Braille Sonar and ICEB Agreement

Braille Sonar and ICEB Agreement

I know it has been a while since I’ve updated this forum but that doesn’t mean nothing has been going on. We’ve finalized an agreement with the International Council on English Braille (ICEB), the makers of the Unified English Braille code, to use their official documentation in the Braille Sonar App.

What does this mean for users? Our development team will now have access to the original documents used to make the publicly accessible PDF files and the like you see on the ICEB’s website. This will allow us to make a smaller more accurate reproduction of the documentation and add in accessibility descriptors. What do I mean by “accessibility descriptors”? Both of the ICEB documents which include The Rules of Unified English Braille, Second Edition 2013, and Unified English Braille, Guidelines for Technical Material, 2014 Edition, had some accessibility issues on Apple devices. At the core of the issue is the way the documents displayed Braille. In other words the documents would have samples of Braille and at times would use either a SimBraille Font or Unicode Braille for display purposes. The problem is VoiceOver has no idea how to interpolate these. Hence, using WAI-ARIA techniques along with Javascript we hope to be able to label these visual components in a meaningful way such that VoiceOver can read them. Additionally our agreement with the ICEB will allow us to include these reproductions inside the Braille Sonar App itself to quicken loading time. Oh, I almost forgot, we’ll be making these more accessible files available to the public as well, just as the ICEB makes their PDF and BRL files available. At present there’s no timetable for seeing these updates in the Braille Sonar App but our lead developer is on it.

Note from the Lead Developer: Hey, David here. Braille Sonar is a commercial product; it does cost money and I appreciate your purchase but it is also serving a very small niche. As a result Braille Sonar is mostly a labor of love and has yet to demonstrate its ability to be a self-sustainable product. Let me put that in another way; I’ve never drawn a salary from the proceeds. That doesn’t mean its going to die; but it does mean we’ll be looking for alternate revenue ideas or sponsorship or whatever. If you have any ideas fell free to share it. I personally use Braille myself and I think a tool like Braille Sonar needs to be out there, should be out there, and needs to be out there. Braille Rocks! And Braille literacy is important. If the NFB, ACB, or APH come out with a resource just as good or even if they wanted to buy us an press on I’d be happy to close up shop but till then thank you for your support. –David Ward

Windows Phone 8.1 Accessibility a First Look

Let me walk you through my experience with Windows Phone 8.1 and the new accessibility features. I ordered the Nokia Lumia 520 from the Microsoft Store at a pretty amazing price; roughly $60. I’m a low-vision user so with some effort I was able to get the phone up and running. Now out of the box it isn’t running the new OS 8.1, which introduces narrator.

Now here’s a little more about the phone. I ordered a pre-paid AT&T compatible phone and it came with a free case. It’s totally usable without putting in a SIM with a paid plan, in case you were worried. You just have to tap through a warning when it first boots; and then your never prompted again.

Now back to the accessibility side of the coin. I was surprised to find that out of the box there is a system level zoom comparable to the iOS zoom solution. Additionally, there’s a high-contrast mode. Will talk about how those features compare to the iOS version of zoom and inverted colors later when we tackle narrator.

To get Narrator, Cortana, and some new low-vision features you’ll have to update to the newest OS version 8.1. To do this you’ll need to get registered as a developer. Fortunately, Paul Thorrott’s blog outlines how to do this for free. You’ll of coarse need a Windows Live ID or create one to enter this program. This of coarse will be used to login and sync you phone with. If you’ve used SkyDrive (now OneDrive), Hotmail,, or another Microsoft service your likely good to go.  Your next step is a piece of cake. And being an Apple Developer who’s had to authorize this and authorize that… I know what I’m talking about. You simply download an App and login using the account you just setup developer credentials on. The App is called “Preview for Developers”. Now after installing and logging into the App you’ll need to run the update. Be prepared to run it several times and have several reboots. Eventually it will tell you your ready for the 8.1 update. Oh, by the way, the update feature is inserted into the settings section so you’ll need to look there.

Once your updated to version 8.1 you can turn on Narrator. Unlike the Zoom or High-Contrast features; there is a key combination to activate it. Simply press and hold the Volume Up key and the Start button. You might need to review the gestures page on the website to get a feel for how Narrator operates on Windows Phone. But if your using it to go through the setup process you’ll find that a left and right swipe operate pretty similar to VoiceOver. Additionally there’s a up and down swipe that seem to allow you to navigate via containers. More on this in future posts because I might need to give a different analogy or comparison. Oh, and when using the keyboard just plan on doing a split tap like you would on VoiceOver on iOS.

Important: I did run into a troublesome bug. After updating to 8.1 I couldn’t turn Narrator on in the settings panel. It would kick an error saying I need to change my language and localization features to the Unite Kingdom. In the process it would kill Zoom and I’d have to go turn it on again; a real pain. But I followed the directions best I could from the error screen but nothing would work. Note to Microsoft: The error screen doesn’t even describe the settings menu layout properly under version 8.1. Anywho, I ended up talking to Pratik Patel on twitter (@ppatel) and he recommended a reset. Narrator turned on fine after the reset and having all the settings set to the USA. So hope that saves you a headache or two. For more on twitter follow the hashtag #WPAdventure.

Coming Soon: In future posts I’ll try and have a more in-depth comparison of Narrator and VoiceOver. Additionally, I’ll try and have a audio demo up for all to listen too.