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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 Return to the November 2009 Issue | Volume 10 | Number 6   

Breaking News

Oratio for BlackBerry is Now Available

On February 1, Humanware and Code Factory announced the release of Oratio for BlackBerry®, the first screen reader available for the popular Blackberry line of cell phone/PDAs manufactured by Research In Motion. Their release note reports that Oratio will first be released in North America in English, supporting the BlackBerry Curve 8520 smartphone from AT&T. The Oratio software will be available through online purchasing from www.oratio4bb.com for $449 for a single license. Support for additional BlackBerry smartphone models and languages will be available in subsequent versions of Oratio. You may have heard it referred to as Orator over the last year or so, but the name was changed to Oratio because a US telecommunications company has an existing product called Orator.

We have had the good fortune to have a Blackberry Curve 8520 and a pre-release version of Oratio in our AFB TECH lab for a couple of days. We are putting it through the paces for a full product evaluation in an upcoming issue of AccessWorld, but in the meantime, we want to provide you with our initial thoughts. The text-to-speech is easy to understand, and we found it to be very responsive to key commands. It provides access to most but not all apps that come with the Blackberry Curve, and the interface will seem familiar to people who have previously used a cell phone screen reader. Like other cell phone screen readers, it provides features and functions such as:

  • Talking caller ID
  • Spoken battery level and signal strength
  • Access to instant messaging, e-mail, SMS, and MMS
  • Accessible contact list and call log
  • Scheduling appointments and tasks with alarms and reminders
  • Auto start mode when the device turns on
  • Access to the phone's settings, ring tones, speed dials, and voice tags
  • Different verbosity levels
  • Keyboard echo settings for text entry
  • Accessible documentation
  • Partial but not full access to the web browser

Hardware-wise, the Blackberry Curve does have tactile buttons but its QWERTY keyboard will take some getting used to for those not familiar with the small QWERTY keyboards common on many of today's phones. It does have an easy-to-feel nib on the 5 key in the 3-by-4 dialing grid that is imbedded in the left side of the QWERTY, but it could benefit from another nib on the right side of the keyboard for orientation purposes. Also, instead of a joystick or D-pad type of 5-way navigation control, it has a track pad that is certainly usable but that will take some getting used to. The Blackberry also includes settings to accommodate people with low vision such as 14 point fonts, a black on white option, and a Clarity visual theme that is easier to view.

Oratio is the first text-to-speech on a java platform, and they have had many barriers to overcome. The release note admits that this first release version may not answer each specific individual user's needs. However, they also report that Humanware, Code Factory, and Research in Motion all remain committed to the future development and growth of the product. They have also asked for user feedback to help them with future development. Future development will surely enhance the user experience, but for now, if your job requires you to use a Blackberry and to track your e-mail and text messages, you now have an access solution.

More Cell Phone Accessibility Reports Coming to AccessWorld

Stay tuned to AccessWorld for much more on the ever-changing world of cell phone accessibility. We will soon be reporting on the new release of Mobile Speak 4, a cross-platform solution with expanded access to touch screen devices. We will also be reporting on access solutions for new phones using the new Android operating system developed by Google, as well as the release of version 4 of the TALKS screen reader from Nuance.

Copyright © 2010 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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