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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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.