FSCast #234

August,  2023

BRETT LEWIS:  On Episode 234 of FSCast, we'll be talking a little about the JAWS, Fusion, and ZoomText public betas.  We'll be doing a demonstration of Face in View, a new feature in the JAWS 2024 public beta.  And we'll wrap up with an interview with Billy Henry, the President and CEO of the Northwest Association of Blind Athletes.

Welcome to Episode 234 of FSCast.  I'm Brett Lewis.  I'm a software engineer here at Freedom Scientific, working on JAWS.  You all may have heard the interview I did with Glen a couple of months ago, on the other side of the microphone.  And this month I get to guest host for Glen.  He'll be back in September for your regularly scheduled programming.  The major announcement this month is the upcoming public beta versions of JAWS, Fusion, and ZoomText 2024 that should be out in early September.

Things to Look for in the New Beta Versions

BRETT:  JAWS will have a new Face in View application that’ll help you get ready for online meetings so people on the other end can see you in the frame of the camera.  There will also be some braille enhancements, namely Split Braille, that allows you to divide your braille display in half and show information from two separate sources simultaneously.  There'll be some under-the-hood changes, some improvements in MathML support, and improvements in how Outlook messages are shown to you in the virtual buffer.

ZoomText and Fusion have a new menu structure.  Historically, it may have been a little difficult to locate the information you as a user needed.  And this new menu structure is intended to simplify that, as well as putting front and center the options that you need to access the most.  So overall, this should make the menu structure much more informative and much more efficient for all of our users.

Any of these public betas can be tried by anyone that has a 2023 version of our products.  So as long as you have an active license for those 2023 versions, you can download the public betas once they're available.  As I said, that should be early September.  If you've missed the announcement of those public betas, you can always check on freedomscientific.com/downloads, and the public betas will be available there once they've been released.

We have some upcoming training.  In September, we have a live webinar on September 21st, teaching you how to use Google Slides with JAWS.  This focuses not only on creating content with JAWS for the presentations, but also how to actually conduct the presentation itself once you've created all of the content.  If you go to freedomscientific.com/training, you can always find out about any of our upcoming live webinars or see an archive of any of our old webinars that you may have missed for some reason.  In addition, there's a variety of other information on that page.  There's resources for teachers or instructors of the visually impaired on how to teach people to use our products.  There's also information about becoming a certified JAWS or ZoomText user.  So that's always an excellent resource.  If you ever have any questions, it should be your first stop.

JAWS DEMO:  Face in View

BRETT:  Many of you have participated in online meetings over the last few years, things like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, and so on.  In many of these meetings, people will want you to turn on your camera so they can see you and feel more connected and, you know, make sure you're actually there.  As a blind user, it's often really challenging to turn on the camera because you don't really know what the people on the other end are going to see.  We wanted to try and improve this experience; and what we came up with, at least so far, is Face in View.

And the way Face in View works is it's going to give you feedback on whether or not you're centered in the view of the camera.  It's going to tell you how bright your surroundings are.  It'll give you a little bit of a detailed description of your actual position relative to the screen and so on.  So the idea here is that prior to starting your Microsoft Teams meeting, before you turn on your camera, you basically bring up Face in View, and you make sure that you're centered correctly.  You're pointing toward the camera.  You're not too far away so it doesn't actually detect your face.  You want to make sure your lights are on.  And we even, at present, give you a little bit of a description of the actual image itself.  You activate Face in View by using JAWS Key+SPACE, followed by F.

JAWS VOICE:  Face in View.

BRETT:  And you heard Face in View.  I'm now going to press O to open it.

JAWS VOICE:  Opening Face in View.  Using integrated webcam.  Face in View.  You are centered.  You are pointing to center.  Brightness is normal.

BRETT:  So it told you what web camera I was using.  It told you that I was facing the center of the screen, and that my face is pointed to the center of the screen.  So what I mean by that is that I'm, relative to what the other people might see in the view, I'm in the middle of that screen.  And my face is not turned left or right or up or down.  So now I'll show what happens as you turn your head to different parts of the screen.  So if, for example, I lean to my right...

JAWS VOICE:  You need to move left.  [Adjustment made.]  You are centered.

BRETT:  Our goal was to give you directions that provided information to you as the user on how to get back into the frame.  We had a lot of discussion of this, and this we came up with is probably the simplest to understand.  If I'm too high up, so I raise myself up here...

JAWS VOICE:  You need to move down or tilt your camera back.  [Adjustment made.]  No face detected.

BRETT:  And there you heard “no face detected” as I moved out of the field of the view.

JAWS VOICE:  You are centered.

BRETT:  If I can move myself down, that works perfectly.  And I'm back now in the center, as you heard.  But oftentimes with using a laptop, for example, it may not be a question of moving yourself, but it may be tilting the camera.  And so you heard the combination of directions there.  You know, move yourself down, or tilt the camera back.  And both sort of accomplish the same thing of moving you down in the view of the camera.  So we also have head turning.  So if I turn my head to the left...

JAWS VOICE:  Turn your head right.

BRETT:  So it tells you that to get back into pointing for the center, you need to turn your head to the right.

JAWS VOICE:  You are pointing to center.

BRETT:  So we also do combinations of directions.  So as I lean to the left...

JAWS VOICE:  You need to move right.

BRETT:  Now I'm going to actually move down, as well.

JAWS VOICE:  Turn your head right.  Tilt your head up.  Turn your head right, and tilt your head up.

BRETT:  Now you heard that it says I want to tilt my head up and turn my head to the right.  So I'm going to do that.

JAWS VOICE:  You are centered.  You are pointing to center.

BRETT:  And you heard that it moved me back to center by following those directions.  We can also get information about the lighting.  You heard that in the initial announcement of my face view.  It talked about the lighting level.  But I've forgotten what it was.  So let me hear it again.  So I'm going to press JAWS Key+SPACE, F.

JAWS VOICE:  Face in View.

BRETT:  And L.

JAWS VOICE:  Brightness is high.

BRETT:  If I want to hear a detailed description of my position in the screen, that's JAWS Key+SPACE, F.

JAWS VOICE:  Face in View.

BRETT:  And D, as in dog.

JAWS VOICE:  Location:  39% horizontally and 49% vertically.  You are centered.  You are pointing to center.  Brightness is high.

BRETT:  And you heard there the 39% and 49%.  50% on both those axes are the center of the screen.  So the closer I can position myself to that, the closer I'll be to the exact middle.  Okay.  If I want to get a Picture Smart description of the current frame, it's JAWS Key+SPACE, F.

JAWS VOICE:  Face in View.

BRETT:  Followed by the letter P.

JAWS VOICE:  Picture Smart is in progress.

BRETT:  So this will provide you some detailed description of yourself, largely you as the person who's in focus, but anything that also may appear on your desk.

JAWS VOICE:  Picture Smart results.  Heading level 5:  Total number of faces in this photo is 1.  Heading level 4:  These objects probably appear in the photo:  microphone, person.

BRETT:  And you heard that there's a microphone and a person in the photo.  That's in fact true.  My microphone is right next to me.

JAWS VOICE:  Heading level 3:  These tags describe the photo:  glasses, human face, microphone, person, vision care, wall.

BRETT:  So you can hear it provides a little bit of information about your background.  Obviously, we'd like to enhance that in the future; but that's still a work in progress at this point.  I can then press ESCAPE to close the Picture Smart results.

JAWS VOICE:  ESCAPE.  Face in View.

BRETT:  The one other thing that I have not shown is the ability to select your camera.  I have two cameras hooked up to my computer right now.  I do JAWS Key+SPACE, F.

JAWS VOICE:  Face in View.

BRETT:  Followed by the letter C.

JAWS VOICE:  Cameras.

BRETT:  And that lets you select a camera.  I'm now going to press the DOWN ARROW key.

JAWS VOICE:  Using Logitech Brio.

BRETT:  And it says using Logitech Brio, which is my second camera.  But I'm wanting the integrated webcam, so I'm going to press UP ARROW again.

JAWS VOICE:  Using integrated webcam.  You are centered.  You are pointing to center.  Brightness is normal.

BRETT:  And you heard that it got me right back to my original web camera and gave me the description again of where I'm located and my brightness level.  To close Face in View, you use JAWS Key+SPACE, followed by F.

JAWS VOICE:  Face in View.

BRETT:  And then O, the letter you use to open it, as a toggle.  It now will close Face in View.

JAWS VOICE:  Closing Face in View.  Desktop.  Items view multi-select list.

BRETT:  If you're interested in giving this a try, it’ll be available as part of the JAWS 2024 public beta available in early September.  If you miss the actual announcements when this is posted, you can always go to freedomscientific.com/downloads, and the public beta links will be available there.  We also will post on social media once the public betas are available.

Interview with Billy Henry of NWABA

BRETT:  When I was first talking to Glen about doing an FSCast episode, the person I wanted to speak to was Billy Henry, the person who we are talking to today.  And he is the president and CEO of the Northwest Association of Blind Athletes.  And when I mentioned him to Glen as a possible guest, Glen's comment was, “Oh, that sounds good, should be interesting.  But is this kind of his nights-and-weekends activity; or is this something that, you know, is bigger than that?”  And I'm sure I'm not going to do it justice.  So Billy, if you can give us a little information about where NWABA is today and all those sorts of things, that would be really a good start, I think.

BILLY HENRY:  Absolutely.  Well, first of all, thanks so much for having me today.  I really, really appreciate it.  I started the organization in 2007.  I really started with five of my friends coming over to my parents' house twice a week to participate in the sport of powerlifting.  We were all legally blind and wanted the opportunity to participate, really wanted to be able to compete, wanted to be able to do something together as friends and as a team, and wanted to provide an opportunity to others that we felt like wasn't there for people who are blind or visually impaired.

So that was back in May 2007.  During that time, I also borrowed $50 from a friend and incorporated our organization in another friend's living room.  And fast-forward to today, our mission is to provide life-changing opportunities through sports and physical activity to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.  Northwest Association for Blind Athletes delivers over 600 in-person and virtual events every year to people who are blind or visually impaired.  We serve individuals that are six months old, and their families have recently learned that they're blind, that are learning how to swim for the first time; and we serve individuals that are in their 80s.  We serve people who are blind that have been blind since birth, like myself; and individuals that have lost their vision later on in life.

Our organization has six core programs that support our mission.  We have about 350 volunteers, and I think as of right now 22 full-time team members.  So to answer, Brett, your question initially, definitely not my nights-and-weekends job.  I think it's my days, nights, and weekends job, so a little bit of both.  Happy to dive into more if you'd like, but that's a little bit about how we got started and where we're at today.

BRETT:  What sort of were the challenges that you definitely – I mean, I'm sure you faced a number of challenges, but what were they when you were first starting out as getting it started as an organization?

BILLY:  You know, I think just really and truly not knowing what I was doing and kind of building it as we went, particularly from the fundraising standpoint, just nobody knowing who we are.  So I had to get really good at telling our story.  I wasn't as good at public speaking in the early days, so I had to work really hard on that.  And then I had to work hard for, you know, for people to take me seriously as a 15-year-old trying to start this organization; you know, for people to say, "Hey, you know, this is a legitimate, serious organization, you know, we should support them" kind of thing.  When we were able to articulate that story and tell it, people listened, and they jumped onboard amazingly.  But it took a while to get some buy-in.

But again, once we got that buy-in, then we were – we've been successful.  So I think that those are some of the kind of early-on challenges.  But I really look at it, Brett, as like we had so many challenges, but we weren't going to give up.  We said, "Hey, no matter what, we're just going to keep going," whether that be the 2008 financial crisis, you know, one year, of being an organization for one year, or the COVID-19 pandemic.  We've got a lot of gas in us, and we said, "Hey, we're not going to stop.  We're just going to keep going.  And no matter what, we're going to make this thing successful.”

BRETT:  It sounds a little bit like the organization itself.  I mean, you've got lots of benefits, but it also took on a little bit of a life of its own.

BILLY:  One thing that I'll share there, just that's personal to me, is my junior year of high school I decided to go to a fully mainstream high school and not go to School for the Blind any longer, just because I wanted to try something new.  And I know that until I really got to meet people, my friendship network, my social network was all our powerlifting team, and that made a huge impact on me.  Just from the confidence to advocate for myself my senior year of high school, to meeting new friends, and to knowing that I had that support network within our powerlifting team, where we were all supporting each other.  We were getting better.  We were competing and just having a fun time.  I think that that's beyond the benefits of it.  I think it's important just to have that recreational opportunity to take your mind off things and go out and have a good time with your friends.

BRETT:  I think that's huge.  That's one of the huge benefits for me of doing sports.  It's great.  What kinds of events, like what are all the different sports and stuff that you guys offer programs for?

BILLY:  I'll start out by saying, ironically enough, we no longer offer powerlifting because it wasn't very popular.  So we started a trend and ended a trend with my friends and I when we started the organization.  But we provide opportunities in about 20 different types of sports and recreational opportunities.  Everything from judo, which I know that you are a big part of, Brett, to tandem cycling, to a sport called goalball, which I'm sure many people are familiar with, to swimming, to stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, skiing, snowboarding, hiking.

And then on the virtual programs, during kind of the heart of the pandemic in 2020, we spun up virtual programs.  And now we are providing programs seven times a week from our office to our participants from all across the U.S. and internationally.  And those programs look like blind yoga, or deep stretching, or a Zumba workout.  They're all audio described.  They're all live on Zoom.

BRETT:  Is that one of those things where the people on the other end of the camera get to see you doing yoga and making sure that you're doing it correctly?

BILLY:  That is correct, yeah.  So our team is providing support and adjustment for individuals that may need some support.  The yoga is also all audio described with intentionality that, if you couldn't see the Zoom screen, you are getting that full immersive experience.  And then our team is saying, okay, raise your left arm, you know, three inches closer to your head.  And I'm just using that as an example.  So, yes, the answer to that is yes.  And then for our yoga specifically, we actually have a yoga instructor who is blind that's based in Idaho that helps teach the instruction for the yoga.  So it's not just our team, but it's one of our athletes teaching other athletes, which I think is really important, too.

BRETT:  Are these virtual programs something that you keep an archive of?  Or you said seven times a week.  Are they just something that you always tune into live?

BILLY:  We have an archive.  I believe the team archives kind of our top hits of them.  But we've got, I believe, as of recording, probably 600 YouTube videos that are in the archive that people can go back to, as well, which is really exciting.

BRETT:  I know you all offer, I mean, I don't know about this summer, but I know in the past you've offered summer camp opportunities, as well.

BILLY:  Camp is a really unique program because it's on a university campus.  It's for children and youth, eight to 15, who are blind.  And the students are on a university campus.  They're navigating the campus.  We have orientation and mobility specialists on campus that are employed by us that are supporting students with routes and various things.  They're learning seven different types of sports and physical activities.  They're being away from home in many cases for the first time, meeting others who are blind, and just really having that experience.  So we now deliver seven sessions of camp.  We've gone from one to seven, and we definitely have plans to add, continue to add additional sessions in the years ahead and really, really do some big things with our programs.

BRETT:  Sports offers lots and lots of benefits.  And we can talk about those intellectually; and, you know, hey, it gets you physically fit.  It gets you all these sorts of things.  But really, the thing about sports is that it's exciting and fun to participate in.  Right?  I mean, when you're involved, you get that intensity of experience, certainly for things like judo.  You know, the crowd’s there.  You're got everybody pumped up.  You're excited.  You know, you're totally focused in the moment.  Do you find that a lot of the participants in your various events have that kind of experience, really find that sports is, I mean, you know, it's abstract to say “enriching their lives.”  But in what ways do people tell you that the sports have really made a difference for them?

BILLY:  What we've heard from our participants and the athletes and families that we serve is just that level of confidence that sport has given them to achieve success in other areas of life.  That might be pursuing employment.  That might be higher education or getting involved in their community.  Also feeling healthier to go out and do things outside of our organization, which we think is really, really important.

So I would say it's feeling overall, the overall themes from the feedback we get are really feeling empowered to pursue other goals in all areas of life, feeling healthier and confident that they can do things, they can do things with their friends and their family or with other community organizations.  And then feeling like they've got support; feeling like they've got a community who is also blind, who is also achieving success and achieving their goals; and kind of having that law of the environment, for lack of a better term, that they're learning and growing from; and then seeing how that plants seeds for possibilities in their lives, as well.  So those would be – those would kind of be the three, the three main things.

I think that our programs really do have a ripple effect in all areas of life.  I know for me, you know, getting to be able to run our powerlifting team when I was 15 and 16 years old, that gave me the confidence to say, hey, I can run this organization.  I may have to do it a little bit differently; but I can do it, and I can do it really well.  And I think that that's a similar story that our athletes see, as well, seeing the success that they've been able to achieve through hard work, through collaboration, through working with their teams, to look at how that can be then parlayed into anything else that they may want to do.

BRETT:  Can you tell us any of your sort of high points?  I mean, from an individual point of view, I mean, some of the stories that made you think, you know, when you got home that night, hey, this is really worthwhile, and I have to keep doing this kind of thing.

BILLY:  There are so many to choose from.  It's hard to think of just one.  I'll share just a general example from our Camp Spark program that we touched on a little bit earlier.  It's, you know, a new family brings their child to camp.  The child is blind, and they may have been away from home once.  They may not have been.  And the child's, you know, maybe nine, 10 years old and doesn't want to leave their family.  But we convince them, and they should let go a little bit.  The parents are wary.  And then I think just the growth that that camper sees from being afraid to leave their parents on Sunday during camp drop-off, to navigating the campus independently, to having friends at camp, to learning how to increase their ability to run by 5X from start to finish of camp, and so many more things.

And then finally, on Friday at the last day of camp, we always do an opportunity for parents or family or caregivers to see that camper, that growth on Friday from where they're competing in a competition.  They're showing their family around camp.  They're exchanging phone numbers with other campers.  To me, that's an example of the impact of our work, Brett.  I think it's showing that growth week over week, and it's providing an opportunity that in many cases individuals wouldn't have.  And that story that I shared is just one of thousands of stories of athletes.

We have adults who lost their vision later in life that, you know, never thought that they could ski again.  And we got an opportunity to partner with them and get to go on the mountain with them and have that experience.  There are individuals that we have that we've been able to work with that have then gone on to represent Team USA and goalball and so many other things.  So I feel really honored and proud to get to work alongside our athletes and lead our organization.  And those stories that you mentioned truly are the impact of why we do what we do.

BRETT:  Probably these programs are almost as beneficial for the families as they are for the individuals.

BILLY:  Absolutely.  And I think that sometimes, Brett, parents don't always know what's possible and what people are capable of.  And I think that seeing people push the limits will help parents and families say, you know what, no, I'm going to push a little bit harder when they come back home to help them achieve their goals because they can do it.  And I need to, you know, kind of help empower them on a daily basis when they're not, you know, with their teacher, the visually impaired, or with our programs.  I think that that's a huge, a huge part because sometimes families, you know, want to be supportive and obviously want to provide aid.  But sometimes, not in all cases, but in some cases they can almost hold that individual back.  So I think having that realization does help support that.

BRETT:  You all have some, what is it, hundreds of volunteers, right, that are helping run all of these programs.

BILLY:  Absolutely.  Yeah, we have about 350 volunteers because if we have 20 athletes that want to participate in tandem cycling, that means we need 20 volunteers.  So a big part of our team's role is just really recruiting volunteers, pardon me, and then really engaging the community in the work that we do, as well.

BRETT:  Is that a big time commitment for the volunteers, or is that something that they can sort of tailor to what they have available?

BILLY:  They can tailor it to what they have available.  I think the unique thing about our volunteer program is that somebody could volunteer one Saturday every year, or they could be with us three times a week if they chose to.  So people can kind of level up or down their volunteer commitment based on their time availability, which I think is really, really nice.  It's not a situation where you have to commit to volunteer for 12 times in a row because there's no one else to fill that spot.  If you can volunteer once a year, we really appreciate that.  If you can volunteer more than that, then that's fantastic.

BRETT:  One of the things that's always challenging for people, I think, is how do I interact with someone who's blind?  What do you do to give them that sort of overview of what volunteering with blind participants will be like?

BILLY:  That's a great question, Brett, and that's a really important part of our program.  So we have a very robust volunteer training program that really covers all of that.  It covers everything from appropriate interactions like not trying to play with a guide dog when the dog is working, to knowing how to offer assistance and not assuming that someone needs assistance or assuming that they don't need assistance, and then using the right words to describe situations.  So it's everything like that and so much more.  So our volunteer program, the only feedback we've gotten in it is that it's almost too robust because it covers so many things.  But that's important to us because we want to provide the best quality opportunity for the people that we serve.

BRETT:  What have you heard from the volunteers that they feel like they get from volunteering?

BILLY:  You know, I think that the biggest thing we've heard from them is that they feel like they're getting just as much of an opportunity as they're helping with.  I think that they really enjoy being able to build relationships with our athletes, get to know them, get to know their story, be able to share a sport that they might love with someone else is what we've heard.  And then also we've had a lot of volunteers come to volunteer for us because they're new to that community that they're in, and they find for us that just like our athletes are building community, our volunteers are building community, as well.  And I think that that's really, really powerful because it's kind of an equal playing field in terms of what we're doing for everyone that's involved in the organization.

BRETT:  If people are interested in getting more information or getting involved, if they live in your area or maybe just in the virtual events, obviously they can go to your website.  But are there any other ways that they should get in contact with you?

BILLY:  Absolutely.  So our website is www.nwaba.org, and people can participate in virtual programs from across the globe.  So I would encourage anyone that is interested in participating from their house that may not be in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana to please join us on virtual.  And then if you are locally in those four states, we'd love for you to be able to participate in person, as well.  Individuals can call our main line, and I'll give the 1-800 number just so it's accessible from across the country.  That number:  800-880-9837.  And we'd love for people to be able to participate.

One other thing that I didn't mention, Brett, that I think is really exciting, and it's kind of new-ish since you and I have spoken over the last several years, is we also launched a sports adaptations program.  We now have about 500 pieces of adapted equipment that we lend out to our athletes, families, and school districts free of charge so that individuals can participate in their local community-based setting.  So examples of that are, it could be a tether rope for running.  It could be a ball with bells in it for a PE classroom for a youth.  Or it could be some type of an adaptation for skiing, for somebody that's skiing in a rural area.  So I wanted just to offer that.

And then we also have a video resource library as part of our sports adaptations program.  I believe it's over 50 videos now that are professionally produced along with guides that are fully accessible on how to adapt sports and physical activity for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.  Everything from how to do a push-up, to how to do skiing and snowboarding, to a variety of others, as well.  So those resources are also available on our website, too.

BRETT:  You neglected to point out that judo really is the best sport.  I'll let that go.  We'll make sure that doesn't...

BILLY:  Let me clarify.  Judo is number one.  Everyone should participate.

BRETT:  There we go.  Thank you.  That'll be helpful.  We'll lead with that.

BILLY:  Thanks.

BRETT:  And second of all, I really wanted to say thank you for spending this time with me today.  I knew some about NWABA because I've known you since you started it, I think, or right around then, anyway.  And it's been really a nice opportunity to find out how NWABA has grown and all of the different offerings that you guys have.  So thank you very much.

BILLY:  Well, Brett, thank you.  And thank you for being such an early champion of our work.  As I think back about how long we've come as an organization, you literally have been a part of our organization since the day probably I called you on the phone when I was 15.  So thank you for all the time that you have given back to us, and our friendship and partnership over the years.  It's been wonderful to be able to work with you, as well.  And I look forward to, especially now that we're out of the pandemic, working together even more in the years ahead.

BRETT:  Sounds great.  Thank you very much.

Signing Off on FSCast 234

BRETT:  That's it for Episode 234 of FSCast.  This is Brett Lewis, your guest host.  Next month in September, Glen Gordon will be back.  And I just wanted to say thank you all for listening.

Transcript by elaine@edigitaltranscription.com







edigitaltranscription.com  •  08/28/2023  •  edigitaltranscription.com