Jun 24, 2020
This programme is financially supported by the fundings from the European Commission.
You are listening to the EBU Access Cast. The first official podcast from European Blind Union about assistive technology for blind and partially sighted people.
And here are the hosts.
[Tanja] Hello and welcome to the EBU Access Cast. This is episode 23. My name is Tanja Kleut and I will be the host of this podcast. We have the full crew and I have with me Mario from Luxembourg.
[Mario] Hey, guys.
[Tanja] Hello, and Pawel from Poland.
[Pawel] Hello. Welcome back, everyone.
[Tanja] Hello. And Bart Simons from Belgium.
[Bart] Hello, Tanja. Hello Pawel. Hello. Mario.
[Tanja] Hello. Great to have you here. All.
so what's up, guys?
[Mario] I started to work back from my office, so no more teleworking.
[Tanja] Yeah, deconfinement has started. But I'm working still from home, I think it is safer. But at least if we can work from home, I think it's safer.
[Mario] Yeah. What about the rest of you guys? Are you still teleworking?
[Pawel] So here the lockdown is easing. So there are new measures in place to let us be out and about. I personally work as I worked, so I do things online anyway. But it looks like I might be moving soon to another place, too. And with possibly new working perspectives. So, yeah, I hope it will be already on place, at least at the beginning, so I can get to know everything and everybody. But so far the people that I know mostly go back to work anyway. So this is also getting easier here. But yeah, some still do stay. And I've heard already that it's going to be a sort of trend as well, that some people are going to stay on remote work. Some feel actually more comfortable working like three days in the office and two days on remote working and they find a good balance. So maybe that will be a new lifestyle.
[Mario] I wouldn't complain to have like every Friday working from home. I would be very happy with that. We'll see.
[Bart] Same for us. We go to something like mixed. It's allowed to go to the office. But yeah, you can see that they are still precautious and I haven't been so far, but I plan to go more regularly because also in the summer holiday our daughter will be more home and it will be more difficult to work from home when she's running here around. So it's good that we start to have a choice.
[Tanja] Yes, I agree with you. Regarding telework, I purchased a new PC headset, exactly for teleworking, with which I'm really very happy. The manufacturer is MPOW. And the model is 071. So they have the 3.5 mm jack + USB, meaning that you plug the 3.5 in the connector and then you can attach the USB directly to the computer. Which means that you can use both or either 3.5 or USB depending on the computer or phone that you would like to use, which is very handy. I tried it also on my iPhone and it works perfectly with this 3.5 together with the lightning adaptor. They're very light. They're only 175 grams and at the moment I'm speaking from these headphones, so I hope the sound is also OK. But I think for conferencing it is the good quality. For the earpads, they have a memo foam which makes them soft and it's not unpleasant to wear them for long hours.
[Mario] Which is important.
[Tanja] Which is very important for teleworking, exactly. And also the mike has a pop filter, it is attached on the headset. I cannot detach it, but. Well, anyway, I am using it mostly with the mike. And the price point is 40€. I bought it on Amazon. They arrived very quickly in a few days. So if you need such a headset, I really recommend them.
[Bart] You don't mind to have your both ears covered while your working longer periods?
[Tanja] No, for me it's better because I don't hear the sounds around me. Sometimes I have a little bit noisy environments, so for me is much, much better to have ears well covered. So maybe even I am not hearing well around me, so maybe I'm even speaking more loudly. But no, it's perfect for me. And I bought this headset because I had already before the standard headset with extra mike. So the mike was not attached to the headset, but I was searching for a headset with additional volume controls and mike mute button and well, it has also mute for speaker or for the headset.
[Tanja] Exactly, separate, which is very handy because during the conferences it is wise to mute yourself because when you have many people on the conference, if you have your mike active, it makes a strange noise. So it's perfect for this.
[Pawel] Do you also have something about online control? Because I read the description of the headset on the Amazon link you provided us before and I saw there's something about online, something control. Maybe I misunderstood it, but is there actually some possibility and a need to control this headset externally for some functions, or is it just a touch control on the cable?
[Tanja] It is attached.
[Pawel] I can also tell it works great for podcasts. I can hear you really clearly and from close proximity, not too close but really close. You get understood very clearly and your voice carries through really nicely because I'm also thinking of getting myself something extra for podcasting. I'm using the Zoom H2, which is an actual sound recorder. But the thing is that it has to stay because of the way the cables are organised here, quite close by my fan of the laptop and Mario can already say something about this. My laptop fans are running and it is definitely heard in the recordings, so I thought I might get some extra podcast things. So my mouth is closer to the computer and also thinking between either a headset or an actual like unidirectional capacitive microphone, more studio-like, but I don't have a proper studio here. So, maybe it's too much of an overkill like a Blue Yeti. But I think a headset like this, it could work,
[Tanja] I think for the noise it's perfect because this headset has also noise reduction. So I compared this headset to my Snowball microphone and it was doing a better noise reduction comparing to the mike because I guess that usually the microphones are collecting more sounds comparing to the headset.
[Mario] A friend of mine bought the same headset and we had a chat over Zoom a few weeks ago, and I was really surprised when I heard him. What's this? This sounds really good. Yeah. I have to say also that you are coming very well through the headset. And when you compare what you're getting for the price, it's really good. I mean, the fact that the mike is really nice and clear. Is great the fact that you have the controls right on the headset. This is also fantastic. You can use it even with your phone, which has a 3.5 mm headphone in because it has standard
3.5 thing which you just plug into this USB. So, yeah, it's really versatile and if somebody is looking for a decent headset I would say, go for it because eventually they are better than some other ones which are more expensive.
[Tanja] And when I was checking other headsets, I saw that many others are much more heavy. And I think if you're planning to use a headset for a longer period of time, it is quite important to have a light headset. And the warranty is 2 years. The one which you get from Amazon is 1 year, but you can extend it on the manufacturer's website to 2 years. Which is great.
[Pawel] Is the wiring stable? Are the cables solid? Do they look like they will last long?
[Tanja] For me, yes. They seem quite stable for me.
[Pawel] I also like this dual approach of actually giving you a jack based headset with an adaptor to extend it to USB, because then you can reuse the adaptor for some other devices as well. And I saw also these products on the Internet somewhere where you have a jack combined with Bluetooth. So you can disconnect the headset that you bought and plug in something else to the adaptor and stream over Bluetooth. I like this kind of approach. This is really universal.
[Mario] Yeah, that's cool.
[Tanja] Okay. Do you have some other recommendations for new gadgets?
[Mario] Actually, not really for my side.
[Tanja] It's not a problem if you don't.
[Mario] Not for this month. Oh yeah, I have. But we will talk about it later.
[Pawel] Yeah. Same here because we actually got our mother a Mi Band 4 and we can talk about it later because we also have something for fitness lovers here. So we'll definitely get to that. But it's an interesting device as well. And I know that blind people are also satisfied users of this particular sports band. So listen on.
[Tanja] The first news is from Apple. Apple released iOS 13.5 already a few weeks ago. And there are several new functionalities. And one of them, which is maybe the most interesting one, is the Exposure Notification System API. That is a new system that we spoke already in previous episodes that public health agencies can now incorporate in their applications. This has been shown, the contact tracing system, one of the most efficient ways to find people who are diagnosed with COVID 19. And what is important is that it is fully voluntary so the user can decide whether to use this system or not. And also they say that the application or the API is not collecting the location from your device. So in this sense, we keep our privacy. And also public health agencies have samples from Google and Apple because they published sample codes on which they can build their applications. So this applies also for Android.
[Bart] This is specifically for iOS 13 and it will not be released for earlier versions? I have my iPhone six and iOS 12. They won't bring this API to the older versions?
[Tanja] Yeah, which is a pity.
[Bart] I shouldn't get sick then. That's OK. That's a deal.
[Mario] I've heard that during the later time of the year they will find a way how to do the back port for the previous versions of iOS. So it should be possible that you will get it.
[Pawel] I think it should be possible to distribute it, for example. I'm not sure for 100 percent, but I can imagine this could go as a carrier service update. Honestly, we were speaking about iOS, but this is, I think, even more tragic with Android, where you are not really sure if you'll get the next update. And if Google decides, OK, we'll include it in the security updates, which everyone will get for a little longer. That's fine, because many people will get it. But well, if you bought a device and suddenly it loses support for the following Android version, then we're in a bit more trouble. On one side, we cannot use it, on the other side, how reliable can you find it to be if it will not even support most of the devices the society is using at the moment? So, yeah, it's interesting how they will distribute it for older devices. I think there should be a way.
[Mario] Actually, regarding the Android thing, I have it already on my phone and my phone is running 8.0. It probably came out with a carrier service update, which I received a few days ago. Because right now, if I go on the settings and under the Google account, there is a separate heading for the COVID 19 notifications, which is exactly what's also available on the Apple devices, though for the moment, everything is disabled because I don't have any other apps compatible with it. But let's say that my phone is kind of ready to receive the apps if they come on line.
Pawel, you should maybe also check your phone. If you received the carrier's services, your phone should also have it.
[Pawel] I will have a look. Because I had a couple of those recently and also some security updates. And also our national app has been made compatible with these protocols in the latest update. So I would imagine this should be already available.
[Tanja] Here in Luxembourg, we don't have an application yet.
[Mario] No, the latest information is that they will make an app because until very recently and I'm talking like the beginning of this week, there was an agreement in the government that, yeah, we should rely more on the human contact tracing and blah, blah, blah.
[Tanja] Initially the politicians were not really keen to adopt this.
[Mario] At one point, one of the parties that was against it, changed their mind. So it's probable that we will get something in the near future. But yeah, let's wait and see.
[Tanja] The other functionality that I wanted to mention, is the one that, if you're wearing the mask, phones skip the face ID and pass to the passcode field. It will not tell you anymore that the face has not been recognised, but it will skip directly to the passcode, which is more convenient.
[Mario] Did anybody try? Is it really working?
[Pawel] I heard from somebody who has, and it works. My only concern is that this devalidates the whole reason of face ID, I suppose. Or is it like a more secure version that can distinguish your face or somehow your characteristics? Your physionomy?
[Tanja] Exactly. This is what I was thinking. So then apparently just you are switching from a more secure to a less secure way of accessing the phone.
[Mario] Sure. But that's the only way, if you're wearing a mask, how you can unlock the device.
[Pawel] There might be a way of tricking somebody else's phone into unlocking even though you are not the owner?
[Bart] Well, you still need the PIN code. This has always been the fallback mechanism. If your face could not be recognised, there was always a fallback: a four or six digit passcode. Now, there is just a little time saver that will not try several attempts in recognising you when it sees a mask. So it is just a two, three second time saver that they added now and switch more quickly to the fallback pass code.
[Tanja] Ok. after Apple, I would like to focus on the Google application. So Google developed an experimental social distancing web application. Sodar is the acronym for Social Distancing Radar that uses augmented reality to help you keep the distance of 2 metres. It is only an Android application and it can work only from Google Chrome browser.
[Pawel] I have tried it on my Motorola One, which already supports the AR play services. That is the needed component to make it run. And I must say, I had difficulties using it. I accepted all the permissions. The way it's supposed to work is, you draw a ring of approximately 2 metres around yourself with the camera. So you just turn the phone round and round and then it's supposed to detect any kind of obstacles within the distance to tell you that you're probably too close to somebody. Unfortunately, from what I've read, it's not trained enough to distinguish between people and other objects. If you have furniture around, it's also detected as a possible person that you should be in distance with. But I even didn't get to that point because the Web page, at least to me, was completely blank. So there was no control to click. There were no instructions that would tell me what to do. There was nothing. And even though I circled the phone round and round, I didn't get any kind of feedback, any sound or vibration or anything. So I suppose this is either not accessible or I didn't try hard enough, which could also be. But yeah, potentially this could be not accessible at the moment.
[Mario] I tried it on my phone, but my phone is too old, so I wasn't even able to get it to run because I'm running Android 8. It's probably for Android 9 or 10. So nothing for me. No distance. I have to go two metres from my mike.
[Tanja] So you have to use your cane to measure the distance.
[Mario] And hold the tip of my cane and give the other end ... [laughter]
[Pawel] There is potential for a new generation of assistive technology that we could get at some possible expo next year maybe and social distance measures. There may be some kind of sonar, similar product.
[Mario] Actually, I just thought of one more use of the Sunu band. It has the possibility of fine adjustments, like, how far do you want something to be announced. So there is a distance of 2 metres.
[Pawel] You need profiles, I guess, to switch between when you want to detect just people and people and obstacles and everything else?
[Mario] You have two profiles basically on the Sunu: the close one and the further one, for indoors and outdoors. So basically I think that already the indoors, I have to check.
[Tanja] The indoors is one point five already. But you can change it.
[Mario] You can change it to 2 metres.
[Pawel] Great one.
[Tanja] The next topic is Windows 10 accessibility news. And there are plenty of them. Narrator added sounds in most common actions. E.g. scan on and scan off was announced before with the words, now it can be announced with sounds. Also browsing has been improved. NARRATOR now starts to read automatically the page from the top. And it assures that the page has been loaded. It's an easy way for us to know whether it has been loaded. And also now we can have a summary of landmarks and links and headings on the page, which we do have with other screen readers, but now we can have it also with Narrator. That is very convenient. And this can be activated by pressing Narator key and S on the keyboard. It is great to see that Narrator is improving with every update.
[Mario] Sure. They also support Firefox now.
[Tanja] Exactly. In Firefox it works too, together with Google Chrome and Edge Chromium or old Edge even.
[Pawel] What I also found interesting in this update, is that they included a feature which displays the most popular links on a particular Web site, as measured by Bing. And what you can also do is when there is a link which says here (that doesn't tell you much as to where it leads) You can actually check what's the title of the destination link. So before you even go there, just by looking at the list of links, you can tell to which page it is taking you.
And this is an interesting discussion, especially with Bing popular links, how much we can go further with accessibility if we start using data collected from what people do. And also really thinking about this, when Facebook had an issue of face recognition technology in Europe, which many people associate with spying and basically some system somewhere knowing the face of every person because of the photos.
And I thought, but, hey, thanks to this technology, I'll be able to tell who of my friends is in the photo I am viewing. And this is really interesting. Issues of privacy and collecting data and so on and accessibility features being also based on cloud, because as soon as you don't have internet connection, you cannot make use of this feature. So a piece of this accessibility is taken away from you. But it's really interesting how far we would go with accessibility if more data was collected.
[Tanja] Yes, exactly. Accessibility in collision with privacy.
[Pawel] Sometimes screen readers are treated like viruses.
[Mario] You remember that situation a few years ago when I don't remember which antivirus was complaining that NVDA was treated as false positive.
[Tanja] Ah, really?
[Pawel] I think Kaspersky or another antivirus didn't let you browse its windows with a keyboard so you cannot navigate through the interface with the screen reader on, unless you turn off some kind of protection, because then it accepts the pass through key input, which sort of navigates through controls. So I think it's a sort of historical atavism where the screen readers, in order to operate, actually had to inject their processes into every EXE they operated on because there were no native API's to work with. This was the issue of Firefox a couple of years ago where suddenly Firefox stopped working for many people or was very laggy. And the reason was that they were switching into this new API's, which were natively written to accommodate assistive technology as opposed to injecting screen reader into every process. So this is actually like still seen this there was the unofficial way of accessing the computer, the Screen reader, which had to sort of play the bad guy to allow access. It's really interesting.
[Tanja] I had recently the experience of the application of my bank where when the screen reader was active, the application was closing. And when the screen reader Voiceover was not active, I could access my bank easily. So probably Voiceover was identified as an issue, but I reported this to my bank and hopefully the fix will be in July.
[Pawel] Keep our fingers crossed.
[Tanja] And some other new functionalities in Windows 10, are that now magnifier follows the mouse pointer. I was not aware that before, this was not the case. So now, apparently partially impaired users will be able to more easily follow the mouse pointer with a magnifier. And also they will be able to personalise the text pointer to make it more wider or in a different colour.
[Mario] And if I'm correct, also they redesigned the cursors. So the cursors are now much easier to spot for the visually impaired people, especially in the text areas. So that's also important. And what else?
[Pawel] The reading feature.
[Mario] They improved also the reading feature for Narrator. So the pronunciation is much better. It doesn't make so big pauses or stuff like that. It sounds more natural. And what's also very important is that if you're using Microsoft Outlook for your e-mails, it's much easier to skim through the messages and be much faster and more productive with the narrator, which is great.
When I'm looking at these changes, what's happening in windows, it always brings me to the question "what would happen if we would have the same choices that we would have today if we would have them a few years earlier"? Would we use very famous commercial products for our home use, or we would stick to Windows Narrator, which is really coming along very well. I mean, for a home user right now who is not very picky about using various kinds of applications. Narator can do more than fine. And you wouldn't need to spend so much money in the other products, not to say anything against the other products. But I'm just saying, it's really cool to see Windows having finally the product which is becoming a Very good product. I can safely say that Narrator is now becoming a screen reader, it's no longer the assistive aid or something like that. It really has screen reader functions. And the only thing basically what are we missing right now where we could see the improvements in the future versions are some kind of scripts or modules for Narator.
[Bart] That was going to be my question. Does it work well in third party applications now? In the beginning it was mostly working in Windows and Office applications and Microsoft products. But, for instance, this Zoom program that we are currently using, does Narator work there as well?
[Mario] I don't know. I didn't check it. The kind of trend, and I can understand that, is that it natively supports Microsoft products? I didn't test it in the outside environment.
For all the things related to Windows and Microsoft products, there are cases where Narator even works better than the other products as well.
[Bart] I think where you say indeed there is no scripting language like you have with commercial screen readers
[Mario] Not yet.
[Bart] Maybe if you make very limited use of your computer, it could be enough.
[Pawel] It would work well in the Windows 10 apps that you get off the Microsoft Store, There it might be even better. And I also heard some people had more success with certain music products. I think it was either something from native instruments or something that I think was slightly better.
[Bart] It's also easier for developers who want to test with a screen reader if they have it already on their device bundled with the operating system. It is easier to ask from a developer "did you test with a screen reader?".
[Mario] Yeah, sure. Especially now that Narator basically supports all the browsers, so people can test it. And there is also a developer mode in Narator, which is kind of a screen curtain. So people can test it even that way.
[Pawel] There is also one small feature I wanted to point out in this Narrator update which could be interesting for partially sighted people. It's the reading mode where you can actually have Narrator read something for you: a passage of text for example. This is especially for people who experience an eye fatigue when they read for too long and certain longer texts are already too difficult for them to read with their eyes. And you can actually point to that passage and have it read. And there is a mini player that you can use to handle all the operations like play, stop, fast forward, rewind and so on. It's great because all the major operating systems have it already. Both Apple and Google ecosystems have it so why not Microsoft? And it's good that it's finally there.
[Mario] And we forgot to mention that all of these things are coming with this last update of Windows 10, which is 2004. So if you don't have it, check out in the updates section. If your computer is receiving it, if not yet, wait for a few days or a few weeks until it becomes ready for your PC and then you will be able to get it, or if you're really keen on testing the stuff, you can do the manual updates with windows updates assistant. It should be safe. But, yeah, we just have to give you a warning that there is a possibility that sometimes if you do that, the hardware may fail on something. And it should not be so stable, so maybe if you're not 100% sure you might want to wait until you receive official notification from Microsoft.
[Tanja] German researchers in Bayreuth University have developed an ultrasonic haptic speaker that allows to display braille without any contact. Their system is very interesting now as we are trying to have minimal contact around us because of COVID 19. But this is not ready yet. It has been tested with different participants and the success is 88%. So 88% of the participants were able to identify the 4 dots. They say.
[Mario] Why not 6?
[Tanja] Well, they say 4. Maybe with 6 it would be even more difficult. But I think it's a very interesting concept as it is contactless, but it would be really interesting to experience it, as I wonder how much time you would need to read with such a system, because already with Braille, most of the persons need more time to read. And with this, I guess it will take even longer. But I guess it is only for short text, like in some public spaces, like maybe the direction or number of the floor in the elevator, those were mentioned as examples.
[Pawel] And they also mentioned bus schedules. And I'm not sure, this is a bit longer information and a bit more structured. It should be a sort of a table. So I'm also wondering how because it's a longer text and in general, I'm quite curious how it feels to your hand because they compare it to some bubbles of air. Bubbles of air are OK, I can feel the pressure. I can feel something preventing me from touching further but how can I distinguish that there are different things in this outburst of waves and that they actually are forming dots of a letter or of a character? It's quite interesting, I guess, because languages like German or English have contractions, then it may speed up the reading process, especially of longer pieces. And I also think this would have applications even outside of Korona situation, because quite often there are situations where you're not supposed to touch something. Nevertheless, you're supposed to be told about something you should take care of. So, for example, do not touch electric device. Sighted people have the signage that you shouldn't touch something, you should be careful not to touch or not to come close by something and we are deprived of this information because there is no way to convey it to us. So maybe this would be also a solution here.
[Tanja] I'm not sure whether it is displaying only letter by letter or?
[Pawel] There are 3 stages they mentioned. There is a constant stream. There is a letter by letter or character by character. And there is line by line, something like that. There are different conceptions they had. There are different modes.
[Tanja] I wonder about the line by line. We were never able to read line by line. We are always reading character by character. So it will be interesting to see if you can even read more. But on the understanding level, I'm not sure if really the brain is able to pick up all these characters at the same time.
[Pawel] But there are people who are trained, I heard, to read braille with more than one finger at once. And this way they were able to be faster. But I think they are exceptions.
[Mario] And here comes the blind octopus.
[Tanja] The next is similar in a sense, but also different. It is also a research done by Penn State and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. So you are able to scan and it makes a 3D model from impressionist and oil paintings. And this is a collaboration between artists and researchers, which makes art more accessible to blind and visually impaired. It uses some OCT technology. This has been already used before.
[Pawel] That is the computer tomography Maybe some of you had this kind of research examination done on you when they were scanning some kind of waves of your brain to basically check things on your retina? I know it was quite a popular examination of many people with visual impairments.
[Tanja] And apparently the model can show the fine brushed stroke paintings, which would be also quite nice to experience because only by reading the description is hard to imagine really how accurate it is. And the research is at the final stage.
[Pawel] Ok, that could be interesting.
[Mario] That would be interesting to see when it comes. I personally don't have a clue what is going on over there. To be honest. But OK. If I am able to see by some chance 3D representations of some painting. Yes, sure am curious to see how it works. As of right now, I really don't have any idea how it works.
[Pawel] The way I understand it is that it takes a huge number of scans of really small sections of the painting with a special platform and this OCT device. And then it turns it into, I believe, some kind of technical software based representation and data. And you can use it to print a 3D model. So this way you can make it haptically accessible.
[Mario] Oh, OK.
[Pawel] That's what I read on the website. So I think it will be like a scanner, a sort of 3D scanner for a 3D printer.
[Mario] So overall, it should not be something that could be instantly available to see, but it would be an ongoing process like a 3D converter or whatever.
[Tanja] Hopefully, we'll see one day something similar. Also here in Europe. So as of May 2020, Twitter has improved the alt text. And now it is enabled by default on websites and iOS and Android applications. Before you had to enable it manually in the settings.
[Bart] Finally. It has been in the settings for so long. And you had to tell everybody to turn it on first.
[Tanja] And now they also increased the number of characters. You can write 1000 characters in the alternative text, which doesn't mean that you have to use them all because alternative text is short and accurate, which we as blind persons know. But very often there is a misunderstanding from sighted people who are writing alternative text, but this is maybe the subject of another presentation.
[Bart] Well, maybe they should also instruct people or raise awareness. Many tweets contain images of text: a screenshot or literally a picture of a page with text. And then if you really would want to make it accessible, you probably would need the 1000 characters, but it would be better to not make this picture in the first place.
[Tanja] Exactly. And now you're also able to add alternative text on animated GIFs on web pages and mobile application too.
[Pawel] So it should be actually interesting if there was a cooperation going on with GIPHY, which is, I think the biggest delivery service of GIF content for now. And with the help of community, they managed to alternative describe at least some of their GIFs. So wherever you want to use them, be it Facebook, be it your messaging apps, whatever you can actually get from an accessible database. And you can not only read what's on them, but you can also find a fitting gif animation to go with your content that you're sending.
[Bart] That would have to be multilingual as well as you want your alt text in the same language as your tweet?
[Pawel] True that. But that's the same issue for audio description and for many other things. But yeah, maybe Twitter will feed back the alternative texts done by others on GIFs back to the sources of the GIFs because gifs are usually taken from somewhere. That'll be great.
[Bart] That's right.
[Mario] Or maybe we could have some use of AI in that kind of case as well.
[Pawel] Yeah, emoji are already accessible, pretty much. So why not GIFs?
You probably know the situation with Siri that it is not available in all the languages you would like it to be, and especially in recent years I don't think there has been any expansion to the list of supported languages. And many users in many countries are getting impatient, especially because every now and again you see rumours popping up that some traces of code in the latest bit of iOS suggest that Siri will be available in this and that language. It's almost certain we can just await the update and then is not there. So finally, somebody got impatient enough to actually take action. And as a result, there is a series of Siri shortcuts or iOS shortcuts posted on a website Https://helloemma.cz. It's a Czech project which you can install for your particular language. And these shortcuts combined together quite neatly will do quite a lot of what Siri can already do, except it will do it in your language. It is using your language support for the text dictation that you already use to dictate your text messages or e-mails or any other text. And it executes certain commands you give it and it gives you vocal responses and it performs actions. So it's sort of workarounds. And you can see it's a workaround, by the way it works. But it's an effective one. And actually it's quite powerful and I'm pretty sure the developer spent a lot of time combining this together. So what you can do for now, the languages supported are Czech and Slovak. There is Polish on the way, there is Hungarian on the way. I heard there is also Greek on the way and there might be even an English tutorial on translation. So even if you don't speak any of the languages above, you can still take an advantage and translate it into your own language. The installation is quite complex because you have to click the links for shortcuts in Safari and install the shortcut and then go back to Safari and install another shortcut because it's basically a system of extensions. There is one main one which reacts to the Hello Emma command. And then there are the plugins which let you do this feature, that feature, that feature. And so the installation is quite complex and after you installed it, you'll be asked for a thousand permission requests to confirm them. So the first running is quite tiresome, but I think it's worth it because at the end of it all, you can actually call people, of course. You can send text messages and e-mails. You can even text people over messaging apps. You can search for songs. You can ask for directions to a certain place. You can ask for the weather. You can check the name days if that's a thing in your country, you can search on Google, open apps and much, much more of what Siri can already do. And it's quite intelligent in that it actually greets you of different greetings every time you start it. And the responses vary. So you can tell it's not just a voice control system, it's actually sort of voice assistant. And what you can even do that Siri cannot do is you can switch the language of dictation in mid sentence. So if you would like to type a couple of words in English, then a couple of words in another language, you can just give it a command and it will switch the languages. You can search for songs in different languages. You just have to tell it. You can actually insert data of people into messages. So if you promise somebody that you will send them the phone number of somebody, you can just give it a special command and the number will be inserted into the text field and much, much more. And there are videos that demonstrate how it works on the developer's YouTube channel. Sadly, only in Czech but I have watched them all and I can definitely tell you it was impressive when you looked at it, and I'm quite looking forward to when it comes out in Polish. I already saw it run on an iPhone in the Czech language. And from a VoiceOver perspective, when you call out Hello Emma for the first time, you will definitely hear that the shortcut app is opening and doing something. So VoiceOver will talk a bit but it doesn't interfere with your dictation, fortunately. You have to actually import the contacts some different way. It didn't just integrate with your contacts. You have to export them to iCloud first and then the shortcut would import them somehow differently. So I think it's a necessary trick that you have to do and then you have to somehow remember to update this backup list. Well, so it's a homemade project. So I think things like that will happen every now and again. It didn't understand commands for the weather for tomorrow, for example. It only gives you the weather right now. I think I observed one crash, but only one. Other than that it was perfect. There might be things that we wonder why they happen. Well, I would say thumbs up to somebody that they had the idea and they found a way to combine all these shortcuts together. And at least in this way, I believe some people, especially people with motor impairments, will benefit greatly from such a solution.
[Bart] Very creative to use Apple's own weapons to dig a little bit into their well protected environment.
[Pawel] And I think there will be new extensions coming. And I think the best part about it is, if you know how to, you can create your own plugins for Emma so she can do even more for you.
[Mario] Can she bring a beer?
[Pawel] If you have a smart fridge.
Yes, I recently read about the smart curtain device for moving your curtains. So I guess she would be able, but for now, it does what it does and I think it's quite a lot already. And I'm looking forward to see how far the project will develop.
[Mario] Yes, sounds really geeky.
[Pawel] Yes. Especially if you see it from the inside, how it works and the amount of work you have to do to install the shortcuts. But, yeah, everything you do for your comfort.
[Tanja] Hopefully, at some point we can also expect the Croatian language for VoiceOver and also then a similar system for Siri. But, well, for the moment, this is not yet the case.
[Mario] Let's see for the iOS 14. I remember a few months ago, there was a huge announcement that the Croatian government had some very important meeting with people from Apple, so who knows.
[Tanja] Well, I'm hoping that they thought also about accessibility.
iCane is a smart cane that we wanted to present you also in this podcast. Pawel, you have more information.
[Pawel] Yeah, it's a cooperation between Lions Club departments in different countries. I think Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary. And the result is a cane which is capable of connecting to your smartphone via Bluetooth. And providing this way navigation with a kind of tactile indication as to the direction where you have to go. And the cane also has an obstacle avoidance system. So it can alert you when you're approaching an obstacle. It also supports a comfortable wheel tip. So you can roll along with the cane and then you can also change the tips if you want to. And the whole thing costs 1650€.
You can find some more info of course on i-cane.nl. And that's for now everything we know. I think the app is only available for iOS at the time. There is a translation to several languages for the user interface. And I hope we will be able to find out more at some point. For example, which data is used for the mapping, for navigation. Is it Google? Is it TomTom? Is it Open Street Map? There'll be definitely interesting. Also the tactile direction indication. How is it performed? Is it some kind of pin that is coming up on the handle or is it to some vibration pattern.
[Bart] It is something you should feel under your index finger? When you use your cane, you put your index finger alongside the cane and there would be a - what they call - patented tactile arrow. I don't know how it exactly feels like. It's not a new product. Of course this needs a lot of research and development. It started several years ago with different improvements. I haven't seen the latest version. I have seen some prototypes. It was at that time quite heavy as a cane, which is for most people an important characteristic of a cane, it shouldn't be too heavy. So hopefully they improved that part.
[Mario] But the price point is enormous. For that kind of device, there are other products which have similar features. And they also use this ultrasound technology for the obstacle detection. I mean, personally, I'm talking about the WeWalk cane. I don't know if it's officially out or is it still in pre-order. But the price point for the WeWALK is, even with shipping and everything, it's like, 600$ or so. There is a huge price difference. And I'm not saying that, you know, I would like to see why certain products have that price, why they cost that much. Even if they show me that the product is worth that much money, man, would I take this kind of cane for an everyday walk? I don't know.
[Pawel] Imagine it being run over by a car next day after you bought it.
[Mario] Which let's be honest, is happening to the blind people in the street.
[Pawel] It's almost like buying a Ferrari and then you crash it the next day. Something like that.
[Mario] Yeah, canes, man, canes! Speaking of canes, I really like my Comde Derenda canes from Germany. I don't take anything else, forget it.
[Tanja] I confirm. I also bought it last year on the SightCity and initially I was not really sure whether my Svarovsky is better or not because Svarovsky canes are a little bit lighter, which for me is important, but I have to say that the Comde Derenda is much more rigid and stable because of that. And I'm really happy. So now I'm making an advertisement for them, but I'm a really happy user.
[Mario] Yes, Pawel, have you seen them on the SightCity as well?
[Pawel] Yeah, I think you also showed me at some point. They look quite stable. I think the aluminum there is used also for aircraft production. And this ensures definitely that it's going to be a durable product.
[Mario] I can tell you a personal story which I had with my cane and no other cane would survive that. I had a situation where I was at one place and I left the cane under the chair. So by accident, I kind of put the chair on the cane and then I sat on the cane one part of it got bent. But it didn't break. It was just kind of bent. And the guy who is doing the repairs at my work for the canes was able to fix it in less than a minute. And the cane is still working absolutely fine. And you could see on the cane that there was a small bend because he had to put it straight back. But nothing is broken. Everything works fine. And I had multiple situations with the other canes where they would break, especially with the graphite canes. The thing with the graphite canes is that, when they break, they go into a million pieces. Really. And though the are being light and such. And the Svarovsky canes, man, no.
[Pawel] So I think it's more advisable as far as the smart technology is concerned, that they actually are, if possible, some kind of attachable module.
[Mario] Yeah, there are such modules which are attachable and you can basically attach them to any of your canes that you're using. And that's a safer way to go.
[Tanja] I agree. The next topic is BeMyEyes. They are hosting a webinar in collaboration with Microsoft and Google on how top companies are benefiting from accessibility. So this is an announcement. We will also add to the link for the webinar in the show notes. I think it will be an interesting one. Also to learn what advantages they are ready to share with us, what advantages accessibility brought for their experience in their businesses. I wanted also to mention one more feature: now you can add Siri Shortcuts to the BeMyEyes application. So you can make a call by using a Siri shortcut. Which makes it much more handy, especially if you're using BeMyEyes often.
[Pawel] Yeah, I think that the innovation here is also that you can customise them, so you can choose what to say and you can choose who to call, because you can either call the volunteer or you can call one of the specialised help departments, one of the companies in the programme. So you can actually say something like "ask Microsoft for help" or whatever, and then it will open BeMyEyes and call the Microsoft specialist line. And especially I really hope that more companies and more local companies from many countries will step on board to offer this opportunity, because then it will be like your handy tool to get help with anything specific that you need from people who know the most about it. So that would be definitely useful.
[Bart] Yes, a system for video calling can be very useful. I had to install a new TV decoder and I called the telecom company, and I had to ask them specific questions about which buttons should I press on the remote control because it has still 50 buttons. You only use one or two but this thing still has 50 buttons. And the person said, I don't know. I can only tell you that you have to click on the green button. And I asked "but don't you have one on your desk because people calling you all the time or don't you have at least a picture in front of you that you can look up?" "No, I don't have", he said, "can I video call you?" "No you can not." So maybe another aspect of this Corona thing where people couldn't come physically. This video calling is probably also something that should take up more.
[Pawel] I'm surprised because the company is based in Denmark and there seem to be, for the time being, quite few European available connections there in the specialised help. So we need to advocate for that, I guess.
[Tanja] Ok. And the last topic is for those who like to do sport: stay in and do workouts. Personally, I have to say that I was going to a fitness centre but I had to stop because of this epidemic. And now they reopen, but with special measures. So you have to do plenty of disinfecting your shoes and machines and do plenty of things which are making the whole experience much more difficult. So I decided to stop. But then there are also some audio described materials online to do workouts at home. They are not new. Probably, you know some of them. BlindAlive has different workouts from cardio to pilates to yoga meditations, whatever you prefer. I also found something newer from British Blind Sports. They published some videos a few months ago during this Corona crisis on how to do workouts at home and it's also interesting to discover what tracking apps are accessible for us. I guess they're mostly on smartwatches, which I don't have. But Mario you have your Fossil Gen watch.
[Mario] I have a Fossil Gen 5. And I have to say that it's coming equipped with a few apps for workout. The main one being Google Fit. And I have to say that the Google fit on the watch had a few updates over time and it got much more accessible than it used to be. So I got my watch like, what is it now? 6 or 7 months ago.
[Tanja] Our long term listeners will rememberalso wehn you did the demo.
[Mario] When I got the watch, I was testing everything that's on the watch and the Google Fit was one of the apps. So I was able to set up my profile, and basically that was all I could do because it wasn't that much speaking. But in the future updates, I don't know when it happened because I didn't use it, but I just started to use it like 2 weeks ago. I realised that it became much, much more accessible. And basically all the tasks now are possible to do and everything speaks. So you are able to connect it with your Google Fit on your smartphone. And then on your watch, you can do all the work to select which kind of workouts do you want. So if you're going for a walk, you can measure how much you walked, how much steps did you make, how much calories did you spend? The same applies for any kind of workout. You can select which kind of workouts you're doing. So if you're doing running, walking or even swimming, and ...
[Tanja] Can it do indoor?
[Mario] It can do indoor, so for example, if you have the elliptical trainer, you can do also that. And also you can customise it to have the spoken announcements, like how much kilometres or miles didyou cross. And it can speak to a certain time interval, so, for example, if you depend on certain minutes for workouts which are really important, that can be also very handy tool. You can customise it if you do want to have it turn on and off. For example, I don't know when I do the elliptical workouts I have announcements every five minutes or I can set it up for every 10 minutes. So I know that I need to change the programme, etc. and when you're done, you just click on Finish and it gives you the summary. How did you go for workout? And everything speaks, everything's accessible. And then it seems it syncs with your phone. You can see it also on your phone. And if you want, you can share it on your social network if you're doing that or if you just want to do any kind of statistics and whatever.
[Tanja] It's very handy because usually those information are displayed on the elliptical trainer and they're not accessible to us. So these accessible checkers are incredibly helpful.
[Mario] Yeah. Especially for the heart rate. There is a cardio app on the watch which is perfectly accessible. And I even made the shortcut for the cardio on my watch. So I just press shortcut and it comes straight into cardio and I have my heart rate measured if I need it. And it is really accurate, I have to say. And the good thing about the Google Fit is that it is extendable with a bunch of other apps. You can install whatever health apps that you have. So you can use it with that. And for example, just one of the things that you can do with your smart watch is that you can also measure your sleep tracking. So that's one of the things which you can do or if you want to use any other apps for the health which have more extended compatibility, you can do that. I'm sure that there are a bunch of apps for the Apple Watch as well. Unfortunately none of us has the Apple Watch so we can't say anything about it. As I said, I was really happy to see that things are working nicely on my Fossil.
[Tanja] It's great to hear. From my experience, what I noticed is that I save a lot of time when I am doing the workouts at home because before I had to go at the fitness centre and then you need some time to start and then come back. So now I'm really saving a lot of time, which is an advantage. And maybe in the future I will rethink to do workouts at home and not go back to the fitness centre. But any other experiences?
[Pawel] Yeah. So as I said at the beginning, we recently got our mother the Mi Band 4 from Xiaomi. And if measuring your parameters while working out is the only thing you need and maybe a couple of extras, that is a perfect device because it's not expensive. It's around 40€. The biggest problem with accessibility is that you probably need some sighted help to get it paired with your phone, but then you don't need to really interact with it much. You can, if you're sighted, you get some advantage with that because you can see your notifications there. You can, of course, see your workout statistics. You can find your phone if you lost it and it's still in the Bluetooth range, and some weather and some other information. But these are things you can live without if you just want to have something tracking your heart rate or sleep or for counting your steps. Everything else is managed in the mi Fit app fromXiaomi. And this could be accessible better because there are some unlabelled buttons, there are some data which is displayed and you don't really know that clearly what it's about unless you guess it or ask somebody or read a bit deeper because the headers for the data are not attached to the data themselves. So then yeah, it requires a bit of practice, but it's more or less accessible. You can read everything you need. And I know some blind users who, especially in conjunction with their iOS devices, use to Mi Band and they're really happy with it. You can programme different kinds of workouts from walks to runs to bicycle rides. You can have your sleep monitored, your heart rate, and you can even add your friends to compare the results with them and to see how they're doing. I would say it's a really nice device. It's quite small. It wraps neatly around your hand. It's not too big. You can adjust the strap to your needs and fit it in just nice. And there is the new Mi Band 5 coming out, which we don't know yet how it will be in the international version, because usually the Chinese version has more features. But if it will be fully featured in the international, then it will have NFC with it. So we'll be able to pay with it and there should be Alexa integration or some other voice assistant so you can even control your smart home or perform other actions or start your workouts with voice commands. And there'll be a menstruation cycle tracker as well. And a couple of other features, so these are also quite nice products. I also used the Endomondo app at some point, which was also quite accessible. I used my phone to track my bicycle rides together with mapping and with having the route drawn on a map so somebody else could see it later. And tell me when I went with somebody else and that was basically working fine as well. Not perfectly. But you would get through and you could definitely store your experiences there. My only gripe about this kind of solutions is that there seems to be not so much synchronisation between them. So if you, for example, used to use Endomondo and all your activities in Endomondo and then you got yourself the Mi Band and you wanted to carry on with your achievements and everything else and your statistics in the mi Band, so the comparison would be carried on. That's difficult to do or not possible at all. So you start from scratch basically with your new product. That's the only thing that really annoys me about this. But other than that, these apps are quite accessible. I would say, usable at least.
[Tanja] Okay, great. Hoping that at least this has been informative or has given some inspiration to someone to start with workouts because this is healthy.
And this was the last topic for this episode. You can contact us via Twitter or email. And stay safe and talk to you in the next episode.