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Chris Pelt: Chris Pelt’s here with The Blind Grilling Experience, where we talk all things cooking, grilling, and barbecue. Tips, tricks, and techniques for the blind and visually impaired, all things accessible, technology-centered around food. If you like brisket and breads, you like pizzas and pies, folks, we will leave you hungry and wanting more. Check out The Blind Grilling Experience on your favorite podcast app or visit our website at blindgrilling.com.
From Wellington, New Zealand to the world, it’s the Living Blindfully podcast, living your best life with blindness or low vision. Here’s your host, Jonathan Mosen.
Jonathan Mosen: Hello. This week hunting for household appliances we can use, a Lyft driver publishes a YouTube video blatantly promoting discrimination against blind people. We talk bookshare, technology training, and the future of accessibility. Welcome to Episode 245. Now, area code 245 in the North American numbering plan, yet again doesn’t exist. Wow. It’s getting a bit dull, isn’t it?
Don’t worry, when we get to Episode 246, I will have a North American area code to talk about. Let me assure you, it’s a good one. We do have a country code 245 to tell you about, and it is Guinea-Bissau, where there are a little over 2 million people according to the 2023 census. If one of those is you rocking into Living Blindfully from Guinea-Bissau a very warm welcome.
I want to share with you today an experience that Bonnie and I have had recently, and it reminds us just how accessibility varies so much depending on what it is year after and even where in the world you are. This saga got started when Bonnie said to me, “Sweetie, she said because she was obviously feeling well disposed towards me at the time, sweetie, have a look at the microwave.”
I said, “What am I looking for, sweetie?” Because I was feeling pretty well predisposed to her at the time, which is often the case. She said, “There’s a crack in the bottom of it.” The microwave that we had was a sharp steamwave oven, and we’ve had this for a long time. It doesn’t have a turntable because it also functions as this steamer thing, and it does the most delicious veggies when you put them in the steamer.
We didn’t use it for too many complicated things, but we did use the steamer a lot. We also would heat things up in the microwave, and we labeled the touch-sensitive panel with little Braille labels, as many people do. It had a number pad and it had stop and start, and we use that a lot. It had defrost functions. We didn’t tend to use that very much, but we got what we needed to do done with this microwave and steamer.
Clearly, I was getting a bit nervous about continuing to use it because with this crack in the bottom, I’m no expert, but I thought, is there a risk that it could spark the magnetron or do something terrible? It was clear that its best days were behind it. I guess that happens to us all eventually. I said to Bonnie, “We’ll see this as an opportunity, we can get a new one.”
This time I vowed it would be super duper accessible because on this very podcast, nowadays, people have been talking about their microwaves powered by Amazon’s personal assistant, which I affectionately call the soup drinker, so we don’t set them off all around the world. I thought, wouldn’t it be good if we could have that Amazon thing, the soup drinker, either in the microwave directly or paired via Wi-Fi to our Amazon account so it could be controlled by the numerous, multiplicitous soup drinker devices we have around Mosen Towers.
My epic quest began. I didn’t expect it to be such a problem and I went to the various places in New Zealand that you go to when you want to buy microwaves. I went to Noel Leeming first because Noel Leeming have always looked after us. You may remember that I mentioned on this show when we had to return the Sony TV that had some very bizarre behavior when you turned its screen reader on with the HDMI output.
They were so good even though we didn’t discover this problem until the return period had expired, they swapped it out for us. They were so good and they’ve always been good to us actually. We use Noel Leeming where we can. I checked their website, there were no Amazon Soup Drinker-compatible microwaves to be found anywhere. I searched the whole of New Zealand and couldn’t find anything.
Then when I went onto the Amazon site itself I found things that have the works with Alexa moniker or brand attached, but they were not dual voltage, they were all the lower American voltage at about 110 volts. I thought to myself, myself, I thought I am not going to risk bringing one of these microwaves into the country. It’s different if you’ve got some small appliance like a cordless phone or something like that that can cope with a voltage converter, okay but I wasn’t prepared to take the risk of paying massive fees to import this thing because I would have had to use a third party importer.
Amazon did not ship any of these microwaves to me directly. I can understand why, because they didn’t support 220 volts. I just thought this is unlikely to end well. As I said, on Mastodon, the Mosen explosion belongs in the studio and not the kitchen. I wasn’t prepared to try that. Then I set my sights a bit lower and I thought surely I can find a microwave controllable via an app.
Surely Samsung makes a SmartThings controllable microwave. I’ve got SmartThings set up because we have a Samsung TV, I’ve got a Samsung Galaxy thing sitting in a drawer that I very seldom use as well, but SmartThings would be a good option. Now, apparently, Samsung do make such beasts, they just don’t sell them in this part of the world. I looked at several other manufacturers and came across the same problem.
Now, you may well be saying by this point, why don’t you get one of those special talking microwaves for the blind? The answer to that is I refuse to be patronized in my own kitchen. We had a cobalt microwave a long time ago, and it was all right, actually. I mean, I tolerated it, saying, “Door open,” every time you open the door, then you put your thing in that you want to put in the microwave and you shut the door and it says, “Door closed,” again.
You’re thinking, duh, I think I know that the door is open or door is closed because I just opened it, or I just closed it respectively, but I put up with that. The new microwave that’s being sold in this country that’s designed specifically for blind people, it’s pretty underpowered. It doesn’t do a lot, but also it says, “Door open. Beware of hot content.”
You heard right, door open, which is bad enough. Beware of hot contents.
You are going to hear that every time you open your door. I mean, even if you open the door and the microwave’s stone cold because you’re putting food into the microwave, it’s going to say beware of hot contents. When the microwave has done its thing and you’re ready to take food out, it’s going to tell you beware of hot contents. No, thank you. I am not prepared to be patronized, insulted, and treated like a twit in my own kitchen.
I know that the microwave’s hot, thank you very much. I don’t need my microwave telling me this every single time I open the door. Apart from the fact that it’s pretty basic anyway, there is no way I am having anything like that in my house. This has created a bit of discussion on Mastodon, and I’ve been mentioning this too, that blind people are fed up with this patronizing behavior coming from appliances or devices that are designed specifically for us, but you can bet your life they’ve not been designed by us.
What to do? What to do? We need a microwave. We decided reluctantly that in this era of smart technology, it looks like we weren’t going to get anything smart coming our way. We’d just resort to the old trick of Braille labeling a touch panel, and making do as best we could until I mentioned this on Mastodon, the amazing Damo McMorrow, who appears on this podcast from time to time, who has a well-deserved reputation as a genius cook, and who also hosts Damo’s All Day Breakfast On Mushroom FM, he saw me posting about this on Mastodon.
He said he had been through exactly the same problem a few months ago. He was also surprised that he couldn’t end up with anything smart. He investigated all the options that were available and he found this quite genius device. Now, I’m not saying it’s going to suit everybody because it requires a little bit of a cheat sheet and that kind of thing, although basic microwave operation is very, very straightforward.
I’ll tell you about this. It’s called the Breville Combi Wave. This incredible gadget has inverted microwaving, which apparently is the new-fangled way of doing microwaving. It’s supposed to be better because it cooks your food more evenly in the microwave. It has that but there’s more. I feel like I’m doing an infomercial. It also has an air fryer built in.
We already had an air fryer but the fact that this thing is all one device means it takes up less space on the bench. It has a convection oven and a grill. Is there no end to the talents that this device possesses? All the buttons are tactile. Now, it does have quite extensive menus, so it would be wonderful if it spoke. It does not speak.
The cool thing is that the menus do not wrap. These are the things that we, as blind people, have to consider when we’re buying all sorts of appliances that don’t give us a speech readout of what’s on the screen. One of the big bugbears of many appliances is that if you get to the last item on the menu, say, and then you scroll to the next item, it will go back down to the bottom of the menu and start all over again so you don’t have a point of reference. This Breville Combi Wave does not have that problem. Once you get to the last item of the menu, and you navigate the menus through very tactile dials that click for each selection, you can’t go any further. You can scroll as much as you want and you will remain on either the first item or the last item of the menu depending on the direction that you’re scrolling. That is a big win.
There are buttons on the front that are very prominent that control things like the Combi Wavee function, microwave, air fryer, the food menu, various things of that nature. Then if you open the door, on the inside, there’s a long row of tactile buttons that control things like the grill function, certain unique functions like melting butter and popping popcorn, turning on the grill, that kind of thing, are all on the inside.
There are a couple of accessibility features of note actually. One is that there are two separate sound schemes for this microwave. One’s new and polyphonic and funky and that’s the default, and the other is a more traditional microwave sound scheme. I’ve not tried the traditional one yet because I quite like all the fun little sounds that it’s making in its default. You can also adjust the volume of the sounds and it does go quite loud. If you have a hearing impairment or you’re the kind of person who’s inclined to move away, step away from the microwave, sir, while it’s doing its thing, you’ve got a good chance of being able to hear it from some distance.
On the other hand, you can also turn all of that way down if you’ve got the midnight munchies. You don’t want to wake the rest of the house up with all its beeping and bonging. What you do is you prepare a cheat sheet and thankfully, because Damo had this device before me, he’d already done that and I’ve expanded it a little bit with information about certain functions that we are using quite a bit and where the defaults are.
Bonnie’s wondering who took her husband away and planted this person in his place because this thing’s got me quite interested because it’s got a gadget element. I’ve been quite interested in making dinner since we got it. On Sunday nights, you might be impressed to know, or of course, you may be saying tell someone who cares, I get that, I did a really impressive sirloin steak in the Combi Wave. The way I did this was just to push the food button on the bottom right, very tactfully distinctive. Then there’s a menu that pops up and the first item on the menu is cook.
I had that from the cheat sheet. I pushed the big button in to choose cook and then I knew that meat was the second to last item on the menu. I scrolled with this little dial, click, click, click, click all the way to the end and went one click back. That’s how easy it was to get to meet. Then you push the select button or the start button again and then you choose the weight.
Now, I did need to find out that it has various increments of weight for the meat and I chose the right one, and then I simply pressed start and it uses a combination of all its technologies to do the perfect steak. I got to say it really did. It obviously did a bit of grilling, it must have done some microwaving, various things, but by the end of it, and it beeped to tell me to turn it over halfway through, I had a beautifully seared sirloin steak with that little bit of crispiness on the side.
Absolutely amazing, I couldn’t believe it. Now, obviously, there are fish hooks with this literally because if you went one item too far, you’d have chosen fish and not meat. Now you can get around this a little bit. Damo gave me this tip as well. He told me that when it’s cooking, you can actually tell what it’s doing using seeing AI. I was able to do that and see that it was cooking meat and just have some peace of mind. You can also use Aira or Be My Eyes if you need help.
It’s certainly not as good as having a full smart appliance talking, but the tactile buttons, the fact that the menus don’t wrap, it really gives you something you can use if you don’t mind putting a cheat sheet together. That’s particularly useful I think for Braille users because you can have your Braille device and refer to it when you write by the microwave, but speech users can find ways to do this as well. I should say that after the steak was finished, I used the air fry function to do some cauliflower bites. That was really easy as well. If you just want to use the basic microwave function, it couldn’t be simpler. It defaults to microwave mode.
Once you push that little bottom button to clear it and then you put something in the microwave, every press of the top dial and there are only two dials on the whole thing, will increment the microwave timer by 30 seconds. If you want to heat something up in the microwave, you just push that button and it immediately starts to microwave and you push it six times for three minutes. You can get a bit more granular if you want to by turning the dial to get specific amounts of time if you want to do that as well.
The manual’s reasonably accessible as well. All in all, I’m quite enjoying playing with this thing. I wasn’t sure whether it would be available in all markets like the United States, that kind of thing because this is a 220-volt appliance, but when I was looking for recipe ideas, because you can do all sorts of things with all these technologies packed into the one device and they have this special Combi Wavee mode that makes the best use of microwaving grilling convection in just to do the exactly brilliant kind of food. I did find some Americans using it. It looks like that the Breville Combi Wave does have a US version as well.
Certainly, if you have access to a microwave that has a good Braille overlay and/or soup drinker support, I’m not sure that this one can compete, but the combination of all these things in one device and the tactile nature of it makes us pretty happy that we’ve upgraded to this Breville Combi Wave. It’s an adventure, I tell you. Being creative in the kitchen with this thing, is almost as fun as audio production. Well, maybe I shouldn’t get carried away. We can make transcripts of the show available thanks to the support of Pneuma Solutions.
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Jonathan: That is a very regal sounding version of the New Zealand national Anthem. Heralding, an extremely significant, Bonnie Bulletin, welcome to you.
Bonnie: Hi guys.
Jonathan: Why are we playing the New Zealand national anthem?
Bonnie: Because I’ve been approved for citizenship.
Jonathan: Incredible. It’s amazing who they led into this country these days, isn’t it?
Bonnie: I know. Very quickly too.
Jonathan: It did go very quickly. It was remarkably quick.
Bonnie: Like two weeks.
Jonathan: Congratulations. Thank soon to be citizen, Bonnie, a citizen of New Zealand. What’s the process from here on in?
Bonnie: Well I am still keeping my US citizenship. I will be a dual citizen. I’ll have two passports.
Jonathan: I thought that they’d stopped duals in the United States ages ago.
Bonnie: No, heavens no.
Jonathan: They used to do them in Congress.
Bonnie: Oh, that kind of dual?
Bonnie: No, they’d stopped those, I think. Now they just have verbal duals. I’ll have dual citizenship, which is great. The process is you have to be a permanent resident for five years here. Used to be two, someone told me. Then after that you apply for citizenship and they have a lot of your records on file already with immigration. You just fill out this form, which actually wasn’t too bad online and give references. You have to have at least one witness or one reference that is a New Zealand citizen with a New Zealand passport and that’s current. We were able to do that with Richard’s significant other Nadia because she’s not a technically a family, she’s not blood kin.
Jonathan: Yes, kinfolk.
Bonnie: She’s not technically kinfolk. We were able to do that with her, and it’s amazing how many people at their passports lapse. I guess it’s because of COVID and that sort of thing or they don’t travel.
Jonathan: People tend don’t need to renew them when they want to travel.
Bonnie: Yes. Then we filled out Heidi helped fill out the form, which like I said, wasn’t really that complicated. Just a lot of stuff about your name and of course you had to upload all these documents, your marriage certificate, your birth certificate, your passport, your residency visa. They do, because I’ve already had a few FBI checks, so I’m on file.
Jonathan: Did you pass them?
Jonathan: Oh, that’s good.
Bonnie: Yes, I’ve always passed them, which is good. The reasons I’ve had FBI checks might I add is because A, to be a racehorse owner get your racing license, you have to have an FBI check or police check I guess. Then to become a resident of New Zealand or get a work visa, you had to do that too, and then for work, I’ve had background checks, police checks. All clear, which is good. Then they process it with immigration. They said it could take up to 19 months.
I think that’s just a guesstimate because I would assume that some people’s citizenship may be more complicated than others. For whatever reason, mine was pretty straightforward, went through in two weeks. The next step is I have to swear an oath to King Charles and his heirs.
Jonathan: Successes according to law. King Charles III, his heirs, and successes according to law.
Bonnie: Successes according to law, so William, George, whoever else comes along-
Bonnie: -down the line, Louie. We go to a citizenship ceremony, which they do about once a month in your town. Ours will be at the National Museum. They have a marae inside the museum, and so it’ll be there. They do a ceremony where a Māori elder does a blessing. That’s the Indigenous people here. They do a kapa haka. Then the mayor speaks, and the governor general does, and the minister of Internal Affairs, I think they’re all on video though.
Then you get your little citizenship, have some refreshments, and immediately go try to apply for your New Zealand passport. That might take some time. With your foreign passport, you just have to go to immigration and have it stamped.
Jonathan: Applying for a passport doesn’t take that long.
Jonathan: It’s a pretty efficient process. Although I do know that there are some blind people, including me, who’ve had some issues getting the photo taken to their satisfaction. Well done.
Now, that would have been a good reason to escalate the Bonnie Bulletin to the segment where I’m putting it at the front of the podcast more or less, but one of the key reasons for doing this also is because I wanted to talk about an extraordinary, not surprising I suppose, but still very annoying video that is causing quite a lot of consternation on YouTube.
This video has come from a driver who drives for Lyft, but it could be any rideshare company, really, because we know this sort of thing goes on. The video starts off full of misinformation, which is annoying but not necessarily a crime or anything to get too excited about. This guy claims that disabled people get service animals prescribed to them by their doctor. Believe me, it goes downhill from there because he, first of all, makes it clear that rideshare services will de-platform you if you decline to carry a service animal.
This is ableism. If you assign certain characteristics to someone by virtue of their race, we all know what to call that. This guy essentially says that all service animals are going to shed hair all over the vehicle. They’re going to be unkempt, they’re going to cause problems, and they’re going to be costly to transport. Obviously, that’s nonsense, and we’ve talked on this podcast before about the need for us to uphold our end of the bargain as disabled people who have these rights to carry service animals, to make sure that they are well maintained, and that they’re groomed regularly, and that they’re not shedding hair.
That’s our responsibility, absolutely, just as it’s a passenger’s responsibility to be clean and well-behaved in a vehicle. That was unfortunate but not surprising because you hear that from time to time. Where it gets interesting is where he openly advocates for violating the law. This is a short section of the video where he does precisely this.
Speaker 1: The moment you get there, you’re going to be looking for the address. The map is going to be taking you as you get there, as you go to drive near in that area, in that vicinity, you’re going to see the person with the service animal. What you do is you keep going or you make a quick right or a left, and you keep on going. You didn’t make any contact with the person so they can’t say that you refuse someone a ride.
What you do is after you get out of the neighborhood, you cancel the trip. You didn’t make any contact with the person with the service animal so they can’t say that you refused them. In order to refuse someone a ride, you have to make contact with them. If you pull up in the neighborhood and you see somebody standing there with a service dog near whether the map is telling you that person is to be picked up that you make a right or left, or you keep going. You get out of that vicinity and then you hit cancel trip. You won’t be deactivated because you didn’t make any contact with the person.
Jonathan: This channel is targeted at rideshare drivers or want to be rideshare drivers. He’s actually advocating to people who are considering becoming drivers, in his case, of Lyft, here’s how you circumvent their processes. Here’s how to avoid carrying disabled people in your vehicle who have a service animal without being de-platformed or without being pinged. Well, first I don’t think it’s as simple as that because there are ways of demonstrating that somebody is in visual contact of you before they cancel the trip, but it’s a violation of the ADA in the United States. It’s a violation of the Human Rights Act in New Zealand. It’s a violation of all sorts of laws all around the world and YouTube need to take it down.
Bonnie: I also think the person needs to be fired. It needs to be banned from the platform.
Jonathan: I understand attempts are being made to identify this guy and have him de-platformed from Lyft. Really, the pressure will be on Lyft now to take some action against the guy for publicly advocating breaking the law.
Bonnie: I’ve never really heard what kind of training the drivers go through. I think it’s a module they do. I think that they need to really be trained and lose their license. They can’t drive for another rideshare because all they can do is if they get fired from Lyft, they can go over to Uber or Zoomy or whatever the new rideshare of the moment is. A lot of these guys and gals are also cab drivers.
Jonathan: That’s a very good point. There should be some sort of exchange of information between these rideshare companies so that repeat offenders just don’t go and work for another platform. I don’t know whether that takes place. I have not talked about this on the podcast before, but some years ago, I was frequenting an Uber subReddit. Most of the people on that subreddit were actually Uber drivers.
I don’t think there were that many riders, there were some, but predominantly, it was a place for Uber drivers to hang out. The subject of service animals came up and it was a very similar discussion in a way to the thing that we’re now trying to get taken down on YouTube where a bunch of Uber drivers were talking about how they didn’t want to transport service animals.
I wrote in and I said, “I have been discriminated against when traveling with someone who works with a guide dog and we have ensured that those people have been de-platformed. I’m proud of that because if you’re not willing to take a service animal, you do not belong on a rideshare platform.” It really is that simple. It’s part of the gig. What was interesting was the hostility that I got back from a lot of those Uber drivers.
One even threatened me, one said to me, “You’d better be really careful if you do that to someone who refuses at your home because they know where you live. If you’ve deprived them of their livelihood, then you can’t blame them for coming and sorting you out basically.” It was an extraordinary thing to say on a public forum, but this is the kind of attitude that we’re up against and it’s got to stop. This is why we’ve got to take a stand.
In the case of this YouTube video, I have filed a legal complaint against it, and I have linked to the section of New Zealand’s Human Rights Act that this violates, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of using a service animal and I’ve said to YouTube, “You’ve got a video here that is advocating for breaking New Zealand law. You need to take it down, at least in New Zealand.” YouTube should not be a place where people can advocate for breaking the law without any kind of reprisal.
Bonnie: To be honest, I don’t have a lot of faith in YouTube because there are a lot of videos up there that would be considered very, very questionable about just a lot of things that are very violent. YouTube is a great place to get information. You could find anything up there. When I say anything, I mean anything. I don’t know how well they really will do it, honestly. I don’t have a lot of faith in them.
Jonathan: You can also flag the video. That’s another mechanism that you have. There are various mechanisms that you have, but if you can find, if you can cite the section of anti-discrimination legislation that this video violates, then I will link to this video. If you go to the video and you find that it no longer exists, well yay, [laughs] that means–
Bonnie: Did he take it down or did YouTube take it down?
Jonathan: I guess it doesn’t really matter.
Jonathan: If Lyft has said to this guy, “You need to take this thing down or you are gone,” my preference would be that it should be gone anyway because clearly, this is what he does. This is a very common thing. Many of us have seen this. You are expecting your driver, your driver is three minutes away, your driver is two minutes away, your driver is one minute away, the driver cancels the trip, and we know why they canceled the trip.
Bonnie: There’s a new thing they’re doing now is rating people low.
Jonathan: Oh, that’s been done ever since the beginning of time in rideshare land, that I have a 4.96 rating at the moment with Uber. If I travel with you, if we take an Uber home from a meal or we go to a meal or something like that, we’re traveling together, my rating will often go down and it’s always after a trip I’ve taken with you, and it’s not because of you. [laughs]
Bonnie: They’re even refusing to take people with canes now.
Bonnie: It’s incorrigible and I don’t know what kind of training Uber and Lyft does, obviously not enough. We had someone speak at the NFB Convention this year. I was not impressed with her. I thought she was just a PR girl.
Jonathan: She certainly didn’t read the room, did she?
Bonnie: No, she didn’t.
Jonathan: There was a significant backlash as a result of that speech.
Bonnie: They’ve had a couple of town halls, NAGDU had a few town halls lately, and one thing I do want to caution people against is there’s been some incidents, people have grabbed onto the car, tried to get into the car. I know you’re angry, but one day someone’s going to get very, very hurt, and just because of the hostility that some of these drivers have, we’re hearing it with able-bodied people as well being shot or injured by an Uber driver. I think we have to, unfortunately, be aware of that.
There are good Uber and Lyft drivers out there, so we want to want to thank those that do follow the law, absolutely. I’ve had some good experiences. I think the one that I remember most from recently is when I got to ride in a Tesla for the first time with an Uber driver. I wanted to talk about the Tesla, and he had been to a fundraiser for guide dogs here in New Zealand and he wanted to ask about the guide dogs.
Jonathan: That’s right. I think I would say particularly recently, we went through quite a bad patch for a while with Uber. It seemed like every second trip we tried to take was a refusal, but certainly in this country or maybe we just got lucky, it does seem to have tightened up and most of the time the experience of getting in an Uber is uneventful. The trouble is you never know when it’s going to happen so you find yourself tensing up when you get into one of these vehicles, or when you are waiting for one thinking is today the day. We went out the other day because it was your birthday the other day, we went out and it was pouring with rain.
Bonnie: Oh, God. It was pouring.
Jonathan: I thought, “What are we going to do if we get a refusal and we’re stuck here in the rain?” We’ve got to keep advocating for this because we fought long and hard for these rights and now those rights are the law and people need to obey the law, or why do we have them? We don’t need anarchy. We need Uber drivers and Lyft drivers to just get a grip. I hope that people will report this video, will mention using their legal form, which I will link to in this piece that this violates specific statutes, and let’s see if we can send a strong message. Now, the onus is on Lyft to find this guy and say, “You are not an ambassador for us.”
Bonnie: No. It seems like they would want to, you look at professional ethics. If I got on YouTube and was saying all kinds of stuff about my workplace and whatever else that was negative and not professional or even if it was professional, I’m not the person that should be doing that, but if I were doing that, I would hope that I would be fired. I would hope that the people in the company would not want that kind of stuff on social media.
Speaker 2: On Living Blindfully, we hear the opinions of blind people from all over the world. So why not share yours? Drop us an email. You can write it down or attach an audio recording to email@example.com. Email us today firstname.lastname@example.org or if the phone is more your thing phone our listener line in the United States. 8646, O Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.
Jonathan: Last week in episode 244, we were discussing iOS 17 and I mentioned that a couple of sources had said to me that they expected the egregious Braille problems some of us have been having with the iOS 17 beta to be resolved in the next build, which is iOS developer beta 7. A day later, it came out as public beta 5. I’m pleased to say that intelligence turned out to be absolutely correct. The Braille is working quite well. Now, in iOS 17, I’ve not had any recurrence of the issues that were making it so difficult for Mantis users to use iOS 17 and it was affecting other Braille displays as well, so great work. Nice to know that that was fended off before the release, which is less than a month away now.
I’ve now put iOS 17 on my primary phone and I actually think it’s in quite good shape. One disappointment now that I can play with it is the personal voice feature. I’ve been testing iOS 17 on an iPhone 11 Pro Max, I believe it is. I’m going to have to update my test device because there were a couple of things I couldn’t test and personal voice was one of them. It wasn’t available on that older iPhone. With much anticipation, I recorded my prompt for those not familiar with this.
Personal voice is designed to allow you to type and store phrases, and then once you’ve created your own voice, you can use your personal voice through the iPhone’s speaker when you are communicating in real-time with someone or even on a phone or a FaceTime call, it’s a very useful feature and the primary use case for this is people whose voices may be deteriorating such as those with ALS. There might be other use cases as well. It could be that you find yourself in a situation where you’re unsafe and it’s not appropriate for you to speak, but you may be able to FaceTime someone and type a message or something like that or even call emergency services.
There are many examples of where accessibility features have general use cases that are useful. I decided I had to create my own personal voice and that entails getting in a quiet room where you don’t have any noisy fans going on in the background, that kind of thing, and there are 150 phrases that Apple gets you to say to create your personal voice feature. That part of the process is actually quite accessible. After that, you have to lock your iPhone and keep it on charge while on your device some incredible computations go on to create your personal voice.
Once it’s created, you can share it across devices on your iCloud account if that’s what you want to do, but I was disappointed to see that there are some accessibility issues with using this feature. For example, when I invoked the personal voice feature, I first had some trouble actually locating the little edit box. It has this floaty pop-over thing that goes over the top of what you are using. I found that I double-tapped in the edit field and started to type on my mantis only to find that I couldn’t, it wasn’t taking input from my mantis keyboard in that particular edit field.
I found that Braille screen input worked okay, but I had difficulty working out what to do with the phrase once I typed it in. I did get it to speak a couple of things by putting stock phrases into the personal voice settings under accessibility settings, but it’s not quite as accessible for voiceover users as I was hoping. Wouldn’t it be great if at some point in the future, you might be able to use your own voice as your voiceover voice? There may be some latency issues associated with that, so who knows if that will ever happen, but by and large for day-to-day use, I’m finding iOS 17 quite well-behaved at the moment and that’s very encouraging, but how are you finding it as we get close to release?
If you’ve been kicking the tires, giving it a test, how’s it working out for you? Opinion@livingblindfuly.com is the email address. You can also call the listener line of course on 86460 Mosen 864-606-6736.
Another big thing that happened in the last week or so, a little bit over that now I think, is that the Be My Eyes people have been releasing Be My AI to an increasing number of people. And seeing the excitement and the joy that this thing is bringing as I look at people’s response on Mastodon has been really cool. Kelby Carlson’s writing in about this and says, Today I finally got access to Be My AI and have been playing around with it.” The detail it manages to capture is incredible and it’s really fun to get descriptions of the various things around me.
A big disappointment is that it won’t describe people. I was really looking forward to getting detailed visual descriptions of my family members and it won’t let me do that. Besides that though, it looks like a great program so far and I’m eager to keep testing it out. Good on you, Kelby. Let us know how you get on with it as you do that some more. We did talk about this briefly a few weeks ago in the context of some contact I had with a New York Times journalist.
There was an article in which I featured in the New York Times in early July. This journalist has an interest in privacy issues. Obviously, the chat GPT people have decided to obscure faces for privacy reasons. That was not always the case. In the early part of the Be My AI, when it was called virtual volunteer testing, you could get descriptions of people and it was extremely interesting and helpful. On balance, I can’t get past the fact that if I was cited, I’d be able to glance at somebody and I’d be able to glean that information about what they looked like, so why can’t I have access to that as a blind person? I was making this point on a feature that I was on the other day with Radio New Zealand on their Nine To Noon Show. They invited me to talk about some of the latest developments in blindness technology, and I mentioned Be My AI on there. If the photo isn’t being stored long term, if we can have assurance, or we can provide assurance that that photo is described, and then discarded, I’m really not sure why it is that we should be deprived of this information.
I’m a firm believer in equitable access to information, and I believe this is an access equity issue. You might want to comment on that. You may also want to comment on how you are finding Be My AI. To what use have you put it since you got it? Are you happy with it? Have you experienced the famous ChatGPT hallucinations where it’s just making stuff up, or is it working okay for you? Do get in touch and let us know how you’re getting on with it.
Denis Long: Hey, Jonathan, it’s Denis Long. I agree that Audible support is not coming to the Stream 3 anytime soon if ever. While I’ll fault Humanware for a lot of things with the Stream 3, I think they released it way too early. I think it is extremely buggy, and they should have kept it and not released it as quick as they did. However, that having been said, I will not fault them for this Audible fiasco. This spectacular mess lies firmly at the feet of Audible.
Now, had Audible not supported it on the 1st and the 2nd Gen– Well, I know for a fact they supported it on the 2nd Gen. I think they did it on the 1st. We’ll say for sure the 2nd Gen Stream, and the Trek, I wouldn’t have a problem with them not supporting it on the 3rd Gen. I have a problem with it for those who want to use it. You can’t say we’re going to support it and then just stop. If you’re going to do that, be straight up about it and say, “We’re not going to support the darn thing anymore.” They’re not doing that.
We really need to again, unfortunately, pressure them because obviously, they didn’t learn the first time. Maybe you could write a stronger open letter, and be more direct because obviously, they didn’t get nice and direct the first time. I mean, it’s ridiculous. I thought we had gotten somewhere I thought they were going to do good and do right by the blind community, and they’re not. Wake up Audible.
Jonathan: Let’s talk more about accessible TVs. Christopher Wright is back in touch and says, “Hi, Jonathan. I want to expand on some things after listening to your segment of Living Blindfully about TVs. I forgot to mention that my TV has an ethernet port and a headphone jack. Well, look at that. I have it wired up next to my computer. It sounds great on my Bose sound system my dad found in the trash. It’s amazing what people throw away, including the awesome $1,500 computer I’m typing this on.
If you don’t want a bulky TV taking up space, you may be able to use an HDMI audio extractor with a Firestick. You get a small box with a power connector, an HDMI output, an HDMI input, and an RCA connector for audio. These devices are designed to extract the sound from the HDMI connection and send it to a different audio system while allowing the video to go to your TV and its crappy speakers. I assume it could also be used with an AV receiver.
However, I managed to get it working in 2018. I connected a Fire TV stick to the input and an RCA to 3.5 audio cables run to a speaker. I could have also easily connected to a pair of headphones. After turning the extractor on, I was able to independently get the stick up and running with VoiceView. I don’t know if this works anymore as some people I’ve talked to couldn’t seem to get VoiceView to talk until the Fire TV was first configured using a TV. Perhaps Amazon changed something in the newer software, or maybe something wasn’t configured properly on the extractor.
There’s a switch on most of these units that toggles between several audio modes, so perhaps some experimentation is required. This should also work with an Apple TV, Chromecast with Google TV, the standard video Chromecast, the Xbox One and newer, and the PlayStation 5 as well, though I have no experience using any of these except the Chromecast. Speaking of Android TV, how does it compare to Fire OS? I’d love to buy a Chromecast with Google TV but don’t know if it would be worth it.”
Christopher provides the link to the device that he purchased and says, “If you purchase one of these, you may still find it useful to use with a TV like I discussed previously. They’re very cheap, so you aren’t out too much money.” Rich Beardsley writes, “Hello, Jonathan and Living Blindfully listeners. I listened to Episode 242 of the show. Good work as always.” Thank you, Rich, I appreciate that. “While I’m not a big TV person, I do have experience with some smart TVs.
I don’t know the exact model but my mum and I have a Samsung TV and the accessibility is good. I like that the accessibility menu speaks regardless of whether or not Voice Guide is enabled. My mom has an LG TV in her bedroom that does have a screen reader, but I haven’t messed with it. From what I’ve heard though, LG TVs do have a decent screen reader. We have an Apple TV 3rd Generation lying around somewhere and VoiceOver was good. I have an Apple TV 4th Generation that I got in Christmas of 2015 but I don’t use it much due to a lack of space. I like the 3rd Generation, VoiceOver does well. Thankfully, most apps on the Apple TV don’t self-voice.
The only app I’ve encountered that does this is Prime Video. We don’t have any Fire TV devices, but VoiceView seemed like a good screen reader the few times I used one. I have some experience with Roku, and just like most other products I’ve mentioned, I had a good experience. When considering Roku, keep in mind that the screen reader is only available in English, so if English isn’t your first language, you may not want to use one of those devices. It also has a voice that makes eSpeak sound good, but it gets the job done. While I don’t have a hearing impairment myself, I’ve been told that the TTs can be hard to understand if you do.
I don’t know if I’d go for an Android TV since I’ve heard mixed reviews about them. I also want to point out that HIMS released Version 2.0 of the SensePlayer a few days ago and it’s a big update. Chapter support in podcasts and the media player, the ability to set which movement units are visible, and most exciting, the mobile screen reader,” which I talked about briefly in Episode 243. “I’ve sideloaded a few APKs, and it’s worked well.
The Bard mobile app does well but they’re using an outdated version that still uses the Bard website search instead of the search that the new version uses. While it does work, the interface can be a bit clunky sometimes. If someone doesn’t make a demo recording for the podcast, I can do it if there’s enough interest. Thanks for a good show.”
Thank you, Rich. I’m sure there would be interest. I’ll just run the first good-quality demo that I get.
If anybody is going to put a demo together, please just remember to keep in mind that not everybody understands text-to-speech at fast speeds, particularly if they don’t use that particular text-to-speech engine daily, so watch the speed. Keep it at a good speaking rate. If it’s eSpeak, especially be mindful of that. Chapter support is fantastic in podcast so it’s great to know that with the Stream 3 and the new Version 2.0 of the SensePlayer, a lot more of our listeners have access to skipping around the podcast by chapter.
Back on the subject of smart TVs, a name I haven’t heard for a wee while, Andy Baraka has been in touch. Amazing, Andy. I remember you from way, way back in the very early days. Hope you’re doing well, Andy. He writes, “Hi, Jonathan. In the current episode of the podcast,” which would have been I think 242 when he wrote this. “You mentioned that you have a Samsung Smart TV and find it to be accessible. A few months ago, I purchased the Samsung 32″ Class Q60A Series QLED 4K UHD Smart Tizen TV. That’s T-I-Z-E-N TV.
The tech who did the installation activated the screen reader but had to go and didn’t have an opportunity to show me how to use it, except that he did show me the function that allows you to give voice commands. My wife and I can’t seem to comprehend how to use the remote and even though she has some vision, she can’t make out the symbols on the remote. I downloaded a PDF version of the manual from the Samsung website and even though it is readable, it is obviously written for sighted folks. Do you know of any additional documentation that would benefit a blind person? I would appreciate any tips and tricks that you have learned concerning the operation of the Samsung Smart TV. Thanks in advance.”
The Samsung TV that we have was released in 2020 and I did go through a very extensive demo including the remote control in episode 43 of this podcast. If you go back there, that was before we were doing transcripts but if you want to, you can listen to that and perhaps get a description of at least how our remote control works. There’s no guarantee that that’s how yours does because your TV will be newer of course. Also, I became aware, if you remember from the demo that I did of Be My AI, as it’s called now, that there are various Samsung remotes out there because Be My AI misrecognized the Samsung remote we have as another Samsung remote and misdescribe the buttons.
Have a listen and see if that’s of any help. Failing that, I believe that Samsung does have technical support that you can call on the phone and if you can tell them what your model of TV is, hopefully they can walk you through it over the phone, so best of luck. We find that a very good accessible experience. The only thing I wish was that there were more choices of voice and that the voice we had was a bit clearer. Other than that, really no complaints with the Samsung TV we have that is three years old now.
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Jonathan: Imke is in touch commenting on various topics we’ve talked about recently on Living Blindfully. One, cookbooks. A number of episodes ago someone asked about sources of Braille cookbooks. One good source is the National Braille Press. Their online bookstore can be found at www.mbp.org. Some of their cookbooks include specific cooking tips for blind and visually impaired individuals. Two, Express VPN.
I use Express VPN on my personal computers and iPhone in order to have extra security for my personal devices and to be able to stream content from other countries. For that purpose, I find Express VPN to be very accessible. There is one button in the iPhone app that is unlabeled but it is easy to determine that its function is to connect or disconnect. Switching to a different VPN server is extremely simple and fast.
My employer doesn’t use Express VPN, so I cannot speak to the accessibility of the authentication process in that situation. Three, canes. My favorite canes are the folding canes from Revolution together with roller tips. The canes are lightweight and the roller tip does not get stuck in small cracks such as those that are often found in outside paved areas. Four, drafts, I am writing this message in the draft app. Thank you for your detailed review. I really love the efficiency of this app.
Steve Bauer: Hey Jonathan, it’s Steve Bauer from Wichita, Kansas. I am in search of a bingo card. I’ve got some bingo cards that are both large print and Braille and I don’t like them. They’re plastic and the circle where the number is has a raised number for large print and the Braille is jumbo Braille and I don’t like the jumbo Braille and when you put the little plastic markers in the circles when the numbers are called, it’s so easy to knock them out.
I am trying to find, I’ll just call it the old style of bingo card where in the little window area where it has the printed number and the Braille number, there’s a little window that you slide across to mark those numbers that are called. I have checked with many sources, different places around the country and nobody has that older style of card anymore.
For example, I spoke to a lady at the American Printing House and she said I was by far not the first person calling with the same request. If anybody knows where I could get my hands on a couple of the older style bingo cards and I don’t care if they’re used, I would very much like to know that and would appreciate that information.
Jonathan: It’s Angie Matney from the Great state of Virginia writing in.
Angie: Angie Matney from the Great State of Virginia.
Jonathan: Yes, and she says hello from the great state. I just thought I would write in with a quick workaround that I use for chapter navigation in the Apple Podcast app. I am surprised that you used the Apple Podcast app, Angie. I thought that you’d be using something far better. She says, I turn on screen recognition and it works relatively well. Occasionally, there are some interesting OCR missteps like the chapter in the most recent episode about the Be My AL Beta.
I think that would be a very different beta. Also, sometimes focus jumps to the last chapter prematurely but you can get a version of chapter navigation with screen recognition. Absolutely, lovely to hear from you Angie, thank you very much for that tip. It is a shame that one has to resort to screen recognition for an official Apple app, but in the absence of a fix, what else are you going to do?
Now, Ruth is writing in from California and when she first rose in, she had a problem with messages that has resolved itself. Have you noticed that this thing happens a lot? You write to someone about a tech problem and it just seems to clear itself up. Just the very act of writing seems to beat the technology Gods into submission or something. Anyway, but Ruth has other things she wants to talk about.
She says, “I’ve noticed for several months that my phone,” this is an iPhone 11 Pro Max she has by the way, “is not reliably announcing when a new text message comes in. It used to sound a chime and read the message every time but now, that is intermittent and I can’t identify any pattern in when it’s working or not. I am prepared to upgrade to an iPhone 14 if necessary but I don’t know if that would solve this problem.”
Any thoughts? Well, first of all, Ruth, don’t do that. If you’re going to upgrade your phone, you may as well wait at this stage to get the iPhone 15 which is coming out in around about a month’s time. When that happens, it’ll have the USBC, so you may as well take the plunge because iPhones will be USBC for the very, very long term once the iPhone 15 comes out.
To your key point, no, I don’t know what would cause that, why it sounds sometimes and not at other times. Is anybody else seeing this? It is not one that I’ve seen and I do have an iPhone 14 Pro Max at the moment. “One more thing I’ve been wondering about,” says Ruth, “is there a good way to connect with blind tech expertise for relatively minor but nagging questions like these other than writing to you about them?
I have often thought that I’d love to have a blindness tech mentor whom I could consult as needed for training or troubleshooting. I would be able and happy to pay for the assistance but not sure how to find such resources. Are there online user groups that I’m not aware of?” I’m pretty confident Ruth, there are blind people who are doing exactly this providing a tech help desk service personal to you, I don’t know of any individuals by name that I could suggest but there are plenty of ways that you could get assistance.
You could get on Mastodon and follow a number of blind people who are interested in technology and all too willing to help and ask your question. You are likely to get some good replies back but the blindness-related email lists are alive and well. I am well out of that loop but there are plenty about Apple things like iOS and other things like that. There are general blindness technology lists. I started a group way back in the 1990s called Blind Tech. It’s changed hands over the years.
I don’t know if it is still going because I just got too busy and wasn’t able to maintain it. I passed it on to someone else who passed it on to someone else, and so on. There are plenty of groups out there where you can discuss technology and one way to find a bunch of them is to visit the website of our friends at Top Tech Tidbits. We are a partner of Top Tech Tidbits and for those who haven’t heard of it, this is a newsletter that comes out every Thursday with all sorts of tasty wee technology morsels as it pertains to the blind community and they also have another access newsletter that comes out on Mondays.
What they also have is several directories of interest to the blind community including a directory of blindness-related ListServes. You could join one or all of them if you really want to have a very full email box and ask all your questions and learn lots of things. To visit that directory, go to Top Tech Tidbits.com and then choose the directory link. You’ll find the various directories that they maintain on that site. That’s TopTechTidbits all one-word .com. You’ll find it a very handy resource. Living Blindfully is brought to you in part by Aira. That’s the service that offers professionally trained agents to give you sighted assistance anytime, anywhere.
It’s good to see Aira now being offered as an accommodation in an increasing number of workplaces. There are so many ways that this can be useful from getting past an inaccessible website to navigating an unfamiliar building to have someone read you a piece of paper and even take notes on that document, sending it to you later. When your workplace funds Aira as an accommodation, you can say goodbye to relying on sighted co-workers or apps that may not provide the accuracy or speed that you need on the job.
Aira can improve your productivity, efficiency, and independence in your workplace. When you advocate for Aira to be available in your workplace, you are not only improving your own productivity, you could be helping to make a dent in our high unemployment statistics. We are already seeing that workplaces that embrace the need for visual interpretation tend to hire more blind people, win-win.
Aira will work with you to advocate for your workplace to offer sight-on-demand. You can email them to make an appointment. An expert at Aira can help make it happen. The address to contact is email@example.com. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are here at the NFB Convention in Houston and Mary Ann Mendez is with us who is no stranger to Mosen shows. It’s great to meet you in person, Mary Ann.
Mary Ann Mendez: It’s nice to meet you too Jonathan. I’m so happy to be on the podcast today.
Jonathan: It’s exciting. You are here in all sorts of capacities. How many NFB conventions have you been to?
Mary Ann: I have been to 13 conventions.
Jonathan: Wow. What was your first convention?
Mary Ann: 2010 in Dallas was my very first convention. I wasn’t even affiliated with the NFB. My husband Jack and I came by ourselves to that convention and it was our first foray into what all a convention can be like at NFB and we never look back [chuckles].
Jonathan: What keeps you coming back to NFB conventions?
Mary Ann: It is a battery recharge, shall we say. In my first several years, I came in the capacity of helping other Louisiana affiliate, and helping the employment committee, running Job seeker seminars, running exhibit tables, helping with employment committee functions. I’m still involved but on a much lesser scale for the employment committee.
What keeps me coming back is that I believe that the federation really stands for all that I represent, which is that blindness doesn’t have to hold you back from what matters in your life. It is just a matter of finding new ways and problem-solving. I take problem-solving in my life to other levels other than just my blindness skills. When I come here, I’m surrounded by others who believe that we are absolutely capable of all that we want to do and the only barrier is ourselves [chuckles].
Jonathan: Employment is a topic that interests me professionally and personally. It just seems so odd to me that when you look at all the progress that we’ve made in terms of technology, offices are paperless pretty much. A lot of barriers have come down and yet it doesn’t feel like employment has significantly gone up. It must be an attitudinal issue right, or the misconceptions out there.
Mary Ann: I think that it is a multi-pronged process to get past that statistics of lower employment. I think that it is training. I think that it is our responsibility as people who are blind to be trained in blindness skills and also in employment skills, the use of our technology when we can, the use of Braille. I think when I’m employed as a blind person, I am employed because I have the skills. Then there’s the second piece, which is that the company you work for also has to give you a chance.
I think when a person, even the first time we apply and behind our first employment as a blind person, that first boss that gives us that first chance paves the way for the rest of our lives in our employment and our career. If we have that chance early on, it’s a confidence builder to move on to the next opportunity. You and I have talked about this over the what decade almost, or 13 years that I’ve known you.
We’ve talked about what employment can mean for someone who is given a chance in their early life and how that affects the multiple opportunities you have when you don’t know you have opportunities because you don’t know you can believe in yourself, you may pass them by. I think it’s an awareness of what’s available that the employer gives us that chance and that we have the skills to walk into that position confidently.
Jonathan: Self-belief is so important and we need to encourage others to believe in us too. You are here this time though in a slightly different capacity because you are working for Benetech.
Mary Ann: I am so delighted. I have been at Benetech, which is Bookshare for the past two years. My anniversary is July 12th, so I’m celebrating my two-year anniversary at the organization and I am celebrating by attending a convention and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Jonathan: There you go. What could be better? Is Benetech exclusively Bookshare or does it do other things besides Bookshare?
Mary Ann: We have now focused our efforts on Bookshare today. We had other avenues and other outlets, other outreach, and social good, but our CEO has decided we are really focusing on the Bookshare experience. That’s where we are today. Yes.
Jonathan: Bookshare is something that interests me greatly because, I don’t know if you know this story, but way back in the early 1990s we came up with this idea in New Zealand that access to information is no different from access to buildings and that if it was illegal for a building owner to say “No, we are just choosing not to accommodate disabled people,” then it should be illegal for a copyright holder to say “No, we’re just not going to allow you to make your book available in accessible formats.”
We got the Copyright Act passed in New Zealand and then NFB was taking an interest in this and saying, “Well how did you do that?” Then the Chafee Amendment was passed here after that. I remember my first NFB convention by the way was 1995. I remember sitting down with Jim Gashel who was director of governmental affairs then in Chicago all the way back then. We talked about this. Bookshare is pretty special. It’s gone global, hasn’t it? It started as a US thing, but it’s all over the place now.
Mary Ann: It is. We have an international team now that focuses our efforts in India and Africa and Latin America. Yes, all over the globe. The Philippines, we have such a large outreach effort in these international countries. We have an amazing team who are really trying to create awareness and there are certain countries that have income classifications that students of course would receive at no cost through the organizations.
It really affords an opportunity for the students and for others to experience a Bookshare around the globe and be able to, even if they don’t have access to Braille and many countries don’t or they don’t have the skills to read Braille, and there’s no opportunity for that. Being able to listen, being able to access that content from a blindness perspective has been life-changing in terms of the education for these students who hadn’t had access before.
Jonathan: We get feedback on Living Blindfully from people around the world who say, “Yes, I love Bookshare, but the titles available to me in my country seem a lot less than the titles available in the US.” What determines that?
Mary Ann: I am actually as a part of my learning, still learning what determines that. That has to do with the book availability that specified by the Marrakesh coding that we have indicated in Bookshare based on the copyrights for each title. We don’t actually have that control. It is controlled by the copyright requirements for the country.
Our books are coded in the metadata. That’s where they’re coded so that we know and the users know what books are available. Absolutely it is the idea to increase those titles and that is something that our collection and development team absolutely continue to work on daily, weekly with publishers, and that outreach. I agree. Absolutely.
Jonathan: The publishers have the right to say, “We are going to make this available in the United States, but we’re not going to allow Bookshare to make it available in other countries,” even though those other countries might be signatories to the Marrakesh Treaty.
Mary Ann: I’m fully not aware of how that is working. I am still learning how that works. From my perspective, what happens from my customer support team, I am supporting a team of our customer outreach for the United States. What we often will do is send those very kinds of requests to our collection and development team so that they can work with the publisher to say, “Can these books become available?
Is this something you are not choosing to allow, or can we have these books become available?” There is much more of the partnerships and the ongoing dialogue that our collection and development team are having with publishers today than I think we have in the past. There’s more of the focus on partnerships in that way. Those continue to be improved as our collection and development team continue those conversations.
Jonathan: We’ve been having some discussion on Living Blindfully because I think it’s always interesting to test assumptions and have some philosophical discussions from time to time about what place Bookshare has in an era of accessible options like Amazon Kindle, and Apple Books. What place do you think it has, what relevance has Bookshare in 2023?
Mary Ann: I think it’s an option, honestly. We aren’t here to tell everyone, “Use Bookshare and replace all the other options you have or what may be available to you.” We are here to offer an option, and that is really the point, is we offer different ways to read. We offer different formats so you’re going be able to get a book in DAISY or in BRF file.
You’re going to get a book in a Word document or you’re going to download it in ePub 3. It’s an opportunity to have choices. As many of the listeners have shared over time is it allows you to read how you want and when you want, and where you want. Kindle has come a long way, but the options available aren’t quite the same as what Bookshare offers. Now we’re also offering human-narrated content as well on the site so that folks can access some audio content as well as text-to-speech.
Jonathan: That’s a big breakthrough. Where is that content coming from? Are you sourcing that from commercial publishers or how’s that work?
Mary Ann: Hachette Audio UK has been kind enough to allow us access to that content, so it’s terrific.
Jonathan: You hope that that’s a precedent that others will join in?
Mary Ann: I do. Yes, I think it’s terrific, but I also think that there is– and again, this is where we come back to options. Students who are not blind, who are dyslexic or who have other print barriers, having the options for a reader for web, which is one of our platforms, is a web-based platform that allows highlighting and annotating bookmarking and text-to-speech so that those who are visual learners who also have that print barrier can use their skills to highlight as they go.
Then we have the options so that if you need to listen and you are blind of course, and you want to listen, you have the option of the text-to-speech available to you on your phone, in your iOS device, plus the voices that are available on our web reader platform. You can take advantage, for example, of using Edge’s immersive reading tools and speech tools to access the Bookshare collection and listen in those higher-quality voices today.
Jonathan: If you’re the kind of person who likes to be read to in more human-like sounding voices, some of us are eloquence junkies and some of us are not, the voices in Microsoft Edge are quite remarkable, quite lifelike.
Mary Ann: Very much so. Yes.
Jonathan: You’ve got the API going on. A lot of people use Bookshare through third-party apps like Voice Dream Reader or Dolphin Easy Reader so that’s good. Nice to see Bookshare hanging in there with the APIs when everybody else is not.
Mary Ann: What’s interesting is just how widely Bookshare is used and when I attend conventions like these and I get to hear the stories from members who are using it on various Braille displays and various web platforms, Voice Dream, Easy Reader, the opportunities just to be able to access Bookshare are plentiful.
Jonathan: Yes, that’s true. Of course, the HumanWare family, which I would include the Mantis in, so Brailliant and Mantis, that kind of device they have Bookshare integrated as well so all kinds of ways to get at it. You’re on the soup drinker now I think.
Mary Ann: Yes, we are. I think that soup drinking will improve. Soup drinking isn’t quite where it needs to be, honestly today.
Jonathan: What’s that experience like at the moment?
Mary Ann: You must add books to your reading list or to your history and you can access your reading lists from the soup drinking device, but you can’t create reading lists from it and you can’t just ask it to read any book for you. That is its limitations is that you have to tell it that you have books that you want to be able to access via a reading list before you can access them.
Jonathan: It’s really not something that you could use standalone. There’s a really big thing in New Zealand at the moment where a lot of clients of the Blindness Agency have been given these Amazon-compatible devices, I’m trying not to trigger them. They perceive it as an option to essentially use their talking book library completely standalone that you might have a sighted person, some assistant, setting it up, and once it’s set up you can basically request the book that you want. It sounds like really you’ve got to have another device to use Bookshare with right now.
Mary Ann: That is my perception of the skill as my testing has seen. You need to add books to the reading list today.
Jonathan: You hike the price, Mary Ann. I mean, not you personally.
Mary Ann: Oh, it was all me.
Jonathan: Here you are a representative of Bookshare that I can grill. We had a discussion about this quite a bit. I personally think that given how long it’s been since Bookshare put the price up, it’s absolutely fair and reasonable. You do the calculator, you look at the rate of inflation, you look at the number of titles that Bookshare has added. I’m completely not impartial on this. I think that it’s a absolutely fair and justified, price increase for a much-loved service, but it’s obviously generated a little bit of heat, right?
Mary Ann: Yes, sure has. I really focus on options. There are options available to people. For example, in the United States, if you are a student K through 12 or in accredited university and there are other types of education, you qualify to receive Bookshare at no cost as a student and that is one option available.
Jonathan: The government pays for that already?
Mary Ann: Yes. That is federal grant from the Department of Education. Yes. If you are a student, there are options that you can attend classes and receive Bookshare at no cost to you. Then another option that’s available is a lot of the local NLS libraries offer Bookshare as a part of their subscription offering.
If I’m a member of my NLS local library, as an example, I can go and ask my library if they have access to Bookshare and if they’re offering me a free subscription since I’m a patron. That’s another option available to folks and we continue to expand those partnerships with each of these libraries. We have a library outreach team who expands those and continues to work with other local NLS libraries to allow for that so that’s another option.
Jonathan: Are they limited in any way compared to regular subscriptions or are they identical?
Mary Ann: Not limited in any way at all, same membership. It’s an individual membership, which is the same membership that you might pay for if you didn’t have your library do it. Then the last option that we have, and we talk about this on the site too is that we do have a discounted option available. If folks need some extra support, we do have some needs-based discount options available. We have a 25% discount that we talk about on the website. There’s a form to fill out and then you’re able to receive that discount as well.
Jonathan: What criteria have to be met to meet that?
Mary Ann: You need to have looked at your library options to see if that’s possible for you. If you are a student we wanted to have had you investigate if you are returning to school in the near future and you can qualify that way. Then if it’s a financial hardship for you, then let us know and fill out the form. We are not imposing criteria that are more specific than that today. It’s that you have a financial hardship and there are no other options available to you.
Then give us a– reach out and let us know. You can find that documentation on the website and then we’ll go from there. You need to be approved. Our teams look over these applications and they approve them, but we have some internal criteria that are based on financial needs, but we don’t ask for any questions about any income-related issues.
We don’t ask any questions about how you are able to afford or not afford or your reasoning behind it. We ask a couple of probing questions to discover how you need financial assistance. If maybe you can’t afford it or you’re unemployed or maybe you just graduated from school and you’re not continuing. We try to collect a little demographic information just to help gain an understanding, but we are not asking for any personal financial information.
Jonathan: Okay. I hope it’s not a put you on the spot too much question, but how many titles are in Bookshare collection now?
Mary Ann: Looks like I saw yesterday 1,250,000.
Jonathan: That sounds impressive and of course it is, but when you consider the number of new titles that are published every year, the book famine is still a real thing, isn’t it?
Mary Ann: No question.
Jonathan: It’s just a tiny fraction, but it’s great that it’s there. How much of that content is still scanned? How many people still sit there with some sort of gear and go through print material and make it available to you that way?
Mary Ann: I don’t know the numbers of the scanned again, but I will check for you, but I don’t know the scanned numbers today. That is our collection and development team, but we have actually begun to work on ways of streamlining some of the scanning processes. We are using some different vendors for it so that we can streamline– Because we no longer have an office, we no longer have our scanning at our facility. We are actually now working with various vendors for scanning our titles and working to improve the quality, the speed of those.
It’s taking a little bit of time as we are exploring how to make the best relationships with those vendors as we work with them to perfect those processes. How many we have today, I don’t actually know because we are so proud of the publisher content we have as well, but the scanned content is so helpful for those students who are requesting titles, who can’t access them because it’s not available through the publisher.
Jonathan: That was one of the interesting ways that Bookshare has evolved over time is I remember people who were so dedicated to volunteering, to building up the collection, and they would have this thing down to a fine art. They would buy these special scanners and they’d rip the spines off the books and feed them into the document feeders and on my web.
Mary Ann: Yes and because we don’t have our volunteer scanning anymore, we have folks that call in to my department, my customer support team, and ask, “Can I still scan? I really want to do it.” It was something that was a real community effort for sure.
Jonathan: The publishers have now come on board. I guess in one way, that’s a good thing. Is there a danger that Bookshare lets publishers off the hook in terms of making sure that they produce material Born Accessible in a format that everybody can access without having to go through an intermediary like Bookshare?
Mary Ann: At the risk of being really candid, we’ve often said at Bookshare, we know we’ve done the right thing when there is no more Bookshare. When there’s no more Bookshare, we’ve helped the publishers, we’ve trained the publishers to be Born Accessible and we have made it so that that is first and foremost and part of their everyday publishing processes so that in a way we aren’t needed in that way, but it would be Bookshare evolves into an something else at that point but that we’re not there.
We are still working Born Accessible day to day. We have an entire Born Accessible team who continue to communicate with the publishers and it’s a process that’s ongoing. I don’t see that happening all tomorrow. I think our publishing outreach team would love to see all of the publishers that we interact with Born Accessible I think.
Jonathan: It’s a lofty goal, but it’s a goal worth aiming for, isn’t it?
Mary Ann: I know. Very much so.
Jonathan: Bookshare.org is probably one of the most famous websites in the blind community, but that’s where people can go to find out more information. Is there anything that I haven’t discussed that you wanted to get over across to the audience?
Mary Ann: Just please reach out if you have questions. The customer support team is a very excellent wealth of resources and information. If you have questions for us, reach out. If you are new to Bookshare or you need technical help to sign up for Bookshare or you need help with your Victor Reader Stream and logging in or your Mantis or any device, we are here to help you and we spend the time with folks as long as you need to get the help that you need. My team are absolutely amazing.
Jonathan: That’s amazing because that means that you must have to have knowledge of all sorts of devices to provide that kind of help.
Mary Ann: Yes, very much. We have an advanced support team that are very much aware and expert in all the devices, but it is definitely a challenge to keep up with for sure because they update the [crosstalk].
Jonathan: Because so often what happens is when you get this thing, you might contact one of these companies and they’ll say, “Oh, if you want to learn how to use your device, that’s not our problem. You need to contact the device manufacturer.” It sounds like you are trying to be a one-stop shop with anything Bookshare-related, which is a huge endeavor.
Mary Ann: Jonathan, I think you’re right. I think it’s an endeavor, but I think there’s a balance too. We know that our partners who produce the AT technology, we know that they can only go so far when it comes to helping with Bookshare. Then we know that we can only go so far when it comes to helping with the product. We know that there’s some overlap between the two at times and it’s a gray area as to is it an issue with the book? Is it an issue with the hardware? Is it an issue with the ingestion process?
Is it an issue with software that runs Bookshare on that device? We really tried to ask the questions that no one knows to ask and we try to probe and talk with our members and talk with prospective members about how they’re using it so we can uncover if where the issue is coming from. That is almost the largest endeavor is really we ultimately, when there are issues with the books or with the product, we just want to do everything we can to get that person reading, whether it’s an alternative format, whatever it takes, we want you to read your book. That’s all.
Jonathan: It is lovely to sit down with you and chat about Bookshare and thank you for all that the Bookshare team are doing and we look forward to keeping in touch and it’s great to meet you in person.
Mary Ann: Absolutely. Please do remember if anybody’s, here at the convention, this might be a little outdated, but we’re giving away some Bookshare memberships for the US. All right. Thanks, Jonathan for having me.
Jonathan: Thanks, Mary Ann. Take care. Bye-bye.
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Jonathan: We’re speaking with Jack Mendez here at the NFB Convention. Welcome, Jack.
Jack Mendez: Hello there.
Jonathan: How many conventions have you been to? Was your first also 2010 like Mary Ann?
Jack: Yes, sir. We attended the exact same convention and boy, it was an incredible experience of course, because for me, that led to a complete life change and a move to Louisiana and all that. Definitely eye-opening for sure. That hotel was the Hilton Anatole and I can remember walking around this hotel thinking, wow, “Now I know what the ladies say when they say their feet hurt,” because my feet hurt during that. It was my first convention in high heels. [laughs]
Jonathan: It is really difficult, isn’t it to I guess, convey that amazing feeling. For me it’s a blind pride feeling when you go into the lobby of a convention like this and all you hear is tapping white canes and you realize, “Okay, we own this place. This is ours right now.”
Jack: Yes, sir. It’s amazing to me. Because I’ve come to so many consistently, we were walking around yesterday and in passing I met former students and former people that I got to work with in a professional capacity. That level of community engagement that you get and from seeing the people living their lives gives you inspiration to keep going because they’re still trying to, so it’s like it’s amazing.
Jonathan: I know what you mean. I look back at some of the things I did say in the BrailleNote days and that’s 20 years ago now. Every so often I hear from young adults or even not-so-young adults anymore who say, “I remember I first heard you with a cassette that I got with my BrailleNote or my BrailleNote mPower and now I’m doing such and such a thing.” They’re really rocking their careers or doing something and you just feel, wow, isn’t it great to see all that’s happening, all that blind people are doing out there?
Jack: Yes, it is absolutely amazing.
Jonathan: That must be so real for you having taught in the way that you have been teaching at LCB and that kind of thing.
Jack: Yes, that’s right. I have students who come to me and say, “You know Jack, your training was really tough and now I recognize why it was so tough, and thank you.” I like the thanks, but more than that, I love to hear about what they’re doing now. That to me, that is my recharge. That is my, “Oh my gosh, you’re in law school. Oh my gosh, you’re graduating and you’re working at Google or wherever.” Just amazing stories that that get to hear and really it’s about their successes.
That for me, gives me that recharge. Then I love to work with the younger people too, because then what we get to do is say, “Hey, guess what? You’re at the start of this thing and look at all the opportunities.” Just pointing out the opportunities for people– Because one of the things that I’ve observed is that we as human beings and also maybe to some extent as blind people specifically, often can’t learn through passive observation.
For example, you’ve got people seeing who’s wearing a certain shirt or whatever. A lot of people who can see, learn from those things, and see the sign for the college or see the sign for whatever and then take advantage of the opportunity. Here at convention, we can share our collective experience with younger people to say, “Hey, take a look at these things and grab the opportunity and go.”
Jonathan: What was it about your training that was tough?
Jack: Oh, as part of our structured discovery process, we integrate problem-solving from day one. Literally, it could be if you haven’t typed before, we get students at all levels. Here’s how you find home row. Can you count up three from the bottom? Typically what we see with technology training is a more gentle handholding and gentleness is required sometimes.
When you give people the confidence to start asking questions from day one about how to figure it out, that’s not something that’s typical when people have come from previous training as, “Okay, here’s the keys you press, here’s the step-by-step procedure,” but when I’m looking at you across the table and saying, “Okay, you’ve never touched a keyboard before, but here are the questions you can ask yourself immediately about how to familiarize yourself.” That’s a very different challenge to the typical training expectation.
Jonathan: I’m aging myself, but I go all the way back to the DOS days and–
Jack: Oh, yes.
Jonathan: We used to have to get really under the hood and modify CONFIG.SYS and all sorts of things.
Jack: Absolutely. [laughs]
Jonathan: I wonder whether it is true and whether it’s particularly fair, but sometimes you can’t help this that to be a really successful technology user, the threshold’s got to be a lot higher for a blind person. You do have to seem to know how things work under the hood to problem solve.
Jack: You do. What’s interesting about that observation, Jonathan, is that we are getting to the point where people who use technology that don’t use any adaptive equipment or software aren’t actually very good problem solvers because it just works. What happens is you go, you go and you look at your video and you browse and you can click on play and all those experiences are carefully worked out for the end user. I look at this because I don’t just train blind people. Now, I’m in private consulting, and I train all sorts of people, whether they’re using technology that’s like JAWS or otherwise. Oftentimes, I’m seeing the problem-solving gap exist there too. Yes, I would totally agree with you. I go back to the DOS days as well, and boy, I used ASAP for DOS, If you remember that, it was a great screen reader.
Jonathan: Larry Skutchan.
Jack: Yes. I was a vocalized, Window-eyes user for a long time too. Yes.
Jonathan: Happy days. By the time this airs, I will have delivered my address to the convention. One of the things that I mentioned in that address is that assistive technology companies have amalgamated, they’ve consolidated. Meanwhile, mainstream companies have also become significant assistive technology companies. In fact, they’ve become the dominant assistive technology companies.
It is a bit of a concern to me, in fact, a grave concern to me that the quality of assistive technology coming from mainstream companies is not the same as the quality that sighted people would expect. Do you share that concern in terms of the long-standing legacy bugs that exist in certain operating systems and mainstream solutions that just don’t get resolved in a timely manner?
Jack: I completely do. I also share the concern that the more that we see mergers and acquisitions in the assistive technology space, we’re going to see that start to happen. I’m concerned about that.
Jonathan: That requires NFB to be vigilant and diligent about its philosophy, isn’t it, that second-class citizenship is not an option, and therefore second-class quality control for blind people is not an option?
Jack: I guess my question would be so much of what we’ve done with our assistive technology is rely on things like APIs and things to expose those controls. Sometimes I think we’ve painted ourselves into a corner because if the information isn’t provided, and then I’m seeing a drift away from traditional, say, scripting and traditional. There are a few like Brian Hartgen who do fantastic work, but there are less of that, less of the custom work being done. I think a lot of the commercial success, at least in the first few years, was based on that heavy customization in work environments. I’m seeing less of that too.
Jonathan: Is it possible, though, that that will be replaced by AI, by very complex OCR? You see Apple delving into this a little bit with their screen recognition options, where in certain circumstances, you can go into an app that’s 100% inaccessible. As far as the voiceover user is concerned, it could be completely blank, but you turn that screen recognition on, and it can get you through to a point where the accessibility magically reappears again. I wonder whether you look at all the controversy around accessible overlays, various other things, and the large language models, the AI that’s going on, accessibility is in a very interesting stage right now, it seems to me. It could go either way.
Jack: Yes, and I become panicky when I think your paycheck could go either way. We really do need all the tools we can. I do want to leverage AI. I just hope we can do it in ways that are meaningful and that the people developing the software understand from the start because we’re now more vocal than we ever have been, particularly in the blindness community, about our needs and our ability to participate in society fully. I just hope we can continue to build that awareness.
Jonathan: You’re no longer doing the LCB gig. What keeps you busy these days?
Jack: I’m in private practice, private consulting with a company called Miles Access. We do consulting all over the country and international work. We do a lot of work with people with disabilities, but we also do mainstream training and web accessibility. I’m a part of a very small group of people who do that.
Jonathan: Do you work with the International Association of Accessibility Professionals then?
Jack: Yes, we do. I do hold a certification Yes.
Jonathan: Is that worthwhile?
Jack: If you’ve got the skill and experience to get it, it doesn’t hurt. I think that certifications, in general, are one way to get your foot in the door, but we’re in a catch-22 situation where you’ve got to have enough experience to really leverage it.
Jonathan: It seems like a pretty crowded market, right, a lot of people are calling themselves accessibility consultants these days. What makes a good one? What makes people come to you specifically?
Jack: You need to be able to meet people where they’re at, understand how to get them where they should be without maybe them necessarily realizing that it’s a lot of work. Part of the perception is, “Oh, my God, this is going to be billions of dollars or thousands of hours of work.” Really being able to distill that down into short-term goals that are meaningful, that also apply to the bigger picture of the policy changes we want to see. That’s hard to do unless you can really bring the big picture down to the details for them in ways that are meaningful.
If you just know how to code, for example, or if you just know one aspect of this and don’t understand the management changes that have to go into place and can’t really explain from a team perspective, how this is going to benefit them financially, not just in terms of avoiding lawsuits, but in terms of increasing market share, really being able to explain those things with enough relevance to them that the investment becomes one just like a light bill.
Jonathan: Now, I know our respective wives are going to ping me if I don’t stop this soon because we’ve got places to go. I do want to ask you one more question that I think a lot of listeners would appreciate an answer to, and that is we get people who contact this podcast who say, “I’m not a technology professional. Sometimes the stuff you talk about, Jonathan, is a bit over my head, but I listen to it and learn what I can.”
What I want to know is this, I know that something’s not working right when I go to a website or I run a particular app, that’s important to me, but I don’t have the lexicon or the knowledge to convey to the developer precisely what it is that’s wrong. What would you suggest a blind person does in that situation when they’ve got something that’s inaccessible that’s really important to them, but they don’t quite know how to get movement?
Jack: Yes. One thing that we do here in the NFB is we reach out to each other for help. If you don’t know how to write a bug report, there are resources on the web that tell you how to do it. Apple actually does a fantastic job, even though they don’t listen to their people filling out bugs. They have a fantastic document on just how to do it. If you are inclined to read, you can find that and look at how to fill out a bug report that’s useful to a developer.
Sometimes if you have the skill to email even and say to a developer, “Hi, I’m having a problem, I’m one of your users,” you might get a developer who would reach back out to you and help you help them. Sometimes it’s just about either reaching out to people who you know or take a shot. Sometimes it’s worth just asking the developer, even if you lack the technical knowledge.
The other thing is, with things like Apple and iPhone and apps, there’s fewer paths to go down that’s going to cause a change in behavior. It tends to be unless you’re looking at an intermittent bug, easy to reproduce. It shouldn’t be too hard for them to reproduce your error. Just don’t be afraid of reaching out, I guess, is the biggest thing. Because if you’re not a technical person and you lack technical vocabulary, the best thing to do is to go to the people who have it.
Jonathan: Also, iOS and Android have published accessibility guidelines. I guess at the very least, you could say to a developer, if you have a little template email that you write, here’s the URL if you want to check out those accessibility guidelines.
Jack: Yes, I’ve handed those to developers in my younger days, and they’re overwhelmed by them. They look at that and they say, “Yes, I don’t have time to read it.”
Jonathan: A bit intimidating, is it?
Jack: Yes. What they want is, “Okay, I’m looking at a button that’s unlabeled. How do I fix that?” Because otherwise, it’s like, “Okay, I’m debugging this app from all of my users.” Often it’s a question of prioritization, particularly for the small shop. You have one guy who’s doing this. It’s often targeting that, is going to be important too.
Jonathan: See, it is epic to catch up with you too, Jack, because we remember on the Mosen Explosion, when we used to do that live, the mushroom reports.
Jack: Yes, mushroom reports. Yes. [crosstalk]
Jonathan: I always used to– My cooking skills are next to useless, but I always used to think that cooking is a little bit like audio production. You can add different effects and different things. Do you think that cooking is a bit like coding?
Jack: Oh, cooking is like coding, like science, like audio production. It’s awesome. You add a bit of flavor. If you add too much, then well, then you need a 32-bit float cooking device where you can never burn anything. That’s what we need next, Jonathan. That is your next invention.
Jonathan: Yes, because you’re like the archetypal New Age guy. I hear all about these things that you’re cooking and stuff like that. Puts me to shame. Here they are in the background making noise. I’m a work in progress. I’m under construction.
Jack: Thank you so much.
Jonathan: Good to talk to you, Jack. Thank you.
Jonathan: All right.
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Jonathan: Leila is writing in and says, “Hi Jonathan. I recently began listening to your podcast. I’ve only listened to the SensePlayer episode. I was thinking about ordering a Victor Reader Stream but leaning towards the SensePlayer now as well as the podcast where you talked about the issues with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. How is that going?”
Well, my ThinkPad X1 Carbon is going peachy. Peachy, thank you for asking. I did I think mention either on the show or on Mushroom FM on the Mosen Explosion that I did have a scary thing. I remember where I mentioned it. I think it was on the little recap that Barney and I did that the ThinkPad did develop some weird battery issues while we were at the NFB convention, but luckily, a little reset with a very difficult-to-find tactually button on the bottom of the machine got it all sorted out.
Overall, I really liked my ThinkPads very much. Leila continues, “I’m just curious. In the ThinkPad episode, you mentioned that you used a Mac for a bit and well, I like hearing everyone’s opinions about what screen reader they prefer. I guess I want to hear your opinion, VoiceOver or JAWS/NVDA.
Let me just say VoiceOver on the Mac is why I switched to using Windows with NVDA and JAWS. I love to make OS as a low-vision person but VoiceOver just isn’t great for what I need.
For example, numbers will stop reading my Dungeons and Dragons character sheets randomly and there’s no way to do something similar to control, and gee, I feel guilty because I love other Apple products just not the Mac. Just wanted to know your thoughts. I hope this email isn’t too long.” Mate, it’s positively short compared to some other emails I get. Thank you very much for writing in and raising yet again a contentious subject. I used a Mac from 2012 to 2016.
The first Mac I got was a MacBook Air and like many people, I got the MacBook Air, I got interested in it because of how much I enjoyed using the iPhone. Of course, we are talking about the x86-based MacBook Air that the Intel-based MacBook Air, so I was able to put VMware Fusion on and I really wouldn’t have been able to use the Mac without that because as far as I’m concerned, the Mac just does not cut it when it comes to working with the Microsoft Office Suite with the same degree of proficiency and efficiency as with JAWS.
I know of some people who predominantly work in the Mac ecosystem who have to write complex documents who admit, “Yep, I got to use Windows when I write those complex documents.” When I left the Mac world in 2016, we hadn’t seen the Apple Silicon Macs yet and they are wonderful bits of hardware. The battery life, their performance, if you are a Reaper user, for example, and you render some complex projects in Reaper, the speed at which it renders in macOS is just phenomenal.
Obviously, the continuity is fantastic. The fact that you’ve got iCloud, you can do your iMessages on the Mac, there are a number of virus apps that also work beautifully on Mac now, so there is a lot to like, but in my view, VoiceOver just lets the side down too badly. It is clunky, it’s often buggy, it’s inefficient, and with all of the power of Apple Silicon, you’d think that Safari busy messages would be a thing of the past, but they are not. That said, I think whether I would be using a Mac or a PC full-time would very much depend on what I was doing.
I’m not saying that the Mac is not a good solution for anyone, who am I to say that anyway, people should choose what they like. If I was doing this full-time producing podcasts, I may seriously consider working full-time in the Mac. If I wanted to do some reasonable writing, I could use Drafts or Ulysses both of which are accessible and available for Mac, and in fact, Ulysses will render in common formats like the Microsoft Word format so that could sort of work.
I don’t believe that it’s as efficient to work with as JAWS is in Word but if I wasn’t doing it full-time, Ulysses would work just fine for basic document writing. Mail is okay, it’s tolerable. I like the freedom in JAWS to be able to organize exactly the order in which things are spoken and you can’t do that to the same degree in Mail on Mac OS, but I’d get by with Apple Mail for sure. The audio subsystem in Mac is just so much better, it’s so much more well-behaved than in Windows.
Reaper is pretty good. There may be one or two things that you can’t do in Reaper for Mac that you can on Reaper for Windows, but I don’t think any of them are particular showstoppers. Right now, I have to write documents in Microsoft Word. I love the navigation quick keys that JAWS offers. I think browsing the web is a far superior experience, tools like Microsoft Teams, and all those kinds of Office tools are just so much more efficient in Windows.
Although Teams is not a very efficient experience on any operating system other than iOS, actually. I think Teams gives the best experience on the iPhone compared to any other device, but I really feel that VoiceOver just lets the Mac down so badly. If we learned one year on Global Accessibility Awareness Day or something like that, that there was an announcement from Apple that says, “We have completely trashed VoiceOver and we’ve replaced that.”
Maybe they could keep VoiceOver for legacy users but they could say we’ve replaced VoiceOver with a brand new screen reader that’s more intuitive for most users of desktop operating systems, I reckon there would be a lot of applause. One additional factor that caused me to abandon Mac is the curious lack of cellular connectivity on Mac computers. iPads have got cellular, obviously, iPhones have got cellular, but Mac doesn’t have any cellular option built in. I think that’s extraordinary.
I replaced my Mac with a Toshiba computer in 2016 and I’ve now got the ThinkPad. They’ve both got cellular connectivity. My ThinkPad has 5g. Just the other day earlier this week, I had to spend the night away from home for work at an hotel and I didn’t need to worry about their probably slow dodgy Wi-Fi because my 5g just fired up and I had 400 megabits down on my cellular connection built into my laptop, I just switched on the laptop and it started to work.
No worries, nothing to connect to. It all just worked and I was able to get on with what I had to do. That is fantastic for the kind of work that I’m doing at the moment. If you want a snapshot in time and you want to read an article about why I abandoned the Mac, I wrote quite a detailed article on that and it got a lot of noise at the time. Some in favor, some not. You get that.
You can go to mosen.org/saying-goodbye-to-the-mac. Now obviously, not all of this is applicable now because it was written seven years ago. A lot changes in technology, but as I said is a snapshot in time, it’s how I was feeling at the time that I decided to get rid of my Mac, which by that stage was a MacBook Pro, 15 inch 16 gigs of RAM all maxed out with a 1 terabyte solid state hard drive. I was all in on the Mac but then I just was getting increasingly frustrated with VoiceOver and what a poor performer it is on the Mac.
By the way, saying goodbye to the Mac has dashes between all the words, so mosen.org/saying-goodbye-to-the-Mac with dashes between all the words if you want to read that review that was written in 2016. If you have some thoughts on PC versus Mac, you are very welcome to be in touch email@example.com is my email address, attach an audio clip if you want or write it down and let us know. The line in the United States, 86460-MOSEN, 86460-66736.
Brian: Hello everyone. This is Brian Hartgen. Dom Breeder made a contribution to Episode 244, in which he was suggesting specialist note-taking devices did not include a facility to search through files using a specific text string. I’m glad to say that the BrailleSense 6 does have this feature. Not only can you do this, but it is also fairly customizable. I’m going to demonstrate it to you now.
I have contrived a situation where I have some files available containing the word podcast. We’re going to find those as I cannot remember in which folders they live. The BrailleSense allows you to search files in plain text, Microsoft Word, RTF, or Braille formats. To invoke this feature, you first of all launch the BrailleSense File Manager, which ordinarily is used to browse through and manage files and folders.
BrailleSense: File Manager F.
Brian: I’ve now launched the file manager and I’m focused on my list of drives. We have the internal flash disk, the SD card, and access to services which are Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox. You must be focused on this list of drives before we proceed onto the next step. If you move into one of these drives by focusing upon it and pressing Enter, you cannot press the keystroke which we’re going to do next. I can press backspace with C for Charlie.
BrailleSense: Text to find, edit box.
Brian: This launches the Search Files dialog. If you’re not familiar with the BrailleSense, there are a large number of such dialogues which resemble those with which you might be familiar under Windows. You can press docs four five with space to move through each control sequentially. The first of these asks for the text string to be used. If you just wanted to search the internal flash disk for a specific word or phrase, all you need to do is type it in and press Enter. However, before we do that, we will explore the remaining controls in the dialog.
BrailleSense: Case sensitive, no radio button.
Brian: First of all, we have two radio buttons case sensitive yes and no. You can press the spacebar in order to move through these.
BrailleSense: Yes, radio button, no radio button.
Brian: No is selected by default. Let’s move on.
BrailleSense: Search file type, text files one, five combo box.
Brian: Here’s where you can select the different file types. Text files are selected by default, but you can move through these with dot four chord.
BrailleSense: Rail files two five combo box. MS Word files three five combo box.
Brian: For the transcriber that is saying MS Word files.
BrailleSense: RTF files four or five combo box.
Brian: That’s RTF.
BrailleSense: All files five, five combo box.
Brian: If you use the all-files option, it is indeed going to search through all files and present you with a list of search results matching the criteria in the various formats which are supported. I’ve already listed those. Do note, however, that can take quite a while to execute. Let’s go back to the start.
BrailleSense: Text files one five combo box.
Brian: We’ll move to the next control.
BrailleSense: Searching, flash disc one three combo box.
Brian: This is a very important one. As I indicated earlier, by default it’s going to search the internal flash drive but you can select other options.
BrailleSense: SD two three combo box.
Brian: I’m pressing dot four code in order to move through these options but you can use alternative keyboard commands on the BrailleSense as well.
BrailleSense: Dropbox three, three combo box.
Brian: There are three possible options here. One is the flash drive internal to the unit, one is the SD card and the third interestingly is Dropbox.
BrailleSense: Search subfolders checkbox checked.
Brian: The search subfolders checkbox is checked and that is what you would want I would think unless you knew it was in a specific folder. If you knew it was in a specific folder, then you probably go looking for it in that folder anyway.
BrailleSense: Search button.
Brian: There’s the search button which the enter key activates by default anyway.
BrailleSense: Cancel button.
Brian: Finally, we have the cancel button. Very quickly, just let me show you how this works. We’ll go back to the beginning.
BrailleSense: Text to find, edit box.
Brian: I’m going to type in the word podcast here and of course, I can type that in using contracted Braille, I’m going to press Enter.
BrailleSense: Searching, path of ACB Community Events, Tuesday’s schedule TXT, flash disk documents one three list item.
Brian: Now what is saying here is path of ACB community events, Tuesday’s schedule .txt. Now in that document, I must have written the word podcast in there somewhere. Let’s move to the next one.
BrailleSense: Path of Living Blindfully Podcast again TXT, flash disk documents two three list item.
Brian: This is one of the documents that I wrote specifically for this demonstration. It says path of Living Blindfully Podcast again .txt and with all of these it’s saying that it’s on the flash disk in the documents folder.
BrailleSense: Path of Living Blindfully TXT, flash disk documents three, three list item.
Brian: Here is another such document and it says path of LivingBlindfully.txt flash disk slash documents three of three. Now it doesn’t seem as though you can search across your Google Drive. You’ll remember in the list of services, we could select only Dropbox. I don’t know why that is, whether it’s a security restriction or what the difficulty is there. It will be nice to be able to do it because that’s how I transfer my documents to and from the BrailleSense day to day.
I don’t use this feature anyway so I guess I shouldn’t be that concerned. Nevertheless, the feature is there, it does work, but certainly, if you keep all your files on the BrailleSense itself, an SD card, or Dropbox theoretically, then you should be able to search for specific text strings. There is an interesting thing about what happens when you press Enter on one of these files. Let’s just examine where we are.
BrailleSense: Path of Living Blindfully TXT, flash disk documents three, three list items.
Brian: I’m on the third of those documents and I’m going to press Enter on this file.
BrailleSense: Livingblindfully.txt2344 list item.
Brian: What it does is it takes you into the relevant folder where this document lives and it sets focus to that file. I would have expected it to open the file itself. Now presumably, it doesn’t do this because you might want to do something with that file other than open it. Maybe that is the thinking behind it. You might want to rename it for example, or you might want to copy it somewhere else. The file is now highlighted and if I press Enter, it should indeed open it.
BrailleSense: Logging, livingblindfully.txt open.
Brian: When the file is opened, it doesn’t set focus to the first instance of that word that you have searched for. That would have been quite nice but nevertheless, it doesn’t do that. You are at the top of the file or where you left off reading in the file if you had accessed it previously on the BrailleSense. The BrailleSense does have a very nice feature where if you have opened a file, and you’ve left off reading somewhere, when you come back to it, it will retain your position.
Jonathan: Transcripts of Living Blindfully are brought to you by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies. On the web at pneumasolutions.com.
I am off to play with my new microwave convection oven, grill, air fryer thingamajig and give near citizen Bonnie another surprise when this culinary delight pops out the other end. Well, a man can dream. In the meantime, remember, when you’re out there with your guide dog, you’ve harnessed success and with your cane, you’re able.
Speaker 4: If you’ve enjoyed this episode of Living Blindfully, please tell your friends and give us a five-star review. That helps a lot. 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. firstname.lastname@example.org or phone us the number in the United States is 86460-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.
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