Podcasts and product reviews

This page contains information about podcasts that may be of interest, as well as reviews on a variety of eyesight related products.
Please visit my let's go shopping page for a variety of places to purchase these products from.

What is a podcast?

A pod cast is the distribution of digital media files, including both video and audio. (For example you can download and watch a pod-cast of a TV series, or you might listen to a pod cast of a seminar on-line). In today's society, we are all on the move.  With today's portable gadgets, such as mobile phones and portable media devices, podcasts have taken off. You can get podcasts on just about anything now (from news and information to views and documentaries). Technology podcasts are great; whether it's to keep up to date with what's happening in today's world, or to get an insight into what's going to be coming out in the near future.

What is a review?

A review is simply a second view. It is a second, more indepth look at something. (For example, a movie review or a review of a product etcetera). I have found that being able to access reviews on the internet is great, because it gives you a good general overview of something from people who have tested the product or service. Many things are reviewed and there are many good forums on-line depending on what it is you are researching. On-line reviews also give you a better idea about a product without you having to travel into a store and test it out for yourself. They may also give you far more information than could possibly be found in a local catalogue. As with any product, there may be a variety of distributors, retailers and or information sources.

Regardless of how the information comes, here are some links that I have found useful:

Podcasts

Blind Geek Zone lists a variety of pod-casts, audio programmes and streaming, as well as blogs and a variety of other vision related information. http://www.blind-geek-zone.net/links.htm

BBC Radio4
pod-casts on a wide variety of topics. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/podcasts/

NVDA history/background pod-cast - an interview with the creator and president (Michael Curran), and developer and vice president (James Teh) by CSun http://www.blindbargains.com/6thmode.php?m=6035#

NVDA NVAccess have recently released a few podcasts about features available in the latest releases of the NVDA screen reader. Please stay tuned for more podcasts in the future. They are available from the following link http://www.nvaccess.org/blog/category/Podcast

That Android Show has information on a variety of Android topics. Please visit the following link to find out more www.thatandroidshow.com

The Blind Sport Podcast.com The Sports Podcast for the Blind, the Partially Sighted & the Supportive Sightie
To find out more please go to http://theblindsportpodcast.com/

Product Reviews

Most reviews of products are done by a sighted person and they may not necessarily look for the information required from a visually impaired or blind persons perspective; where more information may be required to do with the accessibility of that product. This information in terms of accessibility may mean the difference between whether or not we buy that product.

If anyone has tested out other adaptive technology products that they would like to see here in the product review section, please email me the product details and your review.

VodaFone Smart Prime 6 (VF-895N)

This Vodafone Smart Prime 6 was purchased in New Zealand for $129 NZD on sale (usually $149 NZD). It is a feature packed phone for its price. Setup can be done independently by a blind or vision impaired person. Having the option of being able to go up to a 64gb micro SD card is a bonus. It is an easy to use phone. If you don’t mind labelling the odd unlabelled button/graphic here and there, then for its price it is a decent alternative to a more expensive model (such as an Apple IPhone 4S or 5) with similar specifications. It is quick and smooth to use, and the Talkback voice is quite clear. I wanted to try this phone out (with its 8 megapixel camera) to see what results I would get when using OCR software. I was happy with the results. With the KNFB reader software coming to Android, an 8 megapixel camera is required. This phone might make a cheap alternative even with the price of KNFB added on top (if they follow the apple pricing for KNFB). Most of the apps functions that I had used on an Apple IPhone, were available as something similar for Android (for example Color ID, Shazam, and so on). They may not have been called exactly the same name, however they do a similar job. Finally, if you are purchasing this phone direct from Vodafone, you can either wait 9 months to unlock it for free, or pay a $30 NZD unlocking fee and use it on another network (for example Skinny or 2 Degrees etcetera).

Specifications

Released May 2015, 155g, 9mm thickness,  Android OS, v5.0, 8GB storage, microSD card slot (expandable up to 64gb), 720x1280 pixels, 8MP front camera, 2MP rear camera, 1GB RAM, quad core processor, 2500ma lithium polymer battery. For the full specifications on this phone please go to the following link http://www.gsmarena.com/vodafone_smart_prime_6-7230.php

Unpacking your phone

When you first unpack your phone it will come with the following accessories: the phone, a Vodafone sim card, wall charger, micro USB cable and a headset.

The physical layout of the phone

The dimensions of the phone are: Approximately 14cm high, 7cm wide and 0.9cm thick.

With the phone facing you, there is a headphone hole on the top in the centre; a micro USB hole underneath on the bottom right, and a power button about halfway down on the right hand side. Just above this power button is an up/down volume button. The front facing camera is located next to the speaker button on the top right hand side of the screen. The rear facing camera is located on the rear of the phone about a thumb space down from the top of the phone in the centre.

Starting your phone and setting it up

Press the power button until you feel the phone vibrate. Leave it for about 10 seconds for the phone to boot up. It may take longer. Next, hold 2 fingers together on the screen when the setup screen appears. You will need to hold them there for about 3 seconds. You will hear talkback start up and a little after that accessibility mode will start. You will hear a beep.  The phone will start with a short tutorial on what gestures are needed to use the phone. After you have closed the tutorial it will give you an option to pick your language (for example English). Once this has been chosen, the step after that is to put your sim card into the phone. This step can be skipped and done later. The next step is to locate a wireless network. Locate your wireless network and double tap on it to enter your wi fi password. To hear what letters are being spoken, tick the show password checkbox. This will speak out your password as you enter it instead of hearing “star star star”.


As you go through the setup screen, you may want to turn off reporting back to google services. The best way to make it easier to navigate your home screen (when setting up your phone), is to set it to standard home screen. This will make it more like other Android devices. The simple home screen (when set to it) gave me a whole lot of unlabelled buttons. These were your favourite apps and speed dials. These could not be labelled, but as soon as you filled up your favourite speed dials and favourite apps, they would be assigned a label.
 

As you progress through the setup screens, it will be a matter of tweaking your phone to your own preferences. When entering in the wifi details, the qwerty keyboard was fully accessible out of the box. Also when the phone was fully setup, the phone dialler was accessible out of the box for a blind or visually impaired person.


Talk back can be setup at a later date if preferred. This can be done by going to the apps icon, double tapping on it, and locating “settings”. Under that section, locate accessibility.  Under that section, there will be Talkback and this will need to be turned on. Double tap to enable Talkback.


After your phone has been setup, it is a matter of navigating around the phone with the Talkback gestures.

Talkback gestures

If you have used Talkback before on another android device, they are the same ones that are used for both android tablets and phones. Later versions of Talkback may have more gestures added to it.

 

For a list of Talkback gestures please go to https://support.google.com/accessibility/android/answer/6151827?hl=en

Labelling of unlabelled graphics and buttons

When you do come across an unlabelled button (or graphic) from time to time, the best thing to do is double tap on it, to see what is on the next screen. This may give you a better idea on giving it a name. To label an unlabelled graphic or button you will need to do the following: You will need to be on the unlabelled graphic or button. From the left hand side of your phone screen, do an upside down L.  It will make a funny little sound (and at the same time a circular graphic will appear on screen). Next, after this is heard, move your finger in a slight circle and you will hear add label spoken. Swipe right until you hear the words edit box label text. Use the on screen qwerty keyboard to type in the label for the graphic that you would like to hear spoken. Lift your finger when you hear each letter you wish to use. After this has been done, double tap on the ok button and it will now have a name. You may need sighted assistance to help label some of the unidentified buttons. Most of the buttons seemed to be labelled on third party apps.

 

If you wish to edit or remove a label, repeat the process above and select either edit label or remove label. You will notice in different applications there will be unlabelled graphics or buttons. In most cases these can be labelled, so the next time you come across them you will know what they are. The operating system seemed fully labelled (under the settings section).


Please note

In some instances where a graphic was unlabelled, I was able to label the graphic. However, some graphics revolved and it would only let me label it once (for example, the front and rear camera or the flash on / off / auto graphics). In a case like this, you may be able to download another app that will tell you the difference between the front and rear camera. This means you may have to download another camera application until you get one that does the job.

Developers of these apps - please note

If you are a developer making apps for android phones, please consider labelling all graphics, buttons etcetera, so that the Talkback screen reader can speak out what the item is. The visually impaired, blind and dyslexics rely on what is being spoken out to them.

Features in Android 5

There are plenty of new features in Android 5, but the two I used most are to get into the quick settings part of the phone. While on the desktop, use 3 fingers close together and swipe down. When it opens, it will let you get to your quick settings on the phone (for example wi-fi, bluetooth, display and so on). The other feature is down near the bottom right corner of the phone display. Move your finger around until you hear overview and double tap. Here it will list all of your running applications that you have accessed (for example camera, phone and so on). Then, it is a matter of swiping to the ones you want to close and dismissing them. For a full list of improvements to Android 5 please go to https://www.android.com/versions/lollipop-5-0/

Accessibility features which may help others (that are not blind or visually impaired)

Please see the section called accessibility (under your phones settings) for features you may wish to enable. You can also visit the link above to find out about the latest improvements.

Uninstalling an app from your phone

From time to time you may want to uninstall an app that you have installed to your phone. This may be because it doesn’t do the job for you, or it is not fully accessible to Talkback etcetera.

To uninstall an app from your phone, you will need to locate the apps icon on your home screen and double tap on it. Next, double tap on the settings icon, and locate the Apps section (found under the device section). It will give you a whole list of apps. This could be on your phone or micro SD card. Locate the app you want to uninstall and double tap on it. It will then give you some options. One of them will be to uninstall the app. Double tap on it and it will be removed.

Installing apps to your phone

The process to install apps to your phone is a pretty straight forward process. You can either search for the apps on your desktop by going to the following web address: https://play.google.com/store?hl=en

Alternatively, you can also do it through the phone by signing into PlayStore using your google account. The google search feature can be used in the google play store. This means when you double tap on the microphone icon on your phone, (while in the play store) you can speak what you are searching for. It seems pretty accurate compared to my I phone 4. It also allows you to type in what you are looking for with the keyboard. When it has come up with a list of results it is a matter of flicking through them to find what you are looking for. Once you have found it, double tap on it then locate the download button and double tap on that to download it to your phone. The app might also ask for permission to access certain parts of your phone (for example the camera, GPS and so on). Once the apps are on your phone, it is a matter of finding them (or the app you have just downloaded).

Some apps to get you up and running with your Android device

If you would like to try out any of the apps from the Google Play store, please go to https://play.google.com/store?hl=en

Inclusive Android also has some links to apps that you may find useful http://inclusiveandroid.com/term/31/lists

You might also like to try the Accessible Apps page (which they have tested with Talkback).

Please visit http://eyes-free.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/documentation/android_access/apps.html


There are many websites out there that will list accessible apps for your smart phone. Please let us know if you find more accessible apps that you would like to share with the blind Android community.

Accessing your phone storage

The process for putting music onto your phone is pretty much straightforward. After your phone has been plugged into your computer (via a micro USB cable), the computer should load the device driver software for your phone and tell you that it installed successfully. It is a matter of locating your phone under the computer section of your computer. Here it will list all of the drives on your computer and one of them will be your phone. You will notice when you access the phone in this way it will act like a removable drive and show up as a portable device. It will give you 2 options of where to put your music (for example the phone itself - known as “internal storage”, or your micro SD card referred to as “SD card”). Here also will be other folders (for example names of other programmes or folders you have on your phone).The music you had copied earlier on will need to be pasted into the music folder. After it finishes and the phone is unplugged, it is a matter of locating your music player and playing your songs. This is a far easier way of putting music onto your phone than the I tunes way found with apple devices.


Smart 4 Fun mobile phone

If you are looking for a mobile phone, most of the new mobile phones now are touch screen (and not tactile ones with separate buttons for the numbers and letters as they used to be).

This doesn't mean a visually impaired or blind person can't use one of the touch screen phones. The mobile phones taking the world by storm are the Android based mobile phones. Unlike some of the earlier mobile phones, the user had to buy a screen reader for the phone on top of the price he paid for that phone. Then Apple came along and from the apple 3GS model onwards, voice over was put into its' mobile phones, and Ipads and so on... in it's range of devices.
Not everybody could afford Apple Iphones, so when the new range of phones running Android came out it made accessibility a lot more affordable. The earlier versions were accessible but very basic. As the versions of Android went on, the user has enjoyed the improvements as each version came out.

This review is on the Smart 4 Fun mobile phone which is sold by different mobile carriers in New Zealand and elsewhere.

Specifications

The specifications for this phone are:
3.5 " touchscreen
2 MP rear camera
Android 4.4 KitKat
Browser
Bluetooth
Email
Wifi
Apps
Dimensions: Length: 11cm, Width: 6cm, Thickness 1cm.
Features found on this model are: Power button (top left when phone is facing you) , 3.5mm hole for earphones (top right), volume up and down button (left side towards the top), hole for charger/sync cable (bottom centre).

Expandable memory

The main thing I like about this type of phone (unlike the Apple I phones), is its expandable memory slot. I can add an expansion card which can take its memory up to about 32 gig of storage on the phone.
The battery can easily be changed to a new one by the user unlike the Apple I Phone. When you go to get new applications for the phone, it is rather easy to do. Putting apps onto your phone has to be done through the Google play store, and the software used to obtain applications is a lot easier to use with a screen reader. No software has to be installed onto your computer unlike the Apple I tunes software for the Apple products. To find out more about google play store please visit https://play.google.com/store?hl=en

Talkback screen reader

The mobile phone came with Talkback already installed. For people who don't know what Talkback is, Talkback is a screen reader pre-installed on the phone. It just needs to be turned on.

To turn on the Talkback screen reader (that comes with the phone), it can be found under the settings menu. You will need to navigate to the accessibility section and under that section look for Talkback and have some one turn it on for you. At a later date if you desire you can try out some other screen readers for the phone - such as Spiel etcetera.

Under that section as well, you can run a tutorial on how to navigate the phone with its touch screen gestures. This is a must for a new user to an Android phone. When Talkback is on, it will change the gestures from the usual way to a slightly modified way for visually impaired/bind people. However, when Talkback is turned off, it will go back to the normal gestures which the phone came with.

A good place to get you up and running with Talkback is http://eyes-free.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/documentation/android_access/enabling.html

Commonly used gestures

It is wise to learn the touch gestures for Talkback to get you up and running. When Talkback is turned on, it will speak what is under your finger as you navigate around the phone.
Some commonly used gestures are:
Swipe up then right. Open Local Context menu.
Swipe up then left. Home button.
Swipe down then right. Open Global Context menu.
Swipe down then left. Back button.
Swipe right then down. Open notifications.
Swipe right then up. Unassigned by default.
Swipe left then down. Unassigned by default.
Swipe left then up. Recent apps button.

If you are looking at other Android phones or tablets, most retailers that sell computers will have these types of devices set up so you can have a play on it for demonstration purposes. It might be a good idea after learning the gestures, to give it a whirl on one of these devices, and see how accessible it is for you before making a purchase. Some of these shops will be The Warehouse, Noel Leemings, Harvey Norman and so on.

Once Talkback was turned on and I had a good knowledge of the gestures, I then could see how accessible the phone was to me or someone else. The phone seemed very accessible going through the different screens and also the settings on the phone. One thing I did notice on some of the applications was some of the buttons were unlabled. This was in some of the different applications you could use on the phone. For example the phone and contacts list.

The other thing I did notice was the dial pad (and also the keyboard used on the phone) , when I ran my finger across, either the dial pad on the phone or in the keyboard section where you entered text; it would add in all of the numbers or letters that I moved my finger across. For a visually impaired or blind person this is the way we locate letters or numbers in those programs. To get around this problem, a different keyboard and dialer program were used. These were downloaded from the Eyes Free project which can be found at http://eyes-free.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/documentation/android_access/apps.html
Then, it was a matter of changing over to the new keyboard under the settings section. When the Talkback keyboard was enabled, it was a matter of moving my finger across the keyboard, then lifting it to add in a letter or number. It was the same idea for the Talkback dialer program. After these steps were done, then it was a matter of learning the layout of the keyboard. It is based on a qwerty keyboard for messages, and a matter of changing between the Talkback dialer program and the contacts in your address book.

Ability to label unlabelled buttons and labels

The unlabled buttons within the programs on the phone , which initially would be reported as "unlabled button" with Talkback could be given a  label. Once this was done, then the screen reader could read the name assigned to it instead of saying unlabled button. This is a great feature as not all program developers label buttons and other features. To a screen reader user this function is invaluable.

At present, I haven't come across an up to date website like Applevis, which is used by Apple users to see which programs are fully accessible, partially accessible or not accessible at all (to the Talkback screen reader). The closest I came to a website like the Applevis one, was a website called Android Access. This can be found at http://eyes-free.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/documentation/android_access/apps.html
If you know of an up to date website that gives you a guide to accessible apps for the Talkback screen reader, please let me know so that I can pass on the website to others and add it to this review.
It may even be a good idea to join an email list, where people can help you customize your phone with accessible apps and also at the same time learn new tips and tricks for using the phone. This could be an Android email list or Talkback email list etcetera. Once the phone was customised, it was very usable, and not only for phone calls and messages; it could do a lot more than the older style phones like the Nokia E 50 for example.

Once you have learned the touch gestures for the Talkback program, (and this may take a little while to get used to), plus the different layouts on the phone, you will find you will be up and running in no time hopefully. Please remember that this will vary from person to person depending on how quickly you learn technology and how much time you spend practising it.

Even though this is a low spec'd phone (for example compared to one with a higher megapixel camera or faster processor and so on), it can do more than just make phone calls and send and receive texts. With the added bonus of voice search, the phone not only translates text to speech using Talkback, you can also search the phone and the internet with your voice.


With the range of Android devices on the market (aimed at all price levels from the cheaper end right through to the higher end in price), they are worth looking at to get you started with a touch screen device.  For example, mobile phone, tablet and so on. While Apple devices could be considered higher end devices with their pricetags, Android accessibility is certainly gaining ground very quickly.

Summary

This phone was purchased for $36 NZD on sale at an electrical retailer. Of course generally speaking, the more you pay, the better the specifications could be on other Android devices. Having Talkback already installed and just needing it to be turned on, meant it was simply a matter of learning to navigate the phone and learn the Talkback gestures. Once you learnt this, it was a matter of either downloading software to the phone that had already been labeled correctly (so that Talkback could read the correctly labelled buttons etcetera immediately), or use the built in labeler to identify (by entering a relevant label) the unlabelled buttons. Overall this phone will get you started on the Android platform. Remember when looking at an Android phone, go for the latest version of software (for example 4.4.2), as it has the latest enhancements for Android available at that time. Whether you just want a phone to use to call on, or one with a couple of smart features such as internet and email, this phone (once set up) can be used independantly by a blind person. Check out other Android phones in this price bracket to find the best one to suit your individual needs.

Cobolt Speechmaster T19 - Talking Travel Alarm Clock With Date and Countdown Timer Function

Dimensions: 6.6cm wide, x 9.5cm long, x 2.0cm deep

This unit takes 2x AAA batteries.
 
It has a large LCD time display, and announces the time at the press of a button in a loud, clear female voice. It also has a count up and count down timer function, hourly chime, alarm function (with a choice of three alarm sounds rooster, pip pip and chime). The casing includes a cover which can be used as a stand for the clock. The stand is not overly sturdy, and the talking travel alarm clock could quite easily be knocked when used, however it makes a good cover for the front of the unit. The stand will hold the travel alarm clock in place, however just be careful when pressing buttons on the travel alarm clock while the stand is in place in case you put too much pressure on the stand and break it.  As long as you don't put too much pressure on the clock while it is on its stand, it should be fine. The unit also has a belt clip.

Having a loud voice, this alarm clock may well be suited to someone who is hard of hearing. It is easily set up by a blind/visually impaired person, and light enough to take in your handbag or stick in your shirt pocket. These can purchased from Cobolt Systems Ltd UK.

To listen to a sample of the voice and also the instructions, please go to https://www.dropbox.com/s/62xz58ld8gg32pt/Cobolt%20T19%20talking%20travel%20alarm%20clock%20instructions.MP3?dl=0

Panasonic 32" TV model number TH-32AS630Z with voice guidance

The specifications for the TH-32AS630Z are as follows: 1920 x 1080 Full HD Resolution; 50Hz Refresh with 100Hz Backlight Blinking; IPS LED Panel; Multi-Noise Reduction; Wide Viewing Angle; V-Audio;  My Home Screen & Voice Guidance; Audio description; Dual Core Processor; Web Browser & Internet Apps; Wireless LAN Built In; 3 x HDMI Inputs; 2 x USB Inputs with Media Player; a remote which is tactile (with 8 of its buttons marked with a raised bump for example the power button, arrow buttons and play button etcetera), with well spaced buttons, large print and high colour contrast.

A sighted person will be needed for the initial setup of the wireless connection and the tuning of the channels. The following will need to be done first. If there is an internet connection, a password will need to be entered so the TV can join your network. This can also be done at a later date under network settings. The channels will need to be tuned in. Once this has been done, then the voice guidance feature can be turned on. Most of the menus on the screens on this TV will not be spoken apart from the voice guidance screen when turned on.

Directions and audio demonstration showing how to turn on the voice guidance feature
Press the Option button. A menu will appear. It will default to voice guidance. Press the OK button to choose your preferences for this option (these are Off/On). Select on by using your arrow keys and press OK.  Also under the Voice guidance settings you can select from the following options: Speed (slow, normal, fast); Volume (low, mid, high); User level (expert or beginner).

To listen to an audio demonstration on enabling voice guidance, enabling Audio description, and hearing some of the things that get spoken aloud by the voice guidance feature when it is enabled, please go to the following link https://www.dropbox.com/s/0bxoq4ld4yi1xvx/Panasonic%20TH-32AS630Z%20voice%20guidance%20features.MP3?dl=0


What the voice guidance feature speaks
There is software you can download for your smartphone called Panasonic remote 2. The software may allow you to control functions on your TV. For example, change channels and volume with your voice, and control other various functions on the TV. Voiceover will speak the main screen of the application (for example where you select between keyboard and remote etcetera) however secondary screens off this main screen are hardly labeled  - if at all - which means that they cannot be spoken by voiceover. Maybe a simple solution to this would be to label those parts correctly within the app to make it more user friendly. I can see the point in labelling the remote software for your smartphone this way as it could be a good thing. Something to be aware of is that in the remote control software  for your smartphone if you press (for example) volume up, all you will hear is "button". It would be great to know audibly what these buttons are for just in case you ever misplace your remote!

What the voice guidance feature does not speak

Enabling Audio description on the Panasonic TH-32AS630Z
To turn on Audio Description
Press Option...arrow down to Audio description...press OK... (use your arrow keys to hear Off or Auto)...select Auto... press OK to confirm.

To set the Audio description language preference for AD
Press Option...arrow down until you hear Audio selection/AD...press OK...(use your arrow keys to hear the options)...select eng HE AAC AD and press OK. (Make sure it is the one with AD at the end of it). Press exit to return to normal TV viewing.
PLEASE NOTE: Once AD has been set it will stay on. Audio description can only be heard if the programme airing has the logo AD))). Even if the channels are changed, it will still keep the audio description stream once set.

Other Panasonic televisions with voice guidance
Please contact your local Panasonic retailer (or visit http://www.panasonic.com/nz/consumer/tvs-home-theatre-and-audio/viera-televisions.html to find out more about size, specifications and up to date pricing on any of the following models).
TH-65AX800Z; TH-58AX800Z; TH-55AX670Z; TH-48AX670Z; TH-60AS800Z; TH-55AS800Z; TH-60AS700Z; TH-55AS700Z; TH-50AS700Z; TH-42AS700Z; TH-55AS670Z; TH-60AS640Z; TH-50AS640Z; TH-42AS640Z; TH-32AS630Z; TH-50AS610Z; TH-32AS610Z. Please contact your local Panasonic dealer (such as Dimocks, Harvey Norman, Noel Leemings etcetera) for more information or an instore demo.

The Wilson voice recorder

The Wilson voice recorder (V5) is a small digital voice recorder that can record up to 12 hours of messages. These can be downloaded to a computer via the included USB cable. The Wilson can store multiple messages (which can be added to or deleted). It can be clipped onto your belt to take portable. Record information such as phone numbers, addresses, recipes, shopping lists, appointments, directions etcetera. It has a volume control button, an off button and an ear piece. It is easy to use, but please note it does not have a rewind button nor a fast forward button. This means that should you wish to delete the previous message, you will have to either cycle through the messages again to do so, or upload them and remove it via your computers USB cable. Each time you record a subsequent message, the message will be recorded in sequence. The Wilson records in wav format which means you would need a wav to mp3 converter program on your computer (if you wish to save your recordings as mp3 instead). It has high contrast, well spaced, tactile buttons. The sound recording quality will depend on the level you set it to (but they were both clear to listen to on our trial of this product).

To listen to the Wilson voice recorder specifications please visit the following link https://www.dropbox.com/s/g4yfethzfioy1e5/the%20wilson%20voice%20recorder%20specifications.MP3?dl=0 

To listen to the Wilson voice recorder instructions please visit the following link https://www.dropbox.com/s/a9jmpxvhfrq22n6/the%20wilson%20voice%20recorder%20instructions.MP3?dl=0

Talking silver keychain by Cobolt Systems LTD

Have you ever forgotten your watch while in a hurry to catch a bus?; or simply just been in a hurry and also forgot your accessible phone which you use to check the time with? The things you never seem to forget are your keys to the house! The talking silver key chain by Cobolt Systems Ltd is a must have item.

It has an LCD screen on the front at the top with larger print digits (about a quarter of the way down), with a large easy to locate oval button directly beneath it (about halfway down). Pressing this button on the front will tell you the time! On the back of the talking keychain are three small buttons near the top quarter of the unit. The three buttons from left to right are: Mode, Hour, and Minute.

Pressing the mode button will cycle you through the time set, alarm set, and return you to the normal time function. Pressing the hour button on its own will cycle you through the alarm on, snooze on, and alarm off functions once the time has been set. Pressing the minute button will allow you to choose between hourly report on and hourly report off (a longer beep is on, a shorter beep is off).

To set the time, press the mode button until you hear time set. Use the hour and minute buttons to select the correct hour and minute. Once you have selected (for example 7:17 pm) press mode again to move into the alarm set function. Repeat the process to select the hour and minute you would like to set your alarm to (for example 7am). Press mode again to return to the normal time function.

To choose between 12 hour and 24 hour mode, press the mode button, then select either 12 hour (by pressing the hour button) or 24 hour (by pressing the minute button). Press mode again (after cycling through time set and alarm set) then it should beep 4 times when you have returned to the normal time function.

The dimensions (not including the keychain itself) are approximately 6.5 centimetres high, 4 centimetres wide and just over 1 centimetre thick. The talking silver key chain has a clear, loud English voice. It can be set to tell you on an hourly basis what time it is. You can also set the alarm to wake you up in the morning. It runs on 2x L1154 batteries.

These talking keychains are available from Cobolt systems UK and other eyesight related distributors.

Cobolt Speechmaster Talking Tape Measure

Length: 16ft (5 metre) tape measure with a resolution of 1mm - 1/16". Voice: The measurement is spoken automatically in a clear English voice. A press of a button adds the width of the case if required. Memory: Measurements can be added to memory to enable total measurements up to 999.99 metres. The memory is retained when the unit is switched off. The tape can be set at zero at any position.  Unit of measurement: Readings can be taken in feet/inches, metres, centimetres or millimetres and can be converted at the touch of a button. Size: 95mm (W) x 72mm (H) x 52mm (D). It is powered by a standard 9v Alkaline battery (also known as a PP3 battery in other countries).

Cobolt Speechmaster Talking Tape Measure Instructions and audio sample

With the belt clip facing away from you, there are five buttons on the front face of the case. Two large ones on the top row and three smaller ones on the bottom row.  Pressing any of these will turn the unit on. If the tape is not fully retracted when you turn the unit on you will hear a warning message.
 
The top left button is the total distance stored in the memory.  To clear the memory, press it twice within two seconds.The top right button is used to switch between feet and inches, millimetres, centimetres and metres.  This button will also convert any measurements between these units. The bottom left button adds the current reading to the memory.  The maximum distance which can be stored in the memory is 999 metres. The bottom centre button resets the tape to zero.  This can be done with the tape extended so that you can compare sizes.  It is also possible to measure negative distances in situations where the second measurement is less than the first.
The bottom right button adds the width of the case to the measurement.  Normally the spoken distance represents the length of tape which has been pulled out but sometimes it is more convenient to use the back edge of the case - for example if you wish to measure the internal width of a door frame.  A second press of this button deducts the case width and returns the reading to normal.

The unit will turn itself off after ten seconds if the tape is fully retracted, and after thirty seconds if the tape is extended. In either event you will be warned five seconds before turn off.  Once the tape measure has turned off, the current measurement will be lost but the contents of the memory will remain intact.

The tape can be felt protruding from the bottom left edge of the case.  Pull the tape out to the left to extend it. The flat sloping edge is a button used to retract the tape.  Where your thumb sits, a slight ridge can be felt. This should be pressed on the lower angled edge (just above the tape).  while using your free hand to control the speed at which it retracts.  If left free it may retract rapidly and cause injury.

On the bottom edge of the case you will feel a deep groove slightly to the right of centre, running front to back.  The right side of the base can be prised open using a fingernail in the groove.  The flap can then be opened fully until it is in line with the base.  You will feel a sharp metal point on this flap which can be used as a pivot if you wish. 

This unit takes a 9v battery and you will find the battery compartment on the rear of the case. You will feel the ribbed surface of the battery cover under your thumbs.  With your thumbs as close as possible to the edge of the raised section press firmly down with your thumbs to release the catches and slide the cover off towards you.  Re-fitting is done by sliding the cover back until it engages with an audible click.

Click on the following link to hear an audio sample of the talking tape measure by Cobolt https://www.dropbox.com/s/me3bixhifwbb9a2/Talking%20tape%20measure%20by%20Cobolt.MP3?dl=0

You can purchase this from Cobolt Systems direct, or through other blind equipment related shops.

Liquid level indicator

Before the days of liquid level indicators, a visually impaired or blind person (when filling a cup) would have to use one of the following methods. If it was hot water, they would put one finger on the outside of the cup (near the top) and pour in the water and try to judge the level to where they would stop (or the level where they wanted to add milk in). The second method would be to listen to the water going into the cup and judge how close it was to the top etcetera. If it was cold water they could put their finger into the glass and feel it when it got to the top. Some people still do that, and others use a liquid level indicator.

The following review will be on a liquid level indicator purchased from the Braille Bookstore (for about $5 USD in 2013). These can also be bought from any Blind Foundation. This liquid level indicator comes in a bright orange colour which makes it easy to locate on a bench etcetera. It takes 2 triple A batteries which can be bought from anywhere. On the back of the unit (on the side that doesn't have prongs), you can slide the cover down and put in the new batteries very easily. It is just as easy to replace the cover. Other liquid level indicators from elsewhere may come in different colours and may take other types of batteries. They are usually a rectangular cube type shape.

To make it work, it is simply a matter of putting the prongs on the inside of a cup, and filling the cup with water for a cuppa. There are three prongs on the unit. Two are at the same level and one is higher up. When the water reaches the bottom 2 prongs it will make a beeping sound. When you hear this, you would usually add the milk to the cuppa. When it makes a long beep sound it has reached the top prong and your cuppa is ready to drink (once you remove the liquid level indicator of course). It usually leaves about a centimetre or so up the top, so you don't overflow the cup. Other units can also vibrate, so as not to annoy other people. Some liquid level indicators will do both.

It is approximately 6cm high, 3cm wide and 4cm deep at the deepest (2cm deep on the unit itself with another 2cm depth allowed for the prongs). This is a cost effective, easy to use piece of equipment.

Bop it game

Bop it is a hand held, tactile, audible toy that you can adjust the volume on. It is made by Hasbro. Variations exist (in terms of features and colours) however the overall idea of the game is that once you press the "bop it" button, you can choose your skill level and as you successfully interact with the correct parts, the instructions heard will get faster and faster.  If you get the instruction wrong, your game ends. This game is completely accessible and can be played by both visually impaired and blind children (and adults as well). They take standard batteries available from most shops. The two Bop it games I am reviewing are the "Bop It" and the "Bop It XT".

The Bop It is approximately 30cm wide, 10cm tall, and about 7cm thick. It has a round bop it button on both sides towards the centre. With the battery compartment facing away from you and at the back on the top, on the left will be a "twist it" knob; on the left but closer towards the centre will be a "shout it" mic (near the bop it button); and on the right will be a "pull it" knob. These are all uniquely shaped to make them easy to identify.

The Bop It XT is approximately 32cm high, 26cm wide and about 7cm thick. The XT is slightly more challenging (or more extreme) and has the following challenges on board. With the battery compartment facing away from you (and at the back on the bottom left (so that the Bop It XT makes a Z shape), it still has the round bop it button on both sides in the centre. Top left is the "flick it" knob, top right is the "spin it" wheel, bottom left is the "twist it" knob and bottom right is the "pull it" knob. The XT also has a "shake it" knob which is located close to the centre near the Bop it button.

Basically, you just listen for the next instruction. When you hear "bop it" press the bop it button. When you hear "pull it" pull the pull it button. When you hear "flick it" flick the flick it button. When you hear "twist it" twist the twist it button.  When you hear "spin it" spin the spin it wheel; and shake the whole unit when it asks you to "shake". Familiarise yourself with the features before you start as the way that you hold it will determine where these pieces are located at any time. You can purchase Bop It and Bop It XT from stores such as The Warehouse and other toy stores.

Click here for an audio sample of the Bop It XT game. https://www.dropbox.com/s/5jvogyp1kynyyku/Bop%20It%20XT%20game%20sound%20sample.MP3?dl=0

Overall it is a challenging, accessible toy at a reasonable price.

The I phone 4

This is my second look at an Apple product - the first being the I pod shuffle. (Should you wish to check out other Apple products please visit the official Apple website http://www.apple.com/nz/).

The dimensions for the Apple I phone are: 6cm wide, 11.5cm high and 0.7cm deep. It has a 5 megapixel camera.

Being new to the touch experience, this was a learning curve. When a person is so used to using a mobile phone with buttons that are tactile, then going to a mobile phone where there are limited buttons; in most cases (if it wasn't for the screen reader output) the phone would be useless to a visually impaired or blind person. Apple has put a screen reader into the phone called voice over which was used for the review.

I must commend the work Apple has put into their products to help people out with disabilities.

The 3 main cons (to me) for the I phone 4 are:
1    If the battery dies, it will have to be taken back to an Apple service agent to be replaced (or dropped into one of their stores). It can be changed by a sighted person, but is very fiddly work and the phone is virtually dismantled to get to the battery that needs to be replaced.
2    I wish it could have an expansion slot so a bigger memory card could be put in. This is so you could have more storage area when it runs out on the phone. The previous phones I had could do this, plus the batteries were easy to change if needed.
3    The I tunes software is also a learning curve. It will take a bit of time to learn it and the experience you get from it may depend on what your screen reader can read. To put anything onto the phone (in most cases) you will use the I tunes software unless you are confident to use the phone only for your downloads from the store.

The first thing that was done on the I phone was that voice over was switched on. This facility can be found under Settings...General...Accessibility...Voice over...and this will need to be enabled. There is also a practice area there where you can learn the gestures that will be needed to use the phone correctly. It may be a good idea to practice a bit until you are happy to move on to the rest of the phone. After a while you will find out that you will move along quite quickly doing tasks on the I phone. Below is a list of gestures you will need to learn to make it a nicer experience.

The default voice that was used in voice over was very clear. The I phone being a touch screen was totally a learning curve as mentioned before. To give the I phone a chance, it may take up to 2 weeks to learn it fully. The battery life (or length of time you play with it) will determine how long it will be before you have to recharge the phone again. All of the apps on the I phone are accessible to voice over, however this cannot be said for some third party apps. So, this may be a case of trial and error on each app downloaded. It would be a good idea to ask other visually impaired or blind people which apps they have found useful- to use in every day life.

A few of the accessible programmes I have found useful so far are as follows. Prismo (for taking pictures of documents etcetera and having them read out to me; Colour visor (to say what colours there are around me or on me as in clothes); and Ariadne GPS (which is much like Loadstone GPS) for knowing where I am. I have also found Apple maps useful, so when I am walking around the area, I know where I am as in a street address. These 2 apps use data on your phone, so a good phone plan may be needed if you go down this track. While looking for apps for the I phone, a useful website that was found was Applevis. This can be found at http://www.applevis.com/ This website made it a lot easier to get apps for the I phone. Instead of downloading an app from the Apple store then finding out either it works with voice over or it doesn't, it was a lot easier to read which apps were accessible to the I phone off the applevis website. The reviews were done by visually impaired or blind people so it was a lot easier to see which apps may suit your needs.

The following are my thoughts after my first play with the I phone (after learning the gestures on the main screen).

There are 2 main ways to learn the layout of the I phone. When voice over is on, you can move your finger across the screen.  This may be from left to right or up and down the screen. As you do this voice over will read out what is under your finger. This helps build up a page layout in your head of how the page is set out. Where things are on the page, will change from application to application.

To go into any of the apps on the main screen, you would double tap the screen icon for that specific application. The way you interact with the phone can be changed under keyboard settings. For example settings... general.... accessibility... keyboard settings.
To get out of that application, you will need to press the home button. This is a big round button found on the bottom front of the I phone. If you go in a few pages on the app there will be a back button to take you to the previous screen.

When you are exploring the I phone screen with your finger, it will read out all elements there as you move it around. The other way to learn it quickly is by using the gestures. This will help you move quickly through the screens that you want to look at. The main gestures you will use will be the left and right swipe (using 3 fingers to swipe up or down the page, or left or right) and the 3 finger tap to see where you are on the screen.

Of course you may end up using all of the gestures at one time or another. Once you get used to the layout of the pages, you will find you can do the tasks quite quickly (whether this is making a phone call, or sending a text) and don't forget the other apps that you may use on the I phone. These phones are now basically mobile computers in your hand, the difference being is that you can do a lot more than the old type of mobile phone used to. The best bet (if you are thinking of looking at an I phone), is to either contact a telecommunications provider and book in a session to have them demo the phone to you, or have a play with the phone from a friend who owns one. Otherwise, you may be able to contact your local Blind Foundation to show you how it works. You will find out quite quickly how accessible the I phone is. Don't blame me if you then go out and buy one. This could be on a contract with your phone provider or picking one up second hand.

The thing I do like with Apple products is there whole range of products are blind friendly pretty much out of the box. More of this in other phones accessibility wise would be great too. I mean that any phone you can buy having accessibility built into it right out of the box (as Apple has done) would be a good selling point. I will be keeping my eye on the Android phones that are coming to the market as well in the future as they improve.

The I phone 4 has a speech recognition programme built into the phone. If you are a kiwi, you need to speak Australian to get it to do things. Your success with Siri and what you can make her do will be determined by your voice. You will also need to learn commands to use with Siri to get the most out of it. Be careful with Siri while learning how to use her as you may find you are making a phone call without wanting to. If you have music on your phone, you can get Siri to play by artist etcetera which is kind of cool.

Below is a list of commands that you can use with Siri.

Using Voice Control commands with Siri in I phone 4

Hold down the phone's home button or the middle button on your headset until the voice control feature comes up on screen and you hear a beep. This should take about 2 seconds.

Phone Commands
Obviously, these only work on the iPhone and not the iPod Touch.
Music Commands
These are the same for iPhone and iPod Touch.
Misc Commands
These are the same for iPhone and iPod Touch.

Gestures for VoiceOver

Miscellaneous VoiceOver settings

ThermoWorks RT8400 Talking Digital Thermometer

The RT8400 digital talking thermometer is hand held and has a probe so that it can be used to tell the temperature of meat, cakes, bath water and so on. It stands 23.5cm tall from the top of the unit to the bottom of the probe. The top section (which houses the 2x AAA batteries) measures approximately 11cm high by 5cm wide. The probe itself is 12.5cm long. It features a hanging hook (at the top) as well as a removable cover for the probe. An oval button is pressed on the front of the unit (about centre) and announces the temperature in a clear voice. There is a small button on the back (directly below the battery cover) which can be pressed to change it between celcius and farenheit. It makes one beep for on, and two beeps for off. The temperature updates every second. If you want to hear what the temperature is at a particular point in time then press the On/Talk button to hear the temperature spoken in a clear female voice. It can be used as a room thermometer and will automatically switch off after 10 minutes of not being used. Alternatively, hold the On/Talk button and it will turn off. This device is very easy to use.

This is available from braillebookstore.com (also known as Future Aids).

Mousecam Video Magnifier

The mouse cam video magnifier is a hand held magnifier in the shape of a mouse. The dimensions are 130mm long by 70mm wide by 70mm at the highest point.  It comes with an AV/power cable.  You will need to plug one end straight into the yellow AV hole on your tv, and the other side straight into power. It uses LED lights to illuminate the item you are viewing.

When you have the mouse cam in your hand (and looking down on it) there will be an on/off switch on the left hand side. Your thumb should line up with this switch if you are right handed.  The on/off slider switch will be on when nearest to you and off when you slide it forwards towards the monitor. On top of the mouse cam at the front, you will find a raised button, an up/down button in the centre and another raised button to its' right.  The first raised button from the left is the mode button. There is a letter M underneath it. This will allow you to cycle through its' 4 colour modes. These are: full colour, black on white, white on black and high contrast. The middle up/down button allows you to increase and decrease magnification. This will allow you to magnifiy from 2 times to 45 times approximately. This will depend on the screen size of your TV/monitor.  Plus is towards the monitor/TV and minus is towards you. Finally the button towards the right is the screen lock button. This allows you to freeze/unfreeze what you are looking at on the screen. Simply move the mouse slowly over the item you wish to magnify, from left to right if reading text or it can be moved up and down as well (if turned side on).

There are 4 rollers on the underside of the mouse cam to glide it from left to right. The advantage to this little unit, is that it can be unplugged and put into any TV/monitor with an AV hole.

The mouse cam was tested on a variety of hard to read documents, such as newspapers with small text, high gloss posters, EFTPOS dockets and the Telecom phone book. It is comfortable to hold onto (that is it is ergonomic), and very easy to use. The quality is very good even with the text magnified. As with any magnification the level of clarity will depend on the quality of the original document and how big you enlarge it. You can also move the mouse away from the item (for example a pill bottle) and it can still be read.

You can also buy an adapter (as an optional extra) which plugs into your computer and allows you to magnify onto your computer screen. At present the software drivers are for Windows XP only. When attached to a computer it will use the USB port to power it.

Overall, this is an economical alternative to a CCTV for those who have a TV or monitor to output it to. It can be taken portable and fits into a small bag. When purchasing this, please be aware that whichever TV you plug it into, it will need to have a yellow AV hole.

To find out more please visit the Mobility and More (Stratford NZ) website as follows: http://www.mobilitymore.co.nz/gallery/Vision/mouse-magnifyer/185715 or phone 0800 765 763. You are welcome to call into the shop and try it out to see if it meets your needs.

Talking Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor (model number HI168ET)

This handy blood pressure and pulse rate monitor velcros onto your wrist. It comprises a LCD screen with four buttons. The three smaller ones (bottom left to right) are: Mode, Set and Memory. To the right of this is a big button called Start/Stop.With your elbow near your waist, and your palm facing upwards (at about your heart's height), press the Start button. It will start inflating. After a minute it will deflate and announce your blood pressure and pulse. (To get an accurate measurement of your blood pressure and pulse, you need to remember to keep your arm still). A clear female English voice will announce your results and then it will automatically switch off.

After each test the monitor will automatically store your test results along with the date and time. The device has 99 memories. Press the button to the left of the Start button to hear the reading again. Press it once more and it will announce the previous reading. When you hear the previous readings it will announce the upper (systolic), lower (diastolic) and pulse rates but not the time and date. It is supplied with a protective case and is powered by 2 x 1.5v AAA size Alkaline batteries (supplied).

If the speech function is turned off when using it for the first time, you will need to press the SET button once and either retake your blood pressure, or press the MEMORY button to hear the measurement results of the last test you took. When the speech is on, a symbol of a dot and three curved lines will be displayed on the screen. There is no spoken confirmation of this and you may need sighted assistance to set this up initially.

For a sound sample please visit the following link https://www.dropbox.com/s/roff0xcvrw00xf3/cobolt%20speech%20master%20talking%20wrist%20blood%20pressure%20monitor.MP3?dl=0

These are available from Cobolt Systems UK.

Cobolt talking kitchen scales

The Cobolt talking kitchen scales are approximately 19cm wide and 22 cm deep.  With the bowl on top, it is 18 cm high.  On the front of the scales is a rectangular shaped touch pad which is on the front right hand side.  On the right hand side of the unit is a slide switch. If the switch is closest to the front it is off, in the centre it will announce pounds and ounces, and if towards the back it will announce kilo's and grams. When the unit is turned on, to tare it (that is reset to zero) simply touch the On/Reset touch pad on the front right to reset it.  Then, drop your item into the bowl and it will tell you what it weighs.  If the touch pad is held down it will cycle from a low volume to a high volume, so it is easier to hear.  The unit can take either a 9 volt battery (which goes underneath the unit)  or a power adaptor (which plugs into the back of the unit). The power adaptor, which can be purchased separately is an optional extra.  You may need to buy an international adaptor for it to work in your country.  It has a clear British male voice. The unit will weigh up to 5 kilograms in 5 gram increments. These scales are really easy to use.

To listen to a sound sample please visit https://www.dropbox.com/s/8v5em9ydmvse28i/cobolt%20speech%20master%20talking%20kitchen%20scales.MP3?dl=0
These are available from Cobolt UK.

Cobolt colour detector

The Cobolt colour detector is approximately 14 cm long, 7 cm wide, and 3.5 cm thick.  When the colour detector is held in your hand, the switch for the volume control and turning it off is on top of the unit towards the front.  Slide this forward for the 3 different volume levels, and all the way back to turn it off.  There is a speaker on the left hand side of the unit, where your colours can be heard. It will announce up to 12 basic colours. Behind the speaker towards the back is where the 9 volt battery goes.  On the very back of the unit is a 3.5 mm headphone jack and also a button to calibrate the unit.  Hold this button down with the lid on, and turn on to recalibrate it back to white.   The cover of the unit can be put onto the back of the unit (for safekeeping) when scanning for the colour of your item. To get the colour detector to detect a colour, turn it on and remove the lid.  Put the lens (which is at the front of the unit) totally over the colour you want to find out, and within seconds it will tell you what colour it is. The unit is fairly accurate or within that colour spectrum.  For garments that may have different colours in them, you may get different readings. The unit will also detect between day light and night time.  If there is light, it will beep.  The darker it gets, the quicker the beeps will be. At night time, it will say it is black. The unit is easy to use.
To listen to a sound sample please visit https://www.dropbox.com/s/uo3vtwmlcf4ti0x/cobolt%20speech%20master%20%20colour%20detector.MP3?dl=0
These are available from Cobolt UK.

Pen Friend Audio Labeller

The pen friend is one of the best products that I have seen come onto the market so far for visually impaired or blind people.

The pen friend is approximately 16 cm long, and is 3.5 cm wide at its widest point.  It feels like an oversized pen. On the top of the pen is a mic.  Down the front of the pen there are 4 buttons. The button at the top (closest to the mic) is your power on and off button.  The next button down is your volume button.  Push the top of this button to make it louder and push the bottom of this button to make it quieter. The third button down is a mode button.  This can be cycled between 3 settings.  They are: one beep for play/record/save, two beeps for the print settings (where instructions from the manufacturer may be heard) and three beeps for an mp3 setting.  This is so you can play music on your pen friend if desired.  The fourth (and final) button (closest to the narrowest end of the pen) is the record button.  This is held down when you go to record onto your new sticker/label. When you speak into the mic (while holding the pen onto a sticker and holding in the record button at the same time) it immediately transfers your voice recording onto it. (You may need to practise this a couple of times to get used to it). On the back of the pen you will find a long plastic battery cover. This is where you place 2 AAA batteries into the unit. When the buttons are facing you, you will notice a rubber pull down cover on the top left side. There are three holes. From the top these are: microphone, USB and headset.

The pen friend will hold up to about 70 hours of recording which is almost three days of recordings.  The pen friend comes with about 127 stickers of various sizes.  Each sticker can hold up to an hour of recordings, so the shorter the recordings the more labels you can do.  These stickers are also totally re-recordable as well. This means your label can be baked beans this week, and once you get some other food to fill its place, it can be re-recorded again to say what the new item is (for example fruit salad).

When you buy your pen friend, you must use your initial labels first, then move onto the next pack. For example, pack A needs to be used first, then go onto pack B and so on.

If you would like to use your labels over and over again, stick them onto a magnet.  Please see my pen friend ideas page for ideas on  different ways of sticking them onto other things. http://accessibilitycentral.net/penfriend%20ideas.html The page also has a link to a demonstration of the pen friend audio labeller.

To use the pen friend, hold down the power button to turn it on.  It will make a beep when it is on. To record onto a label, hold the pen about 3 cm or so away, then push down the record button.  While still holding down the record button, drop it onto the sticker and it should make another sound.  When this happens, speak your label or instruction or message etcetera.  Once done, let off the record button and move the pen friend away.  The next time you move the pen friend over that sticker it should speak your label.  When the batteries start to go flat, the pen will make an audible sound (like blowing bubbles) to let you know that they need to be replaced. The pen friend will also turn off after three minutes if not used (to save power).  The box that the pen friend comes in will also have a lanyard in it, as well as a usb cable and batteries.  On the inside of the box will also be an RNIB piece of thick card with four labels embedded (going from north to south). These contain instructions on how to use the pen friend.  Just move the pen friend over the labels to hear what that function does.  It also comes with written instructions as well.

The pen friend is a must in any household for audio labelling of a multitude of items.

These are available through your local Blind Foundation.

Aladdin Classic video magnifier (model number AL6A)

The measurements and specifications for the Aladdin Classic (by Telesensory) are as follows:
40 cm wide
50 cm deep
54 cm high
4.5X to 50X Magnification
Manual focus
Black and White model
Positive/Negative modes
Built in 14" (35 cm) monitor

When you go to use the Aladdin classic, looking towards the front of the unit, locate the monitor. Beneath the monitor, across the left front of the unit, is a power switch, and off to the right of it is a manual focus knob. The focus knob is so you can focus in on what you are looking at if it is not clear. Run your hand down the left hand side of the unit and you will find a lever. If the lever is all of the way back it is black text on a white background (positive mode). If you then pull the lever all of the way forwards, it is white text on a black background (negative mode). Off to the right hand side of the unit is another lever.  If the lever is all of the way back it is 4.5 times magnification, and if it is all of the way forwards it is 50 times magnification.  The unit takes 2x 5 watt (f5tt-27k) bulbs.  Underneath where the main part is, there is a tray.  There are actually 2 trays.  The one on top will go from left to right, where the one underneath can be pulled out towards you for larger books. The top tray would be more than sufficient for reading most books.

Although the Aladdin Classic is not a colour unit, it should suit most people's needs. It is easy to use, and with the reversible modes would be great for reading books and magazines etcetera. For more information, or to find out about their other video magnifiers, please visit the following Telesensory website link. http://www.telesensory.com/index.aspx

These are available from Telesensory.com or may also be ordered through your local Blind Foundation.

Philip's Talking caller ID (model number SIA9190/17)

The measurements for the Philips VoiceAnnounce ® Talking caller ID are as follows: 7cm wide, 8 cm deep and 3 cm high.

If you are holding the talking caller ID in your hand, on the top at the front are two buttons.  The little button to the left is for volume control (from quiet, to medium,  to loud and off).  The big button to the right of it is for reviewing the numbers that have called in (referred to as the Call Review button).  While still on the top of the unit, there is a speaker to hear the numbers spoken out. At the very rear of the unit is where two plugs get plugged in.  One will come from your phoneline to the unit, while the other will run another line to the telephone.  This unit will take three AAA batteries underneath it. It can also take a 7.5V DC power supply.

You can screen telephone calls while you're at home. It will need a caller ID service for this to work. It announces the ten-digit phone number by the second ring. If coming from a number that has been blocked, it will announce "Number Blocked." If unidentified, it will announce "Number Unknown". If the phone is still ringing, and you didn't hear the number being announced, just press the button and it will repeat the number. It stores the last ten calls in memory so you can find out who called while you were out.

To review an incoming call, press the big button to hear the date, time and phone number of the most recent call. Subsequent pressing will announce information about previous incoming calls. If pressed again while it is still talking, it will go to the next call. After the final call is announced, the unit will beep. Continued pressing will start back at the top of the list again. If you hold down the big button for 2-seconds, it will announce the number of new calls followed by the date, time, and telephone number of every new call in the list. After the final call is announced, the unit will beep.

The unit speaks in both English and Spanish. To change the selected language, hold down the small button and quickly press and release the big button. The unit announces "January" in the selected language.

To erase the calls in the list, hold down the big button for 4 seconds. The unit will beep confirming that the calls have been erased. The small key is designed so that it is hard to knock accidentally.

It speaks in a clear male voice and announces the date, time and incoming number.  It is easy to use. As with any electrical product on the market, there may well be variations of this talking caller ID available. Some may even speak a persons name or record outgoing calls.

These are available from ebay.com or possibly your local Blind Foundation.

Doro 311C PhoneEasy desktop phone

The DORO 311C is approximately 19 cm deep and 17 cm wide. It has large well spaced, easy to see buttons with white writing on a black background. The phone is wall mountable, and features shaped buttons for ease of identification. You can autodial up to thirteen numbers (three under M1, M2 and M3, and another ten by pressing MEMORY and the number you have saved it under - for example MEMORY 7). M1, M2 and M3 are one touch speed dials.  You will need to press two buttons (for example Memory + 2) to access the extra ten speed dials. There are three different ring tones and each is available in low, medium and high. When the handset is on the left, the large oval buttons (reading from top left across in groups of three) are as follows: 1, 2, 3; 4, 5, 6; 7, 8, 9; *, 0, #

Below these 12 oval buttons are three smaller oval buttons with 4 smaller circular buttons below that again on the bottom row. The three small oval buttons on the second last row are M1, M2 and M3. The four smaller circular buttons reading left to right on the bottom row are store/mute, memory, recall and redial. To the right of these oval and circular buttons are two arrows. One up and one down. These are volume up and volume down.

To store a number in M1, simply press STORE/MUTE...press M1... enter the telephone number (up to 21 digits)... press STORE/MUTE again and replace the handset to save it. The next time you lift the handset and press M1, it will autodial that phone number. Once you have used up M1, M2 and M3 you will need to autostore using the memory button.

To store a number using the memory button, simply press STORE/MUTE...MEMORY...(choose a number between 0 and 9)... enter the telephone number (up to 21 digits)...STORE/MUTE again and replace the handset. To auto dial using memory, simply press MEMORY and the corresponding number (example MEMORY 7) and the number will be dialled for you.

To change the ring tone, simply press STORE/MUTE...# ... 3 ...STORE/MUTE and replace the handset. (3, 6, and 9 will give you three different ring tones depending on which one you like). 1,2,and 3 are the low, medium and high of the first ring tone... 4, 5, and 6 are the low, medium and high of the second ring tone... and 7, 8, and 9 are the low, medium and high of the last ring tone.

These are available from The Warehouse in New Zealand.

Cobolt Speechmaster Talking Microwave by LG

The Cobolt talking microwave dimensions are as follows: 53 cm wide, 40 cm deep and 31 cm high.

When you look at the microwave from the front, the door will swing out to the left. On the front right hand side are the buttons in various shapes.  There are 4 rows of buttons on the right hand side of the microwave. The first three rows of buttons are square shaped, and the bottom row of buttons are diamond shaped. From left to right and going down, they are as follows:
Row 1: There are two square buttons. These are clock, and timer.
Row 2: There are four square buttons. The first is for your power level. (You can cycle between the different power levels here by pushing in the button to change to the desired heat level). The next button is the defrost button. The third  button is meat (which is preprogrammed), and the fourth is for convenience food.
Row 3: There are three square buttons. The first button is to set ten minute lots. The next button is for 1 minute lots. The third button is to set 10 second lots. These same buttons (when used in conjunction with the DEFROST button) are also used as kilos, grams and to select between pounds and ounces or kilos.
Row 4: The fourth row of three buttons are diamond shaped. They are the stop button, the auto minute, and the start button.

To set the time on the microwave, press the clock button. Next, go to the third row and the first button will be the 10 minute button and the second will be the minute button. Press the 10 minute button to adjust the hourly time (for example between 12am and 12pm) and then press the minute button (to adjust the minutes between 01 and 59). Now, your time is set. When wanting to check the time, press the clock button and it will tell you the current time.

To adjust the volume, press the clock button again until you hear set volume. Again, go to the third row and either press the 10 minute or one minute button to adjust the volume. The 10 minute button will make it quieter and if you press the one minute button the volume will get louder.

To use the defrost function, (say for example to defrost 1.3kg of meat) press DEFROST... then using the buttons on the third row...select pounds and ounces or kgs (third button on the right)... Next, press the first button to select how many kilos you need and then press the second button to select the 100 gram increments (also referred to as point 1 of a kilo). Simply press START. The microwave will confirm verbally the weight you have entered. If you have entered an incorrect weight, simply press DEFROST again and re-enter the weight and press START again.

If the power is turned off, you will need to reset the clock to get the current time.

Throughout the whole process, the microwave will speak the buttons or adjustments to you. If you press the button to open the door, it will say door open. It will also tell you door closed when you close the door again.

Overall, the verbal confirmation, well spaced and assorted shaped buttons makes this microwave easy to use.
To listen to a sound sample please visit https://www.dropbox.com/s/7e69yxxoek74mi0/cobolt%20speech%20master%20talking%20microwave.MP3?dl=0
These are available from Cobolt UK. Please contact Cobolt for current models and pricing.

I Pod Shuffle by Apple

The dimensions for the I Pod shuffle are as follows: 3 cm wide, 3 cm high and 1 cm thick from the front of the unit to the back of the clip.
When you are looking at the I Pod shuffle front on, you will see a raised circle on the front of the unit. This has four functions. The top of the circle is volume up, the bottom of the circle is volume down, to the left of the circle is the back button and off to the right is the forwards button for skipping through your songs. In the middle of the circle is a flat section which is your play and stop button. These buttons are tactile, so it is fairly easy to tell where these buttons are. On the top of the I pod shuffle to the left is a 3.5 mm hole. This is where you put in your headphones, or a charging cable to charge it up when it starts going flat. Off to the right of this headphone hole is a very slightly raised voice over button. Press this button once and it will tell you the name of the song and artist. Pressing the button twice quickly will give you the battery level for the I Pod.  If you hold down this button, it will give you some different options depending on what you are listening to. Off to the right of this button is a slider button. If it is to the far right - it is off, moving it to the left will play your music in order, and moving it to the left again will randomize your music or whatever it may be. The button and slider switch are very small. The battery lasts for about 10 hours. The unit is made of aluminium and can be clipped to your top. You will also need the I tunes software to move your music onto the I Pod shuffle. The shuffle doesn't play mp3 files, so when you go to move your songs onto it they will be changed into another format that Apple uses. When accessing Apple I tunes, your screen reader may not be able to access all parts of the software. You may need to tab quite a lot to get to different parts of the software. It may or may not work well with your screen reader depending on your version of screen reader. The voice over voice is clear. The I Pod shuffle can easily be used by a blind or visually impaired person, once voice over has been enabled in the I Tunes software. The software may take a bit of getting used to - to find out where various things are kept. It is not quite as easy to move music onto using I Tunes (compared to copying from a hard drive to an mp3 player for example). Once you have used it once or twice, it is not that hard to use!

These are available from Apple retailers (such as Harvey Norman or Dick Smiths) in New Zealand.

Uniden SSE 25 plus 1 talking phone set (Similar models are the SSE 25, SSE 27 and the SSE 27 + 1).

This is a new phone series made by Uniden for the visually impaired and hard of hearing. When you first get this package, there will be 2 phones and 2 bases along with cables etcetera. One of the bases will be big while the other will be smaller.  The bigger unit is the main unit, and will have an answering machine built into it on the base. You will need sighted assistance to set up the phone book as well as some of the other things on the unit. The text to speech features will need to be turned on in both phones so you can hear the numbers or names. When you go to make a phone call (once plugged in and charged) to a number that is not stored in your phone book, and if you would like it to speak out the numbers as you dial, you will need to dial in your number first before pressing the talk button. For example 0800 36 33 44. These keys will be spoken to you as you press them, then you will need to push the talk button. This will then dial out your number (unlike some phones who dial out as you press each number).  The phone will do caller ID which will be spoken out to you if you have this service from your provider. This is usually at a small cost so you can hear the number or person calling in.  From what I have read, this may not work in New Zealand at present. However, if you have an ATA analogue adaptor for voip, and you have this service, it should work.  I have tested this function with the Australian VOIP provider Pennytel and it worked fine.  Adding names to your phone book will need to be done before you can use your phone book speed dials. Once someone has entered all of your names into the phone book, press the phone book button, then arrow up and down the list to hear the names listed in there. Once you have found the person you want to ring, press the talk button and it will dial out the number for you. The voice sounds like a Philipino / English type voice. It may take a bit of getting used to. It is just clear enough to tell what numbers you are dialling or to tell the difference between people in your address book. If possible, it may be a good idea to get the shop to demonstrate the phone to you (to hear the voices both on the phone and address book) to see if you are able to understand them.  The dimensions for both the bases and handsets are as follows. The main base dimensions are: 18cm wide, 10 cm deep and 22 cm high (with the phones seated in its base). The handsets by themselves are: 8 cm wide, 10 cm deep and 22cm high (seated in its cradle). Both of the handsets look the same. Basically when you are holding the handset in your hand, the layout will be as follows: There will be your ear piece (which has a flashing red light in the top of it), down below this will be a LCD screen. Below this is the phone book on the left, in the middle is select menu and off to the right is caller ID. Next row down is speaker phone from the left, in the centre is the talk button (this is bigger than the other buttons making it easier to find), and off to the right of this button is a flash button. The next 4 rows down from left to right will be 1, 2, 3, below these will be 4, 5, 6, and below them will be 7, 8, 9. The next three will be star, 0 and hash. The last 3 buttons will be clear, redial and mute. These may be used for other functions as well. On the left of the phone (on the side) is a boost button. This is for making your volume louder while in a conversation, and below this is 2 arrow buttons (going up and down). On the right hand side is a hole for a headset and below this is a button for tone.  The phones are nice to hold in your hand and have big buttons on both handsets. They have clear black text on a white background on the buttons. On the base of the main unit (on the back) there is a 9 volt DC hole to plug your power adaptor into, a telephone line hole, and a visual ringer which can be adjusted. It will give you 3 options which are high, low or off.  This is to alert a hearing impaired person so that they can see when the phone rings. If you look on the front of the main unit, you will find the following. From left to right along the bottom is a long strip which is a flashing light... above that are two oval buttons (volume up and volume down)... to the left is the slow button (to enable message to be played back slowly) and to the right is a do not disturb button. On the right hand side there is a greet button (to choose between the pre-set answering machine message and your own). Second one down is on or off. Down the bottom is ringer select (which gives you a choice of ring types). In terms of the length of rings, you can choose between 3, 6, 9 and 12 and toll saver. It also comes with a belt clip, battery charger, BT694N battery, and manual). Support is via the Uniden 0800 number. Audible beeps sound every 15 seconds if messages are waiting (although it doesn't say how many messages there are, the beep will alert you that there are some recorded).  Please see the user manual for more information.

The male voice on the answering machine was crystal clear, yet the voice used in the phone book and for pressing number buttons was harder to understand. I am not sure why Uniden used two different voices? Overall, if this phone had a clearer voice for both the numbers dialled and the phone book, and the call quality was that of a 2.4 gigahertz portable phone (with no interference) then I think this would be a great seller. I think it is still a good product for the visually impaired, hearing impaired and elderly, however it is not totally accessible or clear sounding for the blind just yet. It may however be the difference between having an accessible phone which you can use independently once set up, or having one whose phonebook is inaccessible. Once you tune your ear to the phonebook's accent, it makes it easier to use. Other related phones are the SSE27 (large button desk phone), SSE27+1 (large button desk phone plus cordless phone) and the SSE25 (cordless phone with answering machine on the base). I think it is best that you be the judge of this phone.

If you have the caller ID service enabled for your home phone, when someone calls in, if the person is in your phone book, the caller ID will be spoken. If the person is not in your address book it will not be spoken. The caller's number will be displayed on the caller ID screen visually. You may need sighted assistance to see what that number is and also to delete or save the number. To get around this, a blind person may wish to use a talking caller ID unit which cam be purchased separately.

Test it out to see if it suits your personal needs!

These are available from most electrical retailers in New Zealand (such as Dimocks Retravision, Noel Leemings, Harvey Norman and Office Max etcetera). To listen to a sound sample please go to https://www.dropbox.com/s/rk9822j5qir8wd4/uniden%20sse25%20going%20through%20the%20address%20book%2C%20pressing%20numbers%20on%20the%20handset%20and%20the%20answering%20machine%20voice.MP3?dl=0

Talking Timer by Voice Craft

There is a plastic tab on the base of the timer which must be pulled out before the timer will function. When this tab is removed, place the timer in front of you on a table, with the display screen facing towards you. On the right side of the timer is the Mode switch. The top position is for the count up function (which does not talk until it gets to one minute and says "one minute over"). The second position is for the count down timer. This counts down in hours, (and ten minute lots in the last hour); minutes, (then lots of ten seconds in the last minute), and in the last ten seconds it says 10, 9,8, all the way to 0. The third is for the clock, and the bottom position is Clock Set.

On top of the timer are six buttons. On the top row, from left to right, are Hour (HR), Minute (MIN), and Second (SEC). On the bottom row are Clear, Memory, and Start/Stop.
Below these buttons is a slide-off lid that reveals a switch on the left and two buttons off to the right. The switch (REPEAT) controls the Repeat function. In the left position it is on (YES), and in the right position it is off (NO). The second button controls speech. It is labelled (VOICE ON/OFF). One beep means that the speech is off, and two beeps means that the speech is on. The third button may be called Select (SOUND). In the COUNT DOWN MODE, there are six sound options. They are: A whistling kettle, a cuckoo, a school bell/alarm clock, a bouncing / boinging sound, a car horn and a rapid beep sound. To change the timer alert sound, simply press the Sound button until you hear the sound you would like to use.

Using the timer operation for counting up or down. Press Hour, Minute, and Second to set the timer. Press Memory to remember this amount of time. Press Start to start timing. You can press Start to pause the timer, and Start to resume again. To stop the timer, press Start, then Clear. To clear the memory, press Memory, then Clear. 

In clock mode. Any of the six buttons on the front will speak the time in this mode.

In clock set mode. Press Hour, Minute, and Second to set the time. Press Start to hear the time.

This timer has a magnetic strip on the rear clip as well as a built-in stand in the base; so you can stick it on your fridge, clip it to your shirt, or have it on its stand on your desk. The voice is clear and the volume is reasonable. There may be slight variations of this on the market.

These are available from Jaycar Electronics (NZ), TradeMe (NZ) and other blind retailers such as the braille bookstore.

Talking Digital Skipping Rope from Cobolt

The talking digital skipping rope has the following features:
Clear voice
Runs on 2 x AAA alkaline batteries (included).
Adjustable rope length 
Target settings. Set the timer from 1-99 minutes for your workout.
There are 4 display modes: the number of jumps, calories burned, the elapsed time and a count down timer.
Button location:
Your talking skipping rope has five buttons on one of the handles. Listed below is where these buttons are located and what they are called.
1) The MODE button. This button is located on the front of the handle with the display and is the button closest to the battery compartment.
2) The SET button can be found on the front of the handle just above the MODE button.
3) The UP/AUTO and DOWN/CLEAR buttons are positioned on the side of the handle next to each other, the UP being at the front of the handle.
4) The TALK button is located on the other side of the handle to the UP and DOWN buttons.
5) The RESET button is located on the back of the unit and will require a pin or paperclip to operate.

Assembly instructions:
Each handle has a swivel joint on the end of it. This is the part where the rope attaches to the handles.
1) Hold one of the handles in one hand and push the rope through the swivel joint side ways. You will notice there are two holes next to each other and it does not matter which one of these you use first.
2) Double back the rope and push it through the hole in the swivel joint next to the one you pushed the rope through first.
3) Pull the rope tight so that it will not slip out of the joint. Now do the same with the other handle.
4)Your skipping rope is now ready for use.
Note:
This is where you adjust the rope to the right length for the person who is using it by setting the desired length through the swivel joints.

Installing the batteries:
This talking skipping rope uses 2 x AAA Alkaline batteries for power, please follow the steps below for battery installation. The battery compartment can be located on the end of the handle with the display and buttons on it.
1) Open the battery compartment by turning the cap at the end of the handle anti-clockwise.
2) Remove the compartment cap and install the 2 new batteries with the pip on the tip of each battery facing out.
3) Replace the cap by turning it clockwise until it snaps into place. The skipping rope will bleep twice if this has been done correctly.
Please note: If the sound weakens, distorts or the display dims then the batteries will need to be replaced.

Using the skipping rope:
Press and hold the DOWN/CLEAR button until you hear “reset and ready”. This will set all the functions to zero and the skipping rope is now ready for use.

Setting your weight:
In order to calculate your calorie consumption the skipping rope needs to know your weight,  please follow the steps below to enter your weight.
1) Repeatedly press the MODE until you hear “Number of jumps” or “Calorie”.
2) Press and hold the SET button until you hear “Enter your weight”.
3) Repeatedly press or hold down the UP and DOWN buttons to set your weight between 50-300 LBs, this is equivalent to 25-150 KG. Please note: you can only enter your weight in LBs.
4) Press the set button once to confirm the settings and return to the normal display mode.

Setting the countdown timer:
You can set up a target workout time by following the steps below.
1) Repeatedly press the MODE button until you hear “Countdown timer”.
2) Press and hold the SET button until you hear “Set timer”.
3) Repeatedly press or hold down the UP and DOWN buttons to set your target workout time between 1-99 minutes.
4) Press the set button once to confirm the settings and return to the normal display mode.

Announcement of Calorie, Number of jumps, Workout time and Countdown timer:
Pressing the TALK button will announce what is on the display at any time. To announce any of the other functions you must first press the MODE button until you hear it say your desired function, and then press the TALK button to hear that information spoken.
To hear the entire announcement, at any mode press and hold down the TALK button for over 2 seconds and the unit will speak all of the information.

Resetting the Unit:
Should your talking skipping rope show abnormal functions such as a frozen display, or broken display, or no response to any button being pressed, you must reset the unit by pressing the RESET button on the back of the handle.

Overall, the skipping rope is easy to assemble and use. It is made from a good quality man made rope with plastic handles. It has a clear English female voice, and when you press the clear button it will announce "reset and ready" so that you know you are ready to start again. Available from Cobolt UK.

Talking bathroom scales (model number 396TBS) by AWS (American Weigh Scales Inc)

These talking bathroom scales are round and have a glass top which measures 32.5cm in diameter. They stand approximately 3cm off the ground (including the feet - which are stuck onto a 3cm black plastic cross section). The underside "cross section" is like a giant  rounded letter X going from 2 o'clock until 4 o'clock, and from 10 o'clock until 8 o'clock). When the glass is facing downwards away from you, you will also notice an oval shape above the cross section. This is the rear of the LCD display and has the pound, kg, pound slider control on the left (kg being in the middle). When tapped gently, a blue backlight appears and you will hear "Please wait a moment", followed by "Please step on the scale". It will then announce "Your weight is..." (in either kilograms or pounds - depending on what you have set it to on the underside of the scales).  Once you have heard your weight, your weight in kgs will flash three times in large black LCD numbers, then you will hear "Goodbye" and the blue backlight will disappear. It is a very clear female voice, and can be set to English or Spanish (Espanol) by depressing a button on the underside of the scales. It runs on 2x AAA batteries and can weigh up to 180kg in 100g increments. You can also mark the top of your scales (near the LCD area) so you know which way to stand every time. It comes with a ten year warranty and is available from braillebookstore.com (Canada).

Talking indoor and outdoor thermometer by NU Temp

The NU Temp talking indoor/outdoor thermometer measurements are as follows: approximately 11cm high, 7.5cm wide and 1.8cm thick.

Turn the unit around so the back is facing you. (The lcd screen and tactile buttons will be away from you). The battery compartment will be on the back of the unit, in the centre. Slide the lid off (towards the probe) and insert 2 AAA batteries. Replace the back by sliding it closed again. You can attach velcro if you wish to stick it onto something, or you can flip up the stand if you wish to stand it up somewhere. This is done by pulling the plastic flap down away from just beneath the battery compartment. Just above the battery compartment is a sunken area which contains a slide switch (left for C and right for F), and below that is a rubber button for volume selection. A voice will confirm "Celcius" or "Farenheit". There are three volumes to cycle through. You will hear what those are as you press the rubber button repeatedly.

When the front of the unit is facing you, the cable and temperature probe will be on the left. There is a sensor on the top left of the unit (above the lcd screen). There are five tactile buttons in total on the front, each having a different shape for easy identification.
The square brailled slide switch immediately below the screen, toggles between "indoor" (to the left) and "outdoor" (to the right). Below this is a row of three buttons. To the left is an upwards facing triangle (HR/ALM), in the centre is a square button (MODE) and to the right is a downwards facing triangle (MIN/HOURLY). The left triangle shaped button turns the alarm on and off. The square MODE button in the centre is set. (Press once to set time, twice to set alarm, and the third press returns the clock to normal mode - sounding 4 quick beeps). The right triangle shaped button is pressed to turn the hourly report on and off. Finally below these and centred is an oval (TALKING) button.  Pressing this button will announce the indoor and outdoor temperature. To hear an accurate outdoor temperature, make sure that you have put the probe outside the window, in a shaded spot.

The voice is clear. The buttons announce as you press them, so it is easy for a blind person to set it up themselves.

These are available from braillebookstore.com (Canada).





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