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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 November 2001 Issue  Volume 2  Number 6
Jim Fruchterman

Caption: Jim Fruchterman, founder of Arkenstone and Benetech, talks about inventing the first PC-based system for reading print aloud, of merging with Freedom Scientific, and of founding Bookshare to swap scanned books over the Internet.

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Organize Your Life: A Review of Voice Mate

A Product Evaluation of Parrot SA's Voice Mate, a Personal Digital Assistant—Deborah Kendrick and Jay Leventhal

Choosing a Screen Magnifier

A Comparison of Ai Squared's ZoomText Xtra 7.06 and Freedom Scientific's MAGic 8.0—Kevin Dusling and Mark Uslan

Raising the Bar: An Overview of the ID Mate

A Product Evaluation of Envision America's Talking Bar Code Identifier—Jay Leventhal and Koert Wehberg

Fruchterman's Fantasy Becomes Reality

An Interview with Jim Fruchterman, founder of Arkenstone and Benetech—Deborah Kendrick

How Shall I Scan? Mainstream Versus Adapted Products

A Comparison of Freedom Scientific's OPENBook, Lernout & Hauspie's Kurzweil 1000, and ScanSoft's OmniPage Pro—Optical Character Recognition Scanners—Debbie Cook

2001: A Technology Odyssey

A Lively Summation of the Newest Assistive Technology Conference—Jay Leventhal

AccessWorld News


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

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 accessworld@afb.net 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.

For information about renewing your AccessWorld subscription or other customer service question, call 888-522-0220 or 412-741-1398.

Jay Leventhal

Editor in Chief

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Product Evaluation

Organize Your Life: A Review of Voice Mate

Are you someone who records important phone numbers on cassettes and then searches for them by rewinding and fast-forwarding? Have you ever accidentally recorded over an important number and had to phone the person who gave it to you a second time? Maybe you are getting tired of trying to keep track of phone numbers by writing them in large print and struggling to read your writing. This article reviews a product that could make your life easier. The Voice Mate is a pocket-sized personal digital assistant (PDA), with digital speech output and voice recognition and a numeric keypad for input. Its features include a phone book, a clock, an alarm, a calculator, an appointment book, and a Memo mode that lets you record short messages.


The Voice Mate measures 5.4 inches by 2.7 inches by 0.6 inches and weighs 5.3 ounces with its four AAA batteries. Across the top on the front of the unit is a 1-inch-high visual display. At the top of the left side are the Record button and a computer serial connection for backing up data. On the right side, the earphone jack is about 1.5 inches from the top. The earphone jack and serial port are not standard and require special connectors from the manufacturer.

Just below the visual display are the Mode button and the microphone. Below these two controls is a covered compartment that opens to reveal the rest of the Voice Mate's buttons. You open the compartment using notches located at the top left and right of the cover. At the top of the compartment, four slanted buttons form a circle around the speaker. These buttons are Menu (top left), Erase (top right), Yes (bottom left), and No (bottom right.) Below these buttons are the Left and Right arrow buttons, which cycle through different options depending on the application currently being used. Below the arrow buttons is a familiar, 12-key phone pad.

Voice Mate settings are changed in the Control Panel, where you can adjust the voice volume, change the level of help, turn Accessibility mode on or off, and send and receive data. The most important setting is the Keyboard Lock option. This option prevents unauthorized speaking, such as the announcement of a friend's name and phone number, when the Voice Mate is jostled by something in your backpack.

Voice Mate

Caption: Voice Mate.

Hello, Operator?

The phone book is a major reason for buying the Voice Mate. It allows you to record, retrieve, and edit phone numbers and addresses digitally. It provides a simple way to keep track of the contact information for family members, friends, and colleagues, especially if you don't carry, or don't want to be constantly accessing, a braille note taker.

The Voice Mate prompts you to record the name of each person you add to the phone book twice to obtain a good-quality recording. It then prompts you for the person's phone numbers, which may include home, work, cellular, and fax numbers, as well as an address. You can speak the phone numbers or type them in on the keypad. You can then find a person's phone number by pressing the Record button and speaking the person's name. You can also use the arrow keys to cycle through phone book entries.

The Voice Mate dials a phone number for you if you select the person you want to call, hold the unit near the phone's mouthpiece, and push the Record button twice. It then announces the phone number for confirmation or gives you a chance to hang up the phone if you have second thoughts.

You can change Phone book settings by pressing the Menu key, followed by the right arrow key. Doing so allows you to turn on the prompt for cellular or fax number, change the speed and volume at which tones are played when dialing a number, and rerecord a person's name or address.

Take a Memo

How often have you chatted with a new acquaintance or friend, when the person has mentioned a book that you want to read or the name of someone who may give you a job? Until the "pencil for the blind" is invented, Voice Mate may well be the most portable and efficient way of addressing this problem. Simply choose the Memo function, press the Record button, and speak your memo. The Voice Mate records as long as you are pressing the Record button and stops recording when you release it. Later, using the left and right arrow keys, you can cycle through your own voice recording until you locate the memo you want. Later, if you want to add additional information to your memo, Voice Mate allows you to edit it— deleting or inserting additional information.

Get Me to the Church on Time, but Don't Remind Me!

For people who are unable to use print effectively for keeping a calendar of appointments, the Voice Mate's Appointment feature may well be its most welcome. With a simple "voice tag" identifying the appointment, you can store and retrieve it. In the body of the appointment memo itself, you can record more details to refresh your memory. Later, you can search for the appointment by speaking its voice tag or search the date by pressing the corresponding numbers on the phone-style key pad. For example, if you have an appointment with Michael Kelly on September 1 to celebrate his birthday, you would first select the appointment feature, hold down the Record button, and speak the tag "Michael Kelly." The Voice Mate asks you if you want to make an appointment. If you press Yes, you are asked to record the tag again. After repeating the tag "Michael Kelly," you are asked to enter the date on the numeric keypad and are then given an opportunity to record details of the appointment, such as "Dinner at the Celestial restaurant with Michael Kelly for his birthday."

Later, if you want to check to see when that dinner is, you select Appointment, press the Record button, and speak the tag "Michael Kelly." This time, when asked if you wish to make an appointment, press the No Button, and if an appointment already exists that matches this tag, the unit locates and plays it back for you. Be mindful, however, that this is voice recognition, not artificial intelligence. If your tag actually said "Mike Kelly" or "Mickey Kelly," the Voice Mate will be unable to find it until you speak the matching tag.

If you want to search for available times on a given date, Voice Mate will announce all the appointments on that date. If you want to browse through a particular series of days to see what you have going on, you can do so by using the left and right arrow keys. No matter what order you happen to schedule your appointments in, Voice Mate stores them chronologically, making browsing through a week or month a quick and convenient process.

Voice Mate asks you two more questions when you store an appointment. First, it asks if you would like to have a reminder. Next, it asks if you would like to have a notification beep. The second question is straightforward. If you choose Yes, a notification beep will sound at the time you have scheduled. This alarm is a sequence of beeps, sufficiently unique to draw your attention immediately, repeated four times. (To interrupt it, you simply open the door covering the buttons, and the alarm shuts off.)

The first question, however, "Do you wish to have a reminder?" is an area that could use additional work. If you answer yes to this question, Voice Mate asks you to select the interval for reminders, anywhere from minutes to years. Let's say you have made an appointment to call your mother at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday evening, October 14, 2001. You choose a reminder in minutes, and press 5 on the keypad for it to occur every five minutes. This means that at 6:05, 6:10, 6:15, and onward until midnight on October 14, the notification beep will sound off, reminding you to call your mother. Now, let's say that a friend calls to tell you that your favorite movie is going to be repeated on Sunday, October 14, at 8:00 p.m. When you try to make the appointment, Voice Mate announces that you already have an appointment at that time. The same barrier to scheduling any appointment that happens to occur at five-minute intervals between 6:00 p.m. and midnight on that date will present itself. You can get around this obstacle by scheduling your 8:00 p.m. movie at, say, 7:59 or 8:01, but you would then have to remember that the interference was caused by a five-minute reminder for a 6 p.m. appointment.

The explanation for this problem is, in part, one of language. The Voice Mate was created in France and thus French was its native language. "Recurring" or "ongoing" may more accurately describe the function intended when this feature was added. In other words, if you want the Voice Mate to "remind" you to take your medicine at noon every day, you would set the appointment for today and choose to have a "Reminder" on a "Daily" basis. Thus, every day at noon, you would hear the notification beep for the appointment to take your medicine. While changing the name of the feature may clarify it for some English-speaking users, it still won't change the way in which "reminders" are programmed. If youchoose to take your medicine at noon every day and have the Voice Mate remind you, you need to remember that 12:00 p.m. is not an available slot for any other appointment. The easiest way around this problem, until it is addressed by the company, is simply never to choose the Reminder option.

Does Anyone Know the Time?

When you cycle to the Clock feature by pressing the Mode button on the front of the Voice Mate, the simplest thing you can do is check to see what time it is. If you press the Record key twice, the Voice Mate will announce for you the current time, date, and alarm setting if one is set.

When you cycle to the Clock feature and open the door, Voice Mate prompts you with two choices: You can change the clock or change the alarm. Both procedures are fairly intuitive, and Voice Mate verbally prompts you through them. When setting the date, it is necessary to press all four digits, rather than the final two, and a time designation must always be completed by pressing 0 for confirmation of a.m. or p.m. If the alarm is set, you will be treated to a pleasant rendition of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," which is repeated every five minutes until you open the door.

You Can Count on Me

The Voice Mate's calculator is simple to use. The Left and Right arrows become Times and Divided By, and the Yes and No buttons become Plus and Minus. The Erase key is the Clear key. The number keys do what you would expect; the Star is the decimal point, and the Pound key is Equals.

The Menu key provides access to additional features. By pressing it, followed by the right arrow key, you have the following options: percent, Memory Set, Memory Recall, and Currency Conversion.

The calculator has trouble announcing large numbers. It reads 50,888,850 as "50 million 800 and 88 thousand and 800 and 50."

The Bottom Line

Although Voice Mate has its quirks, it is a versatile device in an esthetically pleasing handheld package. The voice is a clear, female one whose midpoint volume setting is adequate for most surroundings. The unit requires four AAA batteries, and customers have reported considerably varied experiences with battery life. The units we tested lasted from four to eight weeks before the batteries needed to be changed. When the batteries fail, however, Voice Mate gives you little notice, requiring you to change the batteries almost immediately once the verbal reminder has been spoken. If the batteries fail completely, however, the only serious loss of memory is the current date and time setting. All other data remain intact. If you are interested only in storing phone numbers and keeping your appointments organized, the Voice Mate is well worth the price. The Memo feature, clock, alarm, and calculator are added bonuses that many will enjoy.

Product Information

Product: Voice Mate.

Manufacturer: Parrot SA, 28 rue Meslay, F. 75003 Paris, France; phone: 888-936-0001 (USA), 33 0 1,44,78,81,10 (France); fax: 33 0 1,48,87,87,34; e-mail: arlette.kotchounian@parrot.fr; web site: http://www.voice-assistant.com. Price: $259.

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Product Evaluation

Choosing a Screen Magnifier

If you are looking for a full-featured screen-magnification program, you need to know the major players and how they compare. At present, there are three products to choose from: ZoomText Xtra (version 7.06) from Ai Squared, MAGic (version 8.0) from Freedom Scientific, and Lunar Plus (version 4.5) from Dolphin Computer Access. All three products have screen reader capability. In this evaluation, we review ZoomText Xtra 7.06 and MAGic 8.0.

Before we start, there are some things that everyone should be aware of, especially those who are new to the screen-magnifier marketplace. First, screen-magnifier terminology can drive you nuts. In an attempt to reduce frustration, we have compiled a short glossary of terms. When those terms are used in this article, they are put in quotes.

Screen Magnifier Glossary

Focus: A window, dialog, menu, or control that receives input. For example, the object that is currently receiving keyboard input has "focus."

Hot Key: A keystroke combination that causes a function to take place. For example, most screen magnifiers have hot keys to increase and decrease magnification.

Inverse: A feature that swaps the foreground colors with background colors.

Locator: A feature that shows which portion of the unmagnified screen is in view in the magnified portion. It is helpful for navigating around the screen, especially when high magnification levels are being used.

Panning: This feature allows you to move the magnified view automatically in one direction using a set of "hot keys." It can be used for reading text or navigating around the screen.

Primary Magnification Window: The main magnified view currently being used. The "primary magnification window" can be one of the following four views and can be set to any magnification power that the software allows.

  • Full Screen View: A magnification setting that enlarges the entire screen.
  • Lens View: A magnification setting that places a box on the screen, which is magnified. The rest of the screen remains unmagnified. This "lens" is moved around the screen with the mouse.
  • Split Screen View: A magnification setting that divides the screen into two sections. One section is magnified while the other section remains unmagnified. The setup of the "split screen" can be either horizontal or vertical.
  • Overlay: A magnification setting that magnifies one corner of the screen while the rest of the screen remains unmagnified. This corner of the screen does not move, but as the mouse or "focus" changes, its image changes.

Secondary Magnification Window: Additional magnified views that can be placed over the "primary magnification window" or the "unmagnified view." "Secondary magnification windows" are usually designed for specific purposes. For example, a "secondary magnification window" can be placed over the time, so it is always magnified.

Smoothing: As higher magnification levels are reached, more details of an object are seen. This means that pixels become more apparent, giving a stair-step appearance. "Smoothing" attempts to compensate for this problem by combining bordering pixels with each other.

Stretching: The ability to alter the appearance of the screen to make it look as though it has been magnified in only one direction- -either horizontally or vertically.

Tracking: A feature that enables the magnified area to change its viewing area automatically when another object outside the magnified view becomes active.

Unmagnified View: The area of the screen that appears in its default size. The only magnification setting in which there is no "unmagnified view" is the "full screen view."

Verbosity: Determines the amount of detail spoken when a window's component gains "focus." For example, the text of the component will always be read, but the type of component it is may or may not be read.

Second, you should be aware of the companies behind the products. Ai Squared specializes in screen-magnification products and is the "granddaddy" in the field. ZoomText Xtra was the first screen- magnification program on the market in 1988. The company also makes Big Shot, a simple screen magnifier, and VisualScan, low vision reading software that uses a scanner. Freedom Scientific produces a wide variety of assistive technology for people who are blind or visually impaired. Its Blind/Low Vision Group is the result of a recent merger with three major players in the field: Blazie Engineering, Henter-Joyce, and Arkenstone. Freedom Scientific makes JAWS for Windows, a popular screen reader.

Who Uses These Products?

To get users' perspectives on these products, we contacted 4 ZoomText Xtra users, 4 MAGic users, and 3 people who use both. We asked these 11 people questions about how and why they use a screen magnifier and how they made the decision to purchase the products. Four of the users work in various aspects of assistive technology training. One person is a web designer, and another is a scientist. Others work in higher education, real estate, radio, and disability advocacy. They all load the screen magnifier onto the computer and leave it on all day. They use the screen magnifier for reading and writing e-mail and writing documents. Some also use it for specialized tasks, such as application (software) development, composing music, and designing web sites. Basically, they need the screen magnifier to do their jobs. One respondent said: "I spend 90% of my day checking e-mail from students in my university. Without my screen magnifier, I would not be able to get any work done."

Most reported using only a few simple features, setting the screen magnifier at between 2x and 6x magnification in the "full screen view" mode, where the entire screen is magnified. Most also use the built-in screen reader. Some reported using mouse-enhancement features and the "smoothing" feature to enhance difficult-to-see images.

The users cited a variety of reasons for purchasing the product they did:

  1. They were familiar with an earlier version of the product, and since they were comfortable with it, they saw no reason to change.
  2. They went with the company they knew and had confidence in.
  3. They received demonstration versions of both products, tried them out, and decided which one they liked the best.

One user said that she didn't even know that these types of products existed until her eye doctor recommended one to her a few years ago. She has stayed with the product ever since.

What You Get for the Money

ZoomText Xtra 7.06 costs $395 without the screen reader and $595 with it built in. MAGic costs $295 without the screen reader and $545 with it built in. However, while both products support Windows 95, 98, and ME, ZoomText Xtra also supports Windows 2000 and Windows NT.

Firing Them Up and Trying Them Out

Both screen magnifiers were installed on a laptop PC and a desktop PC. The laptop was running Windows 98, and the desktop was running Windows 98 and Windows 2000 with NT. All the features were tested in the Microsoft Office Suite and Internet Explorer 5.0. We compared the utility of 10 features and functions offered, how well each feature and function worked, and how easy they were to use. We also noted any instances of problems, such as bugs and crashing.


Both manuals are well organized, in font size 18, and come with a quick reference guide. Installation was equally easy for both screen magnifiers. One additional source of help that ZoomText Xtra offers is a tutorial that runs on the computer. It is easier to follow and learn from than the manual because of speech output, large text, and animated graphics.


Both products offer magnification up to 16 times and have four different types of "primary magnification windows" that can be repositioned and resized. ZoomText Xtra also offers magnification in five "secondary magnification windows" that can be placed over the "primary magnification window." In MAGic, the borders of the "primary magnification window" can be adjusted in thickness and color. MAGic offers vertical "stretching" of the screen. ZoomText Xtra offers both vertical and horizontal "stretching" of the screen.

Finding Your Place

Both ZoomText Xtra and MAGic have "locator" features to help you see where you are in the document. ZoomText Xtra has four types of "locators" that can be set to blink, but these "locators" do not function in "full screen view." MAGic has three "locators" that do not blink, but they do function in "full screen view."


In ZoomText Xtra, you can use "panning" to move the magnified view in any direction automatically. The default "hot keys" for "panning" are the Alt key followed by the arrow key. While "panning," you must hold the Alt key down; once you release it, "panning" stops. Hitting the arrow key in the current direction increases the speed.

In MAGic, the screen can be automatically "panned" in any direction, and the speed can be adjusted. Once the "hot key" to begin "panning" is pressed, "panning " resumes until another "hot key" to stop it is pressed or until the bottom of the screen is reached. MAGic also has a "panning" option called line jump. When the right side of the screen is reached by the magnified view, the view is redirected to the left side of the screen, where "panning" then continues to the right again. The magnified view is also shifted down on every pass to give the effect of reading a document. The distance that the document shifts down, as well as the delay in transition from the right side of the screen to the left, can be controlled.

Keeping Track

Both MAGic and ZoomText Xtra offer "tracking" of the mouse, caret, menus, windows, and controls. In ZoomText Xtra, the delay period before any new activity is tracked can be adjusted. A boundary that allows "tracking" to take place only within a certain area of the screen can also be set up.

Mouse Features

Both MAGic and ZoomText Xtra allow 16 different colors for the mouse; the "inverse" of mouse foreground and background; and adjustment in the size of the mouse, including extra large. In MAGic, the mouse can be set as a cross hair or a bull's eye, and all features are also available in the "unmagnified view."

Color and Contrast

In both products, it is possible to use the "inverse" contrast function in the "primary magnification window" and the "unmagnified view." In MAGic, you can also specify to "inverse" only the "primary magnification window" or only the "unmagnified view." ZoomText Xtra lets you invert only black and white or only the shades of gray that are present on the screen. Colors can also be converted to their equivalent shade of gray. ZoomText Xtra also allows for adjusting the contrast from low to high. These additional features work only if your display is set to 256 colors.

Smooth and Easy

MAGic's "smoothing" feature is easy to use. It just needs to be turned on to smooth every color.

ZoomText Xtra has two settings for "smoothing." One is for "smoothing" black text on a white background. The other is for "smoothing" custom colors. To use the latter setting, you must pick the color of the text you want to "smooth" with the Smoothing Colors Tool.

Screen Reading

Both ZoomText Xtra and MAGic's screen readers have many voices whose pitch and speed can be set. There are "verbosity" settings to control how much is spoken and controls to read as you type or use the mouse to read a letter, word, or line at a time. For reading documents, there are many different options, such as reading the entire current window or document, reading the current line of a document, or simply saying the contents of the clipboard. "Hot keys" can be used to access these functions.

ZoomText Xtra has a module called DocReader, which takes a text document and displays it in a new magnified view that acts as a prompter or ticker reader of all the text. DocReader formats the text to fit on the one-line ticker or multiple line prompter without cutting off any words. It automatically scrolls the application's page down as it gets to the end of a line. Many settings can be adjusted in DocReader, such as the speed of the text being read, the spacing in between characters, highlighting of the text, and all of the screen reader options like volume and pitch.

ZoomText Xtra also has a Speak-It tool. When this tool is selected for use, the mouse arrow changes into a new arrow graphic that has arcs drawn around it, and when you click on a word, it is read out loud. Also if a section of text is highlighted, the screen reader will read the selected text.

MAGic does not have similar advanced modules, but it is easy to use. It was able to read web pages by using its "hot keys," whereas to read text off a web page with ZoomText, one would need to use ZoomText Xtra's Speak-It Tool or DocReader. MAGic has additional built-in features, including the capability of "panning" automatically to view all the text on a line. It can also be set up to highlight by inverting or underlining the current text being read.


MAGic has created a function that affects Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Word, and Excel. In Word, spelling errors can be displayed in one simple dialog box. In Excel, a dialog box can be displayed that shows all the cells with their data. A cell can be selected from the list, and the "focus" is changed to that cell. In Internet Explorer, you can reformat the current web page so that images are removed and the page is rearranged to make for easier reading.

ZoomText Xtra allows you to set up to 10 targets, which are user- designated regions of the screen. When the hit target "hot key" is pressed, the magnified view jumps to the target. For example, to check the time of day periodically, a target can be placed over the time display located in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. When the hit target "hot key" is pressed, the magnified view shows that area of the screen. There are also talking targets that read all the text in the window.

The Bottom Line

Both ZoomText Xtra and MAGic are stable products—in over 10 hours of testing in Office 2000 and Internet Explorer, we did not experience even one instance of crashing or erratic behavior. They also do what they say they do. ZoomText Xtra did particularly well in documentation, magnification, "tracking," and color and contrast. It also supports Windows NT and Windows 2000. MAGic did particularly well in "panning," mouse features, enhancing images, and cost. Both products did well in Finding Your Place, Screen Reading, and Perks. When you have two good products that do the same thing but in different ways, it bears keeping in mind the simple refrain, "try before you buy." If you need to choose between the two, get to know both and see which one better meets your needs.

If you already own a screen magnifier or if you buy one, we would be interested in hearing from you about your experiences.

Product Information

Product: ZoomText Xtra 7.06.

Manufacturer: Ai Squared, P.O. Box 669, Manchester Center, VT 05255; phone: 802-362-3612; web site: http://www.aisquared.com. Price: Level 1 (without speech) for Win 95, 98, ME, NT4, and 2000—$395. Level 1 Plus (includes DOS support) for Win 95, 98, ME, NT4, and 2000—$595. Level 2 (with speech) for Win 95, 98, ME, NT4, and 2000—$595. Level 2 Plus (includes DOS support) for Win 95, 98, ME, NT4, and 2000—$795.

Product: MAGic 8.0.

Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, Fl 33716-1805; phone: 800-444-4443; web site: http://www.freedomscientific.com. Price: Magnification without speech for Win 95, 98, and ME—$295, Magnification with speech for Win 95, 98, and ME—$545.

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Product Evaluation

Raising the Bar: An Overview of the ID Mate

So, you're in a supermarket listening as your friend reads the names of every product from soup to nuts. The monotony goes on and on, making you wonder, Isn't there a better way to go shopping? Then you get home and begin to search for that folder in which you placed the large stack of work that you planned to do this weekend. You think you put a braille label on it, but what if you forgot? Wouldn't it be great to go to the supermarket and identify items with a handheld device? Wouldn't it be great just to record a short description of what's in your folder onto a blank bar code and never need to label it again? In this product evaluation, we examine the ID Mate from Envision America, a talking bar code identifier.

Description and Documentation

The ID Mate consists of a recorder and an omnidirectional scanner that are connected by a cord. The scanner reads a bar code that is up to 9 inches away. It is shaped like a telephone handset, with one end containing a small screen for scanning and the other connected to the ID Mate's base. The base is rectangular and measures 6 by 3.5 by 1.5 inches. The ID Mate weighs 2.2 pounds. The buttons are on the front of the unit and the on/off switch, flash memory card slot, volume control, earphone, and microphone jacks are on top. The rectangular Mode button (the farthest to the left) toggles among the six modes. Approximately 1 inch to the right are the Next and Previous buttons, which move you to the corresponding help settings when in Help mode or to recorded messages when you're in Search or Memo mode.

Farther to the right are the Erase and Record buttons. The Record button is used to record bar code descriptions and memos. The Erase button deletes unneeded descriptions and memos. The ID Mate's carrying case also holds the handheld scanner that is connected to the rectangular recorder. The recorder contains computer hardware, four rechargeable nicad AA batteries, and a slot for flash memory cards. The recorder is slightly larger than a Walkman and has an earphone jack and microphone jack in addition to the aforementioned buttons. The ID Mate comes with one 4-megabyte flash memory card that can store up to 35 minutes of digital recording or 420 5- second bar code messages. You can upgrade the memory with additional cards, each of which can hold up to 32 megabytes.

The ID Mate comes with a large-print version of the users' manual, as well as one on audiocassette. After you purchase it, you can download the manual from the manufacturer's web site with a user name and password. The large-print manual is in a 13-point font and may be difficult for some visually impaired individuals to read. A 16-point font would be an improvement. No braille manual or quick reference guide is included with the ID Mate.

The audiocassette describes the ID Mate and its components. The manual also guides you in performing tasks that will help you become familiar with the unit. In the Help mode, the Next and Previous keys cycle through the nine help sections and provide a concise description of the unit's functions.


Bar codes consist of a series of printed horizontal strips of various widths, in which each of the digits zero through nine are represented by a different pattern of bars that can be read by a laser scanner. Retailers use bar codes to record the prices of items. The ID Mate identifies an item with a bar code by scanning it and allowing you to record a description. The ID Mate works on the premise that you will record descriptions for the bar codes. No product database is included. Using these databases would allow you to identify new items the first time, instead of needing assistance from a sighted person. For example, you would move a can of tomato soup in front of the handheld scanner until a beep is heard, indicating that the bar code has been located. In the event that an item does not contain a bar code, Envision America includes several blank bar codes that can be attached to clothes, plastic containers, or manila folders. Additional blanks can be purchased. The ID Mate says "item not found," prompting you to record any description you want. So the next time you scan a can of the same brand of tomato soup, the description will be spoken.

A La Mode

In addition to ID mode—used to scan bar codes—the ID Mate includes Memo, Search, Memory, Date/Time, and Help modes. Memo mode is used to record reminders, such as a phone number or the time of an important meeting. Search mode allows you to locate and review any recording that you have made, including both memos and bar codes. You can listen to messages, delete selected messages, or simply cycle among them in the order in which they were recorded. Memory mode tells you the amount of memory remaining on your flash card. Date/Time mode announces and lets you set the date and time. Help mode is an abbreviated version of the manual; precautionary and service information are also included.

Coding and Recording

We had little difficulty scanning bar codes with the ID Mate. For most items, such as cans, folders, and boxes, the scanner located the bar code within three to five seconds. We were able to use the microphone to record descriptions with relative ease. We did find problems with scanning bar codes on dented areas of cans and boxes. The bent surfaces made it difficult to position the scanner in the appropriate location.

Recording memos was quick and easy. We did find, however, that the microphone recorded extraneous background noise, which could cause problems in a noisy office.

The Bottom Line

The ID Mate performs well as a bar code identifier and memo recorder. It is used by some blind people who manage vending stands. However, the bar code identifier works only with user- recorded descriptions. It does not take advantage of any bar code databases that manufacturers provide. We realize that each major manufacturer of food or other products has its own database of bar codes. However, the ID Mate would be a more attractive product if it included one of these databases and had the ability to identify some products right out of the box. If you do not need a bar code scanner to accomplish the tasks on your job, the decision about whether to purchase the ID Mate comes down to whether you want to spend $1,599 to perform these tasks. You may decide that braille labels are the way to go until the price for a bar code reader is more reasonable.

Product Information

Product: ID Mate.

Manufacturer: Envision America, Inc., 1013 Porter Lane; Normal, IL 61761; phone: 800-890-1180; e-mail: enbvision@envisionamerica.com; web site: www.envisionamerica.com. Price: $1,599.

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Fruchterman's Fantasy Becomes Reality

Jim Fruchterman is reminiscing about his days at Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology in the early 1980s. "It was 1981," he says, "and everyone around me was cooking up some Nobel prize-winning project or idea. The professors at Cal Tech were the brightest and best, and you could feel like pond scum with all that genius everywhere. Then I had my eureka idea!" And as the storytellers might put it, he knew his idea was a good one, and he never let it go.

In engineering and applied physics, much of the talk around Jim Fruchterman at that time centered on optical pattern recognition by computers. The brilliant flash of recognition ignited by those conversations in Fruchterman's brain, of course, was the notion to harness that pattern-recognition capability to design a reading system for blind people. Fruchterman didn't know any blind people or that work was already being done in this area by Raymond Kurzweil. He admits to being somewhat deflated when a professor told him it had been tried, but kept the idea alive. The concept appealed to him as a perfect blend of his search to find "something that was cool to do and would have some social benefit."

The primary uses of optical pattern recognition had to do with identifying and matching airfields. One of Fruchterman's early ventures was to be part of a team that was using that technology to build and launch a rocket. The rocket blew up ("it wasn't my fault," Fruchterman assured me), and he and a friend decided to start their own company.

The first company formed by Fruchterman and others was called Good Technology, which later became Benetech. Fruchterman's fancy for word play and obscure meanings has run alongside his work since that first eureka idea. (Arkenstone, the successful company that would launch his popular OPENBook software in 1989, was named for the sought-after stone in Tolkein's The Hobbit, and Strider, a global-positioning product, harkened back to The Lord of the Rings.)

Arkenstone introduced its OPENBook reading software in 1989, and over the next 10 years sold approximately 35,000 systems. Fruchterman caught the crest of the technological wave with his brainchild—offering a PC-based system for reading print aloud, right at a time when many blind and visually impaired people were buying talking computers. When Fruchterman first had his eureka idea, a reading system had been built that would cost an end-user $50,000. The Arkenstone system, with computer, scanner, and OPENBook software, was introduced for under $5,000. Arkenstone was the first reading system for people who are blind to bring a Windows-based application to market, to which its leading competitor, Xerox Imaging Systems, quickly responded.

Merging Forces

"When Freedom Scientific first approached us," Fruchterman recalls, "we said 'No, we don't want to do that. We're nonprofit.'" Freedom Scientific came back, offering a structured deal that proved how Arkenstone, which had always been a nonprofit break-even organization, could become a money maker by joining forces with two other leaders in the assistive technology field (Blazie Engineering and Henter-Joyce), under the Freedom Scientific banner. Thus, Arkenstone became part of the new assistive technology merger, Benetech kept its entire engineering team, and Fruchterman was on the quest for a new eureka idea.

From Reading Books to Sharing Them

In the event that he didn't already comprehend the remarkable power that OPENBook and products like it bring to people who are unable to read print, Fruchterman was repeatedly treated to the ecstatic testimonials of satisfied customers throughout the decade in which he operated Arkenstone. For the first time, people could read their own memos, personal mail, magazines, and books. As a lover of science fiction and fantasy, Fruchterman understood completely the addictive constant scanning of books by other sci-fi and fantasy aficionados. Add to this the fact that Mapster's CEO lives two doors down and the connection of friendship between their teenage children, and it is no surprise that Fruchterman began mulling over possibilities of sharing books via the Internet.

For a decade, blind people have been scanning books. Many of them have saved those books on disk. With U.S. copyright law now permitting the sharing of copyrighted materials in special formats with those who are unable to read conventional print, the possibility of legally distributing electronic texts of copyrighted books is clear. Doing it in a manner that is in keeping with the law presented some challenges, but Fruchterman has the sort of mind that thrives on solving puzzles.

Bookshare, expected to be launched by the end of 2001, proposes to add a significant third player to the two primary U.S. sources of accessible books for consumers who are blind or have learning disabilities. Fruchterman has worked closely with Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) since he conceived Bookshare in the hope that customers will eventually move naturally among the three providers. In other words, if you can't find a book through RFB&D or NLS, you just may find it through Bookshare. Fruchterman's goal is that every time a customer visits the site in search of a title, he or she will have a 50 percent chance of success.

How It Works

The books will come, in large part, from blind consumers themselves. In the past year, blind people who have scanned and stored books over the years have been sharing their files with Bookshare. "One man," Fruchterman reports, "has scanned over 4,000 books in the past decade and is eager to share all of them." In the hands of Bookshare, books will be converted to both braille (BRF) files and digital talking book (DAISY) formats to offer virtually every reading choice that consumers may prefer for downloading.

Books will be encrypted before download, and all customers will be given their own customized decryption programs for placing the files, in the reading format of their choice, in their own computers. A "fingerprint" system will make it possible to identify the source of individually decrypted files in the event of illegal distribution. Because the copyright law specifically entitles only people with print-related disabilities to the specialized formats, each customer will be required to provide certification of his or her blindness, visual impairment, or other relevant disability. In keeping with the models provided by RFB&D and NLS, certification can come from an expert in any field, such as medicine, education, or psychology—anyone, in short, with credentials to state that a person is eligible for reading specialized formats. Customers will pay a small (probably $50) annual membership fee to remain in the program and can download an unlimited number of books.

Quality control will be a concern because the books are scanned by volunteers. Though Bookshare will not pose as having the identically high standards as, say, the NLS program, Fruchterman says that quality issues will be addressed. Standard correction and formatting programs will be run on each title provided, copyright information will be checked or added, and some proofreading will be done. When a second version of a book that is already archived is provided, the two versions will be compared, and the "cleaner" one will be kept on the site. Eventually, Fruchterman plans to have particularly popular books scanned by full- or part-time employees or volunteers. "We'd like to have the top 100 Amazon sellers and leading New York Times sellers," Fruchterman says of the future. At this writing, the web site www.bookshare.org is 80 percent finished, and a full launch (including about 15,000 books) is scheduled to occur by December 1, 2001.

Still Dreaming

While Bookshare is generating considerable attention and feedback from schools, colleges, consumer groups, and individuals, it is by no means the only project that is engaging Fruchterman's penchant for fantasizing. Legislation is making mainstream technology more available to people with disabilities, and Fruchterman wants to be on the cutting edge of possibilities with his blend of fantasy and technology. "I'd like to make cell phones and palm pilots that everybody could use," he says. "I'd like to make a cell phone with Strider in it that could tell you where you are at any time with the press of a button. You could pay $10 extra per month for your mobile phone service and have Strider built into it."

The new trend in purchasing among blind consumers, Fruchterman says, is that they are now buying gadgets instead of PCs. Even though only some of the functions are usable, blind people are buying personal digital assistants (PDAs). "Wouldn't it be cool," he muses, "to pair that PDA with a scanner, so you could hold it up to a street sign or restaurant menu to hear what it says?"

In the past decade, Fruchterman has come to count many blind and visually impaired people as friends and has noted one persistent thread of frustration. "I'd like to see us design a cheap gadget that could do people recognition," he says, pointing out that the technology essentially already exists. With a talking camera, an image (like a person) could be identified and the person's spoken name. Imagine walking into a cocktail reception with your handheld people finder. At the press of a button, the gadget would whisper in your ear the names of all others in the room. It sounds like fantasy today, but so did an affordable machine that would read print to blind people 20 years ago.

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Product Evaluation

How Shall I Scan? Mainstream Versus Adapted Products

It goes without saying that we would all like to save a few dollars when it comes to purchasing assistive technology and that we are sometimes frustrated by the difference in cost of products designed for blind people compared to the cost of commercial technologies. For example, optical character recognition (OCR) packages designed for blind people—such as OPENBook from Freedom Scientific or Kurzweil 1000 from Lernout & Hauspie—retail for $995, while the leading commercial product, OmniPage Pro 11.0 from ScanSoft, retails for $495. This article examines the features and functionality of OmniPage Pro Version 11.0 as an OCR alternative in contrast with the blindness products, and offers customization hints to increase the accessibility of OmniPage Pro for those who would like to try it.

Quick Tour of OPENBook and Kurzweil 1000

Blind people generally use OCR in order to access print materials such as correspondence, books, and magazines. You typically place a document on the scanner, press a key and wait while the page is scanned and recognized. By default the page is then read aloud to you in high quality synthesized speech. As more pages are scanned and recognized they are read aloud. Graphics are discarded because they cannot be converted to text. All commands are accessed through conventional Windows menus and via the keyboard. Other applications including braille translation software can be launched from OPENBook or Kurzweil 1000, and both offer word processing and other unique features as part of their user interface.

Quick Tour of OmniPage Pro

Sighted people use OCR to manipulate and manage images and text. For example, OCR is often used to convert documents such as brochures, forms, and manuals to and from Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF). Processing a document typically includes: scanning an image or importing one from a file, performing recognition on both text and graphics associated with the image, proofreading and correcting the text against the original image, and saving the corrected results to one of many supported formats.

OmniPage utilizes three on-screen work areas described as: Original Image, Document Manager and Text Editor. Some commands are accessed through conventional Windows menus, whereas others are located in a menu on a toolbar which must be clicked with a mouse or with the mouse movement keys of a screen reader.

Use with Screen Readers

OPENBook and Kurzweil 1000 are self-voicing applications with full speech support for all functions of scanning, recognition, and reading. This makes them ideal for users who do not have a screen reader or who are not comfortable working with Windows applications.

I evaluated OmniPage Pro with JAWS for Windows 3.7 (JFW) from Freedom Scientific and with Window-Eyes 4.1 from GW Micro on a Pentium 600 with a Hewlett-Packard 4P scanner. Both screen readers accurately tracked menu options, correctly identified the active work area, and read the status of items such as check boxes and grayed menu options. Both screen readers were unable to identify the Toolbar, and I was unaware of this feature until someone told me it was there. JAWS includes scripts for OmniPage 10, which provide keyboard access to the toolbar. However, changes in Version 11 caused these scripts to work unreliably in some cases. For example, after accessing the toolbar with the JAWS keystroke, I was unable to return to the Text Editor using the keyboard. Therefore, with both screen readers I found it most efficient to access the toolbar through the following steps: 1) move the mouse cursor to the toolbar and click the mouse, 2) use the Tab key to move between menu items and use cursor keys to select options, and 3) move the mouse cursor back to the Text Editor and route the pointer to the mouse. This may sound complicated, but it is actually a typical process when application developers do not provide keyboard shortcuts for menu or toolbar options. Thus, users need to be familiar with access strategies for Windows applications, including the use of screen reader mouse emulation keys.


OPENBook and Kurzweil 1000 should provide speech prompts throughout the installation process. My experience, however, is that installation can be problematic with any self-voicing application for a variety of reasons, and even experienced users may need technical assistance to get everything working together. Installation of OmniPage Pro requires knowledge of screen reading commands, since this application does not talk automatically. It was possible to identify all choices and edit fields with the exception of the three edit fields for the license key. This key is printed on the CD jacket and must be entered to complete installation. The computer will be rebooted if OmniPage needs to configure the Windows Installer. Otherwise, the process is almost entirely automatic. Product registration can be completed online during installation or from the web site.

Documentation and Support

Both OPENBook and Kurzweil 1000 provide extensive online help and product documentation in electronic and other formats. All documentation is written to be understood by a blind person with dialogs and prompts described in terms of what you will hear through the synthesizer.

Documentation for OmniPage Pro is supplied in print and as a PDF file on the CD. I converted the PDF file to text using the recognition features of OmniPage. There were a significant number of errors both in recognition and decolumniation, which affected readability of the document. I also sent the manual as an e-mail attachment to the Adobe PDF conversion site at pdf2txt@adobe.com with significantly better recognition and decolumniation results. The manual makes extensive use of diagrams, screen shots, and pictures of key labels in place of text descriptions. As a result, it was difficult to determine how most features worked without experimentation, and it was not possible to use the tutorial that was referenced throughout the manual. OmniPage does provide context-sensitive help, which I found very useful. It also has a Tips section in the help menu, which was accessible. When all is said and done, though, most of my help came from other blind users on e-mail lists who answered my questions and offered their tricks for using the program.

Customizing OmniPage Pro

I made the following changes to the default settings in OmniPage Pro to optimize its use with a screen reader:

  • Uncheck the box for displaying Tips on the opening screen. I found them useful but annoying.
  • Open the View menu with Alt-V. Uncheck the Ruler, Document Manager, and Original Image. This leaves only the Text Editor on the screen.
  • From the View menu select Zoom and change the value to 100%. The Text Editor will now be a full screen view.
  • Open the Tools menu with Alt-T. Select Options then select All. This is a multi-tab dialog box. Each tab can also be accessed directly from the Options menu. Choose settings to your liking unless otherwise specified.
  • In the Direct OCR tab, make sure that Direct OCR is checked. This allows OmniPage to be customized and launched from a word processor or text editor. If the desired application is installed but not listed, it can be added here. When a registered application is opened, OmniPage will add itself to the File menu of that application.
  • On the Proofing tab, disable Automatic Proofreading. This feature can be started manually from the Tools menu but was very difficult to use because recognition errors were not displayed in context. Saving recognition results in a text file before running the Proofreader makes it easier to determine errors, but the process was still very slow.
  • In the Custom Layout tab select No Graphics.
  • In the Text Editor tab uncheck the boxes for non-printing characters and markers. If checked, screen readers see spaces and hard returns as ANSI characters and will not read them correctly. (Every line will be interpreted as a word and spelled.)
  • When options are set, select Save and enter a file name with no extension. Then select OK.
  • From the View menu select OmniPage Toolbox and then select Auto OCR. Each page will be scanned, recognized, and saved. There is also an option for Manual OCR, which allows processing of multiple pages.
  • Move the mouse cursor to the Toolbar. Locate the word "Scan" or the word "Load" (whichever is visible) and click on this word to access the menu. From the Save menu select Clipboard to avoid being prompted for a filename after each page. Results are stored and can be saved at any time during the session, even if Clipboard is chosen.
  • Leave the Toolbar by moving the mouse back to the Text Editor and routing the cursor to it.
  • Open the Process menu with Alt-P. Options will vary, depending on whether Auto or Manual OCR is enabled. If the steps just given have been followed, pressing Start will begin the scanning process.

Making A Choice

OPENBook and Kurzweil 1000 were designed specifically for use by blind people. The developers have worked to make a complex process very easy and accessible by providing a simple yet powerful interface and clear documentation. The cost may be well worth it for those who are not comfortable with Windows applications and for those who primarily want to scan and read on demand.

Configuring and learning OmniPage Pro was challenging and frustrating at times because of the cluttered screen display, array of options that vary in accessibility, inconsistency of keyboard access, and visually oriented documentation. But for those with tenacity, patience, curiosity, and plenty of time to experiment, OmniPage Pro may be well worth the effort in terms of cost and features.

Product Information

Product: OPENBook 5.0.

Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific Blind/Low Vision Group, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716; phone: 800-444-4443 (U.S. and Canada); fax: 727-803-8001 e-mail: info@freedomscientific.com; web site: http://www.arkenstone.org/main.html. Price: $995.

Product: Kurzweil 1000 5.0.

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

Product: OmniPage Pro 11.0.

Manufacturer: ScanSoft, Inc. 9 Centennial Drive, Peabody, MA USA 01960; web site: www.caere.com.

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Conference Report

2001: A Technology Odyssey

The conference, 2001: A Technology Odyssey, was a joint effort of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). Hands-on workshops, lectures, and product demonstrations were the three components of this three-day event. Co-chairs Mark Uslan and Barbara McCarthy originally estimated that 250 would attend, but over 500 people actually attended from throughout the United States and Canada, as well as from Malaysia, Taiwan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh, and several other countries.

Twenty-six hands-on workshops, 36 product demonstrations, and 43 presentations featured how-to information with braille, speech, and screen magnification products. At the opening session, Billy Brookshire, AER president and senior human resources development specialist for the Texas Commission for the Blind, read a humorous spin-off dialog between Hal (the computer) and Dave Bowman (the human protagonist) from the famous Kubrick film.

More laughter was generated by Brookshire's litany of quotes from the past 60 years regarding technology, such as then IBM CEO Thomas Watson's 1943 remark, "I think there's a world market for maybe five computers." In 1981, Bill Gates was quoted as saying, "640K ought to be enough memory for anybody." And Steve Wozniak's comment, "Never trust a computer you can't throw out of a window."

Richard Chandler, CEO of Freedom Scientific, provided a glimpse into the future of assistive technology with his remarks about where we've been and where we're going. In the next five years, he predicted, it is feasible to envision a note-taking device that will enable a blind person to surf the web, receive talking global- positioning information, make cell phone calls, and have mobile scanning capabilities for real-time menu reading or interpreting the visual information on the screen of a microwave or VCR.

Expert trainers from De Witt & Associates (New Jersey), the Carroll Center (Massachusetts), AFB, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and other organizations instructed classes of up to 32 people throughout the weekend. All computer workshops were hands-on and taught participants to use various applications with screen-reading and screen-magnification software. Topics included cruising the Internet, accessible web design, and using databases with speech. From the basics of teaching Windows applications in general to advanced training in such programs as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Intuit's Quicken, the diversity of topics clearly offered something for participants at every level of expertise.

A highlight of the conference was the presentation of the Harvey Lauer Technology Award by AER Division 5. The award was presented to Jim Allan, of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, for his work in web accessibility and an ongoing effort to make information accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Guests were treated to brief remarks from Harvey Lauer, one of the pioneers in the field of assistive technology for blind and visually impaired people, who spoke of his early commitment to technology as an employee of the Hines VA Center for the Blind in Illinois. Lauer recalled buying his own computer in the early 1980's. "In 12 years, I spent $22,000 on computers on my job," Lauer said, "and it was the best investment I ever made."

In accepting his award, Jim Allan stated that information is the key to all areas of life and that access to information is the mission that drives his work. "It is not the work of just one person," Allan said. "It is all of us banging the drum, doing what we do every single day, all of the time, that moves us forward." With regard to his work in making information accessible on his web site, he said, "Publish it and they will come—and get it!"

Energy was high and the response was tremendous throughout the conference, with many professionals indicating a wish for more of this kind of approach to training trainers in the future. No effort, of course, is perfect in its first run, and some areas clearly need fine-tuning. With several sessions running concurrently throughout the three-day event, presenting information on the schedule in a convenient format for both print and braille readers was a challenge. Many participants said it was difficult to interpret the schedule quickly and expressed the need for an additional "At a Glance" page that would present all available sessions on a given day in a simplified format. When conference evaluations are tabulated, other areas for improvement will undoubtedly be discovered. The results will be published in AccessWorld.

Throughout the conference, "live updates" were posted on the AFB web site by AccessWorld's contributing editor, Deborah Kendrick. To read these reports, go to <www.afb.org/info_document_view.asp?documentid = 1576.>

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Games for the Holidays

Just in time for the holidays, the following is a compilation of some new computer games of interest to people who are visually impaired.

Bavisoft offers Grizzly Gulch Western Extravaganza, a virtual world created from sound imagery. Bavisoft is in the final production stages for a Halloween-theme game and asports game package, which is scheduled to be to released before the end of 2001. Contact: Bavisoft; Web site: www.bavisoft.com.

CrissCross Technologies offers CCT Solitaire, a speech-friendly version of the traditional solitaire card game. Download a free copy at www.crisscrosstech.com.

ESP Softworks just released a pinball game that features six different theme tables and ambient sound effects for a cost of $25.95. An arcade-style game Monkey Business costs $29.95. Contact: ESP Softworks; web site: www.espsoftworks.com.

Independent Living Aids (ILA) offers two video games: Little Red Riding Hood and Automobile Driving Simulator Game/Software Kit. Contact: Independent Living Aids; phone: 800-537-2118 or 516-752-8080; web site: www.independentliving.com.

MindsEye2 has an educational computer game, Crossword Fun for Kids, for blind children aged 5-12. The $35 game features 70 puzzles. Flies By Night is a $15 action game. Contact: MindsEye2; web site: www.mindseye2.bigstep.com.

GMA Games offers Shades of Doom Version 1.0, Lone Wolf Version 3.0.2, and Trek 2000 Version 5.0. Contact: web site: www.GMAGames.com.

Accessible Games offers three types of games: Accessible Internet Games, Accessible Games SV (self-voicing), and Accessible Games, as reported in the September 2001 issue of AccessWorld. Contact: Accessible Games; web site: www.gamesfortheblind.com.

Jim Kitchen offers free downloads of speech-friendly DOS and Windows games at: www.simcon.net/jkitchen.


Sendero Group stopped manufacturing the GPS-Talk 1x on October 1, 2001, due to insufficient sales revenue, according to Michael May, the company's president and CEO. To ensure that portable GPS technology reaches consumers, Michael May joined forces with Pulse Data International and Human Ware to provide GPS technology with BrailleNote and VoiceNote personal data assistant products. Sendero and GPS-Talk dealers will continue to support Sendero's products according to existing warranty agreements. For more information, contact: Michael May, Sendero Group; phone: 530-757-6800; web site: www.senderogroup.com.

Electronic Vision Access Solutions (EVAS), a computer access solutions company for people with visual, physical, or auditory impairments, has teamed with Dell Computer Corporation to provide computer systems designed for people who are visually impaired or who have other disabilities. Among the types of products EVAS Dell will distribute are: EVAS Dell Xtra Series Systems, speech synthesizers, screen readers, magnifiers, reading systems, voice recognition systems, braille notetakers, refreshable braille displays, braille translators, braille printers, and tutorials. For more information, contact: EVAS; phone: 800-872-3827; web site: www.evas.com/dell.

Award for Software

TECSO, an educational software producer based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, was awarded the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's (CNIB) 2001 Winston Gordon Award for its series of interactive tutorials for people who are blind or visually impaired: Listening to Windows 95 and 98, Listening to the Internet, and Listening to Word. The Winston Gordon Award, which includes a 24-carat gold medal and a cash prize of $15,000, recognizes significant advances in or applications of technology in the field of blindness and visual impairment. For more information, contact: TECSO; phone: 514-590-4218; web site: www.tecso.com.

Technology Prize

The Organización de Ciegos Espanoles [Organization of Blind Spaniards] (ONCE) invites submissions by December 31, 2001, for its second ONCE International Prize in Research and Development for New Technologies for the Blind. The prize recognizes innovative research and its practical application for computers, telecommunications, and biotechnology that results in improved quality of life for people who are blind or visually impaired. One winner will receive $160,419 and two runners up will receive $53,473. Prizes will be awarded by the end of June 2002. Submissions will be accepted in English or Spanish. For more information, contact: ONCE;phone: 011-34-91-577-3756; web site: www.once.es.

Government Site for People with Disabilities

In October 2001, the Labor Department of the U.S. Government launched www.Disability.Direct.gov, as part of President George W. Bush's New Freedom Initiative, which is intended to increase education, employment, and housing opportunities for Americans with disabilities. DisabilityDirect is designed to offer services online at the local, rather than the federal, level. For more information, contact: U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Public Affairs; phone: 202-693-4650; web site: www.dol.gov.

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November 27–28, 2001

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.

March 18–23, 2002

California State University at Northridge (CSUN) Center on Disabilities' 17th Annual International Conference.

Los Angeles, CA.


Center on Disabilities, CSUN; phone: 818-677-2578; e- mail: ctrdis @csun.edu; web site: www.csun.edu/cod/conf2002/.

June 29–July 6, 2002

American Council of the Blind's National Convention.

West Houston, TX.


American Council of the Blind; phone: 202-467-5081; e- mail: info@acb.org; web site: www.afb.org.

June 30–July 7, 2002

National Federation of the Blind's National Convention.

Louisville, KY.


National Federation of the Blind; phone: 410-659-9314; e-mail: nfb@nfb.org; web site: www.nfb.org.

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