Saturday, November 27, 2010

Too Many Messages

There is TMI (Too Much Information) and then there is TMM (Too Many Messages). TMI is when someone shares with you a personal detail about themselves that you wish they hadn’t. TMM is when you have too many open channels on which messages are sent to you and you just can’t manage them all.

Have you noticed that messages do not get answered as swiftly as they used to --- if at all. Why are we experiencing more and more lost emails, unanswered voice mail, unread text messages? In an age of constant contact --- our connection often seems completely unreliable. How many times have you asked (or been asked) in an exasperated tone, “Did you get my message?!!”

We know that digital messages can destroy relationships and wreck careers. It seems they can also do a fair amount of damage when they are not retrieved. Even a nonresponse has the ability to conjure up devastating scenarios in our heads that may have no basis in fact whatsoever.

Did I send the message to the wrong person? Is she mad at me? Was it something I said? Did they find my message disturbing? Have I offended him?

It happens, messages slip through the cracks. I have 3 email addresses, 3 different voice mail accounts, and add on that text messages. This is probably pretty average these days. I don’t check everything every day and miss a message here and there and I have been especially negligent with my FaceBook and Twitter accounts. I apologize.

Obviously, we all need to learn to manage our messages more efficiently. In this environment it is no wonder people are not getting back to us. The lack of response to your message may not be personal at all – it’s probably just TMM.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Error Has Occured

On Tuesday morning, Election Day 2010, I walked the short block to my polling place to vote. I did not feel any of the nervous anticipation I had in the past and thought about writing a blog post titled,"I Love to Vote!" Unfortunately, my exuberance did not last as I attempted to place my vote using a very uncooperative BMD (Ballot Marking Device).

I guess my false sense of comfort in the accessible voting experience was built over the 3 previous elections in which I voted privately and independently using the BMD with minimal fanfare. In fact I was feeling rather smug about my “easy” method of voting since the City of New York switched to a system of paper ballots that have such tiny font size everyone is having trouble reading them.

When all goes well I sit at the BMD, plug in my earphones, choose my language, and push a button to adjust the sound. I listen to the choices for each contest, make my selections, and advance through contests and candidates, and press the selection button to cast my vote. Once I have voted all contests the BMD gives me the option to review my selections and mark the paper ballot that is inserted into the BMD.

Everyone else is standing at a funny little desk in bad light straining to mark their ballot with a pen.

This time things did not go quite so smoothly. Carmen the poll worker who bravely volunteered to help me get started had a bit of trouble figuring out where to insert the paper ballot. We were not off to a great start. Carmen leaned toward me and in a soft voice, as if she was giving me an inside tip, she said, “You know the best way to do this is just to mark the ballot with a pen.” I smiled and told her that if I were able to see the ballot I would not be putting her through this.

She now also needed assistance and she called for help from a colleague. Two heads are definitely better than one and together they found the flap that was hiding the slot to feed in the paper ballot.

With ballot inserted I plugged in earphones and started to proceed with my voting and waved to Carmen that I could take it from here. Once I got going it all came back and I was able to advance through all contests and place my votes in a relatively short period. After reviewing my choices I pressed the selection button one more time to mark my ballot. That is when I was stopped cold with a message from my BMD that said “An error has occurred. Contact your election official.”

Carmen and company came back and heavy consternation ensued, not quite sure even what the error message was trying to tell them. They pulled out the BMD instruction guide and decided to do what we all do when we don’t know what else to do with a temperamental computer --- shut down and reboot.

Carmen made another suggestion, “Do you think you could use the magnifier?” She was referring to a sheet of plastic, a weak magnifier, tethered to the “booth” where voters marked their ballot by hand. I answered, “Not unless it magnifies 10 times.”

I may have given up and forfeited right about here, were it not for the fact that it had been instilled in me, by both my parents, that you must exercise your right to vote. And, I could not get their voices out of my head.

We all persevered. The shut down and reboot took an extraordinarily long time and it felt as if the BMD was testing my resolve.

The next attempt was abruptly ended by another message from the BMD, it said, “The ballot you have inserted has already been marked.” Carmen wanted to argue with the machine, but I asked her please to just give me a new unmarked ballot. She agreed.

Another few minutes passed as they unregistered my corrupted ballot and reassigned a fresh one. I wondered if I was going to be there all morning.

The third try was the charm. I was back in the voting business, this time racing through the selecting and marking process. I pulled the marked ballot out of the BMD and held my breath as I approached the scanner. I hoped for the best and fed the ballot smoothly into the scanner and saw the American flag appear signaling my vote had been counted successfully!

I felt victorious and raised both hands in the air. I high fived Carmen and several of her colleagues and I headed for the door --- looking as if I had just won a contest myself!

Read my comment on the Wall Street Journal about the new voting system:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tandem Technology

On October 23 I rode in the Lighthouse’s Double Up 4 Vision Tandem Bike Event with my favorite Pilot Neil at the controls. He guided us briskly down the 3 mile track from 125th Street to 77th along the Hudson River on New York’s west side. Without concern for the road ahead I was completely absorbed by the beautiful scenery.

Neil, as if under the impression we were in a race, was busy speeding by our fellow tandem bikers. We got to the finish line way too fast and wanted to go back and start again. We wished for a 10 or 15K ride --- maybe next year.

The tandem bike is a fabulous piece of accessible technology and it reminds me that impaired vision should not prevent you from connecting with the things that bring you joy. Sometimes you just need a little help from your friends.

This event supports the work we do every day to help people get back to doing the things they love when affected by vision loss and we thank everyone for the very generous support that made this event a great success.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Technology Overload Syndrome

When it comes to learning new technology my advice is always --- one thing at a time. It is good sound advice, but even I cannot always take it. This booming technological world does not always allow me to be comfortable with my current “one thing” before dropping another right on my head.

I am the one who refuses (almost all) software updates because I cannot stand the thought of things changing place on a screen (that I already have trouble seeing). I do not get giddy when the newest version of anything is released, I get nervous. It does not keep me from wanting all the hottest newest things --- I just do best when they come in measured doses.

For the last several weeks I have been sometimes overwhelmed with too much new tech, most of which was not my choosing. It is not a good feeling when everything you need to do takes ten times longer than (the five times longer) it usually takes! Progress moves to a snail’s pace and the anxiety mounts.

It started out with a budget proposal in Microsoft Excel, a program I had not used to any great extent in years. Well it’s not like riding a bike, I can assure you. The last time I used Excel it was 6 versions ago and my computer screen was not quite so magnified back then. It was unrecognizable and quite difficult to navigate at 8 times larger than norm.

It’s a good thing I did not get too cozy with whatever Excel version I was on because the very next week my computer at work was upgraded to Microsoft Office 2010 and all hell broke loose, I mean we were practically leaping from the past into the present. It was a hard landing. Everything in the toolbars looks different --- the drop down lists I had so become accustomed to now look like a lot of cartoon icons I cannot identify. My comfort with Outlook and Word is under siege, but I am certainly not alone in this, all of my colleagues are also adjusting. My adaptation is a little different because when the screen is magnified 8x you can only zoom into about 1/8 of it at a time.

My challenges transitioning to Office 2010 were compounded by the prickly and often outright unfriendly nature of assistive technology. ZoomText (software) the lifeline to my PC which gives me the magnification and speech I need was undergoing its own issues adjusting to this new environment. Text was disappearing when magnified (too much) and the speech now had a funny accent and was mispronouncing every few words. Work was becoming hell -- proofreading a total bitch! Now everything was taking me 15 times longer.

While all this is going on I have to deal with fundraising for Double Up 4 Vision the tandem bike ride I am participating in to support the Lighthouse. I am participating in tomorrow to support the Lighthouse. It is to be set up online using a program by Convio which is not accessible to people using screen readers --- and not that accessible to anyone else either. Following two sessions guided step by step through the many, many steps required to register and start the fundraising process I discover there are two options for fundraising --- the easy way or the hard way. I choose to minimize the torture on this one and instead of using the complicated Convio system I simplify --- sending email notes with this link to my donation page:

To keep your brain healthy and sharp I know it is essential to keep learning, challenging, stretching your mind. But does it have to give you a headache?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Field is Growing

Today President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. I have referred to this bill as A Field of Dreams (posted on July 25, August 3) and it is safe to say this field is growing into a reality.

I love when two parties come together and agree on something very important to me --- and millions like me. Accessibility for all! Let's applaud our representatives in Washington for this one and let's embrace all that it promises to deliver.

Here's what I'm looking forward to:

  1. Required accessible onscreen cable television menus and program guides.
  2. Required accessible features for mobile devices.
  3. Required access to accessible Internet services built into mobile phones.
  4. Requires a clearinghouse of information on accessible products and services and public education and outreach.

I wonder if they can get those accessible cable TV menus up and running first --- I need to DVR Oprah!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Double Up 4 Vision

Dear Visitors,

I recently accepted the challenge to raise funds to support Lighthouse International by participating in Double Up 4 Vision, a tandem bike ride /walk on October 23rd in Manhattan.

For over a century, Lighthouse International has been helping people of all ages to overcome the challenges of vision loss. Through low vision exams, vision rehabilitation services, a preschool and a music school for the visually impaired and through career, academic and social services, Lighthouse helps clients maintain independence and gain the confidence and skills they need to achieve their potential.

Please help support me in this important fundraiser by contributing generously.

It is faster and easier than ever to support this great cause by making your tax-deductible donation online using the link below. If you would prefer, you can send your contribution to the address listed below.

Whatever you can give will help - it all adds up! I greatly appreciate your support and will keep you posted on my progress.

Dorrie Rush

To make a donation online,
visit my personal page and click on "Support Dorrie":

To mail in your donation,
please click here for the address.

To track my progress and see the donors list,
click here and scroll down to the bottom.

Want to know what Double Up 4 Vision is all about?
Click on the image below!
Click here to see what the Double Up 4 Vision event is all about

Friday, September 24, 2010

Video Inspiration

Click here to view video clips from our LITE Seminar on August 25 titled “iPad, iPhone, I Vote.” Check out all the videos and MP3s featuring Apple's built-in accessibility features, Zoom and Voice over!

More Videos:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Getting in Touch with iPad

I wrote this article to encourage people living with age related macula degeneration to get their hands on an iPad. I'm delighted to report that they are trying it and then they are buying it, and loving the iPad as much as I thought they would.

Published on AMD Alliance

There is a beautiful concept in technology today. It’s called universal access, and it’s on fire! This means that what’s good for one is good for all — it is the great equalizer. If you are visually impaired, like I am, and you wish you could use the same electronic devices everybody’s talking about, your time has come ...

Read the entire article on:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Voting Under the Magnifier

It appears that a lot of people voting in New York City’s Primary Elections today may be experiencing something all too familiar to me – the need for magnification. Apparently our new paper ballots are printed in font so small that just about everyone is having difficulty reading them.

Is this what we call progress? We moved from the ancient lever system of voting to a paper ballot that has to be marked with a pen while using a magnifier that is chained to the voting booth).

It's ironic, I am way ahead in this game. I relish my ability to cast a private and independent vote with the ballot marking device that allows me to listen to audio prompts and make my selection. Today it seems many people could benefit from this option. It

It's a clear cut case -- accessible technology is better for everyone!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Don't Give Up

This morning as I walked to work my iPod (in shuffle mode) played a Peter Gabriel song, “Don’t Give Up.” Its title seemed the perfect follow up message to our Lighthouse seminar ”iPad, iPhone, I Vote“ on Wednesday evening.

We focused on the universal accessibility in New York City’s new voting machines and in two of Apple’s most popular products. The turnout was impressive and the crowd was interested and enthused. I did however come to the realization that my own mostly joyous perspective on these technological developments was not shared by all.

I do understand those feelings, I’ve experienced them myself many times in relation to some of the assistive technology products I have encountered that I found extremely disappointing and obscenely expensive.

There is something so lovely and so inclusive about going to my local polling place and being able to cast my vote privately and independently. There is something glorious about texting from my iPhone and searching the web on my iPad – just like everyone else. The positives far outweigh the negatives, removing barriers vision impairment can create.

Of course there will be a poll worker who doesn’t know how to plug in the headphones. Don’t give up! There will be someone at the Apple Store who does not know that you can get One to One Training for the iPhone and iPad without the purchase of a Mac. Don’t give up. You would be surprised how you can turn a “no” into a “yes” – if you keep asking. Don’t give up.

Universal access is empowerment and the more we use it the better it will get. Don’t give up!

For more information on the seminar and links to some very useful references, click here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stump the Genius

A few days ago I encountered a little glitch when using the accessibility feature Voice Over in iPhone 4. Because I have had an exceptionally good experience with my Apple products, especially my iPhone 3GS, I just assumed I was once again playing “Stump the Genius.”

It’s a fun game, and it is not meant to make the Genius look bad. The game was launched in my head when I first ran into, and could not get out of, touch typing in the iPad, and again when I lost the “spoken menus” in both my iPod Nanos. Come to think of it, “Stump the Genius” always involves accessibility, and that is because it is a rare Genius that really knows Apple Accessibility.

So I’m trying to help a lovely friend get comfortable entering contacts with multiple phone numbers into her new iPhone 4. Yes, that would be the iPhone 4 I told her she just could not live without. We found it was not possible to enter multiple phone numbers while using Voice Over. Her husband, however, discovered that this feature did work just fine in Zoom.

Informed by my past experience (Just Genius) I have learned not to take no for an answer. I’m asking for the fix to a problem and never feel satisfied without a solution.

When we pulled up two stools at the Genius Bar, I was certain we would be walking out happy. It quickly became clear that our Genius was not aware of this iPhone 4 Voice Over problem. My friend looked at me and said proudly, “I think we’re teaching the Genius something he doesn’t know.” I smiled and shook my head in agreement. Still I was confident that he would figure it out.

After several consultations and a fair amount of searching their Geniuses explained why this was not working – something to do with database interaction that I did not understand. No cure yet available, the only way around the glitch, for a Voice Over user, was to input your multiple fields in contacts by computer and sync back to the phone.

Although it is never a win, I felt sure we had stumped the Genius. I was wrong.

I sent several email messages to the accessibility group at Apple, where I usually get the answers I’m looking for. This time I was not prepared for the polite acknowledgement I received quickly in response, it said politely, “This is a known issue that our engineers are looking into. Thanks for your feedback.”

I was very disappointed – not sure if I should continue to recommend the iPhone to people in need of Voice Over. And, not sure if I should upgrade my iPhone software and deal with this glitch. Would the benefits of the new version be worth the loss of this feature (temporarily)?
I haven’t quite made the decision, but I’m leaning toward the update. I asked a couple of iPhone Voice Over aficionados – and they seemed unfazed by this problem as they sang praises to new features like “Touch Typing” and the improved speed and ease. It may be a bit of a trade off – but still well worth the gains. We shall see.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Street Smart...Or Not

Something is happening in the streets of New York lately and it's probably happening in your town too. Have you noticed people fixated on the electronic device in their hand -- not noticing you at all?

At first I felt surely it was because I did not see them coming upon me, but then I realized they did not see me either. It has caused me many times to LOL, actually happy to know it is not my lack of sharp eye sight causing this near-miss. I bet this is happening to everyone. I mean Oprah did not establish the "No Phone Zone" for nothing. "Crack Berry" is not just a cute play on words. We are way too enamored with our wireless devices.

It’s funny because I have a slight advantage here – I can usually see the person buried in their iPhone before they see me. It’s another kind of vision impairment. The good news is – it’s correctable!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Field of Dreams Moves Forward

With an impressive vote of 348 to 23 last Monday, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (H.R. 3101), authored by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

This bill outlined in my post A Field of Dreams will potentially set the stage for universal access, and that means providing alternatives to visual access, namely audible access. So in this dream cable companies would make their program guides and selection menus accessible to people with impaired vision, and provide descriptive narration for programming. It would mandate mobile phone companies to make web browsers, text messaging, and e-mail on smart phones fully accessible, among other things.

Now it moves to the Senate, in a related bill, S.3304, the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act, introduced by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) and reported out by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Yes, it is ambitious and these are just a few first steps. God only knows what the legislation will look like when all is said and done, or how long it will take. But, I am a believer that it will come out right because the fact is these changes make telecommunications better for everyone!

Monday, August 2, 2010

iPad, iPhone, I Vote

You are invited to join us for a LITE Seminar:

iPad, iPhone, I Vote

Don’t miss this chance to bring yourself up-to-date on Universal Access. Learn from a panel of iPad and iPhone users about Apple's built in accessibility features, Zoom and Voice Over. Learn from NYC's Board of Elections about the new accessible voting machines - and try one out.
Date: Wednesday, August 25
Time: 6:00 - 7:30 pm
Location: Lighthouse International 111 East 59th Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues)NYC

Seating is limited! Please click here now to RSVP.

Lighthouse International

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Field of Dreams

During my time as a Development Officer at the Lighthouse, I began to hear a phrase that goes like this, “Technology levels the playing field for people who are visually impaired.” It was a pretty good sound bite, impressive to those unknowing. Unfortunately, it simply was not true. The field was totally out of whack.

Eight years later, I can say that the field is getting a little more level every day and tomorrow when the US Congress votes on, and passes, The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 (a.k.a. HR 3101), I will feel the earth move.

It seems a bit dreamy, but here is what H.R. 3101 proposes to do:

1. Restore and expand requirements for video description of television programs, in addition to requiring cable companies to make their program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss;

2. Mandate mobile phone companies to make web browsers, text messaging, and e-mail on smart phones fully accessible;

3. Require television distributors to ensure captioning of programs when also shown on the Internet;*Allow users of different forms of telecommunications relay services to connect with each other;

4. Require smart phones to be hearing aid compatible;

5. Ensure people with vision loss have access to emergency broadcast information;

6. Provide $10 million in funding each year for assistive technology for deaf-blind individuals;

7. Improve enforcement of disability accessibility communications complaints.

COAT (the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology), which Lighthouse International is a member, took the lead on this important legislative effort. I love a good coalition.

I am told, by a reliable source, that they have enough votes to pass this bill, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed anyway.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Testing 1, 2, 3

As I was preparing to record a podcast for the Macular Degeneration Support Group I was deep in the grips of the very subject I was speaking about --- Technophobia. There is a limit to the amount of new technology that I can deal with in any given timeframe, before I go over the edge. I was teetering.

I was told it was “easy” to set up and connect to the conferencing program that would record my podcast online. Sure -- it is. I listened, followed instructions, clicked here, and clicked there to no avail. Then I called in a good pair of eyes, and a better brain or two. Still it was not happening.

The stress was mounting, my neck was tense, heart racing, temperature soaring. No less than six people were involved when the discovery was made --- the microphone attached to my headphones was not working. And, that was the only headset with a microphone in the building.

It was hard to believe how difficult it could be to do something “easy.” I kept telling myself, “There has got to be a better way!”

The answer came to me when I pressed the home button on my phone to check the time. I could record this podcast with the Voice Memo app on my iPhone. Yes I can!

And, yes I did. Take a listen to my podcast “Facing Technophobia.”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Talk to Me (More)

My friend GM, (introduced in “No Comment”), sent several comments to me this week via email. He was responding to a post from a month ago titled “Talk to Me,” in which I was looking for some (hands-on) user experience with speech recognition programs that can operate a computer without sight, without a mouse, and without full use of the keyboard. The question was precipitated by another friend, Ben, who had been using an assistive technology program called “Guide” and was now hoping to find something better.

GM wrote:
“Dorrie, if the answer is anywhere it ought to be known at lighthouse.
Where should we look? Have you Googled it? Quizzed other Lighthouses? The AT community?”

My reply:
Yes GM, there you have it in a nutshell. If the answer was known at Lighthouse or Google, I would not be writing a post about the problem; I would be sharing the solution (with glee).

GM wrote:
“I asked around and got these replies;
Michael McCarty at APHB wrote: I know that with J-Say, one can speak to the computer and control it and use JAWS at the same time. I’ve heard of this being done, never have watched it myself, but folks say it does work. Only problem I know of is that the program is rather expensive.Ike Presley at AFB said much the same”

My reply:
Yes, I’ve heard as well, but this is an expensive solution (about $3,000) for someone trained in the use of JAWS screen reading software. For the rest of us, it is no solution, at all.
GM wrote:
”The VA is using Guide.”

My reply:
Well GM, this is what Oprah would call “a full circle moment.” We are right back where we started.

Thanks GM, lets’ not give up – one day soon when we are looking for something else – the answer will inevitably arrive.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Set Up

Figuring out how some electronic device works is not my idea of a good time. The sight of a User’s Guide or a Manual, gives me the willies. I could blame this shortcoming on my impaired vision, but to be perfectly honest, I was not any better at doing these things when my vision was a clear 20/20.

To avoid feeling like a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I have instituted a hard and fast rule – I do not buy electronics without making sure they are programmed and operational, before I leave the store.

From the smallest thing like the talking pedometer I bought and believed it was “easy” to set up just pull the tape to start the battery. I pulled the tape and the battery started, then I put it back in the package, where it sat for months, because I had no idea how to set it. Then I bit the bullet and invested 45 minutes figuring out how to set it up and clock my miles. Sadly, during its first excursion, the pedometer popped off my waist band and fell to the pavement, forever stopping the clock at 3.7 miles.

A “60 Minutes” report on CBS titled “Get Me the Geeks!” helped me to realize, I was not the only one having trouble. It was a relief to know that most of us were struggling for control over our technology, regardless of visual ability. Figuring out how to operate a new refrigerator, coffee maker, alarm clock, today can be problematic, “giving rise to the Geeks.”

I bought my last television at Best Buy and the Geek Squad set me up. I bought my last computer at the Apple Store and the Geniuses set me up. I had Mobile Me set up so my iPhone and iPad will wirelessly update and back up automatically, so the data and the settings will never be lost, even if the device is.

Same goes for watches, telephones, electric toothbrushes, and all kitchen appliances – I do not leave the store unless they are properly set up and fully operational. If I did not stick to this rule, many things would never leave their packages.

Recently, I had a momentary lapse and (foolishly) attempted to set up my iPad data plan with AT&T. I heard it was “easy.” Not for me. For one hour I grappled with the (not-so-accessible) form on the touch screen. It timed out twice and I had to start the excruciating process over again. Then I came to my senses, walked into the Apple Store, and in three minutes they had my 3G activated.

It’s not about you, and it’s not about me.

It is totally about The Set Up.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Just Genius

I must admit I have been spending quite a bit of time at the Genius Bar. It can be a happy hour, but no liquor is served. In fact, what I get at this bar is technical support with an Apple Genius. .

I don’t mess around, any more, when I can’t figure something out about my iPod, iPhone, iPad or iMac – I go straight to the Genius Bar and get the answer. Appointments are easy to schedule on line or in person and they’re even lined up to help you 24 hours a day at Apple Fifth Avenue. It’s an incredibly powerful (and priceless) perk that comes with the purchase of any Apple product.

My experience with the Geniuses has been very good. They are smart, and kind, and never judgmental. They are incredibly well trained and most of the time they are spot on with the answers. On the occasions they don’t know, they will consult with the literature and with their fellow Geniuses.

Although I generally chalk up my technology issues to my own, sometimes embarrassing ineptitude, I have come to realize the Geniuses are learning all the time too!

As good as they are there are some things about accessibility settings like Voice Over that they are learning right along with me. In fact, I’ve even had the chance to show a Genius a thing or two.

My nephew was showing a friend of his how the iPhone works with Voice Over. He returned the phone to me and asked how to turn back on the screen? I did not know you could turn it off. We shut down and rebooted, pressed all available buttons, the phone was fully operable, but no picture on the screen.

To the Genius Bar I went and they recommended restoring the settings. I agreed. The very next day I was talking with another iPhone user and he showed me the feature he loved most – the screen curtain. Three fingers tapped twice blacks out the screen in Voice Over; two more of the same taps bring it back. It was a lesson learned, just a day late.

During the first week of getting acquainted with my iPad (using Voice Over) I apparently performed a gesture on the iPad screen, unknowingly. As well versed as I am with the double tap and the split tap, suddenly my keyboard was responding to a single tap. It was strange and I did not understand how to type this way or how to get back to the double tap typing (now so comfortable).

Several Geniuses were consulted but we could not return my iPad two-tap typing. When all else failed they recommended “restore settings.” Not so fast, I decided to look further for the solution.

I sent an inquiry to someone who specializes in the development of these brilliant things and got back the answer. There is a new iPad accessibility option in Voice Over for touch typing. I accidentally turned this on with an inadvertent two fingered twist, which activates the ‘rotor,’ followed by a flick that switched mode to touch typing. In this mode you can touch type on the iPad keyboard (I admit I have yet to practice). You can also simply scroll the keyboard with one finger and lift it to type, when you hear the letter, number, or symbol you want. It takes some getting used to.

My most recent opportunity to give back came just a day ago. I have two iPod nanos that tragically lost their ability to speak the menus. Not sure how or why this happens and no one else I encountered seemed to know either. By now I do not take “restore” for an answer, so I reached out for a little insider information and I’m delighted to report my nanos are telling me everything I need to know, again.

I’m going to share this solution with the Genius Bar and with you too: Before you restore, try this: disable voice, sync, then re-enable voice and sync again. This should re-generate the spoken phrases for the contents of your nano. If that doesn't work, then you can certainly try restoring.

It worked!

There is a little genius in everyone – just dying to come out.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Talk to Me

I am often asked about “talking computers.” It took me a while before I understood the question was not so much about computers that talk to you (voice out) – but about computers you talk to (voice in).

The concept is pretty fabulous; just tell the computer what to do. Forget about the screen, and the keyboard you can’t see, and pay no attention to that pesky mouse. This is what we all want, isn’t it, to give a command and have it carried out?

It is voice recognition that allows us to tell our phones who to call, ask 411 to give us a number, get schedule and fare information for trains or buses. The Mac OS lets us use some voice commands, Windows has built in a speech recognition feature, and Dragon programs are perceived as pure magic. They all require serious set up, and if you have trouble reading the screen, or operating a computer, you won’t get very far.

There is one person I know – only one --who uses a computer strictly with speech recognition. His name is Ben. He is not able to see the screen and was not previously a computer user. Yes, pretty remarkable, I would agree. What he doesn’t have in visual acuity he compensates for with pure tenacity.

Ben explored the Mac, and the PC, and Dragon – only to learn that they were not solutions for Ben. He came across assistive, third-party software called Guide and with a LOT of help from his family and friends, he began using it successfully to dictate emails and get to some web pages.

While he’s been happy to join the email generation and take a peek into the World Wide Web, Guide is no nirvana. It possesses the key characteristics of assistive, third-party programs – very glitchy and very pricey.

Ben dictated an email to me yesterday, telling me that he is getting ready to replace his computer and wanted to know if there is anything new that would do a better job for him. He thought we should show Guide to Apple and perhaps we could inspire their developers, who have proven to be the best of the best, to build us a comprehensive program that is as accessible, and as simple to operate as Voice Control in the iPhone.

I told Ben everybody wants exactly what he wants, and we will get it…soon. I’m sure Apple, Microsoft, IBM and many, many others are working diligently to make our wishes come true. It’s just not quite ready…yet.

There must be someone else out there, other than Ben, who has successfully integrated accessible speech recognition into their computing.

Talk to me ---tell me what you know.

Friday, June 4, 2010

No Comment

For almost a year now, I’ve been engaged in a digital dialogue with a gentleman who goes by the initials “GM.” We began our conversation around the time I started to write this blog. He once commented, early on, in the “Comment” field, but generally he likes to comment via email.

GM was not pleased with my post last week titled, “The Easy Button,” in which I ask why the majority of comments about topics discussed on this blog come to me via email, instead of using the comment field (accessed right under the post being commented on).

Here is what he wrote…

“Dorrie, you blew it big time.

First, there is no obvious way to respond via comments. You have to mouse over the quote zero comments unquote link before it reveals itself as a link. Click on it and you are taken to the box.

Second, who wants to put up with all that registration business. I have a Google account but it never works the first time. An email is far easier than commenting to get through to you. It’s only disadvantage is not knowing that you read it.”

My reply to GM…

“This is why comments are so important…I learn something from you…and get to share with others.

Now that you mention it, the steps to submit a comment on my blog are not very clear. The first couple of times I tried it, it was rather confusing. Once I figured it out and posted a few times, I lost touch with the fact that everyone else may experience the same difficulty. And, come to think of it, I often have trouble myself, when I attempt to comment on another blog.

I’m going to see what I can do to improve this, but meanwhile let me give you the steps, below, to posting a comment. There is no registration necessary, you can comment as Anonymous, or simply put your name (or an alias) in the Name/URL box (No URL is necessary, just a name, any name will suffice).

To post comment:

1. Below blog post click “Comments”

2. Type message into comment box

3. Go to “Comment as” and select “Name/URL” from drop down box.

4. Enter name (real or nickname), click continue. Your email address will not publish.

5. Click “Post Comment.”

It’s really easier than it looks.

Thanks GM, I learned something – perhaps you did too!

The ongoing conversation with GM is exactly the conversation I hoped to have established by now on this blog. It just wound up happening mostly in my inbox.

When we use email to comment on a blog, it’s like whispering in someone’s ear. No more secrets --- let’s tell everyone the good (and not so good) stuff we know about accessible technology.

Many of you, like my friend GM, have great questions and thought-provoking comments. Why would we want to keep it to ourselves?

Go ahead --- put it in the comment box. No need to whisper in my ear.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Just Push the Button

On my desk sits the “Easy Button” – you know the one (from Staples). When pressed it says (with a touch of surprise in a kind of funny, raspy voice) --- “That, was easy!”

Most things can be done in one of two ways, the easy way or the hard way. Still we tend to default to the expectation that some things, like technology, have to be difficult, and then forget to look around for the easier approach.

Recently I have been seeing this phenomenon manifest itself in this very blog. The posts about experiences with my iPhone and iMac (and next, iPad) have generated interest from readers to do the same, and to contact me with an enthusiastic thank you, or a request for some more advice.

I am delighted to receive the comments and questions but wonder if they are missing their easy button.

The correspondence relating to my blog posts, almost all, comes to me via email. Now that is not the easy way, there is a box for your comment, right below the post. On the other hand, finding my email address, which must be searched around for, is a lot more trouble. Yet, nearly 100% of my correspondence comes in via the hard way.

I am also getting comments and queries about accessibility training for Apple products. My answer is “the easy way of course.” Sign up for One to One Training at the nearest Apple Retail Store. Any other way is the hard way. There is nothing better than one year of unlimited training sessions for $99. There has never been a better value, and there is no better training. They just make it easy.

Look no further, you are holding the button!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Can You Say CAPTCHA?

When I wrote a post titled “What’s Up with Visual ID?” a few weeks ago, I had no idea the appropriate technical term was CAPTCHA. I should have become suspicious when my Google search for Visual ID turned up almost nothing related to those squiggly distorted words and numbers that tell a computer you are a person.

Had I searched for CAPTCH, an acronym which roughly stands for “Completely Automated Public Test to Tell Computer and Humans Apart, I would have found a lot more dirt on this spam busting creation, including the whole CAPTCHAs history in Wikipedia.

Having the appropriate term did not change much about my understanding of these little enigmatic pieces of text that are practically impossible to identify if your vision is impaired, and even difficult to identify if it’s not. I was not surprised to learn that people in the business of accessible technology, at Google, Apple and Microsoft, harbor a deep dislike of the CAPTCHAs, as do I.

So, do me a favor, try a couple of CAPTCHAs on the live demo at reCAPTCHA…and try out the “audio challenge” while you’re there. What do you think? Have you seen, or heard, any better ways to prove you’re only a human.

I was surprised to read that some 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved every day.

Makes me wonder how many aren’t solved?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

App Happy

App Happy

As if Tap Happiness was not enough, my iPhone provides another seemingly endless stream of satisfaction – the App. At first, I’ll admit, all the icons on my iPhone were of little interest to me. The whole app conversation elevated my anxiety. I wanted to keep it simple, so I began by learning one application at a time.

No, I did not read the manual, in fact, it doesn’t come with one. I did it the easy way – One-to-One Training at the Apple store (on Fifth Avenue). They make the learning as good as the knowing. This is real empowerment!

App by app I began to see that making calls was just the tip of the iceberg. There are over 100,000 optional apps available for the iPhone, but much of my happiness, so far, has derived from the standard apps that Apple loads on every iPhone.

Contacts: The perpetual home for all of my contacts. It all goes into the iPhone: names, multiple phones and emails, addresses; and it’s synched to my computer, so I won’t ever have to start up a new phone book again.

Messages: For text messaging. Yes, I am a texter – did not even think it would appeal to me – but it does.

Camera: I can – take a picture, email, text it, or save it to my photos.

Weather: Love having the current weather and the forecast for home, and as many other cities as I wish.

Voice Memo: This is my big bonus, a voice recorder for reminders, instructions, meetings, interviews. I have recorded One-to-One Training and travel directions. It is both usable and useful.

Notes: This I totally love too. It’s simply a yellow-lined pad that you type notes into. I am a compulsive list maker (who was having a hell of a hard time reading her own scribble). Now I have all my multiple lists stored in the phone. At this moment, there is a list for Whole Foods, Target, Things to Discuss with My Sister, Books to Read, and naturally, the general To Do List. Notes can be emailed and are simple to create or delete. Editing I have not completely figured out, but I will.

Clock: World clock is the best reference – no more counting on fingers what time it is in Rome. There is an alarm clock with snooze, and a timer--all things I use.

Calculator: A fabulous, simple to use, talking calculator built right into my phone. I can figure 40% off at Bloomingdales, or divvy up a restaurant check among friends, in a matter of seconds. It’s one of those apps I use every single day.

iPod: The iPhone battery seems to have a life of its own and there is often no telling how long the charge will last, so I tend not to listen to music or read books on my phone. A One-to-One Trainer suggested creating a playlist of my favorite tunes, and I do use it from time to time on the treadmill, when I can plug into a charger.

Compass: I was in Chinatown shopping the produce markets, when I realized I was completely lost…no idea how to get back to Canal Street. I had ventured into unknown territory and could not read the street signs to get myself out. Then I remembered the compass and pulled out the iPhone and clicked on the compass and kept moving in the direction most north. I found my way back to Canal, got my bearings, and felt a little like Dora the Explorer.

All of these apps will talk to me with Voice Over, or they can be magnified with zoom. They can be used, equally as well, with whatever vision you have, or don’t have. Everybody gets these apps. Anybody can use them. That’s what I call Happy!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tap Happy

Since “Overcoming Techno-Crastination” I have become one happy tapper. Using the iPhone with Voice Over requires just a tiny bit more interaction – and I don’t mind at all. We give a double-tap to activate and a three finger swipe to advance a page, as opposed to the typical one finger touch or swipe.

I have been asked several times if it’s just too much tapping, a notion that makes me laugh out loud. Trust me on this one, there is no degree of difficulty in tapping twice.

There is actually a lot of flexibility, using the iPhone with Voice Over is not strict. For instance, one of my favorite discoveries is that once the icon of button has spoken – letting me know that I have touched on “Contacts” -- a double tap anywhere on the screen will open the list. No need to hit the exact icon or text box. This forgiveness is especially helpful on the keyboards, where landing a thumb on those tiny keys more than once, can be challenging.

It sounds like a lot more to do than it actually is, after a short while, I think the actions become imperceptible.

The voice that comes out of my iPhone does get some attention. It can be turned down low or off completely, or I can keep it private by having the buds in my ear.

I can be on an elevator or in line at Starbucks and my phone will announce an incoming caller, or read a text message. It’s a sound I love to hear.

Coming next…learn where all this tapping takes me.

Friday, April 30, 2010

What's Up With Visual ID?

Have you ever forgotten your password and been sent to the “Visual ID?”

Last week, for some reason, I was locked out of my Google Accounts. After a number of attempts and under pressure, I decided to go for the password reset.
Not the immediate solution I was hoping for, the reset sent me to the dreaded VID, a screening tool designed to tell a human from a machine to prevent malicious spamming.

I have trouble identifying the color of a car, and certainly could not accurately pick the perpetrator out in a lineup, so you can imagine the degree of difficulty encountered when asked to decipher letters and numbers twisted and curly-cued around each other.

Having experienced this exercise in futility before, I clicked on the “wheelchair” button. The wheelchair symbol is supposed to allow you to hear the ID audibly, if you cannot see it --- that makes perfectly good sense, right?

The audible ID was as incoherent as the VID. It sounded like an alien transmission from another frequency and I could not make this out any better than the visual.

Luckily, at the moment of near abandonment, a colleague with a good set of eyes arrived at my office door. I pulled him into this unfortunate mess of unintelligible sights and sounds. He said he had no idea what the audio was saying, and reluctantly took a shot at the letters, announcing in advance that he never gets these things right.

But, he got it right, and bingo, I was back in business.

I just want to know one thing…should it be this hard to prove that we are human?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Join the Conversation

Laurie Silbersweig is a wonderfully talented writer, a cherished colleague, and our meticulous Editorial Director at the Lighthouse. She supports and encourages me as I march, usually, against the parade. Through Laurie I have learned that a good editor is like a fashion stylist – always able to make you the best you can be.

In an article titled, “Join the Conversation on Dorrie’s Sight” (published in Shared Vision and posted on Laurie again pulls together her great gifts for writing, editing, and styling, to make me look good.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The iPad Speaks for Itself

“A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price.” That is how Apple describes its latest must have, the iPad. There is a lot more to this statement than meets the eye.

Apple’s magical revolution delivers, yet again, on Universal Access, and it just keeps getting better and better. Not only does the iPad make reading easy for people with seriously impaired vision, or no vision at all --- it makes reading easier for everyone!

You can make it your own with Zoom magnifying font to 40 pt., then turn the 10 inch screen to landscape and it gets even bigger. You can reverse the screen contrast to white-on-black, making it easy on the eyes. Or, just relax and listen with Voice Over.

If you do not see well, the iPad is equipped with all the features you want in an eBook reader. We need wait no longer for Amazon to deal with the shortcomings of its Kindle, although I’m sure they are scurrying to get it done now. That’s okay, that’s actually also good for everyone.

The fact that it looks like a big iPhone is a plus because I already know how to use it. On the bigger screen I can view (close up) many things I cannot see at all on my iPhone; photographs, movies, and TV. Email looks quite easy too, the key pad is jumbo.

And yes, the price is unbelievable, because it’s the same price for everyone. This is as it should be. Perhaps the days of obscenely priced, mediocre products in the assistive tech industry are coming to an end as well. Let the scurrying begin!

Add iPad to iPod, iPhone, Mac, and we are looking at a paradigm shift. Apple has reset the bar on accessibility and they are way ahead of the curve, addressing the needs of a huge demographic – the aging population.

Go to the nearest Apple store and see for yourself. I bet it makes you giddy!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Speed of Sigth

The Speed of Sight

Recently I received an email with questions pertaining to the “speed of sight”. There was a time, I believed, as many do, that just making print big enough for me to see would allow me to read much in the same manner I read small print. It doesn’t really work that way.

The Question:
Dorrie, as I understand it, you can see gigantic letters on screen and you use a speaking screen reader. What is the time difference for doing the same task? And, how much longer than for a sighted person? The same questions for Braille? I have never seen this discussed, but it must be significant.

My Answer:
I do magnify print to about 10X and I like a lot of speech with my giant words. At work, on a PC, I use assistive software called ZoomText. It is technically not a screen reader, but a text-to-speech engine. At home, I am now on the iMac, which does have a “screen reader” that I mix with big, big print.

It does take me longer to complete tasks that require reading, simply because, it’s complicated. The way I “see” is not fast or easy. My experience tells me that most reading-related activity takes me two or three times longer than it did pre-retinal degeneration, and reading a page in Newsweek, without a computer, could take me as long as 30 minutes.

I was never a speed-reader to begin with, so it would be unfair for me to completely blame bad eyes. It is certainly a major factor, and another major factor is how well I use the technology.

Reading giant words, without the speech option, would slow me down even more, tire me faster, and make comprehension very difficult.

I cannot speak to the experience of a person who is blind and uses a computer with screen reader and no visual access, or to that of a Braille reader.

Like most things, the speed of sight is very much dependent on the individual.

Friday, March 26, 2010

GPS Where Are You?

This week I attended a demonstration at Baruch College’s Computer Center for Visually Impaired People (CCVIP), titled: “GPS Solutions for Visually Impaired People.”

GPS is an intriguing topic, and it seems it would be a particularly important “solution” for people who can’t read the street signs. I often wish for the button I can push that will tell me exactly where I am.

In this day and age, it’s really not an unreasonable expectation. GPS, nowadays, makes an average driver into a brilliant navigator. You can even have your turn by turn directions delivered by the voice of Snoop Dogg, Ozzy Osbourne, or Homer Simpson.

The seminar was presented by a fabulous guy named Gus, who is a former colleague of mine at the Lighthouse, and now heads up the newly developed Demo Center at CCVIP. The audience was a good mix of people with varying visual acuities, looking for the GPS solution of their dreams...

Gus began his fair and balanced review of the Trekker Breeze by Humanware, with a video of his experience starting at Point A. Apparently, the user manual states that it could take up to 20 minutes for the device to figure out “where you are.” As he waited for the answer, Gus mused about how much easier, and quicker, it would be just to ask someone, and not wait for the GPS to figure it out.

The next issue was a biggie. The trekker will not allow you to enter your destination, Point B, unless you have already gone there with the device. Huh?

Through the rest of Gus’s video, (which will be linked here as soon as it is posted online) the Trekker Breeze delivered information at about 50% accuracy. I wondered could GPS be so successful in cars, if it was wrong half the time.

I asked the price of this device, and Gus replied, “$895.” Is that a rip-off? Yes, I believe it is. I understand that this device is known to not perform well in cities with tall buildings. So why do they sell it to visually impaired people who live in cities (with tall buildings)?

Funny thing though, the audience did not seem nearly as appalled by these facts as I did. Could it be that phenomenon I’ve witness before, where visually impaired people are just used to accepting mediocre products at obscenely high prices? They even pointed out the places where the Trekker seemed to work best, for instance in a cab or a bus. Huh?

Gus, whose good nature prevailed, finished his presentation by mentioning several other GPS devices which were of questionable value.

I recalled having experienced great GPS once. It was my nephew Evan giving me turn by turn directions, via my cell phone, taking me from the entrance of FAO Schwarz to the Lego (City Site) he had asked me to get him for his 10th birthday.

That's what I call -- a "solution!"

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Seven Year Itch

For seven years I’ve been in a dysfunctional relationship --- with my personal computer. Yesterday, in Apple Fifth Avenue, I ended it. No one was surprised. My dissatisfaction was obvious, really from the beginning.

I must admit I’ve had my eye on Mac, for a while. To further explore my feelings, I schedule a date with a personal shopper, who would totally focus on my needs. We looked at the iMac desktop with a 27 inch screen. It’s not just a nice computer; this is a work of art. Apple’s Personal Shopper demonstrated its “Universal Access” essential to my computer use. Zoom enlarged everything on the screen to a size I can see. Voice Over is available to read out loud, upon request. Voice Control will allow me to ask the computer to go to my favorite websites. All of these features, built into the operating system, at no extra charge. (My ex, PC, required a third party assistive software license, at a cost of $700­­).

My personal shopping appointment was not pressured; I had as much time as I needed. There was no heavy sales pitch, no empty promises, just amazing product and incredible customer service. How could I help, but fall in love?

I should have known my relationship, with my last PC, was not going to work. In order to get it at all, I had to hire an IT Guy, at $85 an hour, to order the computer, from Del, and to set it up. This was my first mistake. We did not communicate well, I did not understand him. He did not understand me!

It was a replacement, and upgrade, so it should have been an improvement. It was a better computer with a bigger monitor. But it just didn’t work for me…the chemistry was gone. The reason it lasted so long is because I used it, almost exclusively, for iTunes, until it could hold no more.

Apple made it so easy to make the move. They told me the simplest way to do it --- if you don’t mind schlepping --- is to bring your PC to the Apple Store and they will transfer your files into the iMac, at no additional charge.

That’s what I did. Yes, it could not have been easier. This morning, less than 24 hours later, they called to say my iMac is ready.

There are no guarantees for success in a relationship, but this one already has a lot going in its favor, including a year of One-to-One therapy – I mean Training.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Overcoming Techno-crastination

Sometimes I am a procrastinator, and sometimes I am a technophobe. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Procrastination is the putting off, and avoidance, of things you know you should (or must) do. Technophobia is, in my case, fear of letting go of the comfort of the old, and embracing the new, specifically: my iPhone.

Until last week, I was holding on to a decrepit old cell phone. The screen fell off regularly and collected dust and debris each time it was stuck back in place. I realize now that this was the first phone I have ever replaced before its death. It became my security blanket, when I did not turn its service off immediately, I told myself, “I’ll do it next week.”

Each next week ran into the next week. I was carrying around my beautiful new iPhone in one pocket, and the old, broken down, sad story in the other. It felt kind of safe.

Evan, my nephew (ten, soon eleven) would not allow me to continue my techno-crastination. He would ask to see the iPhone, and inquire as to whether I got rid of the “other” phone. I would tell him “next week.” Then, as if to say, “The blanky has got to go,” Evan said, “Dor, you just have to shut that old phone off.”

He was right, and I could hide my techno-crastination no longer. I turned off the old, and moved my mobile number to the iPhone.

Looking back at my blog post titled, "The iPhone Cometh," published in mid-July of last year, I became aware that I have been procrastinating for much longer than I realized. Three months, six months, eight months…but who’s counting?

Thanks for the nudge, Evan, I needed that!

Friday, March 5, 2010

If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

Things get messed up, accidentally, all the time. It’s like going from good to worse. Sometimes, the updated version just does not live up to its predecessor. I wonder how this happens, did the designers get too cocky, did they pay no attention to the detail in the follow-up version, and did they fail to test it on actual users?

In the case of accessible technology, it constantly amazes me how rarely it is tested on the end user. I believed that there was some sort of protocol that requires testing your product before releasing it to market. I have been told by a software designer that he tested a program for people with low vision --- on himself and on his wife. The fact that neither is visually impaired, a minor technicality.

It surprised me to learn that a large manufacturer of elevators for skyscrapers had tested the accessibility of their newest product on only one person with low vision, and one person with no vision. Now this is an elevator that can easily transport thousands of people each day only tested on two for impaired vision…is that enough?

This morning I encountered, yet another, obvious testing faux pas. It’s disappointing, to say the least, that my favorite talking ATM’s at Bank of America, have been updated, but not for the better.

At first, as is typical, I blamed myself. In Donald Norman’s “The Psychology of Every Day Things”, he confirms that most of us think it is our fault when things don’t function properly. Our automatic assumption is that we are the problem, not that bad design is the culprit.

After a number of months, I was just not adjusting to the new audio prompts. They didn’t flow, seemed like too many steps, and literally got frozen after getting a balance, or a transfer between accounts. The point of an ATM is to get money quick, right? Well, the new talking ATM gets stuck and beeps 53 times, while you are waiting for it to end the transaction. During the prolonged beeping, you can push Cancel, Clear, and every other button on the keypad, and it just keeps beeping and won’t stop until it has beeped 53 times.

I must ask Bank of America, how many people with impaired vision tested this baby?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Use Your Voice 2

I turned my TV on one night last week to settle in for an evening at the Olympics. As I pressed 4 on my remote, to change from NY1 to NBC, I heard a slight little “pop” and my picture was gone. Ugh! I held my breath, hoping it was just a temporary cable, or network, problem that would rectify itself.

I started changing channels, the cable guide at the bottom of the screen, which I can barely read with my nose pressed up against it, was changing to reflect that I was changing channels. The only thing on the screen was the channel guide – no picture, no sound. Ugh!

Lately, I’ve been noticing that many people are afraid of their TV. I’ve seen mothers completely freaked out by the sight of the clicker in the hands of their child, fearing one wrong touch of a button and the TV may be out for days. I’ve seen grown men cry when they accidentally knock the cable off line during a football game and have to call the cable company and have the nice lady walk them through the reconnect. I’ve been told by a friend, in her own home, that she did not know how to turn on “that TV”, then her husband came home and he couldn’t get it on either.

It’s hilarious…when it’s not happening to you.

So there I was turning the TV off and on, over and over, as if to purge the demons from it. When that did nothing, I turned the DVD player on and off a few times – for no good reason, really. Then I looked at the remote up close in my video magnifier, hoping to find a button labeled “fix it,” to no avail.

I had to break down and call the cable lady myself and I was not looking forward to chatting with her. She always asks questions beginning in “Can you see? Can you see the serial number on your cable box? Can you see the teeny tiny symbols in grey on your silver remote? Can you see the television…at all? Ugh.

As I dialed her number, I tried to visualize success, the way our Olympic athletes do. Keep your eye on the prize – TV on! My dread of the cable lady’s questions prompted me to choose the “automated system” for technical help (an option I almost never pick).

Once again, it reminded me how amazing voice recognition programs are when they work. This one, much to my surprise, was like magic. The automated voice never asked, “Can you see?” instead it somehow just took me through the steps one by one, asking a few questions, but mostly made it easy and pleasant to refresh my cable. No impatience, no emotion, no judgment – exactly what you want from a machine.

Within minutes I was reunited with Apolo Anton Ohno, thank goodness.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Use Your Voice

Voice (or speech) recognition, when it works, is a very beautiful thing. It’s all around us, more and more.

I regularly pay my American Express bill by phone (800-IPAY-AXP), verbally giving my account number and stating the amount I want to pay, and which account I would like it deducted from. I find it much easier than writing a check. Voila…bill paid.

The easiest way to get schedules and fares for the Metro North and Long Island Railroad is their telephone information lines. All you do is answer the “lady’s” questions: What station are you leaving from? Going to? When? She can’t yet sell you a ticket, or tell you what track, but she is getting smarter all the time.

I love Fandango for the movies (phone
800-FANDANG). It’s all there for the asking: Do you want to find a theater? Find a movie? Get show times? Buy tickets? I give my AMX number to Fandango, with my voice, and purchase the tickets. At the theater I swipe my card and the tickets are mine.

Could it be simpler? Maybe…but only if they could read my mind.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ground Control to Major Tom

I like to talk about technology. I claim no technical acumen; I am the voice of the purely average user. I do not speak, or understand, tech talk, but I do have tremendous respect for those who do. I just hope and pray they do not speak “geek” to me.

A good technology experience can put you over the moon, without requiring a degree in rocket science. I find no joy in tinkering or toiling over a computer or electronic device, and I know I’ve got trouble when I continually default to the ‘shut down and reboot’.

Last week I decided it was high time I deal with some chronic problems I was encountering with a very important computer program, critical to my work. I had been shutting down and rebooting for months, and felt empowered as I sent off an email to the support desk, anticipating that my problems would be magically corrected with the checking, or un-checking, of an obscure box or two.

The very prompt and polite response appeared to come from another planet, in a completely unfamiliar language. However, it did give me an answer to my problems: I’ll just continue to live with them.

Below, is just a portion, of the alien instructions I received…

“1. Click on the Start button
2. Click on Control Panel
3. If you are using Windows XP Category view click on Sounds, Speech and Audio Devices (if you are using Windows Classic view skip to step 4) 4. Click or Double Click if you skipped step 3) on Sounds and Audio Devices 5. Select the Audio tab 6. Make sure that "Use only default devices" is unchecked 7. Click the OK button

Look for a file called tts.ini. Its location is the following:
C:\\Program Files\\ZoomText 9.1. Open the file in notepad. Look for something in that file that looks like what I have below:


Kate 16k]
comment=NeoSpeech Kate - AiSquared engine
ENGINE_NAME=NeoSpeech English [Ai Squared (v2)] ENGINE_NAME_LOW=NeoSpeech English [Ai Squared (v2)] VOICE_NAME=Kate DESCRIPTION=

In the section that has the following: EnableOnlyDefinedTTS=0 change it to read this:


Then save the changes and do a reboot and then see if that helps.”


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Apple Takes Another Bite

The much anticipated introduction of the iPad clearly positions Apple to, once again, shift a culture or two.

As we anticipated the tablet’s introduction, there were so many questions: what does it do, how does it look, what is it called, what is the price? For me, there is one question that supersedes all others --- is it accessible? The answer is “YES!” The iPad did not disappoint.

This sets a precedent. While Apple has been quietly executing their seamless commitment to “Universal Access” for some time now, the iPad marks the move up, to first generation standard, for Voice Over and Zoom.

I say hooray! From the get-go, Apple is making their superstars accessible right out of the box for people with impaired vision. It’s big and bold and warm and embracing. It’s about inclusion; we don’t have to wait for years for someone to cobble together a “third party” solution that is mediocre, at best, and costs 4 times more than it’s worth.

And, as if this were not already enough goodness, I do believe the iPad will also answer my call for access in my last post titled “Make It So”) to Kindle menus and Digital Video Recording. Never mind. My wishes appear to be granted by iPad access to the iBook Store and to TV and movies, as well.

Ah yes, the sweet taste of progress.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Make It So

I spoke with a Microsoft executive last year about the inaccessible nature of Speech Recognition in Windows Vista. I was excited by the prospects presented by Microsoft – “You can dictate documents and emails in mainstream applications use voice commands to start and switch between applications, control the operating system, and even fill out forms on the Web.”

I expected it to work. Seemed like a natural for people with impaired vision. Unfortunately, it was not up to the task, and my friend at Microsoft told me that I was expecting “Star Trek Technology” and they were not quite there yet.

All I could think of were the words used by Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek, when commanding his crew to execute an order --- “Make it so!”
I know, we are not on the Starship Enterprise, but it is 2010 and there are a few things that cannot wait for the next generation:

Speech Recognition is still at the top of my list. I want an easy to access program built right into my computer. We can, after all, get movie tickets, conduct banking transactions, and pay our bills, at this point, just by speaking into the phone. Ford put Sync in cars to dial the phone or find our favorite music. It’s high time our computer can do the same.

The Kindle should make those menus talk!
In order to enjoy the text-to-speech feature, I must find the publication I want to read, but the print is not big enough, so I need it to speak. I can live with the Authors Guild restrictions, but I cannot use a Kindle without spoken menus.

Mobile phones should make their menus talk too! Not such a leap, if Apple could make it happen on a touch screen iPhone, it’s time to make it a build in option in all phones.

Give me access to the GPS that is apparently in mobile phones, at the touch of a button, I want to hear my exact location: You are on the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue at 24th Street.

The DVR (Digital Video Recorder) needs a voice as well. I want to DVR my favorite programs, like everyone else. Then again, will Web TV make the DVR mute?

I want to hear from the bar code scanners, too, in the grocery store, the drug store, the department store. It should just be standard…like the talking ATM.

Make it so.