Beta Screen Reader On V10 OS

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Jeffrey D. Stark

Mar 20, 2014, 9:16:41 PM3/20/14
Getting Touchy Feely with the Beta Version of the Blackberry Screen Reader
on the Q10 / v10 of the blackberry OS (bbOS)

At the time of writing this article, the Blackberry v10 Operating System and
suite of devices has just got interesting to the community of blind mobile
users because in the last few months Blackberry has released the Blackberry
Screen Reader for v10 in `beta. The screen reader comes pre-installed for
free on the latest version of the firmware for the Q5, Q10, Z10 & Z30 While
still in beta (with a full release version projected in the coming year), it
shows real promise.

The V10 Operating System was a huge leap for Blackberry as it is a complete
rewrite from the ground up. It is even based on completely new core
technology (called QNX) that allows it to do true multi-tasking. Because it
is a completely new operating system, this also meant that the screen reader
and all accessibility features had to be written from the ground up.

The Q series has a physical QWERTY keypad & touch screen. The Z series have
only a touch screen. Both series of devices have a lock, volume up, volume
down and action key as physical buttons.

I have been playing around for the last month or so with a Q10 and will
focus mainly on my experiences using this device.

The Q10 is about the same size as an iPhone 4. However, the touch screen on
the front face of the device only takes up half of the front face with the
lower half containing a QWERTY keypad with very distinct tactile keys. I
personally have always found in type at least 3 times faster on a qwerty
keypad in comparison to an on-screen keypad. The Q10 is no exception, as a
quick test has me typing somewhere around 25 wpm (with my thumbs). Be
aware that even though the device has physical keys, navigating and
interacting with the device is done through the touch screen. The screen
reader alters the way the touch screen behaves and provides touch based
methods of interaction. Touch Exploration, which allows a blind person to
explore the screen with touch without activating the items on the screen.
A set of additional gestures are provided to move around on the screen from
item to item and to activate specific screen reader functions (such as
reading a block of text). Users of iOS, Android & windows touch screen
based screen readers will quickly see similarities in the gesture system
that is implemented. Swiping left/right gives forward/backwards through
interface elements; double tapping activates the interface element in focus
and 2 fingers swiping up/down scrolls lists. The text to speech engine is
the familiar nuance vocalizer engine. There is no braille support at the
time of this writing. The suite of commands that the screen reader has
available is extremely rich. The screen reader still needs some work in what
it announces to users, how users can be certain of actions being registered
& a few other areas of inconsistent behaviour. However, this is still a
beta, updates are coming regularly and I will assume that many of these
issues will be ironed out prior to the official release.

While iOS & Android are very similar in the way they operate, there are some
distinct differences in how the bbOS operates. The core communication
capabilities of the device revolve around the "hub". An app that combines
all communication types, mediums and services in a consistent, unified and
hierarchical system. When you first load the hub, you are presented a list
view in chronological order of all emails, text messages, blackberry
messenger messages, twitter conversations, Facebook conversations, etc. You
also have a set of "tab sheets" that give you different views of your
communications. There is a tab for viewing each service or message type
separately. (I.e. your email inbox, text messages, etc). You also have a
tab called your "priority hub" that sorts all communications in priority
order based on importance of sender or message. This view is particularly
useful for managing very high traffic inboxes and avoiding missing important
messages such as emails from your boss. It is obvious that the device is
geared to getting work done and heavily in favor of simplifying
communication. Once you have used the priority hub, you will wonder how you
lived without it.

BbOS has single finger gestures that are activated by single finger swiping
from the edges of the screen. Swipe from the bottom up to unlock the
screen. Swipe from the bottom upwards to load the task manager. Swipe from
the left edge of the screen rightward when in the task manager to go to the
hub, swipe from the right side of the screen to move from app drawer to app
drawer. Swipe from the top downwards to open the notification / quick
setting screen. I found these gestures surprisingly intuitive and found
them to make moving around on the phone a very quick activity. However,
personally I found that I often had the swipe left/right screen reader
command & swipe from the edge of the screen OS command getting activated on
the small Q10 screen by accident when I wanted the other command. I also
found scrolling in lists to need a little work.

The Blackberry Q5 & Q10 are offered on a number of carrier's plans at an
extremely low cost (often $0). This makes it an extremely good choice for
the budget conscious customer and because of its physical keys it will for
sure appeal to many people While the screen reader seems a little buggy
and has definite room for improvement, I think that Blackberry has made a
good first start in providing blind users with access to the latest
Blackberry environment. Once they fix the stability issues & add a bit of
additional functionality, I am sure that this device will really appeal to
the business traveller, people who do a lot of email, text messaging or
social media and those looking for an easy efficient interface for dialing
and telephony.

Who knows, if they fix the bugs & make the behavior more reliable they may
finally catch up to Apple or Google for accessibility in the coming years.
I am looking forward to seeing how far they get at the time of official 1.0
release. (Expect an update to this article at the time of the full

You can find out more about the screen reader & how it operates by checking
the Q10 User Guide

Pete Nalda

Mar 20, 2014, 9:28:32 PM3/20/14
This is SO good to hear. I'm kind of tired of touch keyboards. And besides the screen reader, BlackBerry has OS/app wide adjustable fonts.

Egun On, Lagunak! (basque for G'day, Mates
Louie P (Pete) Nalda
Twitter: @lpnalda
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Loreal Lavigna

Mar 21, 2014, 6:53:01 AM3/21/14

Thank you very much for providing us with this article! I genuinely
appreciate it as I'm sure the rest of the group does too. Please keep us up
to date on what you learn. If things do progress quickly, I'll definitely
go back to a blackberry. I was highly impressed with blackberry for a
number of years and thoroughly enjoyed having a physical keyboard. I've
been using both android and iOS the last 2 years, but would much prefer to
go back to a blackberry as my primary device. What carrier are you using
your device on? I'm looking into the q series of devices for Sprint and to
see what information I can find out...

Loreal Lavigna
Medical Transcriptionist at Acusis, LLC.
Sunday - Thursday 12:00a.m. - 4:00 a.m.
Phone: (518)330-5188

Jeffrey D. Stark

Mar 21, 2014, 8:21:34 AM3/21/14
I'm not in the US :)

Suman Kumar Bhokray

Mar 23, 2014, 10:55:37 AM3/23/14
thats an wonderful writeup.
after reading this i have made up my mind to go with the q10. it will be
very very helpful if you can upload any audio file with the screenreader
usage audio.

Every 3000 sheets of paper costs a tree
so think well before you print
Suman Bhokray
yesyesvi services
sri srinivasa multispeciality hospital
18001022678 toll free india
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Subject: [BB Access] Beta Screen Reader On V10 OS

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