JAWS certification.

Intro:
As 2017 draws to a close, I’d like to mention what for me has been a great milestone, that of becoming JAWS certified earlier this year.
I’ve been a user of JAWS for over 12 years now, and getting the passing score of 86% was a huge deal for me.
What’s this certification business anyway?
Anyone who is a JAWS user can do it, it is a selection of questions designed to test your skill and knowledge of the JAWS screen reader, there are 85 questions randomly selected and you have a 1-hour time limit.
Of note however, is as well as JAWS, you may be asked about using braille displays as well as some key strokes on OpenBook, so it would be best to brush up on those as well.
Using the help mode:
One feature I used when preparing for the exam, is to turn on key describer mode (Insert+1 on the number row), having a good grasp of the keyboard will help you a lot during the test.
Keep a level head, even during the exam feel free to press the different key strokes.
It’s ok to fail:
I failed the exam 3 times before getting my passing score, so don’t beat yourself up if you fail the first time and second time round, just give it another crack and you’re sure to pass sooner or later.
Why should I get certified?
It’s a great way to test your overall knowledge of JAWS, plus you get the tick of approval from VFO Group, formally Freedom Scientific.
For me the biggest thing that gives me pleasure, is helping my fellow blind friends on list serves and what not, if they require it.
Also, if a job was to come up as an Adaptive Technology Trainer, having the certification holds you in good stead.
Conclusion:
The JAWS certification, is a great exam to take for anyone wanting to brush up on JAWS skills, or anyone who has been a long-term user and wants to get the tick from VFO Group, good luck to you should you want to take it.

BrailleNote Touch review.

Summary:
The BrailleNote Touch from Humanware is a big step for the note taker.
Intro:
When I was 15 years old, I was introduced to a firm called Humanware.
At that stage, even though note takers had been around since the late 90’s, it was my first time getting one.
I remember the excitement I felt unpacking what was then the MPower.
What is it?
A note taker, is a device designed for the blind, it may come with a braille display comprising 18 or 32 cells of braille, and it may have speech or not.
Today’s note takers let you do everything from browse the web, to document creation.
The power of KeySoft.
All BrailleNotes from the classic run on KeySoft, Humanwares own in house OS, fast forward to 2017, and I’m yet to find a smoother UI, my favorite feature is being able to jump by first letter navigation in apps, w for keyword, the built-in word processor etc.
In my view the word processor in the Touch is as good, if not better than Microsoft Office.
Since my time using note takers, I’ve yet to come across another note taker whose word processor is as good as Office on the PC.
What’s so special about the Braille note Touch?
Last year at CSUN Humanware launched the Braille Note Touch, the first braille tablet.
Whilst it functions like a note taker for the most part, you can take it out of it’s case and use it as a tablet, as it runs Android.
The included keyboard case also works well.
Hello Android, 4.4.
Some people in the blindness community have expressed some concerns that the Touch is running an older version of Android, from my talks with Human ware I can assure you that the firm will continue to bring out updates for the product.
In the latest Keysoft firmware, version 4.0 at the time of writing, major improvements have been introduced, such as the ability to update apps 1 at a time rather than the whole OS.
So, it may seem that the Touch is behind, but Humanware are bringing the code over from other versions of Android such as 5.0.
Conclusion:
With the true and tested KeySoft the best User interface in the business, awesome support, and fantastic build quality the Braille Note Touches future looks bright.

“The future is so close you can touch it. “

Bose SoundLink® II review.

Summary:
With big sound in a small package, the Bose SoundLink II is for serious music lovers.
Introduction:
I’ve always loved music from a very young age, weather I’m listening to smooth beats, R&B, or dirty electro there’s something that I like about music.
A couple of months ago now, I got my hands on the Bose SoundLink II which retails for AUD 299 here in Australia.
What is it?
A small Bluetooth speaker for rocking the party.
Big things come in small packages:
The sound this speaker puts out must be heard to believe, even at half volume, my windows shook, super impressed with the quality of sound, Bose has always been synonymous with great audio, and this speaker is true of that fact.
Tested with both an iPhone and iPad Pro 10.5-inch.
Conclusion:
With great audio, sleek design, and fantastic quality the Bose Soundlink II is amazing.
Pros:
Really loud sound for such a small speaker, very well made, fantastic support from Bose.
Cons:
From time to time Bluetooth cuts out.

Rating:
5 stars outstanding.

Windows 10 review: A first look at the 1709 Autumn feature update.

Introduction.
Earlier this year I was a guest at Microsoft in Sydney, where I delivered a keynote address on how I use Windows, and related MS products such as Office 365 at the company’s quarterly exchange conference.
I came away from that experience super impressed at how everyone at Microsoft from the CEO onwards is committed to accessibility, and empowering everyone on the planet to achieve great things, which is Microsoft’s mission statement.
Hello Autumn update.
Back when Windows 10 as a service was launched, Microsoft did away with this idea of shipping whole numbers such as Windows 11, instead Windows 10 is the final Windows, but will continue to get major updates, as well as smaller patches known as cumulative.
So, what does this mean for accessibility? Major adaptive tech vendors have worked with Microsoft and continue to work with Microsoft to make sure we blind are taken care of, one such example is NV Access and how well NVDA plays with the new browser Edge, JAWS 2018 (recommended to take full advantage of the Autumn update also works very well).
A brief note on Edge as it relates to JAWS and Edge, whilst it now does work, the experience is in my opinion not up to scratch.
If you value productivity stick with Internet explorer or Google’s chrome.
As a recent blog post on the Freedom Scientific points out, Edge is still a work in process, and I have full confidence that the bright minds at VFO and Microsoft will get it right, so that Edge can be brought to the level of productivity that we blind are used to in IE.
What’s changed?
A whole lot, from being able to control Narrator from a braille display, to Cortana being able to shut down your PC, there’s a bunch of good stuff in the Autumn update.
My favourite thing about the 1709 feature update, is how smoothly the upgrade went.
I updated both my Del desktop and laptop, and the installation took less than 9 minutes.
You can get the update in 2 ways, via Windows update when your PC in forms you that it’s been downloaded, or by using Microsoft’s Media creation Tool, both methods allow you to do a clean install, or an in-place upgrade, if you choose the clean install, all your data will be lost thus, I highly recommend backing-up beforehand.
If you’re in enterprise or Government, consult your system admin.
Conclusion.
It’s very clear that the future of Windows is very bright indeed, the accessibility message has been gotten loud and clear by the company, and it was evident to me when I met reps from the firm in Sydney, Microsoft is 100% committed to accessibility, just look at their Twitter @MSFT enable, and the wonderful work being done with the Seeing AI app (Currently not available in Australia but coming soon, and it’s easy to see that Microsoft is on the right track).
What does this mean for blind people and how can I help?
Feedback, feedback, feedback, feedback, I cannot stress that enough, because the blind community is small when compared to our sighted cohort, we need to speak up when we inn counter issues relating to a product or service, next time something brakes, or you feel Microsoft have broken something within Windows, write a respectful email explaining that you’re blind, and use adaptive technology, and you’ll be surprised at how willing Microsoft is to assist and correct problems and concerns.
With people like Jeff Bishop, Microsoft Program Manager for Narrator, the outlook for people that are blind, and Windows 10 overall looks very good.
Rating:
5 stars outstanding.
Pros:
Narrator is better than ever, quick smooth installation, fast boot time, being able to use my braille display with narrator, system wide dictation, Cortana is even better than before, very responsive, even though Edge is a work in progress, Microsoft is moving in the right direction, the Microsoft disability answer desk is fantastic.
Cons:
I’d love to be able to move by first letter navigation when uninstalling programs, as well as being able to copy chunks of text between my PCS and my mobile devices, I believe Microsoft is working on this already, and Windows insiders will test first before it goes live, most likely with the next version of Windows 10, known internally as Red Stone 4, due out in the first half of 2018.

Cutting the wire, a review of Apple’s AirPods.

Summary:
Launching with the iPhone 7, Apple’s Airpods, (RRP AUD 229 are a great investment for anyone who loves music and wants to cut the wire.
Intro:
It seems these days, more and more phones are dispensing with the 3.5 MM headphone Jack, enter the AirPods Apple’s answer to wireless headphones.
What’s in the box:
The AirPods ship in a very nice case, which also acts as the charging base.
If you so desire, you can use one AirPod whilst the other gets a quick charge.
Speaking of charging, the cable that comes with your iPhone, or iPad will give the case power.

Set up and configuration:
As taken from Apple’s website which reads thus:
Just take them out and they’re ready to use with all your devices. Put them in your ears and they connect instantly. Speak into them and your voice sounds clear.
When you open the case for the first time, a prompt comes up, flick to the OK button, double tap, and there paired.
It’s one of the most seamless pairings I’ve done for a while.
AirPods work with all Bluetooth enabled devices.
The AirPods have Appel’s W1 ship, the page from Apple’s website explains the technology as:
All the ground-breaking things AirPods can do are driven by the custom-designed Apple W1 chip. It produces extremely efficient wireless for a better connection and improved sound. And the W1 chip manages battery life so well, you can listen for five hours on a single charge.3 It’s performance that’s unheard of in a device this small.
On average, I’m getting between 4-5 hours, which just about meets Apple’s claim of up to 5 hours.
Airpods do also work with PCS, but I’m yet to try the experience.
Final thoughts.
With the W1 ship, ease of use, and wonderful packaging the AirPods are worth it specially, if one does a lot of walking.
Rating:
4 Stars excellent.
Pros:
Wonderful sound, great case.
Cons:
From time to time, the Bluetooth drops out, this issue will be addressed with the upcoming 11.1.