The Sighted Guide to VoiceOver

Recently, I decided to turn my iPhone screen off, and use only VoiceOver at work for forty days. As the longtime lone sighted person on a team of blind access technology specialists, I will never have the same everyday user familiarity with JAWS or VoiceOver as my blind colleagues, but I strive for as much knowledge of any of these as possible. I’ve read a number of articles from mainstream journalists about accessibility. Some are good; but the majority miss the finer points (and sometimes the not-so-fine points) of how the technology works. Worse, they often miss how blind people operate. Ironically, the most common mistaken assumption is that blind people are somehow different from sighted ones; that they somehow have different needs, different hearing, different lives, and a lot more patience.

Drafts – Flexible, Accessible, and Fun Text Editor for iOS

Hey everybody, did you miss me?
?  *crickets chirp*

Ok, I’ll take that as a yes.  Anyhow, we’ve been very busy on the access technology team lately. With meetings to attend, projects to complete, and IBTC tours to provide, I have found it increasingly necessary to pull together a portable toolbox that will help me make sure I don’t miss something critical, (or interesting). Calendars, to do lists, organizers, e-mail, and notetaking solutions are all required tools to keep me focused and working toward my ultimate goal… world domination… er.. no.. I meant assisting in the effort to expand non-visual access to technology.  

3D Printing Tactile Graphics 101

One of the most popular areas in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (a.k.a. the Lab) are the tactile graphics tables. 3D printing has been in the media a lot over the last three or four years, and no wonder – here are our dreams of Star Trek’s Replicator made flesh at last. The dreams of what these machines can and could do are everywhere - 3D printing on the moon! In space! 3D printed prosthetics! It’s all very exciting.

National Federation of the Blind Indoor Navigation Challenge

The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute is the premier research and training institute that applies the collective knowledge and life experience of the blind to the development of innovative solutions to the barriers faced by blind people. We are designing the National Federation of the Blind Indoor Navigation Challenge to combine our expertise and experience with that of other technology and research professionals to partner in the development of universally designed access tools and strategies that enhance independent travel for the blind.  Blind people effectively use tools and strategies like white canes, guide dogs, mental mapping, echolocation, and problem-solving skills to acquire and use environmental information to travel safely and independently outdoors and indoors.

Cosmo Brailler and BERT Software Overview

The Cosmo Electronic Brailler and BERT (Braille Education Remote Training) software are produced and sold by Electronic Brailler LLC. The Cosmo is a Braille writer with several electronic functions, including acting as an input keyboard and embosser for the Duxbury Braille Translator, and working in conjunction with the BERT software. BERT is an online tool, also from Electronic Braillerthat allows a teacher to teach up to 15 students simultaneously over the internet. Teachers can have class discussions by the teacher typing into the computer using six-key entry, and the text will be Brailled on the students’ Cosmo. The software also allows the uploading and completion of assignments, which can then be archived for future reference.

VarioUltra Overview

The VarioUltra is the latest Braille display from Baum. It comes in both 20 and 40-cell models, for $2,395 and $3,995 respectively. The 20-cell model will be reviewed here. The VarioUltra is a slim, well-built display that also has the ability to function as a basic notetaker on its own. The included applications include a word processor, PDF viewer, spreadsheet viewer, calculator, countdown timer, stopwatch, and an alarm clock. The display can connect with JAWS for Windows, Window-Eyes, NVDA, VoiceOver on both the Mac and iOS, and BrailleBack for Android. Currently, some screen access software and devices do not have VarioUltra drivers, so display emulation is needed, which will be discussed later.

Health, Mobility and Navigation Focus Group at Washington Seminar

The greatest asset the National Federation of the Blind possesses is our membership.  In an effort to continue to ensure that our voices are heard in the evaluation and development of accessible biotechnology tools and strategies, we are recruiting participants for a focus group on health, mobility, and navigation on Monday, January 26 from 8:30 to 12:30 at the Holiday Inn Capitol. This is the morning of the Great Gathering In of our Washington Seminar. There is only room for 20 participants, so interested individuals should contact Clara Van Gerven at (410)659 9314 x2410 or at, as soon as possible. Whether or not you are able to participate, you are encouraged to take the time to complete, and share, the survey referenced below.  

TRF Survey

The Therapeutic Research Foundation (TRF), with input from the access technology team at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the only research and training institute developed and directed by blind people, has created a survey on health, mobility, and navigation. TRF is inviting blind and low-vision participants to take the survey to help them create the next generation of navigational tools. The data gathered will be used specifically to do research and development, so please consider taking the time to complete the questionnaire and help them build a device that will serve your needs. Depending on your responses, the survey will take 5-15 minutes, and your impact will shape the future of the project.

You can take the survey at


Web Accessibility Training Day session recordings

For those of you who have an interest in web accessibility, but were not able to attend the Web Accessibility Training Day on September 9, the recordings of those sessions are now available at There were some really great talks, and I especially recommend Eve Hill’s keynote. It was a real honor to have such a great list of speakers.

The Wrong Choice for the National Council on Disability

The recently passed Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) made changes to the appointment process for the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency that advises the president, Congress, and federal agencies on matters of disability policy. Under the new law, the majority and minority leaders of both houses of Congress can each appoint one member to the NCD. Sadly, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the senate majority leader, has made a dreadful choice in exercising this appointment power. Senator Reid has appointed Robert “Bob” Brown, who is from Senator Reid’s home state of Nevada, to the NCD. Mr.


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