Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Force Is My Ally: The Importance of Atmosphere And How It Surrounds Us

As I have struggled through various stages of Vision Impairment and Blindness and back again I have come to recognize how not Sound but Atmosphere plays such an important role in Daily Life. When I step outside post traumatic stress and all the neuroses and phobias that can come with it start to crowd in, So I steel myself for whatever challenges my journey into the "Outside World" may bring.  “For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is.”- Master Yoda, Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back. When our Vision is obscured we tend to reach out with what senses we possess. We listen to and feel everything around us; gathering as much Situational Awareness as we can to understand the environment we are moving through in order to navigate it as safely as possible. We quickly absorb Smells, Sound, a chill in the Air, if the Sun is shining it's Rays upon us, Wind and  other Tactile sensations, we might even feel the "Vibe" around us. The Mac on our desktop allows us to plan ahead with Mapping Tools available online such as Google Maps and others. My limited Vision allows me some benefit from Google's "Street View", when I am trying to find an unfamiliar address on foot. I covered Blind Navigation Tools in my last post so please read it: Is This Where I Get Off.  if you would like to know more. For places you have never been to before there is Safe-T-Informant, by Balsam View LLC, described as a Personal Security iPhone Feature which Notifies you about traveling in potentially unsafe areas! The iPhone or iPad2 augments my reality even further through Zoom Vision when Gestalt images, i.e; (an image pieced together much the way a puzzle is assembled), in our sight fail to make sense, e.g; A Coke®, (Yeah that's right Coke®, you can thank me later) Machine Down the Hall confused for an ATM is identified properly with a quick click of "Camera" and a trip down the hall is not wasted.  If you are blind and alone trying to identify a confusing object or whatever VizWiz by Medicare which empowers you to remotely recruit a sighted assistant who upon receipt of a picture can return spoken answers to interpret the image for you. 
Situational Awareness becomes a greater task to obtain when we are encumbered with Winter Clothing. In the Cold we tend to withdraw from the freezing temperatures both physically and Psychologically into the depths of our Winter Coat with its snuggly hood. When we wear gloves we desensitize one of our greatest sensory assets as a Blind or Vision Impaired Person. My Hands are my Eyes in so many situations and trundling through the snow completely changes the landscape. Each Day as more snow falls, footsteps compact creating new paths, ice forms and melts to glassy or uneven surfaces wiping blank a map of what was well-known territory. For the Vision Impaired and Low Vision individuals Snow also brings the additional challenges of Gray days and Relentless Glare when the Sun peeks out.  You may not want to know I was driving with Two full blown Cataracts at one time but that's the Mad-as-a-Hatter truth! As I drove through Vail Pass in the midst of a Snow Storm I realized the Tunnel through the Rocky Mountains would take me from pure White to complete Pitch Darkness! As I entered the Tunnel, at 65 miles per hour, I couldn't even determine which lane I was driving in. I shouted out loud from behind the wheel to brace my courage, "Use the Force Luke!" I soon saw light at the end of the tunnel and it was ferocious but I had conquered the Darkness and let the White lines guide me to the right side of the road. You might be relieved to know I no longer drive and now take the Bus! Furthermore, Night is the Equalizer, in the Darkness we are all challenged to find our way. Fortunately, the Atmosphere at night and after a fresh Snow does present one advantage and that's the Silence, for sound travels more easily when things are slow and still and it becomes much easier to discern direction and identify the noises we hear.  
Sirens ©2005 Michael O'Morah All Rights Reserved
It is paramount to soothe extreme stress if you are to function effectively in any atmosphere. Your Stress Levels can be mellowed thanks to the built-in iPod, Aural therapy can begin with any song you love so long as it gives you peace. I also use Chakra Balancing and Meditations frequently when I feel a Panic Attack or Episode brought on by a collision with the odd branch or steel cable. One such app that may help turn a bad moment on its head is Universal Thinking Device by, Positive Applications LLC is an app that focuses on positive thinking and affirmations. With the Motto Think, Emote, Act; this app appeals to me as, it parallels some very Buddhist principles like, Right Mind, Right Thought, Right Speech and Right Action.   Many other apps are good for relaxation and stress relief not all of them purposely designed for this!  I may not be great at Bash Em by Kiloo kind of like the arcade game Whack a Mole but it is a great pressure release valve! Ahhhhh.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is This Where I Get Off? You Are Never Alone If You iPhone While Navigating the City

STOP ©1997 Michael O'Morah All Rights Reserved.
When I leave the house it is still dark and I have 3 Miles to walk to my Bus Stop. When there is fog or heavy snow I get very disoriented as would anyone when you can see no discernible landmarks. This sinking lost feeling is so much more heartfelt when you are at the mercy of a bus schedule and you are alone.  When I am riding the bus in bad weather the windows are dirtied with grimy film obscuring the view so much it's like riding in a box. In such conditions and in the Dark it is almost impossible for the Vision impaired or Blind to determine location or how soon your stop will be. Timing your route helps but traffic will always throw of your time of arrival. Fortunately the iPhone and iPad have apps to help in these circumstances. There are two great apps that IK can recommend as Low Vison Friendly and Blind Friendly Navigation tools. First there is Sendaro GPS LookAround, from Sendero Group, LLC. this app offers LookAround prompts will identify your current location. Sendero's menus are in English with the most reliable mapping data in the United States and Western Europe. Sendero costs $4.99 and is compatible with iPhone 3gs and higher ONLY. Requires iOS 4.2 or later. Secondly Ariadne GPS, by Giovanni Ciaffoni, offers voiceover friendly location services, alerts you to a certain destination arrival and can identify street numbers and cross streets and more. Ariadne offers speech in many  Languages: English, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Ariadne is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and also Requires iOS 3.2 or later. The Cost of Ariadne is a $3.99 and personally I like the look and feel a bit better than Sendero but, that's just my taste. I also use Apple's Maps iPhone app for when I just need a quick look at my current location and the Current Location Pin is VoiceOver compatible. Further While Inrix Traffic by Inrix Inc. will read out live traffic alerts such as construction, road hazrds etc. Inrix Traffic does not offer Voiceover Friendly Location alerts. However the buttons all Speak out their use as you touch them and all text reads out loud just fine. So if you are not severely Vision Impaired and want a good co-pilot app for a long journey Inrix Traffic might prove useful to you. Inrix Traffic is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.1 or later. Inrix also offers several Languages: English, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish and it can even speak Alerts in Hillbilly! There are many other GPS and Mapping apps available but these are what I find most useful when I am navigating from my home to places near or far and unknown. I could have used Sendero or Ariadne when I was in New York City visiting all the art galleries. While I was pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers yet, I asked them to read the street signs to determine my whereabouts; I felt a little guilty knowing many of them were in a hurry. Now all I need is a proximity alert to keep me from bashing my knee on park benches and smacking my head on modern art sculptures as I make my way to my bus stop once more. For now all who iPhone or iPad are not Lost

Thursday, July 7, 2011

We Learn Through Play - Blind Gaming And Children's Apps Accessibility

Watertable ©2011 Michael O'Morah
The Blind Community and Persons with Vision Impairment are somewhat in Society when it comes to certain aspects of daily life. Fortunately the perseverance of the Human Spirit constantly discovers or invents new ways to overcome the obstacles for broader integration into our Sight centered world. In the iPad, iPhone and Macintosh community there is Apple's Universal Access which empower developers to create and offer avenues of usability in their apps to the Vision Impaired and Blind. While much forethought and planning goes into integrating Universal Access when developing Productivity, Business and many Educational apps, when it comes to games, accessibility is often overlooked. Happenstance and afterthought can sometimes provide a level of accessibility as can the happy accident but, often the speed or complexity of action is more than any reasonable person could expect to adapt as a "Blind Friendly Game"
"Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities."
Stuart Brown, MD
Contemporary American psychiatrist
There are many games that could easily be made Vision Impaired Friendly and Low Vision Friendly simply by enabling, a Game Speed Control, Zoom, choice of Cross-Hairs for aiming or even Auto-Aim or God Mode when Universal Access is active in the Settings on the Home Screen. For grid based games the assignment of underlying text would be beneficial. In Angry Birds for instance, a getting hot or getting cold Audio or Vibe Indicator for "grabbing" the Bird and "tapping" the Bird  would not be very difficult to incorporate into the game.
These same accessibility ideas should applicable to children's Games and Educational apps. Play at an early age is highly important in building coordination and motor skills. The Brain loves to learn through play and quality gaming is something all children love and need Sighted, Blind or somewhere in-between.
As I review and Build a list of games and educational games I intend to categorize them in three Categories: VI+F = Vision Impaired Friendly, LV+F = Low-Vision Friendly and B+F = Blind Friendly.  No two people play or see exactly the same therefore any recommendations are just that, it will always be a trial and error process. What works for my may not work for someone with serious Macular Degeneration etc... "It's all fun and games til someone loses an eye!" But, for now, we'll keep an eye out for some good games  and keep playing!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Action Games For The Vision Impaired? It's all in the Aim if You Want To Play The Game!

You See My Point of View Now?
The way my eyesight functions is like looking through a plastic baggy smeared with milk and only 40% field of vision. Every time I find a First Person Shooter or other action game for the iPhone or iPad that gets me excited, I am immediately downtrodden to find I can not perceive the details well enough to aim or keep up with the action. Where's the fun in getting ventilated by a Tommy Gun every time you push Start; all because you couldn't hit the broadside of a barn with a shotgun, Ouch! This fact has led me to seek games with an intuitive interface that either automates some visual tracking, aim or other action attribute that many games require you to control in order to add realism and excitement to the game.  So if you deal with Low Vision issues you often have to lower the bar in terms of expectations when choosing a game App. There is Hope however and it comes from not one but many games available in the iTunes App Store. Here is a list of some of my favorite action games and most of these great diversions are free or very low priced. You can read full details on these games in iTunes the purpose of my reviews here is based solely on playability from the viewpoint of Low Vision accessibility.
A Short List of My Current Favorite Games
1. Resident Evil 4: Lite - From Capcom
I'm not saying it's an easy game to play even if you have great vision but the graphics are clear enough and the action is not as fast paced as some games. This gives you time to explore, comprehend the action and participate. Plus the Reesident Evil 4 has an Auto-Aim option.  I am liking this game in Easy Mode for sure!
2. Army of Darkness Defense - From Backflip Studios.
There's an HD Version Too! Free For a Limited Time! This is a simple linear action game but it's simplicity combined with strategic decisions and relentless press of enemies makes it exciting, challenging and fun. Now on the iPhone I can't make out all the details and yet I manage to; survive sometimes, and win!
3. iBomber and iBomber 2 - From Cobra Mobile Ltd.
Lite Versions available too.  These games are great fun and have arcade style excitement that makes you wish you had a pocketful of quarters! As a former Marine, I am ashamed to admit it, but my aim i8s pathetic I can't even make it through the first level but I still have a terrific time wreaking mayhem on the forces below as I play iBomber.
4. Galaga 30th Collection - From Namco Networks America Inc.
Galaga is back! The arcade action in this is as good as it was in the 80's and there's more than one version. Best of all, it's Free! Just keep firing and dodging and you stand almost as good a chance as any other soul trying to save the Universe.
5. Great Little War Game - From Rubicon
Rubicon also offers Lite and HD Versions for the iPad. This Turn based strategy game I had to mention because ut does have some action animating your moves at the end of each turn. You can witness the results of your soldier's combat actions as they struggle to wrest control of Island after Island in bloody, remotely Lego-like, action.  The time based nature of the game makes it easy to get a magnifying glass to discern any fine points you may need to investigate when considering your next move. 
THE OBVIOUS. Angry Birds - From Clickgamer.com
All of the different versions are addictive fun! Need I say more?
That's all for now. I will continue to post my thoughts on accessibility in game apps as I experience them. I hope this was helpful and I will try to focus on the most up to date games. Keep your powder dry!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Printed Text a Problem? Screen Reader Too Expensive? Try OCR w/ Text to Speech. I Like Prizmo!

I used to have to carry reams of enlarged text across campus because I couldn't afford a screen reader. The only large magnifier was in the University Library. Back then having a portable screen reader was prohibitively costly. Now it seems like magic thanks to products like Prizmo from Creaceed. I can perform A scan using your iPhone's Camera. Perform OCR, Optical Character Recognition and then perform Text to Speech in 10 Languages.  Each Voice is an in App Purchase but I am sure well worth it. Here's a Demo Video: http://www.creaceed.com/prizmo/iphone/presentation.html
Prizmo is also available on the Mac OS X Ver. 1.5.6 Snow Leopard Only. Prizmo for IPhone is compatible with the 3gs and the iPhone 4. There are other solutions offered by other Software developers so feel free to shop around. If you need this technology to overcome reading printed text then a Mobile OCR with Text to Speech will fit the frugal budget!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sight and Sound: Speech Recognition is my Hero

Blinding The Titan ©2002 Michael O'Morah All Rights Reserved
Sighted, Blind or Vision Impaired one thing is certain, trying to read an iPhone, iPad or iPod is almost impossible if you haven't got the eyes for it. I was at the Bus Stop the other day and needed to make a quick decision on where to go to get a badly needed can of compressed air; enter, Dragon Search! This app has been my pillar more times than I can count. With Dragon Search you simply touch the "Record" button and speak your search terms.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Apps that Won't Enlarge Text For Maximum Readability

Teardrop©1998 Michael O'Morah All Rights Reserved
If you are a developer that creates an app that is heavily text base you don't want to alienate over 200 million potential customers through the use of static text or limited enlargement of said text. The iPhone's Facebook, the BBC News and AP Mobile apps are prime examples of this shortsightedness. Facebook doesn't even attempt to give you a viable option to enlarge text in the app. Fortunately for Facebook users Facely is available in the app store and it handles text so much better.  BBC News does give you an enlarge text button but they still don't enlarge the font enough to be truly effective. AP Mobile does a slightly better job at text enlargement but many will still find a magnifying glass, reading glasses or even Jeweler's lenses are their only option.  One workaround to all of this is to copy paste the text to a word processing app and enlarging the text there. I will say that while the Craigslist and Craigslist Pro App's Listing's are small in Font size the details can be zoomed via gestures and works very well. Other developers could emulate this approach and make a potential 200 Million or more people say "Now that's a Site for sore eyes!".

World Health Organization Statistics on Blindness and Vision Impairment Worldwide: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/

At First Light

Eye, Michael O'Morah ©1998 All Rights Reserved
I am an avid Apple user and have been for more than 30 years. I lost much of my eyesight 15 years ago. One thing that has stuck with me is Apple's famous catch-phrase "Think Different." and I strive to think different every day. This first of what I hope to be many blog entries to come on different accessibility solutions for the Mac OS and iOS I discover and/or implement to overcome the obstacles of vision impairment. Even If you only need Bifocals you'll be sure to benefit from this blog, so stay tuned. Don't be surprised if I tear down the "Other Guys", when I see them blatantly ignore people with impaired vision. Beyond Apple's Macintosh and iPhone. You can further expect mention of peripheral ideas and products that aid myself and others with similar circumstances.