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Jonathan: I’m Jonathan Mosen, and this is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. This week, Apple announces new accessibility features to debut in forthcoming OS releases, nightmare tech support from Google accessibility, and Fable Pathways promise accessible learning with disabled people in mind.
Jonathan: Last Thursday was Global Accessibility Awareness Day. This happens on the third Thursday of every May, and it’s done so for about 11 years, I believe it is now. Increasingly, it’s being recognized. A number of the big technology companies are taking part. Certainly assistive technology companies have taken part for some time. I published a post which really seeks to distill some of my thinking on the kind of partnership that is necessary for accessibility to thrive. This relates to the way that mainstream technology companies, having now also become assistive technology companies, engage with us as disabled people.
I hope that you will give this a read. I spent some time working on it and refining it because it’s important. It really is essential that we as disabled people retain control of the technology that is developed in our name. Nothing about us without us is a mantra of the disability sector. It’s just as important in technology as it is everywhere else. I hope you’ll take a look at the article. You can find it at mosen.org/gaad2022. That’s M-O-S-E-N.org/gaad2022.
For last year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Apple spilled the beans about new accessibility features in the forthcoming versions of iOS, macOS, and watchOS. At the time, I expressed the hope that this would become a regular occurrence. Well, it looks like it has because once again, we have heard about new accessibility features in forthcoming Apple OS releases in conjunction with Global Accessibility Awareness Day. This means that disabled people become the first each year to get official confirmation from Apple of upcoming features in their operating systems, even before the big WWDC reveal. Doesn’t it feel good to be first for a change? Congratulations, and thanks to Apple for doing this.
First, let’s take a look at iPhone. You will know from time to time on this show that we get questions about the best iPhone to buy, given a specific use case that the contributor describes. I’ve often made the point that if you can manage the extra financial outlay it is worth getting an iPhone with LiDAR not necessarily because of what it offers today but because of what it promises to offer potentially in future. Bingo. Here we go.
Since the arrival of LiDAR on iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, there have been some useful features available to blind people. If you’re trying to maintain physical distancing in this era of the pandemic then the People Detection feature might be helpful, but I think what we’ve seen to date has largely been more of a proof of concept. That all changes with iOS 16 as Door Detection comes to LiDAR-capable devices. At the moment, they include the iPhone 12 and 13 Pro and Pro Max devices. It will be interesting to see if LiDAR is extended to cheaper iPhones in the new range, but I seriously doubt that that will be the case.
Apple says that Door Detection can help users locate a door upon arriving at a new destination, and understand how far they are from it, describe the door attributes, including if it’s open or closed, and when it’s closed, if it can be opened by pushing, turning a knob, or pulling a handle. Very cool.
Door Detection can also read signs and symbols around the door like the room number at an office or the presence of an accessible entrance symbol. To make this happen, Apple’s leveraging several of its technologies, including LiDAR and cameras and On-Device Machine Learning. Now, we’ll all be playing with this to see how well it works in the real world, but this is a truly useful feature.
GPS technology has given many of us greater confidence to travel to unfamiliar destinations, but GPS product manufacturers know that those last couple of meters are something that GPS technology was never designed to help with. For those of us who either aren’t good travelers or, like me, have additional impairments that can make it hard to fully use other sensors, this is particularly exciting.
When you get your iOS 16, maybe you’re going to beta-test it, how do you access all of this stuff? What you’re going to do is go into the Magnifier app, and you can assign that to a handy dandy gesture if you want. You can then have multiple features on at once in that Magnifier app. For example, you can enable People Detection, Image Description, and Door Detection, and you get a lot of information out of that, or if, say, People Detection isn’t of much use to you, you can switch that feature off while leaving the other features on.
It occurs to me that this is a tantalizing teaser for what we will get if Apple can ever get it together and release those augmented reality glasses. There have been some articles in the tech press over the last week saying that yet again there have been some problems giving birth to this product. It seems to be a common occurrence at Apple of late, unfortunately, but if we do get those glasses in the market it’ll be fascinating to see the blindness use cases which they have put.
Another feature that will benefit blind travelers is sound and haptic feedback in Apple’s Maps app so VoiceOver users can know the start of walking directions. Voiceover also gained support for more than 20 new locales and languages. It was really good to see earlier in the year, JAWS adding Ukrainian language support. It couldn’t have been a more timely edition. Apple is now catching up here and they are adding Ukrainian in their forthcoming releases. That’s good to see. Apple also refers to dozens of new voices that I presume means that there will be some new English voices to play with. We will all be testing those out, I’m sure.
Many years ago now JAWS introduced a tool called Text Analyzer. I use this a lot, and it looks like a version of that concept is coming to VoiceOver only on macOS this year, which is a shame because people do compose documents on iOS and iPadOS as well. With the codebases being what they are I would’ve thought that porting this feature to VoiceOver on those platforms wouldn’t have been difficult but it appears this is a Mac-only feature. Hopefully, I’m wrong about that.
If you have a hearing impairment or you are deaf-blind, you’ll be interested in the Live Captions feature that is coming to iPhone, iPad and Mac. Understandably in Apple’s press release, they tout this as a feature of particular benefit to the deaf community, but I do hope that it will also work well with a Braille display.
This feature works no matter where the audio is coming from. If you’re listening to this podcast, for example, you should be able to read live captions. If you’re on a FaceTime call, it works there as well. If you’re talking with people in the same environment like we used to before the pandemic, face-to-face and all that old-fashioned stuff, that is going to work as well. It sounds similar to the Captions feature that was recently announced for Windows. We’ll see what the quality is like and how many languages and dialects are supported.
I suppose it could be said that there aren’t that many new accessibility features this year if this is the sum total of what we are getting, but I think it’s also true to say that they are high-impact features for those groups who are going to use them. They seem to me to be good quality features, and that beats quantity any day of the week in my view.
Mike Feir: Hey Jonathan, it’s Mike feir. I’ve certainly listened to the accessibility announcements from Apple. I guess now we’re in the Global Accessibility Awareness Day phase, and we’ll be hit with a bunch of them. We can’t access the collection yet. It’s Wednesday as I’m recording this. That’s a day before the 19th. This stuff hasn’t quite popped up in North America yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they push this year in terms of apps that are accessible and the stories about apps that are accessible.
I do like some of the new features they’ve announced. Certainly the VoiceOver, the new voices are great. There’s always room for more variety in English voices. Better quality there is always good. Ukrainian, I’m glad to see that was one of the languages listed. There’s been some discussion of Persian. I didn’t see that in the official Apple list, or I guess Arabic really. I’m not sure whether that’s been improved somehow or added, but I have seen some interest in that possibility. That’s great. More languages VoiceOver can work in the better I think.
Some of the other things I’d be interested to see in Apple Books whether it’s all visual or whether anything has changed or will change in the accessibility of that app. I used to have problems reading books where it would skip over chunks and things like that. I tend to use Kindle these days, but that’d be interesting to see if they really do improve Apple Books considerably with the next iOS.
This LiDAR stuff is above my affordability at this point, but as they add more features like this, we might get to the point where it just makes infinite sense to spend that extra money to get those features. It just takes a critical mass, I think, that maybe we’re inching towards. That’ll be interesting as well to see what people make of that. Looking forward to all the accessibility announcements coming on Global Accessibility Awareness Day.
I do have to say, I agree with your entry where you’re talking about how quality control is just key to this. We have to get to a point where just the basics are guaranteed to work, and you’re not going to worry when you get another update that suddenly you won’t be able to use Braille or make phone calls or things like that. Hopefully, that’s what’s happening here.
Jonathan: Thanks, Mike. Of course, Mike will be part of our panel for the post WWDC Keynote Podcast special that we will be publishing on the 6th of June, right after the WWDC keynote. Interesting to hear your comments about Apple Books, Mike. That is my platform of choice. If a book’s available on Kindle, and if it’s available on Apple Books, I will choose Apple Books every time, not so much because of any accessibility considerations, because in my experience, they’re both equally as good with accessibility.
I’ve been fortunate not to have seen what you have in terms of things skipping. I just like the purchasing experience. In a way, that does reward Apple for its bad behavior there, where it wants to take a cut from Amazon Kindle purchases. That’s why you can’t purchase an app in Kindle for iOS. The principled decision would definitely be not rewarding Apple’s behavior by doing it, but it is just so easy. You make the purchase, you show your face to Face ID, it’s done. You’ve got your book.
Holgar writes in and says, “Regarding new features in iOS 16, every time Apple focuses on accessibility, we just get several nice features, and VO still has not been updated. Bugs continue to affect the iPhone, especially for those who use Braille Bluetooth writers. If I recall, it took almost a year for Apple to fix the bugs with Braille. Apple needs to address the issue with reporting bugs and addressing the bugs. Unless iOS 16 focuses on stability and bugs, nice features don’t help.
I have been blind for a long time and have no issues finding doors. That is a nice feature, but I prefer that Apple focuses on making VoiceOver stable and addressing bugs. Why is it that every year we just say nice things when Apple throws us a juicy bone? We pay over $1000 for a phone or PC or any other Apple device.”
Thank you, Holgar. Fundamentally, I agree with everything you say, and that’s why on this podcast, I try to point out the good and the not-so-good. We’ve given plenty of airtime to iOS bugs that have taken far too long to be fixed, and I agree, it simply isn’t acceptable. I talk about this at some length in that article that you can read at mosen.org/gaad2022.
Yes, it’s not ungrateful for us to insist as consumers that the product work as advertised. Many countries have consumer law that seek to guarantee that that is exactly what happens.
Christopher Wright is in Texas, so I would’ve expected a “howdy” from him, but no, I got a “hello” instead. “Hello, Jonathan. I was pleased to discover Apple is adding the Text Checker a feature to VoiceOver in macOS. Perhaps this is the start of more innovation and better support on the Mac. It sounds like this feature is intended to behave like the JAWS Text Analyzer feature. Hopefully, this also means VoiceOver is better about providing good formatting information and documents as well.
If this continues and Apple demonstrates that Mac is just as a priority for VoiceOver users as iOS, I wouldn’t hesitate to jump back into the ecosystem with new arm devices. There’s lots to love about the ecosystem in general, but VoiceOver neglect spoils the experience in my view.
As for the Door Detection feature, I, unfortunately, won’t be able to take advantage of this on my iPhone 11 and won’t be getting a Pro iPhone. It’s unfortunate we have to pay even more to have the privilege to use these features. I hope Apple will add LiDAR support to all iPhones at some point down the road, particularly if they continue to make extensive use of it. iOS used to be great because the fragmentation wasn’t really an issue, but it sadly seems to be getting more and more common.”
Dennis: Hey Jonathan, it’s Dennis. I’m calling about the Braille support that is going to be in TalkBack. If Google does what it appears they’re going to do, it’s another half-baked job by Google to not support the HID protocol and the new displays. If that’s true, it’s really a shame. It’s another half-baked job by Google. It explains why Apple is top as far as accessibility. Does Apple have issues? Yes, but at least Apple listens to the feedback of its users.
Jonathan: Well, I can’t help but agree with you after the experience that I’ve had this week, Dennis. As mentioned in last week’s episode 178, there was much rejoicing when Google announced that they would be integrating Braille into TalkBack for Android 13, but for many of us who have Braille displays, new Braille displays, in fact, that exclusively support the HID Braille Standard, this rejoicing was short-lived as APH stated publicly, that they had been told by Google that Bluetooth HID Braille displays weren’t going to be supported.
Well, not that I doubted APH. They are a credible source, but the journalist in me wanted to hear this directly from Google, and most important, I wanted to understand why. The low-key approach is best if you can pull it off. First, I tried a couple of unofficial back channels, which didn’t yield the results I was wanting, so then I turned my attention to the official ones.
Google operates an accessibility support account on Twitter. Given the significance of the Braille announcements they made and the fact that Google took the time to publish a YouTube video about it, I felt sure that the team operating that Twitter account would have been equipped with information that allowed them to answer questions about it.
I fired up my Twitter client and I sent the following to Google on Twitter, “It is exciting to see Braille finally coming to TalkBack. Congratulations and thank you, but a manufacturer of Braille displays using the HID standard, which Google helped develop and agreed to implement says HID displays aren’t supported in TalkBack in Android 13. Could you please advise if this is correct? If these displays are not supported, it will lock many Braille users out. If it is correct, why are these devices not being supported when Google committed to backing the HID standard? Thank you.” I politely concluded.
If you take a look at the replies on the timeline of the Google Access account, you won’t be surprised that I received the following reply, which is very common, “Thanks for reaching out. If possible, please contact our Google Disability Support team through email, chat, or phone to discuss further so we can further troubleshoot and escalate to the appropriate team.”
Others sought answers similarly. To give you just one example, Aine Kelly Costello sent the following tweet to the Mosen At Large Twitter account and to Google Access, “Does this mean if you connect over USB-C, the HID displays like Mantis and Brailliant will work?” Now for the record, I believe that the answer to that question is yes. Google Access replied as follows, “Hello there, we love hearing new ideas. Please submit yours in our feedback form. Thanks.” I suspect that this is simply a bot. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell these days with auto-responses becoming more sophisticated, but it must be a bot surely.
Now, if we were talking about good social media practice, what we would have seen is a human reading these tweets, escalating them to the right people, noting to the right people that monitoring of social media confirms there is a bit of potentially brand-damaging chatter going on about this, and inviting a product manager to comment. That’s how to handle this sort of thing properly, like you care. Anyway, it is what it is.
I went to Google’s website as instructed, and through it, sent the following to its accessibility team as instructed by the social media person/bot. “Hello,” I said. “Recently I was excited to see the announcement about Braille being integrated into TalkBack in the forthcoming Android 13. This will be very welcome. Congratulations. Thanks to Google for doing this. Like an increasing number of people, I use a Braille display which has adopted the HID, Human Interface Device, standard for Braille displays. The standard was devised by a committee, comprising significant players in the assistive technology industry and mainstream computing industry, including Google.
When implemented, HID has benefits for both manufacturers and consumers because Braille devices can be plug-and-play. To date, Bluetooth Braille displays that use HID haven’t been compatible with BrailleBack, meaning I can’t use my display with Android unless I use it with USB, which is inconvenient.
It was my hope that with new Braille support built in to TalkBack, HID Braille displays would be supported fully, including via Bluetooth. However, APH has said on a public email list that they filed a ticket and have been told that it is not something Google is planning on working on at the moment. If this is true, you can imagine how gutted many people are feeling that they have bought a device using the latest technology in good faith only to find that Google won’t support it.
Could you please advise if it is correct that Bluetooth HID Braille displays will not be supported with TalkBack’s new Braille support? If this is correct? Why is this the case given that Google was a member of the group which devised the standard and committed to its implementation? Is this a technical or political decision? If technical, what is the nature of the limitation? Is there any estimate regarding when HID Braille devices will be fully supported?
Finally, I am the host of Mosen At Large, one of the most listened to podcasts in the blind community. There is considerable interest in this subject from my audience. If a Google representative such as the TalkBack Product Manager would be willing to record an interview with me on this issue, I would be delighted to do it. Thanks very much for your help.” I got a prompt acknowledgment of receipt of my inquiry, and then a follow-up from someone who said they would investigate the matter and get back to me.
Eventually, the investigation yielded the following extraordinary email. “Hi Jonathan, I am [name redacted] from the Google Disability Support team. I understand that you want to use a Bluetooth Braille display that uses HID with BrailleBack. I would require some more information in order to provide you with the best/appropriate resolution in this case. Could you please help me with the details below?
Which phone are you using? Which Android version are you using? Which TalkBack version are you currently using? Can you tell me the build number and the Android security update? Can you confirm the Android Accessibility Suite version? I would appreciate it if you can also share the information about the external devices you are using. Looking forward to anticipation, with kind regards.”
Clearly, they either hadn’t read my original inquiry at all and they used some sort of algorithm to extract a couple of keywords to send the right canned response, to basically kick this to the curb, or we have a major language barrier here. I wrote back and I said, “You understand incorrectly. I am inquiring about TalkBack in Android 13, yet to be released. Please refer to the original email. It was very clear the question that I was asking.”
I got another reply and it said this. “Thank you for your email, with the clarification about your concern. I would like to inform you that we do not have any information about the available features in upcoming Android version 13. Whenever this information will be available for the public, you will be able to find it on our official website. You can also visit official blog Accessibility to receive updates on accessibility features. However, if you want, we can raise a request on your behalf to review your concern to the appropriate team. If you have any other questions about accessibility and assistive technology within Google products, let me know, and I’ll be happy to help you further.”
I wrote back with the following, “Yes, please. I would like this question answered as would the large audience of my podcast on whose behalf I am asking. Thank you.” 24 hours later, I received the following reply. “Hello, Jonathan. Thanks for your email. I understand that you want me to raise your request to the appropriate team to review further. I would require some more information for the same. Could you please help me with the details below?
Which phone are you using? Which Android version are you using? Which TalkBack version are you currently using? Can you tell me the build number of the Android security update? Can you confirm the Android Accessibility Suite version? I would appreciate it if you can also share the information about the external devices you are using. Looking forward to anticipation, with kind regards.”
Sound familiar? It should because it’s an exact duplicate with the exception of the opening sentence of the message I received a few days before. By this stage, I have been on this for a week trying to get an answer to this question. I have written back with the following. “Hello, at this point, I wish to record my considerable frustration and deep dissatisfaction with this support experience and ask that this please be handed to a supervisor. My question is a very straightforward one, and I request the answer to it. Please escalate this matter. Thank you.”
I’m not normally one for strong language, as you know, but on this occasion, I have to say, “Holy soup. Holy soup, how hard can this be?” What a run-around I have been given by Google. What an appalling experience and an appalling waste of time. Now, Henk Abmer has given me some very interesting information on Twitter. He says, “The reply I got when asking why Braille TTY didn’t support HID devices was that it isn’t supported in Google’s Bluetooth stack. TalkBack cannot support HID without convincing the Bluetooth people at Google first. Something similar was true,” he says, “for multi-finger gestures.”
I do address this in the article I wrote for Global Accessibility Awareness Day at mosen.org/gaad2022. The Google engineers are some of the smartest engineers in the world. There is no doubt about that. It’s just hard not to conclude that there isn’t the will. It’s hard not to conclude that we’re not important enough for somebody to take control of the situation, assemble a cross-functional team from across the various engineering disciplines and get this thing fixed.
It is yet another example of the fact that while there are numerous benefits of mainstream companies taking an interest in assistive technology and embracing it, there are also risks when something that’s so important to some of us gets shunted to the bottom of the heap and just put in the “too hard” basket.
I would also point out that this issue is going to be important to an increasing number of people because there’s this fantastic initiative going on in the United States at the moment, and I just wish that every government would do this, where NLS patrons are being issued with Braille displays. Now we know that Braille display technology isn’t cheap. The fact that NLS patrons can get a Braille display that not only can allow them to read BARD books and magazines, but also use the terminal function to connect to your smartphone or your PC, it’s awesome.
One of those Braille display manufacturers is Humanware. It’s very different software, but under the hood, it is brailliant, and it uses the HID protocol. More Americans are going to have these devices in their hands and they are going to be excluded, it seems, for the foreseeable future from using TalkBack with Braille via Bluetooth. What an extraordinary situation, and despite the problems we have had in recent times with Braille on iOS, a pretty good advertisement that Google has created for iPhone.
I hope that we can get a definitive statement on this issue from Google at some point and, of course, the invitation remains open for somebody from Google to have a chat with us on the podcast, clear up this issue, and maybe even give us some hope about when this can be rectified.
Advert: What’s on your mind? Send an email with a recording of your voice, or just write it down, firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N @mushroomfm.com or phone our listener line. The number in the United States is 864-60-MOSEN. That’s (864) 606-6736.
Jonathan: Here’s Steve Clower, He says, “Hi, Jonathan. After listening to episode 178 of your Mosen At Large Podcast, I felt compelled to toss in my meager two cents on a couple of topics that resonated with me.” Well, I’ll just interrupt and say, Steven, I have good news for you. Due to rampant inflation, it’s just gone up to $25.82. This is your $25.82 worth. Good eh?
Anyway, he says, “First, I enjoyed listening to the interview with Tyler Merren on the journey he’s taken to produce the ReVision Fitness app. A few years ago, I was struggling to make ends meet at my previous place of employment, and the combination of multi-hour commutes on public transit, constant stress of the work itself, and our knife-edge financial situation added up to a version of myself that was constantly exhausted, unhappy, and very unhealthy.
In October of 2017, I learned that I would be delivering a presentation with some of my colleagues at CSUN, the following March. At the time of learning this news, I was extremely overweight and out of shape. Apart from not wanting to be seen in public in such a poor condition, I didn’t want my appearance to reflect badly on my employer. With those motivators in mind, I purchased a few of the beginner workout programs from the now non-existent BlindAlive catalog. I’m embarrassed to admit that even these routines were challenging. Though, owing to my size at the time, perhaps that isn’t too surprising. Even so I kept at it, simultaneously changed my diet, and slowly but surely, started dropping some weight and getting stronger.
A few months later, I stepped it up a few notches and began tackling the advanced workout programs. By the time CSUN rolled around, I had dropped 60 pounds and was in fair shape, certainly enough to take long hikes through airports and participate in physical activities that would’ve exhausted me just a few months earlier. I dropped another 90 pounds over the following six months and have kept nearly all of it off ever since. With my weight finally back under control, I vowed to never miss a day of exercise again, and for over four years at this point, I’ve held myself accountable to that commitment.
I was sad when Mel closed down BlindAlive at the end of 2019. The workout programs she and her team assembled are still part of my daily exercise routine. I’m sure I’ve plateaued in some respects, but sticking to them has allowed me to, at a minimum, maintain my current levels of strength, muscle tone, and endurance.
I discovered ReVision Fitness a few weeks ago myself, and have been working my way through the variety of programs Tyler has recorded. Combining a workout from BlindAlive and another from ReVision Fitness regularly pushes me to the edge of physical exhaustion and has reintroduced soreness in muscles I’d forgotten about. I implore whomever is listening to never let life’s circumstances interfere with your health.
We as blind consumers have historically had few options in the way of accessible fitness programs. That’s still largely true, but between the BlindAlive catalog, which remains available for free streaming on YouTube, ReVision Fitness, and augmented descriptions in Apple Fitness+, we finally have legitimate choices for higher quality affordable exercise instruction.
Now, in my late 30s, I’m the healthiest and fittest version of me that I have ever been. I sincerely hope that some of your listeners will step out of their comfort zones and give these programs a try. They really can work if they put in the effort.” I’ll pause before I go on to Steve’s second point and say, just amen to all of that, Steve. It is amazing how much better you feel when you get your health under control. It’s one of those things that’s actually really hard to articulate. People think, “Gosh, it’s just hard work. I can’t bring myself to go through these life changes. What’s the point?” You don’t realize how bad you feel until you start to know what it’s like to feel good.
In trying to think about how one might explain this concept even just a little bit, I did think of this analogy; sometimes there’s background noise going on, machinery usually. It could be a lawn mower going on in the background or a vacuum or some sound like that, that just drones on in the background. You become a bit desensitized to it, but suddenly it stops, the lawn mower stops. It’s over. The vacuuming is over. Suddenly you get this amazing sense of peace and you think, “Wow, it’s so much better now that that noise has gone.” That’s what it’s like to start getting your health back. You realize, “Wow, I didn’t realize how sluggish, how horrible I was feeling.”
I also want to say Mel made a massive contribution to this space with BlindAlive. She’s such an awesome person, and her whole team, as you say, put together a great repertoire of workouts that is still very good. I bought them a few years ago when they had this big sale where you could go in and basically pay one fee and buy everything they had. That’s what I did, and I’m very glad I did. I’m glad I supported them. I have them all on my Synology and I still use them.
Let’s go back to Steve’s email. “Second, I was also delighted to learn that Google will be including more robust Braille (with an upper case B) display support in Android 13 and simultaneously dismayed to hear that they are deliberately balking on supporting the new HID protocol. It is indeed difficult to get hold of anyone within Google, regarding accessibility issues, and most of my attempts have failed. However, I do want to pass on a positive experience I had a few months ago.
Google introduced a new way of adding a link to a Docs file, which can be live-previewed by hovering your mouse over the linked text. Someone at my company used this extensively in a project planning-file that was shared with our engineer team. Unfortunately, the feature was not at all keyboard accessible, and I had to perform some real docs acrobatics to track down the individual items linked in order to participate in that particular planning session.
I expressed my frustration on social media and tagged the Google Docs team for good measure in hopes that someone might see it and correct the problem. Much to my surprise, a blind employee at Google who works with the Docs team did see my message and followed up with me about it. I sent him a sample document, he passed it along, and the issue was fixed within a few days of my having mentioned it.
I will admit this is the only truly positive experience I’ve had interacting with Google in any capacity. Reaching a human on the TalkBack team and filing accessibility bugs against the Chromium Browser engine have nearly always proved unfruitful. The fact that I did reach someone within the organization gives me faints hope that our feedback is being received. I have made my opinions about the lack of HID support known to them. I encourage others to pass along their feedback as well. Perhaps there is still time to affect a course correction on Google’s part. Thanks for reading and my best regards from the Midwestern US.”
Thanks, Steve. I concur with you. Actually, I had a great experience with Google Docs, which I seldom use, but I did use it when I was a VP at Aira. There were some bugs, I did point them out, and they actually did get resolved and I had some sensible interactions. Whatever the secret source is at Google Docs, spread that love, spread that magic to the TalkBack team, and let’s get this Braille issue fixed before Android 13 is released.
Ray says, “You asked if it’s time for ACB and NFB to reunite.” Reunited and it feels so good. “No.” He says, “So long as there is any of that old generation in the ACB, which bears any hatred for any of the NFB, and so long as there is any of the generation in the NFB, which bears any hatred towards the ACB, trust me, it ain’t going to happen. Not, mind you, that it makes any difference to me, but you see, I don’t reckon that some of the older people of that generation would take to such an idea.
Now, me personally, I don’t think it’s responsible for the hatred to be passed on from one generation to the other, no matter which side you are on, but Jonathan, I somehow doubt you understand the true depth of the original hatred. It got very personal when it happened such that family turned against family and many friendships broke up as a consequence. I’m not entirely sure that a joint convention at this time would work at all.
If you’ve not attended one of the American Blindness conventions and you’re outside the United States, it really can be quite a transformative experience. I’ve been asked to pass this on and I’m happy to do that. This is all about the International Voices Contest that ACB is running.
The American Council of the Blind’s International Relations Committee is excited to launch our first annual International Voices Contest. This opportunity will enable international guests to receive complimentary registration to our 2022 conference and convention. To be eligible you must reside outside of the United States and its territories. To participate, kindly submit an audio recording of up to 10 minutes in length, discussing your blindness-related experiences in your country, your message to the blindness community in the United States and why you wish to attend the ACB convention.
The top five contestants will receive complimentary registration, and the first-place winner will have the opportunity to address a general session of the convention. Please submit your audio files to Maria Kristic at email@example.com-” I will spell that. That’s Maria, M-A-R-I-A, and Kristic is spelled K-R-I-S-T-I-C @gmail.com, “-by no later than June the 8th. Decisions will be announced by June the 15th. We look forward to hearing your voice.”
I had a bit of a conversation about this just to get clarity about what’s being offered here. ACB is offering registration for the convention. They’re not going to fly you to the convention, which I think is in Omaha, Nebraska, this year, lots of good steak in Omaha, by the way, it’s grain-fed, but it’s still good steak. [chuckles] The convention is a hybrid convention this year. It’s both virtual and in-person, and there’ll be many people attending the convention virtually this year.
If you are chosen and you are the lucky person who addresses the convention, you can do all of that virtually, the registration will be paid for. If you want to fly to the United States and attend in person, you would have to cover the air fares and accommodation. This is a good chance if you’re a bit strapped for cash to make your case and potentially attend virtually the ACB Convention and have a great experience. I remember attending the International Relations Committee meetings when I used to attend ACB Conventions as part of my job. Pretty sure Oral Miller used to look after it in those days. It’s really worth attending, and obviously, the chance for you to address. The full convention general session of ACB is a really great opportunity for some lucky person.
Back to the topic of jury service. Michael Bernard is writing in and says, “Hello, Jonathan, I recently caught wind of podcast, 177, regarding jury service and the blind and wanted to put in my two bits worth. I received three different letters from the Hall of Justice here in New York, and on all three occasions, I’ve turned it down and sent the letters to the jury people explaining my situation. In fact, on one of those occasions, I actually called them and spoke to them directly on the phone. For those who don’t know, they will accept your reply by phone as well.
It’s true that many people all across the world, both blind and sighted have their own views on jury service. Ultimately, I believe that it is the individual choice of the citizen, whether they go through with it or not. Some may tell you how wonderful their experience was. The last time my mom served on a case, she had served as an alternate juror. She told me that at the end of the case, the judge had given her and all the other jurors, a piece of paper explaining what jury service was, and she encouraged the jurors to share the information with others as a way to encourage people to come forward and serve when asked.
Personally, I feel that it’s not the job of the average citizen to judge the fate of someone’s freedom or whether they should keep living or be put to death. When you do this, you’re basically playing God. For example, if it’s a murder trial, and part of the jury’s job is to decide if the accused should live or be given the death penalty, if you take part in making the decision to put someone to death, to me, that’s like picking up a gun and shooting the person yourself. The only difference is that the law is giving you permission to do so.” Thanks for writing in, Mike.
This is a dilemma that is almost unique to the United States because, of course, in most countries, the death penalty is now abolished and so a jury never has to decide these things in any other country. It sounds like the issues that you have with jury service are a matter of conscience, something like the position that some people take in terms of not wishing to fight in wars because they believe it’s morally wrong. Matters of conscience are of course deeply held beliefs, and in my view, should be respected if they are genuinely deeply held beliefs.
It’s not like you just don’t want to bother, it’s that you’ve given this considerable thought and you have an issue of conscience with it. It’s a bit of a different issue from questions of blind people serving on a jury. You’re not arguing that as a blind person, you should be exempted or as a blind person you’re not fit to serve on a jury. Your question is quite a different one and a very interesting point that you raised.
Julie Sutherland: Hi Jonathan, it’s Julie Sutherland here in Adelaide. I just wanted to comment on your episode of jury service in 177 of your podcast. In August 2017, I was summoned to appear for jury duty in August for a month. I believe I was the first totally blind person to be called up. I was able to have regular discussions with the jury manager about the cases that I would possibly be serving on, and had accommodations such as having things described to me available, and having the ability to have OCR equipment to read text-to-speech software and printed documents.
Although I wasn’t selected to stand in a trial, it was a privilege to be able to go into the court and experience what having the jury numbers was like being called out. This, I don’t think would’ve been possible had the legislation successfully not been changed in 2010 in South Australia.
Jonathan: Julie on the Jury. It sounds like it could be a good name for a documentary had you served, but it sounds like they were more than willing to accommodate you. This is the thing about jury service, isn’t it? That you can be challenged without cause for a variety of reasons, but it’s good to know that they were willing to make sure that had you been called up, you would have been given the tools you needed. That’s encouraging. Thank you, Julie, for sharing the story.
Jonathan: This email comes from Dawn who says, “Hi, Jonathan, I love your show.” Oh, thank you. “I’m a fairly recent listener,” she says, “after finding out about your Mosen At Large Podcast from Hadley. There was a link to an episode that you did on the Clubhouse app listed as a resource for their Tech-it-out discussion group.” Well, that’s good of Hadley to do that.
“I have a question in regards to your discussion about food delivery services and which one’s the best. I’d like to know which menu app for iOS, everyone likes best and why. I have been looking for one for years ever since the app I used called Allmenus went out of business. I liked being able to look at the menu either before going to a restaurant or when ordering online from one to know what they have, and independently access the menu. I love this, especially for places that either didn’t have a Braille menu (with an upper case B) or for places that I’ve never been to before, so was unsure about whether they had a Braille menu.
Unfortunately, due to living in a rural area, so rural that there’s fields on three sides of my house, we don’t have access to food delivery services. My dad is our food delivery service,” says Dawn in Ohio. Great to hear from you, Dawn. Welcome to the podcast and welcome as a contributor. I hope we will hear from you regularly.
This is a good question. We have a few apps in New Zealand, but that’s not going to help you in Ohio. What I find typically works though, is if I go to the website where one exists for the restaurant in question. The reason why I’ve taken to doing this is that I’ve found on quite a few occasions, at least here, that the menus on some of these menu apps are not kept current. You do your due diligence. You’ve done your study. You’ve got exactly what dishes you want.
I do take the time to carefully select menus because I’m a ketogenic eater. I’m low carb, but often I’ve turned up at a restaurant having done all this, and I even take my Braille display along, I try to order something, and it’s like something out of Hotel California. They say, “We haven’t had that spirit in here since 1969,” or something, and I’m disappointed. I have to start from scratch. That’s not to say that every restaurant keeps its own website in order, but a lot do, especially these days.
That’s what I’ve taken to doing just going directly to the website where that’s an option, but for convenience, you certainly can’t beat all-in-one menus app. If people have accessible options that tend to stay up to date, let us know how you are accessing restaurant menus.
This email says, “Jonathan, very good morning/evening to you and the Mosen At Large community. This is Gerardo from Tampico located on Eastern/Northeastern Mexico with several topics. Earphones appropriate for hearing aid users.
Over the years, I’ve been wanting headphones like those that were around that usually came with Walkmans in the ’80s and ’90s which had the facility to fit an earpiece next to each behind the ear aid plus something that would amplify the sound sufficiently to make the watching, reading, or music-listening experience as immersive as possible. Thanks to asking around in the blind hearing aid email list, what to look for when buying these and most importantly, that they’d work for my needs, I found the one. They are the over-the-ear headphones, Panasonic RP-HT21.
Imagine you are looking at a headband that goes atop your head on each side of the band. You have an earpiece with each earpiece having its respective wire. Each earpiece doesn’t cover the entire ear as others I’ve seen. Imagine an earpiece fitted with a sponge about the size of maybe a little bit bigger than those around in the ’80s and ’90s, thus the right size for each comfortably to fit over each BTE aid.
When I position them over the BTEs, the headband, instead of being atop your head, rests on my neck/back of the head, hence the sound is phenomenal so much so that I have had to turn down the volume on my iPhone. I use with the iPhone, thanks to the Lightning to 3.5 adapter. This also works with a laptop and the Victor Reader Stream.
I really missed these kinds of earphones because the earbuds lately come fitted to go into the ear canal, thus, it was a struggle to wear them comfortably with hearing aids. I’d need to take out my left hearing aid, put in the earbud, while the right one, put it, to the best of my abilities, next to or atop BTE. Thus, the sound out of these was very limited. You lost that richness that you get with regular headphones that I’ve come to grow fond of in those good old days.
Again, the model number of the ones I recently got off Amazon here in Mexico, I hope you guys will be able to find them in your country Amazon store, is over-the-ear headphones, Panasonic RP-HT21U. Be on the lookout though, because there are two models of these. The one I got that looks like the ’90s Walkman style headphones are approximately 203 MXN, on sale, and a higher-priced model, double the price, but whose headphones were according to my mom’s description of the pictures, covered not only the ear, but part of the head.
I’m so happy I opted for the lower-priced model. I’m sure I would’ve regretted the latter one. This has been one of the best headphone purchases ever. Thus, I highly recommend them. I was about to give up on ever finding appropriately designed headphones for us blind hearing aid users.
Favorite video streaming service. Though, Netflix has awesome audio-described content more than Amazon Prime, since I’m subscribed to both, but there’s one little annoyance for which I’d placed Netflix in second place, the topic of several being able to watch it once. With Netflix, for instance, you need to forcefully migrate to the Apps package. I’ve got the basic, which here in Mexico, cost 139 MXN and only allows one device at a time versus Amazon Prime Video at 93 MXN, but which allows up to, I believe, three devices at once.
Also, another point towards Amazon Prime is that it works directly on my LG 43″ UM7100 Smart TV, the 2019 model, whereas Netflix still isn’t accessible directly on the TV and the voice guide feature. If I want to watch something on Netflix via my smart TV, I have to depend on the iPhone for this purpose. In summary content and audio described wise, Netflix would be number one, but in terms of accessibility for multi-device consumption and on LG smart TVs, Prime Video would be the top choice.”
Thanks for your contribution, Gerardo. Also, it’s worth noting that Netflix say they’re going to crack down on people who use the same username and password in multiple households. There are a lot of people doing this apparently, and they’ve got a couple of test countries where they’re trying a new system now. I guess they’re using IP addresses and device identifiers to say, “Oi, you’re in a different house. It looks like you’ve borrowed someone’s username and password. We’re going to offer you the chance to migrate to a sub-account or set up an account of your own.”
That’s already being tested and it looks like Netflix is serious about that, particularly with the downturn of revenue that they have experienced of late.
Speaker 2: Like the show? Then why not like it on Facebook too. Get upcoming show announcements, useful links, and a bit of conversation. Head on over now to facebook.com/mosenatlarge, that’s facebook.com/M-O-S-E-N,atlarge, to stay connected between episodes.
Jonathan: An email from John, who we haven’t heard from for a while so welcome back, John. He says, “Hi, Jonathan, thank you for the great podcast. I hope it will be around for a few decades yet.” Oh, my word! “On the topic of Braille (with an uppercase B) displays, I believe that they would never go away. The fact that there are new players in the market clearly shows that there is a place for them despite their expense as compared to phones and computers. I do not use Braille much unless I have to present something word for word, or have little leeway for free flow.” That’s actually quite complicated to say, “little leeway for free flow.”
“On the idea of multi-line Braille displays, I would love such a device!!! I hope to be a lawyer someday and might have to refer to long documents. Using a multi-line Braille display would hasten the process. The only downside I can envisage of such displays would be the cost. It would probably break the bank. Imagine your Braille display costing more than a car.”
I suppose also, John, that one other disadvantage could be size because the more Braille cells you have, the larger the device, and Braille is a bulky medium. I have, for example, my Mantis on my lap at the moment. It’s not too close to the mic, so hopefully, you don’t hear too much of the display clicking as it advances, but I’m not sure how comfortable that would be if the device was much larger because of multi-line Braille.
“On streaming services,” continues, John, “my favorite is Disney Plus. It has Marvel and Star Wars shows, which are required viewing as these shows contain information, which you should be aware of if you were going to watch Marvel, et cetera movies in the theater. I am locked in to Disney Plus. Netflix is okay, I guess, but it seems to have been going downhill. The prices are high, but the content is few unless you like their original content, which can be hit or miss a lot of the time.
I wish movies and TV shows would be like music. You have most music in one place, but video content is spread across so many streaming services that you would have to fork out more than $100 if you wanted all of them. One reason why streaming became so popular was that they were more cost-effective than compared to cable. Now, they are more equal to cable.
On radio memories, I guess I am too young for any meaningful ones. However, I love old-time radio, especially shows which were broadcast in the so-called Golden Age of Radio shows such as Inner Sanctum and The Great Gildersleeve, and others. I got rather good at making out the words as these recordings can be quite horrible. Hope you are doing well.” Thank you very much, John, for getting in touch.
You might be interested in Mushroom FM’s sister station called Mushroom Escape, and you can find that at mushroomfm.com/escape. There is also a skill for the Soup Drinker for it and Google Actions. It’s easy to play Mushroom Escape. It’s also in all the usual radio directories, and you can ask Siri to play Mushroom Escape and it plays radio, drama, and comedy, a lot of that material that you mentioned now.
Bruce Toews is the curator of Mushroom Escape and he does go to considerable lengths and lonfths actually to try and get the best quality reproduction of every show that he plays. Do check out Mushroom Escape at mushroomfm.com/escape. There is four hours of content played six times a day, and you can check the schedule to find out what is on when.
Herby: Hello, Jonathan and everyone. This is Herby in Houston, and it has been a long time since I’ve contributed to this podcast, but I have certainly been catching all of the wonderful episodes. Keep up the good work as always. I wanted to comment on if we could only have one streaming service, which one would it be? My choice would be Disney Plus. Yes, Apple TV Plus, which would definitely come in a very close second for me, is great because of the fact that you do get the full Dolby Atmos with the audio DVS. I think it’s unfortunate that other services don’t promote that.
Thanks to the AirPods Max, at least, you can still get that effect with other stereo options, though it’s not completely the same. For me, the choice comes down to which service has the most content that I’d want, and Disney plus wins out in that category for me. That is why I would choose them. The stereo, at least, is better than what I’ve experienced on Paramount Plus where the audio DVS option makes the whole movie soundtrack go to complete mono. You’re stuck with two choices, either full stereo, but not fully knowing what’s happening, or mono audio and at least knowing what’s happening. That is a very painful choice, but that is the only way I can watch the later Star Trek episodes in DVS.
Also, one of your listeners had asked about if they do a show on a station, how do they know it is legally copyrighted? Well, one thing you can always do with your show, at least, whether you’re broadcasting with a station, or you just want to do your own broadcast and show this, show that way, there is a site, mixcloud.com. That’s M-I-X-C-L-O-U-D dot C-O-M. It is a service that will basically allow you to upload your shows and they take care of all the licensing and whatnot. There is both a free and a paid option, and I just do the free option myself, and then you just give the link out for people to listen. You can put the link anywhere that you want and you’re good to go.
Now, there are some accessibility issues, especially with the mobile phone app, at least the one for the iPhone, and the website is a little bit better when it comes to most of those issues, but there you go. It is still an option.
Jonathan: Thanks, Herbie. Yes, I’ve dabbled in Mixcloud a bit but because of the accessibility issues, I feel really reluctant to use it because I know that a lot of people struggle with the web even when things are fairly well behaved. I’m reluctant to inflict something that’s not very accessible on those people, so I leave it alone. I do wish they would address some of those accessibility issues because it’s a great service for all of the reasons you mentioned. It has a lot of advantages.
Here’s a recommendation for a book that had such an impact on Byron Sykes, he wrote into Mosen At Large to tell you about it. He says, “I recently came across this book and thought it should be widely shared, The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolatin Story.” I believe this must be an MLS number. It is DB64720, and it’s also available in Braille as well and Byron says, “I knew about the award in his name, but not the incredible story behind it. Dr. Jacob Bolatin became the first blind doctor in this country in 1925, a heart and lung specialist.” Byron says, “Of course, this is unbarred and should give the Marrakesh Treaty a good workout for those outside the United States.”
“Thank you for passing this on,” says Byron. “To me, you are the 21st-century equivalent.” Well, thank you, Byron. The Jacob Bolatin story is very interesting. I haven’t read the book, but I have heard several speeches over the years about him through NFB conventions, and it is a book I will try and track down and see if I can read it in full. It is great, isn’t it? It just goes to show that right throughout our history when things were even tougher than they are now, we have had people who have beaten the odds and defied expectations. It’s a great thing.
Jonathan: One of the many benefits of being online is the learning opportunities available. Not all of them are accessible, though, and even fewer are blindness specific. An organization called Fable is helping to change that with a new product called Fable Pathways that launched in conjunction with Global Accessibility Awareness Day. To tell us about it, I’m joined by Lynette Frison. Hi, Lynette, good to talk to you.
Lynette Frison: Hi, Jonathan. Good to talk to you as well.
Jonathan: Let’s begin by talking a bit about Fable and what it does in general,. It sounds like it has its fingers in all sorts of pies.
Lynette: For sure. Yes. Fable is still a relatively young startup. Was founded in 2018 and the first product that we offered was an accessibility testing platform. Our mission is to help people with disabilities participate, contribute and shape society. The founders noticed that inaccessibility, especially for digital products, was a big deal. Lots of websites, lots of barriers, lots of things that people couldn’t access.
They started Fable and slowly started recruiting first screen reader users and then moved on to screen magnification and those people that use what we call alternative navigation devices, those that may have physical disabilities, and may use something like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, or HeadMouse or eye-tracking software. Our testers are located in Canada and the US, and they test the digital products of our customers, could be on mobile or desktop platforms, and they contribute in all aspects of design. You might have a product that is in beta, and you want to build accessibility in from the ground up. Or you might have products where maybe you have to go back and fix things. All different phases that our testers contribute to.
Jonathan: I suppose then that there is some frustration about the emergence of these companies that are saying, “Just give us some money, and we’ll give you a line of code and put it on your website and all your accessibility problems will magically disappear.”
Lynette: Yes, because that’s not where our head is at at Fable. Our head is not at like, “Let’s just solve the problem.” We’re thinking, “Let’s include people with disabilities rather than treating inaccessibility as an afterthought or something to sweep under the rug, but let’s include people with disabilities right from the design phase and get companies thinking about inclusivity and accessibility right from the ground up.”
Jonathan: In terms of Fable’s primary markets, which are the United States and Canada, the United States have had the Americans with Disabilities Act for some time, they’ve also had other legislation like Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and various other things that influence, there’s a bit of debate about the degree to which they influence accessibility online. In Canada, you’ve got this new accessibility legislation, and it’s something that in New Zealand, we are watching with quite a lot of interest because there’s some suggestion that it’s a model that should be followed here. Is that having an impact at the stage on the work that Fable does in Canada?
Lynette: No, it is not. Not at the moment and it was started before that legislation ever came into play. Our customers are all across Canada, US but we do have some in the EU as well. Our testers are located in Canada and the US, but we do have customers across the pond as well.
Jonathan: When you work with your customers, what are you producing for them? What does the customer get?
Lynette: We have a number of different request styles, customers can receive written feedback from our testers, or they can engage with them in a video meeting and get live feedback or they can also have testers do tasks and receive a pre-recorded video, so it’s the tester going through the task and narrating their feedback as they go.
Jonathan: What we’re here to talk about, though, is Fable Pathways. That sounds on the face of it like a bit of a departure, like an entirely new strand for the company to be getting involved in, is that right?
Lynette: Yes, for sure. It’s definitely a new strand but when you’re talking about people with disabilities being able to participate, contribute and shape society, it’s not just dealing with accessibility needs, it’s also talking about education and making sure that people with disabilities are able to be educated and are able to have professional careers and are able to grow and develop those careers.
Jonathan: We’ll drill down deep into this, but give me an elevator pitch first of all, if you were to describe Fable Pathways briefly, what is it? What does it do?
Lynette: Fable Pathways is a website where anyone with a disability, it doesn’t have to be those who are blind and it doesn’t necessarily have to be users of assistive technology like our testers are. It can be anyone with a disability, and they can sign up for free and they can take our courses and our courses are mainly geared towards those who want to advance their careers in the tech sector.
Jonathan: The courses, they’ve been produced, been written with disability in mind I take it. They’re not just some sort of generic course material?
Lynette: Correct. Our courses are created by people with disabilities for people with disabilities. All of the instructors for our courses are people with disabilities themselves and they have lived experience with disability and they have lived experience with whatever the subject matter they’re teaching is.
Jonathan: Can you give me an example of the kind of material that is covered?
Lynette: Sure. We have a course in partnership with Microsoft on web development tools and then we have a course about management. “Is management the right career for you?” and talks about what it takes to be a manager, how to assess if that’s the right path for you, how to manage people in your organization that may have disabilities as well and also yourself being a manager with a disability, what challenges you may encounter?
Jonathan: How comfortable are you with getting gray hair before your time and really important questions like that? What form do these courses take? Are they written, is their audio and video? How does it work?
Lynette: They’re in like a masterclass style. Are you familiar with masterclass at all?
Jonathan: I’ve certainly heard of it, but not tried it? Is it accessible? Do you know?
Lynette: That I don’t know. I’ve never actually tried it out. I tend to stay away from Udemy and there’s another one, the name is escaping me right now, but those online learning platforms because they generally tend to be not accessible, or they might be partly accessible, but not enough that you can really get all of the benefits out of them. I don’t know if masterclass is or not. I’ll just give you an overview of the contents and what it’s like. The courses are divided up into different modules, and we have written content and then we also have video content as well.
Jonathan: How long do the courses normally take to complete?
Lynette: I would say maybe about an hour, maybe an hour and a half at most.
Jonathan: They’re bite-sized courses to complete, not too arduous. What’s the funding model for this? Because I understand they are free for the students to take.
Lynette: Correct. We have received some grants for this.
Jonathan: Essentially, then that’s the plan going forward, that there will be funding that is offered to create these courses, and then they will be available for people to take at no charge?
Lynette: Correct. Because education is a big barrier for people with disabilities, not just in the realm of whether it’s accessible or not, but it’s also in the realm of financial as well. Not everyone can afford to go to school.
Jonathan: All right. Where do we start? If people want to do these courses, do you go to the website and take them? Is there an enrollment process? How does it work?
Lynette: There is an enrollment, you can go to fablepathways.com, you can sign up there and go ahead and dive right in and take the courses.
Jonathan: I look forward to seeing where this goes because I think it’s a great contribution that people can go and learn things in this environment. One of the things that I say because of my day job, I am CEO of an agency in New Zealand that seeks to find employment for disabled people, is that while you’re waiting for that to happen, studying and becoming increasingly attractive to employers should be the job that you do while you’re looking for the job. Courses like these can just help with that job readiness, give you a bit more confidence and more skills in your armory.
Lynette: Yes, absolutely. That’s what we’re aiming to do is to help people be able to gain full-time employment and advance their careers and build confidence. I’m sure that you see it in your organization– I don’t know what it’s like in New Zealand, but I would imagine it’s fairly similar to Canada and the US where you have a fairly high unemployment rate of people with disabilities.
Jonathan: It is.
Lynette: If you’re fresh out of college and you know you have the educational background, but you don’t have the experience and then you’re also facing that prejudice, it can be very disheartening. We want people to be able to connect with our instructors on a level going through the courses and saying, “Hey, this person works at Microsoft, and they’re blind and they have a really fulfilling career and they’re able to teach me how to use these web development tools. I can also do that.”
Jonathan: That’s really cool. Yes, mentoring is so important, and just knowing that other people have paved the way for you.
Lynette: For sure. Yes.
Jonathan: Brilliant. I really appreciate you coming on the podcast. That is fablepathways.com if people want to find out more information about that, or even take the courses, and we’ll look forward to finding out where this goes in future.
Lynette: For sure. Thank you so much for having me.
Jonathan: To Australia, we go for our next email which says, “Hi, Jonathan,” from Dawn. “I have a new iPad Mini and I have books that a friend has sent to me via email. They are BRF files that are zipped files. I was hoping to download them onto a memory stick and put them on my Mantis, but I don’t know how to save and unzip them on my iPad Mini. Is this possible?”
Thanks for writing in Dawn. It should be possible because iPad does support zip files. You would want to save those to the files app, I believe you should be able to do that through the share option at the bottom of the email. Save those zip files to a folder somewhere in your files app and then go into the files app and unzip them. You will need to copy the files out of the zip files and then make the BRF files available in that same folder. That should just be a standard copy and paste process I think using the files app.
Then of course you’re going to have to get those BRF files that are now unzipped onto your Mantis. For that, probably the best way is to use a thumb drive. The iPad Mini, at least the latest generation of it, has a USB-C port. Now the thing is the port for the thumb drive on the Mantis is USB-A. What you may have to do is get a thumb drive that has USB-A on it.
Attach a dongle from USB-A to USB-C to the thumb drive so that it will then plug into your iPad Mini and you can then copy the files onto the thumb drive using the files app on your iPad Mini and then take off the dongle.
Use USB-A again, put it in the Mantis and you should then be able to copy the files across. I guess this is one downside of the Mantis not having either an email client or any kind of cloud storage support at the moment. If it had Dropbox or OneDrive or something like that, you could just put them in some central point, but that’s not possible right now.
“Hello, Jonathan,” says Marissa, “Related to Braille, I have been considering taking the Hadley course. I know grade one Braille, I know some grade two. I struggle with reading Braille for a variety of reasons, the first of which is I grew up a large print reader. I was only given access to large print when I was younger. The second is I don’t practice as often reading Braille as I probably should to increase my reading speed and accuracy. With that being said, I want your opinion, please. How do I not skip lines when reading in Braille? I know that it can be done because I’ve seen other people who read Braille that read line by line as you’re supposed to. It’s a really hard concept for me. Any thoughts and other suggestions would be appreciated.”
Marissa, that’s a really good question and it makes me realize that I am a proficient Braille reader but I’m not a Braille instructor. I find it quite hard to articulate my Braille reading technique and it’s just so second nature to me. I presume that if you are facing the difficulty of skipping Braille lines, then we’re talking about reading from hardcopy Braille. One option, if you have access to it is maybe to use a Braille display because it’s only going to skip the line when you press the button to make it skip a line. That could be a way.
I think that you’ve probably hit the nail on the head when you talked about practice. That the more you practice, the more intuitive the spacing between lines becomes and the less likely you are to skip lines. If anyone else has had this problem of perhaps not getting their finger spacing right so that they do skip Braille lines, how did you overcome it? I’ve heard so many stories, Marissa, from people who did not get access to Braille when they should have and it breaks my heart because it has lifelong ramifications.
Sometimes that’s because of resourcing. Somebody seems to have enough vision to cope and even though there’s a likely prognosis that their vision will deteriorate and they may become a Braille reader later in life. It used to be and hopefully, things are better now, but it used to be the case for a while there that the system would kick for touch and only give Braille to people who absolutely had no other choice.
There was a mindset back in the day that maybe Braille was going to be phased out. Some people thought that technology was going to make Braille obsolete, whereas in fact, what’s happened is that there was this wonderful, beautiful Braille renaissance that has gone on as a result of Braille and more people are reading it than ever and more products are available than ever, and that’s a great thing. It was almost like Braille was the last resort.
I remember reading somewhere that one teacher put it this way, “This child can read print, but this child has to read Braille.” That was the mindset that pervaded at least some parts of the blindness system some time ago. Hopefully, those days are gone for the most part but the consequences of depriving people a means of true functional, speedy literacy are immense for a person’s lifetime.
Good on you for thinking about taking it up seriously, and if anybody has any hints to answer the question that you pose, hopefully, they will share it with us, firstname.lastname@example.org is my email address. Attach an audio clip if you want your voice to be heard, or just write the email down. You can also call the listener line. In the United States the number 864-60Mosen. 864-606-6736.
We are seriously geeking out with Rebecca Skipper and she says, “Have you used virtual machines on your Windows system to test new versions of Windows or applications in a safe environment away from your production machine? I found a version of XP on the Internet Archive website and quickly realized that about the only thing I like about the XP now are the startup sounds. I miss Outlook Express though.
I am going to try Chrome OS Flex and VMware Player. I would like to install Windows 7, 10, or 11 in VMware Player 16 but I can’t get Windows 7 or 11 to work. There are things I miss about previous operating systems. In the case of XP, there were programs that I worked on that you can’t use in Windows 10 or 11 such as Virtual Pencil.” I’d forgotten all about Virtual Pencil. “Or Virtual Algebra from Henter-Joyce.
Actually, that was from a company called Henter Math. After Ted Henter left Henter-Joyce, and it then became Freedom Scientific and he exited. He created this new company called Henter Math. He and his daughter Emily were working on that. She says, “I miss some aspects of the old days.” Rebecca, well, when we’re old, we’ll go dancing in the dark walking through the park and reminiscing.
In the meantime, I’ve got a follow-up from her. She says, “Well, I could not get the virtual version of Chrome’s Flex OS to work, but I was able to get Accessible-Coconut for Linux to start. Virtual machines might be a perfect solution for disability centers with limited budgets. Are there other accessible virtual machines that I can try in VMware Player?” Well, you’ve got the bug now, Rebecca. You’ve got the bug.
It’s not something that I have done other than when I had a mac I used to run Windows in VMware Fusion. This was an Intel-based mac because there were just things that were so much better to do in Windows than macOS. I know that a lot of people who need to do things for tech support reasons do work with virtual machines all the time. For example, when I worked at Freedom Scientific, a lot of people in the test team would run virtual machines.
Yes, it is exactly as you say, it’s a safe environment, to try things to test things, and if you break things then you don’t take the whole computer down.
One of the things I really did like about running a virtual machine on the Mac with Windows in it, is that you could back up that virtual machine regularly and it made you braver. You could try things and if everything broke, you would just go to your network attached storage drive or whatever drive. You’d put the virtual machine back up file on, copy the whole thing back and your computer was restored to a good state. Sure, there are lots of benefits of running virtual machines. If anyone has any comments on this whole area, I’m sure we’ve got some geeks out there who would love to wax lyrical, lyrical about virtual machines, do be in touch.
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Jonathan: Here’s an email from someone who’s clearly been keeping it all inside. Keeping it all inside for some time and now it’s all coming out. “Hello, Jonathan,” writes Chris cook. I thoroughly enjoy listening to your podcast each week. Thank you for the variety of topics and for all the thoughtful perspective shared. This email has been languishing in my drafts folder waiting to be sent since last August. Thought I’d send it along anyway, to share some history into perspective on my use of technology and Braille.
In praise of Braille with an uppercase B. To write it in lowercase would be sacrilegious. Louis Braille has given me the chance to be literate in language and music, and for that, I will be eternally grateful. Since I am totally blind and attended a school for the blind for a few years, Braille was a given. Now some 50 years later, I am appalled to find that there are few students learning Braille who really become proficient.
I am a rehab teacher and I’m very passionate about Braille and literacy. It makes me very sad to teach young people in their 20s and 30s who should have learned Braille but did not have the encouragement or chance to do so. Instead they struggled to use their remaining vision with one foot in the sighted world and a toe dipped into the blindness world. Braille is especially important for my students for whom English is their second language. I teach them Braille as a means to strengthen their English reading and writing skills.
In praise of technology, old and new, a lot of praises here. On one of your podcasts, someone wrote in about the Eureka A4, that little machine was near and dear to my heart. I graduated with a music degree 34 years ago, before much of the tech we use today was even a thought. My best friend told me about the Eureka after she had seen it demoed at the NFB convention in 1988. I had just carved out a job for myself as a classroom music teacher at a private Christian school, where there was no curriculum, just an old record player and a chalkboard, neither of which were very useful to me.
That same summer, I decided to take a trip back to Washington DC because I had always wanted to peruse the music stacks of the NLS Library. It was a nice excuse to meet up with the rep who was setting the Eureka so I could purchase one. My opportunities exploded–” [explosion effect] Sorry, old habits I hard. “When I returned to my school teaching job that fall. With the use of the music composer and printing capabilities, I was soon writing curriculum for my students. I developed a band program at the school and composed much of the beginning curriculum we used.
I also used standard curriculum and arrangements, which my paid reader would dictate to me so that I could write it in Braille. I also wrote music for our handball choir and for the private music students I taught at home after school. That little Eureka, with its odd voice, served me well for 12 years. I created documents, wrote little invoices in the database program, woke up to that raucous alarm and had fun playing the games, but the music composer was amazing and the only way I could have been successful in my job.
Now, things have come full circle and I use the Dancing Dots software on my PC to write music once again. What would life be without my iPhone? One Christmas, my brother gave me the very generous gift of an iPhone. This was in 2010, only six months or so after the 3GS had come out with voiceover. I loved it and took to it like a duck to water. A few years later, I was able to apply for my current rehab teaching position because I was very proficient in using the Apple products. If my brother hadn’t gotten me my first iPhone, I would not have been able to get that job.
Blind pride. I think as Chris Gray pointed out, it may be a matter of where you are in life and how you view blind pride. I am not necessarily proud of blindness as a thing in itself, but I am proud of the skills I have developed and the associations I have. I am proud to be a guide dog user. Having had an awesome dog at my side for 38 years. I am proud to be a Braille reader. I am proud to have a voice to speak to both sighted and blind people, to encourage them and to advocate for those who feel they do not have the opportunities they wish to grow and thrive.
Finally, I am convinced that I would not have the chance to develop the character qualities I have, including tenacity that won’t quit, unending patients, excellent advocacy skills, creative problem-solving abilities and empathy and compassion for others, if I had not been born blind. I may well not have had the chance to develop these skills and trays that serve me as a teacher. It’s what you do with what you have that is very important.
I’m still ruminating on blind culture, so stay tuned. Thank you for all you do and for the difference you make, may we all make a difference in the sphere we’ve been given.” Thank you, Chris, that’s a great email. I appreciate all your insights. That Eureka was interesting. It had the most odd voice, but it was one of the few texts to speech engines of the time, if not perhaps the only one that was female.
Hello to Richard Godfrey Mackay. He says, “Hi, Jonathan. I gather that my wife, Cindy, has written to you and mentioned the problems I’ve had in using OneDrive with confidence. In the past, I’ve backed up my files manually using either Karen’s Replicator or more recently SyncToy 2.1. When we took out the Office 365 subscription, OneDrive became an option and I’ve backed up some test files to see how I like it.
Perhaps because before my retirement I was a solicitor, I’ve always been very anxious to know where all my files were. I was fearful of losing information which was crucial to keep. Touching wood, I haven’t lost anything yet. I may not be the brightest when using technology, but I confess that I find the OneDrive app interface particularly confusing.
If I’ve understood things correctly, OneDrive can back up your data to the cloud and substitute links to the files online for the actual files on a physical drive I own. That all sounds great in theory, but I still need to be convinced that I’m not going to lock myself out from retrieving data, which is only stored somewhere on the web. I wonder if I’m alone in finding the app confusing and what you and others may use to keep data backed up safely.”
Good to hear from you, Richard. The way I back up my data, just to answer the first part of your question is, we have a Synology Network Attached Storage drive, and I have a lot of data on there and it is in a RAID configuration. We have two 4 terabytes drives at the moment. That’s the maximum I think that my current Synology can accommodate and I’m going to have to update that eventually, but right now two 4 terabytes drives work okay. They copy each other. That means that if OneDrive dies, I can swap the drive out and the good drive will copy back again.
That then begs the question, what happens in a really horrible scenario and you have a house fire or something happens, something is stolen, what happens then? I’m backing up my Synology NAS to a mixture of OneDrive and Dropbox at the moment because I have a lot of capacity on both options. The Synology NAS, has a series of apps that you can configure to back up to various services like your consumer cloud storage and also professional backup services. I do have full offsite backups of all of my stuff.
I do also back up the Mushroom FM computer to that Synology NAS using the Windows 7 backup tool that is still built into Windows 10. I think it has survived and remains in Windows 11 as well. That creates a disc image that backs up every week to the Synology because if anyone’s listened to Mushroom FM, you know that we’ve taken a lot of care over the way that everything sounds, how music blends into each other. I would hate to have to start all over again, so I back that up to the Synology NAS as well.
I do use Dropbox predominantly, but like you, I have, what I think is now called Microsoft 365. I have lots of OneDrive storage as well. That’s great because it means that all of my documents, the files that I work with regularly, including all my Reaper projects are available on any computer that I might use. I think broadly speaking, there are two ways that you might use a cloud storage service like OneDrive or Dropbox. You can now get OneDrive, Dropbox, and I guess for that matter, Google Drive and iCloud storage plans that could well exceed the capacity of people’s physical hard drives.
For example, you could easily get a 2 terabyte Dropbox plan, but you may only have a 512-gigabyte hard drive. What do you do in a situation like that? Well, what you can do is store files in the cloud and they look like they’re available to you in File Explorer. They’re in the cloud, so when you access a file in some way, it’s magically pulled down from the cloud for you to work with. You then have a temporary local copy, and that syncs back to the cloud.
As you’ve identified, there are two issues there. One is that it does require some trust. I don’t blame you for not just inherently trusting technology. That seems like a very wise strategy to me. I keep telling people that the reason why I’m so suspicious of technology is that I’ve played such a part in developing quite a bit of it. When you know how the sausage is made, you know how flaky technology can sometimes be. I get why you are careful about your files.
If you want to, you can still keep everything locally on your computer. This is only one way to work. If you’ve got the capacity to keep everything on your computer, as well as keeping it in the cloud, you can absolutely do that. I guess the way then to verify that everything’s being backed up is that when you run the OneDrive client and you check it in the system tray, you will get any warnings in the icon that will tell you, for example, if there were files that couldn’t be synced. You can also right-click on that icon in the system tray, and it will show you recent files that have been uploaded. If you’ve made a change to a document of some kind, you should be able to get assurance that it has uploaded to OneDrive, and it has been synced.
You can also go into the OneDrive preferences or settings and look at each folder. With each folder, you can decide whether a full copy of that folder is stored on your local hard drive or not. I prefer to work this way. I’ve bought a lot of storage locally on my computers that I use, so I have no problem with keeping a local copy of everything. I don’t like the latency that these cloud services introduce when you start storing things in the cloud. I go in there and I tell OneDrive and Dropbox, for that matter, that I want everything stored locally. I don’t just want a link or a shortcut pointing to those files. If you prefer to work with it that way, and it gives you peace of mind, you can configure OneDrive to work that way.
You can also log into the OneDrive website, or if you have a smartphone, you can log into the OneDrive app on your smartphone and verify that the files are there. If you can see them on the web and you can see them on your smartphone, then clearly they have synced. I hope that’s of some help.
Jonathan: This email comes from Winway who says, “Hello, Jonathan, I hope this email finds you well. I just started listening to Mosen At Large earlier this year on the strength of a friend’s recommendation. I have been able to learn so much just by having your podcast playing in the background as I do various household tasks and go on runs. Thank you so much for providing this space where we can all productively discuss different perspectives on blindness-related issues, and in the process, learn from each other.
I wanted to briefly share my thoughts on improving my Braille with an uppercase B reading speed and accuracy. I was fortunate enough to have access to Braille displays on loan, a courtesy of an organization in my state. It had been several years since I had Braille, so the initial reacquaintance took a lot of time. I struggled to read even basic sentences fluently. Some time passed and I only used the Braille displays casually just to read text and short emails.
While practicing my Braille, I realized that I needed to make time to improve my Braille fluency if I ever wanted Braille to be a viable tool for work and pleasure. I did a lot of research into the pedagogy of Braille literacy. In my research, I learned about Braille reading techniques discussed in an article on the NFB website that were never explicitly taught to me. For example, keeping my touch light, reading with my fingertips, and last but not least, forcing myself to read with both hands. I have been meticulous about learning how to read with my left hand since this is something I’ve never done before.
I’ve read hard copy user guides slowly. My left hand, following the line of text as my right hand, does most of the work interpreting the Braille. I’ve listened to audiobooks while reading the text to force myself to read at a constant rate. I’ve read grocery lists with my left hand on my versa slate. I’ve read books that my 10-year-old niece asked me to read.
Thanks to a suggestion on Twitter. I also started angling the Braille display so that the line subtly slopes upward as I read. A position that has greatly facilitated efficient left-hand reading. I can now do a lot of skimming with my left hand without constantly thinking about how unnatural it feels. I have not yet grasped this two-handed reading technique where both hands read a line of text independent of each other, and somehow meet in the middle.
It’s not clear if you’re reading different parts of the line simultaneously, or alternatively, does one hand read the beginning of the line coming together with the other hand, then reads the end of the line as the first hand returned to the beginning of the line ready and waiting for the text to auto-scroll or for you to pan. Does that even make sense?
Apart from reading techniques, I learned the value of auto-scroll, which led to significant advancement in my reading speeds. I was literally forced to read at a predetermined rate. If I missed a word or two, my brain would fill in the blanks for me. I’m proud to say that my auto scroll speed has steadily decreased over time. At this rate, the only way it’ll ever increase further is if I can ever figure out the magic and deficiency of two-handed reading.
Interestingly, I much prefer turning on auto-scrolling when reading on 20 cell displays for extended reading. I think this is because there are fewer words for my brain to piece together per line, and my hand moves back and forth in a shorter distance and more rapidly to meet the other hand that is marking the beginning of the line, allowing me to consume more content more quickly since I don’t need to pan. I did recently reverse my panning buttons. Thanks for that suggestion, by the way, but I only pan when I’m reading text/emails or doing a very particular type of reading.
I hope that someone is able to benefit from my Braille reading journey. It was certainly a lot of work, but it was worth it. I know that I will only improve from here. Thanks again for your podcast. I’m not sure if I can eloquently write about how much of an impact it has had on my personal and professional well-being.” That is really kind, I’m so pleased that the podcast is having that kind of impact for you and I’m glad you’re here and that you discovered it. Thank you so much for writing in. Also congratulations on your tenacity and your determination to get better with Braille. It is an investment that really does pay off.
One of the most wonderful rewards for you surely must be reading to your 10-year-old niece. That is such a special thing. My relationship with my kids would have been very different if I hadn’t been able to read them Braille. Even though they’ve grown up now, they still talk to me about stories that I read to them with a lot of fondness. Reading to your children is one of the most special things in the world, and Braille allowed me to do that. Not to mention all the other professional things, this podcast obviously would be very different if I didn’t read Braille.
Now you asked me to talk further about my Braille reading technique. I think I do two things depending on what I’m doing. I think if I’m reading a book, I do sometimes read two halves of a line at the same time, because as you identified with your scrolling discussion if you miss a little bit, you can normally pick the context up. I think, just thinking about this, if I’m reading an email like yours for broadcast, where I’m trying to faithfully represent what it is that you’ve written here, then yes, I am reading with both hands and my thumb rests on the far left thumb key of my Mantis.
This is why I have always been a big fan of reversing the panning buttons. For me, that does make an appreciable difference to my reading speed because I’m buffering. I’m reading ahead and speaking and so the moment that I’m reaching the end of that right-hand line my thumb is on the left hand key and I can press that in advance the display. Hopefully it allows me to remain a little bit fluent. Well done. I hope you’ll keep in touch with further thoughts and good luck with your Braille reading journey.
A popular subject of late, because it’s a fine app, is the Spring app for Twitter. Matthew Whitaker is in touch on this. He’s installed the app now. He picked a bad time to install it because at the time he installed it, Twitter was on the blink and it was doing some very weird things. It wasn’t a good first impression, but I was experiencing exactly the same problem with Twitter at the same time. Hopefully by now, Matthew, it is all resolved and you are getting the full Spring experience. He’s asking about the priority tweets option that I have on my Twitter and how I get that.
That is simply a Twitter list that I have created that’s private. Twitter has a little known feature called lists. Some of these lists are public. You can make your list public, and then you can give people a URL to access your list. I think I did cover a bit of this when I did the Spring review, but where this can come in particularly handy is when people gather together a collection of tweeters on a particular subject, for example, there are several really good Twitter lists that allows you to see journalists who are tweeting about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
You just go to that list. You don’t necessarily have to be following all the people in that list, and you can see people who have something in common, all in the one place. I know that there was an app a while ago that allowed me to see what lists I was being listed on. I can’t remember what app that was now that allowed you to see what lists people had added you to. I’m on quite a few blindness technology lists and podcasting lists and various other things.
Lists can be public like that, or they can be private. They can be lists that you create for yourself that could say group technology related people together, or politics related people together, or just people whose tweets you never want to miss, even when you’re in a hurry. That’s why I created my priority tweets list a long time ago now, because sometimes I just don’t have time for the full Twitter experience, but there are people whose tweets are so important to me that I never want to miss a single one. That’s one way of taking care of that.
Do check out the lists options in Spring. They are comprehensive. You can also go through your list of followers or people that you are following and choose to add them to a list. There are a couple of ways to create lists in Spring. It’s very encouraging to see the developer continuing, not just to enhance the app, but to add specific accessibility features, even since I recorded that review and it wasn’t that long ago now, there is a new section of the settings specifically for accessibility. There are a bunch of voiceover features there in terms of the way that things are done.
For example, if you prefer to press return to send a tweet rather than command return, you can now do that. If you want emojis filtered out from Twitter names, you can do that. Oh my goodness. That is just so useful because sometimes you’re reading a lot of tweets and people have got so many emojis in their Twitter names that it takes forever to actually get to the content of the tweet. Now you can filter them out of the display name, but you don’t have to turn emojis off and voiceover altogether because sometimes it can be really useful to see those emojis in a tweet. There are a bunch of others as well. It’s great to see that Spring is being so actively developed and with meaningful new features.
For the second consecutive week, it is time to introduce Bonnie Mosen and the Bonnie Bulletin.
Bonnie Mosen: Hi.
Jonathan: [unintelligible [01:43:54] No more hi, guys.
Bonnie: Hi. Hi.
Jonathan: Hi. Welcome back.
Jonathan: I am in the dog box.
Jonathan: Do they say that in America? Dog box?
Bonnie: Dog house.
Jonathan: Dog house in America. See here, it’s the dog box. I’m in the dog house because we are now recording this Bonnie Bulletin for the second time. I sit here day in, day out. I play with the Reaper and on this particular occasion, I think it’s the first time I’ve ever done it, I forgot to arm Bonnie’s track.
Bonnie: Oh dear.
Jonathan: When I went to play the Bonnie Bulletin back, you could hear me very clearly, but Bonnie was way off mic, because I hadn’t armed her track, which is assigned to her microphone. What a nit? What a nit? We’re going to reconstruct the Bonnie Bulletin and like love or lunch, it is better the second time around. Oh no, no. Only love is better the second time around.
Bonnie: Yes, not lunch. Ew.
Jonathan: Not lunch. We were talking in the Bonnie Bulletin about how audible books these days are not read anymore.
Bonnie: They’re performed.
Jonathan: Is it every company that does that or is it just certain companies that when you hear the beginning of an audible book, they say, “Performed by.”
Bonnie: I think it’s all of them because there’s actually, if you can rate the book, you rate the performance of the book.
Jonathan: Do you like that? They’ve become more dramatizations
Bonnie: I don’t because sometimes now a lot of times you have multiple narrators, because obviously there’s multiple people in the book. If there’s multiple points of view, you have multiple narrators. I’ve gotten used to it, but I don’t particularly like it. Some narrators are better than others, obviously. I was talking on the last one about the book I’m reading now, Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe.
Jonathan: The one in which I forgot to arm the track you mean?
Bonnie: Yes. By Heather Webber.
Jonathan: Heather who?
Jonathan: Oh, Heather Webber.
Bonnie: Heather Webber. Heather S. Webber. It’s nice. It’s just a sweet book and there’s different narrators and one of the narrators when this little kid who’s about two shows up named Ollie and– her name’s Olivia Lee because it’s the south, but they call her Ollie and she goes, “Hi, hi.” It’s really funny when the narrator does that.
Jonathan: You’ve also talked very positively about some, should we say, performances of audiobooks like the one– What’s that book? To Sleep in a Sea. Was that the one?
Bonnie: Oh, that was really good.
Jonathan: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars.
Bonnie: Yes. She’s a professional gamer voice too. That does a lot of the sci-fi gaming, I guess. Some narrators are good. At least they don’t do a lot of dramatic noises in like a radio play or something, then that would really turn me off.
Jonathan: All right then. We’ve been talking about a few things that I would be very interested in your comments on. One of the things that we’ve been talking about is whether there is ever any prospect that NFB and ACB would reunify. Would you like on the Bonnie Bulletin on Mosen at Large to this global audience to encourage the leadership of the two consumer organizations in the United States to do that?
Jonathan: Okay, fine. Thank you for that.
Bonnie: I think there’s room for both. It’s a large country. They both have a global reach in some respects and it’s a little bit different than political parties, but it would be like asking the Democrat and Republican party to merge or the Labor and the Conservatives in England or insert whatever rival parties you have.
Jonathan: Drawing a parallel and I don’t actually know the answers to this. You always hear about the NAACP in the United States, who are championing African American causes. Is there an alternative organization to the NAACP?
Bonnie: I don’t know.
Jonathan: If African Americans can unify around that large organization like that, why can’t blind people?
Bonnie: Because I’ve met African Americans that don’t want anything to do with the NAACP. I think it’s with any group or any organization, any consumer, there are going to be people that don’t agree with the leadership or don’t agree with the philosophy or feel that somehow they’ve been left out of the conversation.
Jonathan: Somebody writes into your podcast of the future, which could be called the Mosen at Tiny podcast. How about that? Mosen at Tiny podcast. They say, “Bonnie, here’s my question for you. I’m thinking of getting involved in the blind consumer movement in the United States of America, which organization should I join and why?”
Bonnie: I think you need to do your research. You need to visit them and see which one, because both of them, even though they’re working for ultimately the same goal, they go about it differently. There are guide dog users in NFB. They do have a guide dog special interest group, NAGDU.
Jonathan: They’re still recovering from the October 1995 edition of the Braille Monitor.
Bonnie: They won’t allow in their training centers. They still will not allow you to use the guide dogs. You have to bring them, but you have to leave them in a room.
Jonathan: See, I think I need to jump to their defense on that, because if you are going to that kind of a program, you are going to learn cane skills, aren’t you? It’s a fundamental component of their program.
Bonnie: You can still do some of that together. I don’t think there’s room to have you lock your dog away all day. I think that they can work together. There could be times when you could use the dog and use the cane, but you just have to look at what you want out of it. I would suggest talking to the local chapter, going to the chapter meetings and seeing which one works best for you, because some cities might have a stronger NFB chapter or stronger ACB chapter and go to each convention if you can. Now we can do that virtually. Attend them, see which one you like best.
Jonathan: Which one do you like best?
Bonnie: I’ve been to both several times, and I like both of them. I genuinely enjoy– I have to say, I do like the GDUI of ACB.
Jonathan: They are a powerful ACB affiliate, aren’t they?
Bonnie: They’re a very powerful ACB affiliate, and I have a lot of friends in GDUI, so I do enjoy that.
Jonathan: They used to have the full 25 votes when I was involved. I don’t know whether they still do have the full 25 votes.
Bonnie: Yes, they’re pretty powerful, but then on the flip side, I like the writer’s division of the NFB and the journalism division of NFB, which ACB doesn’t have. I do find that when I attended my first NFB convention, ’99 in Atlanta, I found that I met a lot more professional people there.
Not that there weren’t professional people in ACB, but a lot of people that were working in different fields and they certainly have a very strong youth group taking a very strong interest in children because– which I think is important. I remember the second NFB convention I went to, which was also in Atlanta, when I was getting on the elevator and seeing a bunch of these little kids with some teacher, parents.
Jonathan: It is amazing, isn’t it? It really is.
Bonnie: Chaperone and their little canes, trophing along and-
Jonathan: Yes, something very special about that.
Bonnie: One of them was– they got excited about the dog because is a guide dog and one of the mothers said, “Well, if you don’t use your cane correctly, you’re not going to get one when you grow up.” They do scavenger hunts around the hotel and they very work with kids from a young age to teach them how to self-advocate. I’ve done a lot of the– when I lived in New Jersey we had a really– who has sadly passed away recently, Joseph Ruffalo, who was such a good leader of the NFB. We did some things with their chapter and really saw how that it worked, but I think it’s whatever works best for you. Whichever one meets your needs.
Jonathan: Sometimes I think there can be a bit of a cultural dichotomy, should we say, between the culture of some local chapters or even a state affiliates and at the national level of-
Bonnie: Oh, yes.
Jonathan: -the organizations.
Bonnie: You see that, I think, with any consumer organization because it’s same. When I was in Romance Writers of America, it was the same thing. Some states, the ACB and the NFB chapters won’t even talk to each other, acknowledge each other’s existence. In some states they work very well together.
Jonathan: What was that thing the McCoy’s and the-
Bonnie: Hatfield and the McCoy.
Jonathan: Yes, and the Hatfield. Where’s that even come from?
Bonnie: Oh, it’s a family that was feuding up in– is it Eastern Kentucky.
Jonathan: Yes. Interesting. Is legendary.
Bonnie: 100-year-old feud. Yes.
Jonathan: Even though you don’t think there is capacity for the organizations to unite or that it would necessarily be a good thing. Do you think that it would be good if there was some sort of coordination that says, “We are going to ensure that the conventions are not held at the same time at the national level”?
Bonnie: Yes. I think, and for many reasons, because I think each could draw more members maybe to whatever cause because some people are curious because we saw that with the virtual conventions. Also, for resourcing because when I worked for Seeing Eye, and particularly with the smaller businesses, you had to expend resources to send people and it was hard when they were both the same week.
I look forward to– that’s the one thing that I miss living here is being able to go to convention because it is a lot of fun. You learn a lot. The exhibit hall is always very exciting, and that’s one thing they do a lot of at NFB is lot of the states have their own booths, which is nice because particularly if you’re new, you can go over and talk to the different states and find out what they’re up to.
Jonathan: Finally then, as you know, I have been in a high tech dystopian, Google infused Groundhog Day this week, what’s your worst tech support experience and where did it come from?
Bonnie: I think probably my worst is around cable. Any kind of cable conversation you have?
Jonathan: When I first met you– Well, we first met a long, long time before we kind of really became good friends, but when-
Bonnie: We actually we met at an ACB.
Jonathan: Did we met at a states?
Bonnie: It was regional. Yes.
Jonathan: A regional thing. Yes.
Bonnie: Yes, in Virginia.
Jonathan: Yes, long time ago.
Jonathan: Anyway, I got to know you and you seem so friendly and nice and affable and all those good things, but then whenever Comcast came up, you turned into this ninja mutant angry person. I thought, “Whoa, how can one company do this to somebody?”
Bonnie: It does that to a lot of people. The conversations were always you’d call and, “Is the box flashing a red and green light?” “I can’t see it.” “You can’t see the light?” “No.”
Jonathan: To be fair, you did explain that you can’t see it because you’re a blind person.
Bonnie: I did. I said, “I’m blind.” “Okay. Is there anyone there that can see the light?” “No.” “There’s no one there in the house besides you?” “Not comfortable answering that question if you come burgle me. Yes, there’s no one here.” “Oh, okay. You can’t see,” and then we go back again. “You can’t see the green light?” “No.” “Is the TV on?” “Yes.” “What’s on the screen?” “I can’t see the screen.” “Okay. Is there anyone in the house?” It’d be this loop of this conversation and then, “Well, could you go get someone?” I’m like, “No I can’t.”
Jonathan: Usually the answer is to switch it off and back on again, by the way.
Bonnie: Yes, or sometimes they’d have to send someone out.
Jonathan: One interesting thing is that in America where they have apartment complexes and I’m very pleased to see the Biden administration is really cracking down on this because some of these cable companies and telcos in general monopolize certain apartment complexes or even certain whole reachings.
Bonnie: It’s certain areas. That’s what it was in [unintelligible [01:56:14].
Jonathan: That does not happen here. We’ve got so much consumer choice. I’m changing ISPs all the time.
Bonnie: Because whenever they’d see a Verizon, my apartment building the residents, whenever they would see a Verizon truck they’d run down to the doorman or into the leasing, “Are we getting Verizon? Are we getting Verizon?” Because they wanted to get off Comcast.
Jonathan: Very interesting. What we have here is some national infrastructure that the ISPs hook into and they sell you various packages based on that infrastructure. If we wanted to change ISPs and I do it from time to time, it’s just a matter of putting in the appropriate request and the infrastructure does it [unintelligible [01:56:56] We now have a new ISP and that works really well, but it’s like a racket in some parts of the United States.
Bonnie: It is. It really is.
Jonathan: Yes, but there are little closets where all the gear gets hidden. You have to go in there and find the router and-
Bonnie: [unintelligible [01:57:10] around, yes.
Jonathan: Yes. Hopefully, it’s improved since you left.
Bonnie: Well, they do have the talking boxes now.
Jonathan: Yes, that’s cool.
Bonnie: Not sure which consumer group was at, maybe both of them. They probably would work together on a common goal.
Jonathan: Whoever did it, that’s your favorite one.
Bonnie: Yes, exactly.
Jonathan: Yes. All right. I’d love to hear from you, so if you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to Jonathan J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N @mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States, 864-606-6736.
[01:57:51] [END OF AUDIO]