Using Siri from a blind person's point of view

27/02/2018


As a blind iOS user, I am often asked how I use Siri, the iOS voice assistant which became part of the iPhone 4S and a permanent feature of iOS since then. To avoid confusion, Siri is different from Voiceover, as Voiceover is a fully functional screen reader package, and Siri is a Voice assistant, and is similar to the google assistant on Android. While each person will use their own device slightly differently than another, what follows are some ways that I use Siri, and I hope it might give you some additional options to get the best out of Siri on iOS, or TV OS for Apple TV.


What I do not do with Siri

Firstly I thought it would be a good idea to include just a few examples where I don’t use Siri, mainly from a security point of view, and again these are just my personal views on Siri and may differ from other users of Apple products. I don’t use ‘hey Siri’, and I don’t allow access on the lock screen. While a very useful feature to many, the ‘hey Siri’ option can be activated by another user other than the device owner, which is also why I don’t use Siri on the lock screen. If Siri is allowed access to the lock screen, it is possible for anyone to do anything with your device while it is locked, including adjusting your screen brightness, calling people in your address book, and changing basic settings like your access preferences. Of course someone may use Siri on the lock screen to help find the owner of a lost device, but I am hoping I never need this option, because there is always ‘find my iPhone’, and I guess I am just slightly paranoid about security anyway.


So how do I use Siri?

I sometimes use Siri to send off a quick message which I don’t mind anyone else hearing, so it could be that I use the dictation feature with Siri to remind my wife about an addition to our shopping list. I also use Siri to set a timer when preparing food, or to find a phone number of an organisation which is not in my contact list. Of course there is the old favourite, when I will ask Siri to call a contact for me, and sometimes I ask it to turn on or off Voiceover if my screen reader crashes.


I should add that I haven’t got round to using Siri on my Mac, as I am happy to use the existing commands available at this time with Voiceover. I do use Siri more on the Apple TV though, mainly to open menus, or search for programmes. As there is no ‘clock’ feature on Apple TV that I am aware of, I ask Siri for the time, and it will tell me. I do ask Siri for a quick weather update, and I get a very good description with a 5 day forecast. On Apple TV and iOS respectively, I also use Siri to play audio, and sometimes open apps. So I hope you have some additional tips for using Siri, enjoy and good luck.

A review of the Apple TV with Voiceover

22/01/2018


Introduction

As a totally blind user who is familiar with Voiceover on all Apple products, I have long thought about the accessibility of the Apple TV; and how it works with Voiceover. Recently my wife and I purchased the Apple TV, and it’s now our main device for viewing live and on-demand content. All a person needs is unlimited broadband.


What is Apple TV?

It is a little set-top box which connects to your wifi and a TV, allowing users to stream, download or mirror content from another device on the same network to the Apple TV. The latest version also comes with the Siri remote, which is a small rechargeable remote with 5 buttons in the centre, and a trackpad at the top. The trackpad can be physically pressed down to perform a selection, which is great for Voiceover users as standard gestures can be used to navigate content using the trackpad. All buttons are clearly spaced and are easy to identify with Voiceover running.


Layout of the Siri remote

Holding the remote with the charger connecter nearest to you, the layout of the buttons are as follows. From the bottom left Moving up to the top we have the play/pause button, the Siri button, and the menu button. On the right moving to the top we have the volume down/up, and the home button. Above the buttons is the trackpad, near the top of the remote. The home button also is used to access the app switcher, and to power off the device.


Setting up Apple TV with Voiceover

Once the set-top box is connected and powered on, press the menu button 3 times quickly to switch on Voiceover. You can then use standard gestures to select a language and time zone, and enter your apple ID information or create a new account. Typing on the Apple TV is time consuming, as users need to scroll to each letter and select it. For this reason it will be easier to download the ‘remote’ app to your iOS device, where you can type your information using the standard QWERTY keyboard. Don’t forget you can press the trackpad down, where you will feel a click to confirm a selection, rather than performing a double-tap which is the normal method of selecting items with Voiceover.


Using the Apple TV

The home screen of the apple TV will typically have the default films, TV programmes, settings, search and computers apps. You will also find the app store to install other apps to your apple TV. Some examples of apps might be: BBC iPlayer, Now TV and many others depending on what you require. You can navigate the home screen by making a single finger flick up, down, left or right; and then press down on the trackpad to open an app. Navigating apps is done in a similar way, and selecting a programme from a list will commence playback.


Security and parental controls

If like me you are concerned about young eyes and ears being exposed to content they shouldn’t be, Apple TV comes with parental controls which restrict access to Siri, apps, purchases and programmes by guidance rating. It is also possible to set a passcode for anyone who wants to mirror content to the Apple TV.


Sharing with others

The Apple TV by default allows you to add multiple accounts, this is so that other members of your family or organisation can access and use the TV. It is also possible to quickly turn on, or off Voiceover for sighted users to access their content. Simply just ask Siri to ‘turn off’ or ‘turn on Voiceover’. Another option is to set up the ‘triple click home’ accessibility shortcut, which is available on all iOS and Apple TV devices. This option allows users to press the menu button on the Siri remote, or the home button on iOS devices 3 times quickly to switch on or off a preferred accessibility option. In order to do this go to: Settings, General, Accessibility, and select ‘accessibility shortcut’. Enjoy your Apple TV.

Some top tips for your website

16/01/2018


The uptake of mobile websites and apps, means that we are doing more than ever before via our smart devices. No matter if we are reading, studying, shopping or using social media; gone are the days when we need to sit at a computer. What follows is some top tips to make your website and app accessible.


Include a clear and logical headings structure

Including a clear headings structure, means that everyone can identify the different sections of the page. Headings are of particular benefit to screen reader users, as shortcuts can be used to navigate the headings if needed. If no headings structure is available, it can take longer to find information on a web page or in an app.


Include clear link text and focus highlighting

A clear link text will enable users to identify what will happen when a link is selected. Links such as ‘click here’, or ‘read more’, are not clear examples of link text. Consider using ‘click here to find out more about DAC’ for example, or ‘read more about our services’ is a good solution. Including clear highlighting when users navigate through a series of links is a good solution for low-vision users moving forward.


Avoid relying on colour alone to convey information

If a form is submitted with mistakes, a clear error handling process should be used. If items for correction are marked in red for example, screen reader users will not be aware of what is required. Including focus to the error messages will be a good work around for this.

Latest updates to NVDA 2017.4

13/12/2017


By Mike Jones Screen Reader Analyst (DAC)


Anyone who uses Non Visual Desktop Access (otherwise known as the NVDA screen reader) for windows, will be aware of some recent problems when using the software. What follows is an overview of the latest improvements and fixes to NVDA if you update to the current version, and some improvements to how NVDA works with Mozilla Firefox.


The elements list

The elements list ‘insert+f7’, now includes menus for form fields and buttons. This is an addition to the previous menus available which were links, headings and landmarks, and will make identifying edit fields and buttons much more efficient and less problematic. Fieldset and legend has now been provided with more support.


The previous situation was that NVDA would not announce the fieldset, even where the developer had provided this information. After significant investigation, I have found that the form field menu found within the elements list still does not support this area. However when the user navigates using the ‘f’ key which navigates to the next form field, the ‘r’ key to move to the next radio button, or the tab key to move to the next element some support is given. I found that when using these keys the fieldset and legend announces for the first radio button on the page, however this does not extend to other radio buttons within that group. I also found that once I had navigated past the radio button, and used shift+f to move to the previous form field, the fieldset and legend announced for the last radio button in the group. Where multiple questions appear on a page, the fieldset and legend will announce for each first option of the group, meaning it is now far easier to distinguish between questions when using one of these key strokes.


This affects us when testing with NVDA, as it now means that to some extent we can now test for fieldset and legend wen using radio buttons, and so can directly compare with JAWS. However I would caution against relying on this 100%, because although this area has improved significantly for the last update, it is still not reading for all radio buttons within a group. As such I would now recommend the following methods of testing (when not browsing using the cursor keys)


Testing with NVDA and looking for headings

To test for the levels of heading, use the ‘H’ key, as at present the heading levels are still not supported using the elements list ‘insert+f7.’


Form element labels

The user can now test for form element labels by using the ‘f’ key for all form elements, the ‘e’ key for edit fields, the ‘b’ key for buttons and can now locate these items using the elements list.


Radio buttons/fieldset and legend

The User should test using either the tab key, the ‘r’ key or the ‘f’ key,’ remembering that only the first option of a group will announce when cycling forward, and the last option when cycling backwards. The fieldset and legend is still not supported within the elements list, so this should be avoided for testing purposes.


A note on NVDA and Firefox

NVDA 2017.4 appears to have partially fixed the issue announced in November relating to Firefox, and NVDA appears to work in some instances. We would advise keeping in touch with the latest developments from NV Access on this, and other developments relating to NVDA by visiting their blog at: NVDA’s In Process Blog (external link.)

The future of Artificial Intelligence: A future for all

07/08/2017


We now live in a world where artificial intelligence, and assistive technology is more accessible than ever before. In my previous post ‘the update round up’, I highlight some of the new updates to Apple, Windows, Android and iOS; and how each offering will improve access to content on mobile and desktop devices for various user groups. What about the day-to-day usage of artificial intelligence though? It’s actually closer to hand than we think.


Artificial intelligence or (AI), is fast becoming the norm in our daily lives. The first thing to identify is that it doesn’t just help people who have additional access requirements, all users regardless of whether or not they use assistive hardware or software benefit from using AI. If you have ever asked a virtual assistant such as Siri, Google, Alexa or Cortana to do something, you’re using AI. The technology is also developing to learn what we use most of all, and adapt to our digital habits. So if you frequently use Cortana to open aps or set reminders, it will become familiar with this task, and any others you use.


The use of AI can be incorporated in to apps, something which is on the increase with updates to the various desktop and mobile operating systems. This means that any third-party items which are installed to a device will be able to take advantage of AI, as long as the developer has included this functionality when producing the app. One app for iOS which is aimed at supporting blind or low vision users is Seeing AI. The app has various features including document scanning, a barcode reader, and the ability to share information via the iOS share sheet. This means that the app will be able to identify items from the camera roll, allowing users to include names for individuals in a picture such as relatives for example. So the use of AI is increasing as the updates and overall development of technology continues.


Additional Resources

To learn more about AI including the Seeing AI app, visit the following pages. *Note* The Seeing AI app is not available in the UK app store at the time of writing, when it is I will be giving it a good run through. The Seeing AI app for iOS (external link). The Cortana website (external link). All about Siri (external link). All about the Google Assistant (external link).