September, 2019: Microsoft Soundscape

Jason opened the meeting by welcoming the two guest speakers from Microsoft, who joined via Zoom. They will be talking about Microsoft Soundscape.

Amos Miller introduced himself. He started off in the UK, and introduced Melanie.

Melanie Maxwell said that they are both calling in from Redmond Washington, and are both part of the Soundscape team. Amos explained that the team is spread out over the U.S. and the UK.

Amos began by describing how Soundscape differs from other GPS aps. We wanted to explore how we could use technology to enrich peoples’ awareness of their surroundings. How could we have a greater understanding of what’s around us, and where it is in relation to where we are, to aid with orientation, way-finding, and our experience out doors. The way we achieve that is through the use of 3D audio, or spatial audio. This means,  sound that you can hear, that sounds like it’s in space around you, not between your ears. You can imagine that if you were standing on a street corner, and there was a Starbucks across the road and to the right in front of you, you would hear the word, “Starbucks,” coming from that direction. Instead of Soundscape telling you there’s a Starbucks 200 metres in front of you and to the right, it will just say the word, “Starbucks,” and you will hear that it’s 200 metres in front of you and to the right, just from the nature of the way you hear it through the headphones. For the best experience, it does require stereo headphones, and we can have a long conversation about that; that’s definitely unusual, especially for our community when you’re out doors, and trying to hear the ambient sounds as well. There are very good solutions for that, so there is a lot of reasons why Soundscape persisted to advance the thinking and the experience. When you walk down the street, you will hear those call-outs in 3D around you, giving you that P.O.I. information. We’ll also talk about how you can navigate to your destination using what Soundscape refers to as the audio beacon.

Before I dive into that though, I’ll give some background to the project. I’m the Product Manager for Soundscape in Microsoft Research in Redmond. This work started out 4 or 5 years ago when I was still in the UK. I was involved with the local guide dog organization there, and working with them to try and figure out how technology can integrate into our own independence and mobility when we’re out and about, but in a way that enhances that experience. Some people from Microsoft started working with mobility instructors, and guide dog and cane users. We explored a range of ideas long before we figured out how to solve the problem. We landed on this notion of how important it is to enhance the awareness, but not tell the person what to do in that space. A lot of what orientation and mobility trainers will do with us is to work on a specific route, but especially how to perceive the environment, how we read the cues that the environment is giving us from a sound perspective, echo location, traffic noise, direction of the wind, the tactile feeling of the ground: all of the signals we can get from the environment in order to orient, and make good navigational decisions. The work that we did with Guide Dogs in the early days of Soundscape was really to see how we can build on that. The idea of sound playing a big role in the perception of the space, was really how this idea evolved. Soundscape as an ap, is the first incarnation of that idea.

The ap is free, and available from the Ap Store. It does rely on map data, and so it does need to be able to access that data. For the most part, it will download the necessary data from the environment that you’re in, and from that point forward it’s not using data. So it’s not constantly drawing on your data plan, but it does require one. We’ve tried to optimize it so that the data usage is minimal, and in certain situations, it will also work in areas where there is no data.

Bose frames are a very good way to get the stereo effect. Bone conducting headphones are another good way. EarPods or standard headphones will work, but they will block your ears to ambient sound. Putting it in one ear to keep the other ear free won’t be effective because you won’t get the signature 3D effect. Amos said that he personally likes EarPods because of their sound quality, and it’s possible to insert them lightly into the ear and still have ambient sound. Some sports headphones are a good solution too, Plantronics for example. This type of headphone rests around the back of your neck, and clips over the ear. They sit in front of the ear canal without blocking it. They’re used commonly by runners and cyclists.

Melanie then took over. She began by running through some of the core features. The demo she provides will be limited because it can’t be presented in proper 3D audio.

“I’m going to walk us through the home screen first. Our goal with anything we design is that we want it to be really simple to use, and accessible. One thing you’ll notice is that we don’t have a lot on the home screen. I’m going to walk us through the home screen. The, set audio beacon, is one of the largest buttons on the screen. There are also buttons for, my location, nearby markers, around me, and, ahead of me. There are two parts of Soundscape; there are automatic components, where you can put your phone in your pocket and hear things, and there’s an active component, which are the buttons on the home screen. For example, if you want to know more about your current location, you can tap the, your location, button. Tapping on it gives you information about nearby intersections, what direction you’re facing, and then what intersection is closest to you. If you’re inside, you might here that you’re inside. The callout will change depending on where you are. When your phone is in your pocket and you’re moving, Soundscape relies on directionality of movement from the phone itself.

Another callout we have is, what’s around me. You’ll get location names and distances of places around where you are. You can change a setting between metric and imperial. You have choices for the Soundscape voice as well, including a French Canadian voice. Soundscape uses GPS, so it will only work inside buildings if map data is available. Either way, accuracy inside a building isn’t going to be as good. We have had users make audio beacons inside buildings. This can work reasonably well in a very large building, but we’re not at a place of very good accuracy in buildings.

There are two ways of finding a building. One way is to create your own marker. This relies on the accuracy of GPS. We recommend that if you want to create a marker, walk around the location a bit, as in, walk back and forth in front of it, to allow the phone to get as pinpointed a location as possible. This should get your marker accuracy to within a few metres. You won’t get 1 metre accuracy. Don’t try to create the marker when you exit a building, because the phone won’t be pinpointed enough yet with GPS.

There is a more complicated way as well. Soundscape uses Open Street Maps, which is an open-source ap that anyone can update. A lot of the buildings in Open Street Maps have their entrances marked. If Soundscape can find a building entrance on Open Street Maps, it will default to using that. Adding something to Open Street Maps isn’t an accessible process unfortunately, because it’s visual map-based. If there’s a building entrance that’s particularly important to you, you could try to have someone go into Open Street Maps and enter it for you, and it will show up in Soundscape. Open Street Maps update themselves once per week, but it might take two weeks for it to show up in Soundscape. Markers that you create yourself with Soundscape show up immediately.

To create a marker at your current location, from the home screen, find the, mark current location, button, located near the top of the screen. Double tap that. If you start in a tutorial screen, you can dismiss it. A name will be automatically assigned, but you can edit it. Pressing done, means the marker will exist as a custom P.O.I. There’s another whole page of controls where you can edit and manipulate your markers.

This moves us on to a unique feature of Soundscape, beacons. Beacons are one way of navigating to a specific place. Instead of giving you step by step instructions for you to follow in order to find your destination, Soundscape creates a sound that emanates from the destination you’ve set, and you navigate from that. This is done by using a marker, and turning it into a beacon, then activating it.

Start by double tapping on the button on the home screen called, set audio beacon. On the next page, you have a few options. You can set an audio beacon on a marker you’ve already created, or you can enter an address that you want to find. You can also browse nearby places and choose one to place a beacon on. You can also filter nearby places by category, restaurants etc.


To set a beacon on an existing marker, from this page, double tap on the, browse your markers, button. Here, you can browse your existing markers. Double tapping on a marker will set it as a beacon.”

Jason added that he and Chris Chamberlin are producing a tech podcast, and one of their recent episodes was on Soundscape. In it, they do a stereo demonstration of setting and following a beacon. Listening to this episode with headphones will give a very accurate experience of using Soundscape.

Amos then opened it up for questions. One member reported that some of the stores Soundscape announced for her in real time, were closed. The response was that the ap is getting its data from Open Street Map, so if their data isn’t up-to-date, Soundscape won’t be getting accurate information. Amos made the point that there will always be a question mark between you and the technology. “In Soundscape, we try to stay on the right side of not pretending that we can do more than what we think we can. We’ll never give you an impression of greater accuracy than what we can actually give you with the technology. A great example of that is, if you’re navigating to somewhere and you get close, Soundscape will tell you you’re close, then turn off the beacon, leaving the specific locating of an entrance to you. There will always be cases where there’s a dissonance between the technology and your experience. We give you all the information we can, but you’ll always have to make sense of it based on your own senses. We had an early incarnation of the ap that tried to follow a road. Sometimes the data would be wrong, but testers would follow the beacon out into the middle of an intersection, even though all of their awareness of their surroundings tells them it’s not a good idea. All GPS aps will tell you to use your best judgment, and then they’ll give you instructions that are pretty difficult to ignore. We’ve always been very careful in the design of Soundscape, not to give the impression that it knows better than you about the space you’re in.”

A member asked whether they are considering adding functionality that would allow Soundscape users to update information in Open Street Map, using a Soundscape interface.

Melanie replied, “That isn’t something that’s on our immediate road map, but it is something we’ve discussed. There is a, send feedback, button in Soundscape where we welcome information. We can’t necessarily respond to every report by updating Open Street Maps, but we definitely do add our own updates routinely, so it’s worth reporting this way if you want to. Open Street Map is open source with a strong community, and we’ve found that if we flag a particular area as being poorly represented, the community will often step up to fill in the gaps. It may be useful for the visually impaired community in Toronto, to make contact with the Open Street Map community in Toronto to see if the two groups could work together.

Another member said that she finds it hard to operate the phone and work her dog. Is there another way to interface with the ap?

Amos responded that most of the information you need will be announced even with your phone locked and in your pocket. If you have the kind of headphones that have play/pause and fast-forward/rewind buttons on them, the play and pause button has a few functions. One press will mute or unmute Soundscape. A double press of that button will activate the, where am I, feature, and a triple press will repeat the last call-out. Bose Frames, Aftershocks and EarPods all have this functionality, and have good sound. We have worked hard for as much of a hands/free experience as possible. It’s a background or ambient experience for some users. Some people keep it on in the background while riding the bus and checking email. It’s a companion that you should be able to get used to without having to give it a lot of attention. Work on ignoring Soundscape

Soundscape does not work on Android phones. Jason and another member contributed that functionality on Android is important, because accessibility should mean being available on as many devices as possible. A member contributed that AMI research has shown that Android use among young people in the visually impaired community is higher, and rising. In general, iPhone use outstrips Android use in the visually impaired community in North America, but that’s definitely not true in other parts of the world.

Another member asked if there’s any consideration of using voice commands to run Soundscape. Amos replied that there are. IOS provides some even easier ways to do that now, with Siri shortcuts and so on. There are two reasons why we haven’t really got there. The first is that when you’re out doors in noisy environments, that’s not going to work so well, especially if your microphone isn’t quite where it needs to be, which can lead to frustration. Secondly, the direction of trying to minimize your need to even give Soundscape commands, is the goal as we try to optimize. There are certain situations, such as choosing a beacon, which is a handful when you’re on the go, and voice commands could simplify that. We look a lot at the telemetry of which buttons are being pressed and so on. When people are on the go largely, you don’t really need most of them. You don’t really need to pull the phone out and press buttons, especially with the headset buttons, but we do look at voice commands. It’s always good to hear people’s experiences and preferences in that regard.

A member asked if the ap will work with IOS13? Amos replied that it will, but be warned … There are a lot of warnings out there about IOS13 having a lot of its own accessibility issues. The recommendation is to wait a few days till IOS13.1 comes out.

A member said that she uses Bluetooth hearing aids, and that she was very impressed with how well Soundscape functioned with them.

Amos said, “We are both delighted to hear, we’re both smiling here.”

A member said he wasn’t clear how close or far you could be to a destination to use Soundscape, as it doesn’t give turn-by-turn directions. Should we be using it in conjunction with another ap?

Melanie replied that they have received similar feedback in the past. The current recommendation is that Soundscape can be used alongside other navigation tools. If you’re in a location that you’re not familiar with and you want a lot of detail about how to get there, Google Maps might provide really great turn-by-turn directions. You might then also use Soundscape to help you understand what’s around you as you move from point A to point B. When you’re in a space you feel more familiar with, you might know the general layout but you don’t know exactly where the building is. In that case you might set a beacon on the building and start making the necessary turns.

Amos added that you can do long walks with Soundscape, but that it’s really optimal around 400 to 150 metres. It’s often very good when you go somewhere using Google Maps and it tells you you’ve arrived, but you still don’t know where the building is. In that case, Soundscape can be very helpful. We do get the question of adding turn-by-turn directions to Soundscape, and we’re not ignoring that.

For the past year, we started to explore uses of Soundscape outside the area of city navigation and mobility. We started to explore, for example, the idea of using Soundscape for kayaking. You can use a beacon to keep oriented on a lake; you can hear where the shore is, or where you took off from. We’ve played around with trails and recreational experiences. We’re having a lot of interest and traction on that front. Personally, I think that the experiences people get in recreation are mind blowing. They’re just wonderful because of the level of independence it gives you. So if any of you are so inclined, I highly recommend for you to try it. We are doing some work with the local adaptive sports organization. We’ve set up a trial that enables them to curate a route which would then surface on Soundscape. They’re going to run their first adaptive sports kayaking program next week with Soundscape as a test. It’s something that’s different, and that we felt was very rewarding for participants.

A member contributed that the active tandem cycling and sailing groups in Toronto might want to connect with Amos.

A member asked what Microsoft is working on for the future of Soundscape.

Amos replied that the recreational aspect is something they’re really excited about, and also the Bose Frames. We have talked about a hands-free experience, and sensors built into the device that track your head movement, enabling us to improve the audio experience. Amos invited Jason, who has had the opportunity to try this type of Bose Frames, to describe the experience.

Jason explained that the newest Bose Frames will have a gyro/accelerometer in them. What it will allow you to do, is set a beacon in Soundscape, then locate it just by turning your head, and it’s really quite cool.

Amos added that it has some very interesting applications for what Soundscape can offer.

Jason asked how people can give feedback.

Amos answered that they can email and that comes to our team. There is also a feedback button in the ap itself.

Amos and Melanie signed off.

Jason then went through a few points.

All of the meeting notes are now up on the GTT website. He then demonstrated something that has been added to the website. Do not try this with Internet Explorer, you must use a modern browser. One of the links at the top of the page is for meeting notes. Jason opened the notes for May, 2019. Arrowing down from the main heading, you’ll come to a line that says, listen to this article, with a play button. This is a new feature, that will read you the article in the new Amazon Newscaster voice. If you would prefer a voice other than Jaws, or if you’re a large print user, this is an option. Jason did a demo of the high-quality voice. Any of the meeting notes you call up, will offer this option.

IOS13 was released today. If you have an iPhone6S or better, you  can run it. It’s probably a good idea to hold off on installing it. IOS13.1 should be out in 4 days or so. They released IOS13 a bit before it was ready, in order to align with the new iPhone release. IOS13 offers a lot of cool things. One of the coolest is that you can change all of your VoiceOver gestures. An example of why you might want to do this is, there are people who have a really hard time with the rotor gesture. You could change that to a different gesture. Also, if you have anything newer than an iPhone 8, you can turn the VoiceOver sounds into vibrations. There are several vibration patterns to choose from. We’re hoping to have a presentation on IOS13 next month.

Jason also announced a new tech podcast that he and Chris Chamberlin are doing. It’s through the CNIB Podcast Network, and it’s called the CNIB Smartlife Tech cast. It’s on most popular podcast platforms.

June, 2019: Frontier Computing

Jason opened the meeting with a few announcements. Microsoft just released Microsoft SoundScape. We’ll probably do a session on it in September. It’s a GPS ap that was produced by Microsoft. It was released in other countries some time ago. It took so long to get to Canada because they wanted to be able to release it in French as well. What makes it unique, is that it uses special audio. If you’re using headphones, it uses 3D to tell you where things are. If you pass a business on your right, you’ll hear it on your right. There’s a certain amount of ahead and behind detection as well. It can be used with bone conducting headphones or Bows Frames, to keep your ears clear for your surroundings.

On the Zoom call this evening, there are around 10 people

Jason described a recent trip to India, in which it was brought home to him how lucky we are in terms of accessibility. Others agreed.

Someone on the Zoom call said that the Bows Frames used on a PC, cut out every other audio output, including a screen reader. Someone else suggested checking settings both on the Frames and Zoom. No one had a definitive solution.

A member asked if anyone knew of a telescopic lense for low vision people that’s placed in the eye, something like a contact lenz. A member did a quick Google search, and found Implantable miniature telescope, for advanced stage, age-related macular degeneration. It’s in the FDA approval process in the U.S. It’s passed the 5-year trial.

A member contributed that alt, control plus the arrow keys will reorient your computer screen y 90 degrees, and NVDA will announce what it’s done. Jaws won’t.

A member said that she heard on an AppleViz podcast, that the next major IOS update, 13,  will have significant accessibility upgrades, for VoiceOver and Braille. She was impressed. 13 Will be out around October.

A member raised the issue of iTunes going away. They’re actually splitting it up into 3 separate aps, music, TV and podcasts. iTunes cards are safe, as they’re simply credits on your Apple account. What’s going away is the monolithic ap that was a pain to so many.

A member said that she wanted to compliment Chelsie Mullar for her appearance on CBC radio.

A member asked about small keyboards to use with a phone. Jason answered that there are a million of them. You basically want a BlueTooth keyboard, though finding one that will allow you to dial the phone may be harder. A Rivo will dial the phone, but it’s not a full keyboard, you use cording commands, and it’s $300. It works on iPhone and Android. A new member asked about how to get started with assistive tech. The response was first to investigate the ADP program in Ontario, and also that training is available through CNIB and through Balance for Blind Adults. You’ll probably end up with some tech that’s covered by ADP, and some that isn’t. Both CNIB and Balance offer group and individual training. Both organizations have weekly and/or monthly newsletters available by email. Contact either organization for more information.


Ian introduced Chris Chamberlin. He has been the prime mover behind Frontier Computing, which has been providing assistive tech to the blind community for 32 years.

Chris opened by describing Frontier. It was founded in 1986 by himself, and John Ogalvy. They wanted to provide better access to digital information for blind and low vision consumers. They started with $3000, which was almost nothing. By 1990, they’d developed a sizable customer base. Frontier has been one of the most successful blind entrepreneurial ventures by a blind person in Canada. They worked hard to build relationships. In good years, they sold upward of 7 or 8 million per year. What we brought to the table was an interest in technology itself, and a very close relationship with the community. We provided the sale, service and training. We did very well in the 90s and early 2000s. We had a maximum of 16 employees, and about 40 to 50% of them were visually impaired; we felt this was important.

In 2004, John decided to sell his share of the company, and Chris became the owner. The years up to 2010 were tumultuous, because of shifts in manufacturing.

Around 2012, we noted a decline in revenue. Our sales were still good, but our revenues were not. We had to let go of some staff. We continued to try and build relationships, particularly in the education department. Toni Seli, Stephan Richie and Andrea Voss all worked hard on this.

In 2017, I lost a great employee, Martain Barrisford.

In 2018, Chris discovered that the senior book keeper, since 2010, to defraud the company out of $800,000. This happened through corporate credit card theft, and inflated salary reports. As blind people, we must put trust in people every day. This trust was misplaced. There was also $750.000 in unprocessed accounts. The effect fiscally, professionally and emotionally, was devastating. Legal action has been concluded, and a settlement is forthcoming. About 18 months ago, chris was discussing the business with John Rafferty, who has always been interested in Frontier, and sympathetic to its fate. John said, “What can CNIB do to help?” Chris thought about it. 6 Weeks later, John proposed CNIB buying the company. It’s always had a great reputation, and John felt it would be a natural acquisition, that would fit in with CNIB’s focus on getting technology into the hands of its clients. Chris new that the company was solid, but that it didn’t look very attractive to uninformed purchasers. John and the CNIB board made an offer, and Chris accepted. On January 7, 2019, the transaction was complete. CNIB bought all the assets, while Chris kept its liabilities. Chris felt this was a good deal for everyone. He feels confident that the company is now in good hands. The Frontier staff has been kept on, and will now be overseen by CNIB staff, including Shane Silver and Gregor Barns. Chris will be happy to host the annual summer Frontier barbecue this year, as an expression of gratitude to the community.

Shane Silver, Vice President of Social Enterprise and Innovation with CNIB, then took over to discuss this acquisition. He described himself as very new to CNIB, and the blind community. In the past few months, we’ve been building and augmenting Frontier, starting with the branding. We want to expand beyond computing, to many other aspects of accessibility, website work, built environment etc. We’ll also continue with the assistive devices. We’re now know as Frontier solutions: a CNIB Enterprise. We’ve also added staff. We’ve got 4 individuals in Ontario, one person in the west, and we’ll be adding someone in Quebec. We see a lot of potential.

We’re working closely with Vision Australia, and we’re partly modelling ourselves on them.

What we plan to do with the direct end-user relationship, is to integrate with Shop CNIB. We’re working on a full marketing and communication package that we’re excited about.

Anyone wishing to reach Frontier can still do so. Any Frontier calls begin with the CNIB Contact Centre.

A member raised the problem that she’s been having trouble hearing back when she leaves messages. Other members agreed that call back times have been up to weeks.

Shane apologized. When CNIB took over, there was a problem with change-overs, where some Frontier phone numbers didn’t get transferred properly. Now, going through the Contact Centre should ensure this doesn’t happen.

Another member reported going through the Contact Centre and having to call 2 or 3 times before hearing back. She was told that she could get a computer, but that there would be no assistance setting it up.

Shane promised that setup is always a part of the process, and he apologised for any wrong information that may have been given. Any call for Frontier should be returned within 48 hours.

A member asked if there’s still a tech support service. Shane replied that there is. It may come as training, and also classic technical support. We don’t yet have support by email or live chat. Support at the moment is in person or over the phone.

A member asked if there are timelines for any of these things. Shane replied that there’s ameeting next week to address delies, so we can’t give firm answers yet. We’re also working on updating the website.

A member expressed confusion that there hasn’t been more communication with custommers. Shane said this is a fair comment.

Another member added that because Frontier has been so stable, instability is disorienting. Several members complimented Chris on how important Frontier has been in the blind community.

member asked if the product line will stay the same. Shane answered that existing products will be maintained, and others added. We’d like to try and establish exclusive arrangements with companies where possible.

For clarity, the St. Clair location of Frontier is no longer in existence.

A member asked Chris if he would do it all over again. Chris responded yes, because Frontier has made such a difference in so many peoples’ lives. Chris offered a public acknowledgment to Maria Fitton and Denise Chamberlin, who were both unconditionally supportive.

A member asked about support in more rural locations. Shane answered that the intention is to extend Frontier’s service to all regions where CNIB is active.

A member asked if there will be a conflict of interest with CNIB owning Frontier. Shane answered that all clients still have free choice of all A T companies.

A member said that some of the outgoing voice mail messages haven’t been appropriately set up. Shane answered that he’d take that back to the team.

The Frontier website is still the same. It hasn’t been updated to reflect the changes yet. That will be one spot for communicating updates. An email blast will probably go out to anyone who’s subscribed to Frontier in the past.

May, 2019: Micro Assistive Tech company presentation

Jason opened the meeting. We have two representatives from Micro Assistive Technologies with us tonight.

The representative took over. We are an offshoot of Micro Computer Science Centre, which was operating for 38 years. Under new management, the company was renamed. We cell a full range of assistive tech products, eg Jaws, ZoomText. We are also adding newer and more advanced technologies that are not expensive. Last July we opened under the new name. We cover all across Canada. We have offices in Newfoundland, western Ontario etc. Our head office is in Mississauga.

We have three technology products to demonstrate. The first one is the Smart Vision2 Premium phone. This phone has actual keys and some great aps. It’s an Android operating system. There are keys, but you can use a touch screen as well. It’s running TalkBack, but the version of Talkback that it’s using has been specifically modified for people who are visually impaired. You can create your own shortcuts. It’s got its own integrated GPS that doesn’t rely on data, instead, you download maps onto your phone. It’s called Captain design maps; they are upgradable. It also has the built in ability to scan. It will take a picture only when the entire document is in view, and will give you direction to orient the camera. The GPS functions are very intuitive.

You are able to put any Android ap you choose onto the phone. It’s connected to the Google Play Store, and you can download any voice you prefer.

As we know, there are a lot of crazies today. Blind people are just victims, especially if you have a cane, especially if you’re a woman. On the back, there is an emergency button. This button will immediately emit a loud noise to frighten away predators. It also brings up a list of programmable emergency contacts you can call quickly. It will automatically start calling down the list until it gets an answer. The phone is $1225. It has the GPS, OCR and e-text reader included. You can pay in an installment plan, so it’s similar to paying out a contract on an iPhone.

A member asked what version of Android it’s using. They first answered 4, then said 10, and the member pointed out that the website says 6. It has 2 gig of RAM, and a 16 Gig hard drive that’s extendible to 64.

Another feature of the phone is something that functions like a PenFriend. It comes with 3 labels, and you can buy more. They were unclear if it would read existing PenFriend labels. The phone is light-weight, and about the size of an iPhone8.

You can use the Google Assistant on it.

Its main functions are phone, messaging, email, calendar, clock, calculator, Contacts, Chrome, Play Store, Notes, customizable homepage, GSM, assistance for safety, remote assistant mode, dedicated SOS button, user guide, magnification, focused text size selection for scrolling speed, contrast, light detector, colour detector, and GPS with offline navigation. Its top battery life is 12 hours. Its standby time is 350 hours. There are two cameras, front and back. Its made in France, specifically for the visually impaired. It has import/export capabilities, play music, multi-format e-book creator and reader, FM and web radio, sound recorder, Bluetooth and y-fi. There’s also an excelleromatre, proximity detector, and a compass. The advantage of this phone over the iPhone is the choice to use buttons or gestures, and it comes with aps already downloaded. And you don’t need data to use the GPS.

A member raised the point about support systems. With an iPhone, you have a community of support. Less popular phones don’t have this.

The representative contributed that there’s an online group of users, mainly Europe based. It uses a micro sim.

The group agreed that the Doro phone is no longer being offered by Bell.

The second product they displayed was the Orbit Reader2, a 20-cell refreshable braille display at $1075. It comes with an SD card, and can perform as a note taker.. It’s made in Germany.

The third device is a tablet. Most tablets are Android Lollipop-based. This tablet is Windows10 based. It’s got a braille display and a braille keyboard. It allows you to do everything that Windows does, but with a braille display. It comes with NVDA installed, but you can run Jaws if you prefer. You can print documents without using a translator. The braille keyboard is 8 dots, with UEB 1 and 2. You can use iPhone gestures on the touchpad. It has cursor rooting. It comes with a very basic Office 365. It’s y-fi enabled. The tablet is $7500. It has two USB ports and one HDMI. You could install an SD card up to 128 gig. It’s made with gorilla glass, which is very strong, and it comes with a case. It comes with a one-year warranty. The display is 32 cells. Any repairs would be done in the U.S.

Our company also supplies training, either remotely if necessary, as all of these devices support remote viewing. Training could happen over Skype or Zoom. The device would come with a basic orientation, and training could be purchased.

Unfortunately these devices aren’t covered by ADP. We’re still working out the details of our payment plans. The email address is

April, 2019: Cela

Tonight’s topic is CELA, the Centre for Equitable Library Access. We’ll be discussing how to navigate their new website. Our guest is Rachel B., who is manager of Member Services for CELA. Rachel will discuss the general process, and Jason will run through a demonstration.

Rachel began with a brief description of Cela.. It’s a service through public libraries, for anyone who has a print disability.

The dream for CELA was to offer one site where a user could search in CELA and Bookshare simultaneously. Now, that combined collection is over 700,000 titles. Previously, Bookshare was free to CELA users, but you had to access 2 separate sites. The Bookshare registration was rather complex. Now we have a site where users can access both seamlessly. We’ve kept the same formats we offered previously, but also brought in Bookshare formats, i.e. e-pub books, and books in MS Word. Bookshare also offers books in languages other than French and English.

CELA has its own user group. We had testers from there, test our site using all different screen readers. We’ve also made improvements to the site to make it more user-friendly for people with learning disabilities.

Streamlining registration was another goal, which is still in progress. You no longer have to go through the old Bookshare registration process.

In order to access Bookshare, Bookshare requires proof of disability. Either you fill out a form, and have it certified by a healthcare professional, or you can email CELA a scan of your CNIB ID card. If you’re new to CELA, you’ll have to go through this process. If you were a CNIB client before 2014, and were using the old CNIB library, you automatically already have that proof of disability, so you’re good to go.

A member asked about the user group. Rachel answered that there’s a link near the bottom of their web page under, suggestion box. This will bring up a Survey Monkey form asking for some basic information about you and why you’d like to join. The meetings are tole-free call-ins, every 3 months, on a Tuesday at 7:00.

There’s a CELA news letter. You can sign up from their website.

Work with Bookshare began about 2 years ago. Bookshare does sell a private label that offers their collection to individuals. We couldn’t use that platform however, because we couldn’t share patron data with servers in the U.S. This is a consequence of privacy laws. We found a way to send CELA patron data anonymously. Because of this complication, we had to create our own interface with Bookshare. Doing this has caused some of the delays we’ve experienced. Other libraries for the blind around the world are watching this process, because they too would like to be able to access Bookshare’s collection: in particular, Vision Australia and the RNIB.

A member asked whether it will ever be the case that all collections around the world will be merged. Rachel answered that this would be a far-off dream, dependant on the Marrakesh treaty.

The Accessible Book Consortia is working on a database, in which all collections would become one. The project is still in its infancy. Rachel asked if anyone in the room is involved in the ABC pilot, One member said she is. The pilot is so small that they’re not taking any new testers at the moment.

A member asked about the advantages of Bookshare. Rachel answered that it has many best-selling titles, many text books: a huge collection. The CELA collection is around 100,000, and the Bookshare collection is around 600,000. It also offers the additional formats.

A member asked what e-pub is. Rachel answered that it’s a file format, from which you can easily create braille or audio. It’s like the most basic format, and it can be read on a phone or a braille display without processing.

From the CELA site, you log in, find the book you want, choose the format you want, then, behind the scenes, your request goes to the Bookshare database. The copy is generated specifically for you, and digitally fingerprinted. This is part of the stricter, U.S. copyright laws. From this data, CELA can generate a CD or braille copy for you, or it can go as a digital download, directly to you. You go to the, My Account, section of the website to download your chosen titles. This complex process of acquiring the individuals books for each end user is one of the reasons that the site has taken so long to be viable. Also because of this procedure, your download may take a bit longer than you’re used to.

Rachel went on to discuss new features. The first one is the ability to search CELA and Bookshare simultaneously. When you get to each individual record, there’s a dropdown menu in which you choose your format. This means instead of having one record per format, and having to scroll down through many entries, we now have a tighter way to look at search results.

The other new process is the download process. You select your book, choose your format, enter on “Get it,” then go to, My Account,” to find the “available downloads” section. Also, there’s a direct link right in the notification that tells you your download will be available, you can enter on this link directly.

If you’ve chosen, “direct to player,” it should go directly to your device. If it doesn’t, go to the “My account” link, then the, “available downloads,” link. There, there will be 3 headings, available zip files, direct downloads, and holds, which refers to physical items like braille or CDs.

In response to a member’s question, Rachel said that setting permanent search preferences, will be coming soon.

Another member raised the problem that downloaded zip files are titled with a numeric sequence without a book title. Rachel was unaware of this, and said she would take it back to the team.

A member raised the question of the 12 book limitation on direct downloads. It was a constraint set when player storage was much smaller than it is now. Could we increase it? Rachel said she would bring this feedback back also.

Another member said that some of his searches returned several versions of the same book. Rachel answered that this is a result of multiple sources that the book came from. Any title that has e-pub next to it is a Bookshare title. You can filter your searches by CELA or Bookshare.

Rachel went on to discuss the launch of the new platform. It did not go smoothly. Their whole team felt terrible about it. We have sent out a letter of apology. People have been kind, but we’re working as hard as we can to improve the site, and set a priority list of needs.

Here’s what we’re working on. The first and most obvious priority is the search results; they’re not as refined as they should be. You can easily get over 100 results. This needs a lot of work. We need to make sure that you get streamlined results. It’s the thing we get the most complaints about. We also need to add the advanced search. Currently you cannot search for just author or just title. A trick is to put an author’s name in quotes. This will refine your results. There is a list of search tips on the site.

Our other priority is DAISY text. Currently you will not find DAISY text format books in the search results.

We also must work on being able to set your permanent search preferences, and being able to edit your own information. Holds is already there, but books history isn’t available yet.

CELA used to be able to display books in production, by indicating that a title was, “on order.” That isn’t possible anymore; the title won’t appear in search results until it’s available. This change may be responsible for lost holds.

Another of our goals is for users to be able to set up their own automated profiles. Users will eventually be able to specify genres and characteristics of the types of books they’d like to receive automatically. This was always a “phase two” goal.

A member reported that he’s now getting automatic downloads of random titles. Rachel asked for his info so that she could report it.

A member asked about a timeline. Rachel responded that they’re being very cautious. It’s been a month since we send out an update, and they will be sending one soon. We’re also working hard on registering new members. We’ve taken on new staff, and we’re working as hard as we can.

Magazines of any format are not yet available. It’s a unique feature for us, and we value it.

The priority list is flexible. As we get feedback, we can shift the order of what we work on the hardest.

The newspaper service is up and running. It comes from an outside company, and doesn’t archive, so only the most recent edition is available. A member who works for the TPL commented that if you ask your public library, they can often email you old articles.

Jason then took over to do a demo of using the CELA site. It’s extremely important to note that if your window isn’t maximized, the site won’t present properly. That’s because, like many sites now, the CELA site is a responsive site. This means that the site changes its layout depending on the size of the window its being displayed on. To ensure the window is maximized, using Jaws, press alt plus space bar, then arrow down to maximize and press enter. Google Chrome is definitely the preferred browser. You really shouldn’t be using Internet Explorer for anything, unless you have a very old version of Jaws. If you have a really old version of Jaws, download NVDA, it’s free. Rachel contributed that the site responsiveness was very deliberate. The user group said that many of them use phones or other mobile devices to download books.

The quickest way to get to the search field is to press E for edit. This will take you directly to the edit field. Hit enter to get into forms mode, then type in your search terms. Putting quotes around your search terms will help streamline your results. There’s also a link to browse by genre. It’s right below the search bar. If you’re familiar with the Jaws links list, enter it with F7, and press B, for browse by genre.

Pressing H will allow you to browse by heading, which makes it easier to find the results list. By default, currently, searches yield both CELA and Bookshare results. The fastest way to filter this variable is to press X once you’ve gotten to the top of the results list. This will bring you to the next check box. The first will be Bookshare, the second will be CELA. Check the box to align with your search preference. Having both checked or both not checked means that you’ll get results from both. Checking one filters out the other. Checking a box automatically filters the results list. There are other check boxes for other filters, including language. Currently the default is all results, with no ability to put permanent filters in place. That’s coming soon. Currently, multiple listings for the same title but in different formats, is a consequence of titles having come from multiple sources.

Each listing gives information, including available formats. Currently there’s no audio samples available, but there will be in the future. Below the description is a combo box from which you can choose your format. Next is the, “get it” button. A dialogue will pop up, telling you that the book will be available for download shortly. There will be a link titled, available zip files for download. Entering on this will take you to the download page. From the top of the page, continued to press H for heading, until you get to your available downloads. Waiting times for the book to appear, will vary depending on several factors. Rachel said that if a book is taking longer than 10 minutes, call the contact centre. H for headings will also take you through your available titles. Pressing enter on the link will download it, and you’ll be told that the download is complete.

It’s important to note that Bookshare only offers titles in text, or synthetic speech. If you prefer human voice, filter your results to only show the CELA collection. This is because Bookshare gets their collection directly from a publisher feed. You can have a title from Bookshare converted into synthetic speech, and put onto a CD if you choose. Bookshare can be a reliable option for series in which one or more titles aren’t available with human narration.

The filter check boxes can also be located by using H for headings, and searching for the, filter results, heading. If your window isn’t maximized, this won’t present properly. There is a setting in your browser to ensure that your browser will always maximize when it’s opened.

The maximum number of downloads has been updated to 150 titles in a 30 day period. It’s a rolling 30 day period. This doesn’t affect your preferences set for automatic downloads.

In response to a member’s comment, Rachel remarked that the direct to player option gets complicated when you’re travelling. Settings will reset themselves, so it’s better to download what you want before you go. Many hotel and transportation y-fi networks have a second step of taking you to a web page, and that will mess up your direct to player process.

The Dolphin Easy Reader ap is very good. It handles DAISY books very well, and it’s free.

Ian opened up the group for questions or tips unrelated to the main topic.

A member asked if there’s a way to distinguish between different numbers under the same contact entry, when sending or receiving calls and texts. No one had any suggestions other than creating multiple contacts. Another member contributed that if one contact sends messages from multiple devices, the messages come in different streams.

A member asked if there’s a gesture to get to the bottom of a list on the iPhone. Someone suggested a 4-finger double tap.

March, 2019: CSUN round up

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 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.

February, 2019: low vision products

Ian opened the meeting. He discussed the recent White Cane Expo. He said the technology forum was well-attended.

Jason discussed his upcoming visit to CSUN, an annual adaptive technology conference. He recommended the Blind Bargains podcast as a good source for reporting on the event.

A member asked about sticky keys. She wants to know how to use this Windows feature. It helps you if you want to, for example, hit shift down arrow multiple times. There’s a command that will essentially hold down the shift key for multiple presses of another key, to make key combinations easier. Jason said he would look up the hot key for this Windows Accessibility setting.

The presenter raised the topic of We Walk. It’s a smart cane that was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show. It detects obstacles above chest level, and has smart phone integration, which can give you GPS feedback and connectivity to Uber or other ride-sharing aps. It was featured on Cool Blind Tech.

Ian raised Manning Whitby, the student who presented a haptic object detection system to GTT a few months ago. He’s actively looking for testers, so get in touch with Ian if you’re interested.

Jason described a $40 Bluetooth keyboard that he’s really liking, 3 triple A batteries, a real on/off switch, and pairs with 3 devices. It’s the Logitech K380.

A member asked what to do when you have a white curser on a white background in Windows8. It was suggested that Windows10 has more accessibility features.

A member described a member-driven conference in San Francisco that he will be attending. It’s completely patient-focused. He will report back on what happens there.

A member passed around a cleaning mechanism for keyboards and screens, felt, and a bristled brush.

Ian pointed out that the CCB Visionaries website has an extensive list of resources in terms of recreation and connection.

The issue was raised of making the Zoom calls for GTT meetings a regular event. We’ve done it periodically, but maybe it could become permanent.

Our guest speaker is Dr. Anna Jerosic, a Toronto optometrist, who will be speaking about new products for the low vision community.

Anna said that one of the goals she’s always kept in her professional life was to help people make the most out of the vision they have. She often hears people say, “I never knew this was available.” Dr.s aren’t aware of a lot of treatment options. Dr.s would often say that nothing more can be done. What this really meant was, medically and surgically. Today, there are many more treatment options. People in remote communities are particularly poorly served and poorly informed.

The social part of vision loss is one of the most important aspects. People with vision loss are often fearful of social situations, and can fall into isolation and depression. There’s about a 6 times normal risk of depression if you have vision loss. One benefit of finding a visually impaired community to socialize in is that you don’t have to explain yourself or your vision loss.

In her practice, she welcomes family members and friends into examinations, because it helps them understand what the individual is seeing and not seeing. This decreases frustration for everybody. Ophthalmologists are very busy, and not always the most informed about adaptations or resources. She sees her job as helping find the tools to make the most of the vision that you have, in your day-to-day life. She asks her patients, “What do you want to see?” This helps people focus on what their specific needs are, and helps her figure out what can help them.

Anna starts her patients by deciding whether there are any glasses that can help, because this will make any other visual aids work better. Glasses have many functions, such as shifting a visual field. Glasses can be used in conjunction with hand magnifiers, so that readers don’t have to hold material so close to their face. If you have arthritis, this solution isn’t ideal, but there are stand magnifiers that can help. Another problem for newsprint at least, is that ink and paper quality is not good, so a magnifier isn’t necessarily going to help. This is where digital solutions come in. A CCTV can make magnification up to 85 times, which you would probably only use if you were a rare coin collector. It’s a good solution, except that they’re big. Portable digital magnifiers are now becoming more common. Portable magnifiers can change the colour and contrast of surface and writing, to make it easier to read. You can use it for things like threading a needle or signing a cheque.

She raised the question of how out-dated ADP is. In her 23 years of practice, the fees haven’t changed. Also, many products exist now that are new. As frustrating as ADP is for the end user, it’s just as frustrating for the Physicians.

She demonstrated another hand magnifier which is good for arthritic patients, as it has a rubberized handle.

Some of these run around $650, and ADP will only cover $120. One device has an HDMI port, so you can hook up your TV or large monitor to it.

Anna likes to show her patients many options even if they don’t yet need them. It helps them know that there’s something available if their vision continues to change. An easy fix she shows people is how to change their smart phone screen to different contrasts, white on black etc.

Reading with a magnifier can be very slow for people who have been avid readers. Many of these digital solutions incorporate the scrolling or reading speed as variable. Some have an HDMI input as well, so that you could mount a store-bought camera on a tripod to read a PowerPoint presentation for example, and send it to your personalized screen. Some models come with a reading stand, which helps position the book, and flatten it out. People use these devices for crossword puzzles and repair work under the stands as well.

Anna demonstrated a 35-year-old device she still uses, called a Beecher. It’s a distance-viewing aid, for things like watching a smaller screen TV. It’s useful for live sporting events or the theater as well. It was designed by a sighted birder. It has 4 up to 7 times magnification.

She then demonstrated a binocular clip-on device for glasses. It’s more designed for close settings like facial recognition.

She talked about ESight and Jordy, which are all video smart glasses. The industry is a going concern, and it does work for some people. They do involve a head-mounted system, which some people find too conspicuous.

One specific set of problems is faced by musicians wanting to read sheet music. Dancing dots is a solution that scrolls sheet music.

She then discussed OrCam. It’s an intuitive reading system, that will also recognize up to 100 human faces, recognize currency, and read French and Spanish. The newest upgrade can recognize up to 4-million bar codes. It is a stand-alone unit that doesn’t require a smart phone. It has no text retrieval system; anything you read is instantly gone, which is an advantage for people working in sensitive industries, or in an exam situation. The technology came from tech being used in developing driverless cars. There’s an iPhone ap for it, through which you can control its settings and read manuals. It’s also responsive to several silent gestures such as looking at your wrist to speak the time, or holding up your hand in a stop gesture to make it stop reading.

Anna identified that the evolution of the smart phone is the most transformative thing for the blind and partially sighted community since braille. There’s a need for a national eye care strategy. Things are happening province by province, and we’d benefit from a more unified strategy, in terms of funding for equipment.

January, 2019: object and text recognition apps

Ian opened the meeting. Chelsy Moller will be presenting on recognition aps.

We began with a general discussion. Orcam will be presenting at the White Cane Expo. AIRA will not. We’re still in negotiation to see if they will open up the event as a free AIRA event space. Apple will also not be there. They make it a corporate policy not to present at generalized disability events.

Ian raised the issue of getting a media error 7 when he’s recording on his Victor Stream. Is there a list of errors somewhere? Jason answered that perhaps it’s a corrupted SD card. A member said that there’s a list of errors in an appendix to the manual, which can be accessed by holding down the 1 key.

Michael asked if there’s a way to add personal notes in BlindSquare, such as, 25 steps. One recommendation was a document that you could access through the cloud. Another recommendation was to mark a “point of interest” in BlindSquare. When you do this, you can name it, so you could call it, Shoppers 25, to indicate 25 steps. Another recommendation was to make notes using the iPhone notes ap. Another recommendation was to set up geo-dependent iPhone reminders. Within a radius of the spot you want, your phone would just tell you whatever information you put in.

A member raised the problem of using Windows 10 and Jaws, trying to synchronize contacts email with Apple, and having duplicate folders in his Outlook email. Microsoft exchange might help.

Jason told the group that he has an Instant Pot smart available for sale. This is a pressure cooker that works with the iPhone, and it’s no longer available as an iPhone connectable device. He’s thinking $100, talk to him privately if interested.

Then he described a new keyboard he got. It’s a Bluetooth called REVO2, which he received as a demo unit. It’s got 24 keys. You can type on your phone with it, or control your phone with it. Its most useful use is when you need to key in numbers after having made a call, such as keying in bank passwords etc. Alphabetic entry works the way old cell phones did, press 2 twice for B. It has actual physical buttons. It can control every aspect of VoiceOver. You can also route your phone audio to it, so you’re essentially using it as a phone. It’s about $300. It can be paired to iPhone and Android.

A member asked if Phone it Forward is up and running. This is a program in which CNIB takes old phones, refurbishes them, then redistributes them to CNIB clients. is the place to go for information. They’re not giving phones out yet, but they’re happy to take them.

Ian introduced Chelsie, who is an Adaptive Technology Trainer, and Engagement Specialist. She’s here tonight to talk about recognition aps.

We’re going to focus on 4 aps, Seeing AI, Tap Tap C, Be My Eyes, and AIRA.

Seeing AI is an ap that allows the user to do a variety of visual tasks, scene description, text recognition, vague descriptions of people, light levels, currency recognition, and colour preview. Each of these functions is called a channel. As a side note, Chelsie said that her iPhone10 uses facial recognition as your password. A store employee told her it wouldn’t work because it needs to see your retina, but this isn’t true; it works from facial contours.

Chelsie opened the ap. There’s a menu, quick help, then channel chooser. To get from channel to channel, flick up. She did a demonstration of short text with a book. It’s helpful for reading labels and packaging. Try to keep the camera about a foot above the text, and centred. This requires some trial and error. The document channel takes a picture of the text. It’s better for scanning a larger surface. Short text is also very useful for your computer screen if your voice software is unresponsive. Short text will not recognize columns, but document mode usually will. The product channel is for recognizing bar codes. This is a bit challenging because you have to find the bar code first. Jason said that it’s possible to learn where the codes typically appear, near the label seem on a can, or on the bottom edge of a cereal box. The person channel tells you when the face is in focus, then you take a picture. You get a response that gives age, gender, physical features, and expression. Chelsie demonstrated these, as well as currency identifier. It’s very quick. The scene preview also takes a picture, and gives you a very general description. The colour identification channel is also very quick. There’s also a hand writing channel, that has mixed results. The light detector uses a series of ascending and descending tones. Beside the obvious use of detecting your house lights, it’s also useful in diagnosing electronics. If you turn all other lights off, you can use it to see if an indicator light on a device is on.

Seeing AI is free. It’s made by Microsoft, who has many other ways of generating revenue.

Tap Tap C is a very good ap for colour identification. This is always a tricky thing, because colour is often subjective, and is affected by light levels. Tap Tap C takes a picture, and gives a general description including colour. For more accurate colour description, Be My Eyes and AIRA are better. Tap Tap C is free.

Be My Eyes is a service in which a blind person contacts volunteers who help with quick identification or short tasks. Because they’re volunteers, the quality of help varies. You may have to wait for a volunteer. There’s a specialized help button. You can use Be My Eyes to call the disability help desk. This is useful if you need technical help from Microsoft, and they need to see your screen. This ap is also free.

AIRA is a paid service. Chelsie has been using it for a month. She’s very happy with it. It connects a blind user with a trained, sighted agent. This could be anything from “what is this product?” “I need to find this address,” I need to navigate through a hospital or airport. When you set up your profile, you can specify how much information you want in a given situation, and how you like to receive directions. They can access your location via GPS, in order to help navigate. They will not say things like “it’s safe to cross,” but they will say things like, “You have a walk signal with 10 seconds to go.” They’re seeing through either your phone camera, or through a camera mounted on glasses you can ware.

They have 3 plans, introductory, 30 minutes. You cannot buy more minutes in a month on this plan. You can upgrade though. The standard plan is 120 minutes at $100, or the $125 plan, that gives you 100 minutes plus the glasses. The advantage of this is that you can be hands-free when travelling. The glasses have a cord connecting them to an Android phone that has been dedicated to the AIRA function. Otherwise, you simply use your own phone with its built-in camera. This happens via an ap that you install.

The question was raised about whether the glasses could be Bluetooth, but the feedback was that there’s too much data being transmitted for Bluetooth to work.

On the personal phone ap, you open the ap and tap on the “call” button. With the glasses, there’s a dedicated button to press to initiate the call.

Chelsie spoke about how powerfully liberating it is to have this kind of independence and information. You can read her blog post about her experience here,

The third plan is 300 minutes and $190. All these prices are U.S.

Jason added that, in the U.S. many stores are becoming Sight Access Locations. This means that if you already have an AIRA subscription, use at these locations won’t count against your minutes. The stores pay AIRA for this. This will likely begin to roll out in Canada. Many airports are also Sight Access Locations. You can’t get assigned agents, but you may get the same agent more than once. If you lose your connection, the agent will be on hold for about 90 seconds so that you can get the same agent again if you call back immediately. For head phones, you can use ear buds or Aftershocks.

December, 2018: Manning Whitby – prototype navigation device

Ian opened the meeting. Manning is joining us to describe his research project, and we’ll share information.

Jason described CNIB’s Phone it Forward program. CNIB is soliciting donations of phones, which will be converted to phones that will be given to clients for their personal use. If you have an old phone, you can get a tax receipt for it. The goal is to start giving out phones next year. You can go to for more information. Jason gets a perk if they go through his hands. They’ll take anything 4S or better, distributed phones will be 6S or better. They’ll take some Android phones and iPads.

Manning began by thanking us for welcoming him. He wants a range of opinions on his work. He’s a Grade 12 student. He’s designing and prototyping a device to aid the visually impaired. It consists of a wearable device on the chest, and a feedback system giving information about measurements of objects around you. Vibrating coin-like objects are warn on a belt around the waist. Obstacles closer vibrate more strongly. An object toward the right will vibrate on the right of your body.

Manning’s interest is in improving multi-sensory feedback for all people. Although the white cane is the most accessible and simple device for mobility, it doesn’t easily lend itself to mapping the space around you. This prototype is meant to provide a quiet alternative that works well in a crowded or quiet environment. Data will be collected through participation and interviews. Short roots and mazes will be employed to test the effectiveness of the device. Understanding the reactions and behaviours of participants will help to improve the prototype.

At this point in his educational path, there are few resources for developing and improving the technology. Research data will inform future models. University will vastly increase his access to resources and funding.

The device is for use with a cane or guide dog. Manning passed around a 3D printed model of the chest pack, which would have a strap around your back. The goal is 160 degrees of sensitivity. The feedback vibration is an oval shape with multiple vibrating sections to give horizontal and vertical feedback. There’s a thin cable that goes under your shirt, connecting the sensor unit to the feedback unit. The belt has two parts, the cotton shell, and a nylon shell with the vibration technology; this is for hygiene reasons; you can wash the cotton part. The electronics are resistant to temperature. The units are eco-friendly. They’re 3D printed printed using a biodegradable plastic that degrades easily in composting situations like soil, but perfectly functional on the body. The plastic used is similar to PETG , and is water-resistant as well. The frequency used is around 50,000. The entire process will be overseen by the TDSB, including a medical doctor. The Blind Sports Association will also be involved. A member raised the issue of whether two units could be used in the same room. Manning said not currently, but a later model should make this possible. A future incarnation may include neural networks for image detection and recognition. It’s the same system being used in self-driving car technology. Databases are publicly available, and can be drawn on for projects like this. The plan is to use a refreshable braille display to give object recognition feedback. You would use a select key to change travel modes depending on whether you want image detection, to avoid an object, or to go toward an object. The vibration feedback could be switched between avoid or go toward modes. The device has an accelerometer, so that if you turn away from an object you want to go toward, it can tell you. For more information or to be a participant in Manning’s research, contact him at


We then moved into the cross-talk portion of the evening.

A member asked about the easiest and cheapest way to get a Google smart speaker. Another member answered that it’s possible to find the Google mini on sale for as low as $40. Also, you can install Google Assistant on your phone, which works almost as well.

A member asked about an affordable Android phone, that’s easier to use for someone with fibro-myalgia. Another member answered that she got an Android flip phone with actual buttons. It’s meant more for calling and texting rather than typical smart phone functions. Another member suggested a touch screen with a Bluetooth keyboard, plus Google Assistant, which would allow dictation. Motorola has some cheaper models. Blackberry phones have an actual keyboard, but are more expensive.

Ian discussed two podcasts he has found good, Cool Blind Tech, and Blind Vet tech, for blinded veterans. He also described Sonos, a series of 3 speakers that are internet ready. You can pair them to play left and right channels, and the sound is outstanding. You can plug something into your analog system, and it will be converted to digital and played through your wireless home system. They support Alexa, and will support Google Home at some point. The largest size are $600 or so each. The smallest size are about the size of a pop can, and have extremely full sound. They also make a sound bar that will work with your TV, and a base speaker, so that you can make it into a 5 point system. They run off of y-fi. The aps to play off various devices are quite accessible. Their tech support is really good for blind users, suggesting they’ve had some training. Sonos links

FAQ page for Sonos

Set up guide for sonos speakers – Cool Blind Tech


Another member described a podcast called Blind Android.

A member said how much he likes his wireless Beats headphones. They’re ear covering and noise cancelling. Another member said that the Marley Smiley Jamaica headphones are also really good.

A member described that Bay Bloor Radio will come to your house and install a system for you.


November 2018: Intro to NVDA

Ian opened the meeting.

The meeting began with a roundtable discussion. A member is getting a new computer soon, and asked about what software is compatible with what. Jason answered that Jaws 2018 and Office 365 work well together, as do Office and NVDA. For browsers, Microsoft Edge isn’t quite there yet in terms of accessibility. Chrome is quite reliable, and Internet Explorer is increasingly not useful. It’s not being updated, so it can’t support new web technologies. It’s really important, if you can, to keep your screen reader up-to-date, because browsers and websites are constantly being updated. Office 365 updates monthly for example. Jaws 2018 requires Windows10. The latest version of Jaws is 2019, which came out two weeks ago. Jaws has always done the typical upgrade system, where you can purchase a maintenance agreement that gives you the next two upgrades. In the U.S. they’re going to an annual subscription fee around $60, which gives you regular upgrades. This plan isn’t in Canada yet.

Jason then demonstrated the small speaker he will be using for his presentation. It’s called an Anker SoundCore Mini. It’s about the size of a tennis ball, and they’re quite cheap, $30 on Amazon. Anker makes iPhone chargers and speakers. It’s Bluetooth enabled, has an audio jack, an FM radio built in, and a micro SD slot. It has a really good battery life too.

Jason also demonstrated a new type of Bluetooth keyboard available for the iPhone, called a Tap keyboard. You wear it on your hand. It looks like five rings connected by a cable, and goes on your thumb and each finger. You type by using defined gestures, tapping on a hard surface. For example, each finger is a vowel, and other letters are made by various finger combinations. It’s possible to get quite fast with it. It’s fully accessible. It’s useful for typing on the go. It’s about $200 off Amazon. The company is called Tap Systems. There were some blind people involved in designing it. It allows you to type with one hand. It has a VoiceOver mode, so that you can control your phone with it. It’s gotten a lot of mainstream press related to virtual reality systems. A member asked about the best browser to use with Jaws. Jason said Chrome is the safest, but that FireFox works well too. There was an issue with FireFox for a couple of weeks, but it’s resolved now. Compatibility can be a problem; FireFox won’t work with Jaws16 for example.

Ian introduced the topic. NVDA is an acronym for Non-Visual Desktop Access. According to their website, it was the idea of a couple of Australian developers who have vision loss. They wanted to design a free screen reader as a social justice cause; many people in the developing world need screen readers, but can’t afford what was available. Whole sectors of the populations were cut off from computer technology. They decided to build an open-source screen reader, so that anyone who wants to, can add content. It’s available as a free download. They now occupy about 31% of the screen reader market globally.. Jaws has about 48%. This trend has been steady. It’s been translated into 43 languages, and is being used in 128 countries world wide, by millions of users. They do ask for donations if you’re able, because that helps keep it going. The updates come automatically, and are free as well.

Jason discussed making the topic of NVDA a multi-evening topic, in order to focus on different aspects of using it.

You can find NVDA at or dot org. From the site, there’s a download link. When you do this, the first screen asks for donations, either one-time, or on-going. The default is a one-time 30-day donation, so you need to find the button on the page that says “I don’t want to download at this time.” You have to have Windows7 or better to run it. NVDA is labelled by year, then by version, so that NVDA 2018.3 is the third release for this year. There are usually four releases per year.

Jason then demonstrated the installation process. In response to a member question, Jason said that you can also download it to something like a Microsoft Surface. It does have limited touch control. It works on Windows only, not Apple or Linyx. The installation process is a series of simple steps, and then a very short installation time compared to Jaws. Jaws typically takes 5-10 minutes, and NVDA took less than a minute. Once you start the installer, NVDA will talk to you in its own voice during the install.

A dialogue comes up inviting you to configure. You’ll be asked which keyboard layout you want to use: laptop or desktop. The desktop layout uses a numeric keypad for many functions. Laptop mode uses other key combinations, assuming you don’t have a numeric keypad. If you’re installing it as your primary screen reader, check the box that says to load automatically when starting your system.

You are then asked about whether you will allow data collection about your use of NVDA, for development purposes.

The voice that came up in Jason’s demo was the default Microsoft voice. This is new. E-Speak, the voice that used to come up had a well-earned reputation for being intolerable. Though unpleasant to some, E-Speak has lightning-fast response times and speech rate compared to the Microsoft voice.

There are other options for voices. You can buy add-ons for around $100, that will allow you to use Eloquence or Vocalizer voices, some of the voices you might be used to from Jaws or on your iPhone. You could have Apple Samantha as your default NVDA voice. Even within Microsoft there are a few passable voice options.

Many navigation functions will remain the same, because they’re Windows hotkeys with no relationship to the screen reader. You can adjust the speech rate from within NVDA preferences, or there’s a shortcut keystroke.

There’s a quick-help mode that you can activate with insert1. The help mode is a toggle, and it’s the same keystroke as Jaws. NVDA has tried to reproduce as many of the same keystrokes as they could.

If you go to the NVDA menu under help, there’s a quick reference section. This brings up a webpage with all NVDA commands. All of the commands are reassignable. There’s also a “what’s new” section, and a user guide.

NVDA works with a good range of braille displays.

It will work with all the major applications that you’re likely to use. In terms of browsers, you’re still better off with Chrome or FireFox.


There are built-in sound effects to indicate actions like pop-up windows. The level of announcements you get is configurable. Navigation commands within documents are the same as Jaws. Just as with Jaws, insert F gives information about the font.

Because NVDA is a free product, it doesn’t have free tech support. You can, however, purchase hourly tech support, in blocks of hours, at around $13, and the block will last a year. There’s also a very high-traffic mailing list to ask questions of other users. There’s also a training guide which you can purchase. It’s more structured, and has a series of tutorials. It’s $30 Australian, and is  quite good. There are three different courses, basic, Excel, and Word. Each are $30, and worth it. You can get them in audio for a bit more money, or as braille, which is also more expensive.

Ian contributed that you can ask an NVDA question in a Google search, and will most likely find an answer.

Excel, Word, Outlook, Thunderbird, and the major browsers work well. Occasionally you’ll find an application where NVDA works better than Jaws, perhaps because the developers wanted to use it.

Because of licensing, you can’t use your Jaws Eloquence voice in NVDA. To compare, the NVDA installer is 21 meg, and the Jaws installer is well over 100. NVDA also works faster. There’s an NVDA pronunciation dictionary.

As Jaws does, opening Google lands you in the search field. NVDA has the same concept of forms mode. The home and arrow keys work the same as Jaws when navigating webpages. There’s a current Chrome bug in which entering text into the search field causes the phrase to be spoken repeatedly as you enter each keystroke.

You can use H and numbers one, two and three to move through headings. Insert F7 brings up an elements list. It defaults to a links list, but if you hit shift tab, you have the choice to switch between which elements you want a list of, headings, buttons, landmarks etc. You can use insert Q to quickly turn off NVDA, and control alt N, to start it. Entering and exiting will give you a four-note tone to let you know it’s doing it.

Add-ons for NVDA are what Jaws calls Jaws scripts. These are little bits of code that people have designed to do specific tasks, remoting into a machine for example.

A member asked if it can be used on a Chrome book. Jason answered no, because Chrome books run Chrome OS, which is a totally different operating system.

NVDA does have a built-in OCR function.

GTT notes for October, 2018: Rogers Ignite and Smart tv

GTT Minutes October 18th, 2018

Attendees (30)

Ian White (Facilatator, GTT)

David Isaacson(Presenter, Rogers)

Debbie Gillespie (Presenter, CNIB foundation)

Aamer Khan (Note taker)


Ian- opening Remarks & Open Questions


How to Access Help Menus?

For a lot of products (especially Humanware) products holding down the number “1” key can access the Help menu.


What kind of computer should I buy?

Suggestion were made to

  • member said the Intel NUC Series processors (computer chip) are good
  • Lenovo T series may be a good choice as known for its toughness
  • Look for solid state hard drive as it is significantly faster
  • Gaming laptop is likely overkill if not using for gaming


What’s up with JAWS and Chrome?

Member informed that there is a bug with JAWS 2018 and Chrom 70- keystroke of “alt+down arrow” must be used to open combo boxes


What kind of Tech is Out There to help with Hearing Loss?

  • Tom Decker described he uses CommPilot hearing aids which also come with a auxiliary cable which can be plugged into almost anything.
  • Audio conn are $2200 each for each ear
  • Bose is coming to the market with “hearphones” hearing aids with significantly cheaper product $500 USD


What kind of discounts are there for Cell Phones?

Most of the cell phone carriers have discounts for people with disabilities including the below mentioned by members:

  • Rogers Wireless and Telus have a $20/month discount for people with disabilities
  • Virgin Mobile and Bell offer 2 extra gigs of data to people with disabilities

BrailleME Presentation

Presented by Tom Decker

  • BrailleMe is a low cost Braille display that works on iPhone and android via Bluetooth as well as the PC via USB.
  • preconfigured for NVDA, Spanish, English, French and several other languages
  • Frontier Computing will be the Canadian distributor, however currently only available in the United States.
  • Questions about servicing (no info at this time)
  • Does not use pizo electric cells, runs on magnet
  • $700+ CDN for the unit
  • Durable, makes noise
  • Six cell Braille, cursor routing keys
  • Members are claiming Orbit Braille reader has a high failure rate



Smart TV Demonstration

Presented by Debbie Gillespie


  • Debbie describes the remote in detail specifically the Description of accessible button on remote
  • TV being demonstrated is a Samsung NU8000
  • Debbie will be playing Three sound Recordings
  • Sound clip-1: asking like SIRI
  • Can you change the speech rate-Yes
  • Be careful of claims of “accessible” or “Smart TV’s” some will offer large print, screen readers or just WIFI
  • Low fidelity user guide, cannot re read paragraphs, you can pause and start but can’t re read
  • It is not on by default, you can turn it on by pushing down on the button
  • Cannot change voice type
  • Cable box overrides, tv controls for audio description


Rogers On demand- TV won’t read it

It will read AppleTV, Netflix, Chromecast, DVD player




Rogers Ignite Presentation

Presented by David from Rogers

  • Rogers general information on Vision Accessibility Products/Options
  • Rogers Accessibility Desk (877) 508-1760 (will have all pricing information on Rogers Ignite. you can also dial *234 on any Rogers phone
  • As of October 21st, 2018 Rogers will be offering a 30% discount to people with disabilities (for example a CNIB card or other evidence will be required for the discount) If already subscribed to vision products, it will not roll over automatically (like if you have Braille bills)


The Ignite Box Demonstration

  • The Ignite Box has the same tech as the Comcast X1 box and has been enhanced with a new remote, voice commands and a screen reader
  • With the voice commands you can speak into the remote and search for shows whether they are on cable or Netflix or your PVR
  • You can search shows by which are audio described
  • The unit comes with its own wireless modem which is a very good one (members report it is resolving long standing wifi dead zone issues)
  • Base speed on modem is 150 MB (very fast)
  • Only one box in the household needs a coaxial cable (the cable from the wall)
  • New features include Restart button (to restart a show), record and a tone for when the menu has reached the end
  • New Enhancement of Volume control, separate for menu and TV is coming
  • You can press the B button twice to active voice guidance on the remote
  • You can turn on “Voice guidance on” holding Accessibility button
  • All recordings stored in the cloud:  200 Hours of recording comes with the base package
  • Base package also includes Apple App so you can watch shows through iPhone or iPad, max of 2 devices outside the home are allowed for viewing at a time. You cannot set a recording from mobile devices (must be done through the box)
  • You can also download the shows to your mobile device for travel or subway use
  • No AirPlay support for mobile devices (stream to chromecast, Bluetooth speaker etc.
  • Maximum of 5 boxes allowed per household
  • Rogers Wireless has a $20 month discount for people with disabilities (cell phone
  • Question: Shaw- multiple boxes- each box has different settings? yes for rogers as well you can name your box it too
  • No support currently for Amazon Prime
  • No adult content
  • Flex Channels in the top tier packages you can swap out called “Free for Me”  only channels u are paying for)
  • KidsZone, restricts children’s access based on your PIN



  1. Metrolinx- Triplinx app and website are more accessible now
  2. Presto App- update, you can check your Presto balance if you have an
  3. Android phone with NFC (Near Field Comms) technology
  4. Crosstown App- Can give you updates on construction sites- accessibility is still an issue

Way Around-App- It works like the pen friend with barcodes and text/speech you can input to code, but no actual pen so no loss of data if you switch phones

  1. Next month’s meeting will be about l earning NVDA (free screen reader) : NVDA 1O1 Part 1