Posts Tagged ‘customized search’

Vision What do Vision Losers want to know about technology?

April 5, 2010


Hey, I’ve been off on a tangent from writing about adjusting to vision loss rather on a rant about and praise for website accessibility. Also absorbing my blogging efforts was a 2nd run of Sharing and Learning on the Social Web, a lifelong learning course. My main personal tutors remain the wise people of #a11y on Twitter and their endless supply of illuminating blog posts and opinions. You can track my fluctuating interests and activities on Twitter @slger123.

To get back in action on this blog, I thought the WordPress stat search terms might translate into a sort of FAQ or update on what I’ve learned recently. Below are subtopics suggested by my interpretations of the terms people used to reach this blog. Often inaccurately, some people searching for tidbits on movies or books called ‘twilight’ might be surprised to read a review of the memories of an elder gent battling macular degeneration in the 1980s. Too bad, but there are also people searching for personal experience losing vision and on technology for overcoming limitations of vision loss. These folks are my target audience who might benefit from my ramblings and research. By the way, comments or guest posts would be very welcome..


This post focuses on technology while the next post addresses more personal and social issues.

Technology Theme: synthetic speech, screen readers software, eBooks, talking ATM

Terms used to reach this blog

  • stuff for blind people
  • writing for screen readers
  • artificial digital voice mp3
  • non-visual reading strategies
  • book readers for people with legal blind
  • technology for people with a print-disability
  • apps for reading text
  • what are the best synthetic voices
  • maryanne wolf brain’s plasticity
  • reading on smart phones
  • disabled people using technology
  • synthetic voice of booksense
  • technology for legally blind students
  • audio reading devices
  • reading text application
  • synthetic speech in mobile device
  • the use of technology and loss of eyesight
  • installer of message turn into narrator

NVDA screen reader and its voices

    Specific terms on NVDA reaching this blog:

  • NVDA accessibility review
  • voices for nvda
  • nvda windows screen reader+festival tts 1
  • videos of non visual desktop access
  • lag in screen reader speaking keys
  • nvda education accessibility

Terminology: screen reader software provides audio feedback by synthetic voice to users operating primarily on a keyboard, announcing events, listing menus, and reading globs of text.


How is NVDA progressing as a tool for Vision Losers?
Very well with increased acceptance. NVDA (non Visual Desktop Access) is a free screen reader developing under an international project of innovative and energetic participants with support from Mozilla and Yahoo!. I use NVDA for all my web browsing and Windows work, although I probably spend more hours with nonPC devices like the Levelstar Icon for Twitter, email, news, RSS as well as bookSense and Bookport for reading and podcast listening. NVDA continues to be easy to install, responsive, gradually gaining capabilities like Flash and PDF, but occasionally choking from memory hog applications and heavy duty file transfers. Rarely do I think I’m failing from NVDA limitations but I must continually upgrade my skills and complaint about website accessibility (oops, there I go again). Go to:

The voice issue for NVDA is its default startup with a free open source synthesizer called eSpeak. The very flexible youngsters living with TTS (text-to-speech) their whole lives are fine with this responsive voice which can be carried anywhere on a memory stick and adapted for many languages. However, oldsters often suffer from Synthetic voice shock” and run away from the offensive voices. Now devices like Amazon Kindle and the iPod/iTouch gadgets use a Nuance-branded voice quality between eSpeak and even more natural voices from Neo Speech, ATT, and other vendors. Frankly, this senior citizen prefers older robotic style voices for book reading especially when managed by excellent firmware like Bookport Classic from APH. Here’s the deal: (1) give eSpeak a chance then (2) investigate better voices available at Voice and TextAloud Store at Nextup.com. Look carefully at licensing as some voices work only with specific applications. The main thing to remember is that your brain can adapt to listening via TTS with some practice and then you’ll have a world of books, web pages, newspapers, etc. plus this marvelous screen reader.

Apple Mania effects on Vision Losers

Translation:What are the pro and con arguments for switching to Apple computers and handheld devices for their built in TTS?
Good question. Screenless Switcher is a movement of visually impaired people off PCs to Macs because the latest Mac OS offers VoiceOver text-to-speech built in. Moreover, the same capabilities are available on the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad, with different specific voices. Frankly, I don’t have experience to feel comfortable with VoiceOver nor knowledge of how many apps actually use the built-in capabilities. I’m just starting to use an iTouch (iPod Touch) solely for experimentation and evaluation. So far, I haven’t got the hang of it, drawing my training from podcasts demonstrating iPhone and iTouch. Although I consider myself skilled at using TTS and synthetic speech, I have trouble accurately understanding the voice on the iTouch, necessary to comfortably blend with gesturing around a tiny screen and, gulp, onscreen keyboard. There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here as I need enough apps and content to make the iTouch compelling to gain usage fluency but need more fluency and comfort to get the apps that might hook me. In other words, I’m suffering from mild synthetic voice shock compounded by gesture shyness and iTunes overload.


My biggest reservation is the iTunes strong hold on content and apps because iTunes is a royal mess and not entirely accessible on Windows, not to mention wanting to sell things I can get for free. Instead of iTunes, I get my podcasts in the Levelstar Icon RSS client and move them freely to other devices like the Booksense. Like many others with long Internet experrience, such as RSS creator and web tech critic Dave Winer, I am uncomfortable at Apple’s controlling content and applications and our very own materials, limiting users to consumers and not fostering their own creativity. Could I produce this blog on an iPad? I don’t know. Also, Apple’s very innovative approach to design doesn’t result in much help to the web as a whole where everybody is considered competitors rather than collaborators for Apple’s market share. Great company and products, but not compelling to me. The Google OS Android marketplace is more open and will rescue many apps also developed for Apple products but doesn’t seem to be yet accessible at a basic level or in available apps. Maybe 2010 is the year to just listen and learn while these devices and software and markets develop while I continue to live comfortably on my Windows PC, Icon Mobile Manager and docking station, and book readers. Oh, yeah, I’m also interested in Gnome accessibility, but that’s a future story.

The glorious talking ATM

Terms used to reach this blog

  • talking ATM instructions
  • security features for blind in ATM


What could be more liberating than to walk up to a bank ATM and transact your business even if you cannot see the screen? Well, this is happening many locations and is an example for the next stage of independence: store checkout systems. Here’s my experience. Someone from the bank or experienced user needs to show you where and how to insert your card and ear buds plug. After that the ATM should provide instructions on voice adjustment and menu operations. You won’t be popular if you practice first time at a busy location or time of day, but after that you should be as fast as anybody fumbling around from inside a car or just walking by. Two pieces of advice: (1) pay particular attention to CANCEL so you can get away gracefully at any moment and (2) always remove ear buds before striding off with your cash. I’ve had a few problems: an out of paper or mis-feed doesn’t deliver a requested receipt, the insert card protocol changed from inline and hold to insert and remove, an unwanted offer of a credit card delayed transaction completion, and it’s hard to tell when a station is completely offline. I’ve also dropped the card, sent my cane rolling under a car, and been recorded in profanity and gestures by the surveillance camera. My biggest security concern, given the usual afternoon traffic in the ATM parking lot, is the failure to eject or catch a receipt, which I no longer request. But overall, conquering the ATM is a great step for any Vision Loser. It would also work for MP3 addicts who cannot see the screen on a sunny day.

Using WordPress</h4

Terms:

    >

  • Wordpress blogging platform accessibility >

  • wordpress widget for visual impaired

Translation: (1) Does WordPress have a widget for blog readers with vision impairments, e.g. to increase contrast or text size? (2) Does WordPress editing have adjustments for bloggers with vision impairment?


(2) Yes, ‘screen settings’ provides alternative modes of interaction, e.g. drag and drop uses a combo to indicate position in a selected navigation bar. In general, although each blog post has many panels of editing, e.g. for tags, title, text, visibility, etc. these are arranged in groups often collapsed until clicked for editing, if needed. Parts of the page are labeled with headings (yay, H2, H3,…) that enable a blog writer with a screen reader to navigate rapidly around the page. Overall, good job, WordPress!


However, (1) blog reader accessibility is a bit more problematic. My twitter community often asks for the most accessible theme but doesn’t seem to converge on an answer. Using myself as tester, I find WordPress blogs easy to navigate by headings and links using the NVDA screen reader. But I’m not reading by eyesight so cannot tell how well my own blog looks to either sighted people or ones adjusting fonts and contrasts. Any feedback would be appreciated, but so far no complaints. Frankly, I think blogs as posts separated by headings are ideal for screen reading and better than scrolling if articles are long, like mine. Sighted people don’t grok the semantics of H2 for posts, h3, etc. for subsections, etc. My pet peeve is themes that place long navigation sidebars *before* the contnent rather than to the right. When using a screen reader I need to bypass these and the situation is even worse when the page downloads as a post to my RSS clinet. So, recommendation on WordPress theme: 2 column with content preceding navigation, except for header title and About.

Books. iBooks, eBooks, Kindle, Google Book Search, DAISY, etc.

Terms

  • kindle+accessibility
  • how to snapshot page in google book
  • is kindle suitable for the visually impaired?
  • how to unlock books “from kindle” 1
  • is a kindle good for partially blind peo 1
  • access ability of the kindle

I’ll return to this broad term of readers and reading in a later post. Meantime, here’s an Nytimes Op article on life cycle and ecosystem costs of print and electronic books. My concern is that getting a book into one’s sensory system, whether by vision or audio, is only the first step in reading any material. I’m working on a checklist for choices and evaluation of qualities of reading. More later.

Searching deeper into Google using the Controversy Discovery Engine

You know how the first several results from a Google search are often institutions promoting products or summaries from top ranked websites? These are often helpful but even more useful, substantive, and controversial aspects may be pushed far down in the search list pages. There’s a way to bring these more analytic pages to the surface by easily extending the search terms with words that rarely appear in promotional articles, terms that revolve around controversy and evidence. Controversy Discovery engine assists this expanded searching. Just type in the term as you would to Google and choose from one or both lists of synonym clusters to add to the term. The magic here is nothing more than asking for more detailed and analytic language in the search results. You are free to download this page to your own desktop to avoid any additional tracking of search results through its host site and to have it available any time or if you want to modify its lexicon of synonyms.
Some examples:

  1. “print disability” + dispute
  2. “legally blind” + evidence Search
  3. “NVDA screen reader” + research Search
  4. “white cane” + opinion Search
  5. “Amazon Kindle” accessibility + controversy Search

    Feedback would be much appreciated if you find this deeper search useful.

    Adjustment themes: canes, orientation and mobility, accessibility advocacy, social media, voting, resilience, memories, …

    Coming in next post!

    Advertisements

Need a second medical opinion? Try the Controversy Discovery Engine.

June 3, 2008

A better way to search for analytic web content??

This post offers a way of searching for more diverse and analytic results using a simple web form interface to Google. This approach is especially useful when you are looking for a second opinion, evidence, or authorities on topics like we sometimes face with vision loss. It can also make querying and searching more efficient for our weary fingers by slicing off less useful results from searches. Please give it a try and let me know if it improves your searching.

Searching for better information on ‘myopic degeneration’

First, some background. My recent Retinal Specialist appointment provoked my curiosity as my Myopic Macular Degeneration (MMD) seems to have stabilized. I have been wondering about origins and distributions of this condition, as I have only met other MMD people on the more comprehensive Macular Degeneration mdsupport.org earlier post. There’s always a sliver of hope for improvement, possibly from research driven out of the U.S. by stem cell policies. And, always, looms the now effective intervention of repair surgery or injections for retinal detachments or so-called “wet” conditions.

Time to update myself, so I go to Google and find the usual results for the query "myopic macular degeneration". Top results are mostly generic overviews "MMD is related to AMD", but I also find a lengthy Myopic Manual.

Embellishing searches with controversy-related terminology

Fourteen years of searching has taught me I might need to go quite fa r down the Google results list to get into more in-depth discussions. I really wanted to know about the controversies, debates, arguments, and even spats in the related field of ophthalmology, genetics, nutrition etc. So, why not just add the word "controversy" to the query. Indeed, I see different results, but why stop there? Speaking linguistically, and assuming Google is fairly literal, I might want to use variations such as "controversial" or "controversies". Then the thesaurus adds synonyms such as "debate", "argument", "disagreement", and many more, each with variants. Now, I also want supporting material so I might ask for "evidence”, “proof”, “hypotheses”, “opinion” and all these variants. This is a lot of decision making on synonyms and support and variant, typing each and saving for reading those interesting results.

A simple form customizes controversy-related content

Primarily, I am getting deeper and faster into the subject matter. Is there a better way to query Google to achieve these goals? Well, yes, as I tried 5 years ago and dubbed the Controversy Discovery Engine. Go ahead and try it. Type your query into the search box, choose a controversy synonym, optionally select a kind of support, and hit the button. Your embellished query will be sent to Google, asking for 50 results. That’s all there is to it. You might or might not get better results than your hand-crafted queries but at least you now have a lot of packaged queries with just a few extra clicks.

An experiment on ‘Do search engines suppress controversy?’

Why do I claim this approach often works better? Well, driven by curiosity, I performed an empirical study on "Do Search Engines Suppress Controversy?" that was published in First Monday January 2004 online. Now, it’s not that search engines or search engineers have political agendas, but rather just an effect of the link popularity strategy that makes Google search work so well. The web splits into an Organizational web which links the promoters, explainers, and associations for a topic apart from the Analytic Web that includes scholarly papers, blogs, white papers, individuals, etc. The Organizations link among each other and people link to organizations more than the Analytic Web pages are linked to from the Organizational Web or within the Analytic Web. This pushes controversies down the list of search results. Usually controversies are hard to name in queries and you need to know the controversy exists by some name to query for it.

For example, one controversial aspect of Albert Einstein was whether the first wife he dumped had contributed rather more to his research career than was acknowledged. Query for "Albert Einstein AND Mileva Maric" and, voila, the controversy is revealed in various levels of details and with arguments on both sides of the story. Bet you didn’t know that! Using a synonym for controversy raises pages that discuss his personal life and produce the names, like Serbian physicist Mileva Maric, for additional searches. This particular revelation ebbs and flows with the tide of publications on his work and life. So, our approach is to use the language of human endeavors that involve research and the give-and-take of the intellectual marketplace to morph our searches more into the Analytic Web.

More seriously, for medical conditions, people facing surgical decisions want all and the most authoritative information they can get as fast as it can be found. So we offer the Controversy Discovery Engine as a kind of “second opinion” information seeker. Please provide feedback and suggestions to slger123@gmail.com. This web page may also be modified for similar uses with appropriate link and acknowledgement. If you’re intrigued with this topic, which won me the proverbial 15 minutes of fame in the blogosphere, read the paper and its five examples: St. John’s Wort, female astronauts, Albert Einstein, Belize, and distance learning. For the real search gurus, the software instrument used in this experiment, dubbed twURL, is available for licensing.

For visually impaired readers, here is a bit more advice. The web page has four form elements with the search query edit box at the top and submit button at the bottom and two list boxes with multi-selection in between for synonyms and support. You can multi-select from the list or select NONE as the last list item. Remember to turn on the virtual buffer in a screen reader to type in the query and select from the lists. Using sight, you might want to pump up the text size using your browser, e.g. Control + in Firefox. If you use this page a lot and know how to edit HTML, save the page and customize its style to your taste.

Try searching more diversely and deeply into the Analytic Web

So, nothing to lose and possibly lots to gain, check out the Controversy Discovery Engine at http://apodder.org/ControversyDiscoveryEngine.html and let me know how it works for you.