Podcast Transcript: Mosen At Large episode 144, FlickType has gone and Apple is to blame, how to use Braille Screen input, more on alternative iOS calendar apps

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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen, and this is Mosen At Large. The show that’s got the blind community talking. Today, the story behind the demise of the FlickType accessible keyboard, a demo of Braille Screen Input on iOS, more on iPhone calendar apps, and I have got a birthday surprise for Bonnie.

Song: Mosen At Large podcast.


Jonathan: Nice to be back with you. It’s not as if I’ve got anything else to do with my Saturday because New Zealand is enduring a level four lockdown once again. We had one case of the Delta variant that plummeted us into a level four lockdown so that we can get on top of the Delta variant before it gets out in the community. There is much more to say about that when we do our birthday Bonnie Bulletin a little bit later in this show. For those of you who like Mosen At Large when it’s really technology-focused and not all this blindness philosophy-focused thing, you’ll probably enjoy this episode because there’s quite a bit of technology to talk about.

Now, unless they have additional impairments relating to dexterity, most blind iPhone and iPad users can easily become proficient with the touchscreen for interacting with content, but for some, getting information into the device is where the challenge occurs. Through successive iterations of iOS over the years, Apple has widened the way that people can get text into their devices. There are various models of typing built into VoiceOver now including standard typing, touch typing, direct touch typing. There’s also the Swype method. We have handwriting recognition, which is an efficient input method on the touchscreen if you know the shapes of print letters.

That’s particularly handy if you’ve gone blind later in life, but also there are some who’ve been blind since birth who have mastered the shapes of print letters sufficiently to use this feature. There’s Braille Screen Input, which we’ll describe later in this episode. Of course, there is dictation, which works much better for some than others and isn’t always an appropriate tool to use in all environments. A blind person can also enter text through external devices like a QWERTY keyboard, or a Braille input device, or something unique like a RiVO 2, which we’ve also talked about on this podcast. Then there are several accessible third-party keyboards.

One of the most popular of these in the blind community is FlickType. FlickType has been in the tech press a lot this week because after having a routine bug-fix app update rejected by Apple, the developer feels he has no other choice but to discontinue the accessible FlickType keyboard for iOS and iPadOS. This is the story as I have been able to piece it together. I should say at this point that I did reach out to FlickType’s developer, inviting him onto the podcast but didn’t hear back at the time of recording. He is, of course, welcome on any future episode. FlickType is descended from the original Fleksy keyboard, which was designed initially as an app for the blind community.

It’s difficult to make money exclusively from the blind community due to its size and socioeconomic factors. Fleksy eventually sought new markets, becoming less accessible and designed for a mainstream audience. At that time, this generated some backlash in the blind community with some believing that they had been beta testers for a company who had abandoned them for greener pastures. One of the co-founders of Fleksy was Kosta Eleftheriou. I apologize if I’m mispronouncing his last name. I’m going to call him by his first name, Kosta for the rest of this so that I don’t mangle the pronunciation. I don’t like mispronouncing people’s names.

After a break from developing third-party keyboards, he wanted to get back to his roots and design another keyboard with similar characteristics to the original Fleksy, and thus FlickType was born. If you’ve never used Fleksy in its original form or FlickType, their strength lay in the extremely tolerant and surprisingly accurate prediction algorithm it used. Let’s say you wanted to write the name Jonathan, which has eight letters and can therefore take some blind people a while to type in using any of the standard QWERTY keyboard methods that Apple offers.

The trick was to not think about it very much. Just type roughly where you thought the key should be. Based on the shape of your typing and how many letters you entered, FlickType would take a guess at the word you wanted. Usually, it was right the first time, but if not, it was easy to schedule from a list or to enter unusual names or words in the traditional manner. When you got the knack, you could be very fast. I would say almost as fast as a sighted person entering text into their device. I personally wasn’t a regular FlickType user because I found Braille Screen Input to be a faster input method for me.

The reality is that not many people know Braille. For many, FlickType made their iPhone a viable tool for getting stuff into their device when they’re on the go and couldn’t dictate or use some other device. History repeated itself to a limited extent when Kosta identified a gap in the mainstream market. To meet that need, he created a FlickType keyboard for Apple Watch where no virtual keyboard exists. FlickType made it possible for anyone to type directly onto their Apple Watch face and suddenly, Kosta had an enormous mainstream hit on his hands, which saw FlickType rocketing up the app store charts.

Kosta had to overcome several hurdles to get the Apple Watch keyboard into the app store, some of which he alleges were put there by Apple itself. Another key figure in this story is Randy Marsden. Randy was the co-developer of a popular third-party keyboard called Swype. He then later co-developed another keyboard, Dryft. Apple liked Dryft so much they bought the company. As part of that acquisition, Randy Marsden who was CTO at Dryft became an Apple executive. Eventually, Apple put Randy Marsden in charge of the iOS keyboard. Kosta, the FlickType developer, claims that he and Randy Marsden, in Marsden’s capacity as text input special projects manager, had conversations about Apple buying FlickType.

My research indicates that they seemed more interested in the Apple Watch technology rather than the blindness side of the business on iOS. It is certainly possible that rather than lamenting the app’s demise if things had gone differently, we may have been demonstrating for you a new keyboard input method that was built right into iOS. It appears that Kosta was holding out for a better price and eventually discussions broke down. That happens a lot in business. If you have something someone wants to buy from you, you have every right to extract the best price you can, and in the end, the potential buyer has the right to walk away if they feel the price is too high.

Hopefully, you shake hands, move on, and there are no hard feelings. If you accept Kosta’s version of events, that is not what happened in this case. After those discussions broke down, Kosta says that life got very hard for him. He says that Apple kicked FlickType out of the app store, also declining a new note-taking variant of FlickType. He contends that there were no legitimate reasons for doing that. This sent him into a repeated series of appeals that took months to complete during which time he wasn’t earning revenue from his primary source which was the app. I believe by this stage it was his full-time job.

He was able to earn some money by licensing his technology to other developers. Now, interestingly and curiously, those apps, the ones with the third-party technology, were approved without fuss by Apple while his remained declined. Other apps which didn’t use his technology but which sought to capitalize on FlickType’s success did make it into the app store while Apple continued to prevaricate on FlickType. He says that some of these apps were scams. In other words, they didn’t do what they claimed they did. Yet Apple’s often inconsistent and often shoddy review process meant that these apps were approved sometimes.

Meaning that unsuspecting people would download them while Apple continued to stonewall FlickType ultimately according to the lawsuit he’s filed on the matter costing him at least a year of revenue. I’m going to quote you from the lawsuit directly that his company has filed on the matter in March of this year. “Apple entices software application developers like plaintiff to develop innovative applications with the promise of a fair and secure app store in which to sell them. In truth, Apple flexes its monopoly muscle against the potential competition through the app store and profits from random fraudulent practices.”

If Apple cannot buy a desired application from a developer on the cheap, Apple attempts to crush that developer through exploitative fees and selective application of opaque and unreasonable constraints against the developer. At the same time, Apple permits other developers that Apple does not view as real competition, including scam competitors, to pedal similar inferior products because Apple profits from their sales. Scammers oftentimes use screenshots and videos taken from legitimate developers’ applications and manipulate their ratings. Apple does little to police these practices because it profits from them.

Apple then lies to its regulators asserting that it must maintain its monopoly power over the sale of Apple-related applications to protect consumers, when in fact, Apple lets them get ripped off and exploits the developers trying to deliver innovation to consumers.” Now, Kosta filed this lawsuit in California in March of this year and has increasingly gained a reputation for lifting the lid on those scam apps. The reputation he’s built for accurately calling out the scams has drawn media attention to the practice and created so much noise that Apple has been forced to act in some cases.

Here we are now in August 2021 and Kosta has been trying to submit an update to the App Store for FlickType. It’s a minor one, the sort of thing one of those updates where many developers would simply write bug fixes and performance improvements when they describe what has changed. It tidies up a few things in preparation for iOS 15. For those who aren’t aware, every app submission to Apple’s App Store is reviewed by a human and either approved or declined. Since FlickType is an existing app, and there were no major new features in this update, it’s reasonable to assume that the approval would have been routine and rapid.

Instead, Apple rejected the update. They did so because they wrongly yet again claimed that the keyboard doesn’t work without full access. It does, but you’d have to be running voiceover to test and confirm that. The frustrating thing is that Kosta already had this debate with Apple three years ago when they erroneously claimed the same thing. Kosta appealed at that time, and the rejection was finally overturned. In other words, Kosta proved that Apple got it wrong, and Apple backed down. Three years later, he was having the exact same discussion without any significant technological change to the fundamental architecture of the app.

This time though, Apple was ghosting him as he tries to exercise his right to appeal the process. Something he said he attempted to do a total of nine times over the course of a week before he went public. “Apple are not responding.” Kosta says he has amassed a 40-page document full of Apple rejections that are repeated, and in his view, unwarranted. Kosta wanted to keep the accessible keyboard as a test flight beta if Apple wouldn’t let it in the store and that would have involved a few more hoops for users to go through to obtain it, but at least it would have kept the keyboard on people’s devices, but Apple has rejected that option as well.

The only way if you aren’t a FlickType user that you will be able to keep FlickType is if you disable automatic updates, and are extremely careful never to update FlickType again. That’s because FlickType will need to be updated in order to make improvements to the Apple Watch version. As regulators close in and challenge Apple. Apple has touted the benefits of its human review process claiming that it keeps iPhone users safe and ensures apps do what they say they will do and are of high quality. There are now enough examples of scam apps being approved and apps that don’t comply with Apple’s own guidelines getting through to demonstrate that the system is not working, and I don’t think it has ever worked properly.

To prove this, we need only look at the documents that have been disclosed as part of Epic Games lawsuit against Apple. In February 2012. Apple executive Phil Schiller let loose with the following email rant to the App Store team, “What the hell is this??? Remember our talking about finding bad apps with low ratings? Remember our talk about becoming the Nordstroms of stores and quality of service. How does an obvious rip-off of the super-popular Temple Run with no screenshots, garbage marketing texts, and almost all one-star ratings become the number one free app on the store? Can anyone see a rip-off of a top-selling game?

Any anyone see an app that is cheating the system? Is no one reviewing these apps? Is no one minding the store? This is insane!!!” Three years on, and the situation had clearly not improved substantially because the same executive Phil Schiller asked the App Store team to, “Please develop a system to automatically find low-rated apps and purge them!!” 2015 is ancient history in tech terms. Is it better now? What we know from this document dump is that in February of 2019, which importantly takes us into a relevant timeframe for FlickType, a scam app that claimed it could measure your blood pressure using the iPhone camera, and a fingertip not only got approval, but it also got massive uptake.

It eventually got to the top of the App Store in the medical category. We also see from this treasure trove of documents that later in 2019 apps that claimed to be able to measure a user’s heart rate through TouchID also came under internal scrutiny after being accepted on the App Store during the review process. This failure of the system goes beyond apps that part you from your money that don’t do what they claim they do. Apple has also fallen short when it comes to adhering to the standards of acceptable content. Apple allowed two separate games that featured school shootings on the App Store, seven months after they were approved, they were still there.

The document dump goes through the email chain on this and they attribute the problem to the fact that “It took a total of 32 seconds to review both apps.” In a similar case, Phil Schiller questioned how a game about shooting protesters was accepted during the review process. Plenty of dodgy apps getting through just as Kosta says, but there are now sufficient examples of legitimate apps being victimized to prove that the system isn’t working there either.

Let’s not forget a similar situation affecting the blind community that I brought to your attention on The Blind Side podcast which I was running back in 2017 when Marty Schultz whose Blindfold Games have brought entertainment and pleasure to many people, as well as increasing people’s level of confidence with their devices was suddenly picked on by Apple without warning or relevant reason. Here’s Marty telling that story in his own words.

Marty Schultz: About two weeks ago, I put in updates for Blindfold Horse Race, Blindfold Craps, and Blindfold Hopper to handle some of the changes that came with iOS 11. I’ve been going through all the apps again where I need to change to what iOS 11 needed. A couple of days after I submitted them, they all get rejected, saying that apps that are similar and get their content downloaded, some websites such as apps that might include videos or audio streams, or text. If you have several different apps that are similar, then they should all be combined into one app. They rejected these three games because they concluded the apps were identical because the menu systems are pretty similar.

What I’ve done in these games to try to make the menu, the settings, and the help screens almost identical to make people’s experience with the apps as similar as possible so you don’t have to go through a learning curve with each new app. I write back to Apple and I say, “These games have absolutely nothing to do with each other. They do share an infrastructure for accessibility but the bulk of the games are different. Horse racing, where you’re racing your fingers on the screen is different from playing the dice game of craps, which is different from playing Hopper, which is a variant of the old arcade video game called Frogger.”

Apple writes back to me the next day, saying the exact same thing. I write back to them saying, “Can you please read the user guide, look at the contents of the actual software, you’re coming to a faulty conclusion.” Apple writes back and says, “Well, we will have a representative from Apple call you in about three to five days.” A week goes by nobody calls. I call a contact at Apple’s reviewer desk who had previously reviewed some of my games. I said, “Look, I’m having this problem, you know about the games, can you help me solve this?” She said, “I’ll make sure that the games get looked at and I’ll have the reviewer call you right away.”

A day goes by, I spoke to this fellow for about 30 minutes and we go back and forth in circles where I’m explaining the games are all different and he’s saying, “Well, they all look the same.” He said, “Well, can you get at least groups of games to be bundled onto the same app, such as can you get all your TV game show games to be in one app.” I explained to him, “Firstly, that would take an enormous amount of time. It would not justify the hundreds of hours it would take to do that and finally, it would require that when I do this, each game would be 5 to 10 times bigger than it is and it would waste space on the user’s phones.”

I said, “I also experimented with that in the past in bundling a bunch of games together like I did with Blindfold Word Games, and in the end, people would only look at the first one or two games in the app and when they want a new word game, they wouldn’t go back to the word games app itself. They would expect a new game to pop up, but in any case, bundling doesn’t work, it causes inconvenience, it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of money, and where I could be building new games, a lot would just be going back and redoing the same old thing.”

The other thing I pointed out to Apple is most of the game download sales occur in the first three to four months of that game, which means if I go back now through the 80 or so games I have built and make these changes just so Apple doesn’t shut me down, nobody would take advantage of it and would not cause any new downloads, it would not cause any new sales. It would be a complete waste of time and effort. I went back to Apple and during this call.

I said so, “Let me understand what you’re telling me. If I don’t commit to modifying these games and taking these 80 games down to a handful of apps that you won’t let any new updates go through, you won’t let any new games be approved if they look like the other games in their overall structure.” They basically said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, that’s quite unfortunate. There are a lot of people out there who won’t appreciate this. You might be hearing from some of them.”

Jonathan: Apple most certainly did hear from some of them. You will recall that in that episode of The Blind Side, and in a blog post I wrote on the same subject, I encouraged banding together and supporting Marty. That got the clearly overzealous decision from the App Store reversed. In this case, because Kosta has begun playing a watchdog role and an advocacy role, he is well known to the technology press, so his frustrated Twitter thread about abandoning flick type got a bit of media attention.

Apple has been approached by several media outlets who have good relationships with Apple’s media team, and they have made no comment on this issue, at least at the time of recording this podcast. At this point, I don’t think there was any reasonable way that Phil Schiller, who looks after the App Store does not know about this issue. It’s unthinkable that given that media outlets are seeking comment from Apple, the media team hasn’t reached out to Phil Schiller on the kind of no surprises basis under which all senior executives like to operate, and asked him if he’d like to make a comment.

The fact that there is no comment suggests that Apple has it in for Kosta and that they hope the situation will simply blow over. Now, whether it simply blows over or not, is up to you and it’s up to me. We determine what happens next, by deciding whether we’re going to use our voice or not. I’m choosing to use mine by way of this podcast, and outlining as best I can the situation as I understand it and as I have been able to piece it together, as well as following my own advice on reaching out to Apple, which I will give you now. What can you do about it? Frankly, I get the impression that Kosta has about had enough, and frankly, I don’t blame him.

He makes the very valid point that even without these shenanigans from Apple, the APIs for third-party keyboards are flaky, particularly when it comes to the direct touch for VoiceOver users. It’s that flakiness that caused me to go back to Braille screen input, and not use FlickType as part of my daily workflow. Nevertheless, the way FlickType has been treated is despicable. I’ve seen some suggestions on social media that people contact Apple accessibility, accessibility@apple.com. If you have done that, I would be interested to know if you’ve had any substantive reply to your complaint beyond some sort of standard stock auto-response, but I don’t agree that that email address is the best one to use in this case.

In my view, one of the cultural problems we have at Apple is that they have yet to recognize that disabled people are mainstream customers too. We pay the same as everybody else. We can’t be and shouldn’t be compartmentalized and put in a little convenient accessibility box, so by all means, copy Apple accessibility into an email if you want to, although I doubt that that will do any good at all. The person I believe you should be writing to on this is Phil Schiller, who I’ve referred to several times. He is in charge of the App Store at a senior executive level.

As we’ve seen from the documentation coming from the Epic Games lawsuit, he knows there’s a problem and he does seem to want it resolved. His email address is schiller@apple.com, so it’s just his last name, which is S-C-H-I-L-L-E-R@apple.com. To give you an example of what you might say, here is the email that I have sent to Phil Schiller. The subject of my message is ‘erroneous App Store decline heavily impacting VoiceOver users’ and the email reads, “Hi Phil given that there’s been a bit of media attention, you may already know about this, but an app called FlickType, which you’ll be aware of due towards Apple Watch functions also helps blind VoiceOver users like me to input text rapidly.

It’s been featured in the accessibility category for some time and makes a very positive difference for those who use it. Earlier this week, the developer indicated he was pulling the app due to a rejection that was overruled on appeal three years ago but has now resurfaced again. The rejection claims that the keyboard doesn’t work unless full access is granted. It does, but a reviewer would have to enable VoiceOver to know that. This is causing a lot of upset among normally loyal blind users. I appreciate there is some history between Apple and this developer, but it seems wrong for blind people to be collateral damage when the update submitted was a routine bug-fix release and was not approved.

Would you be able to get this resolved? He says he has tried contacting Apple himself nine times, and no one is responding. Thank you for reading, Jonathan.” That’s my email. As well as sending it to Phil, I did send it to Apple accessibility in the CC field and I got a reply back from them, but not from Phil Schiller. As I predicted the reply from Apple accessibility is supremely unhelpful. It says “Hello, Jonathan. Thank you for your email. We give every concern thorough consideration and we’ll pass along your thoughts to the appropriate group. We’ve continued to improve features and add new ones to support more customers in more ways and your voice is a vital part of that process.

If you have any feedback about VoiceOver or any of our other accessibility features, we’d be happy to receive them at this address. With appreciation, Apple Accessibility.” Apple has had a long run of stellar success in the blind community because for a long time, Android was far behind it in terms of the quality of its accessibility offerings, particularly for speech-only users now that gap has closed considerably, many may argue there is no gap anymore. That allows the blind community finally to have the same debate about these issues that sighted people have been having for years.

There is a compelling argument that when you buy a device, you should be able to put whatever you like on it. When Apple determines which apps you’re allowed to put on the iPhone you’ve paid for, not only is it treating us like children who can’t make informed decisions for ourselves, a tactic blind people should be particularly sensitive about, it creates a monopoly which Apple can all too readily abuse. I can’t help wondering, for example, whether we will see a FlickType like keyboard built into iOS 16 for VoiceOver users. iPhone users, for whom FlickType has been a valued part of their productivity are understandably upset.

There is no good reason for Apple to have done what they have done. Blind people, many of whom are on limited incomes, and make sacrifices to own an iPhone, I collateral damage in what appears to be a churlish, childish vendetta by an almost $2.5 trillion company. If I am wrong about that, I may be and I would very much like to be, then Phil Schiller will put this right and put it right quickly. All it would take would be a directive from him to approve the update of FlickType, and it would get done. The FlickType issue has arisen at a time when the monopolistic practices of big tech, including Apple, are under legislative and regulatory scrutiny around the world.

I have to say, the idea that I can only get apps from the same company that makes my smartphone is seeming more and more like a racket. I hope regulators will intervene and ensure that we can download an app from anywhere we like and install it at our own risk. If you want to go to FlickType’s website and download the app from there and install it on your phone, you should be able to do that. There should be more I look forward to alternative app stores. I would love to see an app store that only showcases accessible apps, perhaps run and managed by blind people ourselves.

The status quo is increasingly untenable. I want to close by thanking Kosta for his efforts and his contribution to our community. Working with independent app developers reminds me of the great relationships I built up with independent developers and the DOS and early windows days. When you find someone who cares about accessibility and is driven to make a difference, and that person truly engages with users, it is amazing what magic can be made. Shame on Apple for bullying him out of the blind community.

IVR: What’s on your mind? Send an email with a recording of your voice, or just write it down, jonathan@mushroomfm.com. That’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com or phone our listener line. The number in the United States is 86460 Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.

Piotre: Hi, Jonathan. It’s Piotre from Poland here. Occasional listener, first-time interacter. I do want to talk about this FlickType situation because it’s one of those things that I have been using every day, at least for English, because it, unfortunately, doesn’t support my mother tongue. For English, it is an absolutely amazing keyboard or it was, and I used it almost every day. If there are things that I would sometimes put off responding to like emails and things, I have definitely found that when it came out, I did find myself posting on social media and responding to people with longer messages more often just from my phone.

Braille screen input for me has a couple of disadvantages. The more universal ones, you can’t do it one-handed, FlickType I can pretty much just hold the phone with one hand and use the palm to type completely while my other hand is freed up to do other things. Also, just for me personally, it doesn’t work very well. Maybe it’s because my Braille technique isn’t very good. I tend to use less fingers and move my hands slightly when typing Braille, which on a Braille display keyboard works fine, but on Braille screen input at least on a SE screen on an iPhone SE screen, which is what I have it doesn’t work very well at all. I usually end up getting wrong dots.

I cannot do screen away mode for the life of me. Again, I need both hands for that. I’m definitely going to miss it. For me personally, I don’t know if BSI will be a good replacement for me. I can use the onscreen keyboard and I can use slight typing. That does work relatively well, but that actually also doesn’t support my language, but it’s also just not as fast as FlickType. I’m definitely going to miss it. Now, as far as how the developer was treated and some of the situations that he got himself in, as much as I like iOS and I definitely still find that I think it’s the superior accessibility experience compared to Android, even though Android is very much getting there.

iOS definitely still has some things going for it, especially the new image description capabilities that are just amazing and some of the things that are coming in iOS 15, like the audio graphs. The way Apple has been handling the app store is a little heavy-handed. Some of the decisions they made over the years of what apps not to allow and for what reason, have been a little bad. There are plenty of articles written all about those and how a lot of scammers are getting through and all that. Not really going to talk about it. What I really wish would happen, and maybe some of the antitrust legislations that are going on around the world right now might make that happen.

That’s what I’m hoping for is, I don’t want Apple to completely open up iOS and add too many APIs to make the system less secure, but I would love for a way to sideload apps in some capacity, even if you have to accept a lot of prompts that tell you that you’re about to take a huge risk. I really think that it’s something they should do. It would allow for more innovation and more apps that for whatever reason, Apple doesn’t allow on their platform right now. It would also allow many developers, a lower barrier of entry to making apps.

If someone can’t afford the Apple developer fee, there are still plenty of ways to make an iOS app without actually having to pay for it. If you want to get your app out there and to sign it, even put it on test flight, you have to pay that fee. Not everyone, especially if you’re starting out. I’m thinking of a lot of younger developers, even blind developers that make games and things here, making that barrier of entry lower might give us more apps in the long run. I think that would be a good thing.

Jonathan: Our next comment comes from Robert Kinget, who writes, “Hello, Jonathan, I’ve been using FlickType for years because even though I’m learning Braille at a steady pace after losing my remaining vision, I’m not proficient enough to use BSI consistently. I’m very disappointed in Apple, but I can’t say I’m surprised. They suffer from what I call tunnel vision accessibility, where only a few departments know about accessibility-focused apps. It highlights a wider ableism problem, but Apple has consistently delegated accessibility and disability awareness to a few departments.

It’s not bleeding into non-accessible centric departments like Microsoft inclusion practices. Apple simply needs to start thinking about accessibility as an inclusive ecosphere. For instance, everybody working at Apple should have a basic understanding of how VoiceOver works. QC and the development teams should test with a screen reader if they don’t have a disability. The App Store team needs to intricately understand third-party app design for disabled users.” Over to Canada, we go where Bob Fenton has sent me a copy of an email he sent to Apple accessibility with the subject ‘FlickType being discontinued because of your intransigence’.

The email reads, “I am writing to express my profound disappointment that you and the developer of this app cannot reach an agreement on how the two of you can coexist with each other. This keyboard gives me a great deal of freedom in using my iPhone when in public. It is not appropriate for me to dictate messages, given my job responsibilities and the sensitivity of their content. I am a lawyer, and I need to be able to communicate with my clients privately and confidentially. This keyboard allows me to type on my screen quickly and efficiently while getting voice output from my Apple device, using voiceover.

This allows me to ensure that my message is being communicated accurately, something that is still not entirely possible with dictation. If I want to communicate privately now, I need to either lug around a Braille display or carry around a Braille input keyboard. The solution will be expensive for many users. Instead of putting up barriers to accessibility using your devices, I would have thought that your company would be taking all active steps to remove them. I have been a dedicated iPhone user since the 3Gs was released. Given this decision, perhaps I need to reconsider my loyalty.

I am not interested in receiving the standard customer service response that is filled with platitudes and promises to get back to me with future developments. I am instead looking forward to receiving a solution on how the two of you can work together. Thank you.” Rebecca Skippers says in the subject line of her email, ‘Apple’s blunders take us to new crossroads’. She says “Apple’s mistreatment of Blindfold Games, and now FlickType may lead to some hard choices. It would be better if we didn’t rely on the iPhone for everything. Blindness tech still has a place and may become essential if Apple breaks something or just doesn’t see the value in offering alternatives to its own services.

Maybe Apple is trying to push everyone to use its own apps and services at all costs. As blind Apple users, we either need to know how to use what Apple offers or we need to be willing to invest in alternatives. We can no longer assume that Apple will always support specialized apps. I hope that AT trainers will pause and not just assume that the iPhone can be used for everything. I thought about selling my Victor Reader stream and listening to BARD books on my iPhone. Now, I am not sure I will.”

Dan Teveld says, “I bought the FlickType app because I couldn’t find anything better to buy with my gift card. I never figured out the FlickType app. I get better results editing text with my Braille display. With regard Braille Screen Input, I like the idea that never mastered it. I could never calibrate my big fat fingers. If I’m missing something, maybe I should give Braille screen input another try.”


Jonathan: Since all this FlickType brouhaha started to happen, I have had people asking me about Braille screen input, they’re taking another look, they want to give it another go. I thought that we would go to the expert and hear from Judy Dickson in a piece that she recorded for the Blind Side in 2018, describing Braille screen input.

Judy Dickson: This is Judy Dickson, and I am going to do a short demo of Braille screen input. For those of you not familiar with Braille screen input, it’s a way for you to use six fingers to type Braille on your iPhone or iPod. In this demo, I’m only going to talk about Braille screen input on the iPhone. There are a few extra features for Braille screen input on an iPad. If you’re interested in those, you can see a full discussion in my book, Writing Your Way from National Braille Press. Screen input is really very cool, but it is one of those things where there’s a fair bit of setup.

It works great once you know how to do it, and you get everything working the way it’s supposed to, but there’s a few things to do before you get to that point. Braille Screen input is accessed from the rotor. It is not on the rotor by default. That’s the first thing we need to do, is add it to the rotor. Let’s have Siri open VoiceOver settings. Open voiceover settings.

Siri: Let’s take a look at the settings for VoiceOver.

VoiceOver: VoiceOver heading. VoiceOver on. VoiceOver speaks items on the screen.

Judy: We’ll go down to rotor.

VoiceOver: Speech. Verbosity. Braille. Audio. Rotor. Button.

Judy: Double-tap on that.

VoiceOver: Voiceover. Back button.

Judy: Here’s where all the items that are on your rotor or could be on your rotor are listed. We’ll go down through the list until we find Braille Screen input.

VoiceOver: Rotor. Select re– Sel– Reord– Sel– Reord– Selected. Text selecti– Reorder. Speaking rate. Reorder. Volume. Reorder. Selected. Audio ducking. Punctuation. Reorder. Selected. Sounds. Reorders. Braille Screen Input.

Judy: There’s Braille Screen input. We’ll select it.

VoiceOver: Selected. Braille Screen Input.

Judy: I recommend that you put Braille Screen input either at the top of your list of rotor items or at the bottom. If you put it at the top, it will very often be one rotor to the right, and if you put it at the bottom, it’ll be very often one rotor to the left. Sometimes, VoiceOver likes to put in other rotor items that will get in your way like misspelled words and things like that, but for the most part, it’ll be where you want it to be, or at least close by. This depends on whether you like to rotor to the right or rotor it to the left. I’m going to move it to the top because that’s where I like it.

VoiceOver: Reorder. Selected. Braille Screen Input. Reorder. Braille Screen. Selected. Braille Screen Input. Reorder. Braille Screen Input. Button.draggable. Double-tap and hold, wait for the sound, then drag to rearrange.

Judy: I’m going to double-tap and hold, and move it to the top.

VoiceOver: Moved abo– Moved– Moved above audio– Moved above volume. Moved above speaking ra– Moved above text– Moved above lines. Moved above words. Moved above characters.

Judy: I know that characters is at the top, so I’m going to lift my finger, and we’ll back out of rotor.

VoiceOver: Voiceover. Back button. Rotor. Button.

Judy: There’s a few more things we can do while we’re here in VoiceOver settings, but anything you set here, you can change later. You can try one thing, then you can try another, and see what works best for you. We can set the Braille we want to use in Braille Screen input. For this, we have to go into the Braille settings.

VoiceOver: Rotor. Button. Audio. Button. Braille. Button. Voiceover. Back button.

Judy: We’ll open Braille and flick to Braille Screen Input.

VoiceOver: Braille. Output. Input. Braille Screen. Sa– Braille Screen input. Selected. Braille. Back button. Braille Screen Input. Heading. Uncontracted six dot braille.

Judy: Here we can choose uncontracted six dot braille.

VoiceOver: Selected. Contracted Braille.

Judy: Contracted Braille.

Siri: Reverse dot positions. Off.

Judy: We can reverse dot positions. I choose contracted Braille, and I think it works pretty well. We’ll back out of Braille Screen input.

VoiceOver: Braille. Back button. Braille Screen Input. Contracted. Button.

Judy: While we’re in Braille settings, we can check our Braille code and see if it’s what we want it to be.

VoiceOver: Status cells. Equations used– Show on-screen key– Turn pages went– Word wrap. Braille code. English. Unified. Button. Braille. Back button.

Judy: In the United States, we have some choices here. Yours may be different.

VoiceOver: Braille code. Heading. Selected. English. Unified. English US. English United Kingdom.

Judy: Apple calls what we used to call English Braille American edition. The code we used before unified English Braille, Apple calls it English US, but whatever. I’m choosing UEB, and Apple’s UEB is pretty good. You can also set the feedback you want to hear. How much you want to hear while you’re in Braille Screen input, and you can do this while you’re here in voiceover settings. We’ll flick down to typing feedback.

VoiceOver: Audio. Button. Rotor. Button. Rotor actions. Typing style. Phonetic feedback. Typing feedback. Button.

Judy: We’ll select that.

VoiceOver: Selected. VoiceOver. Back button.

Judy: We’ll go down to Braille Screen Input.

VoiceOver: Typing feed– Software. Nothing. Character. Words. Selected. Hardware keyboards. Nothing. Character. Words. Selected. Character. Braille Screen Input. Heading.

Judy: We have the same choices here.

VoiceOver: Nothing.

Judy: Nothing.

VoiceOver: Characters.

Judy: Characters.

VoiceOver: Words.

Judy: Words.

VoiceOver: Selected. Characters and words.

Judy: Characters in words. That may seem a bit verbose, and perhaps it is, but it works pretty well for me, so that’s what I’ve chosen. We’ll get out of typing feedback.

VoiceOver: Voiceover. Back button. Typing feedback. Button.

Judy: That’s about all the setup we need to do for Braille Screen input. Now let’s see how we actually use it. I use Braille Screen input to write short text messages, to write emails, to write notes, that sort of thing. It’s very efficient for me. A lot of people have said to me, “Why don’t you just dictate?” I invariably need to edit something when I dictate, and that matters. I like to have things be as accurate as possible. With Braille Screen input, I have a bit more control over the accuracy of the things that I write.

Also, it’s a little more private, a little more discreet, and I don’t have cab drivers constantly, “What you say?” Because they think I’m talking to them when I’m really dictating a message. “I’ll be home soon.” “What?” Let’s try writing some text with Braille Screen input. There’s a few more things to explain. We’ll go into notes.

VoiceOver: Notes. Double-tap. No–

Judy: I’m going to open a new note.

VoiceOver: New note. Button. New note. Note. Text field. Is editing. Character mode. Insertion point at start.

Judy: You can invoke Braille Screen input anytime there’s a keyboard on the screen. There’s sometimes you can invoke it but there’s not a keyboard, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I’m going to rotor once to the right.

VoiceOver: Braille Screen input. Orientation locked. Landscape. Home button to the right. Tabletop mode. Contracted.

Judy: It said a lot of things there. One of the things that said was, “Orientation locked.” When you use Braille Screen input, you hold your phone in landscape. The default has it with the home button to the left or your imaginary home button. If you can remember where the home button used to be. You can also flip your phone over so that Braille Screen input reorients itself. Once you get it set up like you want it, you can lock it, and you lock it with a three-finger swipe up.

VoiceOver: Orientation unlocked. Screen away mode.

Judy: I just unlocked mine. It happened to say “screen away mode” because I’m holding it almost vertically. Screen away mode means that you wrap your fingers around the ends of the phone, and use three fingers on each end that will line up with the dots. If I lay it down–

VoiceOver: Tabletop mode.

Judy: It says “tabletop mode.” I personally prefer tabletop mode. I find I’m using it now even when the phone is in my hands because I balance the phone on my two thumbs, and I loop my little fingers around the ends. I just find it more accurate. I generally calibrate every time I start to use Braille Screen input. You do that by doing a 456 L.

VoiceOver: Dot positions calibrated.

Judy: Some people have told me they have trouble with that. I do it about dot, dot about that fast, 456 L.

VoiceOver: Dot positions calibrated.

Judy: It’ll say “dot positions calibrated.” I’m going to lock my orientation again.

VoiceOver: Orientation locked.

Judy: Let’s start writing.

VoiceOver: Dot 6. I. Capital I. A-M W-R-I-T-I-N-G. Writing. S-H-O-R-T. Short. N-O-T-E. Note. T-O. To. S-H-O-W. Show. Dot 6. KON. Apostrophe T-H, .1456.’

Judy: Made a mistake, have to back up.

VoiceOver: .3.1345.

Judy: 1345, that must be an N.

VoiceOver: N-A-T-H-A-N ‘S Jonathan’s L-I-S-T-E-N-E-R-S, listeners, H-O-W, how, B-R-L, braille S-C-R-E-E-N, screen, I-N-P-U-T, input . find W-S. works.

Judy: Now, one limitation of braille screen input is you can’t read back what you wrote unless you get out of it. As I was writing there, I did one flick to the right for a space, two-finger flick to the right for a new line. I can do one finger back to the left.

VoiceOver: New line, space, period.

Judy: That’s a backspace.

VoiceOver: D-I-S.

Judy: If you want to correct and you correct while you’re still writing a word, you can edit it anyway. If you’ve already spaced, then you do get into those contracted Braille quirkiness. The best thing I can tell you is if you don’t want to bend your head around how to fix it, just erase the word and start over.

VoiceOver: Period works input.

Judy: A two-finger. swipe to the left will delete a word. The way to get out of Braille Screen input is to rotor out.

VoiceOver: Portrait.

Judy: I just did a rotor to the left, it said portrait, and now I can read my note.

VoiceOver: Note, text field is editing. I am writing a short note to show Jonathan’s listeners how Braille screen body system font 17.0 dark grey.

Judy: That’s because I believe that the word works. I’m back on my home screen. One of the fun things you can do with Braille Screen input is see how many apps you have on your phone. I’m going to rotor once to the right.

VoiceOver: Braille Screen input, orientation lot landscape, home button to the right, tabletop mode, six dot contractions off.

Judy: Then I’m going to do a single-finger swipe to the left.

VoiceOver: 592 apps.

Judy: 592 apps. Well with all those apps, it is really hard to find them. I have them all in a lot of folders and the folders are in alphabetical order and all of that and I have my favorite apps on a single homepage. One of the cool things you can do with Braille Screen input is to locate an app. Let’s say I want to open Wikipedia. I just did open the Braille Screen input and I’m going to type in w.

VoiceOver: W, 34 apps, Walgreens.

Judy: I have 34 apps that start with W. I can type another letter to narrow that down.

VoiceOver: I, three apps, wi-fi map. Swipe right with two fingers to launch.

Judy: When you hear the name of an app, it’s giving you the first app that starts with those letters. I could flick down right now-

VoiceOver: Wikipedia.

Judy: -and Wikipedia would be the very next one. To open Wikipedia as instructed, I would swipe right with two fingers.

VoiceOver: Wikipedia, three settings button.

Judy: Yes, I know. I could use Siri. This is really a good way, especially if you can’t always remember the name of the 592 apps on your phone. Well, that’s about it for Braille Screen input. There’s a lot of details, but it is super fun and really, really efficient. If you want to learn more about Braille Screen input, there’s a bit more detail in writing your way. I hope you have a look at that. Thanks very much for listening. Bye.

Jonathan: Thank you so much for that Judy. Always good to recycle and to be environmentally friendly. Keep in mind that that demo was recorded nearly three years ago now. If there are some slight changes in the user interface, that will be why, as you follow along. The principles are the same, the way of using Braille Screen input hasn’t changed, so I hope that’s helpful.


Jonathan: We’re going to take several listener comments on mostly Apple things. Sometimes they stray into other areas, but it’s hard to separate everything. This is a mostly Apple-related section. Matthew Whitaker is writing in and says, “Hello, Jonathan. This email is regarding a suggestion for a good calendar app for iOS. This is an app called Fantastical. It is made by the company Flexibits. It is very accessible with VoiceOver and works on iPhone, iPad, and Mac OS as well. There are many features. One I really like is how easy it is to create an event. All you do is just type into the text field what you want.

For example, ‘Lunch tomorrow at 12:00 with Bob. Hope Bob’s paying.’ You don’t have to type in the quotation marks if you don’t want to. You can also set up events that involve using a conference platform, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. You don’t have to open the app, respectively. It’s easy to set up in Fantastical. I have been using the app for a few months now. I love it. It is, in my opinion, so much better than Apple’s calendar app. You can start using Fantastical for free if you want. There’s also a subscription that you can pay yearly, which unlocks a lot more features. Flexibits is also great with supporting customers.

They respond very quickly when I have a question or when I am suggesting improvements when using VoiceOver with the app. They also have a lot of tutorials on their YouTube channel.” From Moose Jaw in Canada, it’s Kelly Sapergia who writes, “Hi, Jonathan, I hope things are going well with you and all the Mosen At Large listeners. Finally, after a year and a half, things are starting to get back to normal in terms of work for me as a gigging musician. I perform at various senior centers here in Moosejaw, and work is slowly beginning to pick back up now that the restrictions have been lifted for the moment anyway.

I’ve always been impressed with how iOS devices can double as a personal organizer, as well as a phone or a music player. The calendar feature, in particular, is something I use on a regular basis, I actually create all my appointments using Fantastical as I find the built-in calendar a bit awkward to use for whatever reason. With Fantastical, I just have to type in a sentence stating the appointment name, the date, time, and when to alert me. The app does a very good job at interpreting what I write. Though I always check the details to make sure everything is correct before adding it.

I also find that Fantastical makes it easier to add recurring appointments, such as if I have a gig on the last Friday of the month. Plus, I always have the phone alert me a day before to remind me that an appointment is coming up. In addition to using the iPhone’s calendar, I also use Outlook from Microsoft 365 as my PC’s calendar. One thing I wish you could do is add an appointment on the iPhone, for example, and have outlook for Windows, sync its calendar automatically so I don’t have to keep typing the same thing there as well. Do you know if this is possible? I’m also wondering if there are any other accessible calendar programs for Windows?

Finally, I have a question about the Brailliant display. During your review in Episode 94-” that was a long time ago, Kelly, “You mentioned that one of the translation tables included was for moon. I’m not at all familiar with moon having never seen any books written in that format. I don’t remember it being available here in Canada, but I am curious about it. As I understand it, it consists of various shapes. I’m wondering how that would look on a Braille display. Will the Braille dots be used to create the shapes?”

Thank you, Kelly. I’m so pleased you’re getting some normality back in your life. Right now, here in New Zealand, we hope to get it back soon because we had a nice long run of it and now, we’re very much abnormal. Regarding a question about the calendar app, you can certainly synchronize outlook with iCloud by installing iCloud for Windows. Just head on in there and install that free iCloud for Windows app, you can get it from Apple’s website. Alternatively, you can get it from the Microsoft Store, run that thing, and then you can tell outlook and iCloud to sync with one another. Once you have done that, then you will be able to keep your calendars in sync with one another.

It’s a synch once it gets going. That said, setting it up is not a pleasant experience. For whatever reason, Apple severely drops the ball when it comes to the accessibility of their apps on Windows.” I think the way I did it when I first set it up was to use the JAWS touch cursor to move around and gain the context of what checkbox did what when I first installed the app. If you have access to say Aira, which you do, I think because you’re in Canada, and it’s free to use for five minutes a day, isn’t it? That will be enough for you to have them TeamViewer into your computer and just make sure that you’ve got the Xbox thinking set up.

Once it’s done, it definitely is one of those set it and forget it things. I’m not sure about the moon thing. It’s possible that I misread it and I don’t have the braille now to confirm. I tried looking for it on the Mantis because they are very similar devices in many respects, but don’t see it there. It’s possible I misread it. If anyone wants to look it up, if you have a Brailliant, let me know. Also, perhaps some of you have memories of Moon. I seem to recall that Moon was quite popular in the UK and when I was a kid at the school for the blind, we did have a few books in Moon, but we will never taught it and I never became familiar with it. It sounds like there would be some very interesting history that we can learn and some nostalgia we can indulge in on that whole subject of the Moon system of writing, if anybody remembers it and can tell us about it.

Mike Feir: Hey Jonathan, it’s Mike Feir. The calendar app question I can sympathize it’s a tricky thing because it scrolls when you’re going down through the years and I have often found myself suddenly plant a couple of years ahead of where I thought I would be with the regular calendar app. I tend to use Fantastical. I’ve been subscribed to that for a while now and it has a couple of the same scrolling issues, but it really does well at understanding events and dealing with online events as well. You can paste the information into the notes field of an event, and it will include the link right there to a Zoom meeting or something like that. You just have to hit the join button, then you bang in there.

They’ve done a lot to really help people, I think, cope with the new realities of COVID induced home sessions and things, but there’s another app that is certainly less money than Fantastical, if people are wary of subscribing to something it’s called month cal, Monthly Calendar 2. The developer is very aware of Voiceover and he’s done steps to, for example, when you scroll up and down with three finger flick up and down through the months, it will inform you of the range of days on the current screen so that you’re better equipped to navigate. I kind of like that and it seems to have all the facilities that most people would need without having to pay much for it.

I think the initial price is something like $5, around that in Canadian dollars. That might be another alternative to people looking for something different than the regular calendar app that I’ve come across. It’s a whole society security thing. This is a question I think that where both sides, I think we’ve seen what happens now when individualism reigns absolutely supreme. We’ve also seen what happens when government tyranny happens in the world. Both sides that are really passionate about privacy and the other side, that’s passionate about law and order, we both have to be careful what we wish for because either extreme could be disastrous, I think with this.

I hope that when Apple does things like this they’re trying to really help reduce child pornography and things like that and abuse, I would hope that as a society, there’s some room for that, those initiatives. Because sometimes I get the sense that the people that are crying foul about all these have never had to face the realities on the other side of it, where people are trapped, where human traffickers have absolute control over your life and can threaten you in various ways. There’s so much reason why we should really look at maybe sacrificing a little bit of our privacy for these larger initiatives. I hope people don’t lose sight of that. I think that’s happened quite a bit, unfortunately, over the past while.

Sean: Jonathan just wanting to bring up a concern regarding the communications and safety and messaging feature, the Accidental Tech Podcast covered this in a number of different ways. That’s actually what it’s called and their episode is called A Storm of Asterisks. I feel comfortable bringing up this scenario that they highlight because of the open-minded approach that you have taken towards other issues before. The people in this podcast actually read the entirety of the screenshot text. That is the warning that a child will receive when they are dealing with an image that the machine learning already finds problematic.

Also, Voiceover already is doing with their recognition features the same thing because it can say in the settings– warn if an image may contain sensitive content images are already doing that and saying “may contain adult content”, so it’s a feature that Apple’s already playing with and this is just on the web, Voiceover will tell you that. You’ve got a situation where if you are a child who is trying to figure out your sexuality, and you are trying to figure out, are you bi, gay, trans, whatever, and because of an errant button click, your phone sends an image to your parents that outs you before you are ready to do that and you may have very good reasons for not doing that.

Kids have been kicked out of their homes for coming out to their parents and this could literally change your life. Also, we’re expecting kids to read this message and pay attention and how often do people in general just click through something because they just want to get to the thing they’re trying to do? Because we’ve all read all of the terms of service on every website that we sign up to and all of that.

That’s just the concern that I have and I can tell you as somebody who was trying to figure these issues out at a young age, the fear that someone would find out about your sexuality, that you hadn’t actually told, is a fear that you can only know if you’ve been there and even though it turned out to be a complete non-issue here, and my parents were completely fine with it, the fear that anyone might find out that I didn’t want to know, it’s un-describable. If my technology had, I would feel so betrayed if my technology had outed me in that way. I was only talking about a computer and a web browser.

Nowadays kids have so much access to so much information and they’re already looking at this stuff because why would the feature be considered otherwise? They’re already exchanging pictures that are questionable to someone and so this is where we are. I really hope there are some safeguards put in and some changes made to this feature before it becomes a reality. I’m sure other people have pointed out flaws with this technology and hopefully in a factual way. Thank you for continuing to do an excellent job in informing and being considerate of all points of view. I hope that you have a good podcast.

Jonathan: Thank you, Sean. It’s always good to hear from you. It’s good to know that you are comfortable in your skin, that you are comfortably out and that your parents are comfortable with you being out. It won’t surprise you to know that I’m the parent who if I found out that one of my children were a member of the LGBTQ community, I don’t think it’d phase me particularly much as long as they found somebody who treated them well and as long as they were happy. I do think that regardless of one’s sexuality, if you are 12 and you are being sent in the messages app explicit images of any kind, regardless of your sexuality that is too young, it’s too young for someone to be sending you those messages by iMessage or text message.

As the parent, I believe I have a right to know that. They are not old enough to consider the consequences, not just of receiving those messages, but potentially sending them as well. This feature would not prevent you or anybody in the future who is exploring their sexuality and has questions, and wants to do so with privacy from doing a search on the web for those issues, or from calling someone to have a discussion, or seeking advice in any number of other apps and forums.

It’s simply that, if someone sends you that kind of a message, or you are tempted to send that kind of message back, and you are a kid, you’re 12 or under, that’s just a step too far for me, it’s nothing to do with my feelings on LGBTQ issues because I support that community. I’m pro gay marriage, one should not be judged based on who one loves, but I do think there can sometimes be very serious consequences of receiving explicit pictures of any kind and certainly sending them. That’s where parental advice for 12 year old kids and under is appropriate in my view. I say that very mindful of some of the sensitivities, particularly in the religious community around disclosure.

Ali says, “Tell me if you think I am a revolutionist maverick or just plain weird? In the past, I made a good use of the braille note calendar app KeyPlan to this day, I doubt there are many snappier ways of adding and sorting appointments. It also had some great navigation keystrokes, which to my knowledge, don’t exist on any app in popular use today. Space with dot 4 to move to the next appointment or space 236, and 356 to move between recurring appointments. What’s not to like? But sadly, we’ve got to move with the times.” “I am a practicing solicitor who goes to court almost daily to attend various hearings. Being punctual and being able to juggle a diary is pretty fundamental, but I don’t use a calendar app.

I have a TXT file in my OneDrive called calendar, which I can access using my laptop, iPhone or ElBraille containing a chronological list of dates and times and appointment locations. It takes a matter of seconds to add to it or remove an entry. Unlike many other apps, Notepad doesn’t take half a century to load.” Gee, Ali, why don’t you treat yourself to a fast computer if you’re a lawyer and you say you’re a practicing lawyer, I guess practice makes perfect doesn’t it, but can you afford a fast computer with all those legal fees that lawyers charge? I suppose I have two immediate thoughts about your strategy and it’s good that it works for you. In the end, we just have to find a solution that we personally are comfortable with. Don’t we?

If it works for you, then no one should judge it. It sounds like you’ve got what you need, but where it would go badly wrong for me is in two areas. First, a lot of my appointments are meetings that I have with others. I need to send calendar invitations, sometimes people send calendar invitations to me, that ability to be networked, work in the cloud, accept appointments, reschedule appointments, all that stuff is very important. The text file approach wouldn’t work for me. I also have an executive assistant who manages my calendar. Yes, it all depends on your circumstances.

Microsoft Outlook may not have all of those key strokes, but it does have a lot for navigating between appointments and you can press control with G to go to a particular date, that sort of thing. I’m a big fan of the calendar in Microsoft Outlook, which I find very powerful. “On another note,” says, Ali, “Why soup drinker? Is there a reason you chose that name?” Yes, there is because I absolutely hate soup. Oh my God. Just saying the word soup makes me almost violently ill. Oh, just soup is just an abomination, oh. I call it soup drinker to show who’s boss really. When I was a kid, I’m not sure if it’s still out there, they had this book Chicken Soup for the Soul.

I thought, “Oh, my word, must be written by the devil or something. Like Oh, God, oh.” Moving right along. See what you’ve done. All right, this is from Kathy Blackburn who says,” I shall have to give Fantastical a try. How was it that neither the native iOS app nor the Google Calendar can get recurrent appointments right? iOS 15 will be coming soon. Blind people can’t be the only users who have to do this every month. The braille notes Empower and Apex always got the dates of recurring appointments correct. Take the monthly Aira Explorer call as an example, the call for the United States is on the third Wednesday of every month if memory serves.

Every month, I have to correct the dates on the Google calendar. There are other recurring appointments on my iPhone that I must correct every month, does Fantastical schedule recurring appointments correctly?” Thanks, Kathy. I have not seen this, so I can’t explain why you’re getting what you’re getting. For me, recurring appointments continue to work well and have always worked well. Any thoughts from anyone else?

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Peter: Hi, Jonathan, it’s Peter from Robin Hood County, hoping you are all well. People started getting registered blind in the UK just after the first world war as a lot of our soldiers came home gassed and obviously blinded. I’ll tell you how it’s done now as far as I know because English authorities have different ways of doing it. In Nottingham city, this will come under the integrated care system because the team for sensory impairment has now disappeared, have been absorbed. When your ophthalmologist or eye surgeon, whoever, has made the diagnosis, you will be sent on to our iconic liaison officer from my site.

I think he’s paid half by my site and the national health, not sure. Now, he will sit with you and go through the leaflet that is relevant to your diagnosis. Then, he will arrange an appointment with my site. In that way, the person will be able to source equipment necessary to continue their life, for want of a better phrase. My site has a smart room, it has a couple of Apple phones, which Elaine and I donated. It has an air tag, a small telly, the kind of thing, cooker. It has some non-smart things like liquid level indicators and lights and things.

Then, social services or the integrated care service relevant to your sensory disability will look at your daily living skills once you can manage to prize an appointment out of them. With the COVID, of course, it has been very difficult. After that, my site will always keep an eye on you for a while to see how you’re progressing until you’re quite confident. It’s certainly a small charity, but it does a lot of good work. It’s a lot better than when I was registered in 1973, when I was registered by [unintelligible 01:17:20] Council because I lived out in the sticks and my documents were sent to social services, and that was your lot. I didn’t hear anything else.

Roughly that is a very, very basic guide of being registered blind in Nottingham City. Other authorities will do things a lot differently. Some may be better some may be worse. I hope that helps. Now a different topic, employment. I was a very lucky person as regards to employment. I seem to have that face where people just wanted to look after me and mother me, I think. When I joined the civil service, I was looked after by a mentor to start with. She found out that I was an Archers fan. As far as she was concerned, we were bessy mates.

She was an [unintelligible 01:18:25] and I was a lowly AA, but I was well looked after, no favors given, but I was kept out of a lot of trouble and I’ve avoided a lot of jobs that I didn’t really want to do, but I had to do some of her donkey work, like all her filing and stuff. I was very, very lucky. I managed to work for 48 years, once in a factory and once in the civil service and I shared with her some of the stories I’ve heard on here. It is quite frightening and also a pretty demeaning thing to have to go through. One of the questions in my psychometric test was, what would I do on which shops would I go to If I was one of the last few people on the planet? I said I’d go to a hardware shop, so the type we get a generator, fuel, and some matches and stuff for lighting. I’d go to a garden center for plants and I will probably go to a gun shop to get myself some rifle and ammunition. All the other people that were asked were, “Well, I’ll go to the bank and take all the money out the tills.” I think it was to check on your natural instinct for survival from Pete in Robin Hood County, take care and thanks for all your programs and enjoy your new work life balance. Balance is most important. I hope you’ve got more balance, now you’ve equalized I should say.

Jonathan: Well, thank you very much indeed, Peter. One does not want to keel over, does one? Due to lack of balance. Thank you for that explanation of what it means to be registered blind in Nottingham, and in the United Kingdom in general. It does remind me that there seems to be quite a lot of variation in services in the UK. Depending on where you live, local authorities seem to have a lot of control. It’s not as centralized as it is in many countries. It’s a very interesting thing to look at the way that services are provided to blind people differently around the world.

Tim: Hey Jonathan, it’s Tim Cummings. I’m just wondering if any of your listeners have used the program Descript, which is an audio program that apparently will allow you to take an audio file, convert it into text and then actually edit the text. That’s the way that you edit the file. I’ve heard about this program. I haven’t played with it. Just wondering how accessible it is and wondering if you or any of your listeners have tried it out and what you think?

Jonathan: Always good to hear from you, Tim. A while ago, I downloaded and evaluated Descript. At the time that I tried it, it appeared to be completely inaccessible. I couldn’t get a thing to work. After I got your message, I downloaded it again and installed it. It has improved by leaps and bounds. I don’t know enough about Descript to know whether the whole process is truly accessible or not, but screen readers are seeing things and there are numerous keyboard commands to get things done. You’re right, if you go to the premium version of Descript, then what happens is it’s a bit like being in a text editor. Let’s say that I’m managing my podcast and I say, “I had a super day yesterday,” and then I’m working with Descript.

I’m reading the transcript, which is electronically generated, and I have to say that the electronic transcripts that it generates of this podcast are not good. Now, obviously, the audio that I’m producing here is all right, so I think the issue could be that it might not work with accents other than the American accent, so you may have much better results than I did, but the quality of the transcripts was really bad. Anyway, let’s say I do that and I’ve paid for the super-premium version and I see the sentence that said I had a super day yesterday and I think, “I really wish I hadn’t said that.”

You delete the word super and you type the word fabulous. What’s interesting about Descript is that when it’s all set up and configured, it would actually have your voice saying the word fabulous instead of super because I think it’s taking samples of your voice. You can appreciate that if it lives up to all the hype and if you could make it work, if it’s accessible, then that is quite remarkable. It is a bit scary as well because it lends itself to all sorts of deepfake type use cases.

This is one of those programs where I suspect it might be something that I go back to on my long summer break over Christmas. If anyone else has tried Descript, or if anyone wants to try it to see how far you get, please let me know. I’m really interested in this. I may well just write to them and ask them, do you know about screen readers? Are you making a deliberate effort to make it accessible? It certainly has come a very long way since I last checked it out.

Mosen At Large Podcast.


Thomas Solage: Hello, Jonathan. It’s Thomas Solage in Ohio. I haven’t spoken for a while, but sure have been enjoying your amazing contribution to the blindness and assistive technology world especially throughout the pandemic. Thanks for all that you do for us in addition to everything that you’re doing with your day job. I am calling because I wanted to pull you and some of the listeners to determine– We’ve gone through the last year and a half with iOS and we’ve had significant bug fixes as you’ve talked about on the show, but one thing that I wanted to bring up for discussion is we still have not managed to fix the annoying problem with iOS email.

For example, I’m on iOS 14.7 with the newest iPhone 12 Pro Max. It never fails that when moving through email, we keep on getting bounced way to the right or way to the left in the list of emails that we’re reading. As you’ve said several times before, Jonathan, you are a big fan of iOS Mail app because it’s the only one that puts all of your mailboxes in one inbox, so it makes it really convenient. Unfortunately, the convenience has been trumped the last year and a half because of how you can’t keep a semblance of order when quickly trying to manage and deal with various emails in the inbox.

I guess what I’m wondering is should we all continue to bug the Apple accessibility people about this, and maybe if enough of us do that it’s something that will be fixed. I certainly think as you’ve said before, that if an annoying issue such as this were happening with the sighted in iOS, it would probably be in about a week, but we’ve been dealing with it for well over a year and a half now in 13 or 14, so food for thought. Again, appreciate all your hard work on our behalf, Jonathan. Keep it up and thank you.

Jonathan: Well, thank you for your very kind message, Thomas. I appreciate that. I don’t know that I have seen this or maybe I didn’t see it when I was on iOS 14 and I’ve just forgotten now because I’ve been on iOS 15 for a while. I don’t believe I’ve seen it there. One thing I have seen that I find does slow me down is when you go into a thread with multiple messages and sometimes when you navigate by thread in the rotor, which is another huge advantage for me of using iOS, sometimes I find that I get zapped between wrong messages, it’s very hard to get through the thread. That focus issues still persists. Yes, definitely don’t give up, keep reporting the bug.

The concern I have is that I just get the feeling there may be a disconnect between what we report to the Apple accessibility team, who I’m sure are beautifully making notes and things like that and it actually getting in a timely manner to the people who can do the fixes. I still have this feeling and it is based on good data that there’s a bit of a disconnect, a bit of a breakdown in communication or something at Apple over this. Hopefully, it’s getting better because I have to say, while you never would expect a beta to be perfect. It’s called beta for a reason. iOS 15 is in pretty rocking shape right now. Maybe this one will be fixed or has been already in iOS 15, which is why I don’t remember it. If anyone else wants to chime in on this, you’re very welcome, of course.

Hi, Jonathan, says Petre, who is writing in again from Hungary. I would like to raise a question for you and your audience. Do you show your face to the remote volunteer when asking for help through Be My Eyes or Aira? This week, I’m going to start to use Be My Eyes. Yes, Jonathan, it is available for us too. Living in the stone age with our Android 5 and he’s got a smiley face there. From a utilitarian perspective, there’s no sense in displaying my face to the volunteer if the question has nothing to do with my look. Theoretically, it is even possible that someone can do something harmful with my picture.

On the other hand, it seems to me a basic level of decency to talk to someone who is ready to help me without hiding my face, so my humanistic personality feels uncomfortable with the thought of remaining unseen. What is the etiquette in this field? By the way, in Hungary, we have a service quite similar to Aira. I could translate its name as remote eye. It is EU financed and it is free for those who can prove with medical documentation, that they are blind or severely visually impaired. The assistants are professional and they are paid by the state. The service works 24/7. The remote eye is Hungarian language only.

The problem is that this time no access for the IT stone-age guys, Android 6 is the entry-level, so I will take a chance with Be My Eyes. We always finish our lines by expressing our appreciation for your work. It may have become a bit boring for you. Let me do it this time in Hungarian, just to bring a little refreshing change to your life. Oh my goodness, I am not even going to attempt to read this for fear of completely messing it up, so I’m going to hand over to a Hungarian text-to-speech engine.

Text-to-Speech: [Hungarian language]

Oh boy, I don’t expect the transcription service to get that, by the way. The transcriber can chill on that one. Thank you so much, Peter. I really do appreciate you writing. It is nice to be appreciated. I guess everybody likes to think that their work makes a difference there’s value. Thank you so much for that. I use Aira whenever I want visual assistance, I did use Be My Eyes when it first came out, but I haven’t used it for some years. From what I can gather, there is no widespread problem with you showing your face to volunteers, as you say sometimes you’ve got to. When somebody is volunteering to assist you, I think it’s a slightly different relationship, isn’t it? Because somebody is taking time out of their day to be helpful to you.

They may well want to see the face of the person that they’re assisting, I totally get that. In the case of Aira, I’m paying for their time. A lot of the work that I do with Aira involves some inaccessible thing that I need them to help me with on the web or something like that. In that case, I may well have the phone lying on my desk, and I just call and I don’t really take too much time to think about what the camera’s looking at or anything like that, and the agents are being paid, and they have a job to do and the clock is ticking and various things like that. Perhaps that has a different bearing on the relationship. I’m really intrigued to hear about that service that you have in Hungry. That’s quite interesting.

Others may well have some perspective on the relationship, if you will, that you might enjoy with Be My Eyes volunteers, in particular, or visual interpretation, in general. If you are an Aira user, you’re welcome to get in touch and give your thoughts on this.

Speaker: For all things, Mosen At Large, check out the website where you can listen to episodes online, subscribe using your favorite podcast app, and contact the show. Just point your browser to podcast.mosen.org. That’s podcast.M-O-S-E-N.org.

Thomas Upton: Hello, Jonathan, it’s Thomas Upton. Several episodes ago, a listener suggested that there should be a built-in voiceover tutorial for the upcoming iOS 15 release. Well, there is a free, I believe, voiceover tutorial that you can get from the iOS App Store, and it’s called VO STARTER, V-O S-T-A-R-T-E-R. Now, you can basically think of Vo Starter as the equivalent to the Mac OS-based voiceover quick start which voiceover as we all know was not introduced to the iOS devices until 2009. It was first introduced to the Mac in 2005.

Jonathan: Thank you, Thomas. The only trouble is, so this is what we call a classic catch 22 situation if you don’t know how to use voiceover to get to the App Store and download the app. Whatcha gonna do? I suppose it’s okay if you’ve got somebody to help set up your iPhone for you initially and show you how to get into VO STARTER starter, but it’s perfectly possible for people to set up their iPhones themselves. It is good that the initiative is there, and thanks for reminding us of it. “Hi, Jonathan,” writes Matt Miller, I heard you mentioned getting the new Apple TV remote and wanted to pass on my experience.

I was also looking forward to using the arrow keys, hoping that provide better usability. Right out of the box, I started using the new remote and found it easy to accidentally bump the touch surface. Unfortunately, I also found in some situations, if I pressed an arrow key, I’d get the bonk sound indicating you cannot navigate that direction, but then if I swipe to the touch surface in the same direction, it would go to the next element. Even though I saw the option that allows you to turn off the touch surface, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to fully navigate apps. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on the new remote once you’ve had time to use it.

Thanks, Matt. I have disabled the touch surface because it was irritating me. Man, it was irritating me and I found that it’s okay. I haven’t noticed the problem that you talk about yet. Now that said, my usage of the Apple TV has declined a lot since we got the Amazon Fire TV stick. That is our favorite way to consume content because it’s really easy to get the content you want when you use its built-in soup drinker functionality and you ask it to play something, it does a pretty good job of going to the right service and either just beginning the playback or putting you on the correct screen to initiate the playback from there. I’ve become less of an Apple TV user as a result.

One thing you might like to do, Matt, is try again because I saw this week that there is an update to the Apple TV remote software. Yes, it can get software updates apparently. I’m not sure that anybody really knew this until Apple happened to mention that they had done it. They also happened not to mention how you install the update. The speculation is it just sort of happens as long as it’s by your Apple TV, the software will get pushed automatically. It could be that this update does fix some of the bugs that you have experienced, and if that’s the case, do let us know so we can be informed.

Robin Frost is chiming in on the subject of iOS mispronunciations, and she says that she has noticed these. She says, “I can’t stand the way many of the voices say Township.” Many of the iOS voices pronounce it, “town sip.” I don’t know what the town is sipping on, but when I hear that it makes me feel the need to sip something to calm my nerves. For the longest time, the voice-over voices were saying yesterday, “yester-tay”. Not sure if that one has been fixed as I added an entry in my pronunciation dictionary to avoid both the township and yesterday pronunciations because they were crazy-making.

Another funny one was voiceover used to refer to Al Green as Alabama Green, but this one I could forgive, as it’s a contextual subtlety for which I could recognize the difficulty of dealing with for an artificial voice. Still, it made me laugh a lot. Another one I’ve noticed of late is a headache. I can’t even recreate the jumble many voices turn that into on i devices, it’s just a mess. This, along with many things makes me continue to wish that voiceover would get its own API, as it were, so they could update it between four iOS updates.

Man, there are so many examples of voices mispronouncing things based on context. The funniest one was the keynote gold used to talk about phone number Aviv, whenever it came across Tel Aviv because it will see Tel and it would translate it to phone number. There was all sorts of things happening in phone number Aviv, I just wish text-to-speech engines would stop this already, and just read what is on the screen. Let our brains process what’s there. Their job should just be to read faithfully what is on the screen.

Now Robin is also responding to the question that we asked if you belong to multiple minority groups, such as being blind and a member of a racial minority or a religious faith that is important to you does blindness take priority for you over other cultural attributes? Of course, this was a result of the Shrmeen Khan interview. Robin says, “No, I can’t imagine a scenario in which blindness would take priority over my religious faith.”

Adam Morris says, “Hi, Jonathan, I know I’m behind in listening to the podcast. A couple of things re the ring doorbell pro. One, if you haven’t connected to your 2.4 network, you may improve the audio. We had ours connected to our Google Nest, which is about 4 foot away from the doorbell, but through the wall, obviously. Our audio was bad and broken, but when we connected to the 2.4. It improved considerably. Two, I was told by their tech support about another companion app called Rapid Ring. This app is much less cluttered, and even for sighted people, they had issues getting to the door, so this app was designed.

You just sign in and the two apps work together. The Rapid Ring only has a button to get a live view. All the settings et cetera are done through the Ring app. Hope this may help you and Bonnie.” Thank you very much, Adam. I did give this rapid ring app a try, which I hadn’t heard of until I got your most informative email. It’s really good, but there’s a but coming. It was very easy for me to get to the front door intercom pass and talk to people there. However, the one really downside of it for me is that no matter what I did, the rapid ring app came over my iPhone speaker and not my made-for iPhone hearing aids.

I see there’s a button, a toggle button there to toggle between speaker mode or not, but it did not do anything in terms of making sure that the conversation came through my hearing aids. Because the audio was so bad from this Ring doorbell, I really need all the help I can get. I will see if I can try going through 2.4 gigahertz. One of the reasons why I bought the pro was that it supported 5 gigahertz and because that spectrum tends to be less congested, I thought it would be a better experience. I think I might have to push a button though outside if I tried to change the network, so I have to research that and make sure I do so carefully but thank you for the tip.

I will see if that improves the audio. It can’t get no worse as John Lennon once said. Now, you may recall that some of you gave some great advice to Marissa about staying in step with a cane a few weeks ago, and Marissa writes, “I wanted to thank your listeners for the advice on using my white cane in Episode 141. It seems as though it boils down to continued practice. In addition, finding an orientation and mobility instructor who can help me given my multiple disabilities is a great idea.

For anyone who was wondering, I have retinopathy of prematurity. Have a wonderful day, I do appreciate your tireless efforts to produce a very informative podcast that is educational and has a variety of topics.” Well, thank you, Marissa and my thanks also goes to the wonderful Mosen At Large listening community who really did so generously offer some practical advice to Marissa that hopefully will assist her with her mobility as she moves forward literally. Literally moves forward.

Speaker 2: Hi, Jonathan, I just want to point something out to you that Philip sent me today. The idea of the message was that Philip had got in touch with Netflix today, and said, “Why wasn’t a certain film recorded with audio description because it was on Amazon. The same film was already described on Amazon and he didn’t want to pay to buy the film when he could watch it on Netflix. Their customer services person was very rude, and dismissive. Guess what? Told them why doesn’t he use subtitles. Phillip has hardly any sight at all, he’s near enough totally blind. This is what you’re up against. How annoying.

I’m just wondering, have you got any ideas as to who you could contact regarding Netflix. They gave me the officer because he loves KFC, he said that they make mistakes sometimes, but they always put it right and they’ll give them an extra voucher or something like that if they’ve got an order wrong, but he was just annoyed to the whole thing.

Jonathan: That’s not a good customer experience, is it? To confuse audio description with subtitles. My understanding is that there is much variation because in some cases, some of the studios do their own audio describing. Amazon has a phenomenal amount of titles that are audio-described. It really is remarkable and like going back and doing quite a lot of classics as well. Good for them, but I think that in those cases, the audio description may well belong to their studios that they have done it.

Sometimes you get audio description that has come from the producer of the movie, but I think at other times, you may well get audio description from the studio, which does seem wasteful because what that means in essence is that you might get a different audio description from Netflix, and another one from Amazon of the same movie. That is a shame that such a scarce resource like audio description could potentially be duplicated like that. If anyone else has any experiences to share about this or knowledge of what goes on internally, that’d be useful to know.


It is time for another epic piece of epicness it’s the Bunny Bulletin. Welcome to you guys and it is an epic Birthday Bonnie Bulletin. It’s incumbent upon me to wish you an epic birthday.

Bonnie: Thank you.

Jonathan: It’s an unusual one.

Bonnie: Yes, after a good run, we have tapped out in the corona stakes and the Delta variant has paid us call here in New Zealand, started in Auckland, as always. Sorry, Aucklanders, and is slowly, well maybe not so slowly, making its way around the country and right now we have, is it 34?

Jonathan: Yes, I’ve lost count actually, but it was interesting because there was a lot of international media attention saying things like, “Wow. New Zealand is locking the whole country down over one COVID case,” but it’s a really good strategy because what we’re trying to do is get back to zero cases. We went through a very, very long spell, didn’t we?

Bonnie: 100 and something days.

Jonathan: Yes, of no coronavirus in the community whatsoever. We’re seeking to get it back under control before it runs rampant which we have seen in other countries. That’s what we are doing. We’re very locked down. Open “Uber Eats.” Now, let’s go to the top.

Text-to-speech: Deliver now sort and filter entry. Uber Eats is coming soon. We’re not able to deliver to–

Jonathan: It’s going to give our address there. Then you’ve got all the lists. Uber Eats is completely not allowed to work under level four because they really do minimize what you can do in level four. We’re very locked down. The only thing you can really do is go out for a wee walk to the supermarket for essential supplies, pharmacies, and to get tested or vaxxed. That’s pretty much it.

Bonnie: They don’t even really want you walking that far in your neighborhood. Although it was interesting. I took a walk yesterday around the neighborhood with Eclipse and there was a ton of traffic and I’m like, “Where are they going? They must be out for a tikki tour. They can’t all be going to the supermarket, I hope.”

Jonathan: It’s really interesting because and scary because many of the cases in Wellington, the places in Wellington, are actually in places known to us.

Bonnie: Are very familiar that I was in last weekend. One was the roast canteen that you’ve heard us talk about the sushi shop, and the pharmacy at the Medical Center, 1841. These people were hungry.

Jonathan: Yes, lots of food places.

Bonnie: We assume that it’s more than one person because I don’t know how they could’ve done all this. It was like five minutes. That’s the beauty of when they release the places person has been because you start making judgment calls about their life. There were the people that– Was it the barbecue place they went to three times in one day?

Jonathan: It’s very cutely New Zealand, I think, because we have few cases, when we’ve got these three cases in Wellington, what they do is they publish on a website, all the places that contact tracing have confirmed that they have been while they were infectious or potentially infectious and they’re on a website and everybody waits for this information to be published, and then goes and has a good look. If you have been to that place, you are then required by law to stay home for 14 days.

Bonnie: The best one I think was there was a young student up in another part of the country, who had tested positive from they believe what was a MIQ leak because she wasn’t in MIQ, she was just living in an apartment near one and they published where she went and she went to Starbucks a lot as a lot of young people, do and there was a lot of comments, “She’s a student, how is she affording to go to Starbucks three and four times in a day?”

Jonathan: People make judgments.

Bonnie: Hopefully, it gives whatever place business. Hopefully, the roast canteen will get a lot of business. I know that Barbecue King or whatever it was got a lot of business afterwards because people get curious like, “Oh, what’s this?”

Jonathan: It’s good that we’re taking this approach, though. There’s very widespread support for it and hopefully, we’ll be back out and living a COVID-free life again soon.

Bonnie: I just worry what it does to businesses because many have gone under because of lockdown. It is really tough.

Jonathan: There is some government assistance available for business including a wage subsidy and various other programs, but for some it isn’t enough and for some employers, it takes a while for them to become confident again.

Bonnie: Even the hospitality industry.

Jonathan: Hospitality is very difficult, yes, because even when we go down a level sometime, and I think we might be in this level four at least in some parts of the country for a wee while yet, Level three is pretty restricted as well.

Bonnie: Yes, I think you can get Uber Eats might be back then, but you can’t do anything. We still, I believe, have to work from home at level three.

Jonathan: Yes. I’m very pleased that about a week ago, the government was sending some pretty strong signals that if we got the slightest whiff of the Delta variant out in the community, they would go hard and early. I started telling staff, “You need to take devices home will be prepared to connect to our network.” Basically, be prepared to work from home the next day at all times, and then on Tuesday, the push notification came through that there was a community case of the Delta variant in Auckland.

I sent a message out saying I think we’d better be ready to work from home tomorrow and then, sure enough, we got the prime ministerial announcement. I’ve got a few emails from people saying, “Well, good call, dude. Good call.” Now, we were going to have a wee function for your birthday. Now we can’t because you’re lockdown. We were in level two last year for your birthday, which isn’t too bad, but you remember we were in level two.

Bonnie: Were we? I don’t remember. We’ve been in so many levels I don’t remember which one was which.

Jonathan: We were definitely in level two for your birthday because I did the policy that works on your birthday and we had to do it virtually because we had to cancel the event because we were in level two. For my birthday last year, we were in level four.

Bonnie: Yes, we were in level four. Everybody gets a chance and level four.

Jonathan: We both had level four, but how does it feel to be another year older, man? How does it feel?

Bonnie: I struggle with age. I know that sounds horrible. Honestly, I blame the media. I blame Hollywood for it because you should be grateful whatever year you’re at. You really should.

Jonathan: You did your time at a school for the blind?

Bonnie: Yes, I did.

Jonathan: One of the things you notice is that sometimes you make friends with somebody at a school for the blind, maybe you take a break, a vacation, or something and when you come back, they don’t turn up. It’s because they’ve died of something, any number of things that can be associated with blindness. I had that a few times at school someone just didn’t turn up anymore. I’m just grateful for every day I have.

Bonnie: You have to be.

Jonathan: I think it’s an honor to get old.

Bonnie: It’s an honor and we shouldn’t act like it isn’t, but a lot of stuff is so ageist that it’s disturbing, but I’m grateful to still be here, above the ground as they say. Yes, looking forward to another spin around the sun with you.

Jonathan: Wow, it’s great, isn’t it? It’s great. The thing is I had to think, “What do I get for somebody who has so much? Because I wanted to do something more than just tick a box. “Oh, we’ve got some flowers, or we can’t get them delivered anyway. I wanted something that would be memorable. Something really unusual, something you would never expect. I told you that I got this present and that it’s been waiting for you since lockdown. You’ve been asking me is it big and all these different things and I guess in some ways, it’s big, but in some ways by comparison with other things that you put in the same category, I’m sure it’s actually small. Would you like your present?

Bonnie: Yes.

Gary Stevens: Hey, Bonnie, Jonathan. Gary Stevens here from Saratoga, New York.

Bonnie: Oh my God.

Bonnie: [unintelligible 01:52:16] up here for the Saratoga meet. [crosstalk] in Pasadena, California. Bonnie, first thing I want you to do after I wish you Happy Birthday, Happy 52nd. Give Eclipse a big hug for me as a fellow dog owner. I’ve got four dogs. I don’t know what I would do without them. Got a lot of lonely time on my hands at certain times and I’m missing them right now. My wife, daughter, and the dogs are in Pasadena, California, and will be home with a couple of weeks actually going to visit this weekend coming up, but listen, I wanted to wish you a happy birthday most of all.

I know that you were a fellow horse owner and rider. I know you surely miss it as I do after my neck injury, I’m not allowed to get on a horse and I dearly miss it. I am thankful for what I have. I’m not paralyzed and I get the kick on doing what I do with the television and whatnot. Listen, I know you’re an American a long ways from home in New Zealand. I hear it’s a beautiful country. It’s one place I’ve never traveled to, but hope to eventually one day and see the beauty, do some fishing, hiking, and obviously watch some horse racing. Listen, why Gary Stephens on your birthday?

Well, I know you’ve never missed a triple crown race and you’ve seen all three of my derby wins, Winning Colors In ’88, Thunder Gold in ’95, and Silver Charm in ’97. I know you guys, your timeline is ahead of us. Hopefully, this gets to you before your birthday, but again, just want to wish you guys happy birthday and take care from the USA. Gary Stevens here. All right. Bye.

Jonathan: Bye, Gary.

Bonnie: [laughs] Oh my God. Did you get your iPad back, Gary?

Jonathan: You might like to tell people who Gary Stevens is for those who are actually want to know?

Bonnie: Oh, man, I did not expect that.

Jonathan: See, victory for me.

Bonnie: Gary Stevens is one of the top jockeys in the US. He’s 58 I believe. Rode well into his ’50s as he mentioned. He had a neck injury. Jockeys are probably my heroes. First of all, they love what they do and they risk their lives every day out there. It’s the only sport where an ambulance follows you around. They’re up there on a 1,200-pound animal going 35miles, 40 miles an hour if you fall you could be killed or catastrophically injured. They get up and they do it six, seven times a day because they love it.

If you’ve ever been on a horse going quite fast, I’ve never race rode, I’ve exercised horses and I’ve been in little pony races when I was kid, but it’s a thrill. It’s just a thrill, the beauty of it. Gary’s one of the top riders. He’s always been a very outspoken rider about jockey safety and the sport in general. Great ambassador for the sport. Some of you may know him from Seabiscuit. He was in the movie Seabiscuit. Played one of the jockeys in the match race.

Jonathan: There you go. I thought that would be a good present.

Bonnie: Such a nice message too. It really was very heartfelt. Very, very nice.

Jonathan: Yes. He was very nice to work with on it.

Bonnie: Did you actually talk to him?

Jonathan: I have been in contact by email.

Bonnie: That’s really cool. He’s one of the good guys as my mom would say. His brother’s also a jockey. His wife is a– what does she do? She does a lot of stuff in the– she’s an agent. She does some stuff.

Jonathan: Angie, I’ve been in touch with her too.

Bonnie: Angie, yes. Oh, have you? She seems like a nice lady. I’ve been following this Twitter thread about their iPad.


I think got left on a plane or at the gate or something like that.

Jonathan: Yes. Well, you see. It all fits.

Bonnie: Oh that’s great. Oh, that lady is so cool.

Jonathan: Well, I hope I’m one of the good guys too then?

Bonnie: Yes. I never expected that.

Jonathan: There you go. I’ll give you the file so you’ll always have it.

Bonnie: That is so cool.

Jonathan: There’s video as well. It’s audio and video.

Bonnie: Oh, neat. That is so neat.

Jonathan: I hope you have a good rest of your birthday. It’s going to be pretty quiet and the old lockdown.

Bonnie: Yes, no cake.

Jonathan: Yes, but we’ll get there.

Bonnie: We’ll get it on Monday. The worst part of the cake thing-

Jonathan: Is that it’s full of carbs.

Bonnie: Yes, but it wouldn’t have been so bad except yesterday when I went out for my walk everyone was baking.

Jonathan: People are doing a lot of baking. It’s like the wafting aroma of cookies and things.

Bonnie: The whole walk. My friend Lisa said, “You should have just gone up to their door.”

Jonathan: Does she not understand you can’t.

Bonnie: She does. She was making a joke. Then she said, “Maybe you should put a sign out in the yard “cake, please.'” And see how many people don’t [unintelligible 01:57:43]

Jonathan: Cake for the guide dog.

Bonnie: Cake for the guide dog. They probably would for the dog.

Jonathan: There you go. Lovely. Well, thank you for another tremendous Birthday Bonnie Bulletin.

Bonnie: Thank you.

Jonathan: I’d love to hear from you, so if you have any comments, you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to Jonathan J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroom fm.com if you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States 864-606-6736


[01:58:18] [END OF AUDIO]