Top four picks for Braille users of iDevices
by Scott Davert
A common question I receive as a power user of Braille devices on iOS who works with the deaf-blind population is what apps do I find most helpful, and which are most accessible to Braille only users? With over 150 apps on my iDevices, I certainly can't or won't try to list them all. It should be noted that these are my personal picks and do not necessarily mean there aren't other apps I use, or which will serve an individual better based on personal preference. There are also other apps I use which aren't quite as user friendly as the ones listed. Whether you're deaf-blind or blind and just want to silently carry out tasks with VoiceOver sounds off and speech muted, which you can learn more about in my previously posted article, these apps, while working great for Braille users, also handle well with speech, so though this article is targeted at Braille users, speech users should find some value with these apps. Over the coming weeks, I'll be publishing a series of articles in different categories which I use most as a Braille user. for this entry, the category is news apps. In no particular order, here are my top four picks. Why four? Because three is not enough and five would take too long to read and write about.
We interrupt this program....
Breaking News does what the name implies. It works very well with VoiceOver and Braille. It compiles all of the top news stories in one place, so you can quickly get the headlines any time you have a data connection. Better still, the app supports push notifications to alert you of, well, breaking news. It's also free and will let you customize where you receive push notifications from. Some of the places you can get them from include CNN, Fox News, Reuters, the Associated Press, USA Today, the BBC, and many more. You can configure these notifications by going in to Settings and then Breaking. Press a cursor routing button to turn on or off the sources as desired. Or you can do what I do, which is turn all the push notification sources off, and just use it to browse headlines and read articles. The formatting of the articles depends a bit on the source of the article, but I have not run in to anything that I could not read. Just like all other apps, press a cursor routing button on the title of the story to launch the browser with the article enclosed. It should also be noted that because this app has such a generic name, it is recommended that you use the link provided in this article. Alternatively, if you want to search for it manually in the App Store, the one I'm referring to was developed by Vijay Anand.
Where ever you are, you're with the BBC
The BBC News app is an app that simply puts the top stories carried by the BBC in a list of links. Browsing to each story works well, and all elements on the page are readable. The only minor inconvenience is that the top news stories refresh every few minutes, which could make VoiceOver move slightly in its focus. Other than that, it's a model that other content providers should have a look at to compare for accessibility. Browsing the articles and reading their content is very easy to do, and all is accessible via Braille with the exception, of course, of the news summaries which are in either video or audio format depending on whichever you choose. Sadly, there are no transcripts of these summaries. Please note that this version of the BBC news app is the Worldwide version, and not the UK version which gives different UK specific content. Many of the apps by US media sources such as Fox News, USA Today, and others present different challenges for Braille users because of the way their iAds keep refreshing content. In the case of Fox News specifically, when you load any of the tabs, you'll find that none of the stories are labeled, so you have no idea what you are looking at. Sadly, this has been the case with Fox News for at least the past two years, as outlined in in this February 2012 article. With USA Today, the iAds present make the focus of VoiceOver move backwards each time they refresh, wich will kick the Braille user back to the previous paragraph. Because this happens every 90 seconds, it's quite an annoyance.
Well, ok, perhaps you won't always score big with this app, and perhaps your teams won't either. But with Sports Scores and Alerts, you will always be able to keep up with the teams you wish to follow, even in real time. This app offers a scoreboard that is updated within about 30 seconds of the action in the game, schedules, standings, updates on players, and even more features for those participating in fantasy leagues for a premium. You can even have push notifications set up for your favorite teams. There are 3 mislabeled buttons in this app: one called "GoldStar", another in the Games tab called "GrayArrowLeft", and one called "GrayArrow". The "GoldStar" button allows you to pick a favorite team when in the teams tab, and you select one with your cursor routing button. The "GrayArrowLeft" button will take you to the previous time when there is something on the schedule for the Games tab is selected. The "GrayArrow" button will take you to the next scheduled event. Leagues included are the national Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Football league, the English premier League, and many more. To see all of the leagues covered, have a look at the link above which will take you to the page of this app.
Get a line of this
A blog post talking about news apps with regard to accessibility wouldn't be complete without the mention of the NFB Newsline Mobile app This app gives qualifying individuals with a print disability access to over 300 newspapers, over 40 magazines, access to local information based on the address you subscribe from, related to blindness, and local TV listings in many areas. You can add things to your favorites list, email yourself a desired publication in DAISY format, or just read single articles that you find of interest. As long as you live in a qualifying state, and have a print disability, you can gain access to this treasure trove of information that is constantly updated. While they do have publications such as USA Today, the New York Times, a feed with breaking news from CNN, and much more, it has been my experience that the content differs between the app the publisher puts out and what you get through the NFB Newsline application. So while this service is fantastic, and works very well with Braille displays and VoiceOver, it's not exactly a replacement for the mainstream content that you'll find in each app. The NFB Newsline app will also alert you to any severe weather warnings by vibrating and alerting you via audio when you launch the app, though I have found that reading the bulletins causes my Braille displays to become very sluggish. This occurs regardless of whether you're using iOS 6 or 7, and I've also duplicated it with four different displays. If you meet the criteria of having a print disability and wish to apply for membership to NFB Newsline, you can do so from the NFB Newsline Online web page
It's very liberating to me as a deaf-blind person to be able to take full advantage of the technology we have in our society today. Just a decade ago, my access to resources was much more limited if Braille was my only means of accessing the world. Today, with the help of technology, I can be just as well informed about what's going on around me as my sighted and hearing counterparts.
Have your say
There are certainly way more than the four apps listed above. Feel free to chime in and give some of your favorites. I am well aware that there are a lot of audio services out there such as Earl, Umano, and Hourly news, just to name a few. However, I'd like to keep these recommendations to text driven apps.