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TellMe TV audio description service: hands-on

In December 2016 the TellMe TV online subscription service was established to provide audio described video content.  The service has been designed to meet the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired and offers Netflix-style online streaming of content.  As an Australian with very few audio described content options I decided to give it a go.  

The service has been established by Canadian accessibility advocate Kevin Shaw, which stated in the press release that “TellMe TV is an exciting new destination where 100 per cent of the on-demand programming, including a diverse portfolio of movies, television shows and documentaries, [are provided] in fully described video.”

As a vision impaired person located outside North America, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to access it at all: it’s not unusual for such services to be geoblocked or content hidden from international viewers. After signing up I navigated my way through the content and found a documentary. On the plus side, it worked without getting any geoblocking message.  The downside however is the notable lack of modern content.

As promised, the service does indeed provide 100% audio described titles, meaning that for people with vision-related disabilities the more visual aspects of the videos are described by a narrator.  While the interface was a little cumbersome to use in my high contrast color scheme, the screen reader picked things up well and it was able to play the selected video. I was pleasantly surprised to see the video start playing given I’m based in Australia, and both video and audio played with no problem.

However, the biggest issue with this service at the moment is the content.  It was hard to determine if the lack of modern content was due to the good stuff being hidden from me or if there was just a very limited amount of titles at this time, but most of the movies, documentaries and services I could play were quite old and presumably available as public domain titles.  That said, if the service is able to secure the rights to the big movies and TV shows then the interface works quite well, and if the service continues to be available internationally then it has the potential to revolutionise the way in which people who are blind or vision impaired watch TV. As such, it’s my hope the big media companies will step up to support this initiative especially as audio description is hard to come by through traditional media sources.  For now though the best option here in Australia remains with Netflix and its small but growing audio described titles.

More information on the service can be found at the TellMe TV website.  The service offers a seven day free trial.

Mobile World Congress 2017 highlights: VR, printing and translation

The 2017 Mobile World Congress (MWC) has recently wrapped up in Barcelona and is generally considered the world’s largest mobile technology event.   While there was lots of great mobile tech on display, there were a few things that really jumped out in terms of access potential so here’s a round-up of some of the key products and announcements.  

Virtual Reality display at 2017 Mobile World CongressImage of 2017 MWC ©2017 the Verge

 Virtual Reality and 3D Printing

Some of the most exciting product announcements aren’t so much new products, but rather the way in which familiar products were joined together.  The latest HTC Vibe Virtual Reality (VR) system was used in partnership with a 3D printer to demonstrate how a 3D object can be created in VR, then immediately printed out on a 3D printer.  I’ve recently been involved in discussions with projects associated with accessibility and the Arts, and demonstrations like this clearly show just how technologies such as this can be applicable.  For example if a blind person wanted to experience a sculpture, the model could be worked up in VR then printed as an accessible tactile version. In a related announcement, the ability to create 3D objects virtually and the conversion of 2D into 3D continues to become commonplace with Microsoft providing details that the next update to Windows 10 will add 3D functionality to the built-in Paint feature.  The preview of the new version of Paint with 3D can be downloaded from the Windows Store now for Windows 10 users.

 Universal Translator

The second thing that really struck me on just how significant it could be is the VoxOx Universal Translator.  As with many people who have enjoyed watching Star Trek TV shows over the years the idea that you can easily understand anyone in any language is very appealing, especially if you can’t see print or hand gestures very well as is the case for me.  This device can currently translate between a handful of languages in real-time such as SMS or social media posts.  While we’re not quite a the Star Trek stage yet, the idea that communication between people that use different languages is as simple as posting a message on social media now and have confidence in both what is received and what comes back is very exciting.

 Google Digital Assistant

While VR printing and universal translation may take some time before it arrives in our homes, one update that’s on its way now is the Google Digital Assistant to more Android smartphones.  Previously only available on Google’s own Pixel smartphone, the digital assistant is now rolling out to Android smartphones running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later.  Google stated that:

 “The Google Assistant will begin rolling out this week to English users in the U.S., followed by English in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as German speakers in Germany. We’ll continue to add more languages over the coming year.”

 Smartphones that receive the update will be able to long-press the home button or enable an ‘OK Google’ command to interact directly with the assistant.  

 This is fantastic news for people with disabilities.  In recent times digital assistants such as Siri and Cortana in our computers and smartphones have become more useful in performing basic commands and web searches.  While Android-based smartphones have some limited functionality similar to the Assistant already, the addition of Google’s digital assistant for users of a large range of smartphones provides more functionality, choice and affordability to people with disabilities, such as people with vision or mobility impairments.

 This is just a few of the highlights from MWC for people with disabilities this year. Full details on all the announcements can be found at the Mobile World Congress website.

Windows 10 upgrade still free for assistive technology users

UPDATED 8 December 2017: The upgrade is ending on 31 December 2017. Read article below for instructions on how to upgrade before the offer closes.


Microsoft continues to support the free upgrade to Windows 10 for people that are using assistive technologies in Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.

While the upgrade was freely available to everyone in the first year of the Windows 10 release, Microsoft announced shortly before the end of the free upgrade period in mid-2016 that assistive technology users could continue to have access to free upgrades.

 Windows 10 upgrade page in high contrast

As there is no check by the upgrade tool to confirm if people are using assistive technologies, there has been concerned that the free tool would be scrapped due to people using it regardless of their assistive technology needs. However, as of January 2017, the tool remains available and has been tested to confirm it will still provide the free upgrade.

 Given the large number of accessibility features in Windows 10 including a full-screen magnifier, Narrator screen reader and touchscreen support, it’s great to see Microsoft continuing to help people with disabilities by providing a free upgrade path.  

 The upgrade tool can be downloaded from the Microsoft Windows 10 Assistive Technology Upgrade page.