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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Learning Ally Audio Update Includes Background Audio Support



Learning Ally, a provider of audio books for the blind and dyslexic, recently updated their iOS app. The free apps allows Learning Ally members to listen to their audio books while on the go. The new update brings a valuable  new feature to the app. Now, the app allows users to listen to their audio books while using other apps at the same time, a feature commonly called background audio. The update provides a more consistent experience for users who have come to expect background audio support in all apps. With the update users can listen to an audio book while looking up information on the internet, reading a note page, or even responding to an occasional text message. Along with background audio support comes the ability to control playback using control center or a headphones with a remote. The update is available for free and is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. To take advantage of the app users must be members of Learning Ally. To learn more about Learning Ally click here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

iPad mini, Nexus 7, or Kindle Fire HDX: Which Tablet is Best for People with Dyslexia?



Over the past couple of weeks I have been lucky enough to review three of the most popular tablets- the iPad mini, the Nexus 7, and the Kindle Fire HXD. Instead of focusing on battery life, pixel density, and processor speed, I took a look at the features that would help people with dyslexia and other disabilities. All three tablets have some features that are perfect for dyslexics. To figure out which one is right for you, think about which features are most important to you as you read the reviews.
Overview:

When looking for a tablet for someone with dyslexia, there are a number of important factors that must be considered to make sure you get the features that are most important to the user, and get the best value for your needs. First, you want to consider what the tablet will be used for. Will it be used primarily for reading books and browsing the web, or will it be used to type documents, read email, and edit movies. 
Generally, for people with dyslexia, it is important that the tablet have built in text-to-speech with a high quality voice. All three of these tablets have text-to-speech, but the way text-to-speech is implemented is different from tablet to tablet. The iPad allows text-to-speech to be activated in a few taps when reading webpages and text in apps including Safari, Mail and many third party apps including The New York Times. The other tablets require a more time consuming process to activate text-to-speech in all apps.

Next, app quality and quantity is also an important consideration. Currently, the iPad is ahead in terms of app support, but the Nexus 7 is not too shabby in terms of third party app selection either. Apple's lead in terms of third party app selection continues to narrow. See the ecosystem and apps section below for more information about app selection. If the person with dyslexia uses Bookshare or Learning Ally, it is important to make sure that the tablet has apps to support those services. Bookshare is a service that provides accessible e-books for people with print disabilities and Learning Ally provides audio books – some with text - for people with print disabilities. Both the Nexus 7 and iPad mini have Bookshare and Learning Ally apps. The iPad does have better Bookshare support than the Nexus 7.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Apple Announces WWDC 2014: Will Accessibility Enhancements Take Center Stage Once Again?

picture of colorful Apple logo made from varying sized rounded squares

Apple announced that their World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) will take place from June 2nd - 6th in San Francisco, California. At the event, Apple will preview the future versions of iOS and OS X. It is unknown what these changes will entail, but if history is any indication Apple will preview iOS 8 and OS X 10.10. Consistently, over the past few years Apple has steadily improved the accessibility features of both iOS, which runs the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch and OS X, which runs on Mac computers. Last year with OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Apple added Switch Control, large text, VoiceOver enhancements, customizable closed captioning, and enhanced dictation. iOS 7 added Switch Control, improved Siri, and ability for developers to utilize system text-to-speech voices.

At WWDC 2012, Apple devoted precious time during their Keynote to detail improved accessibility features found in iOS 6. With millions of users any accessibility improvements can have a dramatic impact on many users. Hopefully, Apple can continue to improve their current accessibility options while continuing to insure that any possible future devices are also accessible to people with all abilities. For attendees, the venue is fully ADA compliant.

Stay tuned to the Assistive Technology Blog to learn all about how the WWDC 2014 announcements impact accessibility.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Voice Dream Reader Updated to Version 3.0: Read PDFs in Original Layout and More



Voice Dream Reader is an app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that supports people who prefer reading in different ways. Voice Dream can read documents from a number of sources with multiple high quality text-to-speech voices. Users can import PDFs, Word documents, text files, webpages, and even Bookshare books into the app. Once the text is loaded into the app you can listen to it using text-to-speech, highlight the text, search for a specific words or phrases, and get definitions for unknown words. Among many other uses, Voice Dream Reader is a terrific Bookshare book reader for students. Voice Dream also works very well with VoiceOver. Now, with newly released Voice Dream Reader version 3.0, new features have been added that makes the app even more useful.

Up until yesterday evening, Voice Dream only supported text. All images and formatting associated with a file were stripped away. With version 3.0 images and formatting within PDF files are retained. Now you can read a PDF in its original layout. Voice Dream still highlights each word as it is read aloud. It is easy to switch between layout view and text view depending on your preferences. Version 3.0 also includes more customization options. Users now have more control over the colors of the highlighting and spacing of the text. An improved web browser has been added that makes adding text from the web quicker and easier. New Ivona text-to-speech voices are also available for purchase in version 3.0.

With large PDF files page loading is slightly slow, but this problem only occur with very large files and does not effect text view performance.

In future updates image support maybe added for Bookshare books or other document types. I also hope iCloud sync will be added in a future update. At school I read my books on my iPhone and make new annotations, but when I get home and start reading on my iPad the annotations are stuck on the iPhone and I must search for the page that I left off on. iCloud sync would make this process much more seamless.

Voice Dream Reader is a must have app for iOS users with print disabilities or anyone who could benefit from reading with text-to-speech. Voice Dream Reader's well developed features make loading, reading, and annotating text easy. Knowing that the app has a developer that is open to feedback and actively developing new features is an added benefit. Voice Dream Reader costs $9.99 on the App Store. Click here to download the app. There is also a lite version of Voice Dream Reader that allows you to try it before you buy.

Click read more to view screenshots of Voice Dream Reader.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Apple Releases iOS 7.1 with Numerous Accessibility Tweaks


Today, Apple released iOS 7.1 with numerous accessibility improvements. While these features are not as exciting as the accessibility features added in major releases of iOS they still offer advantages for many users. Most of the improvements focus on making the new iOS interface easier to see for people with visual impairments. Turning on bold text now makes the keyboard, calculator, and in app icons bold in addition to text. A new option found under the accessibility menu allows users to turn on button shapes which makes it easier to distinguish text from buttons. In addition to limiting the parallax effect, reduce motion now limits multitasking animations and animations in the weather and messages apps. iOS 7.1 also allows users to darken colors used in apps to make them easier to view and increase the white point of the display to cut down on glare.

Button Shapes
iOS 7.1 also includes a number of VoiceOver bug fixes, but some are still present in iOS 7.1. In addition to accessibility improvements iOS 7.1 includes an important stability improvement that limits a crashing issue that was present in iOS 7. Among other improvements, Touch ID finger print scanning accuracy is also improved for iPhone 5s users.

Users can download iOS 7.1 by going to settings > general > software update.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Any Developer Can Now Integrate Fleksy's Accessible Keyboard Into Their iOS App



Fleksy is an alternative keyboard for mobile devices including smartphones, tablets, and even smart watches. Fleksy uses predictive software that will guess which word you meant to type even if you mistype every letter. As long as your close to the right letters Fleksy will be able to correctly guess which word you meant to type. This means you don't even have to look at the keyboard. If Fleksy does make a mistake you can easily swipe through alternative suggestions.

Currently, Apple does not officially support third party keyboards to replace the default keyboard on iOS, but developers can get around this limitation by building an alternative keyboard into their app. Today, Fleksy made it easy for developers to built the Fleksy keyboard into their app. The Fleksy keyboard is now available for any iOS developer who wants to include it in their app. This announcement is very exciting because if developers get on board it will give iOS users the choice of which keyboard to use.

Having Fleksy integrated in apps is also a positive for blind and visually users. Fleksy works well with VoiceOver and because Fleksy is so good at predicting which word you are trying to type being able to see the keyboard is not as important. The Fleksy keyboard is much quicker and easier to type on then the default iOS keyboard especially for VoiceOver users.

Unlike Android were you can download Fleksy and use it will all of you favorite apps, each iOS developer will have to build in support for the keyboard. Hopefully, now that Fleksy is available for all iOS developer Fleksy will become ubiquitous on iOS. If you would like to see Fleksy integrated into one of your favorite apps you could contact the developer and ask for Fleksy integration.

To try out Fleksy download the app for iOS or Android. Fleksy is currently available in select apps such as Launch Center Pro. Click read more below to view images and videos of Fleksy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Launch Center Pro: Speed Up Common Actions on iOS Devices



blue icon with rocket ship in the middleLaunch Center Pro is an app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that allows users to launch apps and simple tasks directly from the app. Instead of launching Safari, navigating to the search site, and typing in your search, for instance, Launch Center Pro lets you directly search Google or Wikipedia; Launch Center Pro also can be configured  by users to set up group email, instead of having to type in the email address of each recipient.

Launch Center Pro uses a simple interface to make it easy to simplify some of your common actions and launch them quickly. I frequently text my sister "where are you?" Instead of launching the Messages app, finding my sister's contact, and then typing the message, I created a Launch Center Pro action that sends a text to my sister saying, "where are you?" Now, when I want to text my sister, I just touch the icon for this action and a text saying "where are you?" is on its way to my sister.
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Creating actions is easy with the built in action composer which gives users the ability to pick pre-made actions for apps they already have installed on their device. The action composer also allows users to customize the icon of the action to make it easier to find.

Launch Center Pro works with a number of apps, but support for more useful actions among third party apps is hit or miss. Some apps such as Prizmo integrate very well with the app allowing you to easily launch actions, but other apps such as Nike+ Running can be opened, but not further interacted with. It would be nice to be able to start a new run in Nike+ via Launch Center, but actions like that requires the developer to build special support for Launch Center Pro into their apps. Click here to view a list of the apps currently supporting Launch Center Pro.

I see Launch Center Pro as a great app for first time iOS users, and other individuals who struggle performing sequential functions. Launch Center Pro can make it easier for first time iOS users learn to use their devices. Instead of learning how to search Google, Wikipedia, Yelp, and Google Maps individually a simple search menu could be made with quick links to search all those services. In terms of accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, Launch Center Pro works well with VoiceOver and supports the Fleksy keyboard which is accessible.

Launch Center Pro costs $4.99 for the iPhone version and $7.99 for the iPad version. Click here to view the app for iPhone and click here to view the app for iPad. Click read more below to view screen shots of Launch Center Pro in action.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What's on my iPad? Assistive Apps I Use as a Dyslexic Student



As a dyslexic high school student my iPad, with a number of assistive apps, has become a very valuable tool. With my iPad I can read and fill out a PDF using text-to-speech, read a book with Voice Dream Reader, or map out my ideas with Inspiration Maps. The iPad mini is a perfect size for my needs allowing me to read sitting up, or reclining comfortably while listening to a book. Before I got the iPad I would either be tied to a computer to read using text-to-speech, or reading on the tiny screen of my iPhone. Here's a list of my favorite iPad apps and how I use them to help me both in and out of the classroom.


Voice Dream Reader is a text-to-speech reading app that allows users to read a wide variety of files through the app. The app includes the ability to buy very high quality text-to-speech voices for use with the app. Voice Dream Reader allows you to highlight  important parts of a passage as you read along.. One of my favorite features is the ability to download and read Bookshare books from within the app. Currently  Voice Dream Reader does not support  Bookshare books with images, but hopefully will add that feature in the near future. In all Voice Dream Reader is a must have for anyone who prefers reading with text-to-speech.

Click here to read a full review of Voice Dream Reader.


Read2Go is another app for reading Bookshare books. Bookshare provides accessible digital books to members. Using Read2Go users to keep their books at their finger tips all the time. The app has a choice of two text-to-speech voices. While Read2Go does not have as many features as Voice Dream Reader the support it has for books with images is a plus.

Click here to read more about Read2Go.


The free Learning Ally Audio app allows Learning Ally members to download and listen to their audio books on the go. The app has useful features such as bookmarking and playback is easy to control and customize. Learning Ally is starting to add digital text to some of their books so users can follow along with the text while listening to the human narrated audio book.

Click here for more information about Learning Ally Audio app.

Click read more below to learn about many more great apps.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Google Smart Contacts May Help Monitor Blood Sugar in the Future


Google is rapidly developing new wearable technologies. Google's first attempt at wearable technology, Google Glass, has attracted a lot of press attention, but is still not available on the mass market. They also cost $1,500. Google's next foray into wearable technology maybe less flashy and less expensive, but may have a greater assistive technology impact.

Google's smart contact will sit on the eye like conventional contacts, but do much more. Google's initial idea is to measure blood sugar in tears for diabetics with electronics integrated into the contact. Instead of drawing blood to monitor blood sugar Google's smart contact would analyze blood sugar within tears. This system would eliminate or reduce painful finger pricks and also allow for more frequent testing. A small LED light inside the contact would then illuminate different colors depending on the blood sugar reading.

While this technology is still in development the idea is very exciting. If smart contacts could benefit diabetics maybe Google can adapt them to benefit people with other disabilities or conditions. Could a contact detect sound and give a visual notification to a deaf user? Imagine this, a smart contact for the deaf senses volume of sound and direction and notifies the user. A loud sound off towards a user's right side would illuminate the right LED very brightly while a soft sound off towards a user's left would dimly illuminate the left LED. While Google has only confirmed smart contacts are in testing for blood sugar testing it is exciting to think about the possibilities five or ten years down the line. Hopefully smart contacts for blood sugar monitoring will reach the market sooner than later and will assist people with diabetes.

Click read more to view a short video about Google smart contacts.

Microsoft and GW Micro Team Up to Offer Window-Eyes Free to Office Users


GW Micro, the makers of the Window-Eyes screen reader, has teamed up with technology giant Microsoft to offer Windows-Eyes to Microsoft Office 2010 and newer users for free. Windows-Eyes can read elements on the screen aloud allowing the blind, low-vision, and print disabled to have full access to their Windows PC. Window-Eyes can also output on-screen content to a Braille display for users who prefer Braille. This new partnership will increase the affordability of Window-Eyes and allow more people to benefit from its features. Window-Eyes normally costs almost $900 while Microsoft Office costs far less. GW Micro and Microsoft believe this new partnership will allow millions of new users to access their computers using Window-Eyes. Rob Sinclair, Microsoft's Chief Accessibility Officer says the following about this new program,
"By partnering with GW Micro in this endeavor we are demonstrating Microsoft's onging commitment to provide all of our customers with the technology and tools to help each person be productive in both their work and personal lives."
This announcement is very significant in the world of assistive technology. This deal will allow millions of users to increase the usability of their computers for free if they already own Microsoft Office. Owners of Microsoft Office 2010 or higher can download Window-Eyes by visiting WindowEyesForOffice.com and following the instructions on screen.