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Not Here For Your Inspiration? Why Not?

Ok, I think I must be really weird. I've heard people all week long rhapsidising about this blog by stella young. It discusses the Scott Hamilton quote "The only disability in life is a bad attitude", which has been freely used to illustrate heart warming/stomach heaving pictures of disabled people doing normal things. I agree in the main with a lot of what Stella young says here, and that quote is patent bolderdash. If the only disability in life is a bad attitude, could someone please press a switch and give me back my eyesight? No? Thought not.

What I am having a problem with is the latter part of the article. I read that while Stella was on the way to work one day, someone took the time to let her know that she, that is the co-traveler in question, found her, Stella Young, an inspiration. Stella had a problem with this, and I just hope that kind, well-meaning person did not get to see herself used in a blog in the way that she was. I have heard a lot of my friends say they hate it when people call them inspirational/amazing/something complimentary for doing ordinary things which they do every day. We are not here for your inspiration, grumps Stella Young. Why not, exactly?

Being called an inspiration to someone is something with which I have never had a problem. Now please, don’t get the idea that I am an attention-seeking, vainglorious, self-satisfied holier than thou goody two-shoes, who goes around trying to shed light on all the world. I’m not. I do the same ordinary things as everyone else, and probably less than some. I get frustrated about inaccessibility, I moan about my health, I have my weaknesses and my imperfections like everyone. But the way I see it is this. If somebody sees me bumbling along, leading my life and finds me inspirational, what right do I have to spoil that for them by making myself unpleasant about it? I certainly don’t seek it, but hell, I’m certainly not going to bust anyone’s bubble by being rude about it either.

And when you think of it, the fact of having or not having a disability shouldn’t have anything to do with it at all. Don’t you think it would be cool if we were all an inspiration to someone? Not because we have a disability and just get on with our lives the best we can, but for who we are, for what we do, for the difference we can make, however tiny, in the world we live in?

Oh sure, I can hear everyone saying “My disability is the least important thing about me!” and of course that’s true. But for me, if something about my being blind and doing something ordinary made a positive impact on someone then I can only see it as good, not bad.

When it comes right down to it, I’d rather have a positive effect, however tiny, on someone’s life than be thought of as a complete asshole, or, even worse, as just a makeweight.

Initial thoughts on AccessNote

Hi everyone

It's been a little while since I've posted anything to my blog, but I thought I would write a quick entry here in relation to the forthcoming app which is to be released entitled AccessNote.

Before we get to that, I have to say that I took delivery this morning of an Apple wireless keyboard I bought it from Amazon, and although it was quite expensive at around 60 pounds, it is definitely a worthwhile purchase.

When Apple produce something, it just works! That's the great thing about anything from them. Once I found the On/Off switch, I turned on the keyboard, paired it via Bluetooth which was a very straightforward process, and started using it!

It is a beautiful design and resembles a standard laptop computer keyboard which is exactly what I was hoping for. I can type at the same speed on this keyboard as I can a regular desktop. I also like the fact that it slopes up at the back which makes for a lovely ergonomic design.

There is a very good summary on this web page of VoiceOver and navigation keystrokes. But for me, this keyboard has turned the iPhone into a mini computer rather than just a phone. Fleksy is wonderful, the mini bluetooth keyboard I have is good too because with both of those things, they can be used when I do not wish to carry another device or if I need something really portable respectively. However, this keyboard is just going to be so brilliant for email composition and particularly when taking thorough and accurate notes, which leads me to my next topic.

What I want is an excellent app for notetaking, giving me similar functionality to that available on more specialist notetakers for the blind. I sent a tweet out, saying I was really looking forward to the new notetaking app, AccessNote being developed by the American Foundation for the Blind. I very much support AFB in terms of what they are trying to do here and if you read it's description you may understand why.

But the reaction I received back by way of mentions is, to put it mildly, unehthusiastic. There's the usual moaning about over pricing (which was also applied to Fleksy when it first appeared on the market until people started to realise how absolutely brilliant it was). But also I am receiving the comment that it duplicates what other notetakers do. But people do not seem to be able to answer my basic question, which is, please tell me the name of the app which replicates precisely what AccessNote is trying to do? Sure, there may be notetaking apps, indeed there is a basic app built into the iPhone as it stands, but AFB's app also boasts convenient keyboard shortcuts to achieve common tasks which blind people want to be able to do, comprehensive search facilities, accurate VoiceOver navigation, and Dropboxing syncing to name but a few items. AFB say this will be priced under $30 which is reasonable given the high cost of app development and time investment.

I tried at least one free app which was recommended, and from a VoiceOver performance perspective it was really bad. There was lots of extraneous speech I really didn't want to hear, the focus kept moving from where I wanted it to be, and various other niggles which do not make it a pleasure to use. But this would be the case, it is a free app. You get what you pay for. People need to understand that not everything in this world is going to be free or less than a pound of UK currency. This atitude is really irritating me.

So, let me end by sayingI completely support AFB's initiative and I hope it will not be too long before the app is available to us. Go AFB!

My thoughts on the Text Detective app

Two new apps have recently appeared in the iTunes Store, dedicated specifically for blind people. The first is Fleksy, the second is Text Detective.

There are many audio demos and reviews of Fleksy, but it is a subject we may come back to either in a later blog entry or podcast.

Text Detective allows a visually impaired person to scan paper-based text using the i-device's camera, have it converted to sensible text output using OCR (optical character recognition) technology and have its contents either automatically read by VoiceOver or made available for review.

What follows is not a review of TextDetective, but it is a few thoughts on the app which I could not condense into a tweet. But first, a description of the app from the iTunes Store.

Text Detective finds and reads text in printed documents within seconds using your iPhone’s camera. The detected text can easily be read, edited, copied and pasted into documents, emails or other apps. It even stores all the scanned text in a history, which allows you to refer to it later. Every step is accessible. Text Detective works best with the clean and crisp text you find in documents, and at a distance of about the length of a forearm. You can use it wherever you go, and you don’t need to worry about network coverage – it even works on the plane. The app is optimized for iPhone 4S, but can be used
with iPhone 4 and iPod touch. If you want to use Text Detective on an iPad, please be aware that the camera position is different to the one on the iPhone/iPod, which might require additional training and practice to align the camera lens and align the text.

I have tried a number of such apps on Nokia phones and the iPhone, and I feel this app works just as well as any other. It is important to support the development of this app because it has been developed for us and it is hoped it will be improved over time.

Here are some reasons why you may want to consider purchasing it:

  • It is only £1.49 in the UK Store. Compared to some apps, that is inexpensive, although I am not one for begrudging developers of specialist apps for trying to recoup some of the costs involved in both product development and technical support to users.
  • It is completely accessible with VoiceOver as you would expect.
  • There are a lot of spoken prompts which help a great deal. The way the app works is briefly this. You hold the camera a little distance away from the page you try to scan. There is no need (unlike some other apps) to activate a "Take Picture" Button because the app uses video streaming technology. This means you do not need to disturb focus while you locate the Button and double tap it, a nice feature. TextDetective will then try to repeatedly scan the text. If no results were found, this is spoken by VoiceOver. You then are immediately able to do something about it, such as raising your arm to a greater height to give the app more of an opportunity of scanning the text. If it then subsequently finds text capable of being interpreted, a percentage count of the OCR progress is given. That spoken guidance is invaluable and is reason enough by itself why this app stands out from the rest.
  • The other major advantage is that there is plenty of well written help available. The developers (BlindSight) have naturally realised that the majority of people using this app will have never taken a picture before, and they go to great lengths to give as much help as possible concerning how you might go about that. Short of someone showing you how to take a photograph of a page, the help in this app is the next best thing.

In summary then, I think this is an excellent app. But I would respectfully suggest that people consider the quality of recognition results they receive within the context of similar applications of this nature. With even the most expensive of these, the quality of results will only be good if the person taking the photograph is very accurate and it may take several attempts to get satisfactory results from a single page. I think while the concept of being able to sit on a plane or in a restaurant for example to scan a menu is good in theory, the reality is it may not be quite as simple as that.

In terms of reading mail, I feel such apps are useful to get the sense of a document which has arrived for you to read, and will allow you to sort out what may be "junk mail" or something you really need to deal with. But I don't think anything at this point is going to compete in terms of accuracy with a scanner connected to a computer with high quality OCR technology. As long as we keep that in mind when we purchase such apps, our expectations will not be set too high.

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