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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 January 2003 Issue  Volume 4  Number 1

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

A New Page That Speaks Volumes

This article presents an overview of Bookshare.org, a repository for thousands of books scanned by volunteers — Deborah Kendrick

The Novel Experience of Reading: A Review of OPENBook and Kurzweil 1000

This Production Evaluation reviews the 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 — Jay Leventhal and Koert Wehberg

Books on Tape Without the Tape!

Audible.com is a web site that converts audio books and other spoken audio programs into digital files. This article describes how to become a member and how to navigate the site and download material — Jim Kutsch

Are We There Yet? Another Look at the MobilePal+GPS

This Product Evaluation presents the results of re-testing the MobilePal+GPS by RemoteMDX, a cell phone-based GPS system — Mark Uslan, Darren Burton, Jim Denham, and Kevin Dusling

You Can Bank on It: Features, Technology, and Locations of Talking ATMs

This article on Talking Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) gives an overview of how they work and how you can find machines in your area — Lainey Feingold

Seek and You Shall Find: Using Specific Search Engines

This article evaluates specific search engines for accessibility, including Seti-Search, an engine designed to be speech-friendly — Lynn Zelvin



Editor in Chief Jay Leventhal
Contributing Editors Paul Schroeder, Senior Editor
Crista Earl
Deborah Kendrick
Mark M. Uslan
Executive Editor Sharon Harrigan

Editor's Page

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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Access Issues

A New Page That Speaks Volumes

There was a time when my answer to "What [or how] do you read?" was a glib "Never enough!" As someone who grew up with a scarcity of braille books, the relative abundance of audiocassettes in the early 1970s seemed almost too good to be true. I once believed that sufficient material would never be available in accessible formats to satisfy the insatiable information and literary appetites of those among us who, like me, happen to be unable to read print. With the advent of computers, the Internet, commercial books on audiotape, and changing legislation, that old assumption is far from the reality of accessible literature today. The most recent addition to the smorgasbord of reading opportunities for people who cannot read conventional print is Bookshare.org, a virtual community of blind, visually impaired, dyslexic, and other book lovers with print-related disabilities.

Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, the nonprofit organization that oversees Bookshare.org, attributes the germ for the Bookshare brainstorm to his living a few doors down from Eileen Richardson, interim CEO of Napster (circa 1999). Richardson's son, Chris, gave Fruchterman's son, Jimmy, a copy of Napster, the music-sharing phenomenon written by Shane Fanning that spread like wildfire among Web-savvy music lovers, and the program sparked Fruchterman's legendary imagination. As he listened to his own and other teenagers talking about swapping music files, it occurred to him that a similar system could benefit people who had been reading books with optical character recognition (OCR) software.

It was a logical-enough progression for him. For years, Fruchterman and his nonprofit company, Arkenstone, had been wildly successful in developing and distributing the OpenBook software to make print accessible to people with disabilities. With Bookshare, a nonprofit organization created under the umbrella of Fruchterman's larger nonprofit company, Benetech, he was boosting that commitment to a much higher level.

What Is Bookshare?

With OCR software (usually Kurzweil or OPENBook) and an accompanying scanner, multitudes of consumers with print disabilities have been scanning and reading mail, office memos, magazine articles, and other documents since the mid-1980s. Some have used the technology to read entire books. Some have scanned only one or two books, while others have processed dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of titles—scanning, recognizing, and storing texts on floppy disks or CDs. The concept driving Bookshare.org is simply that if one person enjoyed reading a given book, others will, too. Rather than having 50 individuals across the country each scan the same book, Bookshare.org provides a mechanism to facilitate the sharing of one scanned copy. The magnitude of titles and breadth of reading tastes and interests is limited only by the imaginations of those who join the community. Whereas Napster was troubled by issues of legality, Bookshare operates completely within the law.

Recent changes to U.S. copyright law allow the distribution of books in specialized formats to people who are blind or have other print disabilities. Specifically, the law says, "it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities." All the copyrighted books on Bookshare are available in only two formats: .brf files, which are files containing the text of the book translated into Grade 2 braille, and .xml files, which offer the text in the digital Talking Book format called DAISY. To protect the rights of publishers and authors further, Bookshare permits only certified members of Bookshare.org to download the specially formatted books—and becoming a member requires proof of a disability. (To facilitate this aspect of the membership process, Bookshare has made a special arrangement with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, NLS, so that if you are an authorized borrower of braille and Talking Books from NLS, Bookshare can obtain your proof of disability from that source.) Unfortunately, the law also prevents people from outside the United States from downloading the copyrighted material, although the company is striving to discover legal routes to open the Bookshare community to people with disabilities in other countries.

The site was officially launched on February 21, 2002, and is acquiring new members and new books daily. Volunteers from within the Bookshare community submit books they have scanned. Some 20 onsite volunteers at the Bookshare office in California also scan books each week to help satisfy requests posted on the Bookshare wish list. The site has grown in other ways, too, adding minor changes as members suggest them, exercising the sort of tweaking that make a good thing even better.

Like an Open Book

The Bookshare site is simple to navigate and flaunts the brand of user friendliness that comes from considerable consumer input. If you're not a member, you can download only books that are in the public domain (which can be downloaded in any or all of four formats: brf, DAISY, html, or text.) If you're a member, you log in with your password and then can browse, sample, and read among the "stacks" of 11,000-plus books.

You can search Bookshare by title, author, or category (animal, biography, mystery, science, and so forth). You can look at a list of the newest books added to the collection. Or if you know exactly which author or title you want, you can use the easy search function and locate the book immediately. Broader, less specific search options would definitely be useful, but at this point you can find a book if you have specific information.

Books are downloaded as compressed files. The books that are in the public domain may be unpacked with WinZip. Copyrighted books are encrypted with proprietary code and require Bookshare's own unpack utility, available only to members. When you have experimented with the system a few times, it is generally possible to locate and download the desired title in about a minute!

A Book of Many Covers

Thirty or forty years ago, reading material for blind people had one of two looks: large, bulky braille volumes or heavy long-playing records that required a machine half the size of your refrigerator to operate. (OK, the latter is an exaggeration, but it was certainly a cumbersome method of reading compared with contemporary options.)

The ways in which you can read Bookshare books are even more varied than the range of available formats. You can download the text version and then have your screen reader read it to you or read it yourself with your screen-enlargement program or on your refreshable braille display. Or you can take the text version or the already-translated braille version and load it into your portable note taker, where you can then read it on the note taker's refreshable braille display or by listening to its synthesized speech.

Through an agreement with VisuAide of Canada, the Victor Reader software can be downloaded from Bookshare and used to read the DAISY-formatted versions of Bookshare titles. Still in its infancy, this digital format facilitates movement among sections of text, bookmarking, and other text-manipulation features. While many Bookshare members are experimenting with this software, no user who uses the Victor Reader as a preferred method could be found for this article. There are, however, a number of subscribers to Bookshare who are downloading DAISY-formatted titles and reading them via other means. The most popular method is the most recently released version of Kurzweil Educational Systems's Kurzweil 1000 (reviewed elsewhere in this issue).

With Kurzweil version 7.0, all the steps of downloading, converting, and beginning to enjoy a Bookshare title are accomplished with a few keystrokes. Guido Corona, an advisory software engineer with IBM's accessibility center in Austin, Texas, and one of Bookshare's greatest fans, has experimented with most methods of accessing the books and prefers Kurzweil 7.0. The new version includes a menu option that automatically goes online and searches three repositories—Bookshare.org, the Gutenberg Project, and the Baen Free Library—for the title or author you indicate. Once you select a Bookshare DAISY-formatted title, Kurzweil downloads the book and converts the DAISY file to Kurzweil's proprietary format for reading. Corona says that he often scans one book while he reads another in Kurzweil with IBM Viavoice. If he is not reading a book from his laptop computer, Corona can often be found scanning one to contribute to the online community. To date, he has scanned about 350 titles that are now in the Bookshare lists. And if he is not reading or scanning books, he can probably be found using the IBM Home Page Reader to consult the Bookshare catalog.

There's No Place Like Tome

Of course, if you don't want to listen to books at your computer or carry them around inside a note taker, you can also send the text of a .brf file to a braille embosser. In an ongoing effort to tweak the system and add new features, Bookshare.org forged an agreement with the Braille Institute of America in summer 2002, and now offers the books for sale as hard copy embossed braille books. Hard-copy books range in price from 8 cents to 36 cents per page and can be ordered from the Bookshare site and shipped directly to the address you indicate.

On a scale of from 1 to 5?

Anyone who has used a scanner in conjunction with OCR software knows that sometimes the results are practically perfect but other times, they are less desirable. Sometimes total accuracy is essential, while at other times a few errors have little effect on the overall pleasure of reading. Each Bookshare title includes a quality rating to assist readers in downloading selections. A rating of excellent indicates no errors or almost no errors, good indicates some errors, and fair lets the reader know that spots in the text might include some bumps in the reading road. The majority of books, however, include an excellent or good rating, and as OCR technology continues to improve, the likelihood of almost perfect renditions of printed pages will increase accordingly.

Some listings include annotations, but this is an area in which improvement is decidedly in order. Some annotations read like slick chunks from book jackets or published reviews, while others are much less informative. Many titles have no annotations.

When you choose to browse titles by category, there is no way to sort the listings—you must go through all the science fiction books, for example, from start to finish. You can change the number of books displayed per screen from the default 10 to 20 or 50 books per page as you browse.

Guido Corona summed up what readers think of this virtual community of book lovers: "It's fantastic!" He first learned of the project, he recalled, "when it was just a dream in Jim Fruchterman's eyes." He thought it was a phenomenal idea then and said it will only get better as it continues to grow.

Bookshare members are not the only ones who think this idea was a brilliant one. Fruchterman, president and CEO of the Benetech Initiative and Bookshare.org, was selected as one of the top social entrepreneurs of the world for 2003 by the Schwab Foundation of Switzerland. Candidates are recommended from throughout the world for this prestigious honor, and are all individuals whose creative approaches to social problems may be seen as models for governmental policy makers and others to follow. Among the opportunities included in this honor, Fruchterman will enjoy participation at renowned events, such as the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the annual Social Entrepreneurs Summit in Geneva. Others who were selected for 2003 include the founders of Habitat for Humanity and Teach America. If a book is ever written about it, one of the growing number of volunteers will undoubtedly scan and upload it to Bookshare.org.

To become a member of Bookshare.org, log onto <www.bookshare.org> and fill out the online form. Members pay a onetime $25 sign-up fee and an annual subscription of $50. Anyone with a disability that prevents the reading of standard print is eligible, and proof of disability must be provided.

Today, when anyone asks me what or how I read, I take a deep breath and think, "Let me count the ways." Better still, I know there is no way I—or any other book lover with a print disability—could ever read all the books that are now available to us.

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Product Evaluation

The Novel Experience of Reading: A Review of OPENBook and Kurzweil 1000

This article reviews Kurzweil 1000 version 7.0 from Kurzweil Educational Systems and Freedom Scientific's OPENBook version 6.0, the two most popular optical character recognition (OCR) packages for computer users who are blind or visually impaired. More books, magazines and other printed materials are available to people who are blind or visually impaired than at any other time in history. But nothing beats the power of scanning and enjoying a book that you want to read when you want to read it.

The Many Faces of Print

To determine accuracy, we used a variety of types of text and formats. When necessary, we adjusted scanning settings to improve accuracy. For our simple test, we printed a document with ordinary English text on plain white paper using a laser printer and Ariel 12-point print to be sure that both systems could recognize what we thought should be an easy-to-read item. We printed text in several fonts, including Times New Roman and Ariel bold and italic. We introduced deliberate errors to find out what the two systems would do with a sentence beginning with the word "tke." For tough jobs, we scanned book pages printed on colored paper, pages with light text on dark paper, business cards, magazine pages with nonlinear formats, bills, and tiny print.

OPENBook Version 6.0

Getting Started

OPENBook's default synthesizer, IBM's ViaVoice, is run at the start of the installation, so speech is present throughout. During the installation, we were advised to remove any previous version of OPENBook to avoid conflicts. After we deleted an older version, we had no trouble installing and running OPENBook 6.

Getting Help

OPENBook offers context-sensitive help. Its Key Describer mode allows you to press any key and hear its function described. Its manual is available in the Help menu and in print and braille.

Command Structure

All of OPENBook's commands are located on the number pad and can also be accessed through conventional Windows menus and hot keys. Keyboard layouts have been added for JAWS and Window-Eyes, so users of these screen readers will find it easier to navigate OPENBook.

Simple Scanning

OPENBook read our easy-to-read test pages without errors. It did not change "tke" to "the." It omitted all long dashes from all pages we scanned, so two words separated by a long dash appeared as one word. Freedom Scientific indicated that a free update fixing this bug will be available by the time you read this. OPENBook can read and scan at the same time. There was sometimes a brief delay in reading when the Scan key was pressed. This delay may depend on which scanner is installed. OPENBook took an average of 32 seconds to scan a test page and an additional 7 seconds to complete recognition of the text.

Tough Jobs

OPENBook made few recognition mistakes in the actual text of our test magazine page. However, it interpreted parts of diagrams on the page as text, adding numerous 1s and caret (^) signs to the text. Part of one column of text was read in the wrong place on the page. Using its default settings, OPENBook produced random letters and punctuation marks when we scanned our magazine page featuring white text on a black background. However, when we checked the "Scan light text on a dark background" option and selected "Darken Page" under Scanner settings, the page was read with few errors.

When it scanned our sample business card, OPENBook made two mistakes in the contact information—two zeros in the street address were recognized as two letter Os, and the "com" at the end of both the e-mail address and the web site were read as "corn." Our telephone bill was read accurately once we selected the "darken page" option; there were no mistakes in the phone number or dollar amounts.

The scans of the 4-point and 6-point Times New Roman documents were surprisingly comprehensible—OPENBook made no mistakes on the 6-point test page. However, the pages did take longer to scan. At 8 point, the text was also readable.

Special Features

OPENBook has the ability to save documents as MP3 files. With a portable MP3 player, you can listen to scanned material during your daily commute or while on vacation. OPENBook can also import different file formats. Using the Freedom import printer, you can open a document, such as a PDF file, and immediately begin reading it. This feature is especially helpful when you're dealing with PDF files that cannot be read by JAWS or Window-Eyes. These files are often scanned in as images, which leads to the infamous "This document appears to be empty" message. When it opens one of these files with the Freedom import printer, OPENBook can read what was previously unrecognizable. The DAISY file format is also supported, allowing individuals with Bookshare subscriptions to use OPENBook as their reader. In addition, OPENBook now makes it easier to skim a document if you don't have the time to listen to every word. The first line of each paragraph is read, allowing for quick identification of important information. If you find that you have a few more minutes than you thought, you can use the new Fast Forward or Rewind features.

OPENBook can read in German and other languages. To read text in a language other than the default, the synthesizer in use must speak that language. OPENBook's dictionary includes etymology and sample sentences. You can navigate in the dictionary to spell words and add new ones. Dictionaries and other tools are in English only.

OPENBook's Buc-scan feature scans and recognizes currency. It recognized our $1 bill and the front of our $5 bill, but it failed repeatedly to recognize the back of the $5 bill.

Kurzweil 1000 7.0

Getting Started

Kurzweil 1000's installation is self-voicing, so a screen reader is not necessary. Although we selected the "typical" installation and made the same choices when installing on two different machines, we ended up with the default synthesizer being DECtalk Access32 on one machine and the Microsoft Speech Engine on the other. Aside from this surprise, installation went smoothly, and the program functioned properly when we ran it.

Getting Help

Kurzweil 1000's Help key is identified when the program opens. When it is pressed before another key, the function of the second key is explained. However, this feature works only for keys on the numberpad, not for important Kurzweil commands that use the function keys. The manual is accessible on the Help menu.

Command Structure

Kurzweil 1000 uses the numberpad and the function keys for its commands. Its functions can also be accessed through conventional Windows menus.

Simple Scanning

Kurzweil 1000 read the easy test pages without errors. Its default setting corrects errors, so it changed "tke" to "the" in the test document. It handled scanning in the background seamlessly, allowing us to read continuously while scanning. Kurzweil 1000 took an average of 14 seconds to scan a test page and an additional second to complete recognition of the text.

Tough Jobs

Kurzweil 1000 read the headline and subheadings of our sample magazine article in the middle of the page, but otherwise the text was presented in the proper order. Few recognition errors were made in the text. With its default settings, Kurzweil 1000 did a poor job of recognizing our magazine page featuring white text on a black background. However, when we enabled "Recognition of light text on a dark background" and increased Scanner Brightness to 90, the page was read with few errors.

Kurzweil 1000 made some errors in reading the numbers in our sample telephone bill. Two 5s in the customer service number were read as Ss. However, it read our charges and other account information correctly, leaving no reason to call customer service. There were minor errors in the scanning of business cards, but none in phone numbers or e-mail addresses. For example, "product manager" was read as "product llanger." The text was formatted correctly.

Kurzweil 1000 struggled to read our 4 point print test page. It left out words and made many errors. It did considerably better on the page with 6-point print. It repeatedly failed to recognize the word "AccessWorld" correctly—an unfortunate error in our biased opinion.

Special Features

Kurzweil 1000 scans and reads in Spanish and other languages. It also includes an extensive dictionary. Anyone who has fallen asleep in bed while listening to a Talking Book and then searched for his or her place the next morning will join us in appreciating the "Duration" feature, which lets you set the number of minutes after which continuous reading will stop.

Kurzweil 1000 will search and download books from Project Gutenberg, Baen Books, and Bookshare.org. You simply type in all or part of a book title and select Search, and matching titles are located. Anyone can download books that are in the public domain, but only members can download copyrighted titles. A free Bookshare trial membership is included with the purchase of Kurzweil 1000.

Kurzweil 1000 can save files in MP3 format, so with a portable MP3 player, you can listen to scanned material during your daily commute or while on vacation. You can import and read PDF documents. We received an error message when we first tried doing so, but after we ran a utility on the Kurzweil CD, the feature worked.

The Recognize Currency utility allows you to scan and recognize paper money. It recognized both our $1 bill and our $5 bill without problems.


Occasionally, a scanning error will add an unintended meaning to the text. Here are a few examples that we collected during our testing. We won't say which product produced these errors.

"There's millions of elderly Americans who live on Social Security, who depend on Medicare," said the Mouse minority leader, Richard Gephardt of Missouri."

"This is a very helpful feature and is available only in the web trial version. It is not available with the clownloadable product."

"And [Jupiter's moon] Ganymede had yet another surprise in store: a distinct cloud of lust, consisting of grains kicked up from the moon's surface by impacts."

Recognition Complete

Despite the recognition errors noted, we were impressed with the accuracy of both products. There were dramatic improvements in performance since our last evaluation in January 2000. OPENBook consistently did a better job of recognizing numbers. (Keep in mind that you are living dangerously if you let an OCR program be the final authority for critical numbers, such as your checking account balance.)

Both programs are packed with additional features above and beyond basic scanning and recognition functions. The deciding factor for many people may be speed. Kurzweil 1000 scanned and recognized a typical page more than twice as fast as did OPENBook.

Manufacturer's Comments

Kurzweil Educational Systems

"The default voice used by the Kurzweil 1000 is influenced by what engines may already be in use on the PC. Typically, it installs the two included speech engines: RealSpeak and ViaVoice. It has two user interfaces: the keypad user interface and a more standard Windows menu system. Online help is available not only on the keypad, but for all menu items and dialogues through the F1 key. Kurzweil 1000 also comes with two different recognition engines. Changing these, as well as scanner resolution, could resolve many challenges involving fonts and page design. We hope for future feedback on new features, such as hierarchical bookmarks, prioritized spell checking, and automatic product updates."

Product Features

Product Features

Product Features

Kurzweil 1000 and OPENBook

Location of commands on computer keyboard: Kurzweil 1000: Numberpad and function keys OPENBook: Numberpad, Corrects scanning errors: Kurzweil 1000: Yes (automatically) OPENBook: Yes, Recognizes/reads language other than English: Kurzweil 1000: Yes OPENBook: Yes, Recognizes and reads PDF files: Kurzweil 1000: Yes OPENBook: Yes, Includes a dictionary: Kurzweil 1000: Yes OPENBook: Yes, Searches online for e-books: Kurzweil 1000: Yes OPENBook: No, Recognizes currency: Kurzweil 1000: Yes OPENBook: Yes.

Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Kurzweil 1000 and OPENBook

Documentation: Kurzweil 1000: 4 OPENBook: 4, Scanning speed: Kurzweil 1000: 4.5 OPENBook: 3, Recognition speed: Kurzweil 1000: 4.5 OPENBook: 3, Simple scanning: Kurzweil 1000: 4.5 OPENBook: 4.5, Reading magazines: Kurzweil 1000: 4 OPENBook: 3.5, Reading small print: Kurzweil 1000: 3.5 OPENBook: 4.5, Overall rating: Kurzweil 1000: 4.5 OPENBook: 3.5.

Product Information

Product: OPENBook 6.0.

Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific, Blindness and Low Vision Group, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716; phone: 800–444–4443; e-mail: <Sales@freedomscientific.com>; web site: <www.FreedomScientific.com>. Price: $995.

Product: Kurzweil 1000 7.0.

Manufacturer: Kurzweil Educational Systems, 14 Crosby Drive, Bedford, MA 01730; phone: 800-894-5374 or 781-276-0600; e-mail: <info@kurzweiledu.com>; web site: <www.kurzweiledu.com>. Price: $995 with FlexTalk speech; $1,195 with DECtalk speech.

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Access Issues

Books on Tape Without the Tape!

Audible.com offers the same commercially available audio books that can be found in most bookstores on tape or CD, plus lots of proprietary magazine and newspaper content—all without the tapes or CDs. You can listen to them on your personal computer (PC), transfer them to a small portable player, or even burn them on your own blank CDs for playing in any audio CD player.

Audible.com converts audio books and other spoken audio programs into digital files that can be delivered directly to your PC over the Internet and enjoyed in a variety of ways. You can download and listen at your convenience on your desktop or laptop PC or transfer files from your computer to a portable device, such as an MP3 player.

What Is Audible on Audible?

A huge number of selections are available. The online catalog includes these categories: fiction, nonfiction, business, information age, science, foreign language, spirituality, kids, comedy, history, mystery, great talkers, drama and poetry, self-development, arts and leisure, news, newspapers, magazines, radio, speeches and lectures, audio books, and exclusives. All in all, it's certainly enough to find something to satisfy everyone's reading preferences.

One of the best things about Audible.com is that the material is available both in an accessible format and in a timely manner. I subscribe to Audible's Wall Street Journal, a 45-minute summary that includes the top articles and editorial columns each day. The Audible Manager software running on my PC automatically downloads the paper at 7:30 a.m. before I leave home and carpool to work. By simply connecting my Otis portable player to the PC through a USB cable, selecting the already downloaded newspaper on the PC, and selecting "transfer to Otis," I can load the newspaper in the Otis in fewer than 15 seconds. I unplug the Otis and head out the door. Then, I can listen to the paper on the way to work and am ready to discuss the stories with my sighted colleagues by the time I get to the office. Thus, I have a way to be current with the same business news without waiting to run the newspaper through a scanner or obtain an otherwise accessible version.

But What Does It Cost?

Yes, there is a charge for content on Audible.com. However, individual items are discounted about 30% from what you would pay for the same audio book at a local book store. For even deeper discounts, there are two Audible Listener plans. Basic Listener includes one audio book of your choice and a month's subscription to an audio magazine or newspaper, both for a monthly charge of $14.95. Avid readers can subscribe to Premium Listener, which includes two books of your choice each month for $19.95. The Otis portable player—basically an MP3 player that has been customized to play Audible.com's proprietary format—is available free of charge with a commitment to either of these listener plans for 18 months. New subscribers who have been recommended by an existing customer can take advantage of other introductory offers, including (at the time of this writing) a free month or the free Otis with only a 12-month commitment. If you don't have anyone else to refer you, use my Audible ID, ky2d, and take advantage of these offers.

If you want to try Audible without purchasing anything, check out <www.audible.com/mainmenu> for a special offer of several free selections for ACB Radio listeners, members of the blind Audible listeners e-mail group, or AccessWorld readers.

How Do I Get Started?

Just visit the web site <www.audible.com> and explore the new user information. Unfortunately, the manuals in the Help section are available only in PDF format. But, there are an online Frequently Asked Questions section and a knowledge base that can be searched. Also, Jonathan Mosen produced an excellent two-hour Audible tutorial on ACB Radio's MainMenu program in May 2002. This program can still be heard in the MainMenu archive section of ACB Radio at <www.acbradio.org>. Mosen's tutorial includes registering for the service, selecting books, checkout, and downloading the book to the desktop player. It thoroughly describes the functions of the Otis portable player and demonstrates how to transfer content from the PC to the Otis.

The first step for a new Audible.com user is to create a personal account. It is necessary to do so, since the content is protected by encryption for each specific user. Select the Getting Started image map at the top of the home page. The Getting Started page offers a choice of signing up for an AudibleListener plan, signing up for a plan that includes a free Otis portable player, and signing up to try Audible.com with no risk. This free-trial choice allows you to download a free book. Select the Submit button after the option you prefer. If you select the free trial, the next page lists several books. Choose the appropriate button to add one of them to your shopping basket. Next, the Shopping Basket page appears. Select the Checkout link. At this point, you'll be on the Registration page. Fill in the required information and select submit.

After you register, your new book will be in the My Library section of the site. Select the link for New Programs, then select either the Download Now or Stream Title link after the title of your book.

To listen to downloaded Audible.com material, you need the Audible Manager and an Audible-capable player. The Audible Manager, which can be downloaded free of charge from the Audible.com site, is essential, since it controls your downloads and handles the digital-rights management. The Audible Manager can play Audible.com material through its own built-in desktop player or through a plug-in for either the RealPlayer or the Windows Media Player. You can sample most of Audible.com's selections before you buy them by selecting the Hear a Sample of this Selection link, which plays a portion of the book or magazine through audio streaming from the web site.

Audible material is available in several formats. Lower formats require far less time to download, but are of poorer audio quality. Higher formats are of significantly higher audio quality, but take longer to download, especially when you use a dial-up ISP service. You can choose the format each time you download a selection. Since anything you buy is held indefinitely in the My Library section of the web site, you can even download the same selection in different formats at different times.

How Accessible Is Audible.com?

The Audible.com web site, Audible Manager software, and the Otis portable player are all accessible. Here and there, a few areas are a little inconvenient as far as ease of navigation or thorough use of Alt-Text tags for all graphic buttons. Audible.com is paying attention to the needs of visually impaired listeners. According to Don Katz, Audible's CEO, "We are very, very aware of the market for Audible services to reading-impaired individuals. As our customer base of visually impaired listeners grows, we are able to adopt improvements and changes to our platform that enhance their experience with our website, software and content. We value these customers because they are loyal, provide great feedback and referrals, and we know that the relative value Audible brings to their lives is significant."

But, as I noted earlier, accessibility is really not a big issue, and it's getting even better. Recently, enhanced scripts for the Audible Manager were included in Freedom Scientific's JAWS screen reader (release 4.5, September 2002). Freedom Scientific's new PAC Mate device, based on the PocketPC platform, is also able to play Audible.com content.

Audible.com is seeking accessibility feedback to improve its web site further and expand its customer base. According to Matt Fine, senior vice president at Audible.com, "Any business like ours tries to take care of its best customers so they can recommend us to others. Audible provides unique benefits to visually impaired customers, like content selection and getting access to the same selection of best sellers as sighted people. We provide equal access to this material as a complement to traditional government, foundation, and nonprofit audio services. Much of what we're learning by serving this market can also be applied to providing an inexpensive listening solution to broader segments of the population who have trouble reading and absorbing text information."

The level of interest in reaching consumers who are visually impaired that has been demonstrated from the top at Audible.com is unusual in a mainstream company and is to be applauded. In addition to the typical feedback channels described on Audible.com's web site, the next section describes a way to participate that was specifically created for customers who are blind.

Being Audible About Audible

As part of Audible.com's initiative to reach consumers who are blind, an e-mail discussion group for Audible listeners who are blind has been created. Members of the group share tips, ask questions, and offer recommendations for accessibility. It's a great place for newcomers to ask more experienced users questions about using Audible.com with screen readers or other issues of accessibility. Information from the group is shared with the Audible.com staff, and the group's views are certainly heard. Answers from the Audible.com staff are posted to the group.

To subscribe to the group, go to the web site <http://yahoogroups.com> or send an e-mail message to <BlindAudibleListeners-subscribe@yahoogroups.com>. If you subscribe via e-mail, you will receive a confirmation message. After you reply to the confirmation, you are part of the list.

So, sign up at Audible.com; join the Blind Audible Listeners e-mail list; and start enjoying the incredible breadth of current books, magazines, and newspapers found in spoken-word audio. If you want to contact Audible directly, you can send e-mail to Matthew Fine at <mfine@audible.com>.

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Product Evaluation

Are We There Yet? Another Look at the MobilePal+GPS

Funding for this product evaluation was provided by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia.

In the May 2002 issue of AccessWorld, we reported on five off-the-shelf global positioning satellite (GPS) products to see how well they worked as orientation aids. We concluded that they had great potential, but were not yet user friendly to people who are blind or visually impaired. Some of the devices use a GPS receiver combined with a laptop and mapping software to display and tell you your location and how to get to your destination. A major problem with these laptop-based systems is that they are not convenient to use as you travel because of the weight and bulkiness of most laptops. In addition, they use interfaces that vary from totally inaccessible to difficult and complicated at best, which is not surprising because they were not designed with blind and visually impaired people in mind.

We also looked at two cell phone-based GPS systems that are small and convenient to use. Of the two, the MobilePal+GPS by RemoteMDX was the more promising because of the simplicity of its user interface. The MobilePal+GPS provides a one-touch connection with a personal-assistance operator who is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In an emergency, the personal-assistance operator can perform tasks like dispatching police, fire, ambulance, or roadside assistance anywhere in the United States. Since the operator has your GPS position, you can also get travel directions. Although the MobilePal+GPS was designed to give driving directions, we wanted to find out if it could also assist with walking directions for travelers who are blind and visually impaired.

Hello, Operator?

In our original evaluation, we were unable to test how well the MobilePal+GPS might work for blind and visually impaired people because we had problems getting connected to an operator. Since then, Remote MDX has worked on fixing the problems we encountered. The company also approached us after the AccessWorld evaluation was published and indicated its interest in learning what it would need to do to make the product accessible and attractive to people who are blind or visually impaired. We agreed to the company's request to take another, more detailed look at the MobilePal+GPS. See Figure 1 for a photo of this device.

Figure 1.

Caption: Figure 1. MobilePal+GPS.

How We Tested

We tested the MobilePal+GPS in various outdoor travel environments. One team, based in Huntington, West Virginia, a small city of about 50,000 people, traveled with the device and used it to find various destinations and get information on their location as they were traveling. A log of what happened was kept. Two other teams did the same in Chicago and New York City.

When Things Go Wrong, Push the Big Red Button

The MobilePal is marketed to the general public as a travel tool to summon assistance in case of an emergency. It uses ordinary cellular technology to connect you to a personal assistant, who then uses GPS technology to pinpoint your location for the purpose of sending emergency assistance or to provide driving directions. To use the MobilePal, no dialing is required, you simply press the big red Call button until a tone is heard, and after a few seconds, you are connected to your personal assistant, ready to access the services that are offered. The MobilePal also features a distress signal. After you press and hold the test button, it emits a loud siren sound to attract attention during an emergency. It uses long-lasting lithium ion batteries that do not require charging and last for two to three hours of talk time. The microphone and speaker are built in for hands-free use.

The MobilePal costs $150 plus a $30 setup fee. To access the MobilePal services, you must also pay a monthly subscription rate of either $9.95 or $16.95, depending on the level of services you desire. Further costs of 99 cents per minute could also be incurred for "concierge" services (such as asking for directions), which are offered in the $16.95 plan.

For $9.95 per month, MobilePal's Personal Security Plan offers the following services:

  1. Mobile emergency assistance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  2. Dispatch of police, fire, and ambulance, anywhere in the United States.
  3. Dispatch of your roadside service provider (towing, lockout, and so forth).
  4. Location of the nearest hospital or veterinary services.
  5. Free mobile calls for emergency or roadside assistance.

For $16.95 per month, Mobile Pal's Personal Security Advantage Plan offers the following additional "concierge services":

  1. Virtual Switchboard Services: They reserve up to 10 numbers to connect you to your friends and family and provide nationwide 411-directory assistance and auto accident assistance with connection to your insurance provider.
  2. Driving Directions: You can find out your location; get directions to your destination; and get assistance finding points of interest, such as the nearest hotel.
  3. Health Services: Registered nurses are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Getting Started

The MobilePal looks like a stripped-down cell phone. Beneath a flip-down cover are two buttons recessed into the unit, making them easy to locate and distinguish. The top button is the large red Call button, used to initiate and terminate calls to the personal assistant, and the lower button is a slightly smaller, gray Test button. The battery compartment is on the back panel of the MobilePal, and it is much easier to open than the previous version we evaluated.

The MobilePal comes with a print manual in 12-point font that does do a good job of describing the features and functions of the phone. However, the manual should be made available in large print and at least one additional alternative format, such as an audiocassette, electronic text file, or an HTML document on the RemoteMDX web site. The documentation should include a brief textual description of the phone with the locations of its two buttons, as well as an explanation of the clues the phone provides via audio tones. A description of how to attach the belt clip to the unit would also be helpful.

How Accessible Is It?

In addition to activating the distress signal, the Test button is also used to check battery strength and to store your GPS location when you go indoors out of view of the satellites. In most instances, there are both LED and tone indications to prompt you. However, when you store a GPS location, you are limited to LED feedback to know when to release the Test button. If you hold it too long, the siren will sound. In addition, at the end of the process, there is no tone accompanying LED indication to verify that the location was successfully stored. There are also a few other instances of LED feedback without accompanying tones, but they are not essential to operating the unit.

Can you Count on MobilePal+GPS?

In Huntington, New York City, and Chicago, we were able to connect to an operator both outdoors and indoors. The average connect time was under a minute. There was one instance during overcast weather conditions in Huntington that we did not get through to the call center. We were told that if it happens again, we should disconnect after a minute or so and immediately try again. In another unusual case, we lost the connection when a low-flying helicopter passed overhead, but we were automatically reconnected a few seconds later. Once connected, we found that both the volume and clarity of calls were good. However, under windy weather conditions and when we were near noisy traffic, it was sometimes difficult to hear the operator. We did find it reassuring to speak to a live person who was courteous, confident, and patient.

In Huntington, MobilePal+GPS also did quite well in getting our outdoor GPS location within a few minutes and was able to locate us in the rural outskirts of the city. We did have a problem once when we tried to get our location on a heavily overcast day. Getting travel information we needed was a different story. While it usually did not take more than a few minutes for the operator to determine our location or get us directions to a destination, we found that the accuracy of the position was not what it needs to be for travelers who are blind or visually impaired. For example, during our tests, the MobilePal+GPS operators were able to provide accurate walking directions to the Amtrak train station, but could not correctly pinpoint exactly where the station was located. Similar limitations applied to New York City and Chicago.

In New York City, we knew MobilePal+GPS might have problems getting our GPS location because of the "urban canyons" created by tall buildings. In New York, our approach was to try and find an open area as best we could; get directions to a destination; and stay connected to the operator, who regularly attempted to recalculate our position as we walked. While this approach would be prohibitively expensive for a user, it was one way to find out if and when we would lose a signal in a city. The results were mixed. In a number of instances, the operator could not get our starting location. Other times, when our starting location had been acquired, it was lost en route, probably because of tall buildings and overhead scaffolding. However, we found the operators to be of assistance even when the GPS signal was lost. Since they have access to a map of the area you are traveling in, it is possible to get general walking directions. This was particularly helpful when our destination was a subway station.

The results in Chicago were also mixed. Notes from one trial in Chicago illustrate the problems and possibilities of the "concierge" service:

MobilePal+GPS was used inside an office building at 401 North Michigan Avenue to seek directions from the nearest bus stop to the corner of Diversey and Sharaden Road. The operator did some checking and was able to determine that there was a bus stop near my current location, but was unsure which bus route I would need to take to reach my destination. The operator offered to connect me to the Chicago Transit Authority, which would be able to provide this information. I was connected, but this number relied heavily on the use of touch tones to provide automated information to callers. This was impossible to do with the MobilePal+GPS.

The Bottom Line

Getting connected to a personal assistant was as reliable as any cell phone, but the precision and reliability of the GPS technology was not what we would have liked. We found that being located by the GPS in a city was a hit-or-miss proposition. Mapping out your location and how to get to a destination also needs improvement.

Operators are a valuable asset, but they need to be trained to provide information to blind or visually impaired travelers. While the MobilePal+GPS interface is simple, there are relatively minor aspects of it that need to be made accessible. The manual also needs to be made accessible.

The MobilePal+GPS has great potential as an orientation aid. It was much improved since our last evaluation, and we hope that the manufacturer will continue to improve the device. However, as it stands, it still has a way to go before we would recommend it as an orientation aid for blind and visually impaired travelers.

Furthermore, although this evaluation was focused on wayfaring, we were impressed with what we discovered about the personal-security features of the MobilePal+GPS. It offers a peace of mind that many people may appreciate.

Manufacturer's Comments

"We would like to thank AccessWorld for reviewing the MobilePal+GPS again. As you noted, we have worked very hard over the past year to improve both the MobilePal phone and the associated Personal Assistant Link (PAL) Services. Our ability to determine the exact location of users and to direct police, fire, and medical assistance to them in the event of an emergency has proved to be a valuable, potentially life-saving, service for our customers.

"We appreciate the feedback that was given by your 'testers.' As a result, we will create a new User's Guide with a larger font, which should improve both reading and scanning capabilities. Our latest User's Guide that was just recently released now provides text instructions for installing the belt clip. It should also be noted that we plan to continue to add new PAL services in the future and will explore adding the kinds of services that were listed as important by your testers. The databases required for many of the services mentioned, such as 'sidewalk navigation,' do not currently exist, but as GPS mapping continues to improve, we hope to be able to obtain data that will allow our PAL Agents to further help blind and visually impaired individuals better navigate their way around any city."

Product Information

Product: MobilePal+GPS

Manufacturer: RemoteMDx; 10404 Jackson Oaks Way, Knoxville, TN 37922; phone: 800-960-7849; web site: <www.remotemdx.com>.

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Access Issues

You Can Bank on It: Features, Technology, and Locations of Talking ATMs

In September 1969, the first automatic teller machine (ATM) was installed in the Long Island branch of Chemical Bank. Thirty years later and almost 10 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), blind people and others who could not read standard print still could not reliably and independently use an ATM anywhere in the United States. The only machines in the world that provided audible output to assist users who could not read an ATM screen were 12 ATMs that were installed in Canada by the Royal Bank of Canada.

Since October 1999, however, more than 7,000 accessible ATMs have been installed in over 30 states across the country. This type of ATM is known as a Talking ATM because all the information needed to operate it is spoken privately to any ATM user who plugs a standard Walkman headset into a jack on it. In August 2002, some of the machines began providing audio instructions in Spanish. Wells Fargo, which was the first bank to make a binding commitment to install Talking ATMs, now has over 2,700 machines in 23 states. Thousands more Talking ATMs are anticipated to come on line in 2003, and one bank—the Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America—is committed to installing 7,000 Talking ATMs by December 2005. Press reports have also touted the installation of Talking ATMs in Australia, India, Italy, and Spain.

Basic Features and Technology

Audio Jack

The one common feature of all Talking ATMs in the United States is a standard 3.5-inch audio jack on the face of the ATM. Most banks provide one- or two-bud earphones free of charge to users with visual impairments, but all the machines also work with any standard Walkman headset or earphone.

Keypads and Touchscreens

Almost all the Talking ATMs in the United States have a keypad, typically a standard telephone keypad with an extra column of function keys on the right. A typical arrangement of the function keys, top to bottom, is Enter, Clear, and Cancel, with the bottom key blank. Some keypads have braille on all keys, and some have a raised dot only on the five key. The function keys typically have either raised tactile symbols or braille labels or both.

A notable exception to the typical keypad interface are the Talking ATMs manufactured by Citibank, which are purely touchscreen with no physical keys. A blind user accesses functionality by using three "touch zones," which are located along the bottom of the screen at the bottom left (Previous), center (Next), and right (Select). The screen surround contains finger indentations to guide you to the appropriate spot. Using the Next and Previous touch zones, you can step through all available information and options on each screen. When you hear the desired selection, you press the Select zone. Two touch zones at the top of the screen control the volume.

Most Talking ATMs with keypads ask you to press a particular key when you hear the desired option. (Press 1 for checking, press 2 for savings.) The Bank of America "second-generation" or "Advanced Technology" Talking ATMs, introduced in October 2002, are a promising exception to this method. They use the keys to the right and left of the zero as Previous and Next (or Forward and Back) keys, similar to left and right arrows on a keyboard. When you hear the desired selection, you press the Enter/Select key in the fourth column of the keypad. This interface and Citibank's touch zones have the potential for many more options and more functionality to be available to users of the audio program.

.Wav Files and Voice Synthesis

The first Talking ATMs in the United States used prerecorded .wav files for audio output. One or more .wav files was tied to a particular ATM screen, and when the screen appeared, the .wav file played. Originally these files were recordings of real persons—sometimes professional actors, sometimes bank employees with pleasant-sounding voices. The cost and inconvenience of rerecording minor script changes and the necessary recording of new files for new functions or features quickly led many of the banks to use synthetic speech to create the .wav files. A footnote to the history of Talking ATMs is press reports of a lawsuit filed by one bank's "live voice" when the bank chose to switch to synthetic speech.

For a user who is blind who wants to perform basic functionality at an ATM, .wav files were, and continue to be, effective and can be used on less sophisticated ATMs. However, they may make it harder for banks to increase the functionality of Talking ATMs or make routine changes to the audio program. In many cases, these files must be brought to the ATMs and loaded by hand. Typically, only a prescribed number of files per machine is possible, thereby limiting the potential functionality that can be spoken. The need to prerecord often precludes accessibility of functionality that is dependent on dynamic text—text that is not known in advance by the recording entity. Recognition of these problems and collaboration between the banks and vendors have resulted in the development of next-generation Talking ATMs with text-to-speech software and speech synthesizers inside the machines in more sophisticated models.


Scripting refers to the precise words heard by the ATM user who is using the audio features. The importance of using people who are blind to test all aspects of the development of Talking ATMs cannot be overestimated, and such input is particularly crucial in the area of scripting. I have helped test Talking ATMs with representatives of the blind community in ATM laboratories on many occasions. Although the role of the blind testers was obviously more significant earlier in the history of Talking ATMs, the input has always been important and valued by the ATM developers. Seemingly small things, like the manner in which the location of ATM components is described or the purpose of the function keys, can make the difference between a machine that is truly usable independently and one that is not.


The goal of the national Talking ATM advocacy effort has been full functionality: Whatever a sighted person can do at an ATM by reading the screen, a person using the audio program should also be able to do. Significant progress has been made toward achieving this goal, and in many cases the goal has been achieved. The following functions are available on Talking ATMs in the United States: cash withdrawal (including fast-cash options and the ability to set a preferred fast-cash amount), deposit, transfer, account balance, payments in envelopes, purchases of stamps, and the ability to change PIN numbers. The first Talking ATMs allowed you to perform many of these functions only in connection with one account (for example, you could withdraw cash only from one checking account even if you maintained multiple accounts at the bank). Many Talking ATMs now provide access to more than one account.

Talking ATMs that use .wav files cannot voice variable dynamic alphabetic text. On these machines, for example, a sighted users who has named two checking accounts sees the account choice on the screen as "Sue's vacation account" or "Dave's college account." The blind user still has access to the two accounts but hears the accounts voiced as "first account" and "second account."

The inability to voice dynamic alphabetic text is one of the reasons why statements and ministatement functionality is not provided in any Talking ATMs. (Concerns about the length of time you would be at the machine listening to a statement's details is another.) This functionality allows a sighted user to see a copy of his or her last full statement or a partial statement either on the screen or in a printed document. The Talking ATMs voice the option to receive the printed document, but do not speak the information that is in it.

As ATMs become more sophisticated, offering more and more functions to sighted users, Talking ATMs will need to keep pace. The blind community must remain vigilant to ensure that new functionality is accessible because the industry is under constant pressure to offer more services on its ATMs. For example, in October 2002, NCR announced that it would offer prepaid long-distance phone cards, wireless recharge, and movie tickets on certain ATM models.

Orientation, Volume Control and Other Features

All Talking ATMs should have an audio orientation to assist first-time users. A robust orientation includes information about the location of components; the layout of the keypad; the orientation of the card to activate the machine; and other details, such as whether a decimal point must be entered and how to repeat or interrupt spoken instructions. The orientation must be interruptible at any time for a listener who wants to begin the transaction without finishing the orientation.

Many Talking ATMs now have volume control, an important feature that was not available on the earlier Talking ATMs. Volume control is addressed with both software (using a designated key to raise or lower volume) and hardware (using a knob or button that can be turned or pressed.) The availability and description of how to use volume control should also be included in the audio orientation that you hear once you insert an earphone into the ATM's earphone jack.

Another advance has been to provide audible error information. In some ATMs, error information (information that lets you know why the transaction failed) appears on the printed receipt only after it is received from the host or processing computer. Early Talking ATMs did not voice all this information, either because it was dynamic text coming down from the host and could not be prerecorded or because it was never sent to the screen and there was nothing to tie the .wav file to. For related reasons, the early Talking ATMs did not provide spoken account balances, although virtually all machines now do so. Spoken information about the reason for a failed transaction is critical to equal access, and its absence often precludes effective use of the machine. Vendors and processors are collaborating to solve the error-message problem, and today most machines do make this information available to persons who use the audio program.

Vendors and Availability

It is not possible to write about Talking ATMs without starting with ATMs themselves. As was noted earlier, the first ATM in the world was installed in the United States in 1969. It was a rudimentary machine that only dispensed cash, and even the initial developers expected it to be used only in bank branches, and not all bank branches at that. Today, there are approximately 325,000 ATMs in the United States, and they can be found everywhere—standing alone in a small corner store or as part of a group of machines at large bank branches. ATMs not only dispense cash, take deposits, and provide account balance, but allow the purchase of a variety of products, including stamps, ski tickets, and money orders.

Most ATMs that are installed by banks in the United States today are manufactured by a handful of manufacturers, the largest ones being NCR and Diebold, with Fujitsu holding a smaller share of that market. In the stand-alone, or "off-premise" category, Triton—a company that virtually created this market over the past several years—is the industry leader, with some of the larger vendors competing in the "small-footprint" off-premise category. Today, all these ATM vendors offer Talking ATMs to ATM purchasers (and some deploy Talking ATMs themselves). Persons wishing to purchase Talking ATMs have the option of purchasing upgrade kits that work on many, though not all, ATM models or purchasing new ATMs with audio technology. Most Talking ATMs in the United States are upgraded models of ATMs that did not originally provide audio output. The availability of Talking ATMs and manufacturers' commitment to developing audio technology are welcome changes in the industry's approach. As recently as 1999 and 2000, industry representatives testified to governmental agencies that Talking ATMs would be prohibitively expensive, if not technically infeasible.

Questions about availability, pricing, and technical specification are best addressed to the vendors themselves. (Contact information is listed at the end of this article). Information on prices, in particular, is often closely guarded and unavailable. An article in the September 2002 issue of the industry journal Credit Union Management, entitled "Time for New Flavors," available online at <www.cues.org/fyi/n90402.htm>, provides insights into the financial costs of providing access to people who are blind. Written by the president of an 8,000 plus-member credit union in Brokaw, Wisconsin, the article begins by saying that "The Brokaw Credit Union didn't set out to install "talking" ATMs, but we are very glad we did." In addressing the cost issue, the author stated that she was "pleasantly surprised" to learn that "purchasing ATMs with speech capabilities was not out of the price range" of a credit union with fewer than 9,000 members. A month after she purchased three Talking ATMs from Triton, which each cost "about a fifth as much as a larger ATM," she was "confident [that] the transaction volume will pay for our investment in the machines."

How to Find Talking ATMs

In the three years since the introduction of the first Talking ATM in the United States, it has become impossible to keep track of the precise locations of all of them. Talking ATMs can be found at bank branches; college campuses; shopping malls; and retail outlets, such as grocery stores and convenience stores. They are in train stations, bus stations, airports—from Boston (5 Fleet machines) to San Francisco (5 Bank of America machines)—with many in between.

As of October 2002, the following financial institutions had installed Talking ATMs: Bank of America, Bank One, Brokaw Credit Union, Chevy Chase Bank, Citibank, First Union/Wachovia, Fifth Third, Fleet, Hibernia, Mellon, National City Bank, San Francisco Federal Credit Union, Sovereign Bank, Union Bank of California, US Bank, Washington Mutual, and Wells Fargo. In addition, Triton has already sold more than 1,000 Talking ATMs to smaller deployers in the United States, and many more installations are expected in 2003.

Talking ATMs had been installed in the following states as of October 2002: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, as well as in Washington, DC. (Readers who know of banks or states with Talking ATMs that are not listed here are invited to contact the author.)

The best way to find exact locations is to contact a bank by phone or check a bank's web site. Ensuring that Talking ATM locations get listed on web sites at all and, what is more important, are listed in an accessible manner, is an important aspect of advocacy for Talking ATMs. Although much progress has been made, there is still work to be done. The following banks now have filters for Talking ATMs on their main ATM locator pages, so you can search for accessible machines only: Fleet, Bank of America, Bank One, First Union, Washington Mutual and Union Bank. Bank of America and Fleet currently have made an explicit commitment to substantial compliance with the web-accessibility guidelines promulgated by the World Wide Web Consortium (<www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/>) and are making significant progress in that regard. Both banks have accessibility links on their home pages that bring you to information about their accessibility program and forms to record feedback. Although Wells Fargo does not filter for Talking ATMs on its principle locator page, there is a link to its Talking ATMs on its home page and, unlike any other bank of which I am aware, provides specific orientation as to where the Talking ATM is located on the site.

Information about the locations of Talking ATMs should be readily available, of course, on a bank's toll-free telephone line. Without adequate training and, unfortunately, even with the best training, customer service staff may be unaware of the bank's programs or not have sufficient information to assist the novice user. Few banks include the locations of Talking ATMs on their automated phone systems, with Bank of America as the notable exception. Customers who receive erroneous or incomplete information from a bank's customer service line would perform a service by contacting the bank in writing about the problem.


One of the best ways to stay abreast of the ATM industry is to log on to the web site <www.ATMmagazine.com>. For specific information about the availability of Talking ATMs, contact:

Diebold: 5995 Mayfair Road, P.O. Box 3077, North Canton, OH 44720; phone: 800-999-3600 or 330-490-4000; web site: <www.diebold.com>.

Triton: 522 East Railroad Street, Long Beach, MS 39560; phone: 800-367-7191 or 228-868-1317; web site: <www.tritonatm.com>.

NCR: 1700 South Patterson Boulevard, Dayton, OH 45479; phone: 937-445-4833; web site: <www.ncr.com>.

Fujitsu: J. Kent Schrock, director of marketing; phone: 858-458-5569; e-mail: <kschrock@ftxs.fujitsu.com>.

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Untangling the Web

Seek and You Shall Find: Using Specific Search Engines

In the November 2002 issue of AccessWorld, I defined the different types of search engines and presented basic strategies for working with them. In this article, I highlight some of the more popular search engines and provide a small list of valuable web sites to visit to learn more on your own.

There are many good search engines, and new ones emerge every day. After the address for each search engine listed, I have included a few notes of particular interest related to special features or access issues. I did not include any engines that present significant access problems.

In addition to the search engines that emphasize their wide reach on all topics, there are specialized engines, such as dictionary.com, which searches only dictionary sites and presents different definitions of given words. There are search engines that are specific to a given country, language, type of research, or even one database on a specific site. To find more of these search engines, see the Resources section. One example of particular interest is the search engine of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) <www.loc.gov/nls/web-blnd/>. It lets you search for books in accessible formats from the holdings of NLS, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and many other organizations in the United States and elsewhere.

Search Engines


One access issue related to search engines is the clutter on some pages. Some popular search engines, such as Yahoo! and MSN Search, have such a multitude of links on their pages that finding the logical structure can be daunting for the beginner. One solution is the search engine called Seti-Search, <www.seti-search.com>. Self-proclaimed as "the speech-friendly search engine," Seti-Search also lets you customize the appearance of the page by selecting "change colors."

Seti-Search is actually a system for reformatting the work of some other search engines. The essence of this site is simplicity. Plug in your search string (the words you are searching for), choose a search engine from a drop-down combo box, and submit. The results page (in most cases) is presented as a simple list with no clutter at the top. Basically, you get the immediate gratification that often eludes web surfers who are visually impaired. A disadvantage of using this system is that you might lose some of the features of the individual search engines. In addition, there are no clues on the Seti-Search page about the properties of the individual search engines.


This search engine, <www.alltheweb.com>, has a simple and accessible interface, with results combining directory listings from Open Directory (discussed later) and its own crawler-based engine. You can choose to turn your words into an "exact phrase" by simply checking a box. It gives you the ability to customize a lot of features that remain in place when you use it in the future. Among these features is the ability to set the number of results per page from 10 up to 100, to have results opened in a new window, and to have your queries "rewritten" to help improve your searches. You can search specifically for several different categories of files: news, pictures, videos, MP3 files, and FTP files.


This crawler-based search engine, <www.altavista.com>, allows you to customize your searches. Its advanced page lets you choose date ranges—a feature that is not totally reliable because it depends on accurate date information being made available on the individual site servers, but it is nonetheless useful. A helpful feature of this engine is that the results page includes a "translate" link after each entry that takes you to a form filled in for that page where you can translate results into another language. Although computerized language translation can be quirky (what sort of word is "welcomely," anyway?), I have found it to be both useful and fun. Try searching for pages in French that contain "Louis Braille" and then translate them into English.


This search engine, <www.google.com>, primarily crawler based, has a simple and accessible interface. At the same time, it is amazingly powerful. It uses "link analysis" in its ranking formula—sites that are linked to a lot of other sites appear at the top of the results page—producing useful results for even general searches. Ironically, there is no "help" link on the main page to explain all its powerful options, but you can get help at <www.google.com>. Through "Google preferences" you can set a variety of options, such as the number of results per page from 10 to 100 and the ability to open results in separate windows. One unique feature is that it browses non-HTML files, including PDF, Microsoft Office, PostScript, and Corel WordPerfect, and offers a link for each to view them as HTML. Google also has a directory with listings from the Open Directory (discussed later), which it ranks using its own powerful system. It offers the ability to search the entire Usenet (a message-oriented non-Web portion of the Internet that long-time users may be more familiar with). The catalog search feature will be valuable for some low-vision users. It allows you to browse through scanned versions of catalogs that were not previously available online, although since graphical files are large, it may be too slow to be useful with a dial-up connection.


HotBot, <www.hotbot.com>, is an interesting search engine that uses a service called Direct Hit, that ranks on the basis of how many people actually chose a site when it matched a result. Back-up results are provided by Inktomi (a crawler-based search engine that you cannot access directly but that powers many other engines, allowing these partners to customize the results in different ways). You must use the full graphics page to use the directory, but the text version <www.hotbot.com/text> offers a way to use the input form with no graphics or other links. The basic input form allows you to use a drop-down combo box to look for your search terms as "all the words," "any of the words," "the exact phrase," "the page title," "the person," "links to this URL," or "Boolean phrase." You can also limit the date (how recently the page was last updated) in increments from "in the last week" to "in the last two years." With checkboxes, you can include image, MP3, and JavaScript files; set the number of results displayed per page from 10 to100; and indicate whether you want the results displayed with full or brief descriptions or with only the URL.


This directory, <www.looksmart.com>, also provides results to some other search engines, such as MSN Search. It uses Inktomi as a crawler-based backup when it cannot find a result from among its own listings. Its presentation is uncluttered for a directory, and once you choose a category, you can choose to search the entire Web or only within that category from a drop-down combo box.


Lycos, <www.lycos.com>, is a site that can be both useful and confusing. It is basically a directory-based engine, with results from both AllTheWeb and Open Directory (discussed next). Depending on the category you select, you have different choices, such as the financial page where the edit box is a place to enter a stock symbol. Despite its jam-packed home page, the "more categories" link is essential to make the site truly useful. It has a powerful more advanced search page for a site of primarily directory listings. The home page includes today's headlines, sports information, lists of "hot search topics this week," and lots of other information that is not directly related to the searching process.

Open Directory

Compiled by volunteers, this directory cannot be accessed directly, but its information is made freely available to other search engines. You can visit the site <http://dmoz.org/> if you want to become a volunteer compiler.


Yahoo!, <www.yahoo.com>, has the largest human-compiled directory. It recently contracted with Google, and the results are now a blend of those from Yahoo's directory and Google.



This accessible web site, <www.searchenginewatch.com>, is full of clearly written articles on just about every topic related to search engines. On the home page, you can sign up to receive either daily or monthly e-mail newsletters. Membership is available, but that feature seems to be primarily of interest to people who want their sites listed and ranked higher in the engines. Start with the link "First-Time Visit?" and you won't have trouble finding anything you want to know on this site.


This web site, <www.pandia.com>, entitled "Search the Web with Pandia, your guide to search engines and Web searching," includes tutorials, links to engines, articles, its own search tool, a bimonthly newsletter, and daily updates on the site.

Web Search

This "about" site <http://websearch.about.com/>, run by Kevin Elliott, contains information about everything from the big search engines, small niche engines, related forums and chat rooms, a newsletter, information about new sites, articles, and tutorials.

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Access World News

Airline Web Site Suit is Dismissed

A federal judge in Miami recently ruled that Southwest Airlines and American Airlines do not have to change their web sites to make them more accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. For more information, see the October 14, 2002 edition of Wired News, available: <www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,55708,00.html>.

Magnifier That Can Fit into Your Pocket

PocketViewer is a portable, battery-operated video magnifier made by Pulse Data HumanWare. The compact magnifier weighs 10 ounces (0.625 pounds) and uses a miniature video camera to enlarge material up to 7X on a 4-inch flat panel display. The magnifier is sold with a battery charger and a carrying case. PocketViewer is currently available in limited quantities for the introductory price of $895 plus the cost of shipping. For more information, contact: Pulse Data HumanWare; phone: 800-722-3393; web site: <www.humanware.com/E/E4/E4D.html>.

Comings and Goings

There have been some recent personnel changes in the Technology division of the National Federation of the Blind. Curtis Chong left the position as director of Technology for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in November 2002. The new director of Technology is Allison Joyce. Ms. Joyce, who began working for NFB in 1994, holds a master of business administration degree from Georgetown University. Before leaving NFB for Georgetown, Ms. Joyce acted as the administrative director of the organization. NFB recently recreated the position of manager for the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC), NFB's evaluation, demonstration, and training technology center. Steven Booth, a former assistive technology specialist for the IBTC, is its new manager. For more information, contact: NFB; phone: 410-659-9314; e-mail: <nfb@nfb.org>; web site: <www.nfb.org>.

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January–June 2003

Seminars and Courses on Assistive Technology.

New York, NY


Judith Gerber, Computer Center for Visually Impaired People, Division of Continuing and Professional Studies, Baruch College, City University of New York; phone: 212-802-2148; e-mail: <judith_gerber@baruch.cuny.edu>; web site: <www.baruch.cuny.edu/ccvip>.

January 15–18, 2003

Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2003 Conference and Exhibition.

Orlando, FL


ATIA; phone: 847-869-1282; e-mail: <info@atia.org>; web site: <www.atia.org/conf_2003.html>.

February 6–8, 2003

Braille and Nonvisual Access Technology (BNAT) Seminar.

Baltimore, MD


National Federation of the Blind; phone: 410-659-9314; e-mail: <ajoyce@nfb.org>; web site: <www.nfb.org/cbt/application.htm>.

March 17–22, 2003

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/>.

March 24–26, 2003

TechEd International Conference and Exposition.

Long Beach, CA


TechEd Events; phone: 916-418-5151; web site: <www.techedevents.org>.

April 3–5, 2003

Still Where It's AT: Assistive Technology for Children and Youth Conference.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


Events of Distinction, 519 Nordstrum Road, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7K 7X9; phone: 306-651-3118; fax: 306-651-3119; e-mail: <eofd@sk.sympatico.ca>.

April 5–10, 2003

CHI 2003: Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Fort Lauderdale, FL


CHI 2003 Office, Smith Bucklin and Associates; phone: 312-321-4096; e-mail: <chi2003-office@acm.org>; web site: <www.chi2003.org>.

April 17–19, 2003

Braille and Nonvisual Access Technology (BNAT) Seminar

Baltimore, MD


National Federation of the Blind; phone: 410-659-9314; e-mail: <ajoyce@nfb.org>; web site: <www.nfb.org/cbt/application.htm>.

June 19–23, 2003

Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America's (RESNA) 26th International Conference on Technology and Disability.

Atlanta, GA


RESNA; phone: 703-524-6686; web site: <www.resna.org>.

June 28–July 4, 2003

National Federation of the Blind's 2003 National Convention.

Louisville, KY


National Federation of the Blind; phone: 410-659-9314; web site: <www.nfb.org>.

July 5–12, 2003

American Council of the Blind's 2003 National Convention.

Pittsburgh, PA


American Council of the Blind; phone: 800-424-8666 or 202-467-5081; web site: <www.acb.org>.

October 16–18, 2003

21st Annual Closing the Gap Conference.

Bloomington, MN


Closing the Gap; phone:507-248-3294; e-mail: <info@closingthegap.com>; web site: <www.closingthegap.com>.

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AccessWorld, Copyright (c) 2003 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.

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