Category Archives: cool product

FREEQ and Desert Bus

I almost included this as a random happy in yesterday’s post but then realized it could be its own post for today, saving me some brain freeze trying to think of something to write haha!

I ran across a tweet yesterday about a game company and what they learned while making their game on iOS accessible to the blind. Here’s the post and it’s a fabulous read. Thanks Ricardo, for retweeting that.

The game is called FREEQ and it’s mostly an audio game, but when some blind iOS gamers heard about it, they were disappointed that the interface wasn’t accessible. So they contacted the developers as blind people tend to do and asked if the game could maybe be made accessible.

The developers were like what? Blind people use iOS devices? What? How? The normal questions haha! They did their research and were like you know what? Let’s not leave the blind people in the dark on this. It’ll be hard work but we can do it. How cool is that? Click that link; it’s good stuff!

The post mentions AppleVis, a huge community of blind and low vision Apple users. When I’m considering an app or a kind of app, I google whatever I need and always include AppleVis in the search. I’m also a member there; it’s an excellent community. So I found the AppleVis post on FREEQ after I read about the game and based on that and the desire to support the developers, I downloaded the game this morning. I haven’t spent much time with it but it sounds fun and different.

I just love it when developers *want* to make their stuff accessible, instead of feeling like they *have* to. Yay!

Random Happy

This morning I ran across this article about a boring game raising money for children. How perfect to include in a post about a video game. The stars aligned for me and today’s post haha! Anyway, turns out the game was made by Penn and Teller as a joke and it involves driving a bus on a boring stretch of road from Tucson to Las Vegas. That’s the game. And now it raises money for kids. What? Click the link. It’s awesome!

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Filed under accessibility, apple Inc, cool product, gratitude, in the news, NaBloPoMo 2013, plugs, silly girl, twitter me this

Awesome Teaching Tool for Blind Children

I’m getting closer to writing all the promised posts, promise. Today was a much dryer day here and I felt a lot of relief. Unfortunately there’s still rain in the forecast. Lots of typing just causes some nasty nerve pain in my arms and shoulders right now. I had to share this though.

I read about it this morning. It’s a toy that combines braille with the shapes of words a child reads, like four blocks that make up the shape of a fish and have the braille dots for f, i, s and h on them. How amazing is that???

Go read about it here. I think it sounds pretty amazing!

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Filed under braille, cool blinky stuff, cool product, spoons, weather

Handwriting in iOS 7 – Most Excellent!

The other day when someone retweeted @Ducktail’s demo of handwriting in iOS 7 I played the demo not sure what I’d find. Not long into it my hands were covering my face as I listened, completely amazed and filled with gratitude toward Apple.

In iOS 7, we’ll be able to draw letters on the screen! Not only will this allow us to hand write text, but it can also be used to search the device for apps. Looking for Sound Hound? Draw an “s” on the screen and a list of all your apps beginning with the letter “s” come up. I cannot wait for this feature! I hadn’t thought about how much I miss writing letters!

It seems like this could definitely be difficult for those who never used handwriting, for sure, but for someone like me who wrote the letters of the alphabet until I was twenty-nine, this will bring back something I thought I’d lost forever! The ability to hand write! Oh man. I’m so excited hahahahaha!

Ok, as LeVar Burton likes to say, bydhttmwfi. go have a listen to the demo. It’s an auto play Dropbox. Just go listen. Oh man! So cool! So amazing! Thank you, Apple!

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Filed under accessibility, Adjustment to blindness, apple Inc, assistive technologies, cool product, demo, gratitude, iPhone, misty eyes, plugs, screen reader, twitter me this, Voiceover, wow

My Week in Five er, Six Songs

A fun sounding writing prompt came up yesterday but I wasn’t sure I’d do it. this morning a song popped in my head and I started thinking of other songs to fit into a five song playlist to describe my week. I picked last Monday to today. Can you guess the song before clicking the link? All the links are you tubes and they open in a new window.

Last Monday I had to go to the doctor and she wants me to have a procedure. It’s just a procedure and not surgery, but I hope the gastroenterologist isn’t like this surgeon.

Tuesday I tried to gather enough energy to get ready for an out of town guest. I tried to find a good song about out of town guests but all I found were songs about weddings. Huh? B’s dad was here for a visit Wednesday and we hung out until Friday afternoon when he and B drove up to Phoenix for Spring Training. He flew out this morning (B just got home and said his dad missed his flight. It was crazy in Phoenix this weekend with the World Baseball Classic and Spring Training and apparently it’s spring break this week too.) and B will be back today. (Yeah, he’s already back. Can YOu tell I started this post awhile ago?) I got to prepare some food for myself that I don’t normally eat much of when I eat with B, so I thought I’d find a song about cooking. It’s fun to sing while you cook. My shrimp was dead.

I was sad the night B and his dad left so after I cooked dinner I treated myself to another season of my favorite comedy. Happy making! The show kept me company for the weekend.

The rest of the time, I listened to my favorite sport. If you don’t know what that is without clicking the link, you don’t know me at all!

Last night I went to bed early so I could get up early this morning to get ready for Jayden’s wellness check vet appointment. (He earned a clean bill of health again!) I told B on the phone last night I felt really old going to bed so early and this morning my hips hurt and my knees were popping as I was getting ready and the song that came to mind let me know I had to follow the writing prompt and write this post. I could not find the original recording of that song on youtube, so I picked that cover out of the several I listened to. It reminded me of my dad sitting around singing country songs and playing his guitar while I was growing up.

Ok, bonus round. Back in my karaoke days my friend L did this song and I’ve tried to find it for years but never knew the artist or enough lyrics. The other day I found myself singing it to Jayden, replacing the word “ladies” with his name. I finally remembered I have the Sound Hound app and after humming the song to it, I finally found it! Don’t worry, the subject matter does not pertain at all to my life. ūüėČ

How many songs did you guess? Leave me a comment and tell me. I won’t know if you lie, but your dog will. Huh?

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Filed under apple Inc, baseball, cool product, doc, family, Jayden, music, num num food, plugs, vet visit, youtube

Zombies Are Good For Your Health

As of the first of the year, my awesome gym situation at the blind center ended. It’s a long story, basically the hours changed and it didn’t work for me anymore. I had decided I would join a gym and was going to wait until February for the resolution rush to die down before I picked a gym and signed my life and soul away in a contract. My apartments have a little fitness room but it only works for me this time of year because in the summer, it’s way too hot to walk there and the room isn’t cool enough.

While I waited for February to roll around, I decided I’d do my TRX for strength training and dance for cardio. I get so bored with dance though. I don’t know enough moves haha! I decided to try this app I’d been hearing a lot about on Twitter. It had also been posted about at AppleVis so I knew it was mostly accessible. I remember reading something about the supplies part of the game not being accessible, but I just wanted the exercise part. I wanted to run from zombies.

Um, what? Did I read that right? Zombies?

You read that right. It’s an app called Zombies, run! and I absolutely love it! When I first started hearing about the app I didn’t think I could play it because I can’t go running outside and I have no treadmill but I started seeing other blind people talking about running around in their apartments or even just running in place. The more I heard about the app the more I wanted it and it has quickly become my favorite app aside from Fleksy.

Zombies, run! is basically an audio game. You can select the length of your missions, about thirty minutes or about an hour, you select your music playlists, choose whether you want it to shuffle or not, decide if you want to enable zombie chases, start your mission and begin pumping those legs.

The first story mission, (choose this mode to listen to a developing story you’re a part of with every run) starts with you riding in a helicopter. You are going to be dropped into a settlement where survivors of the zombie apocalypse need your help. Unfortunately your helicopter doesn’t quite make it and you have to run if you’re going to get to the settlement and safety. There is a man talking into your headphones, saying he can see you but he’s not sure you can hear him. I literally waved my arms above my head hahahaa!

EAch mission develops the story from there and you get to know the characters as you run each time. When the mission is over, radio mode is enabled and your music keeps playing along with fun voice clips. I do my long stretching sessions to radio mode. I love it!

Ok, wrote all that yesterday and now I’m writing tonight after doing a zombie run this morning. I jotted down some notes after today’s run so I wouldn’t forget. I finally got the hang of the zombie chases. For whatever reason my first several runs did not include any zombie chases even though I had GPS enabled. Then all of the sudden a few runs ago, I had a zombie chase, but I was caught even though I pumped my legs like crazy. To describe it exactly, I pretty much reenacted the Maniac scene in Flashdance. If you’ve never seen that movie, I’m sorry.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to read tutorials which I did not too long ago. I should have from the start. Oh well haha! I learned that when the zombie chase starts, your pace needs to pick up for up to a minute. Oh! So today I had two zombie chases and I evaded the mobs both times. Go me!

I also tried something new today. If you’re not blind, I’m sorry. If you are blind, chances are you have a white cane. This worked perfectly today to keep me running in one spot. I get the best results by mimicking running as best I can in one place in my apartment. It also happens to be right under an air vent. The problem was, I was drifting and bumping the walls if I didn’t hang on to a wall. But that seemed to constrict my movements. So today I jammed my white cane in the corner where the floor and wall meet and it worked like a charm! I was able to still pump the arm that held the cane but I didn’t drift and bump the walls.

Today I had to wonder if other runners get so into the game. I’ve really gotten in to the character of Runner 5. That’s who you are as a player. I wave at the guys when they say stuff, today I talked to them saying things like, “I’ll get that package!” Then I laugh at myself and think, I’d never have this much fun if I was doing this at the gym or on the streets. Then after the run was done and I was stretching while I took off my knee braces and sneakers, I was imagining the other inhabitants of Able Township walking by and patting my back since I had just returned from a mission with a very important box. I imagined that they all knew by now that I can’t really talk when I get back from a mission because I must cool down and stretch and stuff. Is it the goofy writer in me?

I really enjoyed radio mode today as I stretched. Jack and Sam I believe their names are, and today Janine got some talk time in which was funny. I just love radio mode! I have a playlist I created called Zombies Run that I have selected and Sam and Jack will talk a bit and then say they’ll play a song, so it’s like they’ve selected the songs you’ve selected. Today they said something like, this may or not be a Canadian we play next and I wanted so badly for one of the Canadian artists I have in the playlist to play, but alas, twas Abba.

Ok, That’s all I have for now. I adore this app! Oh, random funny from today, as the computer voice told me which supplies I picked up, “crutches” sounded an awful lot like “crotches”. Hahaha! Just imagine a robot computer voice saying, “collected too pairs of crotches”. Hmmm. Zombie crotches?

Oh wait! I can’t end this yet because I forgot the best part. The developers are working on Zombies, run! 2 and guess what? it’s going to be completely accessible. Do you know how excited I was to find out about this the other day? I’ve been able to manage supplies on the website which I found out after I got a mission that couldn’t be unlocked because I hadn’t supplied the hospital. I asked the @ZombiesRunGame Twitter account if there was some way around this and I got an answer immediately, that it should work on the website and sure enough it did. But in the next version of the game, the developers are making the supplies part of the phone app accessible. Yay! I adore developers who care! Needless to say that with my TRX and this app, I won’t be signing away my first born child to a gym. Yay!

Ok this turned into a monster post. Or rather a zombie post. Ba dum bum, ching!

*Addendum* this just in, click here to read about how Zombies,run! was born.

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Filed under accessibility, accomplishment, blind tips, cool product, funnies, gratitude, iPhone, music, plugs, silly girl, twitter me this, white cane, workouts

“Beginner‚Äôs Guide to Echolocation for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Learning to See With Your Ears” by Tim Johnson

When I began Orientation and Mobility lessons a few months after going blind, I was amazed to learn that using a white cane involved so much more than just interpreting sensations in the hand holding the cane. My instructor, Dave, taught me to begin paying attention to sounds outside my apartment. Hear that traffic? If you ever get turned around, listen for the traffic and use the sound to point yourself in the direction of your apartment. Years later I would use this skill after arriving home with my guide dog while he was learning the lay of the land.

Dave also taught me how to listen for buildings and hear the difference between a flat building front and an alcove or covered area. I used this a lot while learning my home area since those sounds became landmarks. Instead of the mailbox on the corner letting me know I was close to my destination, the different sound the cane made as I passed by an aluminum overhang became my landmark.

Dave taught me how to tell which lane a car was in as we stood next to a three lane road. He would stand me near a bend in a busy street and have me point to where I thought the intersection was. In buildings and stores he would have me stop and listen for the sounds of a cash register or talking. When I expressed fear of entering a public bathroom alone, he found a blind female coworker who told me to listen for the sounds of the sinks, the hand dryers, the paper towel dispensers, the flushing toilets. Remember those sounds in relation to the door and you’ll be fine.

As I learned all these skills I couldn’t help but remember a television documentary I had watched with B back when I was blind in just one eye. This documentary was about a boy who lost his eyes as a baby. B and I watched in amazement as this boy road his bike, skateboarded, shot basketballs and didn’t miss, all by clicking his tongue. When the program ended I turned to B and said, “I should learn that in case my other eye goes blind.” I clicked my tongue a few times but the thought of losing my other eye never seemed like a reality. Who knew a year later I would begin to learn the basics of echolocation without even knowing it.

When I read “Beginner‚Äôs Guide to Echolocation for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Learning to See With Your Ears” by Tim Johnson, I found myself remembering those early days of O & M Lessons with Dave and smiling. While learning to navigate the world without sight was frustrating and terrifying, there were also some really fun times. This book was a refresher for me in many ways but it also introduced new skills and concepts. It can be exhausting moving around the world with your ears. Johnson gives examples of relaxing exercises and techniques to practice to assist with honing your hearing, decipher sounds and open your mind. I think this is invaluable to help with energy conservation. I have found myself focusing on these things in the days since I read this book.

Johnson makes it clear that this book is not a replacement for O & M lessons with a qualified instructor. He also gives information about centers where one can go to specifically learn echolocation. I would love to be able to attend this kind of training! I remember when I was first blind, navigating around my apartment and stopping just before I hit a wall. I remember telling people, “I heard the freaking wall!” I really enjoyed reading this book and finding out in detail just how it worked that day I heard the wall.

Johnson explains sound waves and why certain objects sound the way they do when a click or clap bounces off of them and back to the ears. He explains how the visual cortex in the brains of the blind still function, allowing us to build images in our minds from the things we feel and hear. I ate this information up since I love brain science. When I finished this book I felt brain tired, just like I do when I read books about science. I love it! I also had an aching tongue from all the clicking I did as the book described different techniques. Johnson flawlessly uses descriptions to teach you all the different ways you can click.

I recommend this book for anyone, blind or sighted. Even if you are not interested in learning echolocation, it is still a fascinating read for anyone who enjoys learning something new. “The Beginner’s Guide to Echolocation” is available in print from Amazon with large print available and audio coming soon. You can also download the book in MS Word format to read with your screen reader.

We don’t think about the kinds of echolocation we use every day. Whether using a white cane or a guide dog, if we can hear, we can see our surroundings as we move through the world with our mobility aids. There are even some days I can tell when it’s cloudy, just based on how different the traffic sounds. I don’t know about you, but I am grateful to be able to sharpen all my tools as I continue trudging along on this sightless journey. My thanks to Tim Johnson, for devoting his time and skills to this book!

*Addendum* Exciting news! I heard from Tim Johnson and the audio book is now available for download here, and will soon be available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes!

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Filed under Adjustment to blindness, Amazon, blind opinion, cool product, gratitude, guide dogs, NaBloPoMo 2012, Orientation and Mobility, plugs, white cane

Demo: Creating custom audio labels using Digit-Eyes

This is a demo of using Digit-Eyes to create custom audio labels. If you are unfamiliar with Digit-Eyes, you can listen to my first demo and you can visit www.digit-eyes.com/ for more information and to purchase the app and labels. The website also allows you to print your own labels if you have a printer and sheets of blank labels. I don’t have a printer, so I have the pre-printed labels from Digit-Eyes.

This demo is about thirty minutes long. Today was the first I had recorded any custom labels and I did some practicing before recording. As with any new technology there’s a learning curve. Just be patient and before you know it, it clicks.

Digit-Eyes Custom Labels Demo

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Filed under apple Inc, assistive technologies, cool product, demo, gratitude, iPhone, iTunes, NaBloPoMo 2012, plugs

A Letter to Fifty-Three Year-Old Me

Writing the letter to my fourteen year-old self was fun. The writing prompt I took the idea from said to follow it up the next day with a letter to myself in twenty years. I didn’t give it much thought until it was the next day and the thought of the future was too scary. I think today I am ready to do this since two fictional worlds I’ve dived into recently are more scary (hopefully) than twenty years from now will be.

So, fifty-three year old Ro, I hope you are alive to read this. If you are not fifty- three year-old Ro, meaning you are Ro and not fifty-three yet, don’t read this. You can’t read this until November 11, 1032. Oh wow.

Oh and readers, you should leave a comment. If this blog is still here in twenty years, hopefully it is, your comments will be in a time capsule of sorts haha!

Dear fifty-three year-old Ro,

Wow, so did I make it this long? Mom didn’t make it to fifty-three so if I’m reading this in twenty years I better be grateful. Remember how you thought you’d never see thirty because of how crazy your life was and then you literally didn’t see thirty because you went blind at twenty-nine? Yeah, I still think that’s funny today. Do you still find it funny in twenty years? I hope so, because without humor there’s just no point.

Do you need a refresher of what life was like for you at thirty-three? Well, I’ve been with B for just over five and a half years now. Are we still together in twenty years? If we are, what is he like? Did he ever start eating vegetables? I know, that’s probably a really stupid question. My three best friends are Carol, Chupa and Georgie. How are they? Ok I’m misting up thinking about these people in twenty years. Do you remember being convinced that everyone would die before you and you would be left alone in this scary world? That was only like two months ago, before I started Lexapro. Thinking about the people I love the most and how it will be in twenty years is starting to freak me out. It’s a good thing I’m medicated.

What about Erik? He’s my only friend who’s younger than I am. Only by a few months but still. How is he? I hope you are still in touch with him. We’ve been friends so long and there has always been gaps where we lose touch. Although ever since I went blind and started using my Macbook, we haven’t lost touch, so I hope in twenty years we’re still close.

Ok, so speaking of my Mac, what is technology like? Do people have stuff implanted in them yet? I always imagine little nano chips for phones and stuff. I mean seriously, the technology has to be amazing in twenty years! Or is it scary? Has it gotten out of control? It could go that route too. Right now you have an iPhone 4 running iOS 6.0.1. The latest iPhone is the 5. What is the iPhone in twenty years? Do you have an iPhone? Has any other phone ever rivaled the accessibility of the iPhone? I have a Macbook they don’t even make anymore. I was almost completely out of space on it so I started converting videos to mp3. What do you have in twenty years? Do they even make laptops anymore? Do they use wires at all? I can’t imagine there would be wires anymore. Am I right?

What animals do you have? Right now I have Jayden and Timmy and Spinelli and Fi. I can’t think about the future without them.

Are you still blind? Did they figure out how to give you new optic nerves? If so, did you get them? As of right now, I can’t imagine seeing again. I’m so used to things the way they are, so I don’t know if I would try anything to see again. I remember when I first went blind I wanted more than anything to see again, even just a little bit. I was ready to get on a plane and go to the UK where they were experimenting with a cancer drug that helped MS patients regain lost functions. Now though? I couldn’t imagine testing a drug. It’s a scary thought. So what have you done in twenty years?

I’m afraid to think about what the MS has done to me in twenty years. It’s impossible to think about my future self though without wondering about that. I won’t think about that now. Maybe you’re reading this in twenty years and smiling because nothing horrible has happened. Is that too much to ask for?

There really isn’t much more to write. There isn’t much to say to a future self beyond asking questions. I can say I hope you are as happy as I am today. Though I hope you are happier. I’m happy, but I could be happier. I just hope you aren’t less happy. I hope you’re still sober, though obviously when it comes to that I can’t really think beyond today. If you’re sober and still smoke free and at least as happy as I am now, then you’ve got it good.

Oh hey wait, I have to ask, is there equality? Have people finally quit being so damned uptight about gay marriage? Has racism and bigotry finally really gone away? Do women still have freedom over their own bodies? Has the insanity over birth control gone away? Did people start finally focusing on the real problems? God I hope so. If there isn’t more love an acceptance in twenty years, how are you managing?

I’m reading “The Handmaid’s Tale”, do you remember reading that book? It’s incredibly depressing. It’s what could happen if the crusty old white guys don’t stop wanting to control the female body. It’s terrifying. I hope it’s nothing like this in twenty years because if it’s going to go down that path, I hope the Mayans were right. If they were right, you won’t be reading this in twenty years, no one will.

Ok wow, this turned very doom and gloom. I was afraid this would happen when I thought about writing this letter. Writing to fourteen year-old me was fun because I don’t fear the past and because I knew what happened. This letter is nothing but fear of the unknown and my dwindling hope for a happy future.

I guess my only hope is that there’s just more love in the future. There has to be, or the future is grim grim grim.

I should end this on a happy note. Hmmm, happy. So have the Rays won a World Series or five? Ten? How long did Evan Longoria stay? Please tell me he didn’t end up with Boston or New York. What about David Price? Did I ever meet any of them? How are all my online friends? I don’t want to start naming them all because that’s a lot and I’m sure I’d end up leaving someone out.

One last question, what kind of voice are you listening to on your Mac? I can only assume you still use a screen reader and a Mac. Is it still Alex or have they made new voices that are just as good? Knowing Apple, they probably use human speech in twenty years haha. Ok, I just heard my DM ping. I think that’s my cue to wrap this up.

I hope this letter finds you well , my fifty-three year-old self! Oh, happy early birthday!

Love,

Thirty-three year-old Ro

PS – Do they have replicators and/or transporters yet? Did you ever publish anything?

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Filed under accessibility, Adjustment to blindness, Alex, apple Inc, assistive technologies, baseball, cool product, evan longoria, fellowship, Fi, humor as coping skill, I might be a writer, in the news, iPhone, Jayden, letters, mental health, misty eyes, mom, My story, NaBloPoMo 2012, on this date, politics, proud geek, screen reader, silly girl, sobriety, Spinelli, spoons, Timmy, twitter me this

Max Factor and the Middle Class

Carol and I had our daily phone conversation today which started off as a discussion of yesterday’s election. We are on the same page politically so there was no debate, just sharing our relief at how things turned out. Carol had been on a media blackout all day, getting the news from her friend late last night. The phone call had been prearranged. I think that was mighty smart of her haha! I kept a loose eye on Twitter while I converted episodes of friends to mp3 to save disk space. There’s not much better escapism than episodes of Friends.

After we got done discussing our hope for the next four years and how disgusted I was over things I read on Twitter this morning, we got into more fun topics about whatever it is we can discuss for hours and hours. I’m not sure how we talked about how there’s no longer a clearly defined middle class, but it came up during our jumping from topic to topic. We always talk about something serious and then one of us steers the conversation on to something a little more light hearted. Both of us have had not so easy lives and we often talk about that’s why we tend to lean to the left. Oh let’s face it, I lean to the left, she dove right into it haha!

Anyway, we had gotten on to talking about her favorite make-up, the Max Factor pan stick, and how it had been getting harder and harder to find in stores. She had tried other products but nothing had worked as well as this Max Factor and finally early this year, she discovered it on a website and ordered one. Today she was telling me that she went back to the website and they no longer carry it. Disappointed, she did some further investigation and discovered that the only place she can order it from now is the UK, because there’s just no market here for it anymore. Basically it’s not high-end enough for stores like Nordstrom’s and not low-end enough for stores like Walgreens.

Suddenly she exclaimed, “It’s a middle class make-up!”

I burst out laughing since that completely summed up our earlier conversation about how there’s no longer a clearly defined American middle class. Max Factor had to stop supplying its pan stick to American stores because it’s a middle class make-up and we have no middle-class here to buy it. This strikes me funny too since Carol is definitely not middle class since she lives on disability just like I do but even when you live below poverty level, a girl still likes to splurge on make-up that works! That pan stick also lasts her like a year so it’s really just too bad there’s no longer a market for it in America. I wonder what she’ll have to pay on shipping to get that from across the pond.

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Filed under cool product, fellowship, in the news, NaBloPoMo 2012, politics, random stuff, twitter me this

Solo-Dx – The Next Wave of Audio Descriptions

I used to enjoy movies back in the day but since going blind, they have lost their appeal for the most part. When I do take in a movie it’s usually alone when I can get my hands on a described version. For those who don’t know, audio descriptions are sometimes available for the blind and visually impaired. This will be a narrator describing the action on screen when there is no dialogue.

While this is great, it’s not easily accessible since it will be in a DVD or Blueray menu and not available at all for streaming movies. B and I have watched a few movies together when he was renting DVDs. If a movie sounded interesting to me he would check to see if it had descriptions and most times it didn’t. So I only got to do a few movies with him that way and while it was great for me, it was annoying for him because sometimes the narration would describe action before it happened on screen. The narrator can only speak when there is no dialogue so often times something is described right before it happens visually on screen. I’ve completely gotten away from enjoying movies, so imagine my intrigue a few weeks ago when I checked the Roof’s mail and found this from a company in Los Angeles that specializes in audio description, hollywoodaccessservices.com.:

“Located in¬†the heart of the entertainment industry, Hollywood Access Services, LLC¬†produces audio description that is faithful and appropriate to the source¬†material, offering a vivid experience to visually impaired consumers of motion¬†pictures, home entertainment, and television programming.¬†

Here’s a little bit about our new product: Solo-Dx¬†Solo-Dx is a new¬†premium audio description MP3 file that you can play along with your favorite¬†movie at home. Each Solo-Dx track is written and produced by¬†experienced entertainment industry professionals. Solo-Dx helps bring movies to¬†life for individuals with visual or cognitive impairments. ¬†Solo-Dx works with any standard media¬†player. The only other thing you need is¬†the movie itself on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming, or Video-on-Demand. ¬†Simply follow the directions narrated at the¬†start of the Solo-Dx file, sit back, and enjoy! ¬† You can learn a little more from our website at solo-dx.com.”¬†

I was able to choose Hunger Games to try this out with and was sent the Solo-Dx track. Time kept passing and I kept not having a good chunk of uninterrupted time to enjoy a movie. It’s amazing how quickly you get out of the habit of setting aside time for movies and television when you no longer enjoy such activities. Finally today I had time so I rented Hunger Games from iTunes. Solo-Dx had sent me the description track and I had that loaded on my iPhone all ready to go.

Wait, back up! I can hear your thoughts. Rented a movie, track on the iPhone, what what? The Solo-Dx track is an mp3 file you download from iTunes or Amazon. Currently the tracks are $1.99 but I was lucky enough to get Hunger Games complimentary. Unfortunately I don’t have a Netflix or other streaming subscription so I needed to rent the movie from iTunes. Lucky I don’t need hi-def so I only had to spend four bucks on the rental. I had never rented a movie before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Once you download it you have thirty days to watch it. Once you press play, you have twenty-four hours to watch it. I couldn’t get the movie to start right back at the beginning again after I messed up the syncing of the track. I was able to get it all lined up though and we’ll get to that in a minute. I was jus able to start the movie again after completing it so I presume you can watch it as many times as you can in that twenty-four hours.

I put the Solo-Dx track on my iPhone but you can put it on any device. I would think it would be difficult to play both on the computer since you would need to play the Solo-Dx track using a different audio player. On the Mac you could do this with Preview by showing the Solo-Dx track in finder and pressing space to play the file at the appropriate time. So this would be possible without another device.

I had misgivings about doing this with my iPhone since it’s a phone and phones interrupt things. We’ll get to that. You sync the track and the movie by first listening to the track and the directions. Using Hunger Games as an example, the instructions said music would play for about ten seconds and then a distinct guitar would sound. When you hear the guitar, start the Solo-DX track. After it told me that, it counted down to three and there was a beep. You pause the track at the beep and wait for your guitar. When this was explained to me I thought it all sounded rather complicated though it made sense and I figured actually doing it would make it clear and it did.

I was disappointed when I had the track all cued up on my iPhone, paused at the beep, and the darned movie was too quiet and I didn’t hear the beginning music. The guitar started but that too was quiet so I quickly paused the movie and tried to find a way to restart it. I couldn’t find how so I got frustrated and thought how will I ever sync this? I checked the time elapsed and it was thirty seconds. The instructions said there was about ten seconds of music so I restarted the Solo-Dx track and paused and unpaused both track and movie until I got it lined up. I was lucky because the description said something about a girl running down the stairs and I got it lined up perfectly with the sounds of running feet. Lesson learned so I’ll be prepared next time. After finishing the movie I replayed the beginning and got it all synced up perfectly the first time and it was pretty sweet that way! I hadn’t missed anything with my syncing attempts before luckily.

So wait, you put the descriptions track thing on your phone? You didn’t get any phone calls or anything interrupting the description track?

That had been my first huge misgiving about this. I could have used my iPod but I didn’t want to use earbuds and I keep it in my room with my audio books on it. I know, luxury problem. I thought I would just use my phone and my Bluetooth earpiece so I’d have the descriptions in one ear while the movie played on my computer speakers. I ran this by Solo-Dx and it was suggested to either use airplane mode or the new do not disturb feature in iOS 6. Perfect! I would just use airplane mode I decided. Do not disturb would still allow favorites to ring through unless I went and changed settings so airplane mode was just easier. Only problem with that was it also disabled my Bluetooth earpiece so I was back at the ear buds issue. I decided to just use the built in speaker on the iPhone.

It turns out that my pickeyness here was a benefit, at least in my opinion. The female narrator’s voice on the Solo-Dx track took on a different audio tone than the movie so it was easy to separate the two. Also, neither ear was taken up with anything so the movie took center stage and the Solo-Dx track was secondary. I was comfortable on the couch with the phone either resting on my shoulder or sitting on the arm of the couch. (Obviously in a theatre or with others I’ll use my earbuds.)

An awesome thing about this was I could control the volume of the audio descriptions. When the movie volume increased, I just put the phone closer to me and when it got quiet again I moved the phone again. This was great, because I’ve noticed when watching movies with audio descriptions built in, sometimes the volume of the narrator isn’t adjusted so when the scenes get loud, you can barely hear the descriptions. It’s either that or sometimes the volume of the action fades out so you can hear the description. Either way it’s disruptive and draws your attention solely to the narration.

With the Solo-Dx track on my phone, the voice of the narrator at a comfortable volume, easy to control when I needed to, the movie was brought to life more than I’ve ever experienced since going blind. It was truly remarkable, being able to completely control both aspects of the movie. I never thought about it before but just like with a bad audio book narrator, a bad descriptions production can really take away from a movie. The Solo-Dx track was clear and easy to understand and the narrator portrayed the emotion of scenes without going overboard or being boring. It was really freaking awesome, no other words I can think of!

I emailed Solo-Dx excited to let them know I’d finally watched it and how cool I thought it was. They let me know some exciting news:

“We just came out with Solo-Dx for the first 4 episodes of the Walking Dead. ¬†On iTunes it’s album-only
for $2.99.¬†¬†On Amazon, it’s 99 cents per episode, or $3.96 for the album¬†of all four.”

I’m excited about this because that show has sounded awesome but just like with movies I’ve been unable to really get into TV. I will be checking these out for sure!

So, what do you think? I think this is pretty fantastic. I had a lot of misgivings going in but now that I’ve tried it, I’m very impressed. By the way, Solo-Dx isn’t paying me to write this or anything haha! I feel very lucky to have been considered a good test subject to check this out and help get the word out to the blind and visually impaired community. I think I have a pretty good grasp on this product so please feel free to ask questions in the comments or email me and I’ll see if I can answer your questions or forward them to the Solo-Dx team.

I’m really excited about this. I think the opportunities are great in that we might be able to take descriptions with us to the movies even! I can watch movies with B and have descriptions all to myself. He no longer rents DVDs anymore since he as access to any movie he wants with his streaming subscriptions and since he does that now, descriptions are out of the question since you don’t get cool DVD menus.

Once the Solo-Dx catalogue really expands, maybe I’ll be able to say, “hey, I have this movie available, want to watch it?”

The only real lingering question I have is pausing when I watch a movie with him or someone else. Today it was simple, I just unlocked my screen and put my iPhone on my shoulder. I put my keyboard on my lap and on the second two fingered tap of the pause/play double tap, I pressed the space bar at the same time with my other hand. I paused the movie several times in this manner and only once did I get a little out of sync when my phone didn’t play it. It was easy to get it back but I’m not sure how this would work trying to pause a movie with another. I think B would probably need to let me control that when one of us needs to pause. He would need to just show me the button on the remote I suppose. I hope anyway! I look foreword to trying it eventually.

This is going to make me want to get back into movies and TV, I can tell you that much for sure. And the cool thing about these tracks being on iTunes and Amazon is you can get gift cards from friends and family to help with this. I know even $099 on a tight budget can be a lot for entertainment. I think those of you who have Netflix and such will really benefit. I might look into that myself since if I start doing more movies and TV, that might offset the cost of iTunes rentals. As of right now, Amazon streaming isn’t accessible with my Macbook which is too bad since I have a Prime account and get a lot of free streaming content. I need to email them about that. Ah, I digress.

Is Solo-Dx the next wave of awesome assistive technology for us? Could be! I’m very impressed. Oh and Hunger Games? That’s a hole other blog post. What a messed up movie!

Oh one last note, I listened to the entire credits at the end of the movie as well. The narration reads all the credits and the music was nice at the end. So if you’re wondering who played who and don’t feel like going to IMDB, just listen to the credits haha! Ok, I think that’s it.

Oh except this, follow Solo-Dx on Twitter @SoloDx1

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