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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2004 Issue  Volume 5  Number 5

Editor's Page

Walk from booth to booth in the exhibit halls at any of the annual conferences of organizations of and for people who are blind, and you will find screen readers, screen magnifiers, braille displays, CCTVs and other assistive technology products. Each company boasts the latest and greatest new features. The prices are extremely high, because the manufacturers can hope to sell only hundreds or, if they are lucky, thousands of each product.

Something important is conspicuously absent from all of the booths at these shows, as well as from catalogs of products for people who are blind or visually impaired: accessible medical devices. Millions of people need, and are searching for, accessible medical devices such as blood glucose monitors and home blood pressure monitors. Without these products, these people are dependent on others for vital information about their health. A talking blood pressure monitor is a novelty item to most sighted users, but it is a necessity to someone who is blind.

Product manufacturers don't know that these potential customers are out there. Over the years, talking devices have come and gone from the market. This is partly because the potential users did not know the products existed, and, as a result, too few were purchased.

Doctors, nurses and others who counsel people with diabetes and other diseases must be made aware of the need for accessible medical products. Advocates for people who are blind or visually impaired, and professionals in the blindness field, have not done their part to draw attention to this critical need. How can people live independently and hold a job if they cannot monitor and make decisions about their health?

In this issue, intern Steven Taylor, Darren Burton, and Mark Uslan of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), evaluate home blood pressure monitors. The authors state that in managing diabetes, maintaining proper blood pressure is as important as maintaining proper blood glucose levels. Studies have shown that people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure (also called hypertension) and that more than 50% of people with diabetes actually do have high blood pressure. Despite the fact that nearly one-third of the 17 million Americans with diabetes have a visual impairment, this article shows, as did our previous articles on insulin pumps and blood glucose monitors, that there is an extreme shortage of accessible medical devices to help these people monitor their health. AFB TECH staff are reporting their findings to the manufacturers of these devices, and AFB is educating these companies about the need for accessible devices and the number of people who would benefit from having them, and is offering to work with companies to bring more accessible devices to the market. Your help is needed in this effort. Please contact us and we will share your experiences with our readers and product manufacturers.

Koert Wehberg, a longtime summer intern and now a college graduate, Deborah Kendrick, and I evaluate the two leading optical character recognition (OCR) packages, Kurzweil 1000 version 8.0 and OpenBook version 7.0. OCR technology continues to improve, and both companies keep adding other features, such as the ability to search the web for e-books, create MP3s, read PDF files, recognize currency and more. As a result, people have begun using both of these products for more and more tasks at work and at home. Find out how they compare.

I interview Ray Kurzweil, renowned inventor and futurist. Kurzweil was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition program, the first CCD (charge coupled device) flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition software and, of course, the first text-to-speech reading machine for people who are blind. He has successfully founded nine businesses in OCR, music synthesis, speech recognition, reading technology, virtual reality, financial investment, medical simulation and cybernetic art. It was fascinating to hear firsthand his account of events from back in the mid-1970s, as well as some amazing developments he predicts as computers continue to grow smaller and more powerful in the twenty-first century. I am sure you will find both his story and his predictions riveting.

Dr. Carol Farrenkopf, Coordinator of Toronto District School Board Vision Services, evaluates two portable CCTVs, the QuickLook from Ash Technologies and the Assist Vision Slider AV-300 from the TIMES Corporation. The Slider is a lightweight, compact CCTV, while the QuickLook is a handheld device that can fit in a pocket or purse. The two devices were tested by students and adults in a variety of locations. Ratings and features charts compare these two products with similar products that Farrenkopf reviewed in our July 2004 issue.

Joseph Sacco and Leila Johannesen, IBM Human Factors Engineers, and Guido Corona of IBM's Accessibility Center describe IBM usability testing conducted at the company's Silicon Valley Laboratory in San Jose, California. People who are blind or visually impaired tested the usability of online documentation for IBM products. They were questioned about descriptions of figures in documentation, where figures should be placed, whether phrases such as "begin figure description" are useful and how complicated descriptions of figures could be made more useful. The results were recorded, and will be incorporated into future IBM products. IBM has been a leader in accessibility for decades. We hope other mainstream companies will follow IBM's lead in including people who are blind or visually impaired in usability testing.

Deborah Kendrick interviews CathyAnne Murtha, founder of Access Technology Institute. Murtha teaches beginners to use assistive technology, writes textbooks and conducts online training via voice chat. There is a shortage of qualified trainers in the field. Sit in on a class with Kendrick, and learn about this excellent source for increasing your knowledge from the comfort of your own home.

Jim Denham and Heather McComas of AFB TECH review accessible games from All inPlay, BSC Games and GMA Games. Whether you want to drive a tank through enemy territory or simply play a good game of cards, these authors say, there is something for you. In the past, AccessWorld readers have told us that playing games is at the bottom of the list when it comes to how they spend their time online. So, at the risk of having our editorial priorities questioned, we present this overview of what is out there.

More than 1,800 people are now signed up for AccessWorld Extra, the e-mail newsletter produced by AccessWorld staff in each of the six months when AccessWorld is not published. Issues e-mailed to a number of you have bounced with messages stating that we were denied access by your Internet service provider (ISP) or that your ISP classified AccessWorld Extra as spam. If you have signed up for AccessWorld Extra and are not receiving it, please contact your ISP and let them know that e-mail from accessworld@afb.net should not be blocked as spam.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

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Copyright © 2004 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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