jump to article
AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2001 Issue  Volume 2  Number 5
Jim Halliday

Caption: Jim Halliday, founder of HumanWare, talks about how he became president then former president then president again.

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

The Great Screen Reader Race: A Review of the Two Leading Screen Readers

A Product Evaluation of Freedom Scientific's JAWS for Windows and GW Micro's Window-Eyes—Jay Leventhal and Koert Wehberg

The Human Touch in HumanWare

An interview with Jim Halliday, Founder and President of HumanWare—Deborah Kendrick

Illuminating Thoughts on Popular Low Vision Task Lamps

A review of the best lamps in each category: total spectrum, incandescent, and halogen—Bryan Gerritsen

Getting the Most Out of Training Provided by Agencies and Employers

How to get your money's worth and not waste valuable time—Lynn Zelvin

Questions and Answers

This month's focus is filling out forms—Crista Earl

AccessWorld News

Readers' Corner

Letters and Commentary


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

In the early days of Windows screen readers, it was a struggle to accomplish basic tasks such as entering and editing text and reading and replying to e-mail. Screen reader manufacturers fought long and hard to gain access to the system information they needed from Microsoft to make their products communicate reliably with Windows and Windows applications. The expertise of the programmers at Henter-Joyce/Freedom Scientific and GW Micro, combined with a willingness to listen to and implement suggestions from users, have made JAWS for Windows and Window-Eyes the best and most popular products. These two continue to add features and improve performance, whereas other manufacturers stand still or struggle to implement some of the features and functionality found in the two market leaders.

The competition between Freedom Scientific and GW Micro is intense. Each company's marketing department emphasizes new features that are not currently found in the other product. Programmers from the other company then scramble to incorporate those features into their product. The result is that we have two strong, feature-rich screen readers. In this issue, Koert Wehberg, senior intern, and I offer a thorough evaluation of both JAWS for Windows and Window- Eyes.

Bryan Gerritsen, a low vision therapist at Low Vision Services in Salt Lake City, Utah, focuses on a subject dear to people who are visually impaired—lighting. He reviews lamps from three categories: total spectrum, incandescent, and halogen. In a future issue, he will shine the spotlight on mobility lighting.

Deborah Kendrick interviews Jim Halliday, the man who created and has guided HumanWare throughout the past 15 years. She explores his motivation for creating the company, his preference for it to be "people-oriented" before technical, and his strange journey from president of HumanWare to former president and back to president again.

Lynn Zelvin, former trainer for the Columbia Lighthouse and now AFB's Web Coordinator, presents the second in a two-part series on assistive technology training. In this article, she discusses some issues and options to clarify the differences between assistive technology training and technical support and explains how to get what you paid for from a trainer and protect yourself from lost time, money, and frustration.

The August issue of AccessWorld Extra—the e-mail version we send out in the six months in which AccessWorld is not published— featured reader comments and questions, assistive technology news, a listing of computer user groups for people who are blind or visually impaired, and a report on the "2001: A Technology Odyssey" conference sponsored by AFB and the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER.) Don't miss the October issue, which will contain late-breaking assistive technology news and more. To be added to the AccessWorld Extra list, send a message to accessworld@afb.net with the word "subscribe" in the subject line and include the name or account number to which your regular edition of AccessWorld is mailed in the body.

Jay Leventhal

Editor in Chief

Back to top

Product Evaluation

The Great Screen Reader Race: A Review of the Two Leading Screen Readers

Two products currently dominate the screen reader market in the United States. Freedom Scientific and GW Micro keep adding features and improving their products' performance. This competition benefits you, the consumer, by providing two good choices. In this Product Evaluation, we compare the ability of the two leading screen readers—JAWS for Windows and Window-Eyes—to provide access to Windows and key applications. The programs were not compared directly with each other and were rated on a scale of 0 to 5 as follows:

0 No access; the equivalent of a sighted person with no mouse and the monitor turned off.
1 Little access; the program gives users an idea of what is going on but little opportunity to function well.
2 Less than adequate access, with much room for improvement.
3 Good access but a definite need for improvement.
4 Very good access, with minor improvements expected in the future.
5 Access as good as a sighted person has with a mouse and a monitor.

Each program was tested on a Pentium 800 with 128 MB of memory in Windows 98.

We used two hardware synthesizers—Double Talk PC and DECtalk Express—and one software synthesizer—Eloquence from Eloquent Technologies. Braille access was tested using an ALVA 544 Satellite display. Ratings were given for installation and documentation, braille access, basic performance in the word-processing programs Microsoft Word 2000 and Corel WordPerfect 8.0, and the spreadsheet program Microsoft Excel. We spent the most time evaluating performance on the web using Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5, testing e-commerce, online banking, and reading Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files. We also tested advanced features, such as using a links list and each screen reader's search function.

Window-Eyes 4.1

Window-Eyes was designed to work with a wide variety of applications out of the box. A large number of commands and options are available to fine-tune its function. They are accessed by going to the Window-Eyes menu and are easily changed by navigating through menus and dialog boxes. Some basic settings—such as speech rate, pitch, and volume—can be adjusted from the keyboard. Window-Eyes includes Eloquence speech, which makes it possible to avoid the expense of a hardware synthesizer.

Braille Access: Rating 4.5

Window-Eyes 4.1 supports a wide variety of braille displays and Grade 2 braille. You can switch braille displays and synthesizers from menus. Braille functions, hot keys, and the order in which information is displayed are configured easily. Window-Eyes abbreviates Windows controls (cc for custom control) to allow you to have more text on the display at one time. Quick Message mode allows messages, such as "hourglass" when an application is loading, to appear briefly on the display and then be replaced with the text you want to read.

Getting Started and Getting Help: Rating 4

You bring up online help in Window-Eyes by pressing Control-Shift-F1. There is specific help for some applications, such as Internet Explorer and WordPerfect, including hot keys and instructions on navigating. In other cases, Window-Eyes provides general information for the Windows control you are on. So, in NotePad, you get instructions about an Editbox, and in Windows Explorer, you are told how to navigate in a listbox, treeview, or editbox, depending on where you are when you ask for help.

The Window-Eyes manual comes in ASCII, MP3, and PDF formats. The manual gives you a quick overview of the Windows environment. Window-Eyes also provides hot keys for all supported braille displays in a single document. The manual is also on GW Micro's web site.

Internet Explorer 5.5: Rating 4

Window-Eyes decolumnizes web pages and allows you to browse them as you would a word-processing document. Pages are loaded and formatted quickly. Window-Eyes uses Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) mode to enhance the use of Internet Explorer 5.5. You can move past links, controls, or body text with several hot keys. These hot keys can also help you go directly to forms, frames, or even the same position on a web page that you visit regularly. Window-Eyes also provides a list of links, tables, and frames that can be sorted in alphabetical or page order or customized to show only links or tables and so forth. You can type the first letter of a link and then press Enter to follow it.

When you fill out forms and controls, Window-Eyes turns MSAA mode off to allow you to enter information, such as user name and password. You can review the information that you entered by toggling MSAA mode on and off. We found pages with Java, such as www.chase.com, reasonably easy to navigate. We were able to log in to our bank accounts and complete transactions with little difficulty.

Window-Eyes has added a powerful Table reading mode. You can use several hot keys to navigate the table by row or column and decide whether the column and row headings are read. The table navigation allows you to read train schedules at www.amtrak.com and sports statistics at www.espn.com with little difficulty. In certain tables, the headings may not be read in conjunction with the cell's contents, which may make reading some tables confusing at times.

Window-Eyes was the first screen reader to provide access to PDF files. With Adobe Acrobat 5.0, you can read PDF files over the Internet. Window-Eyes also allows you to read the PDF files within the framework of Internet Explorer. This option can be toggled by going to the Preferences dialog box in Acrobat's Edit menu and then unchecking the "Display in browser" check box, so you can view and save documents in Acrobat. The keystrokes for browsing a PDF file and browsing the web are virtually identical. You can view the file page by page or view the entire document.

E-commerce worked well with Window-Eyes. On sites like Amazon www.amazon.com, CD Now www.cdnow.com, and Tower Records www.towerrecords.com, we were able to fill out the necessary forms to input credit card information and other data. Locating the forms and list boxes used to select the right credit card and the appropriate shipping method presented no difficulty.

Word 2000: Rating 4

Window-Eyes performed well in Microsoft Word. The Read-to-End function allowed us to read documents without interruption. Window-Eyes also performed well in the spell checker and other dialog boxes; however, the incorrect word was spelled but the suggested replacement word sometimes was not spelled, though there is a hot key to do so. The menus and dialog boxes were spoken and easy to navigate.

WordPerfect 9: Rating 4

Window-Eyes performed well in WordPerfect. The Read-to-End function worked well. Incorrect words and suggested replacements were spelled in the spell checker. Menus and dialog boxes are easy to navigate, but some buttons in dialog boxes are not labeled and can be difficult to discern. It is sometimes necessary to refresh the screen (Insert-Backslash) to make missing characters reappear.

Excel 2000: Rating 3.5

Window-Eyes has added some hot keys, such as to read current cell, current cell coordinates, worksheet name, and from the beginning of the row or column to the current location, to allow you to navigate and input cell data more easily. Window-Eyes also works well with Excel shortcut keys. You can easily edit a cell's contents and input formulas, as well as navigate through dialog boxes. Window-Eyes can tell you the font and size of the comments written in the current cell. However, we sometimes had to refresh the screen to get Window-Eyes to read a cell's contents as we arrowed from cell to cell. For Window-Eyes to function properly with Excel 2000, you must uncheck the "standard and formatting toolbars share one row" check box in the Customize dialog box in the tools menu. This fact should be noted in the documentation. Window-Eyes' Excel support could be improved by adding hot keys to ascertain more screen information, for example, only reading the headings of the columns instead of reading the entire column or row.

A Night at the Opera

To test Window-Eyes' configurability, we tried it with the web browser Opera, for which no set files were installed. First, we turned Speak All on, as we always do when we're trying a less-than-friendly application. We then set Window-Eyes to speak automatically. In the Window-Eyes Cursoring menu, we set the Opera hot key for moving to the next link to read the current line. These few easy steps did not produce a virtuoso performance, but thanks to the ease of configuring Window-Eyes, we definitely could recognize the tune.

The Bottom Line

Window-Eyes 4.1 is a versatile and command-rich tool for accessing Windows applications. It works extremely well with Internet Explorer 5.5. It reads almost all system messages, including the infamous "illegal operation" dialog that appears after computer crashes—giving you a chance of exiting Windows gracefully. It has good, practical braille features, such as abbreviations for Windows controls. However, improvement is needed in Excel, and more online help would be useful.

JAWS for Windows 3.71

JAWS for Windows (JFW) provides a set of basic speech commands enhanced by sophisticated, program-specific scripts that fine-tune JFW for particular Windows applications. Freedom Scientific provides well-written scripts for many popular applications, and JFW's performance excels in these applications. JFW supports numerous refreshable braille displays and several languages. Eloquence software speech is included, making it possible to avoid the expense of buying a hardware synthesizer.

Braille Access: Rating 3

JFW has three braille modes—Structured, Line, and Speech Box mode. The Structured mode is more descriptive, providing information about the current control. Line mode gives a representation of the information on the screen, based on JFW's broad definition of what a line of text is. Speech Box mode is strictly a braille representation of what is spoken. The ideal braille configuration would be a combination of Structured and Line modes.

Getting Started and Getting Help: Rating 4

JFW provides screen-and application-specific help by pressing a keystroke when the current application is in focus. Although JFW will speak a list of hot keys and state your location, you can only listen to the information, since JFW gives you no cursor. To review the hot keys and/or functionality of an application or general JFW hot keys, you can use the Help topics item in the Help menu. The JFW manual and hot keys are laid out in a treeview as in Windows Explorer. There are also menu items for keyboard commands and new features. All the JFW general and application-specific hot keys are listed.

Internet Explorer 5.5: Rating 4

JFW 3.71 uses some of the same key combinations to browse a web page as it does to read word-processing documents. The Insert plus arrow keys are used to read the entire page or browse by character, word, and line. The hot key Insert-Enter allows you to move past a block of links to the body text of a web page. Insert-F7 brings up a list of links that can be sorted in page order or alphabetical order. JFW also allows you to move from one control to the next with a hot key Control-Insert-Tab. You can move to the first and last forms on a page and cycle back and forth to view each form and control. A list of frames and tool bar buttons can also be accessed with a hot key.

JFW has a powerful Table reading mode. There are key combinations to browse by row and column, as well as to read the column heading. The column heading can be read in conjunction with the cell data.

JFW 3.71 adds support for Adobe PDF files. These files must be read using Acrobat Reader 5.0. We found it difficult to read PDF documents in Internet Explorer 5.5, since there are no keystrokes, such as moving to the next and previous page, to assist you.

JFW performed well with e-commerce. Viewing our bank accounts and account information at a bank, such as Chase www.chase.com, presented little difficulty. At other sites www.amazon.com, www.cdnow.com, and www.towerrecords.com, we found filling out forms and selecting check boxes to be quick and painless. You can toggle between JFW's Virtual Cursor mode and Forms mode while filling out forms, making it easier for you to review and edit the information you have entered.

Word 2000: Rating 4

JFW performed well with Word 2000. It uses the Insert key with the arrow keys so you can read by character, word, or line or just read the entire document. The spell checker gave us no difficulty— misspelled words and suggested replacements were read and spelled. Dialog boxes were easy to navigate. However, some information was difficult to acquire; for example, in the word count option in the Tools menu, JFW did not always read document statistics such as word count and number of pages.

WordPerfect 9: Rating 4

WordPerfect 9 performed well with JFW 3.71. The reading functions that read words, lines, and characters worked easily, although it is sometimes necessary to refresh the screen (Insert-Escape) to make missing characters reappear. We also had no difficulty with the spell checker—JFW read and spelled both the incorrect and suggested words—and could read the dialog boxes clearly.

The first time you use WordPerfect 9 with JFW, press Insert-Control-Shift-I, which will allow JAWS to place a command in the registry of WordPerfect to allow you to read documents comfortably. Press Enter to respond to each of the prompts. Exit WordPerfect and then reopen it.

Excel 2000: Rating 4

Excel 2000 performed very well with JFW 3.71. There are a wide range of hot keys, including: read the current cell contents, spell the current cell contents, place row or column data into a list, and read across a row or down a column. There are also hot keys to assist you in determining and writing formulas, as well as in describing the worksheet's layout. This is definitely one place where you will need to hit Insert-H more than once to review and take advantage of the large number of hot keys available.

Ad-libbing Without a Script

To test an application for which no JFW scripts were installed, we used the browser Opera. We turned Say all mode on, so JFW would speak all text as it appeared, and maximized the window. The results were less than satisfactory. More sophisticated configuring is not possible without writing a script, according to Freedom Scientific technical support.

The Bottom Line

JFW 3.71 provides uncomplicated, focused access to scripted applications like Word and Excel. JFW's scripts combine with its excellent online help to give extensive information about the application and Windows in general. Configuring a less-mainstream application is beyond the capability of most users, but the tools JFW provides are effective and comprehensive. We would like to have a better ability to navigate through online help within an application, more frequent reading of error messages, and better braille support.

Product Information

Product: JAWS for Windows 3.71

Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific, Blindness and 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: Sales@hj.com; web site: www.freedomscientific.com. Price: Windows 95, 98, and Windows ME: $795; Windows NT: $1,195.

Product: Window-Eyes 4.1

Manufacturer: GW Micro, 725 Airport North Office Park, Fort Wayne, IN 46825; phone: 219-489-3671; fax: 219-489-2608; e-mail: support@gwmicro.com; web site: www.gwmicro.com. Price: $595.

Back to top


The Human Touch in HumanWare

Many of the leaders in the field of assistive technology for people who are blind or visually impaired come to it because of their personal interest. They are blind themselves or have a child, a parent, or a close relative who is blind. None of those circumstances apply to Jim Halliday, founder and president of the 15-year-old HumanWare in Loomis, California.

In 1974, Halliday was working in media production for a community college in Cupertino, California, creating multimedia presentations to highlight course offerings and campus programs. On one occasion, that work involved people with disabilities. As Halliday recalls: "DeAnza had an unusually high number of students with disabilities and was something of a model campus in that regard. I was asked to put together a multimedia presentation on services to disabled students to be used in approaching the legislature for funding."

A public relations director at Telesensory saw that production and contacted Halliday to do a similar project focusing on blind customers using the Optacon and Speech Plus calculator. The project changed his life. Halliday did a 10-day tour of cities, from Kalamazoo to Boston to Memphis, talking to blind people who used Telesensory tools in their jobs. "I really got hooked on what blind people were able to do with this technology," he says. He saw that with the Optacon, blind people were reading office documents, correcting and proofing their own typewriting, and examining computer screens. They were using the talking calculator while assisting customers on the phone. "There was a whole other world out there of blind people doing wonderful things, and I'd never known about it. I think there are still many people today who don't realize the same kinds of things."

At the end of the trip, heavy snowfall kept Halliday in Boston for a few days. He stayed with the then-Telesensory representative, Jim Rogers, a former Catholic priest, and by the time he could fly out of Boston, he was convinced that it was time to change careers.

Halliday's first Telesensory assignment involved uprooting his family of three young children from California to Washington, DC. Two years later, because of his fluency in German, Halliday was working with overseas distributors. In retrospect, Halliday says that in the 1970s, Telesensory was everything that he wants his own company to be today. By 1986, he was ready to move on to something new. He had ideas that warranted testing. Always more an artist than an engineer or scientist (he is a gifted pianist and has a background in theater), he says that his ideas were always more people oriented than technical. "I've never been so enamored with the technology itself," he says, "as I've been enamored with what people could do with it."

Thus, in 1987, Halliday resigned from Telesensory with no inkling of what his next steps would be. "I quit on Friday," he remembers, "and my wife was so fabulous. She took one look at me and knew that I'd quit but had faith in me to figure something out. Monday morning, I went for a hike through the hills and had a kind of revelation." He recalls smiling at a fawn foraging for food, watching the rain begin to fall, and walking through a tunnel of overhanging branches into the sun on the other side. The next morning, Russel Smith called from New Zealand to see if Halliday would be interested in taking over Sensory Aids Corp., then located in Chicago.

HumanWare Is Born

The upshot was a redefinition of Sensory Aids into a brand-new California-based company called HumanWare. "I kept thinking about the technology that appealed to me most—technology that was so sophisticated it was simple. It wasn't hardware, wasn't software; it was HumanWare."

The new company needed braille—and it needed money. Halliday's next move was to go to Tieman of Holland. "I told them we needed their braille cells, whether they decided to invest in the company or not," he says. In the end, Tieman provided both. With one third supported by Pulse Data, one third by Tieman, and another third by HumanWare management, the new company was off and running with seven employees and $800,000 in gross sales its first year.

With the Keynote line of note-taking products from Pulse Data, CCTVs from Tieman, and the ALVA line of braille displays, HumanWare assumed a significant presence in the U.S. market for assistive technology for blind people. Then, Pulse Data wanted to sell CCTVs in the United States. HumanWare was already distributing Tieman CCTVs, and it became clear that one company or the other would have to buy HumanWare out. Tieman was in a better position to do so, and in the mid-1990s, Tieman became the full owner of the company.

The introduction of the BrailleNote notetaker in early 2000 represents the epitome of what Halliday has always wanted the company to be. "It wasn't designed by engineers, but by blind people telling us what they wanted," he says. "We asked Pulse Data to build it, and they did." Response to the product was tremendous, exceeding expectations, and spirits at HumanWare were soaring. But Tieman had one vision and Halliday had another. In March 2001, Halliday was removed as president of the company he had begun.

No one—not even Halliday—was prepared for what would happen next. Within five days, six key HumanWare employees announced their intention to leave with Halliday. "I'm not saying that I was right and Tieman was wrong," he says, "but we all had a vision for the company, and it wasn't going to happen." Tieman misunderstood perhaps that Halliday could not be easily replaced and that the HumanWare mission was about more than numbers. In any event, within 10 days, Pulse Data realized that if something dramatic didn't happen soon, the business in the United States would be gone.

The touching displays of loyalty and support from employees were thrilling, but not a new experience for Halliday. Over the years, as the company grew and shrank again by turns, there were many times when the staff voluntarily sacrificed vacations, took salary cuts, and otherwise demonstrated their commitment to the HumanWare dream. When Pulse Data decided to buy the company from Tieman (a purchase that became official on May 18, 2001), Halliday and all the HumanWare staff were reinstated. Currently, there are 18 employees, 3 of whom are blind, and new staff will probably be hired in the next few months.

With both the human and financial aspects of the company in excellent health, HumanWare is moving forward with energy and enthusiasm. The BrailleNote has proved to be a solid platform—with its siblings VoiceNote (a speech-only model) and a QWERTY version (introduced in summer 2001). "Now we want to explore where we can go from here to build on that platform," Halliday says. "We're looking to add e-books, GPS (global positioning satellite) capabilities, and a browser. Web surfing is an especially high priority." There are no dates as yet for any of these new capabilities, but for the time being, BrailleNote is selling itself as is.

Halliday is not an engineer, a user of assistive technology, or the relative of a blind person. Maybe his artistic temperament was exactly what the field needed at the time he entered it. Arguably, one piece of his dream is being realized: HumanWare products are both sophisticated and simple and are, in short, "human"-ware.

Back to top

Access Issues

Illuminating Thoughts on Popular Low Vision Task Lamps

Proper illumination is vital to the success of persons with low vision for near tasks, such as reading, writing, and crafts. One study revealed that persons with visual impairments need four times the amount of light to read and do other near tasks as do persons with normal vision. There are many kinds of lamps that may help: incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, and total spectrum (replicated sunlight). This article reviews specific lamps that I have found most helpful and that are popular at Low Vision Services in Salt Lake City. Since many people with low vision report difficulties with glare and other problems with fluorescent lighting, I review one lamp from each of the three remaining categories: total spectrum, incandescent, and halogen.

Low Vision Services sees approximately 1,100 people per year in formal clinic evaluations after a referral from an ophthalmologist or optometrist, as well as approximately 500 people who walk in to get help with improved lighting or to purchase sunglasses for glare reduction or large-print and talking nonoptical devices. I have been a low vision therapist at the clinic for over 12 years. The recommendations that I offer in this article are based on my experiences trying out numerous table and floor lamps with hundreds of people and noting their likes and dislikes.

The Ott-Lite

Most types of artificial light cast color shifts. Fluorescent bulbs, for instance, have blue- or green-colored shifts, and tungsten bulbs are yellow. Generally, when technicians need good color rendering, they turn to halogen lights—a very bright, hot- light source that indeed gives high color rendering, but simultaneously reduces contrast and visual acuity. Photobiologist Dr. John Ott blended rare earth phosphors to develop a "total- spectrum" bulb that produces high color rendering, while retaining excellent contrast and visual acuity.

For persons with low vision, the implications for a light that provides enhanced contrast, sharpened clarity, and lower glare while it increases illumination and offers true color rendering are obvious. In addition, because the bulb is cool to the touch, it provides a more comfortable work space.

Hobbyists use the Ott-Lite lamp for a variety of tasks, such as quilting, sewing, painting, and woodworking, for which color matching and accuracy are important. These users often report that with the Ott-Lite lamp, they are able to see the color of fabrics, paints, and materials more accurately. I have found that visually impaired individuals often like the light for reading, writing, and doing other near tasks because of the enhanced contrast and sharp clarity it provides.

The Ott-Lite lamp has a radiation shield to counteract x-rays that are emitted from all fluorescent tubes and reduces the amount of positive ions that are normally found in a work area. Many report that the lamp reduces glare that can cause fatigue, eyestrain, headaches, and stress. One person described almost a restful clearness when sewing or working near the lamp's light.

The Ott-Lite uses a 13-watt bulb for its desk lamp and an 18-watt bulb for its floor lamp. The 13-watt bulb provides the light of a conventional 75-watt bulb but burns cooler and is rated for 10,000 hours, compared to a long-life incandescent bulb's 1,000 hours. The 18-watt floor lamp is equivalent to a 130-watt incandescent bulb and provides 40 percent more light than the desk lamp.

For the 13-watt desk lamp, the light is activated by opening and closing the arm against the desk base, rather than using an on-off switch. This arrangement also protects the bulb when the lamp is not in use. When the hinged hood (arm) is closed, the lamp shuts off and the tube is completely hidden. A built-in handle allows the user to carry the lamp from one site to another, such as to and from work. All other models, except the desk lamp with the attached magnifier, use a conventional on-off switch instead of a hood-arm that lifts.

Before the Ott-Lite desk lamp is first used, the tension on the arm-hood must be adjusted, otherwise it may fall down, and the light will not stay on. There is a turn screw on the arm-hood to allow for this adjustment. The operating instructions included with the lamp do not mention the need for this adjustment or highlight this turn screw on the arm-hood. The instructions should be amended to give this information.

The FlexArm lamp and FlexArm Plus lamp can rotate 360 degrees at the base and, if desired, can accept a 3x magnifier attachment. The magnifier attachment for these two models has a telescopic extension of 16-22 inches, and the head rotates 360 degrees. However, I thought that the optional magnifier attachment was quite pricey (about $100). In comparison, a Big Eye table or floor lamp (which uses a tungsten 40-watt high-intensity bulb) has a high-quality optical-grade magnifying lens for about $15 and can accept an add-on booster lens of an extra +3.5 D (for only about $18), which is not true of the Ott-Lite.

Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp

The Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp is an incandescent floor lamp with adjustable heights from about 31 inches to 59 inches. It has a 12- inch flexible arm, which enhances the ability to position the light exactly where it is needed, and an aluminum reflector inside the lamp shade that increases the apparent illumination. It is also well vented, keeping the outside of the shade cooler to the touch. The Reizen lamp has a heavy-duty, grounded cord. It is fairly lightweight and is easy to move from one site to another.

The on-off switch of the Reizen lamp is large and easy to handle. It is the largest, easiest switch of any comparable lamp that I have seen. Conventional lamp switches on most incandescent floor or table lamps are much smaller and require greater finger and motor dexterity and strength. The Reizen floor lamp is also easier to assemble, with fewer parts, than other comparable floor lamps (like the Brandt Low Vision Lamp). It is rated for a 100-watt incandescent bulb, but it can also use a chromalux natural lightbulb, which is considered a full-spectrum bulb.

The Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp is available for approximately $60. Low Vision Services sells many less expensive floor and table lamps than the Reizen. However, with these cheaper lamps, more light may be emitted from the slots used to vent the lamp, which creates distracting glare, and the lamps are often bulkier. Some people also report greater difficulty controlling the positioning of the light with these other lamps. The Reizen lamp is a high- quality unit with excellent features, such as its large, easy-to- turn switch; the inner reflector; and its outstanding positioning possibilities. It is a durable lamp with top-quality parts.

The FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp

Many people with low vision like the light offered by a halogen lamp because of its bright, white illumination. The relatively new FD-100 halogen table lamp, made by the Grandwich Corporation, is a 50-watt adjustable-arm table lamp of metal construction, with a satin silver finish. Heavy-duty metal turn screws (as opposed to common plastic ones) adjust the tension at the elbow and neck of the swing-arm lamp. A U-shaped handle on the lamp shade allows you to adjust the light without touching the potentially hot lamp shade.

I often tell people that positioning the light can make more of a difference than the wattage or kind of light provided. Those who have measured available light with a light meter when reading or writing note that a few inches difference in the position of the lampshade or its height can sometimes make a huge difference in illumination. The 22-inch (approximately 56 cm) height and spring- balanced adjustable arm of the FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp make it possible to adjust the position and level of lighting as desired when reading, writing, or doing crafts. For people who like a bright, white light offered by a halogen lamp, the FD-100 is a good choice because of the specific positioning provided by its adjustable swing arm and the directed illumination given by the lamp shade, which is often not the case with most halogen lamps.

One of the drawbacks of any halogen lamp is that it can become hot to work under. On this lamp, the on-off toggle switch is located on the cord, which may be inconvenient for some people. Because of the shape of the bulb, the light emitted tends to produce a rectangular illumination, so you have to position your reading or working materials within the pattern of illumination. When the reading or working material is not inside the rectangular pattern of illumination, performance may be diminished. The illumination level of this 50-watt halogen bulb is roughly the equivalent of the light produced by a 75-watt incandescent bulb.

Lights Out

I have reviewed three lamps, representatives of three categories of lighting, to assist a person with low vision to read and do near tasks more easily. They represent (1) a total-spectrum lamp, which mimics natural sunlight in the same composition and balance as natural sunlight and affords bright light output, yet retains high contrast and clarity; (2) an incandescent lamp, with minimal glare and a warm hue; and (3) a halogen lamp, with excellent brightness. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but the lamps I selected are, I believe, the finest-quality and affordable models for these types of lamps.

Product Information


Caption: Ott-Lite.

Product Information

Product: Ott-Lite.

Manufacturer: Ott-Lite Technology, 1214 West Cass Street, Tampa, FL 33606; phone: 800-842-8848; e-mail: www.ott-lite.com. Price: The 13-watt Ott-Lite is available in the following models: Desk lamp: Model OTL13TCG, with an optional swivel base, $80. Desk lamp: Model OTL13MAG, with a 2x magnifier stored in an attached case and a swivel base, $120. FlexArm lamp (13 watt): Model OLFTC13, which clamps to a flat surface, $120. Clamp (easel) lamp: Model OLT13ETC, with an expandable shaft and flexible neck, $150. The 18-watt Ott-Lite is available in the following models: FlexArm Plus Lamp: Model OLFX18TC, an 18-watt clamp-on model, $170, and a floor lamp: Model OLF018TC, with a weighted base, an adjustable height from 4 to 5 inches, and a flex-neck, $170. Replacement tubes are available for both the 13-watt (about $25) and the 18-watt ($30) lamps. Models OTL13TCG (desk lamp) and OLF018TC (floor lamp) can also be purchased from Maxi-Aids, 42 Executive Boulevard, P.O. Box 3209, Farmingdale, NY 11735; phone: 800-522-6294, for about $20 less than from the manufacturer.

Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp

Caption: Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp.

Product Information

Product: Reizen Low Vision Floor Lamp.

Distributor: Maxi-Aids, 42 Executive Boulevard, PO Box 3209, Farmingdale, NY, 11735; phone: 800-522-6294. Price: $59.95, plus shipping and handling; order number: 6701686.

FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp

Caption: FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp.

Product Information

Product: FD-100 Halogen Table Lamp.

Manufacturer: Grandwich Corporation, 16215 Marquardt Avenue, Cerritos, CA, 90703-2357; phone: 800-348-7399; e-mail: grlacorp@aol.com. The lamp can also be purchased from local lighting or hardware stores; phone the manufacturer to locate a dealer in your area. Price: approximately $25.

Back to top

Trainers' Corner

Getting the Most Out of Training Provided by Agencies and Employers

There are several different ways that people who are blind or have low vision receive training. They may find a teacher or organization that offers training and pay for their lessons out of pocket, they may receive funded training from a state or private organization or from an individual who is being paid by a state agency, or their employers may contract privately or with an agency for training. The relationship between trainers and trainees may dramatically affect their roles, expectations, and the actions they can take.

The July 2001 issue of AccessWorld addressed concerns that consumers may have when they arrange for their own training. This month's Trainers' Corner addresses issues related to recipients of agency-provided and employer-provided training.

When a person contracts privately with a trainer or private organization, both the trainer and the trainee need to act like anyone else in a consumer-provider role. To some of us this may seem obvious. However, even as a service provider, I know that I fell into the common trap of thinking that services related to blindness are somehow intrinsically different from services provided by an accountant, plumber, or insurance agent. But we all have the same issues: Is the student obliged to pay for the trainer's lost time if training is impossible because there is a problem with the equipment? Is the trainer obliged to provide services that are different from what she or he came to do?

Issues with Agency-Provided Training

In many cases, getting an agency to provide training takes a lot of the pressure out of this situation. Usually, if the trainer ends up fixing your computer, the amount of allocated time can be extended. However, since training can be hard to come by, anything you can do to minimize lost time is certainly worthwhile.

If the agency also purchased the equipment you are using, you may need to be particularly assertive about getting information about the system and what is in it. In my experience, these systems are less likely to have registered hardware and software. Make sure registration is done, or it may hurt you in the long run.

A trend I have seen in several states where I have worked is for agencies to authorize small chunks of training at a time (12-18 hours). This will not be enough time if you are new to computers and using speech output. Don't worry about it. It seems to be just as easy to authorize another chunk of training, over and over, but hard to get it all allocated at once.

I've also noticed that depending on how an agency-provided computer is obtained, you may need to wait a lot longer to get a problem fixed than if you were paying for it yourself. If you have a trainer who knows what is needed, it may be worthwhile to let him or her go ahead and fix it than to wait for someone else to come.

Issues with Employer-Provided Training

Receiving training from an employer can be tricky, especially if you are in a new job. You may feel like you are in a precarious situation—needing to prove yourself as an employee yet needing services that are much costlier than those provided to any of your coworkers. I know that some of the times I was hired directly by someone's employer, training time was lost because I had to deal with a system that wasn't properly set up.

Again, who sets up the system in the first place can be critical. However, you may have little control over who does, since the systems department at your company may be responsible for installing your assistive technology. If you have any say in the matter, request that the company use someone who knows the access products, especially if they are to be set up on a network computer. If the company agrees to letting you help find the person for the job, make sure the person has real networking experience and comes highly recommended.

You will also do well to negotiate access to the system before you begin training. Your system will most likely have procedures built into it that are unique to your company and that the trainer has never seen before. If you can find a coworker or technical support person at the company who knows how to use keystroke commands, you will do well to learn as much as you can from him or her before the trainer arrives.

Another thing I have found to be the rule when an employer buys your access technology is that a system administrator has probably locked up all your audio and braille documentation in a secure cabinet that nobody else can get into. I think the administrator does this because most sighted people don't look at the manuals that come with their software. However, the tapes and braille reference sheets are invaluable tools for you, and you need to find out what materials you have and hold on to them. Spend as much time with these materials as you can before your training.

You will want to talk with whomever is involved in setting up your training. Try to get a clear understanding that 40 hours of training (or whatever the company agrees to) is actually 40 training hours. Clarify what the expectations are if there is a technical problem. Assume that something will go wrong and try to get a plan in place ahead of time.

Ideally, as soon as a problem is detected in one piece of software, you move on to something else immediately while your company's technical support staff figure out what to do. It's OK to be assertive with a trainer. I know that if I start to work on solving a problem and I think I can do it, it's hard to back away. It's OK to nudge a trainer and say, "Can we work on something else and let someone else solve this problem?" In these situations, having a contingency plan is helpful, especially if the problem seems complicated and the trainer was hard to schedule or came in from out of town. Your concern is getting your allocated number of training hours.

Using Trainers for Training

When valuable training time is lost while technical problems are resolved, everyone loses. There is no simple solution to this problem, but there are steps all of us can take that will help increase the number of problems that can be headed off before training begins, making it possible for us to use training time for real learning.

Back to top

Questions and Answers

Question: I can read web pages with my screen reader and Internet Explorer, but when I come to a place to type in information, such as a box to start a search, it won't take my typing. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: Typing or checking things on a web page is called "filling out a form." Several screen readers have different modes for completing forms and for simply reading pages. You know you're in a form if your screen reader is telling you that there is an edit box, a check box, or other interactive item on a web page, other than a link. These are things that you would normally find in dialog boxes and would know how to handle there. But on a web page, your screen reader may be busy reading the page as a document and may not automatically know that you want to fill out the form.

So, what do you do? Let's take, for example, a situation in which you would like to check a check box. You are reading the screen, perhaps by pressing the down arrow and reading a line at a time, and find something that says: "View full information. Check box not checked" or something similar. You know that you want to view full information, and you know that if this were a dialog box, you would hit the space bar to check the check box, but now you hit the space bar and nothing happens.

To complete forms with JAWS for Windows, follow these instructions: To check the dialog box, you must enter the JAWS Forms mode. Press Enter on the check box. JAWS will say: "Forms mode on. View full information. Check box checked." Notice that JAWS turned the Forms mode on and obligingly checked the check box for you. Now that you are in the Forms mode, you can tab to the next item, if there is one, and treat it as you would an item in a dialog box. So if you encounter an edit box, just go ahead and type.

Once you have finished filling out the form and the web site loads another page for you, JAWS will turn the Forms mode off. So, the next time you find a form, you will need to turn it back on.

To complete forms with Window-Eyes, follow these instructions: To check this dialog box, you must leave the mode that Window-Eyes uses to let you read a web page, known as Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) mode. To get out of it and into a normal mode that lets you work with the form, press Enter on the check box. Window-Eyes will say: "MSAA mode off. View full information. Check box checked."

Notice that Window-Eyes turned MSAA mode off and obligingly checked the box for you. Now that you are out of MSAA mode, you can tab to the next item, if there is one, and treat it as you would an item in a dialog box. If you encounter an edit box, just go ahead and type.

Once you have finished completing the form and the web site loads another page for you, Window-Eyes will turn MSAA mode back on. The next time you find a form, you will need to turn it back off.

Back to top


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: education.info@lhsl.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: braille@panix.com.

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: sortit@rnib.org.uk; 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.

Back to top

Reader's Corner

Here's your forum for talking to us and to each other. We received a small number of answers to these questions on computer training: How did you learn to use your computer—both the assistive technology and the operating system and applications, such as Internet Explorer or Word. What is your advice to someone just getting started with a new computer system?"

All responses were received by e-mail and may have been edited.

Randi Shelton:

"Five years ago, I would have said I didn't trust computers, that I stayed away from them at all costs and generally avoided using them unless required to do so. That was when the world of computers was largely DOS based. For me, those commands were too difficult to remember.

"About three years ago, I began hearing about Windows and how accessible it had suddenly become. Most of my friends who were blind or visually impaired were talking about JAWS for Windows or Window-Eyes, and the reviews were extremely positive! Suddenly they were able to surf the Internet, send and receive e-mail, read newspapers and anything else they wanted. I could do many of these things too on my DOS machine at the office, but it was slow and time consuming to perform even the simplest tasks. I also began to realize that Windows was the way of the future, and my ability to function in that environment would only help later on if I decided to pursue other employment. My employer still believed that DOS was the most accessible. I was beginning to realize that this wasn't true anymore, and I needed to learn Windows.

"After much careful consideration of my needs, I decided to purchase my own system with Windows 95 and JAWS for Windows. I chose JAWS because it offered braille support, which is something I require of a screen reader. My DOS system worked with ScreenPower Integrated, but I did not have speech. Braille is the format I prefer, although I have come to rely on speech now, too.

"Once I got my system and had everything installed, which was accomplished with the help of some terrific friends, I set about learning to use it. I found the training tapes that came with JAWS to be very thorough! With those tapes and a supportive network of friends who had 'been there and done that' I learned the basics of Windows, JAWS, and Internet Explorer. Since I mainly wanted my home computer for surfing the web and e-mail, this was enough for starters.

"Last year, we began making some changes in my office. My supervisor had been wanting to upgrade to Windows for some time and was thrilled when I told her that it was not only accessible, but I found it much easier than its predecessor! We began updating our system, and over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to receive formal computer training through our local rehabilitation agency. This training has helped to cement my skills and I have become a more confident computer user. I recently received my new system and can already see this confidence carrying over into my overall performance on the job. The forms I use most are now accessible to me, and I can complete them in a more timely manner.

"My advice to a new computer user is to take advantage of any and all supports available to you. If you don't know how to do something, ask. No question is too trivial. The more you know about your own system, the better off you will be. If you do encounter a problem and need help from a sighted person, ask him or her to tell you what's on the screen if you've lost the ability to use JAWS or Window-Eyes temporarily. That way, if the same or a similar problem crops up in the future, you can direct someone else who might not be as computer savvy as you in solving problems. Pace yourself. Don't rush through and try to learn everything all at once, and most importantly in my book, have fun!"

Joel Pincus:

"For about 10 years, I used VersaBraille on the job for almost everything. I began by learning to type on a standard electric typewriter. After that, I began learning the computer using DOS 5.0 and WordPerfect 5.1 on a Compaq 75 MHZ computer. At first it was difficult because I would type lr for the word letter, since my head was always thinking in braille. This is something that probably many of us had to overcome, since we were so braille oriented. Once I got past this hurdle, the next thing I encountered was that I had no computer at home to practice on. I strongly recommend that any blind or visually impaired person just learning the computer have a system at home if possible to practice on to become more accustomed to the keyboard and the many additional keys we need to learn. I have since graduated to Windows 98 Second Edition, Word 2000, Outlook Express 5.5, Internet Explorer 5.5, JAWS 3.7 Plus, and OPENBook 5.0. My typing speed is up to about 50 words per minute and climbing, and I am enjoying playing on the Internet nightly. I still use braille daily both on the job and at home for many things and do not see in the near future how a blind person can get along without any braille."

Philip White:

"I learned to use my computer on my own. It was quite frustrating. I bought my computer and Window-Eyes from GW Micro and for the first year I was quite certain that I had been sold defective equipment and software. However, I persisted and after about a year everything started to click. I don't recommend this method of learning, though. It would be much faster with a trainer or some type of professional instruction."

Mike Keithley:

"I try very hard to figure out how to use the computer's operating system and applications. Money is an issue, but I learn why things are as they are by getting knocked around a bit. Of course, having the system backed up is crucial.

"My advice to new users is to find a friend who likes computers who knows how to utilize a student's learning style. Personally, I've enjoyed formal computer training and have come away satisfied. But, I know people whose learning style is inhibited in formal training. If it wasn't expensive, I'd heartily recommend paced learning.

"I think a user has to understand that much time and work will be spent learning the computer and that it never ends! Throw away the notion that there's magic here. Getting to know the basic workings of the operating system is needed to get out of trouble and to understand sighted people's computer talk."

This month's questions are about optical character recognition (OCR) software (OPENBook or Kurzweil 1000) or hardware (Reading Edge.) "How do you use your OCR technology? Do you mainly read books, read mail, or something else? What is the coolest thing you have ever scanned?"

E-mail us at accessworld@afb.net, and we will summarize your comments in the next issue of AccessWorld Extra.

Back to top


September 12–14

International Conference on Technology and Aging.

Ontario, Canada.


International Conference on Technology and Aging, Conference Secretariat, Absolute Conferences and Events, 144 Front Street W, Suite 640, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5J 2L7; phone: 800-284-7530 or 416-595-1414; fax: 416-979-1819; e-mail: bbuchanan@look.ca.

September 13–15

National Association for Adults with Special Learning Needs (NAASLN) Annual Conference.

Milwaukee, WI. The conference is for service providers who work with people with special learning needs, including visual and hearing impairments.


NAASLN, c/o CEA, 4380 Forbes Boulevard, Lanham, MD 20706; phone: 800-496-9222; fax: 614-850-8677; web site: www.naasln.org.

October 18–20

19th Annual Closing the Gap Conference: Computer Technology in Special Education and Rehabilitation.

Minneapolis, MN.


Closing the Gap: P.O. Box 68, Henderson, MN 56044; phone: 507-248-3294; fax: 507-248-3810; e-mail: info@closingthegap.com; web site: www.closingthegap.com/conf/index.html.

November 1–3

Fifth Annual Collaborative Conference: Achieving New Heights with Assistive Technology.

Denver, CO.


Maureen Melonis, Assistive Technology Partners, 1245 East Colfax, Suite 200, Denver, CO 80218; phone: 305-315-1280; fax: 303-837-1208; e-mail: maureen.melonis@uchsc.edu; web site: www.uchsc.edu/atp.

November 14–16

Accessing Higher Ground: Assistive Technology in Higher Education.

Boulder, CO.


Howard Kramer, Disability Services, University of Colorado at Boulder, 107 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309; phone: 303-492-8671; fax: 303-492-5601; e-mail: dsinfo@spot.colorado.edu; web site: www.colorado.edu/sacs.ATconference.

November 27–28

Techshare 2001.

Birmingham, United Kingdom.


Royal National Institute for the Blind Technology in Learning Employment; phone: 011-44-24-7636-9548; e-mail: techshare@rnib.org.uk; web site: www.rnib.org/techshare/welcome.html.

January 16–19, 2002

Assistive Technology Industry Association 2002 Conference and Exhibition.

Orlando, FL.


Assistive Technology Industry Association, 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.

Back to top

AccessWorld, Copyright © 2002 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.

Download the free AccessWorld appDownload the free AccessWorld app
Back Issues
Search AccessWorld
AccessWorld Alerts Signup
For Advertisers
Contact AccessWorld

Related Links

Using Assistive Technology
AccessWorld Appliance Accessibility Guide
Product Database for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
AFB Consulting
Orbit Reader 20 by Orbit Research. A low-cost Breakthrough for Refreshable Braille

Sprint Vision: Services for Consumers Who Are Blind Or Have Low Vision

Learn NVDA

HIMS New All In One Video Magnifier

Low Vision Simulators Plus VSRT (Pepper) Test LUV Reading Workbook

Foundations of Education, Third Edition

Exercise and Fitness Strategies for Older Adults

College Bound: A Guide for Students with Visual Impairments, 2nd Edition

The Why, When and How for Reading eBooks

College Bound: Practical Steps for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

AccessNote Accessible Notetaker App FREE on Android and iOS


NEW! iOS in the Classroom: A Guide for Teaching Students with Visual Impairments

Hope. Help. Connections for People with Vision Loss. VisionConnect FREE iOS app!
 End of advertising