Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Free OCR option for students

Does your professor scan articles and send them as an image in a pdf? If you use screen-reading software you know what a hassle this scenario presents.

Good news: you no longer have to rely on Student Disability Services or expensive software to access the text. Google offers Optical Character Recognition (OCR)!

1. Download Google Drive to your computer.
2. In File Explorer, paste the pdf into the Drive folder.
3. Open Chrome and sign into your Google account.
4. Open Google Drive in Chrome.
5. In Chrome, highlight the file.
6. Press App Key.
7. Arrow to “Open with Google Docs” and press Enter.
Give the process a moment because there is no audio feedback.
8. Press Control +A to copy and open a Word document/
9. Press Control V, and Control T quickly after pasting to clear formatting.
There may still be some clean up.

This tip came from Dr. Denise M. Robinson. She's got a YouTube Channel.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Device curriculum

New venture: Washington State Dept. of Services for the Blind asked me to develop a curriculum to get college-bound students up-to-speed with the Stream by HumanWare. This week the lesson plans were approved. A contract is in the works.

Why would a student use a Stream rather than a small digital recorder or their iPhone?

The Stream is much more versatile than a recorder. It's more rugged, affordable, less obtrusive, and easier to use than the iPhone.

The Stream interface is all tactile--similar to a game controller. A student can load books, their notes, record lectures, find references, bookmark, download podcasts, and listen to Internet radio stations. The recording capability works very well in large rooms.

The Stream lets students search and save Wikipedia references. Since colleges do not allow students to cite Wikipedia, this option is still useful in finding better sources.

The lesson plans will assist me in getting students signed up with the National Library Service and Learn Ally--a great option for accessible textbooks--and in utilizing other online content.

To learn more about the Stream, visit the HumanWare site: http://bit.ly/2d8UxGn

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

King County website

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to sit in with the King County Information Technology management and representatives from the Blind, Deaf, and Deaf-Blind communities to discuss web accessibility.

Back story: The county website use to be very accessible, but got redesigned. This issue came to the attention of Councilman Upthegrove, whose father is now legally blind. A few months ago, Councilman Upthegrove called a hearing where people testified about challenges. The website was a common theme.

I was unsure how this initial meeting would be productive. We were asked to bring suggestions to make the site accessible. Ask 40 different people and you get 40 different answers.

We were asked if there was a state website that serves as a good example of accessibility. No. The State of Washington is tackling the same issue. At the time of this post, their own employees cannot access basic information using screen reading software.

Note that public servants genuinely desire to do the right thing. This is a learning curve that is being addressed across the country.

Thank God we had a seasoned accessibility consultant in the crew to steer conversation toward the best resources and a plan. Below are some of the take aways.

1) The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are online.
2) WebAIM offers a checklist: http://webaim.org/standards/wcag/checklist
3) The County needs to develop a broad strategy. What areas are priorities? What areas are low-hinging fruit?
4) Then the County should consider hiring an accessibility consultant because this project needs to be done right and ensure that accessibility becomes policy.
5) When the County gets to the testing phase, please consider paying people for their time. The people who came to this meeting already volunteer much of their time.

Accessibility policy will make King County a better place to live and benefit everyone who uses the website. When Major League Baseball made their sites accessible, their web designers discovered that it can improve SEO and made them look cutting edge rather than retro. Web designers need us.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Making the leap to screen-reading software is a tough step for people losing their vision.

I am one of those people.

My job for the last few years has been to train people in screen-magnification software, the Windows environment, and the Office Suite. Very gratifying to see people gain confidence in their abilities.

This past year it's been my good fortune to learn to use JAWs from Freedom Scientific and train two students.  On any given day, teaching the Windows platform can be very humbling because of computer glitches, anomalies, and student challenges.

One nice discovery is that JAWs is more manageable than I once thought.

Teaching screen-reading software with the Internet will be the big test because it will require patience on the student's part. Why? 1) It's all audio, and 2) the software reads the structure and content in a linear manner. Screen-reading software can drive you mad with too much information.

To approach a website, the user arrows down through every bloody link, header, form, text, and table to evaluate the quickest way to the desired content or field. To just blunder your way through could take even longer. (Pass the Valium.)

Today I'm thankful that smart people are developing affordable software such as NVDA. This week I will see if this open-source option handles busy sites as well as JAWs. We use news sites, Orbitz, Google Maps, job posting sites, and Linkedin to prepare our students for school and career.

I'm thankful that web accessibility is gaining more attention because it will benefit EVERYONE. We've got such a long, long way to go in social media and corporate career sites.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Overview on Accessible OCR Scanning

OCR technology (Optical Character Recognition) converts an image of text to editable text and is a huge benefit for people who are blind. People use OCR to scan and read mail, product descriptions, books, school reports, etc.

For a desktop PC, a flatbed scanner and a software program called OpenBook work great. OpenBook is accessible for screen-reading software, but costs about $1,000.

A portable alternative to using a flatbed scanner is the Pearl Camera from Freedom Scientific that works with OpenBook. The Pearl costs $795.

All scanners have a tough time with curved surfaces like the binding of a book. One option best suited for book scanning is the OpticBook Scanner (Book edge scanner).

On the desktop Mac, you can use the Prizmo 3 app for $49.95 with a flatbed scanner.

Other options include ABBYY FineReader for Pro $199.99 and Express for $69.

Evernote on the MAC can be used for OCR scanning, but involves syncing to a server and waiting in queue.

Tablets and smart phones offer more affordable options.

People rave about the KNFB Reader app for a couple reasons. Normally this app costs $99, but sometimes goes on sale for $49.

The view finder option tells you about how much of the page you have in view, so you know whether you need to raise your phone higher.

The next best app for a tablet or smart phone is the Prizmo app for about $20. It does not give you as much information as the KNFB Reader, but does a good job.

Stability is an issue when scanning documents with a smart phone or tablet.

ScanJig Pro is a portable plastic stand that offers stability as you use your smart phone or tablet to scan documents.  ScanJig Pro costs $40 at Amazon. You can probably get it for less at http://www.scanjig.com

Amazon has a photo so people with usable vision can see how ScanJig holds the document and the device.

Thank you to the Washington Council of the Blind and Deb Lewis from the University of Washington  for the lively discussion on our February Assistive Technology forum.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Low vision, low budget experiment

Getting good photos to promote a beep baseball team has been frustrating. We’ve had people with digital SLRs at the game, but that doesn’t make them a good photographer, let alone a sports photographer.

Having worked for newspapers and agencies over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of photographers. Some were great in the studio, some photo journalism, and just a few at sports.

My last managing editor was baseball mad and at that time, Mark McGuire was making his bid for home run history. Our readership was in a baseball frenzy. Several of my weekends were spent producing special sections. Three of our “photogs” always delivered good coverage and AP photos were abundant. People lined up down the block to purchase these special sections.

A dozen or so years later, with no sports photographers to call on, what could I possibly make happen?

My vision in bright sunshine prevents me from seeing anything on an LCD screen. Magnification won’t help. In shade I see enough to compose the picture and rely on AutoFocus. With this kind of vision I’m not going to spend much on a camera.

Armed with Nikon’s CoolPix 20.1 Megapixel, 8X zoom point and shoot, a tripod, and a prayer, I headed for the field.

Game day, the sun was beating down. One dugout provided just enough shade for me to get fairly close to home plate. Fat chance of getting an action shot with this camera and vision. My best bet was to catch batters waiting for the pitch.

The nice thing about shooting beep baseball is that the pitcher turns on the beeper and calls, “Ready, pitch.” On the down side, most of our new blind players need more coaching on stance.

Sorting through photos back home, two okay shots turned up. Knocking out the background in Photoshop is a little tedious but worthwhile. Here's the one photo used: www.southkingcounciloftheblind.org

Next game I’ll tackle the fielding.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why I am considering migrating a large site to WordPress

1. Accessible WordPress themes have been audited.

Hands down--this is the number one concern for an active organization of people who are low vision and blind. The Washington Council of the Blind (WCB) provides information and resources to the general public largely through its website. Our current website uses old code and looks very dated.

Sure, achieving 100 percent accessibility is almost impossible because there is no industry standard for browsers or adaptive software. And now people access the Internet with many different kinds of devices.

Who has the time to test forms for accessibility? WCB is an all-volunteer organization. Our website committee does well to submit content and edit. When we post a scholarship application it needs to work or credibility is lost.

George Williams posted a great article listing accessible themes that have been thoroughly tested.

2. People using screen-reading software can manage the admin controls.

This means empowerment for everyone. The Cisco Academy for the Visually Impaired offers an excellent online course on managing WordPress sites. Yes, there are blind designers and programmers who do very well.

3. New WordPress themes are responsive.

This means the themes reflow your content to work well on computers, tablets, and phones. You don’t have to build, test, and update three separate layouts.

4. Code is kept up-to-date.

This keeps my back-end programmer and the membership very happy when security is such a headache.

5. Dynamic header plug-ins give a fresh look when good photos are hard to come by. 

This means I can have four or five photo collages that swap out each time the site is visited.

Do blind people really care about how a site looks? Yes, and people losing vision are hyper-sensitive about design and fashion.

Content and authenticity matter with photos.

Visitors to a site need to know there are real people they can engage. Use action photos of real people in your organization, not stock photos. Fresh content tells visitors you pay attention. Using your website as an online brochure will not invite action or repeat visits.

(Of course, provide alternative text so someone using a screen reader knows what content is provided in each photo.)