In this newsletter we cover among other things Sight Village and TechABreak, a re-cap on the recent Masterclass delivered by Peter Bosher, and a review of the SensePlayer from HIMS.
Alongside TAVIP duties I have completed training with my new guide dog, Isca, which has gone reasonably smoothly. I had an interesting discussion with a colleague about the pro and cons of canine versus gps navigation. At the moment, I wouldn’t want to be without either, but it will be interesting whether developments in AI and navigation apps eventually changes my view on this!?
Anyway – now that we have some summer weather I am looking forward to walks in the dry! Wading through an underpass with a blocked drain is not ideal when training with a dog!
Regards for now,
Sight Village 2023
The TAVIP Team are looking forward to having a stand at Sight Village Central in Birmingham on 17th and 18th July 2023.
If you are coming to the event please come by the stand for a chat, to find out more about what we are doing and to give us your suggestions.
On the Monday evening, we will join the Braillists for a get together in a nearby pub. Check the Discussion List for exact details of this “Tech chat live”. It will be great to meet with you especially after a trek around the exhibition.
The full address of the new venue & hotel is Eastside Rooms, 2 Woodcock Street, Birmingham, B7 4BL. Doors will open at 10am on Monday 17th July until 4pm, and 9.30am on Tuesday 18th July until 3pm. As always, it is free entry however, the organisers ask that you pre-register your attendance to help them plan the event on the Sight Village Page.
Look forward to seeing you there. Dr Mike Townsend.
We are delighted to have received sufficient bookings to go ahead with the TechABreak at The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th November 2023. The Hotel is willing to make some additional rooms available for the event although they will now require the full fee on booking. It would be lovely to meet up with you so do consider coming along.
This year our ever popular conference programme will include presentations on the much requested topics of Accessible Smart TVs and Braille displays. We’ll also be looking at the benefits of Artificial Intelligence and delving into the Mastodon social media platform. Our showcase and exhibition will once again give you the opportunity to get hands on the latest offerings from equipment suppliers. We’ll also be there to answer questions in our Tech Surgery. Above all, it’s also a great opportunity to catch up with fellow members and discuss the latest tech.
The cost for the event is £250 for a single and £420 for a double or twin room. Booking is available via our website on this TechABreak Page.
If you have any questions or would just like to find out more about the event, please don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Mike Townsend at email@example.com or mobile on 07967 658 028.
Funding for Training
As we mentioned in the last newsletter, we have grant funding to provide five hours of one to one training to people needing support on technology used within the workplace. This is tailored to people’s needs, but typically covers the use of access features or screen reader software with Outlook, Word, Powerpoint, zoom or web browsers.
We also have a Scholarship Fund which will contribute towards the cost of an accredited course on software development, networking or other aspects of IT.
People interested in either scheme can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recruitment of TAVIP Chair
As mentioned in the last newsletter, we are recruiting for a new Chairperson to takeover at the AGM in November. If you are interested and would like to find out more, you can find further details of the chair recruitment here.
TAVIP Masterclass on Making Sound recordings – a recap
Many thanks to Peter Bosher, a TAVIP member and trustee, for delivering an excellent Masterclass session on 10 May, which was attended by around thirty-five members.
It was wide-ranging session to give an introduction and overview to the topic of sound editing. In the first half Peter explained the different ways of capturing sound, either using specialist handheld recorders or phones with built-in mics. This led on to audio interfaces, the devices which link the sound source to a computer, and the software used to edit the resulting files.
The second half of the session was open for questions and discussion, and covered topics such as scripts and add-ons for using programmes like GoldWave, SoundForge, Reaper, Logic and ProTools with screenreaders. As there was particular interest in GoldWave, we are making available a very useful and comprehensive set of notes written by David Reay, who gave a seminar about using GoldWave some years ago.
For a fuller summary of the session, an audio recording of the session and the GoldWave document go to sound editing page on the TAVIP website and you are welcome to email Peter with any specific queries following from the session (email@example.com).
We will share details of the next Masterclass in the next few weeks.
Member Profile – Sheila Armstrong
I have been a member of TAVIP for many years but I didn’t get involved with computers because of interest in how they work, but through a desire to see them used to do tasks more efficiently. It all started when Dr Mike Townsend called us all together at Torch Trust to explain how we would now be moving from producing braille and giant print by manual methods to using computers. My heart sank at the mention of computers but not wishing to stand in the way of progress, I assured Mike that I would carefully proofread all the braille coming off the computer process but not actually use the things myself. That idea lasted no longer than the time it took me to read the first couple of lines of braille coming off the new system. I would definitely need to understand how it worked and how it could be made to produce accurate, well laid out braille. So I dragged myself into the world of computers, almost literally kicking and screaming.
Like so many others entering this strange new world, I’ve had my share of frustrations, making bad mistakes, but also triumphs when I’ve seen tasks that would have taken weeks, even years in some transcription cases, rattling through at breakneck speed as the computer does so much of the heavy lifting. I am keen that as many blind and partially sighted people as possible be enabled to benefit from today’s technology, especially those who, like me, may at first feel daunted by its use.
During my employment at Torch trust, I did some editorial work, organising of volunteers for braille and large print transcription, headed up the Torch Trust help desk and, finally, produced a 30-minute Sunday Reflections programme for RNIB Connect radio and podcast. For this last job, I needed to know how to edit sound files. I received training in the use of Audacity, a free sound file editor. What a difference there was in my approach to that training. I embraced it eagerly, as it freed me up to transfer what was in my head into the final programme.
Now that I have retired, I can give some time to volunteering for Torch Trust, TAVIP and for our local Guide Dogs group. I’m often seen around town or in our lovely Market Harborough park with my fox-red retriever guide dog Peach, who is an absolute delight both to me and to my partially sighted husband Robert. As I write this, Robert’s upstairs on his Mac, but I’m sticking with NVDA and Windows. I’m very excited about the possibilities for blind and partially sighted people as chatbots become more and more of a thing and I’ve registered to be a beta tester of an upcoming AI chatbot feature in the app ‘Be My Eyes’. Where, indeed, will we find ourselves in the next few years as technology advances?
If you would like to share your own journey with technology, or details of your current IT setup at work or at home, send up to 500 words for the next newsletter to firstname.lastname@example.org
SensePlayer – a revolutionary product or same old blindness product?
An overview by Paul Porter
The SensePlayer is the latest audio player from HIMS who have been producing specialist devices for more than 20 years.
The SensePlayer is available in two versions. Both have audio and text reading functions and the SensePlayer OCR also includes a camera. Both devices look and feel the same with the addition of the camera on the back of the OCR version.
The player is controlled with tactile buttons and has a replaceable battery.
The SensePlayer includes the following functions:
1) File Manager: Explore, manage and play files and folders on the SensePlayer.
2) Media Player: Play audio files such as MP3 and WAV, as well as the audio of video formats such as MP4.
3) DAISY Player: Use this program to play DAISY text and audio books.
4) Document reader: Use this program to play various document file types, including, text files as well as EPUB, PDF, HTML, and Microsoft Word files.
5) FM Radio: Use this program to listen to FM Radio stations.
6) Web Radio: Use this program to listen to web radio stations from around the world.
7) Podcasts: Use this program to search for, subscribe to, download and play podcasts.
8) Library Services: Opens a menu containing available search and download applications for electronic libraries for the blind supported in the country in which you live.
9) Utilities: Opens the Utilities menu, which contains recordings playback, Calculator and Memo programs, the Alarm and Sleep Timer, and items related to upgrading and disk management on the SensePlayer.
10) Settings: Opens a menu containing options for installing and choosing your Guide Voice, recording, Wireless and Bluetooth, and other general and global settings.
The SensePlayer has Bluetooth for connecting to headsets and wi-fi for connecting to Internet Radio and other sources. It also has a 3.5mm headphone socket not found on many new smartphones. The SensePlayer is charged through a USB-C port. This port can also be used to connect external devices such as storage drives, microphones etc.
Access to the RNIB Reading Services library will be provided in a software update when available.
Looking at the functionality of the SensePlayer you might be forgiven for thinking that all these functions can be carried out on a smartphone or tablet with suitable apps. Whilst this is indeed true, I like the user experience and can very quickly, for example, move between different internet radio streams or audio content on the device.
One function that I think makes the SensePlayer a revolutionary product is the Smart Connect feature. This feature uses Bluetooth to connect to an iPhone or iPAD, Android devices or a BrailleSense product also manufactured by HIMS. The Smart Connect function enables you to control your device from the SensePlayer by using the buttons on the SensePlayer. Most of the functions of your device can be controlled from the SensePlayer.
The SensePlayer promises to include an exciting feature in a future upgrade which will add a ScreenReader to the device. Using the ScreenReader you will be able to access apps hopefully including Audible, BBC Sounds, Netflix and more. This too will revolutionise the functionality of the SensePlayer.
I have been using one for a couple of months and like it. There are some bugs in audio playback but I am sure these will be addressed in upgrades.
The SensePlayer is available from Sight And Sound sightandsound.co.uk/senseplayer. The price is £475 for the standard player and £645 for the OCR version. The SensePlayer will also be available from RNIB from the middle of June 2023.
Wayfinding and Smart Infrastructure
By Julian Jackson of VisionBridge.
As a blind advocate for eye research and assistive technology (AT), I have a personal as well as professional interest in the ongoing tech evolution and revolution that is focusing on maximising accessibility and inclusivity for vi/blind communities in built environments.
Alongside our basic discovery scientists, there is an equally impressive cohort of technology developers in universities and the private sector who are working tirelessly to give greater independence to visually impaired individuals through the use of assistive technology, whether it is integrated into a computer, iPad, iPhone or indeed features in Smart portables or wearables.
Two stand-out examples are the fields of digital wayfinding and Smart (Crossing) infrastructure. I’m sure I speak for vi/blind communities worldwide when I say I want to remain as mobile, independent, safe, and informed as possible, as I move around the built environment. This sets the bar very high for tech developers, as we need highly accurate and reliable wayfinding solutions that do not necessarily need constant GPS connectivity, can be kept in the pocket, and navigate us from point to point both inside and outside with step-by-step description, re-routing, live update and human and/or AI support functionality. We also need to orientate to our surroundings and indeed avoid obstacles and recognise objects at the same time. One product that I am finding very helpful is the WeWalk smart cane which helps detect obstacles on a route.
Crucially, we also need to cross the road safely and this requires the ability to trigger the traffic lights on our command, armed with the appropriate assistive technology. This is brilliantly demonstrated in Smart Crossings, where a SmartButton and SmartTube have been devised alongside the SmartWrist and SmartCane for vi/blind users (https://smart-technology.org.uk/). This technology is now being retro-fitted to crossings by a number of local authorities in the UK, such as in Hull (article on smart crossings)
Until recently, AT had been over-priced, over-thought and over-engineered but those days look to be behind us. Tech developers have listened and they are now adapting their technologies in order to bring the promise of a “safe and seamless end-to-end journey solution” – that which we have all been dreaming about – into reality!
If you would like to hear more about some of the exciting new products which developers are bringing to market you can contact me on email@example.com.
TAVIP Discussion List – recent topics
The TAVIP Discussion List provides a space for members to share their experience, help address issues raised by others, and to keep abreast with the latest tech. If you would like to be added to the list just email firstname.lastname@example.org. It is easy to unsubscribe at any time.
To give you a flavour of what is discussed, our list moderator Mike Townsend has summarised a few recent exchanges.
Subject: Bluetooth portable speaker
Question: The battery pack on my portable Jawbone Jambox speaker seems to have given up the ghost. It would appear you can replace the battery and do all sorts of repairs but I am not confident of such things. Does anyone have any recommendations for a replacement portable Bluetooth speaker? I am looking for a speaker that I can use in the garden for parties etc., so it needs to have decent volume. and quality output.
Answer 1: Opinions are going to vary widely on this. For myself, I rather like the Ultimate Ears range especially the Boom and Mega boom which are portable waterproof touch little speakers which pack a punch, however if you’re not looking to spend a lot of money, the Sound Core range by Anker and Sony’s portable options are also a good choice.
Answer 2: I sent my Anker Sound Core 2 speaker back. Very muffled. I then got a JBL clip 4 which is also waterproof and rugged. My next attempt was going to be a Sony.
Answer 3: Shout out for the Sonos Roam here. It’s a lightweight portable speaker that has wireless and Bluetooth options. Its slightly more expensive than some but gives good sound quality and since I have one I hardly use the Bluetooth on it since I can access the services I want wirelessly.
Question: Would the Sonos Roam be big enough sound for this purpose?
Answer: Yes I would say it does crank up some volume, but I think the Sonos Move is the real deal outdoors. The only problem is the cost, it’s nearly £400 so you might not want to go up as far as that. I’ve been enjoying mine in the garden today to make the most of the lovely weather.
Conclusion: As I am not in the Sonos eco system and would use it on Bluetooth outside I am edging towards the Bose Smart Speaker.
Subject: Digital signatures
Question: I’ve been sent a number of PDF files each of which I have to sign. Normally, I’d print them off, get someone sighted to show where to sign, scan them back in, and email them.
Is there a way to sign documents digitally, or do I still need to stick to this rather clonky work flow.
Answer 1: I’ve converted the offending files to editable Word documents, and I plan to insert the signature as a graphic into those documents, then convert them back to pdf.
Answer 2: I think it’s back to the age-old factor…it depends on how the document has been designed/composed. I had to do this the other day to confirm a work order had been properly carried out and there was a sign button in the document with the explanation that you agree that your name as completed is your digital signature. There is then a save button so that it ends up on the company’s site!
Answer 3: I have used that last method and it worked! But I did have to change screen reader to check it! Folk are looking for a fully accessible digital solution. Join the list and give us your solution.
Subject: audio description on iphone
Question: I have audio description turned on, on my iPhone but it doesn’t seem to work. I’ve checked on my TV and there is audio description on the channels. Presumably I’m doing something wrong because there is an option on the iPhone to turn on audio description when available. any suggestions please?
Answer 1: Could you please provide more information about what it is you’re trying to watch and where? Audio Descriptions setting in the iPhone accessibility settings mainly seems to apply to Apple TV if you’re subscribed to that service; most other apps will require you to set this in their own player environment. Also, most live broadcasting channels don’t carry AD when streaming, it’s on-demand programming that has AD where available.
Response: I am referring to audio description through the channel 4 app.
Answer: OK, so depending on which app you’re using, for instance if you were using Channel 4, you’d press the audio description button which is a toggle switch. It’s a bit hit and miss with them, but once the show starts playing after the adverts, there is an option for AD and you just double tap it (presuming you have voiceover on) and it should work.
If you’re using BBC iPlayer or Netflix, you need to press a button for audio and subtitle options and you will find audio description under the languages where available. Note that once this option is set, it will play AD on any program where it is available until turned off.
Subject: changing the order in which fields are announced in Emails
Question: Hi folks, latest jaws and outlook and gmail. I want the subject announced first, but, forget how to do it.
Answer: Go to the View settings with Alt then W, don’t do Alt W or you’ll forward a message.
Next, tab to Change View Settings.
Finally, tab to Show These Columns In This order:
Now arrow down to Subject and tab to Move Up.
Now it should appear before the author, if you press OK on that.
Goodbye until next time
So that is it for this newsletter and I hope you have found it interesting. Do get in touch at email@example.com to suggest topics or to submit an article. The copy deadline for the next issue is 24 July 2023.