Archive for the ‘iPod Experience’ Category

Cut and paste now Reorders iTunes Playlists

May 31, 2009

Apple has recently added the ability to change the order of tracks in an iTunes playlist using cut and paste. This works with any screen reader. Simply cut the track you want to move with CTRL+X and paste it where you want with CTRL+V. I’m delighted this feature has been implemented; I just wish Apple documented such improvements so people could start using them right away when they are introduced.


Accessible iPod Book now Available

May 29, 2009

I recently wrote a book about the new talking iPods for National Braille Press called Using the Accessible iPod, and it is now available in multiple formats. This book tells you how to get started with iTunes, and how to use every accessible feature on the fourth generation iPod Nano and any iPod Shuffle. There is a frequently asked questions section, as well as a section on how your iPod and iTunes organize music and how to fix tagging errors that make it hard to find the music you want. And a resources section at the back includes all websites mentioned in the book, plus sources for additional information. It costs US$15. Enjoy!

Blind iPod Mailing List Name Changed to Portable Player

March 28, 2009

Since any portable media player may be discussed, not just iPods, the name of the Blind iPod e-mail list has been changed to Portable Player. In the past few months, this list has been particularly helpful to new users of talking iPods, but the Victor Reader Stream, sites for downloading music, and many other topics are discussed. You can read about the list and subscribe here.

HumanWare Creates Resource Page for Podcasts and Downloadable Books and music

January 29, 2009

In an effort to help Victor Reader Stream users find content for their players, Humanware has established a comprehensive web page that links to a wealth of sources for accessible eBooks, DAISY books, audiobooks on cD and for download, old time radio, and podcasts. While this page is great for Stream users, it benefits anyone who likes to read or listen to books, music, drama, and information on a computer or any portable device. If you’re new to online books and audio, this is a great place to start, and if you’re more experienced, you are still likely to find new resources here. Thanks, HumanWare, for putting together such a useful site.

Amazon MP3 Downloads Available in the u.K.

January 29, 2009

This is old news, and I apologize for not posting it sooner, but it’s important enough that I decided to post it anyway. If you live in the U.K., you can now download tracks and albums in MP3 format from’s MP3 store. The U.S. site is accessible, and at first glance, at least, the U.k. site is equally so. Well done, Amazon! let’s hope Amazon MP3 stores appear in other countries soon too.

iTunes Removes dRM from Music Store

January 8, 2009

On Tuesday, Apple announced that 8 million tracks in the iTunes store are now available in iTunes Plus format – meaning no digital rights management protection, and 256 KBPS, twice the bit rate of music with DRM – and that the remaining 2 million tracks will be available in this format by the end of March. This means that you will soon be able to play any music you purchase from the iTunes store on any player that can handle the AAC format. If your player can’t play AAC files, you can use iTunes to convert your tracks to MP3. Here’s how:

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. Type CTRL+COMMA, or choose Preferences from the bottom of the Edit menu.
  3. Type ALT+O; or press TAB until you reach the Import Settings button and press ENTER. Focus goes to the Import Using combo box.
  4. Type M; or press DOWN ARROW until you reach the option “Mp3 encoder.”
  5. The default bit rate is 160 KBPS. If you want to change it, press TAB once and select the bit rate you want from the Setting combo box.
  6. Press ENTER twice to save your changes and exit the Preferences dialog box.

Now whenever you want to convert music to MP3, select either a single track or a group of tracks, press the context key or SHIFT+F10, and choose Create MP3 Version from the context menu. The only down side is that your iTunes library will now contain two copies of each track you convert – the original AAC file and the MP3 version.

If you previously purchased music with DRM, you can upgrade it to the iTunes Plus format for $.30 per single and 30% of the album price by choosing the Upgrade my Library link on the iTunes store home page. The songs are downloaded in the new format, and the old versions are deleted automatically so you only have one copy of each track in your iTunes library. When I tried this yesterday, only about half of my music was upgraded, so it may take a while before everything you purchased is available for upgrading. Furthermore, the protected version of one of the upgraded tracks wasn’t deleted, so don’t be surprised if this happens to you, particularly if you upgrade a large number of tracks.

Apple also announced that starting in april, some songs will cost $.69 apiece, some will continue to cost $.99, and some will cost $1.29, with more songs costing $.69 than $1.29. albums will continue to cost $9.99 on average.

You can read more about the announcement here.

Way to go, Apple, for removing dRM from your music store!

iPod Nano Update Lets you Turn Off Cover Flow

November 12, 2008

The talking fourth generation iPod Nano is a wonderful MP3 player. Until now, however, it included a real annoyance; whenever you tilted or turned the Nano, Cover Flow would turn on. Cover Flow is a feature that lets sighted people select albums by scrolling through pictures of album covers. Album names aren’t spoken when it’s on, however, so the feature is inaccessible to a blind person. Turning the Nano upright would turn off Cover Flow, so it was easy enough to get the Nano speaking again, but if you had the Nano clipped to your belt and bent over or turned suddenly, the words, “Cover Flow,” would interrupt your listening, and the words “Now Playing” would interrupt it again when you stood up and Cover Flow turned off. The only solution was to turn the Hold switch on.

Fortunately, Apple’s latest update, version 1.0.3, fixes this problem. With the update installed, there is a new item on the Settings/General Settings menu called Rotate. When focused on Rotate, pressing the center button toggles you between Cover Flow and Off. This setting is independent of the Shake to Shuffle feature, which is set in Settings/Playback.

If you turn Cover Flow off, you can still activate the feature if you wish by choosing Cover Flow from the Music menu. When you’re done with it, press the top of the wheel to move up a menu level, and speech will return.

To update your Nano, connect it to the PC, make sure you’re focused on its name in the iTunes Source list, press TAB once to go to the Check for Updates button, and press ENTER. The update process is accessible. I had to click with the JAWS cursor in the read-only edit box describing the new features of the update in order to read it, but otherwise I could do everything with the PC cursor. When the update was complete, the iPod wouldn’t speak, so I had to turn spoken menus off and then back on, but once the lengthy process of creating the spoken menus was done, everything worked fine. (How lengthy the process is depends on how many tracks you have in your iPod, since itunes must create a voice tag for each one.) If your iPod doesn’t speak after updating, connect it to the PC and make sure you’re focused on your iPod’s name in the iTunes Source list. Press TAB until you reach the Enable spoken Menus check box. Press the SPACEBAR until the box is unchecked, press TAB until you reach the Apply button, and press ENTER. Once the process of removing the voice tags is complete, repeat the procedure, but this time, check the Enable Spoken Menus check box.

I am delighted that Apple has added the ability to turn off Cover Flow to this update.

Tek talk Presentation on Portable Media Players

October 8, 2008

Brian Hartgen and I will do a presentation about iTunes, J-Tunes, and the new talking iPod Nano on Tuesday, October 14, at 0:00 GMT, which is Monday October 13 at 8 Eastern, 5 Pacific. During the second hour, we will take questions about anything relating to portable media players and transfering music to them. You can listen to the presentation, ask questions if you have a microphone attached to your computer, or type in questions. The presentation will be recorded, and will be available for download within a few days after the presentation. You can read the full press release here.

Registering iPod Nano and Apple Protection Plan

October 8, 2008

When I attached my fourth generation iPod Nano to my computer, I didn’t have the option to register it through iTunes for some reason, so I had to do it through the Apple website. I will give you some pointers here, in case the same thing happens to you. I will also discuss how to register an apple Care Protection Plan, should you want one.

You can register your iPod online. You will need to enter your Apple ID and password, then specify that you are registering one product. You then enter your iPod’s serial number, which appears on the Summary tab in itunes when you connect your Nano. With J-Tunes 4 copying the serial number into the virtual viewer so you can paste it into the proper edit box is quite easy to do. If you don’t have J-Tunes, you can still find the serial number by finding and left-clicking the word Summary with your screen reader’s mouse cursor and pressing DOWN ARROW until you reach it. The registration form is straightforward , except that there are two buttons following the form where you enter the serial number, both of which are named only by strings of numbers, so that you can’t tell what each one does. The first one takes you to a page where you can register additional products, while the second one lets you complete the registration. So press ENTER on the second one.

If you accidentally press the first button, there’s no real problem; you simply end up on a page with blanks for registering additional products. Leave all those blanks empty and press the button at the bottom of the form, and you’ll be exactly where you would have been if you had pressed the second button on the previous page.

When you are done with the registration, the page you are on informs you of this and says you will get a confirmation via e-mail. When I registered, it took about five days for the e-mail confirmation to come, so don’t be concerned if you don’t get it right away.

Now on to the apple Care plan. I recommend getting one because you get unlimited phone technical support, and your warranty is extended from one to two years, which is nice for a product that has a battery the user can’t replace. It costs about $40, which is cheaper than similar plans used to be.

I ordered my plan by calling the Apple Store at 800-692-7753. I’m sure you can also order online. You would think it would be possible to purchase the plan and apply it to your iPod while on the phone or online, but it’s not; Apple has to ship the plan to you, and you have to pay for shipping, which is around $4. When the box arrives, you will need sighted assistance to locate the number you need to register the plan and associate it with your iPod. Once you have the number, you can register your plan online. Again, you will need to log in with your Apple ID and password. I’m pretty sure you’ll need your iPod’s serial number again as well, but I may not remember that correctly, as it has been a few days since I went through the process. This form is reasonably accessible; I didn’t have to guess about the function of any of the buttons. The only problem was the combo boxes. I had trouble getting my choices to stick; I would choose something, then press TAB, then go back and discover that the combo box was still set as it was before I made my change. I don’t have any advice except to keep trying; I got the combo boxes to work eventually, but didn’t find a consistent way of doing it. Just be sure before you leave a page that they are all set the way you want them.

Once I was done with the registration process, it again took a few days to get e-mail confirmation, so be patient. If you get to the page that says your registration is complete, all should be well.

J-Tunes Version 4 Available

October 6, 2008

J-Tunes version 4 — which works with iTunes 8.0.1 and JAWS 8.0, 9.0, and 10.0 beta — is available for download from the J-Tunes page on the T&T Consultancy website. You can download a demo from this page, and can find information about where to purchase the scripts (this varies depending on which country you live in). The update is free to people who own J-Tunes 3.

J-Tunes adds considerable accessibility to iTunes including:

  • The ability to find out quickly where you are in itunes and move to a specific section with a single keystroke.
  • The ability to change the order of playlists.
  • Enough information to use the Preferences and get Info dialog boxes effectively.
  • The ability to move through tracks without hearing a lot of extraneous information.
  • The ability to use the iTunes browser, which lets you explore your music collection by genre, artist, and album.
  • The ability to move to information about iPods, such as Summary or Music, from a vertical list; this is true of the iPod Shuffle as well as larger iPods.
  • The ability to put information into the virtual viewer, such as iPod Summary or the name of a track and artist.
  • Excellent context-sensitive help and documentation.

See the What’s New document for more information. Way to go, T&T Consultancy!

AccessWorld Article on Adaptive Media Players Posted

October 1, 2008

AccessWorld has just released the final part in their series on the accessibility of portable media players. It does a fine job covering adaptive players and the media playing capabilities of notetakers and of mobile phones running screen readers.

New Website for Main Menu

October 1, 2008

Main Menu, the blindness technology show on ACB Radio, has a new website that includes all shows from September 10, 2008, on. the site also includes announcements, information about the people running Main Menu, information on submitting content for possible airing on Main Menu, and more. download older shows here. The URL for subscribing to Main Menu as a podcast has not changed.

Fourth generation iPod Nano Really Does Talk

September 24, 2008

I got one of the new iPod nanos two days ago, and I’m impressed. All I had to do was check one check box, and most menu items, song names, and artists talk. The iPod is very responsive; I can quickly find the artist, album, or song I want though I have over 10 GB of music on the player. I can switch between EQ presets, change the playback speed of audiobooks, shuffle the whole iPod or all the content by a particular artist or any other particular thing I might want to shuffle, turn Sound Check on and off (when it’s on, the iPod attempts to play everything at the same volume), turn CrossFade on or off, find out the title of the currently playing track, and more. I am told when the iPod moves from a menu to Now Playing, and I’m told where I am when I turn it on. The search feature doesn’t talk, but I can use it if I’m willing to count clicks (searching is accomplished by scrolling to the desired letter of the alphabet and pressing the center button, and since the list of letters doesn’t wrap, I can count from either end to find the letter I want). I wish that feature were more accessible, but since scrolling works so well, I can find what I want quickly even without it. Because there’s no screen reader, options involving text (such as reading lyrics or notes) don’t work, and it’s not possible to do things like set the time, but everything involving the playing of music, audiobooks and podcasts works really well. It is unprecedented access to a mainstream device.

I love how easy it is to turn on accessibility. Some people will need to take a few more steps to get everything working than I did, but the process still isn’t difficult. My iPod apparently came with its language set to U.S. English; if it hadn’t, a sighted person would have needed to set the language. I had also already set my computer to use the voice and speech rate I wanted; I did that when I used the scripts to voice file and folder names in Rockbox. If you’ve never done this, you’ll probably want to. In Windows XP, go to control Panel, choose Speech, then press CTRL+TAB to go to the text-to-Speech page. In Vista, go to Control Panel and choose the Text-to-Speech link. On that page, you can choose the voice and speech rate you want to use. That’s all you have to do – there are no special scripts to run and no special commands to learn.

One thing that can be annoying is that if you turn the iPod sideways, Cover Flow turns on. This is a method of selecting music by looking at pictures of album covers, and it doesn’t talk. There seems to be no way to turn off this feature. Your best bet is to turn Hold on when you’re not working with the controls; Cover Flow does not come on if Hold is on. Despite this glitch and the few features that aren’t accessible, Apple is to be congratulated for creating such an accessible iPod.

Brian Hartgen will soon release a podcast demonstrating the use of the new nano. He has already produced one on iTunes 8 where he demonstrates the basic accessibility available with JAWS 10 and Window-Eyes 7, and the additional functionality that will be available in J-tunes version 4 (this version should be released soon). You can download both podcasts, when they are available, from the T&T Consultancy Blog and Podcast page. Jonathan Mosen demonstrates iTunes accessibility with JAWS 10 in his

Rockbox 3.0 Released

September 24, 2008

Rockbox 3.0 was released yesterday. This means that if you have a player running Rockbox, you can now choose between loading a version under development (as before) or running a stable release. Having a stable version available should make Rockbox more palatable to users who don’t want the hassles of using beta software. Congratulations to everyone who has made this release possible.

You can download Rockbox 3.0 here. Voice files are available on this page, but if you prefer, Andre Louis has created voice files using the high-quality VWKate and VWPaul voices.

New developments in Reading Commercial eBooks

September 17, 2008

The past few months have been eventful in terms of access to commercial eBooks, and most of the changes are positive.

Secure Adobe eBooks Don’t Work

I’ll get the bad news out of the way first. Secure PDF eBooks — some of which were accessible using Adobe Reader 7 and earlier versions — are completely unusable by a blind person using Adobe Reader 8 or 9. IF you have one of the later versions of Adobe Reader, you must read secure pDF eBooks using a program called Digital Editions. For sighted users, this program has nice features, such as the ability to transfer secure eBooks to more computers than before, including mobile devices. However, no portion of Digital Editions talks, not even the installation or registration dialog boxes. Even using a screen reader’s mouse cursor, I can’t read anything — no menus, no buttons, no dialogs, and no text of a secure eBook. I tried the betas of JAWS 10 and Window-Eyes 7 to no avail. I sent a message to access at to see whether anyone had any suggestions, but my message bounced twice. Customer service was particularly unhelpful, giving me inaccessible links to pages with videos describing how to open a web case to ask for help. I finally opened a web case, to no avail. So though Accessibility is the first link on the Adobe site, I am forced to conclude that for now, at least, accessibility is a low priority with Adobe.

MP3 Books available from OverDrive

Fortunately, there is excellent news on other fronts. OverDrive has started offering some of its audible eBooks as MP3 files. These are the books you can download from many public library systems. In the past, all OverDrive audiobooks were in protected WMA format, which limited the number of players the books would work with. Books in MP3 format, on the other hand, work with virtually all portable MP3 players. As with WMA eBooks, you can only play these audiobooks on your PC during the lending period — which is typically two or three weeks — and you must agree to delete copies on a portable player after the lending period is over.

Unfortunately, not all libraries using OverDrive offer MP3 books. To find out whether yours does, visit the main page for audiobooks and search for “mp3” using your screen reader’s Find command. You can also examine the combo box where you choose a book format to see whether MP3 is one of the options.

Since I live in a state that offers MP3 eBooks, I tried out the service today. I was able to transfer a six-part book to my Victor Stream with no problems. To do this, create a folder within the $VROtherBooks folder on your Stream, and choose to transfer the book to that folder. You make this choice in OverDrive Media Console (the software used to download OverDrive books, burn them to CD, and transfer them to portable devices). On the screen where you choose which parts to transfer, press the advanced button; you will be on a screen where you can choose the folder you want to use. The great thing about reading an OverDrive book on the Victor Stream is that your place is saved even if you listen to other files. And since all the files are treated as part of one audiobook, assuming you put them in one folder within $VROtherBooks, you don’t have to remember which part you were listening to; you simply select the book and resume where you were last reading.

PAC Mate’s Reader Mode Increases Accessibility of EReader, PDF, and other Formats

Another great development in eBook accessibility is Reader Mode in version 6.1 of the PAC Mate. Reader Mode lets you read using typical word processor commands in document-reading programs where you would ordinarily need to use the JAWS cursor, such as EReader and PDF Reader Mobile by Orneta. In the past, if you wanted to use such a program, you had to switch to the JAWS cursor, read a page, give the command to go to the next page (which often involved switching to the PC cursor, giving the command, and returning to the JAWS cursor), and moving to the top of the screen in order to read it. Using Reader Mode, you still have to give a command to switch pages, but one of the options for Reader Mode is “On with auto top of screen.” When this feature works well, as it does with both programs I mentioned, you read a screen, give the command to go to the next one, read that screen, etc., making reading much easier than before. Here are details of using Reader Mode with the PAC Mate Omni BX and QX. You must be running version 6.1 to use this mode.

EReader allows you to read books in protected and unprotected Palm format. A wide selection is available on both the EReader website and at Fictionwise. Click the EReader pro link and choose the version for “Windows Mobile Smartphone and PocketPC 2003 or Later.” The download is a zip file that includes the EReader software, a program for installing eBooks on your PAC Mate, and a Readme file. Be sure to read the Readme, as it walks you through the installation process in detail.

Once the program and at least one book are installed, open EReader and select a book. It’s best to install only one book to start with because the initial dialog where you select a book doesn’t speak well. If the book is in a secure format, you will need to unlock it with your name and the credit card number you used to purchase it. The dialog for doing this is very accessible. Then the book opens, and you can start reading. The next time you open EReader, you will automatically be focused on the page you were reading when you closed it. There are also menu commands for going to the next page, the first page, the page of your choice, etc.

Orneta’s PDF Reader Mobile does not let you read the secure PDF eBooks discussed above, PDF files that contain only images, or files with certain security restrictions. It does let you read standard PDF documents, however, such as product manuals and company newsletters. It costs about $20, and there is a demo you can try. During the purchase process, I was asked to choose which Smartphone I planned to install it on. I chose one of the HP IPAQ models, but was told by Maria Cristic on the PAC Mate mailing list that it doesn’t matter which device you choose. I had to use the PC to install the version I downloaded, but it is also possible to download a CAB file that you can install directly on the PAC Mate.

A nice feature of this program is that you don’t have to wait for an entire PDF to load before you start reading it; you can read a page as soon as it has been loaded. Depending how much memory is available on your PAC Mate, the program can handle quite long documents. It choked on the 297-page cell phone manual I tried, but was able to handle the 80-page iPod manual. It includes a Save to Text option on the File menu, which can be handy if you plan to use a long file frequently, as the text version will be smaller and will load faster. Like EReader, this program includes commands that let you choose the page you want to read.

Converting PDF to text or HTML on PAC Mate and PC

If you have an earlier version of the PAC Mate, you want a free option, or you want to convert PDF files to text or HTML and don’t care about reading them in PDF format, try PDFMate, created by Ken Parry from Blinksoft. It works with the PAC Mate Omni as well as earlier versions and can handle the same types of PDF files as PDF Reader Mobile. When you open the program, you are in a list of all the pDF documents on your computer. Press Enter, work through the save As dialog, press Enter on the Save button, and the new file is created. I was impressed with how quickly PDFMate converted my 80-page iPod manual to text. I found that for that manual, at least, Jamal Mazrui’s PDF2TXT program for the PC did a much better job organizing the manual in a logical way than either PDFMate or PDF Reader Mobile. So if you have access to a PC, I would recommend this program; it’s simple to use, extremely fast, and good at figuring out the structure of most documents. But if you need to read a PDF and don’t have a PC handy, either of the PAC Mate options is a good choice.

In short, it’s wonderful to see the number and type of reading materials available expand. I hope the trend continues.