Bookshare Launches New Site

January 30, 2009

After a year’s worth of preparation, Bookshare.org has launched a new version of its website. The new site has some great new features:

  • Headings make the site easier to navigate.
  • The “Skip to main content” links are more reliable than in the past.
  • The site can remember your login information for up to two weeks and log you in automatically.
  • When viewing a list of search results, you can choose between a table, which lets you move through results quickly, or a list view, which shows each book’s synopsis for more detailed browsing.
  • Low vision users can easily change the size of print on the site.
  • If you download BRF (braille) files, you can choose the line length and grade of braille you want.
  • You no longer need a proprietary unpack program to unzip books you download from Bookshare; any program that can handle password-protected zip files will do.
  • You can view a list of all the books you have downloaded from Bookshare. Mine goes back to when the site first launched, but some people’s lists only go back to 2005 or so.
  • Every book page includes a link you can use to report quality problems with the book. Textbooks get highest priority, but the Bookshare staff is committed to improving the quality of the entire collection.
  • There is a new version of Victor Reader Soft — a self-voicing program that reads Bookshare books on your PC and is designed for blind and low vision users — as well as a program called READ:OutLoud that is designed to be particularly useful to people with learning disabilities. Acapela voices that work with these programs are available free. A version of Victor Reader Soft that will run on the Mac is promised in the near future.

Some features benefit volunteers submitting and proofreading books. for instance, if you enter a book’s ISBN when submitting a book, Bookshare looks it up and attempts to fill in other book information automatically, such as the title, author, and synopsis. It didn’t work on the book I tried, which surprised me because it is a Caldecott Honor Book. When it does work, though, it will save volunteers a lot of time. When you submit a book, it is quickly checked for spelling, and the number and percentage of words not in Bookshare’s spelling dictionary are reported to help you judge scan quality.

Bookshare has hired a librarian. One of her responsibilities will be to categorize the books more precisely, to make them easier to find. There will be several main categories, each containing subcategories, to help readers find the books they want.

Kurzweil 1000 released a patch right away when the site was launched, enabling users to search Bookshare and download and open books just as they have for years. this patch is available for previous versions of Kurzweil, not just version 11. Choose Search for Updates from the Online menu to download and install the patch. If you install it, but Kurzweil doesn’t search bookshare when you conduct an online book search, Go to the Bookshare site, choose the Log Out link, and don’t use the Remember Me feature; automatic login breaks Kurzweil’s online search tool.

The zip program built into the PAC Mate can’t unzip password-protected files, but you can download several free and accessible programs that can. One of these is Total Commander; Freedom scientific has posted detailed directions for downloading, installing, and using this software.

LevelStar has stated that an update that will allow the Icon and Icon Braille Plus to search and unpack Bookshare content from the new site will be available very soon, and HumanWare has stated that support for Bookshare on the BrailleNote will be available in Keysoft version 8, which the company plans to release in March. If you use one of these products, you have two options until the update is released: You can download and unzip books on a PC and transfer the unzipped versions to your device; or, you can download in the usual way from a pre-release version of the Bookshare site. New books aren’t being added to this site, but you can use it to download any books that were available prior to the launch of the new site.

The first time you log into the new Bookshare site, you are asked for your birth date (required information for some of Bookshare’s grants) as well as several questions about the assistive technology you use. Your answers are used to set up a Preferences section in your user account, but you can change those preferences at any time. The set-up process also takes you to pages providing detailed information about the new site.

Bookshare conducted two webinars on Accessible World, explaining the features of the new site. Both include many questions and answers, and much useful information. The January 20 webinar focuses on searching for and downloading books, while the January 28 presentation focuses more on the process of volunteering for bookshare.

It’s always a bit of an adjustment when a long-established site makes major changes, especially if you use hardware or software that is programmed to deal with the site the way it was before. The changes Bookshare has made are worth the difficulties, however, and it sounds as though the organization will become even better over the next few months and years.

Advertisements

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 Amazon.co.uk’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.

J-Tunes and Talking iPod Tek Talk Presentation Archive Now Available

October 16, 2008

The recording of the presentation brian Hartgen and I did on Tek Talk last Monday concerning J-Tunes and the 4th generation iPod Nano is now available for download from the Accessible World site. In the presentation, Brian demonstrated how itunes 8 functions with and without J-Tunes, and I explained the features of the new iPod and demonstrated some of them. At the end, we took a variety of questions, most of them related to iTunes, J-Tunes, or the talking Nano.

Organizing Blogroll on WordPress.com Blogs

October 10, 2008

I recently updated and reorganized my blogroll on this blog. In the process, I discovered that I was unable to access the check boxes needed to control which categories links were in. I could find a categories heading with my screen reader, but there didn’t appear to be any category check boxes on the page, and pressing ENTER on the categories heading did nothing. I contacted tech support, and received the following answer, which I thought those of you with WordPress.com blogs might want to know about. Apparently in order to see these check boxes with a screen reader, you have to disable Javascript. The site will be updated soon, and an accessibility expert will look at it to try to improve accessibility, so there’s a good chance the following information will only be relevant for a couple of months. I hope so, but in the meantime, here’s how to disable Javascript.

Disabling Javascript in Internet Explorer 7

  1. Type ALT+T to go to the tools menu.
  2. Type O to choose Internet Options.
  3. Press CTRL+TAB to choose the security page in this multi-page dialog box.
  4. Press TAB once to reach Custom Level and press Enter.
  5. Type S until you get to Scripting.
  6. Press DOWN ARROW twice. You’ll reach “Active Scripting” the first time, then probably “Disable – Off.”
  7. Press the SPACEBAR to turn it on.
  8. Press ENTER.
  9. You will be asked if you’re sure you want to make this change. Press ENTER to say Yes.
  10. Press TAB until you reach the OK button and press ENTER.
  11. Close and restart Internet Explorer.

Be sure to turn Javascript back on when you’re finished reorganizing your blogroll, as many sites don’t work well without it. The procedure is the same except that you press DOWN ARROW three times when focused on Scripting, so that you are focused on Enable when you press the SPACEBAR.

Disabling Javascript in Firefox 3

  1. Type ALT+T to go to the Tools menu.
  2. Type O to go to Options. You are in a list of option categories.
  3. Use the UP and DOWN arrow keys as needed to locate Content.
  4. Press TAB until you reach the enable Javascript check box.
  5. Press the SPACEBAR as needed to uncheck this box.
  6. Press ENTER.
  7. Close and restart Firefox.

Be sure to enable Javascript once you’re finished reorganizing your blogroll, as many web pages don’t work well without it. the procedure is the same, except that you check the enable Javascript check box.

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.

Excellent Free Web Tutorial Available

October 8, 2008

Gene Asner has produced a wonderful Internet tutorial, available for free download from Accessible World. This tutorial is primarily audio, but it also includes some sample web pages to practice with. As he walks you through various types of web sites, he focuses on helping you to understand what you are encountering and to develop effective ways of moving around sites based on how they are organized. While a few things have changed since Gene created the tutorial, nearly everything he covers is still relevant. If you’re new to surfing the web, or you find it difficult to find the information you want when you visit websites, this tutorial should help. It’s an excellent follow-up to Braille.com and Beyond.

Gene also recently presented a tutorial on Tek Talk about Webvisum, an add-on for the firefox browser that helps blind people deal with CAPTCHA, among other things. You can read about and download the presentation here.

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.