Currently Browsing: For the Blind

review of the not-so-new-anymore iphone 4s

This post is long overdue. I’ve had my iPhone 4S for several months now but wanted to be using it for a while before I wrote about it. So far, I love the 4S and Siri. Sure, sometimes Siri doesn’t understand a damn thing I’m saying or asking, but I expect her, like George Clooney or Sean Connery, to get even better over time.

The main upgrade with the 4S is obviously Siri who allows you to orate almost all of the things you’d do on your phone from texting to dialing to setting alarms and reminders. And if you find yourself one day without friends, Siri will even carry on a [limited] conversation with you. Siri allows you to dictate your text messages or emails—just remember to say the punctuation mark when you want to insert it. (I.e. Say “Hello comma how are you question mark” to type “Hello, how are you?” For the longest time, I could not figure this out, and all my sentences were run-ons.)

The downside to Siri is once you become wholly dependent on her, she could get glitchy If everyone on the server is trying to use their Siri. (She’s not known for monogamy after all.) But lately, I haven’t noticed this as much as when I first got the 4S and everyone and their mama were trying to talk to Siri, make Siri do this, make Siri do that.

The other thing I miss about the older iPhone models is the curvature of the phone’s body. It seemed less bulky and more ergonomic in your hand.

But that’s something I’m willing to sacrifice for these cool new features:


  1. iMessaging

    IMessage allows you to instant message other friends who have the iPhone with the updated IOS. This is used in lieu of text messaging so now you can save on texts if you don’t have the unlimited texting plan. The bad part is you can see when your “buddy is typing” which means your buddy can see you which means he will kind of know if you’re there and deciding to ignore his text after typing a few words..

  2. Hourly weather forecast

    Now you can click on the day’s forecast in the weather app and see the entire day’s weather forecast hour-by-hour. I find this helpful in figuring out if rain will fall in the morning, afternoon, evening, or all day.
  3. Easily accessible notifications

    The 4S provides an easy way to see all the latest notifications in your apps. By swiping downward from the top of the screen with three fingers, you can see which calls you’ve missed, which text messages haven’t been acknowledge, upcoming appointments and events, who posted new items to your Facebook, when it’s your turn in a game, etc. THis makes it convenient to keep up-to-date with all your goings-on on your iPhone.

The 4S also allows you to view your calendar in landscape view though this is less important for VI users. (I prefer my calendar in list view anyway.)

WHile the 4S has moved the smart phone industry forward, there are still some improvements I’d like to see happen with the next generation iPhone:


  1. Accessible way to rearrange and delete apps

    As it stands, I have to procure help in rearranging and deleting apps and icons on my iPhone. VO does not allow a way to make your app icon start jiggling and what not. It would be nice if there was a way for VO to help with moving around or deleting apps. Perhaps this is something Siri could do in the future? How nice would it be if I could just say “Delete this sorry app” and have Siri take care of it?
  2. Photo labeling

    I love the integration apps have made with the iPhone’s built-in camera and photos app—I can text or Facebook or tweet photos I take on my iPhone with great ease and user friendliness. However, if I’ve taken 40 photos with my iPhone camera, how do I keep track of which is which? Currently, I can’t. It would be nice if iPhone would allow use of a labeling or tagging system so that as soon as I snap a picture, I can record what it is a picture of. Even a voice recorded tag would work (though I see this as using up too much precious memory). That way, I won’t post a photo of my bunions on Facebook thinking it’s one of me in Amsterdam. The ability to label would be useful even for those who are sighted: how many times have you taken pictures of a burger you’d eaten and then forgotten later where and when you ate that burger? Give us a labeling feature for our photos!

All in all, I love my 4S. Stay tuned for a list of VO-compatible apps…

introducing the blindspot cane

National University of Singapore student, Selene Chew, has invented a new white cane for the blind that has built-in smart phone GPS capability. This allows for the VI (vision impaired) user to navigate an unfamiliar setting and find their friends with more ease. Up to this point, blind people were “lost” until their friends found them; the new BlindSpot cane now empowers the VI person to find others even with as much detail as telling him/her in which direction and how many more steps to go until the destination is reached.

The cane’s handle contains a specially designed phone connected to a Bluetooth earpiece with audio interface. Then a trackball on the handle helps point the person in the right direction. All that’s needed is for the friend to check in on a location sharing service such as Foursquare.

And for an even more rudimentary function, the BlindSpot cane helps its user avoid common pitfalls of every day strolling; an ultrasonic sensor detects obstacles a regular white cane would otherwise miss like low hanging tree limbs. Today’s white cane can only find sidewalk cracks and curbs but will not help a blind person avoid things not on the foot path. The BlindSpot cane, however, can sense these obstacles and then send a warning to the Bluetooth earpiece.

Chew has been recognized for her innovations and is currently seeking a partner to help bring the BlindSpot cane to market. (Kickstarter, perhaps?)

holiday gifts for the blind

If you’re like most people, this time of year is not always one of family fun and relaxation. It’s a season of hustle and bustle, of scouring the malls and web for that perfect gift (or gifts) for your spouse, child, grandchild, best friend, crazy aunt, postal carrier. No, the holidays are not stress-free at all. And if you’ve got a visually impaired person on your Christmas list, you may be at an even greater loss as to what to get her.

Not to fear. The folks over at AccessWorld have put together their annual list of holiday gifts for the sight-impaired. The list includes iProduct accessories so they can dress up that iPhone, iPad, etc. Check it out and get some great ideas to give to that special sight-impaired someone in your life. Now visually fine crazy Aunt Wanda? Can’t help you there.

steve jobs, the genius behind apple who pioneered accessible technology, dies at 56

Tonight as I was covered in flour from making chicken marsala, my iPhone kept ringing over and over, the caller persistent in reaching me. Finally after washing my hands, I swiped and double-clicked via the clever VoiceOver technology and found that it was my husband calling from his evening jog to tell me Steve Jobs had died. I asked my Apple fanboy of a husband if he cried, and he said, “Almost.” When I hung up, I texted a friend, and as I returned to the sizzling pan, I was surprised to find myself sad beyond what I’d expected of such news.

Steve Jobs became a household name after I met my now husband who turned me on to Apple products back in 2007. Since his own conversion years prior, John had converted dozens of friends, family, acquaintances, and even sometimes strangers perusing the computer aisle at Best Buy on to Apple. Since the iPod, Steve Jobs has become a household name everywhere, his innovative products popping up in homes across the globe. People ate up the iPod, then the Macbooks, then iMacs and Mac Minis and iPads–nobody had ever seen anything like those Apples.

The story behind Apple and their history with Steve Jobs is fascinating, and the world will get to read all about it come November 21 when the long-awaited Steve Jobs biography is released. Even months before it’s stocked on the bookshelves, Steve Jobs’s biography has been a top selling pre-ordered item on Amazon. Timely coincidence that the biography was due out on bookshelves so close to his passing? Maybe, but supposedly the book’s release was pushed up to November because everyone knew Steve wasn’t doing well, this notion only fortified by his resignation as Apple’s CEO only months before. And now with his passing, there is no doubt the book will be a bestseller.

Tonight, even the Apple website, which is always littered with product advertisements, only displays a full-screen portrait of Jobs with his life span, “1955-2011.” I can only imagine the ferocious dumping of Apple stock tomorrow once that morning bell rings on Wall Street.

Apparently, death escapes no one.

In Steve Jobs’s commencement speech to Stanford’s Class of ’05, he says:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

No matter if you’re a refugee who had been working toward a triple degree in law, philosophy, and literature before escaping from a war-ravaged country on a naval ship; or if you’re a creative genius who changed the face of technology; no matter if you were my mother or if you were Apple’s CEO; death is the destination we all share. (You should really read Steve Jobs’s commencement speech–it is truly awesome and inspirational.)

It is an eerie coincidence that Steve died the day after the latest Apple announcements, but his legend lives on. The new iPhone 4S boasts Siri, the virtual assistant that lets you communicate with your phone as though you were speaking to your butler or KITT the Knight Rider car. John had been harping about this new phone feature for the past several weeks, and while I admitted it was cool, I wasn’t sold; a part of me wanted to hold out for the next round numbered model up: the iPhone 5. But then tonight, John played me this video, and I think I’m in love.

John told me the last woman in the video is reading Braille and then uses the new iPhone 4S to text her friend. More power to the blind!

Apple has changed the world. Steve Jobs had changed Apple. By transitive property, Steve Jobs changed the world. He envisioned every household owning a personal computer. He envisioned it, and then he made it possible. And he made it so that even blind people could use it. He empowered everyone. He empowered the blind.

Thank you, Steve Jobs. May you live on in our innovations.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

accessibility improves with the new mac lion osx

It seems like all I’ve been complaining about lately is the unaccessibility of so many things on the internet, e.g. Facebook, iTunes, Evite, and so on. Oftentimes, it bleeds into my frustrations with my own hardware; my PC-run JAWS is slow, crashing often, leaving me with just the blue screen of death. (Thank goodness for residual vision or else I don’t know how I’d know I’d gotten the blue screen.)

When I first met my now husband, he was an Apple fanboy. Now that he’s my husband, he’s still an Apple fanboy. He turned me on to Apple Macbooks, telling me what he tells all Macbook virgins: “Give it two weeks. I guarantee you’ll like it so much more than Windows and PCs.” And he was right. Everything ran so much simpler and more efficiently. The layout and functionality of the OSX required a small learning curve, but after two weeks, I was practically a Macbook pro (with a lowercase “p”).

I started out using Apple when it was the era of the Tiger OSX. And with each subsequent OSX upgrade (and thus, the feline superiority scale), we are now in the era of the Lion. I was already blown away with the Tiger OSX’s VoiceOver capability, but now Lion boasts a most advanced VoiceOver.

My first laptop was a 17″ Dell PC–I bought something with a huge screen because at the time, I was only beginning to lose my vision so I relied mostly on zoom magnification to use my computer. I magnified all the fonts in my Word docs to 30+-point font. After meeting John, I moved over to Apple and got a 15″ Macbook Pro. Then my vision worsened even more until where it is now, and I could no longer rely on screen magnification. Instead, I had to start using screen readers, so I decided a 15″ laptop was too heavy and bought a 13″ Macbook since seeing the screen no longer mattered. Last month, I sold my 13″ Macbook and bought the new 11″ Macbook Air because I wanted something ultra-portable, especially because attending many classes and conferences the last couple of years made even lugging a 13″ around annoying. After spending days setting up and moving over files to my new 11″, I said to my husband, “I feel like all my past laptops were just boyfriends, and now I’m finally married to one.” Yup, I plan to run this Macbook Air to the ground.

The Macbook Air came with the Lion OSX. Without further adieu, here are the blind user observations I’ve had over the past month.

What I Like About the Lion OSX:

  1. iCal event input is more intuitive. Now you can add a new event to your calendar by typing CMD+N, and then typing in “Mom’s birthday dinner 11/5 7 PM to 9 PM.” Hitting enter will create that exact event in the iCal. I read online that you’re supposed to be able to designate an event location in the same way, but I’ve tried it (“Mom’s birthday dinner at Taco Bell on 11/5 7 PM to 9 PM”), and it didn’t move “Taco Bell” to the location field. Does anyone know why? Still, this input option provides a quicker way to add events–after hitting ENTER, I just tab once to the location field and input it manually.
  2. Address Book no longer requires a year input for birthdays. In Snow Leopard, if you didn’t know a year for someone’s birthday, it would default to some nonsensical year, making your mom, like, thirteen or something ridiculous. (No offense, if you are a thirteen-year-old mom.) No known year? No problem. But if you do know the year, your iCal will display that person’s age come birthday time: “Mom’s 60th birthday.” (And you’re taking her to Taco Bell?!)
  3. Address Book has more field options for further categorization. If you’re anal like me, you like to remember friends’ anniversaries (even though you don’t really wish them a happy five years or anything), their partner’s name, dog’s name, their blog URL, Twitter handle, maiden name…and the list goes on. The new Address Book has many of these fields and more. (Okay, maybe I’m the only one out there actually using these new features, but it’s nice to have the option.)
  4. Mail keeps conversation threads together. This helps to sort emails when there are a lot of back-and-forths with your husband about what to do about dinner. Apple takes a hint from Gmail.

Things I’m Still Having Trouble with on Lion OSX

  1. Apps take some getting used to with VoiceOver. As with anything new, there is a learning curve. The curve is especially steeper for the visually impaired. There are still things I am used to or prefer with Snow Leopard: I’d rather have VO read to me an event title and date/time when I tab to it in iCal rather than the event title and location, but I don’t know how to revert this; and there are still some navigational issues around apps,, but I hope this will resolve itself after more experience with Lion.
  2. Gestures, scrolling, QuickNav, and VO buttons are still confusing. This is an extension of #1 from this list–even at 32, I feel like an old fart (“What’s the internet?”). I know there are so many useful tools for the sight-impaired on the Apple, but I need some time to get used to them (not to mention someone to teach them to me). The scrolling is a little off-putting at first because now, you swipe up on the trackpad to scroll down on a document rather than swipe down to scroll down. This is the way it’s done on the iPhone, though, so I imagine it will catch on.
  3. Sent emails stick around in the drafts folder. I have no idea why some of the emails I’ve already sent still remain in the Drafts folder as though I had not sent them. This gets annoying, especially for someone like me who loves organization. This issue tricks me into wondering if I actually sent an email or not.
  4. Zoom magnification is glitchy. On the Snow Leopard OSX, the zoom magnification function worked by holding down CTRL and using two fingers on the trackpad to scrooll up (for zooming in) and down (for zooming out). This feature has to be enabled in Lion: System Preferences>>Universal Access>>Seeing tab>>Zoom Options, then check the box labeled “Use scroll wheel with modifier keys to zoom.” Make sure the field following that reads CTRL. Despite this, sometimes the zooming function using CTRL and up scroll or down scroll shuts off. I find that it works again if you go into the Preferences and uncheck and recheck the box, but this is annoying.

Lion OSX is supposed to be more compatible with Braille displays, and its VO features are the best yet. I tried to learn about it but got overwhelmed with the page. I’m considering paying $100 to get the one-on-one tutorial with the Genius Bar to learn all about VO. I still do not know how to navigate web browsers and inernet sites with VO, and I know this is possible. Hopefully this will allow me to use VO to its full capacity, and then the world is mine!

Do you have questions about the Lion OSX or Apple’s accessibility? You might be able to find VoiceOver answers here. Want to know more about the Lion? Learn about the Lion OSX here. Know how to use VO with Lion? Teach me in the comments section, please! Or just want to speak to your personal experience with Apple, Macs, VO, or Lion? Your comments are welcome, too.

iphone app helps the blind identify color

Today I continue my rave about the iPhone

Because I used to have vision, I know what colors look like. That is, I know that white is lighter than black, what red or blue or purple look like. But what if I had been born completely blind? Even now as I acquire new clothes in my wardrobe, how do I know where the shirt belongs in the scheme of things? (I organize my clothes in ROY G. BIV order–something I did even before I lost my vision.) How do I know if my new tank top matches better with my silver or gold shoes? First, you need some fashion sense and color coordination skills already ingrained in your brain; For that, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But if you can’t tell what color the new tank top is, if you just can’t see well enough to know if it’s red or green (two colors that my washed out eyesight mixes up often), then Apple has an app just for you.

Kolorami is an app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that helps the color-blind and vision-impaired identify colors. Making sure there’s ample lighting for the camera to pick up the shade, hold the iPhone/iPad/Touch up to the thing you’re trying to figure out–say, about a couple of inches from it. Then click on the “Determine Color” button, and within a few seconds, the app will break down the color for you: “10% brown, 90% dark brown.” Ah, yes. Gold shoes it is.

I’ve tested the app out on clothes I’ve had since before my vision loss so I knew not only which color it is but exactly the shade, too, just to see how accurate it is. I find that Kolorami usually gets it right in the general ballpark of the color, but it can often be off in identifying percentages of shade. E.g. the thing I tested it on earlier was really beige, so it would’ve been more accurate if it said, “90% light brown, 10% brown.”

I’ve also read that some people use the Color Identifier app (like my aforementioned fellow blind blogger), but I have yet to try this app out. Color Identifier (or Color ID) seems to have more versions (including one that costs $1.99 in addition to the free one) and ratings (compared to Kolorami’s free one with zero ratings). Has anyone tried both? What are your thoughts? Should I switch?

meet a fellow blind user of the iphone

Last week, I wrote about my personal love for the iPhone. This week, I know I’m not the only one. Austin Seraphin, a fellow blind blogger, had posted about his own love for the iPhone quite some time ago. My husband had sent me the link when his post went viral on Twitter, but I only got around to blogging about the iPhone recently. Not convinced by my argument on why the blind would benefit from having an iPhone? Take a look at Austin’s post–he’s much more technologically savvy than me. Thanks, Austin, for a thorough and entertaining read.

why i (and all you blind people should) love the iphone

iPhone

I heart iPhones.

By now, many in the sight-impaired community have discovered the Apple iPhone for its awesome accessibility features to help not only the visually but also the hearing impaired. With this being the Blind Cook’s blog, I will focus on the accessibility features for the blind user.

I’ve mentioned many times before that Apple products (i.e. Macbooks, iMacs, iPads, iPhones, iPods and iPod Touches) all come with VoiceOver, a text-to-speech application that will virtually read aloud everything on the screen for the blind user. A nice feature of VoiceOver is its human-like speech; Alex, the name Apple has given its most realistic sounding screen reader voice, employs tonal shifts and inflections, even pausing to “breathe.” No more robotic, monotonous voices of yesteryear.

My husband recently attended the An Event Apart design conference for web developers, where he met a woman who works at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine. (A shout-out to any new readers from FSDB; hello from Houston!) John learned that the man at Apple responsible for developing the VoiceOver application is blind himself. This comforted me because who would make for a better tester for technology accessibility than a blind person? I’ve often come this close to emailing Steve Jobs himself asking to become a tester of VoiceOver functionality. As a student, a writer, and a blogger, I depend on my computer and cell phone every day, and I want to see Apple’s products get better and better with their accessibility.

Before my iPhone 3GS, I had a non-data Nokia RIZR which I used for making simple phone calls. I could not even send and receive text messages because I could not see what was on my screen. I did not even know who was calling me unless I had set that person’s ringtone to something unique (which I only did for a few people who called often). I could only dial people on my “favorites” list by scrolling down the memorized number of lines; everyone else in my contacts list I had to use voice recognition commands which were not always accurate. This was frustrating to say the least, but unaware of anything better on the mobile market, I had accepted this as my cellular fate.

One day after my Nokia had broken, John was researching cell phones to find which would be most suitable for me. I was this close to buying a Blackberry but could not commit to the difficult, tiny keyboard. Then by chance, John found an online video that reviewed the iPhone and how it is blind-friendly. How he could’ve missed this being the Apple fanboy that he is is beyond me. But I was just glad he found it–better late than never. What he learned was that a blind user could navigate the touch screen by swipes back and forth; up and down; using one, two, or three fingers. The VoiceOver reads aloud whatever your thumb touches, and if you swipe with one finger to the right, the cursor moves to the next app icon on the screen, or, if you’re inside an app, to the next image or form field or text in the app. Swipe with one finger to the left takes you to the previous item. Applying the same principles of left or up for “previous” and right or down for “next,” swiping with three fingers is like the PageUp and PageDown functions. Swiping with two fingers will read everything on the screen. To select an icon, button or button, or to activate a form field, double-click with your finger. If you take your thumb and forefinger (or any two fingers, for that matter) and swipe in a circular motion on the touch screen as though you were turning a dial, it will select different levels for navigation. E.g. you can select to navigate by the line, by the word, by the character, etc. After selecting the level, one swipe with one finger back and forth will scroll the cursor to the previous and next line, word, or character. Those, my friends, are the basic iPhone (and iPad) VoiceOver commands.

When I first got the iPhone 3GS back in December 2009, the VoiceOver was great but after updates, it, it is even better. For example, now upon scrolling over a letter, after a pause, Alex will say the military alphabetic equivalent of that letter. This aids in lessening the confusion I once had between similar sounding letters like “M” and “N”, or “B” and “V.” Now I will hear “M…Mike” or “N…November,” and “B…Bravo” or “V…Victor.” Another improvement I noticed was now the “back” button to get to a previous screen when inside an app is more intuitive in that it actually says “back” after “hovering” over the button. (In the previous VoiceOver version, it would only read aloud the name of the button, so I wouldn’t know if it actually was a functioning button or not.)

The new iPhone 4GS is set to release in stores this September, and perhaps if you can wait long enough, rumor has it that iPhone 5 will come out next year. If you are sight-impaired and on the market for a phone, I highly recommend the iPhone. It is by far the superior cell phone for the sight-impaired.

Hadley recently aired a seminar about the Apple i- products. Visit the Everything i page to check when they will have an audio recording available of the seminar.

Have an iProduct? Tell me what you think of it. Want an iProduct? Have questions about one? Leave a comment.

the blind cook now on twitter (and yelp)

Now that I’m all out there, I’ve decided to start linking together all my social media. My husband, the ever forward thinker when it comes to anything digital, has already set aside a Facebook page for me but it’s still barren. I’ve been on Twitter for some time but now finally have a separate account strictly for this blog and all things blind and- and food-related. Now the Twitter box to the right of this page will be updated using @theblindcook’s tweets. Since I also mentioned I’ve started writing for Eating Our Words, I will also start tweeting my latest articles as soon as they’re published. Lastly, I joined Yelp in May and will also begin to integrate my reviews into this blog, most likely via the @theblindcook Twitter, since my review numbers have been lackluster here on this blog due to my expansion into Yelp and Eating Our Words.

I used to prefer staying here in my little bubble of the Blind Cook’s world, but my husband has convinced me that I should get out there and make some cyber friends. And so I took his advice to heart and am trying to take advantage of social media outlets for that purpose. Thanks, John, for all your interactive media tips.

  • Please follow me on Twitter: my handle is @theblindcook. If you have an iPhone, there are great Twitter apps you can download, and they are entirely compatible with VoiceOver. In fact, I do virtually all my tweeting from my phone.
  • If you are on Yelp, check out my reviews. My handle on there is Christine H. As an added bonus, you can see a nice picture of me with my mannequin head friend, too.

blind driving in our future?

Ever since I lost my vision, one of the things I miss most is driving. I used to love driving alone on a beautiful sunny day with the windows down, the sun roof open, and music blaring from my after-market sound system. Driving gave me a sense of independence, and losing my vision meant losing driving which meant losing independence. So when I heard about this project at Virginia Tech, it was an answer to my most pressing wish.

Using robotics, laser rangefinders, GPS, and smart feedback tools, Dennis Hong is working on designing a car that will allow blind people to “drive” independently. He notes that it is not a self-driving car, but rather one that allows a vision-impaired person to gauge speed, proximity, and route. Hong is the founder and director of RoMeLa, a Virginia Tech-based robotics lab responsible for many developments in the field of robotics. Perhaps we’ll be driving in our lifetime? Watch out, everybody!

Here is the TED Talk where Hong describes the project.

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