November 2018 – Be My Eyes Newsletter!
— Read on s3.amazonaws.com/bemyeyes-newsletters/newsletter/2018_11/2018_November.html
November 2018 – Be My Eyes Newsletter!
November 2018 – Be My Eyes Newsletter!
— Read on s3.amazonaws.com/bemyeyes-newsletters/newsletter/2018_11/2018_November.html
By Natalie Martiniello, BLC President
Dear BLC friends,
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
This is a quote by Anne Frank that often comes to mind when I observe a gesture – even a small one – that has an impact on someone else. When a hundred small gestures take place at once, then each one contributes to the end result – which is positive change of some kind. And surprisingly, sometimes there are trickle down effects that end up having positive impacts in ways one could not have imagined.
I am a firm believer that few things are “impossible” if you dream big enough, remain committed, and collaborate with the talented and equally passionate people around you.
Just over four months ago, BLC embarked upon a quite ambitious goal for a small volunteer-run organization – Raise $6,500 by November 30th, and a private donor would match every dollar. With this amount in hand, we would have enough to establish a permanent endowment to offer the Edie Mourre scholarship on an annual basis to those pursuing careers as braille transcribers and educators.
Today, as that campaign draws to a close, we have not only met that goal, but have surpassed it. This is a reflection of what is possible when we come together. With $14,000, the Edie Mourre fund will be self-sustaining for the years to come. What a wonderful legacy to Edie Mourre who committed so much of her time to the braille community, and what a wonderful example of how many small gestures could lead to a lasting wave!
The BLC board would like to thank every individual, both within and outside the organization, who supported this initiative in different ways. We would also like to thank two of our corporate members – T-Base Communications for donating $300 and Crawford Technologies for donating $2,500, ensuring that we’d speed through that finish line with a great big triple dot six!
I mentioned trickle down effects. In addition to raising funds, the campaign served as a powerful public education tool. The events held as a consequence educated members of the general public who, beforehand, new little or absolutely nothing at all about blindness and braille. After our storytelling fundraiser in Montreal (performed by our fabulous board Secretary, Kim Kilpatrick) we received a letter from someone who had attended our show and said that they had learned so much about braille, equal access and literacy for people who are blind. These moments are great triumphs – because every time we tackle misconceptions, we are chipping away at the inaccuracies that may exist about blindness, and which sometimes lead to questions like “is braille really important, anyway?” A few more people out there can now answer – Yes, of course it is! Right alongside us.
So, as we approach the holidays, the BLC board would like to thank all of you for your commitment and dedication – and may this serve as a reminder of what is possible when we come together!
You will find many treasures in the coming pages. Among them, T-Base tells us about their partnership with Santa himself and how blind children can receive a letter in braille from Santa this holiday season. Tactile Vision Graphics shares with us their French braille resources for children. Jen Goulden, Past President, tackles another transcription conundrum. Kim Kilpatrick, Secretary, gives us a recap of the 2018 CNIB Braille Conference. Over the past month, we’ve asked members to tell us what words and thoughts come to mind when they hear the word “braille”. The collection of responses is found in this issue, and the power of literacy rings true in every word!
Finally, remember that BLC runs on a calendar year from January 1st to December 31st, which means it is soon time to renew your membership. To learn more about membership options (annual, lifetime and corporate) and member benefits, visit our website at www.brailleliteracycanada.ca or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members who are due for renewal can expect to receive an invoice from PayPal in the coming days to make the process easy and painless.
From the entire BLC board to you, happy holidays! Here’s to another year of endless possibilities.
President, Braille Literacy Canada
We’ve asked BLC members and friends to complete the sentence “braille is…”. Here is what they had to say!
…Independence (Tammy, braille reader)
…An excellent tool (Walter, Low Vision Therapist/Researcher)
…Fun to read in the dark under the covers so I don’t get cold! (Steph, adult braille learner)
…A necessity (Chantal, braille reader)
…rough! (Albert, blind technology trainer)
…magical (Kim, braille reader)
…A true “feeling” of beauty (Veena, Low Vision Therapist)
…Literacy (Elizabeth, braille reader)
…fun! I like playing braille bingo and braille memory games! (Ainsley, Grade 3)
…The best way to teach and learn!
…The best way to help me learn
…Useful on elevators, money and medication (Ahmad, ESL student)
…Reading, writing and math
…Helping (Santiago, ESL Student)
…The best way for blind people to study
…An international language for blind people
…Like a secret code! (I think you’re smarter if you can read braille, because not everyone on the street can read Braille!) (Fatlum, ESL student)
…the gateway to Middle Earth, Narnia, Hogwarts, Regency England, Green Gables … and so much more! (Jen, lifelong braille reader: so many books, so little time!)
…a lifetime of memories of storybooks, campfires, bedtimes, make-believing and library adventures (Natalie, lifelong braille reader)
…what print is to you: a door and a window to everything!
…B – Believing
R – Reaching
A – Achieving
I – Imagining
L – Limitless
L – Learning
E – Empowering
By Cassandra Peterson
Editor’s Note: T-Base is a corporate member of BLC and Jessica Blouin sits on the BLC board as our T-Base representative. This article is reprinted with permission and can be found on the T-Base website at https://www.tbase.com/helping-santa-deliver-braille-letters-a-t-base-tradition/?fbclid=IwAR3KkhcZpniRS_3fqjkYemW5Th_av0GfFEi5oqr5LTKjvxAQe30UvpJFpo4.
Cassie Peterson, Marketing Coordinator at T-Base Communications, sat down with Jessica Blouin, Manager of Transcription Services, to talk about an initiative near and dear to our hearts here at T-Base: the Santa Letter Program. Every year we help Santa deliver braille letters to children who are blind or have low vision.
C: How long has T-Base been participating in the Santa Letter Program?
J: T-Base has been participating in the Santa Letter Program for over a decade.
C: Please tell us about the process.
J: Every year in the fall we receive a call from Kris Kringle himself. He tells us how many children he needs to respond to in braille, plus how many of those need a response in English and how many need a response in French. Santa provides us with his print response to each child’s letter, and then our Transcription team gets to work! As is the case with all documents we transcribe into braille (or other alternate formats), Santa’s letters go through rigorous quality assurance checks to ensure nothing is amiss and that the transcribed documents meet Santa’s high expectations. Finally, we help pack up the letters for Santa to deliver.
C: By which date should children send their letter to Santa?
J: Children should send their letters to Santa by the 10th of December. (If you send one after, he might not have enough time to respond before the big day!)
C: What address should children send their letters to?
J: Children should send their letters to Santa Claus at his North Pole address:
North Pole HOH OHO
C: Why is it important that T-Base participates in this program every year?
J: For children, receiving a letter from Santa Claus is a great joy during the holiday season, and it is one all children should have the opportunity to experience. I do remember how happy I was as a child receiving a letter back from Santa. Collaborating with Santa on this project is important to T-Base because we get to help ensure children who are blind or have low vision experience the same joy their sighted family members and friends experience. This is such a wonderful program.
C: What feedback have you received on this program?
J: T-Base has always received positive feedback on the Santa Letter Program. We have heard from both parents and teachers that children are always so happy and thankful to receive a braille letter from Santa in the mail.
C: In what other ways is T-Base committed to ensuring that people who are blind or low vision have access to information?
J: At T-Base, we believe that equal access to information is key to literacy and independent living, regardless of whether that information is in a simple letter from Santa Claus or a complex math textbook. Everyone has the same rights, and we are committed to ensuring that organizations have the resources they need to provide their customers who are blind or low vision with equal access to information. We produce statements, documents and textbooks in a wide range of alternate formats: accessible PDF, e-Text, audio, braille and reflowed large print. We also give $2,000 every year to one or two post-secondary students who are blind or low vision through the T-Base-AEBC Scholarship Program (in support of an accessible education).
C: What are some other holiday traditions at T-Base?
J: Typically, we host a potluck lunch at the office and Secret Santa gift exchange. This year we will have an ugly holiday sweater fashion show.
C: Wonderful! Thanks for letting our readers know about the program and T-Base’s involvement in it. Something else our readers might be interested in hearing about is your favourite memory from a T-Base holiday gathering.
J: My favourite memory from a T-Base holiday gathering is when Scott Bagshaw, Production Manager, dressed up as Santa Claus, sang karaoke and handed out candy canes to the team.
C: Before we wrap up, what is on your wish list this holiday season?
J: A puppy! Besides that, I know everyone here at T-Base wishes our readers a safe and happy holiday.
By Kim Kilpatrick, BLC Secretary
The 2018 Braille conference took place for the first time at the Ontario Science Centre on October 18 and 19, 2018.
This was a wonderful venue and it was nice to have the braille conference in a public place where the many visitors saw people moving around with canes, guide dogs, and lots of braille in hand.
As usual, there were many workshops on a multitude of topics and several BLC board members presented on research, braille and technology, and more. Among these talks Past-President Jen Goulden and I (BLC Secretary) presented on the use of refreshable braille with iOS, President Natalie Martiniello presented the preliminary results from her qualitative study on the experiences of older adults who have learned braille, and director Rebecca Blaevoet presented on Tactile Vision Graphics. BLC board members also had the opportunity to circulate our new print-braille BLC bookmarks – available upon request!
The AMI Audio show Kelly and Companybroadcasted live from the conference on both days and several BLC members were featured on this show.
As usual, one highlight for me was hearing the winners of the braille creative writing contest for students in elementary and high schools from across Canada.
I was excited to touch for the first time, the first ever multi-line braille display (The Canute) which may be on the market within the next year or so.
As usual, it was wonderful and heart warming to be in a room filled with others who love braille as much as we all do.
By Lindsay Tyler, Senior Manager, CELA
Braille readers who receive books from the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) are receiving books in a new way. Since April 2018, we emboss a fresh copy of each braille book we send. This procedure allows us to offer as many copies of each book as needed, so readers do not need to wait for others to return a book before they can receive it. Each copy we send is fresh and crisp.
Instead of sending braille books in a cloth bag, we send them in a cardboard box which can be recycled along with the book. Readers may choose to keep books, if they prefer.
Printbraille books (children’s picture books with braille added) are the exception to this new system; readers must continue to return them.
The formatting of the books is different, too. Newly transcribed books are formatted as a single volume with continuous page numbers. The title will appear in the header as well as at the beginning of the book. Previously transcribed books are split into parts of about 80 pages each.
Looking forward, CELA staff are planning a new website that will bring even more books to Canadian braille readers. The new website will bring together Bookshare’s braille offerings with CELA’s in a single, accessible site.
The new year will also bring the opportunity to exchange books with libraries for people with print disabilities in the United States and Europe, thanks to their recent ratifications of the Marrakesh Treaty. The goal of the Marrakesh Treaty is to remove barriers so that organizations like CELA can share accessible reading materials with other similar organizations in countries who have signed the Treaty.
As we work to improve our services and offer you greater access to books and information, we hope you will let us know how we are doing. Visit our website at http://www.celalibrary.ca, email us at email@example.com or call 1-855-655-2273.
Those who are interested can also contact CELA to subscribe to the hard copy braille version of the BLC newsletter.
By Rebecca Blaevoet (BLC Director) and Emmanuel Blaevoet
Note: We’ve received several requests lately for information on where to purchase french print-braille books. In this article, Rebecca and Emmanuel from Tactile Vision Graphics describe their French collection. We will include an English translation of this article in the January issue.
Tactile Vision Graphics Inc. a toujours eu le but de produire toutes nos ressources et en Anglais et en Français. Notre entreprise est de très petite taille, donc nous n’avons pas encore été capables de produire en Français la totalité des titres qui existent en Anglais. Il nous a fallu faire des choix au départ. Il reste encore du travail.
Pour commencer, il nous a semblé que le domaine le plus important et celui par où il fallait commencer était les ressources pour le développement des concepts: la littératie et la numératie.
Chaque livre contient un peu de texte, en braille intégral, évidemment, et une image correspondante que les enfants peuvent toucher, (et même colorier) et discuter.
Les images tactiles enseignent des concepts importants:
Ainsi nous avons en catalogue un série de livres tactiles pour enfants, parmi eux « Mon Abécédaire », « Mon Livre des Chiffres » et « Discret Comme Une Souris: un Petit Livre des Similarités »
Au delà notre collection de livres pour enfants, nous avons aussi plusieurs cartes de vœux pour toutes les occasions et des livres à colorier avec les titres en impression relief et en braille français.
Nous vous invitons à visiter notre site web, chercher le “shop” et découvrir l’étendue de nos publications.
Vous pouvez aussi bien sûr nous appeler pour poser des questions ou pour placer une commande au (226) 221-8849
By CNIB Brailleroom
We’re all familiar with the adage “Nothing in life is free”; but the CNIB Brailleroom can braille just about anything, free of charge, for CNIB clients and their families.
Note that this is not an exhaustive list.
Email your text in a Word document to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mail or drop off your printed materials:
CNIB Brailleroom (Room 104)
1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, ON M4G 3E8
By Jen Goulden, Past President
It is that time of year again, and it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas where I live. You might be wondering how I could possibly make a connection between Christmas trees and UEB, but whether you prefer to decorate a pine, spruce or Douglas fir, they are all conifers … or coniferous.
So here’s the question for transcribers: Are they con-i-fer-ous or co-ni-fer-ous trees?
Section 10.6.1 of the UEB rule book states the following: Use the lower groupsign for “be”, “con” or “dis” when the letters it represents form the first syllable of a word (such as concept or control … or contraction). According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary the first syllable of both conifer and coniferous is “co”. This means that the “con” contraction cannot be used.
I think the main cause of the confusion is that DBT does use “con” in these words. Ironically, there was no “con” in conifer or coniferous before UEB either. This is just another example showing that not much has changed in literary braille with the update to UEB.
Of course, we could just avoid the co-nun-drum altogether by simply calling them evergreens!
By Ashley Eve Shaw Galbraith
People often ask me if braille skills are still useful, given the recent development of technologically advanced accessibility solutions. There are many reasons why braille is still necessary, but some of my favorite examples are the ways in which braille and technology intersect. Braille screen input, for instance, provides touch screen users with a typing method that is both fast and efficient.
For users of Apple’s iOS, Braille Screen Input has been a standard feature of the screen reader VoiceOver for several years now. The option allows users to enter text by touching the screen with the combination of fingers associated with each Braille character, in either contracted or uncontracted Braille. Accessed through the Voiceover Rotor in any text field, this option allows Braille users to type much faster than with the touch screen’s qwerty keyboard. It also allows for a greater degree of discretion than the use of text dictation, and makes it possible to enter long passwords with ease and privacy. Since Unified English Braille is an available translation table, I’ve also been able to get a lot of practice with UEB whenever I use my iPhone.
Learning to use touch screen Braille takes a bit of initial effort. The user holds the device in landscape mode, either on a flat surface or with the screen facing outward. Touching and holding fingers on the screen will activate Explore Mode, and the device will report the corresponding combination of dots from the Braille cell. A single finger swipe to the right enters a space, a single swipe to the left erases the previous character, a two finger swipe to the left erases the previous word, and a two finger swipe to the right starts a new line. Swiping up and down after completing a word provides any alternative suggestions. After a bit of practice, the user will be able to type quickly and smoothly.
Before Braille screen input was available, I was stuck either carrying around a Bluetooth keyboard, or typing relatively slowly on the touch screen qwerty keyboard. Now I use Braille to type text messages, emails, web addresses and phone numbers. This is just one example of Braille’s versatility and efficiency when combined with technology.
Social Media Links
Here are just some of the gems posted on BLC social media platforms since the last issue: Follow us on twitter or like us on Facebook for more!
Time to celebrate – the United States ratifies the Marrakesh Treaty! https://benetech.org/united-states-ratifies-marrakesh-treaty/
Brick-A-Braille teaching system – available for testing: https://robotics.benedettelli.com/braille/?fbclid=IwAR3V7N-aUd-rKLS9NOBqO5vfW8NjDMM_vsPSg8c4pE9BX6WutB1Z9BHXQYA#download
A story about introducing braille to sighted children: https://www.wvnews.com/prestoncountynews/news/read-aloud-program-incorporates-fun-into-reading/article_d9588de6-f61d-5cdd-9bb3-5438a6cb1501.html?fbclid=IwAR0syl8PYUrtygJxvm-a4R3eZtbWbRuY1VNDREVLy2YgrOqucP2ghxCkvWI
Custom-made braille cards with your personalized messages – great for the holidays! https://www.sensorysun.org/blog/send-braille-cards/?fbclid=IwAR1j9358r3brESYoBBIjO7bbGF522Zb6ozirQDSqSpFeAi07y5Zmz6vxExI
Is braille still relevant in the 21st century workplace? spoiler alert Like print, the answer is… YES!! https://www.afb.org/blog/careerconnect-blog/is-braille-useful-on-the-job/12?fbclid=IwAR3uFG1xExtQzLj4nCUZjN0PBlxGZe01G-AMRbQzB7YI4fNvhF0wmtlsgbQ
Tips for teaching braille to students with decreased tactile sensitivity: http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/12-more-ideas-teaching-braille-students-decreased-tactile-sensitivity?fbclid=IwAR0XO6_SSqFDL9510HlCjG5UMStxwLA9AvM9GUaeXQp3HC1P3x33vmCOg4s
French alphabet print-braille book available through Tactile Vision Graphics: http://tactilevisiongraphics.com/product/livre-en-braille-mon-abcdaire/?fbclid=IwAR2RMKDsHCjPoQhS1a5mhph3U-bzkVWBJhcAbOWiU3jzMSc23AGblC6rpU0
The SENSEsational Alphabet Book is back in stock at Seedlings! This popular book for ages 0-5 features the English alphabet in print, braille and sign language. Kids can press the buttons to hear each letter, as well as feel and smell pictures of items starting with each letter: http://www.seedlings.org/details.php?id=1353&cat=0&search=SENSEsational&fbclid=IwAR0c0uwhFaej9mUPV0ShdVyWb9T_yqa6NNivyhnhD5Or4L5UWtOEAOIUdd8
The Bank of Canada has announced that it will begin to phase out the bank note reader program. It has been determined “that there are more modern devices that can be used to denominate bank notes”. For example, did you know that all paper money in Canada has tactile markings to help blind and LowVision people identify each bill? For more information, visit: https://cnib.ca/en/news/bank-note-reader-program-and-recall?region=qc&fbclid=IwAR3B5sHXRMs28PioUSfxZ8YR1feDLF3p_tldayH_yqyHh0UlC15VhMxZ-8A
A collection of high-interest short stories from National Braille Press for adults who are learning uncontracted braille! Visit: http://www.pathstoliteracy.org/resources/short-stories-adults-learning-uncontracted-ueb?fbclid=IwAR2-MbIffsCryGdmfve9WQ-SAD1Tq1MUEC1UfnHw5Z7pl27V79MDjm81xT0
SDPP-D Federal Grant Updates – November 2018
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
*Note: This is a text version of the Federal Grant Updates page on the NNELS website, which can be accessed by activating this link. We thank CCB staff and all the other partners who worked on this project, as well as those who will work on the next stage. #AccessibilityMatters.
funds library network service expansion to make more published works
available in formats accessible for Canadians with print disabilities
From January to June 2018, NNELS worked on a series of special projects to enhance the production and availability of accessible-format material in Canada. The project was funded in large part by a grant from the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component (SDPP-D). In September 2018, the BC Libraries Cooperative received an additional $1 million to carry out a series of new special projects to build on the momentum created from the previous grant work. New projects focus on three main areas: accessible publishing, accessible reading, and braille availability.
Summaries of these projects follow, and this page will be updated as the projects are carried out. For answers to your questions please write to
NNELS continues to work with partners to support publishers in creating born accessible material.
This invitation-only summit will be held in Toronto on January 28th and 29th, 2019, and will include stakeholders in the ebook production, distribution, and reading chain. We will create and distribute a set of best practices for accessible EPUB relevant to communities along that chain; related documentation will be publicly available online. We are working with Laura Brady <https://twitter.com/LauraB7> to organize this event.
In February, Lisa Snider of Access Changes Everything will host ten, two-day accessible publishing workshops across Canada. We have invited publishers and publishers’ associations to contact us if they would like to host a workshop in their city. The two-day workshops will allow the first day to offer a theoretical grounding for hands-on, practical experience on the second day.
We will be working with Lisa Snider, Farrah Little, and our stellar team of accessibility testers to create accessibility reports for 60 EPUB files from 30 Canadian publishers. In the first week of November, we sent an invitation to publishers and have received a great response, especially from Ontario publishers. We hope to have all 60 files by December 1st. Publishers can sign up here.
We are funding the DAISY Consortium to develop and enhance their open-source, user-friendly version of the Ace by DAISY. To date, Ace by DAISY has been a command-line tool, but the new release has a graphical user interface. DAISY is also preparing the Accessible Publishing Knowledge Base
<http://kb.daisy.org/publishing/> and EPUBTest.org
<https://epubtest.org/> website for language localization,
And translating both Ace by DAISY and EPUBTest.org into French.
On November 6th, we were invited by DAISY to a conference call to review their latest version of a test book used at EPUBtest.org to test different reading applications. One of our accessibility testers was able to attend and wrote afterward, “It was so much fun to just talk our lingo for an hour with them. I learned a lot, too. I’m able to present more refined recommendations to cover images in my reports now, and I’ve finally figured out how page navigation is supposed to work! I couldn’t believe it when people started signing off. I almost said, “Hey wait a minute, this was supposed to last an hour,” then I checked the time and was astonished to see that it indeed had.”
DAISY is actively including our team in their work: we are learning so much from them and so grateful for this opportunity!
Publishers have asked for plugins they can use with their ebook editing software to automate repetitive tasks and improve accessibility. We posted an RFP for a plugin developer which closed on November 2nd, and we are working on next steps.
We have approached eBOUND to inquire about purchasing titles published since our last round of funding, and to invite participation from publishers who did not work with us in the spring. We also sent an invitation through Canadian publishers’ associations to purchase their material directly from them or through their distributors.
We have agreements in place with two major digital audiobook vendors to purchase jointly with CELA/CNIB. Purchasing is beginning mid-November. We have budgeted a total of $100,000 for new content.
Our team of accessibility testers are exploring the accessibility of library reading applications, with input from DAISY and CELA. The purpose of this project is to give vendors specific feedback about their reading apps so that audiobooks and accessible ebooks are available to all readers through those platforms. The team is currently testing the OverDrive app on a variety of platforms. NNELS will share the results with the vendors and the Canadian public library community.
We are thrilled to continue working with the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired <https://campbowen.ca/> to further develop the beta version of their Production Tool, a tool that automates and streamlines the EPUB remediation process. As part of this process, Camp Bowen will create 18 accessible-format titles for the NNELS repository.
We are once again accepting nation-wide requests to produce books that are not currently available in accessible formats. A link to submit requests will be distributed and posted here soon.
In partnership with the Vision Impaired Resource Network (VIRN) in Manitoba, we are producing 5 titles in French to be distributed through every provincial and territorial Public Library Authority. Special thank you to staff at BAnQ for helping us select titles! This project builds on previous work done with VIRN to expand the Canadian print-braille collection.
Our Saskatchewan-based Braille Production Coordinator, Riane LaPaire, is coordinating the production of 50 hardcopy and 50 electronic braille titles for distribution through NNELS and Canadian public libraries. This pilot project will inform future decisions on choosing braille producers, braille quality, and distribution methods. This project is based on recommendations from the “Improving Braille Availability in Canadian Public Library.
I live with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. Here’s which one you should pick
By Geoffrey A. Fowler The Washington Post
Wed., Nov. 21, 2018
Sure, you could chose a smart speaker based on sound or price. The go-to gadget gift of the season is available from Amazon, Apple and Google with better acoustics, new touch screens and deep holiday discounts.
But you’re not just buying a talking jukebox. Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant also want to adjust the thermostat, fill your picture frame or even microwave your popcorn. Each artificial intelligence assistant has its own ways of running a home. You’re choosing which tribe is yours.
The Consumer Technology Association says one in 10 Americans plan to buy a smart speaker this year. (Tyler Lizenby/CNET / TNS)
I call it a tribe because each has a distinct culture — and demands loyalty. This decision will shape how you get information, what appliances you purchase, where you shop and how you protect your privacy. One in 10 Americans plan to buy a smart speaker this year, according to the Consumer Technology Association. And Amazon says its Echo Dot is the bestselling speaker, ever.
The last time we had to choose a tech tribe like this was when smartphones arrived. Did you go iPhone, Android, or cling to a BlackBerry? A decade later, it’s increasingly hard to fathom switching between iPhone and Android. (A recent Match.com survey found iPhone and Android people don’t even like dating one another.)
Now imagine how hard it will be to change when you’ve literally wired stuff into your walls.
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In my test lab — I mean, living room — an Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod sit side by side, and the voice AIs battle it out to run my home like genies in high-tech bottles. Here’s the shorthand I’ve learned: Alexa is for accessibility. Google Assistant is for brainpower. And Siri is for security.
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Amazon’s aggressive expansion makes Alexa the one I recommend, and use, the most. Google’s Assistant is coming from behind, matching feature by feature — and Siri, the original voice assistant, feels held back by Apple’s focus on privacy and its software shortcomings. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but I review all tech with the same critical eye.)
Smart speakers are building the smart home that you never knew you needed. Inside the audio equipment, they’re home hub computers that work alongside smartphone apps to connect and control disparate devices and services. Now with a speaker and the right connected gizmo, you can walk into a room and turn on the lights without touching a button. Or control the TV without a remote. Amazon even sells an Alexa-operated microwave that cooks, tracks and reorders popcorn.
Click to expand
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But home assistants can also be Trojan horses for a specific set of devices and services that favour one company over another.
My buddy Matt recently asked me to help him pick speakers and appliances for a big remodel. He loves the Google Assistant on his Android phone, so selecting his tribe should be easy, right? Hardly: He wanted to put Sonos speakers all around the house, but they take voice commands directly via Alexa. (Sonos says Google Assistant support is coming, though it’s been promising that for a year.)
Figuring out which connected doodads are compatible can be like solving a 10,000-piece puzzle. The best smart home gadgets (like Lutron Caseta and Philips Hue lights) work across all three tribes, but sometimes alliances and technical concerns make appliance makers take sides.
Each AI has its limitations. They’re not all equally skilled at understanding accents — Southerners are misunderstood more with Google and Midwesterners with Alexa. The price of ownership with some is letting a company surveil what goes on in your house. You can try, like me, to live with more than one, but you’re left with a patchwork that won’t win you any favours with family.
How do you find your AI tribe? Here’s how I differentiate them.
Supported smart home devices: Over 20,000.
Who loves it: Families who buy lots through Amazon and experiment with new gizmos.
The good: Alexa knows how to operate the most stuff, thanks to Amazon’s superior deal making. The only connected things it can’t run in my house are the app-operated garage door and some facets of my TV. Amazon also has been successful at spawning new connected gadgets: Alexa’s voice and microphone are built into more than 100 non-Amazon devices. And Amazon recently announced plans to offer appliance makers a chip that lets Alexa users voice command inexpensive everyday things, from wall plugs to fans.
Alexa has also mastered some of the little details of home life. It will confirm a request to turn off the lights without repeating your command — super helpful when someone nearby is napping.
The bad: Alexa grows smarter by the week, but it can be a stickler about using specific syntax. It also has the weakest relationship with your phone, the most important piece of technology for most people today. Amazon has bolstered a companion Alexa app for phones, making it better for communicating and setting up smart home routines, but I still find it the most confusing of the lot.
Amazon doesn’t always show the highest concern for our privacy. This spring, when Alexa inadvertently recorded a family’s private conversations and sent it to a contact, Amazon’s response boiled down to ‘whoopie.’ And it records and keeps every conversation you have with the AI — including every bag of popcorn it microwaves. (Amazon says it doesn’t use our queries to sell us stuff beyond making recommendations based on song and product searches).
Some love Alexa’s ability to order products by voice. But as long as Alexa runs your house, you’ll always be stuck buying those goods from Amazon. (That microwave will only ever order popcorn from Amazon.) The coming generation of appliances built with the Alexa chip inside could similarly trap you forever into Amazon-land.
Supported smart home devices: Over 10,000.
Who loves it: People who are deep into Google’s services.
The good: Google Assistant comes the closest to having a conversation with an actual human helper. You don’t have to use exact language to make things happen or get useful answers. Its intelligence can also be delightfully personal: It’s pretty good at differentiating the voices of family members. And on the new Home Hub device with a screen, Assistant curates a highlights-only show from your Google Photos collection.
While Android phone owners are more likely to use lots of Assistant-friendly Google services, the Assistant doesn’t particularly care what kind of phone you use — its simple companion apps work on iOS and Android.
And Google is neck and neck with Alexa on many of the nuances: Night mode reduces the volume of answers at night, and it can even require Junior to say “pretty please.”
The bad: As a relative newcomer to the smart home, Google has been catching up fast. But in my house, it still can’t fully control my Ring doorbell or send music to my Sonos speakers. And I’m not convinced that Google has Amazon’s negotiating sway, or the influence to bring the next generation of connected things online.
The bigger problem is privacy. Google’s endgame is always getting you to spend more time with its services, so it can gather more data to target ads at you. Like Alexa, Google Assistant keeps a recording of all your queries — every time you ask it to turn off the lights. Google treats this kind of like your Web search history, and uses it to target ads elsewhere. (Thankfully, It still keeps data from its Nest thermostat and home security division separate.) The potential upside is that when Google discovers your habits in all that data, it might be able to better automate your home — like what time all the lights should be off.
Supported smart home devices: Hundreds.
Who loves it: Privacy buffs and all-Apple households.
The good: Apple means business on security and privacy. Any device that wants to connect to HomeKit, its smart home software that works with Siri on the HomePod and iPhone, requires special encryption.
What’s more, your data is not attached to a personal profile, which aside from protecting your privacy also means that Apple is not using your home activity to sell or advertise things. (While other smart speakers keep recordings and transcriptions of what you say, Siri controls devices by making a request to its system through a random identifier, which cannot be tied to specific user.)
And Apple is pretty good at keeping the smart home simple. Setting up a smart home device is mostly just scanning a special code. Even creating routines, in which multiple accessories work in combination with a single command, is easier in the Siri’s companion Home app than with competitors.
The bad: You have to live in an all-Apple device world to reap these benefits. Siri’s a pretty good DJ, but only if you subscribe to Apple Music. You’re stuck with the HomePod as the one-size-fits-all smart speaker, and Siri still isn’t as competent as her AI competitors.
And Apple’s security-first approach has kept too many appliance makers from joining its ecosystem. Sure, it’s quality not quantity, but Siri still can’t interact with my Nest thermostat or Ring doorbell, just to name two. Apple did recently loosen up a tad: starting with Belkin Wemo’s Mini Smart Plug and Dimmer, it no longer requires special hardware for authentication — that can now happen via software. The move should make it simpler to make new products Siri compatible, and allow it access to existing ones.
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I had initially been a user of the JAWS screen reader since version 1.0 began shipping. I didn’t purchase it at that time but the product came out while I was working for Blazie Engineering in the 1990s. Blazie Engineering was a distributor of many third-party products, such as screen readers and speech synthesizers, and…
— Read on davidgoldfield.wordpress.com/2018/11/04/along-with-nvda-im-also-using-jaws-2019-heres-why/
A referendum on which voting system British Columbia should use for provincial elections is being held between October 22 and November 30, 2018.
Registered voters will receive a voting package in the mail between October 22 and November 2. If you do not receive a voting package or are not currently
a registered voter, you can ask for one from Elections BC, a Referendum Service Office or a Service BC location by November 23.
For this referendum, voters who read braille can request a braille template package and ballot question to be used when completing the mail-in voting package.
Please call Elections BC at 1-800-661-8683 to request a braille template and ballot question, or if you
have any questions regarding voting in the referendum. Information on the voting systems featured in
the referendum can also be found at
As we discussed this morning I have attached the text Elections BC supplied to the CNIB for a province-wide VoiceBlast. This information can be shared with the Alliance for the Equality of Blind Canadians, and the Canadian Federation of the Blind, Pacific Training Centre for the Blind to help reach as many British Columbians as possible.
Analyst, Executive Services
Toll-free: 1-800-661-8683/TTY 1-888-456-5448
Location: Suite 100-1112 Fort St, Victoria
Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog: President Trump Signs Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act
— Read on www.fredshead.info/2018/10/president-trump-signs-marrakesh-treaty.html
The headset’s ability to map a space and talk people through it may prove more important than the mixing-imagery-with-reality stuff.
— Read on www.technologyreview.com/s/611197/hololens-can-now-guide-the-blind-through-complicated-buildings/
Can braille survive in a smartphone world?
— Read on www.google.ca/amp/www2.philly.com/philly/health/can-braille-survive-in-a-smartphone-world-20180830.html?outputType=amp