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Voiceover: From Wellington, New Zealand, to the world, it’s the Living Blindfully podcast – living your best life with blindness or low vision. Here is your host, Jonathan Mosen.
Hello! On the show this week: more on the fallout from a Lyft driver encouraging his colleagues to break the law, Apple names the day when it reveals its new hardware, another Focus Blue horror story, and a smartwatch that can be made accessible and runs the full Android operating system.
We’ve made it to episode 246. Huzzah!
That means that there is a North American area code to tell you about this week. See, I told you there would be. And what an area code it is. It is the area code for the whole of Barbados. If you’re listening to us in Barbados, then welcome to you.
Hopefully, there will at least be some people listening from Barbados who are as excited as I am about the forthcoming Cricket World Cup. Although, I don’t fancy New Zealand’s chances of getting in the final this time. We’ve been in the last 2 consecutive finals, and I don’t think we’re quite up to it this time. But you never know. We may surprise.
So welcome to you in Barbados.
Meanwhile, country code 246 belongs to the British Indian Ocean Territory. I have not heard of this before, and I may be forgiven for that because apparently, there are only 4000 people. Wow! 4000 people get their own country code 246. And that makes me interested in the numbering plan that they have because if you’ve got 4000 people, if you had 4-digit numbers, you’d still have capacity, wouldn’t you? You’d have considerable capacity. So I wonder what it’s like to call a phone number in the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Let’s talk about ride share discrimination. Rebecca Skipper says:
“I am troubled by any discrimination from ride share platforms, and I have found Uber and Lyft to be unreliable.
I strongly support expansion of paratransit services and microtransit – programs in which cities use smaller vans for paratransit that operate much like Uber or Lyft, but under the direction of a city.
I think our society focuses too much on negative news. We shouldn’t give that Lyft driver on YouTube attention. Instead, let’s praise drivers that go above and beyond, and highlight that.
I believe the ACB is holding community meetings with staff from Uber and have seen this in public announcements.
We need to have an ongoing conversation with Lyft. Blind and visually impaired consumers need to have more choice when it comes to transportation options. In my view, this is the only way services will improve.”
Thanks for your email, Rebecca.
I have quite a different view on this. I do believe in consumer choice, and I believe that blind people are just as entitled to make the same choices as sighted people can make. We shouldn’t have to use special services, just because the other services are not compliant with the law. If we’re just going to ignore and accept the fact that there is rampant disobedience when it comes to these laws, why do we spend so much energy advocating to change the law?
Of course, we should always make a point of acknowledging great service, wherever it comes from. And when people have gone above and beyond, we should praise them and thank them.
That does not, in my view, mean that we ignore people who are flagrantly breaking the law. Because what you’re proposing is the equivalent of saying, “Let’s not pay any attention to shoplifters. Let’s just praise those people who pay for their merchandise, and ignore people who steal stuff because it gives them too much attention.”
What happens then? The business goes bust because people know there are no consequences. If there’s a law, and you know about the law, and you agree to the law when you signed up and you’re provided with training that explains the law and you break the law regardless, there have to be consequences because there are blind people who depend on these services to get places in a timely manner.
If you’ve got a plane to catch, perhaps because you have an important business meeting, or maybe you are seeing a dying relative in another town and time is limited, or maybe you’re a parent and your child is relying on you to be there on time to pick them up from some music class or sports event, or something of that kind, or you’ve got your dream job interview coming up and you have applied for job after job and you’ve finally got an interview for this job, you really want it, you want to make a good impression, you’ve left sufficient time to get to the interview and get to the building and relax and everything, but the Uber lets you down because they don’t want to take your dog, these things are serious. And unless we call it out and stamp it out, then it’s going to get worse.
For years, consumer organizations have been meeting with Uber and Lyft, and there have been various settlements. This problem is extremely serious, and what you are saying should happen has been happening for years. Yes, it’s continuing to happen.
One of the reasons why there’s been some escalation is because of the presentation that an Uber representative gave at the NFB convention, which did not go down well. And also, there were multiple egregious ride share issues at the NFB convention itself.
We are absolutely entitled to expect that people who provide us with service know the law and obey the law. We should not be fobbed off to other services because they refuse to do so. This is an absolutely critical civil rights battle, and when you have a driver publicly on YouTube encouraging new drivers and existing drivers to break the law, that is a very serious matter. This is not the time to be an ostrich about this.
We’ve also got a listener from Canada writing in who is saying that there are two statutes that this video violates. And she says:
“Should Canadian guide dog handlers be made aware of this?”
Well, absolutely, in my view, they should. At the time of recording, this video is still there on YouTube.
I note that it is eliciting a few comments. Some of those comments are being responded to by the original creator of the video with racial epithets and slurs. I guess that is an indication of the quality of the dialogue that’s going on here.
But he did a follow-up video. And I’m not going to link to this, but it raises a point that Lyft has to answer, I think.
In the follow-up video where he apologizes if he offended anyone and all that kind of stuff but he doesn’t retract anything he said, he claims that there are 2 conflicting provisions in Lyft’s guidance to drivers. One is that you must not refuse a service animal. He understands that it’s abundantly clear, apparently, in the guidance that Lyft drivers are provided. If you do, you’re likely to be de-platformed, or there’s likely to be some action taken against you. The second is that you are entitled, as a Lyft driver, not to take trips that it doesn’t make sense for you to take.
His contention is, as you will have heard if you’ve heard this video and even the clip that I played last week in episode 245, that if you have not made any kind of verbal contact with a passenger, then you haven’t refused them. You’ve chosen to not take a trip that, in your view as a driver, it doesn’t make sense for you to take.
Now, you know and I know that this is clearly malarkey. This is clutching at straws. If you’re driving by and you see somebody with a guide dog waiting for you to pick them up and you just drive on by once you’ve seen that service animal, then that is a refusal, pure and simple.
But my question to Lyft is, do they make that clear?
So I’ve reached out to the Lyft media people, and I’ve asked them the following questions after giving them appropriate links. First, does Lyft know about this video? Second, does Lyft agree that this doesn’t convey a positive image of the company to disabled people? Third, will Lyft make contact with YouTube and urge them to take these videos down, due to the reputational damage to Lyft and, presumably, misrepresentation of Lyft policy? Fourth, will Lyft seek to identify and de-platform the driver if they’re not doing so already? Fifth, does Lyft make it clear to drivers in training material that driving past a service animal user also constitutes refusal? And if not, will training material be updated to make that clearer? And sixth, what measures does Lyft currently have in place to seek to eliminate service animal discrimination?
Of course, we welcome Lyft’s participation in the podcast. They may come back with written comments. They may agree to have somebody come to the podcast for an interview. If I hear from Lyft, I’ll certainly keep you updated.
As expected, Apple has confirmed that its next big announcement is going to be happening on the 12th of September at 10 AM Pacific time. That’s 1 PM Eastern. If you’re a UTC kind of person, it’s going to be [17:00] UTC. In New Zealand, it’s bright and early the next morning at 5 AM. It’s even earlier for our friends in Australia.
We’re going to be getting the iPhone 15 family announced, and that will include USB-C ports on all of those devices, apparently. And certainly for the Pro range, it looks like the camera’s going to be significantly better and some changes in the battery technology, apparently, that could substantially prolong the battery life of iPhone. I’m sure we all welcome any extension of battery life.
We hear also that the cases that Apple officially makes available for the iPhone family are not going to be leather this year. It’s going to be some synthetic material. So if you get the official Apple cases, they may well feel different.
We’ll also be getting the Apple Watch Series 9. It’s looking like a fairly incremental upgrade this time, based on all the rumors that are out there at the moment.
The big one is going to be the Watch Series 10 which is out next year, and is going to be the first substantial redesign of the Apple Watch. There’s even some speculation, as we’ve talked about on the podcast before, that your old Apple Watch bands may not fit. Perhaps they’re going to come out with yet another little adapter to make the old bands fit, if you want to keep them.
And there’s also some suggestion we’re going to get an Apple Watch Ultra Series 2. I’m enjoying my Apple Watch Ultra, actually. I know I said I wasn’t going to get one, but I am enjoying it. And it’ll be interesting to see what is in Series 2 of the Apple Watch Ultra.
There’s also some discussion about the potential for a new AirPods charging case with USB-C. I think we have the EU to thank for this. They are keen to ensure that all devices are using USB-C. Apple’s on board with this. They’re making it available right across the world in new things that they are releasing. And there could be some other goodies as well.
One thing is sure. We will be there to cover this. It’s going to be a special – episode 248 of the podcast, and we will make that available fairly soon after the event concludes.
We’ll be getting our team together, having a discussion, and then publishing it right away for our Living Blindfully plus subscribers. And our team this year is what I would call our default team.
We’ve got Heidi Taylor, and I’m under no illusions whatsoever that Heidi Taylor is the star of this particular show. We get so much feedback telling us how much they enjoy Heidi’s visual descriptions. She’s taking screenshots all the time. She’s thinking constantly about what is being communicated visually here on the screen that isn’t being described in great enough detail or anything like that, that the Living Blindfully audience might want to know about. She’s a real asset, I tell you. And Heidi will be here again describing all the new gadgets and all the new things that Apple talks about.
We’ll also have some expert analysis from authors of technology books – Judy Dixon and Michael Feir. And I’ll be there as well, popping in with a few comments. So that’s our team once again for this post-Apple event recap.
If you are not a member of Living Blindfully plus, … We certainly appreciate everybody’s support to keep the podcast viable, to help us cover things like transcription costs and editing, and also just making it worthwhile for me to continue to do the podcast. So thank you very much to everybody who supports Living Blindfully.
You can visit LivingBlindfully.com/plus. (That’s the word plus), and subscribe for as little as 1 New Zealand dollar a month. Pay what you can afford, or pay what you think it’s worth. Really do appreciate that.
And actually, 1 New Zealand dollar at the moment, as I record this, is only worth 59 American cents. So 59 American cents a month right now. Hopefully, that’s not too arduous. And everybody’s contribution makes a difference.
What you get for that is your own RSS feed which you can paste into any podcast app that you would like to use. And that will give you Living Blindfully episodes 3 days before they go public. With time sensitive stuff like the Apple event, that’s a big deal. So if you want the analysis first, then do subscribe to Living Blindfully plus.
I really am incredibly grateful for how many people subscribe to the podcast who think it’s a value and want to keep it going. LivingBlindfully.com/plus, if you want to be a plus supporter.
If the usual cadence is followed, we will see a release of iOS 17 probably on Monday, the 18th of September. And then, we’ll probably get the new iPhones later that week for those who want to be on the cutting edge, for those who want to preorder. So time is running out for critical bugs to be fixed.
One remaining that is really irritating me is relating to audio ducking. Because sometimes I can leave my phone charging and walk around with my made for iPhone hearing aids connected to the phone and do other things. And I could be listening to a podcast, and then a notification comes in and I hear that notification. That’s great. So when the notification comes in, the audio ducks of the podcast I’m listening to, and that’s expected behavior.
What I’m finding, though, not always but sometimes, is that when the notifications finished speaking, the audio from the podcast isn’t ducking back up again. So that’s a bit of a frustration and hopefully, that one will get fixed at some point. But I can’t say I’m seeing anything majorly show-stopping.
It’s amazing what we put up with, though, that we’ve just become used to. So there are some weird things still going on with Braille Screen Input popping out of Braille screen input. For example, when you’re trying to type into edit fields.
We’ve talked about the email issues as well, and the spell checker working in different ways for different people with the email client. So there are a few rough spots, and some of these bugs now have been around so long. We’ve almost just become immune to the fact that they are bugs.
I wanted to take the time to thank you for recommending the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I am currently on chapter 4, and I can already tell you that this will be a book that I read at least once a year. I am proudly reading this book in Braille” (with an uppercase B) “using Bookshare on iOS 16 on the iPad.”
I’m glad the book resonates with you, Claudia. It doesn’t resonate with everybody, and I’ve come to accept that it just is a bit too out there for some people.
For me, as someone who’s done a lot of advocacy over the years and who tries to make the world a better place in different ways, I find the concepts outlined in The Power of Now incredibly grounding because I think, like many of us, I do feel a calling to advocate for a better world, to do what it’s in my capacity to do, to try and bring about positive change. You have to be able to do that without getting bitter and twisted and angry about things. And for me, The Power of Now is incredibly replenishing in that regard. So I’m so glad I mentioned it. If it’s been of help to you, and who knows, it may have been of help to others who’ve read the book as well. So thank you for passing that on.
“Speaking of Braille, the Braille display bugs continue to persist on iOS 17, despite plenty of feedback. I have a HIMS Smart Beetle. And every time I restart my display, I have to manually go to settings to connect the display to my phone.
In addition, there is a bug with the batteries widget having unnecessary images that clutter the interface. I really hope this will be fixed soon.
Thank you for your time.”
Well thank you, Claudia.
I wonder whether you are still seeing these things. Because this came through on the 28th of August, and by that time, iOS 17 public beta, what are we up to? 5? There are a couple of numbers behind the developer builds was out. Now, we have iOS 17 developer beta 8 and public beta 6.
When beta 7 on the developer seed and public beta 5 came out, it did clear the Braille issues up for me. So if others are experiencing Braille issues with the HIMS Beetle or any other Braille display, that would be interesting to hear about.
Dawn is writing in from Ohio, and she says:
I hope you were staying warm in Wellington.”
I’m trying, Dawn, I’m trying.
“Here in my area,” she says, “we have had the opposite problem. We’ve been breaking like chocolate chip cookies” (That’s a lovely analogy.) “with temps in the 100s with the heat index.”
Yeah. Have you noticed, Dawn, that nobody’s ever gruntled about the weather? There are lots of people who seem to be disgruntled about the weather, but nobody ever says, “I’m gruntled about the weather.” Mind you, nobody really says they’re gruntled about much.
“I just wanted to make a few comments about things mentioned in recent episodes.
- You talked about a listener that wrote an email to Apple Accessibility, asking them politely, I might add, to change the end call button back to its original position.”
Yes, that was Scott Rutkowski from Australia who wrote that email.
Dawn says, “I just want to say a couple of things. First, while I do see where you are coming from, I also feel like I need to add a couple of points.
First, maybe the listener was talking about blind people who also have cognitive or developmental challenges as well. I’m an advocate, and I volunteer with/for a couple of advocacy organizations in my state – a grassroots advocacy organization called Breaking Silences Advocacy Committee and my state’s Olmstead Task Force. There is a fellow advocate who is a fellow volunteer who has vision loss, traumatic brain injury, and a cognitive impairment. Apple Accessibility doesn’t just deal with vision loss. They deal with hearing, motor, and learning impairment also.
Second, I also volunteer twice a week on an ACB community Braille room where I and others mentor people who are learning and or using Braille. I have mentored someone recently, a couple of times, that is totally blind and from what I can gather, also has developmental challenges as well.
Also, what about people who, for whatever reason, cannot do the magic tap whether it’s because of nerve damage in their hands, etc.? I have also mentored people who have things such as neuropathy, arthritis, and other nerve damage in their hands. One of them cannot unmute herself when in Zoom calls because of nerve damage.
Let me be clear. I’m in no way criticizing you or the listener. I think you made some good points.
However, I think that the listener also made and raised some good points, plus, what sounded to my ears like a very respectful, polite, well-thought-out letter to Apple Accessibility.
Plus, I’m also betting that their letter was not the only feedback of that nature that they received. Some of them probably weren’t as polite. And for lack of a better word, nice, as their letter was.”
That’s the end of Dawn’s first point. So I’ll comment on that.
Yes, I agree, it was a very respectful letter. And I actually did make that point at the time. Nevertheless, I really feel we’re clutching at straws with this one.
Let me take this apart a little bit.
First, regarding the location of the end call button which has now actually been moved back, and it wasn’t because of accessibility. It was because of a lot of sighted people who put their thumb on the end call button and just know where it is, and it was muscle memory.
I think there’s an argument actually to be made that Apple may have made this change to benefit accessibility. If you can’t perform the magic tap function but you do have the use of one finger, then it may be easier to get to the very bottom right of the screen where Apple tried to move the end call button to. It’s a very unambiguous place. And once you get used to it, it may actually be easier from an accessibility point of view.
Second, if you’re a Braille user, all Braille displays have a command which can perform the end call function for you by executing the magic tap. So if you’re a Braille user and you don’t have the ability to execute the magic tap, which for those who don’t know what it is, it’s a 2-finger double tap on the screen. They call it the magic tap because it does so much like start and stop the playing of music, or answer a call and end a call. Then in that case, you’ve got a command that you can press. Some Braille displays map it to a specific button, so all you have to do is tap a button on the front of the screen. The Focus 40 Blue is a case in point. But even if that’s not possible, there is a Braille command to execute the magic tap.
Third, if you can’t do the magic tap or you can’t tap the end call button, you can now say to Apple’s personal assistant (and I won’t mention its name now because they dropped the hey requirement in some countries, so even saying the word could trigger it). Oh my word! we’ll have to find a new name for Apple’s assistant. You can say to it, “Hang up.” So there are lots of ways to tackle this if we’ve got accessibility concerns, and I don’t think that the moving of the button is an accessibility issue whatsoever.
“My second point also has to do with my advocacy and volunteer time, as well as my personal life. Yes, you guessed correctly. The answer to the million dollar question is that it’s about the rather nasty Braille bugs that have infested iOS and iPadOS 17.
For one thing, Braille is EXTREMELY,” (in all capitals), “crucial to my advocacy work and personal life. It is how I write my emails. It is how I type up agendas and other documents for the accessibility accommodations subcommittee of Breaking Silences that I host. It is how I edit those same files and emails. It is how I function and participate in Zoom calls. There’s nothing like being able to tell VoiceOver to please shut up with the space with M command and read chat messages while a speaker is talking. Not to mention the quick navigation and activation of your mute/unmute button, among other things. Braille is how I manage my calendar, among other things. Plus, it allows me to follow along with the presentation that’s been screen shared, thanks to the documentation being on board my Braille display. Plus, taking notes when and if I need or want to. And then, if I have a question, either typing it in the chat or raising my hand and then going back to my notes file that I created for the meeting.
I could go on and on about the way that Braille for my iPad helps me with productivity. But it also helps me personally. I can write and send text messages to friends and family easier and faster. I can read articles, web pages, etc., in the way that works and is faster for me. I can read my books on the Kindle or Libby if I choose. I can type and execute search queries. I could go on about the many ways that Braille helps me in my personal life as well.
Frankly, I’m concerned as well because like you, I have a HID display – the Brailliant BI40X. My fear is that if it’s happening on your Mantis which is also a HID-compliant display and with the Humanware NLS Braille reader, which has similar firmware to a Brailliant BI20X and is also HID-compliant, then who’s to say that the infestation wouldn’t spread to my devices? How much I depend on and rely on Braille is definitely not worth the risk of possible infestation.
Plus, if I were to be bitten by these bugs, even though I do have a lot of tech knowledge and savviness to troubleshoot these things normally, I would definitely be phoning Humanware’s tech support department, where sadly, more than likely, I would only encounter more frustration because they would undoubtedly tell me to reach out to Apple, which I would do, only to be passed back to Humanware. So I, along with anyone else that’s had the devices infested, would be going around in circles and also getting more frustrated and stressed.
I will most certainly be watching and monitoring this very closely because if these bugs are not exterminated, then I more than likely will have to wait to upgrade, especially because the workarounds mentioned either don’t work at all, or in some, if not most cases, only will temporarily. Not to mention that they are very time-consuming, if not impossible to do, depending on the situation you’re in.
I enjoy listening to your show, and am loving the transformation.
I hope you have fun at the Paul McCartney concert. I’m glad you were able to get tickets, even if your wallet isn’t, and was screaming in agony when you hit the buy button.”
You got that right, Dawn. Nice to hear from you in sunny Ohio.
And hopefully, these Braille issues are behind us. What I can tell you is that it’s very stable for me again now. I’m very happy with the connectivity, at least, of Braille with the Mantis in iOS 17.
You have just written a beautiful little essay there on the importance of Braille, and how Braille enhances our lives every day. And that’s why I chose to raise this issue after a few betas went by and we were getting very close to the iOS 17 release. And maybe Apple was going to fix it, maybe they weren’t until there was a little bit of pressure. We’ll never really know that. But it’s great that they have because if iOS 17 had come out with these bugs intact, as you say, it would have been a significant inconvenience.
I particularly think about deaf-blind people who have no hearing or next to no hearing at all, and rely on Braille to communicate with the world. If they got themselves in a situation where the Braille just couldn’t work regularly and reliably, and they didn’t have speech to depend on to try repairing their Braille device and doing some of the workarounds we’ve heard about, it would have been a catastrophe. I don’t think that that’s an overstatement to use that word. I’m not into hyperbole, but it would have been a catastrophe for that particular cohort – the deaf-blind community, who are pretty vulnerable, actually.
So let’s be clear. Test builds are for testing. We tested, we raised the alarm at an appropriate time when it was getting pretty close to the end there. Apple responded. All has worked exactly as it should.
We can’t complain when we test things and they don’t work because that’s why we test them. What we can complain about is if a significant issue like that got out in the wild when the release went public. That did not happen, and Apple has acted responsibly here in fixing these bugs.
Notwithstanding Claudia’s comments about the Beetle. And I don’t know whether she has tried the latest build or not, so the jury’s out on that. All I can tell you is that what I’m seeing is a significant improvement. If people are seeing differently, please do get in touch.
And even more important than getting in touch with this podcast, if you are seeing ongoing connectivity bugs with your Braille display and you’re testing iOS 17, please do report those to Apple with as much detail as you can.
Alco is writing in and says:
“I do not know if Kindle just recently updated their app. But now, when I read in Braille” (with a lowercase b), “there are many instances where there is no space between words.”
Perhaps that’s because you’re reading lowercase b Braille, Alco.
“I contacted Humanware, and they duplicated the same issue. One of their employees uses Kindle.
I contacted Amazon and sent them a screenshot. However, visually it looks fine. I was able to show Apple the issue.
The people at Amazon suggested I change the font, but that had nothing to do with it. It also has nothing to do with the updated Humanware software for the Brailliant.
I think the man finally understood me, and he is going to take it to the developers. The only way you can get these people to know the problem is to have them turn on VoiceOver and go to characters. Then, they can see the spacing issue. Most of them do not use VoiceOver.
Anyway, 17 is also problematic in terms of this issue.
Thanks for your time.”
Yes. I could duplicate this here, Alco.
There is very good news since you wrote that letter. And just as I was putting the finishing touches to this week’s episode, Amazon dropped another update to the Kindle app. And this, as far as I can tell, does resolve the issue.
So it’s good that Amazon was responsive. They obviously got a lot of feedback. They’ve rushed out a bug fix. That is how it should be.
Every software has bugs from time to time. What I think really matters is how quickly an organization responds to them. And it looks like Amazon’s done pretty well with this one.
This is a very good reason for not having automatic updates on.
I got word from somebody on Mastodon a couple of weeks ago (It was now maybe a little more now.) who had experienced this. And she said, “Don’t update your Kindle app because if you update your Kindle app, you’re going to run into this problem.” And I didn’t. But I did try it on another device that is not my primary phone.
So this is a very sedentary lesson. First, hook into good quality social media where some poor person can warn you about an issue like this. Second, keep those automatic updates off. Do not let your apps update automatically so that if this happens, you can avoid pressing the update button on that one particular app that might give you grief. Because I certainly wouldn’t want to have my Kindle library affected by this on my main phone.
When this bug was a thing, it was also affecting text-to-speech users, by the way. It wasn’t uniquely related to Braille.
And in a disastrous example of poor marital communication, I forgot to mention to Bonnie that I had learned of this defect with the latest version of Kindle, and not to update her app. So she updated her app.
And at the dinner table recently, she was sitting there talking about how she was going to get a refund for this book that she’d just purchased from Kindle. And she said the reviews didn’t mention it. It seemed to get very favorable reviews, but the words are all running together. How outrageous! What a bad Kindle book this is. And she was going on.
And I said sweetie”, because I was feeling pretty favorably disposed to her at the time, do not pick on that author. It’s not her fault. This is, now I can say was, a bug with the Kindle app.
Thanks very much, Amazon, for getting on this so quickly.
Unfortunately, we’re hearing from another unhappy Focus 40 Blue customer. This is Noah Carver. He says:
“I’m currently entering my second year of a 4-year Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. I am writing to add my voice to a growing number of users who are having considerable trouble with Focus 40 Blue Braille displays.
Because of my chosen profession and subsequent studies, access to music Braille is critical. To that end, I purchased a Focus 40 Blue and an accompanying product maintenance agreement as part of last year’s preparations to attend Eastman. I had hoped that I was buying a Braille display that, thanks to marketing stating it was more rugged and stronger than ever, would be especially durable and long-lasting.
Instead, I bought into a figurative nightmare. Throughout the course of roughly a year, I have received 3 Focus Blue units from Vispero – the original plus 2 replacements. Within a few months of receipt, each unit developed a defect that necessitated its return to the company.
Before I continue, I would like to be abundantly clear that I did not take the marketing material quoted above as a sign that I could, in any way, subject the Focus to harsh treatment. I am fully aware that Braille displays are particularly delicate machines, and that this rule applied to the Focus also. Rather, I had hoped that the Focus was simply more durable and less prone to failure than other displays.
Nevertheless, I never mistreated Focus units in any way. Each unit never left its case, and was always stored in its own compartment of a backpack when not in use. They were never dropped, compressed, or exposed to liquid.
I was similarly careful with the BrailleNote Apex, Touch, and Touch Plus units, which I used throughout primary and secondary school. And other than normal effects of use that were cleared up with servicing, I never experienced serious Braille display failures.
I did have show-stopping problems with the original BrailleNote Touch. However, that’s a story for another day.
I received the original Focus 40 Blue unit in mid-July of 2022. It worked well, though I found that the scratch pad would not open because the Focus was not shipped with an included microSD card.
No big deal. I contacted Vispero, and the company shipped a replacement microSD card to me at no charge. Problem solved.
All was well until in late November, during the run-up to mid-year finals, the power button of my Focus became loose within its socket and began activating randomly whenever anything, such as its carrying case, lightly brushed against it. This had the effect of either turning on the display while it was in my bag and thus draining its battery due to its automatic Bluetooth connection to my phone, or randomly turning off the display while I was reading from it in class or during choir rehearsals.
Recognizing the problem, I immediately contacted Vispero, who were quite apologetic and willing to ship out a replacement. Though frustrated that my “rugged” display had failed so suddenly and so soon to finals, I was pleased with the resolution and chalked my experience up to bad luck.
Unit 2 also initially performed perfectly. However, it soon developed a new issue in March of 2023. Its battery refused to charge.
I would often plug the unit in before I went to bed at night. This seemed to work as the battery percentage showed that the device had taken a full charge the next morning. However, the displayed battery percentage would drain from 100% to 0% within 2 minutes of disconnecting it from power.
Again, I contacted Vispero, who issued a replacement. And again, this unit initially performed perfectly until this month, August. While reading some text messages on my phone, I noticed that pins on one cell were not fully clearing.
I tried to fix the issue by cleaning the unit according to instructions given within the user guide. However, this did not solve the problem.
At this point, I had had enough. Unwilling to take the risk that yet another replacement unit would fail at an inopportune time, while at college, I contacted Vispero, explained my story, and requested a full refund. The agents and supervisors with whom I spoke were understanding, apologetic, and quite willing to follow through on my request, for which I am thankful.
I have allocated the refunded monies towards the purchase of a Mantis Q40, which should hopefully arrive before I depart for college.
I hope that my experience, as well as the experiences of others, will serve as a wake-up call to Vispero, and that they will begin working to improve processes so that future units will be as reliable as their marketing states they should. My experience is arguably extreme, yes. However, I know both from online and in-person conversations with other Focus users and from comments made on this show that I am far from the only person encountering serious issues with Focus 40 Blues.
While I greatly appreciate the support which I received from all levels at Vispero, and hope this message is not interpreted by the company as anything but constructive criticism from a disenchanted consumer, I am frankly both disheartened and extremely frustrated that these displays, which cost over $2,500 and which are advertised as being durable, well-built, long-lasting machines, are instead shipping with severe defects.
Bluntly, consumers deserve better. I and other customers should not be having these experiences.
Further, we should not feel the need to write or call in to a well-known podcast to voice our frustrations and to push Vispero to improve internal processes, so that future customers are not sold similar failure-prone displays.
Thank you for your time, and for providing the opportunity for listeners to write in.
Also, I would like personally to thank you for the technical and advocacy work that you have been involved in over the years. It is because of pioneers like you that I, and so many young blind people are so fortunate, and take so much for granted. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do.”
You have me crying soon, Noah. It’s very very kind, and very articulate, well-thought-through email.
I don’t think anybody can blame you for wanting the product that you purchased to work. You’re not asking for anything unreasonable, whatsoever. And after the third broken unit, I completely understand why you wanted to bail.
The one thing I will say is that in my experience, the Mantis is a very reliable device. Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts in Braille displays, and any product will have its OBFs – its out-of-box failures. But based on my own experience and also the anecdotal evidence of very few complaints about the Mantis coming to this podcast, I think you’re on the right track with what you’ve just purchased. Do let us know how you like it when you get it, and whether it meets your needs.
We’ve got another Focus 40 Blue user here as well. It’s Aneta. She says:
“It’s Aneta. Remember me?”
I tell you, Aneta, I never forget a face.
She says: “I’m still trying to understand Mastodon, and enjoyed your demo of it very much. I have purchased Brian Hartgen’s course on the subject matter, too.”
See, that’s good that Brian’s done that course on Mastodon. So if anybody wants to know more about Mastodon, they can go and check that out.
“In addition,” she says, “I also purchased his course on the L Braille. I know you are not in tech support with FS.”
No, I’m not. [laughs]
“However, several pins and several cells on my Focus 40 Blue are not going down completely. My Focus is out of warranty, and I’ve had to send my L Braille in several times for repair.”
I’m sorry to hear that, Aneta. It does sound like a far too common problem than it should be.
Ali Kazi is in touch about a fun subject, and he says:
Hope all is well with you.
I just wanted to bring to your attention a recent discovery of mine. It is a skill available for the Amazon assistant,” (the Soup Drinker, as we call it here,) “or he-who-must-not-be-named for those Harry Potter fans out there.”, says Ali.
“It is called Oracle of Light, and effectively turns the Soup Drinker into a ChatGPT-enabled assistant.
There is an advanced mode available for a small monthly fee. But what I have been able to discover, if the advanced mode is not enabled, then the answers it gives back will be truncated if they are lengthy.
I found it to be rather snappy with its responses, especially when I asked it to perform semi-complex tasks such as composing a poem about the degree to which Ben Stokes was influential in England’s ODI World Cup victory against New Zealand.”
You’re just being controversial, Ali. I could tell you that without ChatGPT. It was the poor umpiring that was the most influential in that thing, and the ridiculous rules imposing a very different standard on that game from most others where if there is a tie, then the team that wins is the one with the most wickets in hand. Forget Ben Stokes.
Anyway, I’ve got to calm down now. Where’s my Qardio blood pressure monitor?
“I have put it through its paces” (not the Qardio blood pressure monitor, I should say), “as much as I can, without owning an Echo device. But from my limited experiments, one major drawback is that it seems to want to have a constant conversation meaning that as soon as it has finished, it wants you to ask it something else when you may not want to. You cannot just leave it dormant, ready for the next time you need it. If you do, you need to relaunch the skill.
I’m not sure if this is common with all soup drinker skills, since I use Google as my primary voice assistant. However, if this takes off a bit more and becomes more polished, possibly if Microsoft creates a skill based on the new Bing powered by ChatGPT, I will probably think very hard about switching to the Soup Drinker.”
Thank you very much, Ali. I believe that they are thinking very seriously about having the Soup Drinker have ChatGPT built in, actually switch its whole model so that it is powered by ChatGPT. Both of these assistants are going through a bit of an existential crisis at the moment. I see that the head of the Amazon voice thingy division has recently resigned and is moving on, and there’s been some suggestion that there will be less investment than there used to be in the Amazon Smart Assistant.
What they’re finding is that people just don’t use them very much other than asking about the weather and for controlling their smart things. No matter how powerful these things get, a lot of people, and I appreciate that blind people are most likely an exception, just do not want to play with these things very much. That said, let’s try this skill and see if it’s any good.
I should say that in preparation for this, I did a test drive. I ran it for the first time. It offered to enable advanced mode for me, and it gives you a free go at advanced mode for a day I believe it is, or a couple of days. And then, it charges you $1.61 a month. I’m not sure if that’s US pricing. So a fairly minimal cost, and I suspect that gives you access to the ChatGPT 4.0 API.
So let’s give this a shot.
Soup Drinker, open Oracle of Light.
Soup Drinker: I am the open AI enhanced Oracle of Light. Ask me anything.
Jonathan: Tell me about The Beatles.
Soup Drinker: The Beatles were a British rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. The group consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. They are widely regarded as one of the most influential bands in the history of popular music.
The Beatles’ music spanned various genres including rock, pop, psychedelia, and experimental sounds. They achieved significant commercial success with numerous chart-topping hits and albums. Their innovative song-writing, harmonies, and musical experimentation revolutionized the music industry and left a lasting impact on generations to come.
Shall I continue?
Jonathan: Tell me about John Lennon’s physical appearance.
Soup Drinker: John Lennon was known for his distinctive physical appearance. He had a slim build, with brown hair that he often wore in various styles throughout his career. Lennon also sported round, wireframe glasses, which became one of his iconic trademarks. He had a somewhat scruffy and rebellious look, often seen wearing casual and unconventional clothing.
However, it is important to note that physical appearance is just one aspect of an individual, and John Lennon’s legacy extends far beyond his looks.
Is there anything else you would like to know about him or the Beatles?
Jonathan: Write a poem about John Lennon’s physical appearance.
Soup Drinker: Certainly. Here’s a poem about John Lennon’s physical appearance.
a legend was born,
with tousled hair and glasses worn.
John Lennon, with his rebel flair,
a look that seemed to say, I dare.
Soup Drinker: His brown locks framed a face so bright,
eyes behind those round specks, shining light.
A slender figure,
a spirit untamed,
a rebel soul, forever unchained.
His fashion, unconventional and free,
clothes that matched his creativity.
From tailored suits to casual attire,
he never failed to spark desire.
Shall I continue?
Soup Drinker: In every photo, a glimpse of charm,
a mystique that could disarm.
His smile, mischievous and sly,
held secrets, dreams that touched the sky.
With every song, his voice would soar,
a melody that we all adore.
From Imagine to Strawberry Fields,
his words, a balm that forever yields.
But beyond appearances,
his heart was kind.
A seeker of peace,
with a brilliant mind.
an artist, a visionary,
his impact on the world, extraordinary.
Shall I continue?
Soup Drinker: I apologize if the poem didn’t resonate with you. If there’s anything else I can assist you with, please let me know. Anything more?
Jonathan: No. Bye-bye!
Soup Drinker: Goodbye! If you have any more questions in the future, feel free to ask. Have a great day! Okay?
Jonathan: I’ll do my best. Thank you.
Soup Drinker: You’re welcome. I’m glad I could assist you. Remember, doing your best is always a great approach. If you ever need help again, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Have a wonderful day. Okay?
Jonathan: I’ll do my best. Thank you.
Soup Drinker: You’re welcome. I’m glad to hear that you’re doing your best. Keep up the good work and stay positive.
If there’s anything else I can assist you with, feel free to ask. Take care and have a fantastic day.
Soup Drinker: All right. If you have any questions or need assistance in the future, feel free to reach out. Have a great day.
Jonathan: No. Go away. I don’t want to talk to you anymore. We’re finished.
Soup Drinker: I apologize if I have done something to upset you. If you change your mind and need assistance in the future, feel free to reach out. Take care and have a good day. Okay?
Jonathan: Stop. [laughs]
Soup Drinker: Have a nice day.
Jonathan: I think I’m finally free of the jolly thing. Man, it’s like being a teenager again. You hang up first. No, you hang up. Bye! Bye! Yeah. Bye! Bye! Bye! Love you! Love you! Bye! Bye! Man, you never get off the thing.
And then, of course, another part of being a teenager is often, oh, I’m sorry if something I said upset you. Are you upset? Have I upset you? Oh my goodness! Whoa! That was triggering.
But it is also one way. There might be others. But that’s the way that Ali has discovered of getting ChatGPT on your Soup Drinker. Thank you for sharing that, Ali.
And I would also point out that Ben Stokes is actually a New Zealander. I mean he plays for England, but he’s defected.
Advertisement: Living Blindfully is brought to you in part by Aira, and I thank them for their sponsorship of the podcast.
You know we’ve become used to some businesses offering free Wi-Fi. It’s a nice touch, and it makes us feel valued whenever we come across it.
And I know similarly that when I learn about a business that has purchased Aira Access, it’s like putting out a massive “Blind people are welcome here.” sign. I know that if I need it, I’ve got a trained professional agent available to me to provide assistance, and that means that the business cares enough to pay for that. I appreciate that.
From airports, to Starbucks, to Target, and more, Aira Access can assist you to navigate, shop, browse and not be reliant on friends, family or others who may not understand our needs as well. And don’t forget that as well as the offerings in physical locations, there are other businesses providing Aira Access that can be used from home.
So you should check out the app to find out what’s available. To do that, just open the Aira Access section in the Aira Explorer app on your favorite device. You can also visit Aira’s website to find out more at Aira.io. That’s A-I-R-A.I-O.
Caller: Hey, Jonathan and Living Blindfully people. This is Jane Kerona from Silver Spring, Maryland in the US. There’s a couple of things I’ve been meaning to comment on over the last several issues.
First one is the apps. Or in my case, one app specifically that I really miss.
Remember Papa Sangre? I loved Papa Sangre. I wasted many many a pretty happy hour until the snuffle hog or whatever it was kept killing me. But I do miss that app. The music was really great, the sound effects. And it was very challenging. I never never got above the first few levels, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The other thing is canes, white canes. I have been a guide dog handler since 1979, so I haven’t used my cane until recently. My dog has decided that there are certain things he doesn’t want to do, so I had to brush up on my cane skills. And I was happy to find out that I hadn’t lost too many of them.
My mobility instructor did, however, say that my cane was too short. It came up to my sternum, and that’s what we were told to do when we were young and started using a cane in the blind school.
So she showed me a cane that she had. It’s from Ambutech. It’s called a No-Jab cane, and there’s a spring in the handle. It’s heavier than a lot of the other canes are, but it has a spring in the handle so that when you are walking along and your cane gets caught in a crack in the sidewalk, it doesn’t jump back and hit you in the stomach. Your hand still moves forward because there’s a spring in the handle.
I really love that thing, and I knitted a cane holster to hang over my shoulder so that I always have my cane with me when I’m out and about. I do have the 2-inch roller ball tip.
And the part that I’m just listening to in episode 242, you were talking about tapping versus the contact method. When I first learned cane travel in 10th grade, we were tapping back and forth. Tap tap tap tap.
But now, especially with the roller ball and those tips that roll like the marshmallow one or the big roller ball that I’ve got, it’s much easier, especially with this great big heavy No-Jab cane, it’s easier just to have one, have it be contacting with the ground and just roll it back and forth. And so that’s what I’ve been doing. So there.
Now, the two things I wanted to comment on are out of my head and onto this message. And hopefully, maybe onto the podcast. So thanks so much for listening, and I will go back to listening myself.
Voice message: Hello, Jonathan! It’s Bryant here.
I wanted to first, let you know that I have subscribed to Living Blindfully Plus. So thank you for your excellent podcast. I have a monthly subscription, and it is well worth it.
I also wanted to comment on your episode where you talk to the people behind the Optima product. A couple of things really stood out to me that they said in the presentation, and I’m really intrigued by this device.
One of the things that I believe it was Venkatesh said that I really agree with him on is, you know, we are setting some of these companies, I believe, to lower standards than we should be, in terms of making products that are up to today’s standards when it comes to software and hardware. Some of these companies are using out-of-date hardware and software that is not up to today’s standards. That doesn’t just apply to notetakers. It applies to other blindness-related products, I think. I don’t like the term notetakers either, but I’m using it because it’s a term people are familiar with.
But I really agree with him about that, and I feel like, you know, as he said, people complain about this out-of-date and suboptimal hardware and software that these companies are using, yet we don’t push these companies to use more up-to-date technology. And if we don’t, they’re going to keep using what they’re using right now, unless there is some sort of movement to start using up-to-date hardware and software.
And I really like that they’re trying to mainstream the Optima as much as possible, and use hardware and software that actually conforms to today’s standards because technology is changing rapidly, and this old stuff is going to be out of date very quickly, and we’re already seeing that when it comes to notetakers and other blindness products.
I also like the fact that they are trying to make it affordable to the average consumer. I really am strongly considering getting an Optima when it comes out. And while I don’t know the exact price it’s going to be yet, it sounds like they want to make it as affordable as possible.
If I do get an Optima, I probably will get the one without the Braille display because I don’t need a Braille display. I already have my BrailleSense 6, which is a great product. That’s one thing I will commend HIMS on. Well, there’s a lot of things I commend HIMS on. But their hardware is really good.
Jonathan: Thank you very much, Bryant! Good to hear from you.
Devin Prater says:
“while listening to the episode about the Optima, I found myself really agreeing with the idea that modern notetakers have failed us.
When I was a student at our poor little school for the blind, we were given BrailleNote MPowers and later, the Apex. It was only because of an amazing AT teacher that I learned any computer skills.
Now though, people come to us after graduating high school with knowledge of only either the notetakers or the iPad. So when I train them to use a computer for college or work, I have to start from the beginning. And it’s not the student’s fault, it’s just how classrooms have gone. But an iPad, unless a student goes out of their way to find an app like Ulysses, will not support what a computer does for a blind person, or especially a Braille reader.
So I’m hoping that APH gets to sell the Optima in the United States, so that schools can use those quota grants for an actually great device. I know I wish I had something like that when I was in high school.
The Braille Plus, rest in peace, was almost close enough, from my fond memories of it at least. But it’s nothing like a Windows computer.
Also, I’d like to thank you for letting me know that iOS 17 will not come with the Braille bug. I can’t tell you how much of a relief that is to me, and something I won’t have to tell my students about before their devices upgrade.”
Well, it’s a relief to me. It’s a relief to many people around the world, I’m sure.
Oh, I have this irrepressible desire to play a jingle.
Christopher Wright is writing in, and he says:
“I’m curious how you run your internet radio station, which is of course, MushroomFM.
On the podcast, you’ve talked numerous times about using a dedicated computer. Do you host everything from this computer and your home network, or is the computer simply used as a controller for a VPS somewhere? I couldn’t imagine you running things from something as unstable as a residential connection for various reasons, including power failure and bandwidth limits.
I know the podcast is hosted with Pinecast, which I assume is a remote hosting company, but I’m curious about everything else.”
Well first of all, Christopher, the connections we have in New Zealand would not be a limitation in terms of hosting everything here. The maximum internet connection that I have access to is ultra fast broadband. So that’s fibre right inside our home, and that has a maximum throughput at the moment of 8 gigs down and 8 gigs up, and that is soon to increase even further. We have no bandwidth caps on that connection, and it would be absolutely capable of doing everything including streaming a very large number of streams at 128 kbps, which works out at about 15k per stream. That’s a very minimal output when you’ve got 8 gigs down and 8 gigs up. So bandwidth, not a problem. And reliability, also not a problem.
You can certainly get uninterruptible power supplies for those occasions where you have power failure. The one reason why I choose not to do it is, in a word, Windows. The mushroom pot at the moment is running Windows 10, and I don’t have the time right now at least, to spin up a Linux box where I could put all of those things on and make sure that it’s pretty stable. I find that when we have a live show on, and I’ll come to that in a minute, I will reboot the Windows machine once a week just to keep it happy. Now it’s possible I could keep it going for longer, but I do find that unpredictable things can happen with Windows 10 if you leave it too long without a reboot. Things just seem to go a bit weird with memory and all kinds of things.
So we have a virtual private server with DreamHost, and DreamHost looks after all sorts of things – the Living Blindfully website, the MushroomFM website, and the Mosen at Large website. (I still have a website called Mosen at Large.), and all those are run from DreamHost.
We do use a dedicated Icecast server, and that is provided by a different company. That kind of redundancy is quite nice because even if you’ve got a company that has, say, 99.9% uptime, there is still that 0.1%. And it’s nice when not everything goes down at the same time.
So if we have a failure with our VPS because of our hosting company, DreamHost, we have the other hosting company that actually delivers the streams. And that means that if you’ve got your Soup Drinker or TuneIn Radio or any number of apps, you don’t need to visit the website to get to the MushroomFM streams. They will continue to work if the DreamHost VPS goes down. So a little bit of redundancy is quite useful.
So the setup is that our voice tracking technology and the broadcast playout automation system, all of that is handled by Station Playlist Studio and its associated utilities, and that is running on the Mushroom Pot, the Windows 10 machine, on a very stable, ultra fast broadband connection. So our broadcasters connect to that server in New Zealand, and they work their magic and deliver the MushroomFM programming for you. We then send that stream out to our Icecast server, which is actually hosted in Finland at the moment. And then, of course, the website is run by DreamHost in the United States.
If I ever get the inclination, and sometimes I take on big MushroomFM-related summer projects where I kind of veg out for 2 or 3 weeks, because I usually have a very long time off over the New Zealand summer, and the first part of that is just rest and recreation. And then, I start to get creative. And every so often, maybe every couple of years, I will get majorly into revamping MushroomFM in some way.
And if the mood takes me, one day, I will set up a Linux box and do it all from here because we’ve got so much bandwidth to burn. And our fiber in New Zealand going to the home is one of the best internet infrastructures in the world.
I’m very proud of that because it wasn’t always the case. [laughs] I used to be very envious of the cable connections that people had in the US while we were struggling with dial-up or basic ADSL.
But over time, we have rolled out fiber to people’s homes, and it is a very robust internet infrastructure that we now enjoy in New Zealand.
I can honestly say that if we hadn’t done all that work, and it took some years, of course, to lay all that fiber to people’s homes, we would have been in a much more difficult predicament when we locked down so hard at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the fact that the internet infrastructure was so robust really saved our bacon, I think, and allowed us to lock down, continue a lot of business work, and save many lives.
Voiceover: On Living Blindfully, we hear the opinions of blind people from all over the world.
So why not share yours?
Or if the phone is more your thing, phone our listener line in the United States: 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.
This demonstration comes from Elijah Massey.
Elijah: I will be reviewing and demonstrating the Lemfo Lem16. I think this watch can be extremely useful for blind people in several different ways.
It runs a full version of Android 11. That’s right. It’s not Android Wear or Wear OS, but full Android, which means you can pretty much run any app you can on an Android phone on this watch.
It has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and the performance is very good for a smartwatch.
The watch is round and about the size of an Apple Watch Ultra, with 2 protrusions on the sides where the band connects. The touchscreen is round, and there is a small camera above the touchscreen on one of the protrusions.
On the right side of the watch, from top to bottom, there is the power button, another camera, and the back button. Both buttons are rectangular, and the side camera is round and a little bigger than the front camera. There is nothing on the left side of the watch.
The band feels like it’s made of rubbery plastic, and it is 2 separate pieces. One side is a lot shorter than the other and has a plastic piece at the end similar to a belt buckle that you slide the other side through. Then, you stick one piece of the buckle through the hole that makes it as tight as you want it on your wrist.
The watch supports cellular, in addition to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. And to insert a SIM card, you need to remove the band piece attached to the camera side by pushing the metal piece on the band towards the middle, pulling the SIM tray out with a fingernail, and sliding it back in after inserting the card. The SIM card only goes in the tray one way, but it won’t fit any other way so there is no risk of putting it in wrong.
Unfortunately, this watch is very inaccessible out of the box since among other things, Talkback is not installed by default, a lot of the stock apps have accessibility issues, and even the skin that the company puts on top of Android is pretty inaccessible.
However, since Android is so customizable, I’ve been able to replace pretty much everything with regular Android apps. And now, it’s a very accessible and usable device.
This does take a lot of work, but it can be done with very little sighted assistance. I can create a tutorial if requested. But for now, I will demonstrate it as I have it set up.
First, I will unlock the watch by pressing the power button.
TalkBack: [15:35]. T-Mobile.
Elijah: I will go to the top of the screen by swiping left and right.
TalkBack: Collapsed. No active profiles. 4 of 4 enabled tasker. System UI.
Elijah: The first thing on the lock screen is notifications.
Tasker is a third-party app similar to Shortcuts on iOS, and this is a status notification showing how many automations are active.
I will now swipe through the lock screen.
TalkBack: Expand button. Collapsed, joined notification. Monitoring local network. YouTube notification. Satisfied with this YouTube notification? Double tap…
Elijah: When there are more than two notifications, it will usually condense all but the first one into one item, and you can double tap this to view all of them separately.
TalkBack: Selected, T-Mobile. Alarm set for Thursday, 9 o’clock. Image. Bluetooth connected. Image. Wi-Fi signal full. Phone, 3 bars. Battery, 96%. [15:35]. Wednesday, August 2nd. Unlock button.
Elijah: As you can see, the lock screen shows a lot of useful information about device status, as well as the time and date.
TalkBack: Pin unlock. Lock screen.
Elijah: I have enabled pin unlock so when I activated the unlock button, a number pad came up.
Unlike the Apple Watch, I haven’t found a way to only require the pin when I take it off my wrist, so I have to enter it every time. However, on this watch, you can drag your finger around the screen and lift it up to type a number, which definitely makes it faster.
I will resume after entering my pin.
TalkBack: Device unlocked. Launcher. Assistant. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold to long press. Actions available. Use swipe up then left to view.
Elijah: I am now on the home screen of the watch. It said launcher because that is the custom launcher I’m using, since the experience is way more accessible.
The home screen is a grid of apps that you can arrange however you like.
TalkBack: Bard mobile. Double tap to activate. Reader. GoodMaps outdoors. Clock. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold to long press. Actions available. Use swipe up and left to view.
Elijah: You can also get to an alphabetical list of all apps (similar to what you have on an Apple Watch) by swiping up with 2 fingers.
TalkBack: Apps list. Search apps. Edit box. Double tap to edit. Amazon Alexa, has 1 notification. Amazon shopping. Amazon store card. Android hidden settings. Assistant. Audible. Auto remote. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold to long press.
Elijah: To move faster through the list, you can swipe up with 2 fingers again.
TalkBack: Clock. Gmail. Double tap to activate. Sheets. Snapchat. Double tap to activate.
Elijah: It can be unpredictable how far it will move you, but a 2-finger swipe down will scroll backwards.
To get back to the home screen, you can swipe down with two fingers until you get there, or just press the back button.
TalkBack: Home screen. 2 of 3. Home. Actions available. Assistant.
Elijah: To move between home screen pages, you can do a 2-finger swipe left or right. Left should move you forward a page, and right should move backward.
TalkBack: Home screen, 1 of 3. Play Store. Double tap to activate. Home screen, 1 of 3.
Home screen, 2 of 3. Assistant. Bard mobile. Double tap to activate.
Home screen, 3 of 3. Audible. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold to long press. Actions available. Use swipe up and left to view.
Elijah: It’s also very easy to move apps around the home screen. I will swipe up then left to go to actions as TalkBack said, then find move item in the menu.
TalkBack: Actions. Shortcuts and notifications. Remove. Uninstall. Move item. Launcher. Create folder with GoodMaps outdoors. Home screen, 2 or 3. Create folder with assistant. Create folder with Bard mobile. Create folder with reader. Create folder with Play Store. Move to row 3, column 4. Move to row 2, column 4. Double tap to activate. Item moved. Phone. Home screen, 2 of 3.
Elijah: If a space is already occupied by an app, it will offer to create a folder with that app. Something very useful that I wouldn’t expect to find on a smartwatch. Empty spaces let you move the app to that space.
Now, I will demonstrate playing books.
TalkBack: Bard mobile. Reader. Bard mobile. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold to long press. Actions available. Use swipe up then left to view.
Elijah: Bard Mobile is normally not available on smartwatches. But since this runs full Android, it works great.
TalkBack: Bard mobile. Loading. Bard mobile splash screen. Image. Bard mobile. Book is fully initialized. Bookshelf.
Elijah: I will find a book and open it.
TalkBack: More options button. Selected. Bookshelf tab. Get books tab. Settings tab. Now reading tab. Audiobooks, 242. Audiobooks folder. Navigate up button.
Title and author search. Search field. Today. Forward the Foundation. Asimov, Isaac. More info.
1 week or before. The Silmarillion. Tolkien, J R R. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. The 21st of July 2023. 23 hours, 27 minutes, and 27 seconds. Double tap to select. Double tap and hold to long press.
Now reading. Book is fully initialized. Now reading.
Elijah: All the navigation and audio settings you have on a phone are available here.
This can pair with Bluetooth headphones, but the built-in speaker works pretty well for playing books, while the Apple Watch cannot play any media through its built-in speaker.
TalkBack: Bookshelf tab. Get books tab. Settings tab. Selected, now reading. The Silmarillion by J R R Tolkien, title author. Elapsed, 0 minutes, 0 seconds of 17 hours, 9 minutes, 3 seconds. Navigation button. 0%. Sleep off. Sleep button. Bookmark button. Previous button. Current level chapter. Jump by button. Next button. Rewind button. Play button.
Audiobook reader: The Silmarillion, by J R R Tolkien. Edited by Christopher Tolkien.
TalkBack: Fast forward button. Decrease speed button. Speed button. Double tap to activate. Increase speed button.
Elijah: You can also pause or resume playback no matter where you are, if you assign a talkback gesture to it, similar to the magic tap on iOS. I assigned a swipe up, then right.
Audiobook reader: Copyright 1970…
Elijah: Now I will demonstrate Leisure Reader, which is a version of Voice Dream Reader for Android.
While there is an Apple Watch version of Voice Dream Reader, it is far more limited than what you can do on here.
TalkBack: Reader: Double tap to activate. Title. Edit box. does conceivability entail possibility? 2 hours, 59 minutes, and 17 seconds. David Chalmers. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold to long press. Actions available. Use swipe up then left to view.
Elijah: This supports all the navigation options, audio settings, and premium voices that you can use on iOS. You can even download books directly from Bookshare and other services on the watch itself, and import PDFs from email or cloud services.
TalkBack: Reader. does conceivability entail possibility? Media control. David Chalmers. Navigate up button. Settings button. Bookmark button. More options button. Bookmarks button. Skip back 30 seconds. Play button. Search button. Elapse time: [0:00]. 0% slider. Remaining time: 2 hours, 59 minutes, and 17 seconds. Percent played: 0% button. Select navigation unit button. Double tap to activate. Play button. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold to long press.
Book reader: David Chalmers. Does Conceivability Entail Possibility? David Jay. Chalmers. Department of Philosophy.
Elijah: I will go to the home screen by swiping left, then down. Then, resume and pause playback with my TalkBack gesture.
TalkBack: Launcher. Reader. Home screen, 2 of 3.
Book reader: Department of Philosophy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona, 85721. Email protected.
Elijah: Just as easy as the magic tap on iOS.
This watch can also connect to the Orbit Writer, a small Perkins Braille keyboard that can be worn around the neck and makes typing text a lot easier.
TalkBack: Screen off.
Elijah: After it is paired, the Orbit Writer should connect automatically to the watch after you press the power button.
I am using an app called R Braille, which allows you to control the device to some extent as well as type, although not nearly as much as you can with VoiceOver. However, it is one of the few Braille apps on Android that lets you type in contracted Braille.
TalkBack: [15:46]. T-Mobile. Unlock button. Windows system UI. Pin unlock. Lock screen.
Device unlocked. Launcher. Reader. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold. GoodMaps Outdoors. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold to long press. Actions available. Use swipe up…
Elijah: GoodMaps Outdoors is a continuation of the Sendero GPS apps, and it’s free. It can announce your surroundings and give turn-by-turn directions, as well as remember landmarks and record custom routes.
TalkBack: GoodMaps Outdoors. Loading user data. Please wait.
On North Stone Avenue. GoodMaps Outdoors. Tucson, AZ 85705, USA. Direction: north. Intersection ahead. On North Stone Avenue. 372 feet, three-way. North Stone Avenue behind and ahead, and west Plata Street left. More info. Routes tab. Selected. Location tab. POI tab. Settings tab. Double tap to activate.
GoodMaps Outdoors. Has one notification. Seeing assistant move.
Clock. Move it. Translock. Uber. Lyft. Gatewise.
Elijah: Seeing assistant move is another GPS app for the blind that works well. Move it and Translock are apps for planning transit routes and getting directions during the trip, and they both work well on here.
Uber and Lyft also work great, but I’m going to demonstrate Google Maps. It’s not on my home screen, so I will find it in my apps list.
TalkBack: Search apps. Double tap to edit text, double tap and hold to long press.
Search apps. System status. Choose input method. R Braille hardware keyed. Showing R Braille keyboard active. Launcher. More.
Elijah: You can search the apps list, and that sound you heard is me switching between Braille codes to make sure contracted Braille is selected. To switch between contracted and computer Braille, you press space with G. I typed maps in Braille.
TalkBack: Clear search box button.
Maps. Search here, heading. Keyboard hidden. Voice search button. Account and settings. Voice search. Search here, heading.
Elijah: When you open the app, you are immediately placed on the search field. You can also search with your voice, but I’m going to double tap and then type in the text field.
TalkBack: Search here. Navigate up button. Editing. Search here. Edit box. Double tap and hold to long press.
Elijah: I type student union in contracted Braille, and then press the enter key.
TalkBack: Back button. Student union, heading. Button, clear. Voice search button. More filters button. Not checked, open now, checkbox. Not checked, top-rated. Student unions, 4.4 stars, 306 ratings and reviews. Student union. Wheelchair accessible. Direction to student union.
Elijah: The first item is what I want, so I will double tap to see the available routes.
TalkBack: Start location. Your location: student unions. Recommended route, heading. Start navigation, route 1. Walk for 13 minutes, then bus 4 or 5, then walk for 5 minutes. 26 minutes. [15:53] to [16:19]. Scheduled at [16:06]. Start navigation, route 1.
More by bus, heading. Walk for 3 minutes, then bus 19, then bus 4 or 5 for 105 X, then walk for 5 minutes. 28 minutes. [16:11] to [16:39]. Scheduled at [16:14]. Start navigation, route 2 button. Double tap to activate.
Elijah: These are bus routes, but you can also set the mode to walking. Google Maps navigation works great on this watch, although I haven’t found a way to get walking directions between stops on a bus route or to my final destination.
I will open the recent apps list using space with R. You can also do this with a TalkBack voice command, although not with a gesture right now for some reason.
TalkBack: Launcher. Recent apps. Maps. Clear all button. Search. Home screen, 3 of 3.
Elijah: You can close apps individually by using the actions menu, where there is a clear all button after the list of apps.
TalkBack: Amazon Alexa, has 1 notification. Double tap to activate, double tap and hold to long press. Actions available. Use swipe up then left to view.
Elijah: The Amazon voice assistant works very well on this watch. Although sometimes, I have to press the talk button manually in the app instead of saying the wake word.
TalkBack: Amazon Alexa, has 1 notification. Help and feedback button. Activity. Double tap to activate. Help and feedback heading.
Elijah: It’s easy to accidentally make it think you’re double tapping, when you meant to swipe.
TalkBack: Back button. Double tap to activate. Tap or say Alexa button. Ask Alexa. Cancel ask Alexa button. Double tap to activate.
Elijah: What’s the weather today?
Alexa: Currently, in Tucson, it’s 101 degrees Fahrenheit with mostly sunny skies. Today, you can expect lots of sun, with a high of 104 degrees and a low of 76 degrees. Also, there’s an excessive heat warning in effect from Friday, August 4th, 10 AM to Sunday, August 6th, 8 PM.
Elijah: Google Assistant can be activated from anywhere.
Okay Google, what’s the weather today?
Google Assistant: It’s sunny, with a high of 103 and a low of 79. Right now, it’s 101 and sunny.
Elijah: To open the notification shade from the home screen, swipe down with 2 fingers.
TalkBack: Home screen, 3 of 3. Notification shade. [15:53]. Screen record start switch. On. Wi-Fi signal full. Wi-Fi: Elijah’s Wi-Fi on. Connected to Blue’s 5.66. Off. Do not disturb switch. On. 4G on switch. Off, screen cast. Open details button. Wednesday, August 2nd. Alarm set for Thursday, 9 o’clock. Bluetooth connected. Location request active. Wi-Fi signal full. Phone, 3 bars. Battery, 83%.
Elijah: You can customize which controls appear here in quick settings, which can be opened with a 2-finger swipe down from the notification shade.
TalkBack: Conversations. Double tap. Collapsed. Element bullet. 4 unread notified messages. Bullet. 14 minutes ago. Double tap…
Elijah: Element is a messaging app that I use, and this is a notification group. If I wanted to, I could expand it to read all the individual messages, but I will dismiss it from the actions menu.
TalkBack: Actions, Expand. Double tap. Dismiss. Notification shade. [15:53]. Double tap to activate. Stop location updates button.
Elijah: There is a clear all button at the bottom. But unfortunately, the only way I’ve found to get to it is to swipe past all the notifications.
This concludes my demonstration of the Lemfo Lem16 smartwatch.
I view this as a complement to an iPhone and an Apple Watch, rather than a replacement. While it has some health and fitness features, I have not figured out how to use them in an accessible way, and I would guess the features on the Apple Watch are more accurate anyway.
Also, the Apple Watch is better at displaying a lot of information quickly with complications. I think you can put some widgets on the home screen accessibly, but I haven’t tried them yet.
Some apps are not as accessible or usable as they are on the iPhone, and some apps like Blind Square and Seeing AI are not available on Android.
Apple Watch apps are often simpler and easier to use than the full Android apps that run on this watch, although they are often less capable as well.
The other issue with this watch is battery life. Sometimes, it can be as low as 4 hours with heavy usage, although it comes with a battery pack you can put on the back to get an extra full charge, and you can even wear it on your wrist with the power bank.
Also, this watch has limited multi-touch support, so you have to use the angular gestures for TalkBack.
In addition to what I demonstrated, messaging and VoIP apps work, as well as Chrome, YouTube, Gmail, and you can even use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
You can also get a $5 or $10 a month cellular plan from SpeedTalk for data, calls, and texts, and you can forward calls from an iPhone to the watch’s phone number depending on your carrier, although you cannot access iMessage at all. You can also just use your iPhone as a Wi-Fi hotspot instead if you don’t need calls.
Google Lookout also works, although I haven’t tested it as much yet. I would expect apps like Aira and Be My Eyes to work well too, although perhaps with lower video quality than an iPhone.
Some cases in which I find this watch incredibly useful are checking where my Uber or Lyft is without taking out my phone, listening to books when I’m traveling, and using multiple GPS apps at once without running them all on my iPhone and having some get closed in the background. It’s also a good backup if my phone dies, or if I leave it at home. But you can use it for whatever you want, since it’s so customizable. I usually wear both this and my Apple Watch on separate wrists.
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Time to hear from Jake Johl. [Jake Johl! on reverb] See, that is just such a cool radio name. I had to do that.
Anyway, he says:
“On the topic of old gadgets, does anyone remember the Moet Sensor? This was an orientation/mobility device which I believe, was ahead of its time.
I used one of these when I first moved to Illinois with my family. I was entering 5th grade at the time, and my O&M instructor gave me one of these things to use on our lessons.
It was about the size of a packet of batteries. And if memory serves, it only contained one switch that could be moved in either direction.
It basically functioned like today’s GPS technology. The difference was that it wasn’t as advanced. But I enjoyed using it nevertheless. I don’t believe this device exists anymore.”
I certainly do remember that, Jake. And in fact, I was experimented upon. [laughs]
I was part of a pilot program from the University of Canterbury where Professor Leslie Kaye was doing a lot of work with these sensor-type devices. And for a while, I went to school with a sonic headband device, which was a bit more advanced than the Moet Sensor.
So obviously, you wore it on your head, and it gave you stereophonic noises as you got close to things.
And because of the training that I did, I got very good at determining from the sound that I was hearing which items were bushes, which were thick posts, and thin poles, and all kinds of things. And that actually took me through this slalom process where they deliberately put a whole bunch of poles in a paddock or a field, and get you to walk around them. And I got really good at this thing.
I’m not sure whether there’s much activity going on in that ultrasonic space anymore, but it’s intriguing.
Jake also says, “I also used an Opticon and a VersaBrail prior to my move to Illinois. As a matter of fact, it seems nobody here in Illinois has ever heard of the VersaBrail or the Opticon.”
What? Well, I’ll tell you what. The VersaBrail’s had its day, but it was an amazing device for its time, Jake.
But the Opticon, there are some people whose most prized possession is still their Opticon because they say there’s just nothing that has ever taken its place.
“Also on the subject of technology, I’m about to get my second iPhone, or at least I hope so, anyway. I’m very much looking forward to that as I’ve been reading and trying to keep up on the latest developments at Apple and others. The new iOS features sound amazing.
Now that I think about it, I wonder if Apple would ever consider developing a feature that would let users know when their packages arrive. This would be company-agnostic. In other words, not tied to any specific company.
My reasoning for thinking this way is that I was just informed by a neighbor that my medication shipment couldn’t be delivered because I didn’t hear my door buzzer. That is because the buzzers aren’t working again. But supposedly, they are going to be fixed sometime within the next month or so.”
Thanks, Jake. Well, you’ve got 2 options there, I think. One is that there are many good parcel-tracking apps.
The one that I use is simply called Parcel. It is platform-agnostic, and it’s super duper! I really like my Parcel app.
You can pay a small subscription every year for real-time updates. But it’s not that real-time. I mean it won’t tell you when your parcel’s right outside the door.
For that, you could use something like a Ring Video Doorbell. Not only will that tell you when it detects that someone’s at the door, and you can hear on your phone when they ring the bell, and you can talk to them after they’ve rung the bell.
But recent iterations of the software have a package detection feature, and it actually says, oh there’s a package at your front door. So that could be useful. But I’m not sure how well that would work in, say, an apartment situation.
We have chronicled here on Living Blindfully the difficulties poor Carolyn Pete had, just getting her Google Home to talk in the voice that she wanted it to talk in, with very poor assistance (or lack thereof) from Google.
Now, she’s not alone. David Kingsbury’s writing in with a tale of woe.
“Thanks again for all the great information you provide in your Living Blindfully podcast, with a capital B, of course.” [laughs]
“You recently asked for feedback on the Google Accessibility Help Desk. Here is my tale of woe.”
Ooh! Cue the violin music.
“I am currently preparing the third edition of my book – The Windows Screen Reader Primer, and plan on adding a chapter on the Google workspace. Consequently, I have recently reached out to the Google Accessibility Help Desk to seek assistance about how to work with a couple of the Google apps. I was rather astounded that they had no answers to what I thought were a few pretty basic questions.
I first asked about filtering data with Google Sheets because I was running into a roadblock.
Initially, they sent me a link to some site-centric instructions that I have read already. When I told them this was not helpful, they apologized but never got back to me with an answer to my query.
Fortunately, a colleague of mine knew what to do, and I was able to accomplish the task. But I was rather amazed that he had the answer, while their “accessibility experts” did not.
I then ran into a huge accessibility problem with Google Slides, their equivalent of PowerPoint. With JAWS, NVDA and Narrator, the slideshow view only reveals slide titles, not slide content, rendering it absolutely useless for making presentations to an audience.
They were actually unaware of this problem, and kicked it upstairs. Time will tell if they ever fix this.
In the meantime, I am not wasting any more time with this app. I suppose you usually get what you pay for. And when you pay nothing, which is the case for Google Apps, you can’t expect a whole lot. That said, a company with a market cap of $500 billion or so could afford to do better.
By contrast, the Microsoft Accessibility Help Desk is an excellent resource. You can call them and immediately speak to a real live person rather than send an email to Google, just to wait a day for unhelpful responses. My impression is that if you run into accessibility problems with Google, you are on your own.”
David’s got another topic. But I’ll just pause and say you know, the response I got when I was trying to get to the bottom of the Braille HID issue was so bad from Google Accessibility, that I was absolutely certain I was talking to a bot, talking to AI. I’m assured that’s not the case, but the responses were just so obtuse, pathetic, and unhelpful. I have never seen anything like that.
That’s not to say that the responses I get from Apple, for example, aren’t annoying and I wish they were different from time to time. But at least, they’re in coherent English and there is absolutely no doubt you’ve actually got somebody on the other end. The Google thing is just atrocious.
Now, by contrast, though, I did have a really good Google experience. I must say my issue wasn’t actually resolved. But I called, I think, was it via Be My Eyes about a year and a half ago and got a really nice, friendly person on the other end who actually knew about this podcast, and was able to take my issue and escalate it. As I say, it wasn’t actually resolved, but the experience I had was first class. So maybe the answer is to always try and connect via Be My Eyes, and get a nice person on the other end.
When I was inquiring about the Braille HID thing, I thought the best thing to do was to use social media, and then email. And if you were listening to the podcast at the time, you will recall the really weird loop that I got put into. It was like Groundhog Day.
“On a different topic,” says David, “and on a more positive note, I really enjoyed your demo of the Drafts app. I am now using it to do a very basic thing. I do not like typing or editing text on my iPhone, preferring to dictate and then upload it to Dropbox or Google Drive as fast as possible, and then editing it on my computer. I can now do this with a grand total of just 5 gestures, and I’m very happy with that. Thanks so much for exposing me to this great app, and keep up with your excellent work.”
Thank you for the encouragement, David, and also for your very unfortunate experience that you recounted there.
Regarding editing on your phone, it would make such a difference if VoiceOver for iOS had the setting that is in macOS where you can make the cursor behave like it does on Windows. I mean, this is the way that most blind people have grown up working, and it would just make it so much easier if Apple would emulate that editing behavior.
And a bit of good news! If you’re in New Zealand and you are a Sky subscriber, and you use Sky Sport now, David Harvy writes:
“I just got an email from Sky Sport Now regarding an update on Apple TV.
I have just checked the app on Apple TV, and voila! It now works with VoiceOver.”
That’s great news that they address that. Thanks, David.
Revisiting the topic of accessible household appliances, and Luis is writing in from Colombia. He says:
First of all, let me thank you for the great podcast that you generously produce for the benefit of blind people all over the world.”
Thank you, Luis.
“The use of accessible appliances is a great challenge for blind and visually impaired individuals.
In view of the fact that I live in a hot city, I like to drink water with lots of ice. I have an LG digital refrigerator, and it is impossible to switch from water to ice without sighted assistance.
I have been looking for an accessible refrigerator that allows me to get ice on my own. But so far, I haven’t found any. I hope that the new feature that is coming on iOS 17 allows me to accomplish this task. It is sad that the more expensive refrigerators that have voice commands don’t have a voice command to get ice and water.
I’d greatly appreciate it if you, or your listeners, are aware of refrigerators that allow us to get ice in a more accessible way.”
I don’t have the answer to this. It’s a good question. Let’s see if anybody has a model in mind that might do the magic trick.
I want to give a shout out to Pneuma Solutions, who make it possible for us to provide transcripts of every Living Blindfully episode.
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Here’s an app that’s been recommended before several times on Living Blindfully. But we get new listeners all the time. Welcome to you, by the way. So it’s worth mentioning it again, in case you’re looking for something like this.
This email comes from Wesley Martin and says:
“I recently discovered an excellent PC app for listening to podcasts. It’s called Luna RSS. And yes, it actually is an RSS reader, but it has an excellent podcast player. It uses iTunes and,” (drumroll, please) “has chapter support.
You can download this from NathanTech.net.”
I won’t go through the very long URL, but if you go to NathanTech.net, that’s N-A-T-H-A-N-T-E-C-H.net and drill down there, you will find Luna RSS Reader.
I’ve not tried it myself because I don’t listen to podcasts on my PC, ever. But a lot of people do, and this is an accessible option. It seems to come highly recommended.
And Nathan also does a range of other software as well that you might like to check out while you’re there.
Thanks very much for the point, Wesley.
Voice message: Hello, Jonathan, and all the other listeners to Living Blindfully. This is Joe Norton in Dalton Georgia again, in the United States, and I wanted to give a very brief demonstration. Actually, more of a proof of concept than anything else, but some other observations as well. Let me just set something up real quick here.
[typing sound, and a series of short beep sounds]
So do you hear that sound? Have you ever heard it before? Well, if you don’t know what it is, I’ll tell you in just a few minutes. But I wanted to make a few observations.
First of all, Jonathan, I want to thank you very much for telling us about Be My AI. I signed up and got on the wait list for that. And now, I’m able to use it.
So I wanted to mention what I’m using it for. One of the things I was using it for is to read the display on my thermostat. I have on my wall a Honeywell thermostat, and I hadn’t thought much about that. But Be My AI told me that it was a Honeywell thermostat. I probably knew this at some point. At any rate, though, it also successfully told me what the temperature was displayed on the thermostat, both the inside temperature as well as what I have it set at.
So that proved very useful for me because I still haven’t gotten a talking thermostat. That’s still a goal I have, but it’s sort of on the back burner because there are a lot of other more important things I have to think about right now.
Speaking of temperature, I see that you all are still having winter weather there in New Zealand. It doesn’t seem as cold as it might have been, but I just learned something about New Zealand that I thought might be of use to you.
If it gets too cold, could you go swimming in Frying Pan Lake?
Just kidding. I don’t think you’d want to do that. But maybe I should come down there and try it myself if it gets too cold.
Right now, we’re enjoying temperatures in the low to mid-30s in the daytime. I think in Fahrenheit, we’re talking about the low to mid-90s, somewhere along there.
So another thing that I had it do was to look at my dishwasher. And it told me what was on the display of the dishwasher as well, so it’s proving itself very useful.
Another thing I did with it was to have it look at my cat. It told me what color the cat was, and stuff like that. It also told me that the cat had beautiful fur.
Now, my wife says he has beautiful fur and I take her word for it, but I don’t know if I want to take the word of a computer telling me that my cat has beautiful fur. How does a computer know what beauty is, after all?
So back to that noise that you heard. That was the sound of the disk drive of an Atari 800 computer.
Years ago, back in the mid-80s, one of my friends got an Atari 800 computer, and he showed me a few things on the phone with it. One of the things that I noticed was the weird sounds that the disk drive made on this computer. And yes, it does make noises like that.
I’ve never heard another one do that. But I never got to look at the computer personally to see if there was anything else useful that I could do with it.
Well, fast forward to 2023. I found an emulator for the Atari 800 called Altirra, spelled A-L-T-I-R-R-A, and it is a very accessible program.
The person that wrote it used standard Windows controls, so all the menus work. All the dialogs work. It even has a setup wizard that works.
The only thing that doesn’t work is knowing what’s on the screen of the Atari 800. That is not visible to a screen reader.
Well, there were a couple of workarounds for that. One was to copy the text to the clipboard. The only problem was you had to select it with a mouse.
So I wrote to the programmer and asked him if he could possibly put a choice on the menus that would select all text. Then, I could copy it to the clipboard once it was selected. He did that.
But then a little while later, he actually put in the UI automation API and made the text visible to that API. So now, narrator reads it. Well, that’s what he thought about. He thought about narrator because that’s what comes with Windows.
It turns out, though, that NVDA does a better job than narrator does. I’m not really surprised about that. NVDA does so well that it tells me what’s on the screen. I can go line by line, and stuff like that.
And I just wanted to demonstrate that as a proof of concept that if people set their mind to it, they can write software that is accessible. And I am very surprised that this was possible, but I just wanted to show that.
So I’m sitting at the ready prompt in Basic here.
Joe: And I’m going to type dir, which is a directory command that the author put in there.
[typing sound, and a series of short beep sounds]
And I’ll just go down the screen.
Joe: Here’s my command I typed in.
NVDA: Dos size 039.
Joe: The first file.
NVDA: DOP size 042.
Joe: It’s given me the file name and the file size.
NVDA: AutoRun size 079. demo 019.
Joe: A couple of basic programs.
NVDA: *Reciter 048.
NVDA: *RS232 002.
Joe: That’s something I’m not using.
NVDA: intro.bas. 372 free sectors. Blank. Ready.
Joe: And there’s the ready prompt again at the bottom.
That’s a program I wrote called intro.bas, which I’m going to run here now by way of exit.
I wish all of you the best. I just thought I’d let you hear Sam as I go out of here.
And by the way, if you think e-speak is bad, just be glad you don’t have to listen to Sam. I’m going to run this program now, and you’ll hear what Sam sounds like as I leave. Here goes.
Sam: Hello! I am the software automatic mouth. You can call me Sam, for short.
I believe I am the first software speech synthesizer. I was written back in 1982, and run completely in software on the Atari 800 and the Commodore 64 computer.
You are listening to the Living Blindfully podcast. Now, back to your host, Jonathan Mosen.
Jonathan: Well, thank you, thank you. I might have to grab that for the sweeps or something.
Good one, Joe. I actually used to have an Atari 800 XL. But it didn’t have a disk drive. It had a cassette drive, and it took a very long time for programs to load.
But it actually had a pretty good music composer, and I do remember Sam. I used to type news stories into it because I thought it was so cool to have this electronic voice reading things.
And I had a low-power FM radio station that I ran from my house when I was a kid, put together with one of those transmitter kits and lots of wire and string, and that kind of thing. So I used to play this newscast on my little radio station that broadcast to the neighborhood.
It is amazing what technology comes around again. We’ve talked in the past about vinyl and cassettes even coming back and things.
And I was reading just the other day that somebody has got Mastodon running on an Apple IIe. I mean, the fact that an Apple IIe is still running at all is pretty amazing. I remember those things, quite clunky computers they were with the floppy drives. That one did have a floppy drive, the Apple IIe that I had, and the Echo speech synthesizer. That was pretty interesting-sounding speech as well. But the fact that somebody’s still got an Apple IIe and that they’ve set up a Mastodon server on it is quite bizarre. [laughs]
Anyway, thank you very much, Joe. Always good to share those tech memories.
We have a listener who wants to ping the Beatles.
[ping sound effect]
There you go. That’s the Beatles being pinged for ablest language.
This comes from Josiah Heesen. He says:
I have noticed there are a couple of cases of The Beatles using ablest speech in their lyrics.
One instance that I can think of at this moment is in the song Nowhere Man from the Rubber Soul album. Here, they sing the line He’s as blind as he can be.
I know that they did not mean any harm to the blind community by including this line in their song, and I believe they were just trying to make the point that this man is very stubborn. Overall, I will excuse this as just an accident. Neither John, Paul, George, nor Ringo meant to discriminate against anybody in this song. They were just being poetic with their lyrics, and this sounded like a good line to reinforce the ideas that they are conveying in this song.
And besides, I am a Beatles super fan.”
Good on you, Josiah. Me, too. I’m a Beatles super fan as well.
I’ll give you another one, and that comes from Things We Said Today, which is actually on the A Hard Day’s Night album.
But it’s a bit ambiguous because when I heard this song first as a kid, I thought, “Wow! This is groovy!”
[groovy sound effect]
They’ve written a song about 2 blind people in love because in the song Things We Said Today, they sing, “And though we may be blind, love is here to stay, and that’s enough to make you mine.”
In terms of the line, “he’s as blind as he can be” from Nowhere Man, I took it to mean not so much stubbornness, but ignorance. And of course, the word blind is often used in these contexts as ignorant or unaware.
But all this happened nearly 60 years ago. And hopefully, we are moving on a bit, and people are a bit more aware of these topics than they used to be.
But it’s still pervasive, as we’ve discussed on this podcast. I mean, we could be opening up a can of worms in a hornet’s nest. I’m not sure if the hornets will sting the worms or not when we talk about ableist language in music, because there’s an awful lot of it about, I tell you. And that doesn’t even get to the subject of the way that blind people are sometimes depicted in music.
Anybody remember that song about he’s just a blind man on the bleachers? And nobody’s child, of course. So the way blindness is depicted is pretty interesting sometimes in music. And then you do get the word blind being used as a synonym for all those other things that we’ve talked about.
I’m glad that you’re giving the Beatles a free pass on this, Josiah. Me, too. It’s still the best music ever written, in my opinion.
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Caller: First of all, thank you for the amazing work that you do for those of us that are low and no vision, and even those of us that have trouble hearing.
Having said that, this HeardThat app is unbelievable! I got the free 30-day trial.
I attend meetings that normally have a good 20-30 people in there, but the acoustics are horrific. It’s just a big, wide, open room, and sounds bouncing everywhere, and people not talking up. You know the drill.
So when I tweaked this app, I reset the noise filter. I ended up bringing it all the way down to like 37. And it still wasn’t quite as good as I thought it could be, but it’s user error at this point. I did flip back and forth between directional and omnidirectional, and yeah, it’s cool.
I’m also jealous of your hearing aids. I don’t have MFI made for iPhone hearing aids. I didn’t even realize that that existed until after I shelled out like 1800 co-pays for the ones I’m using now.
These are Phonex. They are rechargeable, and they do have an app.
It works. The problem is that I believe I have to keep the phone unlocked and the app open, in order for it to do what it needs to do with the app.
So it’s got different settings, including automatic, which is what I’d like to hang out on – the automatic. Let it read the room.
Alright. Take care. God bless.
Oh, and please tell me how you were able to set up this number to receive calls like that. This is kind of cool. I’d love to do that.
And do you remember, or did you guys have feedback lines and comment lines back in the day? It would be basically 2 answering machines, 2 separate numbers. One was the input line, and the other was the output line.
There was a cook line in Brooklyn, New York, and there was Use Your Finger in California. Basically, it was an audio bulletin board. It’s a lot of fun to play with.
Jonathan: Thanks for the great message!
First, I’m glad you’re enjoying the HeardThat app.
And I can report (although I don’t usually like using passive voice) that contact has been established. Yes, contact has been established with the chief executive of the company, Singular Hearing, which makes the HeardThat app, and he is interested in talking with us for Living Blindfully. So I’m looking forward to that.
I actually have a guy called Brad Davis to thank for my dislike of passive voice. Shout out to Brad.
When I was working at Freedom Scientific, in the early days of my time there, they got me to edit the Freedom Scientific newsletter. I used to write things in there, and Brad would look it over for me and he’d say, “Stop using the passive voice.”, and I inherited after that his dislike of passive voice.
Now I see it in some of my team when they’re writing things and I say, “Stop using passive voice.” So it’s cyclical. That’s what it is. It’s cyclical. Pass it on. [laughs]
Now, as for these feedback line things, I don’t know whether we had anything quite like what you’re talking about.
But when I think about feedback lines, I think about some stuff that we were doing as far back as the late 80s in New Zealand. We set up a feedback line in Auckland, first for the New Zealand Association of the Blind and Partially Blind, it was called then.
It’s now called Blind Citizens New Zealand. And the Auckland branch, with the help of Mary Schnakenberg and Clive Lansing, set up this feedback line on a line that they installed at their house. It had one of those answering machines that had 2 cassette decks in it.
I’m just trying to think who made that. Nakajima, I think, was the manufacturer of this very special answer machine because most answer machines in those days had those little micro cassettes or something, and they tended to record on the same micro cassette, at least the cheapy ones did.
There’d be the outgoing message. And then, it would wind forward and find the right place to record the message so sometimes, listeners would hear a series of beeps, and then a long beep and they would start recording. That was the cheapy answering machines.
This Nakajima one had 2 standard cassette drives in the answering machine. And that meant that when people left a message, they were recorded on standard cassette. The audio quality was very good, actually.
We used to go into the studios that the New Zealand Association of the Blind and Partially Blind had at that time because they were doing a magazine recording service, and we’d put the feedback line together in there using very nice Reevox cassette decks, and we would play these contributions and put together quite a nice radio-style bulletin.
And then in the 1990s, all that went digital and the Foundation for the Blind, as it was then, installed a telephone information service around the country which was also written by Clive Lansing, and we’ve kind of moved on from there.
So those are the feedback lines that we used to run, and this was before the abundance of the internet and that kind of thing.
So it was kind of like a delayed form of talk radio. A lot of contentious issues of the day were discussed on those feedback lines at that time. They were a way of disseminating information, as well as allowing individual Rank and File members to sound off and contribute to the debate about some of the argy-bargy that was going on at the time.
Eventually, I bought one of those Nakajima machines for myself because they were just such cool answering machines, and I really liked them.
And also, they came with this little remote-controlled device. I’m pretty sure they had a couple of buttons on the device like a button A and a button B. and then, there was a 4-position switch which dictated some of the functions that those buttons performed.
And you could change the encoding, so your beeps that you sent down the phone line by holding this thing up to your phone’s mouthpiece were different, and you would have to match the coding on the machine itself. It was supposed to provide a minimal amount of security.
The trouble is that hardly anybody ever bothered to change those switches from their defaults, and there were a number of radio stations in those days that were running services like The Snow Report.
I still remember you used to dial 795-920. (We had 6-digit numbers in Auckland back then), and you’d get the Radio Hauraki (not that we pronounced it Hauraki back then) Snow Report.
The radio station 91 FM, New Zealand’s first full-time legal commercial radio station that didn’t come on the air until 1983, the 26th of April 1983 to be precise, they also used one of these machines.
And once I got one and I was a spotty youth, I couldn’t help myself. And I would dial in, realize the kind of machine that we’re using, put my little remote up to the mouthpiece, and check the messages.
And then, I got a bit braver. Because I had a friend, Marcel, who sadly isn’t around anymore. I still miss him. He was really into electronic music. He used to do things with his Ensoniq Mirage and samplers from the very early days, and he would make this music.
And from time to time, I must confess, I would use this little gadget to override the Snow Reports with this cool electronic music, and people would think it was very weird, you know. They’d call in for the Snow Report, and they’d get this electronic music instead. Naughty me! It was a long time ago. I mean, a long time ago.
But anyway, those are the feedback lines that I remember, plus a little bit of non sequitur there.
But I do enjoy reminiscing about the telephone. We’ve talked about phone memories in the past. Never get tired of that subject.
And of course in the United States, they had a very malleable telephone system. And if you are interested in this, do read the book called Exploding the Phone. I actually read it in text. I understand the audible version, which I believe is read by the famous phone freak Evan Dorbel is really worth hearing, and I will probably make a point of listening to the audible version at some point.
But there are a number of blind people mentioned in that book Exploding the Phone who I have engaged with over the years via bulletin boards and various other things. So when I read this book and I saw those familiar names, I thought wow! Who knew? Who knew they had this sort of thing in them?
And actually, way back on the Blindside podcast, which is still available out there in podcast land, you can hear my interview with Jim Fettgather about this, and it was really fun to do that interview, probably about 6 years ago now.
But it is fair to say that I now have a phone that I don’t want to explode. In fact, when these phones that we’ve got these days explode, it makes news, international news. And the manufacturer has to comment. So exploding the phone these days is not such a good idea.
And on that philosophical note, I’m out of here for another week.
I really appreciate everybody’s contributions. And of course, I appreciate you listening so much, and your support of the podcast.
Remember that when you’re out there with your guide dog, you’ve harnessed success. And with your cane, you’re able.
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