jump to article
AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 November 2003 Issue  Volume 4  Number 6
Cover Photo: Photograph of two women with long canes at the New York Hall of Science in front of a display case showing models of molecules and listening to audio tour phones. The display is labeled with the numbers 708 and 709 and pictures of an ear."

Caption: Taking the audio tour of the Marvelous Molecules exhibit at the New York Hall of Science. (Credit: Dominick Totino/New York Hall of Science)

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

The Braille Teacher's Pal: A Review of SAL

The new Speech Assisted Learning device helps braille learners practice on their own—Frances Mary D'Andrea

Screen Reader Boot Camp

What's better than an accessible user's manual? GW Micro's live, hands-on training for Window-Eyes—Deborah Kendrick

An Introduction to JAWS Scripting

Try this beginner's tutorial and write your own programs to make mainstream applications more accessible—Joe Lazzaro

Sounds of Science

Museum going just got a lot more friendly with the accessible tours at the New York Hall of Science—Jay Leventhal

Do Cell Phones Plus Software Equal Access? Part 1

Does the Nokia 3650 with Mobile Accessibility software solve the cell phone accessibility issues?—Darren Burton and Mark Uslan

Chase Expands "Right Relationship" with eATM: A Collaboration in Accessibility

Consultation and collaboration results in a state-of-the-art talking ATM—Annemarie Cooke

AccessWorld News


Editor in Chief Jay Leventhal
Contributing Editors Paul Schroeder, Senior Editor
Crista Earl
Deborah Kendrick
Mark Uslan
Managing Editor Ellen Bilofsky
Associate Editor Rebecca Burrichter

AccessWorld® is published bi-monthly by AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind, 11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300, New York, NY 10001. Products included in AccessWorld® are not necessarily endorsed by AccessWorld® or AFB staff.

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

AccessWorld® is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Editor's Page

Training in such skills as braille and use of assistive technology is essential for both children and adults who are blind or visually impaired to participate in society and to find and hold a job. A braille reader has direct access to the spelling of new words, page format, and the ability to study and absorb tabular information; and computers can provide access to an inexhaustible amount of information on endless topics. But, whereas Microsoft designed Windows to be intuitive for sighted users, there is a much steeper learning curve for a person who is blind or visually impaired. Screen reader users must learn a whole new vocabulary, usually reserved for Windows programmers, to translate what the screen reader says into what options are available at that moment. Training and practice are required to be able to translate "edit box" into "I can type text here," or "combo box" into "Arrow down until I find the item I want."

To focus on the critical shortage of training personnel available to teach essential skills, this issue of AccessWorld features three articles related to training. Frances Mary D'Andrea, director of the American Foundation for the Blind National Literacy Center in Atlanta and AFB's representative on the board of the Braille Authority of North America, evaluates Speech Assisted Learning (SAL). This freestanding device is designed to help children and adults who are learning to read braille practice their skills by using speech to give feedback to the user during lessons. D'Andrea describes SAL's functions and performance and provides an expert's explanation of how useful SAL can be, as long as it is viewed as a teaching tool, rather than a replacement for a living, caring braille teacher.

Deborah Kendrick writes about GW Micro's new traveling training classes offering basic and intermediate instruction in the use of their screen reader, Window-Eyes. This article chronicles how one company is tackling the shortage of qualified trainers.

Joe Lazzaro, director of the Adaptive Technology Program at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind in Boston and a freelance writer, provides an introduction to the built-in scripting or programming language for Freedom Scientific's JAWS for Windows. JAWS scripts allow you to make mainstream applications appear more speech friendly and accessible. A script is a series of instructions carried out in sequence, and can be used, for example, to build hot keys to read any part of the screen, or to move to parts of an application not navigable using keyboard commands.

In other articles, Darren Burton and Mark Uslan of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), continue their search for accessible cell phones by reviewing the Nokia 3650 combined with the Mobile Accessibility software produced by the European company Code Factory. This software can assist a person who is blind or visually impaired in accessing some of the phone's features via keystrokes and synthetic speech output. Unfortunately, Mobile Accessibility does not provide full access to the phone's features. Check out what you can get by paying twice as much for the phone/software combination as a sighted customer would pay for the phone alone.

I report on an audio tour offered by the New York Hall of Science, located in Corona Park, New York, a hands-on science museum. Traditionally, museums have not been pleasant places to visit for people who are blind or visually impaired. Exhibits were behind glass, descriptions were not available in accessible formats and lighting was poor. The Hall of Science has led the way toward changing that, first with tours on audiotape, then with digitized descriptions which visitors listen to on a solid-state unit resembling an elongated cordless phone. Next will be an experimental system that will not only describe the exhibits, but will also guide visitors from one exhibit to another. Read more about the system I tried out on an August day that was even too hot for the microorganisms under glass in the exhibits.

Annemarie Cooke, Senior External Relations Officer at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, writes about the development and installation of talking ATMs by JP Morgan Chase & Co. The machines were a product of collaboration between Chase and AFB's AccessWorld Solutions.

This issue marks the last time that braille, large print, cassette, and disk versions of AccessWorldwill be distributed. The January issue, which will be available free on the Web, will be a new beginning for. This change will enable us to bring our product evaluations and other articles to many more people. The Web will also give us the freedom to present news and other features to our readers in ways that are not possible across five different formats. I thank you all for making the commitment of subscribing to AccessWorld, and I expect to keep hearing from you about future issues. I want to thank everyone who has been involved in production of the different formats, especially Suzanne Toren, the voice of the cassette edition.

Jay Leventhal, Editor in Chief

Back to top

Product Evaluation

The Braille Teacher's Pal: A Review of SAL

This article reviews a new device, called Speech Assisted Learning (SAL), that is designed to help children and adults who are learning to read braille practice their skills. Its developer, Sally Mangold, a teacher, researcher, author, and the creator of several braille courses for adults through the Hadley School for the Blind, has long been a leader in providing instructional strategies and materials for braille reading and writing. SAL is a freestanding device with speech that gives feedback to the user during lessons. Using bar-code technology, a student places one of the program's braille pages on SAL, presses prompt buttons and follows the spoken directions, and receives comments and scores at the end. SAL is not intended to teach braille reading on its own; rather, it is "an enrichment device that supplements braille lessons" and aims to increase the user's speed and accuracy of reading. (An article by Mangold on how SAL was conceived, developed, and tested appears in the October 2003 special issue on technology of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.)

Rationale for SAL

The critical shortage of personnel who are available to teach children and adults who are blind or have low vision has been well documented. Studies have found that there is an immediate need for 5,000 teachers of children who are visually impaired to meet the needs of students in our schools. The need for rehabilitation teachers is equally great. The skilled staff who are needed to teach and support the learning of skills, such as braille, assistive technology, and daily living skills, are not available in the numbers that they have been in the past.

Braille instruction is of special concern. While the advent of technology devices that read aloud or enlarge images has made some tasks easier, there will always be a need to read and write in braille. Braille is the simple and elegant technology that allows people who are blind to access information personally and privately without batteries or any intermediary. Children who are acquiring literacy will always need trained, certified teachers to instruct them in braille, since they are learning to read and write "from scratch." But what about older students and adults who have print literacy skills but would benefit from learning to use braille? What tools are available to assist them to practice their braille skills between lessons? And teachers always need materials—especially for young students—that are designed to increase reading fluency and accuracy and to reinforce braille reading and writing skills in a way that is perceived as enjoyable and motivating.

Physical Description

The SAL unit is a lightweight (6 pounds) flat panel, measuring 16 inches by 13 inches by 1½ inches, with a touch screen and an eight-dot braille keyboard. The unit has a floppy disk drive to use with lesson disks, a compact flash slot, an earphone jack, and toggle switches on the back for the speech rate and to turn the unit on and off. The bottom of the unit has rubber pads for nonslip use (often important for beginning braille readers who have "heavy hands" and push down hard on materials). A metal paper latch along the left side of the unit firmly holds the braille pages and hides the bar-code scanner that informs SAL which page has been placed on the touch screen. The physical features of SAL are well described in the helpful owner's manual, as well as on an audiocassette tape that comes with the sample lessons (included).

SAL comes with a carrying case containing a 12-volt adapter-charger, earphones, a foot pedal, and a user's guide in print and in braille. The foot pedal is an especially nice feature because it allows for hands-free usage during lessons. Overall, SAL is easy to set up. The manufacturer recommends charging the device for three hours before its first use, but then the SAL is ready to go. The manual says that SAL will hold a charge for eight hours. Since the device is sturdy plastic, it seems suitable for use in schools, where equipment is not always treated lovingly.

How Does It Work?

The SAL course work is packaged in envelopes containing 11-inch by 11 ½-inch braille pages. On the back of each page is a bar code. You insert the lesson disk into the side of the SAL, open the paper latch, place the page containing a braille reading activity on the touch screen, and close the latch again. The scanner reads the code from each sheet, so the correct instructions and feedback will be given during the lesson.

Figure 1: Photograph of SAL unit with touch screen and braille keyboard, manual, carrying case, and lessons.

Caption: SAL comes with a helpful owner's manual, a carrying case, and sample lessons. A variety of courses, with manuals and activities, are available.

The lessons are interactive, requiring a student to push the prompt (either key 8, by using the foot pedal, or by pushing an area of the touch screen) to get spoken directions and to receive a score. As the student goes through the activity, whether by touching the page on the screen or by entering braille on the keyboard, he or she gets immediate feedback via speech. For example, SAL may direct the student to touch a specific symbol or word on a line, or it may ask the student to touch a particular place on the page (e.g., "Press the last symbol on each line"). SAL may respond positively to the student's actions by saying "yes," "terrific," or a similar word or will let the student know that a particular response is incorrect. At the end of the activity, the student gets a score, recorded as the number of responses correct out of a total number possible, and how many attempts were made. So, a possible score may be "12 out of 16 correct in 21 tries."

Each set of materials comes with a calibration sheet that must be used prior to the lesson sheets. SAL will prompt you to conduct the calibration if you skip this step. Calibration pages are easily identified with rows of full braille cells at the top and bottom and down the left side of the page.

SAL has eight voices to choose from, and the speech rate is easily changed using either the toggle switch on the back or through menu commands. Menu commands are entered using the SAL keyboard by chording (pressing the space bar at the same time as you press other braille dot combinations) and are familiar to users of similar devices (such as personal organizers). This system is easy to learn even for people who have not used other computerized devices, although it would be helpful if the manual reminded neophytes that they must exit the menu each time they change something. Menu commands can adjust the speech volume, rate, and pitch and switch from English to Spanish.

The ability to change the speech sounds is especially helpful to people who are not familiar with synthesized speech. You can fiddle with the easy-to-set commands until you reach a speech level, pitch, and speed that's comfortable.

I expected that the Spanish feature would automatically offer the lessons in Spanish. However, it gives only the menu commands and lesson scores in Spanish; the lessons themselves, including the lesson prompts, are still in En-glish. (SAL does use Spanish to direct users to the next lesson page, however.) I hope that lessons in Spanish will be available in the future, as this is often an underserved population.

Other commands are available to allow one-handed use, to manage lessons, and to troubleshoot. When SAL is turned off with a lesson sheet still on the touch screen, it will remember where you stopped and does not have to be recalibrated. All these features make SAL user-friendly.

Features for Teachers

SAL is not only easy for students to use, it has helpful features for instructors as well. A Lesson menu can store and delete lessons on the device from a disk and—with technical support—to a computer via a cable (not included). A Journal feature allows a teacher to record a student's progress on a floppy disk and read it using the SAL Journal Viewer software, a free download from the Duxbury Systems web site. In this way, a teacher can keep a separate disk for each student and document each student's gains. The one-handed feature increases the population of potential students who can use SAL to include students who can use only one hand. A keyboard lockout feature allows the teacher to prevent students from "messing around" with the device and changing settings arbitrarily.

The manuals that accompany the lessons I saw were well designed and easy to use, which will come as no surprise to any teacher who is familiar with Mangold's widely used Mangold Developmental Program of Tactile Perception and Braille Letter Recognition. Although the manuals give the teacher helpful information and the full text of the SAL directions, they do not presume to instruct the teacher in how to teach braille. The materials I saw would clearly be used best by an experienced teacher who truly understands how to impart the mechanics and skills of braille reading.


The first unit I received had problems with the bar-code reader, which would either misidentify a page or would tell me that it couldn't read the bar code. Directions in how to enter the bar-code number manually on a lesson page are provided in the owner's manual. The bar code must be entered in the computer braille code. Since there are probably a number of users of SAL who are not familiar with this code, it would be helpful to include this information in the manual. In addition, the bar-code numbers are provided only in print, so instructors who are blind would not be able to read them. I returned this unit to Freedom Scientific, which replaced it with a SAL unit that worked with no problems.

SAL lets you know when its battery is getting low by beeping when only 10 minutes are left of its charge. A menu feature also informs you of the battery-level status.

What Do You Do With SAL?

However well designed the device is—and SAL is quite elegant—it is only as useful as the course work that is available for it. Information on the Freedom Scientific web site regarding SAL course work states:

The courseware is designed to teach in areas that are of emphasis to teachers and rehabilitation professionals. These areas include: students who need help developing faster and more efficient reading, writing and arithmetic skills; teens and adults who want to enhance learning through self-directed study; and children and adults who have socioeconomic and/or geographical barriers that prevent them from receiving direct professional help.

This last point worries me a bit because I believe that children especially must have direct instruction in braille from a trained teacher of students with visual impairments, no matter what the barriers. As useful as SAL is, it will not correct a student who reads over a page from right to left, instead of left to right. It will not notice if the student lazily uses the tip of one finger to complete a lesson page, rather than efficient hand-movement techniques that are described in the lesson. It doesn't notify you if a line of braille has been skipped, and while it gives a score, it does not suggest how a better score can be obtained. For these reasons, I believe that SAL works best as a learning tool for young children if a certified teacher is physically present to make sure that the learning objectives are being met. Adolescents and adults are the best target audience for self-directed study, as suggested on the SAL web site, but even they need to be highly motivated and serious about learning and improving their braille skills. But as part of a larger learning experience, SAL can play the admirable role of providing immediate feedback and opportunities to practice.

While this review focuses mainly on the device itself, I was sent several sets of curricular materials to try on SAL. I was able to spend some time with Braille Basics 1 for Teens and Adults: Introduction to Braille; Word Tracking: High Frequency Words; and The Deep Sea (contracted version).

The Braille Basics 1 course contains some innovative features that are designed to make it easy for a beginner to become oriented to braille materials. For example, while braille numbers are at the bottom of the lesson pages for the benefit of the instructor, it is not expected that someone who is unfamiliar with braille will be able to read them. Instead, a system has been developed that uses the braille "l" to represent the number "1" and a full cell to represent the number "5." Five lessons are included in this course, and the learning objectives are clearly stated for each. The scope and sequence have been clearly defined and seem not only logical but seamless. Plenty of practice materials have been developed for this course, and the activities will certainly allow adequate practice for adolescents and adults who are learning braille.

The materials in Word Tracking: High Frequency Words had been adapted from similar materials in print developed by Ann Arbor Publishers. I had used this book when I was a teacher of children with low vision to increase their fluency in reading print and was delighted to see a braille version made available. I wish there was a way for students who use these materials to time themselves as they complete each lesson or that SAL could report the time to complete an activity page as it reports the score.

Other courses that are available, as listed on the web site, include these:

  • Braille Basics 2 for Teens and Adults: Learning the Braille Alphabet
  • Better Braille Letter Reading and Writing (to promote accuracy and speed)
  • Sentence Tracking (to improve reading and word recognition)
  • Literary Braille Practice Sentences (for systematic review of the braille code)
  • Fun Facts of the World, Grades 3 and Up
  • Big Bear, Small Bear (a talking picture book designed for young children)
  • Series of High Noon books (high interest, low vocabulary books)

As new courses are added, the utility of the SAL will increase.

SAL Finale

SAL will not replace a skilled and certified teacher of braille and is not meant to do so. This point needs to be made clearly in the promotional materials for this device, especially to administrators who may see SAL as a panacea for the shortage of teachers. After all, even with its high price, SAL is cheaper than hiring a full-time teacher. SAL cannot give the same kind of feedback an instructor would give and cannot watch to make sure that a student is using correct hand movements (without cheating) and techniques, however. In short, it does not, in fact, teach. However, SAL is a device with a great potential for reinforcing instruction, especially if the SAL curricular materials are of a high quality. There is a great need for innovative technology options that teachers can use to support braille instruction.

The high price of the device, currently listed at $4,595, may prevent it from being used as widely as it deserves to be. The fact that it is a stand-alone device is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because SAL is certainly easier to use than are other computerized systems and can be used by people who don't have a computer; it is a curse because it is one more dedicated piece of hardware (with necessary software) that needs to be purchased by cash-strapped educational programs. The availability of more courseware will make the device useful to a wider range of students, which may help justify its cost to an agency or school.

Finally, while SAL is easy to use, it is still an electronic device, so technical support will still be needed. No matter how user friendly a computer is, it's still a computer.

Manufacturer's Comments

Freedom Scientific

"As stated under Troubleshooting, the first unit sent for this evaluation was damaged in shipping and was replaced. In normal operation there is never a need to manually enter lesson numbers— simply align the page and close the latch; the bar code registers automatically. Some courseware already has been translated into Spanish and is in test for release in 2004. We agree that SAL works best as a learning tool for young children with a certified teacher physically present."

Product Information

Product: SAL (Speech Assisted Learning)

Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716–1805; phone: 800-444-4443; web site: <www.freedomscientific.com>. Price: $4,595.

Back to top

Trainer's Corner

Screen Reader Boot Camp

When assistive technology (AT) for people who are blind or have low vision was introduced, one of the biggest problems for many consumers was getting their hands on these newfangled products for an up-close examination. There weren't any mainstream franchises that put speech- or braille-output products on display. That's still a problem, of course, but circumstances have improved dramatically. Numerous conferences, large and small, are held year-round in the United States and elsewhere that provide hands-on experience and demonstrations with the now-broad spectrum of AT options. Still, people who are blind or have low vision have been at a disadvantage when compared with sighted people in acquiring new computer products. Once you've seen a demonstration and been persuaded that software X or hardware Y is right for you, how do you learn to use it? GW Micro took a major step forward in 2002 with the launch of its traveling training classes, offering basic and intermediate training in the use of Window-Eyes, the company's flagship product.

Of course, options have been available to consumers all along for learning to use the popular screen-reading program. The software package includes braille and large-print command summaries, and the entire manual can be searched with a few keystrokes on a computer. Other training options have included a variety of audiotaped tutorials that can be purchased from various companies, as well as one-on-one training by various agencies or individual vendors. What GW Micro has done that is unique, however, is to provide training by its own experienced staff members in the home communities of consumers. For many people, the kinesthetic approach to learning is the most effective—hear what you're supposed to do while your hands are on the keyboard doing it—so this new option is a welcome one.

Since the first class was held in November 2002 at the National Federation of the Blind's headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, classes have been held in Colorado (Denver and Golden); Indiana (Fort Wayne and Goshen); Kentucky (Louisville); Massachusetts (Boston and Salisbury); New Mexico (Albuquerque); Ohio (Cincinatti and Columbus); Iowa (Des Moines); Michigan (Livonia); Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia); South Carolina (Myrtle Beach); Tennessee (Nashville); and Washington, DC, as well as Los Angeles and Dallas and even in Birmingham, England. As the word of these classes spreads, the momentum will increase, and more training courses will be offered.

Taking the Plunge

To give AccessWorld readers a better idea of what it feels like to participate in a local Window-Eyes training course, I attended a two-day training session in Cincinnati. Although the classes are aimed at both beginning and experienced users, it warrants mentioning that I approached the process as a completely blank slate, having never used the product. The experiences of others I have spoken with who have taken the training class, both novice and experienced users, have consistently paralleled mine as an absolute neophyte.

Several GW Micro staff members have been involved in teaching these classes, including Dan Weirich, vice president of marketing; Clarence Whaley, engineering director of sales and marketing training; Sonja Homan, sales coordinator; and Bill Herzler, tech support specialist. The class I took was taught by Sonja Homan, whose teaching style was a commendable blend of professional and comfortable, adjusting the pace of material being covered according to feedback from the participants. Although there was a particular set of techniques to be covered in the allotted time, the flexibility to move in and out of other areas of concern to a particular person was impressive. The participants in our group had widely varying levels of experience with computers in general, let alone screen-reading software; yet, each person's concerns were addressed without anyone being left behind. Because the classes are kept small (from 3 to 10 participants), the environment was immediately one of camaraderie and a shared eagerness to learn.

The training is designed to cover basic skills on the first day and intermediate skills on the second. While the option of paying for only one of the two days is available, most participants choose the two-day format. Since the goal of the training is both to introduce and improve skills, classes are intuitively accommodating to people with a wide range of experience.

Because the classes are kept small, the style is interactive and the tone lively. Rather than lecturing about available features, the trainer involves the students constantly by giving an example and expecting all participants to perform the same task. Since each student uses his or her own computer, the learning experience is a kinesthetic as well as an auditory one: You hear how to do something, perform that task with your own hands on your own keyboard, and "see" (via synthesized speech and/or your braille display) the resulting action. Material is paced according to the consensus of the group as well. If, for example, everyone present seems to have a solid understanding of reading commands, the trainer moves through them swiftly. If the concept of changing settings in the Window-Eyes control panel seems completely unfamiliar, the trainer slows the pace accordingly.

The small class size also lends itself well to individualizing instruction. If one person has a temporarily recalcitrant computer (say, it freezes for no apparent reason or doesn't respond to a particular key command), the instructor can address that particular problem while giving other students a chance to experiment with some other task. Similarly, if one or two participants have a specific need unlike the others, the somewhat informal structure allows for addressing it. If, for instance, one person wants to know how to have checkmarks indicated by the letter c rather than x on the braille display, a moment is taken for the side trip to teach that particular technique. Or, if someone just isn't grasping the concept of navigation among web sites, the attempt is made to explain and illustrate the steps in another way. The trainer routinely confirms that all participants are grasping material and are "on the same page."

Finding a Secure Host

Classes have been hosted by private and/or state agencies for people with visual impairments, schools, dealers in AT, and others. To host a training class, each individual has to have his or her own computer with headphones, or the hosting agency needs to supply the items. Skills are taught in the environment of Office 97, 2000, or XP, so it is also necessary to have one of these products installed. In the training class I attended, every promised skill on the Basics Skills list was covered. Although some of the Intermediate Skills that were advertised were not addressed, it was readily apparent that they were not because of unusually complicated equipment failures on the first day and the additional emphasis on braille support that some participants requested. Specifically, the skills covered in the two-day training sessions, as indicated in the company's promotional materials, include these:

Basic Skills

  • Adjusting the Speech on the Fly
  • Computer Requirements and Setup
  • Windows Basics
  • Navigating and Reading Documents
  • Reading Text with Window-Eyes Commands
  • Microsoft Word Basics
  • Window-Eyes Application Help
  • The Window-Eyes Control Panel
  • Global versus Local Voice Settings
  • Accessing the Internet

Intermediate Skills

  • Controlling How Much Window-Eyes Talks
  • Reading the Screen with the Mouse
  • Changing Pronunciation with the Exceptions, Character, Graphics Labels, and Key Label Dictionaries
  • Hot Keys
  • Set Files
  • User Windows
  • Cursoring Keys
  • Hyperactive Windows
  • More Advanced Internet Skills, Including Filling Out Forms and Reading Tables

At the end of training, each participant is presented with a certificate of completion and a compact disk containing the entire course outline.

The Cincinnati training class, according to all the participants, was a positive and worthwhile experience. Perhaps more to the point, this previously inexperienced novice left with sufficient confidence to begin using Window-Eyes at work the next day. As veteran trainer Sonja Homan said, "Individuals get the opportunity to improve their skills, and we get the opportunity to train people better, so they'll spread the word about our product. The training is a win-win for all of us."

For More Information

Window-Eyes training costs $250 per day if you attend both days and $350 per day if you attend only one day. For more information on hosting or participating in a future training class, visit the GW Micro web site, <www.gwmicro.com/training>, or phone 260-489-3671.

Back to top

Access Issues

An Introduction to JAWS Scripting

Users of screen readers have long been plagued with the plight of configuring their adaptive equipment to work with mainstream software. If you are a user of JAWS for Windows, you're probably aware that the package contains a built-in scripting language that lets you make mainstream applications appear more speech friendly and accessible. You have probably also heard that scripting is not for the faint of heart or the technologically timid. But, fear not. This article introduces you to the basics of JAWS scripting: why scripts are sometimes necessary, the structure of scripts, the Script Manager, and how to begin to tackle a scripting job. It is intended for beginners to JAWS scripting or those who want a basic overview of its overall utility for making applications appear more accessible.

Because of space limitations, I have tried to cover the main points to get you started quickly. As a consequence, a lot of material has had to be trimmed to its barest bones, and some aspects have been omitted. If sufficient interest arises and time permits, I may write a more advanced article on the subject in the future. For those interested in pursuing the subject further, Freedom Scientific offers beginner and advanced scripting classes at its Florida facility and on site. See AccessWorld News in this issue and visit <www.freedomscientific.com> for information about the costs and dates of the classes.


A JAWS script is merely a bridge between the screen reader and the mainstream application. The script does not change the application itself but, rather, helps JAWS extract information from the application that it needs. A script can make an ill-behaved application speak more easily and naturally for the user and can also provide functionality that previously did not exist. For example, you can use scripts to build hot keys to read any part of the screen and to move to parts of an application that are not navigable using keyboard commands. These are only two examples of how scripting can be used to make an application more accessible.

So, What Are Scripts?

A script is a series of instructions that your computer carries out in sequence, similar to a batch file, that are stored in a file. Script files can contain hundreds or thousands of individual statements that are executed by a single keystroke, not unlike a macro. You write your script in a text editor and then save the source code to disk. The script source code resembles most high-level languages, similar to Visual Basic, and is fairly easy to understand as languages go. You then compile the source code into machine-readable language by running it through the compiler program, which enables it to run on your computer. Once the script has been successfully compiled, you can run it by hitting the trigger keystroke or by running the application for which the script was written. Once started, the script extracts the information it needs from the application and can make decisions that are based on that information on how and what to read. JAWS includes a speech-friendly manager for creating, editing, and managing script files.

A script file can contain one or more actual scripts. The JAWS script language includes two fundamental types of scripts: default and application. JAWS Script Source (JSS) files are where the source code for a given script or function is stored. The Default.jss file is the core script file for JAWS and contains all the basic functions that allow the screen reader to interact with Windows-based applications. This default script file is loaded each time JAWS is started and is always in the background. Application script files are loaded on top of the Default.jss file and are started when an application is launched. The application script file bears the same name as the application it is designed for. For example, the Windows Calculator application script file is named Calc.jss, and the script for Notepad is Notepad.jss. When you start the calculator, Calc.jss is loaded automatically, and the scripts for that application become active. When you exit or switch focus away from the calculator, the Calc.jss file is unloaded from memory, and the Default.jss script takes over again.

So how does JAWS keep all this straight? JAWS is constantly monitoring the keyboard, looking for keystrokes that it can process. When you strike a key, JAWS first searches the applications script file for a match. If it doesn't find one there, it then looks in the Default.jss file for a match. If none is found there, it passes the keystroke on to the application. If, however, it finds a match in either file, it executes the script attached to that keystroke.

Binding Keystrokes to Scripts

As I discussed earlier, a keystroke can trigger scripts into operation. So when you create a script, you will be asked if you want to attach it to a keystroke. This is known as binding, or binding the keystroke to the script. When you hit the bound keystroke, the script will run, provided that you did everything correctly.

When you press a key that is bound to a script, JAWS searches the application and default file for a match and executes the script bound to that keystroke. But what if you try to use a keystroke that is already assigned to another script? If the bound key is, by chance, the same in both the application and the default script files, then the script in the applications file takes precedence. The Script Manager will warn you when you are trying to bind a keystroke to a script in the applications file that is already bound to another script in the Default.jss file, helping you to avoid conflicts and rendering scripts in the default file accidentally inoperative.

What's Your Function?

Another type of script does not require a bound keystroke to operate. These scripts are called functions and can run automatically when Windows events take place. Some of these events are when an application starts, when new text appears on the screen, when an application exits, and when the focus changes. Thus, you can do lots of cool stuff seemingly automatically. The JAWS scripting language includes over 600 built-in functions that can be used to construct new scripts. These functions include commands like SayString, SayWord, SayLine, NextWord, PreviousWord, SayFont, SayFromCursor, SayWindowTitle, SayRowHeader, and SayHighlightedText. You can browse the list of script functions from within Script Manager and insert them in your creations.

Command Central

JAWS includes a built-in Script Manager that lets you create, edit, and manage script files. The Script Manager is command central when it comes to scripts. You can use the manager to create new scripts, to compile scripts that you have written, and to modify existing scripts that are stored on the system. You can bring up the Script Manager by hitting Insert-F2 for the JAWS Manager Menu, scrolling down to the Script Manager item, and then pressing Enter. If you have an application open when you run Script Manager, the Script Manager will be launched with the application script for that particular program loaded. You can then examine the script bound to this application, modify the script if you wish, and recompile it to run. A word of caution: It's not a good idea to fool around with modifying existing scripts because doing so can have unpredictable results, especially for those who are not familiar with the language. Be sure to make backup copies of your Settings directory before you play around with editing and recompiling any scripts that are stored in your system.

For Example

You can get an idea of how Script Manager works by starting an application and then running the JAWS Script Manager to examine its application-specific script file. Let's start with an example that is relatively safe. First, start the Windows Calculator program by hitting Control-Escape to go to the Start Menu. Then use the Down Arrow until you hear Programs, then use the Down Arrow until you hear Accessories, and press Enter. Continue to use the Down Arrow key until you hear Calculator, and then press Enter to launch the calculator. If you've done everything correctly, the Windows Calculator program should now be loaded and should have the focus (that is, it will be in the foreground of all the programs running, and you can issue it commands). Now, with Calculator holding the focus, press Insert-F2 to bring up the Run JAWS Manager menu. Use the Down Arrow to get to Script Manager and press Enter. The Script Manager will start up with the Calc.jss script file loaded, ready for you to examine.

At this point, simply use your arrow keys to read through the Calc.jss script file. This file actually contains many individual scripts. You can move forward and backward from one script to another by using the F2 and Shift-F2 key commands, respectively. You can also use the Control-L command to list all the script names that are stored in the Calc.jss file. Once you've browsed through the Calc.jss file sufficiently by using the Arrow keys, try using the F2 and Shift-F2 commands to move through the file one script at a time. Now you can create and compile your first simple script.

The Hello World Script

In learning any computer language, from Pascal to Visual Basic, I've always found it immensely helpful to create a Hello World program first. This program lets you create a new program, compile it, and run it, just to get an overview of the entire creation process from beginning to end. The Hello World script or program is simple. When it is run, the Hello World script prints the message "Hello World" to the screen and speaks it aloud. This may not appear complex on the surface, but it allows you to learn exactly how a script is created, compiled, saved, and finally run. To create a Hello World script within the Notepad.jss file, do the following:

  1. Start Notepad and make sure it has the focus.
  2. Start the Script Manager. Simply hit Insert-F2 and then arrow down to the Script Manager and hit Enter. This will open the Notepad.jss script file and place you at the beginning. You can use your arrow keys to read through this file. It may or may not contain any scripts, depending on your JAWS version.
  3. In either case, press Control-End to move to the end of the file and press Enter to make a blank line. It is standard practice to put all new scripts at the end of any existing script file. Now that you're at the end of Notepad.jss, press Control-E to bring up the New Script dialogue box and start composing your first script.
  4. The first field in the New Script dialogue box asks for a name for the new script. Type in a name and press the Tab key to go to the next field. It's important to name scripts appropriately, as you will soon see.
  5. The next field is a check box, which asks if you want to attach the new script to a keystroke. If you want your script to be bound to a key, and you do in this example, make sure that this box is checked.
  6. The next field in the New Script dialogue box asks for a synopsis of the script. Go ahead and type a short description. It's good practice to type in the bound keystroke, as well as the name of the script here. Type "Control-1 Hello World Script." The synopsis text you just typed will be useful later when you use the built-in JAWS keyboard Help, which can be turned on by hitting Insert-1 and turned off by again pressing Insert-1.
  7. The next field in the New Script dialogue box asks for a description of your new creation. You can use this field to provide a more comprehensive description of the new script and its exact function.
  8. The next field in the New Script dialogue box is called Category and is not used at this time. Simply use the Tab key to skip over this field.
  9. The next field is much more important. It asks for the key that you want to bind to the new script. This is the hot key that will run your script. You should not use any standard Windows keyboard shortcuts or reserved JAWS keystrokes in this field to avoid potential conflicts. But if you do so by mistake, Script Manager will warn you before it accepts the bound keystroke. In this example, bind the Control-1 keystroke to this script, since it is not reserved for other purposes. Simply press Control-1 to bind the keystroke. (Do not type the dash character.) Tab to the OK field, and you're almost done. Once you press OK, you will be placed in the editor, where you can start writing your new script. Be aware that Script Manager inserts some boiler-plate code to make your job easier. It should read something like this:
      Script HelloWorld ()
    If you examine these two lines of code, you will see that the Script Manager has inserted the header and footer for your new script. (Script Manager also inserts several blank lines between the header and footer, but these lines have been removed here to save space.) All you have to do is insert the SayString command and its parameters to make the script complete. Simply type the SayString command and its parameters in between the header and footer as shown next:
      Script HelloWorld ()
      SayString ("Hello World!")
  10. Now try to compile your Hello World script and see if it will run. Simply hit the Control-S key command to compile your script and save your new script at the same time. If you've done everything correctly, you should receive the message "Compile Complete." This message means that the Script Manager detected no syntax errors in your script, and it should run when you hit the bound keystroke.
  11. Now run your script. You can't run the script from within Script Manager because the script was written for Notepad and will work only if and when Notepad has the focus. So, bring Notepad to the focus by hitting Alt-Tab. Then hit the Control-1 key command that you bound to your new script. You should hear JAWS announce "Hello World."
  12. If the compiler gave you an error message when you tried to compile your script, then you have to debug the code. Be sure that the code looks exactly like the example given here and that you have typed all the punctuation marks, including quotes and parentheses. Writing code is unforgiving, and you must spell all the commands correctly and include any necessary punctuation. To help you do so, the JAWS Script Manager includes a pull-down list of all functions that you can use for your scripts. To use it, just begin a new script with Control-E and fill out the New Script dialogue box, which will place you in the code window with the header and footer of your new script. Put your cursor between the header and footer lines and press Control-I, which will bring up the Insert Function list. You can use your arrow keys to scroll through this list and get a quick overview of the building-block functions available to construct your scripts.
  13. A word about documentation. It's important to document your source code fully to make it easier for you and others to read it. You do so by adding explanatory lines to the script and beginning these lines of documentation with a semicolon ";" character, as follows:
      ;Hello World Script
      Script HelloWorld ()
      ;Speaks Hello World when Control-1 is pressed
      SayString ("Hello World!")


Scripting is a recognized and accepted tool in many aspects of the computer world. Microsoft Windows itself has a built-in script language that can be used to run and control applications. The JAWS Script language is not greatly dissimilar, except that it has been specialized for speech and braille output. The JAWS script language can extract and expose information from within application programs and spoon-feed that information to your synthesizer or braille display.

Learning how to script is not for those who consider themselves timid, but it can most definitely be done if the right approach is taken. The Hello World example will allow you to create, save, compile, and run a script. You can do it. You can write scripts, starting out small and working your way up. Not only that, but people who can write JAWS scripts can earn good wages for their work, and organizations are seeking competent scripters to make their information technology infrastructure more accessible. The web site <www.BlindProgramming.com> offers resources for JAWS scripters and computer programmers and is a good place to meet like-minded people. The web site is comprehensive and includes several electronic discussion groups to discuss various aspects of programming. Now that you've gotten your feet wet, maybe it's time to dive into scripting for fun and profit!

Back to top

Access Issues

Sounds of Science

Museums have not traditionally been friendly, accessible places for people who are blind or have low vision. Exhibits are often behind glass; even when they aren't, they can't be touched; descriptive information is generally not provided in accessible formats; and lighting is not designed with people with visual impairments in mind.

The New York Hall of Science, located in Corona Park, Queens, New York, is different. It is a hands-on science museum that is designed to improve people's understanding of science and technology through exhibits, programs, and various media. Its mission is "to convey the excitement and understanding of science and technology to children, families, teachers, and others by galvanizing their curiosity and offering them creative, participatory ways to learn." It accomplishes this mission by offering 200 exhibits, including these:

  • Marvelous Molecules: The Secret of Life, which explores the shared chemistry of all living things, using over two dozen hands-on exhibits
  • Seeing the Light, which allows visitors to examine and experiment with the properties of color, light, and the mysterious mechanisms of human perception
  • SoundSensations: The Inside Story of Audio, which takes the mystery out of understanding common audio wonders like compact disks and tape recorders
  • Realm of the Atom, which presents an innovative approach to the "quantum theory" of how individual atoms behave
  • Hidden Kingdoms: The World of Microbes, which focuses on the millions of microorganisms, the smallest creatures on earth, and how they affect our health and our environment

I remember visiting the Hall of Science on school trips and having sighted classmates and teachers try to explain exhibits to me. This could be a frustrating experience for all involved. Visitors now have other options.

Figure 1: Photograph of woman with a long cane listening to audio tour phone and reaching into a box under a hands-on display showing a model of molecules and photographs of fruit.

Caption: The hands-on Marvelous Molecules exhibit. A hidden odor molecule inside the box is compared by touch to the molecules on display on the outside.

(Credit: Dominick Totino/New York Hall of Science)

Listening to Sound Science

The Hall of Science first offered an audio tour on tape. About a year ago, it began offering a more flexible audio tour. The audiotaped material was digitized and transferred to a solid-state unit that resembles an elongated cordless phone. Each exhibit is labeled with a number in braille and raised large-print letters. Braille instructions are available to get you started. The phones are available at the museum's information desk. A staff member or volunteer greets every busload of students when they arrive and provides an orientation that includes mention of the audio tours.

When you arrive at an exhibit, you read the label posted there, punch the exhibit number into the phone, and listen to a description of the item being shown. For example, typing in the appropriate number produces a comprehensive, compelling description of an amoeba and its lifestyle, as depicted on a slide under a microscope for sighted visitors to see. The descriptions are clear and easy to understand and provide information that is not included in the exhibit's signage. The current device provides a total of about four hours of content.

The major element that is missing from the current system is navigation; a visitor who is blind still needs assistance to get from one exhibit to another. To alleviate this problem, the Hall of Science is testing a new system, called Ping, which was designed by Touch Graphics of New York City. The Ping system is cell-phone-based, so museum visitors will be able to use their own cell phones, rather than have to learn to use an unfamiliar device. All the audio in the current system will be transferred to the new system, and the museum's staff will be able to change messages easily whenever exhibits change or new exhibits are added.

Once the Ping system is fully operational, museum visitors will will be notified of its existence when they arrive and gain access to it by calling a toll-free number. The system will include a help function, and visitors will be able to dial zero to speak to a live person. Each visitor will select a unique sound to use for navigation. When I tested the system, there were about 10 short sounds to choose from, including a bird chirp and a bell. Wireless speakers or beacons will be installed throughout the museum to play the sounds.

To go from point A to point B, you will dial the toll-free number, receive aural instruction on using the system, select a sound, tell the system where you are and select a destination from a menu. Then, when you press a button on your cell phone, your unique sound will be played by the beacon that is the closest to your starting point on the route to your destination. So, to navigate from the museum entrance [to the Realm of the Atom exhibit, you will press 1 on your cell phone to instruct the system to play your sound through beacon 1, listen for your sound, and walk toward its source. You will be able to press 1 repeatedly. Once you reach the first beacon, you press 2 to play your sound from the second beacon along your route. You will repeat the process until you reach your destination.

Navigating the Noise

The Ping system's navigation method is clever. However, much more testing is needed before the system can be implemented. The museum environment is noisy—on the day I visited, there were 400 enthusiastic, boisterous day campers in attendance. In addition, the museum staff make many announcements over a public address system to draw visitors' attention to various events that are scheduled throughout the day. It can be difficult to locate and follow a particular sound in the cacophony. It is also necessary to navigate among other visitors and around the exhibits. A variety of people with visual impairments should be included in the testing, including people with a range of orientation and mobility skills, people with hearing impairments, and children. A wider range of sounds is definitely needed so that people can choose those with which they are comfortable.

Figure 2: Photograph of two women with long canes, one listening at the open end of a tube that is part of a bank of a number of clear, curved tubes and one watching.

Caption: Listening to the SoundSensations exhibit.

(Credit: Dominick Totino/New York Hall of Science)

Hall of Science director Alan Friedman was gracious with his time and clearly stated his staff's commitment to making the museum exhibits accessible to all visitors. They are already leaders in museum accessibility, and other museum officials should take note of what is happening at the Hall of Science and replicate it elsewhere.

For more information, contact Tina Loncaric, New York Hall of Science; phone: 718-699-0005, ext. 342; e-mail: <tloncaric@nyscience.org>.

Back to top

Product Evaluation

Do Cell Phones Plus Software Equal Access? Part 1

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

Our two previous evaluations of cellular telephones, in the May 2003 and July 2003 issues of AccessWorld, exposed serious problems in accessibility among four top-of-the line models. In this and the January 2004 issues, we present two evaluations of two other top cell phones, as well as software that, when installed, provides speech output of screen information. In this article, we evaluate the Nokia 3650 cell phone, combined with the Mobile Accessibility software produced by the European company Code Factory. In the January 2004 issue, we will evaluate the TALKS software from the German company Brand & Gröber Communications, which is loaded onto the Nokia 9290 Communicator, a combination phone and personal digital assistant with a compact QWERTY keyboard. In the January article, we will also compare these two telephone-software combinations—the one discussed here and the one discussed in the January issue. These are the only software products available that speak in English.

The Nokia 3650

Priced at $299, the Nokia 3650 is relatively large by today's standards, measuring 5.1 inches by 2.24 inches by 1 inch and weighing 4.6 ounces. Its large size accommodates an oversized 2-inch by 1.5-inch display, and the phone features many of today's new innovations, such as web surfing, text and multimedia messaging, a digital camera, and even a video recorder with MP4 playback. Menus are navigated with a circular five-way scroll button, and the phone also has its dialing numbers arranged in a circle similar to the old rotary telephones. The phone features the Symbian operating system and 3.4 metabytes of onboard memory, which gives it the capability of downloading and installing software, such as video games and the Mobile Accessibility software.

Figure 1: Photo of the Nokia 3650. The screen menu lists Calls, Messaging, Contacts, Services, and Tools.

Caption: The Nokia 3650 has a circular dial.

Mobile Accessibility Software

Priced at $229 and found at <www.mobileaccessibility.com>, Mobile Accessibility creates a user interface that can assist a person who is blind or has low vision in accessing the features of the phone via keystrokes and synthetic speech output. This software application must be loaded onto the telephone, however, the download and installation process is not accessible.

The Sweet 16

As we reported in our previous cell phone evaluations, before we began our reviews, we surveyed 20 cell phone users who are blind or have low vision to determine which features they would most like to have made accessible. The 16 features that were rated the highest by the respondents became the basis for our evaluation. We looked at whether users would be able to access these features and noted the barriers to accessing them. The evaluation methods we used included

  • measuring the ability to identify and use the keypad tactilely
  • determining the ability to navigate menus
  • noting auditory and vibratory feedback, and
  • assessing the readability of the visual display

The following analysis lists the 16 cell-phone features that the respondents rated as the most important for accessibility, and how the Nokia 3650/Mobile Accessibility combination measured up on each feature.

Box 1: The 16 Most Desirable Accessible Cell Phone Features (in rank order).

Box 1. The 16 Most Desirable Accessible Cell Phone Features (in rank order)

  • 1.  *Keys that are easily identifiable by touch
  • 2.  *Voice output
  • 3.  *Accessible documentation
  • 4.  Battery level indicator
  • 5.  Roaming indicator
  • 6.  Message indicator
  • 7.  Phonebook
  • 8.  Phone lock mode
  • 9.  Keypad lock mode
  • 10.  Power indicator
  • 11.  Ringing or vibrating mode indicator
  • 12.  GPS feature
  • 13.  Signal strength indicator
  • 14.  Ringer volume control
  • 15.  Caller identification
  • 16.  Speed dialing

*Tied for first place.

Keys That Are Easily Identifiable by Touch

Most of the keys on this phone are easily identifiable by touch. However, two keys that are located near the display are flush with the panel and are difficult to find. (Those are two "soft" keys, whose actions change, depending on the text that appears on the screen.) The circular arrangement of the dialing numbers can be difficult to use. Having to count around the circle to find the numbers you want to press can be inefficient and time-consuming. The standard 3-by-4 grid is much more user-friendly for people who are blind or have low vision. In addition, the nib on the 5 key is placed on the top left corner instead of on the middle of the key.

Voice Output

The Mobile Accessibility software creates an interface with voice output to provide access to menus and other screen information, but it does not give a user who is blind access to all the menus or features of the 3650 phone, such as web surfing or voice dialing and speed dialing. Mobile Accessibility must be turned off, and sighted assistance is needed to use these and other features, which must be accessed through the main 3650 interface and menu system.

The voice quality is acceptable, but it is not as clear as that found in today's speech synthesizers, and users may experience frustrating delays in the voice feedback at times. A more serious problem is that Mobile Accessibility often does not come on when the phone's power is switched on, and sighted assistance is needed to activate the software manually.

Accessible Documentation

There is no accessible documentation for the Nokia 3650 phone. The inaccessible alternatives are the print manual and a PDF manual on the Nokia web site <www.Nokia.com>. The Mobile Accessibility software did come with a manual in Microsoft Word format, and it can be downloaded from the Mobile Accessibility web site. However, the manual has many problems. It is not complete, so you need to learn most of the information by trial and error. Also, there are many mistakes in the manual. Furthermore, the manual did not include a description of the buttons on the 3650; instead, it had a picture of the phone with arrows pointing to the various buttons, which is useless for a person who is blind.

Battery Level Indicator

The Nokia 3650 has a battery level indicator on its main screen with six sticks that disappear as the battery level decreases. With Mobile Accessibility active, when you press the pound key briefly, you hear the voice say, "Battery level," followed by "high," "medium," or "low." The 3650 also gives a unique tone every hour for the final three hours of use before the battery finally dies, to alert you that it is time to recharge.

Roaming Indicator

The Nokia 3650 has a visual roaming indicator, but Mobile Accessibility has no audio equivalent.

Message Indicator

Although Mobile Accessibility does not automatically indicate messages, this information can be accessed through the main Nokia 3650 operating system. It has a visual icon to indicate that a voice mail, text, or multimedia message has been received, and it will emit a short tone, along with a vibration, to indicate that a text or multimedia message has been received or that a message came in while you were on another call or while the phone was turned off. You can also use Mobile Accessibility's menu system to navigate to your text and multimedia mailboxes to check for messages. Creating and reading text and multimedia messages are also accessible with Mobile Accessibility.

Phone Book

The phone book, called "Contacts" on this phone, is accessed visually through the Nokia 3650's menu system and can be accessed with Mobile Accessibility. You can assign a shortcut or navigate through the menu system to the Contacts menu and perform most of the contact-management tasks that are available through the 3650 operating system. You can read your contact list; add, delete, or edit contacts; call contacts; and assign unique ring tones to your contacts. You can also record your own ring sounds and assign them to contacts, but you must assign speed-dialing and voice-activated dialing shortcuts for your contacts visually with the regular 3650 menus.

Entering textual contact information, such as a person's name, is done with the alpha-numeric dialing keys, using the letters that accompany the number on each key. For example, you would press the 2 key once for "A," twice for "B," and three times for "C, and you would press the 3 key once for "D," twice for "E," and three times for "F." Other letters are entered in a similar fashion. However, this procedure is not explained in the manual, and the speech echo of the letters entered is sometimes incorrect. For example, when you press the 4 key twice to enter the letter H, Contacts says "G," even though it correctly enters the letter "H" into the edit field.

Phone Lock Mode

The Nokia 3650 has a way to lock the phone with password protection to prevent unauthorized use, but it must be done visually and cannot be accessed via Mobile Accessibility.

Keypad Lock Mode

Both operating systems provide a way to lock the keypad to prevent unintentional dialing while the phone is in a pocket, purse, or briefcase. Mobile Accessibility calls it "Phone Lock," instead of keypad lock, and this option is on the main menu. To unlock the keypad, you simply press two menu keys, so it is not password protected like a true phone lock.

Power Indicator

There is no specific power indicator on this phone. If you have sufficient vision, you can tell whether the phone is on simply by looking to see if the display is on. If you do not have sufficient vision, you can press any number key and listen for a tone, which indicates that the phone is on.

Ringing or Vibrating Mode Indicator

Both operating systems can access what are called "Profiles," which control whether you are to be alerted to an incoming call by tones, beeps, or vibrations. With the General Profile active, the phone will ring; with Meeting active, it will beep and vibrate; with Silent active, it will just vibrate; and with Outdoors active, it will ring louder. The Nokia 3650 has an on-screen icon to indicate which profile is active, but with Mobile Accessibility, you have to navigate to the Profiles menu and choose a profile to know for sure which one is active.

GPS Feature

Some of today's cell phones have a GPS feature that uses global positioning satellites to help emergency services locate you if you make a 911 call, but the Nokia 3650 does not include that feature.

Signal Strength Indicator

The Nokia 3650 has an on-screen icon to indicate the strength of the signal, and Mobile Accessibility can present your signal strength orally. Pressing and holding the pound key for one second will cause Mobile Accessibility to tell you if your coverage is high, medium, low, or unknown or if you have no coverage at all.

Ringer Volume Control

Both operating systems control the volume of the system using their respective menu systems. The volume menu is accessed via Mobile Accessibility's main menu. You can set the volume to low, medium, or high. You can also customize the volume to a level in between these three levels if you like. However, you may want to purchase an optional headset to use Mobile Accessibility in noisy situations.

Caller Identification

When an incoming call is being received, either the caller's number or name is displayed on screen, depending on whether the caller is in your contacts list. Mobile Accessibility will also speak that information if you press the menu key.

Speed Dialing

All tasks involving speed dialing and voice-activated dialing must be done through the 3650 interface and are not accessible via Mobile Accessibility. However, if sighted assistance is used to help program voice and speed-dialing numbers, these numbers can be used with some memorization of the minor keystrokes.

Low Vision Accessibility

The Nokia 3650 has a large 1.5-inch by 2-inch multicolor display with 4,096 colors, but the text on the screen is small, ranging from 10 to 14 points, which is too small for many people with low vision. However, you can use the contrast feature that is accessed through both operating systems to adjust the contrast from normal to high. The keys on this phone are small and have text or icon labels that are too small for most people with low vision to read, but you can use Mobile Accessibility to learn the keys and their functions.

Other Mobile Accessibility Features

Some phone features that are accessible via Mobile Accessibility did not make our Sweet 16 list, but do deserve mention. By pressing and holding the star key for one second, you will hear the time spoken, but it is spoken in 24-hour European time instead of 12-hour U.S. time, and there is a 5-second delay before you hear the time. You will hear the date spoken by pressing and holding the 0 key for one second, but there is a 10-second delay before you hear the date. The Mobile Accessibility menu also features an accessible way to set the time and date and the phone's alarm feature. You can also use Mobile Accessibility to create shortcuts for the various menu items. For example, you can assign the 2 key as the key to access the volume feature instead of having to scroll through the menu system to find it.

There is an item in Mobile Accessibility called Tools, but when you scroll through the menus to open this feature up, there is nothing there. The Mobile Accessibility manual, which actually calls this item Utilities, says to go to the Mobile Accessibility web page to download other applications and functions that can be accessed through this menu item. However, no such applications or functions exist on the Web page.

The Bottom Line

People who are blind or have low vison have been waiting a long time for a cell phone that is truly accessible, but this phone-and-software combination is just one small step toward ending our wait. Although the speaking interface that Mobile Accessibility provides access to has more features than other such devices have, it still does not let you access all the features of the phone that a sighted person can access. The speech synthesis could use some improvement in accuracy, and it is often too slow in responding to commands. The manufacturer of Mobile Accessibility reported that speech synthesis will be available for several more phones in the near future, which we hope will have keypads that are more user-friendly than the rotary-style keys on the 3650. We also hope to see improvements in the future versions of Mobile Accessibility that will provide access to all the phone's features, instead of just to the limited features it now supports. As it now stands, people who are blind or have low vision have to pay more than $500 for this phone-software combination, which gives them access only to the features that a sighted person can access in most of the cell phones that are offered free of charge as part of a service contract.

One thing that this combination does show is that it is possible for a manufacturer to make the features of a cell phone accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. We hope that with more and more phones being offered with operating systems and large memory capacities, we will see some exciting new innovations in the near future.

Manufacturer's Comments

Code Factory

"A new version of Mobile Accessibility, scheduled for release in October 2003, includes a roaming indicator, shortcuts for speed dialing, and a new synthesizer that is more responsive and has a higher speech quality. Future tools will include a calendar, an agenda, calculator, e-mail client, MP3 player, screen magnifier, editor, sound recorder, and a camera program.

"Many blind people have installed Mobile Accessibility themselves. The Bluetooth or infrared port can be activated with a shortcut, and the program can be installed with PC Suite. The program needs to be activated manually only when the phone is plugged in. A sighted person can then tell you once how to activate the software again, and you will know how to do it."

Product Features

Features Nokia 3650
Size (inches) 5 x 2.24 x 1
Weight (ounces) 4.6
Display screen size (inches) 2.0 x 1.5
Phone style Flat/one piece
Fully accessible voice dialing No
Price $528 ($299 for phone, plus $229 software)

Product Features

Nokia 3650

Size (inches): 5 x 2.24 x 1, Weight (ounces): 4.6, Display screen size (inches): 2.0 x 1.5, Phone style: Flat/one piece, Fully accessible voice dialing: No, Price: $528 ($299 for phone, plus $229 software).

Product Information

Product: Nokia 3650

Manufacturer: Nokia Americas, 6000 Connection Drive, Irving, TX 75039; phone: 972-894-4573; Sales: 888-256-2098; web site: <www.nokia.com>. Price: $299, Service available from AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, and others. Check with your local service provider.

Product: Mobile Accessibility

Manufacturer: Code Factory, S.L. Rambla d'Egara, 148, 2–2, 08221 Terrassa (Barcelona), Spain; phone: 0049-171-3797470; e-mail: <sales@mobileaccessiblity.com>; web site: <www.codfact.com/english>. U.S. distributor: Speech and Braille Unlimited LLC, 3708 East 34th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55406; phone: 877-549-3687; e-mail: <info(speechbraille.com>; web site: <www.speechbraille.com>. Price: $229.

Back to top

Access Issues

Chase Expands "Right Relationship" with eATM: A Collaboration in Accessibility

An automatic teller machine (ATM) near New York City's historic Union Square made history for Chase (a division of JP Morgan Chase & Co.) in January 2002 as its first talking ATM. Although the ATM offered only the most basic withdrawal, deposit, and balance information functions at that time, it marked the first product of a collaboration between Chase and AccessWorld Solutions, the accessibility consulting department of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).

That basic ATM has been honed and polished into a state-of-the-art model with many more features, now known as the Chase eATM. These advanced, accessible machines are currently in place at more than 535 Chase locations in New York and New Jersey, and by the end of 2004, eATMs will be in service in all the bank's 1,735 locations in four states—Connecticut and Texas, as well as New Jersey and New York—according to Kristen Batteria, a Chase spokesperson.

Batteria noted that Chase uses the standard 5575, 5886, and P86 ATMs manufactured by NCR, one of the two major manufacturers of these systems (Diebold is the other). Thanks to usability recommendations by the AccessWorld Solutions team, the Chase eATM uses text-to-speech software for the user interface instead of prerecorded text. The synthetic speech is ViaVoice, manufactured by IBM.

The use of text-to-speech software offers greater flexibility than that of digitally recorded WAV files, the other option used at the talking ATMs of some other banks, according to Janina Sajka, member of the AccessWorld Solutions team and director of technology, research, and development at AFB's Governmental Relations Group in Washington, DC. In contrast to WAV files, which a human reader records and can be changed only in a recording studio, text-to-speech software reads the on-screen text aloud through the speech synthesizer, making it easy to keep information up to date. "It's as easy for the bank to change the information and for all its customers to read it as it is for a blind computer user to use a screen reader," Sajka said.

Part of the AFB team's role was to convince the Chase staff that synthetic speech is about "power and accessibility," not eloquence. Sajka noted that despite the loss of voice and diction, synthetic speech offers more functionality and immediate access to up-to-date information for users who are blind or have low vision.

Figure 1: Photograph of a man wearing a headset in front of a Chase e-ATM feeling to the side of the keypad for the headset jack, while a dog guide waits.

Caption: Plugging a headset into the Chase eATM.

Figure 2: Close-up photograph of hands exploring the slots and braille labels on the Chase e-ATM.

Caption: Reading braille directions.

AFB also advised that touch-screen access is, in fact, inaccessible to customers who are blind or have low vision, Batteria said, so the Chase eATM provides a standard keypad with keys that are identified by tactile shapes. In addition, the Chase eATM confirms aloud each command or transaction so the user is aware of what is transpiring.

Chase uses keystrokes to confirm the choice of commands. Use of a headset is optional; the customer can listen to the transaction via a built-in speaker. Headphones provide increased privacy and security, of course. To determine whether a Chase ATM is an eATM, customers need only feel for the headset jack a few inches above and to the right of the keypad. You must slide a metal cover upward to expose the jack.

Figure 3: Photograph of a man wearing a headset receiving cash from the slot under the keypad of a Chase e-ATM.

Caption: The payoff!

How It Works

To activate the speech function at an eATM, you press the key sequence 1, 2, 3, Enter. The Enter key is to the right of the 3 key. The instruction to begin with this sequence is not written on the machines in print or in braille, however. You are then offered the opportunity to adjust the volume and rate of speech. Next you receive a verbal description of the machine's layout, including the location of the slots to insert your ATM card and deposit envelopes, as well as those to receive cash and receipts of your transactions. The eATM walks you through the steps for getting cash, finding out the balance for any account, transferring funds, making payments, changing options (such as the amount of "fast cash" you get), and more. While you wait for your transaction to be completed, the machine entertains you with one of a sequence of advertisements about, for example, planning for retirement or purchasing a credit card for your son or daughter who is going away to college.

A Right to Access

Chase is a recent arrival to the growing list of financial institutions that have made their ATMs accessible to customers who are blind or have low vision since 1999. At that time, the first lawsuit was filed against a bank, charging noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was also when San Francisco attorney Lainey Feingold began a series of negotiations that resulted in Wells Fargo installing the first talking ATM in September 1999. Feingold noted that banks are now required to train staff about the availability and use of accessible ATMs, as well as to publicize their availability and locations.

These are areas in which Chase still needs improvement. The ATM locator on the Chase web site has drop-down menus that are difficult to use with a screen reader, and nowhere does the web site mention which ATM locations are eATMs that use text-to-speech software. Moreover, Chase representatives who answered the toll-free customer service number could not provide information on the location of accessible ATMs for customers who are blind or are visually impaired, although they were familiar with which locations are wheelchair accessible. Batteria confirmed that publicizing the eATMS is an area that still needs work.

Feingold, considered by many in the accessibility community to be the mother of talking ATMs, commended Chase for its eATM development and noted: "It's not a matter of usage; it's a matter of people's rights, of their entitlement to this access." A sign of her success in the accessibility battles is simply told: Until recently, Feingold knew by heart all the locations of talking ATMs at various bank branches throughout the United States. Now there are too many for her to remember; in just four years, the number of accessible ATMs, including Chase's eATMS, has grown to 12,000.

For More Information

For more information on eATMs, contact: Chase; e-mail (public relations): <Kristen.Batteria@jpmchase.com>; phone (customer service): 800-CHASE24; web site: <www.chase.com>.

Back to top

AccessWorld News

State and Federal Sites Scrutinized

State and federal web sites were recently analyzed in terms of disability accessibility standards by a public policy watchdog and a consumer group. In Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy's fourth annual Internet readability survey, which scrutinized 1,600 state and 60 federal web sites, 47% of federal and 33% of state web sites met the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) accessibility standards <www.w3.org>. Researchers discovered only 22% of federal and 24% of state web sites meet the accessibility requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. On the bright side, a customer survey report compiled by ForeSee Results and the University of Michigan suggested that a handful of the 22 government web sites analyzed earned customer satisfaction scores on par with those of popular private-sector sites. The top-scoring federal site is the National Women's Health Information Center's <www.4women.gov>. Other highly ranked federal sites include NASA's <www.nasa.gov>, the Agriculture Department's <www.ers.usda.gov>, and the General Services Administration's <www.firstgov.gov>. (Source: Government Computer News and The Washington Post.)

Verification Tests Pose Access Problems

According to a CNET News.com article by Paul Festa (available: <http://zdnet.com.com/21001104_21022814.html>), online identity verification tests are posing accessibility problems for people who are visually impaired. Designed to stop computer programs from creating new web-based e-mail accounts for the purpose of launching spam, the tests require new users to respond to visual verification questions in order to access services. Yahoo!, Microsoft, and VeriSign currently use the tests, although Yahoo! and Microsoft offer work-arounds for people with visual impairments. The work-arounds do not always grant immediate access to services. VeriSign currently provides no alternative to its visual verification tests. According to the article, two World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative work groups are working on recommendations for accessible verification tests. A solution is expected to be offered in version 2.0 of its Web Accessibility Guidelines, which will be available by the end of 2003.

Free Course in Choosing a Computer

The Hadley School for the Blind offers the course, Access Technology: Beginnings, which is designed to help people with visual impairments or their families decide which hardware, software, and access technology would best suit their computing needs. The free distance education course features four lessons that describe the components of a typical PC system, offer steps for selecting PC access technology, suggest solutions for financing the purchase of equipment, and provide a list of technology companies. For more information, contact: Student Services, Hadley School for the Blind; phone: 800-526-9909 or 847-446-8111; web site: <www.hadley-school.org>.

New Scan-and-Read Software

Kurzweil Education Systems recently released Version 8 of its Kurzweil 1000 scanning and reading software. The new features include two new VoiceText voices, one male and one female, for text-to-speech reading; expanded online research and file retrieval that allows users to search for online magazines and e-books; a full-function talking scientific calculator; and additional support for transferring documents to portable devices like PAC Mate and BookCourier. People who purchase Kurzweil 1000 Version 8 will receive a $40 discount on the BookCourier, a handheld device by Springer Design for listening to electronic text, recorded voice files, and audio files. BookCourier sells for $379. The Kurzweil 1000 Version 8 costs $995. A $100 discount is available on full versions of the reader purchased before December 15, 2003. Upgrades to Version 8 cost $95. For more information, contact: Kurzweil Education Systems; phone: 800-894-5374, extension 603, or 781-276-0600; e-mail: <sales@kurzweiledu.com>; web site: <www.kurzweiledu.com/products_k1000.asp>.

New Digital Talking Book Player

In September 2003, VisuAide released the Victor Reader Classic Plus, its latest Digital Talking Book (DAISY) player. The Reader Classic Plus is a redesign of the Victor Reader Classic and was crafted in response to customer feedback. The new device includes a sturdier CD slot drive, a carrying handle, higher-contrast buttons, a full numeric keypad, longer battery life, and higher-quality speakers. Like its predecessor, the Classic Plus offers the basic navigation features like browsing the table of contents and skipping from section to section or from page to page. The cost is $375. For more information, contact: VisuAide; phone: 888-723-7273 or 819-471-4818; e-mail: <info@visuaide.com>.

Window-Eyes Ships

The 4.5 Standard and Professional versions of GW Micro's screen reader, Window-Eyes, recently began shipping. One of version 4.5's new features is its revamped Internet interface. Upgrades range in cost from $100 to $150. Window-Eyes 4.5 is the first screen reader to offer remote interactive access to Citrix's MetaFrame XP, Microsoft Terminal Services, and Microsoft Remote Desktop's presentation server environments. For more information, contact: GW Micro; phone: 260-489-3671; web site: <www.gwmicro.com>.

Technology Loans

Members of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) can join the Digital Credit Union (DCU) and obtain loans for the purchase of access equipment—that is, any product, device, or building modification designed to assist someone with a disability. Loans ranging from $1,500 to $25,000 or more can be borrowed for up to 72 months with no downpayment, and the borrower need not be the beneficiary of the purchase. A one-year AAPD membership costs $20. For more information, contact: AAPD; phone: 866-241-3200; web site: <www.aapd.com>. DCU; phone: 800-328-8797; web site: <www.dcu.org>.

Back to top


November 11–14, 2003

Accessing Higher Ground: Assistive Technology in Higher Education

Boulder, CO


Disability Services, University of Colorado at Boulder; phone: 303-492-8671; email: <dsinfo@colorado.edu>; web site: <www.colorado.edu/ATconference>.

November 13, 2003

Web Access Seminar for Web Designers

London, England, United Kingdom


Royal National Institute for the Blind; email: <wac@rnib.org.uk>; web site: <www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/publicwebsite/public_seminar_info.hcsp>.

January 14–17, 2004

Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) Conference and Exhibition

Lake Buena Vista, FL


ATIA; phone: 877-OUR-ATIA (687-2842) or 312-673-4838; email: <info@atia.org>; web site: <www.atia.org>.

March 15–20, 2004

19th Annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference

Los Angeles, CA


Center on Disabilities, California State University, Northridge; phone: 818-677-2578; email: <ctrdis@csun.edu>; web site: <www.csun.edu/cod>.

July 13–15, 2004

Sight Village: 8th Annual International Exhibition of Services and Equipment for People with a Visual Impairment

Birmingham, England


Queen Alexandra College; phone: 011-44-(0)121-428-5050; web site: <www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage>.

Back to top

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

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

Related Links

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

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

Learn NVDA

HIMS New All In One Video Magnifier

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

Foundations of Education, Third Edition

Exercise and Fitness Strategies for Older Adults

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

The Why, When and How for Reading eBooks

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

AccessNote Accessible Notetaker App FREE on Android and iOS


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

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