Dotbuds IP10: Initial Impressions

Earlier this month, I ordered Dotbuds IP10 after seeing a Facebook ad for them and reading (mostly) positive Facebook comments. Dotbuds are sold by a company in France, but manufactured in China (what isn’t?), perhaps as a white label version of something else manufactured under other names. I’ve seen several similar things on eBay in prices ranging from around $20 to around $50, but I don’t know if they’re the same, similar, rebadged versions of this same set, or what, and, well, sometimes, you pays your money, you takes your chances. I bought the actual set labeled as Dotbuds from the Dotbuds site.

Anyway, their 4-8 day postage timeline is a bit optimistic, but in my case, I got them fairly quickly, considering they ship via China Post with no real rush. But hey, it’s free shipping, so I’m not very worried about that.

So what are they?

While they may not exactly call them this in so many words, Dotbuds IP10 are billed as something like a poor man’s Earpods. At less than 1/3 the cost of the Apple product, well, it’s sort of a bold comparison. Sure, you don’t get the super easy almost instantaneous and effortless pairing, pairing to multiple devices across iCloud, automatic stereo to mono switching, or any of those things, but really, what do you want for $50?

Dotbuds IP10 are a pair of small, wireless earbuds. The package comes with the two earbuds, sets of earbud tips in three sizes, a short micro USB charging cable, and a really tiny user guide, also available online. The USB cable might be a foot long, which is better than some micro USB cables I’ve gotten. The instructions can be found on the Dotbuds website, here,. As instructions go, these are brief and straightforward, if not 100% complete, i.e. little to no mention of voice and audio prompts.

Melanie and her aid both say these things look like hearing aids. That may or may not be a good thing, but they’re not terribly huge, and they fit in my ears well enough.

While the instructions say something about lights flashing to indicate pairing status, there are plenty of audio cues to alert you to this as well. The pairing process takes some time initially, as you first have to pair the Dotbuds to each other, then to your device. For the best flexibility, I paired them twice; I’ll explain why in a minute. But the process goes like this:

  • Stick the Dotbuds in your ears.
  • Press both multifunction buttons at once, one on each ear, and hold them down through the power on and pairing announcements. Note the voice of Allison.
  • You’ll hear tones confirming that the Dobuds have paired to each other.
  • Press and hold the button(s) again to get the “Power off” message.
  • Power one bud on by holding the button to get the “Power on”, then the “Pairing” message. Then hold the other button down just to the “Power on” message.
  • Pair from your phone or computer settings as you would do for any other set of bluetooth headphones.
  • Power off again, and repeat the last two steps, but reverse the ears you turn on and pair. This will mean that your Dotbuds will show up twice as “Tws Earbuds”. Don’t worry, this is normal.
  • To use them, turn one on, then the other, by holding down the button until you get the “Power on” message. Holding either button will turn both buds off.

OK, so why pair them twice, once for each ear, when they’re connected to each other?

It’s a fair question. Here’s the answer. When listening to most audio, these earbuds play in stereo. However, when using the phone app, or for that matter, apparently, any VOIP application or anything that uses the microphone, only mono audio is supported. That means that only the first bud powered up will get audio during your call. Thus, if you’re listening to some tunage with both buds and get a phone call, you’ll only hear your call out of one side. If you turned on the right Dotbud first, that’s the one that gets your VOIP audio. If it’s left first, you’ll get VOIP audio from only your left ear. The good news about this is that the audio is really quite clear, and you don’t get the degradation that sometimes occurs with other headphones, so your voice over LTE calls, Skype calls, FB Messenger, and the like, will come in without the lovely limited frequency response and just general phone sound you get from some headphones, if that makes sense.

These are traditional earbud design, which means they stick in your ears. That means your hearing will be blocked. If you want to use these while walking, for goodness sake, just use one of them and keep the other in reserve. Their outside noise blocking is quite good, which is definitely not compatible with walking. Especially in traffic. Be careful out there, guys

Charging is claimed to take one hour. I’m unclear whether that means for the Dotbuds in the charging box, or for the charging box itself. The manufacturer claims up to four hours running time for the Dotbuds, with another three (or maybe four?) charges in the charging box. Sorry I don’t recall which, but it’s pretty respectable in either case. I haven’t run down either the Dotbuds or the box yet, so I can’t tell you what actual run time looks like.

As for sound, it’s surprisingly good, at least to my non-audiophile ear. You likely aren’t going to get room thumping kidney pounding bass, but it’s well enough defined for my ear, with crisp enough highs and mids, again, to my ear and with the brief time I’ve played with them. In any case, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, especially not at the price. Voice quality is good as well, if, again, only in mono for applications that also use the microphone.

Mic audio might be another matter. The one phone call I had, my friend told me that the right ear sounded muffled, while the left ear sounded fine. I need to investigate further; this could be just something funny about my face and ears, or who knows? I’ll need more time to nail this particular report down, and maybe get some more calls in to check out what’s going on.

What about Siri? There’s no way to access Siri from the multifunction button. That only turns the Dotbuds on and off, play/pause, skips to the next track, answers and hangs up calls, and rejects calls. However, “Hey Siri” works just fine, noting the same mono behavior as with other apps that use the microphone.

Fitting the Dotbuds into the charger box was straightforward, as the box has defined cutouts shaped just like the Dotbuds, and they only fit in properly one way. The lid closes and has a magnet to keep it shut. Easily fits in a pocket, too.

One final thing. Yes, you can use them one at a time if you like, which is why I recommend pairing both of them to your phone. Doing this effectively doubles their useful running time of course.

Over all, I like them, and better yet, I like that I didn’t pay $160 for them. Sure, they don’t have all the Apple frills, but for a decent set of small wireless earbuds with a basic feature set, they’re good enough and sound fine to my ear. I can’t speak to latency and am not sure how one would measure that, sorry.

ARRL Responds

In the person of Steve Ford, WB8IMY, QST’s editor, I have received a response to my email from Thursday evening. You can see that email in the previous post.

I forwarded the email I sent originally to Mr. Ford, along with aRRL’s, president, CEO, and first and second vice presidents, and received the below response about 20 minutes ago. Well, I read it about 20 minutes ago, I received it earlier than that.

Needless to say, I am truly angered by his response. SO accessibility was merely an unfortunate casualty of a cost cutting measure? Maybe it will be accessible in the future, because HTML5 is better than flash. Which it is, but HTML5 is not inherently inaccessible. The fact is that accessibility is not, and has never been on ARRL’s radar, in spite of the fact that the issue was brought to its attention.

I’m a lifetime member, but had I not been, I would definitely have to consider keeping my membership, even at the “blind” membership level. As I said before, if I had access to QST, the full QST, when everyone else gts it, I would definitely join at the full membership level and not the “blind” one. But now that I see exactly what my membership organization feels about me, well…

Here’s Steve Ford’s response:

Buddy: We made the transition to the PageSuite platform as a cost saving measure, and also because it offers us the ability to expand and upgrade our e-newsletter offerings, something we have been very eager to do. After careful research, we determined that PageSuite was the best choice to balance cost and features.

Unfortunately, there must always be compromises in a situation such as this. Compatibility with reading software for the visually impaired is just one of them. PageSuite could no doubt create a customized package to address every shortcoming, but the cost would be such that it would eliminate any savings. Unless ARRL wishes to divert the necessary financial resources to create a customized solution, I’m afraid we must work within the capabilities of the standard PageSuite package.

Since PageSuite is based on HTML5 rather than Flash, it is possible that compatible reading software may exist. If that doesn’t prove to be the case, there is still the possibility that such software may eventually be developed. HTML5 is becoming the standard and Flash is in decline, so I suspect we will see increasing software development in this area.

73…

Steve Ford, WB8IMY
ARRL Publications Manager

Regarding Access To Digital Publications: An Open Letter To the ARRL

Several years ago, the ARRL, our country’s ham radio organization, began publishing its monthly membership magazine, QST, electronically, both on the web and in a smart phone application. Unfortunately, the web version was Flash based, and the iOS version just plain didn’t read with Voiceover. Naturally, the blind ham community was pretty disappointed, because, while we do get QST from the NLS talking book program, it’s delayed from the printed and electronic edition, and doesn’t include advertising. (It used to be even more delayed and not include a bunch of other stuff, too, so that’s improved.) Parenthetically, of course we want to see the ads. After all, it’s the best way to learn about new gear, right?

Back in 2014, my friend Rob and I had the chance to talk to QST‘s publisher, steve Ford, about this problem of their inaccessible magazine. He told us then that they would look into it more, that a publication usable by us was possible, they just had to figure out the best way to handle it, words to that effect at any rate.

A week or so ago, we got word that the electronic QST was changing formats, and since this new one was HTML 5 and not Flash, maybe i would be usable. I was pretty hopeful anyway, as HTML5 is not inherently problematic in the way Flash is.

It was not to be, however. First, we got suggestion that it should work, because it worked with this thing that I’d never heard of. Then, this evening, we got another note saying that no, it didn’t work with JAWS or Zoomtext. Sure enough, I tried the sample provided, and it didn’t work on the Mac either.

I wrote the below email a couple hours ago and sent it to the person who was in touch with another blind ham. Apparently Allison Mclellan works with Steve Ford on QST.

Anyway, here’s my reaction and what I wrote to the ARRL via Allison. Some may think I’m overreacting. That’s OK. But the fact is that the ARRL had offers of assistance. Even if they didn’t, they know who in the membership roster signs up for the blind membership and could have asked. (They didn’t have to, I know I’m not the only one who offered to help or asked about this.) So what other conclusion can I have drawn?

Hello Ms. Mclellan,

Please feel free to share my comments with whoever should see them, including the general membership if you so desire.

Thank you for corresponding with Tom Fowle and others on this issue. I was excited, if apprehensive, about the changes that are going into effect for the new digital QST. I remember talking to Steve Ford about the issue of access to the digital QST by blind hams during the 100th ARRL anniversary convention. At that time, he told me and my friend Rob, KB5UJM, in his office, that accessibility was possible, they just had to figure out with the publisher how to implement it. I was disappointed to see no real movement on this, but I understand how slowly change can be brought about.

I really must express my extreme disappointment, therefore, at how the issue of accessibility was, or rather was not, handled while implementing the changes ARRL has. While I’m pleased that you have apparently been tasked with dialoguing with our community, it seems to me that this is playing catch up, at best, and a token effort at worst. Here you have an untapped resource that is willing and able to assist you: a group of tech savvy blind members, and I know at least a few of us had volunteered our assistance directly. Untapped, yes; during these developments, was any effort made to reach out to your tech savvy blind members to ask for help, even with testing to see if the solution you had could be made to work? I was certainly never contacted, and, judging by your response, neither was anyone else.

Before I go on, you’ve hit a couple of the major accessibility tools. Voiceover on the Mac and iPhone, and the free NVDA screen reader, are a couple more. I had a quick look with Voiceover with as little success as you had with JAWS and Zoomtext. I don’t think the accessibility tool in use will make much difference.

Here’s the real question. Are we or are we not valued members of the amateur radio community in general, and the ARRL in particular? Does the League, an organization to which I have a lifetime membership, consider me fully able to contribute to the hobby, or am I just a charity case that this great hobby can only serve to be a little bright spot in my otherwise pathetic little life?

Of course we all enjoy the recorded version of QST. We’re pleased that we now have very little of the content removed now. We enjoy it several weeks after everyone else. While this has certainly improved since I first became a ham 29 years ago (now we have, say, a three-week lag instead of a six-week or more lag), even that lag sometimes leaves us scrambling to keep up with events, not to mention being left out of the conversation when all the other guys in our radio clubs are discussing the new QST that just landed on their doorsteps. I understand completely that this used to be unavoidable, and the recorded version was, and still is, a great solution. But now, with the advent of readily available (and cheaper) hardware and software that we can use, we should have options, and many of the barriers to full inclusion are becoming more and more artificial. Including access to digital publications.

Of course we’re willing to help make better access happen, but we can’t do it without the ARRL first asking for help and providing us with the ability to help. Of course we want to be full and equal members of the ham community. And, for my part, I’d happily pay full membership price, not the blind rate, for full, equal, and timely access (yes, including all the ads, we want to drool, too!) to QST.

Audio Demo: Samsung TV With Accessibility Features

Recently, several people have been talking about TV’s, set top boxes, and the like, that have accessibility features built in. So far, the only major cable company who has implemented anything like this is Comcast, and they aren’t everywhere. Supposedly, the rules for this stuff to be accessible to people with disabilities kick in at the end of the year, but it sure doesn’t seem like anyone’s exactly scrambling to make it happen.

Enter Samsung. A couple years ago, they came out with some accessibility features on some larger televisions. These were well outside what I was willing to pay for a TV, given how little TV I watch. This week, however, I got wind of a 32-inch TV from Samsung with these accessibility features built in: talking menus, talking program guide, the whole ball of wax, and for under $300.

A call to Samsung was disappointing. The guy on the phone tried to sell me a 49-inch TV, and couldn’t find one smaller. Samsung doesn’t exactly go out of their way to highlight these features, that’s for sure, but eventually, a couple folks came up with a model number. Online chat with Samsung confirmed the accessibility features, as did the manual. So, thanks to Jeff Bishop and Randy the big R for alerting and tracking down model numbers.

So on to the show. Here we go through the setup of the Samsung UN32J550AFXZA. It went fairly smoothly, and I reckon it could have been done completely independently, though that may have taken some time if I got totally stuck. Backspace doesn’t tell you what characters you delete on the on-screen keyboard. That’s probably the biggest gotcha. Another thing. If you get this TV, you may get some nice music during the setup. I did, once. The talking menus duck the music down pretty nicely though.

Anyway, there is, no doubt, more to explore, like the apps in the Hub, but this should get people started. And maybe excited, because we have an accessible TV that’s actually affordable.

Sorting Through My Feelings: Can’t I Just Be Happy?!

I have a couple of things I want to write, and that I’ve been intending to write, but this one maybe can’t wait.

Reading through twitter, I came across this article. Mind you, it’s not the first sort of article I’ve seen like it, but I had a reaction to it.

OK, I had a couple reactions to it. First, I hated the headline, because it just sounds icky and like inspiration porn may well be coming.

That really wasn’t all though. I read the article, and I thought, “I think that family’s going to be disappointed”.

Wow, I’m usually not so negative about things.

I’ve seen other articles about the next big thing that would offer some sort of sight for some kinds of blind people, and usually, I think, well now…that’s interesting. Usually, the people who benefit from these things are those who have had sight before and have lost it due to accident or to a genetic condition like RP. So what’s the deal with this one? Why the negative reaction?

Before I go on, I want to say that I hope I’m wrong. Being wrong would make me very happy, and being right would not. If these glasses are everything this family hopes they are, I will be the first (well, second maybe) to be happy for them.

There are probably several things going on here. First, I think it’s an expectations setting problem. If this kid’s sight is bad enough that he really can’t read print, I’m fairly sure that learning to do so will at least take a lot of time, at best. In any case, at least the way the story is framed, it seems they’re hoping these glasses will solve all of his blindness problems, and I’m thinking that it just isn’t so. Anyway, everything I’ve read suggests that, if you don’t learn to integrate sight when you’re very young, doing so later isn’t easy, and may even be fairly traumatic. Maybe my reaction would be less negative if this family had different expectations. I don’t know.

Anyway, I’m discussing this article with a friend who happens to be sighted, and she asks me something that I thought about just a little bit before she asked me. “Could you…perhaps….just a little bit….be jealous?”

This is indeed a possibility, and it’s a possibility I kind of hate. You see, I’m just not the brooding, bitter, jealous type, not at all. I’ve got a full life, with friends and a family. I’ve traveled, not only to many of the states, but to other countries. I’ve shared my life with amazing people, not to mention amazing animals. I’ve had fulfilling jobs. (I’ve had the soul sucking kind too. And, really, there are aspects of sight that I find, frankly, kind of frightening and overwhelming.

OK, so yes, there are things I wish I could do but can’t. I wish I could enjoy the sunsets and pictures and the silent bits in movies where everyone’s laughing uproariously and I have no clue why. I wish I could drive. I wish I could read printed things without either asking someone or relying on sometimes unreliable technology, even just to pick up any book I wanted whenever I wanted. I wish I didn’t have to work twice as hard for half the credit. But you know, these are the cards I’ve been dealt, and I’m fine with that. Usually. Most of the time.

So…Is there some jealousy there? Because this kid may have something that I likely never will? Even though it’s not necessarily something I’ve really spent a lot of time missing?

Maybe. And I hate that.

But what I hate more is that I can’t be happy for this family’s joy and hope for this new thing. And I really wish I could.

Update: oh dear. Thanks to Holly, or maybe no thanks…anyway…I read their fundraising page, and I think maybe I don’t feel so bad about feeling so bad. Actually, now I’m a little bit disgusted. Mom is saying that her son can’t, can’t can’t, can’t, can’t, unless he gets eSight glasses. Can’t use a computer, which he’ll need to do for high school. (My question is, why has he not been getting access to a computer by now? Somebody ha failed this kid.) He can’t go to college unless he gets eSight glasses. (Really? Blind people were doing that before the advent of lots of really useful technology.) And lots of other can’ts that just aren’t so. Yeah. Somebody really short changed this kid and his mother, and they apparently either don’t really know what’s possible or they’re really pulling at the heartstrings of other people who don’t know what’s possible. Sadly typical.

The Budcast: Fopydo Scanning Stand

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted anything like a podcast. True, this isn’t much like much of anything, but I wanted to get it out as soon as possible, without a lot of fuss. So, in my usual, casual, unedited and sloppy style, here it is.

The folks at Fopydo have developed some low-cost stands for general photo taking and document digitizing with an iPhone, tablet, or digital camera. After expressing some interest in these, I was able to test some of their offerings. The latest is a stand that Fopydo has designed specifically with the needs of blind and visually impaired OCR users in mind. At a projected selling price of $10, this is going to be a hard one to beat. In this latest Budcast, I describe the stand and put it briefly through its paces.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the stand, or about a projected availability date, drop Fopydo an Email as directed on their web site. Tomek is definitely interested in our needs and in making a product that will be of benefit to us.

One thing I forgot to mention in the recording is that there are holes in the back of the stand to assist with raising the stand to capture larger documents. These guide holes help to ensure that both sides of the stand are level and the height is predictable. The guide holes are on both sides where the L-shaped base wires fit in the back of the stand.

I gotta pay how much to use Facebook?!

Today, GW Micro announced a new product called SocialEyes. This is a piece of software that is meant to give blind Windows users a more accessible, consistent interface to Facebook and all of its features. As you can imagine, discussion of this new offering on the GW-Info Email list was quite heated, both for and against. Some people said that it was ridiculous to charge for access to Facebook, and it would be well to just include better Web support in Window-Eyes to begin with, while others said that those guys should be grateful for the work that GW is doing and quit their gritching. This is a somewhat simplified accounting of the discussion, but it’s the usual sort of thing. Find below my contribution to the discussion.

Hi,

My comments about product naming aside, I guess for better or worse, I’m weighing in, too.

OK, GW Micro asks what people want to see better access to. Consumers (you and me, except I didn’t) respond. GW listens. This is excellent, actually, since GW Micro listened to the needs and wants of their users and put something together to accommodate.

But it’s too expensive! Sighted people don’t have to pay $50 to use Facebook.

Neither do you. What you do have the option to pay for is something to make using Facebook more convenient. You can choose to have that convenience, or not. Yes, convenience. You know those little stores on the corner? Like 7-11, Circle K, Diamond Scamrock, places like that? They’re called “Convenience stores”, and their prices are generally higher than similar or identical goods in a big box store or grocery store. Why? You’re paying for the convenience of not having to go all the way to a grocery store, search the shelves, and get what you want. You’re paying for the convenience of a short drive and a quick nip into the store for a gallon of bread and a loaf of milk. In similar fashion, subscribing to this app, or the Socializer in SAMNet, or GW Connect, can be viewed in a similar way.

Beyond that though, full disclosure. It’s no secret that I work for another AT company, I’m fairly sure that most people probably know which one. Even so, I’m a Window-Eyes user. I’m also an NVDA user. And, of course, a System Access user. And a Mac user. And an iPhone user. And to a limited extent, a Chromebook user. Yep. Fingers in lots of pies. Anyway, all that to say, I have some idea of what goes into making some of this stuff go, especially as concerns things like keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of things like Facebook, things that change on seemingly nothing more than a whim. Keepin up with that takes people. People gotta eat. In our current system of doing things, this means money, and that’s got to come from somewhere. If this was a do once and forget it kind of deal, that would be fantastic, but it’s not. Anyone who’s ever looked at the Facebook site from month to month, even week to week, knows that. So if the product is needed, and enough people see the value in it, it will get bought and maintained and succeed. If not, it will fail, and the developers will go off and do something else for a while. Pretty simple. TANSTAAFL and all that.

Someone, or someones, mentioned NVDA. NVDA is fantastic. It’s well done, it’s matured nicely, it does lots of great things, and it’s free. Let’s be clear though, NVDA is free software in the GNU definition of free. This means that you have the freedom to redistribute it, to modify it, to share your modifications. It also happens to be no cost, or “free as in beer”, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be “free software”. But I digress somewhat.

You’ll note that development of NVDA, even though it’s free, takes money as well. Some of this money is had through grants from big companies. These grants, to some extent, likely also drive the direction it goes (i.e. it will have better support for Adobe Reader because Adobe threw money at them). Some of this money comes from you, the end user, which is why you are asked to donate every time you update. You can choose to, or not, but understand that someone, somewhere, has to pay something. Even if no on pays anything, the developers pay in cost of their time, which could be spent doing something that did pay them. TANSTAAFL, again.

Would I like everything to be free and work for us without any extra effort? Damn skippy I would. In my ideal world, we wouldn’t need companies like GW Micro, Serotek, Freedom Giantific, and the rest, because access would be built in, would not be an afterthought, and would work 100% of the time for all populations who need it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality, and it likely will never be the reality. Sure, it’s a lot better now. The fact that we’re even entertaining this discussion, that we can even think about expecting such access, would have been unheard of five years ago. It will likely get even better in the future, and a day when universal access is the norm rather than the exception seems likely to me. (This will present its own set of problems, but this post is long enough already.) And anyway, that day isn’t here yet.

So, yeah. Buy it if it’s useful and convenient for you. Don’t if it isn’t. It’s really pretty simple. Even though I have the Socializer, and even though I use lots of other things, it is likely that I’ll buy it myself, if for no other reason than to have another option, because it’s convenient.

A Note of Thanks to Amazon

I just sent the following note to Amazon, and hopefully it goes to the right place. Last time I sent a note to them about Kindle, it was a lot less happy than this one.

You can send your own feedback to kindle-feedback@amazon.com . Please do, actually. Here’s mine.

Hi,

It’s been a week, and I’ve been remiss.

I’ve been remiss in expressing my sincere thanks for the accessibility improvements for blind readers that have been made in the latest version of the Kindle app for iOS. I’m sure that you’ve seen the excitement surrounding this, and I hope you’ve gotten many notes of appreciation and thanks.

Since I connected to the Internet for the first time 22 years ago (yes, really), I have seen that the Internet could,and would, afford more access to more information to people with print disabilities than we’ve ever had. This has been true, in spite of many artificial barriers that we’ve had to conquer from time to time. But even with as much access to information, not to mention pleasure reading, that we’ve had due to having open and ubiquitous access to the Internet, we knew that there was still much that was off limits to us. Now, with ebooks surpassing print books in popularity, this is a new world. The Amazon Kindle app becoming usable for print disabled iPhone users, it is safe to say without any danger of hyperbole, truly is the beginning of our information age. This is to us a bit like Gutenberg’s printing press, where we have books available to us on a scale that was absolutely unheard of two weeks ago. Even better, it is technologically possible for us to have these books in braille or synthesized speech or large print, as our needs dictate. (The high cost of braille displays is another matter that needs addressed, but I won’t address that here.)

It’s true that we want, and need, access to hardware Kindle devices, not to mention Kindle on other supported platforms, for the field to be truly level. With this recent release, I feel confident that Amazon will indeed deliver on this need. Had you asked me two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been so confident, but I’m glad that you guys took the time to do it right, instead of hurrying to do it right now. Here’s hoping for more in this vein, although hopefully in a shorter time. I, for one, would love to whip out a Kindle full of books, although, I must admit, I’m very content with a phone full of Kindle.

If you’d like to read my thoughts on the NFB press release about the release (obviously, I have some, and they don’t seem to agree with it by much), you can do so here:
http://buddy.brannan.name/blog/2013/05/amazon-kindle-accessibility-what/

Amazon Kindle Accessibility: What?!

This week, the blind and visually impaired community got a surprise, one that we’ve been waiting for for a long time, and one that, it’s safe to say, most of us weren’t expecting. (This would be why it was a surprise, right?) Amazon announced that its Kindle app for iOS now had new accessibility features, thus making the app usable by blind and visually impaired iPhone users. They also promise improvements to accessibility on their other platforms. You can read about it at this link. I downloaded the app, with a great deal of excitement and anticipation I might add, and it appears to be everything they say it is, with access to not only the reading of books, but also highlighting, Emailing excerpts, notes, looking up words in the dictionary, and searches. In short, this app seems to have done it right, rather than doing it fast.

The day after Amazon’s announcement, I got an Email from this press release. I thought I was responding to an Email list–it was early still, and I was still waking up, but I instead seem to have Emailed instead to either the NFB’s other PR person or to the guy that runs iBooks and the Nook reader from Barnes and Noble. I think, though haven’t looked in a while, that it may well be better than KNFB’s own Blio, which should probably embarrass somebody. So, specifically, what improvements would we suggest?

In this Email, I neglected to mention Kobo or Google Play books, both of which have at least some access features, or at least, work to some extent with commending of a far inferior implementation in 2009, this current press release almost sounds angry that Amazon did anything about the problem.

I’ve played a bit with this newly accessible Kindle app, and it’s good. It was done right. Where’s the acknowledgement of that? Why commend a half-baked effort that is unsuitable for more than the most casual reading on one hand, but practically spit at a stellar example of what can be done on the other? Could it be because Amazon did it without asking for the NFB’s blessing or input first? In fact, it looks like they may not have asked for anyone’s input, as this came as a real bombshell of an announcement with no leaks.

Really, those of y’all in the national office, would a “Good work, guys, thanks” and virtual pat on the back really be that difficult? Would it hurt you so much? It would certainly do a lot to raise your PR standing in the community. Absolutely do not back away from the stance that access to Kindle on other platforms is necessary, even vital. Please don’t. Such access is critical, and we should not rest until we have it. I have no quarrel with that. But would some recognition of a good effort in which you did not have a hand really be so bad?

By way of full disclosure, I am an active member of the National Federation of the Blind. I have been one for over 20 years. Until a more effective membership organization that mirrors my own philosophy of blindness comes along, I expect to continue to be thus affiliated. That said, I fully expect that this post will not make me very popular among the leadership.

Update: The NFB’s technology center has published a review of the Kindle app, which you can read on the center’s blog. I think that the justifications for grading are fair, and I also believe the criticisms are equally fair. As I haven’t tested all these features myself, I have no reason to argue with their findings. I may well have weighted things differently, and I might have been a bit more forgiving for this being their first run at it. I may not, too. At any rate, I have no quarrel with the review, and if Amazon endeavors to improve the accessibility features they’ve implemented, we’ll all be better for it. Watch this space, I guess.

Even so, I stand by my opinion that the tone of the press release could have been more positive and supportive of these initial efforts on the iOS platform, long time in coming though they are.

Update #2: 05/07/2013:

Here’s a link to a different take on how Amazon did with implementing accessibility features. This review is much more positive, and it doesn’t seem to have run into the same problems that the NFB technology center did in their review. While some might say I’m waffling, I also have no quarrel with this review, think its points are also valid, and believe that it was conducted in good faith and as objectively as possible, excitement over access to over a million titles notwithstanding. It’s certainly possible that the reading experience differs between iPad and iPhone, where bugs may exist in one and not the other, and there may also be problems with braille display driver implementations or conflicts. I think all of us will be interested to see how more hardware combinations do with the new Kindle app.

The Budcast: Chromebook Accessibility

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so I figured it was about time.

In this episode of the Budcast, which is un-numbered because I can’t count that high, we look at the initial setup of the Chromebook and the state of its accessibility. Google has asked several people in the blind/VI community to assist with accessibility testing, and I was lucky enough to be one of those.

While there are a couple rough edges, and a show stopper or two (which we don’t get to in this episode), Google has a great start on making the Chromebook accessible. We do see a couple of those “rough edges” in this podcast, and I’m sure we’ll find more. Hopefully though, as time goes on and more of us have our hands on this stuff, things will improve.

As ever, you can contact me via Email or Twitter with any comments or questions.

Enjoy!