New technology products often originate as ideas or fantasies. A person dreams of a solution to a problem or a way to make something happen more easily and efficiently. The dreamer then searches for people with the technical knowledge and money necessary to design and build the product.
In the field of assistive technology, the dreamer is often either a person who is blind or a person who has a relative, friend, or colleague who is blind. The product may begin as a solution to a problem faced by one person and develop into a widely accepted way for people who are blind to perform an everyday task.
In this issue, Deborah Kendrick interviews Jim Fruchterman, the dreamer as well as the charismatic, driving force behind the creation of Arkenstone, the company that developed the first Windows-based reading system for blind people. Fruchterman discusses Arkenstone's history and focuses on his new dream. BookShare will be a web-based collection of books that have been scanned by blind consumers and can be downloaded by U.S. residents who provide proof of visual impairment and pay a small annual membership fee. This idea is an example of the kind of innovation that takes us beyond the necessities. Yes, we need access to the applications necessary to perform our jobs. But we also need to learn, to escape from work, and to have some fun.
Deborah and I evaluate the Voice Mate from Parrot SA—a pocket-sized personal digital assistant (PDA), with digital speech output and voice recognition. Its phone book, appointment reminder, memo mode, clock, and calculator allow you to organize your life without worrying about scraps of paper, index cards, or temperamental cassette tapes.
Mark Uslan and Kevin Dusling evaluate ZoomText Xtra 7.06 and MAGic 8.0, the two most popular screen magnification programs. They discuss features common to both programs and point out the differences between the two. Performance was tested in Office 2000 and Internet Explorer.
Koert Wehberg, senior intern, and I evaluate the ID Mate, a talking bar code reader. Bar codes are affixed to almost any item purchased in retail stores, and a device that can interpret the codes and announce the product names could be very useful. You must decide if the cost and the work you have to do to get the most out of the product are justified by the benefits you receive.
Debbie Cook, Project Director of the Washington State Assistive Technology Alliance, answers the question: "Should I buy an adapted optical character recognition product such as OPENBook or Kurzweil 1000, or save some money and use an off-the-shelf product? She installed and used OmniPage 11.0, the most popular general market scanning package. She discusses the pros and cons of both options and gives some tips that will save you some major headaches if you choose the off-the-shelf approach.
The December issue of AccessWorld Extra will feature reader comments and questions, assistive technology news, and some suggestions for the gadget and game lovers on your holiday gift lists. To be added to the AccessWorld Extra list, send a message to email@example.com with "subscribe" in the subject line and include the name or account number to which your regular edition of AccessWorld is mailed in the body.
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