Welcome to another TAVIP newsletter, and I hope you have been able to enjoy some warm and sunny weather amidst the squalls and showers!
It has been a busy few months for TAVIP, with a number of trustees attending Sight Village in July, a well-attended Masterclass session on the BlindShell Classic 2 mobile phone, as well as our regular Tech Chat sessions and some interesting threads on the Discussion List. We also had some exciting news about the Sound without Sight project which we will say more about later.
We hope you enjoy the following updates, and do let us know if there is anything you would like us to cover in future. As always you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
As many of you will know, I am standing down as TAVIP Chairperson at the AGM in November, and if you might be interested in taking on the role do get in touch for an informal discussion or to find out more about what the role entails.
With kind Regards,
Jeff Bashton, Chair
Highlights from Sight Village 2023
By Dr Mike Townsend
The most prominent feature of Sight Village summer 2023 was “tactile graphics”.
ViewPlus were showcasing their 3D graphics braille embosser, HumanWare were overrun with interest in their Monarch tactile graphics display, and the Korean company DotSys were showing their DotTab tactile display.
I was very excited to get my hands on the Monarch Graphic Display on the HumanWare stand.
The desktop device has a 4800 dot display surrounded by a range of easily distinguishable controls. There is a separate braille line below the controls at the bottom which can be used for captions to the graphics. The dots are all equally spaced and are electo-mechanical and require one tenth the power compared to piezo-electric dots. The display is covered by a thin membrane for protection. This was a little disconcerting to begin with, but is easy to get used to. For the display of graphics, you must select from a pre-prepared Tactile Graphic Image Library. These images are developed by tactile graphics artists. A kind of embossing process then transfers the images to the Monarch. I really enjoyed looking at some pictures and maps. Rudimentary expansion (I could not say “zooming”) features, and scrolling is available. APH are developing the software and learning from users about the best ways to interact with tactiles. Information is available to the software regarding the location of fingers. So an intelligent method of position control when touching the display is possible. I would say there is quite a lot of work to do on the interface. I am a very experienced tactile graphics user, and I would hope that the research leads to a good intuitive interface.
Reading a book was an absolute pleasure. OK, Alice in Wonderland is not quite my bag, but the 10 line 32 cell display gave me a genuine braille reading experience — the best I have had compared to real paper! Autumn 2024 looks like the target for roll out to education in the US. The US government has provided substantial educational grants.
Representatives of the Korean company DotSys showed their DotPad. They supply the display for the Monarch. However, the DotPad is smaller with 2400 dots. The DotPad is a portable device which links to Apple iOS products. The Dot Image Processor technology uses AI to analyse images for immediate display. I enjoyed looking at a picture of TAVIP’S own Jeff Bashton taken with the iPad camera. The implementation of zooming and scrolling seemed to be more intuitive than with the Monarch. Although the braille page is smaller, reading was again a real pleasure! This is a product to watch. It will certainly be more affordable for users, and I think the software development will move forward rapidly using the iOS ecosystem. DotSys have come a long way since the Dot Watch!
ViewPlus make great embossers. Their stand-out feature is the variable height printing of the dots. This means that lines can be very bold or extremely fine. New at the exhibition was the Rogue, a medium level single-sided embosser. ViewPlus are developing a tactile coding system for colours. I am not sure if they have finalised it yet. For example, the pictures distributed at the exhibition contained a couple of different representations for red. They are using cartoon tactile pictures to encourage blind children to engage with tactiles. What a great idea! I am looking forward to using my tactile colouring book and braille coded crayons with my grandchildren!
Research carried out by Sydney University presented at Melbourne at the Australia New Zealand Round table and the ICEB meeting in 2008 suggests that if blind children are not introduced to tactile graphics while young, graphic processing part of the brain gets reused for other purposes. Many blind people do already have spacial processing issues. It can be hard to gain graphical perception later in life.
Where was Bristol Braille? Although the Canute has been around for a few years, the software and hardware probably need a refresh. The shiny new kids on the block may be more expensive, but the features are getting much more powerful.
I tried other products at Sight Village. The WeWalk cane is an add-on to a standard long cane. The cane is usually supplied with it. Sonic sensors detect objects ahead of you as you travel. The cane vibrates giving directional and distance information. The cane part can be used by itself. However, the system is integrated with an app for the iPhone. Using headphones, route and environmental information supplements the vibrations of the cane. I enjoyed walking around the exhibition with WeWalk and I didn’t collide for any people or objects. At around 500 pounds, it is a reasonably affordable option. It is not as responsive as the Laser Cane from Germany. That seems to cost around 2000 euros, and does not have the route and travel integration of an app.
A real surprise for me this year was on the HumanWare stand. What is the easiest way to read something? I use my iPhone, or a scanner attached to my Windows PC. “Hark”, no not an angel, is a very ease to use reading machine. You just turn it on, and place the item to read under the camera. OK, other OCR products do this. But I was astonished how quickly it started to read. It was almost instantaneous. It is a bit like the Abisee Eyepal. But it is much quicker and sleeker – not like the Eyepal that looked as if it were screwed together in a garage! The Hark costs around 1500 pounds and would look good in any home.
Sight and Sound have a number of Sight Village Savers which are still available for a limited period, including on their Envision glasses, the Hable One keyboard, HIMS Braille solutions, ViewPlus embossers, JAWS and Ruby products to name a few.
VisionAid have a number of products on special offer including the Orcam Read Smart, Onyx OCXR and Liberty Scholar 2.
Masterclass on the BlindShell Classic 2 mobile phone
The recent TAVIP Masterclass was hosted by Omar and Mo Iqbal from Taira Technology.
The BlindShell Classic 2 mobile phone is an easy-to-use 4G mobile phone (available in black or red). The phone is operated via the easy to feel, tactile physical keypad or by using your voice. Feedback is provided by the built-in synthetic screen reader, vibrations and additional acoustic signals/sounds. It does not have a touch screen. The buttons are very tactile and it is also suitable for those who are hard of hearing. It is an ideal upgrade for those people who are still using older mobile phones such as the Alto 2, or Nokia mobile phones with Talks.
You can watch the webinar by following the BlindShell Classic 2 YouTube Link.
If you would like more information about the phone, please go to: https://tairatech.com/products/blindshell-classic-2/
TechABreak 2023 update
The TechaBreak weekend will be at The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th November 2023. So far we have 37 people booked in for the weekend so it should be a really good event with plenty of time to socialise as well as catching up on the latest tech news. There is still limited availability so if you are interested in joining us please contact us no later than 7 August and we will check with the hotel what rooms are available.
Sound Without Sight
You may recall from an earlier newsletter that TAVIP is acting as a host for a project called Sound Without Sight which is being led by visually impaired musician Jay Pocknell.
Sound Without Sight is an online platform and community knowledge hub to support, promote, and connect blind and partially sighted musicians, sound engineers, and anyone with an interest in creating music. The platform showcases blind and partially sighted talent, highlights how accessibility barriers can be overcome, combines collective knowledge, and challenges stereotypes.
We’re delighted that Jay and the steering group have been successful securing two additional grants for the project; a second grant from the Elizabeth Eagle-Bott Memorial Fund to support content development, and a grant from the Youth Music Incubator Fund to support two paid internships in the music industry. If you are inspired by the project and would like to make a donation, here is the SWS GoFundMe page.
Member Biography by Stuart Foster
My name is Stuart Foster. I am 64 years old, I live with my wife in outer London and I have been totally blind since birth.
I went to school at the Royal School for the Blind in Liverpool, followed by Worcester Grammar School for boys. I then went to the University of Surrey, graduating with a degree in French in 1980. I then found employment at BT as a computer programmer, and stayed at BT till my retirement in 2017.
For the first seven years of my career at BT, I was a COBOL programmer, also using IDMS (a now defunct network database environment). I was then promoted to team leader, and managed a team of programmers till the late 90s. After this, I did a variety of software support and delivery roles, gaining some further promotions on the way. In retirement, I still love all things computing, and have taught myself Python and a little Linux.
Between 1980 and the mid 90s, I used a variety of bespoke assistive tech, ranging from Braille displays to terminals with speech designed specifically for the blind. When DOS PCS took over, I used one of the DOS screenreaders of the time, HAL. When BT moved to Windows, I started to use Window-eyes, and stuck with it till it was withdrawn. At the end of my career, I moved to JAWS and NVDA, and still use these on my PC. Now, at home, I have a PC running JAWS with a 40 cell Brailliant Braille display, which I use very regularly for pleasure and for admin.
I also have a scanner paired with OpenBook for reading print, as well as an iPhone with voiceover and a Smart Beetle Braille display. I use the iPhone for simple tasks on the Internet, but use the PC for anything more complex or where I want to get something done quickly.
I have a particular interest in navigation. I use Google Maps on my iPhone, and was also an avid Soundscape user till it was discontinued earlier this year. To replace Soundscape, I bought a StellarTrek. Though expensive, the Trek is very good, and can be used for reading documents and bar codes, as well as for navigation. I make extensive use of the Trek’s ability to allow you to move around a map virtually, as this is the nearest a blind person can get to looking at a map, and tactile maps are not readily available. I use my phone and the Trek together via Shokz bone-conduction headphones. These leave your ears free to hear the environment while delivering the output from the connected equipment over Bluetooth.
I have Amazon Echoes in the kitchen, which are great for setting timers when cooking, and also use talking scales from Cobolt Systems. I am always on the look-out for new developments that would be of assistance to me.
Article on Artificial Intelligence from World Services for the Blind
Everyone seems to be talking about the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to transform everyday life, and clearly there is huge potential to improve the lives and independence of visually impaired people. WSB recently hosted a webinar on AI with the founders of Be My Eyes, Envision and Ayes to find out how they thought that AI would enhance their current products, and also the results of early testing of AI enhancements.
Supporting people in education and work – New resources from TPT
TAVIP has always had a focus on the use of technology to improve the employment opportunities of visually impaired people. In 2021 we ran an Inclusive Employment Project which provided a broad range of employability support to a group of job seekers, and we are currently providing one to one training through our Technology for Work programme.
This year we have been exploring how we can support young visually impaired people to gain the necessary technology skills they need to be successful at college, university and as they progress towards work, and we have been in discussion with a number of charities to develop specific technology training programmes for this age group and we hope to share more details on these partnerships in due course.
As part of those discussions we met up with the Student Support Team at TPT. They have just launched significant new learning resources which address the most common technology issues and queries faced by the students they support.
Here are the links to those new resources:
An update on the future of Soundscape
We know that many of you were greatly disappointed to hear that Microsoft’s navigation app Soundscape was to be mothballed later this year. At Visionary’s Tech Forum a few weeks we heard from Kirsty McIntosh from the Scottish Tech Army who has been involved in an initiative to takeover development of the app with permission from Microsoft.
The project has been supported by a group of volunteers from PwC’s Cloud Computing team and a number of visually impaired expert users. You can read more about the Soundscape ecosystem project here and you can watch the presentation at the Visionary Tech Forum here.
Let’s hope it leads to the ongoing development of this really useful navigation app.
Discussion List Topics
By The Moderator Dr Mike Townsend
Here are a couple of interesting topics that have been discussed in the last month.
“When reading .pdf files in Acrobat Reader it usually works o.k. However, recently, it keeps opening Microsoft Edge when I click on a file and I do not seem to be able to find a way of stopping this. Perhaps someone could advise?”
You need to change the app which opens .pdf files.
Change default programs in Windows: Go to Start > Settings > Apps > Default apps.
To change the default app, you can do either of the following:
Set a default for a file type or link type in the search bar, enter the file type or link type you want, then select it from the list of results. You can choose which app can open that file or link type.”
However it seems that Edge takes over sometimes no matter what your default is. For instance, I have chrome set as default, but, newspapers open in Edge. I tried an app called edge deflector, but, even that didn’t stop it.
Alternatively try opening Adobe Acrobat and doing the following:
- Press Alt E for the Edit menu.
- Up-arrow to “Preferences and press Enter”.
- You will be on the “General” tab. Keep tabbing until you get to a button called “Set as my default PDF handler” and press that button.
- You may get the Windows User Account dialogue come up. If so Press Alt Y.
Then tab to OK and press Spacebar.
- You will be back in the “General” tab so finally tab to “OK” and press Spacebar.”
My Webbie Radio Player not working.
Someone said this might happen. Yesterday it was acting strangely, and this morning it’s even worse.
It had trouble getting the programme list on R4 and R4X. Then it started downloading and never seemed to finish. Yesterday I gave it 5 minutes to download, cancelled, then tried again… this time the prog started playing. But today, can’t even get to that stage.
Is it just me? Is it likely to be fixed? I know we’ve had trouble like this in the past and it’s been sorted in a week or two.
While it’s tempting to keep using Webbie as it’s a very easy interface, it seems to me that it’s worth either getting used to using a mobile device or getting your head round the website www.bbc.co.uk/sounds which looks quite accessible. Webbie is not being actively developed at all so potentially it could just stop working at any time.
I think we need to be clear about what is being referred to here.
There are 2 Webbie Radio apps.
There is the live stream app and the iPlayer app for listening again to past programs.
I have not used the Live app for ages but I expected this to fail with the recent withdrawal of the BBC mp3 internet streams.
However the Webbie BBC iPlayer app for listening again to programs is, I am glad to say, still working fine here. As incidentally is the Webbie BBC iPlayer TV app. This is all on Windows 11. Hopefully this will continue.
So that’s all for this edition
As always, if you have any suggestions for content in the next newsletter, a future Masterclass, or would like to send in your tech biography just drop us a line on email@example.com.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer!