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Welcome to 264.. 2

A Tribute to Paul Paravano.. 2

Zoom Are About to Release Audio Recorders With Accessibility Features. 5

Potentially Good News for Castro Users. 7

We Hear You.. 7

Who We Are.. 7

What Happens Now?.. 7

Aurelian Audio.. 8

I Really Hate Subscription Apps. Will You Stop Charging a Subscription?.. 8

Machine-generated Transcripts Coming to Apple Podcasts. 8

Some Blindness Stories. 9

Helpful Samsung TV Accessibility Hints. 11

How Do I Share Images to Be My AI on Android?.. 12

Apple Tech Support Woes. 13

OS Choices, Why I Don’t Have a New Stream, Routers, and More.. 15

Vocalizer Voices, DAB Receivers, and Life Unseen.. 21

Deterioration of the Vocalizer Voices in iOS.. 21

Accessible DAB Radio Receivers. 22

The Fieldspace NaviBelt Is a High Tech Orientation and Mobility Tool 25

Fitness Apps. 35

Hable Pricing Discrepancies. 37

Thoughts on Assistive Technology. 37

Disabling Automatic Language Detection on iPhone.. 40

eBikes and Scooters Taking Over New York City. 41

Question About Goodmaps Outdoors. 42

Closing and Contact Info.. 43




Welcome to 264


Voiceover: From Wellington, New Zealand, to the world, it’s Living Blindfully – living your best life with blindness or low vision. Here is your host, Jonathan Mosen.

This week: a tribute to Paul Paravano, new accessible Zoom recorders are on their way, the Castro Podcast app gets a new owner, revisiting the bible’s attitude to the blind, and get improved information about your surroundings with the FeelSpace NaviBelt.

It is incredibly fitting that in Episode 264, we therefore salute area code 264, and this in the North American Numbering Plan belongs to Anguilla. And Anguilla is part of the West Indies.

And the reason why it’s fitting that we’re talking about the West Indies in Episode 264 is that last weekend, (at least it is last weekend for our plus subscribers who get this on the Sunday New Zealand time), last weekend, Australia were beaten by 8 runs by the West Indies in a cricket test match. That was amazing. I would not have predicted it. I thought it was going to be a very easy victory for Australia in that whole test series. Australia had a pretty cruisy summer in their test cricket. So for the West Indies to have pulled out that victory was absolutely fantastic and quite a thriller.

So I hope that the cricket fans in Anguilla are enjoying this moment still, and that they will enjoy Episode 264.

And I don’t think this is unique, but it’s pretty rare. 264 actually spells A-N-G in the word number system. How cool is that?

Meanwhile, on the country code side of things, it is Namibia. Welcome to you in Namibia.

There are 2.5 million people or thereabouts in Namibia, and they enjoy the country code 264. So a warm welcome to you as well.


A Tribute to Paul Paravano

If you’ve been listening to Living Blindfully for a while and also its predecessor, The Blindside, the name Paul Paravano will be familiar to you.

It’s with profound regret that I let you know that in December last year, Paul died of cancer. He was 71 years old.

You may remember that Paul was involved in a project that a bunch of MIT students were working on with regard to efficiently translating print into Braille. He worked at MIT, not directly involved with teaching or the technological field, but he would make sure that people didn’t forget about accessibility.

He was always a really personable guy. The emails that I received from Paul were always incredibly encouraging.

He was born in Princeton in New Jersey on January 27, 1952, 3 years after his family immigrated to the United States from Italy. He lost his sight at the age of 8 months as a result of Retinoblastoma, which as many of us know is a childhood cancer of the retina.

His early education was in local schools in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His parents not only insisted that Paul attend local schools, but also made sure he got the resources that he needed to thrive.

After graduating from Huron High School where he was the school’s first student body president, Paul went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Government from Harvard University and a law degree from Northeastern University.

Paul began his career as a consultant at Harold Russell Associates, a firm specializing in legal issues facing those with disabilities.

In December 1990, Paul joined MIT as assistant for government and community relations, and he became co-director in 1997. He worked closely with public officials, advocacy groups, and non-profit organizations at local, state, and national levels.

On behalf of 3 MIT presidents, Paul established and participated in regular visits with government leaders in Washington, D.C. to help advance the cause of science and research. He arranged countless campus visits for dignitaries, community leaders, and schoolchildren.

Internally, Paul supported campus-based voting and elections, served as secretary of MIT’s Community Service Fund, acted as an advocate and a research participant in the field of assistive technology, and was a longtime committee member and chair of the Institute’s annual MLK Jr. Celebration.

In June 2022, Paul became the inaugural recipient of the MIT Staff Award for Distinction in Service. At the award ceremony, he was referred to as the “Mayor of MIT”.

A colleague described him perfectly. “Paul is an important person who doesn’t act like an important person. He makes everyone feel that they have an equal place at the table.”

Paul left a lasting imprint on the Institute and the broader community. For 3 decades, he led with kindness and compassion, created meaningful relationships with everyone around him, and generously shared his wisdom and guidance.

Paul diligently sought to improve his life and the lives of others by helping make the world more accessible for those with disabilities. A longtime board member of National Braille Press, he advocated for the greater use of Braille in public spaces and on everything from restaurant menus, to voting booths, to utility bills.

He became an expert at finding ways to modify and use new technologies. His indomitable spirit, patience, and excellent sense of humor were always there to ease the way.

He’s survived by his wife, Martha, who has been in touch with me, and also his 2 daughters. He has brothers as well and other extended family, and I send my condolences on behalf of the Living Blindfully community to all of them.

I can’t say I knew Paul well. I wish I knew him better. But every time we had email communication or on the couple of occasions where we spoke, I always walked away from the communications thinking what a great guy he is, what a contribution he is making.

And it’s true what they say, isn’t it? “People may forget what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” And Paul always made you feel valued.

I appreciate his support of Living Blindfully, and also for the fact that he made the world a better place.

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Voiceover: Mastodon is the social network where the Living Blindfully community is most active. Join us there for conversation about the most recent episode, and items of news to help you live your best life with blindness or low vision.

All you have to do from any Mastodon instance is follow That’s

Oh yes, it’s all happening there. We had some lively discussions while the podcast wasn’t publishing over the summer break. And also, I’m increasingly publishing not just tech stories, but stories affecting the blind community that are blindness-related.

I’ve got all the scouts out. There looking for interesting stories relating to the things that we talk about on Living Blindfully.

Zoom Are About to Release Audio Recorders With Accessibility Features

And there are some updates to the things that we talk about on Living Blindfully that I wanted to mention.

First, Zoom recorders are of interest. We’ve featured a few of them on this podcast. I believe we’ve talked in depth about the F3, the F6, and also the Zoom MicTrak – this little microphone that you can carry around that does 32-bit float and is a built-in recorder, all in this little microphone. It’s a very handy wee gadget.

One of the challenges that we face, and one of the reasons why we feature these devices on Living Blindfully is that they don’t talk. Some of them, like the F3 and the F6 and some of the other devices, do have an app that works with them. And certainly, the iOS app is reasonably good. You have to plug a little Bluetooth dongle into the Zoom device, and then you can run the app for the device in question and pair it with your phone.

And that’s good for configuration, but it’s kind of a bit of a frictiony thing. (Is frictiony a word? I just made it.) It’s a frictiony thing because you can’t just fire up your recorder anywhere and make any changes that you want. You’ve got to remember to use the dongle, open the app, make the changes. It just can be a bit time-consuming. And sometimes when you’re recording something, time is of the essence.

That’s why when we review these recorders on Living Blindfully, we spend a lot of time taking you through the menu system. And the reason for that is that hopefully, you can take notes and build a kind of cheat sheet. So if you have a Braille display with note-taking functions, or you have a file on your phone with you and you need to perform a function, you can look it up. And some of us commit some of these sequences to memory if we do them regularly enough.

It’s not foolproof. Sometimes, these recorders will get into a state and you don’t know that they have, and that can mean that changes get made that you didn’t want, and it can all turn into a bit of a debacle. It works fine most of the time, but even if it doesn’t one time, you can lose that precious recording.

Man, I could tell you some stories about when I was a kid, and the cassettes that we all used to pass around to each other with these little mock radio shows. And I’m sure that is a very common story among blind people who get into telephones and tape recorders. So recording has a big history in the blind community.

And sure, you can do some of these things with a smartphone and an audio interface. But again, it’s just not as seamless.

So many of us have been saying to Zoom for some time, “Hey, Zoom. It would be great if you would follow the lead. (And perhaps, even better, the lead of Olympus, who have done this with some of their recorders), and put spoken menus into Zoom devices.”

So you can imagine how overjoyed many blind content creators were to hear that Zoom is releasing a new H series. They’re calling it the H Essential series, and they’re scheduled to release these devices in the second quarter of 2024.

There are 3 devices including a new H6, which is a venerable Zoom recorder. And they all have spoken menus.

Now, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

Can I just parenthetically say, isn’t it interesting how phrases get hijacked over time? So many people now say, “The proof is in the pudding.” That was never the expression. The expression was “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”, and it’s now being regularly misquoted all over the place. So get off my lawn. I just thought I’d make that point.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating because we don’t know how deep these menus go, how much you can do. But it sounds very promising. And obviously, we will be talking about this on Living Blindfully when we’re able to tell you more.

The other great news about the new H series is that it does 32-bit float. This is a great thing for blind content creators who might be recording and not able to see the level meter. And it’s also particularly good for content creators who are blind and also have a hearing impairment, and may not be able to do a quick recording and hear the clipping in a noisy environment.

So you will be able to record as low or as high as you like. And then in post-production, when you bring it into a tool like Reaper, you’ll be able to adjust the levels. And if it’s too loud, you won’t get clipping when you turn the level down.

This is a super development – a pro-level series of recorders, with pro features that also have spoken menus. So well done to Zoom for doing this. We look forward to eating the pudding because the proof of the pudding is in the eating, you see.

Potentially Good News for Castro Users

I still miss Castro from its heyday, and I know a number of others do as well. So we’ve been following the dead again, alive again story of Castro with some interest.

They have now published the following to their blog. They say:

“We are excited to announce Castro has been purchased by Bluck Apps.” (That’s B-L-U-C-K Apps.)

“Castro is a great app with a long history on iOS and many passionate fans, and it will continue to operate in its current form. This is a return to its independent roots.

We won’t be making any drastic changes, like overhauling the UI” (that stands for User Interface) “to look more like TikTok. We’re not adding an AI chatbot. We’ll just keep running the podcast service you already love, with a few tweaks to modernize and keep things running smoothly.

We Hear You

We know that over the past few months, Castro has not communicated well.

The new team’s priority will be keeping our users informed. Starting today, all support emails will be answered in a timely manner. Major changes will be broadcast widely, and we’ll let you know if something is going on with the app.

We’re also working our way through the thousands of messages we’ve received the last few months so if you’ve already emailed us, don’t worry. We’ll get to you. Feel free to ping the thread if we haven’t responded. We can’t guarantee every single issue will be fixed ASAP, but we’ll at least let you know we’re working on it.

Who We Are

Bluck Apps is an independently run app studio and consulting agency. We already have a podcast app on Android. Though the UX” (that’s user experience) “is somewhat different, both Aurelian and Castro are designed to give a delightful experience to people who really love podcasts and listen to many of them.

This is a niche, and we intend to serve that niche. If you have over 100 podcast subscriptions and listen to them all semi-regularly, you are probably one of our people.

We are very committed to the open podcasting ecosystem and taking over such a well-designed independent app is very cool for us.

What Happens Now?

In the short term, nothing changes. If you’re a paying subscriber or free user, just keep using the app.

If you’re experiencing issues or have feedback, email us at” (That’s

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be making some changes under the hood to make the backend more stable and make sure new episodes sync more quickly. Once things are stabilized and the transition is complete, we’ll be turning our attention toward new features such as syncing across devices.

Feel free to email us if you have suggestions on what we should be working on first.

Aurelian Audio

We’ll be moving Aurelian Audio under the Castro umbrella, letting it benefit from Castro’s superior search and backend capabilities. If you’re a current user of the Aurelian app, it’s only going to get better. You may want to sign up for premium now because it won’t be $1 per year forever.

I Really Hate Subscription Apps. Will You Stop Charging a Subscription?

Sorry, there’s no other path forward for Castro, which has ongoing maintenance and server costs. Think of it like Patreon or Substack. Your monthly fee is supporting the creation of the product.

However, we’re not buying Castro to milk it for revenue. The price of Castro is not going up at this time.”

I encourage you to visit because there’s also ways to sign up for their newsletter and other ways that you can keep in touch with Castro.

So these new owners of Castro seem onto it. We’ll see how it pans out.

I do regret the regressions that have crept into Castro over time regarding accessibility. So that’s a different issue from the reliability problems.

I think some of the user interface changes have not been well thought through from an accessibility perspective. And hopefully, if those of us who are fans of Castro can reach out to these new owners, we can get accessibility high on their radar and restore the accessibility of Castro to its former glory while they also restore its functionality.

I’m truly excited about this because nothing beats Castro, as far as I’m concerned, in terms of an effective podcast app.

Machine-generated Transcripts Coming to Apple Podcasts

While we’re on the subject of podcasting, there was a big announcement from Apple recently, announcing that when iOS 17.4 comes out, all podcasts will be transcribed by default. This is using machine learning, and it will be interesting to see what that’s like for podcasts like this one, where we have a wide variety of contributors and accents. But I guess this machine learning is getting better over time.

I can tell you, we are not going to take any shortcuts with our podcast transcripts. We have Pneuma Solutions who sponsor our human-generated transcripts. And then in turn, we have Hannah May, who puts a lot of work into making sure that they are the high quality that they have now become. And we’re not going to change that.

I do hope in time that we will find ways to integrate the professional human generated transcripts with the Apple podcast feed. It is possible. I have to work through the technicals of doing so, and that will make sure that those of you who do listen on Apple podcasts will get the best possible transcription experience.


Some Blindness Stories

Voice message: Hello, Jonathan and other Living Blindfully listeners. My name is Gerth, and I come from Estonia, which is a small country located in North Europe.

Regarding the story that talked about a costume party and some guy not being able to figure out the storyteller’s blindness, that reminds me of a story of my own that took place about 10 or even 11 years ago. It happened in a university student society, not related to fraternities or sororities, but just a uni student society where I happened to be quite often. So I considered it my second home. And that’s why I often moved around the place without any cane.

So there was a costume party in the style of 90s. And I was also there, kind of moving around, having my first or second beer, talking to people.

And then a guy comes up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder, and asks something like, “Which day is it going for you?”, or something like this. Usually, when you ask something like this in Estonian, it kind of usually means how many days have you been drinking.

First, I didn’t understand why the heck he was asking the question like this. And then I kind of stammered, “Oh, it’s my first or second beer.”

and then the guy said, “Oh, you’re wearing sunglasses.” And then, it kind of dawned upon me because yes, I am one of those blind people who do wear sunglasses.

And I said, “Oh, I’m kind of used to wearing them all the time.”

And then, the guy asks me something like, “Are they like, sensitive to light?”

And then I said like, “Truth be told, I don’t care if there is a light or no light.” And then, the guy, I guess he figured out that I’m blind and silently walked away.

So that’s my first story. I don’t know how well it could be translated to English, but at least I tried.

Second one was also related to a night out drinking.

So I decided to finally go home. Ordered myself a Bolt, which is an Estonian equivalent for uber.

So I was waiting outside for the ride, then really quite an aggressive guy approached me and said something like, “Hey, stop playing like you’re blind.”, or something like this.

And then I said, “Yeah, but I am blind.”

“no, you’re just pretending and I’m calling the cops.” and stuff like that. And at first, it was quite a scary experience for me because he was like really quite aggressive.

And then, I weighed my options – to go back inside the bar where some of my other friends were still there, and of course, security was also there so if this guy would follow me back there, I guess these guys could deal with him as well.

But fortunately, my ride came quite early on. So fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with this guy myself.

Of course afterwards, it was quite funny for me because I tried to imagine someone standing on the street and just calling the cops and just telling them that, “Oh, there is someone pretending to be blind.”

Also, a couple of episodes ago, you were talking about deaf ride share drivers. Around 5 or 6 years ago, I also had such an experience.

So the car arrives. And also, there was another sighted person just happened to walk by. So I opened the door, asked the driver if this car is for me, stated my name. There was complete silence.

And then, the sighted guy who happened to be around just told me that this guy seems to be deaf. Also during this time, as the app was still kind of in development, you could not type in the destination address at this point. So the sighted guy took a piece of paper, wrote the address down and then, I hopped in the car. Although I was quite anxious, I also felt quite bad for cancelling the ride. So I thought “Alright, let’s see what happens.” And if it doesn’t work out, then I can order myself another Bolt and we’ll work it out somehow.

We arrived at our destination. But the problem was that the building where I used to live had quite a lot of cars parked in front of it. It was quite unpredictable to find the correct door, so I quite often had to ask for help from my driver. And that was the case as well.

And so I kind of turned my face toward the driver and a little bit slower, quite slowly asked, “Can you guide me to the correct door?” And fortunately, he could actually lip read. He said yes. And then, he walked me to the door.

Although, it was the wrong staircase. I still kind of figured out all right, that’s the correct building and just the staircase was the wrong one, so it was quite easy for me to go to the correct staircase.

And when I arrived at my flat, I also messaged the driver that, you know, although he guided me to the wrong staircase, I could find it quite easily, find my own staircase from that point and everything was fine.

And just for the gear nerds out there, this message was recorded using an AKG D5 dynamic microphone, and that’s connected to a Yamaha MG-10XU mixing desk that also functions as the USB audio interface.

Helpful Samsung TV Accessibility Hints

Jonathan: You might remember last year, we had John Riel writing in about some issues he was having with his Sonos Arc and his Samsung TV, which should be a match made in heaven. Ours is. We have very few problems with our Samsung TV that we got in 2020, although it sounds like things may have deteriorated with newer models.

Michael Bullis is writing in, and he says:

“Hello, Jonathan,

I recently purchased a Samsung S93C TV and connect it to my Sonos Arc.

I’m not sure if I can help John out. But perhaps, some of this will help him or others.

When the TV comes up, sometimes VoiceGuide does, and sometimes, it doesn’t. On the Samsung remote there is a switch I hold down for 4 seconds, and it does then come up.

This ‘switch’, (in quotes), on the Samsung remote is a series of 2 toggle switches dividing the upper half of the remote from the bottom. The left switch serves 3 functions. Quick Press lets you mute or unmute, press up or down for volume change, and hold down for 4 seconds to invoke the Accessibility Guide. I have no idea what the one on the right does.

When I bring up Netflix, sometimes the VoiceGuide goes away. So I must, once again, bring up theAccessibility Menu and find that it says it’s already on so I turn it off and then on again. After accessing VoiceGuide, Netflix menus are then readable.

I do not have any regular volume announcements as John described. But what is most annoying is that if I change the volume, whether through the TV or through buttons on my rear speakers, I hear ‘Sonos Arc. Volume Up. HDMI 3.’ Can’t figure out how to get rid of that.”

Yes, I can confirm that latter issue, Mike. I get that on ours as well.

He says:

“I have had some discussions with Samsung’s accessibility person without any real success, but I invite others to contact her.”

And if there are any Samsung users who would like to do that, I can certainly provide that information.

There’s a little postscript here. Mike says:

“I was speaking with someone while in the middle of figuring out workarounds and processes for the TV who said, what a fun experience, getting a new TV.”

I thought to myself, “Fun? You call this fun?”

No. As with so many things, it’s really hard work to bring a new piece of technology into my world because so little testing seems to have been done with most products, and little or no involvement with blind people. We don’t just come home, unbox the TV and plug it in, smiling all the way.

Blindness, whatever else it is, is hard work. Maybe there will come a day when this isn’t so, but that day is not yet. Fight on!“, concludes Michael Bullis.

So if you’ve got any experiences to share either with Samsung TVs or any other accessible TV, (a good topic), your thoughts, and reflections, and experiences will help others out, I’m sure. Drop me an email with an audio attachment, or just write it down. And you can also call our listener line at 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.

How Do I Share Images to Be My AI on Android?

Peter is writing in from Hungary and says:

“Hi, Jonathan,

While I love Be My AI finally arriving on my Android phone, there is a function which I think is available on iOS, but I cannot find it on my device. I don’t want to make a picture with my camera, but instead would like to have the description of an image stored on my phone. What should I do?

Having pressed the share button, there are a bunch of possibilities to share the image – Skype, Viber, etc.” (Wow! I didn’t realize Viber was still a thing.), “but not Be My Eyes. From the Be My Eyes app itself, I have not found a way to have a stored image described.

I hope someone can help me.”

Thank you, Peter. I hope someone can help you as well because certainly, with iOS, if you go to the iOS share sheet and you choose to share an image there, one of the options is described with Be My AI. And I use that quite a bit on social media – from my camera roll, all sorts of places, and it is super helpful.

So how does one do this on Android? If you’ve got the magic answer for Peter, do let us know., or 864-60-Mosen.


Voiceover: Since you’re listening to this podcast, you already know that Living Blindfully has a substantial engaged global audience. We’re heard in over 110 countries and territories.

That’s an opportunity for you if you have a product, service or podcast you’d like to tell our audience about. Get in touch with us about advertising here on Living Blindfully. We’ll tailor an advertising campaign to suit your message and your budget.

Find out more and get in touch by visiting That’s, and share your message with the Living Blindfully community.

Apple Tech Support Woes

Catherine Getchell is writing in, and says:

“On the theme of Apple Accessibility/tech support issues, I wanted to share an experience I had today.” (I should just say that this was sent in in December.)

“I prefer the American English Siri Voice 3 for my VoiceOver voice.

Ever since I updated to iOS 17, Siri Voice 3 has been uninstalling itself every couple of days consistently. I have to redownload it if I want to use it again.

It happens when I plug the phone in to charge. It doesn’t happen every single time I charge the phone. But every 2 or 3 days, when I plug it in, it immediately reverts to the default Siri Voice and deletes my copy of Siri Voice 3.

I’ve tried some troubleshooting on my end including turning the phone off and on again and turning VoiceOver off and on again, to no avail. The iOS also updated, but the problem remains.

After exhausting the troubleshooting I could do, I called the Apple Disability Tech support line.

The very nice lady on the phone didn’t have any other solutions for me. She mentioned that one other user had called to report the same problem, and that it had been escalated to engineering to work on.

But she told me she could not escalate my particular case to engineering. Unless, I did a full restoration of my phone. This would involve hooking it up to a computer and completely resetting everything.

Of course, my settings and files are backed up on iCloud so I wouldn’t lose everything permanently. But for a few moments, my phone would be a brick, basically. And she acknowledged that this process is especially a pain to do using VoiceOver.

I don’t have a sighted person to help me do this. And frankly, I was appalled that a full reset of the phone is what would be required in order for the high priests in engineering to even take a look at it. I’m especially appalled because another user has already reported the issue, and engineering has their case. So I’m assuming they tried the hard restore and it didn’t work for them. So why would it be likely to work for me? Why can’t Apple just escalate my case which would honestly probably help engineering resolve the issue? More cases with the same problem, more data for them to work with. So why wouldn’t they want that immediately?

Anyway, so I’m not going to do a hard restore on my phone. I’m going to try another voice for a few days and see if the problem recurs. Maybe it’s something unique to Siri Voice 3.

My point of writing you about this was just to join the expression of frustration about Apple’s latest approach to dealing with accessibility bugs. I’m not impressed.”

Thanks, Catherine!

I think the thing that goes in your favour here is that the representative you spoke with said that another case has already been escalated to engineering. And on that basis, I think you’re right. What purpose would resetting serve if presumably, that has been tried before?

And I don’t know whether many VoiceOver users would be using the Siri voices as their primary VoiceOver voice, so it’s probably a low-incidence bug. I mean, VoiceOver is a low incidence product for Apple. And then on top of that, you get something like this, where there might not be many people using Siri, and then you narrow it down further and say how many people are using this particular Siri voice?

So yeah, I think it is a bit of an overkill suggestion to make you reset your phone. It is an accessible process, but it’s a time consuming process for sure.

I would, by the way, highly recommend that if you are asked to do something like this, back up your iPhone to your PC or your Mac, (whatever you use), and don’t rely on an iCloud backup because if you restore from a PC or a Mac backup, you do get some settings preserved that don’t appear to stick as well in iCloud. I know a lot of people have given up on this, but I still find that the PC restoration experience is faster and just better overall.

Apple is not the only one making people go through unnecessary hoops. I had an experience 2 or 3 months ago where suddenly, our internet slowed right down.

I did all the troubleshooting. I restarted the Ubiquiti device that controls everything here, I did speed tests, I did all the usual things that you should do, and I made sure of course that I was testing over a wired connection. Only then did I call my ISP.

We are very fortunate. In New Zealand, we have a competitive internet industry.

I called them, and they were going to try and make me hard reset my router. now, that is a nightmare to me because I have all sorts of configurations relating to network address translation, external access for certain things going to certain machines. It really would be time consuming, and I guess I could take a backup and restore from that backup.

But, you know, apart from anything else, Mushroom FM relies on this connectivity, so the remote voice tracking system would have been down until I’d been able to get the network address translation tables back in place, a whole bunch of reasons why this was just not helpful.

I had not updated any firmware in any of that equipment. It was a sudden degradation in performance.

I really had to use all my advocacy skills to try and convince this person that actually, I did know a little bit about what I was talking about, that I’d done the basic troubleshooting steps, and that they had a network issue on my particular port that they needed to address.

And finally, I just made the point. “Look, if you’re not going to address it, it will be much quicker for me to change internet providers than it would be for me to go through all this process of deleting all my settings and getting everything back up and running again. I’ve got a pretty busy life.”

And basically, he said, “Okay. Well, go ahead and do that then. See if we care.”

And I did. And the moment I changed ISPs and I got my new connection up and running which was within hours, by the way, I immediately filled in the form on the ISP I wanted to move to, they switched me over within a couple of hours, and what do you know? My internet was back to full speed again.

So they lost a customer, and I guess they don’t particularly care. But the good thing is that they spared the network engineers the trouble of actually finding out what the heck was wrong.

It’s been a while since Catherine sent that email. And so Catherine, I’ll be really interested to know how you’re getting on.

Now, I had a similar issue actually, but only with Siri itself, where my voice would go back to a voice that I didn’t want to use every time I restarted my phone. Now actually, it’s the same voice that you’re trying to use for VoiceOver, but it was affecting my Siri.

And now, that issue has been resolved with the current beta of iOS that I’m running. So I wonder whether it’s been resolved for you after all this time. If it has, then that’s great, but it doesn’t detract from the point that you’re making about unnecessary resets and their implications.

OS Choices, Why I Don’t Have a New Stream, Routers, and More

We don’t hear from Sabahattin Gucuklogu very often. But when we do, oh boy, we really do. And here is an extensive message from him.

He says:

“Hello again,

Yes, Tab is my wonderful furry feline friend of about 17 years.”

Wow! That is a really good age for a cat, isn’t it?

He said:

“She came to me from the cold at a time when I was very low. If I believed in such things, I’d call it a miracle, or maybe it was a miracle, and maybe I thought so at the time, and I really ought to believe in them. I have no doubt she helped me to get better.

Cats are wonderful to look after because they are very independent creatures. They only want food and water, litters cleaning (if they haven’t found someone else’s garden to take care of that), and neck drops and grooming now and again, to keep them free of fleas and worms. Keep them happy and healthy, and they’ll basically take care of themselves.

Tab also has an AirTag, so I know where she is.

Perhaps because I’m a cat person, I can’t see myself ever owning a dog.”

Hmm. Tab sounds like a much more attractive, lovable cat than Hilda in The Archers, I have to say.

Sabahattin continues:

“Tab also oversaw my transition from Windows to Mac in about 2008 or so, when it seemed that Apple were heralding the future of accessibility. And it’s possible she may see me make the return transition, if I finally get fed up with the decline of VoiceOver on MacOS.

I’ve mostly given up trying to decide and/or justify the OS I prefer, since it’s abundantly clear that they all have strengths and weaknesses and are all uniquely good at certain things, even though I use MacOS most of the time on an Intel-based iMac that runs virtual machines for the others.

Just as a very niche example, I thought my text adventure Interactive Fiction playing days were over, since there didn’t seem to be an easy way to play them on Mac for a long time. Certainly not compared to Windows, which had an NVDA add-in for the major interpreters, or Dolphin’s screen reader which seemed to be especially good at tracking text changes in console-like windowed applications.

But now, we have the excellent Mac app called Spatterlight.” (That is all one word, if you want to check that out. Spatterlight.), “whose author is very responsive, and who has built in such superbly excellent VoiceOver support that there’s now simply no contest. And it is the superior IF playing experience for wee blind folk, with features we can use like automatic quote box and menu detection, rotor support for history, command line editing of previous moves that’s fully accessible, and so on.

You may realize the implications of this, since you oversaw the addition of that wonderful Z Machine interpreter for the BrailleNote, which had to tackle many of the same challenges. And for me, still makes taking my BrailleNote Apex on holiday worthwhile, as I did this year as well.”

Gosh! You might be the only person that remembers that I oversaw that, Sabahattin. That was a long time ago now. We’re talking 20 years ago now, aren’t we?

“Of course, I appreciate,” he says, “that if you have to make only one choice, increasingly necessary in a world of Apple Silicon, then depending on what you do, that could well be Windows. I only say that one should try to be objective about your needs or desires and balance them against accessibility considerations, rather than taking absolutist positions in favour of one or the other.

I happen to like macOS as a platform for lots of reasons – Unix underneath, heavily scriptable, system-wide spell-check and dictionary, menus instead of ribbons, iOS integration, low-latency audio, great and friendly indie developer scene for useful software that’s often highly refined to the Mac way of doing things, and often not available at all on Windows in any form. And yes, I think Windows is bloated and inconsistent, doesn’t respect my privacy, has become a service revenue engine for Microsoft, and relies on an increasingly unsustainable model of accessibility that makes highly specific workarounds all but inevitable.

But if my job required it, I’d certainly overlook all that, in order to have a working Office Suite, or web browser, or in-house app that needed rapid and efficient access on affordable hardware.

I know that having a working web browser is table stakes, and VoiceOver has disappointed for far too long in that regard. But if you can live with, or work around the deficiencies, it’s a price to pay if you want the rest and don’t depend on web applications so much, or can run a VM to compensate, and so on.

The point is, decide what’s actually best for you based on the features you want and the compromises you’ll make, your willingness to afford time and money, etc.”

I’m going to stop and say I completely agree with you, Sabahattin. We cannot afford to have religiosity creeping into our operating system and application choices. It’s all about what is going to allow us to be productive, efficient, functional in whatever work it is that we have to do, and there’s going to be no right answer for every person.

Some people, like you, are going to find success with the Mac. Others just wouldn’t be able to get things done as efficiently with Mac.

And it’s great that we have the choice. But we should also advocate constructively to ensure that we have the most robust accessible choices on every platform that we possibly can.

Sabahattin continues:

“All that having been said, I certainly look forward to the premiere of Vosh. The bugginess of VoiceOver does not make a favourable impression, regardless of the apps available on Mac.

And although it looks like Apple are finally tackling some of the more serious issues, it’s clear we need to take the matter into our own hands as a community, and that we can’t rely on the largesse of Apple.

For me, the biggest reason we should credit the author is that he overcame the fatalism that so often befalls our community, and decided to examine the actual feasibility of doing it. I remember looking at those barely documented APIs a decade or so ago and thinking that people were right, this was no basis for a new screen reader because it was obviously for Apple’s own internal use. Well, someone disagreed and did the work to make it happen.

Bravo, sir. I hope it goes far.

Mainstream accessibility is a utopian ideal which, though I would be quite happy to die in a ditch over it, should not go unchallenged by the people who rely on it. And if it takes a screen reader of our own to do that, well, I’m all in favour, and I’ll certainly put money towards its development when there’s an opening.

Meanwhile, I notice that Apple has seemingly fixed the dreaded Safari not responding issue, so let’s hope this has not gone unnoticed over there.

Speaking of screen readers, what’s happening to System Access? It still seems to be on sale. But if I remember, there were blog posts about its future as a feature of Sero, and it’s not listed on the products page.

Does this mean change is on the horizon? How about the TTS voices you could buy to go with it?

Now that NVDA is freely available, I wonder what system access will do to distinguish itself.

It may well be that accessibility overlays have a future, but I really do need to see some hard evidence, evidence other than the prompts that they stick at the top of web pages. That is, that they actually improve anything.

I don’t perceive any difference, except when they make things worse. But sure, maybe better than nothing. Accessibility is often preferable to no accessibility at all, so we should keep an open mind.

I don’t believe that we should be content though, until baking accessibility in from the outset is as convenient as possible, and not doing so is as indefensible as possible. Ultimately, that is the future we deserve, I’m sure.

AI has a future, but I don’t think it’s actually replacing humans, just augmenting them. We need to make judgements about when to use it, and not simply rely on it as an economically convenient sticking plaster. It is very impressive, I will grant.

I decided against buying the new Victor Reader Stream, or any other player, for that matter. Although, it’s annoying to get content onto an iPhone sometimes. Honestly, that’s really the only objection I have.

My shiny new iPhone 15 Pro has 1TB of storage, more than enough, and a wondrous USB Type C port to transfer fast with if needed, including storage drives and SD cards. And as you say, only one device to carry.

Focus is the way you restrict notifications, and this thing can do WiFi and cellular connectivity at insane speeds these DTB devices will never match.”

I completely agree with you, Sabahattin. I’ve just decided I will never understand this use case. I respect that, and I’m glad that people find value in these devices. And people should be allowed to spend money on products they jolly well want because if there wasn’t a need for the product, the product would go away, right, because no one was buying it.

But one of the things that was really interesting to me over my break was reading a lot on Mastodon from people who were lamenting the fact that there’s been some sort of change in the digital rights management of Kindle books, the way that the books are encrypted. And that has meant that tools that have been used in the past to decrypt the books so that you can put them on devices like a Victor Reader Stream no longer work. People were lamenting this, and a lot of the people lamenting it are good iPhone users.

I’m scratching my head. Scratching it, I am, thinking, Why? I mean, why are people going to all the trouble of doing this decrypting and copying onto Streams and stuff, when you can just download the Kindle app, run it, and get your books and read them?

And as you say, if you set up some focuses, (or is it foci? I’m never sure.), then you only get the notifications you want when you want them. It’s amazing.

But people are spending a lot of time trying to circumvent the DRM when you could just run an app and read your book. It’s really interesting to me, and I don’t get it.

Sabahattin continues:

“I’m still using Downcast and really enjoying it. If you’re comfortable with the all-Apple requirement, it’s fine. Perhaps, predictably, it turns out that I listen to podcasts predominantly on my phone anyway.

It’s true that the fact it does feed refreshes itself can make it somewhat slower to open than other apps and it occasionally benefits from a manual pull to refresh, especially if you haven’t opened the app in a little while. But iOS will learn when you do.

And one of the happiest things for me is hearing Siri announce a flood of notifications from Downcast discovering new episodes and notifying of download completions, which occur overnight or as I sit down to charge when I start listening to another podcast, or when I move to a location that Downcast has a geofence around as iOS opportunistically cranks the refresh rate up in response to other background activity that it performs at the same time, often no less than once every few hours. In practice, I’m confident you won’t find this to be a problem in the real world. It certainly doesn’t reduce battery life to any measurable degree, again, probably because iOS runs the background tasks together.

If Downcast has a downside, it’s that it relies on iCloud syncing, and iCloud can be quite fragile and require you really to goose step to make syncing work consistently across devices. Again, something to be aware of, but also something you get used to. Just remember to trigger a sync from time to time before switching devices, in case it has got stuck after a period of inactivity.”

I’m going to stop and comment here and say there is a lot to like about Downcast. One thing I do miss though when I try using Downcast for a while is that it doesn’t have any of the effects that Overcast has, and Castro had, and some other apps have as well where they try and normalize the levels across podcasts and just add a bit of punch.

Now actually, that’s a good thing with a podcast like this because we take great care over the sound of the podcast. And in Overcast, I always turn their processing off if I’m just checking my podcast to make sure it’s published because I find that with our effects in place and Overcast effects in place, it’s just way too punchy. So that’s an advantage, I suppose, but that consistency of levels about Overcast is a very nice thing.

Now, Sabahattin continues:

“Speaking of this, I’ve been a plus subscriber since the start.

Thank you for doing this podcast which I always enjoy listening to, even when it gets a bit heavy and difficult sometimes.”

Well, thank you for subscribing. I really do appreciate that.

“I found that my subscription had been redirected from my premium feed to the normal feed (not a big deal), and I noticed it happened when I first traveled to Turkey. But I was wondering if this was something you were aware of. it hasn’t been a problem for a while, so maybe it was temporary.”

Yes. This was a glitch with our podcast provider, and they’re profusely sorry for it.

I did put out a message on the Living Blindfully announcements list, and also on our blog. So I would encourage people to subscribe to the announcements list because not only do you get previews of what’s coming up, but if there’s a technical issue like that, then I will be able to reach subscribers there and let them know about that technical issue.

And as I’ve no doubt you’ve discovered, the answer was simply to input your feed again.

So it was a very unfortunate business. Normally, our provider is excellent and everybody makes mistakes occasionally. In an effort to try and fix bugs, you create another one.

Sabahattin continues:

“For Router, I eventually decided to go with MikroTik. I hear a lot about this brand.”

I’m going to spell it. It’s M-I-K-R-O-T-I-K.

“They are a wonderful platform to learn on, the sort of thing you use if you want a bit of practice as a network engineer.

I was initially rather sceptical because it didn’t seem much more overhead than just running Linux directly. But it turns out that abstractions, even paper-thin ones, can be powerful. It’s very stable, and a joy for any tinkerer, and has command-line, web, and Winbox graphical Windows app interfaces, all of which command the same basic structure, menus, capabilities, etc.

It didn’t last very long, though, because the uplink was only 2.5 gigabits per second, and I am now on a 1 gigabit per second full-fibre connection. Yay and boo because now, I have to find another solution.

I went back to Netgear for access points, the Wi-Fi 7 RS700s for a wired mesh setup, and I’m going back to running Linux on a 2018 Mac Mini for the actual routing. It’s definitely a bit of a mix-up, but it absolutely works full-speed from the internet, and gigabit speeds over Wi-Fi from bed on my iPhone. Apparently, I enjoy fast networks the way some people enjoy fast cars, computers, or high-quality audio reproduction.

Oh, and you asked about Ubiquiti. I think they are the right choice for a lot of people, but not for me. They are now working on desktop and wall-mount access points which is great, but I could never be happy with their routing platform. I just need to be a bit lower down in the weeds, I guess.

Asus similarly has been quite well-praised by some small network people because their firmware is very advanced nowadays, and very community-driven.

But unfortunately, the form factors are highly gamer-oriented with massive profiles, glass tops, and light shows and all that. Maybe in future.

But for now, I have a reasonable compromise. The RS700 actually looks and feels very much like the latest Time Capsule or Airport Extreme, a vertical tower with a narrow top. I do like that it saves space.”

Thanks for writing in, Sabahattin. Woo! We’ve been going for nearly 18 minutes now.

I presume that the Mikrotik is accessible because you didn’t say that it wasn’t. So that’s interesting because I have wondered about that, and whether I should look at it at some point.

Our UniFi network is humming along very nicely, and I get very good speeds on our gigabit connection on my iPhone at the moment, so I don’t want to fix what ain’t broke. But it’s always good to know that Mikrotik is an option if I wanted to pursue something else in the future.

Vocalizer Voices, DAB Receivers, and Life Unseen

Voice message: Hello, Jonathan! Hello, Living Blindfully community! This is Aleksander from Munich.

An incredible number of interesting topics have come up in the last few weeks. I just wanted to comment on 3 of them – on the Vocalizer voices getting worse and worse under iOS, on accessible DAB radio receivers, and on the interview with Selena Mills on Life Unseen, especially on the aspect of religion when it comes to the perception of blindness.

Deterioration of the Vocalizer Voices in iOS

As a user of several languages, I can only confirm this, but of course, especially as far as the German Vocalizer voices are concerned.

Every 2 or 3 weeks, things seem to change a little bit. I think that the company that Vocalizer voices belong to, they keep improving, or fixing, or changing, or repairing something every several weeks, so behavior changes. Sometimes, the pronunciation of names of persons and places is somewhat funny. Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand because the Vocalizer voice tries to pronounce it correctly, according to the original or source language, but it fails every so often.

Accessible DAB Radio Receivers

I’m afraid that there is no such device on the market – a device that is small, and portable, and equipped with a TTS, with a text-to-speech engine.

I only know of one DAB receiver with text-to-speech, and this is the TechniSat Digital Radio 3 Voice. It’s called Voice because you can perform some commands using your voice.

So there are voice commands available, for example, to switch to one of the preset radio stations that you have in memory, but only the 4 first stations, so the memory presets 1 to 4. There, you can switch to by saying play preset 1, or 2, or 3, or 4, and some other things. You can change the volume, you can check some status information, and so on.

And this receiver is called Voice because it has text-to- speech. It tells you the name of the station you have switched to. And in FM mode, you can hear some station info that is provided with the radio data system (RDS).

But the Digital Radio 3 Voice does not have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. It has no internet connectivity, and it does not say anything in the menus. And when you try to, for example, change the equalizer setting, or maybe the alarm clock, the sleep timer setting, and so on, this does not work with text-to-speech there. This receiver is absolutely silent in the menu.

It doesn’t have any tone signals either, so that you cannot determine whether you are on the first or last menu item, and so on.

So all in all, it’s disappointing, and it is not portable. It’s a piece of audio furniture, so to speak. It weighs some kilograms, and that is, of course, because of the quite good loudspeakers built in. It has no battery, so it’s not portable at all. And it’s the only device I know, when it comes to DAB, with some sort of text-to-speech.

And finally, thirdly, not a technical issue, but a small comment on the wonderful interview with Selena Mills about her book Life Unseen.

Very interesting person, it seems. And I’m only referring to the interview itself now, as I have not read the book.

Selena Mills, as far as I understand it, seems to want to say that how blind people are perceived, religion is the problem. That is maybe concerning disability in general. She says, and she tries to make the point that from a religious perspective, the disabled person has to be cured, has to be healed.

I don’t want to say anything about other aspects of any religion, about aspects of being a faithful person or not, but perhaps just this much from the religion that I know quite well, and that is the Christian religion.

When I introduced myself in April here with a written message, and introduced myself as one of the maybe first Living Blindfully plus subscribers here in Germany, I introduced myself, among other things, as a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. And I mentioned that I’m blind from birth. So I am a member of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.

If it were the case that religion regards disabled persons as less worth as persons who are only worth when they are cured, or persons that are less capable, in that case, the bishop of Munich would hardly have ordained me, a blind person from birth, deacon.

Unfortunately, religion has often underspinned or legitimized the circumstances of society as they were, with some kind of spiritual justification that of course was not spiritual. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans, including the enlightened philosophers of that age, considered disabled persons as deficient. They considered them to be simply persons with shortcomings. Religion, or all kinds of popular superstitions, tended to be used or misused to provide justifications or explanations for all kinds of things. For example, for slavery.

At the same time, the Bible, for example, the founding document of Christian and Jewish religion, is full of stories where this way of thinking is overcome. In texts that are over 2000 years old, for example, it says something like, you should not put an obstacle in the way of a blind person, and you should not curse a deaf person because that would be unfair, so to speak.

And as you know, Jesus is said to have had the power to heal people, to cure people. For example, when he healed a blind man, he did not say that this person was only worth something now after being healed. The crucial thing here, the crucial point here is that Jesus asked the blind man, what do you want me to do for you? So he activates the powers in the person. He does not force anything upon him. The blind man, which is quite unusual for that time, for that era, the blind man even has to go actively to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is an empowerment trainer here.

In another story referring to another healing of a blind person, the disciples, the students, so to speak of Jesus say, “Master, who has committed sin so that this man is blind? He himself or his parents?” And Jesus answers that this is completely the wrong question and completely the wrong conception. Neither he nor his parents have sinned. Disability is not a consequence of sin. This is what Jesus says here.

In the history of the Christian religion, of course, there is unfortunately a great deal of many examples of discriminating against us with disgusting religious justifications, putting words of the Bible out of context and so on. But in its origins, in its history, in its founding document and in its founding person, Jesus Christ, Christianity has the potential for liberation from all kinds of discrimination and from all kinds of ableism and ableist language.

So the problem is not religion itself. The problem is what people made out of it.

It is not the case that we would live free of any kinds of discrimination today if religion had not existed. That’s my point here.

Jonathan: Thanks very much, Aleksander, for an informative and interesting message.

Obviously, any book is a product of the time in which it was written. And hopefully, society has become more tolerant and informed since the Bible was written a couple of thousand years ago and earlier.

I think you’ve made a really cogent argument about the role of disability in religion. But it can also be argued another way. I mean, I look at the book of Matthew chapter 15, verse 14 to be precise, and that has just got such egregious ableist language in it, where it says let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

Now, people can say, well, that’s metaphorical, and they can say that all they want. But here we are in 2024, and the expression “the blind leading the blind” is still used to be demeaning of people. It means people who are not informed. It’s a derisive phrase.

Whereas, in fact, if the blind lead the blind, a lot of good things come of that, and there should be much more of it than there is.

And I’m sure many of us listening will have encountered the frustrating experience of just trying to go about one’s business and being stopped in the street by a random stranger, who feels that God has called upon them to tell you that if you only repented, or prayed harder, or were more virtuous in some way, God could heal you of this affliction that you have. And then, in really bad scenarios, they can invade your personal space and whether you want it or not, they will try and put their hands on you and pray for you, sometimes when you’re just trying to get to an appointment.

Now, to be as balanced about this as an atheist can be, (and I am a very proud and comfortable atheist), it is also true to say that quite a few schools for the blind were originally founded by religious philanthropists, certainly in Commonwealth countries. So sometimes, religious generosity has been of considerable benefit to blind people. So it is a mixed bag, for sure.

But I do remember interviewing a woman on, gosh, I think it was actually FSCast I did this interview, where they talked about special organizations of disabled people that have been set up in the Christian faith to try and educate churches so that they are more welcoming of, and accepting of disabled people. Because so often, disabled people are viewed by organized religion as people who are in need of a cure, and who are somehow not good enough just the way they are.

So I think the best that can be said is that if your interpretation is correct, notwithstanding that horrible ablest verse in the book of Matthew in the New Testament, then it would be really good if religious leaders would preach that message a little bit more fervently, and consistently, and regularly.


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The Fieldspace NaviBelt Is a High Tech Orientation and Mobility Tool

Episodes 209 and 226 featured some discussions about an intriguing product called the Fieldspace NaviBelt. Now by wearing the device, the company promises improved navigation, whether you’re just exploring, or heading to a specific destination.

To tell us more about the product, what it does, and how it came to be, I’m joined from Germany by Markus Böttner and Susan Wache from Fieldspace. Welcome to you both.

Markus: Hello!

Susan: Hello! Thank you.

Jonathan: Tell me about the way that this was created, because I understand that this began as a research project and that the blindness market wasn’t really the original focus for the company. So how was it that there was this happy accident, I guess, that NaviBelt became a blindness product?

Susan: Yeah. So it was a so-called Fieldspace research project at the University of Osnabrück in Germany. And back then, in 2005, already, it started as a research project about human senses and how they develop in humans.

And the first idea was, if you always have a compass belt pointing in the direction of north, is it like augmenting your senses? Do you feel better oriented? Do you have a new space perception? So that was the research question.

I joined the research group in 2011, and I was also one of the subjects wearing the belt for 2 months and always knowing and feeling where north is. And this was really exciting for me because the space perception changed and all the seeing participants back then, they all told that the orientation improves and that they have a new kind of space perception. And that was the idea.

And then, the idea came up that if all the participants tell us that the orientation gets better, how about people who have orientation difficulties? And that’s when we had the first trials with blind participants in the study wearing this compass belt. And they told us immediately that they really want to keep that bulky device because it’s really helpful in their everyday life. [laughs]

And that’s when 2 colleagues of mine and I decided that it would be sad if it just stays a research project. And so, we decided that we really want to do something out of it. And so 2015, we then founded the Fieldspace company to really further develop a belt that not only points in the direction of north, but also becomes a real helping device for blind people.

Jonathan: It’s really interesting. And Markus, you are a user of the product as well as working for the company, I take it. How did you get involved?

Markus: I first got in contact with Fieldspace in 2019 through a friend of mine who had the belt at the time. And he said they’re doing a competition. They’re giving away a belt if you submit a video telling them why it is you that needs the belt.

I thought well, I’ll give it a shot.

So I recorded and produced a little video, and I made it into the top 10. So the team obviously liked my video, but then in the top 10, it was just a random draw and I didn’t get it.

But 4 years later, I got the job.

Jonathan: There you go.

Markus: But I have to say, I got the belt 2 years later, in September 2021.

In Germany, we have a very good health system where you can apply for assistive technology, and your health insurance actually pays for that. So basically, it’s not a private health insurance like you have in other countries, but we have this kind of legal health insurance. Every German has to have health insurance.

And so I applied and they said yeah, fine, we pay for the belt. So I’ve been using the belt in my daily life for 2 years now.

Jonathan: Before health insurance approves those devices, does it have to go through some sort of efficacy testing so that you can clearly demonstrate that this has a benefit that’s worth them paying for?

Markus: Yeah. You might have to write a rationale. And they want to basically prove that you have done mobility training so that you know the tools of mobility, like walking and working with the cane and all that.

Susan: Yeah. I think like also for the product itself, you first need to do all the process of being registered as a helping device for the blind. This process also took us quite some time.

But after a year of legal stuff, we finally got accepted. So now, it’s possible for all the blind people in Germany to apply for that via their health insurance.

Jonathan: Right. So I imagine it’s quite a rigorous process before they commit to making it one of those products.

Susan: Yes, exactly. This took some time.

Jonathan: For those who haven’t heard the previous episodes of the podcast, it would be good for one of you to tell me about the product, I guess the elevator pitch, if you will. What does it do, and what do you perceive its benefits to be?

Markus: So it’s a belt that has 16 vibration motors built in all around your waist, and has a little control unit with 4 buttons. Basically, one to turn it off, one to switch the compass mode and another mode that I’m going to mention in a minute, then a button that works to pair the belt with a smartphone if you want to do that. And once that’s done, you can use that as a home button basically because in the app, you can set what the home button has to do.

So first of all, if you don’t connect it to the smartphone, you just have the compass belt with the compass pointing north all the time.

An added feature is the crossing road mode. I say straight ahead mode. It’s a mode that activates the motor that sits right on your belly button, basically. And then, it helps you to cross a road in a straight line. If the vibration moves to either side, then you know, I’m going crooked.

Jonathan: yeah, because it is easy to veer when you’re crossing a street, isn’t it? And that can be a real issue.

Markus: Yeah. And this is actually a perfect thing in my everyday life.

Down the road here on our main street where I live, we have an old, derelict petrol station. So when I walk there, to my left is no curb, just the road. And to my right is an empty former petrol station where someone parked their trailers. So not an area I would like to walk into with my cane.

So coming up to that spot, I activate that straight ahead mode and just cross it, you know, just past the petrol station as if there was a wall beside me. And it’s fantastic.

And there’s the opportunity to pair it with a smartphone. And with my iPhone, I can then navigate from A to B. B means either an address that I searched for, or one of my favorites that I saved, or one of my previous destinations that I navigated to.

And yeah, there’s like different modes. You can have the beeline mode. That’s a bit like it works in blind square. You’re familiar with that, I suppose.

Jonathan: Mm-hmm.

Markus: You know, that you always feel you know where the destination is in relation to the direction you are heading for. You know your destination is more to your left, then you would feel the vibration on your left as the crow flies, basically.

Jonathan: And so then it’s up to you to get centered again, right? So if you’re getting the vibration on the left side of the belt, the idea would be that you would then turn to the point that that vibration is centered again. Is that how it works?

Markus: That would be one application.

Susan: Exactly.

Markus: Yeah.

Susan: So maybe I’d just summarize again because for us, it’s quite clear how it works. But I mean if you never have worn the belt, it’s difficult to imagine.

So you have this 16 vibration points around your waist, and it’s continuously vibrating always in one direction. So with the compass mode, as explained already, you really feel exactly how much you turn, or whether you’re not turning at all. So it cannot happen that you turn without noticing because always when you turn, it’s always also exactly the same degrees how much you turn, the vibration also goes along on the side of your waist, exactly in the same angle. And so you always feel exactly how much you turn.

And for example, if you’re walking a street, you’re going around an obstacle. Afterwards, you can immediately turn back in the direction you were headed before, because you just turn until it’s vibrating at the same spot as before, and you continue in a straight line without any time in between. So you can continue directly.

So maybe this makes it also a bit clearer, because if you have never had some vibration around your waist, it’s maybe a bit difficult to imagine how this feels.

Jonathan: Is it one of those devices that quite a lot of training is required to really make the most of it? Or do you just wear it and after a while, it just becomes intuitive and you understand what feedback you’re getting?

Susan: Actually, it’s both. Like for example, if you wear this in the compass belt and it vibrates at one spot, you can walk in a straight line immediately because as long as it’s vibrating at the same spot on your belly, you’re walking in a straight line. Otherwise, it would move. So this is, for example, like an immediate effect. Walking straight, no problem, immediately after taking in the belt.

But on the other side, if you wear it in the compass mode and you’d use it for quite some time, (in our research back then, it was about 5 weeks), then you really get a new kind of orientation or space perception because you always feel if you’re walking in the street, it’s vibrating at my right. And then there’s another street, it’s vibrating at your right again. Then you understand that this is a parallel street of the other street, and then you’re forming kind of a map in your head and you always know where you come from and where you go to. This is like an after effect after quite some time.

But for being able to use the belt, this goes immediately with the compass for walking in a straight line and the street crossing mode or the straight ahead mode, as Markus described.

But you can also use it immediately with the navigation of the iPhone because if you just enter a destination, it vibrates on your belly in the direction where you have to go. And if you’re reaching the crossing, it goes to your left, for example, you turn until it’s centered again, exactly as you described, and then you continue on your way.

So using the navigation and using the walking straight, you can use immediately and really getting a new kind of orientation and space perception. This is like an extra effect which comes after some time of using it.

Jonathan: I imagine this product could be particularly beneficial to those who have a hearing impairment, or who are completely deaf-blind because they don’t need to concentrate on the GPS and what it’s saying. They may with any residual hearing, be able to then focus on environmental sounds without hearing those instructions. So I imagine that is a very big potential market there.

Susan: We really have quite some deaf blind people using it, and they are really really happy with it because this adds a new possibility of feeling in which direction you’re turning if you’re not able to hear very well.

And also for the normally hearing people, it’s really useful because you have the vibration telling you where to go and you don’t have to listen to, for example, navigation instruction. You also have your ears free to really concentrate on the surrounding noises.

Jonathan: Sometimes, I guess, though, it is useful to know what intersection you’re approaching. I mean the NaviBelt will vibrate and tell you which way you need to turn, but you still might want information about things that you’re passing, the intersection you’re approaching, and I guess the app comes in there and will verbalize that information. Is that right?

Susan: Yeah. The app is telling you, for example, the name of the street where you have to turn into, but it’s not telling you that there’s a bakery at your side, for example. Therefore, you need another app. So the belt and the Fieldspace app is really for orienting and going from A to B.

Jonathan: Markus, how would you describe the app in terms of GPS features comparable to things that we might already be using, like Apple and Google Maps, and BlindSquare, for example?

Markus: I’ve been a BlindSquare user for years.

I started using VoiceVista now because of the added features it tells me.

And I always say, VoiceVista or BlindSquare tell me where I am, and FieldSpace tells me where I have to go. That is what I use the app for, and I do use it in conjunction with, or parallel to VoiceVista. So VoiceVista tells me the junctions that are coming up and the things that are around me, and I can just focus on the directions that the belt gives me.

So I don’t have to listen to 2 apps telling me where to go, or where I am. The directional commands just come from my belt, which I love.

And I’d like to add something to what Susan said earlier, that the belt becomes so intuitive once you’ve used it for a while.

I have that belt mostly in compass mode, I got to say, when I’m out and about going for walks with my 3-year-old daughter, and when we’re going to the playground. It’s so helpful, not only for my own confidence, but also for the way other people see the blind daddy in the playground. Obviously, everybody’s watching.

I know at any time in the playground in which direction the exit is, and this is something that I really really appreciate and value. You know, when my daughter says, “Daddy, I’ve got to go for a pee-pee.”, you know, things have to go fast and we have to go home or something. So it’s really helpful to have the belt.

And what Susan said about the orientation through the compass, I remember kind of a funny anecdote when I was out walking with my sighted wife and my sighted daughter. I just wore the belt. And you know, there’s a street not far away from me. I would have put a bet on that this street is straight.

Suddenly, I felt the compass moving. And I said to my wife, … When you walk this street just with a cane, you basically only have this punctual contact, you know, through the shape of the cane at your feet. I said, “I would have thought this road is straight.”

My wife looks in both directions, starts laughing and said, “Even as a sighted person, I couldn’t have told you that this street is taking a turn.”, because it’s such a slight turn that it looks straight. But she said you’re right, there’s actually a slight kink in that street. And this helps me, for example.

And other people have told me that too, that it helps with the orientation, getting to know even your familiar environments, that you think oh, this street is taking a slight turn. This is why this street is meeting another street that I thought was a parallel street. You know, you kind of know what part of the street you’re in, depending on what direction the compass is showing you. This is something that was really new to me, and now has become totally intuitive.

Jonathan: I want to pick up on something you said, Markus, because it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

You were mentioning being in the playground and how everybody’s watching. And I know, as a father of 4, (they’re all grown up now, but I do remember times being in the playground in those situations). Do you look a bit weird wearing this thing? I mean, do sighted people see you wearing this and they think, “What on earth is this?” Or is it so unobtrusive that nobody really notices?

Markus: Nobody’s ever said “What on earth is this?”, or my wife has never told me, like, oh, such and such person asked me in the supermarket, I thought was a fridge belt or something.

Jonathan: [laughs]

Markus: That has never happened.

And as soon as the weather gets a bit colder, I have a lot of kind of dark jumpers anyway, you know, and sweaters. And so you wouldn’t really see it under a jumper anyway.

And in the summer, I wouldn’t say that people really notice it. Sometimes, I wear one of those boom bags, or what do you call those in New Zealand? You know, those bags that you wear around your waist to put your wallet in and your keys. So basically, people see, “Oh, he’s wearing this boom bag.” and they wouldn’t even notice it’s the belt underneath. So that’s one way to go about this.

Jonathan: Do you think there might be a time when this could be used for indoor navigation as well? Because if you could find specific doors, specific office buildings, that kind of thing, … Indoor navigation is complex, and there seem to be competing solutions out there trying to solve this problem. But it really is a big one. And I mean, if the belt could be made to give you information about the specific office that you’re looking for inside a building, for example, or even the perennial question of the men’s versus the women’s toilets when there aren’t any signs that you can tactually distinguish, that would be a huge thing.

Susan: Yes. We actually started a cooperation with a German company. They have an indoor navigation called Everguide. This is using visual marks. And there’s like all different kinds of navigation systems available, as you mentioned, like with Bluetooth beacons and whatever.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Susan: But this is a navigation based on visual cues, which are installed, just glued to the ceiling. And then with the smartphone camera, it’s really on a meter, less than a meter accurate.

And I already was lucky to try it with the prototype belt. They tried to connect it to the system, and it worked really fine. So I’m looking forward to have this as a standard integration soon.

Jonathan: Wastes, of course, come in many shapes and sizes. Does the NaviBelt come in different sizes too, to accommodate all those different waste sizes? [laughs]

Susan: Yes, it’s stretchable, so it always fits before and after Christmas. [laughs] But also, it has different sizes so that it fits for all, yes.

Jonathan: You mentioned on your website that NaviBelt works well in conjunction with OrCam.

We’ve reached out to OrCam on several occasions over the years to try and get them to talk to us, but they never reply. But my perception is that OrCam is mainly for those with low vision.

How do OrCam and the NaviBelt coexist?

Susan: So basically, it’s just two different products. It’s a nice combination, but it’s not that it’s integrated into each other. That is not the case.

But we often talk to people. And therefore, for us, it’s a good addition to also sell the OrCam because it’s a really nice device, really helping with reading. And it’s just a matter of training, but also blind users can nicely use the OrCam.

But maybe Markus can tell something more about it.

Markus: I mean, I’m the customer service guy, and I obviously have, well, I have my own belts, but I have an OrCam in my home office as well, to train people and do troubleshooting with them.

And I like the fact that you have your hands free when you sort your own post, mail or whatever you call it. And someone said to me, “But you have a sighted wife.” I said yeah, but she’s not my secretary.”, you know.

And I opened the mailbox and I sort out, okay, this letter is for my wife, this letter is for me. And then I put them in different baskets, you know, which ones have to be filed immediately or which ones have to be left open for a few days and then can be disposed of. It gives me a lot of freedom.

And of course yes, I can do this with my iPhone as well. But with my iPhone, I either have only one hand free or what I did before, I put my iPhone leaning against my laptop screen and then I’ve held the letter in front of my iPhone.

But that had the disadvantage. You had to step away from the camera to turn my t-shirt inside out because it had print on it. And my iPhone kept reading the print on my t-shirt every time I changed the letter.


Markus: That was what I really like about the OrCam – that it’s pointing in the direction that I would be looking.

I mean, I lost my sight 24 years ago, when I was 20. So I have a good memory of which direction to look.

But I learned through the OrCam that I look too high up. I would say I have to bend my head down until I could squeeze a walnut in between my chin and my chest, and then read the letter in front of me, which was one thing I learned thanks to the OrCam.

Yeah. The OrCam learning faces feature is actually quite cool. I trained it to recognize my 3-year-old and my wife. And then one day, my sister and my niece. They wanted to try that because they thought it was kind of a cool idea. I was sitting in the sitting room and they came in random one after another, and the OrCam told me who was coming in.

Jonathan: [laughs] That sounds like a fun game.

Markus: Yeah, it’s a fun thing.

I mean obviously, even in the conversations with our customers, there were some things that OrCam has to admit might work faster on apps like Seeing AI or something. But then, you have to see that the OrCam does everything attached to your glasses offline. There’s no server in the background that does all the calculating or the OCR and stuff.

Jonathan: Right. Interesting.

Markus: So that considered, the OrCam is really really good.

I was talking to a lady today, she said, “Oh, but the battery only lasts 2 hours.”

And I said, “Yeah, but this is a computer. It’s not just a camera. It’s a computer.”

I think 10 12 years ago, a good laptop battery would have lasted maybe 3, 4, or five hours. But it was 12 times the size of the entire OrCam, you know.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Markus: And considering what the OrCam can do on its very very limited space and form factor, 2 hours of battery life or thereabouts is actually quite good.

Jonathan: Right. So I see the synergy there that if you’re kitted up with an OrCam and you’ve got the NaviBelt on, you’re getting a lot of information about your environment, not just where you’re turning, which the belt will tell you and keeping you straight and helping you to get to your destination, but you’d also be able to potentially read signage with the OrCam, print, all kinds of things in your environment.

Markus: Notice timetables or, yeah, you could even recognize friends coming up to you before they even wave, you know, before they tell you hello. So this is actually, yeah.

I will say I haven’t used the OrCam outside yet because I’m fully blind and I think it’s reading street signs would require me to A, know where the street sign is, and then in which direction the writing is pointing. So that process would take longer than to take out my phone and say, where am I? But I can see the upside to that – the advantage of having your OrCam at the bus stop and the NaviBelt.

Jonathan: Now, you’re very fortunate in Germany, and indeed many European countries are like this, where you’ve got robust funding options for this sort of technology.

For those in other parts of the world who might not be so fortunate, what kind of price are we talking for this device?

Susan: The belt is around 2,800 euros if you buy it personally.

Jonathan: Yeah. Is there an evaluation process? Can someone try it for a period and return it if they find it doesn’t meet their needs?

Susan: Yes. So what we have in Germany is that we send it out as a package getting to your home. And then, they have an audio call, like a call with Markus explaining how it works. And then, they can test it for a few days at home and then send it back.

And this is really really helpful because the navigation belt is something so new. You never tried anything out similar to this before. And so it’s really really helpful to have the possibility to try it out, to really see yes, it’s meeting my needs, and then you can decide for, or against it.

Markus: When I talk to people that Susan, for example, has met at some assistive technology fairs or something, they’re not quite sure yet why to test this at home.

“I tried it for 5 minutes at that exhibition.”

And I said “Yeah, but you were in an unfamiliar place with not only an unfamiliar device, but an unfamiliar sensory action, basically.”

I find it very beneficial for people to try this in their own environment where they can focus on what the belt is telling them, and then put those 2 things together, put together the new sensory experience in their familiar environment. And then they can, you know, I suppose, extrapolate that and say, “Okay, this is how it works in my environment. Now I can imagine how it would work in an unfamiliar environment.” So I find it very beneficial to try it in your own home, on your own turf, basically.

Jonathan: And you get about 8 hours of battery life, is that right?

Susan: It’s actually 12 with the highest vibration power. So if you use it on a middle level, it’s even more than 12 hours of using it.

Jonathan: Hmm. And normally, you’d switch it off and only switch it on when you’re traveling. So that should last you quite a long time.

Susan: Yes, and you also have a Vibration feedback. You can just press one button, and then it goes around your waist. If it goes a full round, It’s completely charged. If it’s half around, then it’s half charged, and so on. So you always can control it whether you have to charge it when you come back home.

Jonathan: Wow!

How often does the hardware get updated? I mean if you were to buy one today, How long is it likely to last for before you’re running an older version of the hardware?

Susan: So basically, you don’t need to update the belt because if there’s new functions, Then it’s in the app. And then, you can just get it with an app update. So the basic functions on the belt, they will just continue to work also with the new app So that’s not the problem.

Jonathan: If people would like more information, where can people visit to learn more about the Fieldspace NaviBelt?

Susan: On our website, of course, And of course, they can always write us an email, and also call us for getting information.

Jonathan: It’s available in a number of languages including English, and French, and Spanish. And that’s good because I only understand a little German, So I wouldn’t have got very far without the English. [laughs] And it’s a great website with some videos and information there.

It’s a really intriguing product, and I thank you both so much for sharing this with us.

Are there any closing remarks you’d like to make Markus about your experience?

Markus: I can just summarize my experience. That until 2 years ago, I heard about the belt, but I didn’t have it. And now, I use it every time I leave the house without my wife, for example.

And one feature I would like to highlight before we close is That beeline feature, or as the crow flies. It’s actually good for traffic safety as well.

Susan explained how the belt in one mode that it vibrates on your belly like the straight ahead mode, and then when you have To turn, you just turn around. But this beeline mode would allow you to, for example, locate traffic islands where you have really difficult crossings with really odd shaped traffic islands, and you have to get onto them to go and cross the next part of the street. You could actually set a favorite, like in the middle of that traffic island, if you’re with a sighted companion or a mobility trainer or something. And then, the next time you set the belt to beeline mode, you can just walk towards and arrive safely at the traffic island.

It’s not just a convenience product. It can be a real big deal for traffic safety. And yeah, that’s why I would encourage your listeners to check it out and get in touch with us.

Jonathan: Fantastic. Thank you so much for giving us your time. And I’m sure that there will be people who will want to check this out further, so it’s nice to speak with you both.

Markus: Thanks for having us.


Voiceover: On Living Blindfully, we hear the opinions of blind people from all over the world.

So why not share yours?

Drop us an email. You can write it down, or attach an audio recording. Email us today.

Or if the phone is more your thing, phone our listener line in the United States: 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.

Fitness Apps

Let’s say hi to URH. Now, that’s spelled U-R-H. So I hope I’m not mispronouncing it too badly.

And the message says:

“I’m currently in the process of trying to lose a few pounds, and I’m looking for an accessible fitness app (preferably with audio-described workouts) for my iPhone and possibly Apple Watch. Do you perhaps have any recommendations?”

Well, the one that immediately comes to mind is an app called Revision Fitness, which is designed by a blind person for the blind community. He is an expert in this area, having been in the past a personal trainer.

And if you want to hear about that app, we interviewed its developer in episode 178 of the podcast. So go back to episode 178, and you’ll learn all about Revision Fitness. You can download the app, and I think there is quite a bit of free content. There’s information about the principles of fitness and very good descriptions of the exercises.

To the best of my knowledge, that one is not available on Apple Watch.

Apple Fitness plus does, I understand, have some audio-described workouts. It’s not something that I have played with, I must confess.

Another one that I have heard people mention over the years is called Jumpy Cat. I don’t know whether that is still available or not, but I believe Jumpy Cat also has some good descriptions of workouts.

There’s another one called Apptive (that is spelled A-P-P-T-I-V-E), which I believe also has some audio-described workouts.

You may also enjoy Carrot Fit. You might have heard of an app called Carrot Weather. It’s a very popular and pretty cool weather app with so many amazing features, it’s unbelievable. And they do a thing called Carrot Fit. I don’t think it’s been updated for a while, but it’s probably still in the App Store.

It’s one of those 7-minute workout apps. Remember the craze over the 7-minute workout a few years ago? And as I recall, it has quite good descriptions of the seven-minute workout. I don’t need the descriptions anymore, but I think that that would be a good app to try as well.

If you can get them, (and I’m not sure what their status is, perhaps somebody can help me out with this.) The Blind Alive collection of workouts was absolutely fantastic. And I actually bought those when they were for sale. I bought the whole lot, and I’m very glad that I did that because it was worth supporting at the time. And if the Blind Alive workouts are still available from somewhere, I would highly recommend those as well because they paid extraordinary attention to detail in describing the workouts that they did in those Blind Alive workouts. I don’t think they’re available anywhere official anymore, but they might still be floating around. I’m not sure what their status is, in terms of whether you can now distribute them for free or what the deal is, but as I say, hopefully somebody can help me out there.

So others may have suggestions. Others may also have comments on the effectiveness of some of those solutions that I’ve mentioned.

So if you have any thoughts, You can attach an audio clip to the email, or just write the email down. And give me a call. 864-60-Mosen in the United States. 864-606-6736.

Hable Pricing Discrepancies

Rod Carne writes:

“Hi, JM

I was thinking of purchasing a Hable One when I go to Holland to visit the family of the management. In Europe, it’s 15% or more below the UK price.

But dig this. You can purchase one in the States for $199, just over £150. Well, if they can sell their device at $199 and still make a profit, then they are taking us blind people in Europe for a big fat ride.

I have decided not to buy one in protest. UK price – about £250, and EU price – about €250.”

Thanks, Rod.

I really don’t know enough about this to comment. I know that there are all sorts of discrepancies with all sorts of products.

For example, when we look at the cost of an iPhone in New Zealand and we do a straight conversion from the exchange rate in the United States, New Zealanders pay a lot more for an iPhone than Americans do.

There are many other products like this, and it’s hard to know whether this is exploitative or whether there are genuine legitimate costs associated with selling a product in a particular market that we’re not aware of. And it’s also true that a product does have the right to discount itself from time to time if it’s trying to enter a market.

So I understand why you feel the way you do. It never sits well when you look at exchange rates, and you do the maths, and you think man, you know, people in this market are getting it much cheaper than me. I just don’t know what the rationale is in this particular case.

Thoughts on Assistive Technology

Rich Yamamoto is sharing some thoughts on access or assistive technology and says:

“I’m working in the education system as an instructional assistant. This is a fancy term for paraprofessional.

I work at a school for the blind, and one of the things that I’ve been discussing with a colleague of mine is how to choose the right technology for the students that we serve on a daily basis.

As a college student, on top of working a full-time job, I know what I need to be successful. And I am in the process of getting the equipment that I need to be efficient.

I’ve known ever since I played with a Braille notetaker at age 4 what devices work for me and what devices don’t. I will try to outline this below.

I started on the BrailleNote MPower back in 2007, which was a perfect place to begin for me. I didn’t have access to the internet on it, so nothing nefarious would happen on my watch. As I got older, I gradually progressed to having more freedom with the device, until I was taking it home every night to do homework.

I then transitioned from that to the Apex, which proved to be one of the toughest changes in my tech career. I happened to get probably the most unstable device out there, so I was constantly having things swapped out so that I could stay caught up with the rest of the class.

I then got a BrailleSense on hand after my Apex’s spacebar decided to bite the dust again. That didn’t last long. And soon, I was using a BrailleNote Touch full-time in the 8th grade starting in 2017.

Somewhere in there, I got attached to the BrailleSense line. I wanted to keep exploring those devices because I knew in my gut that they worked better for me than anything else I tried.

However, my school didn’t allow me to do such wonderful things. I instead played with them as I was able based on when I could go to a friend’s house, or when I visited my grandad.

When I discovered the power and efficiency of the BrailleSense 6, I knew that that was the device for me. I’m working on getting one now.

So here’s what I learned. I don’t know why I am not a fan of the Braille devices from Humanware. I can’t put my finger on the issue that I have with them. I think it might be because they were the only devices that I got to use. Therefore, I got bored with them.

I’m very much a multi-root guy, meaning I am of the opinion that you can’t just stick to one device and pray to the heavens above that it will work for what you want it to do all the time. That’s why I have a laptop in conjunction with a Braille display for now.

The same goes for the students that I work with every day. They understand that the main solution always needs to have a backup plan. There’s no way that you can rely on one thing to get everything done now. It’s just simply not possible, in my humble opinion.

I also learned that if a kid gets stuck with something that you know in your heart won’t work for them long-term, you have to keep your personal opinions about that device to yourself.

While the HIMS products are my go-to devices now, that’s not to say that HumanWare’s devices are completely useless. I think they all have their benefits and drawbacks, just like anything else.

I just know what works for me, and I know what I need to use in order to be successful. Others may not, which is why exploration is never a bad idea.

I’ve seen time and time again how people will say that one device absolutely sucks, and that we should be using this and only this instead of that. It’s time we change our tune a bit. Everyone has different needs, and each device meets those needs in various ways.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone should have each and every notetaker on the market. That’s the definition of a problematic use of resources. But I think that tech evaluations and explorations to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t is one of the best ways to go about getting the things you need.

I’d be curious to see what others say on this topic. I know it can be quite controversial, but I hope it generates a lively and insightful discussion.

I will say that I will constantly poke fun at one of the teachers that I work with because he swears by HumanWare products like religion. But as I said, it’s only in fun, and he shoots it right back at my HIMS viewpoint. It’s actually quite funny because it ends up being the catalyst for talks about the issues we see in how technology is distributed throughout education.”

Thanks very much for writing in, Rich.

And this is one of the challenges that we face. Sometimes, we end up with technology not because it’s the one that suits our needs best, but it’s because somebody in a position to recommend it, procure it, train on it, has a particular preference.

I remember when the JAWS and WindowEyes competition was at its height. I would hear all the time about how certain states in the United States were considered JAWS states, and other states were called WindowEyes states.

And it wasn’t about what was the best product for the individual who was trying to succeed in life. It was about, again, what they wanted to buy, what trainers felt comfortable with, the relationships between people doing the procuring, and the salespeople at the company. And that is unfortunate because it should be about the end user.

One thing I would ask in response to your email is, maybe for many people now in 2024, the answer is no notetaker device at all. The answer could be a PC with a Braille display, or an iPad with a Braille display, or a Chromebook even – some solution that doesn’t get the student locked in to proprietary products that get obsolete very quickly, and which they are highly likely to find inadequate when they get to a university or work environment.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m very interested to see what becomes of the Optima, whether we will see it released in 2024.


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Disabling Automatic Language Detection on iPhone

This message comes from Carolyn Peat.

“Hi, Jonathan,

I have a strange problem, and hope that someone out there can help me.

I got an email the other day from a friend in Sweden. The email is in English.

VoiceOver on my iPhone is acting strangely. Firstly, the top part of the message reads okay. This is the area that says who it is from and the subject line.

However, as you move into the body of the message, VoiceOver develops a Swedish accent.

I have tried a number of things to get rid of the accent, but none of them are working. I tried changing the language in the rotor, but found that language was not even an option in the rotor.

I did a single finger double tap and tried translation, but it said that the text was in English US, so nothing there.

I checked the spoken settings under accessibility with no luck either. Professor Google was not much help either.

I would appreciate any suggestions on how to get rid of the accent.”

Carolyn, I suspect that changing your language from the default to a specific language may assist here. And we have mentioned in a couple of episodes towards the end of 2023 how to get your language rotor back. So you may like to check them, or the transcript.

And I actually did give a demo with the phone of how to restore the language rotor item to the rotor.

The other thing you may also want to try is go into VoiceOver settings and then choose speech. There is a setting there called detect languages. And if that’s toggled off, that might also help.

eBikes and Scooters Taking Over New York City

Hello to Jennifer Walz, who says:

“Hi, Jonathan,

Thanks for your great podcast.

This email is in reaction to the topic of pedestrian safety and cycling in Toronto. My perspective is that of a partially sighted New York City resident.

In the last couple of years, there has been a rapid proliferation of cyclists, scooters, e-bikes, e-scooters, mopeds and hoverboards on New York City streets and sidewalks and inside the parks.

Most of the motorized micro-mobility vehicles were illegal here until fairly recently. But now they are not only legal, but allowed inside the parks and completely unregulated.

The one exception is that mopeds are supposed to be licensed and registered like motorcycles and cars. But in practice, they behave like the cyclists in motorized micro-mobility devices. That is to say with absolutely no accountability whatsoever, even as they speed through red lights and on pedestrian pathways in the parks, not to mention the sidewalks where technically, even bicycles aren’t allowed. Of course, I don’t have to tell you or your listeners that this is dangerous for everyone, and especially terrifying for blind pedestrians.

The rules around these vehicles just keep loosening, even as many serious collisions and deaths have occurred. What is perhaps the most frustrating of all is that the reason the rules keep loosening and that no significant regulation can get passed through City Council is that many of the Council members and Department of Transportation are in the hands of corporate lobbyists. There is a lobbyist group called Transportation Alternatives funded by bike share and delivery apps that is too powerful for any grassroots advocacy groups to overcome.

The response to all the public outcry is always that cars are the real problem, based on the statistics. But here’s the dirty secret. There actually aren’t statistics about e-bike and e-scooter crashes and injuries because there is no category for them on the accident report forms. The corporate lobbyists are great at staying under the radar. I only know about this through affiliations with a couple of pedestrian safety advocacy groups.

I suspect that similar lobbying groups hold this power in other large cities. Members of these groups have even gotten elected onto community boards and get their messaging out on mainstream media, so their power really extends to a strong influence over the narrative and public opinion.

And incidentally, one of the biggest arguments against requiring registration of e-bikes is that when they did that in Toronto, ridership declined. The false narrative is that people will drive cars instead of bikes if e-bikes are regulated, thus making cyclists and pedestrians less safe. This may seem like a logical argument, but NYC is a mass transit city. People here are using e-bikes and e-scooters as an alternative to subways and buses, not as an alternative to cars.

Something that always seems to be left out of the conversation is that the fear created by the reckless behavior of e-bikes and the like prevent pedestrians from enjoying the parks and sidewalks. I don’t get out nearly as often now because I feel so unsafe crossing streets and park pathways without sighted assistance. I’ve had way too many close calls already.

So what about all of the vulnerable people who have not been physically harmed, but instead prevented from walking around independently? That seems like an access barrier in itself.”

Wonderfully, powerfully put. Thank you very much, Jennifer.

I would be interested to know what, if anything, consumer organisations in the United States feel they are able to do about this pandemic of pedestrian unsafety that is so pervasive everywhere. It really is frustrating.

Question About Goodmaps Outdoors

We’re going to Bonn now. Not Bonny, but Bonn in Germany. And Mattias Klaus is writing in, and says:

“Hi, Jonathan,

I have a question about the Goodmaps Outdoors navigation app.

Since last summer, the app has been announcing its points of interest in 3D audio. Unfortunately, it only does this in English with a standard voice of VoiceOver, Samantha.

I use the app in German, and this causes a lot of confusion because German announcements are pronounced in English. The rest of the app is German. Only the 3D announcements are not.

Maybe someone here knows how, or if this can be fixed.

I have already written to Goodmaps and unfortunately, have not yet received a reply.

As I think Goodmaps Outdoors is otherwise good, I would be happy to recommend it. I am currently writing an article about free navigation tools for a German language magazine.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the great podcast. I never tire of promoting it here in Germany.”

Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

I noticed that since you wrote that email, which was in late December, I have seen an update to Goodmaps Outdoors in the App Store. I don’t know whether this has fixed your issue. But if not, hopefully somebody can come up with a solution for you.


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Closing and Contact Info

Thank you for listening, and to everybody who contributes. We’ve got some great contributions in the hopper, and we always appreciate receiving them.

I’m off for now, though.

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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