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Past Discussions

Thinking about getting an Amazon Echo but have questions about which one to get, or what it can do for you? Or maybe you already have an Echo but you want to learn more about all the things it can do. This month we took a deep dive into the Amazon Echo and Alexa voice assistant.

We explored a variety of assistive technology for blind and low vision users, including electronic braille, screen reading and screen enlargement for the PC and mobile devices.



Watching TV or going to the movies can become less enjoyable if seeing the action becomes more difficult or impossible. Audio description can make all the difference. We discussed how to access audio description at the movie theater and from streaming services like Hulu or Netflix.

Labeling Technology

January 28, 2020

Appliances, food, clothing, medicine and more can all be labeled. But how? We explored both high and low tech options, and which labeling methods work best in a given situation.

Labeling with Technology:

  • Wayaround Tags can be programmed and read with a smartphone. There are multiple types, including adhesives, magnets, one and two whole buttons, and more. Less expensive than standalone bar code scanner.
  • Apps such as Seeing AI, Envision AI, and Voice Dream scanner can be used either to read the bar code of an object, or to scan its text for ingredients and directions.

  • The Amazon Echo Show uses a combination of scanning and machine learning to identify household and pantry items. This is fairly new and has the disadvantage of not being as portable as a smart phone or bar code scanner.

Standalone solutions:

  • The PenFriend allows users to attach adhesive tags to objects and record labels with their voice for later playback.
  • The IDMate Galaxy scans existing bar codes, and user-programmable tags can be ordered by phone.

Low Tech:

  • Candoable provides labels for canned food, drink and spices. Grade I or II Braille and engraved print letters.
  • Tangible Surface Research is a company who provides standard and custom packages to label appliances such as microwaves, washer/dryers, and exercise equipment. No reading is involved, as the shape of the label indicates its function.
  • This article from VisionAware lists many techniques for low vision and blind consumers for labeling and organizing items with no need for technology.

Additional resources:

It's the holiday season, which means it's time to shop 'til you drop. Luckily, lots of shopping can be done without ever stepping foot outside your door. This month we talked about accessible online shopping. We explored how to find the best bargains online, accessible gifts for the gadget lovers in your life, and which accessible tech gifts you may want in your own stocking!

Music Apps and Gadgets

October 29, 2019

There's nothing more relaxing than listening to great tunes, but there's nothing more frustrating than trying to do so with an inaccessible solution. This month we discussed smart speakers, converting old vinyl and CDs into digital music, and digital music services such as Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube Music.

For this Halloween episode, we shared the best tech horror story submitted by a listener. Check out the episode to hear the story, and you can learn about Microsoft Soundscape which played an integral part in this story.

Accessible Hardware

We discussed the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple Homepod smart speakers. Additionally, companies like Sonos have multiroom smart speakers, as well as an amplifier which can provide internet connectivity and access to streaming music on a traditional stereo system.

Music Services

We compared four music services, including Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, and Spotify. Pandora was also briefly discussed. Each of these services offers either free ad-supported options, or a lengthy 90-day trial, to encourage listeners to take the services for a spin. Both website and app options are available.

Miscellaneous music programs

To convert YouTube content to MP3 files: YouTube Playlist Converter and Pontes Media Downloader. To convert CDs to MP3 files: CDex.A listener asked about cassette to MP3 conversion, and while hardware like the ReRun X Radio and Cassette to MP3 Converter are available, quality varies widely.To accessibly play a large number of media formats from your PC: VLC Media Player and Winamp.

Many of the above options were submitted by listeners. If you have additional information to submit or questions to ask, send an email to Thanks for listening!

Smart Kitchen Gadgets

September 24, 2019

Ever wish you could just tell your microwave to cook your food? And wouldn't it be great if your phone alerted you to an open refrigerator door? This month we discussed the pros and cons of tech tools in the kitchen and answered the questions: what's out there and what's worth it?

Ranges and refrigerators:

  • There are very few smart options on the market as of now. With GE and Whirlpool-connected ovens, you can use an app or your smart assistant to preheat the oven, change oven temperature, and set a timer. The stovetop must be operated manually.
  • For those without smart ranges, braille labels, bump dots, and raised marking paint can be used to provide tactile feedback for buttons that are hard to see or feel.
  • Samsung is the leader in smart refrigerators, which have the ability to display messages and appointments, show the contents inside the fridge and more. This article on smart refrigerators describes what is currently possible.

Smart Microwaves:

  • Alexa Microwave is a small, low-powered microwave that is voice-controlled by using the Alexa smart assistant. This can be a great option for those with limited counter space.
  • GE Connected Microwave works with both Google and Alexa smart assistants and is comparable in size and power to traditional units. It also has a "scan to cook" option which determines the cook time from the bar code on the packaging.

Smart Kitchen Thermometers:

  • Maverick
  • iGrill thermometer
  • These are two examples that display information via smartphone and can be monitored from a distance.

Instant Pot and Air Fryer:

  • Cosori Air Fryer uses the VeSync app and can be controlled at a distance. So far, this is the only smart air fryer available.
  • Other options, such as the Philips 9220/26 Air Fryer, are analog and can be operated via tactile knobs.
  • The Instant Pot Smart WiFi is a multifunction pressure cooker which connects to a home network and can be controlled from an app. Other cheaper models of this unit without wi-fi have tactile buttons.

Lower Tech and Additional Resources:

Many of the resources mentioned here have been submitted by Tech It Out listeners. If you have a question, or a resource to submit, send an email to

Reading Printed Text

August 27, 2019

Reading your mail, the handwritten message on a birthday card, or cake mix directions - all can present challenges. Thankfully, there's an app for this! Several actually. And some gadgets as well. This month we explored tools for reading printed text.


In combination with optical character recognition (OCR) software, this can be an effective and inexpensive option. Models mentioned include Epson Perfection, HP and Canon scanners.

The Sara CE standalone reading system from VFO sells for $1895 and is a standalone unit that does not hook to a computer. Document cameras such as the PEARL from VFO, at $295 are suspended above the material and take pictures of it with the aid of software.

PC Software

Paired with a flatbed scanner or document camera, these programs turn images into readable text using OCR. Programs include blindness-specific options such as OpenBook, Kurzweil 1000 and KNFB Reader, as well as mainstream options such as Abbyy FineReader.

Smartphone apps

Scanning Accessories

The Fopydo and the Giraffe Reader were mentioned, They allow you to place your phone in a stand which will suspend your phone camera above the material you want to scan.

Recognizing images

  • By iOS: add Seeing AI to the list of share options, then selecting a photo and choosing "recognize with Seeing AI".
  • On PC with NVDA: use object navigation to focus the graphic, then press NVDA+r to recognize.
  • On PC with JAWS: use the "convenient OCR" option, invoked with JAWS+space followed by the I key, then the letter for what you'd like to recognize. Options include W to recognize the application window, S to recognize the full screen, and C to recognize the focused graphic or control.

In this discussion, we explored a number of apps and smart devices for health and wellness, including exercising, tracking, and measurement. The discussion touched on calorie tracking, cooking food, making exercise equipment accessible, using continuous glucose monitoring systems, and much more.

Reading Apps and Gadgets

June 25, 2019

From standalone reading hardware, like the Victor Reader Stream, to your phone, tablet or braille display, there are a number of accessible reading options. We also covered a wide variety of book sources, including Bookshare, BARD, Kindle, Audible and OverDrive.

In this episode, we discussed a number of hardware and software options for reading books. Hardware options include the NLS Digital Talking Book Player, the Victor Reader from Humanware, the Blaze from HIMS and various standalone Braille displays and notetakers. Additionally, iOS and Android phones and tablets, as well as the Amazon Kindle Fire can be used in conjunction with installed apps to read books.

Resources for textbooks were discussed, including Learning Ally, Bookshare and Vitalsource, a mainstream company committed to accessibility. It is worth noting that Bookshare is free for students. VitalSource does require the purchase of textbooks rather than being free like Learning Ally and Bookshare, but the advantage is that a textbook can be purchased and is available immediately. This makes VitalSource a consistently reliable resource for obtaining textbooks.

Numerous resources for obtaining books were mentioned. There are free resources, such as the NLS BARD service and Project Gutenberg for public domain books. Some platforms, such as Bookshare, Apple Books, Google Play Books and The Kindle Store have free books, in addition to those available for purchase. If you have specific genres you?re interested in and would like to see what?s on sale, check out Bookbub and Free books. Subscription-based services such as Audible and Kindle Unlimited allow you to select multiple books each month, though each of the services approach this differently. Even local libraries can check out digital copies of books, operating much like the traditional library model, through a service called Overdrive . You?ll need a library card from your local library in order to use this service.

If you're wondering what to read next, check out services such as Goodreads and What Should I Read Next.

This session was all about GPS apps to help you navigate your world. We discussed widely available options like Google Maps and Apple Maps as well as more specialized apps like BlindSquare, Lazarillo and Nearby Explorer, which were specifically designed for those with visual impairment.

Navigation tools can allow you to virtually explore your environment before going there in person, provide information about points of interest around you, and even give clockface directions as you approach a destination to allow you to more easily locate it. Selecting the right tool can often depend on what you hope to accomplish, as some tools are better at certain aspects than others.

Standalone GPS options eliminate the need to depend on a phone battery, and are often easier to operate one-handed than an app on a phone. Hardware options specifically for those with visual impairment:

Mobile apps designed specifically for those with visual impairment:

Mainstream options:

Many of the resources mentioned in these show notes were submitted by Tech It Out listeners. Submissions are always welcome by sending an email to

It's easy to think of places we'd like to go, but it's not always easy figuring out how to get there. This month, we covered rideshare apps and services such as Uber, Lyft, Go Go Grandparent, and Curb for taxis. We also explored safely requesting transportation even without a smartphone.

In this Tech It Out discussion, we explore methods of traveling safely by vehicle as a blind or low vision person. The discussion touches on special transportation services provided by individual cities, public transportation such as buses or trains, traditional taxis, and ridesharing services.

When using public transportation, apps such as Moovit can assist in getting directions to a location and determining the best way to get there via bus, train or subway. Because often additional walking will be required after being dropped off by transit, GPS apps such as Blindsquare and Lazarillo are excellent tools for discovering points of interest and getting walking directions to the chosen destination.

For those who prefer to take a traditional taxi, apps like Curb have modernized the experience somewhat. A rider can request a taxi through the app and receive real-time updates on the cab's location and estimated arrival time. Additionally, the rider can pay from within the app rather than depending on the driver to accurately read the meter, followed by either paying cash or using a possibly inaccessible credit card reader.

Though traditional cabs are still available in many places, rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft are rapidly becoming the preferred method of travel for many people. With these services, a smart phone app connects a rider to a driver who uses their personal vehicle to transport passengers to their destination. The app handles every aspect of the transaction, from selecting the pickup spot and destination, to displaying the driver's location and estimated time of arrival, followed by automatic payment from a source set up in the app, and finally an opportunity to rate the driver. The drivers have the ability to rate passengers as well, so poor behavior by drivers and riders alike are reflected in their ratings. Drivers can choose not to transport a passenger whose rating is below a certain level. Riders can see a driver's average rating when a ride is requested, and can choose to cancel if the rating is lower than feels comfortable. If a rider or a driver rates three stars or below on a trip, the driver and rider will not be matched again.

Safety should always be a concern when traveling with someone you don't know, and we discuss ways to maintain safety while using rideshare services. One method is to ask for the driver's company, followed by their name, and determine if this matches the information displayed in the app. In this way, the driver must provide information, rather than confirming information that the passenger discloses. Another safety measure is to share your location with someone on your contacts list. This can be done in both Uber and Lyft. A text message with a link to track location is sent to the designated contact, so they can follow progress.

For those traveling with guide dogs, refusal to transport does sometimes happen, even though both Uber and Lyft have policies against this. If this does happen, the incident should be reported to the company. Additionally, the NFB Uber and Lyft information page contains a link to a survey which can be taken by passengers with service animals after each ride. Both positive and negative experiences can be reported.

For those passengers traveling with wheelchairs, rideshare services accomodate foldable wheelchairs, though there is no guarantee that the driver will assist in transfering the person to the vehicle and folding and stowing the chair. In addition to accomodating foldable chairs, each rideshare has a service dedicated exclusively to transfering those in motorized wheelchairs or scooters. UberWAV is available in many cities, and wheelchair access mode can be enabled within the Lyft app under settings. Once enabled, select "wheelchair mode" when requesting a ride to be connected with a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, or to receive texts about local transport services that support this if Lyft has no wheelchair-accessible vehicles in your city.

While there are a plethora of options for those using smart phones, not everyone prefers this technology and would rather make requests in a more traditional manner. Services such as GoGo Grandparent and Arrive can schedule rides with Lyft and Uber with a phone call. Members of the service sign up, provide a payment method along with their home address and other essential information, and a profile is set up for requesting rides. A consierge fee is charged, in addition to the fee charged by the rideshare service itself, but this can be worth it for those who like the convenience of scheduling a ride by phone. During the discussion, users of GoGo Grandparent indicated that at times their specific instructions, such as which door to drive to for a building with multiple entrances, were not always passed along to the driver, so this is something to be aware of.

Clearly, there is a great deal of information available regarding accessible transportation services. The state of Texas has compiled a guide detailing available options in Texas, which can be requested by calling the Texas Talking Book Program at 800-252-9605. If you are not in Texas, your state may still have a similar transportation guide. Contact your local blindness rehabilitation services office to inquire.

Many of the resources mentioned in these show notes were submitted by Tech It Out listeners. Submissions are always welcome by sending an email to

Accessible Games

March 26, 2019

From puzzles to multiplayer role-playing games, the world of gaming is expansive. We discussed tactile games, smartphone games, and video game consoles, such as Xbox and PlayStation. Participants shared their favorite games and learned some new ones!

We live in the age of smart TVs, streaming, and voice-guided narration. But with all the options for fun can come confusion. During this Tech it Out, we discussed where to find audio-described content, how to get the most out of a Smart TV, and what the options are for streaming content.

In this episode, we discussed a wide range of topics relating to accessible television entertainment. While the hour-long discussion covered a lot of ground, we feel we barely scratched the surface, so stay tuned for a future "part two" on this topic. In addition to resources discussed directly on the episode, listeners sent in items after the show. Below, find a number of resources for getting started with accessible entertainment.

Accessible Set Top Boxes and DVR

Accessible streaming Hardware

Audio Description

Smart TVs

Streaming media software and apps

There are several tech-enabled tools out there that you can use to act as your visual guide or assistant. Some involve artificial intelligence; others use human assistance. We walked through several options and compared our experiences.

In this discussion, we define what visual interpreter and audio identification services are, and explore how they can be used to make every-day tasks easier and more enjoyable. We covered light detection, using live video with a sighted volunteer to find expiration dates, using a handheld bar code scanner to perform product identification and find instructions, accessible prescription labels, visual feedback on makeup, photo descriptions, and using artificial intelligence to describe a scene or identify colors.

Imagination is the limit when it comes to utilizing these tools in daily life. Here are the resources discussed in this episode.

Listen in as Ricky Enger and the Hadley Tech It Out community ask questions and discuss their experiences with digital assistants, like Alexa, Siri and Google.

In this discussion, we learned about several smart assistants, including the Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple's Siri. A brief demonstration of each assistant showcased functionality such as checking the weather, playing podcasts and music, thermostat control, and finding recipes. Here are useful resources for exploring further.

Home delivery of restaurant food or meal kits to cook yourself is now easier than ever. There are several options available, depending on your location. We will discuss our experiences using these services as visually impaired diners.

This discussion focused on restaurant delivery services accessed from a website or smart phone. Numerous services, along with their accessibility triumphs and pitfalls, were mentioned in this episode, including:

Technology today can really make the chore of grocery shopping much easier. Online ordering and home delivery takes much more of the hassle out of the process.

In this discussion, we examine the process of shopping for groceries online. We explore tips and tricks for finding the cheapest and most accessible shopping experience in your area. Resources mentioned in this discussion included services which have existed for quite some time, such as Peapod and Walmart Grocery, as well as relative newcomers such as Instacart and Shipt. As you explore the links below, keep in mind that many of these services also have iPhone and Android apps, so be sure to search your app store for the name of the service you want to use. Note that accessibility and pleasant user experience can differ whether using the websites for the services or using their smart phone apps, so if one experience seems lacking, feel free to try a different platform if available.

Instacart: 888-317-8968 Amazon Disability Hotline: 888-283-1678 This hotline can be used to shop for anything on Amazon, not just groceries.


Important Considerations

Content shared during discussions is for general information purposes only. We encourage you to thoroughly consider if any resource or suggestion is a good fit for you. The inclusion of links does not imply a recommendation or endorsement. The opinions expressed by the participants are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Hadley.