Introducing FlickType, an accessible third-party keyboard for VoiceOver users on iOS

Introduction

There are many ways which iOS can be customised to improve text input, from handwriting mode, braille mode and the various typing options when using the iOS default keyboard. As smart phone use has increased among blind and low-vision users, the approach to text input has long been a debate, with various options for typing. While it is possible to use a third-party keyboard, sometimes a quicker way of typing has often been the wish of many iOS users.


What is FlickType and how does it work?

Earlier this year, FlickType hit the iOS app store, with amazing results. FlickType enables blind and low-vision users to type quickly using its third-party keyboard, by tapping where they think the letters are on the screen. The app uses a powerful algorithm to interpret the tap of each letter, and brings up a list of suggestions based on what was entered. The user can then flick down with 1 finger to move through the list of words, and flick to the right to select a word, before typing the next one. Readers will be forgiven for thinking it sounds confusing, however having used FlickType myself for 6 months, I can confidently say that I can type just as fast as my sighted peers. One of our analysts said this about FlickType. "I love this ap as I can add words that FlickType does not recognise to the dictionary. For example, my name is Tehani which, the algorithm itself won't recognise. Adding this to the dictionary means that I can sign off all my emails without needing to cycle through all the suggestions that aren't relevant".


What can you do with FlickType?

You can do everything that can be done with the standard iOS keyboard with FlickType, including editing, and inserting your favourite emojis. It is also possible to include any custom shortcuts you may have used with the iOS keyboard, such as the abbreviation ‘OMW’ for on my way. It is possible to export text you have typed if just using the standard app, to iOS notes, mail and so on. However, if using the keyboard option, you can use the keyboard in your chosen app also. To find out more about FlickType, check out The FlickType website (external link).

JAWS verses NVDA

Introduction


One of our new analysts Tehani, gives us her view on screen reader preferences, and why she prefers one over another.


Today screen reader users are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing the right software to meet their needs. In the past, Jaws (Job Access with Speech) had the monopoly. There was supernova, but that didn’t fully meet my needs as a screen reader user. Jaws remained the preferred choice, and will always have a following due to it being one of the original screen readers blind people were trained to use. These days however, voice over and NVDA (None Visual Desktop Access) are starting to be a real alternative, and freedom scientific have to work hard to keep their customers happy.


Recently, NVDA has been receiving many positive plaudits for their work. I was a loyal Jaws user throughout my time in college and university until my husband and I had to consider getting a screen reader for our laptop at home. At college, Jaws was already on the computers, and at university, my disabled student allowance paid for a copy of the same software. We ended up deciding to try NVDA as there was no way that we could afford to spend £800 on Jaws, especially as we would need to spend more on upgrading in the future. In terms of mobile use, I had always used talx on Nokea, so when voice over became available on IOS I switched to that. No more paying for a device, then even more for a screen reader. Learning to use a touch screen took a lot of time but now I wouldn’t go back.


In my opinion, learning to use NVDA was the best thing we could have done, as I personally find it more responsive and intuitive than Jaws. For example, I find it much easier to access all elements from within one list rather than needing to remember several different short cuts. I can still use Jaws, and do so for my job, but honestly, I believe that in future web aim screen reader surveys, NVDA will certainly catch up, if not overtake freedom’s efforts. Saying this, due to its popularity, Jaws will always remain one of the screen readers of choice, especially for students going to university or college.


It is clear from my discussions with colleagues about screen reading technology that opinions are still mixed. When I set about writing this article I had a discussion with my colleagues to find out their views on the various screen reading software available. Starting the discussion, I thought that NVDA would be preferred overall, but I was surprised to discover that support for Jaws was still strong despite the cost and its complexities. I do believe though, that if Jaws is to continue to be a viable option to screen reader users, the cost will have to come down dramatically in order to compete with free options such as NVDA and voice over.

A brief explanation of the EU Accessibility Directive

Introduction

From September 2018, all public sector websites will need to conform to the new European accessibility directive. The directive has some exemptions, and provides additional time for some organisations to update their content and policies which I will detail below. So what is it, how does it affect you? Who is it aimed at? And what about Brexit? All these questions are answered in this post.


What is it?

The directive exists to ensure that all public sector organisations websites and apps are accessible, using existing accessibility standards. It aims to unify the standards throughout all EU member states, and requires that all members have a process in place for testing, and ensuring an on-going commitment to accessibility moving forward.


When does the EU directive take affect and what should I do?

All member states need to comply with the directive from September 2018. As the UK is still part of the EU by this date, it also means that UK public sector organisations should adopt the new directive. Using existing guidelines which form part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), members should ensure that as much content as possible is accessible to all users of desktop and mobile devices, including website and app content respectively. Point 19 of the EU directive indicates this to include textual and none textual information, including downloadable forms and documents, identification and payment processes. Taken from section 19 of the directive: ‘EU Accessibility Directive ST_9389_2016_REV_1_EN’.


What if I add content which is inaccessible?

If content becomes inaccessible, or poses a significant barrier to accessibility resulting from an update and is available for the general public to view, suitable alternatives should be provided to resolve any potential access issue as part of reasonable adjustments. All websites should have an accessibility statement detailing how their offerings can be accessed on desktop and mobile devices, and should list any limitations, such as items which are out of the control of the organisation.


Exemptions

A list of exemptions are included within the directive, to take in to account a variety of scenarios based on other factors which effect public sector organisations. An exemption in this instance means that at the moment, an organisation will not be required to comply, or an organisation will have more time to implement a solution based on their activity online. Point 22 of the directive does indicate that items which may currently be exempt, are subject to change if it is deemed possible to implement accessibility at a later date. In the same way as WCAG, all content should follow the same 4 principles which are:

    1. Perceivable, meaning that content should be displayed in a way that is easily navigated by all users on multiple devices.
      Operable, meaning that all content should be able to be displayed and interacted with by multiple users on a wide range of devices.
      Understandable, meaning that the content and user interface should be presented in a way which is easy to understand and use.
      Robust, meaning that all content and controls will work with a wide range of software including assistive technology.

  • What are the list of exemptions?

    There are several factors which mean that specific organisations may be exempt, however this depends on the operation of the organisation at the time of the legislation being adopted. The following are deemed as excempt as long as certain criteria are met. 1. Office documents, such as spreadsheets and PDFs, published before 23 September 2018; 2. Pre-recorded live video posted before 23 September 2020; 3. Live video (for example, a live press conference); 4. Online maps and mapping services, as long as there is an accessible version providing essential information for navigational purposes; 5. Third-party content which the public sector body has no control over; 6. Reproductions of items in heritage collections which are too fragile or expensive to digitise; 7. The contents of extranets and intranets published before 23 September 2019; 8. The content of web sites and apps which are considered archival, meaning they are not needed for active administrative purposes and are no longer updated or edited; 9. The web sites of schools, kindergartens, and nurseries, except for content pertaining to administrative functions. Taken from The Web Dev Law blog on the EU Accessibility Directive (external link). To view the Accessibility directive in full, visit The EU Accessibility Directive download page (external link).

    Assistive technology training sessions for QA Testers and Developers

    24/04/2018


    Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) are providing Assistive Technology training courses to take place at our Neath Offices. This training is intended to complement our existing offering of training with the added benefit of seeing our staff do what they do best in our test environment, training starting from the end of May.


    What will you get?

    You will be taken through practical demonstrations with some tasks, to help you understand how the technology can be used during a test. You will gain a good understanding of how to get the best out of your assistive technology, and some top tips to get you started. Our training can be tailored so we give you exactly what you need, in a friendly yet professional setting. That’s not all, you will also be given some handouts to use as a guide once our training is complete, so you don’t feel thrown in at the deep end.


    We can accommodate up to 8 people per session, all we ask is that participants have laptops/mobile devices with a headset, particularly for usage of screen reading software training. We can provide additional information about this prior to your arrival.


    Additional information

    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    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.