Categories
Atechability

Atechability Number 11: Hello, I’m Screen Reader, Your Virtual Assistant

Introduction

Welcome to a pretty short Atechability article! This time, we will be looking at the differences between screen readers and personal virtual assistants. Unfortunately, there is a common stereotype of “X personal assistant is a great tool for the blind!” Here, we will get that cleared up, once and for all! (Insert emotional/suspense music here)

A Quick Refresher

To refresh your memory, a screen reader is a piece of software that reads the screen to you. Let’s use this analogy. We have two pieces of software talking to each other here. You have a word processor, and the screen reader. Here’s how the conversation goes.
Word Processor: “Hey, you pressed the command to create a new document! I’ll now load up that dialog so you can choose what kind of file you want to make today!”
Screen Reader: “Oh, sweet! They pressed a key on their keyboard! Let’s see what the word processor is telling them. Oh! It seems like it’s a new document dialog! Now I’ll have to run that to my voice box and read it aloud so the user can interact with it and look for what they need!”
All screen readers work alike, and you operate it using either the keyboard, touch screen, or braille device, depending what kind of computer setup you are using. Rather than a blind person looking at the screen, the screen reader reads everything that they are doing. We recommend looking at our web site in the screen reader articles for more information.

Personal Virtual Assistants

These pieces of software have been more of a recent development and still go strong. About ten years ago, Siri from Apple was the first one to be introduced. In the years that followed, other major technology companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have come out with their own variant. But you may ask yourself, what do they do? Well, glad you asked! These personal assistants are found on many computers and mobile devices. You interact with it, by talking to it. For example, you can ask it, “What is the current temperature?” Or, “Send a message to Patrick.” Depending on the model of device, you can do tasks as easy as checking time, making phone calls, to more complex tasks like turning on your lights, if your house is built correctly with smart home technology. Typically, these assistants have a word you can say to activate it, (typically the name of the assistant like “Hey, Siri!”) or you press a button on the device in question.

The Big Difference

While these personal assistants can do quite a bit in regards to productivity, they have their limits. For example, you can ask your virtual assistant, “Send an email,” then dictate the text. But You cannot say, “Attach this file.” The same thing goes with sending text messages. You can send a message, but if you want to attach anything, you’ll have to do it yourself. This, in a blind person’s case, is where the screen reader comes into play. We can independently send emails, with attachments that way. A personal assistant cannot format documents for you. You have to do that yourself. The screen reader will ALWAYS overpower a virtual assistant any day in situations like this. Unfortunately, we have seen articles that say, “Virtual Assistant Helps Blind Person In A Revolutionary Way!” I understand the misconception, just because a phone has Siri or other assistant makes it useful to us. Now, if a person, let’s say, cannot use the phone properly due to a physical impairment, and they are looking for just basics like sending messages, short emails, making phone calls, etcetera, then I can understand the use of just a virtual assistant. But for the advanced users, the screen reader is your best friend. So before you obtain a smartphone or computer, we recommend you do a little research before assuming that the personal assistant will do all the work. We would like to one day see, “Screen Reader Helps A Blind Person In a Revolutionary Way” in the mainstream media.

Conclusion

We hope this short, but to the point article gave you a bit of insight on the major differences between screen readers and virtual assistants. The next time someone tells you, “Oh nice! So how do you use this virtual assistant to navigate your phone?” You can correct them NICELY and let them know what the screen reader is called, and show how you use the phone’s controls to navigate it. Of course, you can always drop us a line if you would like to know more information on this topic! Happy navigating!

Categories
VIBES

Introduction to VIBES

Introduction

Welcome to another new section of Screenless Allies! This section, as the title says, is called, “VIBES.” This stands for “Visually Impaired/Blind Experiencing Success.” This is a section that we feel you will enjoy, because this will have a bit more variety than Atechability. This is the “Non-tech” section of the site. Here is what you will find in this section.

How Do You Do That?

How on earth does a blind or visually impaired person do this? It’s just so INSPIRING to me the fact they can do it, I’m gonna cry for five hours, then call the news and tell them about this! Oh, sorry, got a little carried away. One of the things you will find here are a lot of how-to’s for basic independent living skills. Things can go as basic as labeling items, to more advance topics such as cooking. This is primarily designed to inform, but if you are a teacher of the visually impaired or maybe a friend of a blind person, and you wish to get a blindness perspective about doing everyday life activities, this kind of article will tell you all about it!

I Didn’t Know Blind People Actually Have Eyes!

In this type of article, as the heading suggests, we will discuss misinformation about living with a visual impairment. There is so much stereotype floating around about a blind and visually impaired person, it is not even funny. While unfortunately, many people have tried addressing this, we feel like we can do it in a bit of an informative, with a touch of humor kind of way. I have seen that when I interact with people who have never been around a blind person, humor can get you quite far. I have made acquaintances that way. While this may work on some, others may not appreciate it, but I, with the rest of the team, would like to share, OUR, experiences.

What Else?

You will just have to find out and stay tuned to this section for other types of articles! You never know what we will publish here. We may even publish personal stories that we feel may educate others! We will not do audio books, sorry. We promise, this section will be just like the Atechability series in regards to information; detailed, but easy to understand. We thank you for reading this introduction, and we are looking forward to your feedback!

Categories
Atechability

Atechability Number 10: Surfin Web

Introduction

Welcome to another general Atechability Article! This article will be slightly different than the others you have read, because in this article, we will be covering web navigation. We’ll be going over all keyboard shortcuts and what each one does. Many screen readers have the same commands to do this, except VoiceOver on Apple products, wich will be covered at the end of this article. We will be covering the most commonly used keystrokes and a little bit of what each does.

Quick Notes

These commands work on all web browsers, as long as a screen reader is running. As long as you are on a web page that is accessible, (which most of them are) you can use these commands. The following commands are letters you press on the keyboard, which will move you to a certain point on a web page. A letter by itself, moves you forward an element, while adding the “Shift” key to the letter moves you backwards.

Forms Mode

when working with form fields like edit boxes, combo boxes, or lists, you must activate a special mode called “Forms Mode” on your screen reader to interact with these. To activate forms mode, Press “Enter” on a form field. For example, let’s say you are trying to type your name into a form. Navigate to the “Name” field, and when you hear “Edit” or “Text Field,” press “Enter” to activate forms mode. Your screen reader should either play a sound, or say “Editing” to confirm you are ready to type. Type as usual, and when finished, press “Escape” to exit. You can also press “Tab” to move through the form and complete the form that way. You will exit forms mode when you hit escape, or come across a button.
With these notes out of the way, let us begin! We shall go in alphabetical order for easier look up.

Annotations (“A)”

This element is useful when you want notes on a web page. For instance, let’s say a teacher is having you read an article on the web. If the site designer made small note sections on the web page, you can press “A” to move to the next annotation. In this case, they are used to check to make sure you are understanding the article, but they have many other uses.

Buttons (“B”)

You will see these a LOT, on a web page. Think of it as an imaginary button on an imaginary keypad. To move by buttons, press “B.” Press “Enter” to activate it.

Combo Boxes (“C)”

No, this is not a combo meal from a restaurant, I promise. This is just a fancy term for a list box. These typically have you pick an item from them, such as a month and year if you’re putting in an expiration date to a credit card, but many site designers use them in different ways. Press “C” to move to a combo box. Use the arrow keys to navigate through the items, and you can typically press “Enter” to select one. The item is automatically highlighted once you move to the one you want, but you can never be too careful with the “Enter” key to make sure it is highlighted. Also, sometimes, combo boxes don’t open properly. To resolve this, press “ALT+Down Arrow” to force open it. If that still does not work, contact the web developer of the page you are on if you can, and be specific as to where the problem is, and they should be able to fix it. NO LAWSUITS JUST FOR A COMBO BOX NOT OPENING!

Landmarks (“D”)

Landmarks on a page mark the start of a section. For example, a site can have one of these at the start of a menu, or it can go to the main part of an article. Press “D” to move by landmarks.

Edit Fields (“E”)

These fields are used when, let’s say, you’re filling out a form and they want your name, address, social security number, the last thing you ate, etcetera. You can input text into these fields normally. Press “E” to move by these fields.

Form Fields (“F”)

These are all the components of a form like buttons, edit fields, combo boxes, checkboxes, etcetera. Use “F” to move by form fields.

Graphics (“G”)

Graphics are simply pictures. Webpages can have pictures all over it, and a lot of them are unlabeled for screen readers. You may see something like, “Graphic 1234567890.” Some graphics can be clicked on to make the web site do different things, depending on the context. For example,a button can have a graphic on it. Press “G” to move by graphics.

Headings (“H”)

These are sections, and subsections of a webpage. All these letters of the article you see here are in sections. On other articles, you may see subsections where we go in depth on how something works, for example. Think of headings as a nesting doll. Remember those? Those toys were fun to mess with, for sure! No, it was not a doll. It was like a big container, with a smaller container inside it, and a much smaller container inside that, and so on until you found a very small piece. Well, headings work the same way. They have six levels in total. Press “H” to move by heading. If you know what you are looking for is in a subheading, use the numbers “One” through “Six” on the number row to move by that subheading level.

List Items (“I”)

This is similar to an item in a combo box, but sometimes web developers have a list as links on a web page. Use “I” to move by list items.

Links (“K”)

A link takes you to either a different part of a web page or a different site altogether, depending on the context. You’ll see these all the time, we promise. Use either “K” or the “Tab” key to move by links.

Lists (“L”)

These will also pop up quite a bit on many web pages. It is just like a list you would see on paper, and you can use that to highlight items, like the combo box. The same applies if you have an issue opening a list. The difference here is that a list can have check boxes, which we will explain later. Press “L” to move by lists.

Frames (“M”)

Do you ever get angry because you open a form, and it does not take you to it directly, and instead, it opens at the bottom of a web page? Are you trying to mute the political ad that you really do not care about on a web page when reading an article? These will sometimes appear at the bottom of the web page, and sometimes the screen reader does not notify you of this. Most of the time though, frames are used when an embedded video is playing on the web page. Press “M” to move by frames.

Static Text (“N”)

This element, to put it simply, moves you to text that has NO navigable elements on it, just like this text on the article you are reading. Press “N” to move by blocks of text.

Block Quotes (“Q”)

These are typically quotations on a web page, just like you would find on a research paper in school, where you’ll read the quote, and the source of it. Press “Q” to move by block quote.

Radio Buttons (“R”)

No, this will not play music. A radio button is a button you have to chek. For instance, think of the “Gender” field on a physical piece of paper. You have to check either “Mail,” or “Female,” right? Well, on a web page, the radio button is used to check that preferred item. This is just one of many scenarios where you will come across the radio button. Press “R” to move by radio buttons.

Separators (“S”)

This element literally separates things on a web page. For example, they can separate a web site’s menu from an article. Or, it can separate a form from the other parts of a web page. Press “S” to move by separators.

Tables (“T”)

Sweet, more tables for me to sit at! Oh, hold on a sec, nevermind. Some web sites can present information using tables, where you can move by columns and rows. Press “T” to move by tables. You can then press “Alt+Control+Up” and “Down” arrows to move by rows, and “Left” and “right” with the same “Control” and “Alt” keys to move by column. It is recommended to check your screen reader’s documentation on table navigation, since some screen readers may have different keystrokes to move through a table.

Visited Links (“V”)

If you did not know, your web browser keeps a history of the websites you have visited, unless you have turned that feature off. With that history, it also keeps the links you have clicked on before. The screen reader will say “Visited” if it detects a link you clicked on previously. Press “V” to move by visited links.

Checkboxes (“X”)

These are the legendary tick boxes you have on a paper form where you write a “checkmark” in the box when you are highlighting an item. On the computer, it is similar. Press “X” to move by checkbox, and press “Space” or “Enter” to check it. Don’t like the item you chose? No problem! Press “Space” or “Enter” again to uncheck it. You can check more than one box in some cases.

VoiceOver commands

As mentioned above, FoiceOver on Apple devices has slightly different commands for web navigation. To enable this feature, you must have a keyboard connected to your iOS device. If you are on a mac, this is not necessary. You must also enable single letter quick navigation by pressing “VO+Q.” The “VO” keys are the VoiceOver modifier keys, which can either be “Control+Option,” or, the “Caps Lock” key. Once you do that, these commands are the ones that will be different from the standard screen reader set.

  • “F”: Frame
  • “J”: Form Field
  • “L”: Link
  • “P”: Static Text
  • “X”: List

As of this writing, there is no way to navigate to checkboxes, or combo boxes.

Using the Rotor On iOS

If you are using a touch screen, you can use the rotor to access a lot of these page elements. To configure what you can move by, find “Rotor,” in Voiceover’s settings. Enable the options you want to move by, and once you are happy with it, find a web page. Once you are ready, on the screen, do a “Two-finger Clockwise” or “Counter-Clockwise” rotation until you find the element you wish to move by on the page. Think of it as you turning a dial, but with only two fingers. For example, put your thumb, and index finger on top of each other. That is, the pads of the two should touch each other. Then, separate them from each other just a little bit where you can feel a small gap between the two. Rotate them on the screen this way, and you should be able to turn that rotor! It does take practice, but it can easily be done once you get the hang of it. Patience is a virtue. From there, “Flick Up,” or “Down” with one finger, and you will move forward or backward using the element you picked.

Forms Mode On Apple

To activate the forms mode feature on Apple devices, you can focus on the form field you are wanting to interact with on the web page. From there, you can either “Double Tap” with one finger, or press “VO+Space” on your keyboard. The field should then be interactable, whether it is an edit field, or another type of form control. If it is a list or combo box, VoiceOver will read it as a “Picker Item.” Do a one finger “Flick Up” or “Down” to move through the picker item.

Epilogue

What an extensive list, huh? Once you practice using all these commands, you will be navigating the web like a pro! We promise you, it will increase your productivity by a lot, rather than having to just arrow to the desired element. If you struggle with any of this, drop us an email, and we will be happy to help! Happy browsing!

Categories
Atechability Reviews

Atechability Review Number 4: A Writer In Orbit

Introduction

It’s that time yet again! Time for another review! Continuing the braille product review series, this time we will be looking at the Orbit Writer, from a company called Orbit Research. The cost for this device is only $100. Honestly, it is EXTREMELY CHEAP for a braille keyboard!

Description

The orbit writer is a braille keyboard that you can use to control your devices. The device is about the size of the iPhone 5 series, with about an inch left over. It does not provide a braille display, only the braille keyboard portion. It can connect up to six devices. Five of those would be bluetooth, and one of them would be USB. It also has a cursor pad to control the device. The battery in the unit lasts about three days on a single charge. It is recommended you charge the device when you get it by using either the computer, or a power cube if you have that around.

In the Envelope

Yes, you read correctly. This device is tiny, that it does not need an actual box. In the envelope, you will find the Orbit Writer itself, a Micro USB cable, and a lanyard. You can string the lanyard through the front of the unit in order to wear it while in use.

Orientation

As mentioned, the Orbit Writer is a pretty simple device. We will start at the front of the unit, where you will find the whole to attach the lanyard. You would string it through this hole, and tie a knot on the string in order for it to stay secure. On the left side of the unit, you will find the micro USB port. The cable that is supplied is tiny, so it is recommended you invest in a longer cable, especially if you are out and about all the time. On the top of the device, you will find the braille keyboard. This keyboard, is a little different than the typical braille display keyboard. On a regular braille display keyboard, the keys are oval shaped, and they go up and down lengthwise. On this device, the keys are going side to side, and the ovals are cut in half. On the bottom part of the keyboard, you will find “Backspace, Space,” and “Enter.” The “Space bar” is much longer than the “Backspace” and “Enter” keys. Above this row, you will find the standard six braille keys. In the middle between “Dot 1” and “Dot 4,” you will find the round cursor cross. There are dots to indicate all four directions of the arrow pad, with the “select” button in the center. A lot of commands will require the use of the keyboard and arrow keys to change the unit’s settings. To perform any system adjustment on the device itself, you will need to hold down the specific key combination. Also, the device uses vibrations to provide feedback of all its prompts.

Powering On and Off

The Orbit Writer has NO “Power” button. Instead, you will need to use the cursor cross to turn it on and off. Remember, the cursor cross is in the middle of the braille keyboard. To power on and off, hold down the “Up” and “down” arrow buttons together until you feel a vibration. A short vibration indicates it is turned on. A long vibration indicates you turned it off. Once it is turned on, you are ready to use the device!

Essential Functions

This section will explain some of the essential functions that you need to know to use the Orbit Writer and customize it to your liking.

Checking Battery Status

To check the battery status of the Orbit Writer, Hold down an “Up” arrow chord. (“Space” with “Up” arrow.) The unit will vibrate a certain number of times to indicate battery status. The times and their meanings follow:

  • one short pulse: below 20%
  • two short pulses: between 20 and 40%
  • three short pulses: between 40 and 60%
  • four short pulses: between 60 and 80%
  • one long pulse: greater than 80%. It can be assumed it is fully charged.

This is a bit of a learning curbe, but can be done with patience. Note: when you connect it to the charger, the unit will emit a short vibration to indicate it is plugged in, and when it is unplugged, it will vibrate according to the battery level.

Auto-Power Off

The Orbit Writer can turn itself off after a certain time if you are not using it. To customize this, press a “Left” arrow chord, (“Space” with “Left” arrow) to check what this setting is set to, and hold the same combination down for three seconds to change it. Here are the settings and their vibratory equivalents:

  • one pulse: five minutes.
  • two short pulses: ten minutes
  • three short pulses: twenty minutes
  • four short pulses: thirty minutes

When the time comes to power down, the unit will emit a long vibration.

Resetting The Unit

To reset the Orbit Writer, Press “Up” arrow and “Enter” keys together. The unit will not provide feedback, but it will turn itself off, and you must turn it on by holding “Up” and “Down” together again.

Forget All Devices

If you decide to, let’s say, sell your unit, or want to start from scratch connectionwise, hold down a “Down” arrow chord for three seconds until the unit emits a long vibration. It will forget all your devices you have connected to all bluetooth channels.

Vibration Intensity

If you do not feel the Orbit Writer vibrating, you can adjust how hard it vibrates. To do that, press a “Right” arrow chord, (“Space” with “Up” arrow key) to check what it is set to, and hold down this combination for three seconds to change the intensity. The pulses go from one to three, with one pulse being the lowest setting, and three being the highest.

Using Orbit Writer with a Device

Now that we got the main settings you need out of the way, it is time to connect it to a device. Most of this process will come from your device such as a phone or computer to establish the connection. If the unit is connected successfully, it will emit two short vibrations, indicating it is ready to use.

Bluetooth

Before you connect the device to bluetooth, you must make sure the channel is enabled on the Orbit Writer. Remember, there are five channels for bluetooth, and one for USB. To switch channels, you will press a “Left” arrow chord, with the dot number of the channel. For example, to activate channel 1, you would press a “Left” with “Dot 1” chord. Depending on the number of channel, replace “Dot 1″ with the dot number of the channel you want. If you want channels four through six, you replace the ‘Left” arrow with the “right” arrow with the same combination, except you will use dots “Four” through “Six.” Channel six is the USB. Once you have found the channel you want, you must hold down the key combination you pressed for the channel for three seconds to enable pairing on that specific channel. For example, I want to pair my iPhone to channel 1. I press “left” arrow chord with “Dot 1” to activate that channel. Now, I’ll hold down that same combination for three seconds. I am ready to pair my device! We have an article where we show you how to pair bluetooth braille displays to different devices, right this way! When searching for devices, you are looking for “Orbit Reader 1234,” (1234 is just an example of your last four digits of your writer’s serial number, located on the back of your unit. It says Orbit Reader, because it is using the same driver as the Orbit Reader series, which is a braille display that is also made by Orbit Research.

USB

For USB, it is not as convoluted, evil, and college educated as connecting to bluetooth. All that needs to happen is switch to the USB channel by pressing a “Right” arrow with “Dot 6” chord, connect it to either Windows or Mac using a USB cable, and restart the screen reader! Simple as that!

Pro’s and Cons

This device for sure has its pro’s and cons this time around, COMPARED TO OTHER DEVICES WE HAVE REVIEWED HERE.

Pros

  • DURABLE AND AFFORDABLE braille keyboard
  • connects to six devices
  • can fit in your pocket

Cons

  • must be familiar with all the vibrations and their meanings, especially since a lot of the vibration patterns are used for multiple prompts.
  • has complex command gestures to change its settings, which may affect users who only may have the use of one hand

Rating and Final Thoughts

I will give the Orbit Writer a 4 out of 5. While the unit is a good investment, and affordable at that, I think Orbit research could take a step forward to modernize this product a little more. For instance, rather than having vibration feedback and having to adjust the settings by using complex commands, why not have one channel enabled, and have a cross platform companion app? At that point, the writer can be connected, and people can use the app to set up other aspects of the unit, such as vibration intensity. The Apple Watch and even house appliances have this, so why can’t the Orbit Writer have it? Other than that, this unit is a good thing to have if you are looking for just a braille keyboard to use with your phone or other device, and you wish not to take a braille display. The sections covering the commands was just the very beginning. There are a lot more commands you can do on the Orbit Writer. You can find its user guide right here if you wish to check out more things you can do. Or, you can also contact us if you have any questions! In the meantime, happy typing!

Categories
Atechability Reviews

Atechability Review Number 3: Cue The Mantis

Introduction

Welcome to another exciting review! This time, we have probably the most innovative product out there for the blind in 2020! Honestly, we needed this product sooner, and in 2020, we finally have it! We present to you, the Mantis Q 40!

Description

The Mantis Q 40 is a forty cell braille display made between two blindness companies who formed a partnership. These companies were HumanWare, and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH.) Both companies specialize in making products that help the blind and visually impaired achieve success in everyday goals in life independently and efficiently. This braille display, however, is not like the others that you may have seen. rather than having a braille keyboard, it has a QWERTY one. It can connect up to five bluetooth devices, and one USB connection. It also contains a few onboard applications like a basic editor, calculator, book reader, and the main feature, a terminal which is used to interface with other devices. In this review, we will ONLY be focusing on the terminal sside. Maybe in future articles, we can cover the other functions. The cost for this device is $2495. If you are in school, you can get it on quota fund. Honestly, this is a CHEAP device, compared to most braille displays out there. A lot of them start at $4000 for a forty cell.

In The Box

When you receive the Mantis and open it up, you will first find a braille getting started guide. Underneath, is where the magic is! Open the second layer of the box, and you will find the Mantis itself. Please note, the Mantis comes with a protective cover, but it is highly recommended you purchase the specially made case for it if you wish to carry it around. We don’t want this display to fall and break, do we? Underneath the mantis’s compartment, you will find a small box which contains a USB charging cable. This is a USB C cable, which means you do not need to worry about how it goes into the Mantis itself. There is also a power cube in there to charge the device. We highly recommend you charge it first before using it. You can also plug it into a computer, and it charges automatically, but it takes longer to charge. You can still use Mantis while it is charging if using the computer.

Physical Description of Mantis

So, you took out your Mantis, and cried a bit because you finally got it after waiting months for it, and marveled at the smell of the new device and case, because, nothing smells better than new technology and leather, if you got the case! Now, it is time to check out the orientation of this device. This device is about eleven inches in length, by 6 inches wide. It is like your standard laptop keyboard. Put the device on a table with the keyboard facing up. We’ll start at the front, and work our way towards the back, going from right to left.

Front Panel

On the front of the display, you will find five buttons. There are four long buttons and one circular button in the middle of the four. The four buttons are called “Thumb Keys.” This is because they control the braille display’s panning. Panning means the movement, that is, moving through a document, for example. From right to left, these are called “Next, Right, Left, and Previous.” The “Next,” and “Previous,” thumb keys are much shorter, and they move you by a line in a document. The “Right,” and “Left,” thumb keys are longer, and move you by a display width. That is, let’s say you have a sentence that will not fit on the forty cells. When you press “Right,” that will move you to the rest of the sentence. In the middle of the set of thumb keys, there is a circular button called, “Home.” This does exactly what it says. It takes space aliens home. Woops, wrong topic. I mean, it takes you back to the main menu from anywhere. If you are in the terminal app, you can switch connections using the “Home” button.

Left Side

On the left hand side of the unit, you will find the USB A port, which is used to connect thumb drives. This device does support file editing and writing, so you can have a thumb drive for, let’s say, school assignments. The device already has sixteen gigabytes internally. I honestly wish it could support a number pad connected to this port, for those that enjoy using a number pad for numeric entry. Above this port, you will find the oval shaped “Power” button. Hold down the button for three seconds to power on and off. Press the button when turned on to just put it to sleep. When you press and hold the “Power” button to turn it on, you will see “Starting” show up on the braille display, with a spinning braille dot to the right of it. After a few seconds, you will then see, “Editor,” and you can now use the Mantis. To power it off, hold down the “Power” button untill you read, “Shut down?” you can either use the “Up” or “Down” arrow keys, or the “Next” and “Previous” thumb keys to move to the “Ok” button, and press “Enter” to shut it down. You will then read, “Shutting down.” After a while, all the braille cells will rise up slowly and feel spongy to the touch, confirming it is turned off. Behind the “Power” button, you will find the USB C port. Plug the small end of the supplied cable to the Mantis, and plug the bigger end to the computer.

Back Panel

On the back left side of the unit, you will find an SD card slot. Again, you can work with files on the Mantis. An SD card slot has been provided if you do not have a flash drive.

Top Panel

On the top panel, starting from the front and moving back, you will first find the braille display. This display has forty cells, and above it, you will see the famous cursor router keys. If you have owned a HumanWare braille display or notetaker of any kind that was made after 2009, Then the springy strip shape of the cursor buttons will be familiar to you. Above the cursor buttons, you will find the full sized QWERTY keyboard. It has all the keys you came to expect on a laptop. However, there is no six pack like the desktop keyboards. To perform the 6-pack functions, you would hold down the “Function” key, and press “Up and Down” arrows for “Page-up” and “Page-down,” and “Left” and “Right” arrows for “Home” and “End.” There is no “Insert” key. Since screen readers use this “Insert” key for a lot of its function, it is recommended you change the screen reader key to “Caps Lock” instead. “Delete” is located to the right of the “F12” key. It is the key on the very top right hand corner. The “F4, F8,” and “F12” keys all have raised lines, apart from the home row. The keyboard is quite comfortable to type on, and the keys are spaced out really well. The arrow keys are on the bottom right hand corner. All keys are square shaped, except the arrows. Those are thinner recttangular shaped keys, and the “Down” key has a bump on it.

Terminal Mode

Terminal mode is the main feature of this device. This feature unlocks the full potential of this display. You can either connect via bluetooth or USB. Remember, you can have five bluetooth devices, and one USB connection.

Bluetooth

The first thing you will need to do before doing anything with the terminal when using bluetooth, you must turn on this function, and add the connection. To do this, from the main menu, navigate to “Settings,” and press “Enter.” Remember, you can use the “Thumb Keys” or the “Up” and “Down” arrows to navigate. You can also press the first letter of the option you want. In here, find “Bluetooth.” Press “Enter” there, and you should see, “Bluetooth mode: Off.” Press “Enter” to turn this on. You should then see, “Activating Bluetooth.” After a few seconds, you will see “Bluetooth mode: on.” Press “Home,” to go back to the main menu, and locate “Terminal.” Press Enter on this, and locate “Add Bluetooth Connection.” It will then instruct you to pair the Mantis from your other device. So, go ahead and do this. See the setting up braille displays article for more information on pairing. IMPORTANT NOTE: if using iOS or iPad OS, rather than going through VoiceOver’s braille settings, you pair Mantis through the main Bluetooth settings (“settings, than bluetooth”). The device you are looking for is: “APH Mantis Q40 123456789000” (where “123456789000” is your device. ‘s serial number.) If pairing was done correctly, Mantis will show, “(Name) connected.” “Name” is the name of the device you attempted to connect. For example, if your device was “Plankton’s iPhone,” Mantis will show, “Plankton’s iPhone connected.” Once this is done, you will be returned to the terminal menu. From here, locate “Bluetooth Connection.” Press enter, and find your paired device, and press “Enter” again. You will then see, “Braille display.” You can press any key to dismiss that, or press something on your device, and you will have BOTH braille output and keyboard input.

USB Connection

Make sure the Mantis is connected to the PC or Mac prior to doing this. From the terminal menu of the Mantis, if you are planning to use a Mac computer, navigate to “USB connection type:” and press “Enter” to change it to “Mac.” Otherwise, you can skip this step, and navigate to “USB connection.” Press “Enter” here. From here, this procedure is VERY basic. You do NOT need to install any kind of software drivers on your computers. If you are running JAWS for Windows 2019 or below, however, you must download the Terminal Tools program and install that. Otherwise, it is just a matter of connecting the device to the computer, and restarting your screen reader. The keyboard works straight away when you first connect it, so there is no problem there. If you want braille, though, you would need to restart the screen reader. You should then have both braille and keyboard working properly.

Pros and Cons

On the Pros side:

  • has a QWERTY keyboard and braille display
  • can connect to the major operating systems except Android

The only con that should not be a show stopper is that it has no “Applications” key, “Insert” key, nor a number pad.

Rating and Final Thoughts

I give the Mantis a 5 out of 5. For a unit that has both a braille display and full QWERTY keyboard, this is a very innovative, long overdo product. I feel like we will be seeing more of these pop up in the future. the future consists of more mainstream integration from assistive technology companies, and the Mantis has paved the way for this to be much easier. This product sold out like a fresh doughnut shop after two hours! The device is STILL out of stock, but I was fortunate to get one before more orders came to APH. It has pretty basic powerful applications. In fact, this article was written on the Mantis’ built-in editor! It works really well with iOS and Windows when I was breaking the unit in, and it can only get better from here! If you have any questions about this device, you can send us an email and we will be glad to answer anything about this device you would like to know! I may also publish some other how-to’s on using other features of this device. In the meantime, happy reading and typing!

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Atechability

Atechability Number 9: Connect Me To a Pin Pal

If you recall on the last post, we discussed the braille display, a device that can enhance productivity when using it in conjunction with a screen reader. On this post, we will show you how to connect said braille display to the computer or mobile device to get that experience. So, sit back, relax, (But don’t fall asleep,) and let’s learn how to do this!

Before We Begin

Please remember, in order to even use the braille display in conjunction with a screen reader, you must keep the following things in mind:

  • A screen reader is required to even get the display to interface with the computer or mobile device.
  • Install any software drivers on your computer that come with the braille display prior to connecting it.
  • You must follow the instructions on how to enter the terminal mode (the feature on the display itself that allows you to use it with the screen reader) for a successful connection, whether you decide to connect it through bluetooth or USB. Each display is different in the setup process.
  • If your bluetooth braille display requires a passcode, try either “0000,” or “1234” to connect it. These two codes are the most common.
  • If Bluetooth pairing is not successful, try turning bluetooth off on both devices and turning it on again. If that does not work, restart both devices to start fresh. If that still does not work, give us a shout and we will help you get things going!

Most braille displays now a days have different ways to set them up to connect to a device. That is, pressing certain commands on it and checking some settings. It is recommended you read their documentation before attempting to carry out the connection process, or sending your friend two hour long audio messages consisting of asking how to connect the display, then going into a conversation that has nothing to do with the question in the first place. It is assumed on this post that you are able to put the display in the correct mode to start the connection. We are only covering the computer/smartphone side. It is also assumed the drivers are properly installed on the computer. Windoes is the one that requires these drivers. Mac computers come with these built-in.

Windows

You can connect a display through USB or bluetooth. The process can either be straightforward, or a little more of a convoluted, diabolical, and college educated plan for world domination, depending on if you choose the USB or Bluetooth side. No worries, we will cover both ways here!

USB Connection

This method is the easiest way to get up and running with a braille display. Essentially, you just connect the braille display to the computer using the USB cable that comes with it, and restart the screen reader. The screen reader should then detect the braille display is connected and will start showing what was said by it last in braille. Narrator only can use USB to display the braille output. Hopefully bluetooth can be supported in the future.

Narrator and Braille

Narrator, the built-in Windows screen reader, can provide braille output. To do this, when Narrator is active, Press “Control Windows N” to go to its settings. Locate, “Download and Install Braille.” Press this button, and it will download this component. This can take a while, and upon testing, it does not give you progress indicators. We recommend you be close to the computer when doing this, and not minimize the window. Once the installation is complete, find “Turn on Braille.” and check that. From here, find, “Add Braille display.” Select the name of your display, and make sure USB connection is the selected connection type. Keep in mind, this functionality is still in the works, and you may find glitches when working with Narrator and Braille.

Bluetooth Connection

This right here, is a little more advanced. However, after a little practice, it will become second nature. Also, after pairing the display for the first time, you will NOT need to do it again, unless you have the computer forget the device. On your Windows computer, type “Bluetooth” into the start menu. It should come up with the very first search result. ensure Bluetooth is turned on, and if it is not, click on the toggle switch, or tab until you hear, “Bluetooth Toggle Button,” And press that by using Space until you hear, “Pressed.” Once this is done, under devices, look for the name of your Braille display. Most of the time, the name of the display is the model name, followed by the last few digits of its serial number. You can find this number on the back of the display. The name can look like this. “Braille Display Name(12345)” Once you find this, press “Enter” to highlight it. Then “Tab” one more time to the “Pair” button. Press “enter” on this, and wait a few seconds for the computer to establish the connection. Remember, INSTALL THE DRIVERS THAT COME WITH THE BRAILLE DISPLAY FIRST! If you do not, you will get a “Not supported” message from Windows. If pairing was successful, restart the screen reader.

Restarting The Screen Readers

After doing one of the processes listed above, you must restart the screen readers for the display to begin working. For JAWS for Windows, Press “Insert” with “f4” and press “Enter.” Then, from the Run dialog box, which is accessed by pressing “Windows” with “R,” Type “JFW” and press enter. It should come back up with both braille and speech. For NVDA, simply press the shortcut key, “Alt Control N,” which should have been set up when installing the screen reader for the first time. NVDA automatically restarts. If the shortcut key was not assigned, Press “Insert Q,” and find, “Restart.” Press “Enter” there, and NVDA restarts and should bring in the braille output.

Mac Computers.

For Mac computers, the process for both USB and bluetooth connection is much easier in my opinion. They also have a feature that Windows screen readers should implement to make life easier for multiple students to follow along in a classroom. Remember, no driver installation is required for the Mac.

USB Connection.

This is as easy as you can get when connecting a braille display this way! With VoiceOver on, simply connect the USB cable to the braille display and computer. Within a few seconds, you will hear a beep, and you should get braille! Simple as that! Nothing else! You can stop reading this article now, if you came for USB. Thank you, good night! If you want to connect via bluetooth, then keep reading on.

Bluetooth

This method is somewhat easier as well, and it also does not require VoiceOver to be restarted. Ensure bluetooth is turned on prior to doing this. Once you turn on bluetooth, press “VO 8” (“Control Option 8” to go to the VoiceOver utility. From here, find the “Braille” category and locate “Add” under the “Displays” option. Press the “Pair” button on the display you are trying to connect. You should then hear a beep to indicate successful pairing, and you should also see braille pop up.

Mirroring A Braille Display.

If you have multiple braille displays, and you wish to connect them all to a mac, you can do this quite easily! This is a feature that ONLY works on Mac computers. I wish other devices had this capability. The first thing you should do is pair a braille display via Bluetooth, and once you do this, under the “Display” section in the “Braille” category, find your connected device. From here, in the “Information” section, check the “Primary Braille Display” checkbox. After this, if you do not wish to have other people use their braille display’s keyboard, select “Primary” under the, “Allow Input from…” menu. Once you do this, connect the other displays, and you have yourself a bit of a projector, but in braille! The cell lengths do not matter here. One person can have a fourteen cell, and another can have an eighty cell display. No need to worry about the computer crashing because of the different lengths or models.

Smartphones

Did you know you can use a braille display in conjunction with a smartphone or tablet? This gives you the power of mobile technology in your pocket, especially if you have a fourteen cell braille display, because of how tiny it is. You can only connect braille displays via bluetooth when using your phone, though. No driver installation is required for this to work, unless you are using Android, in which case, another app must be installed prior to connecting a display. It is assumed you know the basic touchscreen Gestures in order to perform the following procedures on smartphones.

iOS devices

This procedure also applies to the Apple Watch, if you have Watch OS 7 and above, running on an Apple Watch Series 3 or higher. Locate the “Settings” app and find “Accessibility.” If you have iOS 13 and above, this is where VoiceOver is located. If you have iOS 12 and below, it is located under “General,” then “Accessibility.” Once you have found the VoiceOver Settings, locate “Braille.” Under the “Choose A Braille Display” heading, locate your display name and “Double Tap” with one finger to select it. Wait a few seconds, and if the display is paired successfully, you will hear a beep, followed by the braille display showing the contents of the phone’s screen. You can now drive your devices using the braille display’s keyboard and read what is on the screen!

Android

Make sure TalkBack is turned on prior to doing this procedure. On Android devices, you must install BrailleBack, the service that will allow you to use braille displays with Android and the TalkBack screen reader. You can get the app here. Once installed, locate “Accessibility” in your Android device’s “Settings” app. Locate “BrailleBack,” and turn it on. After this, back out to the main “Settings” app, and locate the “Bluetooth” settings. It can either be found by itself, or, you may need to go into “Wi-fi and networks,” depending on your device. Once you have found “Bluetooth,” select the braille display you wish to pair. “Double Tap” on the name, and you should hear a chime indicating successful pairing.

Chromebooks

Yes, the beloved popular chromebook that is now especially used in many school systems, also has braille support. Simply connect the display to the USB port and it should automatically start Chrome Vox. If you connect it when Chrome Vox is active, Braille automatically shows up.

Epilogue

Now that you have connected a braille display to your computer or smartphone, you can now use its keyboard to drive the computer. There are so many commands you can use to control the computer, similar to a regular computer keyboard and mouse. The more you use this method of working, you will find that turning the screen reader’s voice off, and using braille only will increase your productivity, and make it even better! Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask us, and we will help you out! Happy Braille Reading!

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Atechability

Atechability Number 8: I’m on Pins and Braille

On this edition of Atechability, we will be discussing a little device called the, “Braille Display.” We will not focus on a specific model, but I will be going through what all displays have and how to operate them. Braille displays can come in different sizes, which we will discuss shortly. Keep reading, don’t be impatient! Patience is a virtue.

What Is A Braille Display?

A Braille Display is essentially a braille screen for the blind, which you can connect to a computer. What the computer displays on the screen visually, the blind can read in braille. Just remember, a screen reader is required for the braille display to work properly. Check out this article I have written for more information on screen readers. However, you cannot read graphics on it. The braille display consists of only one line for braille output. This line can be as long as regular card stock paper, (forty cells) to even two card stock paper lengths! (eighty cells) I am using the standard card stock paper for measurements here.
A picture of a forty cell braille display. This display has a series of buttons on the front from left to right, followed by the braille line on the top surface with buttons directly above each braille cell, then the braille keyboard above that. The keys on the keyboard are oval shaped.

There are also smaller ones that have twenty, eighteen, and even fourteen cells.

This is a picture of a fourteen cell display. Isn't it cute? The same forty cell display orientation description applies to this one, except that the cursor buttons above the braille cells, are more of a "slide up from the cell to position the cursor" kind of mechanism. The keys on the keyboard are square shaped

Each braille cell of the display has eight dots it can work with when working on a computer or mobile device. “But Jose! We all know that braille has six dots, and not eight! Are you intoxicated?” Certainly not! The last two dots of each cell on the very bottom of it, which we call “dot 7” and “dot 8,” are used for things like highlighting text on screen. It is also used as a cursor, like that little animation on your screen that moves when you type visually. We will go into a basic science lesson on how a display works.

How The Display Works and a Brief History

Each cell of the braille display has eight pins per cell. For each pin, back in the old days, (early 2000’s) there was a special crystal that lifted the pin to make a dot, and it would lower it if there was no dot. This all depended on what the internal software was trying to output to it. Now, the crystals are gone, and it is now special tiny gadgets that do the work. The philosophy is the same, though. Depending on what you were doing, the internals of the display would know what dots to raise and lower, working in conjunction with the computer’s software. Braille displays back in the day ONLY existed on specialized computers called “Notetakers.” These were special computers with what you would find on a regular PC, but the programming was modified for the blind and visually impaired. They also talked to you through speakers. Now a days, you can still find notetakers with braille displays on them, but you also can find a variety of stand-alone models of the braille display to connect to the computer or mobile device.

So How Much Is One of These There Gadgets, Anyway?

These braille displays come in a variety of prices, like a computer. However, I must warn you, they do NOT come as cheap as a computer, because of the special parts found inside them to make it work. The price depends on what kind of display you want and the amount of cells and features it has. They can range from $600 up to $8000. The 8000 dollar one is for the eighty cell models. The eighty cell displays are rarely used, since these are more for people like our web developer who would need it for programming, or if you are an accountant, and need to work with a large row of numbers. Most of the time, the twenty or forty cell models are used. If someone uses one exclusively for mobile devices, then the fourteen cell models are used. Remember, all these models work with the computer.

Characteristics Of All Displays

Braille displays all have the same standard of features. Some of them have more built-in features like notepads, clocks, and calendars, but this will cover what ALL braille displays have hardware wise. Some have aditional buttons to perform other functions on the computer or mobile device, but most braille displays will have the following specs.

Cursor Buttons

If you were to look at a braille display, you will notice that the cells are slightly raised up when it is off. They feel a little spongy to the touch. Above each cell, you will find a button. This button can be just a little square, or a springy strip button with a dot above it. This is a cursor routing button. When you are using the computer, and you are editing a document, you can press one of these cursor buttons, and it moves your cursor to that cell. For example, Let’s say you have the word, “Helllo.” Yes, I miss-spelled it on purpose for this example. This word spans seven cells of the display. The first cell is dot 6, for the capital letter indicator. Then, from there, you have “H, E, L, L, L, O.” We don’t want that extra L. So, assuming the word is at the beginning of the display, find cells 4, 5, or 6. Press that little button above one of those L’s. Preferably, either cell 5 or 6 works better here. You will notice the bottom two dots show up underneath the letter “l.” This is your cursor. From here, press “Backspace” on your keyboard to delete the extra L. Now you should have, “Hello.” This is just like dragging your mouse, but without the hit and miss of trying to find your place and hitting the mouse very hard if frustration kicks in during this time. This cursor has the ability to blink as well, which is useful if you wish to know where you are in the document. You will also notice the cursor move if you use the arrow keys on your keyboard. Speaking of keyboards, this leads to the next section!

Keyboard.

On most braille displays, above the actual cells and cursor routing buttons, you will find the braille keyboard. This keyboard is an eight key keyboard, with oval shaped keys. Some displays also make the keys square as well. From left to right, you have the following keys in this order: “Backspace,” “Dot 3,” “Dot 2,” Dot 1,” Dot 4,” “Dot 5,” “Dot 6,” and “Enter.” On most displays, Dots “2” and “5” are very slightly above the other keys, rather than being lined up like a QWERTY keyboard in a straight line. Don’t panic. These were made like that for more comfort in typing. Below these keys, you will find the traditional space bar. This bar can either be right below the row of eight keys, or in the case of these two displays pictured above, the “Space Bar” is below the braille cell area. This key, well, does what you expect it to do. It shuts down the computer! Just kidding! It inserts a space if you are editing a document and other functions, depending on the context of what you are doing.

Chorded Commands

That space bar is going to be your best friend when performing many commands to interact with a computer or mobile device, since you can control them fully using the braille keyboard of a display. You also use the “Backspace,” and “Enter” keys the same way as “Space” besides using them to delete or insert a new line. A Chorded command consists of pressing the “Space Bar,” and other keys on the keyboard. For example, on an iOS device, to get to the home screen from anywhere, and if you have a braille display connected, you press an “H Chord.” Which means, you press the “Space Bar,” while also pressing the braille combination for the letter H, (Dots 1, 2, and 5” at the same time. The term “Chord” will ONLY be used for “Space,” and not the “Backspace” and “Enter” keys. For those other two, you will see something like, “Press “Backspace” with “H.”” You can even use all three of those keys at the same time! For instance, on my iOS device, I have a braille keyboard command to launch Siri if I ever feel lazy. For this command, I have, “Backspace,” “Enter,” with an “S Chord.” In this situation, I press “Space,” along with “Dots 2, 3,” and “4,” while also pressing “Backspace” and “Enter” at the same time! Your fingers may be hurting just thinking about this kind of command, but I promise you. A blind person is used to pressing these kind of key combinations. You will see TONS more of them as you learn the use of a braille display. One last thing about the term “Chord.” This term was used back when notetakers were more popular to make it easier for teaching. Now, you will hear, “Press “Space” with “H.”” rather than hearing “Chord.” I personally like “Chord” better, because it got drilled in my mind a lot easier. (Cue elderly sounding voice here) “But then again, I have used this kind of braille device since I was in the third grade.”

Panning Buttons

“What? Panning? For Gold?” No, silly reader! We all want gold, but we cannot find it here. That’s another story for another day. Anyway, panning is used to describe “Scrolling.” You know how when you are reading, you can scroll through your text using a mouse? Well, on the braille display, you can use buttons called, “Panning Buttons.” These buttons are located on either the left and right ends of the braille cell area, or on the front side of the display on either end of it. Some of them may have the panning buttons on just one side, right above each other. Some just have one panning button on either side. For instance, to move up a line on the display, you press the panning button on the left end of the display. To move forward one line of braille, you press the right panning button. Typically, you use your pinkie fingers to control these buttons while reading. The same strategy applies if the buttons are on the front of the unit. However, instead of using your pinky fingers to control panning, you use your thumbs. You will hear them also be addressed as “Thumb Keys” if they are in this configuration. If you have a display with the panning buttons above each other on one end of the braille cell area, the bottom button pans forward, and the top button moves back. Use your pinky to control those buttons as well. These buttons are customizable if you are using your screen reader, so you can change what these do. For instance, you can reverse the buttons to where the left button moves forward, and the right button moves back through text.

Connectivity

Most braille displays have two methods of connectivity. You can use these connections at the same time as well for most of them. Not literally, but you can switch between them.

USB

You can use a USB cable with most braille displays to connect to a computer. This cable also charges the displays while using them. In this case, some displays have either Micro USB, “old Android Charger cables,” Mini USB which was the protocol before Micro, and the new USB C. The cable will come supplied with the display, so no need to worry about having to buy one prior to getting a device. You will also need to install special software drivers for the computer to recognize the display. Most displays come with all the software needed for this to work. Remember how you had to install, or get someone to help you install printer drivers for them to work? A Braille display is the same way. Some of the newer displays are plug and play, but if you are using older versions of screen readers, they may require driver installation. Plug and Play means that when you connect one to the computer, all you need to do is launch the screen reader, and it will auto-detect the display you are using. No extra drivers or alcohol required!

Bluetooth

There is also a wireless method of using a braille display. It can be useful if you want to step away from the computer or mobile device, but you still want to control it. You must pare the device in question with the display before doing so. Again, if the display requires drivers, install those first. Otherwise, you can pare without any issues. Just restart the screen reader after paring the device if using a computer. On a mobile device, after paring, no restart is required. Most displays will allow you to connect up to FIVE bluetooth devices and one USB device. You can easily switch from device to device to control each one. On a mobile device, no driver installation is required, unless you are using old phones like the Nokia ones running the old Talks screen reader.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Now we’re up to the MOST IMPORTANT part of this post. When handling a braille display, it is important to remember a couple of things when it comes to cleaning and maintenance.

  • DO NOT EAT OR DRINK IN FRONT OF A BRAILLE DISPLAY! Any crumb can be fatal if it ends up inside a braille cell, which will then require you to send it back to clean. These cleanings can cost from a few hundred dollars to full price for replacement, depending how many cells do not work. Spilling a drink will just cause even more damage, and if you are a student, your teacher will give you quite the stern talking to for that! From there, the special ED department will give the teacher another stern talking to about letting students use braille displays while eating snacks!
  • When cleaning the display to sanitize it or after removing it from storage, DO NOT USE WET RAGS OR DISINFECTANT WIPES! Make sure you squeeze the moisture out of these before cleaning. Leave the cloth or wipe just a little bit damp before cleaning, and carefully run it over the braille display and keyboard.
  • SEND BACK THE UNIT TO WHOMEVER YOU BOUGHT IT FROM FOR ANY REPAIRS! Most companies give you a warranty period which covers any accidental damage to the display. They will repair that for free, and the display will be good as new! Don’t attempt any kind of repair yourself, or you will get a void on the warranty. Plus, you will most likely be lectured by higher authority if you say, “Oh, I have a family member that repairs computers, so I figured they’d be able to repair this! It saves money for the next athletic banquet!” These displays are specially made, and only the companies you bought them from know how to fix them.

Epilogue

From here, it is all a matter of deciding which braille display you wish to buy and use. Do you want something big, medium, or small? Are you going to use it with computers only, or do you want a notepad? How much is your budget? These are some of many questions you can ask before purchasing. This post is to help you get started on what to expect when obtaining a display. If you have further questions, you can email us and we can give you more information! Happy braille reading!

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Atechability Reviews

Atechability Review Number 2: I Feel Completely Recharged

We at Screenless Allies not only review software. We also review hardware, as well! In this installment, I, Jose, will be reviewing the Energrid Vs150x accessible power bank. I personally own this product, and I must say, the price point is worth it, along with its features! The price for the power bank is $75 as of this review.

Description

Remember the iPhone 6? It is about the size of that device all around. It is a long rectangle with three ports on one of the short sides, and a button with a dot on one of the two surfaces of the rectangle. That’s it! No complicated buttons. This power bank can be used to charge any of your devices that need juice, such as a phone, tablet, or radio. We all know you want to charge your radio so you can play “Electric Zoo” for the millionth time. Anyway, it lasts up to about twelve hours on a single charge, before it needs to be plugged in again. It can last longer, depending on how often you charge your devices on it. The box it comes shipped inside contains the power bank itself, a micro USB connection, and a carrying pouch. The micro USB cable it comes with is pretty short, so I recommend finding a longer one to use with it if you plan to travel especially if there is no table right by the outlet to set the power bank onto when you are charging it.

Using The Power Bank

The first thing you should do is charge the bank before using it. It normally would come charged at least halfway, but it is ALWAYS recommended you fully charge it before use. It does not come with an actual charger cube that connects to the USB cable, but you can use your iPhone charging cube, or any you may have lying around. You can also obtain a charging cube at any convenience store, since many places now a days carry them. Many places even carry micro USB cables. Just look or ask for, “old Android charger cables.” I say it that way, because most people at stores do not know the technical name for these cables. To charge the power bank, connect the smaller end of the micro USB cable into the middle port of the unit. Remember, the three ports are located along one of the short sides of the power bank. The bigger USB ports have two dots beside them, and the Micro USB port in the middle has one dot above or below it, depending on how you have the power bank turned. Connect the bigger end of the USB cable into the charging cube, and plug that into the wall, like you are charging your phone. The device will give a beep to indicate it is charging. This will be a short beep, followed by a longer one. You will here this two more times for extra confirmation. If it does not beep, press the single button on one of the big surfaces of the rectangle. It will begin to charge normally after this. When it is finished, it will beep until you unplug it. This one is just an ongoing beep, like if you are in a hospital and someone passes. This may be a good alarm clock, especially if you charge it over night. However, I do NOT recommend you throw this against any other object. It takes about two hours to fully charge this unit if the battery is completely dead.

Plugging In a Device

You have charged the power bank, and you are ready to plug in a device. This is also simple, because now, it is backwards. The smaller end of your USB or other charging cables will go into the device you want to charge. The bigger end will plug into one of the other two ports of the power bank. These ports take a regular USB connection, which most devices’ charging cables have. You can connect two devices at a time. When you connect a device, press that dotted button on the surface of the rectangle, and you will also get the same three time sets of beeps. When the device you plugged in finishes charging, the power bank will beep three times again to indicate it is finished and will stop charging the device.

The Dotted Button

This button has a couple of purposes. Note: When a device is connected to charge using the power bank, pressing this button does nothing while it is charging the device. You can press the button right after you plug something into it to start charging the device in question. After that, it will do nothing if the button is pressed. To check the battery level of the power bank, press this button when a device is not plugged into it. It will tell you the percentage in beeps. The way you can remember these is by remembering, “$1 = 4 quarters.” Each quarter is 25%. So, for a full charge of 100%, it will beep four times. If the charge was 75%, it would beep three times, and so on. The power bank will beep even more if the battery is dying, and you are trying to charge a device. If the battery dies, the power bank will disconnect any devices you are charging prior to shutting down.

Vibration And Beeping

This power bank also vibrates when you are using it. By default, it beeps and vibrates at the same time. If you want to turn off the beeping functionality, hold down this button. The unit will do a long vibration to indicate you turned off the beeping. If you want the beeps back, hold down this button again. The unit will do a long beep, and a vibration at the same time to indicate you have enabled the beeping again. I wish there was also a beep without vibration mode, but these two modes are useful, especially the “Vibrate Only” mode, where you do not want people around to hear the sound of the power bank.

Rating and Final Comments

I give this unit a 5 out of 5. This is pretty portable, and you can even fit it into a jacket pocket. It is very handy, especially if, for example, you are at a hotel and do not wish to look for outlets, or cannot find any. We all know many hotels do not have many outlets in a room, and if they do, they’re occupied. Oh well, at least some allow you to get food delivery instead of paying an extra couple of hundred for food service, but that’s not what this review was about! You can use this to charge your devices while you are there. Hopefully Energrid will come out with more equally accessible products. Be sure to get one for your friends! This battery pack is not just for the blind. Fully sighted people can put one of these babies to good use! Happy Charging!

Categories
Atechability Reviews

Atechability Review Number 1: Dancing With The Dots

Introduction

(Cue six braille dots forming patterns and dancing) Welcome! To Dancing with the Dots! My name is Jose, and we’re going to, dive into a review of software that we can honestly say is one of a kind! In this first Atechability review, we will be looking at the Goodfeel suite from Dancing dots! This software is designed to create music notation for the blind and visually impaired. I would like to thank my friend and founder of Dancing Dots, Bill McCann for allowing me to review the software!

Description

As mentioned above, this software is designed to create music scores for the blind and visually impaired. It consists of three components to allow the user to successfully create braille and print music scores. The components are called Lime, Goodfeel, and Sharpeye. These will be discussed below. There will also be a mini guide for all of these. This is NOT intended to be a full manual. It is only intended to be used as a starter. Before we get to that, though, let’s look at what you need to run the software successfully.

System Requirements

The software suite requires Windows XP or later to run. Sorry to all of you Mac folks. Currently, there is no support for the Mac OS operating system. You must also have a screen reader installed on the computer for this to talk to you. Remember, the screen reader reads the screen to you and can be controlled by the computer keyboard. The Goodfeel suite works with all major screen readers. HOWEVER, for the best experience, JAWS for Windows from Freedom Scientific is required. This will allow you to both hear the notes being read to you, and have them come out in braille music notation. Speaking of braille, if you plan to read the music in braille, as you use the Lime notation editor, you must also have a Braille display. The display is optional, but can come in handy if you would like to read/learn the braille music side. A Braille display is basically a braille screen that the blind use. It provides the information spoken out by the screen reader in text using this device. However, it only has one braille line, and no shapes or graphics can be produced. You can buy braille displays from a few companies, but here is my personal favorite, the Focus series. Dancing Dots also has the Canute 360, which is a recent multi-line braille display, which came out about a year ago. It provides a more efficient way to read multi-line braille music scores! Ask Dancing Dots about this display on your next purchase, and You can find out more about it here. Although not absolutely necessary, you should have a midi keyboard (also called a midi controller) and a midi software synthesizer for the best experience in order to compose and play back your compositions in Lime. The software synthe is only required if you got a midi keyboard with no built-in sounds. You can use the computer keyboard to do this, but the musical keyboard will work out much better. If the keyboard has built-in sounds, and you can connect it to the computer, it is the best experience when using Lime. Here is the page with the keyboards Dancing Dots distributes that work well with their software. Once you connect it to the computer and start the Lime component, it will detect it, and you can automatically start playing. The computer you are using should have at least four gigabytes of RAM or more. Twenty gigabytes of storage space can store the equivalent of multiple shelves of scores. A 500 gigabyte hard drive gives you the luxury of storing tons of music libraries! You can have different genres, or complexity of playing levels of music. (from beginner to professional.) The pieces do not take up even a megabyte of room, but you can never be too cautious. Especially if you are a musical arranger and have thousands of pieces living in a hard drive at once. You will also need a Scanner, if you wish to scan sheet music into the Lime program to read/have a print or braille copy. Any model will do, but keep in mind the setup process is different for each scanner. Here is one that I have and requires very minimal setup. Speaking of brailling out copies, you will also need a braille embosser. An embosser is very similar to a printer, except instead of printing ink, it prints dots on paper. More specifically, braille dots. No ink change required! Here is one of MANY kinds of embossers you can get. While having a braille embosser is a great idea, you can also read the Goodfeel format music scores on a braille note taker, if you have one. A braille note taker is a special computer for the blind with a braille keyboard and display. It is similar to a computer in behavior, but the applications are optimized for these devices. Here are some of many devices that support this functionality. You can also connect these to the computer, and you can use them as braille displays with the Lime notation editor, thanks to Goodfeel’s braille translation capability.

Pricing

The software bundle is $1595, or you can also do monthly or yearly subscriptions. The monthly subscription is $99, while the yearly subscription is $799. However, don’t panic. You can request a two week trial run so you can see if you like it before you purchase.

Installation

If you have not done so, go ahead and download the latest version of the Goodfeel package, and install it. You will need to input a few details about you such as name, address, etcetera before downloading the software. There is one major, and one minor thing you need to do before you can even start playing with the software. If you are not comfortable installing or doing any of this by yourself, Dancing Dots can help you install the trial version and even show you the basics on the use of the software in a no-cost, brief online orientation session. Make sure you have a way to talk to them such as a phone or a chat program like Zoom, along with a way for them to get into your computer such as Teamviewer or JAWS Tandem, which comes with the JAWS screen reader.

Accessibility Options

First, you must ensure everything is checked and ready to go on the custom scripts to make Lime and other features speak and display braille correctly. To do this, under the Lime program group, find “Accessibility Options.” Make sure everything like Speech and braille is checked, and click “Okay.” Again, these should be on by default, but you can never be too cautious!

Registration

Once all is installed, locate the Dancing Dots Authorization Manager in your “Programs” folder. Once you open this program, go to the “File” menu, and select “Authorization…” and press “Enter” to open this dialog. Here, you have a couple of tabs we have to fill out. These will not go in a certain order, but these all must be completed. The first tab you will find is the Status tab, where you can see if everything is registered correctly. Nothing there you need to modify.

The License Tab

In this tab, you must check the box saying, “I agree to the software terms and conditions” (that nobody ever reads) box. This is the only option here, besides the license itself.

User Info

In here, is where you write your credentials such as name, address, and organization. For people who are blind and visually impaired, sometimes screen readers do not automatically read the fields of the registration info dialog. This lack of accessibility is beyond Dancing Dots’ control, since they license a third party application to go through the authorization process. So, below are the fields listed in order as they appear in the dialog so you can complete it independently.

  • Full Name
  • Organization (optional)
  • Serial Number
  • Street Address
  • Apartment or suite Number
  • City, State, and zip code, all in one field.

The final field in this tab subscribes you to a mailing list if you choose to check this box. However, as of this review, this feature may be removed because of some technical changes. On the “Serial Number” field, if you are seeking the two week free trial, type in “9200” into this box. Yes, you get a full two weeks to try everything out before you decide to buy! After that, the software will become mostly unuseable until you either buy it, or if you decide to uninstall it.

The Register Tab

Here, you must press the “Set License” button. You will then get a reference code that you must send to Dancing Dots in order to unlock the trial or full license you purchased. It is recommended you press the “Copy to Clipboard” button, and email it manually using your preferred email client. Once you do this, you will obtain another code you must copy and paste into another unlabeled field in this tab. It is after the, “Copy to Clipboard” option. Make sure you copy it EXACTLY as written. If done correctly, you can press the “Close” button. If you are wondering if you did it correctly, go back into the “Authorization” dialog, and find the status tab. If done correctly, it will say, “OK!” Now that we got all that taken care of, let’s get to each software component, and we will look at the basics.

Lime

Lime is the part of the software that you will use to create the music scores. Lime actually was a mainstream music transcription software, but Dancing Dots took over the development, and integrated the talking portion. These scripts are called Lime Aloud. Goodfeel here provides the braille portion in real time when using the software, and getting music translated into braille for embossing. Think of it as a word processor and virtual printer, but instead of text, you are writing and printing music. You can do almost EVERYTHING with music you can do with text, except change fonts and line spacing. In this review, it is assumed you know the basics of music, such as measures, beats, etcetera. To get started, connect your musical keyboard to the computer, if you have not done so, then launch Lime from the desktop shortcut.

Creating a New Piece

To create a new piece, click on “New,” or press “ALT+F,” then find “New.” Press “Enter” on this, and move through the dialog by hitting “Tab,” and complete the fields. You can adjust them according to your needs. You can change the number of measures, the time signature, the staff, and many other options. Here is a quick note about the staff selection. If you are creating a piece for an instrument such as a flute, clarinet, or a trumpet, you must select “Single Staff.” If You are creating a piano piece, you must select “Grand Staff.” for the blind and visually impaired users, you must press “Space” to check the button for the staff you want before pressing “Enter.” Once you are happy with all the options, you can press “Enter,” or find the “Okay” button. Then you will be ready to play! Once you press Enter, you will hear, “New piece,” followed by the titles of the part and piece. Then the number of sharps or flats. You will notice a blank screen once you press enter. The only thing that will be showing are the measures of the piece, and the software will stand by for further action.

Electronic Music File Imports

You can also import electronic music files into Lime directly. The formats supported are music XML, PDF, and other popular formats from other music transcription apps, such as the ones band and choir directors use to make the sheet music for students. To do this, find the import option in Lime’s file menu, and select the format from there. Find the file on the computer, and watch as it makes the music accessible! In this case, let’s say you made a new piece.

Note Entry Mode

“This is ridiculous! You said I was ready to play! I’m playing, and nothing is being written! I just hear the piano! I want a refund!” Calm down. It’s time to show you another feature on this part of the suite to make the magic start happening! In order to make notes, you must enable a feature called Note Entry Mode. When you first open the new piece, you are in Note Edit mode. Which means, you can edit existing notes but cannot input any new ones. For adding musical notes, you must toggle to Note Entry mode. To do this, press “Control+N.” You will then hear, “Note entry mode, Whole.” This means you can now begin to play, and any note that is played will be written onto your piece. Here, you can use either your computer keyboard, or musical keyboard to input notes. On the computer keyboard, use the home row to play notes. The octave starts on the letter A of the keyboard, and ends at the letter K. These keys are the white keys. The black keys are the W, E, T, Y, and U keys. Use the “Left Bracket” ([) and “Right Bracket” (]) keys to shift the onscreen keyboard down or up one octave. To switch through different note types, press the numbers on the number row. “1” for whole, “2” for half, “3” for quarter, etcetera. After you press the number, you can then press the note you want to be that value. For example, I want to do an eighth note D. I’ll press “4” for the eighth note entry, and then I press the note D on my musical keyboard. Once you press this, Lime will then tell you the note name and value, followed by the location of the cursor. For example, “Bar 1 beat 2, D, eighth.” Keep doing this until you are satisfied, and ready to show the world.

Recording

Alternatively, you can record your notes to make the process faster. To do this, press “Control+R.” Lime will be on the Record dialog box, focused on the beats per minute edit field. You can change how fast you want your metronome to go by typing in a number. Nothing will be recorded, until you play a note. Note entry mode is also disabled here. You will need a musical keyboard for this. The computer keyboard only works in manual Note Entry mode. Also, you are not able to go all “Mozart,” (cue his laugh from the movie) and create those complex piano riffs in this mode. You can only do certain note values. In this case, if the song is slow, it would be limited to whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes. When you are done recording, press “Enter” to stop and save your work.

I’m Done! Now What?

You can now save your piece in the usual way by finding the “Save Piece” option in the file menu, or you can press “Control+S.” It is recommended to hear the piece first prior to saving. It is just like checking your work in a word processor. To hear your piece, you need to first go to the beginning. To do this, Press “Control+G” for “Go to Bar.” You can go to any bar of your choosing here by typing in the number. In this case, we want Bar 1. Type that in, and press “Enter.” You will then hear, “Bar 1 beat 1.” You are at the beginning of your piece, and ready to hear it! Now, press “Control+H” to enter the “Hear,” dialog. Again, you change the playback beats per minute, and other settings here. But right now, we want the basics. So go ahead and press “Enter. Your piece should now start playing. Press “Escape” at any time to stop playback. You can then make changes to it, or get it ready to be brailled, or printed!

Piece navigation

There are a few different ways to navigate a piece in Lime. Again, we are just covering the basics. To move forward or back by one note, press the “Right” arrow key to move forward, or “Left” arrow key to move one note back. As you do so, the screen reader will tell you each note you are moving past. If you do not hear anything, it means most likely there is a chord there, rather than a single note. Add the “Control” Key to these two commands to get the note for all parts of the piece played at once. That is, if you have more than one instrument part, it will play the note for all those instruments. If you have a braille display connected, the note you are on will start to blink. As you move, the cursor moves both visually and tactually. If you have multiple parts, such as a piano, band, or choral piece, you can navigate those by pressing the “Up” arrow key to move back a part, or you can press the “Down” arrow to move forward one part. For example, on a piano piece, let’s say you are at the second right hand part. If you press the “Down” arrow, you will then move to the first right hand, then second left hand, then first left hand. After that, it wraps around back to the second right hand. You can also use the number pad, (if you have a keyboard with one) to navigate. The “2” and “8” keys act as the “Down” and “Up” arrows, while the “4” and “6” act as the “Left” and “Right” arrows. Press “5” to hear the note you just moved to (the highlighted one) again. Use the “Control” key in the same way to hear all parts of the piece at once. “But I don’t want to hear the screen reader tell me every single note I move to with any of these navigation keys! I want it to shut up!” No problem! There is a nice mode that I personally like that’s called, Silenzio mode. (I honestly wish they called it, “Be quiet” mode, but that’s just the author’s opinion.) To activate this mode, press “Shift+Escape.” This will mute all that has to do with speech feedback when navigating by notes. Use the same command to turn this mode off. You can also navigate the piece with the braille display, if you have one connected by pressing its panning buttons. Most displays have these on the front, but others may have them on the sides of the display. Note, as you move, there is also a braille window on the screen that sighted individuals can examine. You can “Alt+Tab” to this window, and also move it by using the arrow keys. However, your screen reader will start speaking gibberish, so this is not recommended.

Some Status Keys

Here are a few keys you can press to get information on where you are on your piece as you review it. All these use the bottom row of letters on your keyboard to speak different parts.

  • “Z”: describe the current highlighted note in the current part.
  • “X”: reads annotation if one is highlighted. (For advanced users)
  • “C”: reports system, staff, and clef
  • “V”: voice name
  • “B”: speaks bar and beat
  • “N”: tells you if your are in note entry or note edit mode
  • “M”: file name
  • “Comma”: (,) plays current note in current voice
  • “Period”: (.) plays all notes at the current part

I feel good about this piece

If your piece is ready to emboss, it is time to talk about another part of the software suite. It is called, Goodfeel! This component brailes out the piece on paper, so you can have a hard copy. To start this process, from Lime, go to the file menu, by pressing “Alt+F.” Find the option called, “Launch Goodfeel.” From here, you can change the basic embosser settings to make sure they are to your liking, and even have a preview on screen for teachers to examine before embossing it. Once you are ready, hit that magic “Emboss” button, and you will be equipped with the piece you just finished! You can also print out the piece by finding the “Print” option in Lime’s file menu. Remember, Goodfeel also is in charge of making the music show up in braille on the screen and braille display.

I have Sharp Eyes

Did your teacher give you a musical piece in print and tell you to have it ready by tomorrow? Well, this is where the third and final component of the software comes in! This program is known as SharpEye. This allows you to take sheet music, and scan it into the computer. Since the scanners are different, setting them up will not be covered here. After setting up your model of scanner, you can then put the sheet music into it while this program is running, and have it scanned. You can then have it open in LIME, and you are able to read it in braille. NOTE: like all optical character recognition (OCR) applications, it may be inaccurate on some parts of the sheet music. If you are blind, it is recommended you have a sighted individual look through the music with you, and correct anything that may be wrong. “But I am a VERY INDEPENDENT BLIND PERSON! How dare you talk down on me? I am going to cry to my YOUTube subscribers and anyone who listens to me, and tell them to do something about this! Nevermind my parents live with me! I don’t live with them, they live with me!” AGAIN, this is NOT talking down on your blindness. Computers are not that smart. So it is important for a sighted person to help you perfect the kinks in the music, unless you want to really humiliate yourself by playing/singing the wrong note at a performance. That will give you something to cry about on a storytime video.

The pros and cons

Pros

  • Fully accessible music creation tools for the blind and sighted alike
  • Able to have a braille or print copy of a musical piece.
  • Works well with keyboards and many kinds of windows computers in general.

Con:

This con does not need a list. The only significant con is: if you use screen readers such as NVDA, (Non-Visual Desktop Access) or the built-in Narrator screen reader, you cannot get braille support. You must have a copy of JAWS for Windows in order for the best speech and braille experience. You can still use the talking portion, because it will use your computer’s built-in text-to-speech voice to tell you what is going on. In order for this to happen, in Lime, you must go into the “Edit” menu by pressing “Alt+e,” and find “Preferences.” In the “Preferences” menu, find “Lime Allowed” Preferences. Press “Enter” here, and locate, “Use JAWS for speaking.” Uncheck this box, and find “Okay.” Next time you are working with a piece, and you do not have JAWS loaded or installed, you will hear it using the built-in text-to-speech voice.

Overall rating

I give this product a 5 out of 5. This is the first and ONLY accessible music creation software for those people who would like to create accessible music scores. You have everything you need at your fingertips, (Literally) and if you have a question, Dancing Dots is pretty quick at responding. You can email them with any question you may have!

What I would Like to See

I would like to see this product come out on other platforms such as iOS and Mac OS in the future. However, I do understand the hardships of porting this over, especially given the complexity of the software itself. Other than that, this suite is complete and packed with features for the beginner, all the way up to the next new billboard charting musician! (Just don’t use autotune, please.)

Credits and closing remarks

Again, I would like to thank Dancing Dots for allowing me to review this software for Screenless Allies! I would also like to thank them for some clarifications and suggestions to make this review better! Thank you for making such an innovation in music for the blind, so they can independently create musical pieces and have braille/print copies for their bands. If you are looking for a full on music editor and accessible at that, Dancing Dots software is the way to go! Trust me. You will not regret it! If you want more information, check out their website! If you email them, tell them that Jose from Screenless Allies sent you! You may not get discounts, but it will let both them and I know that this review was helpful to you! Until the next review, happy composing!

Categories
Atechability

Atechability Number 6: Dolphins, Sharks, and Envy in Windows

If you recall, On the very first post of Atechability, we discussed different screen readers that were built into many mainstream devices. As a refresher, a screen reader is a piece of software that reads the screen to a blind computer user as they navigate using the keyboard. Did you know there are screen readers for Windows computers you can get that can do more than the built in screen reader, Narrator? In this post, we will discuss three major screen readers that can be installed to expand the functionality of your computer to the blind user. There were a few other screen readers in the market, but as time passed, they either became obsolete because of too many changes in the Microsoft Windows operating system, or the companies that made them decided to not pursue further development. This is not to say Narrator is not ideal, but if you wish to do more advance word processing, web browsing, and even programming, it is recommended you obtain a third-party screen reader to accomplish these tasks. Each screen reader will have a short description and pricing. There will also be a link directly to its appropriate page. All these screen readers also have braille support, meaning you can connect a braille device to a computer, and whatever the screen reader speaks, will also be shown in braille. It is not mandatory to have a braille device to use the screen reader, only a keyboard or touch screen. These screen readers work on both desktop, and laptop computers.

IMPORTANT NOTE for IT PROFESSIONALS

If you work in IT, (Information Technology) for school or a place of business, and you are asked to install a screen reader on the system, Please DO NOT, take it as a “virus and can compromise our security.” All these screen readers have been tested in depth to make sure things like this do not happen. The only thing the screen reader needs access to is the program files and other graphics properties on the computer in order to output the information through braille, audio, or both. There have been many times that one of the many reasons a blind person cannot use a computer in the workplace, is because the IT departments are not well informed on screen readers. Then, when the bosses consult with them on screen readers to install, they typically get the, “We don’t know what it is, so no. We can’t install it. Better not risk it. Next resume.” It is the blind individual’s job to explain screen readers in a way they can understand.

JAWS for Windows

This screen reader was the FIRST one to hit the Windows Market in 1985, when the Microsoft Windows operating system was introduced. Prior to this, there was JAWS for the DOS operating system, which you had to obtain in diskette format. It also required an external speech synthesizer to work. This basically meant, you needed a voice box connected to the computer for JAWS to speak. Now, though, it has the synthetic speech built into the software. JAWS stands for “Job Access With Speech.” This screen reader requires a higher end computer. That is, eight gigabytes of RAM or more, with a good CPU installed. It can and WILL, slow down your computer. It is NOT recommended you try to use computers such as a Netbook PC, which has two gigabytes of RAM. Primary School districts beware! Do NOT equip a student with a lower end computer that you had on a laptop cart in 2004, because the athletics department and cheerleaders need new equipment! That will NOT work, no matter how much you make Your IT department clean install Windows, then install JAWS. You can get an annual license for $100 for use on one computer. This is ideal if you have a home computer and do not intend on installing it on other PC’s. There is also an option for a three computer use license. Just remember, when you uninstall JAWS on one of those three computers, because you may not need it anymore, remove the license on the PC in question prior to doing this, by going into the JAWS folder under “Programs” in the “Start Menu,” and under the “Tools” folder, locate “Remove Product Activation.” Follow the instructions on screen, and after that, you can uninstall the program. For professional use, (Work environments) the employer would purchase this for you. The pricing is $1200 for a license to use on up to three computers. This can also be installed on a network for everyone to use in the workplace. You can also add screen magnification to your JAWS setup in all of these license types for an extra fee. Magnification makes the screen text bigger for people that have limited vision. For more information on JAWS, visit Freedom Scientific’s website. If you work with blind students in the primary school system, (Pre-k up to senior year in high school) you may even be eligible for your student to receive a home license for free. If you would like more information on this, you can go here. If you choose to download a demonstration copy, you will get an unlimited free trial. Well, ALMOST, unlimited. JAWS will run for forty minutes, and after that, it will exit. You must restart the computer for another forty minutes to use it. Honestly, this can be a tedious process.

JAWS Certification

If you read the last post that our friend and website designer Edgar wrote, you may have been informed that you can take the certification exam for another screen reader which will be discussed later in this post. Well, you can do the same thing for JAWS by going to the JAWS certification program page. Just like NVDA, you would need to have basic knowledge on screen reader keyboard commands, along with knowing a little about JAWS features. The exam is also multiple choice, can be taken from home, and is also on the honor system. Please, DO NOT CHEAT! The exam is eighty-five questions long, and you must score an eighty or above to pass. Once passed, you have the option of buying a completion certificate for $100. The exam is also free to take. You can find the topics covered in the exam under the JAWS help menu by pressing “Alt+H” from the main JAWS window. It will pick topics from the Training, Web Resources, and the What’s new sections, so read them CAREFULLY! This certification is useful if you are working with other blind people, or you just want to show off to your friends. Most importantly, if you wish to work on anything related to accessibility, having those two certifications (JAWS and NVDA) will help immensely, and it will also show you are very fluent with the screen readers themselves, and basic keyboard navigation.

Supernova

Don’t worry, this screen reader won’t explode. This is another solution from a company in the United Kingdom called Dolphin computer Access. Like JAWS, it also requires a high end computer with eight or more gigabytes of RAM, and a good CPU. The cost for this is $1195 for a license. This screen reader also has magnification built into it. Like all these other screen readers, Supernova gives you access to many Windows features such as different word processors, web browsers, and email clients. When you download a demo version of the software, you get a thirty-day fully functional free trial before buying. After that, it will pester you to purchase the product until you do so. For more information about Supernova, go here.

NVDA

Last but not least, here is the screen reader Edgar wrote about on the last post! NVDA, (Non-Visual Desktop Access) is a free screen reader. Here at Screenless Allies, it is our screen reader of choice. It is fully functional, no strings attached. You also have the option of donating to NV Access, the makers of this screen reader, to keep the lights on for new updates of NVDA. They believe that software should not cost money to obtain accessibility on your computer. This screen reader requires a minimum of four gigabytes of RAM and a good CPU. It does not have to be a high end computer, but preferably nothing that is too slow or older than 2010. The screen reader is also open source, meaning anyone can go in and add new functionality to it. “Man, that means my employer will not install this on my computer at work!” Though we do not have control what your employers install at work for a screen reader, Go here, and read about NV Access’ initiative and strategy to keep NVDA secure on a work computer. We applaud NV access for thinking about this and for going out of their way to have a free alternative to save employment places money. For more information on NVDA, and to download a copy, visit NV Access’s website. Then you can take the certification afterwords!

Epilogue

As you can see, there are three good screen readers you can download/buy to make your computer blind friendly. In the end, it is up to you on what you wish to get. Do you want to spend money, or do you want something free? Do you have a good computer that can run them? These are questions to keep in mind. Whichever you can get, it will serve the purpose of helping the blind user navigate the computer more efficiently. Happy screen reading, again!