Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Blog: Christmas And All That

Blog: Christmas And All That.

Its that time in the year here in the UK when Christmas dinner and Boxing Day left-overs are eaten to excess and you are off out for a walk if sensible or sat down to your computer if you are well…in this case, thinking of friends and colleagues. 2007 has been a great year for us at in many ways and it has been fantastic to be in touch with so many people round the world. There have been the odd problem or two, but in the main, most people have successfully downloaded our Thunder software and are hopefully enjoying their computers as a result. Certainly, the feedback has been tremendous and we love to hear of newcomers reading, writing, exploring the web, listening to masses of music and reading books, being entertained or even educated by podcasts on all sorts of subjects, as well as having access to radio stations on from all over the world.

The Thunder software has not only changed many of your lives but ours also. As a computer trainer, I used to have to spend hours on trains and it took two or three days to teach just one individual some of the tricks of the trade. Now I only teach here in my own home and the tutorial material goes round the world by magic and lands in many homes and schools where there is seeing help and a great wish to learn. In a strange way too, its absolutely marvellous that no money is involved. Its wonderful to give instead of having to sell and giving does mean that those with less or no money can come into the party too.

But its no good just smugly looking back on a good year unless we make time to plan for 2008. Friends tease me by saying I have no idea how to plan and I admit to being better reacting than setting out and sticking to a To-Do list. But we already have things in mind for the coming year: We need to finalise the European project which puts Thunder into five EU languages; We are committed to producing the first learning difficulties version of our talking software for those who struggle with words and learning and we very much want to get our software accepted into schools and colleges where budgets are restricted. And we must, of course, attend to the thorny issue of fund-raising and income generation because, if we fail to bring in money, we just collapse and are no use to any one.

I don’t actually know how many people take time to read The Blind Blogger; there is so much on the web, so much to look at or listen to and I know from my own experience that its only possible to do so much. But whoever you are, man woman, child, and whatever your country, religion, size and shape, be happy, do well, strive to achieve, and don’t harm any one else. If you want to write to us and tell us about yourself, that would be just terrific and have a fulfilling new year, 2008. Thank you too, for supporting us and telling other people about us.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Podcast Made Easy

Blog: Podcasts

As part of the rapid move towards listening to radio broadcasts when you want to instead of the old-fashioned way, the Thunder download includes some software called Podcatcher. You will find it in All Programs under Accessibles; but you can always have it put into your Start Menu for convenience.

When you run Podcatcher, you will find some podcast options already there but the chances are they are not what you really want. So here is how to grab at a podcast and make it available. Sorry to be UK-boring, but that’s where I live and you can always adapt the instructions to your own situation.

So if we want to hear the weekly podcast of the BBC program for blind listeners we open up WebbIE, press Control + W and type in “bbc in touch podcast” without the quotes. Press Enter and Cursor Down until you hear those words. Press Enter again and, at the time of writing, you will be taken to Press Control + F and type in “feed url” Without the quotes. Press Enter.

Highlight the URL which in this case is, copy it with Control + C and then open up Podcatcher in readiness to paste it in the appropriate place and add it to the podcast list. There are more than one hundred BBC podcasts as well as the In Touch one.

With Podcatcher on the screen, press the Alt Key and Right Cursor once to hear the menu item Podcasts and Cursor Down to Add Podcatcher and press Enter.

You will be asked to enter the name of the podcast, which you could call BBC In Touch, in this case. Press Enter. You will then be asked to enter the web address or URL so press control + V to paste it in and press Enter.

Be patient while the connections are made and next time you go into Podcatcher you will have your new podcast waiting for you and it will be updated each week.

When you further explore Podcatcher, you will find the menu option to remove those podcasts you don’t like. Using the Control + W routine you can type in podcast and almost any subject and you will get to what you might want. I even typed in podcast talking microwave and got several audio descriptions. The days are long gone when we are restricted to formal broadcasts. Each of us can spread our word and our ideas. Its great.

Of course, as well as listening to such podcasts on your computer or laptop, you can download them and listen at your leisure in the garden or on the train via some kind of iPod. Podcatcher is free with free Thunder and so I want to tell you about a low cost tiny device called Zen Stone. I went into the local computer chain store and asked for an iPod with no screen. I was offered the Zen Stone, just 1 GB, for the princely sum of £27.50 pence. I got it home, plugged it into the USB computer port and left it to charge for the suggested four hours.

Within My Computer, Thunder found it and I was able to download my chosen podcasts, carry the Zen Stone and headphones in my jacket pocket and listen on the train. The Zen Stone is made by Creative Labs and it feels just like a large bean with tiny switches. Its totally accessible, being made for joggers who don’t want to look at a screen. The instructions are brief and scanned perfectly for me to listen to but, honestly, there is little to learn. There seem to be lots of iPods out there and the challenge is to find the one that you can use and afford.

Well, enjoy podcasting the easy way. It just takes a little time and trouble to get into the routine.

Saturday, 27 October 2007


Louis Braille (From the RNIB Website, 2007
The NEW Braille from The Blind Blogger, sometime in the future.

Louis Braille (From the RNIB Website, 2007

Louis Braille invented "braille" , a world wide system of embossed type used by blind and partially sighted people for reading and writing. It has been adapted to almost every known language, from Albanian to Zulu.

He died in 1852 and, for a while, it seemed as if this system would die with the inventor. Thankfully a few key people realised the importance of this invention. In 1868 ,
Link 13: Dr Thomas Armitage
led a group of four blind men to found the British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature of the Blind.

This small band of friends grew and grew to become Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) . We are now the largest publisher of braille in Europe. Our pioneering work helps anyone with a sight problem.

Where does the story begin?
Louis Braille was born in a small town near Paris on 4 January 1809.

One day when Louis Braille was a small boy, he crept into his father's workshop to play. He had often seen his father making shoes and he decided he would like to try. He picked up an awl, a sharp, pointed tool used for making holes in leather. As he bent over, the awl slipped and pierced his eye, destroying it forever. Some time later his other eye became infected by the first and he lost his sight altogether . He was aged only 4, but still went on to become one of the most famous Frenchmen ever to live.

Louis Braille's school years
Despite his sight loss the young child attended the village school with his sighted friends for two years. Eventually it became clear that he would not be able to learn much more, largely because he could not read or write. Without an education it was likely that he would have to beg on the streets, like other blind people at that time.

At the age of ten he was lucky enough to be sent to a school for blind boys in Paris, one of the first in the world. Conditions in the school were very harsh. The building was damp and unhealthy and discipline was severe. Pupils who misbehaved were beaten, locked up and given stale bread and water. In fact, this kind of discipline was common in all schools at that time. Life was harsh for nearly everyone and most sighted children left school at the age of 12 and went to work in factories or in mines.

At the school in Paris the blind pupils were taught practical skills like chair caning and slipper making so that when they left the school they would be able to make a living. Once a week, after lunch, the boys were taken for a walk in the park, linked together by a long rope.

They were also taught to read but not to write . The letters they read were raised above the surface of the page so that they could feel them with their fingertips. This form of writing was very difficult to read because it was very hard to tell the letters apart. The letters were printed by pressing copper wire into one side of the paper to make a raised shape on the other. Because each individual letter had to be made out of wire first and because the wire then had to be forced into the paper with a press blind people were unable to write anything for themselves.

One day something happened that changed the lives of blind people forever. In 1821 , a soldier named Charles Barbier visited Louis' school. He bought with him a system he had invented called "night writing" . Night writing had originally been designed so that soldiers could pass instructions along trenches at night without having to talk and give their positions away. It consisted of twelve raised dots which could be combined to represent different sounds. Unfortunately it proved to be too complex for soldiers to master and was therefore rejected by the army.

How did he develop braille?
The young Louis Braille quickly realised how useful this system of raised dots could be, provided it was simplified. Over the next few months he experimented with different systems until he found an ideal system using six dots . He continued to work on the scheme for several years after, developing separate codes for maths and music. In 1827 the first book in braille was published.

Even so, the new system did not catch on immediately. Sighted people did not understand how useful braille could be and one head teacher at the school even banned the children from learning it. Fortunately this seemed to have the effect of encouraging the children even more and they took to learning it in secret. Eventually even sighted people began to realise the benefits of the new system.

Not only could people with sight problems read braille but they could also write it for themselves using a simple stylus to make the dots. For the first time blind and partially sighted people began to be truly independent and to take control of their own lives.

What did he go on to do?
Louis Braille eventually became a teacher in the school where he had been a student. He was admired and respected by his pupils but, unfortunately, he did not live to see his system widely adopted. He had always been plagued by ill health and in 1852, at the age of 43, he died from tuberculosis .

In France itself, Louis Braille's achievement was finally recognised by the state. In 1952 his body was moved to Paris where it was buried in the Pantheon, the home of France's national heroes.

The Modern Braille from The Blind Blogger, sometime in the future.

The modern Braille is the computer that talks or magnifies what is on the screen or what is typed from the keyboard. Blind and partially sighted people all over the world are taught to use the computer in this way. We take it for granted that they can read and write, send and receive emails, surf the web, fill in forms and play a full part in Society.

The old Braille was invented by a Frenchman called Louis Braille who lost his sight as a child in a family workshop accident.

The modern talking computer was invented back in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century but we don’t have a name for the inventor.

For years blind people had to pay lots of money to purchase the software that gave them accessibility and they had to pay lots more money to be trained to use the computers. The great step forward came about in 2006 when a far-sighted small band of friends, two blind people and a talented Professor of Assistive Technology, got together and made the talking software free to all blind people as a download on the web.

At first the organisations of the blind and the commercial providers of the expensive alternatives did not take the free software seriously. As time went on they then grudgingly sought to portray it as inferior and not very functional, while continuing to profit from sales of the costly software.

But the blind couple and the clever Professor were independent and never gave up on their vision of free access software for all blind people regardless of their ability to pay.

Just like Louis Braille in his lifetime, they failed to get appropriate recognition at the time; but this did not matter because, now, as everyone knows, its quite unthinkable that blind people should have to pay such a disability premium on their accessibility.

Sadly, Louis Braille died alone of TB, upstairs in his Blind institution without knowing the wonderful benefits his peers enjoyed after his death. The inventors of the modern Braille, though, had the satisfaction of knowing that the web would take their software round the world quickly, efficiently and freely within a year or two and despite the lack of interest and cooperation from wealthy blind organisations.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Blog: Thunder, WebbIE and Techshare.

Well, life has been very hectic of late and there is a good deal to report.

We put a new version of Thunder up on the site and a new version of WebbIE up at Things are improving all the time.

I managed to sort things out with the Editor of the RNIB NB magazine and the following Right of Reply will appear in the October issue.

My Right to Reply – 246 Words.


Full marks to NB for publicising the growing availability of affordable access software for home computer users after years of high priced options only.

But I felt that the article in last month’s NB was somewhat flawed in its methodology and left readers still not able to pick a winner for their own purpose. So I hope the following summary clarifies matters:

All three packages were given the thumbs up, are user-friendly and will cope with MS Word, Notepad, Emails, the internet, live and listen again radio, as well as podcasts and RSS news feeds which were not mentioned. Minimal tuition is required for all three and there is plenty of help and training manual material.

Thunder and System Access can be run on the modern Windows Vista but not Mercury.

There is a magnification option with Mercury and WebbIE on the internet but not with System Access.

Regarding pricing, System Access starts at £210.00 plus £70.00 p.a. No price was given for Mercury but I understand it to be something over £800, but including the PC so the software might be £400. Thunder is free for home use but priced at £159 on a memory stick or for commercial use.

All in all it’s a great time for the man or woman in the street to get to know what a talking computer can do to improve their lives and independence.

I have spent a few days out in Estonia in Tallinn as part of our European Partners’ project to translate Thunder into other languages. So we now have German, Italian, Estonian, Slovak and French well on the way.

We shall be starting on a new project very soon to create a version of Thunder which will be usable by people with learning disabilities. We have received a generous grant from the Esme Fairbairn Charitable Trust and are currently gathering information as well as planning the detail of the user-friendly Thunder interface.

Lastly, If you want to meet up with us, why not come along to the London Techshare Exhibition and Conference at the Hammersmith Novatel on 4th or 5th October between 10 and 5. is on Stand 42 and we will be proudly strutting our stuff. You will be amazed just how easy it is to enjoy many excellent resources with Thunder and WebbIE.

One thing more. I have received three Blind Blogger responses saying how difficult it is to comment on this blog. I am very sorry about this but the fact is that I don’t fully understand the technology and so can’t work out an easy accessible way for readers to respond. But I am working on it.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Blog: Techshare, Audio Porn and fighting our corner

Here’s a date for your diary and will be there on a stand so please come and spend a little time with us.

- The biggest ever European exhibition on access to the information society
by people with disabilities

- Free entry for all, pre-registration now open

- Runs 4-5 October 2007 at award-winning London venue: Novotel West

- Please promote to your public networks

Techshare Expo 2007 is a new showcase for products and services helping
people with disabilities participate fully in the information age. From the
internet to home computers, educational technologies, video games, digital
TV and mobile phones - Techshare Expo 2007 will be a showcase for products,
services, tips and techniques.

Entrance is absolutely free and open to all. If you are an organisation with
communication channels to the public and people with disabilities who are
your service users, please do promote the exhibition widely - everyone is

Pre-register today at:

PLEASE NOTE: this exhibition is running alongside the revamped,
comprehensive Techshare conference, hosted by the RNIB for professionals in
the field, which does have an admittance charge: for more information and a
full speaker programme for the conference see

If you are attending the Techshare 2007 conference, there is no need to
separately pre-register for the free 'Techshare Expo 2007' exhibition.

At the age of 67, I am ashamed to admit I have never been to a Strip Club and dirty pictures do nothing for me. Nothing to do with having little sight – I just prefer the real experience with love and care. But there is a website, xxx, stuffed with audio Porn experiences and its very accessible too. So off you go to if that’s your thing and, if it is not, just read on for something more interesting and wholesome. .

I am learning just how much we need to fight our corner with regard to the free screenreader. I was at first pleased to hear that RNIB was to publish a piece about us in the September NB magazine. But when I read three brief articles on SA2Go, Thunder and Mercury, I was very disappointed. The bit on Thunder was boring, no passion, no mention of the easy access to internet radio, the huge free library, RSS Feeds and podcasting. Just a list of programs such as Notepad, Outlook Express, Sound Recorder would you believe and MS Word which Thunder could cope with. The joy of the computer for us has moved on and for me its my entertainment and information centre, not just an old typewriter. But what is worse: I wrote and asked that the article about Thunder be not published and was told “Too late”.

So what’s the basic issue here? Is Big Brother or Aunty still around, speaking for me as a blind person when I am more than able to speak and write for myself?

Surely not!!! Perhaps the person who wrote the Thunder piece is just busy, knows about other screenreaders and failed to talk to us before putting pen to paper. I have corresponded with him since and he has been tremendously helpful in pointing out bits we need to put right. Well, when it comes out, do read NB because it contains some good stuff but, when you read the Thunder article, take it with a pinch of salt and explore for yourself the fabulous accessibility options it opens up to blind and visually impaired people round the world for free. Oh, and the good news is that I was promised 250 words as a right of reply. We have to work hard to explain to others that, just because Thunder is free, it is certainly not a baby or cut down version of something else.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Our First Birthday

15,000 Blind Computer Users Empowered - And Counting
Software that is robust, stable and very easy to use
A Royal Patron and a high profile Champion
An EU partnership to take Thunder into Europe
Lots of positive emails from blind people round the world
Friendships and partnerships growing by the day

No wonder we are celebrating’s first birthday at the Sight Village exhibition in Birmingham UK on 16 17 and 18 July. We have lots to be proud of and still a very long journey ahead of us.

Margaret and I came into all this because the talking computer so dramatically changed our own lives and empowered us to run our own business. We wanted to share this empowerment and freedom with other blind people, regardless of their ability to pay. We prefer words like empowerment and inter-dependence to support and charity., but we prefer action to words.

We have plans to create a version of Thunder for people with learning disabilities and, of course, to offer many other languages. Roger has recently attended a podcast training day and the idea is to put up straightforward training material on website to assist both blind learners and helpers.

A first birthday is also a great time to thank others. Its worth remembering that The Microsoft Corporation is the bed-rock behind all this. Thunder was invented by Sensory software Ltd who go miles beyond the call of duty on our behalf. And we can’t begin to list in any order of priority the many individuals and organisations who have generously involved with us over the year.

We are proud to be a Community Interest Company - a social enterprise. The challenge remains long-term financial sustainability while delivering free talking software to blind people round the world.

Roger is a Fellow of the School of Social Entrepreneurs based in London and much of the thinking and planning behind is SSE inspired. – a balance between high-minded and hard-headed.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Partners and Creating Audio on your Computer.

The more we go forward with the Thunder project, the more we realise the need to work with other people and not try to do it all ourselves. Over recent weeks, someone has given hours of time to upgrade the Thunder Help files to professional Windows standard and the WebbIE text browser has always been a fantastic voluntary effort.

We want Thunder to be multi-lingual and are looking at eSpeak as the appropriate free synthesiser to take us into Africa and Central Asia et, but this is a long-term business. ES[peak is not of the same quality as the Microsoft voices but it might be the only way forward in some countries. If you would like to try eSpeak, please do and let us have your feedback. The download is

Many of us enjoy audio in all sorts of ways and we have been looking for a suitable free or low cost application.

We researched several audio editing applications and agreed on WavePad as being excellent and easy to use with Thunder. There is a free starter version as well as a Masters version and various add-ons which you pay for.

The download URL is

Once you have opened WavePad, you can press control+n to open a file. You
are usually presented with a dialogue which allows you to choose the sample
rate, radio buttons for selecting mono or stereo and a combo box to select
the recording source. Having opened a file by activating the ok button at
the end of this dialogue, pressing f5 will start the recording and escape
will stop it.

A dialogue box is open while your recording is in progress with a number of check
boxes and buttons which are identified by Thunder, including such things as
stereo, panning etc.

Once you have stopped the recording, f9 will play it, f8 will skim forward
and f7 will rewind. These work whether the recording is being played or
not. Escape will stop the replay of a recording and leave the insertion
point at the place where the playback was stopped.

F1 will give you help on the various features of the application and below are some of the shortcut keys:

Shortcut keys for WavePad

File Operations

Create new file Ctrl+N
Open file Ctrl+O
Save file Ctrl+S

Save File As (various formats) alt+f then a.

Play Operations

Record F5
Play F9
Play Slow Speed F11
Play Normal Speed F10
Play Fast Speed F12
Play Repeat Shift+F9
Stop Esc
Go to Start Home
Rewind F7
Fast Forward F8
Go to End

Edit Operations

Undo Ctrl+Z
Cut Ctrl+X
Copy Ctrl+C
Paste Ctrl+P
Clear Del
Select All Ctrl+A
Trim Ctrl+T
Trim Start Ctrl+R
Trim End Ctrl+E
Select from current position to start Shift+Home
Select from current position to end Shift+End
Select from current position to left Shift+Left
Select from current position to right Shift+Right

Zoom Operations

Select from current position to right Shift+Right
Zoom In Ctrl+Plus
Zoom Out Ctrl+Minus
Zoom Full Ctrl+Shift+F
Zoom To Selection Ctrl+Shift+S
Vertical Zoom Ctrl+Shift+V

Bookmarks and Regions

Add Bookmark Ctrl+B
Open Bookmark List Ctrl+Shift+B
Add Region Ctrl+R
Open Region List Ctrl+Shift+R

I hope this gets you off to a good start. If you discover other goodies and want to share your knowledge, please respond.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

BFreedom, Tactile Graphics and .

With a busy week behind me, I am looking forward to the weekend and an extra day’s holiday on Monday.

I was asked to sign a petition against Freedom Scientific, of JAWS Fame, taking legal action against The FreedomBox company. Well meant, but worrying. In the field of screenreaders, Freedom Scientific have patented the word Freedom as their trademark and must surely have the right to defend it when someone else in the same field chooses to use that word. So I did not sign alongside the other 150 blind screenreader users. It’s a great shame we can’t spend all our money and energy on meeting the needs of our clients. The rest is a distraction.

The subject of tactile graphics won’t go away. Over the years many gifted people have bent their minds and enthusiasms in the cause of creating meaningful raised maps and diagrammatic representations for those of us who can’t see. I come from a family of three visually impaired lads. I find tactile diagrams a struggle, almost an extra barrier to the learning, but my two brothers just love maps and diagrams and would, I am sure, be thrilled with the current developments taking place at the Royal National College here in the UK. I saw the device for myself while in Germany this week; but let the college promotion team sell the idea to you themselves: Maybe we have something to learn from this presentation.

Page Headline: T3 from RNC
T3 Talking Tactile Technology

"The beginning of a complete revolution in accessibility for the visually impaired"
"One of the most important inventions for blind people in the last century"
"It has blown my mind"
"The potential is enormous"
Introducing the T3...
... A Whole New Way of Seeing
... A Whole New World of Learning
T3 - A touch sensitive, multi sensory device which provides instant audio feedback from tactile images. This combination of sound and touch transforms the way in which people who are visually impaired can access graphical information.
Operation is simplicity itself. The T3 is connected to a standard PC or laptop computer via a USB connection and the self-installing programme CD is inserted. To activate the system all that is needed is a T3 tactile diagram overlay to be placed on the surface of the device and touched by the operators finger.
Depending on the CD programme content, the operator now has access to a huge volume of information on any pre-selected subject. When a user presses on various parts of the tactile diagram they hear appropriate descriptive audio feedback.
T3 is successfully being used across a range of sectors including:
Education - from Early Years to Adult Training...
Public sector
Libraries, Arts and Museums
Industry and Commerce
This is what T3 users have to say about it...
"The beginning of a complete revolution in accessibility for the visually impaired"
"Sensational, it allows the person to access written resources with senses other than vision i.e. by touch and sound"
"At last, a piece of equipment that puts the user in charge"
"One of the most important inventions for blind people in the last century"
"If only it had of been around years ago - learning would have been so much easier"
"It has blown my mind... the potential is enormous, unimaginable really"
"So easy to use, intuitive and straight forward"
The T3 is brought to you by the Royal National College for the Blind, the UK's leading college of further education and training for people who are blind or partially sighted, a Beacon college and described by Ofsted as "Outstanding".
The T3 is the European version of the Talking Tactile Tablet (TTT) owned by Touch Graphics, New York. Initial development work was undertaken with support from Anglia Ruskin University.
Photo of Student using T3.
RNC are the leading creators of tactiles for the T3.
Complete T3 kit, hardware, software and tactiles.
© RNCB 2005 The cost is £600.

Now for my view: A lot of work is required to prepare materials. But it’s a great invention and the T3 will stimulate many imaginations. For more information, go to

So maybe this is how we should be promoting Thunder and the free screenreader option:

Thunder – Free Talking software for Blind People.
Thunder – Financial Freedom, no need to pay.
"The beginning of a complete revolution in accessibility for blind and visually impaired people.
"One of the most important inventions for blind people in recent years.”
"Sensational" “The modern Braille”.
"It has blown my mind"
"The potential is enormous"
Introducing the computer revolution to all blind people.
... A Whole New Way of Seeing
... A Whole New World of Learning

Thunder software converts a modern computer into a talking computer within minutes. It’s a standard internet download from anywhere in the world. Thunder gives blind an visually impaired people access to the web, the privacy of email, the empowerment of mainstream information and equal opportunity to jobs, learning leisure.

Operation is simplicity itself. The software automatically installs and all that is required is for the operator to learn a few standard keystrokes and procedures. The user can then listen to a huge volume of information on any pre-selected subject.: Since its launch in August 2006, Thunder is already being used by over 14,000 individuals across a range of sectors including
Education - from Early Years to Adult Training...
Public sector
Libraries, Arts and Museums
Industry and Commerce
This is what Thunder users have to say about it...
"The beginning of a complete revolution in accessibility for the visually impaired"
"Sensational, It has changed my life. My literacy has been restored.”

"At last, "I can use the computer again like I did at work; and I don’t have to pay £700 I have not got.”

"One of the most important inventions for blind people in recent years."
"It has blown my mind... the potential is enormous,"
"So easy to use, intuitive and straight forward" Instead of the mouse, just a few keystrokes to learn.”

“Talking software has been around for years but so expensive and only the few could afford it. Now everyone can join in the computer revolution.”

“It’s the modern Braille. Louis Braille himself would have been thrilled.”

Thunder software was invented by Sensory software Ltd, an innovative company based in Stockport UK. The free version of Thunder is distributed by, a Community Interest Company in Peterborough UK. We believe that the benefits of the freedom scientific are denied to the mass of blind people simply because they don’t have the freedom financial.

The free version of Thunder is for home use, non-commercial use, and a licensed version can be purchased for use by organisations.

Thunder Download from .
Why not try Thunder first? It might be all you need.

When we first began work on a low cost screenreader some five years ago, I sought the advice of a senior Manager at the Royal National Institute for the Blind here in Peterborough. It has taken me these five years to get the message. He said: “It depends how its marketed”.

Monday, 7 May 2007

A Great Week for Thunder

Even when you are giving something valuable away for free, it still needs to be marketed in the sense that, if no one knows about what Thunder is, then no one will go and download it. So Margaret and I have been meeting with influential people and having no difficulty in getting them on our side.

We now have a Royal Patron: HRH The Duke of York. There is a long tradition of members of the Royal Family giving time and energy to support worthy causes and we are delighted and grateful that has been recognised and given the seal of approval.

We spent a very happy hour at The House of Commons with David Blunkett, MP, Vice President of RNIB. He is to be our Champion and immediately he could see the value of free talking software for all blind people and has given us permission to put his name to Thunder and He was very friendly and enthusiastic and is a great example of success despite not seeing. Amazingly, I plugged in the Thunder memory stick into the House of Commons computer which was set up for us and, in seconds, I was using it and searching the web. Margaret, myself and Mr Blunkett, all three of us blind, were in a position to use a perfectly ordinary computer we had never handled before. Wonderful!!!

And to round off a week with Celebrities, we met Sir Terry Wogan down at the Royal Blind society Bradbury Hotel near Worthing last Friday. He was officially opening the new extension to the hotel which provides holidays for mainly older people with little or no sight who are often trapped in their home day in and day out. He was full of fun and laughter and very much behind the work of The royal Blind society and that includes and Thunder.

For the past twenty years and more, talking software for visually impaired users has been a commercial matter and we feel that the high prices have excluded low income users. Like many other enthusiasts, we have learned just how hard it is to introduce an innovation, however worthwhile. So it has been refreshing to receive so much encouragement at a high level. Margaret and I are very determined people and we believe that in ten years time, our customers will be looking back and saying: “Did blind people really have to pay out an extra £800 to enjoy the use of the computer like everyone else? Surely not”.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

A Great Week for Thunder

Even when you are giving something valuable away for free, it still needs to be marketed in the sense that, if no one knows about what Thunder is, then no one will go and download it. So Margaret and I have been meeting with influential people and having no difficulty in getting them on our side.

We now have a Royal Patron: HRH The Duke of York. There is a long tradition of members of the Royal Family giving time and energy to support worthy causes and we are delighted and grateful that has been recognised and given the seal of approval.

We spent a very happy hour at The House of Commons with David Blunkett, MP, Vice President of RNIB. He is to be our Champion and immediately he could see the value of free talking software for all blind people and has given us permission to put his name to Thunder and He was very friendly and enthusiastic and is a great example of success despite not seeing. Amazingly, I plugged in the Thunder memory stick into the House of Commons computer which was set up for us and, in seconds, I was using it and searching the web. Margaret, myself and Mr Blunkett, all three of us blind, were in a position to use a perfectly ordinary computer we had never handled before. Wonderful!!!

And to round off a week with Celebrities, we met Sir Terry Wogan down at the Royal Blind society Bradbury Hotel near Worthing last Friday. He was officially opening the new extension to the hotel which provides holidays for mainly older people with little or no sight who are often trapped in their home day in and day out. He was full of fun and laughter and very much behind the work of The royal Blind society and that includes and Thunder.

For the past twenty years and more, talking software for visually impaired users has been a commercial matter and we feel that the high prices have excluded low income users. Like many other enthusiasts, we have learned just how hard it is to introduce an innovation, however worthwhile. So it has been refreshing to receive so much encouragement at a high level. Margaret and I are very determined people and we believe that in ten years time, our customers will be looking back and saying: “Did blind people really have to pay out an extra £800 to enjoy the use of the computer like everyone else? Surely not”.

Thursday, 19 April 2007


Some good news this week for and Sensory Software Ltd who developed the Thunder screenreader talking software package.

We have been given an award by the ITC Hub in the UK. The award is for delivering social or environmental benefits through ICT. We are all delighted and appreciate this recognition of our efforts.

And we were in very good company amongst some very innovative projects. Perhaps it is a sign that a social or community approach is often the better way to deliver services to disadvantaged client groups such as the majority of visually impaired would-be computer users. Leaving such service delivery to the market-place can exclude those without money and leave others vulnerable to sales and marketing techniques. ITC lends itself particularly to a small company like CIC which has very modest resources but a great mission and vision. From our own home, we are able to communicate with needy people round the world and offer them an immediate solution to some of their literacy and information deficits.

In terms of impact, the ITC Hub Award is yet another marker that we are making excellent progress in a very short time. The number of downloads has passed the 12,000 point and some of these downloads are by trainers who serve several end-users.

I think the message is getting home that blind people have a computer route to the mainstream of society and that they don’t have to pay out £800 for specialist access software, unless they want to, of course. If they do want to and can afford it, that’s great also.


Friday, 6 April 2007

BBC Listen Again

Margaret and I are keen BBC website supporters. We especially enjoy the Listen Again facilities. Radio 4 Listen Again is stuffed with entertainment and information. Its like a complete magazine in its own right.

WebbIE includes the most straightforward way to access and enjoy BBC Listen Again. Amongst All Programs, if you keep pressing letter A, you will come to Accessible. Press Enter and the top choice is Listen Again. Press Enter and you are at the top choice of many radio programs which were broadcast over the past week. The vast list includes plays, feature programs, comedy, news items and much more. Something for everyone.

Arrow down until you hear something that takes your fancy and press Enter. You will hear the chosen program within seconds.

To achieve all this, its best to be on broadband or to go for the fastest internet connection you can manage. You will also need to have installed on your PC either RealPlayer or Alternative RealPlayer, which we actually recommend. Both packages are free as internet downloads from

But if you are not a BBC Radio 4 phonetic like us, there are lots more Listen again services in the world and, with a bit of help and exploration yourself, you can begin to discover the whole new world of internet radio. In our living room, we have connected our computer to our Hifi which enables us to hear what we like when we like it in comfort and away from the PC office desk. Its great.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Robin wrote: "Ten Thousand Downloads of Thunder Well, this is so...":
What do you think of Thunder compared to Supernova or Jaws? I teach
students who use both, but we could do with an alternative especially
that it seems portable.”

Thunder is very portable and it would be great for the students to have at home the same as at the college. Also, Thunder does not have the video card potential conflicts of either JAWS or SuperNova. And then there is the cost saving.

On Tuesday evening, Margaret and I went to the British Library to the launch of a book “Your Ethical Business” by Paul Allen. On how to plan, start and Run a company with a conscience. ISBN 978-0-9553695-0-6,from NGO.Media.. On page 51 there is a case study on When interviewed about his book, he was asked if there was an exceptional case study which stood out above the rest and, to our amazement, he began: “Well, Margaret and Roger are here in the audience and these two blind people…and he summarised the screenreader story. We felt justly very proud.

And now about the budget. Obviously, we have been able to take time on the web and study the implications in detail for our business of the changes in taxation an pensions etc. Not only that but we were both able to go on to the BBC Budget Calculator website and key in our details using, of course, Free Thunder and WebbIE as we always do. It seems that I am to be £192 better off and Margaret will be only £66 better off. Well there is no justice for women, is there!!!

The fact that we can do all this makes the case very strongly for Thunder, Robin, I think.

Monday, 19 March 2007

A Response To My Blogs

When you blog, you don’t get to know who if anyone is reading what you write, unless there is a response. In my case, two or three people have verbally told me they read the blog but today I received my first online response which comes in the form of an email.

Anon wrote:
“As someone who is one of the "commercial people" I do not think it is
fair to say that I am ripping people off. I am simply working to help
blind people, and feed my four children.”

My immediate reaction is to say that Anon’s comment is a very fair one. It is absolutely appropriate for companies or charities to charge £100 or nothing for their access software and there is a wide variation in the prices charged in the blindness market-place. But those charging more have a bigger marketing budget to play with and can better influence the purchaser. So perhaps there is a role for the blindness charities to make the full facts available to visually impaired users, especially to those with little money to spare. The ripping off, and perhaps I should not have used those words, only occurs when uninformed poorer users are lead to believe that the only choice is to spend lots of money they don’t have. My personal experience is that most people in this blindness accessibility business are basically very good human beings and the high prices are unintentionally excluding poorer people. i.e. the exclusion is a by-product of market forces.

It would be great to get more feedback.

Friday, 16 March 2007

The Royal Blind Society.

In a recent blog, I made reference to the fact that we have had little support and enthusiasm from blindness societies who sell rather than give speech access software to home users. Well, it is looking very much as if there is to be an outstanding exception.

The Royal Blind society is based down in Sussex and it has a long and proud history of making grants to blind individuals in need. In recent years RBS has moved into the hotel business for people with little or no sight wanting a safe supported holiday where the staff are trained and experienced in understanding their needs.

So I have become a trustee of RBS and yesterday I attended my first meeting at one of their pleasant hotels not far from Worthing. It was very refreshing to hear everyone round the table talk about the needs of blind individuals, the need for financial grants and the need for holiday breaks.

So if you or someone known to you is wanting such a holiday break or needing a grant e.g. towards the purchase of a talking computer, I suggest you get in touch with RBS pretty smartly and join the queue.

The RBS website is

Royal Blind Society
Registered Charity number 207827
RBS House, 59 - 61 Sea Lane, Rustington, West Sussex BN16 2RQ
Phone: 01903 857023 - Fax: 01903 859166

And, by the way: I am a trustee and will not be making any financial gain should you get a grant. Remember, our software is totally free to home users whichever computer at home is used. Now arriving at a PC near you …

Here is a cracking idea for those of us who travel by train and cab. If you are going to a large busy station, chances are you have to queue and wait. If you are going to a small rural station, well, no one around and no sign of a cab. So how nice to book in advance and be met and be looked after.
This is precisely what Traintaxi Ltd is doing and below are the instructions for Thunder and WebbIE users:
Launch WebbIE and press TAB to get to the Address Bar. Press the Backspace to get rid of whatever might be there. Type in and press Enter.
Press the Cursor Down key to hear "Link 1: Check for taxis at a station". Press Enter. Cursor Down to hear "please enter the name of your station".Cursor Down to hear "Text input box 1:" and press Enter. Type in the station you are going to, e.g. Deal and press Enter. Cursor Down to hear "Submit" and press Enter. You will hear that your search returned one result. So Cursor Down to hear "Link 1: Deal" and press Enter.
Sit back and listen. At the time of writing, there are up to three taxi or private hire firms to choose from and you won't have to queue or stand around in the rain when you get there. You'll also be told whether or not there is a taxi rank and, for the very smallest stations with no local cab firm, which are the nearest stations to use. As well as delivering free talking software, we plan to offer you useful services and even money-savers. The more visits to this site, the greater influence we have in developing more projects like this for you.
Enjoy and do give us some feedback to
Roger and Margaret

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Thunder In Europe

I was away in Graz, Austria, for three days last week and it was great. The EU often gets a bad press here in the UK but I was amongst good people with a shared mission to spread the free screenreader throughout Europe, or at least into Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Ireland, Estonia and Slovakia. Funding has been made available to us all to have the Thunder program and manuals translated into these languages, free disks for distribution and even a budget to allow us all to disseminate the message throughout our countries.

There was a broad understanding that, Thunder is not just a baby-JAWS and OK for beginners. Thunder is the latest technology and has been designed to be both simple to use and very robust.

The high cost alternatives perhaps unintentionally exclude ordinary blind men and women in the street. It seems you have to be in work or a clever student to get blind-friendly access to a computer in most countries even in the Western World and we wanted very much to put this wrong right.

I had the opportunity to meet a senior person from the European Blind Union. He is a friend of Lord Colin Low so I was able to tell him how much help RNIB have been in supporting our project. Not a lot is the truth so, hopefully , he will enlighten Lord Low and maybe influence him. Who knows and his organisation.!!! We have learned that the UK blind organisations show little interest in what we are doing and I interpret this as indicating that we are definitely on the right lines.

I am realising that we shall have to become much bolder in our PR approach and challenge the conventional wisdom on computer access if we really want to make changes. I am up for the challenge.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Today’s blog is about promoting other people’s great ideas. The first one is about a conference early May on disability computer access and is perhaps more for professionals. The second is very much for everyone who cares about a basic need for blind people. So here we go:

e-Access '07: Technology for All
- Access to Technology by People with Disabilities
-2 May 2007, New Connaught Rooms, London
- Early Bird Offer, Book Now for 50 Pound Discount

E-Access Bulletin's third annual conference and exhibition on access
to technology by people with disabilities is aimed at helping all
organisations, public and private sector, draw up progressive policies
on accessibility. If your organisation provides information and services
on the web, via mobile phone, digital TV and radio or in any other
digital format, awareness of these issues is of vital legal, ethical and
commercial importance.

Speakers include Richard Howitt MEP, President of the European
Parliament's All-Party Disability Intergroup; Geoff Adams-Spink,
BBC Disability Correspondent; Paul Timmers, Head of ICT at the
European Commission's Inclusion Unit; and panellists from RNIB and
University of Southampton. The event is supported by Ability
Magazine and the RNIB.

Attendance normally costs 195 pounds plus VAT for public sector and
295 + VAT for private sector delegates, but if you book before 12
March you will receive a 50 pound discount. Don't delay, book today!
For more information and to register visit:
And for sponsorship and exhibition opportunities for your organisation
please contact Claire Clinton on 01273 231291 or by email at:

Braille Under Threat.
The sense of touch is basic to a blind person’s life and Braille remains basic to a blind person’s literacy. OK! I know we are promoting free talking computer software as the best thing since sliced bread, which it is. But none of us blind people want to lose our Braille and Braille is seriously under threat. Its not being taught in schools and Social Services budgets don’t make room for adults to learn.

So please, whether you are blind, partially-sighted or able-bodied, do get yourself off your backside and enjoy a new computer experience. Go to the website below and sign a petition to keep Braille alive and kicking for us. The new e-democracy encourages us to make our views known and this is a way to do it.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

This week has been very busy for us.

On Tuesday I went up to York to meet with someone from Access to Work UK. This is the Government body that finances equipment that disabled people need to get to work and hold down a job. Its mostly computer equipment and the services of a paid seeing helper these days. In the meeting, I took the first steps towards getting the Access to Work staff to begin thinking about Thunder in the employment situation. There is a long way to go.

Today, some good people from the British Computer Society came to make with us a short video of how Thunder works. The aim is to introduce seeing volunteers to how they get started when helping a blind person at home. Seeing people just look, get the mouse pointer in the right place on the screen and click. We have to recall lots of keystrokes and rely greatly on our imagination and memory. The lass who came is doing a PhD around the topic of how and if a disabled person at home can manage their own computer learning and how much support is essential. Hopefully, we will put up the video on this website when its edited.

I am a trustee of a charity called The blind Business Association and we have just commissioned a report on what we should be doing and where we should go next. So I have been reading this report so that I am ready to chair the crucial meeting next week. Only a fifth of blind people of working age have a job and working for yourself is sometimes the only way forward. Margaret and I have worked from home here since 1992 and we love it. Being able to make your own decisions and mistakes is great and we have not gone bust yet. Its uplifting to be independent and not beholden to others. But we are not millionaires.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Ten Thousand Downloads of Thunder
Well, this is something to be very proud of. Since our launch at the end of July, 2006, over ten thousand people have downloaded the software and, hopefully, have shared it with others as well. Not bad in a little over six months.

Also, this week saw the launch of the Thunder users list organised for us by a couple of good people over in the States. So if you are a user and want to share ideas with other users or learn or share tips, All you have to do is join the list, make some new friends and even help us to improve Thunder.

To subscribe to the Thunder list, send a blank message to: and write the word subscribe in the Subject line.

Thank you to Kevin and Andrew for sorting this out for us all.

As well as the free Thunder, there is now a version you can purchase and already dealers are springing up round the world. The paid for version may well develop in its own way over the years with extra features but it starts out like this.

Thunder comes on a memory stick along with two high quality voices. Its absolutely amazing. Plug the memory stick into any modern XP or Vista computer USB port and, within a few seconds, the computer is talking to you in response to key presses. And the voice is such high quality too.

Techies will want to know that no software is installed on this host computer and when you unplug the memory stick, there is no trace of Thunder left behind. It all works from the memory stick. You don’t need Admin Rights and there is no video intercept such as other screen readers make use of. Its great!!!

And there is more good news round the corner. Sensory software Ltd, who developed Thunder, have come up with Lightning which is a first-rate magnification software package and there is a memory stick version of this too. Within weeks there will be a package that combines the speech and magnification into one program and you’ve guessed it, it will be called Storm. The price is so low and the quality so good that indeed it will take us all by storm.

But now back to Thunder on a Stick. If you want to learn more about the Thunder on a memory stick, why not enjoy a new experience.

Page Headline: RJ Cooper's Thunder On A Stick Demonstrated During Tek Talk Monday, February 26,
Description: FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION Topic Thunder-RJ, Screenreader on a Stick : Presenter RJ Cooper. 1-800-752-6673. The Accessible World Tek Talk online training this week turns its attention to a unique screen reader, Thunder On A Stick. RJ Cooper, a pioneer in Assistive Technology, will present his new simple screenreader, which runs directly from his website or USB stick. The stick options are MP3 player with Thunder-RJ on it, USB sound card with Thunder-RJ on it, USB sound card with program on CD, or just the program on CD. 2 very high quality voices are included. Following the formal presentation, a one-hour Open Forum will take place. Bring your computer-related questions. Our Tek Talk Team will do their best to help resolve them.

Date: Monday, February 26, 2007 Time: 5:00 p.m. Pacific, 6:00 p.m. Mountain, 7:00 p.m. Central, 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Tuesday 01:00 GMT. Where: Tek Talk Online Conference Room Approximately 30 minutes prior to the event, go to and select "Enter the Tek Talk Room". Then, when the sign-in screen appears, enter your real name and press Enter. Tell all your friends to join us. There is plenty of room for everyone. Thunder On A Stick

Sunday, 18 February 2007

For the past few months, I genuinely thought we were the only people in the free screenreader software market for blind people. But not so. I have come across an Australian organisation who have developed something a bit like our Thunder. Mike Curran and his colleagues have set up a website, to deliver NVDA talking software as a download and eSpeak as a synthetic voice, both free. The code is open source and the Alpha version already performs pretty well if a little sluggishly. Its great to know we are not alone in our thinking and I hope we will be able to learn from each other and spark innovations and improvements together which will only benefit blind users.

Here in the UK,, another free software package has made massive strides over the past few months and is very usable by blind people. SpeakOn comes as a free gift from Professor Isaac Porat from the University of Manchester. This very gifted man, who lost his sight relatively recently, has built a speech audio system to make it very easy to listen to DAISY and Audio books, internet radio stations and your CD collection. Its all done from the Numeric Keypad and, once you have got the idea, the same keystrokes work for you in all circumstances. You actually don’t even need a screenreader. To read a book or listen to a podcast, you could have the laptop nearby but sit in the armchair with an infra-red keypad in your hand and be in total control. Bliss!!!

Having got the scent for free software, I have been busy on the internet and there is lots more out there to be discovered. You don’t have to be ripped off by the commercial people if you are short of money. If you can afford the costly stuff, that’s great of course. But if our blindness charities are hell-bent on selling expensive solutions to bolster their incomes or whatever, who is going to look after the interests of the majority on low income? Well we are for starters. So stay in touch with but give us time.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Promoting Thunder

Working with Partners

How much help from others is a sensitive issue for many of us blind people. But striking the right business partnerships is essential to success. So its important to put yourself in the right company. With this in mind, last Friday I attended in Peterborough the launch of the new Leonard Cheshire Barclays Bank initiative to assist disabled people into self-employment.. Three million pounds has been made available by Barclays and the aim is to provide disabled business people at start-up with a professional buddy. There is a website with loads of business information and resources and lots of good-will on all sides to make things happen.

So I forced myself to eat delicious nibbles and drink a glass of white wine and talked to lots of important people, or rather I listened to their stories and told them about Thunder and I met a teacher who got pushed out on health grounds and now works as a Remedial Therapist with elderly and disabled clients. I also met a Dancer who had two strokes and now is building a business as a Magician. And, of course, I made it my business to talk to the organisers and significant people from both organisations. So a blind business is no different to normal, is it? Being in the right place, listening and promoting what we do.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Thunder Working Now with Windows Vista

It doesn’t matter how good your offer is. If you don’t market it to the world, there are no customers. So today I have been drafting a Press Release about our Thunder software working well with the newly released Windows Vista operating system. I have passed my words to a PR expert and, hopefully, she will get it into the Press. So this is what I wrote for her:

Windows Vista available to Blind Computer Users Right Ready Now

People with little or no sight have always lagged behind the rest of when a new version of Microsoft Windows hits the shops. But not this time and it’s a couple of UK companies who are on the ball.

Thunder is a piece of software that makes a modern computer talk so that blind people can surf the net, email and deal with documents on an equal footing. Amazingly, its free for home use and easy to use. Developed by Sensory software Ltd, Stockport, it is distributed as a download by in Peterborough. The download website for Thunder is

There will be blind and partially sighted people who can’t wait to get to grips with Vista and they can, right now. All they need to do is to spend a few minutes downloading Thunder and the new adventure begins. Thunder includes a specially designed web browser called, rather quaintly, WebbIE which presents websites as line by line text, easy to manage and listen to. There is even a WebbIE option to make the print as large as you like on screen for those with some useful vision.

So right from day one, Vista is usable by blind and partially sighted people who will be able to enjoy the new Microsoft Office 2007, including MS Word and Excel. They will be able to email using the new Windows Mail which has replaced Outlook Express and they will be able to continue to perform many of the other Windows functions and the enhanced security and benefit from the improved multimedia offerings and there’s more too!!!

Many partially-sighted people need magnification software to maximise their productivity on a computer. Sensory Software Ltd have developed and released Lightning, a software package which does just that. Its not free like Thunder but costs £159 and, here is the real Magic, it can come on a memory stick and the user can pop this into the USB port of any modern Windows Vista or XP computer and they are ready to go with print as large as they need it. There is a similar memory stick version of Thunder too at the same price. All this is fantastic news for a disadvantaged disability group which so often has been let down and made to wait and pay dearly for computer access. Says Roger Wilson-Hinds: “It’s always been our dream to be on time with disability Assistive software and this is all excellent news for schools, libraries, Public bodies and individuals with little or no sight”.

Contact Details:

Roger Wilson-Hinds
7 The Rookery
Orton Wistow
Peterborough PE2 6YT

Tel: 01733 234441
Fax: 01733 370391

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

TrainTaxi Ltd – A Great Way to Travel

I, over the years, have travelled lots on trains. When you get to your destination, there is nothing more frustrating than having to wait ages for a taxi or maybe there isn’t even a taxi rank outside the station.

TrainTaxi comes to your rescue and its great. When planning your journey beforehand, go online to TrainTaxi Ltd, choose your destination station, make a note of the phone number and book your “chauffeur” to meet you on time, and let the others queue and wait. So this is how you do it;

Bring up WebbIE, press Shift + Control + W and type in TrainTaxi UK en Enter. Cursor down and Enter on the first item. The website is actually
Cursor Down to hear “Please Enter the name of your Station” and Cursor Down again to hear “Text Input 1”. Press Enter and type in, say Luton. Press Enter and Cursor Down once more to hear “Submit”. Press Enter and Cursor down to hear the page about Luton. You will, of course, find that there are three stations in Luton.

Suppose you want Alma Street, Cursor Down to hear “Link 4: Luton Alma Street (bus) and press Enter. You are almost there. Cursor Down to hear the first choice Spearhead 01582 505050 and make a note of the number or ring them on the spot to sort out your journey details.

Sounds complicated, well these things do take a little time to get used to but its really quick when you get the hang of it and it avoids that wait in the rain at the back of a long queue.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Unwelcome Music on Websites

I spend a lot of time with audio stuff on my computer and am always wanting to control various audio levels, including switching off unwelcome continuous music when I want to listen to a website. So this is what I do:

I have put a shortcut to the Volume Control, which is under Accessories and Entertainment, on my Desktop, quick and handy. Once in the Volume Control, I can Tab across to the particular source I want to adjust or mute and then Alt Tab back to my website in peace. If that sounds a bit too tetchy, then here are the keystrokes:

Windows Key to Start Menu, P to All Programs and A to Accessories. Then Right Cursor and Down Cursor to Volume Control. Right Click screenreader Key and Cursor Down to Send. Then Cursor Down to Shortcut to Desktop and Enter. Still with me, well you only need to do that once.

If you need to on an older system, you can rename your Volume Shortcut on the Desktop to Volume by pressing the Right Click Screenreader Key, Cursor and cursoring up to Rename. Press Enter, type in "Volume" and Enter but make sure you are focused on it, hearing it, first.

When the Volume screen is in focus, you have the opportunity to control the level of all audio, your CD player, the microphone and any Midi or Midi keyboard you are using as well. Use the Tab key to move amongst the choices, the Cursor Keys to control levels and the Spacebar to select Mute or Not Mute.

Oh, if only I could see to click and point!!! My head is full of silly keystroke sequences; But its a great challenge our blind way and audio is such fun for us on the computer.


Wednesday, 24 January 2007

I Missed The Archers

Sorry but this is UK Soap radio stuff but, even so, there is lots to learn.

Margaret and I are Archers fans and its our time to sit, do nothing and relax every day for 15 minutes at seven in the evening. So when we miss the Archers, its serious. This is how we catch up on what we have missed.

You need to go to and download the full WebbIE version or have a buddy put it on your PC for you. Thunder comes with WebbIE but not with some useful extras.

At any time, we sit at the PC, very sad of course, and open the Start Menu by pressing the Windows Key. Press A until you hear Accessible and press right Cursor. Cursor down to hear Listen Again and press Enter.

You are taken to the wonderful world of BBC Listen Again. Lots of radio programs to enjoy whether you have missed them or not. I like the Radio 4 stuff so keep pressing the letter A until you hear The Archers. It’s a long way down currently after all the Afternoon Plays and Afternoon Readings and much more. When you get to The Archers, you can choose which day of the week you want to hear and press Enter.

Press the Tab and you can choose between Pause, Stop, Rewind and Forward Play by pressing Enter. Its great. When you have really finished enjoying this wonderful audio treasure trove, press Alt F4 and go and put the kettle on.

You do need broadband for the best results. Remember its all free, apart from the broadband and the computer, that is. No special over-charging on the disability access stuff.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Flying Out to Austria

In March I have to spend a few days in Austria because we have been given some European Community money to develop our free software in several east-European languages. So I thought it would be great to make the flight bookings online as a blind person using our WebbIE browser software with our free Thunder talking software. Two hours later and having learned a lot…well this is what you do. But in the future, it will only take about 15 minutes and, hopefully, you too will be able to do the same or similar bookings.

From the Start Menu, go to All Programs and Cursor down to WebbIE and Enter.

Shift Control W, to search the web, and type in “book ryanair”. Not the quotes, of course.

Enter on the first choice and cursor down to hear the following:

Webpage: - The Low Fares Airline
Link 1:
Radio button 1: [Selected] Round Trip
Radio button 2: [Not selected] One Way
Where are you flying from?
Select Item 1: (Origin)
Select Item 2: (Destination)
Date to fly out?
Select Item 3: (24)
Select Item 4: (January 2007)
Link 2: javascript:open_calendar(1)
Date to come back?
Select Item 5: (24)
Select Item 6: (January 2007)
Link 3: javascript:open_calendar(2)
Number of passengers?
Select Item 7: (0)
Select Item 8: (0)
Children (under 16 years)*
Select Item 9: (0)
Infants (under 2 years)*
Input button 1: (SEARCH FOR FLIGHTS)

You need to go through the earlier items one by one by cursoring down and selecting, by pressing Enter , on what you want. In my case, I wanted a Return Trip which was already selected so I did not have to change that selection.

Pressing Enter on “Where are you flying from” allowed me to Cursor Down until I found London Standstead” so I pressed Enter on that choice.

Cursor Down some more and Enter on “Dates to fly out” and “Dates to Come back”. In each instance, press Enter and cursor down to the appropriate date and again press Enter.

Unless you have a bit of useful vision, just ignore the links such as link 3 that refer to Java Script and Calendar because it just doesn’t happen with speech.

I was not concerned with the children details and just opted for 1 passenger.

Press Enter when you reach “Input Button 1” and you will be able to use the Cursor Keys to listen to the page which gives you masses of information on flight options, prices, insurance and baggage etc. Its all very accessible. Good old Ryanair and I got the whole journey with insurance etc for £70 on the very days I wanted it, Stanstead to Gratz Return.

But there is a bit more to learn later in the website to do with payment and filling out your credit card details. All this is now pretty standard so I will do a separate Blog on card payments on the internet which applies here and to many other websites.
Health Matters

Our software is used at RNIB New College, Worcester and a staff member wrote to me asking about a website with a Body Mass Calculator so that the pupils could work out if their weight was appropriate.

I found a website with a very easy and accessible such calculator:

The WebbIE software makes things easy. Cursor down to Textbox 1, Enter and type in your weight. Cursor down to Textbox 2 and Enter then type in your height. I am Imperial but you could choose Metric. Cursor down to Input Button 1 and press Enter. Finally Cursor down to the line below result and the Textbox will give you your Index which is hopefully between 18 and 25.

The actual website I was asked to try to make sense of was:

It’s a fabulous Government health site stuffed with information and good advice but the crucial button to activate the calculator did not show up in WebbIE because…Well seeing web designers don’t always understand what needs to be done.

I hope the Worcester College staff will contact the website and have it put right.

I went to that school for blind children when I was a lad and it’s the best. Not every blind child can cope in local school: I couldn’t.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

OK, so here we go with my first blog..

Margaret and I are blind people and we run a company which delivers free software so that other blind people can use a computer and read and write again. The software makes the computer talk. It's great and free.

This morning I made an application for a passport so I can go to Austria in March to start work on a European project which will make our free software available in the new East-European member countries.

We have a special text browser called WebbIE so we can make sense of the internet. So I went into WebbIE, searched for "passport disabled UK" and it took me straight to details of how I get help over the phone and, within half an hour, without leaving home, my passport form was filled in and the kettle was on. Within two weeks, the form will be sent to me for signing and I enclose my out of date passport and £66 in the envelope provided.

Its great having a disability. No queuing, no hassle and the chap at the Passport Office was patient and laughing. But without the computer and the talking software, well I would need help from a seeing friend all the way, not to mention the trip into town and the queue, probably 4 hours and lots of frustration.