Monday, March 9, 2009

Nokia N95

A worried diabetic recently asked me, there is a possibility that she can go blind at some point in her life, how is she going to cope?
Let's look at a series of presents or nice gifts that will make their lives easy. A mobile phone is essential to most people now, so let's start with a big present to boost their happiness.

A note on making mobile phone accessible

Currently, only phones that are on the symbian platform or Microsoft windows mobile operating system are supported by screen reading software that can be installed to make the phone almost totally accessible via speech. if those two terms "symbian and windows mobile" do not mean much to you, don't worry about them and just remember that you need to make sure that the phone you're buying has either on it. naturally you will ask:
  • is Blackberry on it? I have heard that it is being developed, but I don't think it is out yet.

  • Is IPhone adaptable? no, don't even touch a touchscreen! ;)

  • What about Google android? no, I'm afraid that's not supported either.

The Nokia N95

Full specifications is here.
On its own, the Nokia n95 does not have much support for visually impaired people. The only thing you will benefit from having anokia n95 is the music player, which one can use without looking at it. however, with a software installed on it, practically the whole phone is accessible. There are two you can choose from:

The CodeFactory and Nuance web sites boast being able to let a blind person dial, read miss calls, statuses, sms messages and the other basic stuff as highlights, but as you know, that's not how a normal person uses his phone, and a recently turned blind person wouldn't be happy at all if he has to lose the features he used to rely on so much. so let me do a comparason for you on the advance stuff:

 Nuance Talks v3.5CodeFactory Mobile Speak v3.8
Speech ResponseVery good, immediatePoor, slow
Web browsingMostly smooth, can handle graphics well, I can play Backgammon on the phone.Is not able to handle certain elements, bugs are known but not fixed (I contacted CodeFactory for them).
GmailPerfectMissing text
Java supportCannot support thired party java appCannot support third party java app
Speech clearityUses the default voice for Jaws for windows, familiar to most.Uses the voice for Dectalk, I find it less clear
GPS support, Nokia mapsgoodGood

Clearly, I think that Nuance Talks does have a lot of advantages over CodeFactory Mobile Speak. Frankly if anything, speech response and the web are enough to make you choose Talks over Mobile speak.
Lastly though, I'm sure you're concernned about price, aren't you?
Both cost the same (in the UK), they are 150 GBP. That is very expensive, definitely more expensive than most phones since they come free with a contract nowadays. however, if you take a contract from Vodafone UK, you can ask them to install Talks for you for free! Go to their web site and read their disability services. This can be done as long as your phone is still covered, it is counted as a maintenance. best of all, you get to keep Talks and the phone forever afterwards.
If you are in the UK, find some nice contracts here. make sure it's on vodafone.

I hope you find this useful! Next time, I'll look at laptops - how to make them accessible, and what you need to know before you buy your netbook.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

tips and tricks

My first post here will not be for any specific product review, but I will give some ideas based on my, well 22 years of experience of being blind, how to make normal standard products such as mp3 players, mobile phones, toys like chess sets, accessible to the visually impaired. I hope that you will find it useful - perhaps you want to buy a present for a blind friend or a gift for someone in the family and not sure whether he/she will be able to make use of it.

Toys and games

Talking about present, toys and games are probably the most likely candidate. I am a big fan of chess, backgammon and various board games. the following will ensure that the visually impaired will be able to enjoy your present:

  1. most games have different colour pieces or counters, if the counters are flat, get some dymo tape, use a hole puncher to make circles and stick the circular dymo tape on the counters to distinguish the colour.

  2. alternatively, buy small round paper labels and stick them on. this solution is not as lasting.

  3. when choosing a board game such as chess or backgammon, either find boards that are magnetic or have some ways for the pieces to be stuck on the board fairly firmly. these kinds of boards are normally in the "travel games" section in any shop. a good example of this is here . this is a pegged chess set that any blind visually impaired person would find a beautiful gift. I bought my othello set from toysrus recently, which is not actually magnetic, but there is a small indent at each square so that the counters sit firmly in the square.

  4. make good use of Braille. if it is a card game, it is generally possible to label the card with Braille. some blind people can feel braille so fast that you really have to be careful about them cheating though:)

Electronics and other electrical appliances

The two mechanisms that have been used a lot in electronics and kitchen appliances are touch pad and turning switch that keeps going round and round. touch pad is used a lot on microwave oven nowadays, either you have to avoid them if you have a family member who is blind, or you have to cleverly make use of labels and stickers. the chalenge is that when you cook, you tend to have wet hands, oily hands etc, normal paper label just won't be able to last for long. again, cut dymal tape with hole punch into small round stickers, and that will be the best and cheapest option. you can actuall buy professional stickers for the purpose at places like the RNIB shop I believe. My mum has bought those professional stickers from rnib shop before, they are expensive that's all.
by the way, if you fancy, you can buy a talking microwave oven on this site.
on to the turning switches. the difficulty sometimes is that one cannot count from the end where the switch has got to because there is no end! when you label these, make sure you put a pointer on the switch as well as some reference points around the switch. if you are looking for weighing scales, thermometers etc, you can buy them (talking digital ones) from the rnib shop as well. enjoy baking cookies, cakes just the way everyone else does! share your cookie recipe please!

next time, I will go into the specifics, and tell you how I make use of a normal product straight from the shelf, what are the limitations etc.