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.