Podcast transcript, Mosen at Large 218, more advocacy success, what’s your favourite Braille display, depression in the blind community, and the Sense Player from Hims

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Jonathan Mosen: Listeners should be advised that parts of this episode contain references to depression and suicidal thoughts. If you’re triggered by those things, then discretion is advised, and always remember, you’re not alone. Please reach out for help.


I’m Jonathan Mosen. This is Mosen at Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. This week, another successful advocacy story, depression in the Blind Community, which Braille displayed you like and why, and the Battle of the Blindness Players. Brian Hartgen discusses SensePlayer from HIMS.


Welcome to Minnesota

A pleasure to be back with you for episode 218. 218 are the last three digits of my phone number when I was growing up as a child, but we have been featuring the US area codes that match the episodes in recent times. I don’t know whether Joe was ever a boy scout, but he certainly was prepared because in very good time to get included in the episode, Joe sent me this. “I enjoy your podcasts. I’ve been hearing your voice for quite a few years now and feel like I know you. That’s probably presumptuous of me, but what the heck,” he says. Well, that’s really nice, Joe. Thank you.

“My name is Joe and I live in the 218 area code. I was blinded in Vietnam some 50-plus years ago. I’m doing well and back in northern Minnesota pretty much ever since. The 218 area code,” says Joe, “Covers the northern one-third of Minnesota. On the east is Lake Superior area, the largest freshwater lake by area in the world, which is cool.

Voice: It’s cool, baby.

Jonathan: You would hope a lake is cool. Oh, I see what you mean. That kind of cool. Sorry, Joe. Sorry. He says, “We then run west across millions of acres of pine forest.” That’s a very picturesque image to paint. “A few huge iron mines, literally thousands of lakes, the headwater of the Great Mississippi River, and the edge of the Great Plains. Yes, buffalo country and the border of North Dakota. Pretty exciting, I know. We have many towns like Duluth, where Bobby Zimmerman was born, and Hibbing, where he lived until he went off to become Bob Dylan.”

How does it feel to be in the 218 area code? “The Red River on the west drains north to Hudson Bay. The Mississippi, of course, drains south to the Gulf of Mexico, and everything from the shores of Lake Superior drains east to the Atlantic. The people are a mixed bag of European ancestry for the most Part. Native Americans, of course, and a scattering of the rest of the world’s people, mostly all good-natured hard workers. We all like to argue politics and brag about how cold it gets in the winter. The record low is -60 Degrees Fahrenheit, which I think is -51 degrees celsius. For me and my family, it is home. Thanks for the years of Great entertainment and good information. Keep it up.”

Thank you very much, Joe. That is a fabulous introduction to area code 218. You may have set a very high bar there for other listeners to follow when they know their area code is coming up.


The New Zealand census and a story of effective advocacy

Jonathan: On the 7th of March, the Tuesday just gone, it was Census Day in New Zealand and naturally that always brings that beautiful John Denver song to one’s mind, doesn’t it? You fill out my census, that’s how it goes. Well, in 2018, I had a lot of difficulty filling out my census form. In the past with the census, they used to have a person who would come to your house, knock on your door, ring on your bell, tap on your window too, if that’s what it took, and they would hand you a letter containing your census code, and from the early part of the century onwards you’ve been able to complete the census form online.

Statistics New Zealand, who look after the census, have to their great credit, done a good job of making the census form accessible online. When the person came to our house and gave us our census letter, I would say, “Let me just grab a device of some kind if I didn’t have one on me, and I will write down the census code,” because you get one census code per house and you log on on census night, you fill it in. Normally there’s a dwelling form that you have to fill in about the house in which you live, and then each person has to complete their own individual census form, and it’s all reasonably straightforward, but in 2018, I guess they were cutting costs in some way.

They decided that the census would, for the most part, be completed completely online. Before that, it was an option, and in 2018 it was the default, and this caused a lot of people quite a bit of angst, and the number of people completing the census was dangerously low, to the point that it damaged the data set. In addition to that, they didn’t have the friendly person hired by the government knocking on your door, ringing on your bell, and tapping on your window. They just sent the code in the mail and I read the letter. I can’t remember what OCR software I was using at the time for my iPhone and it had some difficulty getting the code correct.

I could have persisted with it, but with a code like that, even a number that’s misrecognized as a letter or something is going to throw you off. I thought, no problem. In the 2017 election, I was able to vote by phone and I did that because the Electoral Commission sent me a code by text. There’s a process that you have to go through. It’s quite a rigorous process to ensure that your vote is being cast the way you want. It’s a really cool thing, it’s fun just sleeping in on a Saturday morning, which is when we have our elections waiting till nine o’clock and voting from bed.

I did that in 2017, and so I thought, when we got to the 2018 census, surely if I can vote, the most sacred obligation that there is as a citizen, then there’s going to be no problem getting this code, which is ambiguous at best on my little form, texted to me by Statistics New Zealand. I called Statistics New Zealand on their census helpline back in 2018, and they said, “No problem, we’ll text you the code standby, we’ll be back in touch.” Eventually, they got back in touch and they said, “Sorry, we are unable to text you your census code for security reasons.” I thought that’s extraordinary.

Often security reasons are trotted out as an excuse not to do anything. I remember a long time ago, after going to the United States, for example, and seeing talking ATMs in the US, I wanted them here, and I started lobbying the Bankers Association and various other places like that, and they said they didn’t want to do it for security reasons. Yes, it’s a good old chestnut. I thought this is ridiculous because I knew that other places, Australia included, did text blind people their census codes. Then Statistics New Zealand said something very interesting to me.

They said, a few weeks ago, “We had a system going with what was then called The Blind Foundation.” Now it’s called Blind Low Vision NZ. It is our primary provider of blindness services in this country. Really, the United States doesn’t have anything quite like this, but in Australia, it’s like vision Australia. In the UK, I guess it’s like RNIB. In Canada, it’s like CNIB, that sort of agency. A charitable organization that does get some government funding, and it provides a wide range of blindness and low vision services, and they had organized for the census codes of people that The Blind Foundation identified as their members to be passed on to The Blind Foundation.

Now, I thought then, and I still think now, that is a privacy outrage. We have a Privacy Act in New Zealand and had I chosen to, I believe I could have taken a successful case to our privacy commissioner for a breach of my privacy, because I did not consent to Statistics New Zealand passing on my census code to that organization, and I did not consent to that organization being the recipient of it. This sort of thing reeks of the idea that is all too common in society, that blind people are someone else’s problem or a specific agency’s problem.

“Oh, we’ve got The Blind Foundation. They look after blind people. We don’t have to provide an accessible service. We’ll just let The Blind Foundation take care of that. They are the custodians of blind people,” is how the theory goes. Because I didn’t receive any blindness services from The Blind Foundation, I had no idea that this had even occurred. I had no idea that they had got my census code without my consent. By the time I did find out what was going on, when Statistics New Zealand said, “Well, why didn’t you call The Blind Foundation when you had the chance,” the window was closed because it closed a little bit before the actual census day.

I thought, “it’s time to go into advocacy mode here,” and I issued a media release. It got quite a bit of coverage. I was interviewed by quite a few journalists. The Minister of Statistics was asked to comment by journalists, and he regurgitated the advice from his officials that there are systems in place for people like me and that the Blind Foundation could help with completing or getting the code and all this stuff. In the end, a fairly senior official from Statistics New Zealand came to our house on a Sunday afternoon to read me my census code when all it would have taken was a text message to get those census code to me. The whole thing was quite absurd.

When I started campaigning on this, I began to hear from a lot of people who felt similarly that the process had been disempowering. I decided to take a parliamentary petition, and this is where you petition our House of Representatives. You can now do all of this online, and called for an inquiry into the 2018 census and talked specifically about accessibility issues. Eventually, the pressure kept building and building and I got a letter of apology from our Minister of Statistics, and it was sent in an inaccessible PDF. It was a scanned image. Luckily I was able to use JAWS OCR to take care of that. The point is that our government should not be sending inaccessible letters to blind people.

I wrote back to the minister saying, thanks minister, but you sent me an inaccessible letter. They sent me an accessible apology about the inaccessible apology. Finally, my petition got its day in the sun. On Women’s Suffrage Day in New Zealand, the 19th of September, 2018, I appeared and talked to the select committee about all that I had experienced just so that I could be counted and fulfill my legal obligations towards the census because it’s actually the law that you have to complete it. I had a series of things that I asked the committee to look into.

I made it clear that it was not acceptable for Statistics New Zealand to essentially farm out the census to an organization without the consent of those whose codes were being passed on. I said that it was not unreasonable, given that you could get a text message that assisted you to cast your vote, to get a text message with your census code. I just asked for a general cleanup.

Well, the 2023 census was earlier this week and it was an exemplary process. I was able to go to the census website, request my code via text message. It arrived instantly. It was an automated process. I was then able to complete the form online, that was also fully accessible. The whole thing, as far as I’m concerned, was flawless and faultless. I know that we wouldn’t have got the progress that we have now made had I not been willing to rattle some cages and run a campaign and do a media release and start a petition and take the time to go to parliament and talk to that select committee and demand change.

The reason why I am telling you this, apart from the fact that I’m delighted that the census process was such a good one from a blindness perspective, I’m telling you because sometimes it feels like the problems we encounter, the barriers that we face are all just too big. They certainly seem too big for one individual to do something about. There’s one thing that’s absolutely clear. If we don’t try, we are going to keep getting what we get. We have to try and sometimes even one individual can achieve significant progress for everybody.

I’m really proud of the part that I was able to play in making the census in 2023 so much better for us than it was in 2018. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed like we can’t make change, like what we think and what we say doesn’t matter. Do not sell yourself short. We can all make good change. We won’t succeed every time, but even if we succeed once, we’ll have made the world a better place. Do not be a shrinking violet. Go for it. Seize the moment. Advocate for what you believe in. You may have some luck.

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deteriorating compatibility between JAWS and some Microsoft apps

Jonathan: “Hi, Jonathan,” writes Chris Miller, “I enjoy the podcast and I’m hoping you or a fellow listener may have an answer for a problem I’m experiencing. The company for which I work uses Microsoft’s power apps to run a couple of custom applications. The apps were working accidentally with the JAWS portion of fusion until the last three weeks or so. Since then, JAWS has sporadically stopped working with the apps and it seems every time I refresh the page, JAWS gives me a different response. Sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes it kind of works, and other times it doesn’t work at all.

Do you have any suggestion for what might be causing this behavior? Is there any corrections I can make in the settings to fix the issue? Thanks in advance.” That sounds frustrating Chris, and I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to get to this message, we’ve got a bit of backlog. My immediate response would be if this happened after an update of JAWS, it’s possible that some wee glitch has crept into the JAWS code, in which case you may be able to try a previous year of JAWS. If you’ve got JAWS 2023 now with Fusion and you can also install Fusion 2022, that might fix it for the meantime because you can have multiple versions of JAWS and Fusion on your system at once.

I would definitely give Vispero support a call. You can try and explain what’s going on, tandem in. It would be also interesting to find out if this works with Narrator for example, which is right on your system. If you use Narrator, does everything behave as you expect? I think a call to Vispero and alerting them would be a good next step. I hope you can get this one sorted.

Depression in the blind community

Stan Warren Latrell: Hello, Jonathan and Mosen At Largers. this is Stan Warren Latrell in Medford, Oregon. I do have some comments on your last podcast and the great interview you had. I’ll tell you the part of the interview that talked about depression really strikes a nerve with me. Now, you know that last year I was working for an organization locally and they had all sorts of stuff going on and I was a recipient of being downsized. One thing led to another and not knowing what my fate was was a real depression thing for me. There is nothing like feeling devalued. I’d never really felt that in my life before.

The nice thing is that some of the people that I work with have called me and many of those people were also downsized. The organization is really smaller than it once was because of certain things that happened. It was a really hard thing to be able to deal with and to realize that part of your life that you enjoyed was gone. It’s something that really was difficult to deal with. It never crossed my mind to harm myself, but I do have to admit that one of the feelings I had, because as you know, I had the heart attack last January, meaning a year ago, a fleeting thought was, “Wouldn’t it easier if I just went away then? Why did someone give me CPR?”

I don’t mean that, I really don’t. I know a lot of friends and family would’ve not wanted to see me go through that. It is difficult to go through that and deal with things and figure how to downsize your life from what was going on. It is been a real crescendo dealing with this. It’s just one of those things where you really have to say, or I really have to say something that I heard someone say one day, and this is in regards to someone who had some feelings about the stock market. His view was, “Stick and stay and make it pay.” Well, that goes through all aspects of your life. You have to stick and stay and make it pay.

Jonathan: Thank you, Stan. A couple of comments. The first thing I would say is that if people are feeling overwhelmed because sometimes conversations like this and the one we had with Mark Richert can be quite triggering, there is plenty of help available. We are an international podcast. We reach an international audience, so it’s difficult for me to give websites and phone numbers, but do reach out. There’s help. There’s no shame in talking to a stranger if it all just feels overwhelming. In fact, sometimes talking to a stranger, someone who doesn’t know you, someone who’s not invested in the situation in any way can be incredibly helpful. Talking about it helps a great deal.

The other thing I would say, Stan, is obviously blind people are not alone in feeling like this when they finally found that their lifestyle, their livelihood has gone quickly, and it’s hard to let it go, especially when you feel that you haven’t been treated as well as you ought to have been. We are so defined in Western society by the job that we do. One of the very common questions we get asked and we ask back in turn is, what do you do?

There’s a strong sense of identity associated with your work. If you don’t have work, no matter how hard you try, or you’ve tried very hard, finally broken through and then something happens and that work disappears, it is incredibly demoralizing. No doubt about that. Sighted people have this problem, but I think it is true to say that given the unemployment statistics out there, it can be harder for blind people to bounce back. Thanks for being willing to share that, Stan, and wishing you all the best for the future.

Tanya Harrison: Jonathan, it’s Tanya Harrison here and I’ve got one question and a comment for your show. The question I have is about Mastodon and I’ve since found out that others are also experiencing this issue, so I’m hoping my question, and possibly your answer, will help people with this. I still follow some people on Twitter because as much as I detest their lack of accessibility support now, there are some people who are still learning about Mastodon before joining and I’ve been on Mastodon, as you know, for some months since your podcast about it, but this is an issue that I’ve found, is that I find it very hard to find people.

For example, someone will send a link on Twitter with their new Mastodon handle, and if I click on that link, it takes me to a page where it wants me to log in to that Mastodon server. Of course, I try with my username and password from my own instance, and of course, it doesn’t work. Then I copy and paste the handle into my Mastodon clients of choice, there at the moment atoot and the native Mastodon app, and when I look for that person on Mastodon either by typing in their name or the handle, there are no results found. What I’m wondering is, is this to do with an instance or do you have to log into that person’s instance in order to find them?

Obviously, some of us only have one account, which I do, so I’m wondering how all that works.

Jonathan: I’ll pause Tanya’s contribution and answer this as best I can before we go back to the topic of depression. There are several ways that you might follow someone on Mastodon. If someone’s given you their URL– For example, in my case for my personal account, that would be tweesecake.social/@jonathanmosen. If someone’s given you a URL like that, if you go to that link, you’ll find a follow button. Pressing the follow button will be all that you have to do if you are on the same instance as the person you’re trying to follow. If you are not, then there’ll be a button to copy the URL to the clipboard. When you’ve done that, you can do one of two things. You can go back to your instance’s webpage. In my case, it would be tweesecake.social, but it’s whoever you are with, and there’s a search field there.

You can paste that URL into the search field, the user will come right up, and you press follow because you’re now on the web page of your own instance and you’re done. You’re following the person. The other thing you can do is that a lot of Mastodon clients respect those full URLs. You can paste the URL directly into the search field of a Mastodon client. What you can also do, at least in many Mastodon clients that I have used on iOS, is you can search for a specific username starting with the @ sign. If you were searching for me, you might go to the search field of your Mastodon client.

Sometimes you do have to choose that you’re searching for users, but sometimes the client is intelligent enough to work this out. You paste in the person’s username as if you were mentioning the person. In my case, @jonathanmosen@tweesecake.social, and you will find me, and you can follow me from there. I’m using MONA on iOS. It’s a fantastic app. We are going to talk much more about this later. It’s still in testing right now, but it is made by the developer of the wonderful Spring app that we spent a lot of time reviewing on Twitter last year.

I can just put in the @ sign followed by a username in the search, and it will find the user, and I can follow them from there. If none of that is working, then maybe there is a problem with a specific instance, but I have never seen all of those procedures not work. Now back to Tanya.

Tanya: I’d just like to comment also on the interview you did with Mark Richert and your discussion on depression. First I want to congratulate you, Jonathan, on how tactful you were about dealing with this. Personally, I have had many years of depression and as time’s gone by, it’s become very episodic. I feel that blindness and disability definitely have a part to play. For me personally, lack of access to therapy has been a major part of things not progressing. For a few years now I’ve been reading everything and listening to as many podcasts as I can. I did that for quite some time and felt like it was always one step forward and five steps back.

Then last year I got the funding to get melatonin. I won’t bore you with the whole story, but to cut it very short, I’m now sleeping better than I ever, ever have. I did have an episode over the holidays, which is quite common. I always try to prop myself up so it doesn’t happen, but due to having no connections with family because of their religious choices, for me, the holidays can be a very, very down time. I was very shocked this year to note two things that happened. I did get very down, but I felt much more resilient.

The other thing that t often happens to me, and it is something I’m really trying to work on and have made some steps with over the last few months, but for me what often happens at that time is I comfort eat all the wrong things. I was very shocked two weeks after my last depressive episode to know how much food I actually had left in my house. The food I had left normally would’ve been gone within two days of an episode of depression. Now, for me, the only thing I could think about that has changed, and this is why I have to say it because I feel it’s a very big thing, is sleep. Sleep, I still cannot believe how well I’m sleeping.

I know, Jonathan, you will understand the dynamics of non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder. That was something that for me personally I had to fight long and hard for with doctors before they even believed it was a possible condition. Even when I showed them articles from Harvard, they thought they were conspiracies. This is one thing I suspect that a lot of blind people would experience, is that when we’re not getting adequate sleep, let alone any sleep at all, our brains cannot process the things that are getting to us during the day.

For me this time, I was absolutely amazed that, and I have to be blunt, and I’m sorry if this is triggering to anyone, but I was amazed that I had no thoughts of self-harming. That is something that has always for me since the age of seven been a major, major problem. This time in this last episode I had no thoughts of it whatsoever. Also, as I said before, there was a thing about the food. Years ago I was hospitalized for attempts on my life. There were so many times I would say to psychiatrists that say, “What do you think has led up to this?” Of, of course there were a family thing I mentioned briefly before.

The other thing was I said to them, “I just wish I could sleep. I just wish so badly that I could get at least a couple of hours of sleep.” It is something that I hope people in your situation, Jonathan, who run employment agencies and other people working in the blindness field will pay, if possible, some more attention to. I well understand as an unemployed person that the statistics are very staggering for the amount of us blind and even disabled people who are unemployed. You mentioned a vicious cycle in terms of self-confidence and rejection and then depression. I felt for a very long time, and even during times when I have been employed, that it would be so much easier to be productive if I had reasonable sleep.

I think that sleep has a big part to play, like I said, also, I think a lot of us lack access to therapy, especially therapy that we can afford. Also, yes, what you said to Mark I feel is very true also, and that is a lot of therapists that we can see, and often the ones we have access to, are in the lower socioeconomic brackets and so they’re not as well trained. They have much less of an understanding of blindness.

For example, last year, a therapist that I saw, if I can call her a therapist, suggested as a blind person, I would be safer if I was back in the same cult as my family. I feel that a lot of therapists like you and Mark were saying, could do with extra training in terms of disability awareness. I think it’s very sad that blindness agencies here and around the world have removed the need for therapists in their local organizations because as you know and Bonnie knows, those therapists have a very good awareness of blindness.

Jonathan: Tanya, thank you so much for being willing to share that. I’m sure that took a bit of courage and I really do appreciate it. I’m sure that others will as well. First of all, Yay, I am very glad that you got access to the melatonin. I would not be able to do the job that I do now without melatonin. Melatonin undoubtedly changed my life amazingly because I knew when I was a kid that I had non-24 sleep-wake disorder, but of course, we didn’t have a name for it then and nobody took it particularly seriously. It was an awful thing, I used to listen to the radio all night. I’d call up the radio stations, I was wide awake and I just could not do anything to stop it.

I remember at school just having my head on the Perkins Brailler nodding off because I was uncontrollably tired during the day and there was nothing I could do. I remember a teacher walking up, she must have asked me a question and whacking the Perkins Brailler with a ruler right next to my ear, making me jump about a mile high because I just could not fight that overwhelming desire to sleep. I know a lot of us with non-24 have experienced that. Some people still do in the workplace.

Now, I found melatonin in the late, I think it was the 1990s, and it really made a huge difference to my life. Then I got into a mode where I didn’t need the melatonin because I was working from home and nobody minded too much when my deliverables were delivered as long as I delivered them. That was really great, during the ACB radio days and things like that even working for Freedom Scientific, all that kind of thing, I didn’t need the melatonin as much and that was great. Now that I’m back on the regular thing where I’ve got to be available during the day, the melatonin is just a lifesaver. Every blind person who has non-24 ought to have access to it if they want it.

Of course, there’s a pharmaceutical in the US that apparently is even more fine-tuned than melatonin, and that apparently is very, very effective. I’ve only heard that based on hearsay, I have not tried it. The other thing that I would say about food is I think that food has a tremendous impact on some people’s mood. I have seen this with family members and even in my own life, I know that I feel so much better, not just so much more full of energy but also just temperamentally better at peace with the world, happier with everyone and everything since I’ve gone low-carb.

If I choose to go off the wagon for some reason and have lots of sugary things and process things, I feel it. I feel more moody as a result. I have actually seen this with family members who have experienced anxiety and depression and things like that, and I’ve said to them, “I’m going to try and experiment. We are going to take away all the garbage that you eat and we are going to put you on real foods for two or three weeks and see what happens.” In my experience, that can really lift people’s mood when you get all the junk out of your life and out of your system.

The trouble is, there are socioeconomic implications of that as well because eating well, eating properly is not cheap because the market is flooded with ultra cheap, ultra tasty, ultra addictive processed foods. Lots of complexity there. I wish you luck on your journey, Tanya. I’m so glad that you are doing better and thank you very much for being willing to share that experience with us.

We can make transcripts of the show available thanks to the support of Neuma Solutions. Remote Incident Manager is a way to connect to another computer or have another computer connect to yours. Some of us, like me, use it daily, but for others, it’s one of those technologies where you don’t need it until you really need it. When that happens, it’s often an urgent, stressful situation.

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Tech Roundup

Adam: This is your Mosen At Large Tech roundup. A quick look at some interesting items making news this week. I’m Adam, an AI voice from ElevenLabs. As predicted a couple of weeks ago in this bulletin, a new era for Sonos has arrived. The Era 300 and Era 100 speakers are official. The Sonos Era 300 is a mid-size speaker that’s bigger than the new Era 100 and Sonos One and a bit smaller than the Sonos Five. The Era 300 Sports Six powerful Class D Amplifiers configured to push sound left, right, forward and upward for breakthrough audio and an electrifying Dolby Atmos experience.

The speaker has four tweeters and two woofers. It plays both stereo and spatial audio. Connectivity is fast and up to date with WiFi 6 support. There’s plenty of support for external devices too. As has been the case with Sono speakers for a while, AirPlay 2 support means you can control your Sono speaker with Siri. It also includes Bluetooth 5.0 for compatibility with a wide range of external devices. There’s a USBC port, which can be used for line-in or wired ethernet. It contains a Far-field microphone for built-in Sonos voice control and Alexa support. Google Home Support has been dropped.

If you want to buy a pair of them for your home theatre, they’ll work as surround sound rear speakers with the Sonos Arc, providing immersive 7.14 sound or the Beam Second Generation, which will give you 5.14 support. Trueplay tuning Auto EQ is supported for both iOS and Android users, plus advanced tuning for iOS users. You can order an Era 300 now for 499 USD.

In an exciting announcement to compliment the release of the Era 300, Sonos has announced support for Dolby Atmos tracks on Apple Music. Sonos is the first third-party device to have inked a deal with Apple for Dolby Atmos support. The support will also be extended to other compatible speakers such as the Sonos Arc. While the smaller Era 100 doesn’t feature spatial audio support, it does feature a number of upgrades over the Sonos One. That includes stereo sound, the same connectivity options as the Era 300 and more. It’s definitely a sonic improvement over the Sonos One and sells for $249.

Microsoft Outlook is now available free in Apple’s App Store and you no longer need a Microsoft 365 subscription or office license to use it. It’s a surprise move that coincides with Microsoft’s push to make its Windows desktop outlook email client more web powered. Outlook for Mac includes support for outlook.com accounts, Gmail, iCloud, Yahoo, and any email provider that has IMAP support.

Microsoft redesigned its Mac email client in 2020 with a user interface that’s optimized for apple’s latest MAC OS design changes. Microsoft is holding a special event in the coming week where it plans to detail the future of work with AI and demonstrate how it’s chatGPT-like AI will work in office apps like Teams, Word and Outlook. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, and head of Microsoft 365, Jared Spataro, will hold an event on March 16th at 8:00 AM PT, 11:00 AM ET. It’s expected that among other things Microsoft will demonstrate improved search results in Outlook, features for suggesting replies to emails and Word document integration to improve a user’s writing.

Microsoft says people will want to tune into its special event to learn how AI will power a whole new way of working for every person and organization. Out-of-warranty battery replacements on iPhones, iPads and MACs are now more expensive. The higher prices applied to iPhone 13 and older models, Macs, and iPads that are out of warranty and that don’t have Apple Care. Battery replacements for the iPhone 13 models, for example, now cost $89 up $20 from the prior repair cost. The $89 price is applicable to the iPhone 10 through the iPhone 13 with Apple charging $69 for repairs on the iPhone eight and earlier. Out-of-warranty battery replacements for iPhone 14 models remain at $99.

Finally, Waymo announced recently that it’s fully driverless vehicles in California and Arizona have travelled 1 million miles as of January 2023. Over that 1 million miles away, Waymo’s vehicles were involved in only two crashes that met the criteria for inclusion in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Database for car crashes. Of the two crashes that met the criteria, Waymo says its vehicle was rear-ended by another vehicle whose driver was looking at their phone while approaching a red light.

“Far too many people still die or are injured on our roads every year in communities across the country.” Waymo’s Chief Safety Officer, Mauricio Peña, said in a statement, “This data suggests our fully autonomous driving system, the Waymo driver is reducing the likelihood of serious crashes, helping us make progress towards our mission for safer, more accessible mobility for all.” That’s your Mosen At Large Tech roundup for this week.

Jonathan: Thank you very much, Adam, and Dude, you got a bit of attitude going on there, especially in that Waymo story.

Comments on episode 214

Imke is back again, and says, “I have comments on various topics that were included in Episode 214. One, hearing aids. Thank you for your additional comments regarding hearing aids, I think I will try to check out both the Phonak and the Oticon brand next time I am in the market for a new pair. My audiologist indicated that users of Widex aids often have trouble switching to another brand because they get so used to the sound of the Widex aids. While I’m keeping that in mind, I do not feel that this was the reason why the Starkey Aids did not work out for me.”

It’s interesting that your audiologist thinks that’s a particular characteristic of Widex users because, in my experience, it does take a while to get used to the sound, the way that these different hearing aids process the sound. It’s a bit like I remember going into new radio stations that I would work for when I worked full time and radio. You’d have to get used to your voice. If you were monitoring off the radio, you’d have to get used to your voice sounding different because of the different studio processing they used. It’s exactly the same thing.

“Two, what helps me to go to sleep well? I don’t know if you consider this a good thing or a bad thing but I have found that your podcast is just the right nighttime companion for me. Your voice is a pleasure to listen to and the topics are sufficiently interesting to keep my mind from thinking of other things. At the same time, not nerve-racking or irritating like the many other topics in the media these days.” Well, I’m glad you think so. I don’t think everybody agrees with you about that but I’m glad you think so.

“Between taking one milligram of melatonin one to two hours before bedtime and listening to your podcast, I usually fall asleep within less than 15 minutes, both after going to bed and after waking up in the middle of the night. Therefore, it takes me a week or more to get through an episode. I sometimes get behind as I am right now. Nevertheless, because I always rewind to approximately where I left off, I enjoy all parts of every episode and learn more things from listening.

Three, the AI version of your voice. I think the AI version of your voice does sound similar to you but I do notice the difference in accent. Also, I noticed that the AI does not seem to pick up on a person’s unique inflexion. When I listened to the Tick Updates by AI Bonny and the text that AI Jonathan conveyed, the inflexion was quite similar. While the real you and the real Bonny do not have the same inflexion. Perhaps that is another reason why AI Jonathan sounds different from the real Jonathan.” I mean, who is the real me man? We get into real philosophical questions here.

“I wonder if the AI voices of two speakers of American English with different inflexions would replicate the individual inflexions or not. If not, then perhaps this is a good thing considering the potential ethical issues involved. Four, mobility aids. Regarding mobility aids that make a big splash when they come on the market. I am wondering if anyone out there is using the strap from Strap Technologies.

Two years ago, the company’s founder seems to make the rounds on the various blindness podcasts, offering a steep discount for early adopters of the not yet publicly released device that is worn on man’s chest and provides auditory and vibrational information about what is in front of the wearer, including identifying upcoming steps and distinguishing between different surface types on the ground. I believe that the strap has since been released, but I have not heard anything about it from anyone other than the company itself.

Also, when I considered preordering, one of these devices and sent a couple of inquiries to the company, I never heard back. I was subscribed to updates from them for a while but they seemed to be extremely promotional, promising that the strap could be used in place of a cane and circulating primarily feel-good stories about users of the device without providing meaningful specifics. All of these characteristics did not inspire my confidence that the device was credible. I have not acquired one. However, I am curious if anyone else has had experience with the company or the device. Time to hea for bed and continue listening to the episode number 215.”

[music] Mosen At Large podcast.

Which Braille display should I buy

Let’s go shopping. I like window shopping actually because you can help people choose technology and you get that thrill of making a choice without actually the pain of having to pay for it. Here we go. Justin Coffin is writing in. He says, “Hello Jonathan and all Mosen At Large listeners. I’m looking for a Braille with a lowercase b display a good one. I’ve had the focus 14 5th Generation display and had to replace it three times now, because of the spacebar sticking. I haven’t had it around anything sticky. It’s never been dropped into anything sticky. I don’t understand what’s going on here.

I personally think the Focus 14 4th-gens were better because the spacebar didn’t feel so flimsy. This is my third display that I’m replacing now and it should be here Friday, March the 3rd,” so hopefully long delivered by now, Justin. “But I’m nervous,” He says, “Honestly, I feel like I just want to return the unit and get something a little better since I use this thing all the time at work and at home and I don’t want to be constantly replacing something I paid thousands of dollars for in the first place. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.”

Thank you, Justin. Man, it would be nice to think that the third time is the charm. You have some good luck with the particular units that you now have because there’s a lot to recommend about the Focus displays, particularly their integration with JAWS. They’ve got some good little functionality on board but if you are shopping, I guess the key is how many Braille cells do you want and do you prefer Braille or Qwerty input. I am a huge fan of my Mantis from APH manufactured under contracts from human ware. It’s like a Brailliant with a QWERTY keyboard.

I find that because I use it a lot with my iPhone, it’s a very good experience because it just presents itself to the iPhone as another Bluetooth keyboard. You can use all the Bluetooth keyboard commands. It is 40 cells though. Maybe a smaller display is what you are wanting. There are lots of good devices out there. It is fantastic to see this Braille Renaissance all the people who were predicting the demise of Braille thanks to electronics couldn’t have been more wrong because there are more Braille devices than ever, and Braille is thriving. I guess we can just put it out there and say to people, “If you’ve got a Braille display, and you’re happy with the one you have, what is it and what do you like about it?”

Hopefully, we can do a state of the industry assessment at this point. If we get a lot of people chiming in about the Braille display they have and maybe its good points and its bad points. It could really be a useful discussion and a useful shopping guide for those who are out there. Nothing like end-user feedback, bypassing all the marketing so let’s hear from you. If you have a Braille display and you like it, what is it and why do you like it? Of course, if you have a Braille display you don’t like I guess you can tell us that too. Jonathan@mushroomfm.com on the email or on the listener line 86460 Mosen.

Dictation has gotten really bad on my iPhone

Let’s talk Apple things. Ross Winetski is in touch, he says, “Hello Jonathan. I updated to iOS 16.3.1 a month or two ago. Since then, I’ve been experiencing the most annoying bug I’ve ever found in an iPhone. The dictate feature is consistently malfunctioning. It is particularly noticeable whenever I try to dictate into a text field of almost any sort, including adding information to the address book, dictating into the calendar, dictating text messages, et cetera. When I double-tap the microphone button on the keyboard, it takes a few moments for the sound to notify me it is recording.

When I have completed my dictation and I do the magic double-tap, it often will not stop the dictation and other words may enter the field. Other times when I do the double tap, it will turn on whatever audio has been recently played. I have tried turning voiceover off and on to no avail. I’ve done the three-finger double tap to toggle the speak command again to no avail. I’ve called the Apple accessibility line several times and gotten vague statements that they sort of know about this. Tonight I called and got an accessibility agent who was quite aware of this and looked it up in his log.

Apparently, there were over 10 pages relating to this issue, which specifically listed the complaints. I’ve stated. The agent said that this was a particular problem for accessibility clients. However, it is happening to everyone who uses an iPhone. He said there is no workaround. What really surprises me was when he told me that Apple considers this a low priority. He says “A high priority is when an iPhone malfunctions in a business setting and costs companies money.” Apparently, this is not something they’re putting much attention into. I’m finding this is making my iPhone experience very unpleasant. I have tendonitis and cannot use a Bluetooth keyboard to write messages.

I have an iPhone 12. However, this is apparently a global problem. Where I have really noticed this problem is in Facebook. It has made Facebook almost totally unusable by iPhone. Of course, apple Accessibility cannot comment on this because Facebook is a third-party software. However, what I am seeing is when I try to write in a text field in Facebook, it will either not record it at all or record it with an extreme amount of errors. I do not really care for Facebook on my computer. However, I will probably have to switch to it until the problem is fixed because it is frustrating me to no end.

I’m curious to see if you or other listeners have noticed this problem if it is frustrating others, to the extent it is frustrating me, I would like to see a petition started and sent to Apple. If you know about this problem, is it something you might be willing to start? Alternatively, do you have any contacts at Apple with whom you could speak about this issue? As do we all. I depend upon my iPhone daily. This bug is making it difficult to communicate with others and use the functions that should be easily accessible. I find it totally irresponsible that Apple has done nothing about this even though it is something about which they are aware.

Thank you for listening to my rant. I feel it is another example of how Apple has drifted away from serving people with disabilities. I still do not feel ready to leave Apple for another type of phone. However, it could be a possibility in the future if this bug is not fixed.” Thank you, Ross. I hear the frustration and I’m sorry you’re experiencing this. I don’t have a lot to contribute other than to sympathize because most of the time I’m using Braille screen input on my iPhone, which is a really efficient way to enter data and when I’m not using that, I’m using my actual Mantis Braille display, which has a Bluetooth keyboard. I don’t dictate that often.

What I can say is that I am observing on Mastadon a pretty concerning number of significant bugs relating to navigation and other matters given how late we are in this iOS 16 cycle. Others may wish to comment on what you’re experiencing. The one thing I would contribute, I don’t think it’s going to help you with this bug, but it may speed you up a bit. You mentioned that you locate the microphone button and double-tap it to start dictation, but that you use the magic tap to stop dictation. You can use the magic tap to start it by the way.

When you get into the edit field and it has focus, so the iPhone is saying text field is editing, at that point, you can perform the magic tap and it toggles dictation starting and stopping. It may speed you up a bit, but I’m sure that’s not at the heart of the problem that you are reporting. That magic tap gesture is a busy we gesture. It’s doing a lot. It’s toggling the start and stop of playback, the start and stop of dictation and the answering and ending of a phone call. Yes, I have seen it get pretty confused from time to time, but if others have noticed significant deterioration in the quality of Apple dictation and how it’s working, please let us know about that.

Given that your very revealing Apple tech, I have to say I’m not sure that Apple would’ve approved of you getting that much information, but if they’ve got 10 pages of logs there, then it sounds like doing some sort of reset, which is what I might suggest in this situation is not going to help. Let’s see what others come back with. Ross, it is very unfortunate when a bug that I guess might be considered low priority in the wider scheme of things is just hugely impactful for the way that you use your device. I’ve certainly seen this with Braille devices over the years and bugs relating to those.

Bad Apple experience in South Africa

Brandt: Hi Jonathan and all Mozen at large listeners. I hope you are doing well. It’s Brandt from Johannesburg Specs South Africa. Now, this might turn into a rather long and detailed rant, and I do apologize. Now the recording date of this is Sunday, the 5th of March, 2023. I went into the Apple reseller in South Africa. The iStore is what they called this morning to do a trade-in on devices. Three of them MacBook Air, iPhone 10. iPhone 8. All three of them are in pretty decent shape I’d say. Before I went, I called their call center because I know we have power problems in this country.

I asked, “Listen, guys, is your systems online?” I was told “Yes,” fine. Cool. Cost me $120 to get there. Got there and asked, “Listen, I want to trade in three devices. Here they are, MacBook Air, iPhone 14, iPhone 8 .” They’re like, “Sorry, our trade-in system is currently offline. Can we come back another day to do it?” I’m like, “I phoned your call center. This is the situation. They told me your systems are online. Can I then at least do the contract upgrade today, the phone contract upgrade and then do the trade-in later, next weekend, or whenever. They’re like “Fine. You have to wait an hour and a half for a consultant to be available to do the contract upgrade.” I’m like, “okay, that’s fine. I’ll do that.”

Went and done some other things in the shopping center where we were. I’ve got things for my wife and so on. That’s all good. I don’t mind, got back. They’re “I’m sorry. Our, the phone carrier system that you need to do the upgrades with are currently very slow. Therefore, please come back on another day. At the moment we cannot help you.” My MacBook in the meanwhile, and this is not my fault, this is a relatively known bump. I did a reset system settings general and reset the MacBook took into recovery mode to erase the Mac. That’s fine.

Now, you’re supposed to be able to, and I know you’re supposed to be able to get tune, this is what you call it, the wifi set, uh, on the status menus on a MAC in recovery, fine. In this particular iteration of recovery, the macOS is monteray not possible. I’m like, “okay, take it to them. They should be able to do it.” They said, “ine. This MacBook is still under warranty from Apple. I bought it last year in early May. That is less than a year. They wanted to charge me 600 South African rand to do it.

I’m like, “That’s not really nice of you. This thing is under warranty. You’re supposed to fix it.” They’re like, “no, you didn’t buy it through us.” I’m like, “you know what?” I don’t care whether I bought it through you. You Apple representative, any Apple device that is bought wherever it’s bought, if it is a known Apple warranty should be fixed by any Apple reseller, which is as far as I know, correct. They said, “No, we’re charging you a 600 South African rand fee with the fix.” I’m like, “Where do I pay for this? Uh, and firstly, before we do this, can I please speak to your management.”

“Our manager doesn’t want to talk to you, can’t talk to you now,” not doesn’t want to, but they said can’t talk to you now, meaning admires you doesn’t want to. They didn’t send him, they didn’t even say that to me. They told that to my mother-in-law who happened to have been with us. I’m like, “I stopped the lady. I said, whoa, stop the bus right here.” You are not talking to me directly. You’re talking past me to the person who happens to be with me. That is not right, and I say this, that is abuse. I happen to be blind because the word discrimination in this country means nothing. It is against the law to do it obviously, but it means squat in this country to say discrimination. I called it abuse because that’s what it is in my view. I was treated like a second-class citizen by that store. I was lied to directly by their representatives. Not only the stores’ representatives who happens to be the Core Group in South Africa, or the iStore, as they’re called, but they are Apple’s only reseller in this country.

I was then, therefore, lied to directly by Apple because that is how I see this. They are their only representative. Therefore, Apple lied to me, they treated me like crap. I’m sorry to say it, Mr Mosen, but that’s how I see it. I was treated like a second-class citizen in an already bloody third-world country. I don’t have time for this. I don’t have patience with companies that do this. Apple. I’m sorry to say I’m very strongly considering, and I am recommending every one of you, not buy another Apple device. Why? Because they treat us like crap.

Almost as if something that could have stayed behind. They’re discriminating, they’re talking past the blind person, happens to have a sighted person with you. Talking past you as a blind person, and I find that unacceptable. I will not be treated like a second-class citizen by anyone in this world. I refuse to stand for it. I’m taking this up with Core Group tomorrow that’s Monday, March 6th, 2023. I will keep you up to date on what is happening. If I do not get a public apology from this company, I’ll take it up with Apple themselves. I want a public apology for being treated like a second-class citizen by Apple.

I still strongly recommend if you can help it, do not buy another Apple device. There’s only one reason for doing so, and that is for Braille support, and that is almost not necessary anymore. See, if you don’t need an Apple device for any specific reason, give them a skip. I hope you had a better day than I did. Talk to you guys again. Cheers.

Jonathan: Thanks very much, Brandt. I’m sorry to hear that you had that experience. It is frustrating and completely unacceptable when you’re in a store, and you’re with somebody, and you are clearly the customer, and somebody talks past you. It happens a lot, and you’re right, you shouldn’t have to put up with it. Your story tells us, everybody who runs a business in some way, or involved in customer service, that someone’s opinion of a company is only as good as their last interaction, and that every person that is in a front-line position, like customer service, like retail, is the ambassador of a company.

They are the face of the company for that individual at that particular time. Logically, you would probably think, “All right, Tim Cook, Craig Federighi, all those people would be horrified to hear that a blind person is being patronized in the context of an Apple experience. I’m sure that it’s not what any of those people want because although we do showcase from time to time areas where Apple is falling short, we’ve also showcased a lot of the time areas where Apple is excelling. They’ve made a huge difference in the lives of many people, but unfortunately, for this moment in time, that individual is the face of Apple for you.

They are Apple for you. Just keep in mind though, that they could quit their job tomorrow and work for a company where you go and buy your Android phone from. [chuckles] I think the problem is with the individual concerned and the training they’re receiving rather than Apple itself, so I’m not sure that a boycott because of an experience you received in a specific retail store is a proportionate response, but I do wish you luck in pursuing it. I hope that you will get it sorted out. I hope you’ll get your apology.

Voice Over: What’s on your mind? Send an email with a recording of your voice or just write it down. Jonathan@mushroom fm.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 86460-66736.


Brian Hartgen discusses the Sense Player from Hims

Jonathan: There’s been a lot of buzz recently about the new Victor Reader Stream from HumanWare, and we’ve reflected that here on Mosen At Large. It’s certainly a much-loved product in the field of blindness technology, but there’s also plenty of chatter about a competitor arrival, and this is the Sense Player from HIMS. We have heard from HIMS now, and we hope to have someone on the podcast shortly to talk firsthand about the player, but I wanted to talk now about it, what it does, who it’s for, and how it compares with the Victor Reader Stream.

Someone who has a lot of knowledge of this based on careful research and who’s really into this product category is Brian Hartgen. No stranger to the podcast, so I thought we’d ask Brian to come on and have a chat with us. Welcome to you, Brian.

Brian Hartgen: Welcome, Jonathan. I’ll do my very best to give an objective overview of this. You’re right. It is a subject that I’m really interested in. I pre-ordered the very first Victor Reader Stream Version 1. It was at the Sight Village exhibition when they were demonstrating that here in the UK. I got it the following September, and my wife and I are both avid Stream users. We literally do use them each and every day, but I’m always interested in something new. I have had the PLEXTALK Pocket in the past and various other audio MP3 players or media players, so when this new one was announced, I was very keen to get my hands on it. I have placed an order for it, I’ve yet to receive it, and hopefully, that will be towards the end of March.

Jonathan: My first question is why. You’re a really tech-savvy kind of guy, you’re at the cutting edge, particularly in terms of Windows computing. I guess people get tired of me exploring this, but the psychology of these products fascinates me. Given that there are so many devices that will do all the things that these devices can do, what is it about them that keeps you coming back to them?

Brian: I’m a person who uses my phone for next to nothing I’m afraid, so I make phone calls with it, and I do send text messages. Now I’ve got my fantastic Mantis Braille display, it is a joy to do it with that, but that’s really all I use it for. If I want to read, and I do read books a lot in the evenings, I like to be able to sit down with a device or wander around the house with it if I’m doing jobs that need working on, and listen to my book. I don’t want to be interrupted with a notification for the news or a phone call that’s coming in or anything like that.

I just want a device that will play my books for me, and I’m exactly the same with my pen and paper substitutes. I have notes on my research for this project, which I’m going to go through. I use those and any notes I make on the BrailleSense, which is also made by HIMS, so I’m very much a person who, in my day job, I have to know about computing, and hopefully, I do a reasonable job at that. In terms of leisure activities, and any notes that I need to make, I do use specialist devices, and I’m proud of it.

Jonathan: Yes. I’ve always been one who respects the fact that people have the choices, and if there wasn’t a need for these products, then the products would go away because no one would buy them. The market has basically spoken on this point, and there’s still a very big need for devices like this.

Brian: I think so, and the recent petition that we had, thanks to your good self, in relation to the audible access via the Victor Reader Stream, somewhat demonstrated that as well.

Jonathan: I heard from HumanWare just the other day in another conversation that that dialogue from Audible continues to go well, so it’s great to have been a bit of a facilitator there. Let’s talk about the Sense Player. If you were to describe it, how would you summarize the functionality of the Sense Player?

Brian: There are two versions of the Sense Player. There is the portable media player standalone product, which is the one that I’m mainly probably going to talk about, and there is also a product which contains some OCR functionality so that you can scan and recognize printed text and text image files with a built-in 13-megapixel camera and OCR software. For the most part, the device can play digital books, music files, document files, DAISY content. There’s an FM radio in there, and it can play podcasts as well. It does have Wi-Fi built in, so you can stream podcasts and internet radio stations, as you would expect.

You can also make recordings via the built-in microphones. There are two of those, and you can connect an external source as well for recording via USB. I attended a webinar about this last week, and Jenny Axler who was talking, she is from HIMS. She was saying that she connected her Allen & Heath mixer to it. That struck me as being a really good thing because that’s what I use. [chuckles]

Jonathan: Right. It’s, we both have the same mixer, you and I. That’s interesting because I guess you could use it as a backup player, and a lot of podcasters do this even though their primary source of recording is the PC. Many podcasters like having an external device as a form of backup and people use technologies like say Zoom H6 for that very purpose.

Brian: Yes, they do. If you wanted to record a meeting or something like that, this could be a very good way to go. It also contains a calculator, a memo application, and an alarm clock. Best of all, perhaps most intriguing, it contains a feature called Smart Connect. This allows you to control a Bluetooth-capable device such as a phone, and that means that you can use the keyboard on the Sense Player to provide what I might describe as a more tactile experience rather than using a touch screen. It also means that you can transmit the audio from the device that you’ve connected to the Sense Player to the player itself. There is a removable battery on this device. There is no case provided though.

Jonathan: It’s interesting that the lack of a removable battery has really bombed a little bit in terms of public reaction with the Victor Stream. That might be a real competitive advantage, the fact that this new HIMS product retains the removable battery.

Brian: It could be. A little bit later on, I have made some notes of what I perceive to be some differences between the two devices. I did note the comment on last week’s Mosen At Large about the fact that one user hadn’t needed to replace a battery for his Victor Reader Stream. He didn’t think it was that much of a concern. I share that in a way because I’ve never had to replace the batteries on any of my Streams either.

Jonathan: If you look after those batteries, they normally behave relatively well. They will lose capacity over time, but all batteries do that at this point. How much can you do standalone with this? You mentioned that it has Wi-Fi and you can do podcasting on it. Can you, for example, connect to a range of accessible media libraries around the world like RNIB where you are, or Blind and Low Vision NZ, and of course, BARD, which is so important for the American market? Can you do all that standalone?

Brian: No. You can connect to a certain number of online libraries, I believe, but the answer to this one is somewhat vague at the moment. Apparently, you’re not going to be able to do that for NLS in the States unless there is some kind of app installed. That’s one of the things that I do want to talk about in a little bit, and that is, what is to come with this device because it does have a lot of possibilities. A lot of concerns that go along with it, but it does have a lot of possibilities because they’re going to include a screen reader in there.

In terms of the UK, no, we can’t connect to the RNIB service either, so it is a little bit on the vague side at the moment as to how much you can do with that. In terms of radio and also podcasting, yes, you can do all of that standalone. In terms of the podcasting, if it’s anything like the BrailleSense, they have several podcasting services that they connect to. One of them, of course, is the iTunes library, but there are one or two others as well. You can find all your favourite podcasts, you can download them to the device, you can stream them if you prefer, and you can set bookmarks, and do all those kinds of things, which is very good. Certainly, the BrailleSense provides a nice interface for managing those. No chapter markers though.

Jonathan: Oh, dear.

Brian: That is a bit of a concern, particularly with Mosen At Large because you make all the effort to put the chapter marks in, and it doesn’t support those, but the BrailleSense doesn’t either. Hopefully, they are going to be attending to that at some stage.

Jonathan: I hope so because it’s curious that the blind community are the kings and queens of navigability. We’re used to working with DAISY, zapping round content, and here is this technology available for podcast producers to use, so I’m using it, and yet some of the key devices in the blindness field are not supporting it. It’s a very curious omission to me.

Brian: It is really, particularly because you’ve got a DAISY player on this.

Jonathan: Yes, you’re right.


Brian: That’s all about good navigation, isn’t it?

Jonathan: Yes. Do you know what the partner is that they’re using for their radio content?

Brian: I was just coming to that actually, because sometimes, with these companies, it’s a bit like pulling teeth. They don’t actually tell you too much in the way of information. For the BrailleSense, it was a database called RadioSure, and that’s what it seems to be still using. There was a suggestion in the webinar last week that that wasn’t particularly robust. Certainly not robust enough for this new device. They’ve switched to a new database, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to ask the question about what database that would be.

Jonathan: The BBC streams are changing and older technologies will no longer work. Do we know if the Sense Player has that in hand?

Brian: No, it doesn’t. It supports the old streams that we would typically use for applications like Winamp and VLC media player, and so on. I did manage to get as far as confirming that. They are going to have to make some changes, but I guess we should touch on it now. One of the possibly amazing things about this device coming up, I believe towards the summer, is that they’re going to be able to put a screen reader in there. That is going to give you access to a number of Android apps. Now, this device is not going to be Google certified.

What that means in practice, is that HIMS are going to build an installer which will enable you to install a number of popular apps onto this device. They are thinking of things like, I believe the National Library Service, the BARD app, although I’m not so sure about that. It certainly means things like Audible and also Amazon Alexa of course. That gives a lot of possibilities which are available. It really extends the functionality of the device. I guess the downside of it though, is that it could potentially present some accessibility challenges as well.

It really depends upon how accessible these apps really are and whether changes are made, how that is going to affect the situation. It could open up a mind field of all kinds of difficulties, but we can only hope for the best. To return to the question, it could be that BBC Sounds might be an option there because that works well on the BrailleSense device.

Jonathan: This could get around the challenges that HumanWare has had, for example, where they need to support Audible themselves, and that requires Amazon’s assistance. If HIMS are able to skin, as it were, the Audible player that Audible is already manufacturing for Android, that gets around that. I guess that’s an advantage, but it does leave me scratching my head a little bit thinking what is the market segment that they’re going for. I guess when you look at a product like the Stream, it’s about simplicity, ease of use, a feature set that is quite small, but when it’s implemented works fairly well.

With this device, you think if people want all this functionality, they do have a number of other choices right now. They could go with an iPhone or an Android device, or it sounds like what Sense Player is doing here is very similar to the BlindShell Classic. The BlindShell Classic also has the advantage of making phone calls in addition to supporting WhatsApp and a whole range of other functions on the device now. It sounds like a rival to the BlindShell in some ways.

Brian: I wonder if you’ve got a copy of my notes in front of you [laughter] because that was the next thing that I was going to talk about. I just wanted, if it’s okay, just to compare and contrast this device with the Stream a little bit as far as I’m concerned. I would say, as a quick summary, and this is what you were talking about just now, despite what they do say in the Sense Player user guide, and I do have a copy of that, I would say that the Victor Reader Stream is a product for the person who is not particularly familiar with this kind of technology. The Stream does have some recorded prompts, for example, in there, so as you navigate through the various elements of it, the various bookshelves, and so on, you hear human-narrated speech.

There is synthetic speech, of course, as well, but it’s a gentle guidance into the world of synthetic speech. It does very well at that, and it always has done. Now, with the Sense Player, it’s all synthesized speech. Certainly, what I’ve heard so far. The Stream has less controls on there. Because of the functionality of the Sense Player and everything that they’re trying to do, what they’ve had to do with some of their controls is to give you multifunction buttons. Some of the buttons have at least three operations associated with each one. With the Stream, if you press something, you pretty much know what you’re going to get out of it.

It doesn’t depend upon pressing a button with a particular degree of firmness in order to get the particular function that you want. I can see some problems coming there. The Sense Player takes 36 seconds to boot up. Now, to be fair, you can put the device into sleep mode, and so when you awaken it, it does respond fairly quickly, but with the Stream, you don’t have to be concerned about which mode you’re activating. It’s either on or off. The Sense Player contains no Audible book support by default. Now, in time, as we’ve already said, you will be able to access this via the Audible App with their screen reader.

With the Stream, you can get your Audible books, you know exactly where they are, what bookshelf they’re in, and assuming that you can get it all activated, which is a subject we know all about here on Mosen At Large, once it is all set up then you know exactly what you’re going to get. On the other hand, undoubtedly, the Sense Player does offer a lot more sophisticated functionality, and as I’ve said, we’ll do more of that later on in the year.

Jonathan: Yes, you’ve got a lot more power there, for sure. What is the text-to-speech engine that’s in use on the Sense Player?

Brian: I’m not sure exactly what the speech engine is, but on the Sense Player, there is the ability to browse through various voices that you can potentially download, and you just install the ones that suit you best.

Jonathan: We talked about OCR earlier, so this is optical character recognition that the Sense Player supports. It essentially means that you can scan a printed document. In the demonstrations that you have heard, have you heard that in action?

Brian: I haven’t heard that in action. No, I haven’t. It wasn’t in the webinar last week. There are some YouTube videos, so it may well be as part of that, but I may well have glossed over it because that’s not the device that we have purchased. We’ve just gone for the standalone unit.

Jonathan: Yes, I’d be curious to learn about the kind of guidance that you get as a blind person lining up the camera with a printed document, how fast or otherwise it is because obviously just having something on hand that can read printed material to you would be a nice thing for some people who have to deal with a lot of print. Can we talk about the size? How does the size of the Sense Player compare with the Stream?

Brian: It is 2.52 by 5.12 by 0.57 inches, and it weighs 0.3 pounds. It’s about the size of a small cell phone or mobile phone.

Jonathan: How does that compare with the Stream, do you know? Which one is larger?

Brian: It’s very difficult to say. I haven’t got the device, so I can’t picture it quite as well, but it can’t be too much difference, I wouldn’t have thought. What it does have is more controls on, particularly the top face, and again, it may be a case that some people might find the orientation different and a little bit more difficult than they would find with a stream.

Jonathan: I am probably one of the few blind people in the history of blind people who has never used a Victor Reader Stream. One of the things that I did read on Mastodon when this discussion was coming up is that the folder structure of the Stream is apparently quite rigid, whereas, with the Sense Player, it is less so. You’ve got a lot more flexibility over where you put your content.

Brian: That is true. What they’ve tried to do is to provide you with two mechanisms for browsing these files, and it’ll be interesting to see how this works out with people who are less experienced. There is what they call the file manager by default, and that means that you can browse the content of your internal drive, if you like, on the Sense Player and also the SD card as well. The good thing is that if you put a bunch of media files in one folder, it has the ability to be able to sort out those, and it will just play the audio content without any problem at all.

Now, if you’re not familiar with a folder structure like you would find on a computer in File Explorer, they’ve tried to get around this by providing you with a number of options on the main menu. For example, if you were to go into the DAISY talking book player part of the menu, it will just show you the folders that are capable of playing DAISY content. If they’ve got DAISY books in there, it’s only going to show you those folders. That is called the Explorer. There are two different methods of navigation. One for the experienced user and perhaps one for the less experienced.

Jonathan: Does that mean then that a Sense Player user is going to have to have a bit more knowledge of files and folders than a Stream user?

Brian: I would say so. There is going to be an audio tutorial which is going to come along for the Sense Player, and it will take a skilled trainer, I think, to explain this whole concept of file management to a person who doesn’t understand it, and hopefully, they have got that right.

Jonathan: Right. We don’t know at this point who has been contracted to do that tutorial.

Brian: I think it’s HIMS themselves actually.

Jonathan: Oh, okay. All right. That will be interesting to see what that’s like because I think a lot of people who consider this a very big commitment and money is tight, they’re going to want to do all the due diligence they can, aren’t they? They’re going to hear that tutorial, they’re going to read the manual of all of these products and then make a call about which one they want.

Brian: Yes, that’s right.

Jonathan: How does the price compare between these two? Of course, you’ve got three, right? You’ve got the two versions of the HIMS player, and then you’ve got the Stream.

Brian: Yes, and there is even a fourth because over here in the UK, they’re also selling a version of the OCR product together with a stand as well-

Jonathan: Oh.

Brian: -that you could potentially put it on. I don’t know about other parts of the world, but that is available. It is more expensive, there’s no doubt about that. With the Sense Player in the UK, the cost is, I think I paid £490 for it. That’s a little more expensive than the Stream. I think about £100 more. The version with the optical character recognition that’s a couple of hundred pounds more than that.

Jonathan: Yes, £100 more than the Stream for the base version is quite a significant difference.

Brian: Yes, it is. Yes, so you really have to decide which one is right for you, and hopefully, some of the comments that I’ve made so far will be helpful to people making that decision.

Jonathan: I have heard some feedback on Mastodon. I have had no direct experience of this, I have to say, that sometimes servicing can be an issue with some HIMS products depending on where in the world you are. I don’t want to spread misinformation, but certainly, that comment has been made by several people who I’ve seen.

Brian: I would back that up, and it is a concern of mine. I’ve also seen it on Mastodon and as well, and I think those comments are well-founded and appreciated because it is difficult to get HIMS products repaired. I had a situation when I first got my BrailleSense 6, there was a problem with the Braille display. They didn’t swap it out for a new one. It had to go all the way back to Korea or wherever it is that they are, and it was months before I got a replacement unit. I just wonder, bearing in mind the other people have had very similar experiences, how we’re going to be served if something goes wrong with the Sense Player.

Is it really going to be a case that some of these units will have to be shipped back to the originating country? The customs involved as well in paying the return charges is astronomical in some countries. Again, that needs to be weighed in the balance. I guess time will tell about that, as to whether the local providers, the local distributors, really are equipped enough to be able to do with this servicing and repairs. I’m hoping that they will be, bearing in mind that it’s perhaps not as sophisticated as something like the BrailleSense. In terms of Humanware, I’ve always found their support when I’ve had the need to contact them about the Stream, very, very good indeed. That they will do the servicing very promptly, or they’ll swap a unit, and they’re just helpfulness personified.

Jonathan: Yes. In my experience with this industry, which is quite considerable, you can’t put a price on customer satisfaction. If I were in this situation and a Sense Player was broken, and we could clearly establish that it was not some sort of fault of the user, I’d just swap it out, that’s what I’d do.

Brian: Yes, for sure.

Jonathan: Keep the customer happy and swap it out. Just returning to the recording because I’m sitting here cogitating on all that you’ve told me, do we know what file formats the Sense Player will record in, and whether you can set manual levels? You mentioned the PLEXTALK Pocket at the beginning of this, and I did own a PLEXTALK Pocket. I owned one specifically because it was a very good accessible recorder, it really was. You had accessible level meters, so you could make really good quality recordings with this. I’m wondering whether the Sense Player is going to fill that very important gap of a truly professional-grade portable recorder.

Brian: I really wish I’d have had the device before I spoke to you. I was really hoping that we would because there was a possibility that it was going to be shipped, and then it turns out it wasn’t going to be. I could have commented on this. As far as I can tell, it will record in WAV and MP3 formats. I don’t know much beyond that, I don’t know whether you can adjust the recording levels or anything like that, or really what the quality of the built-in microphones are like. I’m just sorry that my answer to that and description of it is quite vague, but you can only really tell when you get these things.

I don’t think it will be a replacement for the PLEXTALK Pocket because that really was a dedicated DAISY player and recorder. They really spent a lot of time on making sure the recording capabilities were exactly what we needed. That was true for the PLEXTALK PTR2, which was another device that I had as well, which offered very similar functionality. I don’t think it’s in that league.

Jonathan: It is a pity. They were fantastic, and you could make fully marked-up DAISY books with that thing.

Brian: Oh, yes, you could, and it had a program to go with it, so you could either do it on the device itself and it had a very lovely interface, but also you could install this Windows application on your computer. That would allow you to create audio DAISY books as well. It was fantastic in every way.

Jonathan: If we could get a blindness-specific recorder that was fully accessible that did 32-bit float and had a couple of XLR connectors, as my children say, I would be so down with that. I think there’s a real gap in the market for that.

Brian: Oh, I’d be really into that absolutely.

Jonathan: Is there anything else that you haven’t covered about the Sense Player, or I guess a Sense Player Stream comparison that you’d like to?

Brian: I don’t think there is. I think I have covered just about everything except that I did touch on the Smart Connect feature. This is one of the main features that they are touting or saying is going to be good, and it is intriguing. I think it could be a great thing for people who don’t want to use a touch screen, where they do want to use some kind of external keypad in order to be able to control the device. If you look at the user guide for this, they do actually provide a lot of keyboard commands or keypad commands in order to control different aspects of the device such as an iPhone. It could be very good. If you want to enter text, it’s using the old T9 method.

Jonathan: Oh, well, T9 on your iPhone at last.

Brian: Yes, that’s right. The other thing that intrigued me a bit as well is that you can actually record the audio if you wanted to, that’s coming out of the device itself. If you had a radio station playing on the iPhone, for example, or a podcast, or whatever it might be, you can actually record the audio from that device into the Sense Player itself.

Jonathan: That’s a very cool thing. I wonder what the audio quality is like because presumably, that’s coming through Bluetooth, but these days Bluetooth audio is fantastic quality with the right profile.

Brian: I’m looking forward very much to doing lots of testing with this sort of thing.

Jonathan: Yes, I’ll be interested to hear what you find when you do get your unit.

Brian: To my mind, there isn’t a great deal of difference between what the Version 2 of the Stream is offering and what Version 3 is offering. I think it’s marginal. We heard a comment last week on Mosen At Large about the speed increase of downloading a podcast, et cetera. That’s great, but I don’t think the differences are that staggering. I think that if a person really wants to reach beyond the restrictiveness of the Victor Reader Stream, then this could be something to go for, but maybe hold off a little bit until the screen reader comes along because that really will tell us how effective Audible support is going to be, how effective the access to Alexa will be and so on.

Jonathan: At the risk of being controversial because I never try to be controversial on this show,-

Brian: Oh, no, of course not.

Jonathan: -if you want to be freed of the restrictions of the Stream, wouldn’t you just buy an iPhone or an Android device though?

Brian: Possibly, but remember that you have got this semi-structured approach as well for listening to DAISY books and music files, things like that. Again, a lot of this will come down to the quality of the music player because on an iPhone, for example, the audio reproduction is very good. It will depend upon what that’s like. They do claim to have a graphic equalization tool on there, so again, that will depend what the quality is like. We’re doing a lot of speculating about this, but that’s all we can do. If we don’t have definitive answers, what else can we do until the product comes along?

Jonathan: The other thing that these products do for the moment, shut blind people out of, is any of the streaming music services. I’m sure that you and I have had probably very similar experience as youngsters having to make really difficult decisions about what with your pocket money will you buy in terms of all these wonderful things that are available in the record store, which one do you choose? Which album do you buy out of the maybe four or five that you really want? These days, my kids are able to pay a subscription monthly and get millions and millions of songs and none of these devices make that available to blind people, many of whom love their music.

Brian: That’s where this product is perhaps heading in the right direction to some degree because assuming that the interface between the device and the app is accessible and easy to use, and I think that really is the crunch, then Spotify and the other services, Netflix, could become available.

Jonathan: Indeed. it’ll be really interesting to see how they go with this, and what the user experience is like. Have you ordered a Stream as well as a Sense Player, or are you sticking with your second-generation Stream?

Brian: No, we’re going to stay with the second-generation stream for now until such time as it needs replacing because we don’t use anything on the Stream other than listening to books. That is all we do with them. There wouldn’t be much value for us, I don’t think, in upgrading at this stage, but of course, we will, particularly because, Lulu, my wife, she really does like the Stream. Should her existing Stream fail, we will get her a new one, but she is quite interested in this one as well, particularly on the recording side because the recording capabilities of the stream are not that great. She’s talking about wanting the ability to make recordings perhaps when she’s out or something like that, so it really will be interested to see what she thinks about that.

Jonathan: I’m really looking forward to your findings and also learning more about the Sense Player. It’s very encouraging to see this kind of innovation going on in this part of the market, and I’m sure that there’ll be a lot of interest. Thank you for taking us through that comparison, and do keep us appraised once you get your unit of how you actually find it in reality.

Brian: Oh, I definitely will, and I look forward to doing that. I’ll certainly send you some notes on it. Thank you for letting me come on and talk to you about something other than what I produce.


Mosen At Large podcast

Ableist language

Jonathan: I have an email from Adrian Spratt to read, and before I do, this is a good memory jogger because we are going to feature an interview with Adrian Spratt in a couple of weeks’ time thereabouts. You might consider this an invitation to an informal Mosen At Large book club. You may remember that when I spoke with Leona Godan about her transformative life-changing book called There Plant Eyes, she talked about the need for blind characters in books written by blind people to just depict blind people going about their everyday lives and doing stuff accompanied by blindness.

Not necessarily making blindness the centre of the book. Adrian has written such a novel, and I encourage you to read it before I play the interview with him because you might like to offer some opinions on the book, on the blind character, and some of the subjects that the book raises because I found it a great read, it’s thought-provoking, it’s very sad in parts. It’s called Caroline, and it is available through some of the book repositories. Do check it out, Caroline by Adrian Spratt, and we will be talking about that at length in a future episode not too far away.

Adrian and I have different views on this whole ableist language question. He writes in, and he says, “Hi, Jonathan. I’ve just read the transcript of Episode 216. The way you handled your objection to New Zealand broadcaster, Tova O’Brien’s, blindly blase, illustrates how ableist language can be broached without implications of small-mindedness or bigotry. Perhaps where you and I might differ if we do at all, and then only in discussion, could be characterized as legislative versus diplomatic. Suppose I was talking to someone who was hurt when I said, “Crazy,” then suppose that person had spent time as a patient in a psychiatric hospital, I would naturally apologize and refrain from using that word with that person going forward.

Contrast that with a blanket decree, “Thou shall not say crazy.” I’ve had friends who were placed at some points in their lives, in such institutions and who use the word ironically and humorously. They can be quite funny about it. Meanwhile, people who have had no contact with psychiatric institutions say crazy about themselves all the time. “I was crazy to say that to him. I’m going crazy with all the stuff I have to do.” Online you will find prohibitions against saying crazy because it harms people who have mental illness, but the main effect of such strictures would be to prevent people from speaking their minds naturally.

I guarantee that these friends who say crazy about themselves would be among the first to do what they could to support someone enduring a psychiatric episode. I’m trying to suggest there are ways of handling problematical language and different contexts. There’s room, for example, for blind people to use blind in those harsh metaphorical senses you cite, ignorant, stupid, unthinking, unaware, angry, in ways that mock and neutralize them. I’d welcome similar verbal hijinks by sighted people. As an aside, I resist the tradition that only people in a particular minority group can talk about that group’s experience, but here I’d be getting into the cultural appropriation quagmire.

Most important of all is the attitude you conveyed to Tova. I find that the word ableist connotes a negative assessment of non-disabled people. Your diplomatic approach assumed goodwill on her part, which she amply justified. I know ableism can be hard-hearted in the way racism more typically is, but more often in my experience, ableism stems from ignorance and a lack of firsthand experience with blind people. It’s because of the words “judgmental implications” that I resisted. Tova’s response was, of course, as gracious as your message to her.

That’s what conscientious diplomacy elicits. Continued success,” says Adrian. Thank you, Adrian. Very eloquently put as always, and we will have a talk about this whole ableist language question when we play the interview with Adrian Spratt, but I will make a couple of comments. I think that there is a big difference between people using informal slang in their own group and saying it’s permissible for others to do the same. I guess an example is the word “blink” that some people use as a kind of a slang for a blind person. Somebody might accidentally trip or think that they’re talking to someone who’s no longer there, and they might jokingly say that’s another blink moment, or another blind moment, or whatever.

You do say those things sometimes as part of a minority group to self-deprecate. It would be totally inappropriate for anybody who is not African American to use the dreadful N-word, for example, and yet you do hear it sometimes being used in a slang way by African Americans. It’s up to them to determine the appropriateness or wisdom of that. It’s not up to me to comment, but it certainly would not be appropriate for me to use that word under any circumstances. I think that we have to also acknowledge that language is often used by a majority to keep a minority in its place.

For centuries, blind people were not educated. We were impoverished. Many of us still are. To me, there’s no difference whatsoever between language that denigrates a race and language that equates characteristics of an impairment with things that are pejorative. Now, I am consistent about this. I don’t use the word “dumb,” and I don’t use the word “lame” for the same reason. Of course, we’ve also seen young people using the word “gay” in some cases as a pejorative, and I don’t agree with that either. I’ll give you another example of this, and this is the word “gipsy.”

I was thinking about this the other day because there was a complaint taken to our Broadcasting Standards Authority about a piece run on our TV here, and the Broadcasting Standards Authority have ruled that the word “gipsy” is a pejorative and it shouldn’t be used. Now, when I was a child, we used to sing a song at school about the gipsy rover. It’s quite a pretty little tune, and people of a certain age will probably know about the gipsy rover who ran off with the lady and all those sorts of things. I remember as a very young child being taken to view what was called a gipsy caravan.

“This is how the gipsies live,” we were told, and we got to have a look at this. I was fascinated. I actually thought I might like to be one, seemed like a really good life. When I was a kid, that term was not considered at all offensive. We just used it because you used it. We didn’t know any better. Now that community has said it is an offensive term, don’t use it and so I won’t except to cite this example. I looked this up, I wanted to understand what is it about the name “gipsy” that is deemed to be offensive to some members of that community.

I learned about the racial connotations, about how it’s associated with illegality, and on and on. Now, I also read about some members of this community saying exactly what some members of the blind community are saying. “Now, what are you on about? We’ve been using this term for centuries, don’t be so sensitive. Don’t be such a snowflake. It makes no difference,” and on, and on, and on. If a sizable number of the community have thought about it, and they’ve decided we don’t want the term “gipsy” to be used, what choice do I have?

I guess I’ve got two choices. One is to respect the wishes of the community, and the other is to dig in. What right do I have to disrespect that community in that way? Why is my desire to use the words I’ve always used somehow superior to or should be given more weight than an emerging view in the community? What harm does it actually do me to take that on board and modify my words accordingly? None at all. By contrast, the benefit to the community in question, of not having a word that has all sorts of painful connotations, is immense.

If you look at this from a purely utilitarian perspective, respecting the wishes of the community in question is the right outcome. It’s the decent outcome. While I’m on this, Eskimo is another one. Most people listen to the Christmas song, “Chestnuts roasting, folks dressed up like Eskimos.” I grew up with that term. It never occurred to me for a second that it was offensive. Adrian, this is where I agree with you. Ableist language doesn’t necessarily have to be uttered with that intention to offend. It can be done out of ignorance, and so the Eskimo thing, I don’t use that term anymore either because there is a growing feeling that that term is not appropriate.

I do like to give people the benefit of the doubt like I demonstrated when I wrote to Tova O’Brien. It was a great exchange, and it gave me hope, hope for the human race, it did, but there comes a point where after something is pointed out, if someone says, “I’m going to do what I want anyway because it suits me,” then the ableist language, or the racist language, or whatever the language is, turns from ignorance, which is forgivable after education, to a deliberate choice to be prejudiced, but there does and there will come a point when, as the old adage goes, even ignorance is no excuse.

I think with race we’re getting there, with disability, we’ve got a long, long way to go. You may have heard about an incident late last year. It was after King Charles came to the throne, and it was a charity event. I’m pretty sure it was at Buckingham Palace. It was certainly a royal event and chief executives of various charities were invited to this event. There was a senior lady in waiting circulating, making conversation and she was talking with a chief executive of a charity who was Black. She was born in the United Kingdom and the lady in waiting said, “Where are you from?”

Quite understandably, the chief executive said the organization she was from. The lady in waiting replied, “No, where are you actually from?” This went on and on. It turned out that what this woman was trying to get to was what country were your ancestors from. Somehow, even though the chief executive, in a pretty embarrassing situation, was trying to point out, “I was born here in the UK,” the lady in waiting would not let up until finally, out of exasperation, the chief executive mentioned the country that her parents had come from. Then, giving a satisfied, “Ah, yes, that’s where you’re from,” the lady in waiting was happy.

There were significant consequences of this. I admire the chief executive who actually made this public. She was not prepared to be subjected to that humiliation without there being consequences. I understand there were. I understand that that lady in waiting may have lost her job as a result of that incident, and that’s an appropriate response from Buckingham Palace. The point I’m making is that a very small group of people have had a lot of control of the public discourse, of the narrative, and that is changing. It’s democratizing. With that change, linguistic change is an inevitable consequence.


Jonathan Mosen, Mosen At Large podcast

Looking for an accessible CRM

Jonathan: This email reads, “Hello, Jonathan and Mosen at Larges. Thomas Solak from Ohio here. I believe the Mosen At Large podcast just keeps getting better and better.” Oh, that’s groovy, yes. “Jonathan, it always brightens my winter when you start back up from your well-deserved summer break. Congrats on your new grandchild.” Thank you so much. Hard to believe she’s two months old already. “Wondering,” says Thomas, “if any listeners use CRM, Customer Relationship Management software or apps. The most popular ones in the United States seem to be HubSpot, Zoho, and Salesforce.

I recently experienced a blatant refusal from HubSpot CRM to take on our company as a client due to their unwillingness to refine their accessibility practices, which are non-existent. If any of you have had a favourable accessibility journey with a particular CRM software, your input can truly benefit our community. CRM is the general term to describe an app or software used to organise and follow up with customers in sales and service/support. Inaccessibility of such a mainstream CRM as HubSpot could cost a well-qualified blind user a job offer if an organization operates in the popular ecosystem.

Sadly for HubSpot, if I cannot establish one of their competitors whose functionality is comparable, I own my own company and have the resources and the motive to hire a formidable accessibility law firm to challenge their dismissive accessibility position. In that event, I’d also need a good recommendation in that regard. The HubSpot company actually wrote me an email and said they would not be the right fit for us as they have no formal accessibility roadmap or any plans in that regard. They didn’t just claim ignorance and ask for help.

They outright dismissed my request to investigate the possibility of improving their accessibility for the blind community. Currently, a JAWS or voiceover user cannot move past the single-user registration screen on desktop or mobile with HubSpot CRM. If accessible, their pricing plan, most suitable for my corporation, would cost us over 25,000 per year, so we aren’t talking about pennies here. They still wouldn’t budge in their rigidity toward our business. I would be deeply grateful if other listeners could share their experiences with HubSpot or any CRM platforms, good and bad.

No medium or large business entity in sales or customer service can maximize productivity in 2023 without some CRM software to catalogue and synchronize customer relationships.

I believe proficiency in a CRM infrastructure is critical to blind employees in any sales or customer service role. Looking forward to your feedback,” concludes Thomas. Thank you for writing in, Thomas. Based on that email, my feedback is that’s a despicable position for HubSpot to be taking. Even if you do find something else that meets your needs, I hope you can take them on for the good of the community. I would think that you will have much better experience with Salesforce.

I understand that there’s quite a team of blind people working for Salesforce, and in the organization where I work, we actually put a custom-designed Salesforce implementation together. It’s not a turnkey out-of-the-box thing. We did hire contractors and spent a long time on a Salesforce implementation that meets our particular use case, and it’s super accessible. It’s very accessible, but my understanding is that Salesforce are very aware of accessibility, that it’s a pretty accessible experience out of the box. If anyone can comment for Thomas on CRM technology, he’s right.

It’s an absolutely integral part of customer relationship management in this day and age. I’d love to get a conversation going about this. 86460-Mosen. If you want to be in touch on the phone in the US, 864-606-6736. You can attach an audio clip or write an email down and send it to jonathan@mushroomfm.com.

Poor support from Zoom

An email from Peter in Melbourne, Australia, who is not happy. Not happy. He says, “I am extremely disappointed with the lack of help and how extremely hard it is to get anyone in Zoom to help or even respond to a problem. The layers of difficulty put in front of anyone with a vision disability to get help or even ask a question is mind-boggling.

When we consider that Zoom was our lifeline during the pandemic, and every opportunity was created to make this platform fully accessible, eventually, I gave up and went to Vision Australia Helpdesk, hoping me raising this matter can get some positive responses from Zoom if others have experienced similar frustrations.” Thanks, Peter. That’s disappointing to hear. I wonder if others have had similar experiences to you where they’ve sought help with an issue with Zoom and not been able to get to anybody. This is one of the problems with these big tech companies.

Sadly, I guess to their credit, maybe, Zoom has become quite big now. Sometimes when something goes wrong with these really big Silicon Valley-type companies, it really can be hard to break through unless you’re fortunate enough to be able to make some personal contacts with someone. Uber is the same. Now, when I have a problem with Uber, or I notice a problem that’s screen reader related, thanks to the Mosen At Large community, I now have contacts in the development part of Uber, and I can talk to them, and hopefully, we can troubleshoot it together and make life a bit better for everybody.

Unless you’ve been able to make those introductions, and not everybody can have those introductions, it’s very hard to break through that front line. If you’ve used Zoom Support of late, how has it gone for you? Have you got resolution? What problems have you needed to seek their support for? Please be in touch and share your experiences. It’s what it’s all about.

Following up on the Microsoft Access inquiry

We’re almost done for another week. I certainly appreciate your company. Just before we go, a note to Bev who wrote in last week about Microsoft Access. Bev, once I recorded your email, I foolishly deleted it, and I don’t have your email address to reply to you.

I have two people who have offered to provide you with one on one assistance, who have considerable experience with Microsoft Access. You will be in very safe hands with either of them. This is the marvellous thing about this community, that we are willing to help each other out and move each other forward. If you would drop me another email, Bev, I will put you in touch, with the permission of these fine correspondents, with them. Hopefully, you’ll be able to do all your access and your genealogy to your heart’s content. Bev, I hope you get this message and we look forward to hearing from you and putting you in touch.


Jonathan: I 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 @mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States, 864-606-6736.


Mosen At Large podcast

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