ATU477 – Lipsurf with Miko Borys

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Miko Borys – President – Lipsurf
For more on Lipsurf visit: www.lipsurf.com
Screenreader Accessibility Story: https://bit.ly/3j6yij4
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————– Transcript Starts Here ——————————
Miko Borys:
Hi, this is Miko and I’m the president of LipSurf and this is your Assistive Technology Update.Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 477 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on July 17th, 2020. On today’s show, we’re very excited to have Miko Borys on to talk about LipSurf. We also have a story about accessibility for websites involving screen readers. Now let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Do you find yourself with a little bit more time on your hands? Maybe you’re really busy and only have a little bit of time to listen to podcasts, or maybe listening to this has you thinking, “Well, what about this? What about that?” Well, if you’re short on time, or if you have questions about assistive technology, we have other podcasts that might just fit your needs.

Josh Anderson:
The first one is Accessibility Minute. This one-minute-long podcast gives you a little taste of assistive technology and really whet your whistle to have you go out and find out more about a piece of technology and how it might help those you work with, yourself, or maybe a friend or family member.

Josh Anderson:
If you happen to have questions about assistive technology, we have Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, or ATFAQ. The show is hosted by Brian Norton and features yours truly along with Belva Smith and Tracy Castillo as we all talk about assistive technology with questions that come in from email phone calls, and other means. We also don’t always know the answer, so it’s very important that we have listeners that can help us out with some of those questions, because while we like to think every once in a while that we may know everything, we’re proven wrong almost daily on that one.

Josh Anderson:
If you’re looking for more podcast to listen to, if you’re short on time and need a really quick podcast, or if you have questions about assistive technology, make sure to check out Accessibility Minute and Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Anderson:
Accessible web design is definitely something that a lot of, well, companies, governments, organizations, and schools are really looking at to ensure that anyone who wants to access different materials is able to. I found a really good story over at designmodo.com and it’s written by Paula Borowska and it’s called 12 Screen Reader Facts for Accessible Web Design and it really is a great starting point for someone looking to make their website accessible and it’s a great starting point because it just talks about what exactly a screen reader does and then some very important considerations to think about when making your website accessible.

Josh Anderson:
I won’t get too much into it because I will put a link to it over in the show notes so that you can go and check this out for yourself, but it starts off by talking about the three components of accessibility, which would be the content, the visual design, and development, and then it talks about how it’s important that even if you’re only working on one of those components, to make sure to take those other ones into consideration. It also talks about what titles, headings, and just overall copy are just to make sure that people do understand that all of these different things are very important.

Josh Anderson:
To go through the 12 things real quickly, again, I don’t want to read the whole story to you, number one is just use contextualize page titles. This essentially just means make sure that the pages of your website are actually labeled and that they make sense.

Josh Anderson:
Number two is make headings practical, so along those same lines, make sure these headings that you’re using make sense so that individuals can navigate to where they need to be.

Josh Anderson:
Use meaningful link and button copy is number three, so again, make sure that your Submit button or Click Here button actually says “Submit” or “Click Here.” This is a problem I’ve run into with a lot of folks using screen readers, where these buttons are there, but they don’t say the right thing, maybe they say the next page that it links to or something of that sort. Make sure that that information is in there.

Josh Anderson:
Provide clear instruction, that comes in at number four, and this, of course, would be in forms or anywhere within there where you do have to fill something out, just to make sure that people are doing that and they’re not getting different error messages or issues.

Josh Anderson:
Writing and structuring concise content is the fifth one they have in here, so they’re just using short, concise, and direct communication, avoid the technical or industry-specific jargon, and really, I would argue this makes this more accessible for anyone, not just an individual that would be using a screen reader in order to get it.

Josh Anderson:
Number six is something that I’ve run into quite a few times and it’s just be mindful of homographs. Homographs, those words that are spelled the same but sound completely different, so think of “wind” and “wind” or “read” and “read.” All of these different words, a screen reader is only going to read them one way and it can become a little bit frustrating until you’re used to it, so just try to stay away from those if you can.

Josh Anderson:
It talks about the importance of punctuation, on how it’s actually going to be able to read things and how this stuff will be in there.

Josh Anderson:
Number eight comes in at alt text on images, which is extremely important. Otherwise, it’s just going to say “Picture,” “Picture,” “Picture,” but if you need something important there, make sure that it’s actually able to be, well, seen by someone using a screen reader by giving that information behind the scenes.

Josh Anderson:
It mentions in number nine the transcriptions and captions about just making sure that folks can access these in different kind of ways. Don’t know if it’s something that will completely and totally be important for a screen reader, but still, just something to put in there and make sure that these things are there.

Josh Anderson:
And then it gives just a little bit of information. Number 10, 11, and 12 are just information about a screen reader, so if you’re thinking, you’re somebody actually building your website to be accessible, while you know what screen readers are, maybe you know some other things, what kind of code to put there, you may not actually know how they work, so it just talks about that screen readers can be paused, that when typing, the screen reader will read what the user is typing, so just a little bit of information on that, and then the on-page load announcements, so when a page is loading, a screen reader reads out the page title, and then some also give you the number of links on the page, so just some things for the coder to consider when they’re putting that all together.

Josh Anderson:
Again, a very interesting story. It’s great that it really digs into this, especially as website accessibility becomes even more important as more and more folks are having to learn, live, and work all from home and all online. We’ll put a link to this over in our show notes so that you can go and check it out. Again, that’s 12 Screen Reader Facts for Accessible Web Design.

Josh Anderson:
Voice input and control are amazing accommodations that can help many individuals control their computer, accomplish tasks, search the web, and do many other things, but some of the software that’s built-in can be found lacking and some third-party softwares can be rather expensive and they don’t always work well on the internet. Well, our guest today is Miko Borys, president of LipSurf, and he’s here to tell us about their exciting voice control technology. Miko, welcome to the show.

Miko Borys:
Thanks for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Miko, I’m really excited to learn everything about LipSurf, but before we do that, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Miko Borys:
Sure. I’m Miko and I’ve been building LipSurf for the past three years and really, a passion of mine, and I love getting emails from people when they let me know how much it’s helped them, so I’ve been motivated to keep building this and I’m excited to share it with more people who can use it.

Josh Anderson:
And that’s the whole reason we’ve got you here today, so let’s just jump right in. What is LipSurf?

Miko Borys:
LipSurf is a lot of things. It’s voice control for the browser in general, but you can do so much with that and so the basic stuff is you can say things like “Scroll down,” or “Click some link,” or “Tag,” and then it’ll highlight all the elements on the page and you can click on a picture, for instance, but it gets much more integrated than that, so there are plugins in LipSurf that enable you to do highly specific things on certain sites.

Miko Borys:
For example, in Gmail, since it’s such a popular application, you can say just “Compose,” instead of finding the right button and then it’ll open up a new email to compose and then you can say just “Select first,” and that would select the first email in your inbox, or you could say “Back to inbox,” and it’ll take you back to inbox, so it has all these voices shortcuts built-in for Gmail and that’s much more efficient than needing to find the appropriate button, which can be frustrating because, well, most websites are designed to be used with the keyboard and mouse and so LipSurf makes those designs work with voice much better.

Josh Anderson:
Very nice, and I know that you said it was browser-based. Is it in Google Chrome or a different browser?

Miko Borys:
Right, so currently, it’s a Chrome extension, but it’ll be available one day in Firefox and probably within the next couple of months, pretty soon, and it will also be available on mobile, so it’ll be available on Android and iOS devices soon. We’re growing.

Josh Anderson:
You really are. That’ll be very cool, but I know those Chrome extensions can really be helpful, so I’m glad you guys started there.

Miko Borys:
Yep. We started with Chrome because it has the largest market share and most people are using Chrome and it also has some better APIs. I don’t want to get too technical, but the voice recognition works really well in Chrome.

Josh Anderson:
Miko, you mentioned some of the features, and I know there are some different levels available. I know there’s a free version and then there are some paid versions, so what are the differences and the different features available in those different versions?

Miko Borys:
Yeah, so our whole idea is we don’t want users to be in the dark before they buy our product, so you can download it right now and there’s no calibration and there’s no payment or account setup upfront. You download it, you add it to Chrome, and within 10 seconds, you’re in the tutorial and you’re already using voice commands. It’s already teaching you how to click links, how to scroll, and again, that’s without any calibrations. You never need to calibrate, it’s meant to work for a general audience.

Miko Borys:
The free version will do 90% of the things that you need to do on the web: opening tabs, scrolling, playing videos, pausing. You can even go on Reddit and upload things and then once you get comfortable with it and if you’re happy with how it’s working, you get to see how well it recognizes your voice, and I’m sure it’ll recognize your voice very well because we’re using Google’s Speech to Text, which is the cutting edge, and it’s mind-blowingly good, it’s incredibly accurate.

Miko Borys:
Then once you see how it works, then you have the option to upgrade. We have a plus version and a premium version and they’re both very affordable and you can pay monthly or yearly for a discount. Our highest tier, our best version, our premium is $8 a month and it’s even less if you pay over the year. I think it’s $6 a month that you pay over the year and that’ll give you the ability to dictate text, so if you need to write emails or documents in Google Docs or type in forms, anywhere that you would normally write things with your keyboard, you’d be able to simply dictate, and that will enable you to go to custom URLs, so you’d be able to say “Go to whitehouse.gov,” or “Go to bbc.co,” and it will take you straight there. Everything else is in the free version.

Josh Anderson:
Well, very cool. I like how you made a lot of the features available in the free version, but then if you need that little bit more, then it’s worth paying that price point as opposed to having to pay it to even be able to use the software.

Miko Borys:
Right, yeah, you can do a lot with the free version and we update extremely frequently and I tell that people, when they subscribe, I want to open a dialogue, so when you become a subscriber, we keep an open line of communication. We want to know what would be useful for you, because this is… Even though at this point, we’ve been around for a couple of years, it’s still such a new product, and not in the sense that it has bugs that a new product has, but in the sense that there’s still so much room to grow, because this is a big space.

Miko Borys:
Voice control, it’s like we think of it as the third interface for the computer. We started with the keyboard and then we had the mouse and voice, there’s so much opportunity here, so if there’s things that our users would like to see, if there’s features that could be useful to them, that would improve their workflow or make them more efficient or enable them to accomplish any tasks, we want to know, so we open the dialogue over email, but we also have a forum, and I guess we’ll share the link to that. We’re constantly taking feature requests and we’re pushing updates twice a month. We’re always adding new features, so in that sense, we’re kind of a new product, where we’re growing so quickly.

Josh Anderson:
And that’s excellent. That’s the best way to grow because, yeah, what do people actually need so that you can get it put in there?

Miko Borys:
Exactly, yeah.

Josh Anderson:
Voice input in everything has just great capabilities for individuals with disabilities. Whenever you first started LipSurf, did you have individuals with disabilities in mind or did that just happen organically?

Miko Borys:
That actually happened organically. It was a selfish reason at first. The day I thought of it, I was eating butter naan, so Indian food, greasy naan, it was all over my hands and I wanted to watch something on YouTube, it was actually on Reddit, and I needed to use the keyboard and the mouse and so I just thought, “Well, if I could use my voice to do this, I could prevent getting my keyboard all greasy with food,” and the application for people with disabilities, it came almost immediately after. It became quite obvious that this would be extremely helpful to people who really need it.

Josh Anderson:
And really, I guess it did grow organically from there because you couldn’t access the keyboard and mouse as someone that had full use of their arms and digits and mobility would be able to, so yeah, it really did grow out of that. That’s really awesome.

Miko Borys:
Right, and part of the beauty of it, too, is that it serves so many use cases well, and so it’s not just for people who have any kind of motor disability, it’s also for people who might have a temporary injury. We have many people who had surgery on their wrist and they need something for a few months to continue working and it’s also, it’s just an efficiency thing, it’s a productivity thing. Many times, it’s faster to do things with your voice, without the keyboard and mouse, and with the keyboard and mouse, we often, we’re translating what we need to do into motor movements and we’re basically in our brains, we’re saying, “Okay, I need to click the Submit button,” and then we have to move our hand over to the mouse and then very precisely move the mouse over the Submit button and then click with our index finger.

Miko Borys:
But with voice, it’s a little more direct. You see the Submit button and you say “Submit,” and so it can be a lot more efficient, and of course, typing speed is a big one. The average typing speed, I think, is 30 words per minute, and the average speaking speed in English is 120 words per minute. Well, 150, rather, so there’s huge advantages for all kinds of people.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely, and even some cognitive impairments, just getting that information from my brain to my fingers, it can really slow down and I can lose some information, whereas if I’m just talking out loud, thinking out loud, I can get everything out and really be able to do things without losing all that stuff. Now, Miko, a lot of folks are familiar with Dragon, which is a voice input software. What are some of the differences between Dragon and LipSurf?

Miko Borys:
Yeah, perfect. We have a lot of users that come over from using Dragon and Dragon has been around for a long time and they’re the incumbent in the market now, but users move over to us because Dragon just tends not to work that well with web browsing and it doesn’t have the same deep integration that we have with web browsing, so you can’t do things are very specific to the site or the page you’re on. For example, in Gmail, being able to say things like “Select top three mark as read,” you’d have to actually name the specific buttons next to those elements, and so we’re a modern alternative to Dragon.

Miko Borys:
A lot of people have grown frustrated over the years because Dragon tends not to respond to a lot of customer requests and it’s really reflected in the reviews, too, so when people go on the Chrome Web Store, they can see that Dragon has something like a one or two-star review because there’s a lot of issues, there’s bugs, and so when people find us, they’re very happy because we respond quickly to our users, we keep the dialogue open, and we have a five-star review, so we think people are a lot happier with LipSurf and we know that people are switching over. The big difference is really the depth of integration, so we have a deeper integration with certain web apps.

Josh Anderson:
Miko, you led me right into this question: Can you tell us a story about someone who has been helped by LipSurf, maybe that you learned about through your forum or through other means?

Miko Borys:
Yeah, I have so many stories. There are so many. One of our early users has dyslexia. Right off the bat, being able to dictate text helps with dyslexia, so not needing to worry about the individual spelling of all the words, you can just say them, but we got a dialogue going with him and then we learned how useful it is to have text read back to you, especially when you have dyslexia, and it just helps with the comprehension, and well, that was a big eyeopener to us, and so we ended up working with this individual and we sent him a custom plugin.

Miko Borys:
LipSurf works with plugins and if you need specific functionality for, say, a certain site or to do a certain thing, then it’s really cool because you don’t have to wait for an update on the whole application, we can send you a custom plugin to try out and if it’s generally useful enough, then we included in the general application, and anyone can build, actually, these custom plugins. Those are open source, so if you’re a programmer, you can build one to do anything you want, and so we built him a custom plugin overnight that would read back the text to him and then we just loved his response to that and he wrote us a nice testimonial and it’s the little interactions like that that we have every week that are just so satisfying for us and we’re just happy to help and apparently so useful to others, so.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool, and yeah, that’s how we learn about the technology, how it’s used and everything else and that’s great that you kept it open source for the plugins, just so folks can maybe make their own little ways around or our own little things that can help, but also-

Miko Borys:
Yeah, I mean, this was a design decision from the very beginning because we know that the Internet is infinite and every website and web application has its own idiosyncratic controls, so you cannot possibly make something general enough and useful enough for all the sites out there, especially considering websites and web apps are changing constantly and they’re always improving and so that was a design decision from beginning. It has to have a plugin architecture, it has to be extensible, so LipSurf is fully extensible. Even if you had the most specific company-internal website, we can make a plugin that will work, or you could make one, or your company could make a plugin that would work for it, and then anyone would be able to use their voice to work with it, so that’s the idea.

Josh Anderson:
… Now, it sounds like you already told us that you guys will be coming out for Firefox, mobile, and things like that, and it sounds like it’s an ever-evolving program, but do you have any big plans for the future, something you’re really trying to work on? Or anything that you might be able to tell us about I guess is how I should have led that off.

Miko Borys:
Yeah, one of the most requested features is people are getting really excited about our custom shortcuts feature and custom homophones, so that’s… It’s been around, but it’s a little bit hard to discover in our current version, so people don’t realize that they can do it unless they go through the tutorial, and not everyone goes through the tutorial and so we want to make that a little bit more visible and a little bit easier to use. The idea is you can say anything and then you can either say, “Add custom shortcut,” or just click on the live transcript that shows up. For anyone who hasn’t tried LipSurf yet, there’s a live transcript that’ll show at the top of your screen and it’s really useful because you see feedback of what LipSurf thinks you’re saying and so you know when it’s working and you know when to maybe adjust your speech slightly or you know how instantaneous it is and everything.

Miko Borys:
If you click that duad text or you say “Add custom shortcut,” then a little dialogue pops up and it’ll let you map any phrase to another phrase, and that sounds really simple, but it’s extremely powerful because you can make, say, a one-word command map to, say, dictating a whole paragraph. Say there’s some template of text that you often need to write via email, so you can then make a shortcut that says, “Let’s map it to email closer,” so then anytime I say “Email closer,” it’ll write out this paragraph of text, and so that’s custom shortcuts and you can make it run any command, you can make it run a chain of commands.

Miko Borys:
What we’re striving for in subsequent version is to bring more visibility to that and to display all your custom shortcuts right up front in the options in a dedicated place and have more managerial features built around that so you can more easily share them and more easily delete the old ones you don’t need anymore and all that kind of stuff, and that stuff is possible now, but it’s a little bit hidden away and it’s not as easy to discover as it could be.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. I can see how that would be a amazing tool to be able to do that, automate some different things, and just streamline your work, really, be able to, like you said, say one word and have a whole paragraph come out, or even accomplish some different tasks. Well, Miko, if our listeners want to find out more or maybe even join that forum and stuff, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Miko Borys:
The best way is to install it, so go to our website, and there’s not much to dig around on our website because it really, it’s changing so rapidly that we would need to update the website every week, so just install it and then you have the latest version and you’ll see with your own eyes and you’ll just be able to try it and understand it. The best way is just to use it because it has a free forever version and there’s really no downside.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, most definitely not, and Miko, what is that website for folks?

Miko Borys:
It’s lipsurf.com, “lip” as in the lips on our face and “surf” as in surfing the web or surfing at the ocean, so lipsurf.com.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We will put a link to that over in our show notes as well. Well, Miko, thank you so much for coming on today and telling us all the great things that LipSurf has to offer and really just talking about how it all came to be. Very, very cool. Thank you again.

Miko Borys:
No, thank you so much, Joshua, for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.