Newsflash… 2 DigiPlace4All Events and an iOS 9 Article!

In this post I would like to tell you about 2 pieces of DigiPlace4All news, and share an article with you which relates to the new features in iOS 9/9.0.1. The pieces of DigiPlace4All news comprise of an event which took place in Dublin on the 18th of September 2015, as mentioned in a previous post, and another smaller and more intimate event which took place yesterday in Galway (24th September 2015). The article I mentioned compares what actions/tasks are possible in the newest release of Apples version of iOS, and the previous release which was iOS 8.1.4. I hope you read on, and enjoy learning about some of the news regarding DigiPlace4All and the advancement of the iOS platform.

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Microsoft Office for iOS, Windows and OneDrive… A Winning Combination for Students and Casual Users!

This post is going to discuss the Microsoft (MS) Office suite of programmes which are freely available on iOS; I will also briefly mention MS Office for Windows. I should point out, this post will only provide a broad overview of the MS Office offerings on iOS, and it will not provide an in-depth review of each programme. This is for two primary reasons:
1. Currently, I am only using MS Office in a casual sense, so I wouldn’t be familiar with long-term use experiences.
2. A much longer post would be required to cover MS Office in its entirety, and due to the previous statement I’m unable to write such a post.
Nevertheless, this post should provide you with a significant introduction to each programme, and you can investigate areas of particular interest to you further.
I should mention, MS Office is available on Mac, but I can’t vouch for its accessibility with VoiceOver (VO).
Even though I love iOS and Mac OS, I am primarily a Windows user when it comes to productivity. While I couldn’t take advantage of the iOS versions of Ms Office when I was in college/university, I honestly believe that using MS Office on iOS, Windows and OneDrive together is a winning combination for students and/or general users.

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Conducting Research While Using Assistive Technology… It IS Possible!

In this post I would like to discuss the activity of conducting research on the internet with assistive technology. Researching is an inevitable task when you are in college and/or university. Whether you are attending a class, completing an assignment or preparing for a presentation, you will need to conduct research. There is a specific process to follow when researching, and you can visit this link to find out more about the said process. Gaining access to printed materials is almost unavoidable when you are researching a given topic or subject, but using the previously discussed OCR methods should enable you to access such materials. Also, some college/university library’s offer scanning services for students, and this may be of benefit to you depending on your individual needs. I should point out, your lecturer/teacher will inform you as to how you should carryout research, and they will tell you the best sources from which reliable information can be ascertained. Therefore, this post will be written assuming that you understand the research process.

This is an image of a magnifying glass which symbolises research.

Magnifying Glass Symbolising Research

Getting the Best Search Results:
Conducting research on the internet is different to searching for things on the internet. For example, if you are given a project based on the climate within a business, and you put the word climate into your favorite search engine the results will not be what you intended to find. Whereas, if you searched for “business” AND “climate”, your results would be much more suited to your area of interest. The use of quotes before and after each word in the previous example, will tell a search engine to only return results which include the terms I have used. The use of such punctuation is explained in more detail at this link. Using the correct Search Operators, Symbols and Punctuation in your searches, can make the research process much more efficient and less time consuming.

Your New Best Friend Google Scholar:
You can think of Google Scholar as a college/university version of the normal Google Search Engine. Scholar will only return results which are related to books, journal articles and/or other research related documents. In my experience, you will not find advertisements for companies relating to your search. There are many additional tools to improve your results in scholar, but at a basic level, incorporating the above Search Operators will narrow-down your results a great deal. Again, your lecturer/teacher will tell you the best way to use Scholar for your given course, and they will tell you how to login with your college/university credentials so that you have access to more information. In general, Google Scholar is a much better way of getting reliable information in comparison to using a standard Search Engine. You can access Google Scholar by visiting this link.

Don’t Ignore Your Library’s Website:
It is more than likely that your college/university library has a website, and you should become acquainted with the way this site works and its accessibility with your assistive technology. From those that I have visited, library websites usually have an online catalogue, online journals, eBooks and a search facility. The online catalogue is normally a collection of all the books that the library has on its shelves, and you are able to search this catalogue and reserve an item if it is available. The online journals are a database of journals and journal articles, and similar to the catalogue, they can be searched. In addition, if the journal article is online, you can access it instantly, and sometimes you can save the article for offline use. I have less experience with the eBook and general search sections as I normally found what I needed in the catalogue or journals, but any member of staff in your library would be more than happy to explain such features. My lecturers often arranged presentations from the library staff in my college to explain the various features of the library website for my entire class.

Be prepared to Scan Printed Materials:
Even though it is true that a lot of material is online, there is some which is still only available in a physical printed form. Such materials may include books and journal articles which are older, but may contain information which is just as relevant as online information. Therefore, it is not advisable to ignore information which is in books and journal articles just because it isn’t online, and isn’t immediately accessible. You will need to scan the information which is offline, and use an OCR application to recognise the text present on the page. Kurzweil 1000 is the programme which I have experience with, but there are many alternatives you can choose from. There is even a mobile application called KNFB Reader, which works on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. KNFB Reader is expensive, but it is very versatile and may be ideal in a library situation. You can read more about KNFB Reader at this link courtesy of Applevis.

EBSCOHost is a Brilliant Companion for Your Library Website:
EBSCOHost is an application for iOS Devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch), which has a simple interface that enables you to search many of the databases linked with your library account. After you download the app you will need to visit your library’s website, open a link which is related to EBSCOHost for Mobile, and then you will be emailed a code to authorise your app for 6 months or a little longer. I have found this app to be very handy when I used it, but it is not essential when you are conducting research; so don’t worry if you do not have access to it. If you do use the app, keep in mind that there is a feature for downloading and viewing a PDF version of the article your reading. This feature is inaccessible with VoiceOver, but this is a small feature of the app and doesn’t affect its functionality. Visit this link to view EBSCOHost on the app store.

Don’t Forget About Kindle, CourseSmart and Other Sites for Accessible Books:
If you are finding it particularly difficult to scan physical books, or find books which relate to the topic you are researching, don’t forget that you can access accessible books via Kindle, CourseSmart, Audible etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, the titles which are available on the mentioned providers can vary, and you will have to search around to find the desired content. In my experience, Kindle is great for finding books regarding Research Methodology and other academic subjects which are accessible.

JAWS Research It Might Be Useful:
I have known about the Research It feature in JAWS for a long time, but I have never used it for personal use or research purposes. I would imagine that Research It is best for researching current topics which are in the news. If a lecturer/teacher requests that you research a current news topic, JAWS Research It would be an ideal place to begin your search. Research It is a feature which is only available on the JAWS screen reader, and the key command CTRL + SPACE + R will activate the Research It feature.

Bookmarks Are Great:
When I find an online article or book I am particularly interested in, I always create a Favorite or Bookmark which I can refer back to later. It is also a good idea to create Favorites or Bookmarks of your most used research databases, online journals, Google Scholar and your library’s website. This will make it very easy for you to access certain features instead of searching through the various links and headings of your library’s website. If you are using an iOS Device, I have found it beneficial to create Safari Bookmarks on your Home Screen, and store a group of Bookmarks in a Folder.

I genuinely hope that you can improve your research by using some of the mentioned resources, and if you have any further queries just get in touch.

As it can sometimes be difficult to find what you are looking for while researching, I think the song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2 is quite appropriate.

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.

AudioBooks:
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:
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?

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.

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.