Monthly Archives: November 2018

How I got past an accessibility snag buying a book on the Pragmatic PRogrammer’s site

Posted on November 28, 2018

Two days ago I was reading some tweets and read one advertising a great deal. I know, the deal is probably over by the time most people read this post, but the books are still worth considering. :
Brian P. Hogan – : Hey folks. You can pick up my new CLI book  “Small Sharp Software Tools”  my Exercises for Programmers book  or my tmux “productive mouse-free development” book  in ebook form of 40% off for a limited time.

They make great gifts.

And I would appreciate the support.

Although graphical interfaces can some times be useful, I always have a terminal window open, so looked at his book and decided buying it would be an upgrade to my command-line know-how . Too bad the site didn’t have more accessibility know-how.

After some stumbling around I made an account on the Pragmatic PRogrammer’s site and had Brian’s book in my cart, but couldn’t get to the checkout screen.

Brian suggested I write to Pragmatic’s support email, and I got back a very helpful response.

Hi Kevin:
I’m sorry for the trouble that your having.
We’ve had this come up in the past. Could you try going directly to
https://t.co/8txuG7N9mg
while logged in to your account. Let me know if that works.

Kind Regards,
Pat the Gerbil

That link worked great, and I was able to breeze through the rest of the buying process.

Although fixing this accessibility snag would be the ultimate solution, at least there is a work around, and I wanted to share it with prospective screen reader using buyers.

And now my gentle message to the rest of the readers who are sighted. As long as ebooks don’t use screenshots when showing terminal commands or program code, they are completely accessible to blind readers, and paying the same price as sighted readers is totally ok by me. “Small Sharp Software Tools” only has a few screenshots, but as far as I can tell all of the terminal output and commands are raw text. Hopefully most if not yet all books from ebook publishers use as much raw text as possible. There are some serious geeks in the blind community, and the more accessible your ebooks, the more we’ll buy them
If a programming book has all of the code in screenshots, the book is completely unusable to blind readers, and they are totally excluded from the knowledge the author is sharing. I bought a book some years ago and all of the code was in images, so beyond not being able to learn from it that book also cost me around $30.
. I suppose screenshots are nice and pretty and all, but they’re also inaccessible to screen reader users; Any readers of this post who are also authors, I thank you for considering this when writing your books in the future.

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My thoughts about what blind people see, or don’t see. Spoiler, it’s not a short answer :)

Posted on November 7, 2018

Being totally blind since birth, I get asked periodically what I see, as if sighted people can’t begin to imagine what not seeing anything would be like if they were blind; this is, actually, in fact the case. Before I had ever been in an airplane I used to have dreams about flying in one, they were all fantastically wrong. My brain had no accurate data to base those dreams on, so it just made things up. While we’re at it, a congenitally blind person will probably not dream visually because they have no visual memories to draw on. A recent study, however, shows that it is still hypothetically possible to do so. Blind people who lost their sight as early as age 5 or 6 can dream visually over the rest of their lives, and many in this situation do; and now we’re getting back to the original question.

Damon Rose, a blind journalist with the BBC has also answered this question, but very differently from what I experience. He had sight until age 13, and went blind for a different reason than I; so beyond that fact that his primary visual cortex somewhat developed, and that his optic nerves may still have some residual connections, he also has visual memories his brain can still play with.

I was born 3 months premature and became blind in an incubator from Retinopathy of Prematurity; destroyed optic nerves, my eyes never grew beyond the size of a 2 year-old’s, my brain eventually remapped. People have respectfully said to me, “If I blindfold myself I can still see black, so is that what you see?”

Seeing blackness means you can distinguish between light and dark, which means you can perceive visually, so I thought about this for a while and came up with an analogy that I think makes sense.

Say you had a radio, and it picked up a bunch of stations. We could say those stations were different colors and the white-noise or static between the stations was black, except I can’t call it black noise, because that actually exists, and  means near absolute silence. Then one day, all of the stations disappear with no explanation, so you still turn on the radio occasionally to see if they come back, but they never do. So now you’re just figuratively hearing black. Then one day you learn those stations will never come back, so you unplug the radio and throw it away. Now you aren’t even hearing black, you’re hearing in fact nothing; as far as the radio is concerned, which actually then would equate to black noise, and that time you had been using to listen to radio stations is now free for other things.

This is basically what the  visual cortex in my brain, and those of congenitally blind people does. Once enough time goes by where there is no input from the eyes through their optic nerves, the brain begins to remap and neuroplasticity happens. When a baby, humans have many billions of neurons all waiting to develop, and totally impressionable; and since 90% of a sighted person’s sensory input is visual, that’s where many of them go. When there is no visual input they get programmed to do other things. When a totally blind person reads braille for example, the same activities go on in the primary visual cortex that happen when a sighted person reads print. Blind people are often thought to hear better than those who can see, but deaf people are also way more observant visually than sighted people who can still hear; in part the brain’s resources devoted to the lost sense redistribute and enhance those that are left. Enhance sometimes means increased, but not always , as in the case of children who lose a sense after age 2 or 3, but in those cases the brain at least is more focused on those senses that remain.

So in my case, what do I see? Absolutely nothing, which is not black; black would have been like the static on that radio, or the number zero. Consider for a moment, that zero is way more meaningful than nothing in mathematics; it is the center of the number line after all.

A much improved way to spell check documents using VoiceOver on iOS beginning with iOS 12.1

Posted on November 6, 2018

There was a way, reproducible though not very convenient to spellcheck documents in iOS 11 using VoiceOver and at the time I thought it was cool though somewhat difficult to remember, but wrote a blog post about it anyway.

A big thank you to Scott Davert, who discovered that in iOS 12.1 the spell checking process was made much more efficient. He recorded it in a recent Applevis podcast from where I learned about it. I have to admit even though I wrote the blog post defining how to correct spelling in iOS 11, I rarely if ever used it and just wrote things on my iPhone as I am now but then corrected the spelling on my MacBook. I think I can honestly say I will correct spelling much more or — probably whenever I write anything beyond a sentence or 2 on my iOS devices in the future. This VoiceOver improvement, truly makes any iOS device a real writing device for blind users.
In fact, I just spell checked the last paragraph possibly in less than 30 seconds on my iPhone, This will be the coolest feature for me in iOS 12.1.

Let’s figure out how to do it.

1. Set VoiceOver rotor to misspelled words.

2. Swipe up or down, or press up or down arrows on your keyboard or braille displays to find the previous or next misspelled word.

3. Move right with a finger or keyboard each time will show you the next in a list of correctly spelled suggestions.

4. If you find the word you want, double tap on it or activate it with your keyboard and it will replace the misspelled word.
5. If the word you want is not in the list, the offensive misspelling you’re on is selected so pressing delete or backspace will erase it. Then you can enter another attempt.

Now maybe I can start blogging directly from iOS. If still in school, I think I could seriously write a paper completely on iOS. Since I almost always use a Bluetooth keyboard, I could even do it on an iPhone. Hey, When not writing blog posts or school papers, spell checking emails will also be a snap.