Odds and Ends - Bite-Sized Bits of Access Technology Goodness
By Amy Mason
It's been busy for the Access technology team in the last few weeks. Unbelievably, it has been less than a month since we returned from the CSUN conference. In that time we've seen some pretty exciting things going on around the world of accessible technology and we wanted to share a few of those things with you. None of these are super high-tech, nor are they overly complicated, but each of these projects are fun, or useful or both, and their creators deserve a shout-out for working very obviously to include everyone.
64 Oz. Games Kickstarter: Board Games, Now Blind Accessible
64 Oz. Games is a small company that consist primarily of the husband and wife team of Richard and Emily Gibbs. Richard and Emily are board game enthusiasts who have a long and storied history with the NFB (Emily worked as a member of the education team here at the Jernigan Institute a few years ago, and they have stayed active in their home affiliate ever since). They got tired of not being able to share one of their favorite hobbies with their blind friends, and thus their Kickstarter was born. They are working on making board games accessible to blind, color blind, and other disabled gamers.
The initial goal was to purchase a Braille embosser and use it along with plastic sleeves, Braille and QR code stickers to provide information on any number of card games. This part of the Kickstarter has been funded, but... there's more. As the stretch goals are unlocked, the Gibbs are hoping to provide more great stuff to make more games accessible. They've already unlocked one stretch goal for providing downloadable stickers for several games to make them more friendly to color-blind players, and they are working toward unlocking add-on kits for more games, and specialty Braille dice for the games "King of Tokyo," and "Roll Through the Ages".
Let me not forget to mention that Emily and Richard are offering an accessible tactile game that they have developed themselves, to anyone "kicking" in $25 or more called "Yoink!" I'm looking forward to playing it, as it looks like it will be a hoot. It has simple rules, but looks to be very fun.
I just want to play these games. I want to support folks that are making the effort to involve us in an interesting hobby that we have had very little involvement in in the past. I love the way that they are using technology to forward the mission of access for everyone, and I hope you will check it out.
Visit 64 Oz. Games Home Page to find articles, podcasts about the games they are producing kits for, and ramblings from the minds of Emily and Richard, as well as the eventual store, and The 64 Oz. Games Kickstarter to learn more about the project, as well as to make a donation.
Grail to the Thief Kickstarter
Honestly, I don't know much about the "Grail to the Thief" developers, but I want to play their game and expect that many of our readers might share my desire. The project is simple enough, a cross-platform audio adventure game(Mac, PC, and Linux). The premise of the story promises to be amusing. A time traveller (and his sarcastic time machine) has gone back to the days of King Arthur, and is trying to steal the Holy Grail. A player moves through the game via the use of dialog trees and the arrow keys. It is entirely self-voicing using human actors, who for the most part, (as I could see from the demo and the video) were quite decent. It reminded me of a cross between a radio show, and a text adventure. $5 is all it takes to get the goods with this project, as at this level of funding a backer will receive a digital copy of the game, and for what the player is getting, $5 seems to be a pretty good deal.
Unlike 64 Oz. Games, Grail to the Thief isn't a sure thing yet, as it is only about a third of the way funded, but they are only a week in, and have a fairly modest funding goal of $8000, so there's a good chance they will make it if enough people hear about what they are up to.
My favorite games have always been adventure games, and "interactive fiction" so this particular game is scratching one of my special itches. There is a prototype of the game available to download from the Kickstarter page right now, and the game-play video shows that the developers are working hard to include high quality voice work and sound effects to make the game something pretty special.
if you are interested in learning more about "Grail to the Thief" take a look at the Grail to the Thief Kickstarter Page.
Transit iOS App
In the same vein as "Grail to the Thief" I stumbled upon "Transit" completely by accident one day. A few weeks ago, I had been headed into the app store to update some apps, and instead of jumping directly to the update tab, I accidentally brushed my finger across the middle of the screen and found on the "Featured" screen, not another inane and inaccessible game, nor a questionable "productivity" app, but instead a little app called "Transit". I was intrigued. Being a fairly regular user of Google Maps for information on the bus system in town has left me with a desire for a better solution at times. This is not to say that Google Maps is bad, but I always found that I was missing... something when using the Google app, so I was intrigued. At the very fair price of "free", it seemed worthwhile to at least read the description, and possibly download the program. I must say that I am very glad that I did too.
At its heart, "Transit" is an app for finding information on public transit options. It's got support for a wide number of cities, including some in Europe and Asia. It allows a user to set their home and work addresses so it is easy to get a starting point established, and quickly build a route. These features are available in other apps, but there are some rather unique ones in "Transit". One obvious and pleasant advantage of this app, in my opinion, is that it allows a user both to create full-fledged routes to travel from point A to point B with information on all the different ways a user could accomplish the trip, but also simple timetables for the buses and other transit options in the city. It also offers actual ETA's of buses in cities that provide Geolocation data for their vehicles. (Sadly, Baltimore is not one of those cities... so, I've not had the opportunity to test that feature, but it sounds cool.)
All that being said, the real thing that makes Transit shine is the obvious care put into the VoiceOver implementation in the app. The authors were careful to add a number of useful little hints, and pieces of contextual information that make "transit" a much smoother app to use than many of the others in this category. For instance, when a user enters a route that they want to review, they receive a list of graphics on a time line which each represent different ways they could get to their destination. These graphics contain information on which buses are used, when the user needs to leave, and when they are expected to arrive. When a user reviews one, it is written very clearly to make sense to an audio user despite this heavily visual style, the speech of each "time line" is very clear and to the point. "Leaving at 3:24, arriving at 4:23, using lines 14, and 7". This meticulous design permeates the app, and makes it a joy to use. I hope that they are able to continue bringing more transit systems on board, and want success for them, as it’s an impressively designed app, and I would highly recommend giving it a go.
If you live in a big city and regularly take public transit. I'd recommend downloading the Transit App by Samuel Vermette. It's free, it's easy to use, and many of the little details have been nailed. It's hard to ask for more.
As most of our readers know, the Access Technology team runs the Technology Answer Line (Dial (410) 659-9314 and hit option 5 on the main menu) in order to help people find answers to their burning questions about Access Technology. As you can guess, we get any number of interesting and varied questions from all sorts of people, and our initial contact with Shane Wey, the co-creator of the "Melt" app was no exception. Shane called wanting to find out how he could let blind people know about his app.
Shane and his colleagues had recently developed "Melt," an app that they described as "Twitter for Voice". Essentially, the way it works is that a user can create 1-minute voice messages. They can listen to and respond to others’ messages, share them on Facebook, Twitter, on the Web, or via text message. They initially wanted a medium that had a little more personal touch than text, and their answer was short, to the point voice messages. Unfortunately, for blind users, the programmers of Melt were unaware of VoiceOver, or how to make an app accessible, so Melt was not. It contained a number of unlabeled buttons and other elements that made using it difficult, and extremely frustrating. Despite this, having been intrigued by the concept, a few blind folks, particularly a student at the Texas school for the blind, contacted Shane, and explained how much she and others would like to use the app, and how much it would mean if Shane would look into making the app accessible. The Melt team went to work, and began to learn how to add button labels and other needed content to the app. In the meantime, Shane contacted us to find out how he could share the good news of his app with the world. Understandably, we were intrigued. We always have a soft spot for developers who are interested in sharing with our community, and who are eager to partner with blind users, so we chatted for a bit, and Shane promised to let me know when the accessible version of Melt arrived in the app store. As of Thursday, April 10, 2014, the app has dropped, and it is very nicely done. All buttons are now labeled. The flick order is not quite perfect, but very logical, and all the buttons are in order. This is wonderful work from a set of developers who had not been aware of VoiceOver in just the previous version of the program. It's a fun app, a fun community, and an amusing way to (pardon the pun) let your voice be heard.
Since Shane was looking specifically to tell blind folks about his app, and we find it excellent, it seemed only fair to share our thoughts with you all. If Melt sounds like fun to you can download Melt from the iOS App Store for free
Random Keyboard Shortcut
I may be the only one who does this, but I get downright excited when I find a keyboard shortcut that saves me a lot of time and energy, particularly when I do so by accident. The other day, my finger slipped while getting ready to spell check a document in Word (F7), and instead of finding that I had misspelled "reccomend" again... I found that I was selecting text, without having to hold my shift key. "Clever boots." I thought to myself, and did a bit of research to figure out if I could do it again. I could, and even better, that's not the only trick F8 has up its sleeve. Just in case any of you would be as excited as I was to discover this, allow me to list the possibilities.
- Press F8 then use the arrows to select
- Press F8 twice and select a word
- Press F8 three times and select a sentence
- Press F8 four times and select a paragraph
- Press F8 five times and select the document
- Note: Shift F8 reduces the selection
- ESC turns it off
So, that's about all I have in the way of quick little updates to share with you all. I hope that these tidbits have made you as gleeful as they have made me.