Many tasks that sighted people take for granted (managing their money, grocery shopping, doing their taxes, and voting, to name just a few, have, until very recently, required a lot of additional planning and coordinating for people who are blind or visually impaired. Technology and advocacy efforts have provided alternatives, talking ATMs and online shopping, for example, to being dependent on others to accomplish everyday tasks.
When it comes to reading, many people who are blind rely on braille and recorded books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS.) The small number of books that NLS is able to make available each year has, for most people, been the universe from which to choose for pleasure reading and for professional growth. This issue of AccessWorld includes three articles about products and services that have combined to throw open the doors to the bookstore. A huge amount of material is available for enjoyment, education and career advancement.
Deborah Kendrick provides an overview of Bookshare.org, a repository for thousands of books scanned by volunteers which was launched on February 21, 2002. Rather than having fifty individuals across the country each scan the same book for their own enjoyment, Bookshare.org allows members to share one scanned copy. Why wait a year to find out if the book everyone else is reading will appear in braille or on cassette? It's probably on Bookshare.
Koert Wehberg, senior intern, and I evaluate Kurzweil 1000 version 7.0 from Kurzweil Educational Systems and Freedom Scientific's OPENBook version 6.0, the two most popular adapted optical character recognition (OCR) packages. We began with a basic test—a document with ordinary English text on plain white paper using a laser printer and Ariel 12 point print. Tougher tests included book pages printed on colored paper, pages with light text on dark paper, business cards, magazine pages with nonlinear formats, bills, and tiny print. Compare features and our results for these programs, and find out which one will scan and recognize your favorite books twice as fast as the other will.
Dr. James A. Kutsch, Jr,. vice president of technology for a global leader in outsourced customer service and billing, writes about Audible.com, a web site that converts audio books and other spoken audio programs into digital files. Paid subscribers can download and listen to the files on their computers or on portable devices such as MP3 players. Audible's content includes: fiction, nonfiction, mystery, history, newspapers, magazines, comedy and poetry. Kutsch describes how to become a member and how to navigate the site and download material. He also discusses efforts by Audible's management to make their service more accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.
Mark Uslan and the staff of AFB Tech re-tested the MobilePal + GPS by RemoteMDX, a cell phone-based GPS system originally evaluated in the May 2002 AccessWorld. The device provides a one-touch connection with operators who are available at all times, and can dispatch emergency services. Since the operators have your GPS position, they can also provide travel directions. The manufacturer expressed an interest in making this product more useful for people with vision impairments, and asked Mark and the AFB Tech staff to test the improvements they made. This article reports on the progress the company made on their journey to accessibility, and how far they still have to go.
Lainey Feingold, a Berkeley, California, disability rights lawyer who has represented organizations and individual members of the blindness community in efforts to obtain Talking automated teller machines (ATMs), provides a thorough overview of those machines. She includes some history of ATMs, and describes their basic features and the technology that makes them talk. She lists ATM vendors, discusses which banks have deployed machines in various states and cities, and indicates how you can find machines in your area. AccessWorld staff have heard from people in the banking industry who are disappointed that more people are not using Talking ATMs. Use this article to obtain a lot of the information you need to try a Talking ATM at your bank.
Lynn Zelvin, independent assistive technology trainer and web site designer, evaluates specific search engines. She highlights Seti-Search, an engine designed to be speech-friendly. She goes on to describe some of the more popular search engines, and provides a resource list of web sites to visit to learn more about web searching on your own.
On January 3, 2003, Sharon Shively Harrigan, AccessWorld's Executive Editor, is leaving the American Foundation for the Blind. Sharon takes the pieces—articles, news ads and pictures and turns them into a magazine. I have learned a lot from Sharon, and we will all miss working with her.
Jay Leventhal, Editor in Chief
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