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Month: May 2017

Google Lens offers next-generation image and OCR recognition for people with vision disabilities

At the Google I/O 2017 conference, Google announced its new Lens feature, designed to not only provide information about an image, but connect it to real-world information. This feature could potentially offer significant benefits to people who are blind or vision impaired.

While the idea of image recognition is not a new one for Google as it has dabbled in this area for several years with its Google Goggles feature, Lens takes image recognition to a new level. While image recognition software would be capable of identifying an image of, say, a flower,, Lens has the ability to use contextual information to determine what type of flower it is.

Other examples demonstrated at Google I/O highlight how Lens can also use photos to provide you with additional context by using GPS tracking to help give the user more accurate results. It also has the ability to identify text and make use of that information, such as the ability to take a photo of a restaurant which can then provide information on the restaurant itself, the menu of that restaurant and various online reviews.

For people who are blinder vision impaired, the Lens feature has the potential to provide significant benefits. While there are several effective apps available on mobile devices that can deliver image recognition and OCR capabilities, Lens has the additional benefit of connecting the image with meaningful data that is likely to be useful while the user is in that specific location.

Lens is expected to be introduced to the Assistant and Photos features on Google Android later in the year. Additional information can be found in the Google Lens article on the CNet website. An overview of all the Google I/O announcements can also be found on the CNet website.

Outrunning the Night arrives on Audible

I’m very excited to report that the distribution for my memoir ˜Outrunning the Night: a life journey of disability, determination and joy  continues to grow with its recent launch as an audio book on Audible, one of the world’s largest audio book retailers. This release compliments the worldwide availability of the book as a paperback on and as a Kindle e-book.

Screenshot of Outrunning the Night on Audible

The audio book has been created by VisAbility and you can listen to a sample chapter at the Audible website.

Many thanks to everyone for your encouraging feedback that the book is helping people with disabilities, their families and carers. If you would like to show your support for the book, feel free to write a review for the Audible listing so that other people can decide if purchasing the book is right for them. Additional information, including direct purchasing options, can be found in the Outrunning the Night section of this website or from the Outrunning the Night Audible listing.

Microsoft’s education push may disadvantage assistive technology users

Last week Microsoft announced that it will be focusing its efforts on the Education market by releasing a number of new products and a new edition of Windows 10 called Windows 10S. However, the way in which it is being implemented has raised concerns that people with disabilities will be unable to install their preferred third-party assistive technology software.

The move to focus on the education market is in response to Google and Apple’s efforts to dominate the classroom, with Google most notably capturing some market share due to its Chromebooks pricing and locked-down operating system which has allowed teachers to distribute them in the classroom without concern of students installing their own software or overly personalising the device.

The main concern for assistive technology users in Microsoft’s announcement revolves around the Windows 10S operating system. With the popularity of Chromebooks and its Google Chrome OS providing teachers with a lot of control over what goes on the laptop, Microsoft have created Windows 10S to prevent users from installing software that does not come directly from the Windows Store.

While the model may have merit in the context of classroom lessons, the concern is that there is currently very little assistive technology software available in the Windows Store. As such, it’s likely that students requiring assistive technology that is not built into Windows 10 will be unable to install it on a Windows 10S-based system. This may explain in part why Braille Support has only just been added to Windows 10 as without that native support, Braille displays would not have worked under Windows 10S.

While Windows 10 contains a wealth of accessibility features and its likely that a majority of people with disabilities would still be able to use Windows 10S using the built-in accessibility features, the decision to restrict installation of software to the Windows Store reduces the choice of software available. As such, some students with disabilities that require assistive technology software that is not included in Windows, it may be the case that they cannot participate with the rest of the class.

Additional information on Windows 10S can be found from the Microsoft website.

Google Maps & Apple Maps – two useful accessibility tips

Using real-time maps on our smartphones has become an essential feature when navigating to different locations. Whether you prefer Google Maps or Apple Maps, there are a number of accessibility features in both apps which have been added over the past six months or so, but I’ve noticed that many people aren’t aware of the features.  As such, here’s two particularly useful tips to provide you with some additional information.

Google Maps – find out if a location is wheelchair-accessible

In late 2016, Google quietly added a feature to its Maps app for people in the US which provides information as to whether a selected location is wheelchair-accessible.  The is not specifically owned or collected by Google and there are many gaps, but as the service expands its likely to provide enough information to determine if a venue you are intending to visit will be a viable option before leaving home. There’s no specific information as to the rollout dates for other countries but Google have indicated they plan to continue expanding the service.

Importantly though this does not address one of the common complaints of mapping software which is the fact that maps don’t effectively indicate the topographical nature of a location. As a result, wheelchair users should still be wary of unexpected steep slopes or inclines when arriving at a new location. That said, it’s encouraging to see accessibility-specific information being included and it’s likely that information for wheelchair users will only get better in time. For additional information on the feature, please refer to the YouTube video on the wheelchair location feature in Google Maps

Apple Maps – points of interest

It’s fair to say that when Apple Maps launched in 2012 it had a pretty rocky start. However, its improved considerably over the years and now includes a useful Point of Interest feature that is proving very helpful to people who are blind or vision impaired.

To access this feature, start Apple Maps and start navigating to your destination. To find out what points of interest are near your location as you travel along the route, swipe up on the menu bar to pull up an overlay which will display different categories. You can then go into the category you are looking for, such as food, and it will provide you with nearby options. This is very helpful as it enables people with vision-related disabilities to quickly find out what’s near them as they travel without interrupting the overall journey.  It is also possible to add a nearby point of interest to the journey plan. Additional information can be found in the Maps for iOS section of the Apple website.