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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 January 2000 Issue  Volume 1  Number 1
Deane Blazie

Caption: Interview with Deane Blazie, Inventor and Entrepreneur

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Interview

Product Evaluation

Product Evaluation

AccessWorld News

Calendar


Editor in Chief Paul Schroeder
Contributing Editors Crista L. Earl
Deborah Kendrick
Jay D. Leventhal
Mark Uslan
Managing Editor Sharon Shively
Marketing Manager Sharon Baker-Harris


Editor's Page

Welcome to the premier issue of AccessWorld: Technology for Consumers with Visual Impairments. Though tempting, I will avoid millennium hype or Y2K jokes. But I cannot resist sharing my enthusiasm about a millennial milestone: this new technology periodical serving the interests of people with visual impairments. Inside you will find a world of information on developments in speech, braille, and magnification products, along with user tips and reports on trends and progress in access to technology.

Many people tout technology, incorrectly, as the ultimate solution to the problems facing those of us who are visually impaired. Others are perversely mistaken in fearing or ignoring the value of technology as a tool for independence and equality. AccessWorld will attempt to bring balance to these opposing views.

Over the past quarter century, people who are blind or visually impaired have been the fortunate recipients of extraordinary developments in technology. This issue's product evaluations—featuring technology from Kurzweil, Arkenstone, and Ai Squared—and our lead interview with Deane Blazie make this fact quite clear.

Our evaluation of the Kurzweil 1000 and the Arkenstone Ruby show just how far reading machines have come since 1976, when the first $50,000 machine went on the market with very little memory and primitive speech synthesis. Ray Kurzweil, who revolutionized access to print with that first reading machine, has pioneered many other breakthroughs.

Access to the computer has also changed dramatically during the past quarter century. Robust technologies provide users access to computers through speech, braille, and magnification. Our evaluation of Ai Squared's screen magnifier ZoomText highlights a company that straddled DOS and Windows and now also straddles access through screen magnification and speech.

We are eager to hear from you about how AccessWorld can meet your needs. Send us your questions, comments, or ideas for stories. I also invite you to find out more about AccessWorld's editors by visiting our Web site at <www.afb.org/accessworld.html>.

Paul Schroeder

Editor in Chief

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Interview

Deane Blazie: Forging a New Path for Literacy

In 1987, Deane Blazie introduced his now ubiquitous notetaker, the Braille'n Speak. This remarkable device, which is the size of a videocassette and looks like little more than a box with seven keys, made it possible for visually impaired users to store up to 30 files of notes, keep a calendar and phone directory, check the time and date, and have quick access to a calculator and stopwatch.

That early version, now referred to as the "classic Braille'n Speak," weighed in at 2 pounds and sold for $895. The Braille'n Speak now has also been joined by spin-off siblings, the Braille Lite, Braille Lite 40, Type 'n Speak, and Type Lite. The available memory and processor capability in these notetakers also have greatly expanded since 1987.

From a personal start-up investment of $10,000 (to build the first 10 units), Blazie has watched his company grow to include $15 million in gross receipts annually, 70 employees, and an estimated 70,000 notetakers currently in the hands of blind consumers. It is rare to attend a meeting where blind people are present and not see a Blazie notetaker in use.

AccessWorld staff caught up with Deane Blazie at the October 6–9 ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) conference in Orlando, Florida. Paul Schroeder, Deborah Kendrick, and Jay Leventhal met with Blazie and spent an engaging few hours learning more about the man and his company, past and future. The following are some highlights from that interview:

Schroeder: How did you get started?

Blazie: After doing some consulting work, I came back to my roots of developing products for the blind. My good lifelong friend, Tim Cranmer, along with Fred Gissoni and Judy Dixon, all had a part in seeing the Braille'n Speak come about. I remember Judy Dixon saying, "He who makes the best notetaker will rule the blindness industry."

Fred Gissoni was then with the Kentucky Department for the Blind, and he was working on a device called the Portabraille, which was probably the first notetaker, although it was never commercially available. Fred interfaced a braille display with a small computer and some memory chips and made a notetaker. The problem with it was that when you turned it off, all the memory went away.

I remember talking to Fred about that device one day, and he was pulling it apart and took out one board to show me. On that board was the keyboard and the microprocessor and all the circuitry, and Fred said, "If you just took this board out, you could use it to take notes all by itself." That clicked in my head. I built a device that could be turned off and save memory. I added a file system and a lot of other features, and the rest is history.

There were several times when I almost gave up. With the first prototype, I brainstormed with Tim Cranmer and Fred Gissoni for a couple of hours and then went back and fixed some things. The first unit was wedge shaped, because I was thinking of the way sighted people's devices are built. That was one of the features Fred and Tim corrected right away, saying that when you write braille, your hands are flat!

So I invested $10,000, made 10 units, and took them to the NFB [National Federation of the Blind] convention in July 1987. I walked away from the convention with only my prototype left. I had checks in my pocket, cash in my pocket, credit card numbers in my pocket, from people who wanted me to ship them a unit as soon as more were made.

Kendrick: In your interview for Tactic in 1987, when you were first showing the Braille'n Speak around, you mentioned that you had been around braille for 25 years but that you had never realized how personal it was until you began putting the unit into the hands of blind people. Do you remember thinking about that?

Blazie: Yes. And to me it was definitely an awakening. Until that time, my work with computers had been mostly speech products. But I realized then how difficult it is for a sighted person to recognize the difference between braille and speech. Braille 'n Speak, of course, only went halfway—it only had braille input at that time with speech output—but I began to see how mystical that connection to braille is for people.

Kendrick: Can you talk a bit about the other products—the Braille Lite, the Type 'n Speak—and how they came to be?

The next product was the Type 'n Speak. We began to realize that there were a lot of people who liked the unit but didn't really know braille. We began hearing enough of that that we decided to do a typewriter keyboard version.

Then, somehow something clicked, and we decided to put a braille display on it and came out with the Braille Lite. That was probably a big turning point in the company because it really increased our sales a lot. It just really made me a believer that the future of our company is braille, and that braille is going to be here forever.

After the first few generations of the Braille Lite, we realized that a braille device is different from a speech device. An example is the advance bar. In the beginning, the speech told you that the advance bar was going forward. Then we realized that you do not need that in the speech.

Schroeder: You have added a great deal to the line of products over 12 years. Each generation seems to add more functionality. What are you planning for the future?

Blazie: The present Braille'n Speak has a purpose, and I don't think that purpose is going to go away. If you add too much, it will become so complex that people won't use it. I think it should stay as it is: It should be very low powered, the battery should last a long, long, long time; it should be very simple—turn it on, nothing complex, no modes that you could get into that you can't get out of.

And then there should be something else. There should be something that is more like a PC [personal computer] but without the drawbacks of a PC. I'm not sure what the solution is, but whatever it is, I think it should come on very quickly. It should retain the things about a Braille'n Speak that made it in such demand. And it should have some things that we don't have—like easy access to the Web, easy E-mail access through mainstream Internet providers, and it should be something that people could add onto without needing special programs. One of the drawbacks of the existing Braille'n Speak is that you are running programs that are not available to someone else.

Leventhal: You are known for being responsive to the user. You have probably heard every possible suggestion—from not changing the Braille'n Speak to putting in a network card.

Blazie: Oh, yes. People want us to put in a hard drive or build a floppy disk drive in. These are valid suggestions, but sometimes you have to say, "This is the core product and this is what it should be."

Schroeder: Could Unix or Linux be a good platform for the next devices?

Blazie: In fact, we are looking at Linux, but whether we will actually use it is still hard to say. It is a nice operating system and nice base for building a whole new product. You could have it boot up quickly and could change those things about it that you don't like.

Schroeder: You purchased the line of braille products from Telesensory last summer. What has that purchase meant to Blazie Engineering?

Blazie: It was a great match for us. Telesensory's blindness products [division] was experiencing a lack of focus, so Larry Israel called to see if we were interested in purchasing that division. We purchased the Powerbraille line of products and the Versapoint printers. It brought us into a segment of the market that we were never in before—that is, computer access through braille displays. It has been very good for us financially and strategically, because it gets us into a bigger piece of that market that we were starting to get into anyway with the Braille Lite 40, but now we are in it in a big way. It was really a match made in heaven.

Kendrick: Aren't you doing some work to develop a product that will replace the Optacon?

Blazie: Yes, we have a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a product to replace the Optacon. The toughest part is the tactile array. It's hard to beat the current design.

Leventhal: Do you think there is still a niche for that design?

Blazie: I do. There always needs to be a device that takes an image and displays it tactually the way an Optacon does. That's not going to go away. Reading machines take away some of the need, but you never get a concept of what print looks like with a reading machine. Looking at this bottle of olives [picks up bottle from the table] or looking at circuit boards is not something you can do with a reading machine.

Kendrick: As popular as your products are, there is some comment that technical support is less than consistent. How do you measure the quality of your customer support?

Blazie: All computers crash, but boy, when you get a Braille'n Speak crash—well, I have almost cried myself. People run their lives on these products.

It's difficult to measure how one staff member handles a problem. We monitor calls and are always working to be better.

Something new that we've done is providing exchange units. When a unit breaks down, if you have paid for the maintenance agreement, we get another unit right out to you.

Schroeder: Any parting shots?

Blazie: I can't think of a better way to have spent my life so far. It's been just wonderful. I didn't really design these products: Blind people did. I just happened to take what they said, put it into a box, and make it work.

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Product Evaluation

Ai Squared's ZoomText Xtra for Windows 95, 98, and NT 4.0

Since 1988, Ai Squared has attempted to offer a screen magnifier with a large number of options and upgrades. ZoomText Xtra 7.0 was launched in 1999, and it offers support for Windows 95/98/NT 4.0, as well as a built-in screen reader. Already in 1999, there have been two upgrades, versions 7.01 and 7.02.

Did Ai Squared get it right or did the company get bogged down trying to make everyone happy? We decided to find out by evaluating ZoomText Xtra version 7.02. We also looked at version 7.01 to see what changes were made. We tested ZoomText Xtra's features—including its built-in screen reader and speech synthesizers—on Microsoft Word 97, WordPad 1.0, Excel 97, and Internet Explorer 5.0. Whenever possible, comparisons were made with MAGic 6.1 for NT by Henter-Joyce, which was evaluated in the Preview issue of AccessWorld.

Getting It Up and Running

ZoomText Xtra was easy to install on a new Dell PC with a built-in video card and sound card. Its quick reference guides are very clear and helpful, even for users who are not technically inclined. During installation, a special screen comes up listing all repairs ZoomText Xtra has made since its last version and potential problems that might occur. This screen has helpful information on tasks that can now be performed in Word 97 and Excel 97 and warns users of known problems.

How Magnification Measures Up

ZoomText Xtra provides magnification of up to 16x, which is 4x less than MAGic. However, unlike MAGic, ZoomText Xtra offers magnification "stretching," which is the ability to adjust magnification horizontally to make it wider or vertically to make it taller.

Screen Options

The primary window offers either the standard horizontal-vertical split-screen mode (in which one portion is magnified and the other is not) or the typical "lens" mode (in which a section of the screen is magnified in a movable and resizable frame). The unique secondary window display modes are designed to solve the problem of material going off the edges of the screen when the entire screen is magnified. Five secondary windows can be selected and used simultaneously. Two secondary display windows are for monitoring a fixed screen location, one is for magnifying a single Windows control, one is for magnifying a single line of text, and one acts as a second general purpose overlay window (a resizable magnification window).

Compared with MAGic 6.1 for NT, ZoomText Xtra offers more "locator" features that indicate the portion of the screen currently being magnified in the primary zoom window. We did encounter some problems with the caret locator option, which displays a blinking frame around the caret when it is stationary for better visibility. The blinking frame takes a few seconds to appear around the caret. In 7.01, when the computer was left on for a long time during one test, the cursor sometimes left imprints of the caret locator. The imprint was annoying because it covered up text. On the same test, the frame came up even after it was disabled on the control panel. This problem did not occur in version 7.02.

Tracking

Tracking allows users to jump to a location on the screen when a Windows event occurs. Tracking features in ZoomText Xtra include tracking the mouse pointer, menu bars, the text cursor, dialog boxes, and control buttons. As in MAGic 6.1 for NT, ZoomText Xtra handles screen shifting well. Since the magnified viewing area often does not fit on one screen, ZoomText Xtra can shift the screen to display the active Windows event. ZoomText Xtra's options for tracking boundaries are much easier to use than MAGic's because they do not require numeric input except for the track delay.

Panning

Panning enables users to scroll through lines of text in all directions using either hotkey buttons (ALT + arrow keys) or mouse movement. Direct manual control of scrolling allows full control of the speed, "jump settings" (amount of horizontal or vertical movement panning makes after it reaches the border of the viewing area and before it begins a new pass), and delay between passes. Users are required to hold down the left mouse button, which leaves only one hand left for other operations. The hotkeys tie up both hands because they require users to hold down the ALT key and an arrow key.

In the NT version, ZoomText Xtra left imprints of itself whenever it started to pan. The imprints cover text, as does the caret locator. However, unlike the imprints from the caret locator, which appeared to be a fluke in 7.01, this problem happens consistently in both versions.

The Mouse

There were not many options for customizing the mouse compared to MAGic 6.1 for NT. ZoomText Xtra offers three mouse sizes and 17 colors. The mouse wheel (located between the left and right buttons on some mice) can be used while CTRL is held down to zoom in and out on the cursor position. This feature allows the user to have direct control of magnification without compromising the mouse wheel's other scrolling functions.

Colors and Smoothing

ZoomText Xtra offers the ability to invert foreground and background colors and adjust gray scale, brightness, and contrast. Compared to MAGic 6.1 NT, it also has a simpler and more effective smoothing feature that reduces the jagged appearance of magnified text and graphics.

The Built-in Screen Reader

"DocReader" is the ZoomText Xtra reading environment that reformats, magnifies, and speaks text from any Windows application. It can be used with any of ZoomText Xtra's display modes; it also offers its own display mode. Speech can be activated in any of 10 user-defined locations on the screen. Voice type, volume, pitch of voice, and rate of speech can be varied, as can its verbosity level (the amount of spoken detail). DocReader will read the current word, cell, next line, previous line, entire document, or clipboard contents.

In DocReader, the prompter option allows the display to be set to wrap lines of magnified text so they do not exceed the width of the display screen. The ticker option allows the display to show a single continuous magnified line. DocReader also offers a Truetype text setting, in which only text is displayed; and a bitmapped text option, in which all text and graphics in the document appear. During testing of continuous scrolling in the ticker mode with bitmapped text activated, the computer crashed in version 7.01. This problem did not occur in version 7.02.

DocReader worked fine in Word 97 for both versions 7.01 and 7.02 in Windows 98 and NT. A few problems occurred with Excel 97. In version 7.01 DocReader would not read the first number that was typed, but it did read all subsequent numbers. In version 7.02 the problem occurs only if the user types in data too quickly. An improvement in version 7.02 is that it will automatically speak the contents of a cell when the cursor is moved to the cell. DocReader also did not read the toolbar in both versions. It was very hard to keep track of information because the cell, row, and data numbers were read as if they were right next to each other in DocReader display mode.

Unlike a dedicated screen reader, ZoomText Xtra's DocReader does not provide specific support for applications, such as Word 97 and Excel 97, in which the settings for tracking the caret, the mouse, or echoing what a user types are different for each program. In DocReader the user can specially configure files but must constantly change the settings for each application. As a result, the settings are too general, since what is applied to Word 97 may not be applicable to Excel 97.

Summing Up

ZoomText Xtra is a first-rate screen magnifier and screen reader for people with low vision. It has the edge over MAGic 6.1 for Windows NT because of its secondary window display mode options and its user-friendly controls for tracking, panning, using colors, and smoothing. As a screen magnifier, the only weakness was panning in Windows NT. ZoomText Xtra's DocReader performed as intended, with the exception of a few bugs that appeared when it was tested in Excel 97.

ZoomText Xtra is reasonably priced at $595 for level 2 (with speech synthesizers). Level 1 (screen magnification only) is priced at $395, the same price as MAGic 6.1.

Manufacturer's Comments

"We feel that the ZoomText product line is unique for a number of reasons. Our products support all Windows environments in one package, including Windows 95/98, Windows NT, and Windows 2000. We provide a reading environment (DocReader) specifically designed for low vision document reading. We also feel that our level of hardware-software compatibility and technical support is unparalleled in the industry."

Product Information

Product: ZoomText Xtra 7.02

Manufacturer: Ai Squared; P.O. Box 669, Manchester Center, VT 05255; phone: 802-362-3612; fax: 802-362-1670; e-mail: <sales@aisquared.com>; web site: <www.aisquared.com>. Price: Level 1 (screen magnification only): $395. Level 2 (screen magnification and screen reader): $595. Level 1 Plus (includes ZoomText for DOS): $595. Level 2 Plus (includes ZoomText for DOS): $795.

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Product Evaluation

Turning the Printed Word into Speech: A Review of Open Book Ruby Edition and Kurzweil 1000

What was the first talking Windows program you used? For many consumers who are blind, it was an optical character recognition (OCR) program, and we did not know or care that we were using Windows. We knew that we had the ability to read printed documents independently and understand almost all of the words.

This article reviews Kurzweil 1000 versions 4.0 and 4.5 from Lernout & Hauspie and Open Book Ruby edition version 4.02 from Arkenstone, the two most popular scanning packages for blind computer users.

How Scanning Works

When a document is placed on a scanner, it is first scanned by a camera. OCR software then converts the images into computerized characters and words. A speech synthesizer speaks the computerized text, and the information is then stored in the computer.

The Many Faces of Print

To determine accuracy, we used a variety of text and format types on both systems. When necessary, we adjusted scanning settings to improve accuracy.

For our simple test, we printed a document with ordinary English text on plain white paper using a laser printer and Ariel 12 point print to be sure that both systems could recognize what we thought should be an easy-to-read item. We printed text in several fonts, including Times New Roman and Ariel bold and italic. We introduced deliberate errors to find out what the two systems would do with a sentence beginning with the word "tke."

For tough jobs, we scanned book pages printed on colored paper, pages with light text on dark paper, pages that were partly black on white and partly white on black, faxes, business cards, magazine pages with nonlinear formats, bills, and tiny print.

Installation

We installed two Hewlett-Packard 5P scanners, one on a Pentium 500 with Windows 98 and one on a Pentium 200 with Windows 95. These installations were very frustrating. We had to update drivers from HP to get this scanner to work with Windows 98 and install and remove drivers repeatedly on both machines before Windows would recognize them correctly. We also had to change scanner settings in the Windows 98 machine to prevent a conflict between the scanner card and the DECtalk PC. These problems were not related to or caused by the OCR packages tested here, but users should be aware of potential problems. If you are not technically inclined, buying equipment from a dealer who will set it up for you will be a less challenging experience.

Open Book Ruby Edition Version 4.02

Getting Started

Open Book's default synthesizer, IBM's ViaVoice, is run at the start of the installation so speech is present throughout. We first installed Open Book with ViaVoice and found that the program would only present the opening screen then cease to run with no error message. After much time and assistance from Arkenstone's technical support, we managed to solve the problem and also install Open Book to work with the DECtalk PC.

Getting Help

Open Book offers context-sensitive help. Its Key Describer mode allows the user to press any key and hear its function described. Its manual is available in print and braille and as a text file in the Help folder. Parts of it are accessible from within the program. We would have preferred to have also found it on the Help menu or as an item in Open Book's Library.

Command Structure

All of Open Book's commands are located on the number pad and can also be accessed through conventional Windows menus. One especially beginner-friendly feature is the ability to quit Open Book without saving the document and find it still open when Open Book is started up again. This feature allows the occasional user to simply scan a piece of mail and exit without knowledge of file-naming conventions or Windows menus.

Simple Scanning

Open Book read our easy-to-read test pages without errors. It did not change "tke" to "the." Open Book can read and scan at the same time. There was sometimes a brief delay in reading when the Scan key was pressed.

Tough Jobs

When black text on brown or blue paper was scanned, Open Book's recognition was much poorer with the default settings than it was when white pages with black text were scanned. To compensate, we adjusted the contrast setting (Settings/Scanning/Contrast) and had results comparable to those achieved with the same text on white paper. Although Automatic Contrast gives good results most of the time, a custom setting can make an enormous difference.

If Open Book's option to recognize white text on a black background is not checked, users may believe that a page is blank or miss a significant amount of information. We scanned our test page containing sections of light text on dark paper and sections of dark text on light paper and were able to significantly improve the recognition by adjusting the contrast. Open Book made errors on every pass, however. The problem seemed to be a result of varied fonts, rather than colored paper.

The scan of a catalog cover was problematic. After numerous scans and adjustments to the contrast, we were able to decipher all essential information, but the page was never without errors, and different contrast settings yielded errors in different words, meaning that we had no most-correct page.

Open Book consistently made fewer errors on its second pass than on its first pass, so we scanned all problem documents at least twice. On our test fax, Open Book made four errors, once sticking two words together, once putting an apostrophe in the middle of a word, and twice inserting line breaks where there were none in the original text. None of these errors prevented comprehension of the material.

When it scanned the sample business card, Open Book made a minor error in the word E-mail but no errors in phone numbers or other important information. It joined several lines into one, giving us the entire business card on two lines.

With some creative interpretation, we were able to determine from the American Express bill how much we owed and where to send the check. Open Book read numbers accurately, except in one case in which a letter O replaced a digit 0.

The scans of the 4 point and 6 point Times New Roman documents were mostly incomprehensible. At 4 point, numbers were read far more reliably than text, but each scan yielded different results. At 8 point, the text was mostly readable, but there were errors in some of the words and numbers.

Special Features

Open Book can recognize and read in Spanish and other languages. To read text in a language other than the default, the synthesizer in use must speak that language.

Open Book's dictionary includes etymology and sample sentences. The user can navigate in the dictionary-to spell words, for example. Dictionaries and other tools are in English only.

Open Book offers the ability to launch programs such as Word, WordPerfect, or Duxbury. This feature makes creating braille from print or quoting scanned text in a word-processed document easy and convenient.

Kurzweil 1000 4.0 and 4.5

Getting Started

Kurzweil 1000 version 4.5 was released while this evaluation was in progress, so both 4.0 and 4.5 were tested. The Kurzweil 1000 4.0 installation program was extremely frustrating because of a bug that caused repeated crashes and failed installations. Correction required copying and renaming several files. This problem is fixed in version 4.5. However, the installation program still does not provide enough information to troubleshoot problems unless a screen reader is loaded.

Getting Help

Kurzweil 1000's Help key is identified when the program opens. When it is pressed before another key, the function of the second key is explained. However, this feature works only for keys on the numberpad, not for function keys. The manual is accessible on the Help menu.

Command Structure

Kurzweil 1000 uses the numberpad and the function keys for its commands. Its functions can also be accessed through conventional Windows menus. After settings in the Windows menus were changed, Kurzweil 1000 failed to give feedback when we exited the menus.

Simple Scanning

Kurzweil 1000 read the easy test pages without errors. Its default setting corrects errors, so it changed "tke" to "the" in the test document. It handles scanning in the background seamlessly, allowing the user to read continuously while scanning.

Tough Jobs

The test page containing sections of both dark-on-light and light-on-dark text yielded unpredictable results. To find text in the dark region, we enabled the Recognition of Light Text on a Dark Background option. We experimented with the Dynamic Thresholding setting for scanner contrast and tried both enabling and disabling Speckle Removal. On some passes, Kurzweil 1000 read parts of words in the light-on-dark text section but found nothing meaningful. On other passes, all light-on-dark text vanished. Changing from Kurzweil's RTK recognition engine to FineEngine made matters worse, then switching back to RTK and rescanning did not restore the text we had been reading.

The page with shaded dark paper and artistically scattered light text was nearly 100 percent unreadable with Kurzweil 1000. A few partial words were discernable on some passes, but others caused the program to read the text and punctuation in a language other than English.

Kurzweil 1000 made six errors in our test fax, four of them in the time-date stamp. The two errors in the body of the fax did not reduce comprehension. The errors in the stamped information, however, were indicative of Kurzweil 1000's consistent difficulty with reading numbers. The number 5 often became the letter S, for example. Switching the recognition engine to FineEngine eliminated all but one of the errors in the stamp.

Kurzweil 1000 made minor errors scanning business cards but none in phone numbers and other important information. The text was formatted correctly.

For people who return from conferences with folders of business cards, Kurzweil 1000 has one very attractive feature. The scanner boundaries can be set to pass the camera over a small area. Users can place business cards in one consistent location and save the five seconds or so it takes to scan the blank scanner surface each time.

Kurzweil 1000 read the headline of the theater flier page in the middle of the page, but otherwise the text was presented in a reasonable order. Recognition errors existed, but they can probably be attributed to the color of the paper.

Kurzweil 1000 made some errors in the numbers in our sample bill. It also gave the cardholder's name and address as the address to which the payment was to be sent. Of course, human interpretation was used to correct this error in reading columns.

When reading the 4 point and 6 point versions of the test pages, Kurzweil 1000 gave wildly varying interpretations of the page. The fax number "502-7774" was read "502-7776," and "s02-7777," for example. The 8 point version had some errors, and the phone number was not read correctly, but most text was comprehensible.

Special Features

Kurzweil 1000 easily scans and reads in Spanish and other languages. It also includes an extensive dictionary. Kurzweil 1000 has a feature to allow the user to launch another application, but this feature is not automatically set up during the installation. When the scanned document is dropped into the application, the document format is not converted, making the file unreadable in most cases.

Recognition Complete

Despite the recognition errors noted, both products performed very well. All OCR packages still make mistakes, some of them amusing. Users who are comfortable with Windows terms and use a variety of applications will probably prefer Open Book. Users who scan in multiple languages or want more help with Windows terms than Open Book provides will prefer Kurzweil 1000.

Manufacturers' Comments

Arkenstone: "The new Ruby Edition of Open Book's extensive new low vision features, editing capabilities, talking dictionary, braille display integration, BuckScan currency identifier, and well-behaved talking Windows interface are all worth mentioning. Our new dual-OCR engine gives excellent recognition results and supports 400 dpi scanning for small fonts. We suggest potential users test Ruby on their documents to find their best solution."

Kurzweil Educational Systems Group: "It should be noted that L&H Kurzweil 1000 includes a multilingual speech synthesizer on the CD. It is not clear from the review that you can automatically summarize documents, create bookmarks, and take notes, either in the "margins" of the current document or by writing into a second document. In response to the comments made about the Application Launch feature, we think our launch facility is more flexible by allowing the user to add applications to it in the product, rather than in a setup program. Since we support over 120 document formats, we leave it to the user to pick one that is appropriate for the application, rather than choosing one ourselves."

Product Information

Product: Open Book Ruby Edition.

Manufacturer: Arkenstone; NASA Ames Moffett Complex, Building 23, P.O. Box 215, Moffett Field, CA 94035-0215; phone: 800-444-4443 or 650-603-8880; fax: 650-603-8887; e-mail: <info@arkenstone.org>; web site: <www.arkenstone.org>. Price: $995.

Product Information

Product: L&H Kurzweil 1000 v. 4.5.

Manufacturer: Kurzweil Educational Systems Group, Lernout and Hauspie Speech Products N.V.; 52 Third Avenue, Burlington, MA 01803; phone: 800-894-5374 or 781-203-5000; fax: 781-203-5033; e-mail: <education.info@lhsl.com>; web site: <www.lhsl.com/education/>. Price: $995 with FlexTalk speech, $1,195 with DECtalk speech.

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News

A Conference Run by Product Vendors

The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) held its first annual conference in Orlando, Florida October 6–9, 1999. ATIA was formed in March 1998 as a result of product manufacturers' frustration with the way they were treated at other conferences, especially Closing the Gap. According to Larry Israel, CEO of Telesensory Corporation and President of ATIA, 76 companies that manufacture products for people with a variety of disabilities are ATIA members.

Attendance at the conference totaled 536 people, many of them educators. Not surprisingly, the focus of the conference was on assistive technology and training. Almost all the conference sessions were given by product manufacturers. These included: training sessions; product demonstrations in the exhibit hall; product labs where people could try the products; and sessions on specific topics, such as using Excel with JAWS for Windows. Several participants said that they came to this conference to be trained on specific products.

The second ATIA conference will be held in January 2001 in Orlando. For more information, contact ATIA, 526 Davis Street, Suite 217, Evanston, IL 60201; phone: 847-869-5689; E-mail: <atia@northshore.net>.

Able to Work Consortium

Microsoft Corporation announced the formation of Able to Work, a consortium of U.S. corporations that will focus on and find solutions for unemployment among Americans who are disabled. Able to Work is expected to include approximately 20 national corporations initially and will represent a variety of industries. Management and coordination of Able to Work will be handled by the National Business Disability Council.

An interactive Web site (<www.abletowork.org>) features job postings of companies that are seeking new employees and resumes of candidates. An internship program is planned for the future. For more information, contact: National Business and Disability Council, 201 I.U. Willets Road, Albertson, NY 11507; phone: 516-465-1515; fax: 516-465-3730.

Money Talks?

On October 1, 1999, the city of San Francisco unveiled what is claimed to be the first talking automated teller machine (ATM). City Treasurer Susan Leal convinced the San Francisco Credit Union and T-base Communications to join forces to create the accessible ATM, which was placed in City Hall. The cost per machine was estimated at $2,000 for the hardware and $5,000 for the software.

Last June, after years of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Wells Fargo and Citibank, along with Bank of America, all announced plans for pilot testing and eventual installation of accessible ATMs. Citibank installed its first trial talking ATMs at five California locations in early November.

Strategies for making the ATMs accessible will likely differ among the various banks, but each will rely on delivering the audio through headphone jacks to ensure privacy for the user.

The California Council of the Blind, along with other advocates, worked with attorneys to negotiate the settlements with the three banks. Meanwhile, cases against banks have been filed in Pennsylvania seeking accessible ATMs under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

New Telecommunications Rules

The Federal Communication Commission's long-awaited rules for Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act require manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to and useable by persons with disabilities, if readily achievable.

The rules are available on the FCC's Web site at: <www.fcc.gov/dtf>. A more detailed explanation of the disability access provisions as they affect people who are visually impaired can be found in the preview edition of AccessWorld at <www.afb.org/accessworld.html>.

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Calendar

March 20–25, 2000

California State University at Northridge's Center on Disabilities' 15th annual international conference, "Technology and Persons with Disabilities."

Hilton Los Angeles Airport and Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotels, California.

Contact:

Center on Disabilities, California State University, Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330-8340; phone: 818-677-2578; fax: 818-677-4929; E-mail: <LTM@csun.edu>; Web site: <www.csun.edu/cod/>.

April 1–6, 2000

CHI 2000 Conference

The Hague, The Netherlands. The conference is an international forum for the exchange of ideas and information about human-computer interaction.

Contact:

CHI 2000 Office, 703 Giddings Avenue, Suite U-3, Annapolis, MD 21401; phone: 410-263-5382; fax: 410-267-0332; E-mail: <chi2000-office@acm.org>; Web site: <www.acm.org/sigs/sigchi/chi2000/>.

April 10–15, 2000

Fourth Regional Americas Telecom 2000.

Rio Centro Exhibition and Conference Centre, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Contact:

AVIPAM, Av. Rio Blanco, 251-B Centro, CEP 20040-008, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; phone: 011-55-21-544-0909; fax: 011-55-21-544-4758; E-mail: <ahumberto@avipam.com.br>; Web site: <www.itu.int/AMERICAS2000/index.html>.

May 15–19, 2000

9th International World Wide Web Conference.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Contact:

Web site: <www.9.org/>; E-mail: <info@www.9.org>.

June 14–18, 2000

Designing for the 21st Century II: An International Conference on Universal Design.

Providence, RI, sponsored by Adaptive Environments.

Contact:

Designing for the 21st Century, Adaptive Environments Center; phone: 617-695-1225; Web site: <www.adaptenv.org/21century>.

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