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Tip: Does the FaceTime control bar sometimes get in your way? There’s an accessible way to dismiss it.

One of the new features introduced in iOS15 is this call control bar which provides FaceTime audio controls across the top of the iOS screen during a FaceTime audio call.

Screen shot of Steve's very messy iOS home screen with the FaceTime control bar across the top. Visible controls, from left to right, are leave call, open messages, Audio route, Mute, camera, share content.
Screen shot of FaceTime control bar

I actually really like this new control bar because it gives me the option to mute/unmute from wherever I am and for me, this is much faster than having to switch back to the FaceTime app each and every time. That said, there are times when this control bar gets in the way. For example, sometimes I’ll be in an application and I know there’s a “back” button, but I can’t get to it with VoiceOver because it’s obscured by the FaceTime audio control bar. I mentioned my frustration about this to a sighted friend and she told me that visually, it’s possible to swipe this control bar away. At first, I thought we might have an accessibility issue of some sort as I could not find a way to do this when using VoiceOver. Eventually, I remembered the two-finger scrub gesture and like magic, away it went.

For anyone unfamiliar with it, the two-finger scrub gesture is a VoiceOver command that can be used in a few different ways depending on context. IF a keyboard is visible, the two-finger scrub gesture will dismiss it. If an application has a “back” button, the two-finger scrub gesture will perform that action. The easiest way to think about the purpose of this gesture is that it can help you get out of something by dismissing a control, navigating back, closing a pop-up or menu — in many ways, similar to what might happen when pressing the escape key when using a desktop application. To perform this gesture, place two fingers on the screen and move them quickly in a scrubbing motion such as right, left, right.

Putting it all together

If you ever have a reason to temporarily dismiss the FaceTime Audio call control bar and need to do so using VoiceOver, here’s how to do it.

  1. Touch the FaceTime Audio control bar with one finger, this will set VoiceOver’s focus to the correct place. This is important because otherwise, VoiceOver’s focus will remain on your home screen or on whatever aplicationp screen you have open and the scrub gesture will not dismiss the control bar.
  2. Perform the two-finger scrub gesture. If successful, the control bar will go away. IF not, double check that you have correctly set VoiceOver focus to the control bar as just described. If the two-finger scrub gesture isn’t performed correctly, it is possible that focus may inatvertantly move away from the FaceTime Audio control bar.

A few more things to note. First, I don’t know of a way to permanently dismiss the FaceTime Audio control bar and so you will have to repeat these steps whenever you need to dismiss it. Second, if you dismissed the control bar and then want to have it back, you can make it reappear by double tapping the call indicator located on the iOS status bar.

I really like the new FaceTime Audio control bar and find it super useful to have call controls available regardless of which app I’m in or which screen I’m on. For those times though where it might come in handy to move that bar out of the way, I’m glad there’s an accessible way to do so.

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Sharing: New trend in tactile currencies

I recently came across this fascinating post which I am sharing because I think it might be of interest to my own readers.tactile markings on currency is something that has fascinated me for a while and this post is a fantastic explanation and historical account of it. I definitely encourage anyone with interest in the subject to check it out and to follow this blog.

Among the most recent tactile currency markings, a new trend is emerging: indicating the value using dot patterns. The idea is not new, it has been …

New trend in tactile currencies
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On this Thanksgiving, a quick note of thanks

As we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the US today, I wanted to send out a quick note of thanks to all of you: for reading my words, for providing encouragement as I continue my blogging journey, and for engaging in some really amazing conversation along the way. I have a lot to be thankful for this year, but there is one group of folks I want to recognize in particular: those developers who work extra hard to ensure their apps are accessible.

There are many developers who work tirelessly to make their apps accessible, not because they necessarily have to, but because they simply realize it’s the right thing to do. There are many accessibility resources out there that can help developers make their apps accessible, but finding those resources, understanding them, and figuring out how to implement them can be a real challenge, especially for developers with extremely limited resources.

I’d like to encourage everyone to think about an app that makes a real difference to them, whether for accessibility or other reasons, and consider writing the developer a positive review of thanks today. I’ve spoken with many developers who have indicated to me that while it may seem like a small thing, positive reviews make a real difference. First, the more stars an app receives, the more likely it will be discovered by others. Second, a kind review is a great way to show appreciation in a public way. And finally, your review might make a difference to someone who appreciates the hard work a developer has put into making their app accessible — I know I’ve felt more comfortable purchasing apps when I see a review like, “works well with VoiceOver” or “very accessible”. Writing a quick review is a great way to say thank you, it’s something that makes a real difference, something that is appreciated, and something that only takes a few minutes to do.

Again, thank you all for reading my words, supporting me, and for continuing the conversation. To those who celebrate, have a happy Thanksgiving.

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Daily life

A new day, a new week, a new job

This post is actually a few weeks in coming, but I can finally announce that I have accepted a new job, a position with HealthPartners, as their Digital Accessibility Lead. I’m really excited to have this opportunity because I feel that I can continue making a real difference in the accessibility of healthcare and based on my own past experiences, I know how incredibly important that is. I actually held this same position once before as a contractor, and so for the first time ever, I’m also a bit of a boomerang. 🙂

What I really wanted to write about today though is *why* I decided to change jobs. Indeed my former employer offered excellent pay, fantastic benefits, and being able to work remotely — from just about anywhere in the US — was a definite plus. The thing is, I just wasn’t happy and wasn’t feeling very fulfilled on a personal level. This came to a head for me when I looked at my calendar for an up-coming two-eek period and realized that it contained nothing that would bring me any kind of joy. At first, I felt guilty about feeling this way. After all, I was very fortunate to have had such a great job, was working with great colleagues, and I certainly had nothing to complain about where pay and benefits were concerned. Not being happy though is a very powerful thing and I started to realize that it was impacting my non-work life in addition to my work one. This made sense to me when I considered that I spend more time working than doing anything else in life, arguably including sleeping. I realize that work can’t always be fun and games, but upon realizing that the thing that consumes the most time in my life was no longer making me happy, I realized that it was time to make a change, even if that change could be a difficult one.

I held off publishing this post for a while because I wanted to give myself some time to evaluate whether this job change would really solve the problem of how I was feeling and I can honestly say that it has. Sure this new role will have its challenges and there will be aspects that will cause their own struggles, but isn’t that the case with every job? Ultimately though, I am happier and being happier at work means I’m happier in life. I’m finding that I’m calmer, I’m more optimistic, I feel able to more easily face challenges both professionally and personally, and I actually look forward to going to work after the weekend.

If I could say one thing to my readers based on this experience it would be to never feel guilty about how you feel. I realize that changing jobs isn’t an easy thing, and it may not even be a practical thing, but none of that invalidates whatever you may be feeling. The logistics of finding a job, interviewing, being turned down for positions, interviewing again, debating whether or not to take a pay cut — and ultimately taking one, were certainly challenges, but for me, the biggest and hardest challenge was taking that very first step and admitting to myself that I needed to make a change. The way I figure it, I can’t be authentic with the world until I’m OK being authentic with myself, and that realization alone is proof enough that I made the right decision for me.

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Quick tip: how to get rid of the iOS bubble sound when typing or using Braille Screen Input

I’ve been using Braille Screen Input on iOS for years, as it helps me to type more efficiently. One thing that has bothered me though, whether typing with Braille Screen Input or the on-screen keyboard, is this bubble sound that VoiceOver occasionally makes. While that sound does have a purpose and an important one at that, I find it distracting and have always lamented that I didn’t have a way to disable it. Little did I know that there actually is a way to disable it.

I received many replies on Twitter, some from people experiencing the same frustration as me, and others, offering a solution I likely never would have found on my own.

As it turns out, there are actually a lot of sound customizations that can be made in VoiceOver, many of which are off by default and so I never even knew they existed. Not only that, but it’s possible to preview each of the VoiceOver sounds which is a great way to learn what they actually mean. I recorded a brief video showcasing these settings in the hopes it might be useful to others.

Demo of the VoiceOver sounds dialog

Disabling the VoiceOver auto fill sound has made a world of difference for me. Now I can use Braille Screen Input without being distracted every couple of words. In fact, I’ve written this very entry solely using Braille Screen Input.

I would like to thank Rachel, Matthew, and Kara, for getting back to me so quickly with what proved to be the perfect solution. Twitter can be an awesome place for conversation and I’m glad these awesome people are a part of it.

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The easiest site migration ever.

For years, Steves.life has been a self-hosted blog, however I’ve been toying with the idea of migrating it to WordPress.com. There are many reasons for my decision, the main one being that I can focus on writing and not have to play engineer when something gos wrong. One other really neat advantage of hosting with WordPress directly is that if you receive my posts by Email and want to comment, you can simply do so by replying directly to the Email. I have no idea how many people may or may not use this feature, but it’s always bothered me a bit that readers needed to activate a link in the email just to write a comment, especially given that just replying would be so much easier. Hey wait, not currently subscribed by Email, but wish you were?

The real thing I wanted to write about today though is just how easy the migration process actually was. I decided to move everything over the Labor Day weekend figuring that I would have extra time to fix anything that might go wrong. What I didn’t anticipate though was the process taking less than an hour. WordPress publishes fantastic, easy-to-follow documentation on how to migrate a self-hosted site to their platform. Even better, with paid plans, WordPress “Happiness engineers” are available through live chat to assist with the entire process. And yes, WordPress really does call them Happiness engineers which might just be one of the coolest job titles ever.

I’m really excited with just how smoothly the migration process went and am excited to start utilizing some of the features that weren’t easily available to me before. I still have some small things to configure, but for the most part, everything is up and running, that is, assuming this post publishes successfully. 🙂

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My final thoughts as I wrap up the Ultimate Blog Challenge for August, 2021

As August draws to a close, I wanted to blog about my final thoughts regarding the Ultimate Blog Challenge. The Ultimate Blog Challenge challenges blogger to publish a new post every day for the month of August. I decided to participate in the challenge in part because of the challenge aspect itself, but also because blogging is something I love doing, but have been hesitant to actually do. I’m the type of person that will start a draft five times, finally settle on a sixth beginning, doubt myself half way through, rewrite everything and long after I’ve finished, wonder if what was written was actually any good.

When I started the challenge on August 1, I was not sure if I would manage to publish a single post, let alone more than one. The first time I saw the “Your post was published successfully” message, I was absolutely in shock. The second time I saw it, I thought that it was just the initial momentum of starting the challenge, but when I saw the message for the third time, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could actually get thoughts out of my head and into written form without it being a huge struggle. And so the challenge progressed, one day at a time, with each day’s post getting a little bit easier to write and publish. Over the course of the challenge I blogged from my computer, from my iPad, and even from my phone building confidence that I could actually do this from different devices, while using different assistive technologies, even while on the road. In addition to helping me become a more confident blogger, the challenge has enabled me to meet some great new people, to learn some great new things, and engage in some great conversation. All-in-all, this has been a wonderful experience and I’m really glad I decided to step out of my comfort zone and give it a try.

Unfortunately, I did not publish anything for the past three days and so technically, while I have a few drafts in progress, I cannot say that I successfully blogged every day for the month of August. While I am admittedly a little disappointed in myself, I’ve come to realize that for me, the true challenge was not in finishing the month, but in actually beginning it. After all, if people read and find value in my posts — or even just a little humor — it’ll be because the post is written and published, not because someone is verifying how many days in August I did or didn’t write. There are no rewards for this challenge (at least none that I know of), nobody’s tracking anything, it’s really just a way to motivate people to get out there and blog, and to encourage bloggers and readers to connect with one another.

Now that August, and the challenge are over, I’ve given a lot of thought to how I want to move forward. While I don’t plan to try and publish a post every day, I’ve come to realize that blogging is indeed something I enjoy, and the writing/publishing process is far less scarier than it was when I began. I also continue to see the value in sharing and in conversation and to that end, I am planning to make some changes to the blog to hopefully make the process of commenting and engaging with posts a little easier. There are still many things I would like to say and many thoughts I would like to share, and so while the Ultimate Blog Challenge is at its end, my enthusiasm for continuing on my blogging journey is certainly not.

If you’re reading this post and thinking that you might like to start a blog of your own, the best advice I can give you is to go ahead and do it. There are many different blogging platforms and many tools that can be used to help with the logistics of writing and publishing (future blog post maybe?), but ultimately, as I’ve learned, the biggest challenge is just getting started, taking that first step and writing something down. Don’t worry about if what you have to say will matter to anyone because you already know it matters to your most important reader, you. Also don’t think that you have to be highly technical to write a blog, some of the coolest blogs I’ve come across during this challenge have been written by non-technical people on non-technical subjects and I’ve enjoyed reading every word. Ultimately, you have thoughts and dreams and experiences and have lived a life that is uniquely your own and blogging is a way for you to share that as only you can.

I want to thank everyone for reading my posts, for taking the time to comment, and for offering words of encouragement along the way. To the new bloggers I’ve discovered throughout the challenge, I want to say how glad I am that you’ve been willing to share and say how much I’m looking forward to your next posts. Thank you all for reading my blog, and please stay tuned as there’s much more to come.

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Take Control of just about anything with Take Control Books

It’s so rare to find reasonably priced, easy-to-understand books dealing with anything technical, that is unless you’ve heard of Take Control Books. The Take Control Books team publishes books on a wide variety of Apple and non-Apple related topics, most of which are priced below $15, even less if purchased as a bundle. I love the Take Control series for a number of reasons, the biggest though is that they break topics, even complex topics such as file permissions and WIFI network configuration, down in ways that make them easy to understand. From an accessibility perspective, I love that Take Control books are offered in multiple non-DRM formats including PDF, ePub, and Mobi format which makes it easy for me to read them on just about any device I choose. Yes, they do not use DRM or copy protection because, as they put it,

No. Our ebooks do not use copy protection because it makes life harder for everyone. So we ask a favor of our readers. If you want to share your copy of an ebook you’ve bought with a friend, please do so as you would with a physical book, meaning that if your friend uses it regularly, they should buy a copy.

From Take Control Books FAQ: https://www.takecontrolbooks.com/faq/

While the books do often contain screen shots, there’s generally enough explanation for me to follow along.

I purchased my first Take Control book, “Take Control of Sharing Files in Leopard” (Anyone remember Mac OS Leopard?) in December, 2008. I’ve since purchase 31 titles since that time and have not been disappointed by a single one. I’ve purchased titles ranging from technical topics such as Take Control of File Sharing, Take Control of File Permissions, and Take Control of the Mac Command Line, to non-technical topics like Take Control of Booking a Cheap Airline Ticket. I always learn something new with every book, even on topics I thought I already knew a lot about, such as Siri or Apple’s Calendar and Mail apps which I use heavily every day. The $15 or less — I tend to purchase books in bundles to get the discount and also because I’m a fan — have saved me countless hours by increasing my productivity. And speaking of productivity, if you want to “take control” of your productivity, they have a book for that too.

I wanted to share the Take Control series with all of you because it has been an invaluable resource for me. I should probably also comment at this point that I am in no way affiliated with Take Control — they probably have no idea who I am — I’m just a big fan who has enjoyed the series for over 12 years. While much of their library is Apple centric, there is definitely something for everyone. If you would like to browse the Take Control Books catalog, you can do so here and of course, let me know what you think in the comments.

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Sharing some fun piano Medleys that bring me joy

Today I thought I would do something different and share some piano medleysthat bring me joy.

Kurt Hugo Schneider is a composer, music producer, and director. Most of his work is on his YouTube channel

https://www.kurthugoschneider.com/about/

I discovered Kurt once while having a bad day. I was searching on YouTube, just mindlessly looking for some music to distract me and I came across Kurtz Mario medley. This was one of the coolest medleys I had heard and I don’t know how long and I was immediately hooked.

Chopsticks is one of the songs that many people learn when they first start with the piano, but nobody plays it quite like Kurt.

And of course nothing would be complete without Happy Birthday as only Kurt could play it.

I think Kurt is absolutely amazing and what he has done with music is nothing short of genius. Whether you’re having a bad day, or just enjoy piano medleys, I hope these three videos from Kurt bring a smile.

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What should I do when I meet a blind person?

I remember the first time I was asked this question: I was giving a presentation after which a woman approached me and asked,

“What should I do when I meet a blind person?”

I was totally taken aback and had no idea how to answer her question.

“Shake their hand?”, I said in a faltering voice.

“Oh”, she said as she returned to the audience.

“I think she was looking for something more profound.”, said the gentleman next to me with a chuckle.

I really wasn’t trying to be insensitive to the woman’s question, but this seemed like such a silly thing at the time. I mean meeting a blind person is no different than meeting a tall person, or a person with brown hair, or anyone else. I think the question she was perhaps trying to ask without actually asking it was,

“What should I do or avoid doing when interacting with a blind person?”

The golden rule

When meeting or interacting with anyone, I think the most important thing is to treat the other person in the same way we would like to be treated ourselves. We all want to be treated with dignity and respect and if we focus on those things in every interaction, the experience is more likely to be a mutually positive one. So, in every interaction with a blind person, or anyone else for that matter, think of how you would feel if roles were reversed.

Avoid making assumptions

Again, this isn’t unique to meeting or interacting with a blind person, but whenever we make assumptions, we are apt to make the wrong one. What follows are just some assumptions about me and my blindness that I’ve encountered; this list grows almost daily and so these are just some off the top of my head.

He’s blind, surely he needs my help.

This is a super common assumption and to be fair, there are some times when I really could use a person’s help. But here’s the thing, I can speak up and ask for help if I need it. Not only that, but if people *offer* me help, I can accept it or not. Offering help is not difficult, simply asking, “Can I offer you any assistance? would do just fine. Again, don’t over-think this, just offer assistance in a way that would feel good to you if you were offered assistance in that same way.

He’s lost, I have to rescue him.

I remember one time I was attending the annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego when this random person came up to me, grabbed my arm, and said,

“You seem lost, let me take you to the front desk.”

There were a few things wrong with this interaction. First, the assumption that I must be lost. To be fair, I probably did look a bit lost as I was walking around a large central area of the hotel in which the conference was taking place. The thing is, I wasn’t lost at all. What I was actually doing was familiarizing myself a bit more with the hotel. While I may have looked like a Roomba as I walked slowly around this large open area, what I was actually doing was creating a mental map for myself so that I could better conceptualize my surroundings. Ironically, what I was doing was something to help ensure I wouldn’t actually get lost.

The second aspect of this interaction which resulted from a wrong assumption is that I needed to be brought to the front desk. Why? What would the front desk do that this person who was trying to be helpful couldn’t do? If I truly was lost, I could have asked the person for directions to get to wherever I needed to go and, if the person couldn’t help, then the front desk might have been the next logical option. Another inherent assumption here is that the person at the front desk would have had time to help me: Those folks are generally pretty busy, especially in large hotels.

The third, and most disturbing assumption to me was that the person obviously felt that it was totally fine to just grab my arm. Far as I know, people don’t just go up to other people and grab ahold of them, that’s kind of creepy. I mean a subtle shoulder tap might arguably have been more acceptable, but this person held on to me as if they feared I would float off into space if they dared let go. I’ve had people grab my arm, my hand, my elbow, my cane, even the handle on my backpack, none of these are OK. Being blind doesn’t mean I forfeit my desire for personal space. In other situations, I might have walked with this person simply by following their voice, no awkward and creepy grabbing required.

OK, it’s confession time. I hope this won’t come as a shock, but I really don’t have super enhanced hearing abilities, I really don’t. In fact, my hearing has gotten worse over the years to the point that I sometimes use hearing aids to help me better hear in public, especially in loud situations. I think that maybe I pay attention a bit more to what I’m hearing and this might come off to some as having some sort of superpower, but reality is, I’m probably just more focused in on what I’m hearing and so I notice things that others might not.

Here’s another fun fact, I’m nut inherently a great musician. I know there have been some incredibly fantastic blind musicians, but I’m definitely not one of them. The only way I might become even moderately able to play an instrument is by practicing, not by just being blind. I’ve actually had people come up to me and ask what instrument I play, I feel like I’m crushing their dreams when I tell them that I don’t play any.

It’s a visual world

We all live in a visual world and the language we use every day reflects this. I’m sure many of you ‘watch’ TV or ‘look’ where you’re going, or if you’re in the corporate world, you might have to ‘see’ the big picture. It’s a sight-oriented world and that’s OK. What’s not so OK is when people try to change their language to try and strip away any visual reference.

“Hey Steve, did you see, um, uh, um I mean hear the game on TV?”

“Steve, did you see that movie that just came out? Well, I guess you probably heard it, huh.”

These sorts of things just sound silly when said out loud, not to mention it’s really awkward and embarrassing for the person saying them. Visual references are OK, they’re part of the language we use every day and there’s no need to try and change that. I actually do ‘watch’ TV. I also might go to ‘see’ a baseball game if the weather is nice. I try to ‘look where I’m going’ when I’m walking outside and have a ‘vision’ of what I hope my future will be. I understand that many people are attempting to be sensitive when using language, but there is a line between sensitivity and trying to reframe common phrases on the fly. I have a friend who is in a wheelchair and she ‘runs’ errands all the time. There should be no guilt or shame in natural phrases, it’s OK to use them.

Some final thoughts.

What should you do when you meet a blind person? First and most important, think of how you would want to be treated if someone was meeting you for the first time and proceed accordingly. If you’re unsure if the person needs help, or how to be of help, the best course of action is to just ask and don’t assume. Over the years I’ve come across many articles discussing disability etiquette and while they may provide practical suggestions, I feel that these articles often serve to create a divide where one shouldn’t exist.

If this is a topic of particular interest to you, or if you have questions, please leave me a comment or contact me as I’d love to continue the conversation. Thank you for reading and hey, it’s great to meet you. 🙂