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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 January 2001 Issue  Volume 2  Number 1
JAWS for Windows

Caption: Veronica Boyd, Team Leader for Allstate's Center for Assistive Technology, trains Jim Osmon, Allstate Information Technology, to use JAWS for Windows

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

The Meaning of Freedom (and the Merger of Freedom Scientific)

The Sound, Sight, and Feel of Learning: An Interactive Tutorial from TECSO

Online the Easy Way? A Review of America Online 6.0 and MSN Explorer

Accommodating Productivity: Allstate and Assistive Technology

Conference Report: Closing the Gap

How Usable Are Information Appliances That Connect to a TV?

AccessWorld News

Calendar


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


Editor's Page

The start of a new year often makes us reflect on where we are and how far we have come. Just a few calendar years ago, which equals generations when measured in assistive technology years, we were consumed with the fear that we would be denied access to the Windows operating system and the basic applications we needed to do our jobs. As we enter the odyssey year of 2001, the assistive technology landscape has changed drastically. We have solid access to the Internet, Office 2000, and other widely used applications. It is ironic that we can now use Microsoft as a standard by which to judge the accessibility of other companies' products. In this issue, Crista L. Earl evaluates the accessibility of America Online (AOL) 6.0 and Microsoft's MSN Explorer. Both boast proprietary, easy-to-use features designed to be extremely friendly to even the most nontechnical user. Has AOL made progress toward fulfilling the conditions of the settlement of the suit filed by the National Federation of the Blind charging that their software was inaccessible? Has Microsoft created another product as friendly as Internet Explorer 5.0 and higher is with current screen readers?

Training is as crucial an issue as is accessibility for computer users who are blind or visually impaired. What good is the latest technology if we don't know how to use it and there are no good training materials? Deborah Kendrick reviews a CD-ROM-based interactive tutorial from TECSO, Inc. She also interviews visually impaired employees who have used Allstate's Center for Assistive Technology. Is this a model to be duplicated by other companies?

Mark M. Uslan and Kevin B. Dusling, an intern from the Cooper Union Institute's School of Engineering, continue our investigation of the accessibility of off-the-shelf products for people who are visually impaired. They review Microsoft's WebTV, Sega's Dreamcast, and AOL's AOLTV—three products meant to provide inexpensive, painless Internet access.

The merger of Blazie Engineering, Henter-Joyce, and Arkenstone to form Freedom Scientific continues to be a major topic whenever blind people discuss assistive technology and the future of the industry. In the absence of public statements and dialog with consumers by the company, rumor and speculation have taken over on electronic discussion groups and elsewhere. Paul Schroeder spoke with many of the players and presents what he found.

I have dreamed of having a publication like AccessWorld as a home for product evaluations since I began conducting them in 1988. I congratulate Paul Schroeder for bringing it to life. I am delighted to be the editor and intend to continue to increase AccessWorld's size and scope. This is an ideal time to send us your feedback and suggestions. It is also time for many of you to renew your subscriptions. If you have not yet received a renewal notice, you will very soon. But, why wait? Give us a call at 888-522-0220 and don't risk missing an issue.

In response to your requests, we will soon begin sending out an e-mail update in months when a regular issue is not published. It will contain news, Q&A, and more. If you are an online subscriber and have not received announcements when new issues were available, or if you read another format and would like to receive this e-mail update, please e-mail us at <accessworld@afb.net>.

We apologize for the fact that subscribers to all formats except the online version received the November issue very late. Technical problems resulting from our switch to a fulfillment house that can provide enhanced services, including e-commerce, were to blame and will not recur.

Jay Leventhal

Editor in Chief

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Access Issues

The Meaning of Freedom (and the Merger of Freedom Scientific)

Significant change is often especially hard in a small community, and so it came as no surprise that the creation of Freedom Scientific last April was greeted with a flurry of rumors and speculation. The new company arose from the merger of three of the best known assistive technology companies in the blindness field—Blazie Engineering, Henter-Joyce, and Arkenstone. Now that the dust has settled somewhat, let's examine what the impact of Freedom Scientific will be on technology for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Business, capital, growth, and management are words that come up often when talking with the principals who created Freedom Scientific. Ted Henter, who built Henter-Joyce and its flagship product JAWS for Windows into a formidable player in the assistive technology field, explained that he had begun to look for buyers for Henter-Joyce two years ago. "I had no business degree and I needed someone to help us grow by handling business and administration." Arkenstone's Jim Fruchterman agreed, "Arkenstone had found limits to our business model. The main limit was we ran a break-even business, which means you don't have a lot of money for new ideas or new products. We had identified the need to raise several million dollars to do the kind of things we thought necessary." Meanwhile, Richard Chandler, the CEO and driving force behind the creation of Freedom Scientific, had become interested in assistive technology, and in 1999 he journeyed to the assistive technology conference known as CSUN (the "Technology and People with Disabilities" conference sponsored by California State University-Northridge) and was impressed by many of the niche companies he found there. Chandler was ready to expand his business, which at that time was focused on home medical devices like wheelchairs. Referring to the assistive technology industry, he said, "These companies had higher margins, higher growth rates, more proprietary technologies, and fewer competitors—a lot of benefits that I didn't see anymore in the 'metal-bending side' of disability products." He saw the opportunity to apply business discipline to help these companies accelerate the development of their products and grow enough to market them nationally and internationally.

Freedom Scientific Emerges

As Chandler began to develop the idea of merging some of these assistive technology companies into his medical company (Sunrise Medical), things suddenly turned sour. According to Chandler, the business for medical products fell dramatically in the late 1990s. Prices dropped, and major purchasers like Medicare further tightened restrictions. It was clear by 1999 that Sunrise Medical was not going to be able to secure financing to make acquisitions.

He left the top job at Sunrise on October 5, 1999, and flew immediately to Orlando to attend the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference. He met there with Ted Henter, who had already considered selling Henter-Joyce to Chandler's old company; and Deane Blazie, Jim Fruchterman, and other leaders in the field. Within months, Chandler was gathering the venture capital he needed to merge the companies. In April 2000, the initial merger of Blazie and Henter-Joyce into Freedom Scientific was announced, and in June Freedom Scientific acquired Arkenstone.

Too big, too powerful?

Perhaps inevitably, consumers and assistive technology dealers have expressed concerns about the potential for Freedom Scientific to use its size and power to gain a near monopoly on technology products for blind consumers, driving out competitor's products. Jim Halliday is concerned about the impact of Freedom Scientific, a competitor to Halliday's HumanWare. In July 2000, Chandler sent HumanWare a letter terminating an agreement that had allowed HumanWare to be a dealer for JAWS. The letter referred to HumanWare's distribution of products that compete with Freedom Scientific's line of products. Halliday says he recognizes that this is a business and that HumanWare is a competitor, but he doesn't understand why Freedom Scientific would make this move against such a large distributor of its products. "They've turned a win-win situation into lose-lose," because HumanWare is now selling a lot more competing screen readers. Chandler defended the decision, noting that HumanWare is not just a dealer ("I call them a manufacturer, he said"). Thus far, none of the assistive technology dealers interviewed for this story said that Freedom Scientific had terminated arrangements for selling their products, though some expressed the fear that this might happen. Perhaps more troubling is Halliday's fear that the venture capitalists and potential investors behind Freedom Scientific will likely not realize the profits they were promised and that blind and visually impaired consumers would suffer if these investors took their money out of the company. "Ted Henter and Deane Blazie built good companies, and they helped to build an industry," Halliday says. But, he's worried about history, noting that Sunrise followed the same pattern of rapid growth through the acquisition of companies, only to have the stock price drop precipitously and the company suffer a serious decline.

Fruchterman discounted the fear. Even if things turn downward, he noted, the capital that has been brought to these companies means they will be in a better place to weather the storm. According to Chandler, a market failure would mean that Freedom Scientific was not keeping up with the market and that someone else was producing better products.

So What Have They Done Lately?

The mundane tasks of management have dominated business at Freedom Scientific over the past several months. The blindness and low vision group within the company has been merged into two divisions, one focusing on software (comprised of Henter-Joyce's JAWS for Windows and MAGic and Arkenstone's Open Book) and one for hardware (largely the Blazie line of notetakers and braille displays and the VERA reading machine from Arkenstone). The company's operations have been centralized in Florida and customer service, sales, and marketing efforts have been consolidated. Of course, new products in all these areas have also been announced.

Chandler said he is spending a lot of time talking with customers. He also talked about the challenge of bringing management discipline to the companies that make up the blindness and low vision group at Freedom Scientific. "These companies had different policies, attitudes toward customers, cultures, and business management strengths. "The challenge," he said, is to "introduce management disciplines in cultures that are classic mom-and-pop businesses where there's resistance to change, resistance to the formality that you need, the documentation, and the rigor."

What's Next?

In the short-term, Freedom Scientific's management is focused on—management. Chandler spoke of measuring the length of hold times for customers waiting for technical support, for example. In addition, the company is now focusing on repair turnaround times and product warranty use rates. Freedom Scientific is also moving to expand its sales and marketing efforts. Regional sales staff are now being hired, and Chandler said he hopes to grow the sales staff so that all major cities have a representative.

Responding to questions about the advantages of the merger, Freedom Scientific officials spoke of "synergy." That means new products with new combinations of functions and faster development of technologies. There is also the tantalizing prospect of lower prices as a result of higher volumes.

Although no one at Freedom Scientific would commit to new products currently being planned, there was talk about improving the interaction between notetakers and screen readers, and Chandler speculated about the value of combining functions such as cell phones or GPS (wayfinding technologies) with a notetaker.

Henter and Blazie are now vice presidents at Freedom Scientific. Fruchterman, heading up the new nonprofit company Benetech, said that one of the most appealing things about the merger that created Freedom Scientific is that the scanning products that Arkenstone developed will be improved and upgraded far more rapidly than before. "We always had to drop development on one of our products while we worked on the other," Fruchterman said. As for when we might begin to see some of this "synergy," Henter expects Freedom Scientific's products to show the improvements by the second half of 2001.

The Bottom Line

The success of Freedom Scientific depends on its ability to grow by expanding the market for assistive technology. Prospects for growth exist in several markets. Outside the United States, Freedom Scientific officials see vast opportunities to sell technology benefitting people who are blind or visually impaired. Here and abroad, the aging baby boomers comprise a rapidly growing market, especially for low vision products. However, Freedom Scientific's product line is weakest in the low vision area, some assistive technology dealers interviewed for this story have suggested. (Many in the field have speculated that Freedom Scientific is looking for a CCTV manufacturer as one of the next acquisitions, but officials at Freedom Scientific would not provide any details on their expansion plans.) Finally, Chandler sees the possibility of growing sales of blindness and low vision products in the U.S. market, particularly if Freedom Scientific can improve the pricing and performance of its technology.

The emphasis on growth is key because the goal is to take Freedom Scientific public in three to five years. This change would bring vast amounts of capital into the company, but it would require much higher sales and carries the risk of investors dropping the company if sales fall short.

The large investment of cash in Freedom Scientific and the focus on sales and marketing invites comparisons to Microsoft. Not surprisingly, Chandler responded to the analogy by suggesting that Microsoft has benefited consumers through lower prices and more features in computer software. Nonetheless, other companies in the business will have to improve their ability to build partnerships and invest in technology development. Major purchasers and assistive technology dealers will also have to take care to screen out marketing hype and ensure that consumers get what they need even if that product is not the most marketed or most popular. Chandler said that Freedom Scientific's market power could expand the assistive technology market for all blind and visually impaired consumers. Let's hope that is true.

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Product Evaluation

The Sound, Sight, and Feel of Learning: An Interactive Tutorial from TECSO

"Listening to the Internet" is one of a growing family of interactive tutorials developed specifically with blind and visually impaired users in mind by the Montreal-based TECSO. The power of packaging was not lost on this company, and the result is an attractively packaged interactive tutorial that covers all topics and learning styles.

The basic product is an interactive tutorial, consisting of digitally recorded voices on a CD-ROM that takes you through six areas of study: the Internet, Web Basics, Surfing the Web, Internet Tools, E-mail Basics, and Advanced E-mail. The sound quality is crystal clear, and the use of seasoned Talking Book narrators contributes to the audio appeal of the lessons. The entire "Listening to the Internet" package is housed in a sturdy three-ring binder and consists of the CD itself and audiocassette manual (inside the front cover) and three-hole-punched print and braille instructions. The binder also includes a tactile guide (in landscape mode, turned sideways), providing excellent raised-line depictions of the screens that are covered throughout the product's lessons.

Quick Start instructions for installation are included in all three formats, so that you are quickly up and running with lesson one. The tutorial is configured to work with either JAWS for Windows or Window-Eyes screen readers. In either case, context-sensitive tips are available throughout the exercises.

How Does It Work?

The tutorial is divided into six units, each containing explanations, practice exercises, and questions for review. The idea is to listen to each lesson with Internet Explorer launched and experience each step of instruction as it is presented. The tutorial will familiarize you with Internet basics—including web surfing, utilizing search engines, and all aspects of e-mail. Standard Windows commands are used, but the tutorial frequently reminds you specifically how to proceed. For example, once inside the "About This Tutorial" section (containing copyright and credit information) you are reminded to "Use Tab to select an option and then press Enter." Similarly, the narrator frequently reminds you to "use Up and Down arrows" through a set of choices, or to "press Alt-Tab" to return to Internet Explorer.

To launch the tutorial, you are asked to type your last name. From the main menu, you either select one of the six units or "last activity," a convenient feature of the product, bookmarking the lesson you most recently completed.

The interactive nature of this tutorial is particularly engaging. The narrators remind you to launch Internet Explorer at a lesson's outset and to close it if exiting. After each segment of new information, the tutorial pauses, allowing you to return to Internet Explorer and execute the step. When you are ready to continue, the tutorial is easily resumed by pressing F12.

When you exit the tutorial, you are asked, "Are you sure you want to exit the tutorial? Use Tab to select Exit or Cancel. Then press "Enter."

Playback controls, similar to a tape recorder, facilitate moving around within the product's six basic units or within a single unit's individual lessons. Jumping forward or back by small or large segments, speeding up or slowing down the voice, or getting a quick review of controls are all easily accomplished. The two narrators, one male and one female, alternate comfortably to keep attention and interest high. "How-to" information is repeatedly provided. For example, you are instructed to return to Internet Explorer to execute a given step, and then reminded to "Press Alt-Tab" to get there. Relevant JAWS or Window-Eyes commands have been included as a readily available Help screen, and periodic reminders alert you that these commands are available with just a keystroke.

The tactile guides are excellent and are incorporated directly into the tutorial's lessons. In a lesson on learning to use the AltaVista search engine, for example, you are directed to the site and reminded of basic JAWS commands for navigating it. Next, exercises guide you through the process of conducting a basic search. Meanwhile, you are referred to the tactile representation contained in the binder and quickly located by number, which illustrates the layout of the AltaVista screen.

For the kinesthetic learner, TECSO has produced a product in which instructions are spoken clearly, hands-on exercise is required, and explanation is provided in print, braille, audio, and tactile drawing formats. The new user is reminded of the small details that could easily be oversights—such as launching Internet Explorer to begin and closing it when finished. Although the entire tutorial includes about four hours of listening, the program remembers the "last activity," making it easy for you to pick up at any time to continue working consecutively through the lessons. Of course, if only one topic—such as surfing the web or compiling an address book—is of interest, any unit can be easily selected or jumped to at any time.

Minor Drawbacks

Although the playback controls are convenient and certainly familiar to Talking Book users, the pitch of the voice is altered significantly. Pressing F12 to resume the tutorial is generally effective from anywhere, although at times returning specifically to the tutorial with Alt-Tab was necessary. Finally, a more frequent reminder to press Ctrl-F12 to prevent command conflicts between screen reader and tutorial would be useful.

Those minor caveats being mentioned, however, "Listening to the Internet" is an excellent product that seems to have covered all topics in a rapidly changing market. For the self-taught computer user or as one of many tools in a training lab, this is a tutorial worth its price.

Product Information

Listening to the Internet (available in English, French, Italian, and Spanish).

Manufacturer: TECSO, Inc.; 1717 Rene-Levesque Blvd., East, Second Floor; Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2L 4T3; phone: 514-590-4218; fax: 514-590-4228; Web site: www.tecso.com. Price: $198.

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Product Evaluation

Online the Easy Way? A Review of America Online 6.0 and MSN Explorer

You're looking for that perfect online service; the one that's easy to use, does all the work for you, and your whole family will enjoy using. Your kids insist America Online (AOL) is the only one that will do. But you've heard how inaccessible it is to users of assistive technology (see the March 2000 AccessWorld for more details). You've heard a little about the Microsoft Network (MSN) Explorer but assume it might be the same. Should you try one of these? Should you get a regular Internet service provider (ISP)? Let's look at what AOL and MSN Explorer have to offer. But first, a little background.

Getting online

To get on the Internet at all you need a few things. For this article, we'll assume you've decided to use your Windows-based computer complete with appropriate assistive technology (a screen reader, perhaps). You'll also need a modem or other Internet connection and—here's the confusing part—an ISP. What the ISP does, for the most part, is let you get connected to the rest of the world through its computers and other equipment. The ISP might also provide you with software to run on your computer.

Generic Internet Access

What we're calling a "regular ISP" is a no-frills Internet service provider that lets you get online. Its main, sometimes sole, function is to give you access to the Internet. It usually gives you software, but you can also use software of your own choosing. So, if you sign up for service through Concentric, that company might send you a CD with Netscape Communicator. You can use it as a coffee coaster (it has a hole in the middle, so it doesn't work very well) and use Internet Explorer for browsing and Eudora Pro for e-mail if that's what you prefer. The ISP won't know or care. If you can figure out the details, you can read web pages, send and receive e-mail, and do lots of other online activities available to anybody else with any other generic online service.

AOL

AOL gives you access to the Internet. In that respect it is an ISP. AOL gives you lots of other services and content. It also gives you software that you must use to access the AOL service and many aspects of the Internet. For many parts of the service, it is not possible to substitute your preferred software for what AOL provides.

MSN Explorer

MSN Explorer is a piece of software. MSN is an online service, vaguely similar to AOL. You sign up with MSN and have access to the Internet and lots of other special features. But MSN Explorer, the software, can be used with a generic ISP. So, you don't have to sign up for MSN to use the MSN Explorer software.

Why would you prefer AOL or MSN Explorer over the more general software? First, AOL has content. Maybe you want some of the puzzles or newspapers it offers at no extra charge. Or perhaps you live in a place where you don't have a good alternative. The more common reason, though, is that AOL and MSN Explorer appear to do far more hand-holding than a generic ISP. If you're a techno-geek, you probably don't want your hand held. But, if hand-holding sounds good, let's consider what AOL and MSN Explorer are really doing for users of assistive technology.

AOL

The American Foundation for the Blind's (AFB) technology lab has spent a lot of time with AOL in the past. We've done two other evaluations of the service and software (in the March 2000 AccessWorld and the August 1998 Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness) and found it in the past to be extraordinarily inaccessible. AOL had the compound problem of having both inaccessible software and inaccessible content. Recently, AOL released AOL 6.0. Is it more accessible?

Following the recent settlement agreement in the suit filed by the National Federation of the Blind alleging that their service was inaccessible to people who are blind, AOL did several general things to improve their system. For example, AOL used Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) in parts of the software. MSAA is a set of programming codes by which a screen reader and a program can "communicate." Several popular screen readers use MSAA extensively to get information from such programs as Internet Explorer, Microsoft Excel, and Lotus Notes.

AOL also added and improved keyboard access to parts of the software. In AOL 5.0 it was not possible to tab to many items, making it absolutely necessary to use the mouse to do many basic activities. AOL labeled many items, especially buttons. Did these improvements translate into actual benefit to users?

I Do Have Mail!

One of the most essential Internet activities is e-mail. With AOL 5.0, e-mail was nearly impossible to use with even the best screen readers, and the simplest of tasks required advanced skill in using screen readers or eyesight or both.

E-mail is the area of greatest improvement in AOL 6.0. Here, buttons are labeled and messages can be deleted or filed reliably. (I hate it when I get those two tasks mixed up!) Messages are easy to read, although it is necessary to arrow down through all the header information ("From," "Date," "Subject," and lots more) to get to the body of the message. "Reply," "Forward," and some other functions are in a group of buttons that are difficult to reach. It appears to be necessary to click on one of them to make any of them available to the keyboard. Except for a few difficulties, using one of the screen readers that uses MSAA (JAWS for Windows, Window Bridge, and Window-Eyes, for example), AOL's e-mail system was quite usable.

Browsing the World Wide Web

Reading web pages on the Internet (not within AOL's content areas) can be done two ways. Once you've connected to AOL you can bring up the browser of your choice. This is how generic ISPs work, so if you have a browser that works well with your assistive technology or are using a specialized browser, you can continue to use it.

The other way of browsing is by using the software that AOL provides. This is one big program that serves all your online needs. It resembles Internet Explorer and in many ways works the same way, but is not entirely compatible with all screen readers. I had quite a lot of trouble with it freezing during testing and had to make a number of screen reader adjustments to improve the way this browser spoke. I found it much more expedient to simply run my trusty off-the-shelf browsers.

Chatting

AOL features a way for groups to discuss designated (or less clearly designated) topics. In general, the way they work is a user selects a topic from a list and is dropped into an ongoing or scheduled chat. On one side of the screen are scrolling messages from participants, each preceded by the "speaker's" screen name. On the other side are a list of participants and a set of controls for adding sound effects and other features.

The chat window is extremely unwieldy to use with speech. It is possible to move from the discussion window to the list of participants using the keyboard, and the new version offers the added feature of being able to easily arrow down through the list of names. However, the scrolling of the screen makes it difficult for the speech user to catch all parts of the conversation. Adding a cursor to the chat section of the window would allow users to arrow around in the text of recent discussion to see exactly what had been said.

The best technique I found for following the dialog was to use a screen reader feature to designate the bottom of the chat panel, the spot where new messages usually appeared, as one to read with a hot key, to hear the most recent comment or two. When messages came rapidly one after another, however, I missed several. So, to quickly "freeze" action and read what had been said, I copied and pasted the text into Notepad and then arrowed up through recent comments. This was inefficient, but made it possible to understand exactly what everyone had said. Unfortunately, it meant that my responses could never be timely.

Instant Messages

Here's most likely what your kids are really looking for when they insist they must have AOL. This feature lets AOL members communicate in "real time" by typing messages to each other. A charming tone indicates that an Instant Message is coming to you. The Instant Message window has a section in which the conversation accumulates and a place to type your response. There are buttons for send; cancel; "get profile," which allows you to see information about the person communicating with you (if they've created a profile); and "tell AOL," which lets you report misconduct, such as a person asking for your credit card number. With AOL 5.0, the older version, these buttons all worked as all the buttons in AOL did: Tab to the button you wish and press the space bar to activate it. They were all labeled appropriately. In AOL 6.0, we've taken a tiny step backwards; the buttons work, but the last two are not labeled.

When your computer makes a sound to let you know that your buddy has sent another comment in the ongoing conversation, you can easily tab to the area with the accumulated comments. Unfortunately, there is no cursor, and recent comments are likely not read by your screen reader, so to hear what was just sent to you it is necessary to either use your screen reading review commands or use my inefficient Notepad cut-and-paste trick. To grab the last flurry of comments from your buddy, do this: Tab 5 times (or Shift-Tab once) to get to the pane containing the conversation. Press Control-A to select all the text in the text area. Press Control-C to copy the text. Switch to Notepad. Press Control-V to paste the text. Read the current line using your screen reader's appropriate command. Press Up-Arrow to hear the previous line. This method is crude but effective if your buddy is patient.

Getting Help

Would you like to know how to get around in AOL? Somewhere, there must be a list of keyboard commands. For example, we know, of course, that Control-K brings up the keyword dialog box. And, of course, Spacebar activates a button (don't use Enter as you might in most Windows programs. That can have catastrophic effects.) And, we've figured out that Control-Tab moves from one open window to another and that Control-F4 closes the current window. What else is available?

I pressed F1 for Help and found that it was easy and effective to type in words and get a simple list of more-or-less relevant topics. So, after just looking around in the help system for instructions on how to use AOL with the keyboard, I tried searching for "keyboard," "keys," "accessibility," "accessible," "disability," "blind," "hot keys," and a number of terms I thought reasonable people might try, but to no avail. By typing in "screen reader," I did find instructions on how to copy a file necessary for use with JAWS from the AOL folder to the JFW folder, which was very helpful. No list of keyboard commands was ever found.

MSN Explorer

Nearly everything in MSN Explorer is done in one big browser-style window. Throughout the browser area, MSAA was used. So, users accustomed to using a screen reader with Internet Explorer will feel somewhat at home.

The browser window is partitioned into sections that can be reached using the F6 key. So, if you're looking at a web site and want to listen to music at the same time, you can press F6 until you land in the media player, then press Enter on the "Play" button.

It is apparent that Microsoft has put a great deal of effort into the accessibility of this product. The toolbar (there is no traditional menu) can be reached via the keyboard, and each item is spoken by those screen readers using MSAA. Unfortunately, the program behaves sluggishly using a screen reader and many controls, especially in the e-mail interface, don't work correctly via the keyboard. When using the toolbar via the keyboard, it is easy to get lost. Some items can only be found by moving forward (Tab), but others are only available by moving backward (Shift-Tab), and in either direction you simply run off the toolbar and back to the web page, never finding all the items.

E-mail

MSN Explorer provides e-mail service via a browser-based e-mail program. The advantage of this system over your usual e-mail is that the messages stay on a server and you can read them from any machine to which you have access. So, if you don't have your own computer but must rely on the one at the public library, you can log in, read your e-mail, and sign off without leaving your messages behind at the library. The disadvantage of this system is that the browser-based interface is quite inefficient to use compared with Eudora, Outlook, or Outlook Express—three popular and speech-friendly e-mail packages.

Composing an e-mail message was quite an ordeal using MSN Explorer and speech. The link to "write" the message was easy to select, but the fields to complete were not all labeled. It was not possible to know when the cursor was in the area designated for typing the body of the message (press Tab twice after filling in the subject). After composing the message, the "Send" button was difficult to locate. It did not seem to be in the same place every time, or it was not always present.

Browsing the World Wide Web

General browsing using MSN Explorer worked well. In addition, Microsoft's and MSN's own pages were generally speech-friendly and easy to navigate.

MSN Messenger

MSN Messenger is a fun way to communicate with buddies. MSN Explorer installs MSN Messenger Service on your system and lets you manage a "buddy list" so that, among other things, you can be alerted when one of your buddies signs on. I found that this worked very well, even if I was using Internet Explorer 5.5 instead of MSN Explorer to browse web pages and had MSN Messenger open in the background, I was notified when a buddy signed on. When sending messages back and forth the text of the conversation was easily readable and appeared in a normal windows-style window, ensuring that it worked well with screen readers.

Getting Help

The MSN Explorer help system was absolutely loaded with keyboard commands. Besides the easy-to-find "accessibility" option prominently featured on the main list of choices, each subcategory, such as "using e-mail" contained lists of relevant hot keys and keyboard techniques.

Many other Microsoft products, such as Windows 98 and Office 2000, feature a well-developed, highly accessible help system. In the system, help topics are grouped in a way that makes the hierarchy of books, chapters, and subcategories obvious both visually and using a good screen reader. In MSN Explorer, however, Microsoft placed the help system in a separate browser-type window and simulated the visual look of the hierarchy of chapters and subchapters but not the functional structure. So, the relationship between a main heading and the items under it is lost on the speech user. It would have been more effective to have used the very effective help system already in use in other products.

Conclusion

If you have a generic Internet service provider and are getting along, you should probably stick with what you have. If you find yourself in a situation in which AOL is your only option for online service, that system has made noticeable improvement in the past year, especially in its e-mail system. If you have the option of using a standard ISP such as Earthlink or Concentric and think you would like the more guided interface of MSN Explorer, you'll find Microsoft has made a good start toward a speech-friendly interface to the Internet.

Product Information

MSN Explorer

Manufacturer: Microsoft Corporation; phone: 800-426-9400; Web site: www.microsoft.com.

America Online

phone: 800-827-6364; Web site: www.aol.com.

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Interview

Accommodating Productivity: Allstate and Assistive Technology

We are all too familiar with the 70 percent unemployment rate of working-age Americans who are blind or visually impaired. At least one company, however, has recognized the enormous work potential of people with a variety of disabilities. Visually impaired employees at Allstate Insurance are loyal to their employers, and they are quick to explain why.

Running Toward Employment

When Jim Osmon first graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in political science, he thought he wanted to go into law. Involvement with the United States Association for Blind Athletes changed his mind. As a world competitor in track and field events in the 1988 Paralympics in Korea, Osmon began thinking about a career as a personal trainer, teaching people to use fitness equipment and creating custom exercise regimens. He returned to school; then, after he graduated with a new degree in kinesiology and bio science, began looking for a job.

"I had more than a few doors closed in my face," Osmon recalls. "One potential employer told me directly that my visual impairment made me too much of a liability." He could have pursued the path in a climate of contention, but Osmon wanted to go to work. He began casting about for new possibilities.

Osmon enrolled in a computer science program, which included a three-month internship with a major corporation. It was June 1990 when he went to work for Allstate Insurance Company's headquarters office in Northbrook, Illinois. Severely visually impaired as a result of macular degeneration, Osmon was at that time able to use some screen magnification but mostly relied on synthesized speech. The company accommodated him willingly with both, and has continued to accommodate his needs—and promote him repeatedly—in what is now a 10-year career of challenge and satisfaction.

Osmon began as a computer programmer in Allstate's life insurance systems department. He has been a programmer, team leader, and project manager and works today in management as one of a half dozen people comprising Allstate's Architectural Review Board, which oversees 23 systems in auto and property insurance. No longer programming himself, he now advises programmers on how to make elaborate systems work cooperatively.

Over the years, Osmon's employer has accommodated his changing needs to enable him to do his job. No longer able to use magnification, he now uses JAWS for Windows 3.7 and, for the rare situations when electronic text is not available, OpenBook for scanning print documents. The company accommodates him, he says, in whatever ways are necessary to enable him to do his job. This policy is not just the result of laws and mandates. Osmon and others with disabilities were hired and accommodated before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). What has improved with time is the method used for determining and acquiring assistive technology for Allstate employees who need it.

Building a Team of Experts

As the number of assistive technology accommodations grew, Allstate formed a team dedicated to providing such solutions in 1999. Veronica Boyd, team leader of the Allstate Center for Assistive Technology (ACAT) project, now oversees a team of eight individuals who evaluate, train, and configure assistive technology for Allstate employees nationwide. Team members are frequent attendees at such conferences as Closing the Gap, CSUN's Technology and Persons with Disabilities, ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association), and many others. Most have been certified by CSUN's Assistive Technology Certification Program, and a storehouse of solutions is constantly growing. ACAT's 1,000-square-foot lab, located at the Northbrook headquarters, is planning expansion to accommodate work stations and team members, and new applicants and employees with disabilities are routinely evaluated and equipped with necessary tools.

Veronica Boyd reports that the team has purchased, trained, and configured such solutions as voice recognition software, ergonomic keyboards, head-mounted mouse pointers, and a variety of switches and alternative keyboards for people with such disabling conditions as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and quadriplegia. However, more than half of the team's accommodations have involved screen readers, magnification software, or braille solutions for employees with visual impairments.

"Once a person has asked for accommodation," Boyd explains, "the ACAT team is notified, and we set up an assessment involving the employee, manager, and someone from human resources. We try to find out what the essential job functions the person is performing are and what the barriers are. When we find out what kind of technology we're looking for, we do research. We find it, test it in the lab, test it on the application to see that it's compatible, then let the person try it out." "We test each individual and determine that person's particular needs," she explains. "A person might do the same job and have the same disability as another employee and still need entirely different assistive technology."

Although new applicants or employees in the home office are sometimes brought into the ACAT lab for private assessment and testing, ACAT team members typically travel to the offices of employees with disabilities in other states. The idea, Boyd says, is to provide tools that are necessary in the most comfortable environment to keep any employee working and productive.

Finding His Niche

David Mohnen, a computer programmer in Allstate's Integrated Risk Management Systems area, is effusive in his praise and gratitude for the efficiency of the ACAT team's solutions. After graduating with a degree in history in 1991, he "kicked around looking for work and doing part-time jobs" until enrolling in a computer programming course and going to work for Allstate in 1996.

"Basically, if you walk into Allstate for auto or property insurance," Mohnen explains, "an agent will take your information, type it in, and send an application to get you a quote." Put simply, his job is to continue improving, revising, and tweaking the program used for both underwriting and renewals.

Mohnen's visual impairment, caused by retinopathy of prematurity, allows him to read a visual screen at close range with magnification. Allstate's ACAT team has provided him with a 24-inch monitor and MAGIC software for screen enlargement. The most useful accommodation, he laughs, may well be the arm to support such a heavy monitor, enabling him to adjust it frequently for better viewing. For reading print documents, Mohnen uses a scanner with commercial software, bringing documents up in Microsoft Word with MAGIC to facilitate reading. In addition to his visual impairment, Mohnen wears hearing aids, and thus has difficulty discerning synthesized speech. Allstate provided him with a telephone handset with volume control until recently, when volume controls on every phone became the company standard.

"My job is challenging and rewarding," Mohnen says, "and the people I work with are some of the nicest people I've ever known. Computer science is a good career choice for someone with low vision or no vision. I know there are many other fields, but this is an area that technology can more than adequately accommodate, making it a better choice than many other jobs. I know the [programming] language well enough now that if I lost the rest of my vision, I'd have no difficulty doing my job."

Mohnen recommends programming to others who are blind, perhaps because of his own job satisfaction. Allstate employees who are blind or visually impaired, however, span the gamut of career possibilities within the company. They are claims adjusters, agents, programmers, trainers, underwriters, auto adjusters, life specialists (agents who sell life insurance), and managers. Jim Osmon is quick to point out that the accommodation policy is not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone. Many people work from home, for example, some because of disability, others to meet the needs of new parenthood or sick children.

Anything necessary for the job, Osmon is confident, could be his for the asking. "I use headphones with my computer," he cites as an example, "and I do it as a courtesy to others because I'm not in a closed-door office. But I'm sure if I asked for a closed-door office as an accommodation, I'd probably get it. The company has always accommodated individuals," the 10-year veteran says, "but the existence of ACAT has definitely streamlined the process and made it easier and faster to get technology that's needed."

Why do they do it? "We were doing it before the ADA," says Veronica Boyd. "Many [employees with disabilities] are long-term employees. What we find is if you give someone accommodation, they can work just as hard or harder than others. Because of the discrimination many have experienced, they are so grateful that you're making the effort to accommodate them, giving them the opportunity to do what they can, they tend to be loyal employees. Some companies may be afraid of hiring people with disabilities because they're afraid it will cost them astronomical amounts of money. Yet, the last 75 people ACAT has accommodated cost us under $50,000 in all. That's minimal when what we get is 75 productive employees."

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Conference Report

Closing The Gap

The Eighteenth Closing The Gap "Computer Technology in Special Education and Rehabilitation" conference was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota from October 18 to 21 at the Radisson South Hotel. More than 2,250 people attended.

New Products

HumanWare announced two products. The VoiceNote is a notetaker with a QWERTY keyboard and speech output. The Braille Voyager is a 44-cell braille display featuring the Tieman Express program designed to drive Microsoft Windows directly, rather than depending entirely on a screen reader. GW Micro released version 4.0 of Window-Eyes. The new version introduces support for braille and Windows Millennium. Freedom Scientific announced Connect Outloud, a stripped-down ($249) version of JAWS for Windows aimed at beginners that provides speech and braille access to Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and the Windows Start menu, calculator, and other basic functions.

Widening The Gap

If you have attended the Closing The Gap conference, you are probably aware that the organizers have the reputation of being less than friendly to blind participants. Surprisingly, this attitude still exists. Examples at this year's conference include providing braille programs only for those people who register and request one by a certain date; omitting session descriptions and presenters' first names and company affiliations from the braille programs; continuing to hold the conference in a hotel that lacks enough rooms for guests, meetings, or exhibits, thereby forcing participants to shuttle among several hotels; and offering no braille menus and no training of staff on how to accommodate guests with disabilities in the overflow hotels and providing no reliable shuttle schedule.

International conferences of this size and scope offer extremely valuable opportunities to try new products, exchange ideas, and network. We urge the staff at Closing The Gap to make their conference more accessible to attendees who are blind or visually impaired. You can contact them at <info@closingthegap.com>.

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Product Evaluation

How Usable are Internet Appliances That Connect to a TV?

Who wouldn't be interested in a simple and inexpensive Internet appliance to send and receive e-mail and take advantage of the web-a device that is more like a TV set for the Internet? The idea of the Internet appliance has great appeal to anyone for whom learning to use a personal computer (PC) is a hassle or for whom cost is an issue. We checked PC prices and found that a basic PC for Internet access with a 17-inch monitor can range from $600-$1,000. Magnification software can greatly increase the cost, especially for a full-featured program.

Using a TV

Most people own a TV that is big enough to display large letters and images on the screen, and using such a TV can bring down the cost of an Internet appliance to under a few hundred dollars. How well do these devices really work, and will the TV deliver a good enough image for the visually impaired user? Many people own older TVs that are perfectly adequate for their main purpose. The problem is that the telephone-line signal delivered to the TV for accessing the Internet is designed for a computer monitor, and even the newest TVs will not provide resolution that is as good as that of a computer monitor.

Criteria

We came up with five criteria to consider in a TV-based Internet appliance:

  1. It should be able to send and receive e-mail, provide access to the web, and cost under $250.
  2. It should be relatively easy to set up. Components should connect easily, and connecting to the Internet should be relatively painless.
  3. It should have good screen visibility, even on an older TV. (Buying a new TV would at least double the cost.) Screen resolution should be good enough to provide a crisp image. The size of icons and text should be big and well spaced. By big we mean the following: on a 27-inch TV at least 1/2 inch for an upper case letter and at least 5/16 of an inch for a lower case letter.
  4. It should have a high-contrast feature or foreground and background color control so that you can get a high-contrast image.
  5. It should have a minimum number of controls, which are easy to find and use.

To find out if a TV-based Internet appliance would be usable by people who are visually impaired, we did some research and found three candidates to evaluate: Microsoft's WebTV, Sega's Dreamcast, and AOL's AOLTV. All three meet the criteria for e-mail, web access, and cost. We tried them out on a 27-inch Sony TV that was about 12 years old. We decided to use this TV rather than buy a new one because it is likely that many people own older TVs, and if the appliance worked well on an older TV, it would probably work as well or better on a newer one.

WebTV: The Granddaddy of TV-Internet Appliances

The WebTV console looks like a videocassette recorder (VCR) without control buttons or a place to insert the tape. It comes with a power cord, a telephone wire, and an audio visual (AV) cable and is very easy to connect. All WebTV controls are keys on the wireless QWERTY keyboard. They are black with yellow text in 12-point font. Arrow keys are used to move the cursor from link to link. As an arrow key is hit, a yellow box around the previous link jumps to the next link. That is the easy part. There is much more to consider.

The top row is made up of function keys (F1 to F7), which act as shortcuts to web sites and nine WebTV keys (Favorites, Home, Search, Mail, Find, Info, Go To, Save, and Send). There is also a column of four WebTV keys on the right side of the keyboard (Edit, Back, Scroll Up, and Scroll Down). There are also two WebTV keys located next to the space bar (Recent and Option). With a total of 15 WebTV command keys, learning all the commands and where they are located can be a hassle. Although the instruction manual is not really needed to set up WebTV, it is helpful for learning commands. The manual is in 12-point font with many illustrations.

Signing up to WebTV's proprietary Internet service provider (ISP) is easy. When WebTV is turned on for the first time, it automatically calls WebTV to set up a new account. Text on the sign-up screen meets our criteria for being large. However, contrast is poor because it uses a light gray background with dark gray letters. Typed-in text is yellow and is much more visible, but the edges of the letters are fuzzy as a result of moving scan lines.

After dialing in, you are taken to WebTV's home page, which provides most of the options available on the keyboard as icon buttons and text buttons. The text and images meet our criteria for being large, but contrast is poor and WebTV provides no foreground or background control. We did not encounter the problem of blurry letters that we saw in the sign-on screen.

E-mail and basic text on web pages can be set to small, medium, or large. When set to large, e-mail text meets our criteria for size and resolution but not for contrast. It uses light blue letters on a dark blue background. Resolution was poor for viewing web sites because of the same fuzziness that appeared on the sign-on screen.

Dreamcast: It's Not Just for Games

The Dreamcast console is about half the size of a VCR with a CD player on top for inserting CD-based games or the Dreamcast web browser, which is used whenever you want to go online. It comes with the standard cables, but Dreamcast's QWERTY keyboard is not wireless and must be plugged into the console. It is easy to connect the components. The arrow keys are used to move the cursor around but not from link to link.

Dreamcast's keyboard uses two keys for scrolling. It also uses the numbers 2-9 on the numeric pad for the following commands: stop, options, back, home, forward, reload, mail, and address. Many letter keys also function as shortcut buttons. The most used letter commands are "A," which is the action key to click on a link, the "Y" key, which opens up an on-screen magnifier, and the "G" key, which opens the URL dialog box. It is not hard to find the commands because they are all letter or number keys. However, the manual is in 10-point type with few illustrations.

The on-screen magnifier opens a window that displays the area behind it magnified 2x or 4x. The window is moved with the arrow keys. In the 2x mode, we found that it not only magnifies beyond our size criteria but also makes the image much crisper and makes reading lines of text and viewing icons or graphics much easier. However, when you are using the magnifier, you cannot type or click on links. This is a big drawback, especially for using e-mail.

Dreamcast offers three options for ISPs: a preexisting ISP, its own proprietary ISP (Sega Net) or AT&T's WorldNet. We chose WorldNet. Signing up was more involved than it was for WebTV but was still relatively easy. Contrast on the sign-up screen was tolerable. Dreamcast's web site is cluttered with advertisements and links related to game playing, but the contrast is good, with black letters on a white background. To get to e-mail you either hit a shortcut key on the keyboard or the mail icon on the top of the page. The size of text in e-mail is less than our criteria, and the black letters on a white background are slightly fuzzy, but the on-screen magnifier did a good job magnifying and removing the fuzziness. We found the resolution on web pages to be poor but the on-screen magnifier came to the rescue as it did in email.

AOLTV: The New Kid on the Block

The AOLTV console is just like WebTV's, and it also has a wireless keyboard. Set up was easy. AOLTV's keyboard is the same size as WebTV's, but it has 27 added buttons scattered on the keyboard. These buttons are very small (only a half an inch long and three eighths inch high) and they are also placed very close together. The labeling of the buttons is in 10-point type with poor contrasting colors. The manual is in 12-point type with some illustrations.

AOLTV's ISP is, as you might expect, AOL. To sign up you enter your registration code number. Letter size on the sign-up screen met our criteria, but contrast was poor. For some unknown reason, our registration number was invalid. We called customer support and eventually succeeded in getting connected.

When we turned on AOLTV we were presented with a list of links on the left of the screen that met our size criteria, but contrast was poor because of the use of light blue lettering on a dark blue background. E-mail is also good in terms of size but equally poor in terms of contrast. (The letters are white on a light blue background.) When we composed a letter in e-mail the contrast and resolution was better; with black text on a beige background and crisp letters. When we viewed web pages we had the same problem with resolution as in WebTV and Dreamcast without its on-screen magnifier. Letters and images were fuzzy.

TV or Not TV?: How Usable Are They?

Are these TV-based Internet appliances easy to set up and sign on? Yes, but we encountered some difficulties signing on to AOL.

Is screen visibility good? The only unit that met all our criteria for screen visibility was Dreamcast because of its image-enhancing on-screen magnifier. However, the on-screen magnifier does not work while the user is typing, which is a major drawback.

Is there sufficient contrast or control of contrast? Dreamcast was the only unit that provided decent contrast (black letters on a white background), but it did not offer contrast control.

Are the controls easy to find and use? Dreamcast was slightly better than WebTV and far better than AOLTV, but it still did not meet our expectations. Some people may find Dreamcast difficult to use, and the manual is not accessible.

The bottom line is that these devices were not designed to be used by visually impaired people, and it just might be too much to expect that they have all the features and functions we need, especially with an older TV. Dreamcast met all our criteria, but only barely. Let the visually impaired buyer beware.

Product Information

WebTV: $99.99 plus $49.99 for the keyboard; ISP: WebTV ($24.95 per month). Company: WebTV Networks; phone: 888-469-3288; Web site: www.Webtv.com.

Dreamcast: $149.99 plus $24.99 for the keyboard;, ISP: SegaNet ($21.95 per month); AT&T WorldNet ($14.95 per month); any pre-existing ISP. Company: Sega; phone: 888-345-7342; Web site: www.sega.com.

AOLTV: $249.99 (comes with keyboard), ISP: AOL. Company: AOL; phone: 800-810-4665; Web site: www.aol.com.

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News

CSUN Appoints New Director

Harry F. Rizer was named director of the Center on Disabilities at California State University at Northridge (CSUN), in late summer 2000. Dr. Rizer received the 1987 Humanitarian Award from the National Rehabilitation Association and was named a Switzer Scholar in Assistive Technology. Dr. Rizer served as director of the Technology Resources Office at Maryland State Department of Education's Division of Rehabilitation Services, for the past two years he served on the advisory board to the CSUN Center on Disabilities, and he is a founding corporate board member of the National Cristina Foundation, an international organization that recycles computers for use by people with disabilities. Dr. Rizer replaced Dr. Harry J. Murphy, who retired on March 31, 2000. For more information, contact: Jodi Johnson, associate director, Center on Disabilities, CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330-8340; phone: 818-677-2578; fax: 818-677-4929; e-mail: <jodi.johnson@csun.edu>; web site: <www.csun.edu/cod/>.

Schroeder Receives Award

Paul Schroeder, former editor-in-chief of AccessWorld and current vice president of Governmental Relations for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), received the fifth Jacquelyn Brand Leadership in Assistive Technology Award from Alliance for Technology Access in October 2000. The award, which was established in 1997, was presented to Mr. Schroeder for his efforts to enhance the lives of people with disabilities by advocating the use of technology. Schroeder has served in many different capacities for various organizations, including: director, Governmental Affairs, American Council of the Blind; president, Alliance for Public Technology; and vice president, Association for Access Engineering Specialists. Mr. Schroeder also helped negotiate the disability access sections of the 1996 Telecommunications Act with the Technology Task Force of the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities and provides input on technology access for nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and private companies—including the Federal Communications Commission and Microsoft Corporation. For more information, contact: Alliance for Technology Access, 2175 East Francisco Boulevard, Suite L, San Rafael, CA 94901 ; phone: 415-455-4575; web site: <www.ataccess.org>.

Games for Kids

Crossword Fun for Kids, from MindsEye2, is an educational computer game for blind children aged 5-12. Designed by a blind programmer, the game uses a speech-accessible interface, operates with Windows 95 or 98, and features sound effects and 125 choices of background music. Crossword Fun for Kids features 70 puzzles, including: Under the Sea, Don't Bug Me!, and Trick or Treat! The cost is $35. For more information, contact: Drema Myers, vice president, MindsEye2, Route 1, Box 404-A, Bland, VA 24315; e-mail: <drema@mindseye2.com>; web site: <www.mindseye2.bigstep.com>.

Braille displays

Braille Voyager 44 and Braille Voyager 70 are the newest braille displays from HumanWare. The displays operate with Tieman Express, a program designed to drive Microsoft Windows directly from Braille Voyager. Braille Voyager 44 is the lightweight (1.2 kilograms), portable braille display for use with a laptop and Braille Voyager 70 is for use in a desktop environment. Among the features of Braille Voyagers are: eight command keys that are logically configured as braille writing keys and Tieman's new, smaller, low-power braille cells. The Braille Voyager 44 and 70 feature a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port that powers the display directly from the computer, without the need for an external power source. For NT networks that do not support USB, the Braille Voyager 44+ and 70+ feature USB to serial I/O connectors. The displays, which are available in January 2001, include print user manuals and print and braille installation guides. The cost is $4,999 for 44, $5,299 for 44+, $9,699 for 70, and $9,999 for 70+. For more information, contact: HumanWare, 6245 King Road, Loomis, CA 95650; phone: 800-722-3393; fax: 916-652-7296; e-mail: <info@humanware.com>; web site: <www.humanware.com>.

Tutorials

Listening to Word is a tutorial available from TECSO, a Montreal-based software development and marketing company. The interactive CD-ROM tutorial is designed to teach users how to create, manage, and format documents and tables, use Word Help, and personalize Word for Microsoft Word97 and 2000. The tutorial supports Jaws and Window-Eyes screen readers. Listening to Word includes a user's manual in alternate media and a tactile guide in braille and large print with reproductions of Word screen images. For more information, contact: TECSO, 1717, Rene-Levesque Boulevard East, 2nd Floor, Montreal, Quebec, H2L 4T3, Canada; phone: 514-590-4218; fax: 514-590-4228; e-mail: <info@tecso.qc.ca>.

Jonathan Mosen has produced a tutorial on Sound Forge and Sound Forge XP, professional audio editing packages designed for Internet, multimedia, and broadcast production. The five-hour tutorial is available on four tone-indexed cassettes. Freedom Scientific is distributing the tutorial for $79.95. For more information, contact: Freedom Scientific, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716; phone: 800-444-4443 or 727-803-8000; fax: 727-803-8001; web site: <www.freedomsci.com>.

Scan-and-read software

OPENBook 5.0 English Version is the newest scan-and-read software from Freedom Scientific. OPENBook 5.0 is designed to convert scanned print materials into electronic information that is read by a speech synthesizer and is displayed on a screen in various settings for people with low vision. The 5.0 version includes a Low Vision Menu, which floats in the bottom of the screen and has settings to change size, color, font, and document spacing. The software is designed to provide information on text elements and the Page Layout Navigation feature is designed to allow the user to jump from one text element to another. OPENBook 5.0 operates on a PC with Microsoft Windows 95, 98, NT 4.0, and NT 2000 Professional. The cost is $995. For more information, contact: Freedom Scientific Blind/Low Vision Group, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716; phone: 800-444-4443 or 727-803-8000; fax: 727-803-8001; e-mail: <info@hj.com>; web site: <www.arkenstone.org/OB5PR.html>.

Braille printer

Blazer Inferno is the latest wide-carriage braille embosser from Blazie. The Blazer Inferno features include: a speed of 50 characters per second; a lightweight (17.5 pounds), contemporary design; and a wider carriage designed to accommodate paper that is 11 inches wide. The cost is $2,795. For more information, contact: Freedom Scientific, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716; phone: 800-444-4443 or 727-803-8000; fax: 727-803-8001; e-mail: <info@hj.com>; web site: <www.blazie.com/pages/inferno.html>.

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Calendar

January 11-13

Technology and Media Division of the Council for Exceptional Children (TAM) 2001: A Technology Odyssey.

Albuquerque, NM.

Contact:

Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0001; phone: 606-257-2609; e-mail: <meb@qx.net>; web site: <www.tamcec.org>.

January 24-27

Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2001 Conference and Exhibition.

Orlando, FL.

Contact:

ATIA, 526 Davis Street, Suite 217, Evanston, IL 60201; phone: 877-687-2842; fax: 847-869-5689; e-mail: <ATIA@northshore.net>; web site: <www.atia.org>.

March 5-10

Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) 2001.

Orlando, FL.

Contact:

Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, P.O. Box 3728, Norfolk, VA 23514; phone: 757-623-7588; e-mail: <info@aace.org>; web site: <www.aace.org/conf/site/>.

March 19-24

California State University Northridge (CSUN) Conference on Technology and Persons With Disabilities.

Los Angeles, CA.

Contact:

Center on Disabilities, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330-8340; phone: 818-677-2578; fax: 818-677-4929; e-mail: <ctrdis@csun.edu>; web site: <www.csun.edu/cod/conf2001/index.html>.

March 31-April 5

CHI 2001: Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Seattle, WA.

Contact:

CHI 2001 Conference Office, 703 Giddings Avenue, Suite U-3, Annapolis, MD 21401; phone: 410-263-5382; fax: 410-267-0332; e-mail: <chi2001-office@acm.org>; web site: <www.acm.org/sigchi/chi2001/>.

May 1-5

Tenth International World Wide Web Conference (WWW1).

Hong Kong, China.

Contact:

IW3C2, P.O. Box 12, CERN, CH-1211, Geneve 23, Switzerland; phone: 011-41-22-76-75005; fax: 011-41-22-76-77547; e-mail: <iw3c2@cern.ch>; web site: <http://www.10.org>.

June 1-5

Inclusion By Design International World Congress.

Montreal, Canada. The conference is hosted by the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work.

Contact:

Inclusion By Design, Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, 302-500 University Avenue, Toronto, ON, M5G 1V7, Canada; phone: 416-260-3060, extension 231, or 800-664-0925, extension 231; e-mail: <info@ccrw.org>; web site: <www.ccrw.org/ccrw/worldcongress/sum-eng.htm>.

August 3-5

2001: A Technology Odyssey.

Sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). Pittsburgh, PA.

Contact:

Mark Uslan, AFB, co-chair; phone: 212-502-7638; e-mail: <muslan@afb.net>. Barbara McCarthy, AER, co-chair; phone: 804-371-3661; e-mail: <mccartbn@dvh.state.va.us>.

August 5-10

HCI International 2001: Ninth International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction.

New Orleans, LA.

Contact:

Kim Z. Gilbert, conference administrator, School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University, 1287 Grissom Hall, West Lafayette, IN 47907; phone: 765-494-5426; fax: 765-494-0874; e-mail: <kgilbert@ecn.purdue.edu>; web site: <http://hcii2001.engr.wisc.edu/>.

September 12-14

Assistive Technology Conference 2001.

Topeka, KS. The conference is being held in collaboration with the Heartland Seating and Mobility Conference.

Contact:

Mary Dunbar, The Capper Foundation, 3500 South West 10th Avenue, Topeka, KS 66604; phone: 785-272-4060; fax: 785-272-1034; e-mail: <dunbar@capper.org>.

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