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Welcome to 271.. 2

Troy Otillio and Everette Bacon From Aira Discuss Access AI and More.. 2

A Look at Aira’s Access AI Feature.. 18

Other Items of Note at CSUN… 29

Things to Know When Trying to Charge a Qardiobase Scale.. 30

Running a DOS Programme on Windows. 31

Goodmaps in German.. 32

Mixer to Record Phone Conversations. 33

The All-Terrain Cane and Duo Lingo on a Smartphone.. 34

Samsung and Microsoft Integration.. 35

Best Notetaker for College.. 36

Trouble in Zoom Meetings. 37

Do We Still Need Dedicated Digital Talking Book Players?.. 39

Email Composition Focus in iOS.. 40

Linux for Blind Users. 41

Comments on Episode 268.. 42

Podcast Chapters in Spotify. 45

Why Do Blind People So Frequently Get Asked to Sit in a Wheelchair at Airports?.. 49

Closing and Contact Info.. 50




Welcome to 271


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: they’ve still got human agents, but now there’s AI as well. We learn about Aira’s Access AI feature and everything else that’s new, we’ll tell you about some new Braille devices announced at the CSUN Technology Conference, and a user’s experience with the AllTerrain cane.

It’s a pleasure to be doing this again for you. Thank you very much for taking the time to listen when there are so many podcasts out there. This is episode 271.

And there is no area code 271 in the North American numbering plan. So that was quick and easy, wasn’t it? One day, it could be yours, but not today.

And as we established last week, country code 27 belongs to South Africa. So I’m not going to tell you that every episode through the 270s. Just remember it. That’s why we’re not talking country codes in 270 anything, because 27 is all just locked up with South Africa.

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Troy Otillio and Everette Bacon From Aira Discuss Access AI and More

As you’ll be well aware, the CSUN Technology Conference has just concluded. And as always, there’s a range of announcements to discuss.

We’re going to talk about Aira this time because they’ve had some pretty significant things to say.

We know of Aira, of course, as the organization that gives us access to trained sighted assistants on demand. And now, they’re moving into the AI space big time. To tell me about this, I’m joined by Aira’s CEO, Troy Otillio.

It’s great to have you back, Troy.

Troy: Hey, Jonathan. Thank you for having us on, and giving us an opportunity to share what’s happening.

Jonathan: And we’ve got Everette Bacon with us as well. He is VP of Blindness Initiatives at Aira, and Everette’s a well-known name. But we haven’t had you on Living Blindfully before, Everette, so a warm welcome to you.

Everette: Thank you so much, Jonathan. Yes, I’m really excited to be here. My first time, and it’s such a pleasure to be with you.

Jonathan: Well, Troy, as CEO, we’ll start with you.

Give us the elevator pitch, if you would. What did you announce at CSUN?

Troy: As you know (or many may know), Aira started with the hypothesis that AI would be part of the solution that’s provided, whether directly to individuals.

And Jonathan, you were with us back in, I guess, 2018, 2019.

Jonathan: Yup.

Troy: We had the head of AI there from Microsoft.

But today, we’re taking back that AI journey, where we have deployed an AI experience directly to explorers, and we’ll talk about that. And equally, we’re deploying AI to be incorporated behind the scenes, whether it’s through agents or other approaches. But ultimately, we restart our AI journey today, and we’ll get into Access AI and what it means.

Equally, we can talk about some of the other changes to our server. Some of them are simple, but things explorers have asked for, such as call transfer. So we’re talking about some of those call management features.

But equally, we’re excited about the journey we’re on with our partners, so we can talk about some of the partnerships we’ve had.

Everette, what would you add to that?

Everette: I would just add that the Access AI feature is really exciting.

I also want to add that in my role with our team at Aira, I’m now managing our customer care team. So anytime explorers have suggestions or calls that they want to bring back any kind of feedback to us, they can contact our customer care team directly, and I will hear of those feedbacks. So I’m really excited to be a part of this team.

Jonathan: Let’s lead then with Access AI. I take it that it’s a little bit different from what Aira was discussing as a possibility back in 2019, and there was a CSUN presentation back then on what AI might be like. Because in those days, what Aira was saying was, we are collecting so much useful intelligence about where blind people like to get visual assistance, where the pain points are, if you will, in a less than accessible society at times, that we can leverage all of that data for good.

But I take it that now, you’re really leveraging existing cloud-based AI services more than rolling your own. Is that right?

Troy: That’s right, Jonathan. We do believe there are techniques that a lot of vendors will be using, a lot of companies will be using to leverage their own AI, whether that’s Vispero, whether that’s Be My Eyes, whether that’s Envision. We all have our data sets, and there are ways to apply that data.

But the fundamental breakthrough has been the evolution of generative AI. I don’t need to tell anyone that. I mean, it’s all over the news.

The question is, how is it applied? Therefore, our focus is on the security, the privacy, and also the trust, and we’ll get into this.

What our AI, and really kind of our service provides is the ability for you, the individual, for free to get information from the agent to get your image description or your interaction validated. So we’re going to be focusing on that kind of trust or understanding of when the AI isn’t perhaps returning reliable results. So it’s really leveraging our agents and their knowledge.

Everette: Yeah. It’s really exciting, Jonathan.

We have this setting in the explorer app for those that it’s rolling out to. We’re going to be rolling it out to all explorers, but we are asking explorers to opt in. We want to make sure that they know about this – that their data is secure, and that their privacy is secure, and they are aware of this change.

But it’s really neat because you can directly take a photo and submit it to Access AI, get the information that’s similar, you’ve been able to get in other mobile applications.

But now, we have a validate with visual interpreter feature where you can get a validation. The visual interpreter can communicate directly with you. Or even if you want to call the visual interpreter or call an Aira agent as you’ve done in the past, you can do that. That will start with your minutes, and you can ask for validation. The visual interpreter will be able to see your image at the same time you’ve shared it.

Jonathan: So you take a picture, you can ask it questions, I take it you can interrogate the image. And if you want confirmation, then you can call an agent. And I take it at that point, once you initiate the call, your meter may be running if you’ve already exhausted your 5 minutes of free calls a day.

Troy: Everette, we should probably be really clear on this.

So you don’t need to call an agent. You don’t need to pay for minutes. The minimum validation or the validation that we believe is gonna be most popular is gonna be more of a interaction through the app. Call it your image chat, whatever you want to call it.

So you’ve uploaded a picture, you’ve interrogated the image, but you’re still not sure. You’re not sure that the response is accurate, or you really want to know that it’s accurate, or you have questions that the AI isn’t answering. You can press a button, and that image, that chat will be sent to an Aira agent, not through a call, but just through the app, and the agent will return a response within 15-20 seconds, maybe a little longer depending what you asked, and that interaction is free. There’s no minutes, there’s no call made, you’re not talking to them, you’re just almost treating the visual interpreter as an extended portion of that AI experience.

Jonathan: And when you do that, the agent doesn’t know who the photo is coming from, is that right?

Troy: Well, we know what account you’ve logged in to Aira, you’re interacting with the AI, so we absolutely know who that person is. And you were mentioning, like, can Aira make use of its unique data? That’s where I think the opportunity as well to, in the future, innovate, which is knowing who you are, knowing what sessions you’ve conducted in the past. We expect to do an increasingly better job at responding to those requests to a visual interpreter.

Jonathan: Is it possible to save photos that you take along with the description? This is one area where some of these apps are falling short, in my view, that what people really want is to be able to save the photo in a way that, particularly on iOS, you’ve got descriptions attached to the photos so that you can then post them on social media, or do what you need to do with them.

Everette: Yes, so that feature is available. You can actually share immediately right from our app. You can share the description that the Access AI gives you. You would have to probably go in a little bit more and interact with the visual interpreter to share the photo to your specific Aira account. But yes, that can be done.

Jonathan: What’s that going to do to hold times? You know, this is always the bone of contention – that people want an Aira agent right now, and you obviously have this balancing act that you can’t have people sitting around waiting for calls, but you also don’t want people waiting forever either. So what impact on hold times of this new feature if agents are having a look at people’s images?

Troy: Well, one reason we are opening this up slowly, starting with subscribers, starting based on your tenure with Aira, is so that we can do that fine balancing act. So that’s why it’s not generally available to the public today, and that’s why we’re not even going to have every subscriber in the system.

Coming from CSUN, we’ve had tons of signups, and it’s our job to let people in at a rate that makes sure we don’t affect our hold times, because as I tell my team all the time, job 1 is to pick up that call in a relatively fast time frame, so that it’s quick and efficient. So we will scale up our agents to meet the demand, but we’re not going to turn this on for everyone initially, to make sure we don’t flood the agents with these requests.

Jonathan: And in terms of the quality of the descriptions that you get back, are these things pretty generic now? For example, if I take the same picture with Be My Eyes, or Envision, or whatever, am I likely to get a relatively similar description back? Or what differentiates, other than the agent feature, the feature that you’ve got?

Troy: As you know, I’m an ex-technologist. You know, I grew up in Silicon Valley. I was a software engineer, and AI has been something that I’ve been looking at working with. But I am still the CEO, so I’m not the technical expert. But I expect each of the vendors are going to have different responses.

One thing we announced (and I think others will announce), I think Vispero announces, we’re a multi-AI vendor back-end.

Jonathan: Right.

Troy: So we use OpenAI, we use Gemini. There are other models.

And I was talking to Matt Buckley on Saturday, because we were both in Sacramento, happened to be at a NFB California convention.

But the general approach we’re all taking is similar. We’re using multiple vendors.

And then, there’s something that folks may have heard called prompt engineering or data flow. There is some art in how a system like Aira interacts with the underlying AI. And I expect that the descriptions, the quality, and the personalization will be different over time.

Our goal is to personalize your AI, which is to say that based on – do you want verbose responses initially? Do you want subjective or objective?

One of the things I know that Aira agents do a good job with is reading the menu. They know to cover the high level categories first before reading the details. And then further, explorers personalize that and have certain dietary defaults in their profile.

But our goal is to make the AI as personal, as customized to your needs – whether that’s ongoing, or in a situation. So I can’t say what the other vendors are going to do.

But we’re going to continue to work at this to make it best, and there is a lot of art and there’s some engineering that go into how you make that all work. I would say we’re just starting that journey, and this is starting now, and it will continue for, I think, ongoing.

Jonathan: My analysis is that the Gemini AI tends to be quite no-nonsense and briefer, and that ChatGPT is much more flowery and kind of gives me a more detailed visual concept.

Do I have a choice about which AI I get back, or is that something that Aira is determining based on the picture?

Troy: You know, Jonathan, we haven’t decided what the best experience is.

Ultimately, we’re about choice. So we want to give you the choice without having a ton of friction.

Literally, as launched today, Aira is making that choice. But we’re also testing, right? So you may get a Gemini session, you may get a OpenAI session.

Behind the scenes, we’re testing in this very early release. My designers tell me that there’s a number of possibilities on interpreting your goals such as if you want brevity, maybe that’s a choice behind the scenes on what model.

I should mention (and Everette can talk more about this), we have been working with the community. There’s about 30 or more AI advisors who’ve been working with us for a couple of months to shape the experience. So this is really providing us the input as we always build things with the community. But it’s providing us the input and insights, and I can tell you, it’s quite interesting as AI is changing all the time, right? Like Gemini wasn’t available months ago. It is available now.

The other thing I want to just throw in is, I mean, to make sure we talk about this, is security and privacy. So the way we’re using AI is done in a way that meets our current security and data-handling promises. And so, everything we do has this extra attention to security and privacy, so we’re only going to use AIs that can meet those goals.

And if we can’t (and we’re not doing this today), but if in the future we want to work with an AI that maybe has a different data-handling or privacy policy, we are going to provide an opt-in experience, so give you that choice.

Everette: Yeah, and the Aira advisors that Troy mentioned, we’re pretty excited about them because they’ve been able to advise us on tone, privacy, language. They’ve been able to advise us on use cases. They’ve been able to advise us on how this feature would benefit our access partners. And then of course, privacy and security. So those 4 areas, these different Aira advisors (some of them prolific Aira users, some of them leaders in the blindness community), but all have been relatively excited about what we’ve been doing, and excited to be able to add their advice and customization to this process.

Jonathan: Yeah, and this is one of the interesting things about prompt engineering – that when you tell one of these large language models that you’re a blind person, sometimes, it can give quite weird responses, and it can start apologizing for the fact that you’re blind, and goodness knows what else. That’s a challenge for assistive technology companies. The last thing you want is the Aira app apologizing to a blind person for the fact that we’re blind. [laughs]

Everette: Most definitely. [laughs] That is something we definitely noticed. I’ll even give you another example.

We had an explorer that was… Actually, you know Janine very well.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Everette: Janine was calling in and doing some prescription bottles, and trying to get the information from the prescription bottle.

And eventually, the AI comes back to her and says, “Well, why don’t you just look at it, or get a sighted person to help you look at it?” It was pretty amazing. [laughs]

Jonathan: Oh my goodness! Right. [laughs]

Everette: Yes, yes. So that’s the kind of thing we’re definitely trying to mitigate, and structure, and make better through our process. But you know, these things take time.

Troy: And technically, it’s back to that art, Jonathan.

There’s hidden prompts that any app will present to the AI in advance or during, to attempt to train or inform about what to do and what not to do. We have a hidden prompt that basically instructs the AI not to be apologetic and other elements, in response to what people want. And that is back to that art, back to that question of like what makes Aira or any vendor’s AI different? It comes back to a lot of hidden prompt engineering, as well as training.

And we’re just getting started. So as people use the AI and depending on how we get feedback, our job is to improve it.

And just like with agents, when we launched Aira to begin with, we certainly took input from the community, you know, – O&M community, we started out. But over time, we tailor and change the training, we change how we interact with you, and the AI will be no different.

Jonathan: Now, without you, Troy, we probably still wouldn’t have Aira, and I give you tremendous credit for that.

So I’m interested in the business case for this because you’re obviously developing this product, you’ve got engineering resources on it.

Troy: Yup.

Jonathan: Is there some potential that it cannibalizes what makes you money, which is the agent service?

Troy: For sure. I take the big view. Whether Aira develops this or somebody else, it’s coming, right? Like, I don’t think we can ignore. And I think it’s beautiful. It’s awesome that we can now leverage AI. Our agents will leverage AI to improve their ability to deliver service. I think in the long view, AI should be able to take on more and more use cases of what we might call visual interpreting.

Equally though, as a business, we grow when there’s more users that have Aira in their pocket, even if they’re not paying. You know that our business model is kind of predicated on business and government funding visual interpreting.

For example, many of the public offers, whether that’s Starbucks, or airports, or other locations, the volume of calls is an indication at some level of the value that they are receiving or delivering to their customers. So if I could wave my wand, every blind and low vision person on the planet would have Aira in their pocket, and they would make use of those access offers.

But I also recognize that often, people see Aira as an expensive solution. I’m going to need a subscription. Yes, we have 5-minute free.

But my hope is, … Our expectation is that the AI is another reason for individuals to put Aira in their pocket. And then, they’re just a little bit closer to making use of the free access offers. And that ultimately will drive the business model of Aira because we’ll have more businesses deploying Aira as an accommodation. We’ll have more retail, or banks, or any number of private businesses deploying Aira because there’s simply a greater army of people using visual interpreting.

So it’s really about broadening the awareness of Aira, and then providing a service that has benefit. And much like we sponsor calls, we have 5-minute free disvalidation and the use and the cost of AI is just another one of those things that we do, so that we grow our brand and grow our number of users.

Jonathan: So that segues us nicely nearly into other things.

But before we leave Access AI, how do people express interest in getting access to it?

Troy: They may have seen already the announcements which have a link to this sign-up form. In the app itself, there’s a tab with Access AI. And if you’re not enabled, there is a link to the sign-up form. So there’s a sign-up form. And once you fill that out, our team looks at that. And then, again, starting with subscribers and starting with our early subscribers, we’re onboarding. But in the next weeks and months to come, we expect everybody to have Access AI enabled.

Jonathan: Okay, so that’s the simplest way. If you’ve got the Aira app, look for that Access AI tab. If you don’t have access, you can apply from there.

Troy: Yep, that is the simplest way.

Everette: Yep, that is definitely the simplest way.

Jonathan: Brilliant!

Let’s talk about pricing a little bit more because we got onto that subject, and this is one of the challenges that Aira has always had.

I remember you and I, Troy, having long discussions about how it’s very difficult to make the scale if the model is predicated on individual blind people paying a plan. That’s very tricky.

Troy: Yeah.

Jonathan: And you’ve moved away from that now, but there still are the consumer plans and they were adjusted, they were grandfathered. There was talk that that grandfathering would be a year. I think that year has now well and truly expired. What’s your current thinking on consumer plans?

Everette: Just to kind of give you some background, Jonathan.

So when Troy and the leadership team decided to bring me on around June, I was really excited to be a part of Aira. And one of the things I wanted to put in place, because I knew it was such a hot button for the community, was to basically say, “If you’re a current subscriber, if you’re a current user of Aira and you have a plan, your plan will not change.” So that was the announcement we made at both of the conventions. We were excited to make that last year. And we said that would at least stay in place through January of 2025.

Currently though, we have not had any discussions about changing any plans. Right now, we are currently going to continue with the current plan model. We have not changed those current plans that people have had for almost 60 months now. So if you’ve had a plan, you’ve had the same plan for almost 60 months, and we have not changed that.

Now, new subscribers do pay a different price because we had to change for new subscribers. But we’ve really done all we can to keep the plans the same because we know that our blind individuals are sometimes strapped, and sometimes not able to afford higher prices.

Jonathan: Right. And when you take CPI inflation into account over that period, that’s actually quite a significant thing to be doing because in real terms, the plan is costing a lot less than it used to.

The downside of course is if your needs change, you’re disincentivized to change your plan.

Troy: Our goal is to grow the category of visual interpreting.

It turns out Aira is the only company today that provides professional, secure visual interpreting. Be My Eyes obviously provides a version of that with volunteers, which is great. This community, to the extent visual interpreting is important, wants to see more of it at a lower cost, and I have no intention of raising the cost to individuals. That’s not the place to grow the revenue, or to grow the business model.

The place to grow it is with, as I mentioned, both government and private business. Everette and I can share some of the recent successes. So every new organization we bring on on a commercial level helps fund all of our activities.

The subscriptions are there today because there’s just simply not enough access offers. There’s no access offer today that really covers your at-home use, unless you’re in the state of Alabama. So the state of Alabama has figured out a way to provide Aira for anything you want to do. And I think that’s an example model.

But just being very clear about it, I have no intention of raising subscription prices based on current economics at Aira or current economics globally. My hope is to lower the cost of the price to subscribers or making more minutes available for use because they’re funded by government or private business.

Everette: Some of the really cool examples we have, … Obviously, Troy mentioned Alabama. If you live in the state of Alabama, you can sign up with the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and the Blind.

We have an awesome program in the state of Colorado where if you utilize any government facility of any kind (this could include universities, or if you want to access any government website in Colorado), that is an Aira access partnership.

I was able to work out with my local Salt Lake City business district, which is like a 1-block radius in the whole downtown area of Salt Lake City. You can use Aira for free for shopping, for restaurants, for traveling around the city, getting around on the light rail and things like that. So we’ve got a lot of those uses.

Of course, we have an awesome partnership with Target, with Starbucks. So anytime you’re in a Starbucks or using, or anytime you’re in a Target, using, those are our Aira access partners.

And we’ve got some exciting other new plans on the horizon that we’re gonna be really happy to announce in the near future.

Jonathan: So if I’m an advocate in my local city and I want to go to the municipality and say to them, “Guys, I want this feature. I want to be able to use Aira when I’m in the central business district.” And they say to me, “Well, how much will that cost us?”, is there some sort of ballpark figure you provide?

Troy: Well, as I said, this obviously is like the great question.

First, just know our sales team. This is what they’re good at. This is what they’re trained to do.

One reason we sometimes hesitate a little bit to talk about the cost is because there’s different models that the customers opt into. We offer both a fixed rate cost, so certain organizations like airports deploy Aira for as little as $15,000 a year for unlimited use, and then it’s Aira’s job to make sure it’s profitable or sustainable. Within that framework, others pay based on usage. They pay based on a per minute rate or some combination thereof. I like to say cost should never be an issue.

The other challenge, of course, is that it’s hard to predict how much usage you’re going to get in year 1, or year 2, or year 3, so the cost then changes over time. We often partner with organizations to make sure that there’s an entry cost to explore what the usage is going to be, to make sure that we’re not overcharging or charging so much that they don’t want to deploy it.

So answer 1 is contact our sales team, and we’ll structure the response. But it can be as little as $5,000 a year, it can be quite a bit more.

The per minute pricing sometimes depends on other aspects of that offer. When you look at those retail prices, I know back to the pricing changes we made, the retail pricing that you see, (which is not the pricing that explorers pay, they pay an offset price), but that sometimes is an indication of where we charge on a per minute basis.

Maybe that gives some general answers. Jonathan, I don’t know if you want to ask a follow-up on that.

Jonathan: No, it sounds like the key thing to do is to contact somebody at the Aira sales team and have that discussion.

Troy: Yup.

Jonathan: How can an advocate in their local community promote Aira? Do you have any sort of toolkit or anything that can help spread the word in an effective way?

Everette: We sure do. We have an awesome new social media manager that we’ve just brought on that is putting together some, I guess, some demonstrations on how you can promote Aira within your school, within your university, within your neighborhood, within your shopping mall, and she’s doing a great job. And she has these different demonstration videos on Facebook and on all the other social media channels.

Jonathan: Not Mastodon, it seems, Everette. It seems like Aira has dropped off Mastodon lately. Is that the case?

Troy: We’re getting it there.

Jonathan: Okay, because it was there. and now, it’s not. [laughs]

Troy: Yeah, it is definitely going to come back.

Jonathan: Okay. Good, good.

Troy: I would add, Jonathan, we have some PDF flyers that are tuned to deliver information about how and why Aira in different verticals – whether that’s education, employment.

Again, if you contact and ask those questions, that’s, again, where my sales team tends to engage. Internally, just maybe sharing a little too much, but we get inquiries, I would say, on a daily basis of this nature. So we’re set up. It’s not a burden. And that’s what I want to be clear. We encourage people to reach out, ask those questions however they want to ask, like how do I advocate? How do I understand more so I can bring more focus, and is one way to engage. Send an email. We answer every one of those, and we’re getting more every day.

Jonathan: So Everette, can I talk with you about agents? You mentioned there was a new transfer call feature, which I’d like to come to.

But we have had some feedback that said that Aira, apparently, was experimenting with some offshore agents. Is that the case? And has that experiment been withdrawn?

Everette: We did definitely experiment with some offshore agents. A lot of people think we did it because of cost. That wasn’t the reason we did it. We were trying to look at ways where we could expand and bring more agents, visual interpreters to explorers so we could cut down on wait time.

So we definitely tried a program in the Philippines. We weren’t able to get the quality we wanted from them. Some of them did a great job. Some definitely were not up to snuff. And so we felt that at this time, we went ahead and did that test or that pilot. We haven’t done any more regarding this.

We tried this one pilot with the Philippines, and we just didn’t think the quality was there. And so we haven’t gone any other direction. Not to say we wouldn’t in the future.

Jonathan: Right. Because one thing that some explorers in other parts of the world outside the US have actually asked for is agents with local knowledge, so Australia, New Zealand, the UK. Is that something that you’re considering?

Everette: We’re definitely considering it, yes.

Jonathan: I guess you can consider all sorts of things, yes? [laughs]

Troy: It’s a matter of time.

Everette: Yeah.

Troy: I think that was a challenge with the agents that we trained and onboarded with all the same protocol. But ultimately, some of the lack of context around conventions and local knowledge is a barrier.

And so I’ve heard from you and from others who are outside the US, “Hey, I would love to have a visual interpreter that knows me better because it knows the local customs and conventions.” And so it’s just a matter of time.

And this experiment we ran definitely helped us learn some of the internal operational challenges, and we will come back with an offering at some point that deploys agents in-country. We don’t have any plans for this year, but that could change.

Jonathan: Everette, for those who don’t know you, I should say you’re a blind guy. You’re also into tech, so you’re probably familiar with RIM – Remote Incident Manager. It is a revolutionary bit of technology. And every time I call Ira and ask for remote assistance, I really feel the pain of not having it. I’ve been going on to Troy about this for a long time. Any chance we might get RIM sometime?

Everette: It’s definitely something we are constantly looking at and evaluating. We have had some talks with RIM, and so I definitely think it’s something that you could see in the future. Our engineering team, our chief technical officer has to sign off on it. He’s still evaluating it.

Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, look, it’s impactful. I find myself calling my daughter instead of Aira because she can do a RIM session and Ira can’t. So I don’t use my plan as much as I would, specifically because a lot of the assistance I want from Ira these days is internet-related, and it’s just not a good experience with any of the options that are available through Aira compared to RIM.

Troy: Jonathan, I do want to make sure people know, because I, in fact, … I was just, again, on Saturday, I was with a couple hundred folks in California, a lot of them Aira users. And I was surprised that some did not know that we have a desktop or a web offering that you can use directly without the phone. Because often, you’re sitting at your computer and it’s a little awkward to pick up your phone to call the agent when, in fact, you want to share a document, you want to share your screen. And people also need to know that the Aira app today allows you to share your screen, not remote control but if you simply want to flash your screen or have the agent describe what’s on the screen, you can do that directly through the Aira app, which has a lot of great accessibility.

Equally, as you said, “Hey, I want someone to remote control.” We don’t have a built-in solution today.

And I think your point is, “Hey, RIM would be the best solution.”.

We have TeamViewer. We can also use Microsoft QuickAssist. Those things have been integrated into our stack.

RIM is not, and I hear you loud and clear because you’re saying it’s a more accessible solution.

But I just wanted everyone to know that today, you can go to, log in just like you would with your mobile app, and you can press a call button. You can message the agent. You can do everything you can on the phone also on the web, including share your screen.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s a great experience, too. And one of the things I’ve noticed is it seems to keep me logged in a bit more than it used to, and I really appreciate that as well. That’s just changed recently, I think.

Should we talk about the call transfer feature? I know this thing has been in the works for a wee while. What is it, and what are its benefits?

Everette: It definitely has been something that has been in the works for quite a while because it’s been a demand from our explorers. And we’ve been listening. We’ve been trying to figure out a way to implement it.

We think we have something basic to implement at first, which would be the dreaded, you’ve just called an Aira agent and they proceed to tell you that they’ve got 5 minutes left on their shift, and that you’ve got to call back and get another agent. So that’s where we’re going to implement it first.

We’re going to implement it there where instead an Aira interpreter telling you they’ve got 5 minutes left on their shift. Do you want to transfer the call? And they’ll be able to transfer the call.

We haven’t released this yet. We are still testing it, but we definitely know that it is very close to being released. And so we plan to have it out there very very soon. But that’s what the goal is. And so you’ll be able to not have to call back in, explain everything all over again to an interpreter.

In the future, we think call transfer can do a lot of other things, like if you need a specific agent for a specific task, because that agent has some direct skill sets in a certain area. We are hoping that we can transfer it to an agent that has that specific skill set to fit your need that you’re needing at that moment, and we’re excited about that.

We did a survey this past year. We heard this loud and clear from our explorers, and it’s definitely something we’re looking to implement.

Jonathan: Yeah. Some people probably don’t know this, but you can facilitate this a little bit.

I had an issue late last year when the Beatles’ new song accompanied by a video came out, and being a major Beatles tragic, I was quite interested in having a description of that video.

Troy: [laughs]

Jonathan: And I got an agent who did not know the Beatles at all.

And I was able to say to him, because I knew about the internals, “Dude, can you get on the Slack channel and find out if any of the agents who are on shift right now know about the Beatles?”

Troy: [laughs]

Jonathan: And so he was able to get on the Slack channel, and then I was able to call back. And basically, you know, when you get a call from Jonathan, Beatles fan, please pick up.

Everette: [laughs] That’s awesome. That’s an awesome story.

Jonathan: [laughs] It’s not quite as seamless as a transfer.

Troy: Yeah, that’s exactly what our team is designing and looking at.

And while we can’t forecast the launch date, it is something that if you come to the CSUN talk, that’s something Jeffrey talked about – the roadmap for what we call “call management”. So whether that’s matching you to a specific agent with a certain skill or ability, or a callback (so in the rare cases we’re really busy, or maybe that expert is really busy, rather than you waiting and listening to the wonderful ringback tone, you can hang up and we’ll call you back), or schedule a call like “Hey, I’m going to need my Beatles expert at this time.”, that’s all things that will happen.

It’s just, well, is it going to happen in the next 2 months, 3 months? I think Jeffrey would say they’re on the roadmap for this year, and stay tuned.

Jonathan: So wearables. Aira had to get out of the glasses market, no question about that. It was just expensive, and time-consuming, and just labor intensive, and it’s a good decision from a business point of view.

We’ve got the Envision smart glasses. But it does feel like for some explorers, Aira’s just lost a little bit of something, not having a wearable that works.

Troy: Yup.

Jonathan: What’s your assessment of the current market? Is there anything on the, dare I say, on the horizon for wearables? [laughs]

Troy: I’ll comment, and Everette may add to this.

We are acutely aware that that need is not satisfied. Envision is great, and it works for some people.

It does have a price point that I’ve heard directly is unaffordable for some, right? We believe that the ideal solution will be a sub $500, sub $250 purchase.

It’s going to have all the features that are needed to connect you to an agent. There is an increased, … Jonathan, I don’t know if you see it, but we see there’s more and more smart glasses, smart devices coming out.

In case anyone from Meta is listening, we’ve been trying to get a hold of the right people to explore the ability to add Aira into the Ray-Ban solution that they have today. We’re not successful yet, so I’m trying to find the right person.

Jonathan: [laughs] Well, you never know, we may be a matchmaker for you, Troy, because it astounds me who listens to this thing. Because every so often, I make an observation about a company, and somebody from that company will get very grumpy with me, so it’s amazing who listens.

Troy: Yeah. So I would say to all those people listening that may know of a smart glass or have connections into a company that’s delivering at scale, we are always actively seeking…

And Jeffrey even talks about… there’s an open source (which is a way that technology gets developed in kind of a public, collaborative way), there’s even an open source glasses project that is university-based, and I could probably dig more details. But ultimately, there’s some hope that by investing a little bit of effort there, it’ll be easier for not just Aira, but any accessibility technology to put their app into a smart glass.

Because right now, the friction is we need manufacturers and providers to provide that low-cost and equally quality physical and technology solution. We stand ready to integrate our technology, but there’s just not a lot of choices. And sometimes, when you get to that question of how to integrate, it’s sometimes not easy.

Everette: We’re always working on it, we’re always looking for solutions, we know that our explorers want this. Again, the survey that we did right at the end of 2023 that went out, that was one of the biggest feedbacks we got from explorers is they want a wearable, and we’ve heard them loud and clear, and we’re definitely looking for solutions.

Jonathan: Yeah. And the thing is that iOS is so abundant in Aira’s primary markets and it’s quite locked down, so I don’t think that external type devices really get access to the camera API in a way that would be useful for Aira.

Everette: That’s very true.

Jonathan: Anything else you wanted to cover that’s new at Aira?

Troy: Maybe just echoing what we talked about the talk. I mean, I don’t think these are major, but they are of interest.

We launched a feature called DeepLink. This is really intended for vendors of other technology, assistive tech or any tech.

If you want to provide an experience so that if I’m on a website, or I’m in an app and with a single click launch a call, we now make that easy. We’re an open platform. Anyone can connect.

So again, if you’re a website and you wanted to have a call Aira button on there, you’re an app, we provide that. It’s a pretty straightforward integration. It’s not unique to Aira, like deep linking is something that is a standard form of…

Jonathan: Right. So it’s a UI Rail that starts with a specific prefix, I take it. Is that how?

Troy: Yeah, it’s a fancy URL, if you will, fancy link that you can pass information. So like you could say the call came from XYZ app, or website, make it even more convenient. So that’s something that you would have heard at the talk.

The other thing, we’ve been able to grow our engineering team. Jonathan, as you know, coming out of 2020, we had to get very lean, and we stay lean. But we have been able to grow our engineering staff. And one of the places that we’re focusing is on making our current app and future experiences highly accessible and usable, right?

There’s accessible. I can muddle through an experience with my screen reader. But then, there’s highly usable.

And something to know that’s true about the industry in general is that most apps today, by any company of significance, are developed using a rapid prototyping tool. So whether that’s Figma – it allows a designer to create an experience and test it without engaging engineers, so very lightweight test. And today, there is no accessible rapid prototyping tool. And I can talk about why, but it doesn’t exist.

Our engineering team came up with a technique, happens to have a fancy acronym that spells earth. So we call it project earth, and we talked about that at our talk.

We’re open to collaborating with other companies who are building accessibility technology to leverage this technique, because we think it’s just something that should exist to make sure that the design phase, accessibility and usability is incorporated and we’re pretty excited about that because that means for us, in particular, we can move more quickly. Because if you have to kind of guess at, or you have to pick a certain experience, how it’s going to work with a screen reader, and then give it to your engineers to deploy, and then wait weeks, if not months for users to give you feedback, it’s just too slow. We want to know if something’s not usable right away.

So project earth is something that you would have heard about at the talk, and I would encourage anyone who’s interested to hear more to how would we do this, I guess, start with That’s just a good place to go. But that is something we talked about at CSUN that we got a lot of interest in from technologists, designers, and people who produce apps for this community.

Everette: One of the things that we’re really excited about and very proud of at Aira is we realized last year that our visual interpreters, our agents at that time were not full employees of Aira. And so we realized that we needed to change pay scale. We needed to bring our visual interpreters on as full-time employees, and so we were able to make that change. That was part of the reason why our wait times were a little bit longer, because we were transitioning through that.

But we think we’ve come through that now, and we’re getting better at that all the time. We’re really excited to have visual interpreters on as employees, and we’re able to give them a pay raise.

And if there are blind individuals that have family members or have really good friends that they think would be great visual interpreters, we encourage them to go to, and have them apply because we’re always looking for more visual interpreters and trying to expand that.

Jonathan: That’s really good to hear. I didn’t know that it happened. So you’re no longer doing the gig economy thing with respect to the agents?

Troy: Correct.

Everette: That is correct.

Jonathan: Yeah. Interesting.

And I just wanted to mention one thing I’m very thankful for is with the new explorer app, you have the ability to choose the front-facing camera. And that does help me enormously, just for little things like, did I spill anything down my tie when I was at a business lunch?

Troy: [laughs]

Jonathan: So it’s the little things, I tell you.

But it’s great to hear Aira thriving and innovating, and I appreciate you both coming on the show. We’ll definitely keep in touch.

Troy: Thanks, Jonathan!

Everette: Thank you so much for having us, Jonathan.

A Look at Aira’s Access AI Feature

Thanks to Aira for giving me access to Access AI, so I can show it to you.

It’s important, I think, to set some expectations around all of these services, and making sure that you use the right tool in the toolbox.

If you simply want to read a document, say for example, you’re going through your print mail (if you still get any of that), and you want to know what the mail says, these artificial intelligence apps will summarize the mail for you. But it’s quite hard to get them to read the full text. And some of them actually get quite finicky about reading information that might have privacy ramifications. So if you’re doing that kind of work, well, you might call an Aira agent if you want Aira’s help, or you could simply use an app like Seeing AI.

For reading text, in my experience, Seeing AI is the best of these apps. I say that because in my experience, it’s the most accurate, it’s the least fussy, and it’s also pretty quick at getting information to you.

But your mileage may vary. You may have another app that you prefer.

But the point I’m making is that if you’re going to use Access AI, you probably want to use it to describe something, either a scene or a physical object of some kind. And that’s what I’m going to do in this brief demonstration.

I still have the Zoom H6 Essential down here in the studio after all the reviewing and playing with them that we’ve been doing in recent times, and I thought we’d get Access AI to take a look at that.

VoiceOver: Aira explorer.

Jonathan: If you’re familiar with Aira already, the first thing you’ll notice is that there’s a new tab at the bottom of the screen.

VoiceOver: Selected. Home tab.

Access AI tab, 2 of 4.

Usage tab, 3 of 4.

More tab, 4 of 4.

Jonathan: Access AI is the new one, and it’s what we’re interested in today.

VoiceOver: Access AI tab, 2 of 4.

Access AI, heading.

Jonathan: Let’s explore the screen, and we’ll talk about what the options do.

VoiceOver: Quick capture and send, button.

Jonathan: If you double tap this button, you will get an experience very similar to the one that Be My AI offers. Push the button, instantly, the photo is taken, you will get a response back as soon as possible.

I think I’d use this option when I’m not trying to focus on a particular item like an appliance or something, where I need detailed descriptions. Maybe I’m in a restaurant, say, and I just want a general view of the ambience of the place. You’re not really focusing on anything specific, so just point and shoot, and you’ll get an answer pretty quickly.

Let’s demonstrate how this works. If I just point the camera somewhere, we might be looking in the direction, I think, of the bookshelf potentially. And I just double tap this button.

VoiceOver: Quick capture and send.

Access AI is writing. Actions available.

Image. An illustration of a computer on the desk in front of a grey wall.

Jonathan: That’s not the recognition coming back. It’s still thinking about it. We should get the answer back soon. I’m not going to do any editing here so you get a feel for how long this might take.

VoiceOver: The image shows an indoor scene with a wooden bookshelf on the left filled with various items, including books and boxes.

In the centre, there is a microphone stand with a microphone attached, and the stand is leaning against the bookshelf.

To the right, there is another shelving unit with more items, and a wooden door is partially visible in the background.

The photo is taken from a tilted angle, which may suggest it was captured hastily or accidentally.

Would you like more details about any specific item or area in this picture?

Jonathan: We can query things. So if I flick right, …

VoiceOver: The image shows an indoor scene with a… End of messages.

Detailed capture, button.

Choose from gallery, button.

Type a message, text field.

Jonathan: And I can double tap.

VoiceOver: Insertion point at end.

Jonathan: I’ve got my Mantis connected, which makes it quick for me to type, and I’ll just say, what can you tell me about the microphone? and press enter.

VoiceOver: Access AI is writing a response.

Send message dimmed, button.

Jonathan: That’s the guest mic that it is looking at.

VoiceOver: The microphone in the image is attached to a black stand with a tripod base, which is leaning against the wooden bookshelf. The microphone itself appears to be a studio-style condenser microphone, commonly used for recording vocals or instruments due to its sensitivity and wide frequency response.

It is positioned at the upper end of the stand, and is oriented horizontally, likely positioned for someone sitting or standing in front of it to speak or sing directly into it. The cable from the microphone is visible, trailing along the carpeted floor.

If you need more specific details or have any other questions, feel free to ask.

Jonathan: It’s not a condenser microphone, by the way. It’s speculating there. It is a Heil PR40, which is a dynamic mic. And I might tell it that.

VoiceOver: Type a message, text field. Keyboard visible.

Jonathan: It is actually a dynamic microphone – the Heil PR40.

What can you tell me about it?

VoiceOver: It is actually a dynamic mocrophone. Send message.

Jonathan: [laughs] Well, I’m typing quickly, so we’ll see whether it makes sense of my quick typing in the interest of getting the demo done.

VoiceOver: The Heil PR40 is a dynamic microphone known for its professional quality and versatility. It features a large diaphragm, providing a wide frequency response suitable for both voice and musical instruments. The PR40 is often praised for its ability to capture deep bass tones, as well as clean and clear high frequencies, making it a popular choice for podcasting, broadcasting, and recording applications. It has a cardioid pickup pattern, which helps to isolate the sound source and reduce background noise.

The microphone’s design typically includes an internal shock mount to reduce handling noise, and it has a sleek, professional appearance.

If you need more information or have other questions, please let me know.

Jonathan: So underneath, you’ve got one of the large language models at play here, Generative AI. I’m not sure whether it’s Gemini or ChatGPT. And Ira is experimenting behind the scenes so sometimes you’ll get one, and sometimes you’ll get the other. And we’re not sure why or when. And that’s good because life has lost a lot of mystery lately, don’t you think? And it’s good to have some mystery in life. [laughs]

So that’s how the Quick Capture works.

There are other things that you can do when you’re having this conversation. So if I flick back now, …

VoiceOver: Type a message, text field.

Choose from gallery, button.

Jonathan: This choose from gallery button is great. It means that you can just double tap from within this conversation, and you can add a photo from your existing collection of photos and it will describe it for you.

VoiceOver: Detailed capture, button.

Jonathan: I’ll come back to that in a minute. This is one of the most compelling features of this experience, in my view. It is fantastic.

VoiceOver: End of messages.

Jonathan: Now that we’re on one of the messages that Access AI has sent, we do have some actions available.

VoiceOver: Share.

Jonathan: If we choose share from this message, it will bring up the standard iOS share sheet. So for example, if I wanted to share the text of this message in the Mona app, so I can post it to Mastodon, all I have to do is find the message I want to share, flick down once to share, double tap, and then my share sheet will come up. I can choose Mona, which is the Mastodon app I use, and the post will be filled with the contents of the message.

VoiceOver: Copy.

Jonathan: We can also copy the text of the message to the clipboard.

VoiceOver: Mark as helpful.

Mark as not helpful.

Jonathan: I’m presuming that this provides feedback to Aira about what responses are working and what are not, because they’ll be able to do some prompt engineering to fine-tune the responses that we’re all getting.

VoiceOver: Verify with visual interpreter.

Jonathan: This is the interesting one. I won’t do this at the moment, but we will try it at some point in this demo.

And this is another big advantage of using Access AI because as we know, sometimes, AI gets things wrong. And sometimes, things are too important to get wrong. So if you need some reassurance, you’re not quite sure that it’s getting the information correct, then you can share with an agent. The agent will have a look at the photo and eventually, text you back. I guess response times will vary depending on how much load there is at any given time, and I imagine that there’ll be a lot of people testing this Access AI at the moment, so you know how it is with novelty value. It will probably start to settle down eventually, and Aira will get some understanding of what normal usage looks like.

VoiceOver: Activate, default.

Jonathan: And then, we just have the activate button. If I double tap that, …

VoiceOver: Alert. Mark as helpful, button.

Mark as not helpful, button.

Copy, button.

Share, button.

Verify with visual interpreter, button.

Cancel, button.

Jonathan: So that’s another way of getting to the same thing. If you don’t, for some reason, want to use the actions rotor when you’re on a message that Access AI has sent, double-tap it. You’ll get this little menu of options that you can flick through.

I’ll back out of this menu, and I’m going to flick back.

Alright. Now, we’re on actions available, and it said image.

If I flick down, …

VoiceOver: Share.

Jonathan: we can share the image.

So what you could do is you could copy the text to the clipboard, you could then share the image to your social network of choice, you can include the text description in the body of the post, if that’s appropriate. Or if you’re using a client like Mona for Mastodon, which has a field where you can add alt text to an image, you could actually paste the text from the clipboard into the alt text field and get a fully accessible image while preserving the body of your post for regular things. This is a pretty cool setup.

Also, if you go to the share sheet, you’ve got the ability to describe with Access AI. So you’d be able to use this if you find a post on Facebook, or Mastodon, or whatever, and you see an image, and you want to know what that image is, you can share it to Access AI from the share sheet.

If you’d rather use the Photos app rather than Aira’s built-in gallery feature, you can also share from the Photos app. So it’s a very versatile experience.

What I’m going to do now is back out of this.

VoiceOver: Access AI, heading.

Quick capture and send, button.

Detailed capture, button.

Jonathan: In my view, the detailed capture feature is just very cool indeed because it gives you access to the full iOS picture-taking experience, including the accessible viewfinder.

Apple’s very accessible features for taking photos have made photographers out of some of us who have been totally blind since birth, and we never thought that we would get into it. It takes a bit longer to go through the workflow to take a picture this way, but it’s worth it, if getting an exact picture of something is really important.

If you’re focusing on one particular object, for example like a remote control or the Zoom H6 Essential recorder, which just happens to be sitting here for our demonstrating pleasure, you want to try and get as good a picture of that as possible. It does matter how good the picture is. It’s going to influence how accurate a description we get back.

So let’s try this. I’m going to put the Zoom H6 on the desk in front of me, just ahead of my keyboard. It’s quite a busy environment in this studio, and I’m going to double tap the detailed capture button.

VoiceOver: Take picture, button. Viewfinder. Focus unlocked.

Image. A person standing in front of a control panel.

Jonathan: Oh, right. Well, it’s seeing me. Let me just make sure I close up on the H6 Essential.

We’ll try taking this picture. But as we flick through, …

VoiceOver: Flash, automatic.

Zoom, 1.0X.

Camera mode, photo.

Take picture, button.

Camera chooser, back facing, button.

Jonathan: I like this very much as well. If you go into this option, you can elect to use the front facing camera. And if you want to have Access AI tell you about what you’re wearing in the morning, make sure that nothing’s been spilt, as I mentioned in the interview, then flipping to the front facing camera is a really cool feature.

VoiceOver: Cancel, button.

Jonathan: So we’ll go back, …

VoiceOver: Take picture, button.

Jonathan: and we’ll choose take picture.

VoiceOver: An electronic device with buttons and text on it. Possible text. H6 Essential. Handy recorder. 3. Mixer. Ecom. 32M.

Jonathan: Now remember, this is Apple’s description at the moment. We’re still in the camera part of this. So, …

VoiceOver: Retake, button.

Jonathan: we’ve got a retake button if I flick right, if it sounds like I’m not happy with it.

VoiceOver: Use photo.

Jonathan: So I’ll double tap.

VoiceOver: Use photo. Selected. 1 image.

Jonathan: I’ll flick right.

VoiceOver: Remove attached image, button.

Detailed capture, button.

Choose from gallery, button.

Type a message, text field.

Send message, button.

Jonathan: And double tap send.

VoiceOver: Actions available.

Image. An electronic device with buttons and a screen. Possible text. 2. H6 Essential. Handy recorder. Mixer. Ecom.

Jonathan: We’ll wait for the AI description to come back.

VoiceOver: The image shows a close-up of a Zoom H6 Essential handy recorder next to the edge of a backlit mechanical keyboard. The recorder has buttons labeled with numbers 1 to 4, a mixer button, and playback controls. There is also a sticker indicating 32-bit float recording capability.

Would you like to know more about the items in the picture?

Jonathan: Okay, that’s fantastic. So let’s see what else we can do here.

VoiceOver: End of messages.

Type a message. Text field. Keyboard visible.

Jonathan: I’m going to say describe all of the controls on the device and their function, and I’ll press enter.

VoiceOver: Describe all of the controls on the device.

Send message, dimmed, button.

Jonathan: We’re just waiting for the response to come back. As I say, I’m not editing those gaps because it gives you an idea of what delay you might expect.

VoiceOver: The visible controls on the Zoom H6 Essential handy recorder in the image are:

  1. Numbered buttons 1 to 4. These are likely track arm buttons used to activate or deactivate recording for the corresponding input channels.
  2. Mixer button. This button is probably used to access the device’s mixing features, allowing the user to adjust levels and other audio properties for the various input channels.
  3. Playback controls. Below the mixer button, there are standard playback controls including the rewind button to go backwards in the recording, the play/pause button to start or pause playback, the fast forward button to move forward in the recording.
  4. Central knob with a red record button. The large central knob is likely a multi-function selector used for navigating menus and making selections.

Jonathan: That’s not quite correct.

VoiceOver: The red button in the center is the record button used to start and stop recording.

  1. Sticker with 32-bit float. This indicates the recorder supports 32-bit float recording, which is a high-quality audio format with a wide dynamic range, making it more forgiving in terms of input levels and post-production adjustments.

Please note that without a view of the entire device, there may be additional controls and inputs not visible in this image.

If you need more details, or have specific questions about other parts of the recorder, please let me know.

Jonathan: That’s very good, but what if I want to be absolutely sure that this is in fact correct? It got a lot of that right, that’s very impressive. I’m going to go back.

VoiceOver: Type a message.

Choose from gallery.

Detailed capture.

End of messages.

Jonathan: Now, here’s the key information about the controls, and I’m going to flick down.

VoiceOver: Share.


Mark as helpful.

Mark as not helpful.

Verify with visual interpreter.

Jonathan: Because this is such critical information, I want to verify the veracity of all of that with a visual interpreter.

I’m going to double tap.

VoiceOver: Pending verification. Pending verification.

Jonathan: In the interests of everyone’s sanity, I paused the recording.

We’re now a little after 5 minutes in, and I don’t have verification yet. So it may be that a lot of people are trying this. I am producing this in the middle of the US night, and my evening.

VoiceOver: Great news! Our Aira agent has double checked, and everything looks good with the AI’s response.

Jonathan: It took about 6 minutes in that instance, but I think that’s probably because a lot of people are beating up on it right now. It’s new and it’s shiny. They tell me that on average, it should take around about a minute. But that’s quite cool. I’ve got the verification that I needed, that everything looks correct.

Let’s just quickly show you what happens if we want to have a look at one of our existing photos.

VoiceOver: Choose from gallery, button.

Alert. Aira explorer would like to access your photo library. Access to your photos allows agents to take photos during calls, and for Aira to send and receive photos.

157 photos, 10 videos.

Photos may contain data associated with location, depth information, captions, and audio.

Limit access, button.

Allow full access, button.

Jonathan: Now, I can move around the screen.

I’ll just go back, actually, to some photos I took while we were on holiday.

VoiceOver: Live photo. The London Eye. Date, September 13th.

Jonathan: Let’s have a look at this one because this should give us a good view of what we saw from the London Eye, and I’d love to get a description of this. I’m not sure I actually ever have.

VoiceOver: Selected. 1 image.

Jonathan: Now, I can flick right.

VoiceOver: Remove attached detail.

Send message, button.

Jonathan: What is cool about this is that if I just press the send button, it seems to default to giving you a broad description of the image. But having attached the image, if I want to ask something specific about it even before the recognition is done, I can do that as well because the message body is right here.

But I’m going to double tap.

VoiceOver: Send message. Actions available.

Image. A photo of a Ferris wheel in a blue frame.

Jonathan: [laughs] That’s the Apple description. I suspect we’re going to get much improved descriptions when iOS 18 is released, and we expect that to go into a private beta in June, when WWDC happens.

VoiceOver: The image shows a large observation wheel, commonly known as a Ferris wheel, towering over the surrounding area. The wheel has numerous enclosed capsules for passengers to ride in. In the foreground, there is a paved area leading up to the wheel, and a few people are visible walking. The sky is overcast.

Would you like to know more details about the surroundings or any specific aspect of the image?

Jonathan: Access AI also works in the web-based app that Troy was talking about, and you can go there by visiting Log in, and if you’ve got access to Access AI, it’ll be there as a tab.

With the web-based experience, all you can do is send it a photo. So if you’ve got a photo on your hard drive and you’ve always wanted that recognized, then Access AI can do that for you.

It’s very accessible in the sense that everything speaks if you type to Access AI. When Access AI responds, you hear that automatically. At least, that’s the case for me with JAWS.

But what I find is that after I hear the photo description, I can’t use my arrow keys on the web page to review what it just told me. I can of course use JAWS’s speech history feature which is very handy, but I don’t seem to be able to review what’s on the page.

Hopefully, that’s something that can be addressed as Access AI develops because it is in a very early stage.

So that’s a brief overview. And I think the biggest selling point of Access AI is this fusion between the artificial and the human the fact that you can call an agent and get a description of the photo that you’ve taken, to verify that the AI is not hallucinating.

So we’ll keep monitoring this. And if you try this and you have any experiences you want to share, of course, feel free to do that. 864-60-Mosen is my phone number that is in the United States – 864-606-6736. Or you can send an email to You can attach an audio clip to that email, or you can just write the email down.

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And they would have said, “Oh, squee! It works, advertising on this thing.”

Marvellous! Everybody’s happy.

Other Items of Note at CSUN

We also, at enormous expense, sent our esteemed anchor to cover CSUN 2024 because we knew you’d be interested, and he’s back to file this report.

[background music]

Male voice: Good evening! I’m Walter Canewright, with Living Blindfully CSUN news. A couple of new Braille devices were announced in California this week.

HIMS are now taking orders for the Braille E-Motion. It has a Perkins-style keyboard, 40 cells of refreshable Braille, and cursor rotating keys. It also boasts text-to-speech capability, putting it in competition with Humanware’s Braille displays, and fractionally undercutting it on price.

It includes built-in stereo speakers and recording capability.

You can connect it with up to 6 computers, tablets, or smartphones at a time, and switch between them. One of those can be USB. The other 5 are wireless connections using Bluetooth.

It’s compatible with all widely used screen readers including JAWS, NVDA, Narrator, VoiceOver, and TalkBack.

The device comes with built-in applications for a variety of tasks. Apps include Notepad, Daisy and document reader, media player, calculator, alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer, and voice recorder.

You can upgrade the unit via wi-fi, and HIMS says wi-fi will provide for more features later, including support for popular book repositories serving the blind community. You can also use the wi-fi to download a range of voices into the device.

They estimate you’ll get 20 hours of battery life from it. It sells for $3,600 US.

Meanwhile, the APH Mantis has competition as Orbit Research introduces 2 Braille displays with a QWERTY keyboard, and either 20 or 40 refreshable Braille cells. The Orbit 20 sells for $995, while the Q40 sells for $1,895.

The devices work with PC and Mac, offer thumb keys for navigation, and a full row of function keys.

The display comprises the Orbit signage quality cells, which is a significant contributor to the low price point.

It can connect to 6 devices at a time, one via USB, and the remainder via Bluetooth.

Artificial intelligence took center stage at the conference in Anaheim.

As promised, Envision has started accepting new beta testers for their Envision Assistant app. Users can teach the app about their personal preferences, and even provide directions about the kind of personality the assistant should have. Users can also choose from a large number of voices with a range of accents.

And that’s the way it was at the CSUN conference this week. I’m Walter Caneright, for Living Blindfully News.


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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.

Things to Know When Trying to Charge a Qardiobase Scale

Here’s something that I discovered on Christmas Day, no less, on Christmas Day. And I forgot to mention this, so I’m grateful to Henk Abma for writing in and jogging my memory about this. He says:

“Just a quick tip to those who have a Qardiobased Scale and want to charge the battery. It looks as if you cannot use a standard USB-C charger, even though the Base has a USB-C connector. So you need to charge it using the standard USB-A to USB-C cable.

The same goes for the Blindshell Classic 2. According to an article I read, this is because the USB-C connectors on these devices are actually micro USB connectors with an adapter on top.”

Well, Henk, thank you for the explanation because I, as I say, discovered this on Christmas Day.

I was stepping on the scale on Christmas Day. And in retrospect, you’d think you’d give yourself a break on Christmas Day, wouldn’t you? But I stepped on the scale. It didn’t work.

And actually, this is one accessibility deficit in the Qardio app, because I cannot find anywhere that shows me how much battery I have. So it wasn’t clear to me initially that the reason why the scale wasn’t working was because it was flat.

But I did some work with Be My Eyes and Seeing AI and that kind of stuff, and tried to work out whether anything was happening on the scale. And then eventually, I got the message that the battery was low.

So I thought, “Oh, no problem. I’ve got this thing where I can plug in a whole bunch of accessories with USB-C cables.”

So I plugged it in, and found that it wasn’t charging. It just didn’t seem to be responding at all.

And Richard came over for Christmas Day (my son Richard), and I said, “What’s going on with this thing, Richard? Does it look like it’s charging?”

And he said, “no, Dad. It doesn’t look like it is.”

So I went into troubleshooting mode. And finally, I thought, “What would happen if we plugged in the USB-A to USB-C cable and charged it that way?”

And sure enough, it sprung to life and Be My Eyes was able to tell me it was charging and everything like that, and we were good again.

So I did learn that the hard way, and I would encourage everybody who has Qardiobased scales who use VoiceOver or TalkBack (well, I’m not sure, I haven’t tried the Android app to know if it’s any better there) to just get in touch with Qardio because they seem incredibly responsive and say, “Look. Please just give us a way of finding out how much charge is in the device.”

Running a DOS Programme on Windows

Voice message: Hello, Jonathan and listeners!

I’m loving your podcast. You do a great job for us.

Just wondering if you might be able to help me with a quirky question I have.

I’m currently running a Dell laptop with Windows 11, and also an old Windows 98 machine with a DOS program called QnA using an Arctic Transport. Would you know if it’s at all possible to run this DOS program on the laptop using Windows 11 and something like VDOS, but using the actual Arctic Transport?

I have tried Vision Australia and many other options, but with no luck. You are my last resort.

Can you help, please? Take care and all the best.

Female voice: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.

Jonathan: Yeah. No pressure, no pressure.

I don’t know, Michael. That’s Michael Pantelidis, by the way, calling in from Australia.

So this is a bit more complicated than just spinning up a command prompt and running it from the command prompt because you want the transport to work. So I don’t know the answer to your question. But I feel sure that if anyone does, it’s going to be somebody listening to Living Blindfully – somebody who’s geeky enough and perhaps retro enough to want to get an old DOS program working again.

And if it’s not too difficult, I may well be up for this because I would love to get the original Monopoly game by Don Philip Gibson up and running on my computer again. I loved that version of Monopoly. It was brilliant. Does anyone else remember it? So many happy memories for me of playing that Monopoly game with my friends. It wasn’t an online game or anything because we’re talking DOS. So we all just used to sit around the computer and play Monopoly. Wow, that was a good version of that game. And unlike the online versions that now circulate in the community, that game followed the rules properly. There is not one online version of Monopoly that I’m aware of that’s accessible and follows all the rules. So I’d be up for this.

Anyway, does anyone know how to help Michael out and get his old DOS program working?, or 864-60Mosen on the phone, 864-606-6736.

And just to further reiterate the urgency of the situation, …

Female voice: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.

Goodmaps in German

You may recall that a wee while ago, we had a listener reporting some issues with Goodmaps in Germany, the German language version.

And Mike May says:

“I had a German user try Goodmaps Outdoors with VoiceOver in German.

We confirmed that the background announcements are partially in German, and partially in English. It might give the distance to a POI in English, and the direction of that POI in German.

Maybe this can be addressed by making sure the background voice in the spoken content area of iOS is set to German.

I didn’t realize that you can adjust the synthesizer selection and voice speed as follows.

The background voice in Goodmaps Outdoors can be adjusted as follows after turning the background voice option on in the Outdoors settings. This is the voice that announces in 3D audio, and when the Outdoors app is in the background.

To make adjustments to the background voice, go to the iPhone settings, Accessibility, Spoken Content, Voices, and then choose your language and specific voice, like Allison or Alex for English. There are many other options.

Also under that Voices option, there is a voice speed adjustment for your preferred speech rate. There is no save button, just back out of the screen.”

Thanks, Mike!

It’ll be interesting to hear if that resolves the issue.

Mixer to Record Phone Conversations

Devon Yelinek is writing in and says:

“I’m looking for a mixer to record my phone conversations.

What type and model is your mixer, and where did you purchase it?”

Well, the mixer sitting in front of me right now, Devon, is way too massive for just a small use case like that because it’s an Allen & Heath ZED-22FX, and it’s designed for broadcasts and large amounts of live work. A mixer may not be what you want for this particular task.

If you’re recording conversations from your smartphone, then there’d be a couple of solutions which would be quite cost-effective for you.

One would be to take a look at the PodTrak P4 from Zoom. You could then run a cable from the TRRS jack of the PodTrak P4, and put a dongle on the end.

The dongle that you need would depend on whether you have an iPhone 14 or earlier, or anything else. If you’ve got anything else other than an iPhone 14 or earlier, you would have a USB-C to 3.5 adapter on the other end. And if you’ve got an iPhone 14 or earlier, then you would want a Lightning to 3.5 adapter on the other end.

I have seen on Amazon a cable that has a TRRS jack at one end suitable for the PodTrak P4, and it terminates in a Lightning adapter, so you’ve got one less dongle to worry about and there may well be a similar cable that terminates in a USB-C port.

When you plug all this in, you’d be able to record your phone conversation. You would need some sort of microphone plugged into one of the other inputs of the PodTrak P4, but that would do it nicely. And I guess that does have basic mixing functionality as well.

You could also use a Focusrite VoCaster 2, which would allow you to pair via Bluetooth, or that same TRRS cable with your smartphone, and then you would be able to record the conversation if you connected that to a computer or another smartphone. If it’s an iPhone, certainly you wouldn’t be able to record from the iPhone that you’re talking on, but you could connect it to a laptop or something like that.

So I would investigate those options – the PodTrak P4, or the Focusrite VoCaster 2, both of which we have talked about in previous episodes of this podcast.

So if you go to, we’ve got a powerful search engine there. You can search for those products, and you’ll find the relevant episodes.

The All-Terrain Cane and Duo Lingo on a Smartphone

Mo is finally following up. He says:

“Once upon a time, in a land far far away, last August, in exactly the same place I’m sitting now (but don’t tell anyone), I promised to let you know how the All-Terrain Cane performed during my trip to Tanzania.

Well, due to some unforeseen circumstances, I ended up not going on that trip, so I can’t tell you.

If you’ve been waiting for my review all this time, slowly building up excitement, and now feel the onset of crushing disappointment and dread, asking yourself how you’re going to know if the All-Terrain Cane is something you’d like, have no fear. I took the cane to Morocco instead, and found that the cane is pretty good. I was able to walk over rough, mountainous terrain with complete confidence I wouldn’t fall into a ravine somewhere. I was able to walk independently on the beach.

It was portable, not too heavy, and overall made the trip a lot easier, since I knew I could independently walk around if I needed to do so on any terrain. It pretty much does what it says on the tin, and that’s awesome.

I even used it once when I was back in the Netherlands, since my daily cane broke.

I still don’t like it for daily use. It makes too much noise. But thundering down the street for a day or two is fine, especially if your other option is to not go out independently at all.

In fact, I might take it to the gym next time I go there alone. My regular cane got stuck beneath the pedal of one of those stationary bikes and got bent slightly. I don’t think that’s going to happen to the All-Terrain Cane.

I’m pretty sure most people who wanted one have one by now. But if you don’t, and are planning to go on some hikes, you can safely get it. It’ll serve you well.

Then in episode number I can’t remember, and have been sitting here for 5 minutes trying to, …”

Dude, why didn’t you just look it up on the thing? [laughs] Go to and type it in. You would have found it in less than 5 minutes.

“someone asked how accessible the Duo Lingo app is on iOS.

Duo Lingo is very accessible on iOS. Yes, you have timed challenges and that may stress you out a little, but they’re completely optional. You also have a leaderboard, but you don’t have to look at that either. I like the app.

They do have some minor accessibility issues. Not everything is labelled very well, but almost anything is.

Also, I don’t know if it’s just a problem when you use the app with VoiceOver, but the iOS keyboard gets extremely laggy when typing in your answers, both with the on-screen keyboard or a Braille display. If I use my Braille display and I put focus on some edit that I’m supposed to type my answers into, the focus will jump to the battery indicator at the top of the screen. Sometimes when typing with the Braille display, voiceover will speak the data you’re typing twice, even though you’ve only inserted one letter. It’s odd. I’ve not seen it in any other app.

Like I said, the app is very good overall, but I should probably write to them about the keyboard issue.”

Thank you, Mo, most informative email. I appreciate it.

Samsung and Microsoft Integration

Christian Bertling is in touch and says:

“I know you got a Samsung phone to test the multi-fingered gestures and TalkBack.

I recently exported my contacts from Google Contacts and imported them into Outlook so I can manage them on my PC. I’ve also done the same thing for my calendar. I have an address as well as a Gmail address, but I’m thinking of switching everything over to the Outlook email address, so everything from emails, to contacts and calendars will stay in sync everywhere from my PC to my smartphone. I know Samsung and Microsoft have been partners for a while now.

Do you happen to know if the Samsung contacts and calendar apps that come with the Samsung phones offer the ability to sync with Outlook, so if I add a contact or a calendar appointment on my PC, it will show up on my phone and vice versa? I would much rather use Outlook with JAWS on my PC than the Google web apps because it’s much easier and more efficient. If Samsung phones offer this, I may have to consider switching from my Google Pixel because the Google Contacts app doesn’t offer Outlook integration for obvious reasons – because Google wants you to use their services.

Also, I went into a Best Buy and felt the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, and I absolutely love the build quality of the phone. I fell in love with it immediately, and I would switch just for that alone because the S24 Ultra just felt so good to hold, if you know what I mean.”

Oh, I do absolutely know what you mean, Christian. I think that’s what attracts a lot of people to iPhone is the build quality of those devices.

I don’t know the answer to this question. I know there is an Outlook app for Android, so that would get your mail sorted. But of course, that wouldn’t necessarily keep your contacts in sync, which would be important for making calls with the voice assistant and that kind of thing.

So if there is a daily Android user, preferably a Samsung Galaxy user who can talk about whether you can sync contacts with the Samsung Contacts app (I guess that’s what we’re trying to do), do let us know. You can give me a call on the listener line and leave a message there. The number in the United States, 864-60-Mosen, 864-606-6736.

Best Notetaker for College

Caller: Hi, Jonathan! This is Derek Barnes.

I am getting ready to go to college for the first time at age 58. I’m 58 years of age, and I’m totally blind, been blind since birth.

Was just wondering if you or any of the listeners out there could recommend the best notetaker for using in a college type environment. I know you use the Mantis. I’ve been looking at that through APH. Was just wondering if you or anybody out there could answer that question for me. I would very much appreciate it, and thank you so much.

Jonathan: Derek, how cool is this! Going back to college at 58? I’m sure you’ll enjoy that.

When I was a spotty youth going to university, I always noticed that it was the older students who were really engaged. They really wanted to be there. They asked all the intelligent questions, and we’d be sitting there thinking, “Can you just stop asking all these good questions already? We’re trying to sleep in this lecture.” Yeah, I’m sure you’ll have a good time.

This is a big question, mate, because I suppose it depends on your own preferences. The fact that you are looking at a Mantis suggests to me you are a Braille reader. You didn’t say that, but I guess you must be because the Mantis has no speech.

So then, it may come down to do you like using a Braille keyboard, or would you rather use a QWERTY keyboard? Are you a proficient user of the operating system that you use most?

For example, if you use an iPhone and really thrive with the iPhone, you may be able to get by with apps like Ulysses, and Drafts, and a good Braille display. Or maybe you are a Windows Ninja, in which case a really cute little portable laptop computer with a Braille display could also serve your purpose as well.

But if it’s dedicated notetaker devices that you’re after, the Mantis is a good one. I really like that. If you want speech as well though, of course, the Mantis does not have speech.

There were always the venerable notetakers like the ones from HIMS and the BrailleSense range.

Of course, Humanware has the BrailleNote Touch. Humanware also has the Brailliant, which is essentially the Mantis software with a little bit more because there’s speech in the Brailliant. There’s also speech in the Chameleon from APH, and there are many other notetaker type products out there as well.

So it would be useful to know. What do you really like to do? And I think that would help narrow it down.

But if you live somewhere where it’s possible to go to a blindness agency and get your hands on these products and try them out, that would be really good if you can narrow it down to a set of criteria, like these are the top 5 things that I want my device to be able to do. For example, I want it to be able to talk as well as have Braille. You might say I want it to be stand-alone and then I get the files off later, or I want it to work really well with the particular computer I have, or whatever. If you can give that criteria, then that helps to narrow down the choices.

But others may have some views on this as well.

Most important, all the very best with your college journey. That is super cool.


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Trouble in Zoom Meetings

Now we’re going to talk about the other Zoom. We’ve been talking about the Zoom audio recorders a lot of late. But this time, we are talking the Zoom audio and video conferencing platform.

David Lepofsky writes in and says:

“Hi, Jonathan,

Here is a doozy of a new barrier I just encountered. I’m eager to know if others encountered it. I suspect that Zoom has updated its PC app causing this.

In the past, if I log into a Zoom meeting where the host is recording it, I get an announcement via JAWS saying it is being recorded. I can tab to an OK button to say I agree, then I am able to take part in the meeting fully.

Yesterday and today, I logged into two different Zoom meetings where the recording is already in progress. I could not unmute or turn on my camera, and using an up-to-date version of JAWS, I could neither hear that warning that I needed to agree, nor find the OK button. In the case of the Zoom meeting yesterday, we restarted the meeting with the recording feature turned off, and I could get in and unmute with no problem. Then they turned the recording back on, and again, no problem.

Today, I was to speak on a panel via Zoom, and the recording was already in progress. Again, I could not unmute.

I urgently called the IT support folks at the law school where I teach part-time. We did a screen share via Quick Assist, and saw that the warning was on my screen in the Zoom meeting that was being recorded, and there was an OK button . I could not find it using JAWS. I confess, I did not try Narrator, but I should have.

My IT fellow remotely clicked the OK button in Zoom. And then, I was totally able to unmute, turn on video, and make my hopefully dazzling speech for the conference I was addressing.

My IT fellow concluded that Zoom broke accessibility. I shall see if there is a feedback email address to let them know, but I am not holding my breath.

Keep up the great podcasts, my friend.”

David, you have just solved a mystery for me.

Presumably due to a shortage of qualified personnel or something, [laughs] last year, I was made chairman of the board of the New Zealand Disability Support Network, which is an organisation representing over 200 providers of services to disabled people in New Zealand. And it was as much of a shock to me as anybody else, because I wasn’t even really seeking election to that thing. [laughs] I kind of got drafted.

I was chairing a meeting of the New Zealand Disability Support Network just the other day, and we took a break. And rather than just turn off my camera and my audio while that 5 or 10-minute break was going on which is in retrospect what I should have done, I exited the meeting.

And when I came back, I could not unmute, and I could not turn my camera on. I rebooted the computer and I tried several things.

And I’m holding up the meeting because I’m the chairman of the board. [laughs] So they can’t resume the meeting because I can’t chair it. And then I thought look, this is ridiculous. I’m holding everybody up. So I got my phone. I thought I’d just dial in using the Zoom app on my iPhone, and exactly the same thing happened. I couldn’t unmute. I couldn’t find anything. And I don’t believe I found the recording notice. Now that you mention it, we were recording by the time I resumed. So that sounds like the common denominator that I didn’t know about.

In the end, the only way I was able to continue with the meeting, because I was panicking, trying to get back into this thing, I dialed in using the good old-fashioned telephone one of the Zoom phone numbers, and was able to chair it that way.

So hopefully, by the time this goes to air, that issue has been fixed because that was really horrible. And I’m grateful for your email because it explains what was going on there. But it does seem a wider issue than just the PC.

Do We Still Need Dedicated Digital Talking Book Players?

Voice message: Hey, Jonathan. This is Firas.

I wanted to ask you this question. Is there still a reason for having dedicated digital talking book players?

And I ask this question because a couple of months ago, I purchased a Victor Reader Stream for the first time because I had heard a lot about it, especially when the Stream 3 came out and I heard all of the improvements, all the new features, I was convinced. Okay, because people were saying that the Victor Stream was the best digital talking book device for the blind. It’s designed for the visually impaired. So I was like, okay.

So I purchased it actually on the Black Friday special. I used it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s super simple to learn, very simple to use.

However, it just was not for me. It was just too basic, right? The fact that you have to put an SD card, you need an SD card to store all your books. It’s mainly a book reading device. And I don’t, and if I’m being totally honest, I don’t really read a lot of books. I’m not really that books kind of a person. So I mean, I could do podcasts on it, but yeah, well, you could do the same thing on your iPhone. I know the stream is simpler. Like, don’t get me wrong. The Stream has, it has a lot of other simplicities like the physical buttons. Perfect. Perfect. Love the physical buttons. Super simple, super easy to use. But it’s just not for me. It’s a little too basic for my needs.

The question I have for you is, what do you think is the point? And why do you think so many people (and I know you don’t have a stream as well), but why do you think so many people go for a Victor Reader Stream and other book players of some sort? Like, why is there still a need for a dedicated player device?

Jonathan: Well, the short answer to this, Firas, is that there’s a need, because people want them. If mainstream devices satisfied everybody, then those plans just wouldn’t be sold. The market would dry up because this is an end consumer item. People are generally paying for Streams and SensePlayers and similar devices out of their own pocket. So if they’re choosing to buy them, that illustrates that there are some people and some of them are actually reasonably competent iPhone users who just prefer to read their books that way. And although I’m not one of those people (I love having everything on one device. I know where everything is. I carry that one device with me. I keep track of it. It’s easy to charge it.) my personal preferences don’t mirror everybody else’s preferences because we’re all different, and we all take differently to different products.

There are some people who are super capable and tech savvy on other operating systems who struggle with the touchscreen. It doesn’t make them dense or anything like that. It just means that that’s not a paradigm that resonates with them. I have also seen some people that really struggle with Windows, for example, who thrive on the phone and they’ve taken off with the phone in a way that they never have with Windows. So choice is a good thing.

I’d also point out that the blind community is not unique here. There are lots of sighted people who carry their Kindles or their other eReaders around specifically for book reading tasks. And if that’s a choice that sighted people can make, blind people should have the same degree of choice that sighted people do, and the right to use those products.

In a way, I think you answered your own question. You like the physical buttons, so do a lot of people. Some people see the SD cards as an advantage because you can have SD cards for different types of book collections.

So as long as people are clicking add to cart and getting those units shipped, be they Streams or SensePlayers or whatever, they will continue to be sold. As well they should because there’s demand out there. And I celebrate blind people having as diverse an array of choices as every other consumer.

Email Composition Focus in iOS

Normally, we get a voice message of some kind from Thomas Solich, but he’s writing in this time.

“Hi, Jonathan,

Happy 2024 to you and your robust listener base.”

Thank you very much, Thomas. We’re all robust, that’s what we are. You’ve got to be robust to get through a Living Blindfully episode.

He says:

“When I upgraded last week to iOS 17.4 public beta 4 and subsequently 17.4 general release, the on-screen keyboard when composing or replying to emails loses focus. Whether I dictate or type, the cursor does not synchronize with my position in the document, but instead keeps rerouting to the end of the document.

It is not until I double tap several times, maneuver to the subject, and then back to the body that the refocus takes place. Even then, I end up at the end of the document and have to manually relocate where I left off. When composing or replying to emails fast and efficiently, this is causing a major disruption.

I posted an Apple feedback query last weekend, but perhaps not enough of us reported this bug prior to the final release.

Are other listeners experiencing this email composition keyboard loss of focus shortcoming with dictation?

As I compose this email to you, I’m further noticing the majority of the issues occur after using the dictation command and dictating phrases. I know that you don’t often utilize dictation, but rather use Braille screen input. Old habits die hard, and I still use a lot of dictation when I am in a hurry on business tasks. Hopefully, we can all weigh in and get this fixed rather quickly.

I love the new subscription opportunity to experience the podcast early and contribute to your colossal gift to the blind community. Your presenters’ tips and tricks, and positive impact has resulted in tremendous profitability and benefit to me as a blind entrepreneur and executive. What a brilliant and logical transition in 2023 to this enhanced format. Keep up the innovations.”

Thank you very much, Thomas. You’re always very supportive and generous, and it’s lovely. I really appreciate it, and thank you for your support.

I have not seen this. But as you say, I’m not a dictator. I may be many things [laughs], but I’m not usually a dictator. So others who use this more frequently might like to comment on this.

Linux for Blind Users

This email comes from Regina, who says:

“Hello to all,

First of all, thank you very much for this brilliant podcast. I found it in December last year, and I’ve already learned a lot from you.”

Well, thank you. We’re delighted to have you with us, Regina.

“As part of my training in digital accessibility, I would like to compare different operating systems in terms of accessibility for blind people in an in-depth thesis.

I am blind myself, and many people work with Windows at work. Privately, I almost exclusively use my iPhone, but I also tried Linux some time ago. This was probably last in 2017.

6 or 7years ago, there were adapted Linux distributions that were designed for screen reader users. For example, the screen reader was already active when you started the computer from the CD, so you could try out the operating system, or even install it on the hard disk without seeing it. I had Linux installed at the time, and was very happy with it.

Last week, I went looking for a suitable distribution again, but found that all these projects have apparently been discontinued. Of course I could use a conventional Ubuntu, but I think getting it to work without sighted help would be quite a challenge, if not impossible.

Are there any Linux users among you? And if so, which distribution do you work with?

I think one goal of my work is to find a way to give as many people as possible access to computers and the digital world, and I think non-commercial operating systems could be a possibility. This is the only way that blind people around the world can quickly and easily participate in digital society.”

Regina, thank you very much.

She’s also given an email address. I’m reluctant to read out email addresses on a podcast with such a large audience. But if people want to contact Regina directly about Linux, then I will try and keep hold of this email so that I can pass the email address on.

However, this is a topic that I think many people would be interested in. So if you have any thoughts to share on how to get up and running with a Linux distribution, (Are there still Linux distros out there that you can just chuck them on there, and they come up talking?), tell us what you know. is the email. You can attach an audio clip and give my voice a break, or rather give you a break from my voice, or you can give us a call in the US, 864-60-Mosen. That’s the number, 864-606-6736.

Comments on Episode 268

Rich Beardsley is writing in to comment on episode 268. He says:

“Hello, Jonathan,

Hope you’re well.”

Thank you, Rich! I’m super well. Hope you’re good, too.

“Great show.”

Well, thank you.

“It has been interesting, says Rich,”learning about the different assistive tech products and ways people kept up with them in the past. Being born in the early 2000s, I didn’t experience the Braille ’n Speak, or any of the early assistive tech devices you’ve been discussing, but I’ve heard about them and seen some demos online.

The first blindness-specific device I ever had any experience with was the original cassette player from the National Library Service here in the US. I didn’t have it for long though, since they introduced the digital machine shortly after I received the tape player.

On the topic of the Seleste glasses, I have them, and what we have is a great start. It’s not perfect, and they are still working out some issues, but they have a solid product. The company is very proactive to feedback, and the app is updated frequently. Like many others that are following this product, I appreciate that the company plans to upgrade the hardware.

I have the Envision glasses since they were purchased for me by the state, and they’re very good at what they do. Since I received my glasses in 2021, I qualified for a free upgrade to the Pro plan.

While I’m not concerned about Envision continuing to make good software, I am concerned about the hardware. As most people are probably aware, Envision is using the Google glasses, and this product is no longer supported by Google. What’s going to happen when people’s units get damaged, or the hardware starts failing as it ages? People are spending over $1,000 for this product, so they should be getting hardware that’s officially supported. I paid for a whole year of the Seleste subscription up front, so I didn’t have to worry about the $50 payment every month.

Being on a fixed income, I have to save whenever I can. The year up front isn’t exactly cheap, but it does save you money in the long run.

Another thing I appreciate about this product is that it looks like a standard pair of glasses. With the OrCam, you have a thing sticking to the side of the glasses that makes it obvious you’re using an assistive device. With the Envision glasses, the whole right side is thicker than the rest of the unit to accommodate the electronics, and they don’t come with lenses, unless you pay extra for a frame that can hold them.

The Seleste looks and feels like a pair of safety glasses, but they’re slightly thicker to accommodate the electronic components. Unlike other wearables, the Seleste camera is in the centre, so this should make tasks such as reading text a little easier, since you don’t have to look off to the side or hold whatever you’re trying to read at a specific angle. I haven’t been able to go out to a mall to try things like identifying stores. But when taking a walk in my neighbourhood, it was able to identify stop signs whenever I passed one. I didn’t get it to find street signs, but that may be because there were none near me.

Although minor, I do have a couple complaints about the product.

The first one is the speech you get if you’re playing audio through the phone. It’s not hard to understand, but it is robotic, and there’s no way to speed it up.

I also feel like the power on and off sounds are a bit too long. Just a single beep to let me know something is happening would be good.

The third thing I wish they’d done differently is use USB-C. While micro-USB was good for its time, it is time to move on. USB-C is a much better connector, and you don’t have to worry about plugging it in a certain way or having the pins wear down over time. I hope they make this switch with a future hardware upgrade.

I do appreciate that they included a small earpiece with the glasses.

Overall, I am interested to see what the future holds for this product, and I will continue to support them until they give me a reason to stop.

The final topic I want to discuss is travel. I do not travel by myself frequently. In fact, I barely travel at all. The last 2 times I travelled alone, things went well, apart from being stuck at an airport for 9 hours once.

I may have mentioned it before, but I travelled out of state back in November to celebrate Thanksgiving with some of my family, and it was my first time flying with a dog. I did not have any of the experiences of being grabbed or going through the extensive searches like Jim described. For going through the metal detector, I was taught to put the dog in a sit-stay, make a long leash, go through spin around, then call the dog to me. The dog alarmed, but they just did a quick search of her harness, and we were cleared to keep going.

I will be leaving for Costa Rica on March 7 to visit some family, so I’m not sure how things will be if travelling internationally. I did have to get an international health certificate and my credit card probably loved me after they got paid for that appointment, but the process was pretty painless.

The last time I travelled, I received assistance from Shawn Welker, who runs the Massachusetts Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired Specialised Help Provider, available to Be My Eyes users in the US and Canada. We used the Ally feature on my Envision glasses, and it worked quite well. I plan to receive help from them this Thursday at my home airport.

I’ve found that a lot of the airport people really don’t know how to help us, and they aren’t very descriptive. Because of this, I prefer to use either MABVI or Aira, since they’re professionally trained to help us. That being said, I’m a little hesitant to try using Aira for navigation after some of the experiences I’ve heard about in the Facebook group. I would use Tappy Guide, but I can never reach anyone on that app.”

That’s one I’ve not heard of. I’ll have to look that up.

“I’ve reached out to their email, Facebook, the main developer and the support section, but no response.

Choosing one of the contact methods to reach an agent never connects to anything. I just get an alert that no one is available. This even happens during times they say they’re available.

Finally, I want to discuss Braille in airplanes. United Airlines, one of the major air carriers here in the US, has added Braille seat numbers in certain planes. But last time I flew them, none of the planes had this feature.”

Wow! That actually sounds super useful because you get up and go to the facility, and then you want to try and find your seat. I do sometimes lose count of the seat backs that I’m counting. [laughs] So that would be very very useful.

Rich continues:

“I would like to see other airlines do something similar, but I don’t know if it will happen. I don’t see myself ever becoming a frequent United traveller since they cost way too much. If I’m going somewhere with my mom, I have no choice but to use United, since that’s the only airline she’ll use.

As always, thanks for a great podcast. Keep up the great work.”

Well thank you, Rich, for an informative and well-written email.

Good luck with that travel, which will have happened by now, by the time that we air this. I would say that I think the more you travel, the easier it gets. It’s like everything. You become more familiar, the more you do something.

I have flown so many times in very very long international flights with various jobs I’ve done, and that kind of thing, that it’s just second nature to me now. But I do remember as a young guy starting to travel on planes, and I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. It was a bit of a mission. So it will get better over time.


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.

Podcast Chapters in Spotify

Voice message: Hello, everyone! This is Rich Yamamoto, coming to you from Andover, Kansas.

First of all, I want to apologize for the horrendous quality of my voice. I’m currently fighting some allergies, or something nasty. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not COVID.

But anyway, we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about something I’m kind of excited about, actually. Well, really excited about, and that is the fact that chapter navigation is now available in Spotify. And I don’t know if it’s been around for a while or if I’m just an idiot and it’s been there forever. I don’t know. But I just found out how to access chapters, and it has made my life so much easier as a Spotify podcast user.

So I’m going to show you how this works. Now, we’re in episode 245 of Living Blindfully, and I’ll just have VoiceOver read this to you.

VoiceOver: Episode 245. the difficult search for accessible household appliances, Lyft driver encourages colleagues to discriminate, and catching up with Bookshare, button.

Rich: Okay. So we’re in the Spotify player, and I’m going to assume that if you use Spotify on a daily basis, you know how this player works, and you know that it can be a little weird. I don’t personally like the way it’s set up, at least with how you navigate to things with VoiceOver, but I can work with it.

So there are two ways of navigating to chapters. This works in two ways. So you can either access them from the track position, which is actually my preferred way to do it because of the way that the chapters are laid out. And the second method, which is to use your headings in your rotor and navigate down to the chapters heading and access them that way.

So I’m going to show you the first way through the track position. So I touch my finger towards the kind of bottom, and slide my finger up a little bit, and it hits the play button. You’re going to flick left twice.

VoiceOver: Button.

Rich: So there’s a random button there that doesn’t do anything. I don’t know what it’s supposed to do. Maybe it does something visual. I don’t know.

And then, you flick left again.

VoiceOver: Track position, 0 seconds of 118 minutes, 2 seconds. Chapter, Welcome to 245, adjustable.

Rich: And then, it reads the chapter. So right now, we’re adjusting the value of the track position.

So we’re on adjust value in the rotor. So if I flick up, okay. So we’re going to use the rotor and go to the right one.

VoiceOver: Chapters.

Rich: and chapters is in the rotor. I don’t know how that is supposed to work because I don’t know if that’s something that Spotify did, or if that’s a thing in the rotor settings and VoiceOver that you can turn on and off, but that’s really neat.

So we’re going to flick down now, …

VoiceOver: Now playing, Welcome to 245, starting in 0 seconds, button.

Home appliances, the final frontier, starting at 1 minute, 34 seconds, button.

Welcome to almost citizen Bonnie, starting at 17 minutes, 3 seconds, button.

Youtube video from Lyft driver coaches drivers on how to avoid transporting guide dog handlers, starting at 21 minutes, 22 seconds, button.

Rich: this looks interesting and controversial, so let’s double tap this.

It automatically moves the track position to that chapter, and we stay on the track position.

Now, if I flick up again, …

VoiceOver: Welcome to almost citizen Bonnie, starting at 17 minutes, 3 seconds, button.

Rich: And I flick right or left, you’re stuck in this track position, so you have to go back to the play button by tapping the screen towards the bottom, but not at the very bottom.

And we’ll just go ahead and press play.


Jonathan: Now, that would have been a good reason to escalate the Bonnie bulletin to the segment where I’m putting it at the front of the podcast, more or less. But one of the key reasons for doing this also is because I wanted to talk…

VoiceOver: Track position, 21 minutes. Play.

Rich: So we’re in this chapter, and it works.

So now, I’m going to show you this other method, and it is using the chapter’s heading. So I’m going to access headings on my rotor.

VoiceOver: Headings.

Rich: And I just turn left on the rotor.

VoiceOver: Chapters, heading.

Rich: and I flick down, and the best way that this works for me is if I flick to the right, …

VoiceOver: All chapters, button.

Rich: and double tap all chapters.

VoiceOver: All chapters. Close, button.

Episode 245: the difficult search for accessible household appliances, …

Rich: So then we have the heading for the episode, …

VoiceOver: Welcome to 245.

Rich: and then, we have all the chapters.

VoiceOver: iOS 17 is in quite good shape ahead of release.

Be My AI not recognizing faces.

Audible in the Victor Reader Stream.

More on accessible TVs, starting at 42 minutes, …

Comments on various recent topics.

Searching for a bingo card.

A work-around for inaccessible chapter buttons in Apple Podcasts.

Mary Ann Mendez talks NFB conventions and answers some Bookshare questions.

Jack Mendez talks tech training and the future of accessibility.

PC versus Mac, starting at 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Rich: So let’s just play this.

Okay, so we’re still at like 21 or 22-ish minutes. And let’s just find a chapter.

VoiceOver: Searching for text on the BrailleSense.

Rich: And then if you double tap the chapter, it just jumps you there, and it does it very seamlessly.

VoiceOver: Close, button.

Rich: But in order to get out of this, you have to click the close button.

VoiceOver: Page 1 of 3.

Rich: And Spotify has this thingy at the bottom of the player that’s like, what did you think of this podcast? How did you like it? And I believe that’s a feature that it has on its own.

But that is how you access chapters.

Currently, there is not a way to access Living Blindfully plus on Spotify, which is something interesting that I don’t necessarily know if there’s a way to fix. I don’t know. There’s not a place where you can add podcast URLs because podcasts and Spotify have their own database, I believe, and so I don’t think you can add anything from outside sources, which is a very unfortunate thing to have happening at the moment.

The other thing to note is that the chapters feature will not work on all of these episodes because not all of the episodes in Living Blindfully have chapters. I don’t know where the chapters start existing, but I know that in recent episodes, they are existing, so that is good to know and something to be aware of.

Aside from that, thank you for listening to this, and I hope that this finds you well, and I hope that this helps you if you are a Spotify podcasts user.

Jonathan: Thank you very much, Rich.

Chapters in Spotify date back to about 2018, or thereabouts.

We were doing chapters on The Blind Side podcast, and I did give a demonstration back then on the Blind Side, but I think it has changed a bit. I don’t recall that custom rotor action. It’s pretty cool that somebody at Spotify cared enough about podcast chapters to create that custom rotor action. That is highly commendable.

Every episode of Living Blindfully has always had chapters, and that goes way back to the Mosen at Large days, with one exception, and that is the long Apple recaps that we do after an Apple event. They tend not to be segmented by chapters because time is of the essence, and we want to get them out there. But they’ve all had chapters, right back to episode 1. So if you’re not seeing them, that is something to do with Spotify, and I can’t explain that.


Advertisement: Transcripts of Living Blindfully are brought to you by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies. On the web at That’s P-N-E-U-M-A solutions dot com.

Why Do Blind People So Frequently Get Asked to Sit in a Wheelchair at Airports?

This one comes up from time to time. And this time, it’s been inspired by the discussion that we’ve had on security experiences.

Rick Roderick is back, and he says:

“This is not the issue of security, but it does involve going through airports.

Why do all these airport people keep asking those of us who are blind, ‘Do you need a wheelchair?’ Does the problems with our eyes affect our legs?

Actually, I don’t mind being asked once. I recently took a Southwest flight that involved going through a hub. Before we boarded the plane, an airline employee asked if I needed a wheelchair. I said no.

When I got to my destination, another Southwest employee asked me the same question.

Why didn’t the employee at the first airport pass the word down the line that I didn’t need a wheelchair? I have a feeling that if I had said yes, one would have been waiting for me. I have more limited stamina than I once did. I may actually want one if the distance is great. I have back and knee problems.

Another thing I have noticed – why don’t airline employees who are helping us take us on the trams or buses that are used by people without disabilities? I would like for these employees to be taught to help us to evaluate these situations, so that we can determine our needs and communicate them effectively.”

Thank you, Rick, for that email which came direct from Louisville in Kentucky.

I don’t mind being asked if I require a wheelchair. What I strongly object to and always push back on is if they try to force me to sit in a wheelchair. If the conversation goes, “Would you like a wheelchair, sir?”

And I say, “No, thank you. I’d enjoy the walk. I’ve got a long flight coming up.”, and I explain the process, then that’s fine.

But it’s when they start infantilising and essentially taking my rights as a customer away and insisting that I take accommodations that I don’t require, that I will push back.

And I’ve learnt now in the United States that if you really get into a pickle at the airport, you’ve got to ask for the Complaints Resolution Officer, the CRO, the C-R-O. That seems to be the magic word, and that can often get things unstuck if you really do have a problem.

These people I know are paid very little, and staff turnover is high, so training can be a real challenge. But I don’t think it’s too much of an ask to expect that when they are given whatever training they are provided with, the key message is these people are paying customers. If they tell you they don’t require something, then they don’t require something. Listen to them. I don’t think it’s hard.

And I know some people just go with the flow and sit in the wheelchair. I will not do that. It’s an accommodation that I don’t require.

Regarding getting from one terminal to another, or one gate to another in a very long airport, this varies a lot. But most of the time, I have found myself being on the various transportation systems in large airports. In Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, they have a domestic terminal and an international terminal, and they’re not connected in any way, so you have to take quite a long walk. And there is a bus that you can take between terminals if you want. I quite like the walk on a nice day in Auckland, although it rains a lot in Auckland. I never noticed this when I lived there. I grew up in Auckland. But I notice it when I go back. It seems to be raining all the time. Maybe it’s me, maybe I just attract the Auckland rain.

But they used to have a special van, and they used to have these volunteers who were actually brilliant. They were very well-trained volunteers. And I got excellent assistance pretty consistently at Auckland Airport. And they would take you in this van. That was interesting.

But they seem to have gotten rid of the van now. I guess that’s a result of cutbacks, or something. And you either can convince someone to walk with you if the weather’s good and there’s time, or you just go on the bus with everybody else. And I find that is often the case.

I see that in Los Angeles, where they have a bus system, and various other airports around the place.

Closing and Contact Info

Well, I’m delighted to say that I’m not about to jump on a long haul international flight, but I am about to travel off your podcast player. So thank you for listening over the last couple of hours. I’m very glad that you did. I hope you found it enjoyable, and do spread the word if that’s the case. We look forward to being back with you next week.

Remember that when you’re out there with your guide dog, you’ve harnessed success. And with your cane, you’re able.


Voiceover: If you’ve enjoyed this episode of Living Blindfully, please tell your friends and give us a 5 star review. That helps a lot.

If you’d like to submit a comment for possible inclusion in future episodes, be in touch via email,. Write it down, or send an audio attachment: Or phone us. The number in the United States is 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.