Recording on iOS Using SimpleMic… 100% VoiceOver Accessible Audio Recorder!

For the inaugural post in the Accessible iOS App category, I would like to focus on an app called SimpleMic. This app is a free voice and/or sound recorder for iOS Devices and it has been designed with accessibility in mind. In my opinion, it is such design considerations which set SimpleMic apart from all other recorders available in the app store, and the built-in recorder on iOS.
As elements of SimpleMic operate differently in comparison to other iOS apps, I wanted to post some additional information regarding the app’s layout, operation and possible uses. Also, I think the developer of SimpleMic (Nick Bonatsakis) has done wonderful work in this case, and it is worth while keeping an eye on his future projects. Obviously no pun intended.

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Academic Writing and Referencing While Using Assistive Technology… It Can Be Done!

This post will consider the topics academic writing and referencing, and how assistive technology can be used while conducting the afore mentioned activities. Similar to academic research, it is inevitable that you will be required to compose an academic piece of writing which is referenced correctly when you are in college/university. Academic writing is a different type of writing which is quite different to your normal writing style. For example, when writing an academic piece, you cannot use any personal pronouns such as “me”, “I”, or “you”. Referencing is a process where you tell the reader where you have sourced the information you are writing about. However, referencing is not just a case of stating “I found the above information in my core textbook”. There is a specific format in which references should appear, and each college/university has a slightly different approach to the referencing process. Much like my previous post, the following information is written assuming you understand the terms academic writing and referencing.

This is an image of a book regarding referencing sourced from Microsoft Word's Clip Art.

Image of Referencing Book

EndNote Referencing Software/iOS App:
In my opinion EndNote is essential for any student completing any form of academic writing which requires referencing. EndNote will manage the references you have used in your written piece, and help you to create a correctly formatted bibliography. A bibliography is an expanded version of the initial reference included in your text. EndNote is available on the web, a Windows and Mac application and an iOS app. I have successfully used the web and iOS versions of EndNote. I installed the Windows version too, but it wasn’t immediately accessible, and I didn’t have time to investigate the application further. EndNote is at its best when you are importing references generated from Google Scholar and other databases as discussed previously. The staff of your college/university library will offer training on the EndNote software. While this training will probably not focus on how the software is used in conjunction with assistive technology, it is paramount that you understand how the software works. Once you have an understanding of EndNote, you can figure out how you can access its features using your assistive technology of choice.

A Good Thesaurus:
I would recommend the use of a good thesaurus for both students using assistive technology and for those who are not. When you are trying to paraphrase something you have read regarding your research interest, it can be difficult to find a word which has the same meaning, but can say the same thing with fewer words. There is a built-in thesaurus in Microsoft Word which is completely accessible with JAWS, and I’m sure it is accessible with the majority of screen reader software available. Other word processors may also include their own thesaurus, and its functionality is likely to be the same as the one present in Microsoft Word. To use a thesaurus in a word processor, just open the thesaurus option and search for a word of your choice. For example, searching for the word “academic” finds the following results:
1. Moot
2. Theoretical
3. Abstract
4. Hypothetical
5. Speculative
6. Practical
7. Educational
You can then choose the word which is most appropriate in your situation. In Microsoft Word the thesaurus option is found in the Review section. Please note, paraphrasing is only one technique used as part of academic writing, and many more techniques are available and should be utilised. Also, it is very important that you do not overuse a thesaurus as the below video clip illustrates.

Voice Dream Writer for iOS May Help:
Voice dream writer is quite a new application specific to iOS, and it may help with your academic writing and referencing. This app is unique to iOS in that it is able to read your text sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph. While VoiceOver is fantastic, it does not have the afore mentioned ability to navigate text by sentence or paragraph. Voice Dream Writer can also read a sentence to you once you insert a full stop, and for faster typists this feature can be disabled. Similar to Voice Dream Reader, the major benefit of this writing application is that you can choose a custom voice to read back your text. Furthermore, if you have purchased additional voices in Voice Dream Reader, you can use them in Voice Dream Writer for no additional charge. Typing errors, punctuation use and the flow of your academic argument is much easier to assess when it is being read to you instead of reading it in your own head. As this app is quite new to iOS, I did not have an opportunity to use it for academic writing purposes.

The below paragraph is taken from my Masters, and it should give you an idea of how something should read when it is academically written and referenced correctly. While the subject matter of your assignment may be different, the referencing and phrasing should be somewhat similar.

2.1 Definitions of Social Media
In the literature there is congruence regarding the definition of SM. However, it should be noted that definitions often vary in technical complexity according to their source and context. Nash (2009) defines SM as the sites or online tools which enable individuals to interact with one another and allow the posting of materials they have created online. Kietzmann et al (2011, p.241) builds on this definition by stating that SM are sites which:
“Employ mobile and web-based technologies to create highly interactive platforms via which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content.” (Kietzmann et al 2011, p.241)
Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) suggest that SM consists of collaborative projects (e.g. Wikipedia), blogs (e.g. WordPress), content communities (e.g. SlideShare), social networking sites (e.g. Facebook), virtual game worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft), and virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life).

You may have noticed this post is shorter than the previous post on academic research, and that reflects the importance of getting the academic research right before beginning the writing and referencing stages.

As always, I hope the above information is of some benefit to you or someone you know. If there is anything you would like to ask me about, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Funnily enough academic writing and referencing aren’t topics which appear in music a lot, so I decided to pick a song which mentions “Words” in any context. On this occasion the musical contribution is courtesy of Extreme with More Than Words.

Commentary: Valedictorian beats blindness to thrive

This is a great example of what can be achieved when successfully incorporating assistive technology in an educational setting.

Sandy's View

Congratulations to all the recent graduates! The following article is about Taylor Adolph, a high school graduate who is believed to be the first ever blind valedictorian at his school. As a person who is blind, I believe that stories like these demonstrate two important things.

First, if a person with vision loss has the right resources and attitude, then they can accomplish as much as everyone else. Also, if blind or visually impaired students have high expectations from those around them, there is no excuse for them not to reach their full potential.

Another important point made by this story is that students who are blind or visually impaired are perfectly capable of studying alongside their sighted peers. Today’s technologies and countless resources have made this possible for many students throughout the country.

Stay tuned for Thursday’s post, where I will talk more about the different types of school…

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The Official DigiPlace4All Launch Event!

This post will focus on the official launch of the DigiPlace4All initiative, which was held on the 28th of May 2015 in the Radisson BLU Royal hotel in Dublin. You may remember, I discussed the said initiative in a previous post, in which I stated its two core aims comprised of:
1) The sharing of information among those with a disability, educators and employers.
2) The provision of peer support for digital skills and inclusion in education and employment.
When reflecting on the day, the words that spring to mind are inclusion, interaction and empowerment.

This is an image of a meeting room sourced from the Radisson website.

This is an image of a meeting room sourced from the Radisson website.

The inclusion aspect of DigiPlace4All was first mentioned by Senator Martin Conway. In Senator Conway’s opening address, he referred to the social inclusion element which is inherent in DigiPlace4All. The site benefits from the internet’s ability to breakdown geographical boundaries, and brings people together despite their circumstances.

Therefore, those living in rural parts of Ireland, need not feel isolated or be disadvantaged in terms of receiving information concerning digital skills, education and/or employment opportunities. However, it must also be kept in mind, those who are not internet users may continue to have difficulties regarding physical isolation and the access of information.

Another aspect of inclusion which was immediately apparent to me, was the extent to which DigiPlace4All incorporates an extremely broad range of abilities and disabilities. This was partly due to the large number of organisations present at the event that represented a number of different groups. For example, some of the afore mentioned organisations included AHEAD, DeafHear and Enable Ireland among others.

The second element of DigiPlace4All demonstrated at the launch event was interaction. The event offered Digital Inclusion Champions the opportunity to meet each other and discuss the future possibilities of DigiPlace4All. In addition, Champions had a chance to meet site members, and get a sense of the general feeling regarding DigiPlace4All.

The general opinion concerning DigiPlace4All was overwhelmingly positive. All the sentiments I heard were excited about the information sharing and provision of peer support potential of the site. The launch also offered all attendees the opportunity to provide feedback regarding the existing site, and the features they would like to see included in the future.

Such feedback was provided as a result of the break-out sessions. These sessions consisted of a Digital Inclusion Champion encouraging a table of attendees to explore DigiPlace4All on their own assistive technology, or demonstrating the site in real-time and helping individuals with registration if desired. When the sessions had completed, each table was asked to provide feedback, and this encouraged further interaction.

The final element that the DigiPlace4All launch embodied was empowerment. As pointed out by one of the speakers at the event, individuals using DigiPlace4All are not limited to what someone else thinks suits their needs. The individual is free to explore a range of information present on the site, and make their own, personalised, informed decision.

The above scenario is very important as there is not a one-size fits all solution to an individual’s needs. DigiPlace4All can offer a level of empowerment to individuals they may not have experienced before, and this could in turn increase the individual’s level of independence. I believe that such empowerment, and the possibility of increased independence, can only be a good thing.

To hear some extracts from the DigiPlace4All launch event, listen to the June edition of the NCBI Technology Podcast.

This is an image of the DigiPlace4All logo sourced from a SlideShare presentation.

This is an image of the DigiPlace4All logo sourced from a SlideShare presentation.

It was mentioned that future events, in different locations, could be held in the future. However, I would imagine, this will largely depend on the popularity of DigiPlace4All, so I would encourage you to spread the word!

As mentioned above, the scope of society to which DigiPlace4All is applicable to is very broad, so the likelihood that you know someone who could benefit from the site and/or contribute to the site is very high. Feel free to use this blog post, or any of the below links, to share DigiPlace4All.

Visit the DigiPlace4All Website
Like DigiPlace4All on Facebook
Follow DigiPlace4All on Twitter

If you would like further information about DigiPlace4All, or have any comments and/or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

As inclusion is a large aspect of DigiPlace4All, I feel the song Absolutely Everybody by Vanessa Amorosi is quite apt

Taking Notes the Accessible Way!

This post will focus on the topic of taking notes in a lecture, tutorial and/or seminar setting. If it is your first time to take notes in any of the afore mentioned environments, chances are you will try and transcribe what the speaker is saying word for word. This is the approach I took when I first started taking notes, and I quickly realised that such a strategy was basically impossible. Also, taking down everything a speaker says is not always beneficial. For example, a good teacher/lecturer will say the same thing a number of times in different ways. If done correctly, this will not sound repetitive and there is a greater chance of reaching students who may learn differently. Therefore, taking down several variations of the same information which may not appeal to your style of learning is not going to help you. I believe a much more sensible course of action is to actively listen to what is being said, and take down the information which you can understand and learn from. Such note taking is a skill, and it may not be a skill you will acquire immediately; so don’t panic!

A possible way to reduce any anxiety regarding note taking, would be to use a voice recorder during lectures. I wouldn’t advise this as a replacement for taking notes, but it can help at the beginning if you are really worried about missing something. It is very necessary to consult your lecturer prior to using a voice recorder during lectures. In my experience, lecturers are perfectly ok with the use of a recorder, but I have been asked to make sure the recordings are only used for my use and go no further.

This is an image of an Old Typewriter sourced from Microsoft Word.

Image of an Old Typewriter sourced from Microsoft Word.

Regarding the practicalities of note taking, there are two different methods I would recommend:
1. Laptop/MacBook, Screen Reader and Word Processor of Choice.
2. iOS Device, Bluetooth Keyboard and AN Accessible Note Taking App.

Laptop/MacBook, Screen Reader and Word Processor of Choice:
I think this combination is essential for college/university anyway, and it is also a very good method for taking notes. However, it is not always the most portable solution, and it can be inconvenient in terms of making sure your battery is charged etc. Regarding Windows, my personal setup consisted of a HP/Compaq Laptop, JAWS and Microsoft Word. I do believe using NVDA and another Word Processor would work equally as well. On the Macintosh side of things, the most portable combination would be a MacBook Air, VoiceOver and TextEdit or Microsoft Word 2016. The MacBook Air is the smallest of Apple’s MacBook line-up, and the newest models have very long lasting batteries I have heard. TextEdit is the built-in Word Processor on Macintosh, and Microsoft Word 2016 is going to be released soon and will be the first version of MS Word to be accessible on the Macintosh. Please note, in my experience, the popular Pages Word Processor is largely inaccessible, and cannot be used in an effective manner for college/university.

iOS Device, Bluetooth Keyboard and AN Accessible Note Taking App:
This combination would be in addition to the mentioned Laptop/MacBook option, and I think it is a much more portable option with a longer lasting battery. I have personally used an iPad, a Keyboard Case and NoteMaster. As discussed previously, the iPad is 100% accessible, and an iPhone or iPod Touch are just as accessible. When it comes to note taking apps on the iOS device you are using, there are many choices, and it is more or less down to your own personal taste. This link will bring you to the Productivity section of Applevis’s iOS App Directory. Some of the note taking apps which are available are not 100% accessible, and I would recommend trying to get a free version to test before purchasing a full version. If you would rather not download any additional apps, the built-in Notes app is completely accessible on iOS and would be perfect for taking notes.

I really hope the above information is of help to someone taking notes, or thinking about taking notes themselves. I spent the first year of college having someone else type my notes, and it was effective, but I found I had no connection with what was being taken down. At the beginning of my second year I began taking the notes myself, and it was the best decision I made. My active listening skills kicked in, thankfully, and I felt I was much more engaged with what was going on in the lecture/tutorial/seminar.

As usual, if you have any questions and/or would like to know more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I’m not sure if you are aware, but the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Austria over the weekend. This year, an artist called Mans Zelmerlow representing Sweden won. You can listen to Mans’s winning performance by playing the below video. It is a very catchy song and is a deserving winner in my opinion.

Converting to the Dark Side, in terms of File Types

As suggested by the title, this post will focus on the topic of conversion in terms of File Types. This can be a very useful process to understand and be able to carryout for a number of reasons. For example, I mentioned in a previous post, it seemed like every file I received was in an inaccessible PDF format. On that occasion, I used another piece of assistive technology to convert the PDF file into another format, but this is not always necessary. It is sometimes possible to use standard, or non-specialized, software, to perform the conversion process. I will state when any of the following Conversion Options use additional assistive technology or other software tools.

This is an image of Darth Vader from Star Wars sourced from Google Images

Image of Darth Vader from Star Wars

Converting Portable Document Format (PDF) Files:
In my experience, there are three ways in which a PDF can be converted to a Text, or other Word Processing, File that is accessible.
1. Converting with Adobe Reader.
2. Converting with Kurzweil 1000.
3. Converting on iOS (iPhone, iPad, and/or iPod Touch).

Converting within Adobe Reader:
I have found this to be useful when it is difficult to navigate an accessible PDF. In such a situation, the text is readable by the screen reader, but there are no Headings or Bookmarks to make navigation easier. To perform this conversion, I have simply navigated to the File Menu, selected Save As and chosen Text File from the available options. This will produce a file which opens in Notepad/Wordpad and can be cut and paste into another Word Processor if desired. This option does lose the formatting of the PDF, but when it makes navigation so much easier, I quickly get over the loss of formatting. It should be noted that this conversion will not work in the case of protected PDF Files.

Converting with Kurzweil 1000:
This is by far my favorite option for converting PDF Files to an accessible format. Unlike the previous option, using Kurzweil for conversion does not require the PDF to be accessible. This option does require you to have an authorized copy of Kurzweil 1000, but once you have that, converting is as easy as printing the PDF virtually. All that is required is that you follow the procedure to print the PDF (e.g. Ctrl + P), and choose the Kurzweil Virtual Printer from the available printers. The process is automated from this point forward. Kurzweil will scan the PDF, as if it was a physical paper document, and present the resulting document in a new window. Similar to the previous option, the text can then be cut and paste into a Word Processor if this is desired. It should be noted that the length of time this process takes to complete will depend on the number of pages in the PDF File being converted.

Converting on iOS (iPhone, iPad, and/or iPod Touch (:
Converting PDF Files on iOS can be divided into two sections, i.e. Converting Accessible PDF Files, and Converting Inaccessible PDF Files. The approach you need to take will be different depending on the accessibility of the PDF File.

Converting Accessible PDF Files:
The tool which I use in the case of accessible PDF Files is an iOS application, and it is simply named File Converter. The interface of this app is quite straight forward, and the conversion process is just as intuitive. If you are using a cloud storage option, as discussed in a previous post, you can import a given file to this app. Once imported, the app will work out the current file format, and it will be up to you to choose the desired format (e.g. html, txt, doc, etc.). When you begin the conversion process, you will not have to wait too long until you have a new file of your choosing. You can then opt to email the file, open it on the device, save it to the cloud, etc. It should be noted that this application is not restricted to PDF Files.

Converting Inaccessible PDF Files:
Inaccessible PDF Files can be scanned documents, images containing text, and/or an untagged PDF. On iOS an inaccessible PDF File can be opened in another application which can recognize the text present, and you can then cut and paste the text into another application. The very popular KNFB Reader will perform such recognition for you. Keep in mind that this is a secondary function of KNFB Reader, and its capabilities are much greater than recognizing PDF Files. Another application which offers similar recognition functionality is Prizmo. I have experience with Prizmo, and it is quite a good application. The primary function of both KnFB Reader and Prizmo is Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which is a much broader topic.

Those are the most effective options I have found to deal with PDF Files.

Converting PowerPoint Presentation (PPT) Files:
Another very popular file format, which is mostly accessible, is PPT. The conversion which takes place here is more for convenience instead of making an inaccessible file accessible. Again there are three options to convert a PPT to a Text File.
1. Saving as Outline.
2. Creating Handouts.
3. Saving as PDF, and using Kurzweil 1000.

Saving as Outline:
You can convert a PPT File to a Text File from within Microsoft PowerPoint without additional software. You will need to navigate to the File Menu, choose Save As and select Outline (rtf) from the File Type options. This will create a Text File which contains the text present in the original PPT File. The main titles of the presentation will be formatted as Heading 1 in the Text File, and any sub-titles, or the body of a presentation slide, will be formatted as Heading 2. I generally select all the text in the newly created Text File, and Clear All Formatting using the Styles sub-menu in Microsoft Word. It should be noted, some information on presentation files can be represented by the use of an image, and this option of conversion will not recognize such information.

Creating Handouts:
This is a conversion option that I only found out about recently, and because of this I do not have relevant experience. The procedure is similar to the one carried out in the previous conversion option. However, instead of choosing Save As, you should choose the Create Handouts option within the Save and Send tab. Once you have done this, another dialogue box should open, and you should choose Outline Only here. After selecting Ok, a new Word Document will open containing the text of the original PPT. I am unsure if this method retains tables and diagrams due to my lack of experience. Nevertheless, it is a great option for quickly extracting the text of a PPT File.

Saving to PDF, and using Kurzweil 1000:
This option may seem like a bit of a roundabout way of doing things, but it is effective none the less. Similar to the first option, the same process should be followed regarding Save As, but instead of Outline (rtf), Adobe Reader (PDF) should be chosen. This will create a PDF file which is completely accessible, and retains all information contained within tables, diagrams and/or images. Kurzweil 1000 can then be used to convert this PDF File to a Text File as discussed earlier. The benefit of this option is that all information contained within a presentation file will be recognized. I have been in situations where a slide seemed incomplete when using the first option, but using Kurzweil then allowed me to access the information presented visually.

The above information should be of benefit to anyone who encounters inaccessible PDF or PPT Files. I have used all of the above conversion options (except the Create Handouts Option), and while some are more effective than others, it is important that you are aware of the various options available so that you can improvise if necessary.

I hope the above information is of interest to you, and please get in touch if you have additional conversion options I have left out, or if you would like to ask any further questions.

The musical connection between this post’s subject matter and my personal taste is provided by Kelly Clarkson. The below video is timely considering it was announced recently that American Idol will not be returning after the next season.

DigiPlace4All: The New National Assistive Technology Initiative You Should Know About!

In this post, I would like to focus on a new national initiative relevant to assistive technology, and the said initiative is called DigiPlace4All. I genuinely believe this initiative will be of immense benefit to everyone using assistive technology, and to reach its full potential, I believe the profile of DigiPlace4All must be increased.

The initiative aims to create an online network which encourages:
1. Sharing of information among those with a disability, educators and employers.
2. Provision of peer support for digital skills and inclusion in education and/or employment.

This initiative was brought to my attention by Conor Hartigan, who is an assistive technology trainer in the University of Limerick. Other prominent figures involved in the project are Esther Murphy and Mark Magennis.

You can play the below video to get a more in-depth explanation of the initiative and its relevance.

Another element of the initiative are Digital Inclusion Champions. Digital Inclusion Champions are responsible for the promotion and sustainability of DigiPlace4All. I am delighted to be one of the mentioned champions, and you can be too. If you would like to find out more about the role of a champion, or to nominate yourself or someone you know, please follow this link.

To get a practical understanding of DigiPlace4All, you can play the following video.

DigiPlace4All are holding an event on the 28th of May 2015, and if you would like to attend, please email to reserve a place.

DigiPlace4All Invite NCBI

If you have connections with any individuals and/or organizations that may have an interest in DigiPlace4All (and they should), do not hesitate to share this post and/or circulate the linked file.

DigiPlace4All Leaflet NCBI

If you would like to know more, as always, feel free to contact me.

As the above information is essentially concerned with accessibility and inclusion, I thought the below video was appropriate. Also, who doesn’t like a bit of Glee now and again?

Cloud Storage is Your Friend, Say Hello and Get Signed Up!

This post will focus on the accessible forms of cloud storage which are available. Most of the storage options I will discuss below have Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android versions. I believe cloud storage is a very versatile option for someone using assistive technology. When using an accessible storage provider, a file can be created and saved on one device, and is immediately available on another device thanks to cloud storage.

This is a large image of clouds sourced from Google Images

This is a large image of clouds sourced from Google Images

Due to the ever changing nature of technology, I have no prior experience of using some cloud storage providers discussed as they were either:
1. Not available while I was part of a college or university course.
2. The cloud storage provider was not accessible to my knowledge at a specific time.

For anyone that may want a greater understanding of what the terms KB, MB, GB, and TB actually mean, I would encourage you to read the breakdown at this link.

Option 1 – Dropbox:
Dropbox is by far the most popular and widely used cloud storage option available. After you install it, Dropbox is basically another folder on your device. If you install Dropbox on two devices (i.e. Device A and Device B), if you store a file or folder on Device A, it will automatically appear on Device B. Dropbox offers 2 GB for free, and you will get more storage space for every person you introduce to Dropbox via email.

I have experience of using the Dropbox website, standard Dropbox folder on my Laptop and MacBook, and iOS versions of Dropbox. In particular, the iOS Dropbox application is 100% accessible and has a very simple interface. The Dropbox website is ok, but I can always get things done a lot quicker with the iOS application or the actual Dropbox folder on my laptop/MacBook.

I would be very surprised if your lecturer/teacher does not ask you to use Dropbox for completing group projects, and even if they don’t, I would suggest that you do. When you have Dropbox setup, which is very simple, you can share a folder with other people. This is a great way of making sure that all group members have the latest version of your project, and they can make any alterations they would like.

Link to Dropbox for iOS on Applevis.
Link to the official Dropbox website.

Option 2 – Google Drive:
Google Drive offers a larger amount of storage in comparison to Dropbox, and the iOS application is accessible. I have not used the web interface of Google Drive, but I’m sure it is accessible. There is also a method to use Google Drive on your laptop, and this method creates a folder like in the case of Dropbox. Due to Dropbox’s popularity in my college/university, I do not have extensive experience in using Google Drive. However, this does not mean it is not a viable cloud storae option.

Link to Google Drive for iOS on Applevis.
Link to the official Google Drive site.

Option 3 – Box:
The people behind Box would disagree with the following statement, but I feel Box is essentially the same as Dropbox. Box offers a lot more storage for free, and the iOS application for Box is accessible overall, but there are some areas which could be improved. For example, all the necessary actions can be performed using the iOS app, but the labels on some buttons are not exactly straight forward. Box is one of the cloud storage providers which I did not use while I was at college/university. I didn’t use Box at that time as it was inaccessible, but the people behind Box have resolved the accessibility issues at this time.

Link to Box for iPhone and iPad on Applevis.
Link to the official Box website.

Option 4 [ iCloud Drive:
iCloud Drive is part of a much larger iCloud eco-system. As this is a newer development in terms of iCloud offerings, I do not have a lot of experience using this cloud storage option. In my opinion, this option is best suited to iOS and Mac OS users. For example, if you are using the most up-to-date versions of Apple’s Mac software (10.10 Yosemite) and iOS 8, iCloud Drive will be included in the file explorer of your Mac, and available within the sharing options of iOS devices.

Link to the official iCloud Drive website.

Option 5 – Microsoft One Drive:
As the title might suggest, One Drive is offered by Microsoft and is part of all Windows 8/8.1 PC’s and Laptops. I have very little experience of using One Drive. It is accessible, and it appears to be similar to Dropbox when accessing it through a PC or laptop. There is also a Microsoft One Drive iOS application. The storage offered is greater than that of Dropbox, but unfortunately I can’t comment further as I haven’t used it extensively.

Link to Microsoft One Drive for iOS on Applevis.
Link to the official Microsoft One Drive site.

I believe that any of the above cloud storage options (except iCloud Drive), could be used for sharing files between devices for personal use, or used within a group situation at college and/or university. As ever, if you have any questions please get in touch; I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sadly, I was unable to find a popular song from musical theater that referenced clouds a lot, but the following song by Katy Perry does mention clouds in the chorus.

How does technology help people who are blind or visually impaired?

This is a great overview of the benefits offered by assistive technology.

Sandy's View

blog pic 5-7If someone had told me 10 years ago that one day my cell phone would read print documents and describe things to me, I would’ve laughed and thought this person had watched too many sci-fi movies! This is all to say that today’s technology not only makes life easier for everyone, but in the case of those of us with vision loss it allows us to do even the simplest of things others might not have to think about.

Thanks to modern technology, people with vision loss can do numerous things such as write documents, browse the internet and send and receive emails. Screen Reading software and special talking and Braille devices allow those of us with no vision to use computers, cell phones and other electronic devices independently. Similarly, people with low vision can use screen magnification software and devices that will allow them to see letters, pictures and…

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things, in terms of Assistive Technology

In this post I would like to tell you about a few of my favorite items of assistive technology. I have used the following assistive technologies throughout my educational endeavors, and I continue to use most of them in my everyday life. I would advise someone beginning an educational course, or other venture, to research the mentioned technology; to determine what does and doesn’t meet your needs. Also, for residents of Ireland, it may be an idea to contact the NCBI to get further information of the products mentioned below.

iPhone and/or iPad with VoiceOver:
The iPhone is a smart-phone with a touch screen, and the iPad is a tablet computer; both products are manufactured by Apple. . Both mentioned devices happen to be 100% accessible for visually impaired and blind individuals. There are also accessibility features built into the iPad for those with low-vision, hearing impairments, and motion difficulties too. In terms of low-vision, accessibility features include Large Text, Bold Text, Invert Colours, and Zoom. My personal experience is related to VoiceOver, which is the screen reader built-in to the iPad. I am not exaggerating when I say that the iPhone and iPad is accessible right out of the box. VoiceOver can be enabled by triple tapping the home button when either device has been turned on, and the setup can be completed without sighted assistance.

If you would like to hear what VoiceOver sounds like, play the below video. There is some very useful information offered at the beginning of this video for those new to VoiceOver on the iPhone and/or iPad.

All the built-in applications are accessible, and a lot of the most popular apps are accessible too. However, it is completely up to the developer of an app to make it accessible, so there are no guarantees. without any additional apps, you can setup your email, browse the internet, manage your calendar and contacts, and take notes among many other activities.

In addition to VoiceOver, apps are really what make the iPhone and iPad two of my favorite pieces of assistive technology. In future posts I will write about apps I have used and have found to be particularly beneficial. However, if you want to get a feel for what is available right now, you could check out the app directory on Applevis. This link will bring you to the directory, and you can explore the vast number of app entries by category.

If you choose to use an iPhone and/or iPad, I would recommend getting a Bluetooth keyboard. A Bluetooth keyboard is great for taking notes and writing documents with a higher level of accuracy and speed. Using the on-screen/virtual keyboard is fine, but I don’t believe it is feasible to take notes at speed in a lecture type situation at this point. There are many options if you are looking for a Bluetooth keyboard, but Apple makes one and it is quite good; you can read more about this keyboard at this link.

Instead of a Bluetooth keyboard, you could get a cover for your iPad which includes a keyboard. These are great as they are compact and portable, but I have found the keys on the keyboard are a little small and this can lead to more mistakes. I have especially noticed this when I have been taking notes in lectures at a fast speed. This link will bring you to the page offering information about the case and keyboard I have used. This type of case is basically like a book, and the iPad slots in one side and the keyboard is on the other side.

In short, the iPhone and iPad are completely accessible, and I think they are both great pieces of assistive technology.

If you would like to find out more about the iPhone click here, and if you would like to know more about the iPad please click here. To find out more about the accessibility features of the iPhone, iPad, and other Apple products please click here.

Laptop with JAWS/NVDA or MacBook with VoiceOver:
Desktops are brilliant, but I have only ever used laptops for my computing needs. I do think a Laptop or MacBook with your screen reader of choice is pretty much essential. Similar to the iPhone and iPad above, laptops are great as they are so portable. You can choose between two different devices here:
1. A laptop running Microsoft Windows.
2. A MacBook running Macintosh OS.

Windows Laptop and JAWS/NVDA:
A Windows laptop is the most common and cost efficient option, but you do have to consider what additional assistive technology you use. In my case, I had to choose which screen reader I was going to use, and I chose JAWS. While JAWS is a fantastic piece of technology, it is quite costly. As a result I have found that a Windows laptop can sometimes end up being more expensive than first thought. However, NVDA is another screen reader you could choose, and it is completely free. It is recommended that you consider making a donation to support the future development of NVDA. Using NVDA means that a Windows laptop is more cost effective, but you need to consider which screen reader best meets your needs. Further information on both JAWS and NVDA can be found in the ‘Useful Resources’ section.

A Windows laptop will generally run all the applications you will need to complete a task/course. I would advise researching what applications you will be expected to use, in order to assess their accessibility with JAWS and/or NVDA. However, when it comes to the common Microsoft Office applications like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook; there shouldn’t be a problem at all.

MacBook and VoiceOver:
Like the iPhone and iPad discussed above, a MacBook is accessible right out of the box. The screen reader present on MacBook’s, is the same screen reader as on the iPhone and iPad. Play the below video to hear what VoiceOver sounds like on the MacBook. If you wish, forward the video until you get to 6 minutes in, as there is a pretty long introduction. However, you may want to listen to this as it covers a lot of information.

If you choose to use a MacBook, there will be certain applications you will be unable to use as they are not compatible with the Macintosh OS. The level to which this incompatibility will be a problem will depend on the task/course you are completing. to overcome the inability to use some Windows only applications, you can install Windows on your MacBook. This means you essentially have the best of both worlds on one machine. There are two ways to do this, and they are called VMWare Fusion and BootCamp. I have experience of both methods, and I would have to recommend VMWare Fusion over BootCamp. I don’t want to get too technical here, but do play the below video regarding VMWare Fusion, and visit this link to get a better understanding of running Windows on a MacBook.

The below VMWare Fusion video doesn’t focus on assistive technology, but it should give you an idea of what VMWare Fusion is, and what it can do.

Kurzweil 1000:
Kurzweil 1000 (K1000) is a fantastic piece of software which can recognize printed characters, and read them via a text to speech synthesizer/naturally sounding voice. K1000 requires a scanner or camera to function. However, you can also convert inaccessible online PDF files. I have found this to be a very beneficial feature of K1000. Some PDF files are not accessible, and using K1000 can be a great way of overcoming this problem. During my Masters, it seemed like every PDF I opened could not be read with JAWS, but a few minutes with K1000 and the PDF was being read to me. I could not have completed my Masters without this software.

K1000 is an example of software which is only available for Windows, and I think it is pretty much essential for someone who is visually impaired or blind and cannot read printed materials. Keep in mind, K1000 can be run on a MacBook if you use the VMWare Fusion or BootCamp methods mentioned above.

Play the following video to get an idea of how K1000 works. The following video is not perfect, and K1000 is normally more accurate, but it does depend on what is being scanned.

I hope the above information is of use to somebody, and if you have any related questions feel free to get in touch via the ‘Contact Me’ section.

In closing, just in case you haven’t made the connection between the title of this post and my interest in musical theatre, you should take a few minutes to play the below video and all will become clear.