When Accessibility Features Get In the Way

I’ll admit it’s quite the controversial title for a blog entry, but hear me out. Picture the following. You’re idly sitting in front of your keyboard tinkering with either shift keys and all of a sudden you’ve triggered something on your computer. We’re talking Windows here, (any version). What you’ve done is called up keyboard assistant features… and if you’re not careful, you could inadvertently turn them on. This is exactly what one of my friends did recently. Somehow, he did not heed the filter keys warning and activated the feature. Due to its nature and his computer configuration, it made the keyboard totally unusable. A few mouse clicks brought back functionality, but it made him temporarily dead in the water. So, let’s do a bit of preemptive trouble-shooting in order to mitigate such situations on your own rig.


The folks at Microsoft have (thoughtfully) built in some keyboard shortcuts in order to facilitate accessibility and they are enabled by default. Unfortunately, they have connected them to keys that you would think are innocuous and don’t do anything when pressed on their own.

In my case, these are the keys that I tinker with all the time. When I’m thinking, I repeatedly tap the left shift key. I guess I could resort at banging my head, but this is less conspicuous in an office setting. Pushing the left shift key 5 times will trigger the Sticky key function. As this is not useful to me, I need to change this forthwith.

Holding down the right shift key for 8 seconds, another bad behaviour I have, turns on filter keys.


So, if these keyboard assistance functions are not useful to you, do the following:

Within Windows 7 or 8, press WINDOWS+U to launch the Ease of Access,

Tab until you hear, “Make the keyboard easier to use” and press Enter,

Now, go into the setup sticky keys and uncheck its shortcut key, which is the LEFT

SHIFT key.

Press ALT+O to click the okay button,

Next tab to Setup filter keys and press enter

Tab to and uncheck the shortcut key, which is right shift for 8 seconds

Now, press ALT+O to click the okay button. Do not tab to it, or you’ll land into the test area.

You can get out of that bind, but it’s tricky.

Press ALT+O again to close the main configuration window and then alt+f4 to close Ease of access.


So there you have it. Now you can press your SHIFT keys with abandon and not land into trouble.

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MS Office 365… I am converted!

Although I podcast a lot about Apple products, (Easy Access), there are many other devices and computers that I use day-to-day. When at work, it’s mostly Microsoft Office products. To be honest, I’ve gotten used to these tools and have finally decided to delve into a home solution for such things.

In the past, choosing an Office product meant having to make sure that you had the latest and greatest screen reader. To ensure compatibility, you also had to purchase an Office product a year behind everyone else’s, as it took a fair bit of time for screen readers to catch up. Due to aged-old competition, general outcry from blind and visually impaired users and better communication between the screen reader developers and Microsoft, we are now at a point in time where I can easily purchase the latest version of Office and be as productive as anyone else. Heck, I’m actually writing this blog entry within my own copy of Office. It’s pretty nifty.


What is Office 365?

Simply put, Office 365 is a subscription-based copy of Microsoft Office. For some odd reason, I thought everything would be done in the cloud. You can do that, but you can also download a fully functional copy of Office onto your system. The only difference is you pay either a monthly or yearly fee in order to use the software. This is done in 5 easy steps:

  1. Go to your country’s Microsoft online store,
  2. Sign into the store and do a search for Office 365,
  3. Choose the version that you want and proceed to check out,
  4. Pay by visa and/or PayPal and then download the software.
  5. Let the setup run its course and you’re pretty much done.


In my case, I bought the personal edition for a year. At under $100.00, I get a slew of Office products plus 1 terabyte of OneDrive space. Now here’s an added bonus for screen reader users. Since you now have a Microsoft Office product on your system, you can install Window-Eyes at no cost. Go to the Window-eyes For Office website. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can also access an open source screen reader called NVDA. This stands for non-visual Desktop Access. You can find NVDA here.


All in all, I’m quite happy with this arrangement. I’ve got a great productivity platform, plus an extra screen reader I can tinker with and I am eligible to all Office updates over the subscription duration. The only possible beef I have is the accessibility level within the iDevice Office app. It’s almost non-existent and I don’t even consider it as a viable option. I haven’t spent enough time with the online Office apps to make an educated opinion as of yet. For more information on Office 365, go here.



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Gestures, why use them

By now, many of you have probably encountered, or even own one of the many iDevices. You are also probably using Voiceover to access its many built-in functions. But, are you using Voiceover efficiently? If you are constantly looking for edit fields and/or buttons by slowly sliding your finger endlessly around the screen, then the following information is for you. Don’t get me wrong, Voiceover is definitely working, reading the pertinent information, but there are quicker ways of getting things done.

Unlocking your phone

To quickly unlock your phone, push the home and/or lock buttons and do a 3-fingered swipe to the right.

If you have password protected your iPhone, (something I strongly suggest), you will be dropped into the password edit field. Otherwise, you will be put into the home screen.

Alternatively, sliding one finger up from the home button and slightly to the left will bring you to the unlock button. Do a one-fingered double tap and you are off to the races.

Navigating The Home Screens

Some of you may have remembered how your home screen is laid out. If this is the case, simply slide a finger on the screen until you find the app that you seek and do a one-fingered double tap to launch it.

Alternatively, you can do a one-fingered swipe left or right to cycle through all of the icons, including the doc bar at the bottom of the phone. The doc area is where you can keep up to 4 of the most used apps, regardless of what home screen page that you are on.

Swiping through elements is something you should get used to, as this is one of the ways to navigate many apps that may not be fully accessible, but functional.

Notice the sounds that accompany your gestures when you are swiping? The single click means that you are progressing from one icon to the next. The combined high and low click means you are moving up or down one line of icons.

Now back to gestures.

Answering your phone and other stories:

Are you finding it stressful trying to answer your phone, searching for that elusive answer button? No need to panic. Once it starts ringing, simply do a two fingered double tap on the screen and your phone call is started. Repeat the same gesture to end the call. This gesture toggle will also work to start and stop music and may also be used in various apps to control their behaviour.

Where are all of my apps?

You have now collected a healthy amount of apps and they seem to be disappearing? No says I. They’re actually spilling into another page on your phone. You can get there by doing a 3 fingered swipe to the left. Voiceover will announce the page number and land on the first app listed there. Repeat the gesture for successive pages. Use a 3 fingered swipe right to move back through pages. To get a description of the page that you are on, do a 3 fingered single tap.

Pressing the home button once will bring you back to the your main home page.

Going back is a pain:

Some apps, such as the settings area, have many layers and you need to back out of them in order to get back to various sections. There is usually a “back” button located at the top left of the screen. But, why not use a gesture instead? You can mimic a back button click by doing a 2 fingered scrub. You essentially place 2 fingers on the screen and move them back and forth quickly.

Reading functions:

Voiceover can read information sequentially. Some apps will even let you read long portions of texts such as iBooks or Mail without any intervention on your part. All you have to do to get the process started is do a 2 fingered swipe down. Need to pause for a second? No problem, do a 2 fingered single tap. Repeat the gesture to continue from where you left off.

Mastering the rotor:

A hidden Voiceover control, the rotor enables you to navigate elements on the screen. It also lets you change various aspects of Voiceover settings. It consists of 2 gestures.

Rotating the rotor:

Before we venture playing with the rotor, imagine it as one of those old radio knobs that you would change the frequency and/or crank the volume with. The rotating gesture is accomplished by using 2 fingers on the screen, slightly apart and then turning them clockwise or counter clockwise. This will move through the options. You will notice a cricket-like sound while moving throughout the various settings.

Changing a rotor option:

To activate a feature or change an option, swiping up or down with 1 finger will do the trick. For example, if you rotate the rotor to characters, you can then swipe down repeatedly to spell out the word that Voiceover is currently focused upon.

Help is only one gesture away:

These are the most commonly used gestures on an iDevice. If you want to practice your gestures, or just want a bit more help, you can do so by doing a four fingered double tap and the Voiceover help system will be at your disposal.

You can find more gestures and descriptions by visiting the user guide for your particular iDevice.

Incidentally, if you want an educational and entertaining way of learning how to use Voiceover, (besides this blog entry that is(, you might want to try out the Looktel Voiceover tutorial app available in the iStore.


Two Bonus Gestures:

I was at a loss as to where to put these, so I decided to throw them into this section.

Sometimes, you want Voiceover to be quiet and out of the way; like when you’re listening to music for example. You can do this with a three fingered double tap gesture. Repeat the gesture to bring Voiceover back to life. The second bonus enables privacy and saves on battery life. This is what Voiceover calls the screen curtain. Essentially, it dims out your screen so that wandering eyes cannot see what you are doing. You can enable and disable this with a 3 fingered triple tap.

Happy Gesturing!

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Episode 1.2, (Pilot?), A Few Voiceover gestures.

In this episode, we investigate voiceover gestures and how they can speed up navigation.


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Easy Access, Episode 1: Starting And Stopping VoiceOver


 In this episode, I give you a quick and easy way of turning on Voiceover on your idevice with the use of SIRI. 


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Editing a Blog From The iPhone

A few days ago, I did a review of a pocket-sized braille display. Then I thought, what if I could actually write a blog with the darn thing by using my iPhone. Well, it seems that there are like-minded folk out there who are endevering to do the exact same thing, minus the braille display of course.
So, I do a search in the App Store for anything to do with WordPress. Low and behold , the first app I find is exactly what I want; and a bit more. Not only does it let you create new blog posts, but you can also check out all the other blogs that you follow on your wordpress accout. All of the functionality of the app is fully accessible. I haven’t found any stumbling blocks as of yet. Hook this onto the markdown writing features and you’ve got a pocket-sized blog reading and writing power-house.

Well, I’ll keep this one short, as I am simply testing to see if the posting function will work. I will be posting much more including what markdown is in my next few blogs. Meanwhile set yourself a WordPress.com account and we’ll start from there in my next exciting blog entry.

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Another Talking Alarm?

Another Talking Alarm?


For any of you who have had the privilege of spending some quality time with yours truly, you will undoubtedly know that I have a fixation, nay a fascination with all hardware or software that tracks time. Why, just recently, my significant other was “commenting” on the amounts of windup clocks I have in my possession. You can have a listen to them via this Audioboo demo here: http://bit.ly/1o0YsAk


At any rate, my intent today was not to drone on and on about windup clocks. I actually have an iDevice App I wanted to share with my oh so faithful readers. It is a free app called “talkingAlarm” (one word), by the folks at Fortuisoft.

Follow this link for a quick description and iDevice download link: http://bit.ly/1o17gGh


How does it work?

Launch the app as you would any other and you are up and running. There are two controls, 3 if you count the ads on the main screen. One is a volume control and the other is an unlabeled button that brings you into the settings area. However, before we go there, let us demonstrate the features you already have access to. In order to do this you will have to disable VoiceOver. Hopefully, you have setup the Triple home click accessibility toggle. If not you can find it under settings, general, accessibility, accessibility shortcut. Set it to VoiceOver. You only have to set it once, or whenever VoiceOver decides to crash on you, which is seldom, fortunately.


Anyway, we all back now? From within TalkingAlarm, triple press the home button to turn off VoiceOver. Now do a single tap on the screen. You should hear a pleasant voice, let us call him William, speak the current time. Do a double tap and you will hear him rhyme off the next appointments within a 24-hour block of time. Finally, press it 3 times and he will give you the weather forecast.



How do we setup alarms you ask? Remember that unlabeled button? Turn VoiceOver back on with the triple click home toggle and then activate that aforementioned button.

Select one of the days on that screen and then the time, sound snoozing feature and music selection. You can even wake up to your own pre-recorded message. Once done, go back to the main settings screen and the alarm is set.


You can investigate the main settings screen on your own, as it is quite self-explanatory. There are tons of bells and whistles to play with and you can even do an in-app purchase in order to remove the ads.

This app reeks of simplicity and I smell a winner.



    Launch the app,

    Turn off VoiceOver, (Triple Home click),

    Single tap for time,

    Double tap for Appointments,

    And Triple tap for weather forecast.

    Sleep,

    Snooze,

    Wake up!


Please note that your iDevice will not be in lock mode while this app is running. The developer recommends using TalkingAlarm while charging. I have not tried it on battery power as of yet, so cannot comment on how tough it is on energy consumption. Visit this link for the FAQ page: http://bit.ly/1oyZ3gi


Happy snoozing!

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Focusing On Braille

Thanks to the folks at Canadialog, I have had the pleasure of using the diminutive Focus 14 blue braille display from Freedom Scientific. Easily held in one hand, the device crams a lot of functionality within a small package. One of many pocket-sized braille displays on the AT market, this one does have a few features which makes it stand out from other devices. Read on…


Let’s talk about battery life

Considering that I have used it solely on Bluetooth, I have been able to average about 24 hours without having to recharge it. Charging consists of plugging in a USB cable and power adapter; standard routine for anyone used to charging their smartphones and/or tablets. It takes around 3 hours to get a full charge. If you use the unit via USB cable on your PC or MAC, it will be trickle-charged. It takes about 8 hours to achieve full power using that method.


Braille Quality

An interesting trait to the focus family of braille displays is its flawless surface. Instead of the traditional braille cell caps used on other displays, the braille surface is comprised of one panel covering the whole area. This dissuades me from trying to pry the caps off, but that is a story for another day. It also enhances readability, as it is a much smoother reading experience. Having only 14 cells, I thought reading might be tedious. Turns out, once you get your reading rhythm going, the only thing that will slow you down is having to turn the page.



Besides being able to access your information via the braille display, you can also input text through the 8 key braille keyboard; where dot 7 is a delete key and dot 8 is the ENTER key.

Above each braille cell are cursor routing buttons. When pressed, the cursor is brought to that cell. This enhances quick editing. At each end of the routing key row are two round buttons that mimic a double tap on an iDevice. I am not sure why both were dedicated to this function, but that is a question for Apple Accessibility to answer.

Under the display is found an easily reachable spacebar, which brings me to the only thing that bothers me on the Focus. Instead of using the same key technology as the rest of the keyboard, the designers opted for a harder to press mechanism that has an annoying clicking noise as well. It is not a huge issue, but it is still irksome in my books. Keyboarding should be a balanced experience. Having to press harder for one key breaks the flow of my typing.

The rest of the keys on the display are used for navigation and content manipulation. They will vary in functionality dependent on what screen reader software or device that the focus is controlling. For example, the left most round button on the front of the focus will act like a back button while using Voiceover on an iDevice. The similar button on the right will start and stop services such as music, phone calls, Siri, etc.

There are two shift keys found on the front of the unit, under the spacebar. They do not seem to be used with VoiceOver for some reason.

The Keys to the left and the right of the aforementioned shift keys are panning buttons. These advance or move back the display in order to read sequentially through the environment. They are labeled with tactile arrow symbols. When the unit is awaiting USB and/or Bluetooth connection, you can use the right panning key to find out status information. You can also get to that status area at any time by briefly pressing the power button and pressing the right panning button.


Status information consists of: a numbered percentage of battery life remaining, followed by a circular shape when battery is being charged, or an upside-down heart-like shape when the keyboard is locked,

Finally, an indicator representing connection.

Annoyingly enough, while using VoiceOver, there is not a dedicated Home button on the device; as seen on other pocket braille displays. You can still get to the iDevice home screen by pressing SPACEBAR+dots 1, 2 and 5; that’s the letter H in braille, but that sort of defeats the idea of 1 handed functionality. Speaking of which, the navigation buttons are prominent enough to be used when the device is in a pocket. Refer to the links at the end of this entry for further information on Focus 14 Blue controls.



Although slightly bigger than other mini displays that I have tried in my travels, I have found it to be enjoyable to use, both as an iDevice controller and as a PC screen reader display. The JAWS screen reader implements the Focus displays quite extensively. Refer to the manual link found at the end of this entry. Fourteen braille cells give you just enough room for efficient reading, although I would not go any smaller than that. I have tried 12 cell displays in the past and simply got frustrated with the amount of manipulation needed to move through information. Following is a quick list of pros and cons I compiled while using the device.



Small form factor,

Long battery life,

Distinctive keys,

Smooth reading surface,

Comfortable to hold in one hand,

Efficient reading,

Quiet brailing.

Nice array of navigation keys.



No dedicated Home button for VoiceOver,

Repeated mode button in VoiceOver,

Loud spacebar.


Miscellaneous and Links

I was not sure under which heading I should place this particular issue. I thought of the RTFM heading (Read The Fluffy Manual), but settled on this instead. I was playing around with the Focus and managed to press the left mode button with the most right cursor routing button. This just so happens to disable the braille keyboard. For a few tense minutes, I thought that the Focus might be broken. I finally found my issue and was able to re-enable the keyboard by pressing right mode button with most left routing key.

Disabling the keyboard can be handy if you do not want keys to be pressed while in your pocket. The navigation keys will still work in this mode, so you can still navigate to your heart’s content.


Here is a feature I would love to see in these displays. The ability to turn off the braille display portion while still being able to use the navigation and keyboarding option of the unit. Sometimes, I could do without using braille and this keyboard is fantastic on its own. This would also conserve battery power.


There is more to discover about this device.

For the Focus 14 Blue user’s guide, visit: http://bit.ly/1nA1T0A

To visit Canadialog online go here: http://www.canadialog.com/

For an alternate blog entry on the Focus 14 Blue check out the following article from American Foundation for the Blind: http://bit.ly/1nAaeRL


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Importing and Exporting Files within iTunes Via the Keyboard

This blog entry was written up out of frustration and perhaps, it will relieve yours. Recently, (maybe an hour ago), I was trying to figure out how to move files from my iPhone to the PC. Turns out it’s very easy, although not very apparent. I’m here to clear up this technical mud. First off, connect the iDevice to your PC. This should launch iTunes automatically. If it doesn’t, go to your Desktop and click on the icon there.


In order to make navigation a bit easier, you’ll need to have sidebar activated within iTunes. Press ALT+V to go to the view menu and use your arrow keys to find the SideBar option. If it’s already activated, it will read as, “Hide SideBar”. If you find “show SideBar”, then press ENTER to activate it. You need only to do this once in order to have it there by default. Close iTunes and we will all start from the same point.


Let’s Start Playing:

Let’s open up iTunes again. You should land on something called “sources TreeView”. This is the SideBar area. You may have to TAB and SHIFT+TAB to jiggle it into action for some reason.

From here, press the letter D to bring you straight down to the Devices Sources TreeView. Press the DOWN ARROW in order to get onto your iDevice. Are you with me up to here? I hope so. This is where the fun begins. TAB through the various selections until you get to the Apps radio button. Press the SPACEBAR to select. The screen will get busy, but fear not. Everything is accessible with TAB and SHIFT+TAB. I sure do wish they would implement some shortcut keys in this program. TAB until you find the Apps Table TreeView. This is the list of all apps on your iDevice and anything else you ever installed on it and decided to get rid of. You can use the UP and DOWN ARROWS in order to go through these apps. Press the SPACEBAR to check the ones you want to keep or uncheck the ones you want to get rid of. Let’s continue to our real purpose here; moving files.


Continue TABBING along. After about 8 TABS, you should reach the File Sharing area. TAB a few more times to get to the APPS TreeView area. Use the UP and DOWN ARROW keys to go through all of the apps that have file sharing capabilities.

Once you have found the app with which you would like to share files, press TAB to the Documents area. This is where iTunes lists the files currently attached to this app on your iDevice. To add files in this area, you’ve guessed it, TAB to the “Add” button and press the Spacebar. A typical Windows based dialog comes up. Choose the files as you would usually do and press ALT+O to continue, or TAB to the “open” buttton and press ENTER.

Alternatively, if you want to move files from the iDevice to your PC, highlight the file you would like to move by using your ARROW keys, TAB once past the “add” button to the “Save to” button and press the SPACEBAR. A normal folder windows dialog pops up. Choose the destination folder, TAB to select folder and press ENTER.

Please note, you can also delete files by pressing the delete key on the filename within the list area.

That’s all there is to it. The biggest challenge is navigating the iTunes environment with the lowly TAB and SHIFT+TAB.

Feel free to comment on this entry if you need further clarification.

Happy file manipulation!

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Other sources For My Jottings

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written something down on this blog, so I figured I’d do a quick roundup of a couple of other blogs where my writings reside.


This is where it all began


About 3 years ago, the CNIB was looking into delving in the emergin scene of social media. I was the ghiney Pig, if you will, for such an endeavor. I was tasked to write a blog entry on pretty much any topic I wanted. The first few were all about screen reader-based material, but the entries become more general the further you go. You can find all of my CNIB blog entries by following the link above.


Guest Blogger


Recently, I was invited to write a bit about myself and the experience I’ve had with the use of guide dogs. The author of the blog, dogs 24-7, Becky White stopped me while I was walking to get my morning coffee. You never know who you’ll meet while walking around the neighborhood. You can read the Blog Entry by following this link.





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