Blind Accessibility Tech For Your Telly!

Since the dawn of TV, it has always been a pain in the backside to know what’s going on on-screen for those who have a sight problem – hey, the blind love a bit of TV too! – and it isn’t until recent times that audio description has been available on certain programming on digital boxes.  So, imagine the huge pain in the rear-end when the EPG (electronic program guide) was born.

I have spent countless hours getting up off my comfy chair to stand right next to the TV with my face that close to the screen, as if I’m about to kiss it, just to see what the EPG is saying!  I feel like a right wolly when all I want to do is see when Casualty is on (the BBC change the time near enough every week… Oh…. And Casualty is cool, don’t knock it!). 

So, for many years, I’ve always wondered what is out there for someone who has to kiss the TV just find out what’s on Comedy Central and various other amazing channels.  I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until yesterday that I decided to use the internet to have a look.  I’ve been using the web for countless years but a question about something that makes life easier seems to take forever to come to the front of my head.

After my search, I came across two pieces of kit that reads info that is on-screen.  The first is the TVonics talking Freeview+ HD and secondly, for all Sky TV customers, the Sky Talker.  I’d really love to do a hands on with these lovely things at some point in the near future (a YouTube video maybe?)… But my bank balance says “no” at the moment.

A third one, which I have been using with my Virgin Media TiVo set-top box since it was available, the Virgin Media’s TV Anyway app for both Android and iOS.  Since the release of this app, I’ve hardly had to leave my extremely comfy sofa to read what the TiVo box is trying to show me or I’m trying to look for.  I’ll be creating a post about Virgin Media and the TV Anywhere app soon-ish!

Right, let’s get to talking about the TVonics and the Sky Talker……

TVonics Freeview+ HD Recorder – HD500

TVonics talking Freeview+HD

TVonics talking Freeview+ HD box £129.38

The TVonics talking Freeview+ HD recorder uses a synthetic voice to read everything that is displayed on-screen, from the program guide to all your recorded content.Like any other Freeview+ HD box, this slim looking piece of kit can record up to two channels at the same time.  Pause/rewind live TV as it’s being broadcast.  The built-in hard-drive of 500GB can potentially hold up to 175 of TV or radio programming. The TVonics set-top box comes with a power-cable, HDMI lead (for HD TVs), an RF cable.  It also comes with a remote control with larger and raised buttons, plus its own dedicated audio description button to easily switch the AD on or off for any given programme.Okay… Here’s the details for the TVonics Freeview+ HD box:

  •             built-in talking Ivona voice reads on-screen information
  •             fully customisable settings with a choice of six colour schemes
  •             easy-to-use menus and programme guide
  •             record two channels at the same time
  •             record up to 175 hours on the 500 gigabyte hard disk. This maximum recording capacity is dependent on the definition and type of programmes you record
  •             well laid out remote control with raised buttons and dedicated audio description button
  •             watch and record programmes with audio description (AD) soundtrack
  •             ability to watch in High Definition and listen with Dolby Digital Surround Sound (dependent on your TV)
  •             easy to set up with your existing TV with the supplied HDMI cable
  •             also supplied with RF cable, power cable and remote control with two AAA batteries.

You can get the TVonics talking Freeview+ HD from the RNIB website now for £129.38 which is around an average price anyway for an everyday Freeview+ HD box so this is not really something that will leave you out-of-pocket anymore than the non-accessible option would.

The Sky Talker

Sky Talker £60

Sky Talker £60

The Sky Talker, which has been available since February 2011, simply plugs into your Sky digi box or Sky+ (and HD) box and away you go, hear the info.  Sky were assisted to develop this by the RNIB to once and for all let the blindy hear the info!

The Sky Accessibility website says that the Sky Talker can read the search and scan banner, programme synopsis and the general functionalities of the Sky+ box (play/pause and such).  It doesn’t make it clear on the page itself whether the information highlighted in menus such as the TV Guide are spoken.  I’ll have to get my hands on a Sky Talker to give it a go myself.

Priced at £60 and available to Sky customers by calling Sky’s dedicated Accessible Customer Service team on 0844 241 0333 (or by calling 150 from you Sky landline maybe?), this is surely worth investing in to get the most out of your Sky subscription.

Also, check out the Sky Accessibility website, there is some useful information on their anyone needing help using Sky’s products plus an online guide to what programmes are available in audio description.

Let me know what you think of the two lovely beuties mentioned above.  Have you used them before? What did you think?  All comments welcome!





TapTapSee – Blind & Visually Impaired Camera: Review

It’s very rare that I’ll come across an app designed for the visually impaired or the blind that I am both happy with and I find the price-tag to be reasonable.  So, imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an application on the Apple AppStore that was boasting to be able to describe a picture that you’ve taken and the payment….. FREE!!  Yes, I had come across the app that is the centre of this review: TapTapSee – Blind & Visually Impaired Camera.

Image Searcher, the developer behind this app, describe it as an app as “designed to help the blind and visually impaired identify objects they encounter in their everyday lives”.  Before downloading the app, I was very sceptical about what to expect, whether it was going to work or the degree to how well it was capable to perform but with an overwhelming five-star rating from users on the AppStore and fantastic reviews from organisations such as the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind), this was clearly an app that must live up to its name.  Time I give it a go myself.

So, the download has complete!

When you’re using the app, to hear the description of the object you’re taking a picture of, VoiceOver needs to be switched on via the Accessibility options in settings.

If you’re unsure on how to turn VoiceOver on, here’s a quick step guide.

  1. Open “Settings” on your iOS device
  2. Tap “General” and then “Accessibility.
  3. “VoiceOver” is the first option at the top of this menu, click it and it’ll take you to the VoiceOver menu, swipe the top menu item to turn VoiceOver on

Note: Please read the info carefully on-screen to how to use VoiceOver when it’s switched on as it does take a bit of getting used to.

The original picture I took was less blurry

The original picture I took was less blurry

What to expect when you launch the app

When you launch the app, you’re faced with an extremely clean design free from clutter and everything is nice and neat with the central focus on where you’re aiming your phones camera.

I’ll just take a quick minute to talk about the features:  Along the top of the app – from left to right – is the repeat button (repeats the description of the last image you took), Library (access your phoos to get a description of a picture that you have already taken), Share (let the world know about this fantastic app and tell them what you’ve just taken a picture of) and then finally on the right, the (i).  Access information about TapTapSee and there is also two toggle settings for auto-focus sound effect and auto-flash.

The middle pane is clearly the space for the camera image.  Tap once to select the “take photo” option and then double tap again to take a picture.

Along the bottom is where you’ll find a written description of the photo you’ve taken.

The response time of TapTapSee is quite remarkable considering your phone sends information via the web and comes back with in a matter of around 20 seconds.  I’m saying 20 seconds, this is the longest time I’ve waiting (only the once though).

Right, down to my thoughts and such….

When I took my first picture with this app, I was already astonished at the preciseness of description of the picture I took.

So for the basis of this review, I took a picture of a coconut milk tin.  Despite having some sight, I found this quite difficult to read, I even missed out the part where it said “light” on the tin… I like everything full fat, it’s a good job it’s not my kitchen cupboards I was using for this.

TapTapSee: coconutmilk

Nice clean display with very clear descriptions of the picture!

I thought about what things, as a partially sighted person, that I or someone else would come across on a daily basis…. For me, it’s written notes.  So, I even wrote a small selection of text on a notepad with my very scruffy hand-writing and TapTapSee performed very well and read the whole thing word for word.  One thing that I always struggle with, especially in the kitchen, is expiry dates on products.  When I took a picture of the expiry date on a tub of Lurpack Butter, unfortunately, the app didn’t understand the date…… Then again, if this is the only downside to app I’ve found then, hey, it’s all fine 🙂 I really wanted to write a review about this app and now I’m actually sat here writing it, I’m struggling to find how many different ways to say how much I love TapTapSee and how much of a massive benefit it is to blind and partially sighted people.  An app that is free and easy to use is better than an expensive app that is no use to anyone (trust me, I’ve seen a lot!). Give it a go, you’ll love it!  This is an extremely useful app to have on any iOS device for any partially sighted person. If I have any more to add, I’ll let you know in a new post further down the line What do you think?  Have you tried TapTapSee before? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below!