Important Messages, such as Service Disruption and Opening Times.

Our office hours are Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM UK time. We will try to give assistance to those people not living in the UK outside of those hours if possible.

Does the Stream have a future? Of course it does.

During the past 24 hours, there has been a lot of discussion regarding a possible new incarnation of the Victor Reader Stream manufactured by Humanware. The VR Stream has for a number of years been a portable recorder and player, designed specifically for the visually impaired. Operated by a well-defined tactile keypad, it allows people to play books in a variety of formats including DAISY, hear text-based audio and to record notes.

If what we have heard is authentic, in addition to the existing functionality the new Stream will include enhanced text to speech capabilities(using Acapella voices), a redesigned physical structure, a clock, USB charging and the ability to record in stereo using an external microphone. Wifi is also on board to embrace digital libraries of the future.

But my reason for posting this blog entry is because people are already questioning whether the Stream has a future even before the product is launched, if it is. This is understandable to some extent because of the advancements in technology on the Android and I O S platforms and those devices offer similar functionality to the possibilities which would be provided in a new Stream.

Humanware have a very tough job on their hands as They have to keep up-to-date with new technology which the previous hardware in the current Stream could not possibly accommodate. They have to give people what they are wanting for the future. But they have to do that within the context of simplicity, and that's the point. There will always be a need for devices like the Stream because there have to be products of this nature to assist people who want a very easy to use interface without the complexities of a phone or similar device. There are also people like me who would like such a player to listen to books and to undertake high quality recordings so as to keep the phone free for calls and other tasks.

It doesn't matter what the mainstream devices can do. It doesn't matter what the technically able people can achieve with alternative platforms. I submit there is a need for specialist devices for the reasons set out above and others and there will be for some time to come.

To say again, I would definitely like one if at all possible. I use my existing Stream all the time, and if the speaker is of a higher standard, that would make the new model appeal to me even more. It will be interesting to know what the price is.

So there are exciting times ahead! I wish Humanware all the very best for the future of either the existing Stream or a new one if it is brought to market.

New build of StationPlaylist 4.33 and 5.0 scripts available!

A new build of JAWS scripts for StationPlaylist version 4.33 and 5 is now available.

If you use the scripts for StationPlaylist, please consider donating! Even a small donation is worthwhile as a great deal of development time goes into producing and updating them.

The best way of installing the scripts is to extract the content of the zipped archive on the webpage to your JAWS Settings/Enu folder, replacing the files which already exist.
Alternatively, an installer is available as usual.
The scripts can be downloaded from
Supporting JAWS 11 onwards.

Improvements include:
Fixed a problem where the listener count was not always displaying the stats correctly including Braille.
Added a new function, StationPlaylist Key then M from any application accept Studio, to activate the microphone. This is useful if you are focused within an application other than Studio and you need to activate the microphone quickly.

A new feature included in this release is called Studio Markers, described as follows:

Studio Markers allow you to assign an application you have running to a keystroke and return to it quickly when you need to. If you are working on a busy show, you are likely to have a number of programs running, such as Microsoft's Notepad, an email client, a web page and so on. Studio Markers make finding these programs far easier without having to search for them using the ALT+Tab key combination. You can store 4 programs to Studio Markers.

To set a Studio Marker, first focus upon the program you wish to mark, such as Notepad. Next, press the StationPlaylist Key followed by figures 1 through to 4. You can choose which of the keystrokes you would prefer to assign to the application. JAWS will report the name of the application you have marked.

In order to return to the program at any time, press the StationPlaylist Key followed by Control+1 through to Control+4. The keystroke to locate the program must match the one used to assign to the program. So, if you had set Notepad to the StationPlaylist Key then 3, the corresponding keystroke to locate it would be the StationPlaylist Key then Control+3.

All Studio Markers are permanently stored. So if you use applications on a regular basis, you can always locate them if you know which keystrokes have been assigned to them.

50 Random Things About Me

Well, a lot of people over the new year period have written 50 random things about themselves. I've chosen to place them in a blog entry since I do have a blog, although I must say reading them on Twitter has been very enlightening and enjoyable from those who have chosen to do it that way.

For what it is worth, here are 50 random things about me. Read on if you would like to!

1. Some of my earliest memories are listening to stories on the radio and on tape, including The House by the Side of the Hill, and Araminta the Pink Cat. I particularly loved that one, both by Kate and David Willmott.

2. I was always interested in books which would be considered good reading for girls, My Naughty Little Sister, Milly Molly Mandy, What Katie did, etc. Those were my favourite kind of books.

3. My favourite foods are sausages, roast dinner and fruit, but not all at the same time!

4. I cannot eat anything which is too cold, such as ice-cream or chock-ices. They have to be slightly warmed first.

5. I love the decade of the 1970's. I enjoy the music, radio from the period, absolutely everything about it. The 70's is my decade!

6. I first learned to use an Apple 2E computer at school.

7. My first computer at home was a 48K Synclaire ZX Spectrum, which had a rubber keyboard. This was followed up by a BBC Micro made by Acorn on which I used to write text adventure games.

8. Speaking of games, I went to a computer club locally in the school holidays. A lady there took on the challenge of writing for me a space invader game using audible cues which I could play. She did amazingly well!

9. My favourite Teacher at school was Miss Larkin. She was the person who made me realise among other things how good radio drama really was.

10. I have met some of the actors who were famous in the BBC programme The Archers in the mid-80's when I went to watch it being recorded.

11. When I watched a radio play being produced, I wasn't interested in talking to the Actors. Instead, I spent hours with the producer, finding out about the editing and recording techniques she was using. I was only interested in those.

12. London's Capital Radio got me interested in what you might call Golden Oldies, music from the 50's and 60's.

13. I am a very prolific reader, reading books at high speed as I think book narrators read far too slowly,.

14. My favourite kind of books are those set around a court room, also romance, crime and autobiographies.

15. I love Edam cheese.

16. I am very afraid of dying.

17. I believe in god, and have done since the mid-80's when I began to attend a christian fellowship group and early morning prayer in school.

18. I smoke quite heavily, at least at the moment.

19. I learned to read Braille at the age of five and I think I am very fluent when reading.

20. I enjoy the work I do.

21. My favourite time of the week when I was a child was a Saturday evening, where I would go into the kitchen on my own, sit down with a Wallnut Whip and hear Beat the Record on the radio.

22. I began using a piece of equipment called the Optacon in primary school. This was a device which helped blind people to read. I began to get much more fluent through reading books published by Mills & Boon.

23. I first watched the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 and did so religiously until the late 90's.

24. I do not have any eyes at all. I do not mean that I cannot see, I mean that eyes are not physically a part of me.

25. I work best when a deadline has to be met.

26. I was bullied as part of an internet radio project which caused me to leave. This made me very sad as it was something I definitely did not want to do. I have also known what it is like to be bullied in the workplace.

27. I prefer using Twitter over Facebook.

28. I can play the piano or the keyboard. I am not great, but I can play.

29. I do like a routine. I like to know what is happening on any particular day, when someone is due to visit, what time things are happening, and so on.

30. I hate being late for an event or appointment.

31. I am 5 feet 10 inches tall.

32. Anything in the least bit related to science fiction just makes me switch off completely.

33. There are books which are definitely good to hear to go to sleep to, not because they are uninteresting but because I know them really well and they just make me relax. Good examples at the moment would be Harry Potter and Black Beauty.

34. I take medication to help me to sleep else I would be awake for quite a lot of the night. A lot of blind people are the same.

35. I think I am a very quiet person for most of the time.

36. Eating an egg or porridge will make me sick.

37. I was in a lot of plays in primary school including playing Captain Vantropp in The Sound of Music.

38. My favourite films are Grease, It's a Wonderful Life, Gigi, Rain Man and Dirty Dancing.

39. I don't like it when the weather is too hot. I prefer the cold.

40. I use a fan in the winter time to cool down.

41. I do love Louise.

42. I enjoy drinking wine, both red and more recently white.

43. I need at least two cups of coffee before I consider myself as being awake and fully functional.

44. I think christmas is the best time of the year, not necessarily for the receiving of gifts but more for the giving.

45. I have no visual image of what colour is.

46. I am struggling to think of more things to write!

47. I do not like being in loud noisy environments, particularly on trains where there is a group of football fans shouting and singing for example.

48. If I can avoid it, I will not go out in the rain. Rain and I are not friends.

49. I really do enjoy eating dark chocolate.

50. I think any abridged books should be banned. If the authors wanted to condense their books with fewer words, that is how they would have written them. Noone should carve up written texts.

A Guide for Configuring Outlook with JAWS

I was asked some time ago if I would be willing to create a blog post containing some useful pointers to ensure JAWS is more responsive and easier to access alongside Microsoft Outlook 2010. This post attempts to briefly do that.

I have to say before continuing that none of the below items are essential to configure. Using my Windows7 64 bit machine with Outlook 2010, JAWS is very responsive in all areas of the program without any adjustments being made at all. However, according to some email lists there are people who have had some problems and so you may like to take account of the following.


  1. Disable the Reading Pane, ALT+V, then P, then N, then O.
  2. Disable the To-Do Bar, ALT+F2.
  3. Disable "Show in Groups", ALT+V then Tab through to Arrangement and press Enter. Press Up arrow and if JAWS says "Show in Groups Checked", press Enter to uncheck it. This procedure should be carried out on each mailbox you have.
  4. Disable Protected View:
    1. Launch Microsoft Word.
    2. Press ALT+F then T, then T repeatedly until Trust Centre is located.
    3. Do not press Enter, but Tab through until you reach Trust Centre Settings, then press Enter.
    4. Press the letter P to reach Protected View.
    5. Press Tab repeatedly and uncheck the boxes in this dialog.
    6. Press Space Bar on the "OK" Button.

Note that this latter procedure of working in the Trust Centre should be carried out at your own risk as this is a security feature. However, while potentially the "Enable Editing" option could be activated with the keyboard on every attachment you open, some people may find this approach easier since if this is not done JAWS is unable to read documents you open, such as those generated with Microsoft word, in Protected View.

Using the Virtual Ribbon

When exploring the menus (or the Ribbon Bar), you may find it easier to use the JAWS Virtual Ribbon. This presents all the Ribbon Bar items found in Outlook 2010 in a vertical list. You can simply arrow down to the item you wish to access and press Enter. This is useful as otherwise you may miss items on the ribbon bar and this presents them to you in a logical order so you can systematically work through them.

How to enable the Virtual Ribbon will vary depending upon the version of JAWS you have. However, try to follow these steps:

  1. With your Inbox in focus, press Insert+V to access the Quick Settings (or Adjust JAWS Options dialog).
  2. If focus lands in an Edit Field, press Tab.
  3. Press V for Virtual Ribbon and if JAWS says this is unchecked, press Space Bar to check it.
  4. Press Enter to save the settings.

Additional Options in Quick settings or Adjust JAWS Options

There are a number of options in the Quick Settings (or Adjust JAWS Options) dialog which may improve the reading experience when working with a considerable amount of email. Here are some to consider. Again, press Insert+V, and if focus lands in an Edit Field press Tab to reach the Tree View. All options can be enabled or disabled by pressing the Space Bar. Press Enter when you have completed making the changes so as to exit the dialog. Note that alongside each option, which you can reach by pressing Tab from the Tree View, a Help Window exists so as to give you more information about the selected choice. Press Shift+Tab to return to the Tree View.

  • InformationBarMessagesAnnouncement. While the Information Bar does contain useful data, (which if this option is enabled is automatically spoken by JAWS as and when it appears on screen), you may find it distracting. For example, when you open a message JAWS will announce when you have forwarded it or replied to it. Disable this option to silence the output.
  • Message Header Field With Message Announcement. This is one you will probably want to disable. As you open a message, JAWS will speak the header information, such as the author and subject. If you process a lot of email this can slow you down. As we will see later, there are other ways of getting the information if you really want it.
  • Message Type Announcement. A small group of us have asked for this feature for some time so as to disable it and it is now available in JAWS 14. As you open a message, JAWS will not speak the message type, such as whether it was composed in HTML or Plain Text.
  • Link Count Announcement. If this is disabled, and a message is opened, JAWS will not announce how many links are in the message. However, of course this does not prevent you from accessing them with the use of the Arrow keys or Insert+F7.
  • Messages Automatically Read. If this is enabled, JAWS will begin reading the message automatically if it is opened. If you use a Braille display particularly, you may care to have this option disabled.

As a summary, if you disable most of these options, but have Messages Automatically Read Checked, as you open each message you will not hear any extraneous output but JAWS will begin reading the message automatically.

It is also worth noting that JAWS 14 has an additional option entitled Use Virtual Cursor for ReadOnly Messages which is enabled by default. This places the message in a virtual environment in order that Tables and HTML content can be more easily read and understood.

JAWS Reading Keys

A final note is to alert you to the JAWS Header Reading Keys. As you open each message, you can press ALT+1 through to 0 to read important header information. Press the keystroke twice quickly to set focus to the desired field if you wish.

  • ALT+1 will read who the message is from.
  • ALT+2 reads the date the mesage was sent.
  • ALT+3 reads the data in the "To" field.
  • ALT+4 reads the data in the "CC" field.
  • ALT+5 reads the data in the "Subject" field.


I hope you have found the above useful. Don't forget that you can always press:

  • Insert+H to get a list of the JAWS keystrokes relative to Outlook;
  • Insert+F1 to gain Context Sensitive Help;
  • Insert+W for a list of keystrokes native to Outlook.

helping a picture become reality

Anyone who has followed me on internet radio over the years will have heard from 2009 onwards a high pitched character I created to help produce promos and jingles, usually to promote the shows of other people rather than my own. These would usually consist of him singing, rather than me, as you won't hear me singing using my natural voice in a promo!

That character became Bert, and inadvertently became a leprechaun of all things. Yes, a leprechaun who was brought up in London with east-end parents. Not ideal, but lets go with it!

I didn't necessarily think he would become more than that character, but my partner L had other ideas. She was going to broaden out the language on his Twitter stream to give him a more rounded appeal with an endearing personality, write a blog for him, a journal which has been read by thousands of people and she would write the scripts for his audio drama podcasts which again seem to be very popular.

But this blog entry isn't about all of that which is covered elsewhere. It's about something which I tried to organise for L which seems really to have paid off.

What is amazing to me is L's visual imagination together with her graphical description of imagery. Like me, she is unable to see, so it is very difficult to know where it all comes from. But she wanted to conceptualise in a visual form what Bert the lep would be like. I would not have the first idea of how to go about this, but she did, and I guess writing his journal helped in that respect. L completely and independently designed a concept of what Bert would look like, including his ears, nose, eyes and size.

When the artist Scott Clarke drew him and made pictures which could be put on the wall and on the website, everyone who saw him was amazed at the way he looked and found it difficult to believe that he was drawn based entirely on L's ideas. Apparently he is so so good to look at.

But I wanted to go a stage further and give L something that she could appreciate for herself. How was I going to do that? How could I convey to her in a tactile way the image she had created? That was going to be difficult. A tactile diagram on paper which could easily be destroyed or marred in some way just wasn't going to cut it.

Then I sat down and thought about it carefully. L is into dolls in a big way. How about a doll which would resemble Bert in terms of weight, size and appearance? Again, quite a challenging task because I know almost nothing about the subject.

I heard about "reborn artists" who love creating life-like babies. But where to find one who would take on the challenge of constructing a leprechaun who looks human to a large extent and who is 32 inches tall?

Having carried out some research on the internet, I called one such artist who felt she could not take this on. But then I struck lucky. Elaine Colbert is one of the most respected reborn artists in the country, and while she said she had never constructed any doll of Bert's height and weight before, she was prepared to give it a go.

The project took over six months to complete. But Elaine had the pictures of bert available to her in addition to feedback from L herself concerning how she felt he should look. A tremendous amount of hard work must have gone into designing Bert, the life-size lep. His skin is smooth to the touch, very realistic and his hair took in itself a week to prepare. His little pointy ears also feel wonderful. Bert will last a long time. What amazes me is how an artist can create something like this based upon a picture, and have it look like the character but in a life-size form! That is real talent that I completely respect.

As you can tell, Bert looks just like his picture and he is so "life-like". People who have visited us over this festive period do a "double take" as they think there is a little boy sitting in the room, but of course, it isn't. You can see some pictures by clicking on the links below. These are pictures of Bert, the doll, rather than the pictures originally produced by Scott Clarke, the artist.

The end result is that L seems completely thrilled with Bert which makes the whole thing very worthwhile and I am delighted she has him. I wasn't able to go to collect Bert with L, but she clearly had a fun day out and is delighted to be able to hold a character she herself has created.

Meeting Bert

This is an audio blog post. Please note this was recorded on the Victor Reader Stream which produces a mono recording and some audio clipping. During the editing and mixing of this post, we have tried to reduce as much of this as possible. Activate this link to download the blog post.

StationPlaylist Scripts and the new JAWS 14 Hotfix

If you use the StationPlaylist scripts for JAWS, either version 4.33 or 5.0, ideally there is a procedure you should work through in order that you can take advantage of the latest improvements in the December JAWS 14.0 Hotfix.

The scripts make modifications to the JAWS 14.0 default files. If you do not work through this procedure, you will be using older default files and so there is a good chance that you will not benefit from some of the improvements available in the hotfix.

  • Select the Windows Start Menu.
  • Select All Programs or Programs.
  • Select JAWS 14.
  • Select Explore JAWS.
  • Select Explore My Settings.
  • This will bring focus to a folder containing a number of files. Press the Down Arrow key until JAWS announces a file named starting with the word "Default". All files with a "Default" prefix (with the exception of "Default.JCF"), should be deleted, such as "Default.JSB". Note that also you will find files with a prefix of "Default_FS". These too should be deleted.
  • When the files are deleted, press ALT+F4 to close down the list view window and return focus to the Windows Desktop.
  • Update to the JAWS 14.0 Hotfix from the Freedom Scientific website.
  • When the computer restarts following the installation procedure, download and install the scripts for StationPlaylist Studio from this website. The installer will make the necessary modifications to JAWS.
  • Should the installer for JAWS 14.0 fail to run, which happens in occasional circumstances, you should follow the directions for adding a line to the Default files as described in the StationPlaylist scripts documentation.

If you have already updated to the December hotfix, just work through the above steps anyway without, of course, reinstalling the December JAWS update.

If there are any questions, please do let me know.

The advantages of owning an iPad

I've been incredibly lucky recently as my partner L has just bought for me an Apple iPad 2. I had heard a lot about them, and I often work in large offices where people are around me showing off their iPads and talking about them. When this happened recently, I felt I really wanted one and, as I say, I was lucky enough to have it purchased for me.

The question I've been asked is, as a blind person, what advantages will there be over having an iPhone 4S, which I also have?

I do a lot of travelling each week and so I wanted to lessen the number of things I have to carry around not related to the work I do. The iPad would give me, hopefully, a longer battery life than the iPhone, together with a better quality speaker for listening to music or books as I am a prolific reader. Because of the battery life,, I could also manage all my email and talk to people on Twitter, Facebook and Skype if I had access to a wireless internet connection. This issue of the length of battery life seems to have been confirmed as I am already getting more time from it than I do the iPhone.

The iPad really is a mini computer. It delivers no background sound at all and I have found using it a real pleasure. I am comfortable using Safari to manage our web content on Team-FM, together with the rest of the above. I have also been introduced to iBooks, which if you don't know gives us as visually impaired people acccess to a huge range of books including the latest best-sellers, and this is going to be excellent. There's such a wide variety!

But, I hear you say, you can do a lot of this on the iPhone, so what else is there?

The most obvious advantage is the physical dimensions of the iPad as against the phone. The iPad of course is much larger in size. This means that typing text is far easier I think on the iPad. I have a bluetooth keyboard, (which I will write about in a moment), but because of the placement of the characters on the iPad it is much more like a QWERTY keyboard than can be accommodated on the iPhone. The physical resemblance is very similar. I have now become far more confident in terms of the placement of items on the iPad including the keyboard. This means for example if I want to send a tweet or a Facebook post, I can easily do that on the iPad's keyboard without the need for Flexi or the bluetooth keyboard, just using the one device. I like that a lot.

The other advantage relates to webpage layout. I can appreciate and conceptualise tables on web pages far easier on the iPad because of the greater space which is available.

So to the keyboard. I did purchase a case for the iPad with a keyboard incorporated. But I didn't like the feel of it. The iPad is such a well-made piece of hardware and I wanted a good case to go with it. This case with integrated keyboard just wasn't suitable. The keyboard could only be charged using a USB cable connected to a computer, added to which I felt uncomfortable in terms of the way the iPad fitted into the case.

Eventually, I got a conventional leather case for the iPad which accommodates it very well and I am very pleased with that.

So in summary, I am very pleased with the iPad and I know I am going to gain a great deal of use from it. I haven't used Facetime on it yet, but I have tested the built-in microphone using Skype's test calling service and it seemed of a good standard. It is important to note that Siri does not exist on the iPad, which is fine as I rarely use it.

If anyone has any questions about the iPad, please do let me know. But as a final thought, with the iPad being so readily available, it is very difficult these days to justify the cost of specialist "note-taking" devices, particularly if the user only requires speech output. If you purchase an iPad, possibly a bluetooth keyboard and some suitable apps, you have everything at your disposal many such devices have offered in the past, and a great deal more!

Very brief thoughts on iTunes V11 with JAWS

Here are some brief notes I've just written for the JAWS Scripting Mailing List regarding iTunes 11 accessibility.
To repeat, these notes are brief and do not contain step-by-step procedures.

I've found iTunes 11 is all quite accessible with jaws without scripting, although some minor scripting would be nice.

While F6 does focus upon some different elements of the program quickly, Tab is your friend here. Tabbing eventually will take you to Buttons, such as Music. Press Space on that to reveal a tree view in terms of the kind of music to select.

There are also more radio buttons than before which you can tab to. Do not use up and down arrows in radio Buttons. Tab to the one you want and hit space, such as Playlists, whereupon a further tree view will be revealed, following which a Playlist can be selected.

It would be nice if you could have quick keys in jaws, such as R to take you to the next radio button, S for the next piece of static text, and so on. Very scriptable if needed.

Pressing ALT may well deploy the menu bar, but jaws does not read this. You can arrow left and right along it however and press down arrow to enter the required menu item.

Alternatively, shortcuts can be used, such as ALT+F for File, ALT+V for View.

When navigating the Store, it is quite laggy when you get into it even on my new PC with 8 GB of RAM. However, once you are in, it is fine. When you enter a new Store page however, refresh the screen with Insert+Escape as the jaws virtual buffer does not seem to be updating. I will log this with Freedom Scientific.

There is also a Show Menus Button you can Tab to and hit Space, whereupon some additional menu items are revealed. This is a Context Menu.

But all in all, while things may be a little different in terms of layout, it is definitely not unusable.

Any questions, do let me know.

StationPlaylist scripts update!

Hi everyone

An update to the StationPlaylist scripts for JAWS is now available with the following changes.

Reworked the output on the Options/Folder Locations dialog.

Changed the way that focus is now set to Studio from any location. Studio no longer needs to be displayed in the system tray for this to work.

Added a keystroke, grave accent then F2, to automatically set focus to the Sam encoder window, if you use it. Again, this is global.

To update, go to

The best way is to download the zipped archive and extract its contents to the settings/ENU folder of the version of jaws you are using. Go to the start menu, all programs, jaws X, explore jaws, explore my settings, where X is the version number.

Alternatively you can use the installer on the same page.

Please note that jaws versions 11 through to 14 are supported.