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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!

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Atechability

Atechability Number 9: Connect Me To a Pin Pal

Introduction

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

Introduction

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

Introduction

We at Screenless Allies do 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

Introdutcion

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 was written, 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 from the previous 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!

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Atechability

Atechability Number 7: Harness The Power of GAAD for Accessibility

Intruduction

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is a once-a-year day created to promote digital accessibility. This post will cover a short discussion explaining digital accessibility, the goal behind GAAD, and how a potentially interested party can participate. Before anything though, I want to point you to the Global Accessibility Awareness Day website. This is the main resource for information. This post on ScreenlessAllies attempts to be factual, but is also strongly opinionated.

What Is Digital Accessibility?

It would take a whole post, or posts, to cover this complex topic. Essentially, digital accessibility, or just accessibility, is the ability for a website, or generally digital content, to be used and accessed by the widest range of people possible. The term is commonly used to highlight those users with disabilities which include visual, cognitive, hearing, mobility, and other disabilities.
You might be asking, “Why is there only a single day dedicated to this important topic?” Good question!
By default, most companies, organizations, and anyone who runs and maintains a website has probably never had to consider how their content is of interest to people with disabilities. However, if the content is not accessible, the population of people with disabilities miss out. This brings about ethical dilemmas, legal issues, and I dare say, even a loss of business opportunity.
Anyway, I’ll probably write a longer post in the future covering this topic. For now, the important thing to know is that accessibility is important to everyone. This is why a day like this was created — to bring awareness to this important topic. A custom holiday if you will.

How Global Accessibility Awareness Day Started

According to the GAAD website’s about page, there was a single blog post that started it all. The post was written by an enthusiastic backend software developer who declared the start of GAAD.
There are some minor changes to the rules and dates of GAAD as of the original blog post, but the general sentiment holds true, “raise awareness and know-how on making sites accessible.”

when Is GAAD?

GAAD is known to take place on the third Thursday in May. You could argue that it should be held all days of the year, but then we would miss out on an opportunity to celebrate yet another holiday on the growing list of custom holidays!

Is GAAD For Me?

GAAD is for everyone! It is encouraged that awareness spreads throughout companies, to individuals, to organizations, to your parents, your grandparents, … Everyone is welcome! You can even use the #GAAD hashtag!

Online or In Person?

GAAD events can be held in all desired settings. If you want to schedule an official meetup, circumstances allowing, then do it. Want to schedule a webinar, feel free as well! Notify your friends, the accessibility community, and anyone you might think would benefit from your event.

What Do I Do For GAAD?

GAAD is what you make of it. The official website makes some recommendations, but you don’t have to follow those. The main goal is to promote digital accessibility.
Perhaps you should sit down with a screen reader. Download some magnification software. Download accessibility tools like AXE plugin for Chrome or even Lighthouse to analyze accessibility score of a website.
I mentioned events. GAAD commonly consists of events held by a number of people, or groups of people, that highlight different topics in accessibility. You can organize your own, or join others if allowed.

How Is ScreenlessAllies Participating?

We are a relatively new website. I feel we’re helping in the cause by providing these informative blog posts. If you visited this article, we’ve done our job. We want to promote accessibility as it relates to people who are blind. So while you’re hear, check out our other blog posts.

Conclusion

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is something I personally only heard about recently. It is a growing cause, and it holds value to us here at ScreenlessAllies. We hope you join us in promoting digital accessibility and participate by contributing to the digital world with this perspective in mind.

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Atechability

Atechability Number 5: The Screenless Guide to NVDA Envy

Introduction

In this post, I will write about one of our favorite screenless technologies, NVDA. Specifically, I want to provide some insight into what the NVDA certification is, why it might benefit you, and how you can prepare to take the exam.

What Is The NVDA Certification?

Non-Visual Desktop Access, or NVDA, is a free open-source screen reader that’s been around since 2008. A screen reader is software that reads the screen out to people through speech. You can read a bit more about screen readers here. NV Access, the makers of the screen reader, offers an optional certification that can be obtained. Taking the test is free, but the certification costs around $75 USD. In addition to obtaining proof of understanding of NVDA’s features, you are financially supporting this non-profit organization by purchasing the certificate. The questions range from understanding simple keyboard commands used in NVDA, to understanding how things are spoken by NVDA.

When Can You Take The Exam?

The test is an online exam consisting of multiple choice questions. The exam can be taken online at any time of the day. All you have to do is go to the NV Access certification portal and register for an account.

Where Can I Take The Exam?

As mentioned, the test is administered online. There is no testing center scheduling required, or even proctoring. You have the option of taking it in the comfort of your own home on your personal computer. This test is on the honor system, so don’t cheat!

Why Do I Need This Certification?

You might be asking, why would I take this exam if this is a free screen reader? This might be a simple answer depending on profession, motivation, or willingness to learn. My reasons are as follows:

  • By purchasing a certification, you are supporting this non-profit organization in their quest to making technology as widely available to blind people.
  • It is good to have a credential when offering services related to a product, in this case, NVDA.
  • According to this WebAIM survey, NVDA slightly surpasses its main competitor as being the most used primary screen reader by people with disabilities. Therefore there is some value in knowing this software well.

Who Can Benefit?

It is my belief that this certification may benefit you if you’re:

  • an assistive technology trainer working with blind people
  • an accessibility consultant working on a number of technologies including web, PDF, and desktop applications
  • a teacher or instructor of visually impaired people and you want to teach students how to use this free product
  • a blind individual who wants to solidify their understanding of NVDA
  • and finally, any other profession or occupation I may not have mentioned having to do with technology and blind people

OK, Now How Do I Actually Prepare?

The preparation process is simpler than you might think. The biggest helper in this endeavor is to actually download NVDA from the NV Access Website. After downloading, there is some great help to be found in NVDA’s help Menu. Do the following to access the Help menu:

  • First, open the NVDA Menu by pressing the Insert and N keys together on your keyboard.
  • Then, arrow down using either the up arrow or down arrow keys on your keyboard until you hear Help Submenu, h.
  • Expand this submenu by pressing the right arrow key on your keyboard.
  • Now, the first option is User Guide. If you want to review in-depth documentation, this is the place to go. And in fact, this is from where the test gets most of its questions. You can press Enter.
  • Otherwise, if this is too overwhelming, the second menu option in the help menu is the Commands Quick Reference option. This gives concrete keyboard hotkeys that can be used to explore by doing. Fair warning, there are quite a few commands, so you may need time to digest them.

Alternatively, if you desire a more structured approach to learning, NV Access offers an training module eBook which helps users get to grips with this screen reader from the very beginning. Again, this purchase will also support NV Access directly.

Conclusion

I hope this post provided some insight into the benefits of obtaining this certification, as well as providing some guidance as to how you can self-prepare to take the exam. Best of luck if you decide to embark on this journey to learning and certifying. NVDA is, in my opinion, a revolutionary product, and it is my goal to encourage as many people as possible to use this software.

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Atechability Reviews

Introduction to Atechability Reviews

Introduction

Welcome to this section of Atechability, where we will review the latest and greatest technology! Whether it is assistive technology, (special technology for people with disabilities), or mainstream technology that everyone has, we will review it! Read on to see how the reviews will be written and what to expect.

Why Reviews?

Many technology companies claim they have the, “BEST PRODUCT EVER!” I understand it is publicity, but there is something that has not been told often to many people. Many companies pay reviewers to write a positive review, even though the reviewers may not like it. Here at Screenless Allies, even if we get paid to review, you have our word, that reviews will be HONEST, and NON-BIAS.

Overviews

In the Overview section, we will discuss what the product is and what it does, and a little bit about who made the product in question, if applicable. If the company was mentioned before in ANY review, we will skip the company’s description the time after that. You do not need to read who Apple is, three thousand times each post. Pricing of the product will also go here.

Product Descriptions

Here, the review will have a physical description of hardware products we cover. If it is software, instead of a description, there will be a basic summary of what you are able to do with it.

Product Usage

From time to time, there will be mini guides on how to use the product in question to get the user up and running right away, if they wish to learn a little more about the product. This can vary in length from basic, to even more advanced. We hope you have time to read!

The good and bad

This section will be dedicated to looking at the pro’s and cons of the product in question. It serves as another guide before the user goes to buy it. We will try to be as detailed as possible.

Rating and final thoughts

This is the part where the curtain is about to rise, and the reviewers are about to go back to get ready to review another product! However, we have to give a rating and final thoughts first. The rating scale is from 1 (HORRIBLE, get this product out of my face, and don’t recommend purchasing it) to 5, (EXCELLENT!” Then, we will give a summary of the product plus the final thoughts. Remember, these reviews will be NON-BIAS. The opinions do not have to match what others may think of the product.

Have Review Suggestions?

Would you like us to review a product you think may be useful whether it is to entertain, or help with productivity? Drop us an email! We are open to suggestions, and we will try our best to locate and review the product in question! Please keep in mind, we can reject review ideas. This is not because we do not want to review the product, it may be because of the products’ usability, or the difficulty for obtaining it. Regardless, we are looking forward to hearing from you with suggestions soon! Who knows? Your idea may be on this page! Thank you again for visiting the Atechability Reviews page! Check back often for more content!

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Atechability

Atechability Number 4: Let’s Take Notes

Introduction

This is very important, so start taking notes on this post! “But Jose, we do not have anything to write on! Do we need pencils?” Absolutely not! You came to the right place! This post will tell you about built-in apps to take notes on a PC or smartphone! Did you know that all major operating systems have apps like that? You do not need to download or buy word processing apps to do this, especially if it is just scratch notes, such as phone numbers, or lecture notes. Below, you will find how to launch all these and get up and running!

Before We Begin

Note that these apps were designed for BASIC editing. Which means, if you are aiming to making a research paper, these apps will NOT do the job. These built-in apps are designed to do basic note taking. Whether it is lecture notes, taking down phone numbers, or even writing a journal entry about how the boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with you, and how he is/she is an awful human being and how you were too good for them, these apps will do the job. To figure out if the file will open in a notes app, most plain text files have a “.TXT” format. This basically means, plain text. If you see those three letters, they will open in many of the built-in apps. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to the opening of these apps!

Notepad for Windows

Notepad will allow you to create very basic text documents. You can adjust the text font, but that is pretty much it. There are a couple of ways to launch this application from anywhere. You can either: Type in (Notepad) from the start menu on your Windows machine, or you can do a couple of keyboard commands. You can press “Windows+r” to open the “Run” Dialog, type in “Notepad,” and press “Enter.” You can also click “Run” with your mouse, and type the same thing. You can save the document in the usual way you would save a Word document.

Word Pad on Windows

If you need a little more formatting options like Bold, Italic, etcetera, but do not want complex formatting such as tables, or decorative text, you can use another built in app on windows called Word Pad. To launch it, you will do the same procedures as Notepad, but instead of searching for “Notepad,” you would type in “Word Pad.” In the “Run” Dialog, you can type in “Wordpad,” all one word, and press enter. That will launch the app, and you can begin typing. The files in this app will save as a Rich Text Format file, (.RTF) which then can be opened in word. To open a file in this format using word, you can either open it using Word itself, or, you can “Right Click” on the file in question, or press the “Applications” key on the keyboard, and find, “Open With.” In that submenu, locate “Word.” If Word is not an option, find “Choose a Program,” and locate Word there. From there, you can do more complex formatting, and save it as a regular word document, if you wish. It will NOT, replace the original Word Pad file if you choose to save it there.

Text Edit on Mac

You can use Text Edit to WRITE basic documents on a Mac without having the complex formatting features of Pages. You can search for Text Edit in the Applications folder, or search it using the Spotlight Search tool.

Notes app on Smartphones

Your smartphones also come equipped with notes apps. On many smartphones, the app is simply called “Notes.” On Samsung devices, the app is called “Samsung Notes.” All these apps will work almost the same. To locate this app, locate it on your home screen. Most of the time, it will take you to either a new note, or an existing one, depending on the last thing you did in the app. To make a new note, locate the “New Note” icon. You will then have a blank note and can type. Once finished, tap the “Done” button. You can then rename the note or share it. On iOS devices, you can even lock the note with Touch/Face ID or a password. To do this, locate the “Share” button, and locate, “Lock Note.” Follow the prompts, and you will have a secured note. Just make sure it is not a password, because in that case, if at any time the iCloud servers get attacked, those notes will be seen and can risk your privacy, since you must be signed into the iCloud part of your account to properly lock the notes. I don’t think hackers want to hear about your significant others’ flaws, either, so use precaution.

Final Notes

As you can see, you do not need to download advanced word processing apps to take simple notes. These apps are simple to use, and they are designed for this purpose. You can then transfer them to word or Pages and format them there if you must. We hope these apps call out your inner-creativity! Happy note taking!