Yesterday Google announced improvements to Google Drive and all their editors: Docs, Sheet, Slides, Drawings, and Forms. Many of the changes are targeted specifically toward blind and low-vision users.

Among the changes are:

  • Improved screen reader support for Drive and Docs
    • Improved keyboard access
    • Support for zoom & high-contrast mode
    • Improved usability with the screen readers.
  • Improved screen reader support for Docs, Sheets, Slides Drawings and Forms
    • Support for alt text on images in Docs
    • Improved support for keyboard when editing charts & pivot tables in Sheets
    • Screen reader improvement including spelling suggestion, comments and revision history
    • Quick search of menus and ability to perform actions in Docs, Slide and Drawings.
  • Refreshable Braille display support
  • Step-by-step guides for screen readers and Braille display

Read more on the accessibility improvements. And see the Google Accessibility site.

IDEAL Currency Identifier (ICI) by Apps4Android is an Android app that identifies U.S. currency notes for people with vision disabilities. Today Apps4Android announced the release of the V2.0 update.

New Features:

  • Quicker identification of notes
  • Recognized the redesigned $100 bill

Legacy Features:

  • Identifies the following bills:
    • $1 (1963 – present)
    • $2 (1976 – present)
    • $5 (1993 – present)
    • $10, $20, $50 and $100 (1990 – present)

Read more about the IDEAL Currency Identifier.

A new textbook for the iPAD that allows children with vision disabilities to experience the stars is the result of a collaboration between astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScl); the National Braille Press; and the National Federation of the Blind. Development was funded by a Hubble education and public outreach grant. The textbook for the iPad is entitled “Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn” and can be downloaded for free from Apple’s iBooks Store.  

An astronomer from STScl, Eleane Sabbi, collaborated with developers to translate colorful imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope into accessible content that could be perceived by all students including those who are blind and have vision disabilities. The hope is that the textbook will demonstrate that anyone can be a scientist.

Read more about “Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn

IBM is performing research in Brazil that may help customers with visual impairments access information displayed in public spaces. In situations where the layout is constant but content changes like with a vending machine, IBM’s researchers are working on a new method. Instead of focusing on content, which is time consuming and requires a great deal of processing power, they are using some identifying markers placed around the display and simplifying the content’s identification process through training templates.  

The new process can give instructions to customers who are blind or have low vision so that they can capture the correct image. Moreover, this method will allow for perspective correction. Researchers expect the benefits will extend beyond people with disabilities and benefit other consumers.

For more information read the Forbes article

Seeing Assistant is developed by Transition Technologies S.A., available on iOS and consists of a number of applications that are customized for people who are blind or have low vision. The Seeing Assistant applications help users who are blind or have low vision navigate through a city, recognized colors, detect light, read barcodes and enlarge images.

The Seeing Assistant modules boast an intuitive menu and are optimized to work effectively with VoiceOver and use voice control function in the application services and for entering text.

  • Seeing Assistant Move gives pedestrians information about their present location, helps them navigate to a chosen destination, plan the route and record the trace.
  • Seeing Assistant Home helps with everyday domestic tasks with color recognition, light detection, magnifying glass and recognition and generation of bar or QR codes.
  • Seeing Assistant Light detects light sources and generates a sound which changes pitch relative to the intensity of the light.
  • Seeing Assistant Magnifier magnifies small print and objects. In addition, it can change lighting contrast and colors.

A new app developed by computer scientists at the University of Washington called StopInfo integrates with the OneBusAway app to make buses in Seattle more accessible for riders with vision disabilities. StopInfo provides specific information on location, safety features and stop closures for each bus stop in King County. Moreover, it collects and shares information that people who are blind have identified as important when riding the busses. The app utilizes information that riders using the OneBusAway application update and provide about each stop.

An experiment at the University of Cincinnati is developing advanced tools based on a device called the Enactive Torch. The Enactive Torch is handheld and has infra-red sensors that “see” objects in front of it. It emits vibrations to an attached wrist band. The vibrations change in intensity as objects become closer.

The Enactive Torch helps people with vision disabilities navigate through narrow passages like doorways and busy sidewalks as well as if they could see.

Read more about the Enactive Torch.

Case number: 2:14-CV-162 was filed against Scribd, Inc. by the National Federation for the Blind (NFB.) and Heidi Viens, a blind parent from Colchester, Vermont. The NFB is the nation’s leading advocate for equal access by the blind to technology and electronic information.

Scribd, Inc. is a website that offers subscription access to more than 50,000 books for 8.99 a month. Currently the service is only accessible to sited subscribers and is delivered through apps as well as the web. Other services allow users to publish their own work and utilize social media features.

The case was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont. It alleges violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act claiming that the website and mobile apps are not accessible to people who are blind.

Read more about the case at the NFB website.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) unveiled a prototype app that helps airline passengers with vision disabilities navigate the airport independently. The app works with approximately 500 beacons located throughout the terminal to call out various points of interest, including gate boarding areas, restaurants, and power outlets.

The prototype app was developed through San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence Program. The program paired SFO with the who is a leader in indoor navigation technology.

The prototype will undergo additional testing and refinement prior to being released for use by the public.

Emirates sets a new standard by becoming the first airline to add Audio Description to movies on its inflight entertainment system called (information, communication and entertainment) ICE Digital Widescreen. Audio Description benefits people with vision disabilities by providing a recorded narration, which describes the scene during the gaps in dialogue.

Emirate’s ICE system recently won the award for the “World’s Best Airline Inflight Entertainment” for the 10th consecutive year at the Skytrax World Airline Awards.  The system offers more than 1800 channels of entertainment, which includes over 400 movies from around the world, hundreds of hours of TV programing, and thousands of hours of music.


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