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The BEAT (Buhse's Easy Assistive Technology)

Keep watching this page for more useful tips, or contact Jeff Buhse, Assistive Technologist at Student Accessibility Services, jeffrey.buhse@umanitoba.ca or 204-391-4452, to find out more about assistive technologies.

Article Archive


April 2015

Note-taking Apps

Have you ever been at a meeting and realized part way through that you haven't been paying attention? You have no idea how you are now a part of a new committee although you have your whole birthday party planned out in your mind? Or perhaps you just have a hard time keeping good notes while trying to participate fully in the conversation. Well, there are solutions to help with this! There are many apps for smartphones and tablets that allow you to type up meeting notes while the device records the audio.

The great thing about a lot of these apps is that they not only record the audio, but they connect the text with the audio. So, when you select a certain point in your notes, it will play the audio that was recorded when you typed that part of the notes. One of my favourite apps for this is "Notability." This one is only available for the iPad but there are a lot of other apps out there that are compatible with Android that will do similar things. Notability allows you to type, write/draw, highlight, and insert images all while recording the audio. What is really nice about this particular app is that when you want to listen to the audio that corresponds to the notes, you just click and it plays the audio while highlighting the text to help you follow along. This is a form of ocular tracking - similar to karaoke.

You should confirm with the meeting participants that they are comfortable with you recording what is being said aloud. As long as there aren't any objections, you will have some of the best meeting notes around!

Contact Jeff Buhse, Assistive Technologist at Student Accessibility Services or 204-391-4452, to find out more about assistive technologies

March 2015

Portable Screen Readers

If you have been following The BEAT, you now know how to use some common technologies to read all sorts of things aloud to you using a variety of text-to-speech software. You also know how to ensure all of your documents are produced in a format that will work for those who may have a print disability (blind/low vision, learning disabilities, etc.). But, what happens when friend of a person needing an accessible format is invited to dinner to a restaurant that does not have their menu posted in an accessible format or they decide last-minute to go out for some fun?

For many years, there have been lots of different tools to help with this issue, primarily portable screen readers. You would have a camera-like with a large screen on the back side that you can take a picture of whatever you need to read which then does a fast OCR (optical character recognition) of the image and then reads it aloud to you. There are a variety of options with this technology, some intended for zooming in to make the text larger (basically an electronic magnifying glass), some just read aloud to you, while others will show the text slightly larger and highlight the words as it read (just like karaoke). Some even come with a portable stand that includes a guide to make it easy to align the document (very useful for someone who cannot see where the paper is and how to focus).

The problem with traditional handheld screen readers is that they can be expensive. Thankfully, with the common use of smart phones and tablets this technology is becoming easier to own and use. There are many different apps available that allow a person to take a picture of a menu (or any printed material) and have it converted into whatever accessible format is needed. It is important to realize that this will never be a replacement for a well-made, accessible document but it does allow for some additional independence for a person who has a print disability.

Contact Jeff Buhse, Assistive Technologist at Student Accessibility Services or 204-391-4452, to find out more about assistive technologies

February 2015

Speech Recognition

Have you ever thought to yourself "I wish I didn't have to type today"? Or perhaps "I type so slow but I can talk so fast"? Well, have I got the solution for you – Speech Recognition software!

With things like Siri (for iPhone), people are becoming much more aware of such software, but did you know that most computers have some speech recognition capabilities built right in? Windows 7 and 8 along with any Mac produced in the last 5 years will have some pretty decent built-in speech recognition software that you can work with so you speak and computer types. For some people this will work great, but for others this software isn't very accurate. This is where Dragon Naturally Speaking (Dragon Dictate for Mac) can help. Dragon allows a person to speak while the computer types it out with high accuracy – each person can train a voice file and add in custom vocabulary – the more you use it the better it gets. This can come in handy for anyone who may have some specialized terminology (a lot of students really benefit from this). There is even an iPhone/iTouch app that you can dictate into your phone and connect it to your computer later to then have it produce a text document.

Dragon is one of the more affordable assistive technologies that Student Accessibility Services works with – starting at approximately $100 this is a program that is used by far more than just the disability community. A lot of graduate students who require transcripts of focus groups will use Dragon in a technique called "parroting" where they listen to an audio file and speak what is being said and then end up with a text document all transcribed, much easier and faster than having to type it up. Dragon was originally designed for doctors and lawyers to negate the need to speak into a Dictaphone and have their assistant type it up later, and now there are several different editions of Dragon (including legal and medical editions which come pre-loaded with extra vocabulary) but most people will benefit from the standard edition.

If you have any questions about Dragon or would like to see it in action, please feel free to contact me.

Keep watching The Loop for more useful tips, check out the SAS website, or contact Jeff Buhse, Assistive Technologist at Student Accessibility Services, Jeff.buhse@umanitoba.ca or 204-391-4452, to find out more about assistive technologies.

January 2015

Online Accessibility

For this edition of The BEAT I am going to stray from my usual format slightly. I usually provide some useful tips on how to better utilize the universal design features within your devices – the "how" questions, however, in this edition I am going to talk briefly about the "why" questions.

When I was a student, it was pretty easy to get by without any technical know-how… to be completely honest, I didn't realize there was a different between JUMP and JMP for my STAT 1000 class and I did just fine… this wasn't even that long ago! But now, the university environment has become very dependent on different web-based systems that it would be impossible to make it through university without using a variety of different online tools. The trends all point to a much more integrated learning experience, even libraries are keeping less paper-copy books and have much more available in terms of online e-books. When it comes to accessibility, for users with visual, cognitive, or learning disabilities (or many others), this can be a wonderful thing as it opens many doors that wouldn't be available to these students, but at the same time this can have the complete opposite effect depending on the level of web accessibility.

Web accessibility is exactly what you think it is… how accessible your little corner of the internet is. Within the term "web accessibility" there is two sides of "how accessible is my website"? The first is quite technical, full of acronyms like WCAG 2.0, W3C, and HTML (you've probably heard of this one before). These are all things that you will have very little control over – WCAG 2.0 is the set of guidelines and standards for web developers when they are writing code, W3C is the organization that writes the guidelines, and HTML is the code itself (there are other codes as well, HTML is very popular). The University buys software already coded from software developers so it is easier for our own university community to enter information onto our website. Now this is where we come in; the second side of web accessibility is content accessibility. When university staff produce documents to go on the website and give them to Joey to put up, it doesn't matter how accessible the technical side of the website is, if the content isn't made with accessibility in mind it won't be accessible to everyone.

Now it is time for my shameless plug, if you would like more information on how to ensure the documents you are uploading to the website is accessible, check out previous editions of The BEAT or this page of links on how to make accessible documents. Ensuring the U of M website is accessible to everyone is important for several reasons, the first of which is that it is the right thing to do. The second, of course, is that soon the Accessibility for Manitobans Act will require it… so it will be the law, and nobody likes a lawsuit. The U of M has started to take the technical side of web accessibility very seriously and I hope that you will do the same as content providers.

Keep watching LOOP for more useful tips, check out the SAS website, or contact Jeff Buhse, Assistive Technologist at Student Accessibility Services, Jeff.buhse@umanitoba.ca or 204-391-4452, to find out more about assistive technologies.


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