Did You Know You Can Convert Kindle eBooks?

This post will discuss the Kindle eBook format, and the ability to convert and import the said materials into alternative readers such as Voice Dream Reader, iBooks and other reading software. The software required to complete the subsequent instructions is called Calibre, and you will need an additional extension which I have provided a link to.
This post assumes that you already have an account with Amazon, and you are able to download Kindle eBooks without issue. Also, the instructions provided have been verified to be accessible and work on a MacBook, but I cannot guarantee that the said instructions can be replicated on other operating systems such as Windows.

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles… Accessible Travel!

As I have recently returned from my summer holiday, I thought it would be beneficial to write a post which focuses on accessible travel. This may seem unrelated to education, but more and more programmes of study are including a study trip as part of the course requirements. For example, my Masters included an international study trip to Toulouse in France which took place at the end of the 2nd semester. I feel it is important to organize any additional supports you may require ahead of time. Furthermore, from my experience, you should try and be as specific as you can when requesting support. Also, if you are requesting the support from your college/university, double and triple check that they have the supports in place for your study trip long before your departure date. I have been lucky enough to travel to the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and France. In all destinations I have travelled to, each have been accessible to a greater or lesser extent. I must say, a lot of countries have supports for those with a disability already in place, and it is just a case of asking for them.

This is an image of an aircraft sourced from ClipArt in Microsoft Word.

Image of An Aircraft

Requesting Airport Assistance:
Asking for assistance at your airport of choice is pretty straight forward. When you are booking your flights, online or with a travel agent, you can specify that you require additional assistance when you are at the airport. This assistance can take different forms. For example, you can get someone to accompany you from the check-in desk to the boarding gate, or you can be guided directly from the desk to the airplane’s door. Additionally, you can request to be transported to the boarding gate or aircraft door in a wheelchair. In the case of opting for a wheelchair, you are whisked through the airport by a member of staff, and I think it is a very efficient assistance for someone with mobility difficulties; like myself. From my experience the support you request at your departing airport is mirrored in the destination airport automatically. However, if you would like to double check this with the cabin crew, I’m sure they would be happy to check for you. If you find it difficult to request the required support at the time of booking, you can always mention it at the check-in desk and the staff member you speak to can help you with the required assistance. Also, if you do get assistance to the boarding gate or airplane door, don’t be offended if you are told you must be the last person to board. The airport staff are not being difficult, there is a health and safety policy concerning airplanes refueling and persons with a disability boarding. To find out more about the accessibility of Dublin Airport, you can visit this link.

Requesting Rail Assistance:
I should say that I have never requested assistance on rail ahead of time, but it is possible to do so. To request support before you travel, you should make contact with your local station and they will be happy to help. When travelling via rail, I have been assisted by members of staff at the station (i.e. linking me off the train into the station), and ramps have been put in place to help me get on and off the train. Some stations are bigger than others, so it is very important to plan ahead and make sure that the supports you need are in place at the time of travel. More information regarding the accessibility of Irish Rail can be found at this link.

Requesting Accommodation Assistance:
By accommodation assistance, I mean accessible accommodation. In my experience, hotels are normally most likely to have a room which is accessible. Such rooms in a hotel are usually called Disabled Access Rooms, and they are generally large with a bathroom which can accommodate a wheelchair. It is best to specify whether you would like an accessible hotel room or not. I would strongly recommend that you double and triple check that you have been given an accessible room when you are checking in. It is very common that hotel rooms are mixed up all the time regardless of the existence of a disability. For example, on my most recent hotel stay, I was given a room which was not at all accessible in any way. After requesting the room which I originally booked, I was changed to the correct room. To get an idea of what can be provided by an accessible hotel, visit this link to the Crown Plaza Dublin.

Requesting Transfer Assistance:
A transfer is generally the term applied to transport from an airport/train station to your accommodation. I should say I have only used transfers which were not necessary accessible, but they did meet my needs at the time. If you are booking a package holiday via a travel agent or tour operator, you will have someone with whom you can discuss your transport options. If you have booked your air/rail and accommodation separately, you should conduct a little research regarding the transportation options available to you. The accessibility of transport options will vary from destination to destination, but there is generally a varied selection of taxis, buses and trains present at and/or around the airport. There will be an information desk at the airport you are travelling to, and they should be able to help you with your transport requirements. Also, it may be possible to arrange transport through your hotel/accommodation directly.

I hope the above information is of some benefit to you, and if you have any questions please get in touch

I believe Holiday by Madonna is the song which best suits the subject matter of this post.

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.

Using Assistive Technology to Read Academic and Non-Academic Books

As suggested by the title, this post will consider the number of different ways assistive technology, and general technology which is accessible, can help you to read both academic and non-academic materials. This aided reading can apply in a college or university setting, and it is equally applicable in the case of reading as a hobby and/or leisure pursuit. In terms of reading, assistive technology can benefit those with print, learning, and/or vision related disabilities. My personal experience is restricted to software that benefits those who are visually impaired and/or blind, but some of the available software includes features which are designed with multi-dimensional needs in mind. For example, an iPhone application like Voice Dream Reader (discussed below) has features which are designed with individuals who have a print and/or learning disability in mind. However, the same features are as beneficial to those who are visually impaired and/or blind.

This is an image of an academic book sourced from Microsoft Word's Clip Art.

This is an image of a book related to academia.

I first encountered audioBooks when I was a teenager in Secondary/High School, and at that stage they were available on either Cassette Tape or CD. At the time, to have a book narrated by a human voice was very useful, and for the media to be portable was great. The next time I explored audioBooks was a few years ago when I was finishing my Primary Degree. It was at this time I discovered Audible. The Audible service is essentially an online library of audioBooks which can be either purchased with money or credits. This is an example of a technology which is applicable to everybody, but is particularly of benefit to those who use audioBook’s because print material is not accessible to them. Another added bonus is that Audible have an application for your smartphone, tablet, and PC/Mac. In my experience the smartphone application is accessible on the iPhone. Audible is great, and has a wide selection of titles available for download. In my opinion, the majority of the titles available are not commonly found on college and/or university reading lists, but this might not be the case if you are part of a more literary related course. Audible is definitely worth investigating, and even if it doesn’t have books on your reading list, you can always download another audiobook which you are interested in reading.

Kindle Books:
The world of Kindle is made up of Kindle Readers and Kindle Books. Kindle Readers are tablet devices which enable you to read Kindle Books and access other Amazon services, and there is a level of accessibility `built-in, but I am unaware as to how much. Thankfully, a Kindle Reader is not necessary to read a Kindle Book. This is because a Kindle Reading application is available for smartphones, tablets, and PC’s/Mac’s. Please note, to the best of my knowledge, the applications for the PC and Mac are inaccessible. However, I can say with confidence that the iPhone and iPad applications are perfectly accessible. This means that you can browse the Kindle Book store on Amazon, and choose a book which is of interest to you. Make sure that the book has Text To Speech (TTS) enabled in the Book Features in the Product Description, and I think it is a good Idea to download a sample of your chosen book to test before purchasing. Once purchased, a copy of your Kindle Book will be delivered to your smartphone and/or tablet wirelessly, and you can begin reading the downloaded title with your device’s screen reader. I have downloaded many Kindle Books for reading as a hobby, and I have also downloaded several Kindle Books relevant to my MSC programme. In my opinion, there is a much more varied selection of books available on the Kindle Book store in comparison to Audible’s Library. Therefore, if what you want isn’t available on one service, it is worth your while checking another service provider.

CourseSmart is a web based service which makes eBooks available for students. It is another example of general technology which is accessible, but CourseSmart offer a reading interface especially for screen readers and a service to make inaccessible books accessible. I was introduced to this service in my final year of my Primary Degree, and I used the service again when I was completing my MSc programme. CourseSmart is like Kindle in that it is a digital online library, but unlike Kindle, you can only rent books on CourseSmart. The rental period for the titles I read was 1 year (365 days), and this was sufficient for me in college and university. Titles which are already accessible on CourseSmart have an interactive Table of Contents, Headings aiding navigation, Alternative Text for images and graphs and accessible Tables which can be navigated with your screen reader. From memory, I believe the site automatically detects your screen reader and you are entered into the accessible reading interface. If a title is not accessible, CourseSmart offers a Tagging Service. This service basically makes the inaccessible title accessible, and takes 2 to 3 weeks to complete. You are given access to the book while the Tagging process is underway, and while it isn’t perfect, it is better than not having access to a particular book. As the name of the service may suggest, CourseSmart has an academic focus, and you are more likely to find items on your reading list on this service. For example, I was able to source 2 to 3 items from my MSc programme’s reading list on CourseSmart.

eBooks (PDF or Doc):
I should point out my definition of an eBook is a book which is either in PDF or Doc format. eBooks are also available in an EPUB format, but I do not have knowledge of the said file format’s accessibility. My thoughts are an EPUB File must be converted before it is readable by a screen reader, but this could be an incorrect statement. So with that said, the eBooks I have used have been sourced by my college and/or university and are initially in a PDF format. As discussed in a previous post, the accessibility and ease of navigation of a PDF File is not always guaranteed, and this is where assistive technology comes in. Personally, I have used the methods described in the previously linked post to make inaccessible PDF files accessible. However, when I began my MSc programme, I was introduced to a member of the Disability Office who can make inaccessible PDF Files accessible, and convert those PDF Files to Doc Files which are sometimes easier to navigate. You should ask if your college and/or university has an individual who can perform similar duties, as it is time consuming for you to complete, and you will have more to focus on at college than converting books so that you can read them. As there is such an amount of manual conversion involved, I am not a fan of eBooks. However, my perception of eBook conversion could be skewed, and it is great to have any material available when it is required.

Voice Dream Reader:
Voice Dream Reader is my favorite iPhone application at the moment. Voice Dream, as it is titled on my iPhone, is an application similar to Kindle, but it gives you the ability to change the voice which reads your book of choice. Essentially, you are creating your very own audiobook. The application comes with a voice installed called Heather, but you are not limited to the default, there are many voices which can be purchased. The voices which are available for purchase sound very natural, and you could almost forget that it is a TTS synthesiser reading your text. By default, Voice Dream can read common Word Processing file formats and accessible PDF Files (among others). If you are willing to put in the effort, it is possible to have Voice Dream read Kindle Books you have purchased. This practice involves removing the Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection present on Kindle Books, and I am not encouraging and/or justifying the mentioned activity. If you would like to discuss Kindle Books and DRM in more detail, please contact me privately. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, Voice Dream has visual features which are of benefit to those who are not visually impaired and/or blind, but have difficulty reading. I do not have experience of the afore mentioned features due to their visual nature, but I believe they are very useful to the intended audience. As an aside, the developer of Voice Dream Reader has also created applications called Voice Dream Writer and Voice Dream Male. You can preview the available voices at this site.

I hope you now have an understanding of how assistive technology can help you to read academic and/or non-academic books, and that the above information is of benefit to you or someone you know. As always, if you have any further questions regarding the topic discussed, please do not hesitate to comment and/or contact me.

As Apple are rumoured to be launching a music streaming service today at WWDC, I thought it would be appropriate to have a musical contribution courtesy of Taylor Swift to compliment todays post. Also, who doesn’t like Taylor Swift?

Introductions and Expectations

For those of you who have read the ‘About Me’ section, the first half of this post may seem very familiar. For those of you who have not, please read on and enjoy.

My name is Niall Gallagher, I am currently 24 years old, and I live in county Sligo in the North-West of Ireland. I am very interested in listening to popular music, attending musical theatre productions, travelling abroad, discovering new technology/gadgets, reading, and keeping up to date with a broad range of radio and TV programs.

At this stage, I would like to point out that I am visually impaired and have reduced mobility. My visual impairment means that I use a lot of technology in my day to day life, and my level of vision is non-functional in comparison to a non-visually impaired individual. Regarding my reduced mobility, it does affect me in terms of getting from A to B, but as long as someone guides the walking aid I use it’s not a problem.

Despite the previously mentioned disabilities, I attended mainstream primary and secondary school, progressed on to college, and continued my studies to graduate with a Masters in 2015. To successfully complete the mentioned education, it was necessary for me to use technology to assist with certain tasks such as studying, taking exams and completing assignments. The technology I used is commonly referred to as Assistive Technology (AT), and such technology is available for PC’s, Laptops, smart phones and tablets.

Niall in the University of Limerick on the day he was handing up his Masters thesis.

Niall in the University of Limerick on the day he was handing up his Masters thesis.

AT can take a number of forms including low-vision aids, magnification software, tactile graph printing, brail production and screen reading software. Personally, I primarily use screen reading software at the moment, and if you would like to learn more about this software click here. the screen reader I use is called JAWS, and you can play the below video to learn more about the software.

In this blog I intend to share my experiences and knowledge of AT, and hopefully by doing this, I can help someone else in a similar situation. Some knowledge and experience has been ascertained through my most recent academic venture, but this does not mean that this knowledge/experience cannot be applied to different scenarios.

The content of this blog will mainly focus on the types of AT used by visually impaired and blind individuals, and other technologies which I have found to be very beneficial. I will also provide links to other resources on the internet which offer relevant information, which can be found in the ‘Useful Resources’ section.

So whether you’re visually impaired, know someone who is, or would just like to get a better understanding of AT, I hope you can take something away from this blog which will help.

Also, feel free to contact me via the ‘Contact Me’ section with any feedback, questions, comments, messages and/or suggestions regarding items you would like me to focus on in future posts.