Facebook improving AI to detect contents of images

Facebook has increased the usefulness/capabilities of their AI which powers the detection of image contents, improving the experience for blind and visually impaired users. I use this feature often and have seen a marked improvement in the quality of the way Facebook detects people, objects, and locations in posted photos. 

A welcome addition

The feature has been on the Facebook platform since 2016, but this update makes it a more viable feature for blind and visually impaired users. The system works much like the iPhone, telling the user the number of people in the photo, text the feature adds functionality above the iPhone including the ability to tell the user where the photo was likely taken. 

Inclusion

I love to see companies taking development time to improve features like this. So often accessibility features get implemented, then forgotten. We are moving at a good pace toward the removal of reliance on sighted interpreters for social media. I love memes and it will be great when this technology takes a couple more steps so it can provide context and effectively read even the blurriest text. 

Good Job Facebook, keep up the good wor

If you would like to read more about this feature, ZDNET has a great article explaining all the capabilities of the new AI photo interpreter. Here is a link to their article:

https://www.zdnet.com/article/facebook-enhances-ai-used-to-describe-photos-for-visually-impaired-users/


Accessibility of gift cards court cases

I have to say that I am pretty happy with the direction of society in terms of money (other than that, things are pretty bonkers). I don’t miss the days of having to carry and keep track of a wallet full of bills. For the most part, I use my ATM for purchases and know the locations of all the buttons on most manufacturer’s debit card machines.  It is great to be able to make a purchase then check my bank app right away to ensure that the proper amount was charged. One area that is still very difficult to navigate however is the purchase of and use of gift cards. 

Wall of confusion

 Most grocery stores have a large wall dedicated to purchasable gift cards from a variety of industries. The problem resides in the fact that most of the gift cards appear the same to someone who is visually impaired, or have no discernable markings for those who are totally blind. Without asking for help, there is no way for someone who cannot read the text to pick out the correct gift card. To make matters worse, many of the gift cards have different denominations but all look similar. As an example, you can buy a Visa gift card for anywhere from 15 to 100 dollars in separate increments, or buy one which has a variable amount of up to 500 dollars – and all of these cards look relatively the same. It would be very easy for someone with limited vision to buy a 100 dollar card instead of a 50 dollar card. The person checking you out does not generally confirm the purchased amount with you and therefore you end up with a card that has double the intended amount. If this example seems very specific, try and guess who this actually happened to. 

Tracking balances

The other side of the problem coin arises when you receive a gift card. The cards always need to be activated and this is often done by reading eye-inducingly small text on the back of the card packaging that is difficult to read even for those who are fully sighted.  The websites that the recipient needs to navigate to create an account and track their balance with are often antiquated and lacking in the accessibility department. 

Seeking change

Several lawsuits were filed in 2019 by a handful of clients seeking change to the accessibility of gift card sales. These suits were not focused on grocery stores but encompassed a large variety of retailers like Kohls who sell gift cards. In May 2020, quite a few of these suits were thrown out because of lack of standing and the position that the ADA does not require the sale of specialty items for the visually impaired. Yes, the retailer’s association rejoiced and reveled in their victories because the judges regarded the basic right to know what you were buying as specialty products. This week several more cases are to be heard but the outcome is not also not looking good for these cases because of the snags they have encountered. 

Seeing the other side

Retailers spend a ton of money creating packaging and forcing them to include braille would increase that cost, which would be passed along to the customer. They would need braille writers and a specific round of quality assurance for the braille and the machines that create the packaging would need to be able to produce the braille. That doesn’t make it right, nor does it validate the refusal to include braille on the packaging. This does highlight a larger systematic issue around accessibility for product packaging, I think it is very unlikely that the ADA will be able to convince the retailers association that industry-wide change is necessary for this issue. Don’t get me wrong, being able to clearly identify what I am buying at the grocery store would be a wonderful thing, but expecting every manufacturer large and small to adopt some kind of braille markings just is not going to happen. 

Now what?

If industry-wide change is not an option then finding another route that will allow the visually impaired to read everything is the next best approach. Image recognition technology will be the knight in shining armor for the blind and visually impaired community, but it will take time and the creation of infrastructure. We already have apps like be my eyes which can connect you to a sighted person for help in this sort of situation, but my hope is that an application will be on the horizon that can identify the object put in front of it with acceptable accuracy. 

Conclusion

Change tends to take a long time, and industry-wide change is often daunting and seemingly impossible to pull off. The kind of change that would be required to have all manufacturers large and small include accessible packaging seems impossible, but they did get nutrition facts on products, so how is braille any different? It is because the inclusion of braille falls under the specialty product heading in the government’s eyes – which is sad. The best hope to resolve this issue is going to be technology-based, but there are a ton of issues surrounding a technological answer as well. 

I love to hear from my readers, please connect with me on social media at the links below, or feel free to drop me a message on the contact page here on blindtravels. 

My Photography: https://tahquechi.com/

Instagram and Twitter: @nedskee

 

Article resources:

INDUSTRIES PRAISE RESULTS IN BRAILLE GIFT CARD LITIGATION

https://www.rila.org/focus-areas/legal-affairs-compliance/retail-praise-results-braille-gift-card-litigation

Braille Gift Card Court Argument Focuses on Harm Allegations

https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/braille-gift-card-court-argument-focuses-on-harm-allegations

This article is from Bloomberg News and requires a login to view the whole article. 


2020, what an interesting year.

As 2020 comes to a close, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the year that was. Things started out normal enough for me. I was only a couple of months into the highest-profile photography show to date when things got weird. 

Photography

In January 2020, I opened my Landscapes of the Body photography project as a solo exhibition at the Lighthouse for the Blind Gallery in downtown San Francisco. My wife, Fauna my Guide Dog, and I flew from Denver to San Francisco for the opening of the exhibition, and I had no idea that was the last place I would travel to this year. The Lighthouse graciously decided to extend the showing through the end of 2020, and I could not be happier with the reception of the pieces, and I am thankful to the Lighthouse for their willingness to show work that was not traditional landscapes or other “safe” content in their gallery. I cannot express how happy I am to have been able to share my vision of the human form with so many people this year. 

Something to talk about

Once the pandemic hit and things started to close down, Travel blogging became incredibly difficult. After I had run through the stockpile of saved blog topics, written all of the pending articles, and showed all the backlogged photos here, topics became tough to find. In the early COVID days, I wanted to make sure to keep a positive spin on my posts because I saw many bloggers falling into the “woe is me” vein. Some made updates on the COVID virus their new direction, but my thinking was that you were already getting information about that from every angle and there was no reason for me to muddy the waters. Now, I did write a few articles about social distancing as a visually impaired person, and COVID and guide dogs, but for the most part, I kept out of the virus reporting game.

I did find myself talking a lot more about technology here on Blind Travels, especially technology that relates to travel. I do believe I will keep that up as we move forward since I have enjoyed researching and writing those stories, and based on the feedback you all seem to like them as well.

Public Speaking

In April, I was a guest speaker on Travel Talk for The Hadley School for the Blind, and it was a wonderful experience. It seemed as though people weren’t able to travel, but were rabid to talk about it. As the year progressed, I was the guest speaker for quite a few organizations and strangely enough, the topic was always on train travel, including quite a few radio shows. By the way, I do love to speak about traveling visually impaired and I never charge for my time. Traveling is a passion and if you would like me to talk to your group about train or any other travel, please feel free to drop me a note on my contact form here on Blind Travels. Coming up next year I will be speaking on travel photography and visual impairment. I’ll post the details here as we get closer to those events.

Technology

With the Pandemic, it was tough to be together in person, and I was happy to see that (mostly) accessible technology was able to stand up to the task. Zoom is of course the go-to way of meeting now, even though Google Groups did try to make a go of it. The Zoom platform is generally useful, and I have found it to be user friendly.

Moving forward

In the coming year, I plan to take some time to write articles about travel photography, since this seems to be a topic many are interested in. With the vaccine starting to roll out, we will all be traveling before you know it. Now is a great time to learn a new skill that will benefit you when we can all start heading out on new adventures. Photography is a great skill to learn, and with the new camera advances from Apple, it is an exciting time to be interested in photography and be visually impaired. More on that in the new year…

If you have topics you would like me to cover this coming year, please feel free to drop m a message on the contact form here. I love to hear from my readers and if you take the time to let me know which articles you find interesting it helps me to stay on track and creating content you love.

2020 may have been a terrible year compared to others, but things will get back to normal. I hope you all have a happy and safe new year celebration and I look forward to interacting with you in the year to come.

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My travel site: http://www.blindtravels.com/

Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee

Follow me and I will happily follow you back.


Labels for disabled people

I’m not one of those people with a disability that are in a panic over how the public refer to us. I have empathy for writers, reporters, and public figures that have anxiety when talking about people with disabilities.  There are so many different ways to talk about a person who is disabled, whether you say they are special-needs, differently-abled, handicapped, or physically challenged, they all have one thing in common and that is they are disabled. I know people who are terrified to say the word see in normal conversation with a person who is blind, as in “did you see what happened on the show last night?”

I am blind, I have a disability. I live with it every day and I deal with it every minute of every day. When I go to check out at a store, I don’t say “I’m differently-abled with loss of light perception and therefore cannot read the display”, I say “I’m blind can you read this to me or tell me what I need to press?”. I totally understand that dealing with disabled people in an acceptable way can be confusing, so I invite you to read my education section here on blind travels for some tips for dealing with people who are visually impaired. I have also created articles where those who are fully sighted can ask questions of us who are visually impaired. I hope you find the information useful.

If you found this information useful, feel free to share this article on social media. If you have questions for me, or just want to say hi, feel free to drop me a message on any of my social media links below.

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My travel site: http://www.blindtravels.com/

Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee

Follow me and I will happily follow you back.


Black Friday deal!

I’m legally blind, but I also love photography, especially Travel Photography. Post-processing images can take forever, and using some image processing software can be difficult to see. DxO acquired the Nik Collection a few years ago, and I could not be happier that they are continuing to evolve and innovate it. I started using the Nik Collection years before Google purchased them to include the core functionality into their Snapseed program. I use the color EFX program for all the color images here on Blind Travels and the black and white editor Silver EFX for all my black and white images.  I am a long time Nik Collection user and enthusiastically recommend it to any photographer who asks me how I post-process my images. 

To celebrate Black Friday and Cyber Weekend, DxO is offering 50% off all their software including their amazing RAW processor Photo Lab and the entire Nik Collection. Here is a link to get this great deal. 




 


iOS 14 great new feature for the visually impaired

I’m an iPhone user and have been since the iPhone 5. I have always been happy with their accessibility features and I know the operating system inside and out, so I stay with iPhones because I’m comfortable with them and can easily navigate. Because of the maturity of the platform, innovative features seem exceedingly rare especially in terms of accessibility. Most companies require you to buy the latest greatest hardware to get new features, but not so with the really great back tap feature in iOS 14. In your settings under accessibility > touch you can now activate the back tap feature which allows you to double or triple tap on the back of your phone to activate a feature. You can set up the double and triple tap to activate separate features as well. 

Like most of you that frequent this blog, I use a screen reader. On iOS you slide two fingers down from the top of the screen to activate the screen reader function. Most times when I’m in a hurry, I end up bringing up the notifications or some other function instead of activating the screen reader. With the new back tap feature I set the double tap to activate screen reader and it has made the phone 100% more useable for me and makes the screen reader function orders of magnitude more reliable. You can also set the back tap feature to activate zoom, mute the phone bring up spotlight or a myriad of other options. 

The back tap uses the accelerometer in your phone and works very well on my older iPhone X, my son has a iPhone 8 and it works equally well. The options you can set the feature to are a bit limited as of right now but I’m sure it will expand with time and future releases. 

There isn’t much more to say about this new feature other than I’m interested to hear if you are using it and what you think ab out it. Drop me a message and let me know.

 


Voting as a blind or visually impaired person.

I hope everyone had a safe and fun Halloween. We are roaring towards Thanksgiving and Christmas at a breakneck pace. What I would like to talk about today is not the holiday season thought, I would like to talk about taking the time to vote tomorrow. This is an inherently non-political blog so don’t expect me to tell you who to vote for, instead let’s talk about the act of voting as a visually impaired person. 

Obstacles

No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on, one constant for my readers remains the same – the concern over the act of voting. There is always a bit of concern, when you go to the polling station and ask for help, how do you really know that the person you are getting aid from doesn’t have an agenda and will purposely mismark your vote to their ideal? Many visually impaired and blind people I know don’t even bother to take the time to vote in person for this very suspicion. I think this is a valid concern at any time, but especially during this election cycle with the rampant divide we have in our country. 

The answer to the question for now becomes trust. If you don’t have someone you can trust to go with you to the polling station, then you just must trust in the credibility of the people volunteering at the voting stations. Because the states are responsible for the way voting is handed in each district, it is difficult to create a cohesive plan for making the act of voting more accessible to the blind and visually impaired.  

Added to the suspicion that your vote might not be recorded as you request, are the concerns over COVID-19. We have all lived this new normal for a while now and I am sure I don’t need to remind you to bring your hand sanitizer and wear your mask. If you are a guide dog user like I am, make sure that you have some sort of sign attached to your dog dissuading people from petting him or her which will reduce your potential exposure. You might be waiting in lines so be sure to bring yourself and your guide a snack and a drink. 

Make your voice heard

Regardless of your political affiliation, take the time to get out and make your voice heard. We get the governmental representation we deserve. If you don’t like the sitting administration, then you have the right to volunteer to make a change. If you vote tomorrow and things don’t go the way you expected them to, then at least you took the time to let your voice be heard. 

Moving forward

Voting is a lot like daylight savings time.  Twice a year, we complain about daylight savings time and say we should do something about it. We suck it up and have a week of terrible sleep, then things go back to normal until the springtime when we must go through it again and complain all over. Voting is similar, there are a ton of things that can be done to change the next voting cycle for the better in terms of accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, but by the time the presidential election cycle is over the last thing we want to think about is dealing with issues around voting. This election cycle has been the longest in history and if you are anything like me, there is a lot of fatigue. When this is all over, we should all take the time to start calling our local representatives and start working toward making voting more accessible. If we can’t fix the national issues, perhaps we can make local troubles better. If that doesn’t work and the voting process just can’t be changed on a national level, then perhaps we can build a group of volunteers that can be trusted to go with those who don’t have someone in their lives to help out. Maybe a smaller step like this could help to bring change to a system that is not accessible by nature (in most areas).

Get out there

It is too late to make any tangible changes to the voting system for this election cycle but let’s get together and start working toward the 2022 elections. If we work in steps, then maybe the 2024 presidential election cycle can be a bit (or a lot) more accessible.   For now, take a deep breath, and do your duty and let your voice be heard!


Supporting the disabled community

I love to support organizations that focus on making a positive difference in the lives of the disabled community. Over the last five years, I have been working with Access Gallery located in the Denver Santa Fe Art District. Access Gallery offers fantastic art-centric programs especially tailored to the needs of the disabled. Each year, they host a fundraiser where 99 artists come together to support this worthwhile organization.     

Each year I donate a print to Access Gallery for annual fundraiser. This year for the first time the event will be held virtually, so my friends from all over the country can participate. I don’t sell my work, so the only way to get one of my prints is through a fundraiser like this. The print they will be selling is a limited-edition print from an upcoming body of work.  I invite you all to attend the free virtual fundraiser starting at 5:00 pm on October 23rd.
 
My wife, Carrie Tahquechi who makes handmade custom jewelry has also donated an amazing piece for the event Help us support Access Gallery, they have changed so many people’s lives with the work they do.
 
If you end up getting a piece of art, I’d love you to send me a message about it!
Here is a link with more information about Access Gallery and the 99 pieces of Art on the Wall fundraiser. 
 

Be my eyes and Guide Dogs for the Blind team up to help alumni

Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) and the BeMyEyes app have reamed up to offer specialized help via the app for their blind and visually impaired clients. If you have never used the BeMyEyes app, it is a wonderful smartphone app which allows users to connect to a volunteer who can help in a variety of visually oriented situations. If you need help reading the ingredients or cooking time on a package, or label on a medication bottle, this service can be a lifesaver. Now, the GDB staff will be able to field questions specific to Guide Dogs and other matters via the specialized help section of the application.

from the press release:

Beginning September 14, 2020, GDB support staff will field calls via the “Specialized Help” section of the app, allowing GDB experts to remotely help clients who are visually impaired with relevant issues regarding their guide dogs or other situations that might require live visual assistance. Such assistance could include reading labels on their dog’s food or medication packaging, addressing problems with harnesses, inspecting a dog’s physical condition, or helping interact with GDB’s website. Clients can ask questions Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. PST. For questions not requiring GDB staff expertise, users can simply tap the “Call the First Volunteer” button on the app to get answers and assistance. 

If you would like to read more about the collaboration here is an article:

https://www.streetinsider.com/Business+Wire/Guide+Dogs+for+the+Blind+Partners+With+Be+My+Eyes+to+Give+Real-Time+Video+Assistance+to+Alumni+via+Innovative+App/17357264.html

The Be My Eyes application is available in the Google Play and Apple app stores and works with most models of smartphone. Guide Dogs for the Blind is a San Rafael California based organization which provides guide dogs and training to blind and visually impaired clients. Be my eyes is an app which helps the visually impaired see. Be my eyes is a volunteer-run program and they are always looking for volunteers from those who are fully sighted – check out the link below for more information. 

Guide Dogs for the Blind: https://www.guidedogs.com/

Be My Eyes: https://www.bemyeyes.com/

I love to hear from my readers! follow me on social media and I will happily follow you back. 

My photography: https://www.tahquechi.com

Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee


The British Museum and VocalEyes team up for upcoming exhibition

We all want to get back to traveling, and especially going to museums again. Many in the visually impaired community have concerns about the dynamics of COVID-19 and returning to travel destinations like museums. In the meantime, it is great to see museums like The British Museum offering virtual options to visit and learn about their exhibitions.  

Tantra: Audio Described talk Describing ten prominent pieces from the collection is an online event happening this October. from the article: 

VocalEyes(Opens in new window)‘ Lonny Evans leads this audio-described event, which provides evocative visual descriptions of 10 key works from the Tantra enlightenment to revolution exhibition, alongside images of each object. Lonny will be joined by exhibition curator Imma Ramos as we explore this radical South Asian philosophy from its birth in India to the present day.

VocalEyes is a London-based charity that provides blind and partially-sighted people with opportunities to experience and enjoy art and heritage.

This event is designed for blind and partially sighted audiences, but all are welcome. The event includes live captioning delivered by Stagetext(Opens in new window).

Part of the public program accompanying the special exhibition, Tantra: enlightenment to revolution (24 September 2020 – 24 January 2021).

To attend this online event

Click ‘Book now(Opens in new window)‘ to secure your place. We are hosting the event on Zoom – a free video conferencing system that requires users to register in advance. If you do not already use Zoom, you can sign up using this registration link(Opens in new window).

If you have any access requirements or need assistance booking this event please email access@britishmuseum.org or phone 020 7323 8971.

The event is being held via Zoom, a video service which I have personally found to be very easy to use. Once you register, they will send you an email with a link that will bring you directly into the virtual stream on the day of the event. 

If you would like more information, here is a link for the event from the British Museum:

https://www.britishmuseum.org/events/tantra-audio-described-talk

And here is a link from the Museum Association reporting on a survey VocalEyes, (a London-based agency helping to make content more accessible for sight impaired viewers) recently conducted around the concerns of returning to normal activities amid the COVDI-19 pandemic.

https://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/2020/09/blind-and-visually-impaired-people-share-access-concerns/#

I love to hear from my readers, connect with me on social media or through the contact form here on Blind Travels. Follow me and I will happily follow you back!

My Photography: https://www.tahquechi.com

Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee

 


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