New for Users of Amazon’s Alexa

What I’m about to share is likely already known to people who keep up with Amazon’s Alexa products.

First, users of Alexa products can use their devices, or even the Alexa app, to make and receive “phone” calls. In order for this feature to work, you need to enable the feature in your Alexa app or, presumably, Alexa’s Web interface by going to http://alexa.amazon.com.

Once this has been done, you can upload your contacts to Alexa. If any of your contacts are also Alexa users and have also uploaded their contacts, you can call them by just saying “Alexa, call John Smith.” Alexa confirms the request and plays a repeating series of tones, to let you know that it is attempting to call John Smith’s Alexa device or app. Once John answers, you can talk with him by using the microphones from your Alexa device or your smartphone or tablet’s mic. When you’re ready to disconnect, you can say “Alexa, disconnect.”

You can also send voice messages by saying “Alexa, send a message to John Smith.” Alexa will prompt you to record the message and you can do so, although I believe there is a limit to the recording’s duration. You can also ask Alexa to play messages you might have and she will do so.
When a new message has been received, a series of two quick chimes is heard to alert you. If you miss those chimes, the unit will flash a series of lights, similar to how a phone or older answering machine provided similar alerts. For someone who is visually impaired, you can always just ask “Alexa, do I have any messages?” The audio quality, both for messages and for live calls, is quite good.

There is a valid concern about not being able to block specific people from contacting you, which I’m sure Amazon will address sooner rather than later.

Since this feature was released, the newly updated Alexa app for iOS seems much more stable and is far easier to use.

Also, Amazon has announced their new Echo unit with a touchscreen called the Echo Show. In addition to the Echo’s capabilities, it will also be able to play video and will be able to allow for video as well as audio communication, similar to Apple’s Facetime. The unit will cost $229.00 and will ship by the end of June. We’ve heard nothing as to whether the Voice View screen reader will be included for accessibility.

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Windows 10 Creators Update/Next Phone Meeting/Philadelphia Computer Users Group for the Blind and Visually Impaired

On April 11, Microsoft released the next major update to Windows 10, which they have named the Creators Update. It actually became available earlier by April 5, for those brave and impatient souls who felt they couldn’t wait until April 11 to install it. I suppose I was one of those impatient souls because, on April 8, I took the plunge and installed the update using Microsoft’s Update Assistant Tool. I ran into some interesting hiccups, most of which are now solved and I am now using the Creators Update with NVDA with no real issues.
A lot has changed in this new update. While the update offers many welcome changes across the board, one of the biggest improvements which may be of interest to many visually impaired users are the additions to Narrator, which is starting to become a rather nice screen reader. It even offers some Braille support and allows you to fully install Windows without losing speech feedback.
You may be one of those who have already installed the Creators Update and may have some questions, comments or advice for the rest of us. Some of you may be considering moving to Creators and might have some questions before pressing the enter key on the button to begin the upgrade. Perhaps you’re still running an older version of Windows and are wondering if moving to this latest version is worth doing. Whether you’re using Creators, are thinking about using it or are just interested in what it can do and how it’s different from what you’re currently working with we’d love to hear from you. The Windows 10 Creators’ Update will be the topic for the next phone meeting of the Philadelphia Computer Users Group for the Blind and Visually Impaired. While this group was initially formed to provide support to consumers living in or near the Philly area, all are welcome to call in. If you don’t feel that you have any questions or comments you’re welcome to call in and just listen in and soak up the information.

Date: Friday, April 28
Time: 8:00 PM

(approximately 2 hours)

To participate, the number to call is

(712) 432-3900

When prompted to enter an access code, enter
391477
followed by the pound key.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Top Ten Shows I’d Like to See on DogTV

I just became aware of an on-demand TV service called DogTV. Apparently, this channel offers programs for humans as well as their dogs, probably similar to the channel which provides entertainment for babies. I knew that television was going to the dogs but I never knew this was literally the case, until now. After giving this some thought, I have compiled a top ten list of shows, movies and music that I hope to find on this channel.

1. Game of Bones

2. Keeping Up With the Cocker Spaniels

3. Regis and Collie

4. Designated Retriever

5. My Big, Fat Fabulous Labrador

6. Toy Poodle Story

7. That zombie classic … The Walking Dog

8. In music … I Want to Lick Your Hand … by the Beagles

9. Chicago Puppies

and finally …

10. Old Reruns of the Price is Right … with Bob Barker

The Horrors of Human Trafficking

Two years ago, I tuned into an episode of "Kresta in the Afternoon"on Avemaria Radio. Al Kresta is an excellent interviewer who discusses topics from religion to politics and current events. On this particular program, Al interviewed a courageous woman named Theresa Flores, who is a survivor of human trafficking. When we think of human trafficking, we often assume that the term refers to people in far-off lands, poor women from third-world countries. However, Theresa was from an upper middle-class family in Michigan. She wasn’t taken to another country. In fact, she went to school, lived with her family and, to many, seemed like a normal teen-ager, doing things that normal teens did. One day, a boy who she had a crush on took her to his house, drugged her and then raped her. Pictures of her were taken and she was told that the only way to get the pictures back was to become a sex slave, with the threat of having the pictures sent to her family if she refused, along with threats that her family would be harmed if she disobeyed. For two years, she went to school during the day. At night, she would be ordered to meet someone from this organization who would drive her to someone who would then rape her, forcing her to supposedly continue paying off a debt which, she hoped, would eventually lead to them freeing her. She was not just a girl being forced into prostitution. She was a victim of what is known as human trafficking, a form of modern slavery which exists even in our own country.

After she and her family moved, she was free from these monsters and, eventually, learned to heal from her ordeal.

Here are just a few statistics from her Web site, Traffickfree.com


As many as 2.8 million children run away each year in the U.S. Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography.
–The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

300,000 children in the U.S. are at risk every year for commercial sexual exploitation.
–U.S. Department of Justice

If you would like additional statistics and to learn more about human trafficking, the Resources page from traffickfree.com will provide you with additional information.

Tip: An Easy Way to Toggle Reader Mode in Firefox

For some time, Firefox has had a feature called “Reader mode” which is wonderful when you’re reading a blog post or news story that you’d like to declutter. It removes most of the extraneous links and other sections of the page which aren’t part of the actual story you’re trying to read.

Starting with version 50 of Firefox, we now have a hotkey which will toggle reader mode. Just press ctrl+alt+R and, if it’s supported on the page which is open, reader mode will become enabled. Pressing the same hotkey turns reader mode off.