You Can Now Get Help From Google’s Disability Support Team Directly Through Be My Eyes

It took a while, but another company has finally joined Microsoft as part of Be My Eyes’ Specialized Help feature. Hey, Google.

We’re pleased to announce that Google is the newest company onboard the Specialized Help platform! Specialized Help enables blind and low-vision users to connect directly with company representatives through a live video connection. Blind and low-vision users can now request assistance from the Google Disability Support team through the Be My Eyes app for questions about assistive tools and accessibility features within Google’s products.
Getting connected to the Google Disability Support team through Be My Eyes is easy. Start by accessing the Specialized Help menu from the Be My Eyes home screen and select Google from the list. From the Google profile, you can make a call directly to the Google Disability Support team. Making a Specialized Help call to Google works just like any other Be My Eyes call, except that you’ll get connected to an official Google representative, who can help you with troubleshooting or other questions on accessibility features within Google’s products or services effectively.
Please note that the Google Specialized Help option should only be used for questions or issues concerning assistive tools or accessibility features within Google’s products or services. You can make calls to Google through Be My Eyes Monday through Friday 8AM-5PM PT. Currently in English only, from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, India, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Something Seems A Little Phishy

It seems like there has been a whole lot of phishing going on lately, and I have gotten a few emails that have given me a scare. Thankfully, after my heart went back into my chest, I realized that no, the CEO of the company I work for would not be emailing me from a sketchy AOL address and land in my junk folder, and if I really had been infected with WannaCry, I would not be able to read this email that is telling me I have WannaCry. But lots of people around me have not been so lucky, and have come close, or have, fallen for a phishing email. I’m sure the day will come when it may happen to me, so I can’t laugh and wonder what’s wrong with them. It’s not like they’re a pack of Sobbing John Rempels here. They are smart people.

Aside: I wonder whatever happened to poor John Rempel. I kind of feel bad for him, since we’ve been making fun of him for almost 10 years. Kind of, but not really if his story is accurate.

It’s true, the assholes who create the phishing emails are getting sneakier and sneakier, and some are doing their research to make the emails they send as convincing as possible, but I think what’s making them so successful is lots of people don’t stop and read. They see something, panic, click the link, and…there goes another one. Or, somebody has really done their homework and sent a message that the person is kind of expecting, but again the person is in a rush, and doesn’t notice that the email is asking them to sign this “mortage” agreement for their new “hosue” and answers…and only then the red flags start to go off

At work, the security folks sent out this video from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure in the UK as part of a campaign to smarten us up about phishing and spear phishing. Basically, phishing is the term for the broad practice of sending out fake emails to lure people into clicking on things or giving out personal info, where spear phishing is a more focused version of phishing where the person doing the phishing has done their homework about their victim and has customized the email to be more convincing.

Unfortunately, the video has scrolling text that I certainly couldn’t get to read. Maybe others will have better luck. But I was lucky enough to be home with my mom, and we watched it together, so I know it’s a good video with good tips in it.

From what I can remember, the video said that everybody knows about the old “congratulations, you have won the lottery” emails, but phishing has gotten more sneaky these days, and you will get emails tailored to you. Because everything is moving so fast and everyone is busy, sometimes we miss those subtle tip-offs that this is a fake and fall for it, allowing scammers to get usernames and passwords or steal money from you. The video detailed 3 commonly-used features of these scams: they create curiosity, have a sense of urgency, and appear to come from people of authority. Basically, the video urged us to slow down and think, check the links and email addresses inside the message, and if you’re still not sure if this is real, go directly to the source of the email rather than clicking on a link in the message or replying to it. I think that was all that was in there…but if someone can capture the text from the video and give it to me to post, that would be absolutely super awesome!

Here is a quick Wired article basically saying the same thing. Aside: Dear Wired: I appreciate that you have a newsletter, but I do not appreciate being unceremoniously thrown into a dialog telling me all about it while I’m reading a story. That makes me not want to sign up for it, even though it might be awesome.

There are a couple of mentions of hovering your mouse over links and email addresses to see where they really go. Luckily there is a way to do it if you don’t use a mouse. Bring focus to the link or email address you want to check by tabbing to it. Then hit your applications key or shift f10 or whatever way you choose to right click on links and copy the link. Then open notepad and paste it in and see what you got. Then you know if the link is really going to your bank or PayPal or whatever. Try it here.
www.paypal.com
Did that link really go where it said it went?

I think we all need to slow down, breathe, and not panic. Nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait 2 extra seconds to process whether this makes sense. Scammers can do their homework, but they’ll always slip up somewhere. Stay away from the phish, everybody.

Make A Password, Help A Charity

This just landed in my inbox.

Hey Steve,

We’ve recently built a Secure Password Generator Tool which promotes cyber security and the benefits of having a secure password.

So we can really make a difference, for each use of the tool, we are donating 1 cent to charitable causes (EFF and One Laptop Per Child).

Is this something you could get behind?

Sure is. Those are both good causes (even though OLPC has had its share of problems), as is the mission to get as many people as possible using passwords that aren’t easily crackable.

So if you need a new password, head over to the BitsFromBytes Password Generator and make one while simultaneously helping to make a difference. You can also read more about what each of those charities does if you’re not familiar with them.

Eat It, Twitter!

Since Twitter has decided to go and screw all the third party Twitter clients, I realize how much I don’t go and check my direct messages unless I know there’s something there to find. Consequently, my responses have become really slow. The default solution is to download the 183-MB official Twitter app, (no thanks), and get all the notifications back that way.

Steve had a flash of inspiration. Is the Twitter by text service still available? Why don’t we just turn that back on, receive all our notifications that way and then reply in Twitterrific? And it still works.

If you feel the same way we do, this helpful guide will get you everything you could possibly need.

We’ve both gotten it up and running and for the most part, it’s working. The only thing it can’t seem to handle is quoted tweets, which is weird because isn’t that just a glorified retweet? But mentions and DM’s and a whole bunch of other stuff will work just fine.

I guess the only person this wouldn’t work for is the one with multiple Twitter accounts in their name, like if you have a personal and a business one, but for most folks, this gets around the Twitter breakage and bloatware quite nicely. Happy tweeting, and now I won’t take an aeon to respond anymore.

Hey Google, Why Didn’t You Tell Me There Was A Website Listing Everything A Google Home Can Do?

Why this page has never once come up when we’ve Googled things about our Google Home Mini is a bit of a mystery to me especially since Google built it, but now that I’ve found it, I think things are going to be a whole lot easier and probably more fun.

It’s categorized, it’s searchable, it features a bunch of new and trending capabilities on its main page, and it’s right here if you ever need it.

Thank you, random post I happened to see on Lifehacker.

You Can Update To Firefox 60, JAWS Using Blind Kids

It took ’em a while, but apparently JAWS and Firefox have figured out how to work together again as of Firefox version 60, which was released in the last few days.

When Mozilla released Firefox Quantum, starting with version 57, in November of 2017, it introduced a number of technical changes that improve the browsing experience for our users. Tabs run in separate processes now, so that if one tab crashes, it does not bring the whole browser down with it. This is also better for security on multiple levels. Web sites load faster due to a much improved and modernized rendering engine. And a lot of other new features which you’ve probably read all about by now.
However, due to these massive technical changes under the hood, we unfortunately temporarily regressed screen reader users. And while we quickly regained much of the lost performance with Firefox 58 for NVDA users, for JAWS these improvements helped only slightly.

Therefore, a collaboration was started to bring both JAWS and Firefox back to a state together where the experience can be considered a first-class browsing experience. Over the past few months, accessibility engineers from Mozilla and VFO have identified and worked on performance and other usability issues together to improve both products to make that happen. This involved mutual understanding of what answers were required by JAWS from Firefox when it asked certain questions, particularly those that had not been dealt with in the work for Firefox 58 and 59. There were also some more architectural changes required on the Firefox side to handle very Windows-specific mechanisms. And while we were at it, we found and fixed some big memory leaks that had been bothering us since the release of Firefox 57, and which NVDA users will also have noticed improving in Firefox 59.
We’re happy to report that the combination of Firefox 60, released on May 9, 2018, and JAWS 2018, starting with the April 2018 update, are the result of this collaboration. With the combination of these versions or later, users of the JAWS screen reading software can again use the latest and greatest version of Firefox and be confident that they can browse the web in a speedy manner.

If any of this applies to you, definitely read that whole article for more info as well as instructions on switching away from the Extended Support Release and back to regular Firefox.

And let the record show that I was right. NVDA beat JAWS to this by several miles. That post was written in January. It’s May now.

I also kind of predicted that I wouldn’t even bother switching away from Firefox when 57 hit, and I didn’t. And honestly, for the most part it wasn’t that bad. It was definitely slower at times and there were a few pages that were absolutely unusable, but generally speaking it didn’t slow me down at all. And slowly but surely, things have been improving. I wouldn’t say the Firefox NVDA combo is just as snappy as it used to be, but it’s getting there. If you did switch, maybe give it another try.

Oh, and welcome back, JAWS people.

For Future Reference…

A few weeks ago, I learned something that I thought I would pass on to other blind folks. If you ever get asked by someone to be a passport reference, if you actually get the call, among the things they will ask for is a physical description of the person for whom you are serving as a reference. Some blind folks are amazing at remembering what people look like. I am not one of them.

It was an embarrassing experience. I felt like such a fool. Here I am saying I’ve known this person for virtually a decade and a half and I can’t remember the length and colour of her hair, the colour of her eyes, or how tall she is. It got worse as I began to panic, because I knew she was getting an emergency passport renewal, and if they didn’t think her references were credible, bye-bye passport. I felt so pathetic, trying to think of as many obscure things that might be on the passport application, even though these obscure things were kind of odd to mention, such as her having prosthetic eyes. Come on, I was desperate! I mentioned her birthday, and I had already said where she lived and where she worked, so I was hoping I just needed something small. Words you never think you have to say to a passport person: I think her hair is a bit long, but I’m blind and I don’t often reach out and touch someone.

So, my advice to you, if you’re like me and don’t remember physical descriptions worth a darn, talk to the person who is asking for a reference and get it verified so you don’t end up spluttering out all the embarrassing things. I guess between my reference and her second one, the woman from Passport Canada must have gotten what she wanted because the passport went through.

AdSense Auto Ads: A Blind Kid’s Dream Come True?

If you run a website, putting ads on it often just makes sense. Nothing comes for free (at least not without limitations you eventually may not be able to live with), and at the very least you don’t want to go too far in the hole paying for what you need. Programs like Google’s AdSense which we’ve used for many years make it pretty easy for the most part for just about anybody to get up and running.

Why for the most part?

That’s because as simple as they’ve made things, there’s still one pretty big problem. Have you ever blindfolded yourself and tried to figure out where all of your ad blocks should go, what size and shape each should be or which colours would work best? If you haven’t, don’t. It’s no fun. But it’s what we’ve had to do here pretty much from day one.

But now, perhaps without even realizing it, Google is making the wishes of website owning blind kids around the world come true.

Today we are introducing AdSense Auto ads, a powerful new way to place ads on your site. Auto ads use machine learning to make smart placement and monetization decisions on your behalf, saving you time. Place one piece of code just once to all of your pages, and let Google take care of the rest.
Some of the benefits of Auto ads include:

  • Optimization: Using machine learning, Auto ads show ads only when they are likely to perform well and provide a good user experience.
  • Revenue opportunities: Auto ads will identify any available ad space and place new ads there, potentially increasing your revenue.
  • Easy to use: With Auto ads you only need to place the ad code on your pages once. When you’re ready to use new features and ad formats, simply turn them on and off with the flick of a switch — there’s no need to change the code again.

Holy hell, right? We certainly hope so. We’re trying it out, which is why things may look a little different than they did the last time you were here. They may also look a little wonky at times especially in the beginning while the robots sort us out.

And because I know people will ask, yes, there’s a plugin for WordPress that makes this absurdly easy. It’s called Advanced Ads, and you can read more about it plus some early impressions of Auto Ads here.

I don’t say this often, but thank you, Google. It’s going to be nice to have one less irritant to wrestle with every time we need to change something.

Be My Eyes Launches A Specialized Help Feature, Which Will Be Amazing If Enough Companies Go Along With It

If you’re a smartphone having blind person and you haven’t used Be My Eyes, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that your life is at least a little more frustrating than it needs to be. And if you’re a smartphone having sighted person and you’ve spent any time at all volunteering as a helper, thank you for making our lives a little less frustrating than they used to be.

In the years that it’s existed, I’ve either used or seen it used to do everything from identifying details about a package that’s stumped the automated scanning apps to making sure medicine is mixed correctly to getting registration numbers off of electronics to reading room numbers in hotels to answering some of the dreaded questions about lights and silent error messages that the blind kid can’t possibly answer for the friendly tech support agent.

Long story short, there’s not much it can’t help with. But even so, it’s still trying to make itself better, and if enough companies get behind this new plan, it could be a hell of a thing.

As you know, Be My Eyes is here to help you tackle a wide range of visual challenges as you go about your day. Until today, Be My Eyes has randomly connected you to a volunteer to solve daily tasks. Some tasks, however, require specialized assistance.

Contacting customer support through email or by phone isn’t always ideal. Direct communication with a business’s customer support agent could be a more vision-friendly alternative and less time consuming for you. If someone from the company could see the issue in real time, issues with their products or services could be resolved more efficiently.

So we’ve strategized a way to better assist you: enlisting the help of representatives from companies whose products you use all the time. It’s our sincere pleasure to introduce Specialized Help. This new feature means that a trained company representative is available to answer questions or help you tackle issues with speed and in-depth solutions. Maybe you need help figuring out how to use an unfamiliar product, or you might want to interact on a company’s app or website while on the phone with their representative. With Specialized Help, it’s easy to get in touch with businesses and organizations when you encounter a challenge with their products or services. And as always, it’s completely free.

The next time you update your Be My Eyes app, there will be a second button added to the main screen to take you to the Specialized Help Menu. Clicking “Specialized Help” will lead you to the list of companies with representatives available to answer your call and assist you through a live video connection. Each business profile will include descriptions of their services, hours of operation, and supported languages.

So far the only company officially announced as participating is Microsoft, but the hope is that over time that list will grow. To that end, if you have thoughts about companies you would like to see added, Be My Eyes is looking for feedback. You can write to them at Info@BeMyEyes.com. I’ve already suggested internet and tv providers as a priority, but maybe you have an idea that’s just as good or better.

Don’t Update To Firefox 57 Just Yet, Blind Kids

In a couple of weeks Mozilla will be releasing an update to Firefox, my current browser of choice. It’ll be version 57, it’ll go by the name Quantum, and according to the makers of JAWS and NVDA it’ll mess up your screen reader something fierce and you probably shouldn’t use it if you plan on ever getting anything done on the internet again. Here’s part of FS’ explanation.

On November 14, Mozilla is expected to release a new version of its Firefox web browser. Firefox 57 represents such a significant technical and performance change that it’s going to be known as Firefox Quantum. Mozilla and mainstream reviewers of the beta code agree, the browser is much faster and more memory efficient.
The reason why mainstream users will see such a significant speed increase with Firefox Quantum is that it is switching to a multiprocess methodology. Unfortunately, Mozilla in their switch to multiprocess for Firefox has chosen an accessibility approach in which each call for JAWS to obtain information takes orders of magnitude more time.  We are disappointed that Mozilla has not at this time adopted the highly performant approach that Google took with Chrome to increase security while at the same time allowing screen readers to access information at unparalleled speed without needing to make any changes.
For now, we recommend switching to the Extended Support Release (ESR) of Firefox as work on the accessibility issues continues, because even when you are running assistive technology that supports Firefox Quantum, performance with Firefox will be much worse than you are used to. We’re working with Mozilla to improve the situation and are hopeful of further improvement.

If you want to grab that Extended Support Release, it can be found here. Just ignore all the stuff about businesses and it not being for individuals.

Otherwise, it might be time to give Chrome a try. It’s come a long way since the last time I played with it, that is to say that it actually seems to be usable now.

I’ll be curious to see who gets new Firefox support sorted out first. My money’s on NVDA because anyone with expertise can contribute to it, they seem to have working relationships with just about everyone and because god would it ever be hilarious to watch FS explain their way out of getting smoked by an outfit that survives on grants and donations from guys like me rather than extortionate upgrade policies.

Update (November 9th, 2017): Based on this post on Marco’s Accessibility Blog and the comments underneath it, I’m feeling pretty confident about my NVDA prediction. Seems that fixes are already in the works before the trouble evenb starts.

From the post:

For users of the NVDA screen reader, some of these changes may initially seem like a step backward. To make the accessibility features work with the new architecture, we had to make some significant changes which will initially feel less performant than before. Especially complex pages and web applications such as Facebook or Gmail will feel slower to NVDA users in this Firefox release.
Improvements in the pipeline
Fortunately, NVDA users will only have to put up with these slowdowns for one Firefox release. Firefox 58, which will move to beta the moment Firefox 57 is being released, will already improve performance so significantly that most smaller pages will feel as snappy as before, larger pages will take a lot less time to be loaded into NVDA’s browse mode buffer, and web applications such as Gmail or Facebook will feel more fluid.
And we’re not stopping there. In Firefox Nightly, then on version 59, performance improvements will continue, and more big pages and web applications should return to a normal working speed with NVDA.

And this, from a comment responding to a reader question.

Furthermore, we’ve provisioned for an optimization that hopefully will make it into an NVDA release soon that will speed certain things up from their end, too. The pull request on that is awaiting review and merging as we speak. So, stay tuned!

There’s some other worthwhile reading there as well, including how we can all help maybe move things along even faster. It has me curious as to how bad this is really going to be, and thinking that maybe I won’t be as quick to switch to the ESR as I originally thought I might. Hell, I spent much longer than I should have using a complete piece of shit, so who knows, I may not even notice a problem.