Low Vision

The Do Good Mission is one of eight Nokia Create contests that encourages the development of apps for Windows Phone 8 and Nokia Lumia devices. Highlighted on the Microsoft Accessibility Blog is the contest that calls for the creation of apps that will enhance the lives and mobile experience of people with vision related disabilities.

NVDA, the free open source screen reader for Microsoft Windows, has released version 2013.3rc2. NVDA 2013.3rc2 is a release candidate, so it will be identical to the final 2013.3 release unless major issues are found. NVDA is the development effort of NV Access in collaboration with global contributors.

NVDA gives people who are blind or vision impaired the ability to use their computer by hearing what is on the screen or reading it in braille. It is totally free but fully functional and portable. It can be downloaded directly to your PC or to a thumb drive, so that it can be used anywhere.

  • The new features of rc2 as listed in the NVDA Community website are: Form fields are now reported in Microsoft word documents.
  • NVDA can now announce revision information in Microsoft Word when Track Changes is enabled. Note that Report editor revisions in NVDA's document settings dialog (off by default) must be enabled also for them to be announced.
  • Dropdown lists in Microsoft Excel 2003 through 2010 are now announced when opened and navigated around.
  • a new 'Allow Skim Reading in Say All' option in the Keyboard settings dialog allows navigating through a document with browse mode quick navigation and line / paragraph movement commands, while remaining in say all. This option is off by default.
  • There is now an Input Gestures dialog to allow simpler customization of the input gestures (such as keys on the keyboard) for NVDA commands.
  • You can now have different settings for different situations using configuration profiles. Profiles can be activated manually or automatically (e.g. for a particular application).
  • In Microsoft Excel, cells that are links are now announced as links.
  • In Microsoft Excel, the existance of comments on a cell is now reported to the user.

Mobile Accessibility is a new frontier in the battle for accessibility supremacy. In a post on the Windows Phone Blog the third Windows Phone 8 Update was announced. Among the changes in this update like support for bigger, higher-resolution screens, Driving Mode and improved Internet sharing, were new accessibility features. The announcement did not give great detail but said that a suite of apps would make the phone easier to see, hear and use. The apps which include a screen reader, make it easier for blind and vision impaired users to:

  • Manage calls and contacts
  • Send texts and emails
  • Browse the web
  • Make Skype and Lync calls
  • Hear notification like alarms, calendar events and low battery warnings.

Up until now, the Internet has been a visual and auditory tool. People with sight peer through their monitors into the digital landscape we know as the World Wide Web while people without vision have the content read to them through their screen readers.  Now at a school for the blind in Japan you can touch the Internet… even hold it in your hand.

The new tool for putting the Internet in your hands is called Hands On Search. Part 3D printer and Part computer this futuristic bit of assistive technology was developed by Yahoo in collaboration with the Japanese creative agency Hakuhodo Kettle. It can literally build just about anything requested.

Students at the Special Needs School for the Visually Impaired can say something into Hands On Search and the machine will search Yahoo for an image matching the request then print a miniaturized version. If an image can’t be found, Hands on Search will make an online request for more information.

Yahoo Japan has no plans for commercial production of the machine but will like donate this one to an organization who will utilize it, like the School for the Visually Impaired.

Freedom Scientific has made the JAWS 15 Beta public. This beta version of the popular screen reader, is now available for download at the Freedom Scientific website. Eric Damery, Vice President of Software Production Management, introduces and demonstrates the new and exciting features that will be available in the JAWS 15 release in Episode 81 of the FSCast hosted by Jonathan Mosen.  Among the new features in JAWS 15 is object navigation using the Touch Cursor. Activating the Touch Cursor enables the user to use the ARROW keys on the keyboard, or the controls on a braille display, to navigate through the actual object in the application in a manner that is similar to using gestures on the touchscreen of a tablet. New advancement also includes:

  • Touch Cursor Navigation Quick Keys
  • Advanced Object Navigation
  • Windows 8 Touch Screen Support
  • JAWS Specific Touch Screen Gestures
  • Vocalizer Expressive Synthesizer
  • NEW FSReader 3 with HTML Support

For a full list of new features visit the JAWS 15 Download page on Freedom Scientifics website.

UC Davis, University of California, announces its commitment to an information technology environment that is accessible to all, and in particular to people with disabilities, is now an official UC policy.  The policy can be found in the UC Office of the President website, in the “Presidential Policies” section (search for “Information Technology Accessibility”).

The Policy was unveiled for public review by UC, in draft form, in May. The four-page policy and three-page addendum policy took affect August 27 with minimal changes. The policy defines accessible as follows: “Refers to the concept that people with disabilities are able to access and use a product or system, including with the help of assistive technologies. For example, an accessible website may be designed so that the text can be enlarged by the user, rather than having a fixed font size, or may be designed so that it can be interpreted and “read out loud” by screen reader software used by blind or low vision people.”

The latest release of Window-Eyes, Window-Eyes 8.3, is a maintenance update that includes support for Windows 8.1. GW Micro has also announced that the update will provide better support for Windows 8 modern apps, provide numerous speed improvements, and enhances the windows-Eyes 8 feature set. Further, all current Window-Eyes 8 customers are urged to install the 8.3 update to address some performance issues uncovered after the release of Window-Eyes 8.2.

Owners of Window-Eyes 8.0 or above may download the upgrade to Window-Eyes 8.3 for free from the GW Micro website. Select the Check for Updates option from the Help Menu in the Window-Eyes control panel. You can also open a browser and go directly the Window-Eyes 8.3 upgrade, enter your serial number and select the Check for Upgrades button.

Ravenshaw University in Cuttack, India has installed a screen reader, JAWS, for students with vision disabilities. JAWS, which has been installed on eight computers kept in the Kanika library, will read text on the computers. In addition, a scanner has been connected which will enable the screen reader to read books placed inside. Read more about the Ravenshaw University Screen Readers.

As someone who uses Assistive Technology (AT) to make it through her day, I’m telling you, you non-AT users can get pretty… weird. Something about interacting with an assistive technology (AT) user like me causes some normally very composed and astute people to lose a bit of their cool. I get it. I’m sure when I roll up in my wheelchair not in full control of my own body and chatting with my mom using my word board, I can catch the average bear off guard.

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