Resource: artificial intelligence technologies is seeking Testers using Android Devices

Hey friends,

 

We are an MIT-based startup that’s developing artificial intelligence technology for the visually impaired and the blind. We have recently released a test version of our first app on Android. It is very different from any of the existing apps such as Envision or SeeingAI. It helps you locate empty chairs, doors, stairs, and other objects around you, by using cutting-edge artificial intelligence.

 

We are accepting a limited number of tech-savvy people to try the app out before it is released and become a tester for artificial intelligence technologies. If you are interested, you can follow this link:

 

Google Play Store link

 

I am looking forward to hearing your feedback.

 

Best,

 

Emre Sarbak

Mediate

 

Guest Post: Press Release; World Braille Day, January 4, 2019, Braille Literacy Canada

Braille Literacy Canada Commends the United Nations adoption of World Braille Day and Canada’s Accession to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

January 4, 2019 – Toronto – Braille Literacy Canada/Littératie braille Canada (BLC), as the Canadian braille authority, celebrates the United Nations’ recent adoption of World Braille Day, recognizing it as an official day to be celebrated annually on January 4th around the world, to coincide with the birth date of Louis Braille. Official recognition of World Braille Day on the international stage brings with it a strong message to both raise awareness and celebrate the importance of braille literacy for the generations of blind people who continue to benefit from it around the globe.

“Braille represents literacy, freedom and equality for the millions of blind people who use it around the world. It is as important as print is to the sighted,” explains Natalie Martiniello, president of Braille Literacy Canada. “It enables blind children to acquire literacy, raises employment and income levels, enables people who are blind to independently vote and exercise their citizenship, and to read personal and professional communications independently. We commend the United Nations for recognizing the importance of braille by designating January 4th as World Braille Day, and we celebrate alongside braille readers everywhere.”

BLC also commends the Government of Canada which has recently announced that Canada will accede to the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The UNCRPD sets guidelines to bolster the rights of persons with disabilities and calls for the abolishment of laws and practices that perpetuate discrimination. Importantly to BLC, the treaty also affirms and reinforces the importance of equal access to information for those unable to read print, including those Canadians who are blind or who have sight loss and who use braille.

Though Canada ratified the treaty in 2010, it only recently agreed to also be bound by the Optional Protocol, allowing the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints against Canada and providing a further level of recourse at the international level for Canadians with disabilities facing discrimination.

“Access to information is not a privilege, but a right,” explains Martiniello. “We applaud the Government of Canada for acceding to the optional protocol. We hope that the Optional Protocol will provide an additional protective layer where gaps in accessibility remain and that the introduction of the Accessible Canada Act will usher in an era of increased accessibility.”

* * *

Braille Literacy Canada / Littératie braille Canada is a national charitable organization that is dedicated to the promotion of braille as the primary medium of literacy for those who are blind or visually impaired and is recognized by the International Council on English Braille as the authority for the development and adoption of standards relating to braille in Canada.

For more information, please contact Natalie Martiniello, President, at 1-877-861-4576 or email president@blc-lbc.ca.

 

Guest Post: Works of art reimagined by Francine Kopun The Toronto Star

Works of art reimagined

OCAD University students rework a selection of AGO paintings into hands-on art the visually impaired can appreciate

 

Francine Kopun

The Toronto Star, Jan. 4, 2019

 

Peter Coppin remembers the discussion with a visually impaired student that helped him understand how much can be misunderstood when a person has to depend on words to understand what someone else can see.

 

They were talking about Italy and the student knew that Italy is shaped like a boot. But when Coppin described it as a boot with a high heel like the Three Muskateers would wear, the student laughed out loud. He had been envisioning Italy as an entirely different kind of boot shape and the idea of Italy as a Muskateer boot was comical to him.

 

It’s these chasms in understanding that Coppin and the Art Gallery of Ontario are trying to bridge with a program that brings multisensory projects, based on works of visual art, to AGO museum tours for people in the blind and low vision community.

 

While in the past museums have relied heavily on audio recordings and guides to bridge that gap, new practices are being brought on board, including multisensory aids designed by graduate students at OCAD University.

 

“Visuals are dominant in our culture. If you are a part of society and you don’t have access to visual items, then you don’t have access to a lot of  stuff about the culture that people who have vision have access to,” says Coppin, associate professor of the inclusive design graduate program and director of the perceptual artifacts lab at OCAD University.

 

In Coppin’s graduate class, students select a work of art at the AGO to interpret for people living with vision loss.

 

This year – the second year of the program – the works included four paintings: Tom Thomson’s The West Wind, Otto Dix’s Portrait of Dr. Heinrich Stadelmann; La Demoiselle de magasin by James Tissot and Jar of Apricots by Jean-Siméon Chardin.

 

In a way, it’s about getting back to the roots of what museums used to be, said Melissa Smith, co-ordinator of the gallery guide, adult education officer and access to art programs for the AGO.

 

Early museums began as private collections, typically belonging to the wealthy, who would share art and artifacts they had purchased or collected on their travels. They were displayed in “wonder rooms.” People were allowed to touch the items as part of the experience.

 

The AGO already offers multisensory tours for people living with vision loss, which include some works that can be touched – including the museum’s large Rodin sculptures – under supervision, but providing 3-D support for works of visual arts offers the possibility of evoking more than just the sense of touch.

 

For months, Coppin’s students grappled with the idea of how to render the terrifying look on Dr. Stadelmann’s face into a tactile experience and how to communicate the cold of the water in The West Wind.

 

“We were totally drawn to this portrait; the eerie atmosphere,” said student Shannon Kupfer, speaking of the Dix portrait. “I was dying to interpret it.”

 

Dix layered paint on the doctor’s eyes – they appear to bulge. He seems haunted. His hands are in fists by his sides. Kupfer and her partner, Tyson Moll, wanted viewers to feel that tension, and also feel the deep wrinkles in his face.

 

They made a 3-D replica of the doctor’s head in polymer clay that felt cold and a bit yielding, but still firm to the touch. The eyes bulge like they do in the painting.

 

They sewed hair onto his head in little batches, to mimic the strokes of the paintbrush in the painting. They made the body boxy and rigid, to communicate the physical tension in the painting. They gave him a rigid collar, backed by cardboard. His fists were made of polymer clay coated in silicone.

 

They also made it out of products that were easy to care for – the clothes are fastened with Velcro to make it easier for curators to remove them and wash them if necessary.

 

They recorded an audio component – a fluent German speaker reading a passage from one of Dr. Stadelmann’s writings, concerning avant-garde art in relation to what was then considered psychiatric wisdom. They included the hissing noise that used to accompany recordings played on records.

 

“It’s not just engaging for the low-sight community, it’s engaging for everyone. It’s such a cool way to get kids – or anyone – more engaged with art,” Kupfer said.

 

The problem of communicating the coldness of the water in Tom Thomson’s piece was solved more simply, with a bag of blue slime. To convey the feeling of wind, the students invested in a $20 miniature fan from Amazon.com.

 

“When you stand in front of this painting you can feel the strong wind because of the shape of the tree and the waves on the lake,” said student Norbert Zhao.

 

John Rae, who lost his eyesight in his 20s and is now blind, has been on the AGO multisensory tours and experienced the works made by this year’s OCAD students. While he liked the Otto Dix sculpture, some things didn’t communicate as planned. For example, without knowing anything about the painting, when Rae touched the sculpture, he thought the doctor was a boxer wearing gloves, because of the way the hands felt. “That comes from me as a sports fan,” said Rae, a retired public servant and a board member of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.

 

Rae liked the multisensory adaptation of Jar of Apricots, by students Nikkie To and Grace Mendez. The painting is a still life that includes a jar of apricots, a glass of wine, bread and a cup of tea.

 

Their model included dried apricots for tasting, jarred scents including a cork soaked in wine and apricot jam with added artificial apricot scent; 3-D printed objects including a tea cup and wine glass to handle, background music from the period and others sounds – touching the wine glass triggered the sound of a liquid being poured.

 

While Rae believes the multisensory aids provide another tool, he thinks museums in general need to consider making more objects available for handling by the blind and vision impaired. He cited as an example ancient pottery – while a museum may have perfect examples on display, it may also have imperfect examples in storage. What would be the harm, asks Rae, in making those available to people with limited eyesight, especially since the tours happen infrequently, involve about six to 12 items, and small numbers of people?

 

“One can learn a fair amount from the expertise that the people who run these tours bring to the table, but there is no substitute for being able to touch,” Rae said.

 

The challenge at the AGO, Smith said, is that in an art gallery the works tend to be flat and one-of-a-kind.

 

“Our conservators and curators do their utmost to ensure the objects, like sculptures, which make the most interesting objects to touch, are cared for and exhibited to support this program,” Smith said.

 

Ian White, president of a local Toronto chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind called the CCB Toronto Visionaries, said that while AGO tour leaders excel at describing art in a way that triggers the imagination, the multisensory tours are evocative.

 

“It starts a conversation about the piece, about the artist, about the history,” White said.

 

“It really allows people to engage with works that are part of our collective culture.”

 

 

Guest Post: Switching From JAWS To NVDA nvaccess/nvda-community Wiki · GitHub

Switching From JAWS To NVDA

To visit the website where this article is posted please access the above link.

 

Introduction

 

The purpose of this guide is to assist users of JAWS (Job Access With Speech), a commercial screen reader by Freedom Scientific to switch to the open source screen reader NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) with ease. It assumes prior knowledge of JAWS and that you are proficient in its use.

 

It is not intended to be a replacement of the included user guide, rather as a means to make NVDA seem less daunting.

 

Strengths And Weaknesses

 

The intent of this guide is not to be a comparison of JAWS and NVDA, but it is necessary to mention some things that NVDA doesn’t currently support or that needs improving so you can make an informed choice.

 

Support for advanced features of the Microsoft office suite is a fairly recent addition, so you may not find it as polished an experience as JAWS. However, this has been improved significantly in recent versions, and is constantly being worked on.

 

With that said, you’ll find that – in most daily situations, NVDA works just as well as JAWS, if not better in some cases.

 

A Quick Note about NVDA’s Laptop Keyboard Layout

 

Selecting the laptop keyboard layout does not automatically set the CapsLock key to act as the NVDA modifier key. However, a check box is provided next to the Keyboard Layout combo box to toggle this setting.

 

Note On The Insert Key.

 

As you may be aware, both JAWS and NVDA can use the insert key for its modifier key. Both screen readers treat it slightly differently, which could lead to some confusion if you are used to one or the other.

 

With JAWS loaded, the insert key is solely for its use. This means that, in order to use the original function assigned to it (such as switching between insert and overwrite modes in a text editor or word processor), you first have to activate JAWS’s pass key through command.

 

NVDA on the other hand allows you to carry out the insert key’s original function by pressing it twice quickly. Keep this in mind the next time you’re editing text while using NVDA and find yourself erasing what you’ve already written by typing over it.

 

Alternatives to eSpeak

 

eSpeak NG is the speech synthesizer that is included with NVDA. Like NVDA itself, it is also free and open source, which is one of the reasons for its inclusion. Another being the shear amount of languages it can speak.

 

However, you may find that, for whatever reason, it is not for you. If this is the case you will be glad to know that there are alternatives, which will be discussed in the following sections.

 

Eloquence

 

One of the most asked questions concerns the use of the Eloquence synthesizer with NVDA. Until recently, it was illegal to do so, as explained by a developer.  However, Code Factory has released a version of eloquence as an NVDA add-on which can be purchased from this link.

 

A license to use Nuance’s Vocalizer synthesizer is also included in the price.

 

See the section entitled “Scripts” for information about NVDA add-ons.

 

Windows OneCore voices

 

If you are on Windows 10 and are running NVDA version 2017.3 or later, you have yet another alternative in the shape of Windows OneCore voices. These voices are developed by Microsoft and are included free of charge with windows 10.

 

There are quite a few available in various languages and dialects; some of which will already be installed. However, these will vary depending on the language packs you have on your system. The only way at present to get new voices is to install other language packs in Settings. Once done, you can then download the voices for that language. At which point, you can remove the language pack. This will not effect the voices you have just installed. hopefully this will be made more simpler in the future.

 

If you find that Windows OneCore voices do not speak fast enough, even when NVDA’s speech rate is at its highest, adjust the speech rate in windows settings as well.

 

Their slight complications aside, these voices offer a viable alternative to eSpeak NG as they are responsive and quite natural sounding.

 

Even more voices

 

If you still cannot find the perfect voice for you, This page lists several other speech synthesizers (both free and paid you can use instead.

 

Terminology

 

Most of the time, both NVDA and JAWS share a lot of the same terminology to describe controls e.g. radio buttons, combo boxes, check boxes etc.

 

One notable difference is that NVDA differentiates between single and multi-line edit fields, and will also tell you if a field is “protected” (anything you type will be replaced by asterisks). It will also alert you if text is selected in a field when you tab over to it. If so, typing will replace the highlighted text.

 

NVDA refers to the different languages a speech synthesizer can speak as voices, and the different voices supported by your synthesizer as variants.

 

Cursors

 

NVDA has various cursors to aid in navigating Windows and applications, similar to JAWS. The terminology is slightly different as described below.

 

The PC cursor in NVDA’s documentation is referred to as the system focus and system caret.

 

The equivalent to the JAWS cursor is a combination of object navigation, the review cursor and the various review modes; such as Document review, object review and Screen Review. The Screen Review function is the one perhaps most similar to the JAWS cursor, however it is beneficial to become familiar with all of these. You will find thorough, easy to understand instructions in the user guide.

 

Unlike JAWS, you don’t have to switch between the PC and JAWS cursor equivalents as the numpad is reserved exclusively for working with the JAWS cursor like functions.

 

It is worth noting that when you use object navigation or the review cursor, the mouse does not move in sync. You have to press a command to move the mouse to the location of the review cursor, which is similar to how JAWS’ “invisible cursor” works. There are also commands to simulate clicking or locking both

mouse buttons.

 

However, if you simply want to activate the current object you are focused on when using object navigation, there is a command to do this without having to move the mouse cursor to it first.

 

Touch cursor

 

In JAWS 15 or later, you can use numpad keys to navigate apps using a tree-like structure, similar to how users of smartphone screen readers such as VoiceOver would navigate touchscreens. in NVDA, object navigation and object mode touch commands can be used for this purpose

 

Virtual Cursor

 

The virtual cursor in NVDA is known as browse mode. It functions in much the same way as JAWS, giving you access to navigation quick keys, or in NVDA speak, single letter navigation.

 

Following are some common issues you may encounter when browsing the web with NVDA for the first time, and how to address them.

 

Why Is Everything On One Line?

 

In case you are unaware, JAWS has two modes for displaying webpages or other documents using the virtual cursor; simple layout and screen layout. Simple layout is the default, which displays content in a linear fashion – putting each link or control on its own line. Screen layout formats the content similar to how it’s displayed on screen.

 

The default in NVDA is screen layout, but you can easily switch to its version of simple layout by pressing NVDA+V while in browse mode. This will turn Screen layout off. Be sure to save your configuration after making this change with NVDA+CTRL+c.

 

It Keeps Saying Clickable Clickable Clickable.

 

While reading webpages, you might notice sometimes that NVDA says “clickable”, even multiple times on the same link or control.

 

As of version 2018.4 and later, NvDA will now only say clickable once, so if you experience this issue, please upgrade your copy.

 

You can also turn off the announcement of clickable elements entirely by going to document formatting in settings and unchecking “clickable” in the elements group.

 

Find doesn’t work on the web.

 

While JAWS is loaded, pressing ctrl+f in Internet Explorer or Firefox brings up the JAWS Find dialogue rather than activating the browser’s built-in find command. This is to allow you to search for text using the virtual cursor. The regular find command will search for the next occurrence of the entered text, but will not move the virtual cursor to that location. This is due to how screen readers interact with web pages.

 

NVDA has its own find command to search in browse mode, but it has not been tied to CTRL+F, so pressing that shortcut key calls up the browser’s find command, hence find not working as expected.

 

To bring up NVDA’s find dialogue, press ctrl+NVDA+F. Type in what you wish to find then press enter.

 

No commands to view forms and headings?

 

In JAWS, you can press JAWS+F5 to list forms, JAWS+F6 to list headings and JAWS+F7 to list links. In NVDA, the latter two have been combined into an elements list dialog, and you can access it by pressing NVDA+F7.

 

Forms Mode

 

The equivalent of forms mode in NVDA is focus mode, and it behaves very similar to JAWS, Even switching modes automatically when navigating through a webpage.

It will play a sound alerting you to which mode you are in.

 

Details about Focus Mode can be found in the user guide.

 

NVDA talks too much.

 

Sometimes you may find that NVDA can seem overly verbose, particularly in some list views. This is because as far as NVDA is concerned, list views are tables. NVDA is configured by default to announce each column or row header.

 

To turn that option off, uncheck “Report table row/column headers” in the “Document Formatting” dialogue.

 

Solving unexpected Speech Dictionary behaviour.

 

NVDA has always included a function to edit “Speech Dictionaries”, which are similar to JAWS’ dictionary manager files. However, until recently, the result of adding a word to them might not be what you had expected. If you added a word you wanted to change the pronunciation of to a dictionary , such as “mono”, any word that started with or included the word mono would be affected. Whereas in JAWS, only the text entered into the “actual word” field would be affected, unless you appended an asterisk (*). So as in this example, mono would be seen as a route word.

 

There was a work around, but this involved regular expressions, which aren’t at all obvious to the average user. However, as of 2014.4 or later, you will now find a group of radio buttons in the Add/edit dictionary entry labelled type, which determines how the text in the pattern, (NVDA speak for actual word), box will be treated.

 

list of 3 items

  • anywhere, which is the default behavior.
  • Whole word, which is how JAWS handles dictionary entries.
  • Regular Expression, which is complicated. You will also find a case sensitive check box.

list end

 

If you previously found NVDA’s speech dictionaries frustrating, be sure to take another look.

 

Scripts

 

Like JAWS, scripts can be added to NVDA to provide support for other applications or to add new features that can be accessed from anywhere. These script packages are called NVDA Add-ons. You can find several add-ons here:

http://addons.nvda-project.org/

 

These include a few that emulate JAWS features not currently present in NVDA such as a system tray list, virtualise window function and ability to append text to clipboard. Scripts for popular applications such as GoldWave are also available. The user guide has details on installing add-ons, and you can read help documentation that comes with each add-on to learn more about how to use the add-on.

 

The following link is to the developer guide with information on how to create ad-ons.

http://community.nvda-project.org/documentation/developerGuide.html

 

Remote access

 

In 2015, Christopher Toth and Tyler Spivey released a free add-on to allow NVDA users to provide remote support, similar to JAWS Tandem. To learn more about this add-on, go to

http://www.nvdaremote.com

 

Application-specific settings

 

Until recently, NVDA’s settings were global (applied everywhere). Starting with NVDA 2013.3, it is possible to configure certain settings to be applied when using a program. This is done by creating an app-specific configuration profile. To create an app-specific profile, open the Configuration Profiles dialogue while using the app in question. To open the dialogue, hit NVDA, N, to bring up the NVDA menu. arrow down until you hear configuration profiles.

 

When the dialogue opens, select New, and select “current application” when asked when to use this profile.

 

Alternate say all

 

In recent versions of JAWS, you can configure a different speech synthesizer to be used when say all is active. You can do this in NVDA by creating a say all profile in the configuration profiles menu.

 

Here are the steps.

 

list of 3 items

  1. Open the configurations profile from the main NVDA menu. Press NVDA, N, then arrow down to configuration profiles.
  2. Create a new profile by tabbing to the new button or press alt, N.
  3. After you name your profile, tab to the profile usage radio butttons. arrow down untill you hear say all. Hit OK

list end

 

while this profile is active, you need to complete the process by configuring the synthesizer while the say all profile is active.

 

© 2018 GitHub, Inc.

 

Message from CCB President: Canada accedes to the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Canada accedes to the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

News release

December 3, 2018         Ottawa, Ontario                   Employment and Social Development Canada

The Government of Canada is working to create a truly accessible Canada. Today, as part of these efforts, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, along with the ministers of Justice, Foreign Affairs and Canadian Heritage, announced that, with the support of all provinces and territories, Canada has acceded to the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Accession to the Optional Protocol means that Canadians will have additional recourse to make a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, if they believe their rights under the Convention have been violated.

Along with the proposed Accessible Canada Act, which was recently adopted by the House of Commons and is now before the Senate, today’s announcement shows that the Government of Canada is taking another step towards creating a barrier-free Canada.

Recently released data from Statistics Canada reinforce the importance of a more inclusive and accessible Canada. The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disabilities shows that the prevalence of disabilities among Canadians is greater than many realize, with 22% of Canadians identifying as having a disability. The new data will be used by the federal government to help build a more inclusive society that benefits all people in Canada – especially persons with disabilities – through the realization of a Canada without barriers.

Quotes

“Over the last year, our government has taken important steps to help realize a barrier-free Canada. Today, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we celebrate those accomplishments and look towards the future of accessibility in Canada with optimism. Canada’s accession to the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities builds on our work and sends a clear message that we are committed to the rights of persons with disabilities and committed to giving all Canadians a fair chance at success.”
– The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility

“Canada joining this UN convention is about protecting and promoting the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. As a country, we need to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities and enjoys the same rights. Today is a step forward to making that goal a reality.”
– The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs

“I am proud that the Government of Canada is taking this step to advance the rights of persons with disabilities. Enabling the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints of violations of rights under the Convention is an important way to strengthen and protect the human rights of Canadians with disabilities.”
– The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

“Promoting and advancing human rights for everyone is a fundamental part of our Canadian identity. It is important that federal, provincial and territorial governments continue to work together to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities. I am proud of the intergovernmental consultation held in support of Canada’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and I look forward to driving further change.”
The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism

“This announcement regarding the Optional Protocol, along with this government’s intention to pass the proposed Accessible Canada Act, sends a strong message to Canadians with and without disabilities that this government truly believes in inclusion and equality for all. This is one positive step to ensuring that Canadians with intellectual disabilities have their voices heard and that we are one step closer to ensuring we are not the left behind of the left behind.”
–  Kory Earle, President, People First of Canada

Quick facts

The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention) is an international human rights instrument that requires State Parties to the Convention to promote, protect and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities. Canada ratified the Convention in 2010.

The Optional Protocol establishes two procedures. The first is a complaint procedure that allows individuals and groups to take complaints to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the case of an alleged violation of their rights under the Convention. The second is an inquiry procedure that allows the Committee to inquire into allegations of grave or systematic violations of the Convention by a State Party.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of the Convention by States Parties.

As of November 2018, there are 177 States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with 93 States Parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

Under Bill C-81, approximately $290 million over six years would serve to further the objectives of the proposed legislation.

One in five people—22 percent of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over, or about 6.2 million individuals—had one or more disabilities, according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disabilities.

The survey also reports that people with severe disabilities aged 25 to 64 years are more likely to be living in poverty than their counterparts without disabilities (17 percent) or with milder disabilities (23 percent).

Related products

Associated links

Contacts

Ashley Michnowski
Director of Communications
Office of the Honourable Carla Qualtrough
819-997-5421
ashley.michnowski@canada.ca

Media Relations Office
Employment and Social Development Canada
819-994-5559
media@hrsdc-rhdcc.gc.ca
Follow us on Twitter

 

Louise

 

Louise Gillis

National President

The Canadian Council of the Blind

20 James St. Suite 100

Ottawa, ON. K2P 0T6

1-877-3040968

613-567-0311

(902)304-1276

ccbpresident@ccbnational.net

www.ccbnational.net

 

 

Guest Post: Braille Literacy Canada Newsletter, November 30, 2018

November 2018 Newsletter

In This Issue

  1. Message from the President (Natalie Martiniello, BLC President)
  2. Braille is …
  3. Helping Santa Deliver Braille Letters: A T-Base Tradition (Cassandra Peterson)
  4. Report on the 2018 CNIB Braille Conference (Kim Kilpatrick, BLC Secretary)
  5. CELA Braille Services Update (Lindsay Tyler, Senior Manager, CELA)
  6. Titres en impression relief et en braille français (Rebecca Blaevoet (BLC Director) and Emmanuel Blaevoet)
  7. Braille Transcription Free of Charge!(CNIB Brailleroom)
  8. UEB Christmas Trees? (Jen Goulden, Past President)
  9. Braille and Technology Together: Braille Screen Input in iOS (Ashley Eve Shaw Galbraith)
  10. Social Media News Links

Message from the President

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 info@blc-lbc.ca. 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.

Yours truly,
Natalie Martiniello
President, Braille Literacy Canada

Braille is …

We’ve asked BLC members and friends to complete the sentence “braille is…”. Here is what they had to say!

Braille is…

…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!

…Memorizing

…The best way to help me learn

…Useful on elevators, money and medication (Ahmad, ESL student)

…Reading, writing and math

…Information

…Entertainment

…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

Helping Santa Deliver Braille Letters: A T-Base Tradition

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:

Santa Claus
North Pole HOH OHO
CANADA

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.

Report on the 2018 CNIB Braille Conference

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.

CELA Braille Services Update

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 help@celalibrary.ca 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.

Titres en impression relief et en braille français

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:

  • Les formes de bases;
  • Accorder une image avec un mot qui le décrit;
  • L’orientation spatiale;
  • La directionalité;
  • La taille relative;
  • Le commencement de l’abstraction, qui est une connaissance critique pour le développement de l’enfant et la préparation à sa vie d’adulte;
  • Une représentation des choses qui sont plus difficiles à toucher en réalité (une maison par exemple)

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

http://www.tactilevisiongraphics.com

Braille Transcription Free of Charge!

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.

  • Letters and greeting cards
  • Household labels
  • Music scores
  • Course materials
  • Prescription/medical information

Note that this is not an exhaustive list.

Email your text in a Word document to: brailleroom@cnib.ca

Mail or drop off your printed materials:

CNIB Brailleroom (Room 104)
1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, ON M4G 3E8

UEB Christmas Trees?

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!

Braille and Technology Together: Braille Screen Input in iOS

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 News Links

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


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Guest Post: I live with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. Here’s which one you should pick By Geoffrey A. Fowler The Washington Post

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

https://www.thestar.com/business/technology/opinion/2018/11/21/i-live-with-alexa-google-assistant-and-siri-heres-which-one-you-should-pick.html

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.

Article Continued Below

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.

Read more:

Look who isn’t talking: Why Canadians are being left behind in the voice-activated tech wars

Tech is trying to invade your home, kitchen-first

The 5 home renovation trends dominating this year

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

Article Continued Below

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.

Alexa

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.

Google Assistant

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.

Siri

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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Guest Post: Along With NVDA I’m Also Now Using JAWS 2019. Here’s Why. | Thoughts from David Goldfield

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/