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Jason opened the meeting. He invited questions and input.
A member raised the topic that AIRA is offering 3 months of free service. You’re eligible if you’ve never paid for AIRA before. The deal is on till March 29. You pay your first month at $29 U.S. and your next 3 months are free, 30 minutes per month. You don’t get glasses, you just use your phone. Another member described a device he had with him. Samsung has an in-house accessibility program. They offer a free, downloadable program that works with virtual reality glasses. The member passed the device around. It’s something wearable on your face, that holds your phone, and augments what the camera sees, in various ways. It’s a device for people with low vision. It’s a competitor to Iris Vision and New Eyes. It’s mainly for magnification and enhancement.
Another member raised a problem watching Netflix on his phone, and the controls get minimized Another member said she called Netflix, and they say it’s an iPhone issue. She recommends when the “show controls” button comes up, tap and hold. Netflix has an accessibility team, Twitter might be one way to find them. The first member said he now uses his Apple watch to control it. Someone else recommended that if you want to track down an accessibility person at a particular company, try finding them on LinkedIn.
Someone raised the question of what’s going on with CELA. When will their website be fixed. A member said that downloading and direct-to-player should now be working. They completely redesigned their site, and almost everything about how they operate. Things didn’t go as smoothly as they’d hope. Now, you can access CELA and BookShare through the same site. It will really facilitate getting more titles from the U.S. soon.
Albert from GTT on the west coast contributed that someone from CELA will be on the national GTT call on May 8 to talk about the changes. The main site to find out about national GTT stuff is www.gttprogram.blog. Many things are posted there. The national calls are always on the second Wednesday of each month, 7:00 P.M. eastern.
A member raised a problem in Jaws 2018 and Windows10, where demands by the computer to install upgrades, were causing Jaws to crash in Outlook. He said the Microsoft accessibility help desk was able to downgrade him to a previous version of something, which helped. Jason added that using Windows10 pretty much requires you to keep your Jaws completely updated. The Office version number is also relevant to the equation. NVDA is getting very good, so if anyone’s frustrated, it’s always an option.
A member raised a problem with Windows8 where turning on the computer seems to load many windows, which he has to close before he can continue. Jason recommended the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk. You can also use Be My Eyes, and call Microsoft through that. This allows you to point your camera at the screen for easier diagnostics.
A member asked about files that say, “empty document,” when you open them. Another member said this is likely because the document is a scanned image, or if the protection on the document is too high. Another member added that, in Adobe, there’s a setting under “reading” that will help to read the entire document verses reading only one page at a time. Try going under the view menu, then accessibility, for more options. PDFs are always challenging. One might work, one might not. Another member added that Jaws now has built in character recognition for PDF documents. Within Jaws 2019, press insert, space bar, O, then D, it will allow you to read some PDF’s. Also, you can do this by navigating to the file name without opening it, open your applications menu, and arrow down to, recognize with Jaws OCR.
Another member raised the question of how to use Outlook to make appointments consulting other peoples’ calendars. Jason replied that it’s possible but not simple, maybe too in-depth for the meeting. Jason volunteered that he has a document he wrote in another context, which explains how to do it. He offered to send it out to the group.
A member asked about how to fax from a printer. Jason answered that you’d have to call the printer company and ask if there’s a way to do it directly from the computer.
A member asked if it’s possible to combine all your calendars into one. Jason answered that if you attach all your calendars to your phone calendar, your phone will show everything. Everything will show in a unified list in the phone calendar ap.
Jason then began talking about his experience at CSUN. This is an enormous assistive technology conference that occurs in California each year. It’s put on by the University of Southern California North Ridge. It’s the largest conference of its kind anywhere. It includes any kind of assistive tech, not just blindness-related stuff. Microsoft and Google have a large presence there. Apple attends too, but keeps a low profile.
There’s a large exhibit hall where companies set up tables to display the latest things. The other part of the conference is presentations on specific topics. Apple did have a table this year, but they didn’t present.
This year there wasn’t one defining great think, or extraordinary trend. There were, however, some interesting new things.
Hymns released a new Q-Braille XL, which is a note taker and display that you can hook up to your phone or PC.
Another interesting element related to the hotel which hosted the conference. This was a new venue for the event. AIRA had set up a free access point for the hotel, so that if you had an AIRA account, you could use it there and not have to pay for your minutes.
The hotel had what you might call a “smart elevator.” This works by having a key pad on the wall at each elevator bank outside the elevator. You type in the floor you want into the keypad, then you’re directed to a specific elevator car. This is a system designed to streamline elevator use in very busy buildings, and it had a feature that allowed you to turn on speech. Jason then played a brief audio recording demonstrating use of the elevator.
It really is obvious when you spend any time in the U.S., how effective the ADA legislation has been in making things more accessible. Jason described getting into a cab for a very long cab ride. Facing him in the back seat, was a little display showing you dynamic details of your trip. When the trip started, a voice says, “to turn on voice accessibility, press the button in the corner.” Then, you’d get a verbal update of your fair and location. This proves that the technology exists.
Another highlight is always the networking. Jason got to meet with representatives from Microsoft and Google.
One exciting piece of tech that was being displayed was a set of Bows glasses called the Bows Frames. Both AIRA and Microsoft are planning to incorporate them into GPS aps. There are highly directional speakers in the arms of the glasses, that sit right behind your ears. Bone conducting headphones can slightly block your hearing and echo location, and this effect is lessened when the sound is coming from behind your ears. Jason connected them via Bluetooth to his phone, then sent them around the room. The sound is directed toward your ears, and he demonstrated how local the sound is, so that someone sitting next to you doesn’t hear a lot of sound bleeding out. Flipping them upside-down turns them off. The true innovation is that they have an inertial measurement unit in them. This means they can track your head movement for GPS and navigational purposes. They go for $200. Like bone-conducting headphones, this is mainstream technology. The Bows store near the hotel hosting the conference was swamped with people wanting them. The sound quality for someone on the other end of the call through the glasses is quite good.
Unless you’re moving, GPS can’t tell which way you’re facing. AIRA plans to integrate with these because the accelerometer lets them know that immediately.
A member raised the topic of looking a bit strange walking down the street apparently talking to yourself, using the glasses. Jason said that it’s getting less and less unusual as more sighted people start using Bluetooth devices. He described the experience of talking to his headset, and being misunderstood by people around him, and having them offer help. He was told that it’s a universal gesture to tap your ear, as a non-verbal sign to others that your engaged in a different conversation.
Albert reported that most announcements at CSUN were tweaks of things we already know about. One of the exceptions this year, a new exciting device, is the Canute, out of Britain. It’s a 9-line, 40-cell braille display. It’s portable but beefy. It shines for anything you’d want to see multiple lines of braille for, such as music or math. They’re hoping to launch by the end of this year, and CNIB is very interested in working with them. The target price is around 1500 pounds, maybe $2600 Canadian. Jason had a prototype with him, and demonstrated it. There’s storage, and you could store many books. The refresh rate is line by line, so you could time it to be at the bottom line by the time the top line is replaced. Braille readers at the conference were very excited about it. They described it as going back to paper braille. This is not a replacement for a note taker, it’s firmly a braille reader. It’s a stand-alone device. They hope to integrate it with Duxbury. This would allow paperless proof reading.
There’s another device in development that is a tactile graphics display, called Graffiti. It will be appropriate for diagrams rather than braille.
Jason described several workshops on the blind Maker movement that interested him.
He spent a lot of time at the conference asking, “When will we get this in Canada?” Amazon and Google both released new things, but not in Canada yet. If there are things you know about that aren’t available in Canada, express to companies that you want them; it might help.
Amazon Prime has all kinds of audio described content, that we can’t get at. Representatives talk a good talk, but are unwilling to commit themselves about times or reasons.
One new thing is a DAISI player from a company out of China. Unfortunately their representative didn’t speak very good English. Jason got a contact for the U.S. that he’ll follow up on.
Albert, who was at CSUN for the first time, was impressed that it wasn’t just a group of assistive tech companies. All of the big players in technology were there. This wouldn’t have been true 10 years ago. The reason is that mainstream companies are increasingly taking accessibility more seriously over all.
Jason also discussed a company called Native Instruments, that’s very well known in the field of digital music. They’ve recently built accessibility in. One of their music keyboards that you can connect to a PC, has an accessibility mode. When you turn it on, all of its features talk, and so you have easy access to all the functions.
It’s a good idea to get yourself on to the GTT national email list. It’s high traffic, but it’s very diverse and helpful. Google GTT support to find out how to get on it. You can put it in digest mode. There’s also a GTT WhatsAp group.
A member raised a question about Google Docs. A few people said that they’ve used it, and it’s doable, with a stiff learning curve.