A Letter to the Editor: SLOW DOWN

by Maurie Hill on August 28, 2014

Picture of Maurie on her bike, ready to cross the streetI usually bike to work during the tail end of the morning rush (if there is such a thing in Manchester, VT). I arrive calm and refreshed from the cool morning ride. One day last week, however, I had to go home and then return to work around noon. As my luck would have it, the traffic light turned for the worse just as I approached the crosswalk, so I had to wait for the next cycle. When the pedestrian light started flashing and beeping, I proceeded briskly across. Two cars snuck ahead of me as they took their right hand turn over the crosswalk. OK, more power to you. Then as I was rolling along, trying to get on my bike, a car barely squeaked in front of me to enter the corner store, a popular local spot.

This same car suddenly started backing up quickly, as a pickup truck was in the unusual process of backing straight out into the street. In the meantime, my sandal had fallen off, but not onto the ground. I squeezed the sandal against my leg into the side of my bike as I rolled past the small parking lot’s entryway. The truck screeched out just as my back passed the entrance, took a quick left and then bolted forward. Needless to say I glared at him as he passed by, hands spread out and said “really?!”

Just as I thought to myself, “what is going on in this town?” it hit me – it’s lunchtime.

I entered the store in a huff, grabbed myself a snack, and watched as others were cavorting and cajoling with each other while standing in line. After paying, I stomped away in the same mindset as countless others (even that blasted truck driver) who just want to get to where they are going. Unfortunately, most in this country live with a half hour lunch, where they’re expected to find and eat some food, go the bathroom, do errands, and recharge for the afternoon.

I get that; been there, done that. If I were to write a letter to the editor of our local newspaper to try to break people out of this dangerously hurried mindset, it might go something like this…

Read on!

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Round Table Chit Chat on “High Contrast”

by Maurie Hill on August 19, 2014

ATM Gurad provides barrier from weather, germs, and visual access

ATM guard provides barrier from weather, germs, and visual access

It’s not often, if ever, that you have the opportunity to shoot the breeze with people who experience life through a low vision lens. In the latest High Contrast podcast, you’ll feel like you’re sitting around the kitchen table laughing with Rodney Edgar, Byron Lee, and Joe Steinkamp, as they swap stories centering around common low vision situations. At home, Joe sticks to black and white coffee mugs so he gets good contrast whether he’s pouring a dark or light colored beverage. Byron hates getting served steak on a dark plate, and Rodney struggles with sneeze guards over buffet tables.

While sneeze guards may prevent germs from spreading over a buffet of food or the number pad on an ATM machine (which is a good thing), they also prevent us from getting close enough in order to see what we’re selecting. Speaking of ATM machines – evidently some have headphone jacks, so you can plug in your headphones and get voice feedback while using the machine. It’s all good in theory, but Joe’s experience is that some buttons on the screen are not spoken so he ends up needing sighted assistance anyway to complete his transactions.

My daughter recently suspected that instead of a visual impairment, I just didn’t know how to read. Well, at times I do feel illiterate but that’s where our vision can sometimes be hard to explain, even to adults. When some photoreceptor cells are executing their intended purpose beautifully and some are asleep at the wheel, you get disparity in what you can and cannot do. Who better to share how that impacts us in different situations than those of us on the High Contrast podcast?

As always, there are a few travel tips and app recommendations to share. Some people with low vision not only listen to the podcast themselves, but also have their loved ones listen in order to help explain the mystery of why some things are hard for them while other visual tasks might not present an obstacle. So sit back, listen, and you’ll surely relate to the latest episode of the High Contrast podcast.

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Did you know that ZoomText Mac’s WebReader allows you to do far more than just read on the web?  You can use it to read back any text in your clipboard, or all the text in an active application window.

Today’s tips and tricks video will show you how you can easily read your email using WebReader.

Watch the video right here by clicking on the play button below, or go onto YouTube and watch it there.

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Visions of Vancouver

by Maurie Hill on August 7, 2014

A view of the Vancouver skyline from the water

A view of the Vancouver skyline from the water

My daughter, Arden, and I recently traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, with other family members to attend my nephew’s wedding. It was a great reason for a mini family reunion and for touring a spectacular city in the meantime. Four of my six siblings attended, including all three of the Stargardt-affected ones. So what is different about planning and enjoying a vacation when seeing and reading are not as easy?

First, I use maps to acclimate to the new surroundings before arrival. Whether viewing an electronic or paper map, needing to magnify in order to discern intersections and read street names creates a dilemma. You lose context as you zoom in on your target area. It’s like magnifying one word in a book, without knowing the rest of the sentence or even what chapter you’re in.

I prefer viewing electronic maps on my Mac mini as I can zoom in using ZoomText Mac with no noticeable degradation. This way I can still read the text on the map even at very high magnification levels. I also purchased a good fold-out street map of Vancouver and marked our lodging location with a big X. I memorized the closest cross street names. Using my desktop CCTV at home to familiarize myself with the printed map before I left, I can then use my i-loview portable video magnifier as needed while vacationing.

Read on!

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It’s Time to Go Mobile

by Maurie Hill on August 1, 2014

Picture of someone using a touch screen phoneWho would have thought a decade ago that a smartphone or tablet device with a non-tactile touch screen could be operated completely non-visually? With Apple’s VoiceOver and Google Android’s TalkBack as the major players in touch-based screen reading, one can slide, swipe, and tap on the screen to make a phone call, check the weather, look at your calendar, or even play a game without seeing what’s on the screen. There’s not a lot of memorization or training required because the screen reader tells you what you’ve selected and then may give you hints on what to do next. Zooming in is also an option if you have partial sight, but I use this only occasionally to view a picture or familiarize myself with an app. On small touch screens, I find zooming is just not an efficient way to navigate around.

Read on!

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50 Shades of Shades

by Maurie Hill on July 16, 2014

Picture of Maurie sporting her sunglasses and hatRecently Byron Lee, Rodney Edgar, and I sat around on our respective patios for another edition of the High Contrast podcast. We talked about everything under the sun, quite literally. Though sunshine is the last thing my retinas need, this is not going to prevent me from hanging out on my deck on a gorgeous day. Protecting your eyes from the sun without completely blocking vision is easier said than done.

While we certainly couldn’t come up with a unified solution, we shared our own experiences and research, and would gladly welcome your input. What types of sunglasses and hats have helped you face the bright light? Can one get protection and be fashionable at the same time? It’s kind of a lofty goal I’m striving for, so help me out here!

Listen to the latest High Contrast episode and leave your comments below.

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Moving on from Ai Squared

by Derek Bove on July 11, 2014

Out on the town at the CSUN conference

Out on the town at the CSUN conference: from left to right – Stephanie, Becca, Derek, Shawn

After almost 10 years at Ai Squared, I am off to explore new opportunities and adventures outside of my home state of Vermont. I wanted to take some time in this post to thank both the company, and our amazing customers.

It is incredible for me to think that my first job straight out of college would have given me as many opportunities as Ai Squared has given me – both in my career and personal life. For those of you that have been long time customers, you may remember myself, Gary and Maurie were on the phones in support for my first two years. In that time, I had the opportunity to create the ZoomText Tutorial for ZoomText 9.0.  Then my role expanded into sales & marketing, and finally led me to managing our ZoomText Mac product.

So many of you, our ZoomText users, have given me perspective on my life.  A 22-year-old out of college  needed to learn patience when walking someone through how to fix an issue (before we had remote support tools). In my mid-20s I learned to excel at public speaking through sales campaigns and cold calling; things I was both unfamiliar and uncomfortable with, but learned how to find my “voice.”  From there, I was able to expand my role and share with you some of my knowledge through our webinars and videos, and even meet some of you at our tradeshows and ZoomText University trainings. Lastly, having the chance to listen to our users, and being able to implement their feedback into ZoomText Mac has been one of the most rewarding opportunities in my career.

For those of you on the outside, you should know that this is a great company, with some incredible people that really care and take pride in the products and services they offer. I am proud to have been a part of this company for the past 10 years, and can assure you that you are all in great hands.

If you read through all this way to the end of the post, I have some good news for you…I was able to put a discount code into our system for 10% off any order through the end of our business day on Monday, July 14th. Just use the code DerekSaidSo on our website, or when calling in by phone – (802) 362-3612. I think I saw two men in sunglasses and black suits walk through the door, that’s my cue to leave!

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Foundation (Still) Fighting Blindness

by Maurie Hill on July 2, 2014

Maurie and Becca at the VISIONS awards gala

Maurie and Becca at the VISIONS awards gala

Becca and I recently returned from the foot of the Rocky Mountains no worse for wear after another rousing Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) VISIONS conference. Given that this was my seventh one in a row, I thought this would be the one in which I could control my emotions. Well, that idea went out the window when a parent of a child newly diagnosed with Stargardt Disease told me how our Zoomed In blog has educated and helped him deal with the news, making him realize that his daughter would be just fine. That alone made the trip worthwhile for me. Then the keynote speaker Tom Sullivan, made everyone laugh and cry with his stories of growing up blind in the 40’s and 50’s in his Irish Catholic neighborhood in Boston, where a very high fence was erected in his backyard for his safety.

But this didn’t protect him from a boy walking home from a Red Sox game, taunting him through the wired fence with “blindy . . . . blindy”. Later, some friendlier neighborhood boys inspired him to breach that well-intended fence when he heard them playing ball. Since then, both literally and figuratively, he has never stopped climbing fences. His presentation as well as most of the sessions will be available on the VISIONS 2014 website, but until then, I plan to read one of his many highly recommended books, Adventures in Darkness, which is also available as a downloadable audiobook on the NLS Bard website.

Read on!

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Mouse-oholics Anonymous – Please Step Forward

June 25, 2014

Besides normal typing, are you afraid of your keyboard? Did someone have to point out the home key bumps for you? Do you lean over to search for numbers and other uncommonly used keys? Do you pretend that the Windows key doesn’t exist? Do you think you can bypass all productivity issues with a touch […]

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Early Memories of the Web

June 17, 2014

On one of my many adventures to Philadelphia last year for my stem cell trial appointments, I stopped into meet David Goldfield at the Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ASB). David is a talented Assistive Technology Instructor and he also hosts an online meeting for his local computer user group. If you’re […]

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