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Atechability

Atechability Number 8: I’m on Pins and Braille

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

What Is A Braille Display?

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

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

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

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

How The Display Works and a Brief History

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

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

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

Characteristics Of All Displays

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

Cursor Buttons

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

Keyboard.

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

Chorded Commands

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

Panning Buttons

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

Connectivity

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

USB

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

Bluetooth

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

Cleaning and Maintenance

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

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

Epilogue

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

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Atechability

Atechability Number 7: Harness The Power of GAAD for Accessibility

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 6: Dolphins, Sharks, and Envy in Windows

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

IMPORTANT NOTE for IT PROFESSIONALS

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

JAWS for Windows

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

JAWS Certification

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

Supernova

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

NVDA

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

Epilogue

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

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Atechability

Atechability Number 5: The Screenless Guide to NVDA Envy

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

Atechability Number 4: Let’s Take Notes

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!

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Atechability

Atechability Number 3: Let’s Play The Keyboard!

“Wait a moment. I don’t even know about music, and this guy wants us to play a keyboard? I’m outa here!” Silly readers! We are not talking about musical keyboards here. Did you know you can perform a wide range of keyboard shortcuts on a computer without needing to use a mouse all the time? Yes, that is correct! You can perform quite a few commands on a keyboard using everyday tasks such as word processing, emailing, etcetera. On this post, we are covering some of the MANY keyboard shortcuts that can be done. Many of these can be used on both Windows and Mac. Read on, and we will show you how!

Notes About Shortcut Notation in This Post

When this post gives a keyboard shortcut, it will have a “Plus sign, (+)” to indicate pressing more than one key at the same time. For example, when we say, “Press “Alt+F,”” this does not mean to press all those three keys at the same time. In this case, the four keys, because to make a plus, you do a “Shift” and “Equals, (=)” key at the same time. Ouch! My hand just hurts thinking of the Twister game I’d have to play to get all those keys pressed! The correct way to do that is just to press “Alt,” and “F” at the same time. Nothing more, nothing less. Also, if you see a key with the letter “F,” and a number after it, such as “F1,” you can find these keys on the very top row of your keyboard. These are called “Function Keys.” They have different purposes in different apps. “F1,” is used to bring up a help system in many apps. Sometimes, those do not work on laptops. No worries! You can press the “Function” key, which is located to the left of the “Windows” key on the bottom left side in conjunction with the function key on the top row in question, and it works great! With the notes out of the way, let’s teach some basics!

Editing commands

When using word processors such as “Microsoft Word,” or Apple’s “Pages,” you have a wide selection of keyboard shortcuts you can use to cut, copy, paste, etcetera. Remember, You DO NOT, need the mouse to use these. NOTE: these work on both Windows and Mac. These also work on other applications that allow you to work with text such as Powerpoint, Excel, and even Outlook. (Numbers, Keynote, and Mail, are the Mac equivalents.) Microsoft does make Office apps for the Mac as well. Following are some common commands to get started.

Text Manipulation Commands

  • “Control+x”: Cut text to the clipboard after highlighting it. This essentially removes the selection from the document, so you can paste it somewhere else or just not use it.
  • “Control+C”: Copies highlighted text to the clipboard.
  • “Control+V”: Pastes text from the clipboard at the location of your cursor.
  • “Control+a”: Select ALL the text. This highlights EVERYTHING that has been typed. From top, to bottom.
  • “Control+Z”: Undo Last Action. This will be EVERYONE’s favorite command, especially if you make many mistakes with deleting something accidentally. Just remember, this does not work on pencil and paper. To an acquaintance, if you read this, that’s still helarious about you trying to press this command on paper!

Decorating Text

No, this does not mean that text can be decorated with glitter or anything like that. These commands allow you to do things such as bolding, italic, etcetera. These commands are toggles. Meaning, when you press the command, text you write will be either italicized, underlined, or written in bold until you press the command again to turn the text attribute off. However, there is an exception to this rule. If you already have text on screen that you want to underline, bold, etcetera, you press the command once after highlighting it. Then, you can move on with life. Here are the commands for the main formatting of text.

  • “Control+B”: Bold.
  • “Control+I”: Italic.
  • “Control+U”: Underline.
  • “Control+E”: Center text. (This is NOT a toggle.)
  • “Control+D”: Open the font settings box to change more text attributes.

Basic File Manipulation Commands

You can also open and make new documents using the keyboard. Here are some basics:

  • “Control+N”: create a new document.
  • “Control+O”: open a document.
  • “Control+P”: print a document.
  • “Control+s”: save a document.
  • “Control+F”: Find text in a document.

Emailing Commands

Many email clients have different commands to operate them. However, here are some commands that Outlook and Mail for Mac use.

  • “Control+N”: new message.
  • “Control+S”: Send message.
  • “Control+R”: Reply to a message.
  • “Control+F”: Forward a message.

All the commands listed on the “Word Processing” section work in email messages as well.

Some Windows Shortcut Keys

When using the Windows Operating System, you can get to parts of it with just one key press. Try these next time you use a computer.

  • “Windows” key or “Control+Escape”: Open the Start menu.
  • “Applications” key, or “Shift+f10”: Double right click on something to open the context menu. For example, if this is done on a file, you could rename it, delete it, or view its properties.
  • “Alt+F4”: Exit an application, or if done from the desktop, asks you if you wish to shut down, or restart Windows.
  • “Windows+A”: Open the action center. (Notifications)
  • “Windows+C”: Ask Cortana, Windows’ personal assistant a question or request to do a certain action, depending on your need.
  • “Windows+x”: Open a list of common actions on Windows, such as going to settings, or opening the task manager.

Epilogue

There are many more shortcuts that you can use, but these were just the basics to get you started! One thing that should also be mentioned, is if you have a bluetooth keyboard connected to a smartphone or tablet, most of these commands work here as well! Let us know if you would like more shortcut commands, and we will bring another post with nothing but more new ones. Happy keyboarding!

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Atechability

Atechability Number 2: Zoom, Zoom, Zoom! with Magnifiers

Welcome to another installment of Atechability! This time, we’re changing things up a bit and presenting you, a contributed post! This post is brought to you by a teacher who works with the blind and visually impaired students in a public school system. Please NOTE: The views expressed on this, or any future contributor post, are those of the contributor, and do NOT represent Screenless Allies as a whole.

Pre-post Background

If you recall, on the Previous Installment, I covered screen readers for the blind. Now, we are moving to the visually impaired spectrum. That is, a person who has some functional vision, compared to a person with full 20/20 vision. These individuals require the use of larger text or images on screen in order to see them correctly. For example, if a visually impaired person receives a letter with standard print, that letter has to be increased about double or more of a font size in order for them to see it clearly. This can depend on how much vision the person has. Just like screen readers, most devices come with features built in to allow visually impaired people to use them easily and efficiently. This post will tell you all about turning these features on. Without any further ado, let’s read what our contributor shared on this matter!
BEGIN CONTRIBUTOR POST

Introduction

In my years of working with individuals with visual impairments, I have seen a drastic change in the accessibility features that are built into most operating systems. There was a time when there was almost nothing available, unless you spent hundreds of dollars on specialized software programs. Today, most devices come with built in features that enable a person with a visual impairment to access information.

Windows

Let’s start with the most common operating system, Windows. You have two ways of turning on magnification. The first is to press the “Windows logo” key and the “Plus (+) sign,” which is done by pressing the “Shift” and “Equals (=)” keys at the same time. You can also press the “start” icon, select “settings,” then “Ease of Access” and locate “Magnifier.” There is a toggle under “Turn on Magnifier” that allows you to use the above keyboard shortcut to operate it. To turn off the magnifier, press “Windows” with “Escape.” To increase magnification, press “Windows” Key and the “+ (Plus sign, which again is “Shift and Equals (=)” key).” To decrease magnification, Press “Windows” and the “-” (“Hyphen”) keys at the same time.

iOS

Next, let’s talk about the popular iOS devices. Go to “settings,” then “Accessibility,” (“General” then “Accessibility” for iOS 12 and below), then select magnifier. turn the toggle to on, then you can triple click the home button to activate the magnifier. This allows you to magnify something you are looking at through the lens of the camera. The feature that allows you to magnify your screen is called “Zoom.” You also access this through the “Accessibility” settings in iOS. Once enabled, you must “double tap” (tap twice) the screen with 3 fingers to activate the Zoom window. “Double tap” the screen with 3 fingers again to deactivate the Zoom window. To move the window around, use 3 fingers and drag the window around the screen. In the “Zoom” settings category under “Accessibility,” you can also change from a zoom window to a zoom screen. I prefer the screen to the window, because it allows me to move a little easier.

Android

Android also has a zoom feature, and it works similarly to iOS. In my personal opinion, it is more user friendly. You find this in the device’s “Settings” app, under “Accessibility” (found under “Device” then “Accessibility” for some devices) and locate “Vision Enhancements,” then “magnification.” Once you have turned on the “Magnification” feature, you “Triple tap” (Tap three times) the screen with one finger to turn magnification on. Triple tap with one finger again to turn magnification off. To move around the screen, hold two fingers on the screen.

Chromebooks

One last device to talk about is the Chromebook, because it has become popular with many school districts. It is very similar to the commands in windows. Use “Control” and the “+” (“Shift and Equals)” key to increase magnification and Control and the “-” (“Hyphen)” key to decrease magnification. To reset your Zoom to normal you press “Control and the “0” key.
END OF CONTRIBUTOR POST

Macintosh Computers

The Mac computer also has zoom capabilities. To activate this, go to the “Apple” menu, locate “System Preferences,” and find “Accessibility.” From there, locate “Zoom,” and turn it on. The same commands for Windows and Chrome are used to increase or decrease the Zoom parameter, except you add the “Option” key, and substitute “Control” for the “Command” key in this combination. If you are using a trackpad on the Mac, you can hold down “Control,” then drag two fingers on the trackpad up to zoom in, or down, to zoom out.

Notes

You can use a screen reader and these features at the same time. The gestures will NOT get in the way of the screen reader’s gestures or keyboard commands. On iOS, when you “Tripple press” the “Home” or “Side” button, depending on the iOS device you are using, and have VoiceOver running as well as the magnifier, VoiceOver will present you with a “Select Shortcut” option. Here, navigate to “Magnifier” if you wish to turn that on or off. Many modern TV’s such as the Apple TV, Android TV, and the Amazon Firestick also have this feature. Again, thank you to the contributor for allowing me to use this post for the low vision side of things! Look out for more contributions from this teacher in the future! If you have any questions about technology in general, or the topic of screen magnification, please feel free to contact us and we will be more than happy to assist you with these features! Happy zooming and magnification!

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Atechability

Atechability Number 1: Talk out of the Box

Technology now a days has gotten very modern for blind and visually impaired users. There is mostly no need for software to be specially installed on devices to work. Most devices now have accessibility features built in, and on this post, we will guide you on how to turn these on for a few devices in the mainstream market. Before we do that, though, here is a little explanation and background that may be useful.

What is Accessibility?

Accessibility, to put it simply, is the user friendliness of a device or an app on a computer or mobile device. For example, if you hear, “This is not accessible to (Disability group),” it basically means, that group cannot use the features of a device or app. This can be for blind and visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, or people with motor disabilities. The list can go on. In this post, we’re focusing on the blindness specific features, which, in this case, is a screen reader. A screen reader is basically a piece of software that reads the screen to a user. It is probably a trick definition, but that is essentially what it is. A screen reader can be controlled using a keyboard, or special gestures if the device has a touch screen. You can also connect special devices called “braille displays,” to receive the output of the screen reader in braille. Essentially, this device is a screen, but for blind users, consisting of one line of braille cells. Most of these displays will let you operate the computer using its built-in controls, but remember that in order for the display to work, a screen reader MUST be used in conjunction with it. Screen readers talk to the user using synthetic voices, or as many people call it, “That robot man or woman.” Think of it this way. When you talk to your phone, there is not a human inside it talking back to you when you give it commands like, “What time is it?” It is a voice that has been built into the phone’s operating system. The same philosophy applies to screen readers. All this will be covered in future posts. For now, let’s focus on how to turn this screen reading feature on and off.

Personal Computers and Macs

PC’s and Mac computers both have different built-in screen readers. On the Windows side, the screen reader is called, “Narrator.” On the Macintosh side, the screen reader is called, “VoiceOver.” In fact, VoiceOver is on all Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, etc.

Windows

Most PC’s come with Microsoft windows installed. NOTE: you can download other screen readers onto these computers, but this post will only focus on the built-in screen reader called, “Narrator.” To turn on Narrator, You can do one of the following:

  1. Press the “Windows,” and “Enter” keys at the same time on your keyboard. (If you have the 2018 Windows update and above, you add the “Control” key to this combination.)
  2. On a tablet, you can press the “Windows,” and “Volume up” buttons at the same time. Most tablets have these buttons on one of their sides. The “Volume” buttons should be below the “Windows” button.

If done correctly, you should hear, “Starting Narrator.” If you see the narrator screen pop up, but you do not hear sound, check your speaker settings to ensure everything is turned up.

Apple Macintosh Computers

On an Apple Mac computer, VoiceOver is the built-in screen reader. The Mac family of products do not have other screen readers you can download and use as an alternative like the Windows side. To turn on VoiceOver, on a Macbook 2015 and below, you can press the “Command” and “F5” keys at the same time. If you have a MacBook 2016 and up, you press the “Command” key, and press the “Touch ID Power” button three times. The reasoning on why it is called “Touch ID Power,” is because the “Power” button also serves as a fingerprint censor to unlock your mac. If you have Mac OS Sierra and above installed, you can also tell Siri to, “Turn on VoiceOver.”

Smartphones

Just like the personal computer side, screen readers for the blind also exist on modern smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone and Android devices. These screen readers can also be controlled using the phone’s built-in touchscreen, or you can connect a bluetooth keyboard or a braille display to control it. Please note, these steps on the following sections also apply to both companies’ tablet families, such as the iPad, or Google/Samsung tablets.

iPhone

To turn on VoiceOver on the iPhone, you can do one of the following:

  1. You can tell Siri to turn on VoiceOver by saying, “Turn on Voiceover.”
  2. Go to “Settings.” From there, tap “General,” then “Accessibility.” If you have IOS 13 and above, you do not need to tap “General,” since “Accessibility” was moved to the main part of the “Settings” app. Locate “VoiceOver” under the “Vision” heading, and tap on it. Tap on the switch to turn it on.
  3. You can press the “Home” or “Side” buttons three times in a row when setting up a phone for the first time. Depending on the phone you have, the “Home” button is found on the iPhone 8 and below, while the “Side” button is found on the iPhone 10 and above. You can also assign this shortcut to turn on VoiceOver by going into the “Accessibility” settings as described above, but instead of going to “VoiceOver,” you locate “Accessibility Shortcut,” or, “Triple Click Home.” Again, this depends on the version of IOS your phone is running.

In all these cases, you should hear, “VoiceOver on,” Followed by the prompt if you are sure you want to enable this feature. It will modify your gestures slightly, so here is a small list to get started.

  1. Swipe left or right with one finger: Moves the screen in those directions, depending which gesture was used.
  2. Double Tap: (Tap twice on the screen with one finger) Select an item. This is equivalent to a single tap.
  3. You can also drag your finger around the screen, and anything that is under your finger such as text, button, etcetera on the screen will be spoken.

Android

Android can have two built-in screen readers, depending on what phone you have. If you have a Google Pixel or an LG phone, for instance, this will come with a screen reader called “TalkBack.” If you have a Samsung device, it comes with a screen reader called “Voice Assistant.” Both screen readers are almost identical, except for different gestures for certain tasks, depending on which screen reader is used.

How to make Android phones “talk back” to you.

To enable TalkBack, do one of the following:

  1. When setting up an Android phone for the first time, tap and hold two fingers on the screen until you feel a vibration, or hear a beep. You should then hear, “Keep holding to turn on Accessibility mode.” Keep holding those two fingers on the screen until TalkBack speaks again.
  2. Once a phone is set up, go to the “Settings” app, then tap “Accessibility.” Some phones will have the Accessibility” option under “Device,” depending on the model of the phone. Find “TalkBack” under the “Vision” heading, and tap the switch to turn it on. In both of these situations, you will be presented with a tutorial, which will show you the basic gestures you will need to navigate the operating system. This tutorial can be skipped and done at a later time, but that is not recommended, especially if you are turning on TalkBack for the first time. The same three gestures that were listed above on the “iPhone” section apply here as well.
  3. If you wish to turn TalkBack on using a shortcut, you can do so by going into the “Settings” app, tapping “Accessibility,” (“Device,” then “Accessibility” on some phones) and locating a setting called, “Accessibility Shortcut,” or, “Volume Key Shortcut” on some devices. Tap this option, and enable the shortcut. Select “TalkBack” from the services list, found under the “Shortcut Service” item. It is also recommended to enable the, “Turn on within locked screen” option, so if a phone screen is locked, the user can still enable TalkBack. Once this is configured, you hold down both “volume up” and “Volume Down” buttons for three seconds, or until you hear the prompt, “TalkBack on.” You can do the same command to turn it off as well.

Voice Assistant

Voice Assistant is a Samsung device optimized screen reader. Most of their phones have this equipped and replaces TalkBack. However, if you wish to use TalkBack instead, you can download it from the Google Play Store. The same steps to turn on TalkBack apply to Voice Assistant as well. This screen reader also has a tutorial you can either complete or skip, before proceeding to set up the phone, or when launching the screen reader for the first time.

Chromebooks

The Chromebook from Google has become quite popular, especially in school settings. But do not fear! This too, has a built-in screen reader you can turn on to use the device. To toggle the ChromeVox screen reader, Press “Control,” “Alt,” and “Z” at the same time. This is a toggle, so if you press it again, it turns off. If you have a touchscreen version of a chromebook, you will hold down both “Volume Up” and “Down” keys for five seconds until you hear ChromeVox speak. Here are some basic commands to get you started. On a touch screen version, the commands used on iOS and Android apply here as well. For the keyboard side, the “Search” key will be your best friend. Use this key in conjunction with one of the following keys to move around the Chrome OS interface. To move to the right one screen element, press “Search” with “Right Arrow.” To move left one item, Press “Search” with “Left Arrow.” To select an item, press “Search” with “Space.”

Honorable Mentions

Not only do smartphones and PC’s have screen readers built in, but there are also an array of smart televisions and wearable devices that also have these. No worries, if you have a smart TV, don’t panic. It will not sing about it being ready to go on adventures, or if you want to be its friend, or even to hold it close so it can play with you when you turn on the screen reader. (TV Teddy, you are the creepiest teddy bear out there, just saying.) These screen readers include: VoiceOver for Apple TV and watch, Voice View for Amazon fire TV sticks, and TalkBack for Google and Samsung wearables.

What happens next?

Now that you have learned to enable the screen readers on many mainstream devices, you are now equipped to let a blind or visually impaired person use these! Or, you can pull a prank on your friends to see if they can disable the screen reader. (DISCLAIMER: We do NOT condone this behavior on a daily basis.) We hope this miniguide was helpful, and feel free to email us if you have any questions! Happy screen reading!

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Atechability

Welcome Post

Welcome to Screenless Allies, a site dedicated to giving technology demonstrations on many tasks through videos and blog posts. We also hope to entertain along the way! This site is run by 3 people who will provide you with this content. You can see the about page for more information about these individuals. However, from time to time, you may see a contribution from outsiders. Who knows? Check back often, and we will have something that may satisfy your brain with information/entertainment!

Why “Screenless Allies?”

The screenless part, is because the three of us are totally blind. “I’m getting outa here! I’m scared they will mess something up!” Don’t worry, we have experience with many kinds of technology, and it keeps expanding every day. We do not need screens to operate technology! Only speech and/or braille output. We hope we can show you all we know through this site. The allies? Because the three of us are good friends. We all originally had a former broadcasting project, but due to personal obligations, we discontinued it after five years. We decided to make a return as Screenless Allies, because here, we have more freedom to put out more improved content for you all.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to my good friends Edgar and Kelcey for joining me on this adventure! Thanks also to the people that contribute information in the future. Also, to the people that encouraged us in one way or another to go on this adventure, we appreciate you as well, and we hope to not disappoint you. Most importantly, Thank YOU, the viewers, for stopping by to see what we have to offer.

Enjoy your stay!