Categories
Atechability

Atechability Number 12: Braille On Glass

Introduction

Did you know you can also type in braille on a screen? You certainly can! However, this feature is only available on iOS and Android devices. In this installment, we will show you all you need to know to operate this mode on both devices.

Some Quick Notes

Braille screen input is only the basics. You cannot operate a device using this mode, but you can type text. You are not able to perform any formatting functions with this feature, either. If you need to do any kind of selecting text, exit this mode and do any selection normally.

Setup on iOS

To enable braille screen input, open the VoiceOver Settings, and from here, find Rotor. Remember, the rotor is VoiceOver’s way of helping you move through different elements on an app. To use the rotor, rotate two fingers on your screen, as if you were turning an imaginary dial. Moving your fingers clockwise moves you forward, while counter clockwise moves you backwards. In these rotor settings, locate “Braille Screen Input.” If you hear “Selected,” before the option, this means it is already enabled. If you do not hear this, “double Tap” with one finger to enable it. Once you have finished that part, you can now back out of that setting. We need to do one more thing before we can use it.

Translation table and Input

It’s time to make sure the type of braille is the correct one for this feature. From the VoiceOver settings, locate “Braille.” Here, we’re only worrying about two things. These are the braille table, and the braille screen input options.

Input

Under the “Braille Screen Input” option, you can select between contracted, uncontracted, and eight dot braille if using an iPad. Contracted is essentially where you can write all the braille shortcuts for specific words, while “Uncontracted six-dot,” you write the whole word out. “uncontracted eight-dot” is a rarely used option. This is if you need to enter email addresses, or passwords. Since the capitol sign would be to press the “Backspace” combined with whatever letter you’re trying to capitalize.

Braille Table

Once you select the option you prefer, back out of those settings, and now find the “Braille Tables” option. Your preferred table should already be selected. Essentially, what code will be used for both braille input and output? Many languages have multiple codes, so be very careful when choosing. Also, make sure you are familiar with the code you have chosen. If, for instance, you select “English Unified,” you must already know the Unified English Braille code. If not, you may have issues being able to input text.

Using Braille Screen Input

It is now time to teach you how to use this mode! Fair warning, this mode does take practice to master, but after a while, it will become second nature. When in a text field, begin by turning the rotor to “Braille Screen Input.” Your phone will then say, “Landscape,” followed by where your home button or charge port should be.

Portrait and Landscape.

Here is a quick overview on what these terms mean. Your phone is a long rectangle. If your phone is in portrait mode, it is being held vertically, like when you talk on it. The short ends of the screen are on opposite sides. If the phone is in landscape mode, then the long sides of the screen are on opposite sides, or can be held horizontally for the same effect.

Orientation

Once you establish where the home button or charge port is, depending on your phone model, there is another thing to note. There are two methods you can type in braille. You can either use “Table Top,” or “Screen Away” mode. We will show you each of these methods. One method does not work for all people, so it is recommended you study these carefully.

Table Top

This mode is the simplest. All that you need to do is have your phone on a table, in landscape mode. Place your fingers on the screen as if you are going to write in braille in a straight line. If you have a smaller iPhone, the line may turn into a V shape, due to how much room the screen has. So on your left hand, “Dots 1 through 3” are covered by your index, middle and ring fingers. The same is true for your right hand for “dots 4 through 6.” You can then begin to type normally!

Screen Away

In this mode, it gets a bit complicated. You are essentially turning your phone where the screen is facing away from you. The back of the phone is facing your body. The braille dot configuration is changed to the short sides of the screen. So now, rather than the keyboard going left to right, it is now going up and down. Weird, right? So essentially, on the left short side, starting at the top is “Dot 1,” and at the bottom is “Dot 3.” On the right short end, “Dot 4” starts at the top, and “Dot 6” is at the bottom. To hold your phone in screen away, use your thumb and pinky to hold the corners of the phone. This takes practice, but it will get easier as time goes by. Your other fingers should rest comfortably on the dots, and you can begin typing.

Gestures for Braille Screen Input

Now that we figured out the orientations, it is now time to show you a few gestures to help you with this typing journey.

  • To delete a character, “Swipe Left” with one finger.
  • To delete a word, “Swipe Left” with two fingers.
  • To make a space, “Swipe Right” with one finger.
  • To make a new line, “swipe Right” with two fingers.
  • When you are writing a word, you can “swipe Up” or “Down” with one finger to find the closest match to your word, followed by a “Space” gesture to insert it.
  • To toggle contractions, “Swipe Right” with three fingers. (Note that nothing will be inserted until you write a “Space,” or “swipe down” with two fingers to translate text when contractions are enabled.)
  • To lock the orientation of braille screen input, “Swipe Down” with three fingers. (This is a toggle)
  • For a “quick action,” such as hitting the “Send” button on a messaging app, “Swipe Up” with three fingers. (This action can do different things, depending on the app.)
  • To exit braille screen input mode, simply “Turn the Rotor” in any direction.

You can also “Hold One Finger” on the screen to enter help mode, and explore the screen or try these gestures. “Hold one finger” on the screen to exit this mode.

Troubleshooting

Sometimes, braille screen input can act up for a weird reason. Here are some common scenarios, and how to fix them.

Weird Jibberish Being Entered

If this happens, you may need to re-calibrate the dot positions. To do this, tap both sides of the screen with the three dots on each side. This must be done in quick succession. So, first press “Dots 1, 2, and 3” at the same time, then right after that, press “Dots 4, 5, and 6.” Again, this has to be a quick switch. You should then hear, “Dot Positions Calibrated.” If on an iPad, “Double Tap” all eight dots.

My orientation is all messed up.

If this happens, make sure the orientation is unlocked first by “Swiping Down” with three fingers. Then, just do a quick rotation of your phone either from screen facing toward, then away from you, or just turning the phone completely around. That is, if the home button/charging port was on your left, you want that on the right side. Once you are happy with this, it is recommended you lock your orientation again. Also, under the “Braille Screen Input” settings, there is an option to reverse the dot positions to make things easier, if having the wrong orientation.

Braille Screen Input on Android

Android last year integrated this functionality into the Talkback screen reader. It works quite similarly to the iOS keyboard, with a few minor differences. You still have to use your phone in landscape mode like on iOS. There is currently no eight-dot mode, and you can only write in Unified English Braille (UEB) at this time.

Enabling the Talkback Braille Keyboard

To enable the braille keyboard on Talkback, first, perform either a “tap with three fingers,” or draw a line that goes “down, then to the right.” This opens the Talkback Menu from anywhere on Android. Locate “Settings” from here, and once there, find “Braille Keyboard.” In that menu, locate “Set up Braille Keyboard.” You will be given instructions on the rest of this process, but we’ll be nice and help you through the whole process. Locate the “Settings” button on that screen, and you will be directed to Android’s keyboard management settings. Locate and enable “Talkback Braille Keyboard” on this screen. You will get a prompt telling you the app won’t work until your phone unlocks the next time you restart the device. Hit “Okay,” and you should be good to go!

Using the Keyboard

When on an edit field, you can switch to the Talkback braille keyboard by selecting the “Next Keyboard,” or “switch keyboard” icon, depending on what keyboard you are using. This icon is typically located at the bottom right corner of the screen. Once you select this, locate “Talkback Braille Keyboard.” The first time you load this, you will be presented with a tutorial. It is recommended you try this tutorial if you are a first time user. As mentioned above, the iOS and Talkback braille keyboards are quite similar. All the editing commands such as deleting words, characters, adding spaces and new lines are exactly the same gestures. There are a few minor differences here. For instance, to re-calibrate the dots, press and hold all six of your fingers on the screen for three seconds until you hear, “dot positions activated.” You can also use Table top and screen away mode on Android, but you cannot lock the orientation with a gesture. You must goe into the Talkback settings under Braille Keyboard, and choose the layout.

Android Keyboard Gestures

As mentioned, there are a couple of different gestures from iOS on Talkback. Here they are for your reference.

  • To activate the “Action” button like on iOS, “Swipe Up” with two fingers.
  • To hide the keyboard, “Swipe Down” with two fingers.
  • To switch keyboards, “Swipe Down” with 3 fingers.
  • For additional options, “Swipe Up” with three fingers.

Conclusion

Oof! A lot of information, right? We do hope this longer article helps you master the ability to type in braille on a mobile device. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to give us a shout! Happy braille screen typing!

Categories
VIBES

VIBES Number 4: I Believe I Can Fly

Introduction

Sometimes, it’s great to go on a nice vacation, but it can be scary, especially if you have not flown before. To top it off, many people get scared because of the “You’re gonna die!” stories that many people tell to try and scare others, to discourage them from taking an adventure. We’ll have you know, at Screenless Allies, we have flown many times and it can be quite fun! It is just a matter of being prepared, and on this article, we will show you how to do it when you are blind!

Choosing The Right Airline

The advantage to flying is you can have different experiences. This is why there are many airlines to choose from. When looking for an airline to travel with, here are some things you should ask yourself.

  1. How accessible is it to book a flight?
  2. Have others flown this airline before?
  3. Do they have good reviews?

We will go over these now in a bit more detail.

Accessibility

One big thing to consider is if the airline in question has a website. Let’s be honest. Nobody wants to wait on the phone for three hours just to book a flight. Now a days, many airlines have a site that can be used to search for, and get a flight booked. Most airlines follow common practices to make these sites useable with a screen reader or magnifier. However, in the rare instance where that is not even there, you can always go the phone route. Also, consider the fact if you do not have someone traveling, how would you navigate. You typically can specify to the airline that you have a disability, and someone can escort you around the airport to your flights and baggage claim. If you are nice enough to them, they may be able to get you to restaurants, assuming your flight schedule permits it. You can also use smartphone apps to navigate. This is a bit more risky, due to the fact that you’d need to pay extra attention to traffic around the airport, while wearing headphones to respect privacy. The most important thing in these two situations is, USE GOOD JUDGEMENT!

Experiences and Reviews

It always helps if others have used the airline before. It will help when conducting research and can hear from someone who has flown, in order to hear an honest opinion. Reviews are also a great way to form a decision. There are some airlines, who sadly also make it onto the news, due to some sort of discrimination. This is even more common with the blind and their guide dogs. So if you are a guide dog user, it is recommended to pay attention to those articles as well, unless you want to have a delay, or be brought off of a plane.

Pre-flight Preparedness

Assuming you have booked the flights, it is time to prepare! The best way to do this is to determine how long your adventure will be. If it is more than a week, you may want to check bags into the flight. That is, rather than carrying your luggage with you on the plane, you can give it to the ticket counter, and your bags will be put under the airplane. No worries, you will get them back. Also, we all love technology! However, we do not want to overdo the amount we wish to take. Pick out all the gadgets you know you are going to need. It is heavily recommended to take any technology on board with you, in order to not risk any damage to it. There is no compassion to luggage at all, unless specified by the customer.

Minimum On-Person Inventory

You may want to carry very minimally at the airport, due to security checkpoints. You will need to empty out EVERYTHING you have. If it is a laptop computer, the lid must be open and in a separate basket. You will be given a basket to put the rest of your items into for checking. Also, your shoes must be removed when this happens. Try wearing something that you can easily remove. Yes, this is quite embarrassing to many people, but you would be surprised at where people can keep dangerous items. Have your identification card (ID) or passport, depending on the destination, in a reachable place as well, since you will need them to get a boarding pass, and you will also need one of these at the security checkpoint.

Boarding Passes

There are a few different ways to obtain your flight boarding passes. You can either grab them when checking into your flight at the airport, or you can usually print them out at your home about twenty-four hours prior to the flight in question. If taking the twenty-four hour option, it saves time at the airport which can be used to go do other things, like security, which we will discuss further down in more detail. Some airlines will let you have an electronic copy of the boarding pass on your phone. this can be accessed by the Wallet app on iOS, or through an email on Android devices.

Transportation

One important thing is to have a transportation plan before or after flights. You don’t want to stay in an airport, right? Obtaining transportation now a days is much easier. If a friend/family member cannot assist, you can use a taxi cab, Uber or Lyft. Keep in mind, though, that taxis are a bit more expensive than the Uber and Lyft apps. You’re still riding with strangers, though. Coordinate everything on times you would need transportation. When catching flights, it is recommended to be at the airport about one to two hours early. Some flights can arrive earlier than expected, and they can take off without you, if you fail to arrive in a timely manner. If you have a family member or friend waiting for you, have them meet you at a certain point. For instance, yall can either meet at baggage claim, or outside in front of the airport somewhere. Be sure to communicate where you are at all times, if this is the case.

At the Airport

Once at the airport, it is almost time to start your journey to a destination via a flight! Now, we shall look into the sequence of events that will take you right on board!

Checking In

This is the first department you will head to at the airport. Here, you will have the opportunity to check in any heavy baggs. In that situation, the worker at the counter will instruct you to put the luggage on a specific place on their counter. They can also help fill out luggage tags with your contact information. If your luggage is lost, people can use these ttags to let you know it was found. they will also print out any boarding passes needed to show the gate agent to board the flight. If you have a disability, some airlines have the option of what is known as “Pre-boarding.” This means you get to board the flight before anyone else! It is a good idea to remind the agent you will need assistance through the rest of this process. Family members cannot go past here unless arranged prior to a flight, so it is a good idea to say “goodbye” to them here. The agent will have you sit and wait for a worker to assist you. As a fair warning, many workers will ask if you need a wheelchair. Unless you really need one, make sure they know you are able to walk. Laziness should NOT, be an excuse.

Security

It is that time! Time to show people all that athlete’s foot you got, I mean, remove your shoes and any belongings you have on your person! You’ll put your shoes in one basket, any laptop will go on a separate basket as well. Then you will have another basket with your items. At this point, the security agent will do one of two things, which we will outline below. One thing to note, if you hear a beep coming from close by, one of two things happened.

  1. You forgot to remove an item from your inventory. This can be fixed by just giving said items to the agent and you can still go through.
  2. Hopefully not, but something dangerous was detected. At that point, you better say goodbye to that flight, and may have a vacation somewhere else. They offer free amenities, and there are also people there! The only downside to this is, you can’t pick your room. In fact, the room is made of bars. It’s actually called “Jail.”

If you have anything in your body such as braces, metal screws, or anything else, it is a good idea to inform the security prior to going through the scanners. Remember. The beeping can happen during either of the next two methods.

The Quick Method

This method basically consists of the agent holding your hand, and both of you will pass through a narrow camera field. No worries, they use gloves. Don’t correct them on the proper way of guiding, because this is a very quick 3 second or so method. Once you pass through, all items will travel on a conveyor belt, which you may hear beside you. Assuming everything goes well, you will then be given to your temporary assistant, and they will help you get organized.

The Awkward Method

This method consists of the agent guiding you to a small room. You will be instructed to put your hands above your head, while a camera scans you. The awkward part of this method is that agents have the ability to perform a patdown, if needed. These can be extremely uncomfortable to some people. Essentially, the agent will begin going around your body with one hand, from head to toe. They may also pull out a small handheld camera and scan your head with it. Do not panic. It does not take long. On average, it should take about two minutes total. Once finished, and all goes well, you will be taken to your assistant afterwords. You have successfully made it through the hardest part! It’s now time to wait for the flight!

Waiting Time

Now that security is done, it is time to go to the flight’s gate! No, it is not a gate like you would find on a fence. Think of it as an open area with a door which leads to a runway. You will be taken to a chair, to wait for the flight! This is where the assistant and you go different ways. You will start your journey, and the assistant will report back to her boss and await another person needing help. From here, just listen to music, socialize, or take a nap until the flight arrives. When it does, you will hear an announcement over the gate’s intercom. Pay attention to the cities the airplane will land in, to make sure the destinations match your flight. When the flight is ready, an agent from the gate or a flight attendant will assist you to board the plane. Have your boarding pass ready to show. It’s now time to fly!

On The Flight

At this point, you are helped by flight attendants for the rest of your flight. This part is simple. You just sit and enjoy the feeling of flying! You will first hear instructions on how to wear the seatbelts of the plane. In many planes, the seatbelt buckle slides into the locking device. To remove the seatbelt, lift the plastic flap on the locking device, and the buckle will release. You will also get evacuation instructions, which is important to listen to if it is your first time. In some cases, you can request a braille version of a safety card with more information on these instructions. Once all the formalities are done, you will be in the air, heading to your destination! The flight attendant will go around asking if you want a snack or drink after a while. When the flight is almost finished, they will collect any trash you may have.

The Call Button

If for some reason something goes wrong, and you need a flight attendant, you can find a button on the plane’s roof above your head. It is recommended you have someone assist with this, because the button for the lights and the “Call” button may look very similar. Or, if you are at the front, memorize the attendant’s name, and simply say it to get their attention.

Post-Flight

Once you get off the plain, an attendant will help you out of the runway and into the destination airport. If you have a connecting flight, the assistant will assist you there. Otherwise, it is time for baggage claim, if you have checked bags in. If not, it’s time to start exploring!

Ready To Go

Remember the transportation plan? It’s time to get out of that airport. At the airport, there are taxi’s lined up outside that you can use. Just have the assistant take you to one. If you are calling an Uber or Lyft, have the attendant take you to the pickup location for these services. All airports have a specific place for these services to park and pick up passengers.

Baggage Claim

If you have bags that have been checked in at the counter, it’s time to go get them! Baggage claim consists of a large conveyor belt which will carry the bags in a circle around a certain area. It is VERY important to remember either the color of the bags, or anything that may stand out. You can also use a bluetooth luggage tracker such as an AirTag to play a sound to locate it using your phone. Regardless, once you find your luggage, you are good to go! Remember, your assistant will be with you until you locate the luggage.

Conclusion

Wow! So much information, right? It can be overwhelming, but we promise, it will all be worth it once you have flown a few times. Have any ideas or suggestions we missed? Let us know, so we can include them here! Of course, questions are also welcome! Happy travels!

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VIBES

VIBES Number 3: Labeling Something, NOT Someone

Introduction

Sometimes, we don’t need all high tech gizmos to get things done around the house. The gadgets we already have like stoves, laundry machines, etcetera, are pretty good, especially if you are lucky to have the older machines with buttons. To make these machines more accessible, you can label each button for a better experience when using them. “How, though?” No worries! Read on to find out four of the most common ways to label such things! All of them are very inexpensive, and you can be sure that they will last a very long time! This not only applies to appliances, though. It can also apply to food items and practically anything else you have that needs some sort of identification.

A Quick Labeling Note

Depending on how advanced you are, labeling items can vary from very minimum labeling, to labeling every button on the machine. Let’s say you are labeling a microwave. For myself, I only have three labels on the microwave on the number “5,” “Start,” and “Stop.” This is because I can tell by feel and spacial recognition that the number “2” is slightly above the 5, and “4” and “6” are to the left and right of “5” respectively, even if the microwave is a touchscreen style. Each person will have their own style of labeling. Most teachers of the visually impaired try to go for the minimum labeling, so the child can practice their spacial awareness, and in situations where something may not be labeled, they can use deductive reasoning to still figure out something based on its familiarity. With that note out of the way, let’s get to some labeling! “But hey! I won’t be able to see that! Man, blind people really know how to ruin stuff!” Don’t worry! the items that will be covered are transparent, so sighted people can still use the labeled items in question.

A Braille Labeler

Remember the good old print labels you could slide into a printer and be able to have a label for let’s say, a box? Well, we have the same thing in braille! The difference is that these braille labelers use a roll of special tape which is the exact width of a braille cell. This goes into the labeler, and as you input letters, the tape will move. There are actually two types of braille labelers. We will cover these below.

The Dial Labeler

This will show how long these babies have been around. These braille labelers had a special gadget inside, which was controled by a pretty large dial. Around the dial, you would see all the possible letters and punctuation you could turn this dial to, in order to then squeeze the trigger on the underside of the labeler to input that letter. I know, tedious, right? When you were done, you would then turn the dial to a picture of scissors (represented by a tactile rectangle) to then squeeze that same trigger to cut the label. Sometimes it would not be a clean cut, because the tab you would use to pull the cover off of the tape would disappear, and you would either have to do it again, or use something to get that cover off. However, despite the tediousness, it gets the job done for quick labels. You can purchase this device right here!

The 6dot Labeler.

This labeler came out five years ago. I guess many people complained about their hand strength with the previous labelers enough to the point where a company took it upon themselves to create a much better idea, and as of now, this is the new standard! The 6dot is a labeler with a braille keyboard. You can also use a QWERTY keyboard with it to label items, perfect for family or friends to create the labels as well! In the middle between dots “1” and “4” of the unit, you will find a magical button that when pressed, does a precise cut of the label when you are done creating it! No more needing to cut labels with knives or remove dials just to get your label back! The price tag is a bit hefty though, but it is a worthwhile investment. It uses the same tape as the Reizen devices discussed above. Here is the 6dot if you wish to find out more information!

The Dots

If you want something much simpler to label items, we highly recommend you purchase what is called “Bump dots.” They are dots on a piece of paper that you can remove, to then stick anywhere you want to have a label! These dots come in different sizes and colors, which will be very helpful to distinguish different things that are labeled. For instance, you could use a larger dot for a “Stop” button or a small dot for a number on a microwave. The colors mostly help the people that are low vision to distinguish the different labeled items. here is a variety pack of these bump dots so you can figure out what is best for the person using the labels in question, or they may even have a personal preference.

Paint, You Puffed It Up!

Did you know that puff paint, which you can find at craft stores or even Walmart, is used for labeling as well? Yes my friend, it is! In this situation, you can make either dots, or small pictures/markings to label things as well! Best of all, this works on things like cans. Let’s say you’ll be using a can of flour and sugar and will be re-filling these. Well, you can have a more permanent label on each one with the puff paint so you know which one is which! You would have to wait about twenty-four hours for this to dry, but once it is, you have yourself a much more permanent label! You can also use puff paint to draw very detailed pictures, but we will save that for another article!

Cards for Groceries

This method is most effective on cans and boxes. You can take a note card, such as the ones you use as flashcards, and write braille or large print on those. Once finished, you wrap a rubber band around the card and item in question. That makes it a good reusable item! Once you are finished with the item in question, for example cereal, you can then create a shopping list with those specific cards, and when you buy new items, you can reuse the cards again!

Conclusion

These are just some of many ways you can label things around your house to make life a lot easier. These are the more common methods that many people use. Do you have a different way that you label items or show your students how to label? Let us know, and remember that there’s no “right by the book” way to label things! Every method counts! Happy labeling!

Categories
VIBES

VIBES Number 2: The Screenless Holiday Gift Guide

Introduction

Welcome to a special edition of VIBES! Since as of this writing, it is the holiday season, we would like to share some gift ideas that are both fun, and accessible to your friend, family member, or significant other who is blind or visually impaired. “Jose, you do realize everyone has different tastes in gifting, right?” Yes, I know! However, here’s a basic list of some non and high tech gifts you can give to someone on your list, if said person, like myself, is NOT a fan of clothing. I mean, we get that yearly! (well, at least the majority of people do) So, why clothing for Christmas? Okay, rant over. We will sort it into categories, starting at non-tech, and building up!

Non-tech Items

These gifts are if you do not want to spend a ton of money on a very expensive gift. Of course, the friend in question should understand that the most important part of a gift is the gesture, and not the gift itself.

Gift Cards

You can NEVER, go wrong with a gift card from practically any store of your choosing! They can go from five dollars, to practically one thousand dollars! If you decide to go for the thousand, and you have a significant other, you better hope they don’t break up with you right after! Keep in mind though, if you would like to make life easier for a visually impaired person, it is highly recommended you purchase this gift card online. There should be an option to email it to someone. Once you purchase and send it by email, all the person has to do is click on a “Redeem now,” or a “Redeem wizard” link on the email. They can then follow the instructions to add the funds to their account, which most places after clicking the link, and if they already are logged in, it will be done automatically. :After that, they can either save that towards that new piece of technology, or buy themselves a five pound bag of candy!

Braille Games And Cards

“Dude, it’s 2020! No one plays board games now a days! Why do you even bother?” Some people actually still enjoy playing board games and/or cards. We have a braille/large print equivalent of the most popular games out there! “But it’s all braille! How are we supposed to play that game with no braille! I ain’t learnin no new system of reading just for them blind folk to have fun!” No worries! These board games come with print as well. It’s just a braille overlay. Here is a great place where you can get a few selections! Want some accessible playing cards for different card games? Right this way!

Greeting Cards

This one may sound like, “Uh, they can’t read that.” True, but this is where you come in. Want to improve your description skills? Well, this is a good way to do it! Describe everything on it. Try getting one with pictures so you can have a bit more of a challenge. Now, if you want to be a little more advanced, you can get a talking card with a pre-recorded message, or, you can even record a personalized message on a blank greeting card! If a card may sound basic to you, you can replace that talking part with a bear! We all know where you can go buy said specialized teddy bear! Just make sure the message isn’t too tear jerking, because if you have a blind significant other, and they decide to leave you, that message is gonna hurt! Bad, especially if they keep that bear!

Food

You can NEVER, go wrong with food! It can range from cookies to full blown meals! If you are creative enough, you can even add braille or tactile markings to a cookie or cake! “What’s Tactile?” Seriously? How could anyone not… Sorry, got a little carried away. Someone at one point actually asked me this question. Just remember this, and you will be good! Tactile means touch. Whether it is raised lines or braille, that falls in that category!

Message In A Mug

Many people buy customized coffee mugs, or shirts with a certain quote or something funny written on it. As mentioned above, if you purchase this, ensure it is raised or written in braille. Most of us can read a bit of print to tell what it says, as long as it is raised properly. If you can feel it, chances are we will too. It is also a good idea to go ahead and read the message to the recipient, just in case.

Technology Related Items

Here it is! If you want to spend slightly more on a gift, here’s some ideas on items that are more technological!

Headphones And Speakers

If your gift recipient is an audio fan, like myself, you can get them a nice pair of headphones or speakers! Headphones and speakers now a days come in many different prices, shapes and sizes! It is all up to what you think they will like. Most of these also talk or make noise if they are bluetooth enabled devices, offering the ability for independent setup and connection.

Cables and Chargers

Has the recipient of the gift complained on how their charging cables to their smartphones or tablets have broken? You can never go wrong with purchasing them more of these said cables, that are more durable! Here is a good resource to purchasing some good tough cables! Of course, if you’d like to get them an accessible power bank to charge said devices, you can get them the Ennergrid VS 150 power bank, which we actually reviewed! If you would like to find out more about it, Click here!

Phones And Computers

Okay, you want more? Well, now we’re talking “I really love this person!” If you really love the person you are giving a gift to, and you have decided there is no budget, why not get them a computer or smartphone? Of course, you probably are going to skip this section because it is rare that a gift is this expensive. But for those that decided to read this far, here are some things to keep in mind when purchasing these kind of devices.

Smartphones

Now a days, the smartphone is the most common device found out there. You may have that person with a flip phone, but most of the time, it may be a senior citizen using these, or that blind person that refuses to use a smartphone because it is “Too complicated, and I refuse to upgrade!” Make sure you do your research on accessibility of said smartphones. I will go ahead and tell you right now, the iPhone from Apple, is the most accessible for someone who is totally blind, while an Android phone is more accessible to someone who has limited vision. Of course, there are cases where the iPhone has also helped a person with little vision. “How DARE YOU SAY THAT?” It is true! As someone who has tested both screen readers on both sides, I can say iOS has more powerful features, and the app store actually has more apps that are compatible with VoiceOver, the built-in screen reader on iOS devices. Android has a smaller app set, but TalkBack is not as up to date as iOS. Remember, you don’t have a budget if you decided to read this far. The iPad is also a great entry level tablet if you want a good modern device, but not as expensive as the iPhone. It will save you about $500 minimum, if you decide to go the iPad route. Fear not, blind seniors. There is also a phone out there for you! This phone has buttons and has a modified version of Android. Think of this phone as the, old fashioned smartphone, due to the internals being in 2020, but the physical body of the phone is still stuck in 2005. This is called the Blind Shell, and you can get it in a few different variants. Don’t worry, it works with all major carriers, just make sure you buy a sim card for it. You can find out more info on this phone right here.

Computers

This part is a bit different when choosing a computer. The main two things to remember when getting a computer for someone who is blind or visually impaired are to make sure they have enough storage and RAM. With most computers, they have built-in accessibility features that a blind person can use to set them up. For Windows computers, after setup, the recipient can install other programs to make them accessible. That being said, I recommend the computer has 4 gigabytes of RAM (used to load the programs when launched) and five hundred gigabytes of internal storage MINIMUM! If you intend to get a Windows tablet, the same RAM minimum applies, but in this situation, we highly recommend purchasing an external hard drive. Those have many different storage sizes, and can range from economical to, “Only my workplace purchases those because of price!”

Conclusion

Here we are! Here are just SOME, ideas on what kind of gifts you can give a blind or visually impaired person for any festive holiday. Of course, you can give them anything you would like, as long as they can enjoy it equally like their sighted peers. If you have any ideas, questions, or unique gifts you have given to a friend, feel free to email us! Happy shopping!

Categories
VIBES

VIBES Number 1: Hollywood Versus Reality

Introduction

Welcome to Hollywood! I mean, hang on a sec, let me rewind the tape a bit. Welcome to, Reality! Yes, we will be looking at a bit of common stereotype questions we blind and visually impaired people get! You’re probably asking yourself, “Jose, why are you even mentioning Hollywood?” Well, if you have seen movies or TV shows with a blind character in them, (which are actually quite a few of them out there) you know that they make them all cool, with interesting features. The only TV anything that really portrayed a blind person correctly, in my opinion, is “The Miracle Worker.” In this film, Helen Keller was not a superhero, and I commend the writers for portraying her correctly, even though she was also deaf. It was a two in one great comparison, based on her story.

DISCLAIMER

This article may be too sensitive for some readers. Please note that this is written by a blind person, and it discusses facts. So, before we get emails saying, “You don’t know heck about what we’re going through!” Reader discression is STRONGLY ADVISED!

A Quick Note Before We Begin

This post is going to be a little different in format. This is going to be a “Frequently Asked Questions” edition article of Screenless Allies, where I will put the most common question that matches a stereotype, followed by the answer. So, without any further delays, let’s dive in!

So, You’re Blind, Which Means You Ain’t Got No Eyeballs?

Uh, that question should NOT even come out of anyone’s mouth. You see, dear Reader, a lot of blind people are not comfortable with that question. Yes, you will find those, like the Screenless Allies team, that will answer the question with a bit of humor. But, the majority of blind people do not like talking about their blindness in general. Some will probably give you the very basics, if you’re lucky. Even if you become their close friend, you may not even get questions like that answered. So, let me enlighten you. Just because a person is blind, does not mean they do not have eyeballs. Some blind people have prosthetic eyeballs, which are fake eyes. Some reasons as to why they use those follow:

  • They like having those just to look cool.
  • They may have lost an eye.
  • They do not like showing their real eyes.

You may also see some blind people wearing sunglasses. No, this is not a weird habbit. Some blind people do get bothered by the sun, or may have a bit of light perception. So yes, we DO, have eyeballs. They just do not work.

Do Blind People Keep Their Eyes Closed All the Time?

No. While a lot of us have our eyes closed and cannot blink, there are some blind people that can open their eyes. They don’t work, but hey, at least they can be opened, which makes doctors and the blind person happier because there isn’t a need to pry the eye open with your hand to look inside it for check-ups.

So, You Have No Vision, Which Means You Have Powerful Senses Or A Sixth Sense, Right?

Absolutely not! Just because we don’t have vision doesn’t mean we easily become a superhero, who then turns into a lawyer, and then just wipes people out of the world because the hero can tell they’re lying! I’m looking at you, daredevil movie franchise! When a blind person is quite young, special teachers and therapists will come over to the blind baby’s house to train their other senses by playing with the baby. This typically consists of in depth training by either making the toys make noise, having the child touch different textures, or heck, even food can be used to train the senses of taste and smell! But training begins in the crib, encouraging the baby to explore their surroundings of toys and textures. The more training they get, the more they use and develop those senses. Since vision is not there, those senses are trained on heavily so we can rely on them even more as we get older. Heightened, not quite. Powerful, yes, through training, not naturally from out of the womb!

So All Yall Use That There Echo Location Thang Bats Use In Caves To Find Food?

Nope. While some blind people do use echo location, which is a routine consisting of making a sound that can bounce off of a wall to tell where we are, it’s not always the case. This is used a lot by bats. I don’t wish to go into scientific explanation to how it works, but here is an experiment you can try. Find a wall in your house. Step away from it a little, and click your tongue, talk, or do something that makes noise. Listen to the sound as it bounces back to you. Now, find an opening in your house, and do the same thing. Notice how the sound doesn’t bounce back? That indicates an opening. You may also hear more of a reverberation when doing this. Now, walk with the wall and opening beside you and do the same thing. You’ll notice the change if you listen hard enough. That, is Echo location. However, while some blind people rely on this tool exclusively, a lot of others will use a cane or guide dog to navigate. Echo location can be used a little when navigating with those navigation aids, but at the same time, we don’t have to make the sound to know where walls are. Remember I mentioned the training of the senses? Well, again, this is where your hearing should be trained enough to pick walls and openings up without making noise.

Ooooo! So Since You’re Blind, Does This Mean You’re Getting A Cute Little Dog To Help You So Then I can Actually Be Your Friend?

NO Way! Just because someone is totally blind, doesn’t mean we all have service dogs. Some of us, like yours truly, prefer the cane. Let’s face it, white canes are much, much cheaper. Plus, no vet visits, bathing, etcetera! Each blind person has their own preference on what they will use as their traveling companion, but it is not good to assume everyone has a guide dog. “Jose, why did you include the being your friend part?” Unfortunately, due to the weakness of humans with dogs, a lot of blind people that are guide dog users get a little bit more of a, “Special Treatment.” They are included in a lot of social gatherings, get special privileges, and just overall use that dog to their advantage. I’m not saying every dog user does this, but I know a few that have been through that. While as a cane user, we are practically ignored. Pair a guide dog user with a cane user, and you will see who gets more attention. I would like to ask that if that happens, please don’t do that! You are making yourself, and the service dog user look bad. You, for having a weak heart when looking at, “that cute puppy that I wanna take home with me!” and giving that blind person what they want because of that. It looks bad for the blind person, because some of them may realize, “Hey! If I use my dog as an excuse, I could rule the world! Wahahahaha!” Now, there are some blind people who will NOT, allow you to even get near the animal, which I heavily encourage, because they have their independence, and their dog is safe. We may cover service dogs in a future article, but for now, let’s move on!

Poor You!

This is going to be a little strong to some people, but this is necessary. WE DO NOT, WANT YOUR PITY! All blind people get this all the time! “I’m crossing a street!” “No! Stop! Let me help you! I was crying so hard when I saw you lining up!” This unfortunately makes us look even more helpless. A lot of us have been fully trained to do a lot of things you can do like cooking, cleaning, crossing streets, etc. While I understand you are only trying to help, a lot of us, like yours truly, would rather us ask YOU for help if we need it. Unfortunately, some blind people use this to their advantage, going as far as to finding a way to get a product they found online or may have heard about that they would love to have! They will spin you a tale on how it is a great product, and ‘We can’t afford it.” That instance when you think, “Oh, poor thing! Let me see what I can do!” Then you call schools and other places to see if you can get donations or get a school or other organization to buy said piece of equipment. Then you get the equipment, knowing perfectly well they are capable of finding a job, and buying it themselves! The point to that scenario is, you just proved how pitiful they are, no matter if you are their friend. If they are capable of doing things like that themselves, let them do it! That, would be a TRUE friend in my book. I would unfriend that person who went out there and used me for pity like that. “Jose, you just don’t know about friendship!” It’s a question of pride and dignity for a very independent blind person, who wants to be as independent as possible. It just makes the people who are trying to “fit in” with the sighted world look bad because everyone will assume, “Oh, so, no blind person can afford a computer. Well, guess we’ll all have to call the CEO’s of big companies to see if they can donate money so we can get it for them,” even though we get a paycheck. Now, there are a few blind people that would just rather stay home, to either have pity for themselves, or be on a computer talking to other blind people who are the same way, and rely on either family or governmental assistance.

Religion and Disability

This topic will also sting a little more to some people. It has been a personal experience of mine, that people who are blind or are disabled in general, get the people that think they can “Pray for their healing.” I’m going to stop you right there and say, you will NOT get brownie points for praying for a disabled person. You may get critiqued pretty bad, or in some cases, you may get punched in the face. That is utterly disrespectful to that person. It may make you feel good, but not the other person. Sure, you may get that rare person that accepts prayers for healing, but I promise you, others are pretty sensitive. So when you ask for permission to pray like that, be prepared to either get yelled at, or have them walk away. No, being disabled is not a “curse from God because you did something bad.” Please keep that kind of prayer to yourself.

Conclusion

This is just a few of MANY, stereotypes on blindness. There are quite a few more, but these are the essentials to know. Maybe in a future installment, we can cover more of these. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to email us if you have any questions about blindness in general! We are happy to answer any of them you may have, and who knows? Your question could be included in another installment of this style of frequently asked questions!

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, and you use your thumbs to control them. Panning means the movement, that is, moving through a document, for example. From right to left, these are called “Next, Up, Down, and Previous.” The “Next,” and “Previous,” thumb keys are much shorter, and they move you by a line in a document. The “Up,” and “Down,” 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 “Down,” 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. Since there is no physical “Applications” key, (the right click function,) you must hold down the “Function” key, and press “Control” at the same time to perform this command. “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 rectangular 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 “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!