“For Mature Audiences Only”

This week we discuss listener mail about Android Accessibility (see below), Firefox, Patch Tuesday, WordPress DDoS, Android malware, Apple Updates, NVDA named Project of Month by SourceForge, Kasper and Autism, iPhone apps and much more! To view these stories and other considerations, please visit our Delicious bookmarks page.

To read a great email (3 parts) about Android Accessibility by Sandy Thompson, a CodeFactory beta tester, please continue below.

Podcast: Play or Download (Duration: 36:15 — 15.0MB)

Listener Mail…
Date: March 6, 2011
Firstly, I would like to say that I have become a big fan of your Tech Access Weekly Podcast, since I discovered it on the TuneIn Radio Android App, about a month ago. I have even recommended it to my friends and family, so I was very excited when I read that in Episode 83, you mentioned Code Factory’s newest product Mobile Accessibility for Android.

My name is Sandy Thompson and I am one of the Beta Testers for Code Factory’s (CF’s) Mobile Accessibility for Android (MA).I was a bit disappointed at hearing your first impressions of the product, but given that you both are iPhone users, and unfamiliar with the dismal (by comparison) state of Android Accessibility as it existed before Code Factory stepped in, I can understand your being underwhelmed.

Please Allow me to explain in detail what Android Accessibility is without CF’s MA, and with CF’s MA installed.

First a little backstory: I was origonally drawn to the Android platform because I wanted a more stable smart phone than my current Windows model, it was carried by my carrier, Verizon, and because it had the lure of accessibility built in. I also needed a product that would serve as a notetaker for my upcoming job training class I was soon to attend, for my present job. At this concurrence of events, I bought my Motorola Droid on the day after they were released in stores, November 7th 2009.

I am a person who describes myself as waaaaayyyyy legally blind. On a good day I maybe can make out a person wearing a bright shirt six-ten feet away. I can read print if I stick my face to the screen or paper, and thus prefer to use a screen reader and other adaptive software. I use my a Guiding Eyes Dog, for mobility.

“This is sorta Accessible?”

Once I got my phone home, and downloaded the newest release of the screen reader TalkBack off the Android Market, and the program Eye-Free’s Shell I began my foray into discovering the limitations of the Android Accessibility API. I also discovered that this was the first Android Phone to be shipped with Accessibility features as part of the System. Now, given that this is only 2nd or 3rd Android Phone model in existence at this point, should help point to the grass roots of the Accessibility working in the Android platform at this time in 2009.

I found that the Screen Reader TalkBack was (and still is) very limited. It is not a true screen reader like we think of when we think of Jaws, or VoiceOver, or even Mobile Speaks. It will read you some things if move the focus onto them by using a trackball and or the physical arrow keys. For instance it will read you the name of an application in the application drawer on your phone. It will not read to you the date, time, battery status, nor the button on the google search box to search by voice, nor the “g” button you use to select what you want to search. It will read you “search box” for where you fill in the search term, when you put the focus there however.

Also, It will read you notifications (such as when you get voice mail, and a text message) and will even read a text message to you. When you compose a text message however, TalkBack can only read the characters you type as you type them, and not review them as word, sentence, or paragraph if you want to edit what you have written.

So by itself TalkBack can pretty much only read text alerts, and some edit fields, in applications that are not based on Google’s Webkit (web browser application based). Eyes-Free Shell is a program that makes the android phone more accessible (some what). When you launch the Eyes-Free Shell, you get new home screen and you access various menu choices, by putting your finger down and stroking in a certain direction. (no matter where your finger lands, it will always be in the orientation of 5 on the number keypad–like on a touch tone phone. You then move your finger to a number on the “keypad” to explore and your options. You do not lift your finger until you wish to select the option you want. This process has been termed Stroke Dialing by the inventers of Eyes-Free Shell ). Stroking from 5 straight up to 2 and then releasing gives you the time, Stroking from 5 straight to 3 gives you the battery level. In this manner a user can find out various attributes that one would need in order to monitor their cell phone status, including signal strength, a speed dial to voicemail, a google search activated by voice, and the list of applications on the phone.

Once you activated the voicemail, you had no way of dialing using the touch screen, you had to use the virtual keyboard, once you got to the enter in your pin prompt. Eyes-Free tried to fix this with a Talking Dialer program, but it still did not offer the ability to dial, connect, then enter in numbers using a memu prompt system at all, even with a keyboard.

Now Eyes-Free has updated itself, and included access to short cut menus which they didn’t have before, so a person can organize their apps, almost like folders using a menu tree they design. However, I’m sure as you’ve still noticed I have not mentioned that Eyes-free allowed access to the real meat of a smart phone, such as Calender apps, Browsing the Web, or E-mail. That is because in no way does it make any of that stuff more accessible. It just is an application, to get to the apps on the phone which may or may not (chances are not) be accessible through the TalkBack screen reader.

The Spiel Screen reader, excels in areas TalkBack doesn’t and I won’t go into that here, but that is really the Screen reader of choice on the android platform, if you ask me. Let me say here that there are accessible apps for Android. Like Facebook, Twitter, Seesmic, Walky-Talky (A gps app for the blind, meant to give walking directions using the screen reader) and Intersection Explorer (a neat app where you can put your finger down where you are, have it read to you the closest intersection, and then explore with your finger how the roads and intersections are laid out around you.) There is even an app called the Voice, which is where you can use the Camera to give you sound cues about your environment(kinda like those ultra-sonic canes from the late eighties, early nineties). It also has a color identifier in it. And I must credit the IDEAL Group’s Apps4Android for coming out with a free Digital Mobile Magnifier App, A bar Code item Labeler and reader, which work together with a bar-code scanner app and Other products which I do use.

So that is the current state of Android Accessibility. Some could even go so far as to say What Accessibility?

There is some, but not nearly enough. And while there is an app here and an app there that might work to help accomplish a task, it is a pain to go and find each one for one’s lifestyle, and again hope they play together nicely. One of the problem’s with Android Accessibility is that everything is so fragmented into this and that distinct module, there is nothing brought together into a whole package to help people untill now!

Code Factory’s Mobile Accessibility For Android made it possible to navigate in the suite of apps using your fingers as arrows. They made it possible to make a phone call, and have the number read back to you to confirm you dialed correctly, as well as enter numbers in a menu system accessibly. Mobile Accessibility made it possible to compose e-mail and SMS messages where you can edit them as well, along with having them read to you. You can read and edit, by char, word, sentence, or paragraph. Which is awesome, if you’ve never been able to compose a message or read it back like that on your phone before. Mobile Accessibility makes it possible surf the web, and have the web read back to you, and navigate by common controls you’ll find in web pages (like edit fields, buttons, links, headings, etc.). You again can navigate by these controls using your fingers as arrow keys! In all of the MA suite you can put your finger down, and hear what is underneath! You also can dictate a sms or e-mail with your voice. You can set alarms, and for the first time in Android have access to the Google Calander, to schedule yourself!

So Code Factory’s Mobile Accessibility for Android brings together a suite of apps that allow users of it, to have unprecedented accessibility to features of the Android Platform! It also offers a virtual keyboard, that allows for typing simular to how you can type in the ios, where you slide your finger across the QWERTY keyboard, and when you hear what you want, you lift your finger to select it. You also can edit things while typing by using your fingers as arrows across the keyboard back and fourth, to hear what you’ve typed by char, word, or sentence.

This Virtual Keyboard can be used outside of Mobile Accessibility, and so can the screen reader you use in MA ( the Mobile Accessibility Screen Reader.) The limitation with this is that the Android Accessibility API, does not allow for gestures or other buttons to replace and/or activate other actions. Therefore the MA screen reader outside of MA, is as limited as Talkbalk and Spiel for the moment.

This is why Code Factory Recommends you have a phone with either a physical keyboard that has arrow keys, or at least a phone with a trackball. It is because without one, outside of MA you cannot navigate around your phone. (Android users cannot use their fingers as arrow keys moving the screen readers focus from one item to another by flicking their fingers, for right now it is strickly see, point click, vs, flick, hear tap like on iDevices.)

Requests have been sent to Google to allow accessibility applications to do more, by making their Accessibility API more robust, but it has thus far fallen on deaf ears. Obviously, change is on the horizon though, and I hope it comes sooner than later.

Strictly in my not so humble opinion (not Code Factory’s)Google needs to stop saying that they support accessibility, and start allowing developers to act on this supposedly belief of theirs, because their token Eyes-Free team and what they put out is a joke, to appease some higher ups to narrowly avoid a lawsuit. We all know google is capable of amazing things, so why not do some good where it is truly needed: Blind people have money too (unless they just want us all to spend that potential revenue on idevices…)

Oh, BTW, 69 Euros = 95 USD when I last checked a few days ago.

I apologize that this email is so long, thank you for your valueable time. I hope I’ve given you more understanding of Android, and of Code Factory’s ground breaking product. Please shre your ehhanced understanding with your listeners.

Sincerely, Sandy Thompson

–Continued later that day–

…Also please mention that people should remember this is release #1. No release #1 of anything is perfect, yet this is still an awesome product code factory put out. There are a few bugs in the demo release, but once you buy the product, you only have to pay for it once and other updates you get free (like other android apps). Code factory will iron out those kinks and keep improving and inovating for sure. I’ve seen what they can do with this product from Beta 1 to Release in just over a month! Therefore in a couple more months I know everything in the package will be well worth every penny and then some, with improvements and hopefully new features on top of what is already there. Thanks, hope I didn’t cause too much heartburn from trying to digest everything. –Sandy

–Continued from March 9, 2011–

I just wanted to clarify that when I said “Spiel is the screen reader of choice…” I meant of the free screen readers available for Android. The MA screen reader continues to impress me as I use it more and more when I am outside of the MA suite of apps. It helps make things more accessible than the free screen readers like typing in gmail, and using the Virtual Keyboard outside of MA. The Virtual Keyboard continues to give you more feedback (such as the ability to review what you’ve typed by char or word, or sentence etc.)

I also wanted to please ask you guys to ask if your listeners want to follow my adventures as a guide dog user, embronic Android Developer, and Using MA to follow me on twitter @3K99Mommy.

Thanks. Can’t wait to listen, as always. –Sandy

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