Challenges to Video Description Regulations
Two petitions challenging the video description rule—which requires an average of 50 hours of programming per quarter with narration of key visual elements for various television and cable markets, as well as emergency broadcast information, and was recently adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)— were filed in April 2001 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. One petition was filed by the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the National Cable Television Association; it states that the FCC does not have the authority to adopt a requirement for video description and that the requirement violates the U.S. Constitution in imposing a form of speech. The other petition, which was filed by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), states that the new rules are arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with the law.
The National Television Video Access Coalition, of which the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a member, opposes the recent challenges to video description. AFB has also consistently advocated for a requirement for video description for television programming. For more information, visit AFB's web site: www.afb.org/videodscription.asp, visit the FCC's web site: www.fcc.gov/cib/dro, or read the article published in the May 23, 2001, edition of USA Today that discusses the challenges to the video description rule; the article can be found at the web site: www.usatoday.com/money/media/2001-05-23-descriptive-tv.htm.
Assistive Technology Scholarship
Freedom Scientific, a producer of assistive technology products for people with sensory impairments and learning disabilities, launched a program to award $101,000 in annual technology scholarships to legally blind high school and college graduates in the United States and Canada who plan to pursue further education. The Freedom Scientific Technology Scholarship Award Program, which will begin with the 2001-02 school year, will be implemented through a partnership with the following nonprofit organizations that will screen applicants and select scholarship recipients: American Council of the Blind, AFB, Braille Institute of America, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, NFB, and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Scholarship winners will receive vouchers for $2,500 or $1,500 to purchase any Freedom Scientific product, including hardware, software, accessories, training, and tutorials. They will also be notified of summer internship opportunities at Freedom Scientific and of career opportunities at the company upon graduation. Applications should be sent directly to the six nonprofit organizations that are participating in the program. The application deadline for the first set of scholarships is March 2002; winners will be notified by July 2002. For more information, contact Freedom Scientific Technology Scholarship Award Program; phone: 800-444-4443 or 727-803-8000; web site: www.hj.com/NewsCommentary/ScholarshipInfo/overview.htm.
Talking ATMs Continue to Sweep the Nation
Citibank installed the first talking ATMs (automated teller machines) in New York City. The ATMs use text-to-speech technology and deliver audible information privately through an earphone. The five New York City machines, along with five Citibank talking ATMs in California, mark the beginning of a 16-month plan to install a talking ATM at each Citibank financial center. The New York City talking ATMs can be found in three of five boroughs: Manhattan has three, and Brooklyn and Queens each have one. For more information, contact Citibank; web site: www.citibank.com.
Braille Note Takers with a Twist
Pulse Data International and HumanWare released the BrailleNote QT, which includes all the BrailleNote features with a standard QWERTY keyboard. The note taker has 18 or 32 cells, programmable thumb-key navigation, the ability to read and edit Microsoft Word files and braille and speech output. The cost is $3,899 for the 18-cell model and $5,499 for the 32-cell model. For more information, contact Pulse Data International; phone: 888-734-8439 or 770-941-7200; web site: www.pulsedata.co.nz/handlers/display.cfm/10,315,10,12html or HumanWare; phone: 800-722-3393; web site: www.humanware.com.
Freedom Scientific introduced the Braille Lite M40 note taker, which features Whiz Wheels and an internal CompactFlash port. Whiz Wheels is designed to scroll by line, sentence, or paragraph. The CompactFlash port is designed to allow an unlimited storage capacity on Flash memory cards and to synchronize files with a computer. Other features of the 2.5 pound M40 include 40 refreshable braille cells, cursor routing, POP3 e-mail capabilities, and a 56K baud modem. The cost is $5,595. For more information, contact Freedom Scientific; phone: 800-444-4443 or 727-803-8000, extension 1131; web site: www.freedomscientific.com.
Scan and Read This
Lernout & Hauspie (L&H) released the Kurzweil 3000 version 5.0, a scanning product that reads scanned or electronic text with RealSpeak and is designed to be used in schools and school districts. New features of the 5.0 include a customizable toolbar, network functionality, student activity logs, and a language learning module for students who are learning English. The Kurzweil 3000 version 5.0 is sold in two parts. The Scan/Read costs $1,895 with a color monitor and $1,095 with a black-and-white monitor; the Read Station costs $249. The 5.0 is also available with Learning Lab Packs, or software packages, for 5-, 10-, 20-, or 30-seat configurations. Each lab pack includes a combination of L&H Kurzweil 3000 Scan-and-Read and Read Station software. The costs for PC-formatted learning packs: 5-seat, $2,695; 10-seat, $3,795; 20-seat, $6,995; and 30-seat, $9,995. The software is also available for Mac.
A new 6.0 version of the L&H scan-and-read product Kurzweil 1000 has been released. New features include retention of scanned images and varying magnification levels for the display; the ability to send files to portable devices; a virtual Kurzweil printer driver that can open any file that can be printed by an application on the host computer, including PDF files with scanned images; and MP3 file creation. The L&H Kurzweil 1000 version 6.0 costs $995 with RealSpeak and $1,195 with DECtalk. Upgrade pricing for the RealSpeak version is $595 and $795 for the DECtalk version. For more information, contact Lernout & Hauspie; phone: 800-894-5734; web site: www.lhsl.com/kurzweil3000/; e-mail: email@example.com.
More Games for Gamers
A quick Internet search revealed a number of web sites offering computer games for people who are blind or visually impaired. Shades of Doom Version 1.0 is available for download or on a CD-ROM from GMA Games. The updated version of the virtual reality game features joystick support, cheat code availability, nine levels, new weapons and monsters, and braille embosser-formatted maps. The $35 game is designed for Windows and does not require a screen reader. GMA Games offers two other games: Lone Wolf Version 3.0.2 and Trek 2000 Version 5.0. For more information, visit the web site: www.GMAGames.com.
Accessible Games, www.gamesfortheblind.com, offers Windows-based games that are written by blind programmers for people who are blind and visually impaired. The site offers three types of games: Accessible Internet Games, Accessible Games SV (self-voicing), and Accessible Games. The company's two Accessible Internet Games are Accessible Chat Version 3.2, which is designed to provide access to online chat, and Accessible StarFight, which is based on Battleship. Each Accessible Internet Game is designed for use with JAWS for Windows and Window-Eyes and costs $20. Accessible Games SV contain the Eloquence speech synthesizer and costs $20. SV games include Battleship, FreeCell, and Yahtzee. Each self-voicing game costs $20. An eight-pack of basic Accessible Games is also offered by the site for an $89 download or a $99 CD-ROM.
Jim Kitchen, a blind computer programmer, offers free downloads of speech-friendly DOS and Windows games at his web site, www.simcon.net/jkitchen. The games include Wincar3, which is similar to the Atari car-racing game Pole Position; Wincas, which features traditional casino games; Golf82c, which is an updated golfing game with improved sound sequencing, a practice green, and a driving range; and Doslife, which is similar to the board game Life.
Flies By Night, developed by MindsEye2, is an action game that features a varied cast of amphibians and swamp creatures. The $15 game, which requires no screen reader, is available on CD-ROM for Windows 95 or 98. For more information, visit the web site www.mindseye2.bigstep.com.
Grizzly Gulch Western Extravaganza, by Bavisoft, is a virtual adventure game set in the Old West that features action games like "whack-a-rat," four casino-style games, and an arcade-style gun- shooting range. The PC-formatted game, compatible with Windows 95, 98, 2000, or NT, costs $35. Bavisoft plans to release a Halloween- style game in fall 2001. For more information, contact Bavisoft; web site: www.bavisoft.com.
Monthly Low-Tech Product Sale
Independent Living Aids offers a handful of products for its monthly sale. Bilingual products, such as Spanish talking clocks and calculators, were offered for $5 each in July 2001. Independent Living Aids' web site features Internet-only special sales. For more information, contact Independent Living Aids; phone: 800-537-2118 or 516-937-1848; web site: www.independentliving.com.
Braille Service for Internet Junkies
There is a new service available for Internet surfers who do not have access to a braille embosser. For a small fee, Catherine Thomas offers to emboss anything on the Internet. The service offers grade 1, grade 2, or computer braille code; various sizes of paper; and single- or double-sided interpoint pages. For more information, contact Catherine Thomas; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Web Site for Visually Impaired Kids
The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), United Kingdom, has a web site designed for students aged 11-16. Sort It, www.sortit.org.uk, features interviews with celebrities; information on activities, schoolwork, and assistive technology; resources for braille, disk, and cassette publications; helpful hints for students who are being bullied; and an interactive message board. Unique features of the site include Ask Suzy, written by RNIB's Curriculum Information Officer Suzy McDonald, which offers solutions to problems that blind or visually impaired students may encounter at school, and Your Voice, a section that offers information on human rights and discrimination laws in the United Kingdom and encourages blind or visually impaired students to express their opinions about the availability of support, delivery of classroom materials, and provision of assistive technology. For more information, contact Sort It; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: www.sortit.org.uk.
Book on Funding Technology for Schools
The booklet, Funding Education Technology: Financing School Needs Through Grants and Community Resources, includes several pages of possible funding sources, a bibliography of articles about educational technology, and a list of helpful web sites. For more information, contact Business Publishers, 8737 Colesville Road, Suite 1100, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone: 800-274-6737.
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