Tag Archives: accessibility

PTJ 262: Waiting In the Sky

The Space Race is back on — and Elon Musk’s own cherry-red Tesla Roadster is the pace car of the 21st century, having been shot into orbit around the sun by its owner. This week, El Kaiser and J.D. discuss the SpaceX test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket on February 6th, 2018; check out the video below if you missed the Roadster-flinging launch. Elsewhere in the show, El Kaiser shares his opinion about the idea of R-rated a Star Wars movie and J.D. offers tips on how to find online streaming videos with overdubbed audio descriptions for the blind and those with limited vision. For all this — plus a roundup of the week’s tech news — just blast off Episode 262!

Links to Stories on This Week’s Show

Technology + Accessibility

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Go Dark

Do you long for the days of the WarGames-era VDT with the black screen and green type? Or do you just hate the glare of a bright white display? Are you coping with vision difficulties? If so,  your apps and operating system and some of your programs might include settings that make it easier on your eyes.

For example, If you don’t want to flip your whole operating system around, you can often find a dark or night mode setting in many apps — like Microsoft Edge, Twitter for Android and iOS, the Amazon Kindle and Apple’s own iBooks app, and some apps like Waze and Google Maps might flip to the night mode automatically, depending on the time of day. YouTube’s desktop site just added a dark mode, too.

But if you want things more consistently less glaring, Windows 10 has a Dark Mode available in the Settings app, as well as a High Contrast Mode in the Ease of Access controls. Dark Mode doesn’t make everything dark, mainly just the background of certain apps and system screens, but the High Contrast Mode flips the background and changes the colors of several kinds of screen type to make everything stand out better for those who have trouble discerning different tints. Apple’s System Preferences for macOS has similar controls in the Display area of the Accessibility settings.

And don’t worry — if you get tired of dark mode, you can always come back to the light.

Talk That Talk

Smartphones make it easy to get the news headlines, weather forecasts and updates from your friends on social media where ever you are, but what if you don’t have time to read? Over the past couple of years, apps that read for you have been popping up all over. Like Apple’s Siri personal assistant, which can talk back and bring you info, some of these apps respond to voice commands. Some, however, are literally just read-only.

Many apps use the text-to-speech function built into the phone. Granted, some of these are better than others and the technology has come a long way since the Mac’s text-to-speech robot voice. But as the need for decent accessibility programs has increased to help people with vision impairments use the technology, the speech has gotten better.

winstonSo what’s out there? The Winston app for iOS is one example. Once you install it on your phone and tell it what you want to hear, Winston delivers an audio briefing any time you want.

The app recites a few of the more recent status updates from your Facebook and Twitter feeds and also reads an RSS-style summary of new headlines in your favorite categories. This sort of thing can be useful when you’re busy doing other stuff, like trying to get out of bed, making coffee or cooking breakfast.

Winston, shown here, uses a male voice with a British accent. (You can pretend it’s Alfred, but the folks behind its Twitter account told me they were big fans of Carson and Bates from Downton Abbey.) But it does have a nice, classy sound to it as it reads Facebook updates about the idiot things your friends did last night. It’s free and you can stream it over AirPlay-connected devices.

An Android version of Winston is said to be under development. Until then, if you have an Android phone, the iHear app for Android can read Facebook and Twitter updates.

Now, it you want more of a dedicated talking-alarm clock for your phone, you have plenty to choose from in your app store.

There’s a $3 iOS app called Wake Smarter that responds to voice commands for things like reading your Twitter feeds or Facebook updates. It also has programmable alarm clock and sleep timer functions, plus relaxing photos for wallpaper.

On the Android side, there’s Wakeful, the Talking Alarm Clock, which updates you on weather, stocks and the latest headlines. BedBuzz has similar powers but that app says it does not use the built-in text-to-speech function and sounds more natural. The $3 WakeVoice app is another option that responds to your voice and can read RSS feeds out loud. Senti Wayk is yet another similar Android app under development.

Cars have been getting into the voiceover action the past few years as well. The Chevy Cruze with the special OnStar service (remember that commercial?) is one attempt at bringing social media to the driving experience. The Ford Sync software is also adding Facebook integration, in case you just can’t bear to miss what’s going there. But since Facebook seems to influence moods, do you really want to have that distraction while driving?

Yeah, perhaps it’s best to stick with your favorite road-mix playlist there, and leave the read-aloud updates for those more stationary moments at home in the kitchen.