At Microsoft’s second annual Connect Online Developers Conference, there were many exciting announcements. Here are just a few:
Electric and hybrid vehicles purchased after September 01, 2019 are required to make noise when traveling less than 18.6 MPH. These cars are very quiet and endanger the lives of pedestrians, especially the blind and visually impaired. Congress passed the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act in 2010, and the NHTSA was supposed to have rules in place by January 2014. The delays have put the lives of many blind and visually impaired pedestrians at risk. The full text of the rule can be seen here.
Two engineers at Microsoft have developed an iOS app that makes it possible for people with color blindness to distinguish colors using an iPhone camera and an app called Color Binoculars. Here is a description from the developer:
Using your iPhone’s camera, Color Binoculars adjusts the colors that you see to replace difficult color combinations, like red and green, with more easily distinguishable combinations, like pink and green. Color Binoculars supports all three common forms of color blindness. Whether it’s picking out flowers for a loved one, experiencing the beauty of nature, or choosing matching clothes for your outfit, let Color Binoculars help you take a better look at the world.
Color Binoculars is a Microsoft app that was developed as part of the Microsoft Garage Project.
The competition among so called smart speakers is heating up. This is no doubt fueled by Google and other players looking into entering this game; The natural interaction it could provide would result in a huge technological shift across our societies again. Later, its maturity could even embrace a screen-driven design, where you can still use voice but read your feedback visually, for those who are hard of hearing or deaf. I would suspect that others with various disabilities impacting speech could still use a speech-to-text tool and communicate with such devices, though at that point the timeliness of return diminishes a little – couldn’t they just type these same responses directly to the AI?
With the updated PayPal app, you can send money to anyone in your contacts list by just telling Siri, “Send John Doe $50 using PayPal.” John Doe will receive an email confirming that you sent him $50. It is incredibly simple to send and receive money this way.
Facebook is also integrated with Siri in iOS 10. To post to Facebook, just tell Siri, “Post to Facebook.” Siri will ask you what to post, and then Siri will confirm with you before posting. I think I might start posting to Facebook more often now. To find out more about using apps that are integrated with Siri in iOS 10, listen to our podcast on Siri integration.
John Froehlich of the Makeability lab at the University of Maryland has developed a fingertip camera that is only 1mm in width. This camera is linked with a computer, and reads text when the camera is moved across a page. The device gives audio cues and haptic feedback to help the user position the device. The device is nicknamed HandSight, and it was originally developed for endoscopies. Although there are already many ways to scan and read text, it can be difficult for visually impair people to understand the layout of text. This device can help with multi-column formats. To find out more about HandSight, read this article from New Scientist.
Apple will soon be launching a new app called Apple Support. The app allows users to access support articles for the iOS devices registered to their Apple ID. You can also seek support by email or phone call from within the app. Finally, the app allows you to schedule repairs at an Apple Store or with a registered service provider. You can also access support on Twitter @AppleSupport
I know that I’m giving away my age here, but this is the eighth time that I have voted in a presidential election. Up to now, I have never been able to vote without sighted assistance. Although I am aware that accessible voting machines have been made widely available; you need to understand that I reside in a very small precinct on an island off the coast of Florida. This is the first time that my precinct had an accessible voting machine. I have always gone to the pole with someone whom I trusted to help me fill out my ballot correctly. I never liked the fact that I was unable to vote without someone’s assistance, and of course, without the privacy that comes with voting independently. This election, I went on my own without knowing that there would be an accessible machine at my precinct this time. I took an Uber to my local library which is where I always go to vote. I walked in alone, and I fully expected to have to ask for sighted assistance from the pole workers. In fact, this is what the election officials told me would happen. To my surprise, I was told that an accessible voting machine had been acquired. I took my ballot, went over to the machine, and sat down. I put on a pair of headsets, and inserted my ballot. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the Alex voice giving me instructions on how to use the machine. I was expecting Fred. The machine has five main buttons, arranged in a diamond shape. Each one is labeled in braille. The top and bottom buttons navigate up and down through your selections. You then press the middle button to make the selection that you want. The machine confirms your selection by reading it back to you. Next, you press the right arrow the go to the next item, and arrow up and down again until you reach the selection you want. You then press the middle button again. The machine read all the choices very well, including all the state constitutional amendments and county referenda. It was so incredibly in powering to read my ballot and make my selections without assistance and without anyone else knowing the choices that I was making. I know that many of you have already experienced accessible voting, and I hope you can remember how it made you feel because that is how I feel today.
If you would like to share your story, you can do so in the comments below. You can also fill out a survey from the National Federation of the Blind that asks you to rate your voting experience. The survey can be found here.
For the second year in a row, the elves at Braille Works have been contracted by Santa to get letters out to visually impaired children. If you ever wanted to know if Santa reads braille, the answer is, yes he does. If you have or know a child with a visual impairment, click here to find out how to get a braille or large print letter sent from Santa. There is no fee for this service. Just remember to leave out extra cookies and milk on Christmas Eve.
Join Jessica, James, Leo and Tomi for a very special VIP. It’s all about creativity and innovation this year as we continue to provide exclusive after-event headlines from the leaders in technology today. Microsoft and Apple both recently held their events, where the major focus seemed to include accessibility, integration, and innovation. Here are some of the great stories from these events: