Friday, May 22, 2009

The Kindle Too?

So much comment is swirling around Amazon’s Kindle 2, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s all good (yes even the bad). Let’s face it – everyone is talking about it – everyone is aware of the Kindle 2! It’s brilliant.

The controversy stirred by the text-to-speech (tts) feature, which was to allow the Kindle 2 to read any ebook “aloud,” is good, too! It put this topic right out front. It seemed to peak when Roy Blount, the President of the Authors Guild, wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times in defense of authors getting their fair share of the audio rights being infringed upon by the Kindle’s computerized voice. Amazon agreed to only activate the speech feature when authorized by the publisher.

I remain delighted and excited by the Kindle 2 and the literary experiences it can open to me (and to many millions).

With badly impaired central vision, my reading options have been drastically curtailed over the last few years. I am one of the people using “the software” Mr. Blount referred to, a program called ZoomText, which gives me the choice of magnifying print or having it read aloud. In fact, without it, his NY Times Opinion piece would not have been accessible at all to me. Even still, it would not be my favorite way of reading books.

I am an avid reader (buyer) of audio books. Although I revel in the thought and the reality of text turning to speech electronically, I would never choose a “tts” reader over the voice of the author or that of the professional reader. The voice of the reader can change everything for better, and sometimes not.

While I am quite fond of the voice in my computer, and the voice in my iPod, there are inevitably pronunciation errors, pregnant pauses, and instances where it just refuses to read a word entirely. At times, the lack of intonation and inflection becomes mind-numbing. Far from perfect and I dare say no competition for a human being.

Text-to-speech in the Kindle would solve a problem I’m facing right this minute; a couple of books I must read that are not available in audio version. I’ve attempted to convert “The Huffington Post Complete guide to Blogging” from “tts” with the KNFB Mobile Reader – one tortuous page at a time – I do not recommend it. Also, tried to read it under my video magnifier with print enlarged by 10x, so arduous and laborious that comprehension is extremely diminished. Both exercises left me longing for the mellifluous, Greek-accented voice of Arianna Huffington.
Have no fear, Authors Guild, computerized speech is simply an alternative that technology affords us, they will never replace humans in the business of audio book reading.

How are you reading? What are your thoughts on the Kindle 2?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Giving Credit To The Bank

Giving Credit to the Bank

On my way to work this morning, I stopped at the ATM machine and checked my balance, moved money between accounts, and got cash. So, what’s the big deal, millions of people do this every day; it’s just that I was not one of them, until I discovered Talking ATM’s at Bank of America.

I’d been dreaming of ATM’s that talked, because banking on the fly was out of the question. I could go, only, to the ATM at my (former) bank, push the buttons (as committed to memory), and pray that the machine would spit my requested currency out. Success was like hitting the jackpot!

Then, my dream came true. I learned that most ATM’s today are built to speak, some just are never given a voice. I was shown to the precious earphone jack, at the right of the keypad. Plugged my iPod earphones into the ATM and experienced euphoria!

It was so good, I couldn’t stop. Some mornings, I’d drop in at four or five banks on my way to work…looking for the earphone jack, seeing if they all would talk to me. I was rolling in cash, and racking up the ATM fees (a small price for freedom!).

The conclusion of my ATM Listening Tour: Bank of America, hands down the best in accessibility. (You know, accessibility is one of my favorite words, meaning easy to deal with.) ‘B of A’ definitely does that, and they even call it “Accessible Banking.” Their ATM’s were so consistently good, and their “red” Banking Centers, so easy to find; I, without hesitation, became a Bank of America customer.

I am, certainly, no Talking ATM expert, but an enthusiastic advocate, who recommends everyone give it a whirl. I think you’ll like it. I’ve heard Wells Fargo (now also Wachovia) does a good job. HSBC has the jacks, but, so far, no freedom of speech. People have told me that Chase has talkers, but they, for some reason, will not speak to me.

Go, take your ear buds, and try it. If it’s not available at your bank, ask why? By now they should all have voice, don’t you agree?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Simply Jitterbug

On more than one occasion, I have overheard a frustrated customer in a cell phone store asking for “an uncomplicated phone for sending and receiving calls, that’s all, no cameras, no music, just calls!” Well, have I got a phone for you! the Jitterbug cell phone was designed for simplicity and marketed to baby boomers (and their parents). I am told constantly how simple some electronic or tech device is to use – nine out of ten times, it’s not true. The Jitterbug’s simplicity, however, I can vouch for. This is a phone that really takes the angst out. This phone does come with a little something extra. Imagine calling the Jitterbug Operator for help in setting up your phone book and learning how to use the phone. No need to read pages and pages of a user’s manual to figure out the obvious, because all the features are obvious. The keypad is high contrast and very tactile. Voice dialing as easy as it gets. The screen is big and bright, and the phone book comes up in large, clean type. We’re not at all surprised that the Jitterbug is great for people who are visually impaired because that darling Jitterbug Operator is always standing by to get you where you want to go, with just the push of the O. This is a concept that I am wild about, wish I had a Jitterbug Operator for everything, don’t you? Jitterbug is not carried by any of the usual suspects; its service provider is Great Call Inc., Jitterbug’s parent company. You will not find Jitterbug everywhere, but you will find it here in the Lighthouse Store (111 East 60 Street, NYC Ph: (212)821-9687). It sells for $149 plus a one-time activation charge of $35 and service plans begin at $10. And I hear Jitterbug will soon make text messaging easy too. (You know you want to). Go ahead, take the step…simplify.

Does simplicity interest you?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In A Nano

Could not be more pleased that it is Apple’s “Vision” to so boldly embrace the concept of universal accessibility ….great for people who cannot see so good, better for everyone. In fact, their symbol for Universal Access, a figure with open arms, is clearly about inclusion. At this point, having an iPod is sort of like having a computer…you just do, and you may even have a couple. I received my first iPod, a gift, all set up and ready to go. I was taught (patiently) to navigate the menus which, for the most part, I could barely see. Having mastered the art of navigating in the dark, I happily joined the ranks of millions of iPod music lovers and audio book readers. And then, last September, enter the iPod nano (4th generation) with the life-changing option: spoken menus (and the very recent release of the iPod shuffle with voice over). This took me from happiness to heaven! Could literally find an artist, album, song in seconds --- click, scroll, click --- hearing what I don’t see, every step of the way. Actually, now it feels like I do see. I highly recommend the experience. Good for everyone, don’t you agree?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What's It All About

For a while, I have been collecting items in a virtual folder labeled “Easy On The Eyes,” which I often pull from and share with people I encounter everyday. Over the last few years, I have come to realize that this resource filed in my head has relevance that reaches far beyond the population of people, who like me, have a serious vision impairment, well into the general population.

Most of us experience the same degree of difficulty in reading the text on a cell phone screen, or a Blackberry, or an iPod (until recently). Who isn’t reaching for the readers and the pocket magnifiers?

Happy to report, these issues are not going unnoticed. More and more mainstream corporations and makers of widely used electronic and technology devices are stepping into the arena of accessibility (simply means making things easy to deal with). After all, who can ignore a market 100 million strong and growing?

I am delighted to have the opportunity to launch this blog, and share with you the many wonderful developments in ‘vision-friendly technology.’ A good many things that make life easier for me, I've learned about from others, word of mouth, and I am pleased to be able to pass it along. So here we go, blogging our way to many, many times the numbers that good old word-of-mouth can reach.

There is a lot to cover already…and so much to come. Great news like crossing over of the iPod nano and shuffle with voice over for spoken menus) and the Kindle 2’s six font sizes, text-to-speech option and (soon) a big screen version, over-the-counter cell phones with voice recognition and audio output, talking ATMs and Metro Card Vending machines; and how Disney is making theme parks accessible with descriptive narration and GPS, and how IBM sees personal technology developing in the near term. And, more, more, more, more!
Remember, the fact is, when it’s good for people with impaired vision, it’s actually better for everyone!