Live Transcribe: People who are deaf can have conversations with those who are hearing using this app

A cartoon figure of person holding a takeaway cup with a phone app transcribing the speech of that person.

With just an Android phone, a deaf person or someone who is hard of hearing can have a conversation with anyone.  Live Transcribe is an app that types captions accurately in the language that’s being spoken. It’s powered by Google’s speech recognition technology and there are 70 languages to choose from.

Live Transcribe is easy to use, anywhere you have a Wi-Fi or network connection and it’s free to download.

The video below demonstrates how the app can be used.

According to Dr. Mohammad Objedat, Professor, Gallaudet University:

“Live Transcribe gives me a more flexible and efficient way to communicate with hearing people. I just love it, it really changed the way I solve my communication problem.”

And what’s next?

Google are currently working on the Live Relay project which aims to make phone calls easier for individuals who are deaf or non-speaking.

Live Relay uses on-device speech recognition and text-to-speech conversion to allow the phone to listen and speak on the users’ behalf while they type. By offering instant responses and predictive writing suggestions, Smart Reply and Smart Compose will help make typing fast enough to hold phone calls without any significant delays.  Follow @googleaccess for updates.

The good:  The captioning accuracy is excellent

The not so good: No offline option

The verdict:  Works really well, a valuable tool for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Mobile Device Accessibility: iOS and the Android Accessibility Suite

One aspect of modern technological life that might help us to keep some faith in humanity are the comprehensive assistive technologies that are built into, or free to download for mobile computing devices. Accessibility features, as they are loosely called, are a range of tools designed to support non-standard users of the technology. If you can’t see the screen very well you can magnify text and icons (1) or use high contrast (2). If you can’t see the screen at all you can have the content read back to you using a screen-reader (3). There are options to support touch input (4, 5) and options to use devices hands free (6). Finally there also some supports for deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) people like the ability to switch to mono audio or visual of haptic alternatives to audio based information.  

With their mobile operating system iOS Apple do accessibility REALLY well and this is reflected in the numbers. In the 2018 WebAim Survey of Low Vision users  there were over 3 times as many iOS users as Android users. That is almost the exact reverse of the general population (3 to 1 in favour of Android). For those with Motor Difficulties it was less significant but iOS was still favoured.

So what are Apple doing right? Well obviously, first and foremost, the credit would have to go to their developers and designers for producing such innovative and well implemented tools. But Google and other Android developers are also producing some great AT, often highlighting some noticeable gaps in iOS accessibility. Voice Access, EVA Facial Mouse and basic pointing device support are some examples, although these are gaps that will soon be filled if reports of coming features to iOS 13 are to be believed.

Rather than being just about the tools it is as much, if not more, about awareness of those tools: where to find them, how they work. In every Apple mobile device you go to Settings>General>Accessibility and you will have Vision (1, 2, 3), Interaction (4, 5, 6) and Hearing settings. I’m deliberately not naming these settings here so that you can play a little game with yourself and see if you know what they are. I suspect most readers of this blog will get 6 from 6, which should help make my point. You can check your answers at the bottom of the post 🙂 This was always the problem with Android devices. Where Apple iOS accessibility is like a tool belt, Android accessibility is like a big bag. There is probably more in there but you have to find it first. This isn’t Google’s fault, they make great accessibility features. It’s more a result of the open nature of Android. Apple make their own hardware and iOS is designed specifically for that hardware. It’s much more locked down. Android is an open operating system and as such it depends on the hardware manufactured how accessibility is implemented. This has been slowly improving in recent years but Google’s move to bundle all their accessibility features into the Android Accessibility Suite last year meant a huge leap forward in Android accessibility.

What’s in Android Accessibility Suite?

Accessibility Menu

Android OS Accessibility Suite Assistant Menu. An onscreen menu with large colourful buttons for features like, power, lock screen, volume
The figure highlighted in the bottom corner launches whatever Accessibility Suite tools you have active. If you have more than one a long press will allow you switch between tools.

Use this large on-screen menu to control gestures, hardware buttons, navigation, and more. A similar idea to Assistive Touch on iOS. If you are a Samsung Android user it is similar (but not as good in my opinion) as the Assistant Menu already built in.

Select to Speak

The select to speak tool when active on a webpage. large red button to stop speech. Arrow at left to extend menu, pause button

Select something on your screen or point your camera at an image to hear text spoken. This is a great feature for people with low vision or a literacy difficulty. It will read the text on screen when required without being always on like a screen reader. A similar feature was available inbuilt in Samsung devices before inexplicably disappearing with the last Android update. The “point your camera at an image to hear text spoken” claim had me intrigued. Optical Character Recognition like that found in Office Lens or SeeingAI built into the regular camera could be extremely useful. Unfortunately I have been unable to get this feature to work on my Samsung Galaxy A8. Even when selecting a headline in a newspaper I’m told “no text found at that location”.

Switch Access

cartoon hand activating a Blue2 switch. Android phone desktop with message icon highlighted

Interact with your Android device using one or more switches or a keyboard instead of the touch screen. Switch Access on Android has always been the poor cousin to Switch Control on iOS but is improving all the time.

TalkBack Screen Reader

Get spoken, audible, and vibration feedback as you use your device. Googles mobile screen reader has been around for a while, while apparently, like Switch Access it’s improving, I’ve yet to meet anybody who actually uses it full time.

So to summarise, as well as adding features that may have been missing on your particular “flavour” of Android, this suite standardises the accessibility experience and makes it more visible. Also another exciting aspect of these features being bundled in this way is their availability for media boxes. Android is a hugely popular OS for TV and entertainment but what is true of mobile device manufacturer is doubly so of Android Box manufacturers where it is still very much the Wild West. If you are in the market for an Android Box and Accessibility is important make sure it’s running Android Version 6 or later so you can install this suite and take advantage of these features.

Could you name the Apple iOS features?

  1. Zoom
  2. Display Accommodations or Increase Contrast   
  3. VoiceOver
  4. Assistive Touch
  5. Touch Accommodations
  6. Switch Control

Soundscape

A line drawing representing a user using directional cue guiding towards a set destination

Microsoft Soundscape is an app providing directional information and description of surroundings to Blind/Vision Impaired users through spatial 3D sound.

 

 

Link to Microsoft Soundscape webpage 

Using Open Street Mapping, a number of customisable features facilitate discovery and interaction with surroundings.

  • My Location – explore current location and direction of travel, nearby points of interest, street names and intersections.
  • Audio Beacon – a directional cue guiding towards a set destination.
  • Markers – tagging customisable locations, and allowing users to orient in relation to previously saved markers.
  • Additional function buttons to explore multiple points of interest “Around Me” or “Ahead of Me”.

Although not a Wayfinding app itself, Soundscape can be used in tandem with a navigational app, giving additional layers of information while still providing walking directions.

Personalisations within the app include an option to toggle between male or female voice and either metric or imperial units of distance measurement.

It must be noted that as the app relies on 3D sound, usage of stereo headphones is imperative.

My usage preference would be a Bluetooth Bone Conducting headset, ensuring that ambient sounds are not obstructed. The control buttons on the headset would also allow for hands-free access to toggle functions within the app. Potentially a useful tool to aid navigation for independent travel, Soundscape could allow me to reach frequently visited locations with better accuracy while informing me of surroundings in unfamiliar spaces.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Soundscape is not currently available to the Irish market, however, I eagerly await the release date.

Using 3 D Printing to make our Bloom Garden accessible to people with vision impairment

Enable Ireland’s Garden, ‘Beyond Boundaries’ was an award winner at Bloom in the Park this year. With a focus very much on Access for All, we wanted to see how we could make the garden more easily accessible to Bloom visitors with vision impairment. So we decided to make a tactile book with a small selection of the plants featured in the garden, printed using a 3 D Printer. Here are the results. We got a lot of really good feedback from visitors, and now the book is located in our Garden Centre in Sandymount, where customers can check it out for themselves.

What do you think of this idea? Have you used 3 D printing to enhance access to other services/facilities? We’d love to learn from your experience!

Tactile map of Bloom Garden

Tactile book cover with map of Enable Ireland Bloom Garden

Tactile Japanese Maple Leaf

Tactile Book: 3 D Print of Japanese Maple Leaf

3 D Print of Sacred Bamboo Leaf

Tactile Book: 3 D Print of Sacred Bamboo Leaf

3 D Print of Silver Birch Leaf

Tactile Book: 3 D Print of Sacred Bamboo Leaf

Global Accessibility Awareness Day – Apple Accessibility – Designed for everyone Videos

Today May 18th is Global Accessibility Awareness Day and to mark the occasion Apple have produced a series of 7 videos (also available with audio description) highlighting how their products are being used in innovative ways by people with disabilities. All the videos are available in a playlist here and I guarantee you, if you haven’t seen them and you are interested in accessibility and AT, it’ll be the best 15 minutes you have spent today! Okay the cynical among you will point out this is self promotion by Apple, a marketing exercise. Certainly on one level of course it is, they are a company and like any company their very existence depends on generating profit for their shareholders. These videos promote more than Apple however, they promote independence, creativity and inclusion through technology. Viewed in this light these videos will illustrate to people with disabilities how far technology has moved on in recent years and make them aware of the potential benefits to their own lives. Hopefully the knock on effect of this increased awareness will be increased demand. Demand these technologies people, it’s your right!

As far as a favorite video from this series goes, everyone will have their own. In terms of the technology on show, to me Todd “The Quadfather” below was possibly the most interesting.

This video showcases Apple’s HomeKit range of associated products and how they can be integrated with Siri.

My overall favorite video however is Patrick, musician, DJ and cooking enthusiast. Patrick’s video is an ode to independence and creativity. The technologies he illustrates are Logic Pro (Digital Audio Workstation software) with VoiceOver (Apple’s inbuilt screen-reader) and the object recognizer app TapTapSee which although has been around for several years now, is still an amazing use of technology. It’s Patrick’s personality that makes the video though, this guy is going places, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his own prime time TV show this time next year.

App Review: Be My Eyes for iPhone

 

So, first of all, I need to nail my colours to the mast here, so to speak: I’m a huge Apple fan. This is mainly because, since 2009, all of Apple’s products have come with built-in screenreading technology, which enables someone who is blind – such as myself – to interact with an iPhone completely independently.

 

In the last seven years, many, many apps have been developed for the specific use of blind users. I use a lot of these, which I might talk about in future posts, but today I’d like to mention one in particular – Be My Eyes:

www.bemyeyes.org

is an app which allows blind people to “borrow” the eyes of a sighted volunteer, through a live video chat system.

 

This app is very simple to use, is free on IOS (an Android version is still in the works), and means that, for me, I’m not always relying on the same people to help me.

 

Its uses are endless – because blind people might have scaled mountains and crossed the South Poll, but we still can’t read the expiry date on a packet of ham without help.

 

Since I discovered Be My Eyes three days ago, I’ve used it for everything from the trivial – making sure my outfit matched when I was going on a night out – to the more important – not mixing up cough syrup with another medicine.

 

For me, as for most people, independence is all about choices: I can struggle for the sake of pride, or I can seek a little help. Be My Eyes allows me to ask for that help without feeling self-conscious or like I’m asking the same people repeatedly.

 

So, whether you’re sighted and fancy a little volunteering , or you have a visual impairment and need to know when your milk is about to go off, then this is a really handy little app.

 

If

you’ve used this app, or have any other app recommendations, it’d be great to hear your thoughts!

 

Note: DO NOT GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION OVER THE APP

The Old with the New

Finger on Braille print
My name is Christina, I’m twenty-five, and I’ve been blind since birth. Being born three months early can mess with a person’s retinas.
To say that technology Is important to me would be a massive understatement – I honestly wouldn’t have been able to manage in mainstream education without it.

However, My favourite and most useful technological advance isn’t new –
It‘s actually over 200 years old. It’s Braille.

In case you’re wondering, Braille is a system of reading and writing used by many blind people the world over.  It’s made up of various combinations of a six-dot cells,
(think of the number six on a dice).

For me, Braille is my ink. Braille, Despite its age, has been built into new technology just like many other adaptations; For example, I’ve gone from using a Perkins Brailler, which is basically a typewriter with only six keys, to a Braille display, which converts the information on a computer screen into Braille (I’m not an engineer, so I don’t understand how that’s possible). You can even turn on a setting on an iPhone which allows you to type in Braille – that’s pretty good for a system that’s been around since 1809.

I’ve used Braille for everything since I was five – library books came through the door in big bags, like pizza delivery bags; they even had children’s magazines, which became teenage magazines. It didn’t matter that the title wasn’t exactly the same – the content was what mattered.

All through college, especially because I studied languages, Braille helped me hugely to learn spelling and grammar. If I want to remember something, I find the physical act of putting pen to paper, so to speak, helps me to memorise.

So to sum up, Braille is more important to me than all modern technology – because for me it’s part of every piece of modern technology.

Free and open source software

 

Free and open source software

Here is a nice guide put together by JISC in the UK.  It’s a guide of Free and open source software (FOSS).

Many FOSS tools can benefit learners and those with (or without!) a disabilities.  There are thousands of tools available.

On the guide the tools have been grouped by type so that they may be of benefit for specific purposes or needs.  For example Audio tools to enable you to record and/or listen to material or Display enhancement tools to need help with either displaying or working with text and graphics.

Before downloading any free and open source software we recommend keeping your computer secure using antivirus software.

JISC blog on FOSS

For other useful resources in Jisc see their blog page

Accessible presents for Christmas

toy carFinding accessible toys may at first may seem a difficult task. However there are various options from toys that are switch adapted to toys that are accessible by the nature of their design. The following information has been prepared by Enable Ireland’s National Assistive Technology Service to show some of the options and resources that you might want to consider.

The toys shown are not necessarily recommendations but simply a selection of items which may be of interest, particularly at times such as Christmas and birthdays, when presents are high on the list of priorities.

Download Accessible Apps Games and Toys in pdf (1.4MByte)

Roadshow for Assistive Technology and Low Vision Aids

Low vision aid

NCBI will be hosting its annual technology roadshow from the 22nd to the 24th of October in three locations around Ireland.  Suppliers of assistive technology and low vision aids as well as low tech aids for independent living will exhibit products that can be of aid to the vision impaired in the home, school and work environments.  It’s a good opportunity to see what is available.

Wednesday 22nd October – Wexford

Venue: Talbot Hotel (Slaney Suite),11.00 AM – 3.00 PM

Thursday 23rd October – Athlone

Venue: Shamrock Lodge Hotel, 11.00 AM – 3.00 PM

Friday 24th October- Dublin

Venue: NCBI – Drumcondra (Training Centre), 10.00 AM – 2.00 PM

Exhibitors:

Ash Technologies: http://www.ashlowvision.com

Enhanced Vision: http://www.enhancedvision.co.uk

Rehan Electronics: http://www.rehanelectronics.com

Sight and Sound: http://www.sightandsound.co.uk

VisionAid Technologies: http://www.visionaid.co.uk

Ultracane: http://www.ultracane.com