[Nfbmo] Fw: The 99 Dollar question: a Review of the Humanware Communicator app

Fred Olver goodfolks at charter.net
Wed Sep 12 15:17:32 UTC 2012

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Scott Davert" <scottslistmail at gmail.com>
To: "dbtechies" <dbtechies at googlegroups.com>; "viphone" 
<viphone at googlegroups.com>; <macvissionaries at googlegroups.com>; 
"mac4theblind" <mac4theblind at freelists.org>
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 9:44 AM
Subject: The 99 Dollar question: a Review of the Humanware Communicator app

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
By Scott Davert

For quite some time, deaf-blind users of iDevices have been able to
use face to face communication with the public through the notes app.
This consists typically of an iDevice (iPod, iPad, or iPhone) paired
with a Braille display and Bluetooth keyboard. The deaf-blind person
can then type using the Braille input keys on their display, while the
sighted and hearing person types on the Bluetooth keyboard. All text
shows up on both the Braille display and the screen of the iDevice.
Now, there is another option on the market geared toward this specific

The Humanware Communicator
(http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/humanware-communicator/id550473985) is
an app available in the App Store for $99. The app facilitates the
described communication process with some added functionality. One can
read the description on the link above for an understanding of the
basics, so these will not be covered in this article. Instead, the
purpose of this article is to go through the features of this app and
to help the deaf-blind consumer and the professional working with
deaf-blind consumers to determine whether they feel the app is worth
$99. It assumes that the reader is already familiar with the pairing
process of a Braille display with the iDevice and its various quirks.
You can read more on this at
Also note that the pairing process for the Brailliant BI line
specifically is much more simple, as  no authentication code is
required to pair the devices. Please see the manual for further
explanation. Finally, this is only a review of the app itself, not the
entire unit sold by Humanware which includes an iDevice and Humanware
Braille display.

Equipment Used
This app was tested using an iPhone 4 (CDMA) running iOS 5.1.1 with a
RefreshaBraille 18 Braille display. The latest model of the Apple
Wireless Bluetooth keyboard was also used. An iPhone is going to most
likely be the best device for this app, since it’s the only iDevice
that vibrates.

A note about a decision
The most competent professionals in the field of access technology
will tell you that one of the most important things in teaching is
assessment. Only with a proper assessment can a professional or
individual determine the best solution for specific situations. As
such, it's important to keep in mind when reading the below info that
what works for one deaf-blind consumer may not work at all for
another. Only through proper assessment can the best solution be found
to match that individual's communications needs. Whether you're
deaf-blind yourself or working with someone who is, trying out the
various options available is the first step to making a successful

App layout and explanation
Going from left to right, once you launch the app, you will have the
following options: New Conversation, Greeting, Phrases, Archives, User
guide, and About. The New Conversation icon will allow you to start a
new conversation. The Greeting option allows you to change the
greeting if you do not like the default one. Phrases allow you to use
a form of shorthand to enter a few letters and then have a designated
string of text be written. Archives allow you to save conversations
that you have had. The User Guide allows you to learn about how to use
the app. About contains links to both the Humanware and INLB websites
along with the option to rate the app. Each of these features will be
discussed in turn. One other important note to add is that once you
launch this app, your device will be placed in “landscape” mode, which
means the orientation of the touch screen should be moved so that the
Home button is on the right side of the device facing the person using
the touch screen.

New Conversation
When you launch the New Conversation feature, your device will make a
sort of ringing soun, and, if you have an iPhone, it will vibrate. By
default, the following text appears on the screen. “HI, I am deaf and
blind. Use this unit to communicate with me. Click OK if you
understand.” When the sighted individual taps “OK”  the Braille
display will come up with a blinking cursor. It’s now you’re turn to
type a message. You can enter this message in either contracted or
uncontracted Braille. This can be toggled with the command space with
G on the Braille keyboard. Pressing space with dot 8 on the keyboard
of the Braille display sends your message, and it appears with an
onscreen keyboard located underneath it. The sighted person then types
out their message in response and taps send to send the message to
you. The message will then pop up on the Braille display. This cannot
be used by another VoiceOver user though, since the keyboard is set up
to work with sighted individuals. So as to avoid confusion, each time
the deaf-blind individual types a message a “Q:” will proceed the
message, and each time the individual with the phone replies, this
message will be prefaced with an “A”. Each time the deaf-blind person
sends a message, the phone will vibrate. For the individual using the
Braille display, as the person is typing, you’ll see the word “Typing”
pop up on the display. When the word typing no longer appears, this
means you have most likely received a message, though then you can
know for sure by moving right with space and dot 4 and you will find a
blinking cursor.

Now for some findings based on feedback of my using this around my
place of employment and in the community. Note that these are not
formal results of any sort, just my findings from using the app for
the past 2 months while I was using the beta version of this software.
A common reaction, particularly amongst those who are less familiar
with technology, was that many were intimidated with the touch screen
keyboard. When a QWERTY keyboard was used, it did seem that people
were less hesitant to communicate using this method, probably because
they were more used to seeing a regular keyboard. Use of a Bluetooth
keyboard seems to make the communication process much more fluid and

When the conversation is complete, the Braille user can hit space with
L to go to the top of the screen. You’ll find a back button there.
Moving to the right one icon will place you on the save button, which
will of course allow you to save the conversation. Now, let’s move on
to the other options in the app.

Returning to the main screen of the app, and next to New Conversation
is Greeting. This allows you to customize the greeting that will be
displayed when you are attempting to get someone to communicate with
you using the app. Within this setting, you can either clear or simply
modify what is already written. You can do this in either contracted
or uncontracted Braille, or you can also type it using the touch
screen if you wish. One could argue that you can do this with the
Notes application by simply typing up a predefined message to this
effect, but the difference is that you will not be able to have the
person on the other end confirm that they understand you.

One of the features that can come in handy with this app is the
phrases feature. What happens is that you have a set of predefined
phrases such as “can you help me with directions?” “I’m looking for
bus #.” These phrases are activated by typing in the letters me
followed by a dash (-) and then the correct number. So if, for
example, I want to ask a sighted person for directions, once they tap
“OK”, I can press me-00 followed by enter. This text is then sent to
the iDevice. You can customize any of the messages, and there does not
appear to be a limit on the number of predefined messages you can
have. However, if you had 50 of them, one would think that could be
difficult to remember which phrase corresponds to which message.

One could successfully argue that you already have this feature
available in the iOS platform using shortcuts. This is very true, and
it is also just as effective. However, doing this may be beyond the
scope of training or beyond the level of knowledge of some users. It’s
a convenience, as the shortcuts function in iOS has to be set up
separate from the app. However, if you kno what you or your student
wants as predefined messages, you can always set them up ahead of
time. Just be sure that whatever shortcut you use is something not
commonly used in your everyday language. Using Humanware’s example of
me-00 is an effective way to do this. The difference is that you must
hit the spacebar before the shortcut text will appear. To access this
feature from the home screen of your iDevice, go into Settings,
General, Keyboard, and then find it under the shortcuts heading.

You can access any saved conversations from here. You can even search
through the archives for specific info if you wish. The archive file
names are stored based on the date and time you saved them. You can
rename the conversations to something else if you wish and also delete
them. You can do these same things with the Notes app. In fact, the
Notes app takes this further. You can go into a note, and share it via
email the note or print it if you have a compatible wireless printer.

User Guide
The User Guide, as with all Humanware products, appears to be well put
together. Each section can be navigated to from within the Table of
Contents and is set up in such a way that you should be able to read
and understand the instructions. The User Guide does assume that you
already know how to pair an iDevice with a Braille display. It would
be nice if Humanware had included these instructions for those who are
not yet familiar. One of the nice things the User Guide does do is
provide the user with some commonly used Braille keyboard commands.

Looking Ahead
A couple of additions would be nice to help make the case for this
app. It would be nice to be able to communicate from iDevice to
iDevice, like it was possible to communicate with other Braille Notes
running the Deaf-Blind Communicator software. Also, looking at iOS 6,
there will be an accessibility option called “Guided access”. The
purpose of this feature is to limit access to certain parts of the
screen depending on what a user should be doing. While it is intended
for education settings, it would be nice to be able to restrict the
app so that if someone less familiar with the app hits the wrong part
of the screen, it will not affect the performance of the app.

The answer and conclusion
It is certainly beyond my area of expertise to say whether this app
may or may not be beneficial to every one individual who is
deaf-blind. Certainly, the ability to create phrases within the app is
a nice feature, as is having the greeting displayed and making the
individual who is sighted acknowledge that they understand what is
being asked of them. However, is it worth $99? For an advanced user of
iDevices such as I am, certainly not. For a less advanced user who may
not have the problem solving abilities required to make the
communication happen, it could make a huge difference. Put in terms of
how expensive the Deaf-Blind Communicator was, this app certainly is
cheaper. However, for many, there are not enough features here to make
this an app worth purchasing for $99. Certainly, if I were someone
recommending equipment for the national Deaf-Blind Equipment
Distribution Program, this would be a consideration, but only in
limited situations with specific consumers. Also, while one may not
wish to have something as expensive as an iDevice just laying around
for anyone to pick up, you can purchase cases with lanyards that you
can wrap around your wrist so that there is plenty of slack for
someone else to look at the device’s screen. These are made for both
the iPhone and iPod.

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