Feature Writer Alena Roberts

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Using Universal Design to Create A Time Piece for Everyone

I have always been one of those people who needs to know what time it is. I had many watches throughout my childhood, and when I was no longer able to read a watch, I knew that a talking watch was not for me. I got my first braille watch in college, and when it died, I made sure to get another braille watch. Even though I love my braille watch, I can understand that it’s not the best option for everyone. Unfortunately, the braille watch used to be the only option if you wanted to check the time without everyone knowing. This is where the Bradley time piece comes in. This project, inspired by a Paralympian that lost his sight in Afghanistan, has resulted in a time piece that will appeal to both the sighted and non-sighted.

One of the inherent drawbacks to the braille watch is that it can be easy to move the hands. If you’re checking the time, you don’t want the hands to move because then it’s no longer accurate. This was just one of the challenges that the team at Eone Time Pieces had to solve. Their solution was to eliminate the hands all together. The Bradley has two ball bearings that move around the face of the watch. The inner ball bearing tells the minute, and the outer ball bearing tells the hour. It even has a built in fail safe so that if you move the ball bearing while checking the time or if you’re sleeve bumps it, you only have to shake your wrist to get it to go back to where it belongs.

In July of last year, the Eone Time Pieces team had a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the production of The Bradley. Their goal was to raise just $40,000, but the project was so popular that they ended up raising almost 600 thousand dollars. Far surpassing their need, the company has now started accepting pre-orders for the watch. If you choose to pre-order The Bradley, you can get it for $50 less then what it will normally cost.

I recently chatted with a friend who was one of the backers of the campaign and who just received his Bradley. He is very pleased so far with how easy it is to tell the time and how easy it was to set up. He was also impressed with the fact that there are braille instructions for how to use the Bradley included in his box.

To learn more about the Bradley and how to pre-order your own, visit the Eone Time Pieces website: http://www.eone-time.com

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – The Year of the Book

Access to the written word is a fundamental right, but if you have a print disability, this is not the case. This statement was very true a year ago. We certainly have not reached full access, but we’re making great progress. Over the past year, a group of mobile apps and a UN treaty have changed the lives of those who struggle to read print.

Getting access to the over one million titles in the Amazon Kindle library has been a rocky road. First Amazon decided to allow the publishers to turn off the text to speech on any book. Then, they only provided minimal accessibility on the Kindle and made no moves to make their third party apps accessible. Thankfully though, in just over six months, accessibility has come to the Kindle iOS app, they’ve designed a new Kindle Fire that is accessible out of the box, and the Kindle Android app is becoming more usable.

Being able to buy and read books from the Kindle library is amazing, but just as amazing is finally getting access to NLS books on the iOS platform. Even though this doesn’t add to the number of books available, it greatly increases the likelihood that people can access all of their books on one device. The developers of the app also made sure to make the interface very similar to the free NLS player, making the transition to the app smooth for users.

The final app that deserves a mention for helping improve access to the written word is Voice Dream Reader. This app, which now supports all DAISY formats as well as many other text formats, is one of the best reading apps available. Not only can users read files from multiple sources, they can also listen to the files with a number of high quality text to speech voices.

All of these apps have greatly increased the number of published works that are accessible, but, in many cases, the works are only available to those of us in the US. This is where the UN treaty comes in. The WIPO treaty was signed earlier this year aiming to make the printed word more accessible around the world. When the treaty is ratified, countries will legally be allowed to make published work available in alternative formats such as braille or DAISY without being punished for copyright infringement.

It is my hope that this year was just the beginning of what is to come for those with print disabilities and that one day soon, we’ll be able to say that we have full access to the written word. It is also my hope that the mobile platform increases the use of braille in the US and around the world. Being able to read anything we choose is within our reach.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Happiness is Baking

One of the best parts of the holiday season is all of the tasty treats. I am not a fan of cooking, but hand me a recipe that calls for baking and I will present you with something delicious. My new favorite thing to bake for the holidays is gingerbread. It is so simple, yet such an amazing flavor that just says Christmas to me. This year I am making multiple batches of my gingerbread. I made some for gifts and am planning to make more for Christmas day. For those who have never made gingerbread, here are the ingredients you’ll need: butter, white sugar, an egg, molasses, flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and water. That’s it. Here is the recipe that I use. Ingredients: 1 Stick Butter 1/2 cup white sugar 1 egg 1 cup molasses 2 1/2 cups flour 1 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt 1 tsp ginger 1 tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp cloves 1 cup hot water Directions: 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 X 9 pan. Make sure to pour off any excess flour. 2. Mix together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat well. 3. Add the molasses to the mixture. 4. In a separate bowl mix together the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. 5. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture and beat well. 6. Finally, add the hot water and mix until all the ingredients are well blended. 7. Pour batter into the pan and bake for one hour. I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday season filled with delicious homemade treats.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Bring On the Games

Now that my grad school term is over, I can take a breath and have some fun. One of my favorite things about the iPhone is the number of games that are accessible. This year a number of awesome new games have been added to the VO accessible list. My three favorite are Codename Cygnus, Papa Sangre 2, and Solara.

I first learned about Codename Cygnus from their KickStarter campaign. The inspiration for the game was to create 21st century radio dramas that would add a choose-your-adventure like spin. In the game you are a spy trying to capture the bad guys. Every few minutes of game play you have to choose how you will respond. Instead of selecting a button, you get to make your choice with your voice. The game also has no visual component, so the developers had to make sure that the narration was descriptive enough for players to understand their surroundings. I really enjoy this game not only because it’s fun to be a spy, but also because the audio is so well done. Learn more about Codename Cygnus by visiting the AppleVis page: http://www.applevis.com/apps/ios/games/codename-cygnus

Next up is Papa Sangre 2. If you’ve played Papa Sangre or the Knight Jar then you will already have a feel for what Papa Sangre 2 will be like. If you’re not familiar with those games than prepare to be wowed. Papa Sangre 2 is another game that has no visual component. All of your movement in the game has to be done using your ears. The audio in this game is amazing. You really get a 3-D experience. Even better than that, though, is the fact that the narrator is Sean Bean. I really enjoy the challenge of this game and the fact that it is fun for everyone, not just the blind. Learn more about Papa Sangre 2 by visiting the AppleVis page: http://www.applevis.com/apps/ios/games/papa-sangre-ii

Finally, we leave the audio game world to enter Solara. This is a fun role playing game where you’re building a castle, going on quests, and fighting other players in an arena. One of the best things about this game, besides its accessibility, is that you can only play for a short time before you run out of gold. I like this because it means that I’m not spending all day playing, but that I can play multiple times throughout the day. The developer has also gone to a lot of work to make the game fully accessible. He’s added text descriptions of all of the buildings and players who use voiceover can even explore the layout of their castle and move buildings around. To learn more about Solara, visit the AppleVis page: http://www.applevis.com/apps/ios/games/solara

I hope everyone gets some time to play some fun games over the holidays. For more game ideas, visit the AppleVis Games page: http://www.applevis.com/ios-app-directory/games

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – First Snow For Empress

Morning is one of my favorite times of the day. Morning equals food, and when you’re a Labrador, there are not many things better than food. After finishing my breakfast, it was time to go outside. I must say that I’m not enjoying this cold weather we’re having. My puppy raisers were in Phoenix and Dallas so I am still not used to the cold, but mom always sends me outside after I eat. When I looked outside, I knew something was different. There was white stuff all over the ground. I didn’t know what to expect. When mom opened the door, I knew it was cold, but my deck shouldn’t be white. So rather than walk out, I gently put my paw down to test out where the ground was. After touching the white stuff, I immediately jumped back inside. The white stuff was cold and wet and I still couldn’t see the ground. Mom said though that I had to go outside anyway. So again, I put my paw out gently, and again I jumped back in. I wish mom wasn’t so insistent. Eventually I put all four paws out. Once I did, I realized maybe this white stuff could be fun rather than scary. I ran around and around the yard in excitement. Later that day, mom said we had to go out for a walk. Even though I knew the white stuff wasn’t scary anymore, I didn’t like how cold it was making my paws, so I walked really fast. Mom said though that we had to slow down. I guess she was afraid of falling. I’m just glad that all she wanted to do was go to the mailbox and back. Some puppies may like the snow, but I’m not sure if it’s for me just yet.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Switch Access in iOS 7 Opens Doors to People with Motor Impairments

Apple has made a commitment to making their products as user friendly as possible for everyone, including people who have disabilities. VoiceOver continues to get better with each release of the operating system, and so do the other accessibility features. Prior to iOS 7, switches could be paired with an iOS device, but they would only work with apps that had been specifically designed to work with switches. Now, there are multiple ways for someone with motor impairments to use a switch. They can use head movements, make the screen a switch, or use an external Bluetooth switch.

For those who don’t know what a switch is, think of it as a button that can either move a cursor on a computer screen or activate items that the cursor is over. Depending on the cognitive level and physical limitations of the person, multiple switches can be used to do different tasks. As an adaptive technology instructor and future teacher of the visually impaired, knowing how to use switches will be important for my students to gain access to things that many of us do with a keyboard or mouse.

One of the reasons I’m so excited about the switch access for iOS devices is because I have a client with progressive MS who cannot navigate on the screen using gestures. Prior to the workshop on iPad accessibility that I went to last month, I was worried that someone who needed VoiceOver would not be able to use a switch. What I learned is that VoiceOver cannot be turned on when switch access is being used, but the user can have the option of having the screen read to them as an alternative to VoiceOver. This means that not only has Apple included switch access, but they’ve taken into account that there are people who have motor impairments and vision impairments that would make reading the screen impossible.

To read about using switches with your iOS device, check out this blog post from Jane Farrall: http://www.janefarrall.com/blog/2013/09/29/how-do-i-use-a-switch-with-an-ipad-ios-7-overview

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Giving Blind Students the Challenge of Learning to Ice Skate and Play Hockey

This term I had the opportunity of attending our state’s annual Paralympic Day. The event featured three Paralympic athletes who were there to teach our students judo, tandem bicycling, field events such as shot put and javelin, and goal ball. Since I didn’t have this kind of opportunity when I was growing up, it was great to participate and learn about sports that I had only heard about. I also really enjoyed seeing the kids have so much fun. This week, I came across an article about a program in Canada that teaches young blind students how to ice skate and play blind hockey.

The organization’s last event was in Calgary where they hosted 27 blind and partially sighted elementary students. For many of the kids, it was their first time ever skating on ice. It’s events like these that demonstrate to blind children that they can do anything they put their minds to. They may have to adapt how they play a sport, but they can still participate and be athletic.

Some may be wondering how people with limited or no vision could play a sport that not only requires a lot of strength and balance, but the ability to hit a small disk. The answer is that it comes down to practice, some players have enough vision to see the puck, and the puck is slightly larger and it makes noise.

According to Courage Canada, the organization that teaches blind hockey, the sport has existed for decades, but it wasn’t until recently that there was a consistent set of rules and a standard puck. Canada has four adult teams, and this year will be the fifth National tournament. The hope is that blind hockey will spread to other countries and eventually be a part of the Paralympic games.

To learn more about Courage Canada and their programs, visit their website: http://www.couragecanada.ca

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Accessibility is a Right

As I type this article, I am fully aware of the technology that has improved my life. I have been a screen reader user for almost ten years and that has afforded me a bachelor’s degree, almost a master’s degree, and connections that have led to me being a writer for this magazine and so much more. What I am also aware of, though, is the reality that much of the technology that is accessible to the blind is primarily used in developed countries. What this means is that a majority of the blind citizens in the world still don’t have access to the tools and technology that could bring them independence and paid work. I recently came across a new foundation called Accessibility is A Right (AIR), whose mission is to bring accessible technology to developing countries.

Mike Calvo, former CEO of Serotek, is continuing his passion of spreading accessible technology by heading this foundation. His first trip outside of the US brought him to Columbia. While he was there, he had a chance to visit multiple schools for the blind and start building the foundation for AIR’s tablets for blind children program. Columbia was chosen in particular because they have the telecommunication infrastructure necessary to run tablets that need WiFi. The plan is to run a pilot program with 100 blind students for 24 months. Participants in the pilot program will be given either an IOS, Android, or Windows tablet during the program. The results of the user experience will help the foundation choose which tablets to provide in the future.

If you are also passionate about people around the world getting access to accessible technology, the foundation is looking for volunteers. According to their website, they would happily accept volunteers who can do things such as: translate documents from English to Spanish, produce marketing materials, edit video, or design curriculum for training the students to use the technology. These are just a few suggestions. If you’re interested in giving your time to the foundation, call them at 877-369-0101.

To get more information about Mike’s trip and the foundation, read his complete “It Began in Columbia” post: http://www.accessibilityisaright.org/blog_it_began_in_colombia

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Giving Real Movement To People Who Use A Wheelchair

Wheelchairs can give independence to those with mobility challenges, but the movement of a wheelchair can be jerky, and they can be difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. It is also very difficult for a wheelchair user to dance or move their bodies in a flowing motion. Inspired by her father and her love of dance, Mary Lynn Morris is on a mission to create the first dancing wheelchair.

Over the last seven years, Morris has been working on making a design that will make the person feel like they are dancing. The latest prototype has a clear seat and is strong enough for two people to be on the chair at the same time. The chair is similar to the Segway; when the user leans, the chair moves in that direction, but unlike the Segway, it’s not jerky and it’s easier to stop. One of the main benefits is that it gives the user complete freedom to use their arms because the motion of the chair is all based on movement from the torso.

Mary Lynn’s goal was to bring dance to those with mobility challenges, but the technology could give wheelchair users access to even more than just dance. One idea is for the sensors to learn the user’s motions so that when someone was filling a dishwasher, the chair would know to move them back towards the sink after they put a dish into the machine. Also, the technology would allow users to move side to side without having to face the direction they’re going in, making their movement more like walking.

To read all of the details, read the full story in the Tampa Bay Times: http://www.tqampabay.com/features/humaninterest/from-the-mind-of-a-dancer-a-new-kind-of-wheelchair/2143164

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Giving Real Movement To People Who Use A Wheelchair

Wheelchairs can give independence to those with mobility challenges, but the movement of a wheelchair can be jerky, and they can be difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. It is also very difficult for a wheelchair user to dance or move their bodies in a flowing motion. Inspired by her father and her love of dance, Mary Lynn Morris is on a mission to create the first dancing wheelchair.

Over the last seven years, Morris has been working on making a design that will make the person feel like they are dancing. The latest prototype has a clear seat and is strong enough for two people to be on the chair at the same time. The chair is similar to the Segway; when the user leans, the chair moves in that direction, but unlike the Segway, it’s not jerky and it’s easier to stop. One of the main benefits is that it gives the user complete freedom to use their arms because the motion of the chair is all based on movement from the torso.

Mary Lynn’s goal was to bring dance to those with mobility challenges, but the technology could give wheelchair users access to even more than just dance. One idea is for the sensors to learn the user’s motions so that when someone was filling a dishwasher, the chair would know to move them back towards the sink after they put a dish into the machine. Also, the technology would allow users to move side to side without having to face the direction they’re going in, making their movement more like walking.

To read all of the details, read the full story in the Tampa Bay Times: http://www.tqampabay.com/features/humaninterest/from-the-mind-of-a-dancer-a-new-kind-of-wheelchair/2143164