their transcriptions. You can go to TOR (as in Transcribers of Reddit) _archive, is where you can find posts by their bot that are links to transcriptions made by volunteers. So I call it the accessible version of the front page of Reddit. So you go there, and everything there is transcribed – all of the text, all of the videos, all of the audio. So that’s your gateway to the broader Reddit, and that’s the text-based version of Reddit. Because like I said, to a very significant extent, Reddit is not quite that text-based.
Jonathan: And now, we’re going to the other extreme where Reddit is charging, I think what most people would consider exorbitant amounts, to the extent that the developer of Apollo, which is probably the most famous third-party Reddit app, is up for millions of dollars on a regular basis just to keep the app going.
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah. So his math is about $20 million a year.
And here’s the thing. You can even say, “Okay, listen. We couldn’t expect the API access to be free forever. Let’s be real here. Reddit needs to be making money somehow. They need to support their servers. They need to pay their own developers.”
And okay. So let’s say they need to charge for the API. Let’s say Apollo is a commercial product. There are apps that are free and open source. There are apps that are free and open source and have a paid option. Apollo is, sorry, it’s free, but you may or may not want to pay for it. If you pay for it, you get excellent moderation tools, for instance, and notifications. Yeah, you get push notifications, which require a server on the app developer side.
It’s the same way that you can say, “Okay, this app developer needs to pay for their server to be able to give you this service.” So it’s only fair that you consider that if this is worth your money, you should pay for it.
You could extend that to Reddit themselves. Fine! Yeah. Okay. You guys can go ahead and charge for your service. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But charging $20 million a year with 30 days notice, to put it mildly, it’s not a friendly way of doing business, right?
Jonathan: It’s pretty disrespectful to users in general, though, isn’t it?, who have come to rely on these apps. It doesn’t show particular love for those who keep the platform afloat with their content.
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah. Reddit is its community. Reddit is the Redditors. Reddit is the moderators. Reddit is the comments. Reddit is the wild stories on AMA.
And from our blind perspective here, the access to Reddit isn’t provided necessarily by Reddit.
So okay. All right. Fine, you guys. You have a business case for charging for access. Alright. Let’s work with that.
Okay. Let’s go further. Let’s say sure, you have a business case for assuring that the experience as you’re talking about is exactly as you decide. Alright.
The experience is bad, so you need to make it good. And I don’t just mean good. I mean acceptable.
Their platforms are not standards-compliant, right? It’s not like they can say, “Oh, it’s accessible if you can use it.” No, there’s standards for that. They’re not compliant.
So you’ll limit us to your first-party app and you’re going to work on making it accessible because we’ve been telling you for years that it’s not accessible. Love it! Amazing! Fantastic! Alright. When can we see this accessible app?
Oh, sometime in the future? Okay. So in the meantime, we’ll use the ones that work for us, right?
Oh. No, we can’t? Okay. Alright. So which one is it? Do you want us to be on your website and you’ll either provide an accessible experience, or allow us to take advantage of the accessible experience provided by others? Or do you not want us on your website?
And the messaging I’m getting is they don’t really want us on their website. I mean, okay, we’ll talk. Let’s talk it out. Okay. But look at it this way. We have an eviction notice on our door, and we don’t know where we’re going to go.
Jonathan: Has there been dialogue then with Reddit? I take it that they have been in discussions with representatives of the blind community.
MostlyBlindGamer: There’s been discussions. I can read you something. I wouldn’t want to risk misquoting this.
It’s the Joker who’s behind transcribers of Reddit, communicated with Reddit on several occasions and here’s their quote:
“It’s not that Reddit hasn’t thought about marginalized communities, specifically the blind community. I have had multiple Zoom calls with a Reddit staff member about these requirements and the importance of API access, both for third-party apps and for transcription.”
They just don’t care.
And we have further opportunities to have conversations with Reddit. It could be worse. Could be take it or leave it, this isn’t what it is.
Even just site-wide, let’s say, not blind-specific issues, they have provided clarifications. One could argue that those clarifications may not be productive. But, you know, there are channels of communication, in a way.
But, you know, when the message is we’ll talk about the future, when there’s a very clear day when your future stops given the current circumstances, you don’t feel like you’re on an even playing field in that conversation, right?
They say by July 1st, we’re going to start charging these apps so much money that they will probably have to shut down and you won’t be able to use the website, but we’ll talk.
Jonathan: So the best-case scenario is that there would be a considerable gap in the quality of accessibility right now. If those apps disappear, they can’t magic an accessible first-party alternative into existence overnight.
MostlyBlindGamer: Oh yeah, for sure.
MostlyBlindGamer: So this goes between it will be incredibly tedious for certain people to use the platform, making them less likely to use the platform and less likely to contribute their voice to the platform, to it will be basically impossible for people to do what they have been doing on the platform, and they’ll also lose their voice and their representation on the platform.
The support that we’ve had from sighted people on Reddit has been incredible. And I’m honestly touched by messages from people who say, “I had no idea this was going on. This matters so much to me.”, people who say, “I had an entirely different position on the site-wide blackout. I didn’t realize that this was affecting you guys this much. What can we do to help?”, to the point of people saying, “Hey, I can help with moderating if you guys don’t have the tools from Reddit.” And that’s all touching and appreciated.
Now, it does get to a particular point here, which is blind people don’t want help. We just want the same access.
Yeah. So I listened to your last episode. You’re talking about hearing aids and headphone jacks, by the way. Yeah, that’s the way to go for audio still. You got to have a cable.
But you don’t want to ask somebody on the street. “Hey, would you mind going to the ATM for me?”
And you can talk about independence, and all parts of your life, and your day to day, and your activities. And there’s going to be parts of that that are going to be more obvious, right?
MostlyBlindGamer: You don’t want to have to go through a third party to go to an ATM. You don’t want to have to go through a third party for talking to your doctor.
People don’t want to have to go through a third party to send messages, and read messages, and moderate everything online. That’s just not what people are looking for.
So ultimately, the funny thing here is we got ourselves into a situation where we’re just asking for the status quo, which is bad.
Jonathan: Tell me about that protest that you briefly mentioned there, the blackout that’s coming up. That sounds like it’s gaining a bit of traction.
MostlyBlindGamer: Oh yeah. At this point, hundreds, if not thousands of subreddits of separate communities on Reddit are going to be shutting down, most of them effectively disappearing from the website.
Jonathan: Is that June the 12th?
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah. Let me find you a list with some numbers, because it really is extraordinary.
And again, Reddit has everything. Reddit has a community that’s interested in, from the most niche to the most normal things. Gaming has over 30 million subscribers and will be shutting down on June 12th. Music has 30 million plus subscribers and will be shutting down on June 12th. Today I Learn has 30 million plus subscribers and will be shutting down on June 12th. Explain Like I’m 5, the subreddit I talked about where you can have somebody explain the situation to you like you’re 5, maybe has over 20 million subscribers and will be shutting down on June 12th.
Same with videos. Technology, where you can get all your technology news including this situation, has over 10 million subscribers and will be shutting down on June 12th.
Honestly, for a couple of days, there’s not going to be a lot to do on the Internet. [laughs]
Jonathan: That’s good because it’s not just an accessibility thing, isn’t it? People like the experiences that they like. And so this is one of those examples of accessibility regressions having wider ramifications.
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah, you have customization. You have the fact that Reddit started as a little bit of a wild thing. You know what I mean? I don’t mean dangerous, but, you know, call it free-spirited. Reddit’s full of cool, weird people, right? People who say, “Hey, I want to build an app because it’s fun.” Things like that. People who say, “I want to tweak this.”, right? The website’s full of tinkerers, and those people want to use the apps that they like. They want to make the apps that they like.
But even then, there’s other components to this, right? There’s the fact that Reddit’s tools for moderators are insufficient in general. You want to keep your community safe. You want to protect your community from spam. You want to protect your community from the really bad trolls.
Sometimes, maybe you have a community that’s into a little bit of trolling. Alright, that’s fine. That’s cool. Reddit’s super diverse, and a lot of places are super fun in that weird kind of way.
But if you want it to be more serious, you want to have the tools for that.
Even if you don’t want your community to be serious and your community doesn’t want to be serious, people are just having a great time and you don’t need that kind of day-to-day action, you still want to keep them safe from dangerous stuff, right? Illegal stuff, really also, right?
And so yeah, it’s really great that Reddit says you can have a community for everything, except if you’re blind. And you can moderate your own community, but we won’t give you proper tools for it.
And listen. Yeah, part of their clarifications, they have announced that they will provide improved moderation tools, including on their first-party apps. Again, because they announced that already a while ago. And they announced that a while ago before that, too.
Jonathan: And they guarantee those will be accessible?
MostlyBlindGamer: Oh, for sure. Yeah. And that’s the thing. You can announce whatever you want. But when you’re saying we’re going to give you this new feature someday and we’re going to start telling you about it. But on this specific day, on July 1st, you’re going to lose the feature you have now that we didn’t even make? That’s not a good deal, right?
Jonathan: Reddit’s in the US. Is there a possibility of some sort of Americans with Disabilities Act action relating to the inaccessible of the first-party properties that Reddit produces?
MostlyBlindGamer: I know a little bit about, again, the standards and the law. Here’s the gist of it.
As far as my understanding goes, and I am not a lawyer, I N A A L, which is short for I am not a lawyer. And that’s what you write on Reddit when you’re going to say something about the law, but you’re not a lawyer.
But first, there is a broadly, globally accepted standard for what is and is not accessible for disabled people on the Internet. It’s the WC3 WCAG. So the World Wide Web Consortium works on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. And these are the guidelines that you have to follow and that you can be audited against to say, “My website, my app, is accessible to disabled people.”
Alright. Well, that’s a web standard. That’s not a law, right?
So let’s get into the actual law. In the US, there’s the Americans with Disabilities Act. There’s the Rehabilitation Act. There’s Section 508. And I believe it’s section508.gov (if you want to go read deep into this) that says that federal institutions, basically the government in the US, has to take accessibility into account for their information and communication technology. And the way they have to take it into account is that it has to be compliant with WCAG – with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. So that’s for the public sector.
There’s an equivalent European Union piece of legislation. So in the EU, you also have to comply with the standards. You have to have your technology be accessible to disabled people for it to be used by the government.
Where this gets a little bit tricky, (and there are countries where you also have to be accessible in the private sector). So if you’re just a private company, you also have to be compliant with a standard. I believe Canada and Germany, I think, is leading up to that in the near future.
But in the US, … And let’s be honest, these web things kind of happen when they’re a US rule or an EU rule.
So when GDPR came around in Europe, suddenly, every website started getting warnings about cookies, right? So that’s public sector. There’s some places where that works in the private sector as well.
As far as the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar legislation for public companies, there is case law that supports websites being accessible as a requirement.
Now, in a place like the US, a lot of what we call laws are built, well, on common law, right? So if somebody decided that this is the way it was going to work when it went to trial, then that’s going to be a precedent, and it’s going to pretty much work that way in the future. Again, not a lawyer.
So there is a lot of case law to support this. Beyonce got sued because her website didn’t let blind people buy tickets there. There was no image description. There was no alt text.
Jonathan: Right. And of course, there’s the famous Domino’s one recently as well. There are all sorts of precedents.
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah, yeah. I think Beyonce is kind of interesting. It sounds like a little bit of a niche thing. You know, like who cares about Beyonce’s website’s web accessibility? Well, Beyonce fans, right? If a blind Beyonce fan can’t get to a Beyonce concert because the website just doesn’t work properly with a screen reader, …
Because we can look at this from a very high-level perspective and talk about the laws and the regulations. But ultimately, we have to get down to earth and look at the way that this affects people’s lives, you know.
Is there grounds for a suit? I’m not a lawyer.
But honestly, maybe people don’t care about suing Reddit against the ADA because they can use a different app.
Now, they can’t. So yeah, maybe we care a lot more about suing Reddit, right?
Jonathan: Right. They may well have precipitated some action here because of the fact that they’re taking API access away, more or less, given how prohibitive the pricing is, without actually putting in place an alternative. So that will be interesting to see what happens there.
If things really do go bad and this access is lost, at least temporarily, where might people go if Reddit becomes inaccessible? Is there some sort of Fediverse alternative to Reddit?
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah. There’s some interesting stuff on the Fediverse that could support something like this. Lemmy is the first thing that comes to mind.
Now, is it likely that it’s going to be as accessible as some third-party apps for Reddit? Is it likely that it’s going to be more accessible than Reddit? Is it likely that it’s even going to be, strictly speaking, WCAG-compliant? Maybe not, but federated, open source.
Jonathan: Because I think the blind community have learned this lesson with Twitter – that once you depend on a community that is based on some sort of proprietary access that can be bought and sold and basically made a mess of, that makes us very vulnerable. But if you go to open standards, such as those in Mastodon and other Fediverse applications, then no one can take that away from you because the standards are open. They will always be open. No single person owns them.
And perhaps, this is just another lesson in the dangers of proprietary social media that have evolved. It’s really actually not the ethos of the Internet as it was originally intended, right? The Internet was a series of open, interchangeable platforms.
And then a few really big behemoths came along and changed that mindset. And it feels like there’s a course correction going on.
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah, for sure. Let’s put it this way. I think the people who are on the Internet used to be a little bit of a different kind of people. They used to be the tinkerers, right? They used to be the people who can set up their own email exchange, who can set up their own bulletin board, right?
Well, now everybody is on the Internet, and not everybody can do that.
And to be fair, not even everybody is comfortable enough with just figuring out Mastodon, and signing up to Mastodon, and finding an instance. And we can say, hey, it’s federated. It works just like email. You have your username@domain, and that can be whatever domain you want. You can get email from wherever you want.
But chances are you’re talking to a person who has @gmail.com for their email address because the traditional federated system, which is email, is kind of centralized as well, right?
So yeah, the Internet’s changed a lot. And it’s changed a lot in some perspectives, maybe not the right direction. And a lot of decisions that were being made in the olden days, if we want to call them that, are being looked at in a different perspective because the end goal isn’t necessarily the same.
Because it used to be that you make something on the Internet, and you want to make that thing. Now you kind of want to make something on the Internet to sell it to Google in 5 years’ time.
Jonathan: Right. Is there any other way that people can show their support? Do you have an open letter that people can sign, or anything like that? Is there something else that people could do potentially?
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah, so I’ll get you a letter that goes over this that you can share.
But this is, right now, a Reddit movement, and you can talk to the people on Reddit that are into the weird things that you’re into, right? Your specific niche on Reddit and say, “Hey, mod team. We have this problem. Please join this protest. You can share this information, right?”
You can get on Mastodon. I mean, you can get on Twitter if you’re still on there. You can, yeah, share this with your favorite media outlets, and you can definitely share this with your local blindness associations. So maybe your local association isn’t quite aware of how important Reddit can be. That’s fine. Maybe this is how they find out. I mean, it would be nicer if they found out that Reddit can be an amazing resource for blind people in better circumstances. But hey, this is where we are now, and maybe your local blindness association can ask Reddit some questions, right?
Jonathan: And we will attempt to do the same as well.
But I thank you for coming on the podcast. I wish you all the very best with the advocacy. It’s a really unfortunate state of affairs, and it would be nice to think that there will be some sort of change of heart from Reddit, but I guess time will tell. But we’ll be monitoring it with interest, and I really appreciate you coming on the podcast.
MostlyBlindGamer: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. Like I said, it feels like we’re losing a platform in Reddit.
Let’s hope we’re not. Let’s hope we can figure out the alternatives. If it comes to that, let’s hope we can work with them, and just continue to have fun and talk about our interests, and support each other. But yeah, thanks for having me, and yeah, let’s see what we can do here, right?
Jonathan: This is, of course, what we call a developing story.
Since I recorded that interview with MostlyBlindGamer just a few days ago, Reddit has felt the pressure, and they have come up with a statement which says that they are going to exempt certain apps with an accessibility focus from the exorbitant API charges.
You often see a token action like this being offered by a company that is facing increasing pressure, and what it does is it sows a bit of confusion. This does not fix the problem at all because it attempts to create a segregated environment.
It is true that we do have apps such as Dystopia and Reddit for Blind and others that are blindness-specific, but it’s also true that blind people are using apps like Bacon Reader and Apollo for Reddit, (Apollo being the most famous Reddit client out there), and they are mainstream apps which happen to be accessible. And obviously, that’s what we want in an ideal world. We want apps on a variety of platforms that happen to be accessible while also serving a mainstream audience because you get economies of scale then, and it’s more likely that the app is going to be maintained.
The statement also seems to be very short on specifics, and there are some practical questions. If there is an app for the blind community which happens to be very accessible, and that app goes in the App Store, how do they determine that it’s only blind people using it? If Apollo decided to rebrand itself as a blindness-specific app and further optimize itself for blind people, (because before all this soup hit the fan, there was actually a campaign on the Apollo subreddit to try and get some of the VoiceOver support more optimized). So if Apollo suddenly rebranded itself as a blindness-specific app, and it stayed in the App Store, and everybody could download it, will that save the Apollo developer $20 million a year and save a dearly loved app in the community? Or will there have to be some sort of special means where we have to continue as iOS users, for example, to be using TestFlight betas for the rest of our days, just to keep Reddit happy and to retain our access to the API?
And there’s another issue about this policy too, which another Redditor pointed out to me in a message on Mastodon. And that is that they have said they are going to make an exemption or an exception for non-commercial apps in the disability space.
I’m sorry, Reddit, but this is not only frustrating and missing the mark, it is also incredibly patronizing.
Are they suggesting that developers who spend countless hours writing code, optimizing that code based on any changes or user feedback, providing technical support, are not entitled to compensation for their work? What constitutes a non-commercial app? Does this mean that somebody working their heart out to serve the blind community well is not allowed to charge for all of their time and effort, lest they be deprived of access to the API? Who are Reddit to say that blind people or sighted people who want to assist blind people are not entitled to put food on the table as a result of all their work?
So at the time of recording, certainly, there seem to be many more questions than answers.
All of this is understandably a hot topic on the r/blind subreddit. There is also a subreddit called r/Save3rdPartyApps.
I’ll also put some other links of relevance in the show notes.
And even if you don’t use Reddit at the moment, I hope that you will support this cause. It is vitally important because we cannot allow a precedent to be set where blind people are excluded from even more of the social discourse on the Internet.
Reddit is a place that people can go where blind people can choose to disclose if they want to, but they can also just participate on terms of equality if the accessible tools exist. And it’s not just the accessible tools to read these things and maybe write replies. It’s also to be able to participate fully in these communities and to give something back by moderating. It is not acceptable that this is all being taken away.
And finally, I want to point out something extremely important about the r/blind subreddit. How many times, even if you are not on Reddit, have you performed a Google search to find that towards the top of your search results, you find a link to Reddit and often you’ll find that when you go to Reddit, those answers can be really helpful? While the same is true if somebody Googles on blindness, sometimes depending on the question, they will get a Reddit result towards the top of their Google search.
This podcast is called Living Blindfully, but we’re under no illusions that when somebody’s facing vision loss or somebody very close to them is facing vision loss, it’s scary, it’s difficult. It’s one of the most profoundly life-changing things that can happen to someone.
But unless people are connected with blind people who can give them hope, give them confidence, send them in the direction of good quality resources to help them live their best life with blindness or low vision, then they could have a very miserable life.
That r/blind subreddit can act as a conduit where people can send messages to the group, often very confused, deeply despondent in some cases. And there can be blind people who have experience, who have empathy, who can set them in the right direction.
If Reddit takes away the ability for blind people to provide that advice, that encouragement, that comfort and understanding, then it has very significant social consequences. It cannot be allowed to happen.
The r/blind subreddit is playing a critical role in reaching people at a very formative stage of their blindness journey that other traditional blindness communities do not reach as well. And we’ll continue to watch this with interest here on Living Blindfully.
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This email says:
Peter from Melbourne.
I started listening to your podcast only a few months ago, and I am amazed by how much you pack into each edition.
So I don’t know if you have covered the subject of subtitles on TV or at the movies before, or whether anyone has any better solutions.
I have, up to now, had to rely on someone else reading subtitles out loud to me from TV programs where someone on the screen is speaking in a foreign language, and the translation is being subtitled on the bottom of the screen.
However, recently, while watching a program entitled Four Corners on our Australian ABC, (This was all in Russian.), I decided to try turning on Seeing AI by holding the iPhone facing the TV screen, having the short text setting and the iPhone connected to my Aftershockz head speakers, I heard most of the subtitles read to me.
I have tried this also with other subtitled programs where the segments requiring subtitled translations are less frequent rather than continuous and found it is not as good, but still okay, and definitely better than not understanding the translation at all.
I haven’t tried this in a movie with subtitles yet, but I don’t see why it would not work. I would not choose to go to a foreign language film by choice, but if you landed in one by chance, or with a friend who did not realize you could not read the subtitles, then try this and see if it works. In a movie theater, you would need to be back far enough from the screen to get a wide enough view with your smartphone.”
Thanks very much, Peter. I have not come across a lot of this myself. I am not a huge TV-watcher, though. But normally, when somebody is talking in a foreign language, they overdub with a translator.
But this is a really good use case for Seeing AI and similar apps because it is amazing what you can read when you point something at a screen like that. You do have to be the right distance away from the screen and get your angle right, and maybe the first time it worked well, you just happened to get a really good angle, and maybe it was just ever so slightly off the next time. But that is really cool.
The one reservation I would have about using it in a movie theater when you are out in public is, I wonder whether someone might think you are trying to pirate the movie or something, if you are sitting there with your phone held out so you can get a good view of the screen. It might attract a bit of attention for the wrong reasons. But if it did, I am sure you could explain that it was an accessibility accommodation.
Does anyone else do this? Are there particular apps that work well? Is Seeing AI the best for this? Let us know.
Good on you, Peter, for being willing to experiment like that.
Voice message: Hello, Jonathan and Living Blindfully listeners. This is Jim in Wisconsin. Yeah, the land of cheese, brats, and well, beer. [laughs]
Jonathan, I wanted to take a minute just to thank you for all the great content you produce each and every week. I really enjoy the podcast. You produce some great materials, and really, really appreciate all the hard work you do to put in and make this podcast happen each and every week.
I really appreciated your review of the Zoom M2 MicTrak in episode 231. I am actually talking on that device right now.
The description that you and your son provided was excellent, so thank you very much for putting that together. I really appreciate it. That actually influenced my decision to purchase the device.
I was a little hesitant when I heard the device had menus. The description that you and your son gave was excellent, as far as going through the menus. That was really helpful.
But I was a little hesitant because, you know, the menus are visual. Maybe at some point, they’ll have talking menus, but that’ll probably be like the Zoom M4, M5 version. But hey, could happen someday down the road.
But what I found, and this may be a good tip for others interested in purchasing the device, is I found that using Seeing AI on the iPhone or using Lookout on the Android with both these apps, I can actually use it to read the screen of the Zoom M2.
So it takes a little bit of practice, but now I’m able to actually navigate the menus and pretty much set everything I need to set using these applications.
So I just kind of hold the phone up to the screen, probably about a foot away, kind of aim it properly, and it reads the selected menu item. And as I scroll through the menus, it tells me what menu item is currently active. So it’s actually really useful and really helpful, and it works really well.
So like I say, it takes a little bit of practice. It doesn’t work quite well the first time.
But for anyone who’s thinking about purchasing this device, that might be a really good tip and something you can use to navigate the menus.
So thanks again for all the great podcast work, and have a terrific day.
Jonathan: You get the award, Jim, for being the first Living Blindfully contributor to come in with a Zoom MicTrak M2. That’s awesome. That did sound pretty good, actually.
And yes, with a small display like that, that’s a very good idea to use seeing AI or Lookout if you have an Android device until your Apple Vision Pro arrives. [laughs] Presumably, that will be quite spectacular with something like this as well.
Sad to tell you that the Zoom M4 already exists. It’s a big recorder. I mean, it’s not huge, but it’s got 4 inputs. It’s quite a different device from the M2, which is in a microphone form factor.
Here’s an email from Carol, which says:
there is a website that I want to access, but it is not accessible.
What can I send the host so he can, if he will, make his website more accessible?”
Carol, there are quite a few resources out there like the World Wide Web Consortium Guidelines. But even if you’re able to articulate in some small way what’s wrong with the website to the website developer, that may be all they need.
For example, is it inaccessible because there are lots of links that are full of images, but no alt text.
If that’s what it is, you could simply tell the person to make sure they go through and add an alt text to all links on the site, and that may be enough to get them up and running. If it’s more complex than that, then they may need a web designer, if they are not one, to go in and essentially overhaul the site.
But anybody can Google web accessibility and get some useful hints. Obviously, many people would suggest that it would be appropriate to discourage them from thinking there’s a quick fix, like putting a line of code to implement an accessibility overlay on the site.
Has anyone found a specific resource that is kind of like a primer, a 101, if you’re wanting to introduce somebody to website accessibility?
If a site stands out in that regard, let us know about it. It would be a useful advocacy tool in the toolbox. opinion@LivingBlindfully.com is the email. The phone number, which is in the US, 864-60-Mosen.
And it’s time I was out of here, but of course we look forward to all your contributions and talking about more interesting topics next 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: email@example.com. Or phone us. The number in the United States is 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.