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Notes for February, 2018: accessible gaming

Ian opened the meeting. Tonight’s topic is accessible gaming. Our schedule of topics has slid, so let’s open things up for suggestions from the group. Topics raised included transit aps, Google Glass or low-vision and sight-enhancement aids, GPS solutions, the basics of assistive tech for new-comers to sight-loss, entertainment streaming, and lifestyle aps.

Jason introduced himself, as well as his fellow presenter Mike Feir, who joined us via Skype. Mike asserted that games offer an easy way to learn technology; “We learn best when we don’t realize we’re learning.” He’s interested in what visually impaired people can do to live richer, better lives.

Jason said that www.appleviz.com is a great place to look for accessible games to play on your phone. You’ll also find reviews and instructions. It’s a website run by volunteers, and it’s a place for visually impaired people to find important resources related to the iPhone.

Jason began with the simplest accessible games. You can still get braille or tactile versions of chess, monopoly and playing cards. 64 Ounce Games is a company that combines braille embossing, laser art and 3d printing to make packages to add on to existing games, to make them accessible. You have to buy the original game first, then 64 Ounce Games will sell you a package with braille cards or overlays to make them usable by blind people. You need some sighted help to put it all together. Prices are U.S. and range around $10 to $30. A member asked about an accessible chess game. A member said that www.blindmicemart.com has them, or Maxi Aids or the Braille Superstore in the U.S.

Jason continued on to talk about PC games. Accessible computer games are quite new. Until very recently, there was nothing truly rich and engaging. Now, you’re starting to see game developers giving it some energy. This is partly an awareness issue, partly a computing power issue, and partly a new recognition of the great things you can do with audio. www.audiogames.net is a site that specializes in games for blind people that are computer or phone-based. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of Android games. This site has reviews, forums and information. Jason introduced a game called A Heroes Call. The founders are gamers and programmers who used to be sighted, and began a campaign on Kickstarter to develop games for the blind. They’ve gotten a lot of attention in sighted gaming circles as well, because their Kickstarter campaign was so successful. The game uses voice actors, symphonic music, and is extremely professional. It’s widely available. It’s currently exclusively audio at the moment, but the creators are planning to add graphics. Although it’s only audio, sighted people are playing it because it’s so rich. It’s $20 to buy, which Jason calls a bargain considering the quality. The game is only available on Windows right now.

Jason ran a demonstration of Heroes Call. He said that if you’re not using a screen-reader, it has its own built-in audio. Using a combination of its own audio and the screen-reader, the game invites you to answer questions establishing your character, as most role-playing games will do. The game initially gives you tutorial information. You really want to have headphones, because the audio feedback is directional. Jason and Mike concluded that this is the current pinnacle of audio games. It’s hard to make a living making these games, and they’re not exactly coming out all the time, or being updated.

Mike pointed out Code7 as another PC game that’s quite good. Mike said that he does a segment on Kelly and Company on AMI every Thursday from 4:15 to 4:30, on audio entertainment, including gaming.

A member asked about games that don’t require keyboard input. Jason answered that the Amazon Echo has some games available that work based on speech. Yes Sire and Captain Stalwart are two, and there’re lots of trivia games. The best way to find them is to go into your Amazon Echo ap, double tap on skills, and sort by category for games. Being an audio product, all the Echo games are accessible. An Echo dot is about $60, and the ap comes with it. The Google Home has a few games but not many.

A member asked for blogs or podcasts with content about blind-friendly games. There are YouTube channels devoted to this topic. Some examples are:

Liam Erven’s Youtube channel

Playing Killer Instinct as a blind person on XBox

Jason then began to talk about XBox. It’s a game console that attaches to a computer or TV, for the purpose of playing games. Now, game consoles allow you to do other things too, like watch movies, or communicate with other gamers. Recently, Microsoft has become extremely active around accessibility. They have put Narrator, their text-to-speech solution, on the XBox. To activate Narrator on a game controller, hold down the top middle button (also called the Guide or Xbox button) until the controller vibrates, then press the menu button which is the right hand button below the guide button. You can also plug a keyboard into the USB port on the Xbox, then press Windows+Enter to activate Narrator.

Narrator allows you to navigate through the system, but it doesn’t mean the games themselves will be accessible. This next step has to be up to the game developers. Currently, there are some mainstream games that have enough audio cues in them already, that they’re playable by blind people. In these games, your character and your opponent are on opposite sides of the screen, and opposite sides of stereo headphones. Blind players have been able to win in gaming tournaments against sighted competitors. Blind gamers have become much more vocal. They’ve begun attending gaming conventions and encouraging game developers to make their games accessible. You’re starting to see developers adding audio cues as an extra layer you can enable if you want to.

With the XBox, in Windows, there’s an XBox ap that allows you to stream to your monitor. You might want to do this because it allows you to use optical character recognition features in your text-to-speech software to read menus that aren’t readily accessible. Both Jaws and NVDA have optical character recognition functions that allow you to pull information off your monitor.

Narrator allows you to change the voice or the speed. Jason did a demonstration of interacting with the XBox using Narrator. When you start dealing with mainstream games, you realize how big they are. Killer Instinct  is 47 gig. If you want more space, you can plug USB drives into its ports. It’s USB3 so it shouldn’t slow things down much. When playing, you can choose to have the music track turned down in order to hear the voice and audio cues more clearly. It’s not completely simple to get it going, but it’s totally doable. It’s not all about direct violence. There’s another game called Madden NFL18. It’s a football game that already had a lot of verbal commentary. Someone got motivated to add accessibility cues to it. If you do a search for Madden NFL18 accessibility, you’ll find a Readit post talking about how to play the game as a blind person.

Playing in the Dark is a Europe-based multi-player racing game that’s free. Heroes Call developers and XBox people are talking, so there may be some movement toward each other.

Another dimension of accessible games are smaller-scale games for your phone. A company called Blindfold Games has about 80 phone-based games that are less complex. They include word games, music games, puzzles, and pinball etc. Another popular one is called Diceworld. It’s an ap with about 6 dice-based games. There are accessible versions of chess, sudoku, and word games. Many are free, and most are $5 or less.

Looking around on audiogames.net would be the way to find accessible PC games. RS Games is usable on PC or phone, it’s free, and has some conventional games like Monopoly. These can be multi-player, so that you can play with others on-line.

GTT Notes for January, 2018: All about Android

Ian opened the meeting. He introduced Shane to talk about Android.

Shane began his talk by discussing the difference between Android and Apple. He disclosed that he typically uses Apple, but trains on Android. The Pixel is his favourite Android phone. He had one, which he passed around. He asked around the room, and only one out of a dozen people are regularly using Android with accessibility.

Shane said what he likes best about Android is the Google Assistant. He finds the voice dictation interface better than Apple. Android is partially open-source, which is one advantage over Apple. Apple tends to be more stable and refined, but Android is catching up quickly. Apple accessibility is still preferable, but Talkback is getting better. The navigation is a bit awkward. A member contributed that getting a Google phone is a good idea because you’ll get updates quicker, this includes the Pixel and the Nexis. Other companies will take longer to push out the updates by a few weeks or so. Another member said he thought that lately, updates are more cosmetic then substantive. Members agreed that the Nexis isn’t in production any more, and that the Pixel is among the most expensive. The Motorola phones are cheaper but still good. Lower-end phones like HTC or OnePlus do work from an accessibility standpoint. Always try to test a phone before you buy it, because you can find a situation where a phone manufacturer has tinkered with something basic like the home screen, and disrupted the accessibility functions.

Talkback, the Android accessibility platform, works in similar ways to Apple’s VoiceOver. The swiping gestures are the same, and Apple rotor functions are accessed by swiping up or down.

There are three types of gestures, back and forth, up and down, and diagonal. If you want the first item on a page, swipe up then down without removing your finger from the screen. There are lists of Android commands available.

There are no screen dot protectors for Android because there are hundreds of different models of phone.

You can set up Google Assistant to respond by voice, by saying “ok Google.” Everyone who had an opinion, agreed that Google’s voice recognition and web searches are much more efficient than Siri. This is particularly relevant for someone with difficulties using a keyboard or making gestures. Siri will display web results, but Google will dictate the information. Another advantage is that Google works off-line.

Jason raised the issue of the Doro phone. It’s an Android phone being marketed by Bell. It has a software overlay that turns it into a much more menu-driven interface. It greatly simplifies the learning curve. The problem is that the company who designed the software is now out of business. This means there will be no updates to the software. It’s worth considering if you’re looking for something simple. It’s particularly useful for seniors. Shane said he has a Doro phone available for later testing if anyone’s interested. Jason said that he’s heard from bell, that they’re not concerned with Claria, the software company being out of business. As far as Bell is concerned, the phone does what they say it will. It’s also true that no matter what phone you have, you’ll probably upgrade it in a few years anyway. It costs about $300 off contract. Blindshell and a few others are similar, but they’re only available in Europe.

Samsung phones have their own built-in voice Assistant, which doesn’t do quite as much as Talkback. It’s good for people transitioning from Apple, because the gestures are more similar to Apple gestures. Voice Assistant also has trouble working with Firefox.

Lazarillo GPS for the Blind, is a GPS ap that’s quite similar to BlindSquare, and works on Android. The difference is it doesn’t support beacons, but it’s free. Nearby Explorer is a paid ap that allows you to download maps, so you can use it without data.

Other aps for Android include Spotify, Youtube, Google Sheets, which is a spreadsheet ap, and many others, which can run on both Android and Apple.

Iris Vision is a pair of Samsung goggles that low-vision people can use to magnify things or bring things like signs closer. It’s a much cheaper option than something like E-Sight. It uses the Android phone as its basis. Because Android is open-source, it’s more adaptable for innovation. Developers will often start with Android for this reason. Apple has a lot of restrictions on what you can do with their hardware.

Be My Eyes, and KNFB Reader are available on Android. The Seeing AI people say that it will eventually be available on Android, but they won’t say when.

A member clarified that Android is the name of the operating system, equal to Apple IOS. As software, it can run on any phone that isn’t an Apple. It’s the phone equivalent of Windows; it can run on many platforms.

Another advantage of Android is that, as well as the phones being cheaper, they’re also more flexible in terms of replacing batteries, having an SD card etc.. It gives you more choice about your hardware.

As a trainer, Shane approaches clients with the question, “What problems do you have that technology can solve?” Google Assistant can often offer solutions.

You can do wireless file transfers to Android phones, mediated by various aps. With Apple phones, you’re restricted to using iTunes.

You can swap sim cards between Apple and Android phones.

The topic was raised of the difference between Seeing AI, and Be My Eyes. Be My Eyes puts you in touch with a real person who will look through your camera and give you information. Seeing AI uses optical character recognition to give you text to speech. Be My Eyes works on both platforms; Seeing AI is only available on Apple.

A few years ago, Apple was way out in front where accessibility is concerned, but that’s not true any more. The playing field is much closer to level now. In general though, Android does require more tinkering or configuring to make it work the way you want it to. The National Braille Press has a very good book on Android.

Out of the box, with many Android phones, you can turn the phone on, hold two fingers on the screen for about five seconds, and Talkback will turn on.

A member contributed that, world-wide, 85% of all phones are Android.

www.inclusiveandroid.com is all about Android accessibility. It’s a good resource for researching models of phones.

Another advantage of Android is that you can keep an older operating system and just update aps as you go. Apple aps will almost always say you have to have the latest version of the OS.

Notes for December, 2017: Amazon Echo and Google Home

Ian opened the meeting. We’ll be talking about Google Home and the Amazon Echo. The next meeting will be all about Android.

Shane took over to discuss ShopTalk. This is a program where local businesses have installed beacons that give information through Blindsquare. St. Clair station, the closest subway station to the CNIB Hub which hosts our meetings, has also installed them. This isn’t publicly announced yet because it’s still being tested. In January, Shane and the TTC will be recruiting testers. Shane will run an orientation with some TTC staff, and anyone who’s interested in this should get in touch with Shane. More information will be coming out on the GTT list. TTC hopes to make this available at all stations. It will offer information about entrances, fair gates, collector booths etc. on the fly. It will offer specific directions for finding stairs, busses and so on.

BlindSquare Event is a free version of BlindSquare . It has a radius of several kilometers, and it makes BlindSquare available for people who haven’t purchased the ap. It makes a given area accessible to BlindSquare even if you haven’t paid for it, but only within that radius.

Jason took over, and began by describing the latest update to Seeing AI, which is the free Microsoft solution for text recognition and barcode scanning. The latest update includes colour identifier, hand-writing identification, currency identification, and light detection. Because it’s constantly being updated, it will get even better by degrees.

Jason then began his presentation about smart speakers. In front of him he had a Google Home, a Google Home Mini, an Amazon Echo, and an Echo Dot. These are all devices that connect to the internet. They’ll answer questions, and do various home-control tasks. Amazon was the first to release this technology. The original Echo came out in 2014. For a long time it wasn’t available in Canada; you had to buy it from the U.S. As of December 5, 2017 they’re available here. You can order them through Amazon, or get them at Bestbuy here.

The Amazon Echo is about 6 inches tall, and looks like a beer glass. There are 4 buttons on the top, volume up and down, microphone on/off, or start microphone. All of these devices respond to a wake word. They’re not recording all the time, but once they hear the wake word, they listen to what you’re saying, and respond. The echo wake word is Alexa. It will respond to queries about the weather, the time, setting timers, making phone calls so it becomes a speaker phone, and will give you recipes and much more. Another one of its features is that it allows you to talk to other smart devices. The Alexa ap is what you install on your phone for initial setup. From this ap, you can talk to it through your phone. There are 4 possible wake words, Alexa, Amazon, Echo, and computer. You can attach the device to multiple phones. You don’t actually need the ap for much after setup if you don’t want to use it.

It has “far-field recognition,” which means you you can activate it from far away. The microphone is quite sensitive. There are lights on the top of the unit that show visually when it’s listening. By default, the lights activate. In the ap, you can turn on a setting to play a sound to let you know it’s been activated by the wake word. It’s not sensitive to know who’s speaking to it yet, but Amazon is working on specific voice recognition so that one person could, for example, order something from Amazon, and it would be automatically charged to their specific account. Not all features are available here yet, but they’re coming. In the U.S. you can play Audible books on it.

Where the Echo Shines is in its ability to work with what it calls skills. This means specific tasks that you can write a small program to perform. Skills are written and published, and you can enable them. If you’re technically inclined, you can write your own skills within its parameters.

Jason demonstrated a skill he wrote titled GTT skill. When activated, it offered him options to read the date of the next meeting, or read the previous meeting notes. He invited it to read the last-month’s meeting notes. This skill is not yet public, but will be. When you publish a skill you need images, and that’s the last step. Once Jason has that, he can publish it, and anyone can access it.

Setting the language of your device controls how it speaks, how it understands, and what skills you can use on it. There are local and specific skills. Banks and airlines for example, will publish their own skills, that will allow you to interact with them and do things you might now be doing on-line. You can write skills that are kept private, for example incarnations of home automation. Writing skills requires some programming knowledge. Home automation processes often require extra hardware.

If you know the name of the skill you want, you can ask the Echo to enable it. Within the ap, you can search under categories. There are over 15,000 skills. There’s an Uber skill that ties into Uber, then lets you order a car.

The standard Echo costs around $130, and has the better speaker. The Echo Dot is the same circumference as the standard, but about a third of the height. It’s $50. If you have a smart thermostat, you can control your home temperature through the Echo. If you want to control devices in your home, look on the Amazon site for compatible interfaces. Jason uses Wemo.

The Echo will connect via bluetooth, so you can connect it to other speakers. It’s got a line-out jack too. The Alexa ap is completely accessible. From the ap store, look for Amazon Alexa by Amazon.

Microsoft and Apple are also coming out with stand-alone smart speakers. The Microsoft Home Pod will be around $400. Google is coming out with a larger version called the Google Home Max. It’s a much larger version that has stereo sound.

The Google Home and the Echo are comparable, but the Google Home excels in web searches and geographical information. Both devices ask for your home address during setup. The Google Home is about the same height as the Echo. Jason demonstrated it giving the weather forecast. You can hook it up to your contacts, and use names to make phone calls rather than phone numbers. It’s using wireless to make the calls. You don’t need to have a phone in your house. It does similar things like timers and alarms. He demonstrated using it as a translator by translating a sentence into Spanish. Many things that Google can do on a PC is accessible via the Google Home. It will sometimes give you information, then send more details to your phone ap. It has a version of skills called “actions,” but not nearly as many. You can sync it to your calendar, and query it about your appointments. Both devices will let you set up appointments or reminders. You can’t play YouTube videos on the Google Home unless you have a TV or a device called a ChromeCast hooked up to it. If you have a ChromeCast and a TV, you can use the Google Home to play Netflix to it.

Everything that works or doesn’t work right now, can change from moment to moment because the net connection allows continuous updates. The Google Home hooks up to www.allrecipes.com so that you can ask for recipes, and have them read to you.

Jason demonstrated asking for flight prices. It replied, then offered to send price alerts to your email account. This process can be done on Google on the PC, but it’s very complicated.

You can set it up so that when you say “good morning,” it will reply with news from specific sources, or specific information. It’s pretty forgiving about phrasing; it picks up on key words.

After initial setup, you can sign up for sustained subscriptions to music services. Both devices do Spotify, but neither do Apple Music. The Echo offers Amazon Music, which is free if you’re already signed up to Amazon Prime.

The Google Home Mini has better sound than the Echo Dot. The Echo and Echo dot have an audio  jack so you can connect it to your stereo or another speaker. If you have a standard and a mini of either, you can specify which device you want to play music from.

The Echo will read books you’ve purchased through Kindle. A member asked whether either device can read books from CELA. The answer is no, not at present.

 

upcoming meeting

Hey Everyone!

Our next ‘Get Together with Technology’ meeting will be held on Thursday, April 19 at the CNIB community Hub at 1525 Yonge St.

We’ll start at 6pm and finish up at about 8pm.

This month, our guest presenter will be Stephen Ricci from Frontier Computing.  Stephen has recently returned from the CSUN Adaptive Technology Conference in San Diego, California,  and will be bringing us up to speed on the latest developments in adaptive tech for those living with vision loss.

As always, snacks will be served.

Bring all your adaptive technology questions to GTT Toronto!

 

Notes for November 2017: online shopping

Ian opened the meeting and invited us to have a go around in which you give your name, and some aspect of technology you’re interested in, or would like to cover in future meetings. Ideas included the new Treker Breeze, the Amazon Echo coming to Canada, starting a blog, integrating Siri with Wheeltrans, an accessible MP3 player for music, newest GPS aps, accessible podcasting and audio editing, an accessible timer that’s discreet and doesn’t disturb others, vibrating watch bands to tell time and also as sonar for proximity alerts, and learning the basics of Apple and Windows.

Jason spoke about Uber, who presented to the group several months ago. They just released their new service animal policy, which looks very promising. It’s been circulated on several blindness-related email lists.

Jason announced that the latest version of Firefox has broken accessibility, and screen readers have not caught up to Firefox57. Use Chrome. Internet Explorer is obsolete, and most sites won’t support it anymore. Adam added ESR version 52 is a version of Firefox that does work at least with Zoomtext. It’s available in 32 and 64 bit versions. Rylan added that this solution will only work temporarily. Rylan added that Chrome may be starting to display mobile versions of sites; he’s noticed this in the past day or two. It may be Chrome deciding that the mobile version is better for accessibility. Jason added that this can happen if your window isn’t maximized, because some sites adapt to what they’re being displayed on, and a minimized window will trigger the mobile version. Rylan noted that the latest versions of Jaws are compatible with Google Chrome.

www.gtt-toronto.ca is the local website for getting together with technology, where you can find out about future meetings, and read notes from past meetings.

Rylan introduced himself as the speaker for the evening. He discovered that most people in the room have done online shopping before. Rylan asked for questions off the top. A member asked which sites are not accessible. Rylan answered Best Buy and Kijiji.

CregsList, Kijiji and Letgo are online shopping platforms that allow you to buy second-hand products. It can be risky because you’re dealing with strangers, but it’s also an opportunity to get good deals.

An extension of this is eBay.ca. Rylan began by demonstrating eBay. The site displays a carousel, which is a section of constantly changing content, and isn’t helpful for screen reader users. The easiest thing is to look for an edit field which will offer you a search window. He used number 1 and number 2 to move through heading level one, and heading level two. There are options to help you refine your search results such as price, condition, format, location etc. Watch the location, as you’ll have to deal with shipping. eBay puts the refine search after the search results. Below the link for the result, you can arrow down to read the price, shipping rate, whether the item is available immediately or on auction or both. You get information about the seller, how many items they’ve sold, what their feedback from previous customers has been etc. To use eBay requires a PayPal account. The iPhone ap is accessible too. eBay has done work to make their site accessible. Make sure you’re on eBay.ca so that you don’t have to worry about exchange rates.

Rylan then discussed straight online shopping sites. A member asked whether any screen reader should work on an accessible site, and Rylan answered yes, as long as you’re using a reasonably contemporary version. Hotwire and Pricline are other examples of sites that are difficult from an accessibility perspective. In terms of large retailers, Walmart is one of the worst from an accessibility perspective. Although Best Buy’s site is bad, the fliers they send are accessible on an iPhone. Grocerygateway delivers, and works well. Loblaws just announced a new service that’s coming. LCBO has an online ordering system, but the delivery can take up to two weeks. You can have something shipped to your local outlet and have it there in a couple of days.

Canada Post has flex delivery, which allows you to divert packages to your local postal pick-up location. You can trigger this when ordering. You register through Canada post, and they give you a custom address which is the postal outlet rather than your home. That way you know packages will go directly to the outlet, and won’t be left at your door unsafely. The item must be under ten pounds.

Amazon has lots of stuff very cheap, and has a good accessibility department. Someone said there’s an Amazon site dedicated to screen reader users which can be found at www.amazon.Com/access. Rylan disapproved of this, as it segregates accessibility rather than building it in. Amazon Prime is a service you pay for annually, which gets you some perks and discounts, such as free shipping on many items. Students get half price for Prime.

The site is less cluttered than eBay. Pressing H is one way to navigate results. R for regions is another way to navigate, but sometimes doesn’t work as well as headings. Many results have the word “sponsored,” which means the company has paid to have their result prominently placed. You can down-arrow for price, or enter on the link for more information. Use H until you find the heading titled with the product you’re researching. There are form fields to allow you to choose colour, add the item to your wishlist, or add the item to your cart. Some items are eligible for free shipping even without Amazon Prime. If so, it will say so on the page. A lot of Amazon products come from other parts of the world. The page gives a customer rating, and may offer you gift wrapping. Amazon has a great return policy, but you have to ship it back yourself. They will send you a pre-paid shipping label via email, but you’ll have to put the package and label together and get it into the mail yourself.

Reviews can be helpful, particularly if there are a lot of them. It’s worth while reading reviews for cues that suggest the reviews are plants.

You can set up 1-click ordering, which expedites the order process. So far it’s not possible to order through your Amazon Echo, but now that the Echo is available in Canada, that might change soon.

The product review page shows you an average customer rating, the reviews, and how many reviews were one through five stars.

Rylan demonstrated buying an item. Enter on the “add to cart” button, then the “proceed to checkout” button. At that screen you can change the quantity, or delete the item from your cart if you change your mind.

A member asked about security. Rylan said that he doesn’t take any special steps and just uses his own creditcard, but you can get pre-paid Amazon cards, pay through Paypal, get pre-paid Visa cards from your bank, or keep a card dedicated to online purchases with a low limit. Online transactions have become much more secure in the past few years. Retailers don’t want you frauded any more than you want to be frauded; it’s bad publicity for them. For security reasons however, when you’re setting up an account on a retail site, don’t use the same password you use for your email. If your email password gets hacked, you’re in big trouble. A member contributed that his bank account sends him a text every time his card is charged. If he sees a text for something he doesn’t recognize, he knows it’s fraudulent. Most banks will do this; look for the phrase, ‘feedback alerts.”

A member asked about cheaper sites like DealExtreme. Rylan said such sites aren’t likely to have the level of accessibility of Amazon. Jason said that there are very few sites that an experienced screen reader can’t navigate. A member added that some sites offer a customer service phone number that you can call, and have an agent complete your order for you.

 

 

GTT Notes for October, 2017 ScripTalk with Shoppers Drugmart

Ian opened the meeting. Brian Mok is the evening’s guest, along with Natalie Ternamian. They are here to share information about the work Shoppers Drugmart is doing to make prescription labelling accessible.

Natalie took over. She’s a 4th year pharmacy student working with Shoppers Drugmart. She asked what kind of trouble members have had in filling prescriptions. Responses were about getting information. Natalie pointed out that an aging population will require more prescriptions, and identifying each bottle of pills is difficult. Their technology solution is hoping to remedy this problem. The first solution to discuss is called ScripTalk. Placing a vial of pills over the mechanism will cause the unit to read directions, medication name and dosage. The bottle has an RFID tag which is read by the machine. She demonstrated the unit. It read the patient’s name, the medication, the instructions, how many pills were in the bottle when it was new, prescription date, best before date, number of refills, doctor’s name, the prescription number, relevant warnings, and a phone number to call for more information. To sign up, you have to register at your local pharmacy. A member contributed that he asked at his location, and his pharmacist had never heard of it. Brian said that signage exists in all stores, and all pharmacists should know about it, but information may not have entirely defused yet. The member asked if something could be done to increase information dissemination. Brian didn’t have a direct answer as that’s not his department, but offered to try to create bridges so that Brian could connect one of us with the right people. Brian said he just saw a memo go out to everyone a few days ago, so hopefully the information is getting to where it needs to be. Brian said the most important step would be to speak to the owner of the store in question if the pharmacist on duty doesn’t know about it. If not the franchise owner, then the pharmacy manager.

A member asked Natalie and Brian to walk through the sign-up process. Brian said it does take some time. It’s managed by a third party company called Envision America, www.envisionamerica.com and agreements have to be signed. You have to agree for your medical information to be released to the third party who manages the technology. Even once you’re set up, there’s a two-day turn-around because the third party has to make up the RFID tag and send it to the store. In theory you should be able to phone in your prescription and come in two days later so that you only have to make one trip. You would have to advocate each time to make sure the RFID tag is made, and put in place. The set-up process should take no more than a few days.

The first step is a New Patient Enrolment form which the pharmacist will help you complete. The form is faxed to the third-party company. The store orders the reader unit which you receive at no charge. It takes a week to ten days to get the machine. A member raised the question of whether the pharmacist verifies that the RFID tag is correct. Brian answered that not every store has a machine they can use to verify. The third-party company does put a printed tag with the RFID tag. You can have tagged prescriptions delivered the same as standard prescriptions. The unit is rented from Envision America by the pharmacy then lent to the customer. It’s valued at around $300. A member asked if the forms could be made available electronically so that we can read the consents and liabilities ourselves.

The ScripTalk takes two double A batteries, and has a power supply and headphones. It also comes with a CD with the manual. It’s possible to adjust the reading speed.

Natalie then introduced Talking RX. It’s a device you snap onto the vial, on which a voice recording can be made giving the relevant information. Placing the vial with the attachment, onto the base unit, will cause the recording to be played. This solution solves the problem of a prescription you can’t wait two days to fill. These units must be ordered into the store. You might consider approaching your local store to let them know you’d like them to have one, so it’s in place if/when you need it. Another advantage of the Talking RX is that the information can be recorded in other languages. It takes small medical type batteries, and has a power supply also. It doesn’t have a headphone. A member asked whether the Talking RX could be used for over-the-counter meds as well, and Brian said he thought so. In general the Talking RX is for acute medications. The ScripTalk is better for the long-term.

A member asked whether prescriptions might ever have bar codes, but Brian answered that pharmacy is a notoriously slow-moving industry.

No proof of vision loss is required in order to receive the technology.

GTT Notes for September, 2017: fitness technology

Ian opened the meeting by introducing the new GTT Toronto website. It has announcements of up-coming meetings, notes from past meetings, and it’s growing. Offer any suggestions of things you’d like to see there. www.gtt-toronto.ca. The original email address gtt.toronto@gmail.com is still active for questions or suggestions. In the next couple of meetings, we’ve got a representative from Shoppers Drugmart coming in to talk about their accessible prescription solution, and a representative from Hims technology who makes braille note-takers among other things.

Jason took over and welcomed the group to the new space. He raised the topic of IOS11. Apple just released the latest version of their operating system, and Jason recommended not to upgrade unless you have a special reason to do so. There are several serious bugs relating to braille displays. There aren’t any other huge issues, but there are some. They always release upgrades with bugs in them, and they always fix them, but for now it’s not worth upgrading unless you’re adventurous. Some of the new voices can cause trouble.

Jason passed over to Chelsea and Rosie to talk about health and fitness. Chelsea clarified that living healthy doesn’t mean being a super-athlete. It can mean tracking your diet, your sleep, and your activity. Solutions suggested will include low-tech and high-tech stuff.

Chelsea began with the topic of shopping. Grocery Gateway is an online or over the phone grocery shopping solution to have groceries delivered, www.grocerygateway.com. You need to sign up, and ensure that they deliver in your area. Chelsea described the Grocery Gateway ap for the iPhone. She demonstrated some of its features like past orders, favourites, shopping by category, making lists for later, and checking out using the same card to save time. The ap is more intuitive than the website. They offer healthy prepared foods if you’re not good at cooking. The delivery fee is around $10. It’s not the cheapest prices, but the quality is high.

If you like to cook but don’t have a lot of time, Chef’s Plate is a website where you can pick meals for the week, and have them delivered. They’re not cooked, but they’re portioned out and prepared for cooking. They send the recipe on a card, but if you contact them and ask them, they will email the recipe to you. It is a bit pricy, but it’s a good option.

Uber Eats, Just Eat, and Foodora are food delivery services that deliver from restaurants. Uber Eats is especially handy if you already have the Uber ap. It remembers your home address, and allows you to sort restaurants by type, or by time of delivery. You’ll get notifications telling you how far away they are, and warning you when they’re 2 minutes away.

Momma Earth is an organic food delivery service that delivers weekly or biweekly. You get a bin of seasonal organic vegetables.

Walmart now, in theory, delivers groceries. It’s very new, and Rosie recommended waiting a little while to try it so they can iron out some wrinkles. Some of the prices are much cheaper than Grocery Gateway.

Taking care of our health has a lot to do with tracking what we eat. All Recipes]is a recipe website that is reasonably accessible. Rosie demonstrated a recipe on her iPhone. Some parts don’t work, but the recipes themselves are accessible. You can start with ingredients you have, enter them into a Google search, and find relevant recipes.

If you want to track your food intake closely, My Fitness Pal is about the most popular calorie counting app out there, and it’s reasonably accessible. She demonstrated the ap, which has sections to input all meals and types of exercise from your day. If you enter vegetable soup for example, it offers you options about brand, home-made, and amount. You can change servings or serving size, then save.

Google is your best friend. You can look up things like, how healthy is my bread. There’s an app called flipp, which collects fliers for many grocery stores to show what’s on sale. It allows you to sort by what’s closest to you. You can also get individual stores to email you their fliers.

There are a lot of medication tracking aps which help you track if you’ve taken your meds, when you need to get prescriptions renewed etc. They’re free, and they’re usually accessible. You can just use your phone too, set a daily reminder or alarm to make sure you’ve taken meds at the right time. You can use these strategies for hydration tracking as well.

Chelsea began talking about fitness technology by introducing the Apple Watch. It’s an extension of the phone. The new watch allows you to make calls with your phone at a distance. The watch has different phases. In fitness mode, it will give you information about your activity. It can remind you every hour to get up and walk around. You can set goals, and it will let you know how you’re doing as the day progresses. It tells how many calories you’ve burned in a day, and how much you’ve moved. In its workout mode you have several options. They include outdoor biking, outdoor running, indoor running, outdoor and indoor walking, elliptical, and pool swim. All these track your stats and keep track of your goals. The watch locks while you’re swimming to prevent water damage, but it still has some functionality. In the pool swim, you can tell it what size pool you’re in. Much of this functionality works on the phone also.

She demonstrated the Health ap on the iPhone. It has options for tracking health, nutrition and sleep. The ap allows you to enter all your health information including allergies and medical conditions, as well as your emergency contact. Paramedics can access this in case of emergency if you’re unable to communicate with them.

Rosie passed around a Fitbit. It’s a wearable step counter that can communicate with your phone. Some models monitor heart rate and stair climbing. It has sleep functions as well, tracking when and how much you sleep, how restlessly you’ve slept, or allowing you to wake up by vibration instead of noise. It can be a good introduction for fitness beginners to help raise awareness. There’s a range of sophistication and price from $60 to $500.

There are talking scales, or scales which communicate with smart phones or a website.

Youtube can be a surprising resource for food and fitness. A cooking demonstration will often include written recipes.

For a beginner who might not want to go to the gym, Walk Away the Pounds is an ap with workouts that are based on four basic step patterns. If you can walk and you have 3 square feet, you can do it.

There are also many aps for mental health around meditation and mindfulness.

A chair workout is another option for beginners, or individuals with mobility issues. They’re slower paced and a bit more simple. They’re usually very descriptive. They can be good for someone with spacial challenges.

The CNIB is beginning to offer yoga and fitness classes. There are accessible podcasts about exercise and weight loss.

Blind Alive is a resource of fitness instruction for people with visual impairments. You pay for them. Rosie played samples of well-described exercise classes.

Know what you like. If you try to do stuff you don’t like, you won’t do it. Use technology to do your research. There’s a lot of trial and error, especially when you’re visually impaired. Try not to be daunted by apprehension. You can use technology to research and develop your own exercise plan. We’re sometimes given the impression that vision loss is equal to being physically inactive. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If you approach a gym with suggestions about labelling machines or other adaptive strategies they’ll probably be receptive. Be patient. You don’t have to do fitness alone. There are groups for running, walking, sailing, dragon boating, and biking, focused on visually impaired participants.

GTT Notes for June, 2017: tips on traveling

Ian opened the meeting. Tonight’s meeting topic is travel: what are the challenges and how do we meet them. Gtt.toronto@gmail.com is the email address for the group. You can subscribe to receive notices and meeting notes, by sending an email there. Meeting postings do go up on the CCB Toronto Visionaries website calendar. This will be our last meeting until the third Thursday in September. The gtt organizing committee will be meeting over the summer to brainstorm topics, so if you have ideas, let someone know. Jason added that the meetings are for members, so please offer suggestions for topics or presenters: low-tech to high-tech. Also, discussions are underway to move meetings to the new hub location on St. Clair, which is right on the subway line, and much more convenient to get to. It’s at 1525 Yonge St.

In a go-around of introductions, a member brought the group’s attention to a device he ordered for colour identification called the Rainbow II. He demonstrated it and highly recommended it. Another member raised an issue of concern to him, which is the rates we pay for smart-phone technology, and wondered whether it’s possible to find or lobby for discounted rates for a data plan.

Aamer began the discussion on travel. It’s a large topic with lots of small detail. There are a lot of blogs around written by blind travellers. One way to break travel down, is into: within a city, and travelling more widely. It’s true that some blind and visually impaired people experience isolation in their daily lives. The first topic Aamer raised is the CNIB card. If you are legally blind, this card is available for a small fee. It entitles you to a CNIB transit pass, which is free, and gives you free access to the Toronto Transit system. You must be a Toronto resident to qualify. A member raised the point that access to Wheeltrans has opened up to blind and visually impaired riders. Members pointed out that the CNIB card will often be accepted on other transit systems throughout Canada. Ian added that the TTC has a program for a support person assistance card. This allows a disabled person to take a guide/assistance person to accompany them, and travel free. You must get medical certification of a disability, then you get an ID card that allows your assistance person to travel for free.

There are quite a few things that your CNIB card gets you free or discounted access to: museums, art galleries, and various tourist attractions. Policies change on these year-to-year, so it’s worthwhile to check ahead of time.

Easter Seals offers an Access to Entertainment card. There is a $20 and $30 option that you purchase. This requires a form, or a copy of your CNIB card. There’s an office at Yonge and Eglinton, if you need help filling it out. Aamer said he’s got a MS Word copy to fill out if you want one. This card gives you discounts for things like movies, or the CN Tower. Ian explained that many cinemas offer films with audio description. The Easter Seals card also gets you discounts for the Trampoline park.

Jason took over to talk about discounts available for getting out of the city. Via Rail has a buy-one-get-one-free program when you’re travelling with a sighted guide. When booking, the agent may ask for your CNIB card ID number. The CNIB can give this to you if you don’t know it. You can also get this level of discount for Air Canada domestic flights. You purchase your own ticket first in the usual way, then phone the Air Canada medical assistance desk to book the guide. The guide pays only the taxes, not the fair. You can also request particular seats, without being charged for your seat assignment. Greyhound and GO transit also offer this discount. GO trains have an accessibility car, which has a staff member to help you. GO prefers that you request assistance in advance, and several members said they’ve had good experiences getting help. A member volunteered that GO has a good ap for telling your train schedule, and which platform you need to be on.

Jason then moved on to talk about travelling long distances. The most accessible sites for booking trips are Expedia, and Travelocity. They both have active accessibility teams. They’re a little tricky to navigate, but doable with attention. You may have trouble if you’re using older technology however. The sites are starting to drop support for old web browsers. The iPhone ap for Expedia is also good. The Air Canada ap is good, and there’s another ap specific to smart phones called Kayak. Booking your trip independently is completely possible, but does require skills in navigating the internet. Aamer said that all-inclusive resorts can be a good option for blind or partially sighted travellers. Before booking, try sending an email to them asking for the kind of help you might need, and see how they respond. Look for a wheelchair accessible resort. Even if you don’t need one, this kind of resort will be responsive to other accessibility needs. The ideal plan is to go somewhere with a guide/sighted friend the first time, then you’ll be more confident returning on your own. You’ll find an odd mix of modern and sketchy when it comes to safety/accessibility.

Jason added that cruises are a great option for blind and visually impaired travellers. Cruise lines have an accessibility department, and if you let them know ahead of time, they’ll arrange for a private ship’s tour, and any help you might need onboard. All information the passengers get, can be made available electronically on a USB key, and updated daily, news letters, menus etc. Information may be offered in Braille, but the information changes so often that electronic versions are likely to be more up-to-date. Large scale travel as a blind person is possible, but it requires forethought and planning.

There’s an organization in the UK called Traveleyes. They set up group trips to an enormous variety of destinations around the world. You travel in a group of mixed blind and sighted travelers. It’s not cheap, but it’s an accessible option, that many people speak highly of.

Another useful resource when you’re traveling, is to connect with local blindness organizations at your destination. Through an organization like the World Blind Union, you may be able to connect with an organization in your destination, who might be able to find a volunteer to guide you in activities you’d like to do there.

A member raised the idea that, if you’re travelling within Canada, maybe you could plan ahead for an O&M instructor to have a lesson or two with you. If it’s doable, everyone agreed that you’d better try to arrange it as far ahead as possible.

Aamer gave some suggestions for packing as a blind person. He recommended January’s issue of CNIB’s Insight news letter, which had an article with tips and tricks for packing. He suggested dividing your luggage into compartments by types of clothes, and also insulating with plastic in case of spilled liquids, or spraying. When relying on others to identify and find your luggage, there are several strategies to employ. Take a photo of your suitcase, so you can show it to the assistance person in the airport. Buying luggage that’s distinctive is helpful. You can also buy a suitcase cover, which have distinctive patterns or motifs. Find a unique luggage tag at a dollar store. They’re 10-15 inches long, and made from durable plastic. Buy two so that you can keep one with you to show someone who is looking for your bag. There are websites that will make custom tags for you as well.

Jason described a more high-tech method for finding your luggage. There are several options, none of which are perfect. One such device is called a Tile. Jason pulled one out of his pocket to demonstrate. It connects with an Android or iPhone, within about 100 feet. Secure a Tile somewhere on your luggage. With your phone, you can trigger it to play a little song. They’re Bluetooth low-energy, so they’re legal on planes. The ap is quite accessible. The Tiles are about $25, an available from Amazon. You can also use it in reverse, for example pressing a button on the Tile can make your phone announce itself if you’ve misplaced it.

There’s another device called Tracker, but Jason hasn’t tested it.

Aamer raised the topic of low lighting in hotels for people who have some vision. He travels with a wind-up flashlight. It’s renewable, lightweight, and uses L.E.D. lights. Don’t hesitate to ask for help in your room: how do you operate the thermostat? Which bottle is the shampoo? Hotels are generally happy to help.

Ian suggested that if you’re given a key card for your room, ask someone at the front desk to mark it with a piece of tape to help you orient it properly. Aamer said he typically travels with a small role of tape for random identification purposes, marking the door of your room for example.

A member pointed out that many mobility aids can be transported on a plane for free.

A member asked about smart phones and traveling outside Canada. Jason described the Rogers Roam Like Home plan, which is a flat $10 per day for data. There are also GPS aps which don’t require you to have data. They download the data before-hand. Nearby Explorer is an accessible option, for about $100. Google Maps will also let you download maps before you travel.

Aamer suggested creating your own “Do Not Disturb” sign. The conventional signs are usually indistinguishable by touch, so making your own might work.

Today, June 15, 2017, the CRTC ruled that, after December 1 of this year, locked phones will no longer be allowed. This means that you can put any sim card you want in it, which might be useful when traveling outside the country.

A member asked about how accessible the passport application process is. Jason said that there is a downloadable PDF that is accessible, but you may need help signing it. At the passport office, the staff is legally forbidden from helping you fill out the form. The paperwork for replacing your passport after it’s expired is brutal and costly, so plan ahead. Replacing a damaged passport is the same process as getting your first passport. It’s useful to get yourself a provincial government ID card, $35, and as good as a passport within Canada.

A member added that, if you ask for it, your health card can have its number embossed in Braille on the card itself.

Aamer spoke about the value of getting a accessible parking permit. Friends or family who are picking you up or dropping you off, can use it to do so more safely. It exempts you from metered parking as well. Dr.s may differ in whether they will sign off on one for you. You may need to advocate for yourself about why one would help you.

Jason pointed out how useful Uber can be as a blind traveler. Because they’re so widely disbursed, once you know how to use the ap, you have access to cars in many or most cities you’ll travel to.

A member raised the subject of tipping assist staff in transportation hubs. He said that in some places, staff who are employed by the airport rather than the airline, might expect to be tipped.

A member raised the point that blind people are told to remain on the plane, to be escorted out last. Jason replied that, if you feel like you are capable of exiting the plane with everybody else, then explain this to the flight crew, and leave on your own, to find the gate agent inside. Waiting inside the aircraft, you take the small but real risk of being forgotten. It’s not too difficult to follow the crowd, or even engage a seat-mate to guide you to baggage claim.

 

 

GTT Notes for April, 2017: Siri

Jason opened the meeting with a welcome. Tonight, Chelsea Mohler and Adam Strooth are here to talk about all the things you can do with Siri, using an iPad, Apple TV, and the iPhone. Next month, the topic will be podcasts. If there are topics you want covered, raise them, and we’ll find someone to present them. Maybe there’s something you know about that you’d like to present. There are no meetings in July and August, but we’ll b back in September. Gtt.toronto@gmail.com is the address for the group. If you’re not on the email list, send a request, and you’ll be added.

 

Chelsea began. She described herself as a technology trainer at Balance for Blind Adults, and a Siri enthusiast. She began with the very basics. Siri is the artificial intelligence Apple assistant. To access Siri, hold down your home button and give an instruction. She demonstrated opening settings this way. Within settings, there’s a Siri heading. One setting controls whether Siri is on. Check this if Siri isn’t working. There’s a setting concerned with whether or not Siri can be activated without unlocking your phone. The hands-free “hey-Siri” command  works on phones above a 6 when not plugged in, otherwise you need to be plugged into power. It’s a way to activate Siri by saying “hey Siri” without touching the home button. There’s also a setting to choose which voice Siri uses. To use Siri, you must have WiFi or data; it doesn’t work independently on the phone, but connects to the internet.

You can make phone calls. She spoke to Siri, directing it to phone another member. Theoretically, “hey Siri” recognizes individual voices, but a test showed that the words activated several peoples’ phones. When you set up Siri, it asks you to speak certain phrases in order to learn your voice. You can say to Siri, “Call using speaker phone,” or say, “Call my recent missed calls.” This will call the last missed call you had. It will prompt you by naming your last missed call and asking if you want to call that number. You can ask Siri to read your texts, or unread email. You can ask it to read the most recent. You can ask Siri, “Who’s iPhone is this.” For this to work, you have to enter yourself in your contacts. During the setup process, it should ask you for your name. If you subscribe to Apple Music, you can ask Siri to play songs from there. If not, you can ask it to play songs from your music library: whatever you’ve downloaded to your phone. You can ask by artist, title, or genre. You can subscribe to Apple music for $9.00 per month or so. You can make your own playlists.

Siri can be used to set an alarm or timer. Siri will tell you it’s done it. You can ask it to change an alarm that’s already been set. You can ask Siri “which alarms are currently active?” If you ask which ones are active, it will display all alarms and whether they’re on or off. Your wording can vary, “Wake me up at …” You can tell it to set alarms for specific days, for example “Wake me up at 7:00 a.m. Monday to Friday.”

Chelsea demonstrated using Siri for scheduling appointments. “Schedule an appointment …” using key words like “Titled” and the date and time. A member asked if you can incorporate reminders. Chelsea recommended going into the calendar ap to do this for specific appointments. She believes that reminders are better for tasks. Her example was that you can tell Siri to remind you to do something when you get home. You must have your geo tracking on and your address in your contacts in order for this to work, so that Siri knows where “home” is. Chelsea clarified that Siri is a part of the phone, not an ap.

Chelsea demonstrated using Siri for random choices such as picking a number between 1 and 100. You can ask Siri itself to tell you what it can do. A member highlighted that you can ask it for restaurants or businesses nearby, and sometimes make a reservation using an ap called Open Table. Chelsea demonstrated a dialogue concerned with finding a coffee shop.

You can use Siri to open aps, do a web search, as a quick calculator, as a way to check stock prices or do currency conversion. All of these, except the calling options, can be done on an iPad. Siri has a relationship field, so that you can say something like, “Call my brother.” If you’ve identified someone as being in a specific relationship to you, it will work. You can also give it phone numbers. A tip is that when dictating, it’s useful to hold down the home button until you’re finished speaking so that you don’t get cut off. You can send texts with Siri in one step, eg; “Text Mary, I will be late.” Siri can also be used from an Apple watch. You can activate it with the words “hey Siri,” or by pressing the round button. When it vibrates, it’s listening. You can connect a Bluetooth ear piece to the watch and interact with it that way.

As a side-note, she said that the Apple Watch is extremely handy for using Apple Pay. Apple Pay is an electronic alternative to using a card. You link a card to your account, then wave your Apple device at any machine that accepts tap. You can attach more than one card, and swipe to choose.

A member contributed that environments with a lot of background noise aren’t ideal for using Siri.

 

Adam took over to talk about using Siri with Apple TV. Apple TV is a set-top box that streams to whatever device you have it connected with. It’s probably the most expensive, at several hundred dollars. The latest generation has a Siri remote. This has 5 buttons, and a track pad you can use the rotor on, as well as a Siri button. On the rotor, there are some extra options related to navigating the touch screen. Siri on the Apple TV is limited to media-related questions, and can’t do all the other things Siri on the iPhone or iPad can do. You can ask for recommendations. You can activate Siri without speaking, which will prompt it to offer suggestions about what kinds of questions you can ask. You can use Siri to dictate into an edit field rather than hunt-and-peck on the keyboard. You can spell the words as well, if you’re dictating an email address or password.

Adam demonstrated using Siri to open Netflix, and play the last episode of a specific TV show, or for example, “Play the Friends episode with Robin Williams. You can ask it to start an episode from the beginning, skip ahead by a defined amount of time, or turn on closed-captioning. The Apple TV has its own operating system, so the interface is a little bit different. You can ask questions specific to what you’re watching, such as, “Who stars in this?”

You can also use Siri to search Youtube, eg: “Search Youtube for funny dog videos.” It populates the search field for you, then displays the results. You don’t need to have Youtube open to do this. You can ask Siri to switch the language of your show or movie. The Apple TV remote is very small compared to a phone or iPad. It has a great battery life. Your phone can also function as a remote for the Apple TV. The Apple TV is a way to stream music from your phone to a nice stereo. One good reason you might want to do this is that you’ll get music through your stereo, but voice-over still through your phone.


 

GTT Notes for March, 2017: Uber

Thanks as always to Christine Malec for preparing these awesome notes!

Jason opened the meeting. Tonight we have a representative from Uber to talk with us. Next month’s meeting will be Chelsie talking about Siri tips and tricks. In May or June we’re open for topic suggestions. You can send an email to gtt.toronto@gmail.com with any suggestions. We have Adam Blinnick, Director of Public Affairs for Uber Canada, and Brian Crook, an operations manager for Uber accessibility. After they discuss Uber in broad terms, Jason said he will give a demonstration of how to use the ap.

 

With raised hands, Adam saw that about 3/4 of those present have used Uber. Uber was founded in 2009. It had relatively humble ambitions. Two people had sold their businesses in San Francisco, where it’s hard to get a cab. Initially it was framed as a luxury service, only “black cars.” As the experiment got going, it became clearer that transportation is an issue for many people. Owning a car or taking taxies is expensive, and public transit can be inconvenient. Also, a lot of car-owners are happy to turn their car into a revenue-generating device. Uber is now in over 400 cities worldwide. The flagship product is UberX. The ideal is, giving rides to your neighbours. Uber has been able to increase transportation to parts of cities that were previously inaccessible by transit, or if you didn’t have a car. Calling a taxi was time-consuming and inconvenient, as you had to sit staring out the window. Now, Uber cars often are available within 5 minutes. It also allows you to track the car as it is coming to you. The lower cost of an Uber ride is indisputable; it’s 30-40% cheaper than a conventional taxi, and Uber pool is even cheaper.

The ap is free from the ap store. You download it, create a profile, then connect a payment method to it, and you’re ready to go. It’s a seamless experience to when the driver arrives, and you don’t have to pay when you exit the car; the ride is charged to your payment method. Up-front pricing has now been implemented; the price you see before you request the ride is the price you’ll pay.

Safety is important in the design of the ap, and during the ride. Adam outlined several policies and procedures implemented with safety in mind. Every driver who wants to drive for Uber must complete a criminal background check. Also, Uber has insurance which covers the rider. When you request a ride, you don’t have to wait outside, as the ap lets you track the driver. This increases your safety. When you request the ride, you get the driver’s name, license number, and a description of their car. You also have an opportunity to contact the driver via phone or text, to give more specific information about your pickup location. During the trip, other safety features are in place. You’re always on the map, being tracked by GPS. You can also use “share my ride,” which allows someone, such as a family member, to track where you are, they don’t need to have the Uber ap in order to do this. You don’t need to have your credit card or cash on you to take the ride. After the ride, you have access to a rating system, which allows you to comment on anything about the driver that concerned you. This allows Uber to track patterns in driver behaviour. There’s 24/7 support if you have an urgent concern about your ride, or left a personal item in the car etc. There’s also a record of every trip you take. You get a copy, and Uber keeps a copy, in case later follow-up is necessary.

In Canada, Uber is throughout the GTA, where the average wait time is 5 minutes or less. Most of southwestern Ontario is covered, as well as lots of eastern Ontario. In the west, Uber is operating in the greater Edmonton and Calgary areas.

A member raised the point that making a customer service complaint was quite difficult. It took a long time to find the phone number, and he had to leave a message. Adam replied that the best way to file a complaint is through the ap itself. There’s a layer in the “help” feature after your ride, which is called, “there’s a problem with my fair.” Responses to complaints made through the ap are usually within an hour.

A member asked if there’s a way to get Uber without a smart phone. Jason answered that there’s a service called GoGo Grandparent. You sign up with them, give them all your information, then phone them and have them arrange an Uber for you. They charge you 18 cents a minute for your trip, as their service fee. They have an 800 number for information. The number is (855) 464-6872. Adam added that Uber is working on a function that will allow you to request an Uber via a computer. He couldn’t say when this will be in place, but he also added that they are planning on adding the service Jason described themselves. Someone else can order the Uber for you, then send you trip information.

A member asked if you can request an Uber using voice. Jason answered that you can, but last time he tried, you can’t specify your pick-up location; it simply uses GPS to determine where you are. You can then contact the driver with your specific address.

A member asked about Uber Assist. Brian described that it is an option that insures you a top-quality driver, who has been through a training program for working with people with disabilities. The cost for Uber Assist is the same as an UberX, but you might have to wait a bit longer for a driver.

In response to a member question, Adam said that Uber uses Google Maps for their GPS data. If your address isn’t found by Google maps, you can always contact the driver to give them more specific information about where you are.

A member asked what Uber does to ensure drivers will accept service animals. Brian answered that drivers are informed of the law, but that he knows cases happen where drivers refuse. There’s work going on in the U.S. about this, and Uber Canada will follow. Uber wants to make transportation as accessible as running water, and when people with service animals are refused service, they’re failing.

A member asked if there’s a way to facilitate passengers and drivers finding one another at pick-up. Jason said that at CSUN, he was at a ride-sharing workshop in which it was said that this is being worked on. A member added that it’s very helpful to text or phone the driver from within the ap to tell them that you’re blind, and give them information about how to find you, and ask them to identify themselves to you. This helps a lot.

Ian returned to the subject of service animals, to point out that it’s not only a question of Uber’s policies, but that drivers are breaking the law when they refuse service.

Adam said that, until now, Uber assist drivers weren’t being notified in a way that distinguished assist calls from non-assist calls. Soon, they will be implementing a pop-up to let the driver know it’s an assist call. Assist is for people who want a door-to-door service. It isn’t necessary to request an Uber Assist if you have a service dog; all cars must take them.

Jason then took over to begin a demonstration of using the Uber ap with Voiceover. You can open the ap using Ciri if you choose. When you open the ap, you get a hint telling you that you can use a shortcut to specify your pick-up location. From the upper left, swiping down gets you a “where to” button, or you can swipe right to “schedule a ride.” Scheduling gives you a 20-minute pick-up window. Another button invites you to rate your last trip. The ap will remember the last couple of destinations you’ve been to, and is location-aware. It keeps track of places you commonly go from wherever you currently are. From the initial screen, Jason found a button that said “Home,” where he can double tap, to set as your pick-up location. Relying on GPS to determine your pick-up location is sometimes vague, so be careful about counting on it to know exactly where you are. Within the ap, you can designate specific addresses as things like home, work, etc. This makes it easier to arrange your ride. In some aps, including this one, swiping misses options, so sometimes you have to use your finger to explore the screen. Jason said he’s been seeing this in a few aps, so it might be a voiceover bug. After setting your destination, you then choose your monetary range. You see your options, and each associated cost and arrival times. It remembers the last choice you made, X, Assist, Pool etc. On the “economy” button, voiceover invites you to swipe pages for more options. This is a 3-finger sideways swipe, as though you are turning a page. Uber Select and Uber Black are the higher-priced options where you get a nicer car. Uber XL gets you something like a minivan. Jason used sideways swipes to explore. On the page titled “more,” there’s a taxi option. Brian explained that this gets you a standard cab who works for a traditional cab company, but takes Uber passengers as well. This doesn’t allow you to have a fixed price, because the Uber taxi is metered. Payment is still through the ap, but the calculation method is in real time. On this “more” page, you can also find the Assist option. WOV means wheelchair accessible vehicle. Availability of WAV vehicles is not great, due to the lack of available vehicles. In the downtown core, your wait will likely be less than 10 minutes. Outside downtown, there might be no availability. No city in North America has solved this problem.

Jason showed that, during the request process, you can switch between multiple payment methods if you’ve registered more than one. Once you request the ride, it begins matching you with nearby drivers. A recent change was made. There used to be a contact and a cancel button on the main screen after you request the ride. Now, you have to double tap on the driver name, then those options pop up. Once you find the “contact driver” button, you have two choices: phone or text. Your text or call doesn’t come from your phone number. It’s a ghost number that vanishes 30 minutes after your trip. This protects your privacy, but allows you to contact the driver shortly after your trip if you’ve left something in the car. Texting the driver to let them know you have a service animal is a good idea because if the driver refuses to take you, there’s an electronic record that Uber can use to discipline the driver.

At the upper left corner of the screen, there’s an unlabeled button. If you double tap on it, you’re in the main menu where you can change your payment option, view your promotional code, look at your trip history, or find the “help” button. Double tapping on “help” gives you options related to previous trips. It also gives you information about Uber. You can find a specific trip, then double tap on it to report an issue. The screen offers several options such as lost items, unprofessional behaviour, fair discrepancies etc.

A member asked about cancelling. Brian answered that there’s a 5-minute window after requesting the trip, within which you can cancel without being charged. Jason said that you cancel by double tapping on the driver’s name, and there’s a cancel button next to the contact driver button.

A member asked what happens to fixed price during a traffic jam. Brian answered that the fixed price remains in place. In extreme cases Uber, will compensate the driver at the back end.

A member asked about splitting the fair among riders. Brian answered that it’s possible to do this from within the ap if each rider has the ap.

Another member asked about multiple destinations. Brian answered that the ap doesn’t currently provide for this. The way to handle it is to tell the driver when you get in the car, then when you’re close to the first destination, the rider goes into the ap and changes the destination to the second one. The driver can also do this for you from within their ap.

Brian explained some of the built-in fees by explaining that, for example, background checks for drivers are paid for by Uber.

A member raised the question of safety again. Brian answered that the background checks for Uber drivers and conventional taxi drivers is the same.

A member asked whether it’s possible to connect directly with a driver you had a great experience with, and request them specifically. Brian answered that this isn’t possible. The goal of Uber is efficiency, so it’s always best and cheapest to send a driver who’s the closest to you.

Uber has a 2-million-dollar liability insurance for all riders through the Intact Insurance company.

Jason raised a question about whether you can rate a driver higher than 5 stars. Adam answered that it’s possible to log in on your computer for more rating options. Passengers are rated by drivers as well. This helps to clarify ambiguous situations where complaints are made. The ratings are stars, and allow for comments as well.