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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 July 2004 Issue  Volume 5  Number 4

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Letters to the Editor

The Key to the Information Age: A Review of Three Screen Readers, Part 2

Find out how Hal, a relative newcomer from the United Kingdom, compares with the competition--Jim Denham, Jay Leventhal, and Heather McComas

The Ballot Ballet: The Usability of Accessible Voting Machines

Will the focus on electronic voting machines as a result of security issues affect the right of visually impaired voters to a private, independent, and dignified voting experience? This usability study of five voting machines gives an indication--Darren Burton and Mark Uslan

You Can Take It with You: A Review of Three Portable CCTVs

The Traveller, the Olympia, and the Pico can all go with you to assist with reading and writing, whether at home, in school, in the supermarket, or at work. Find out which one works best for your needs--Carol Farrenkopf

The Signal Gets Stronger: Three Cell Phones with Speech Output

We continue our coverage of cell phone accessibility by evaluating two options specifically designed for people who are blind or visually impaired in a small but growing group of phones worth considering--Darren Burton

A Library in Your Hand: A Review of the Book Port and the BookCourier

These two handheld e-book readers with speech output are similar in appearance, use the same speech synthesizer, and perform many of the same functions, but they have a few significant differences--Jay Leventhal

How Do I Read Thee? A Librarian Expands the Ways

Find out about a series of projects spearheaded by Lori Bell, director of the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center, designed to put new and emerging reading formats into the hands of patrons who are blind or have low vision--Deborah Kendrick

AccessWorld News


Editor in Chief Jay Leventhal
Contributing Editors Paul Schroeder, Founding Editor
Deborah Kendrick, Senior Features Editor
Crista Earl
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 © 2004 American Foundation for the Blind.

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

Editor's Page

For a person who is blind, a screen reader can be the key to unlocking the door to an almost infinite amount of information and possibilities. By providing access to the Windows operating system, it lets you perform job tasks, read for pleasure, search for almost anything on the web, and so on.

Screen reader developers focus on work-related applications and pack each new version with more and more features. They beta test their products with a small number of experts and take these people's suggestions on improvements and additions.

The truth is, for most people, a screen reader is a very difficult tool to use. These beasts speak their own language ("edit box," "multiselection list box," "graphic 847," "disknag"); require you to know what action to take when they announce something in that language; are shipped with manuals that require knowledge of Windows, programming, and web design; and have been known to stop speaking at the most inopportune times. Good training is hard to find and, for some, difficult to afford.

For a typical sighted person, Windows is intutive. A blank screen with a blinking cursor means start writing. Two buttons labeled "OK" and "Cancel" mean choose one of these. However, the learning curve for a typical screen reader user is very steep. You have to learn the language, learn what to do in response to a number of odd phrases pulled from deep within the Windows operating system, and troubleshoot endlessly. Screen readers have come a long way with regard to providing access to many applications, especially Internet Explorer and word processors. Perhaps in the future, developers should think more about usability and design more friendly products for beginners, instead of concentrating on those of us who have already learned what to do when we encounter a static box or some other bizarre object from deep within the shadowy world of Windows.

In this issue, I review, along with Jim Denham and Heather McComas of AFB's Technology and Employment Center (AFB TECH) in Huntington, West Virginia, version 6.01 of Dolphin's Hal screen reader. We evaluate Hal's documentation, as well as its performance in Microsoft Word, Excel, and on the web. Find out how this UK-based relative newcomer to the U.S. market compares with the competition.

Darren Burton and Mark Uslan, also from AFB TECH, provide an update on the issues surrounding accessible electronic voting machines. Some researchers have raised significant questions about security, questioning the reliability of electronic voting and demanding that the machines produce paper ballots as well as electronic ones. As the 2004 presidential election looms nearer, manufacturers are racing to add the ability to provide a paper trail to their machines. We give an update on the machines and describe a usability study involving people who are blind or visually impaired.

Dr. Carol Farrenkopf, Coordinator of Toronto District School Board Vision Services, evaluates three portable CCTVs: the Traveller, by the Tieman Group; the Olympia, by Telesensory; and the Pico, also by Telesensory. The Traveller and the Olympia are lightweight, compact CCTVs, while the Pico is a handheld device that can fit in a pocket or purse. Farrenkopf observed students and adults using the three units in a variety of locations--in school, at home, in the supermarket, at work. Read her excellent review to find out which unit will work best for your needs.

Darren Burton continues our coverage of cell phone accessibility by evaluating the Owasys 22C phone developed in Spain and the TALKS software from Brand & Gröber Communications installed on the Nokia 3650 and 3660 phones. The Owasys 22C is a screenless cell phone designed specifically for people who are blind or visually impaired, and thus provides speech access to its features. TALKS is a screen reader that allows a person who is blind or visually impaired to access nearly all the functions of the phone on which it is installed. Read about two options in a small but growing group of phones worth considering.

I review the Book Port from American Printing House for the Blind and the BookCourier from Springer Design, two small, handheld e-book readers with speech output. These products are both descendants of the Road Runner from Ostrich Software, a text file reader that is no longer available. The two products are similar in appearance, use the same speech synthesizer, and perform many of the same functions and both require a USB connection to your computer to import files. This article points out the differences that will help you decide which product to purchase.

Deborah Kendrick describes a series of five projects designed to put new and emerging reading formats into the hands of library patrons who are blind or visually impaired, headed by Lori Bell, director of the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center, a subregional library within the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped network of cooperating libraries. All the projects focus on formats and devices used for reading Digital Talking Books. Projects have included offering patrons books from the online collection at Audible.com to evaluating seven Digital Talking Book players to this summer's project designed to put Digital Talking Books in several formats into patrons' hands and find out what they prefer. If you want to read in the formats of the future, contact Lori Bell and her staff.

Jay Leventhal, Editor in Chief

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Letters to the Editor

Colour Detector Keeps Going . . .

I was delighted to see the color identifier I personally use, the Cobolt Speechmaster Colour Detector, included in the well-written article, "What Color is Your Pair of Shoes? A Review of Two Color Identifiers" (AccessWorld, May 2004). I take issue with only one statement in the article, and that is the assertion that the Cobolt Speechmaster Colour Detector's overall shape is somewhat awkward to handle. I have fairly small hands, and have no difficulty with it at all. It is longer than it is flat, and snugs nicely up against most surfaces whose color you are attempting to determine. If I had any redesign suggestions for Cobolt, I'd suggest that the lens cap or cover should be in some way attached to the unit. I carry this very reliable device with me in all my travels, and have not yet had to replace the 9-volt battery I got with it when I purchased it last summer in the United Kingdom.

One does need to take care to bring it in carry-on bags instead of packing it for travel. I once put it into my suitcase and somehow during travel it got turned on and announced "white" probably for the duration of a 5-hour flight from Seattle to Washington, DC. But even with all that chatter, I'm still on the same battery!

Marlaina Lieberg

The Good, the Bad, and the Fixable

I had just a few comments regarding your outstanding March issue. Thank you so much for making this available to everyone at no cost. I look forward to every word and read it cover to cover (if it had covers).

First, if you include a link to a manufacturer's site, as you did with the Roomba, this should be a fully clickable link so that it's not necessary to copy it into the browser just to go there. I would also like to see a couple of symbols at the top of each article so that one could use the search feature of their screen reader to navigate to the start of each article when reading the entire issue on one page. This is for those not comfortable navigating by web page headings.

In your Editor's Page, you mentioned that the virtual wall that keeps the Roomba from falling downstairs isn't accessible. I wanted to point out as an owner of one that you don't need the virtual wall to keep the Roomba from falling downstairs. This ability is built into the Roomba itself. The virtual wall is just a little box that shoots out an infrared beam that keeps the Roomba from crossing a barrier like an invisible wall to keep it from going into another room where you don't have a door you can close. The Pro model comes with two of these. The virtual wall only has one on-and-off switch, so it's easy to memorize the state of the switch.

In "Getting Your Forms in Shape," the authors mention the difficulty in using JAVA-scripted combo boxes. Newer versions of screen readers like JAWS and Window-Eyes have implemented a work-around for the problem of being taken to a link when you highlight your first choice. Usually, after you enter forms mode on a drop-down or combo box, as they are called, Alt-Down Arrow will open the list box and Alt-Up Arrow will close it. This way you can open the list, then arrow down to what you want, then close it and not be misdirected.

Allowing manufacturers to comment at the end of reviews is a nice touch. You might want to consider labeling prices of products given as suggested retail, street price, price paid, and so on, to minimize confusion and keep people from being upset if they paid more or less for a given product.

In the category of things to fix for this issue, I would only ask that you give an addendum to the review of the ALVA MPO and hold it to some of the same standards you used for the other cell phones in regard to the 16 features your experts felt were important to blind cell phone users. If this isn't possible at least a comment from the authors is warranted describing its behavior when receiving an incoming call—as in how much information is immediately available when you answer a call in speech or braille with the current version of the software; also the types of rings available and whether the volume of different tones can be set independently in the settings menu as in a traditional cell phone. It is very important to know if the name or number of the person calling could be spoken as the call comes in and how this Caller ID information can be delivered. This was a significant omission from the article.

Thanks again for an outstanding new resource on the web.

Reginald George

Darren Burton replies:

During the evaluation of ALVA's MPO, the decision was made not to compare the product to the "sweet 16" features. This set of features, which was developed to evaluate mainstream cell phones, contained features that simply did not apply to the MPO. Since the MPO is not a mainstream cell phone, evaluating the product on items such as keys that are easily identifiable by touch makes little sense. Other "sweet 16" features, such as phone book and signal strength indicator, were discussed within the article. Admittedly, very little information on receiving a standard call was included in the product evaluation. The author apologizes for this oversight.

When the phone module of the MPO is switched on and a call is received, the product plays a ring tone. MPO users can choose from approximately 20 different predefined ring tones. Advanced users can also create their own tones, as these tones are simply WAV (Windows audio) files stored on the product. The volume at which these ring tones are played is determined by the current volume of the MPO's speech synthesizer. While this tone is being played, the caller's number is displayed in braille. If the phone module of the MPO happens to be off when a call is received, the caller will be given the opportunity to leave a voice mail message. Except for listing this caller's number in the missed calls log, the MPO gives no indication that the call was received or a voice mail message is waiting.

The Technology Gap

As I read the article on JAWS and Window-Eyes, ("The Key to the Information Age: A Review of Three Screen Readers, Part 1") I found myself growing more and more frustrated. What was eating at me about an article that was clearly written and interesting?

First, a big problem among blind people, in my opinion (and, I should say, based on my experience) is that there is a large and growing gap between people who fully understand the language of technology and those of us who are using technology on a regular basis, but just enough to do our work or just enough to exchange e-mail. It's like the millions of people who rent, buy, and play/record video tapes, but who struggle with the clever features of their machines. I can read about the things JAWS and Window-Eyes can do. I can listen to the fabulously boring files on the CD that comes with JAWS 5.0, but unlike you, I don't get much from it. The language is not clear. In fact it's not unlike reading any niche material, financial pages, sewing machine manuals, stereo miking tip sheets, and so on. It's cryptic and loaded with jargon.

OK, it's my problem, but reading about all the neat things JAWS "can" do remains academic all too often for me as compared with actually learning to use the rather random collection of JAWS fixes that define upgrades.

You guys write about a cure for a thing that sends me round the bend about JAWS, but I am far from certain how to make that remedy happen for me. And not only that, I find basic things going nuts while I work, like JAWS going silent for no reason, like having to unload and reload after joining the office network, like all the things that make web sites hard to use that are never mentioned as having fixes, assuming I could apply the fixes once I heard that somehow, some way, they exist.

Like so many technical or skill-based things in our lives, the folks who understand what's happening generally enjoy fooling around until they find solutions to vexing problems with software. Many of us just want the stuff to work better, and I find it difficult to obtain experience-based knowledge to keep me progressing right along with my screen reader.

When articles like "The Key to the Information Age" are written, I wonder who they are pitched to? I mean, I am already committed to buying a screen reader, so what possible reason would I have to hear what The Other one can and can't do? Or maybe it's intended for people who are just beginning down the road toward technological familiarity. Would such a person, a rookie now, have the slightest idea what the significance of the differences between screen readers mean in their lives?

A thing that might help articles like this one contribute to the growth of consumer wisdom would be to keep the straight-across comparison going. You tried, but soon you were caught on the different problems each screen reader addresses, so a person would have trouble knowing how the other one managed a problem.

People generally like the screen reader they use and say bad things about the other one. It's usually based on very little information. All screen reading is way too complex, dealing with seemingly infinite configurations. Our screen readers keep us in the game, but I find that only the cool guys know or care about the differences between $2,000 programs.

Mike Cole

The Editor replies:

Our aim is to review each product's performance objectively, and to point out their strengths and weaknesses. Freedom Scientific and GW Micro each monitor additions to the other's screen reader, and quickly add the same features to their own product. This is good, because we have to have high-quality screen readers. However, the learning curve for a new screen-reader user is extremely steep, requiring knowledge of Windows commands, the learning of a new vocabulary used by screen readers, and the learning of the product's features. If the companies keep hearing this from their users, perhaps they will focus more of their efforts on usability and training.

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Product Evaluation

The Key to the Information Age: A Review of Three Screen Readers, Part 2

In the May issue of AccessWorld, (see "The Key to the Information Age: A Review of Three Screen Readers, Part 1,") we reviewed Freedom Scientific's JAWS for Windows 5.0 and GW Micro's Window-Eyes 4.5, the two most popular screen readers in the United States. As we noted then, because screen readers make computers usable for people who are blind or have low vision, by serving as the interface between them and the operating system and its applications, their importance continues to grow.

This article completes the evaluation, reviewing Hal version 6.01, the screen reader from Dolphin. Dolphin is based in the United Kingdom and has a sizable user base there and in Europe, but Hal is a relative newcomer in the United States. Hal is also the screen reader component of Dolphin's Supernova, which provides an integrated screen-magnifier and screen- reader suite of products. We evaluated how well Hal performed in Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word, and Excel. Testing was conducted on Pentium 4 computers running at 1.2 GHz or at 866 MHz with 256 MB of RAM running Windows 2000. We tested braille output using a Focus braille display from Freedom Scientific and an ALVA Satellite 544 display.

Getting Started and Getting Help

Hal's manual is available in print, on a digital Talking Book CD, and online. A braille quick-reference guide is included. You can also press a hot key while using the program and hear a list of specific commands for the application you are using.

The Hal installation involves installing the screen reader; Dolphin's synthesizer access manager (SAM); and Orpheus, Dolphin's software speech synthesizer. You are then prompted to install the company's digital Talking Book program, which you need to read Hal's manual in DAISY format. Later, you can add other synthesizers, including IBM's ViaVoice, which is on a CD in the Hal package.

Hal Control Panel

You make basic changes to Hal's configuration in the Hal Control Panel. The Control Panel opens automatically when you enter Windows. There are tab controls for speech settings and braille settings. Speech settings include volume; speed; voice and language; and verbosity, which controls the amount of prompts and tips that are spoken. Braille settings include grade of braille, whether or not to track the application's cursor, whether to show the cursor on the braille display, and so forth.

Some of the items in the Control Panel have submenus that you access by pressing Enter. These submenus have OK and Cancel buttons, but the main Control Panel does not. The main Control Panel stays open, and you can Alt-tab to it or minimize it. Some settings, such as the speed of the speech, can also be changed directly from the keyboard.

The SAM allows you to modify your selection of synthesizer and braille display. It is accessed from the Hal Control Panel or from the Start menu.

Many Hal commands involve pressing the Caps Lock key along with other keys, often on the number pad. Doing so avoids conflicts with Windows commands. If you are familiar with JAWS commands, you can choose a JAWS command set while using Hal.

Configuring Hal

Hal users have many configuration options to customize the screen reader for specific applications. These options can be divided into three types of files: user configuration files, situation files, and map files. User configuration files, or simply configuration files, allow you to save settings related to a specific application. Characteristics, such as speech rate and verbosity settings (which control how much information is announced and how this information is presented), can be saved in a configuration file. With Hal's powerful customizable verbosity settings, you can store a vast amount of information in these files.

Situation files are similar to configuration files. The difference is that situation files can be automatically loaded for a specific setting within an application, such as a particular dialogue box. So, for example, if you want Hal to use "speak all punctuation" while in the Open dialogue box of Internet Explorer, you can set a situation file to perform this function. When the Open dialogue has focus, Hal automatically uses these settings. Once this dialogue is closed, Hal reverts to the configuration file for that particular application.

Hal's map files perform many of the same functions as JAWS script files and the advanced features of Window-Eyes set files. Using map files, you can configure Hal to work with a specific application. Activities, such as monitoring certain portions of the screen and tracking various types of focus, can be performed using map files. Map files can be created only with Hal Professional, which is intended for trainers and users who will be customizing Hal to work with specific applications, but can be used by either version of the screen reader.

Hal's verbosity settings allow you to choose from one of four predefined verbosity schemes or to create your own. Defining what information and controls will be spoken in a user-defined verbosity scheme is a fairly simple process. Hal provides a list of over 50 different types of controls that can be switched on or off. The screen reader also offers the ability to switch between verbosity schemes on the fly through the use of a hot key. When working in a specific application, it is helpful to be able to switch quickly to a particular verbosity scheme to determine what information will be spoken.

Braille Access

Hal includes support for many of the most popular refreshable braille displays. Configuring the software to work with the display was time-consuming and not extremely intuitive. You must specify what display is to be used in both the SAM and the Hal Control Panels. This process will confuse some users because it is not well documented. We also noticed that several displays were improperly named. When we installed the Focus44, for example, Hal referred to this display as the Blazie Engineering Focus.

Once Hal is properly configured, it offers extensive braille access to most applications. Similar to the speech settings, braille users can choose from several predefined verbosity schemes to determine how much information will be displayed. You can also configure your own schemes in the Hal Control Panel. Several other options, such as the ability to use status cells on any display, make Hal's braille support powerful.

Microsoft Word

Hal read documents in a predictable manner in Microsoft Word. The attributes of documents, such as font and style, were easily read through the use of hot keys and can be announced automatically. We initially encountered significant problems when we attempted to spell check a document. Hal would not spell out the misspelled word; instead, it would only read the sentence containing the misspelled word. There was no way of knowing what word was misspelled until we tabbed over to the suggestion list. We mentioned this problem to Dolphin and were sent an updated map file that corrected the problem. Users with Internet access can always obtain the latest map files through Hal's Internet Update feature.

Hal properly read tables within a Microsoft Word document. When the focus was placed on a new cell, the cells column or row number was spoken. Moving between cells was accomplished using the arrow keys. For cells that contained little or no data, moving was not an issue. However, cells that contained a significant amount of data required pressing the Control-Right arrow several times to move to the next cell to the right.

Internet Explorer

Hal 6.01 does not reformat web pages into a word processor-like layout, as other screen readers do. Instead, it presents the web page as it is written. When you select a link, Hal says "Hypertext, downloading frame." Once the web page has fully downloaded, Hal reads the page's title, followed by the first line of the page. To read the entire page, you press the Plus key on the number pad. To stop reading and move the focus to the last word read, you press Plus again. There are also commands to skip to the first text on the page and to skip to the first control on the page. When you arrive on a web page, Hal is in Live Focus. You can tab from link to link. You switch to Virtual Focus, which is similar to JAWS Cursor Mode, by pressing the Minus key on the number pad.

The Hal Find command is F3. You type in a text string, and Hal searches the entire web page. We found that a search could take up to 10 seconds, depending on how complicated a web page was.

Links List

Pressing CapsLock-1 brings up a list of links on a web page. You navigate by pressing the first letter of the link or article title that you wish to read. The list can be arranged in the order in which the links appear on the page or alphabetically. CapsLock-2 brings up a list of headings, and CapsLock-3 presents a list of frames on the page. For example, at the New York Times web site <www.nytimes.com>, the title of the article on a page is usually the only heading on the page. So, by using the headings list, you can jump immediately to the title of the article and skip over many repetitive links.

Filling Out Forms

You activate Hal's interactive mode, used for entering text in a form, by pressing Enter. Unlike other screen readers, Hal turns the interactive mode off when you tab to the second control on a form. So, to enter your user name and password, you move to the Edit box for user name, hit Enter, type your user name, tab to the password field, hit Enter, and type your password. It can be difficult to remember to activate the interactive mode multiple times.

In both Windows 98 and Windows 2000, Hal crashed a significant number of times when multiple Internet Explorer windows opened. Of course, multiple windows open regularly, including those with pop-up ads.

Microsoft Excel

Hal 6.01 accurately read worksheets in Microsoft Excel. Cell values and cells with formulas were consistently identified and read. Switching between Hal's three default verbosity levels dramatically affected the amount of information spoken while moving through a worksheet. Using a high-verbosity setting caused Hal to read the cell coordinate, the cell's contents, and the background color of the cell. Usually, when the color of a cell is changed, it is the foreground color that is altered. The color is often changed to highlight a particular cell or group of cells. Hal did not detect when the foreground color was changed. Hal's medium verbosity simply read the cell's coordinates and the cell's contents. This was the most useful setting. When we used low verbosity, only the cell's content was spoken. For cells that do not contain any data, this can be confusing. Dialogues, such as the formula-selection dialogue, were read with few problems. Reading the equation that made up a formula was accomplished with one of Hal's custom action keys. Although it was possible to determine this keystroke using Key Describe mode, this keystroke could not be found in any documentation that was shipped with the product.

Log-on Screen

One of the new features in Hal version 6.01 is the ability to read log-on screens in operating systems, such as Windows 2000 and Windows XP. When you install the product, you are prompted to indicate if you would like to have Hal start automatically every time the computer is started. One would think that answering Yes to this prompt would activate the talking log-on feature. This is not the case; it simply means that Hal will start when Windows is loaded and you reach the desktop. The talking log-on feature must be activated within the Hal Control Panel. Once activated, Hal does speak while you are logging on. Error messages, however, which sometimes pop up immediately after the log-on is submitted, are not spoken. Having access to the text of these error messages can be beneficial to someone who is attempting to troubleshoot a system. Although Hal allows its users to choose among a variety of speech synthesizers, the only speech available at start-up is the Orpheus speech synthesizer. If another synthesizer is selected as Hal's default speech synthesizer, the software automatically switches to Orpheus during the log on.

The Bottom Line

Hal is a powerful part of Dolphin's Supernova screen magnifier–screen reader. It has been around for many years and contains the tools to make it work well with many applications and in myriad situations. Hal's main drawback is that it requires the user to go through a series of steps to change even minor settings that can be changed in JAWS and Window-Eyes in one or two steps or toggled with a hot key. Hal's strengths are how well it integrates speech and braille access and how configurable it is by a trained technician or power user.

Manufacturer's Comments


"Hal's unique 'Update from Internet' facility allows Dolphin's users not only to keep abreast of product updates, but also to automatically download and install an ever-increasing range of configuration files for hundreds of popular applications. Intermittent Internet Explorer problems experienced with the initial rollout of Hal version 6 were found to be due largely to older operating systems running older versions of Internet Explorer and have now been corrected in Hal version 6.02, which is due for imminent release. Users of Hal version 6 will be able to download this update free of charge simply by choosing the option 'Update from Internet' from Hal's control panel.

"A new feature included in the free Hal version 6 update also provides the industry's best braille and speech access to thin-client environments, such as Citrix MetaFrame and Windows Terminal Server, and sister products Lunar, LunarPlus, and Supernova are currently the only assistive technology products to provide screen magnification and Java focus tracking in this environment."

Product Features

Features JAWS 5.0 Window-Eyes
Hal 6.01
Braille support Yes Yes Yes
Multiple synthesizer languages Yes Yes Yes
Reads tables correctly in Word Yes No Yes
Reads tables correctly on the web Yes Yes Yes
Navigates by headings on the web Yes Yes Yes
Citrix Metaframe support No Yes Yes
Microsoft Remote Desktop support No Yes No

Product Features

Feature: JAWS 5.0; Window-Eyes 4.5; Hal 6.01

Braille support: JAWS: Yes; Window-Eyes: Yes; Hal: Yes.

Multiple synthesizer languages: JAWS: Yes; Window-Eyes: Yes; Hal: Yes.

Reads tables correctly in Word: JAWS: Yes; Window-Eyes: No; Hal: Yes.

Reads tables correctly on the web: JAWS: Yes; Window-Eyes: Yes; Hal: Yes.

Navigates by headings on the web: JAWS: Yes; Window-Eyes: Yes; Hal: Yes.

Citrix Metaframe support: JAWS: No; Window-Eyes: Yes; Hal: Yes.

Microsoft Remote Desktop support: JAWS: No; Window-Eyes: Yes; Hal: No.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Feature: JAWS 5.0; Window-Eyes 4.5; Hal 6.01

Documentation: JAWS: 4; Window-Eyes: 4; Hal: 3.

Word 2002: JAWS: 4; Window-Eyes: 3.5; Hal: 4.

Excel 2002: JAWS: 4.5; Window-Eyes: 3; Hal: 4.

Internet Explorer 6.0: JAWS: 4.5; Window-Eyes: 4.5; Hal: 3.5.

Braille support: JAWS: 4; Window-Eyes: 4.5; Hal: 4.

Overall rating: JAWS: 4.5; Window-Eyes: 4.5; Hal: 4.

Product Information

Product: Hal 6.01

Manufacturer: Dolphin Computer Access, 60 East Third Avenue, Suite 301, San Mateo, CA 94401; phone: 866-797-5921 or 650-348-7401; e-mail: <info@dolphinusa.com>; web site: <www.dolphinusa.com>.

Price: Hal Standard Edition (runs under Windows XP Home and Professional editions, Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 98), $795; Hal Professional $1,095.

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Product Evaluation

The Ballot Ballet: The Usability of Accessible Voting Machines

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

Ever since the 2000 election fiasco, when the term hanging chad became a household word, industry has been rushing to design and build the best voting machine, one that is usable by everyone, including people who are blind or have low vision. In October 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which is intended to modernize the country's election processes. One important part of HAVA is that it provides money for states to purchase electronic voting systems with the requirement that they be accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.

Photo of man trying to insert a card into a table-top machine with a large touch screen.

Caption: Voting with the Accu-Vote TS.

In our previous evaluation of voting machines ("Cast a Vote by Yourself: A Review of Accessible Voting Machines") in the November 2002 issue of AccessWorld, we judged four machines on the market according to how they measured up to the following criteria: • Speech quality and whether the speech is produced via a recording of a human voice or synthetic speech,
• Clarity of both printed and spoken instructions,
• Controls that are identifiable tactilely or have braille,
• A means of avoiding undervoting (not choosing a candidate for a contest) or overvoting (choosing more than one candidate for a contest),
• Users' control of the font size and screen contrast,
• The ability to use visual and audio voting simultaneously,
• Overall ease of use.

In general, we found that the four voting machines were a tremendous improvement over voting with assistance from friends or poll workers, but there is certainly room for further improvement, especially in the areas of low vision accessibility and overall ease of use.

Security Issues

Since 2002, a new issue has emerged: Can these new electronic voting machines provide sufficient security to prevent election fraud and, at the same time, safeguard the anonymity of a secret vote? Can a voting machine provide privacy, security, and verification and still be accessible to all voters? Recently, several researchers and academics have called into question the security, accuracy, and reliability of many of the electronic voting systems that are currently in use across the country. They have claimed that these systems miscount election results and that they can be easily "hacked" by unscrupulous officials to alter the outcome of elections. To read more about the controversy from the perspective of those with a decidedly negative stance toward electronic voting, you can visit the web site <http://www.BlackBoxVoting.com>.

This controversy has prompted a groundswell of support for requiring these electronic voting systems to produce a paper output of each voter's marked ballot. The idea is that this paper output could then be used by the voter to verify his or her choices and by election officials to verify the electronic results in the case of a recount. The support for what has been called an "auditable paper trail" has reached Washington, and a bill is making its way through Congress that would require this paper trail. This paper output would certainly be of no use to a voter who is blind or has low vision, and one could argue that the requirement of paper output would add more complexity and opportunity for error. However, this paper trail may soon become a reality, so how will voters who are blind or have low vision be affected? Will this call for an "auditable paper trail" affect our right to a private, independent, and dignified voting experience?

When we published our initial evaluation in November 2002, none of the machines we evaluated had the ability to produce paper output of a marked ballot. So we contacted the manufacturers to see what they were doing to face this new challenge. One manufacturer had already instituted a paper-trail system and had it certified. All the other manufacturers were working toward a solution. An interesting approach was brought to our attention by IVS, a Louisville, Kentucky, company that brought its Inspire system to our laboratory. The Inspire uses speech output to guide a voter who is blind or has low vision, who uses a telephone-style keypad to navigate and mark the ballot. The system actually physically marks a paper ballot that is then fed through an optical scanning system to count and record the vote. One other interesting and helpful feature of the Inspire system is that IVS has designed a way for voters to use their own telephones to call in ahead of time to read the ballot and practice voting with the system.

Now that the 2004 election is drawing closer, we wanted to get a better sense of what really may happen in the voting booth on election day. Will voters who are blind or have low vision be asked to vote on machines that are short on accessibility features and difficult to use? Will this be a banner year for accessible voting, or will we be moving from chads to worse? In this article, we report on our observations of users who tried out five voting machines, including one that was not part of the previous evaluation. Our objective was to get an idea of how much help users may or may not need to cast their votes.

A Usability Study

In December 2002, 13 people who are blind or have low vision came to the AFB TECH lab in Huntington, West Virginia, to test the following electronic voting machines: the iVotronic from Election Systems and Software, the AVC Edge from Sequoia Voting Systems, the eSlate from Hart InterCivic, the Vote-Trakker from Avante International Technology, and the AccuVote TS from Global Diebold. Although there are at least eight other electronic voting systems on the market, these five machines represent over 95% of the systems that are currently in use.

For each machine, the users were given a basic orientation tour, similar to one that would be provided by a poll worker at a voting precinct. Then, they were given the following tasks to accomplish: vote in three contests, review the ballot and change the selection for one contest, and cast a final ballot. The users with low vision were asked to test each voting machine twice: once using the visual interface and once using the audio interface; those who were blind were asked to test each voting once, using the audio interface. Instances of problems the users were having were noted, and assistance was provided as needed. All tests were videotaped. After the tests, each user was questioned as to what aspects of the voting machines he or she liked and disliked.

The Participants

Of the 13 users who participated in the tests of voting machines, 8 had low vision and 5 were blind. The 13 users ranged in age from 19 to 70; 5 were retired, 3 were students, 3 were unemployed, and 2 were white-collar workers. The users were highly educated: 1 had a master's degree, 4 had bachelor's degrees, 3 had associate's degrees, 2 had high school degrees and had taken some college courses, and the remaining 3 had high school degrees and had not taken any college courses. All but 1 of the users had at least some experience using a personal computer, and 3 had previously voted using an electronic voting machine (they all had used the iVotronic).

The Voting Machines

The iVotronic

The iVotronic uses a touch-screen display measuring 9.75 inches by 7.25 inches, and the unit has four large control buttons that voters who are visually impaired can use to navigate and mark the ballot (see Figure 1).

Photo of the iVotronic

Caption: Figure 1. The iVotronic.

The iVotronic uses a hierarchical menu structure. To navigate through the ballot, the voter is initially placed in the top level, or contest level, of the hierarchy, then uses two control buttons (Up and Down) to move up and down from contest to contest, and presses the diamond-shaped Select button to enter a race. The voter is now in the bottom, or candidate level, of the hierarchy and again uses the Up and Down buttons to move from candidate to candidate. The voter then presses the Select button to choose the candidate of his or her choice. If a voter scrolls past the last candidate in a particular contest, he or she is taken up a level in the ballot hierarchy and is placed in the next contest. To cast his or her final ballot, the voter presses the oval-shaped Vote button at the top of the display screen.

AVC Edge

The AVC Edge uses a touch-screen display measuring 9 inches by 12 inches (see Figure 2). Voters who are visually impaired use a handheld control box that has four control buttons (not shown in the accompanying photo) to navigate and mark the ballot.

Photo of the AVC Edge.

Caption: Figure 2. The AVC Edge.

The AVC Edge uses a hierarchical system that is similar to the iVotronic interface. However, unlike the iVotronic, it does not automatically take you to the next contest when you scroll past the last candidate of a contest.


The eSlate voting machine is not a touch-screen unit, so both voters who are sighted and those who are blind or have low vision use the same push-button interface: five control buttons and a round Select wheel that the voter rotates to scroll through the ballot (see Figure 3). The eSlate display screen measures 7.75 inches by 10 inches.

Photo of the eSlate.

Caption: Figure 3. The eSlate.

This machine uses a straight linear ballot. Rotating the Select wheel clockwise one notch brings you to the title of the first contest. Subsequent rotations scroll through the candidates for that race, and pressing the Enter button makes or cancels a selection. Scrolling past the last candidate in a particular race takes the voter to the title of the next race and then to the candidates for that race.


The Vote-Trakker (see Figure 4) is a portable touch-screen unit with speech output that is generated via synthetic speech, rather than via a recording of a human voice, as is used by the other machines. The touch screen is 11 inches wide by 8.5 inches high. The interface used by voters who are blind or have low vision is a modified QWERTY computer keyboard. The Escape, Minus, Enter, and Control keys on the four corners of the keyboard are the primary controls, and these keys are raised about twice as high as the other keys for easy identification. The speech output is produced by the IBM ViaVoice TTS Runtime speech synthesizer, and the voter is able to adjust the voice's gender, rate, and pitch.

Photo of the Vote-Trakker

Caption: Figure 4. The Vote-Trakker.

When voting begins, the Vote-Trakker reads the title of the first contest, followed by the names of the candidates. There is a pause after each candidate's name, during which the voter may press the Enter button to choose that candidate. If a voter misses a candidate, he or she can use the arrow keys to scroll back, but if the voter waits too long after the name of the last choice is read, "Abstain" is entered for that contest, and the voter is taken to the next contest. After the final race is completed, the machine reads a review page with the choices that have been made. After each contest is read, the voter has a preset time to press Enter to go back and change the selection for that contest.

AccuVote TS

The AccuVote TS (see Figure 5) uses a touch-screen display measuring 9 by 12 inches. It features a standard 12-digit telephone-style keypad for voters who are visually impaired to use to navigate and mark the ballot.

Photo of the AccuVote TS

Caption: Figure 5. The AccuVote TS

The AccuVote TS uses a linear ballot style and provides audio instructions throughout the voting process. The user presses the 4 and 6 keys on the keypad to move backward and forward through the ballot and the 5 key to select or deselect a candidate. Other keys on the keypad are used for features, such as repeating instructions and casting a final ballot.

What We Found

We encountered an unexpected problem with the visual displays of all but one of the five machines. The 8 people with low vision were able to vote visually only with the Vote Trakker because of its large screen font and its use of contrasting colors. The font size and contrast on the remaining four voting machines were not sufficient to enable the 8 users with low vision to vote visually. Also, on two machines, the visual display goes blank during audio voting, so voters with low vision are not able to both see and hear the ballot simultaneously.

When they tested the audio voting features, almost all 13 users needed at least some assistance with each of the voting machines; in fact, most users needed assistance many times. The most assistance was required in tasks associated with scrolling through the ballot hierarchies of the voting machines. The task that was the most difficult on all the machines was changing voting selections for one of the contests. The number of the 13 users who required assistance on this task on each machine was as follows: iVotronic: 7 users, Vote-Trakker: 11 users, eSlate: 8 users, AVC Edge: 10 users, AccuVote TS: 8 users.

In addition, on each machine, certain tasks were more difficult than others. On the iVotronic and the AVC Edge, the most help was needed for entering the first contest. On the Vote-Trakker, the most help was needed for setting the synthetic speech controls. On the AccuVote TS and the eSlate, the most help was needed for casting the final vote. The users said that the most important aspect of the voting experience was overall ease of use, especially the ease of moving through the ballot. They also asked for simple instructions and a button that would provide context-sensitive help.

The Bottom Line

The participants in this study were highly educated, and most were users of personal computers. Nevertheless, they had difficulty using these machines without assistance. The task of changing a vote before casting the final ballot was the most difficult to accomplish without assistance in all the voting machines, but other tasks, specific to each machine, were also difficult. The logical recommendation to manufacturers of voting machines is to focus on streamlining and simplifying the menu structure in their products and improving instructions to users, paying special attention to the ease of moving through ballot hierarchies.

With regard to the needed improvements in accessibility that were uncovered in this study, one major recommendation stands out: Users with low vision need a visual display with enhanced screen characteristics—specifically a high-contrast display with the option of reverse polarity and zoom capability. In addition, users with low vision should be able to use visual and audio voting simultaneously, instead of having the screen go blank during audio voting, as is the case with some systems. We also recommend that local election officials provide a way for voters to practice on the systems, so they can become more comfortable with them before they actually vote.

We know that the manufacturers of the voting machines we tested have a commitment to accessibility, and we know that at least two of them have made improvements in the designs of their machines on the basis of the results of our previous evaluation. We hope that these manufacturers and all the others in the market continue their efforts not only to meet the accessibility requirements of HAVA, but to continue to improve the overall ease of use of their systems. As more and more accessible voting systems are put into place across the country, we hope to see an increase in the ability of people who are blind or have low vision to vote independently, privately, and with dignity—rights for which many Americans have fought and died.

Please contact AccessWorld and let us know about your own voting experience when you voted in the 2004 primary elections and when you vote in the general election in November.

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Product Evaluation

You Can Take It with You: A Review of Three Portable CCTVs

Closed-circuit television systems (CCTVs)—also known as video magnifiers—have found a permanent home with persons who have low vision. However, large monitors and XY tables can be too large and heavy to transport from one location to another. For example, take a student with low vision who attends a large high school and who needs a closed-circuit television (CCTV) in each of her classes. Her classes are located on three different floors and at different ends of the school. Is it likely that a school district could pay for three CCTVs and a cart for each, so they can be moved through the hallways safely? Probably not. Or, consider the individual who needs high-contrast magnification to read the labels on products in a supermarket. A pocket-size video magnifier may be far more useful than a simple handheld magnifier. The need for portable, powerful CCTVs is obvious.

The key is the portability and magnification capabilities of a CCTV. Portable magnification devices promise to make print materials, regardless of their location, more accessible to persons with low vision. A good portable CCTV should meet a person's reading and writing needs.

This article evaluates three portable CCTVs: the Traveller (by the Tieman Group, whose U.S subsidiary is Optelec), the Olympia (by Telesensory Corporation), and the Pico (also by Telesensory). The first two devices were compared to one another because they have similar characteristics. The Pico is more of a pocket-size portable video magnifier, so it was evaluated but not compared directly with the Traveller and the Olympia.

All three devices were tested by a variety of users with low vision (students aged 10–18 and adults aged 35 and older) in a variety of locations (in school, at home, in the supermarket, and at work). Some of the individuals who used the products were already familiar with CCTVs, while others were exposed to them for the first time during the evaluation.

The Traveller

Physical Description

The Traveller is a compact, lightweight CCTV that comes with a power cable, a power adapter, and an optional accessory pack that contains an external monitor cable and a car-charge adapter. There are essentially two parts to the Traveller: the screen portion and the base. The two sections are connected by a hinge that you can adjust to angle the screen, or the device can be "opened up" completely and placed upright. The Traveller's controls are large, easy to see and use, and located under the screen. From left to right, the buttons are the Minus button, for reducing the size of the image; a smaller square button to change the mode; a small, circular red On–Off button, and the large Plus button, for increasing the size of the image. The revolving camera is located within the hinge, between the screen and the base of the device.

Photo of the Traveller sitting on a map, with an enlarged portion of the map displayed on the device's screen. Large controls, including buttons with a minus and a plus sign, appear below the screen.

Caption: The Traveller CCTV, with adjustable base.


The Traveller comes with a small manual that is written in large, black-on-white print. It provides basic information about the device and an adequate description for using the Traveller for writing. However, there are no instructions for using the unit for reading. The users who were unfamiliar with using a CCTV could not rely on the manual to figure out how to move the Traveller across a book or piece of paper—they required some training by this evaluator. Also, even though the manual states that the revolving camera should be pulled out carefully, it does not provide suggestions on how to do so when the camera "sticks" and does not pull out easily.


One of the best features of the Traveller is how easily it can be set up for reading. Simply pull it out of the case, turn it on, place it on top of the print material, and adjust the screen to the desired angle. Then, slide or roll the Traveller on top of the print, while the print material remains stationary on the tabletop. Before the Traveller can be used for writing, it must be opened up so that it stands upright. Then the camera must be pulled out of its original location to change the angle of the lens so it focuses on the paper below. The Traveller opens up easily; however, all the users who tested it found the revolving camera difficult to pull out. The 10-year-old student with low vision was afraid that he would break the camera by pulling down on it. For the camera to be pulled out safely, you must hold onto the device with one hand and pull down the camera with the other hand. Placement of the Traveller for writing was simple once the user found his or her place under the camera.



All the users found that reading books, especially narrow books (similar to the Traveller's manual), was difficult. The Traveller did not slide smoothly over the edges of the book, and it often got stuck on the sides of the smaller books. On larger books, the users experienced fewer difficulties, but stated that it was frustrating to return to the left side of the page when the device "jumped" around. However, on flat, single sheets of paper, they had no difficulty. Although parts of several lines of text could be enlarged on the square screen at the same time, perhaps a horizontal rectangular screen would be more beneficial to users.

The younger users seemed to prefer to read with the Traveller in the upright writing position and to move the book, rather than to move the Traveller over the book. By moving the book under the Traveller's camera in the writing position, young students seemed to be able to focus more readily on the screen to read, rather than on keeping the book flat enough to roll the Traveller across it. However, reading with the Traveller in the writing position only worked well when there was a small amount of print on the page. For example, novels cannot be read with the Traveller in the writing position because only a few lines of text appear on the monitor at one time as the book is moved from right to left. At some point, the Traveller has to be repositioned on top of the book to see the rest of the print. Similarly, the older users preferred to read things like the labels of pill bottles and recipe cards with the Traveller in the upright position because it was easy to hold the small item under the camera's lens and then rotate or move it to read what was on it. If the Traveller was used in the reading position to read a pill bottle label, it would be difficult to maneuver the device over a cylinder-shaped pill bottle.


The Traveller offers the best writing clearance of the three CCTVs that were evaluated. As long as the pen is positioned within the scope of the camera, you do not have to worry that the top of the pen will hit anything—there is unlimited clearance above the pen. For tasks like signing one's name, filling in portions of a form, or grading papers, this feature was helpful. However, all the users tended to worry that the Traveller would fall over if they were not careful or if they let go of it for a moment. To write longer passages, you must slide the Traveller along the page at the same time as you write along the line. Doing so requires good manual dexterity and lots of practice to become proficient. The younger users found it difficult to write a story using the Traveller; they preferred using a desktop stand-alone CCTV for writing longer passages.

How Good Is It?

The quality of the screen, magnification range (4X–16X), color/text mode, and good writing clearance make the Traveller a good option for persons with low vision who are interested in a portable magnification device. The Traveller is highly portable and easy to set up, but the responses by the users were mixed. Most people enjoyed using it to read certain things (e.g., single sheets of paper, bottles, and covers of compact disks) and to write short passages or sign their names. For tasks that required more intense reading and writing, the users stated that they preferred to use their desktop CCTVs.

What Would Make It Better?

  1. A rectangular screen, rather than a square screen–to increase the amount of print from a line of text on the screen.
  2. A sturdier base for writing (and reading) in the upright position–to reduce the likelihood of the device falling over.
  3. Better gliding capabilities over all types of reading materials–to avoid getting stuck on the edges of books, especially narrow books.
  4. A smoother, revolving camera release–to change the camera position more easily.

The Bottom Line

The Traveller has the potential to be a widely used portable magnification device if some of the concerns just listed are addressed by the Tieman Group. At the moment, it is a good portable CCTV, but with limited use as a reading and writing assistive device. Users who want a portable, easy-to-set-up device for short reading and writing tasks will find the Traveller to be a good choice. However, those who need a portable CCTV for more intense reading and writing tasks (such as high school students with low vision, teachers with low vision who work in several classrooms, and adults who read a newspaper at home and then answer telephones at a local community center), the Traveller may not meet all their needs.

The Olympia

Physical Description

The Olympia is a compact CCTV that comes with a battery pack, folding writing stand, video cable, AC power adapter, AC cord, and an optional car adapter. Although the Olympia weighs 2.5 pounds, the battery pack and other accessories increase the total weight of the package to 4.14 pounds. The rectangular, tilted screen takes up almost the entire surface of the Olympia, with all the controls located on the back and front of the device. The Magnification switch (the only switch located on the front of the Olympia) slides from left to right for the following settings: low, medium, high, and writing position. On the back left side, the Viewing Options switch moves (left to right) between standard text magnification and maximum magnification of text. Next to the Viewing Options switch is the Viewing Modes switch, which controls (from left to right) positive text mode, negative text mode, and full-color mode. Finally, the On–Off and Brightness controls are contained in one switch, located on the back right side. The camera is located under the device, at the front.

Photo of the Olympia CCTV sitting on a menu. The large, rectangular screen shows part of the menu ("antipasto romantico") displayed in large type in reverse polarity.

Caption: The Olympia CCTV in reading mode.


The Olympia comes with a large, detailed manual that is in large, black-on-white print. Directions about the setup, use, and care of the device are included. The users who were unfamiliar with a CCTV (portable or otherwise) were able to read the manual and to set up the device without any assistance. They especially appreciated the detailed directions on how to read and write using the Olympia. The Viewing Options charts are essential to understanding how Olympia's magnification controls work.


All the users found it easy to set up the Olympia for reading. The younger children had some minor difficulty connecting the battery pack to the Olympia, but once they were shown where to connect it, they were able to do so independently and with reasonable speed. The Olympia was equally easy to set up for writing; opening up the writing stand and then placing the device in the appropriate spot required little effort.



The Olympia can be used to read material in two ways: directly on the text or on the writing stand. However, the magnification levels may be suitable only for a few users if they choose to read a book placed under the writing stand, since the magnification levels (4.5X or 9X) are fixed at this distance. Using this method for reading also became cumbersome when a larger book was placed under the stand—the user had to lift up the stand and place it over a different portion of the book. Greater versatility can be found by placing the Olympia directly on the text being read. The sliding bars, located underneath to roll it over a flat surface, allow the Olympia to move easily across a book (more easily than the Traveller), but they also tend to get stuck on the edges of narrower books. With practice, adjustment of the six magnification settings is easy for users to adapt to specific reading tasks. Unfortunately, reading labels—on pill bottles, for example—is difficult; the text becomes blurry, and the object must be rotated underneath the writing stand to read the entire label around the bottle.


All the users who tried the Olympia's writing stand were impressed by it. Although the clearance above the pen was limited (unlike the Traveller's unlimited clearance), most pens and markers (without lids) could fit comfortably under the stand. Some repositioning of the Olympia was required for certain tasks (such as writing several paragraphs of text), but generally, the paper or notebook could be moved easily under the device. Filling out forms, correcting students' papers, and making notes in the margins of print materials were easily accomplished using the Olympia.

How Good Is It?

The Olympia meets the majority of reading and writing needs of users who are looking for a portable magnification device. Although it is slightly heavier and more expensive than the Traveller, it has greater stability and versatility. The horizontal screen allows you to place more text on the screen at one time, and the writing stand enables you to write without having to keep the device secure. Clearly, Telesensory has taken the feedback from the Mini Viewer (an earlier version of the Olympia) and enhanced its features to make the Olympia what it is today.

What Would Make It Better?

An improvement would be an adjustable screen, rather than just an angled screen—to reduce glare even further, to give the user more flexibility, and to encourage better reading posture.

The Bottom Line

The Olympia CCTV is a highly versatile portable reading and writing device that is easy to set up and use in a variety of environments. Although some practice is necessary to understand fully how the magnification settings work, its 4.3X–26X magnification levels offer persons with various degrees of low vision magnification settings that work best for them. The Olympia is especially useful for those who know their eye conditions will worsen over time, since it can continue to meet their needs as the need for larger print occurs over time. Purchasing one portable device that has the capability of meeting one's future print-related needs (especially if one chooses not to learn braille) is a wise decision.

The Pico

Physical Description

The Pico is a small, lightweight, handheld portable magnification device that comes with a power module and an AC adapter. The screen is 4 inches (diagonal), and viewing selections include a positive mode (full color) and a negative mode (white text on a black background). The blue, oval-shaped Viewing Selection button is located on the face of the Pico in the upper left corner. The blue, oval-shaped On–Off button is located in the upper right corner. The Illumination Control switch, located on the top edge of the Pico, operates in a left-to-right fashion to control the following: light off (eliminates glare from glossy material), low light (reduces glare from glossy materials), and full light (provides bright light when required). Two folding legs are tucked underneath the Pico to facilitate reading, and the camera is located under the left side.

Photo of a woman's hands holding the Pico against a greeting card, which reads "Happy Birthday to my Dear Friend." The Pico's screen displays "friendship forever" in large letters.

Caption: The Pico handheld magnification device.


The Pico comes with a manual that briefly describes the features and functions of the device. Although the directions for use appear to be simple, some additional information could have been included. For example, when writing using the Pico, many right-handed users did not know they could flip the Pico around so the camera would be on the right side. Seven out of eight users attempted to hold the Pico with their left hand (with the camera on the left side of the Pico's "belly") and slide their right hand and the pen under it. Needless to say, this was an awkward practice, until they realized that they could turn the Pico around so the camera was on the right side. A simple statement in the manual would have prevented this confusion. The manual states that the legs can be used when writing. However, none of the users could actually write under the 1.1-inch clearance; they had to fold the legs up again and hold the Pico farther away from the paper. Since the Pico is so lightweight, writing while holding the Pico in the nonwriting hand was easy enough for users to use after a few minutes' practice.


The Pico is extremely easy to use. Simply take it out of the case, turn it on, and hold it above whatever needs to be magnified. The only adjustments that need to be made are to the illumination and the distance from the text. By far, the Pico was the easiest of the three portable magnifiers to set up and use.



The Pico is easy to use, but is able to magnify only to 5X. If a person with low vision requires greater magnification, the Pico may not be the device that he or she needs. However, for those whose visual needs require less than 5X magnification, the Pico is a good choice.

Once the user has figured out what distance from the page best suits his or her needs, it is extremely easy to move the Pico across a line of print. Magnifying labels of prescription bottles or soup cans is quick and easy. If the object being viewed is too dark, the illumination level can be adjusted to view the object more readily. Even when one uses the legs to prop the Pico slightly above the text, reading print is a smooth process. The Pico glides easily over books, paper, and notebooks of any size.


Once the user recognizes that the Pico can be turned around to write with his or her left or right hand, it is an easy device with which to write. Filling out forms, writing signatures, and writing longer passages are easy. However, the farther from the page that the Pico is held, the more difficult it becomes for the user to read what he or she has just written. The Pico focuses best when it is within 1 to 2 inches from the text or writing surface.

How Good Is It?

The Pico is an excellent, highly portable handheld video magnifier. It can slip into a purse or pocket easily, and its operation is simple. Reading and writing tasks can be accomplished quickly and efficiently. The Pico gives immediate access to print materials for persons with low vision.

What Would Make It Better?

1. A user manual that would give the user more details about how to use the Pico for various reading and writing tasks would be beneficial,
2. The addition of a zoom lens—since the Pico has all that one could want in a portable magnification device, the addition of a lens that could zoom into things in the distance would make the Pico irreplaceable.

The Bottom Line

The Pico is a compact, lightweight handheld CCTV that gives persons with low vision almost immediate access to print material. It can be used for reading and writing tasks with such ease that it virtually levels the playing field for persons with low vision. The Pico can go anywhere and be used with just about any print-related task, including reading longer passages. Its only limitation is the fact that it magnifies only to 5X.

Manufacturers' Comments

Tieman (Optelec U.S.)

"The Traveller is a portable video magnifier providing mobile magnification for CCTV users who are 'on the go.' Providing up to 16x magnification on a 6-inch color screen, the Traveller can also be connected to a television for increased magnification (the magnification is dependent on screen size). Weighing less than 2 pounds, with a 2-hour rechargeable battery (also runs on AC), the Traveller is the perfect solution for those who require portability to meet their basic everyday reading and writing needs. It comes with a two-year manufacturer's warranty.

"Of the items that AccessWorld noted for improvement, three have already been addressed by Tieman's engineering team. These improvements include a sturdier base for added stability and ease of movement when in the writing (standing) mode; improved gliding capabilities for movement over books, papers, and page edges; and an easy-to-pull-out camera when utilizing the writing capabilities.

"Users will find that, when used as intended, as a portable, easy-to-set-up device for reading and writing tasks, the Traveller is an excellent choice to meet their mobile magnification needs. Coupled with the ability to output to a television, the Traveller may even come close to replacing a CCTV for many users."


"Pico users can adjust the magnification on Pico by using the product in different orientations. To decrease to 3X magnification, the user can hold Pico farther away from the material. To increase the magnification to 11X, unfold the back leg so the screen is tilted toward the user. We will improve the manual to make it clear how to use Pico for writing. In addition, our research and development team is evaluating product upgrades based on user feedback. Thank you!"

Product Features

Feature Olympia Traveller Pico
Weight 2.5 pounds (1.14 kilograms) 1.8 pounds (800 grams) 10 ounces (.28 kilograms)
Dimensions 8.2 x 5.4 x 4.25 inches (20.8 x 13.7 x 10.8 centimeters) 7.1 x 6.3 x 3.7 inches (18 x 16 x 9.5 centimeters) 6.5 x 3.5 x 1.1 inches (16.5 x 8.9 x 2.5 centimeters)
Display size 7 inches, diagonal (17.18 centimeters) 6.4 inches, diagonal (16 centimeters) 4 inches diagonal (10.6 centimeters)
Magnification 4.3X–26X 4X–16X 5X
Color/text mode Full color, black on white, white on black Full color, black on white, white on black Full color, white on black
Auto focus No—fixed focus Yes Yes
Writing clearance 4.75 inches (12 centimeters) Unlimited 1.1 inches (2.79 centimeters)
Connects to a television? Yes Yes No
Battery life 2.5–6 hours 2 hours continuous 1.25 hours continuous
Recharging time 2–5 hours 1 hour 2 hours
Carrying case Yes, with a shoulder strap Yes, with a shoulder strap Yes, with a wrist strap
Warranty 2 years (1 year for the battery) 2 years 1 year (1 year for the battery)

Product Features

Feature: Olympia; Traveller; Pico

Weight: Olympia: 2.5 pounds (1.14 kilograms); Traveller: 1.8 pounds (800 grams); Pico: 10 ounces (.28 kilograms).

Dimensions: Olympia: 8.2 x 5.4 x 4.25 inches (20.8 x 13.7 x 10.8 centimeters); Traveller: 7.1 x 6.3 x 3.7 inches (18 x 16 x 9.5 centimeters); Pico: 6.5 x 3.5 x 1.1 inches (16.5 x 8.9 x 2.5 centimeters).

Display size: Olympia: 7 inches, diagonal (17.18 centimeters); Traveller: 6.4 inches, diagonal (16 centimeters); Pico: 4 inches diagonal (10.6 centimeters).

Magnification: Olympia: 4.3X–26X; Traveller: 4X–16X; Pico: 5X.

Color/text mode: Olympia: Full color, black on white, white on black; Traveller: Full color, black on white, white on black; Pico: Full color, white on black.

Auto focus: Olympia: No—fixed focus; Traveller: Yes; Pico: Yes.

Writing clearance: Olympia: 4.75 inches (12 centimeters); Traveller: Unlimited; Pico: 1.1 inches (2.79 centimeters).

Connects to a television?: Olympia: Yes; Traveller: Yes; Pico: No.

Battery life: Olympia: 2.5–6 hours; Traveller: 2 hours continuous; Pico: 1.25 hours continuous.

Recharging time: Olympia: 2–5 hours; Traveller: 1 hour; Pico: 2 hours.

Carrying case: Olympia: Yes, with a shoulder strap; Traveller: Yes, with a shoulder strap; Pico: Yes, with a wrist strap.

Warranty: Olympia: 2 years (1 year for the battery); Traveller: 2 years; Pico: 1 year (1 year for the battery).

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Feature: Olympia; Traveller; Pico

Ease of use: Reading: Olympia: 4; Traveller: 3; Pico: 5.

Ease of use: Writing: Olympia: 5; Traveller: 3.5; Pico: 4.5.

Ease of setup: Olympia: 4; Traveller: 4.5; Pico: 5.

Screen size: Olympia: 5; Traveller: 4; Pico: 3.

Portability: Olympia: 4; Traveller: 4; Pico: 5.

Overall rating: Olympia: 4.5; Traveller: 4; Pico: N/A*.

* The Pico was not included in the overall rating category because the Olympia and the Traveller are considered to be larger portable devices, while the Pico is a pocket-size portable device. The Pico is better compared overall with similar pocket devices that will be reviewed by AccessWorld in an upcoming issue.

Product Information

Product: Traveller

Manufacturer: Tieman Group, Moolhoek 11, 3235 XK Rockanje, The Netherlands; phone: +31 181 409 444; e-mail: <info@tiemangroup.comcom>; web site: <www.tieman.comcom>. U.S. subsidiary: Optelec U.S., 321 Billerica Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824; phone: 978-392-0707 or 800-828-1056; e-mail: <optelec@optelec.com>; web site: <www.optelec.com>.

Price: $1,895.

Product: Olympia

Manufacturer: Telesensory Corp., 520 Almanor Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94085-3533; phone: 408-616-8700 or 800-804-8004; e-mail: <info@telesensory.com>; web site: <www.telesensory.com>.

Price: $2,295.

Product: Pico

Manufacturer: Telesensory Corp., 520 Almanor Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94085-3533; phone: 408-616-8700 or 800-804-8004; e-mail: <info@telesensory.com>; web site: <www.telesensory.com>.

Price: $795.

Devices for this evaluation were loaned by Microcomputer Science Centre Inc., Toronto.

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Product Evaluation

The Signal Gets Stronger: Three Cell Phones with Speech Output

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

Over the past 14 months, we in the AFB TECH product evaluation laboratory have been tracking the evolving trends in the accessibility of cell phones. In five previous AccessWorld articles, we have observed a landscape that began with no real accessible cell phones on the market. We then saw the emergence of third-party text-to-speech software that could be installed on two specific cell phones to enhance accessibility, but at a fairly steep price. Then, two telephones came on the market with a degree of limited speech output right out of the box. This article continues our investigation of cell phones with an evaluation of two more approaches to accessibility: the Owasys 22C phone, developed in Spain, and the TALKS software, from Brand & Gröber Communications, installed on the Nokia 3650 and 3660 phones.

The Owasys 22C

Manufactured by the Spanish company Owasys (pronounced "oasis"), the 22C is a "screenless" cell phone that is designed specifically for people who are blind or have low vision. Because this telephone is currently available only in Spain, we have no pricing information for the U.S. market. However, Owasys exhibited the phone in March 2004 at the Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, sponsored by California State University at Northridge, and announced that it is actively seeking service providers to offer the 22C to the U.S. and other markets.

Photo of the Owasys 22C cell phone.

Caption: The Owasys 22C screenless cell phone is designed specifically for people who are visually impaired.

The Owasys 22C is a "brick-" or "candy-bar-"style telephone measuring 4.6 by 1.9 by 1.1 inches and weighing 4.5 ounces. On the front panel, there are 6 control buttons laid out in 2 rows of 3 each. Below these control buttons are the 12 dialing keys, arranged in the standard 3 by 4 grid, and the side panel has an Up key and a Down key that are used to adjust the volume. Although this telephone does not feature many of the extras that are found on today's cell phones, such as a camera, web access, or a video recorder, it comes equipped with speech-synthesis software from Babel Technologies to guide you through all the features that it does have, including a searchable phone book, SMS text messaging, and a vibrating ring feature. The software runs on the Linux operating platform, and the phone uses the GSM cellular network, which has been the standard in Europe and is now spreading across the United States.

The Nokia 3650 and 3660 with TALKS Software

In the November 2003 issue of AccessWorld, we evaluated the Nokia 3650 cell phone combined with Mobile Accessibility software, produced by the Spanish company Code Factory, and in the January 2004 issue, we evaluated the Nokia 9290 Communicator cell phone and personal digital assistant, combined with the TALKS software from the German company Brand and Gröber Communications. This time, we switched it around a bit, installing TALKS on the Nokia 3650 and 3660, which are nearly identical telephones in the Nokia 60 series, but with different keypad arrangements. One reason we chose to evaluate this combination is that Cingular, a national service provider, is soon planning to offer TALKS bundled with a similar Nokia telephone at a significant discount to the current price of $600 to $700 for this combination. We also saw this as an opportunity to compare the TALKS and Mobile Accessibility software side by side on the same telephone.

Photo of the Nokia 3650. Photo of the Nokia 3660.

Caption: The Nokia 3650 (left) and 3660 (right) will come bundled with TALKS software.

The Nokia 3650 measures 5.1 inches by 2.24 inches by 1 inch and weighs 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 telephone has its dialing numbers arranged in a circle, similar to the old rotary telephones. The 3660 is the same phone, but with its dialing keys arranged in a stylized version of the standard 3 by 4 grid, with keys in the outside columns flared a bit. The telephones use the GSM network and feature the Symbian operating system and 3.4 megabytes of onboard memory, which give them the capability of downloading and installing software, such as video games and the TALKS and Mobile Accessibility software.

We evaluated the Nokia telephones combined with version 1.2 of TALKS, which is a screen-reader program that allows a person who is blind or has low vision to gain access to nearly all the functions of the phone. TALKS uses the ETI Eloquence speech synthesizer that is used by some other screen-reading packages, so many readers may be familiar with its voice. It supports nearly all the applications on the 3650 and 3660, but it does not fully support the Internet browser. Currently, the software can be purchased separately and installed on the phone using PC Suite software. However, the installation process is not accessible and is fairly difficult, so we found it handy to have a computer expert around to install the software.

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 these: • measuring the ability to identify and use the keypad tactilely,
• determining the ability to navigate menus,
• noting auditory and vibratory feedback,
• 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 Owasys and the Nokia/TALKS telephones measured up on each feature.

Keys That Are Easily Identifiable by Touch

All the keys on the Owasys 22C are easily identifiable by touch. In fact, among the 10 cell phones we have evaluated over the past year, this phone has the most accessible keyboard design. The hemispherical-shaped keys protrude from the panel and are spaced sufficiently apart from each other so that it is easy to distinguish one key from another. Moreover, the dialing keys and other control keys are laid out in a pattern that is simple to learn and understand. There is also an easy-to-feel nib properly placed on the 5 key, allowing for quick orientation to the dialing grid. The only problem that we found with the keys is that the bottom right key on the dialing grid—the pound, or number-sign, key—is also used as the Power, or On–Off key. We found that because this key protrudes from the panel, it can be activated if the phone is jostled in a pocket or purse, turning it on inadvertently.

Although the keys on the Nokia telephones can be easily identified by touch, there is a problem with the design and arrangement of the dialing keys. The 3650, with its dialing keys arranged in a circle, can be used, but in an inefficient, plodding manner. The stylized dialing grid on the 3660 is also difficult to use because of the spacing and shapes of keys and because the nibs on the phone for identifying the 5 key are placed in the groove between the 5 key and its adjacent keys and cannot be felt at all. Although using these keypads will never be as efficient as using the standard 3 by 4 grid, it is possible to get used to these keys after some practice. Also, once you program your contacts into the phone's memory, you do not have to use the dialing keys as often as you would with a phone with inaccessible menus.

Voice Output

The Owasys 22C was designed specifically for people who are blind or have low vision, and it has no screen to display information, so speech and other audio output guide the user through every feature and function on the phone. The 22C uses the speech-synthesis software from Babel Technologies, which features a female voice whose pitch and rate can be adjusted. We found the speech quality to be acceptable, but of lower quality than that of many of today's synthesizers. We found it slightly slow to respond to keystrokes, with a delay of 0.5 to 1.3 seconds before the speech responds to keystrokes. Also, this system has no way of spelling words letter by letter or phonetically for words that may be difficult to understand.

Voice output on the Nokia telephones is provided by TALKS through the easy-to-understand ETI Eloquence speech synthesizer. TALKS provides text-to-speech access to nearly every function and application on the phones, performing in the same way as screen-reader software works on a computer. Although there is only one voice, which is male, all the other voice characteristics, such as rate and pitch, can be adjusted. TALKS generally functions solidly, and we found no delays in responding to keystrokes, but it sometimes incompletely reads a word or phrase. However, there is a key combination to repeat the last phrase, and TALKS can also spell words letter by letter and phonetically.

Accessible Documentation

The manual for the Owasys is available from the manufacturer via e-mail in accessible plain text and HTML formats. Although it is sufficient to get you started using and learning about the phone, it does have minor drawbacks. It is a limited manual; it describes some features, such as the phone book, too briefly, and it does not describe the nonvoice feedback that the phone produces, such as low-battery and signal- and message-indication tones.

We had mistakenly reported in previous issues that the manuals for the Nokia phones were only available in print and inaccessible PDF formats. However, we have recently discovered that the user manuals for the Nokia phones are available in several alternate formats, including large print, braille, audiocassette, and compact disk; they can be obtained by calling Nokia's product help line at (888) 665-4228. The TALKS software package includes a CD with the manual in Microsoft Word format, and, although it is also limited, it is designed to provide enough information to get you started using the device. Also, TALKS has an onboard help system that is both accessible and highly useful in learning how to use the phone.

Battery Level Indicator

The top right control key on the Owasys is the Status key, and pressing and holding this key brings up a list of status information. The middle key on the second row of the control keys is the Navigation key, which is used to scroll to the various lines of status information. When you reach the battery line, you will hear, "high battery," "medium battery," or "low battery." There is also a tone to indicate a nearly empty battery that is played about every 3 to 7 minutes for an hour before the phone says, "Thank you for using Owasys" and turns itself off.

TALKS has a keystroke to access status information, and it tells you whether the onscreen battery indicator has one, two, three, or four bars. It will say, "Battery is low" every half-hour when it is time to recharge. The Nokia 3650 also emits a warning tone every hour for three hours before the battery dies completely.

Roaming Indicator

The status information on both the Owasys and Nokia/TALKS telephones tells you the name of the service provider to which you are currently connected, so if it is not your service provider, you will know that the phones are roaming and thus that you are paying more for your call.

Message Indicator

Both the Owasys and Nokia telephones emit an audio tone to alert you that you have received a message—information that you can also receive by accessing the status information on either phone. To write messages, you use the alphanumeric keypad. For example, you would press the 2 key once for A, twice for B, and so forth. Sending and receiving text messages is accessible on both systems, but the Nokia/TALKS system gives you more flexibility to read and edit messages. On the Owasys, you have to read the entire message at once, so you cannot read word by word. Also, if you notice a mistake in a message you are writing on the Owasys, you have to delete the message all the way back to the mistake to edit it. Another distinction between the two systems is that while the Owasys works only with text messaging, Nokia/TALKS can also access multimedia messages, featuring audio and video.

Phone Book

The Owasys does have an accessible phone book, and you can use it to add, delete, search, and make calls, but we did find some limitations. Although the phone has an accessible way to gain access to logs of missed and received calls, there is no way to add those numbers directly to the phone book, so the numbers must be entered manually. Also, we found some inconsistency when entering names into the phone book using the alphanumeric keys, since the phone book would sometimes enter letters incorrectly.

Nokia calls the phone book feature the Contacts application, and all its functions are accessible with TALKS. You can search your contact list; add, delete, or edit contacts; phone contacts; and assign unique ring tones to your contacts. You can also record your own ring sounds and assign them to contacts. Numbers from the call logs can be automatically entered into the phone book, and we found no inconsistency when entering names.

Phone Lock Mode

Both systems have an accessible way to lock the phones with password protection to prevent unauthorized use.

Keypad Lock

Because these are brick- or candy-bar-style telephones with their keys exposed, it is important to have a keypad-lock feature to prevent the keys from being activated while in a pocket or purse. Nokia/TALKS has a keystroke combination to lock and unlock the keypad, and although the Owasys does not have a keypad-lock feature, the phone-lock feature can achieve the same result if the phone is on.

Power Indicator

Visually, power is indicated on the Owasys by a red light in the middle of the Navigation key. There is no specific visual power indication on the Nokia phones, other than the display being on. Without vision, you can simply press a key and listen for speech output, and you will know that the phone is on.

Ringing or Vibrating Mode Indicator

Both systems have a way to alert you of an incoming call by ring tones or vibrations. Each system also has an accessible way of navigating the menus to determine the status and change the setting.

GPS Feature

Some of today's cell phones have a GPS feature using global positioning satellites to help emergency services locate you if you make a 911 call, but that feature is not part of any of these phones.

Signal Strength Indicator

The status information on both these systems speaks the strength of the signal you are currently receiving, as well as the service provider to which you are connected. The Owasys also plays a tone to indicate that you have picked up a signal when you are moving in and out of the range of cell towers; for example, while you are traveling in a rural area. Although this is a useful tone, it plays only through the phone's speaker-phone feature, so it is loud and could be painful if the phone is held to your ear at the time the tone is played.

Ringer Volume Control

Both systems give you the ability to adjust the ringer volume by navigating through the accessible menu system to the Ringer Volume setting and choosing the desired volume level.

Caller Identification

Both systems have a keystroke that will silence the ring during an incoming call and then speak the caller identification information. The telephones will also speak the caller's number or the caller's name if it has been previously entered into the phone book.

Speed Dialing

The Owasys does not have a way to assign keys to a number in the phone book for speed dialing, but the Nokia/TALKS system does. You can use the accessible phone book feature to assign numbers to the 2 through 9 keys on the dialing keypad. Then you can press one of those numbers, followed by the call key, and a call is placed to the corresponding number in the phone book.

Low Vision Accessibility

Because there is no screen on the Owasys, there is nothing to say about the accessibility of a visual display. All users, whether they have vision or not, use the same auditory interface to use this telephone. The labels for the keys are large, and their black color contrasts well with the blue background on the panel. Also, as was stated earlier, the keys are easy to identify by touch if your vision is not sufficient to see them.

The Nokia telephones have large 1.5 by 2.0 inch multicolor displays with 4096 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 to adjust the contrast from normal to high. The keys on this phone are small and have small text or icon labels that are too small for most people with low vision to read, but you can use TALKS to learn the keys and their functions.

The Bottom Line

The TALKS/Nokia combination provides access to more cell-phone features than does the Owasys system, and it performs better when evaluated against "the sweet 16" desirable features. However, the Owasys's keypad is a prime example of how an accessible keypad should be designed, and both telephones provide significant access to cell-phone features for people who are blind or have low vision. They represent two more choices in a small but growing list of choices for people who demand more accessibility in cell phones.

The Mobile Accessibility software that we evaluated in the November 2003 issue of AccessWorld is another option, but this evaluation showed that TALKS provides access to more features and functions on the Nokia phones and is more stable. However, Mobile Accessibility has just issued a press release announcing a new version that it is calling a screen reader, with access to many more features, including web access. Add to the mix the Toshiba/Audiovox phone that we evaluated in the May 2004 issue, and you can see that the trends in the cell-phone market are moving in a positive direction.

As we have stated in previous articles, cell phones are covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires that manufacturers and service providers do all that is "readily achievable" to make each product or service accessible. These telephones demonstrate that accessibility is achievable, so we hope to see more manufacturers and service providers stepping up to the plate and providing more choices at reasonable costs. We hope to see continuing improvements in subsequent versions of the phones and software we have already evaluated, and we would also like accessible phones to be developed by other manufacturers and service providers. Stay tuned to AccessWorld and the AFB web site for information on when the Owasys will be available in the United States and on other new developments in accessibility in the world of cell phones.

Manufacturer's Comments


"The Owasys22C is available in the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, as well as in Spain. The phone does have a keypad lock. It is on the Star key at the bottom left of the keypad. Press this key for 3 seconds and you hear 'keypad lock.'

"We include a voice manual and a detailed manual as a quick reference guide. All the documentation is included in the box with the phone and available online as well at <www.owasys.com> or by e-mail at <info@owasys.com>.

"In the latest release of the software, you can add numbers directly to the phonebook when you have a missed call or a received call. A future version will include the capability to read word by word and letter by letter."

Product Features

Features Nokia/TALKS
Size (inches) 5.0 x 2.24 x 1.0 4.6 x 1.9 x 1.1
Weight (ounces) 4.6 4.5
Display screen size (inches) 2.0 by 1.5 No screen
Phone style Flat, one piece Flat, one piece
Voice dialing Yes No

Product Features

Feature: Nokia/TALKS 3650/3660; Owasys 22C

Size (inches): Nokia/TALKS: 5.0 x 2.24 x 1.0; Owasys: 4.6 x 1.9 x 1.1.

Weight (ounces): Nokia/TALKS: 4.6; Owasys: 4.5.

Display screen size (inches): Nokia/TALKS: 2.0 by 1.5; Owasys: No screen.

Phone style: Nokia/TALKS: Flat, one piece; Owasys: Flat, one piece.

Voice dialing: Nokia/TALKS: Yes; Owasys: No.

Ratings Chart
Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Feature: Nokia/TALKS 3650/3660; Owasys 22C

Keys easily identifiable by touch: Nokia/TALKS: 2.5; Owasys: 5.

Access to screen information*: Nokia/TALKS: 4.5; Owasys: 4.5.

Accessible documentation: Nokia/TALKS: 5; Owasys: 5.

Speech quality: Nokia/TALKS: 4.5; Owasys: 3.

* Owasys has no screen, so the rating reflects access to telephone functionality.

Product Information

Products: Nokia 3650/3660

Manufacturer: Nokia Americas, 6000 Connection Drive, Irving TX 75039; phone: 972-894-4573; Sales: 888-256-2098; web site: <www.nokia.com>.

Price: Service available from AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, and others. Check with your local service providers for the availability of phones and prices.

Product: TALKS Software

Manufacturer: Brand & Gröber Communications GbR, Dresdener Strasse 2, 51373 Leverkusen, Germany; phone: 49-(0)180-5001579; e-mail: <talks@bugcom.de>; web site: <www.talx.de>. U.S. distributor: Beyond Sight, 5650 South Windermere Street, Littleton, CO 80120; phone: 303-795-6455; e-mail: <info@beyondsight.com>; web site: <www.beyondsight.com>.

Price: $395.

Product: Owasys 22C

Manufacturer: Owasys, Parque Tecnológico, 207-B, E-48170 Zamudio, Vizcaya, Spain; phone: 34 946 025 328; Fax: 34 946 025 353; web site: <www.owasys.com>. Service provider: Cingular, National Center for Customers with Disabilities; phone: 866-241-6568; TTY: 866-241-6567; web site: <www.cingular.com>.

Price: No price yet for the U.S. market.

[Note that the prices of cell phones change rapidly, so check with your service provider for availability and current prices. Also note that Cingular will soon be offering the TALKS/Nokia combination at a significant discount to the price listed here.]

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Product Evaluation

A Library in Your Hand: A Review of the Book Port and the BookCourier

This article reviews two small, handheld e-book readers with speech output, the Book Port, from American Printing House for the Blind (APH), and the BookCourier, from Springer Design. The main function of these readers is to read articles, books, and other files aloud. They can also play MP3 files in stereo.

Although both devices are stand-alone products, they require that files be loaded from a computer and cannot play CDs. Both devices can accommodate flash memory cards, tiny digital cards that can store billions of bytes of information, so the amount of files you can carry with you is virtually unlimited. Both devices use the Double Talk synthesizer. In fact, both devices are descendants of the Road Runner, a text-file reader.

Book Port

Physical Description

The Book Port measures 4 inches by 2.25 inches by 1 inch and weighs 6 ounces with batteries. On its front surface is an 18-key keypad. The top 12 keys are a standard telephone keypad with a nib on the 5 key. Below these keys are two more rows of 3 keys each. From left to right, these rows consist of keys A, B, and C and D, E, and F. All keys are round, and the rows and columns are spaced equally. The Book Port's case is black, and the keys are labeled in yellow for high contrast.

Photo of the Book Port.

Caption: The Book Port e-book reader from APH.

On the Book Port's top surface are the headphone jack and the USB (universal serial bus) port. On the right side of the unit is the slot for a flash memory card. On the back, you will find the battery compartment and a belt clip. The Book Port takes two AA batteries.

There is no On–Off switch. You press the 2 key to start reading and press the 2 key again to stop. The Book Port then switches itself off after an amount of time that is adjustable by the user. There is no internal speaker, so you must use headphones or an external speaker.


The Book Port's manual and a Quick Start guide are available on audiocassette, on CD (to be read on your computer), on APH's web site, and as a file on the Book Port itself. When you take the Book Port out of the box, plug in the headphones, and press the 2 key, Book Port begins reading its manual. The manual does a thorough job of explaining how to use the device but, at times, it is repetitive.

Ease of Use

The Book Port is easy to use. It plays a wide variety of types of files—text, HTML, BRF, MP3, WAV, DAISY 2 and 3, Microsoft Word 97 or later, and RTF.

The part of using the Book Port that requires the most knowledge is how to load files into it. Loading files involves installing the Book Port Transfer software on your computer from the CD and connecting the Book Port to your computer's USB port using the supplied cable. Once you do so, the computer displays the Book Port as a new drive in Windows Explorer. An effort has been made to make the transfer of files easy—tones are sounded as the files are loaded into the Book Port from your computer, and the software walks you through the transfer process. Your computer must have Windows Millennium, Windows 2000, or Windows XP to run the transfer software.

The Book Port's top 12 keys have multiple functions. For example, the 2 key is the Read/Pause key. If you hold down the 2 key until you hear a beep, the time will be announced when you release it. The 7 and 9 keys move backward and forward by page, respectively, when the Book Port is reading a file. When the unit is idle, these keys move backward and forward by letter, to allow you to set bookmarks and spell words. The A through F keys do not have multiple functions. They control the reading speed and volume, as well as the recording of memos.

The Book Port remembers your location in a file. When you resume reading or return to a file you started to read previously, the Book Port starts reading where you left off.


While reading a text file, you can navigate by line, sentence, paragraph, or page. In audio files, you can navigate by sentence, paragraph, or a fixed amount of time. Digital Talking Books allow even more choices for navigation, depending on how they were created.

The 1 and 3 keys move backward and forward by sentence. When you hold the 1 or 3 key down until you hear a beep, you move to the beginning or end of the current file, respectively. The 4 and 6 keys move backward and forward by paragraph. You spell a word by pressing the 5 key until you hear a beep. When reading, the 7 and 9 keys move you one page backward or forward, respectively. When idle, the 7 and 9 keys navigate by letter.

The 8 key announces statistics about the file you are reading. It says the file name, size, and what percentage of the file has been read. When a file is not being read, the 8 key announces the current letter.

The Star and Pound keys navigate backward and forward through the list of files, respectively. When you hear the name of the file you wish to read, you press the 2 key to begin reading. If you have read part of the chosen file before, Book Port resumes reading where you left off.

Changing Settings

The Zero key toggles between the reading keypad and the settings keypad. In the settings keypad, you can adjust various parameters of Book Port. In this regard, the 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys act as arrow keys. The 2 and 8 keys move from setting to setting. The 4 and 6 keys are used to change each setting. The settings include volume, pitch and speed of speech, choice of voice, amount of punctuation read, and setting of date and time. The Book Port has a sleep timer that is set in this keypad as well. The sleep timer sets an amount of time after which the unit will stop reading.

The Book Port has no search command. You can use a several-step procedure to mark a block of text and search for the next occurrence of that specific text. To delete a file from Book Port, you press the B and E keys together. You are then asked to confirm the deletion.

Recording Memos

Holding the B key down until a beep is heard moves you to the Memos folder. Repeating this procedure returns you to your previous position. Pressing the E key automatically starts recording a memo. You can use this function to record telephone numbers, reminders, and the like. You then press E to pause and press E again to resume recording. Pressing B stops the recording. Memos are saved in a special Memo folder and are named by the day and time they were recorded. They are saved as .PCM files and can be played and edited on your computer. I did not like the fact that pressing one key automatically starts recording a memo. It is too easy to accumulate a collection of accidental memos. This problem could be fixed by requiring that two keys be pressed together to start recording.

Pressing keys 1 and 3 together locks the keypad, so you can carry Book Port safely or listen to a file without interruption. Pressing the 2 and B keys together resets Book Port, the equivalent of rebooting your computer. (The Reset is always a handy command to know for any computer device.)

The Bottom Line

The Book Port is a powerful reading tool in a small package. It allows you to read books in many formats and listen to music in stereo wherever you are. Its drawbacks are its lack of an internal speaker and the fact that the files must be loaded from a computer.


Physical Description

The BookCourier measures 5 inches by 2.5 inches by 1 inch and weighs 6 ounces with batteries. On its front surface is a 15-key keypad. The top 12 keys are a standard telephone keypad. The 5 key, the Play–Pause key, is larger than the other keys and is concave. The 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys are rounded on the top. These four rows of keys are evenly spaced. A fifth row of keys consists of the Diamond, Plus, and Question Mark keys. This row is set farther apart than the other four rows of keys. There is no external speaker; you must use headphones or attach a speaker. The BookCourier is black. A faceplate under the buttons is yellow and blue.

Photo of the BookCourier next to a pen, which is about the same length.

Caption: The BookCourier e-book reader from Springer Design.

On the BookCourier's top surface are the headphone jack and USB port. On the right side of the unit is the slot for a flash memory card. On the back are the battery compartment and a belt clip. The BookCourier runs on two AA batteries.


The BookCourier comes with online documentation. When you plug in headphones and press any key, the unit begins reading its Quick Start guide. The User Guide for the Transfer Tool, used for transferring files from your computer to the BookCourier, is also online. By pressing the Question Mark key until you hear a beep, you go to the Talking User Guide, or manual, which provides a complete overview of the BookCourier's functions. However, this document incorrectly describes the method for deleting a file. It tells you to locate the file to be deleted in the library and press Shift-0 and then incorrectly says to press Shift-Diamond to confirm. The correct command is to press Shift-0 again to confirm the deletion.

The BookCourier also has a key-describer mode. If you press the Question Mark key and then another key, you hear a description of the functions that key performs.

Ease of Use

It is easy to play files on the BookCourier. The most complicated part of using the device is loading files from your computer to the BookCourier. You must install the transfer tool onto your computer from a CD and connect the BookCourier to your computer's USB port. Once you do so, the computer displays the BookCourier as a new drive in Windows Explorer. You are walked through the process of transferring files. Your computer must have Windows Millennium, Windows 2000, or Windows XP to run the software.

The BookCourier's keys have multiple functions. As was mentioned earlier, the 5 key is the Play/Pause key. However, if you hold the 5 key down until you hear a beep, the BookCourier then announces your location in the file that is currently being read, your location in the file library, and so forth.

File Navigation

The 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys are used to navigate through files. You can move forward or backward through text files by word; sentence; paragraph; and, with some files, page. You can fast-forward through a file by pressing the Shift and 6 keys simultaneously and rewind by pressing Shift-4. It is possible to spell individual words.

You can use BookCourier's Fast Forward and Fast Reverse functions while listening to MP3 files. You cannot use text-navigation keys or adjust the speed of MP3 files. The BookCourier also plays files that are downloaded from Audible.com, an online audio-file subscription service. These files can be books, newspapers, or radio shows; they do not use the BookCourier's built-in speech synthesizer. Unlike MP3 files, you can use text-navigation keys with files from Audible.com, but the navigation is by time—one minute, five minutes, and so forth. You can also read files from Bookshare.org, which are supplied in DAISY or formatted braille, but these files must be converted to plain text files before BookCourier will read them. Both Audible.com and Bookshare.org require membership to gain access to most of their content.

The BookCourier has no On–Off switch. It shuts itself off after 10 seconds of inactivity. Pressing any key turns the unit on again. You can lock the unit by pressing the 1 and 3 keys together; to unlock it, press the 1 and 3 keys again. You may want to lock the unit when you are carrying it in your pocket or backpack or when you want to listen to a long file without accidentally pressing keys.

You access the BookCourier's file list by pressing the Star key. The unit announces "Library." You can then navigate through stored folders and files as you would in Windows Explorer.

The Diamond key accesses the settings list. Here, you can set the time and date, change Double Talk synthesizer voices, adjust the amount of punctuation spoken, and so on. This is also where you set the sleep timer, which can be set from 5 to 60 minutes in 5-minute increments.

Recording Memos

To record messages with the BookCourier, you press Shift-Pound to begin recording and hold down the Pound key until you hear a beep to stop recording. Recordings are saved as .WAV files that are named using the day and time at which they were recorded. This is a handy way to record a telephone number or other information.

The Bottom Line

The BookCourier provides a way to read text files and listen to MP3s in a handheld device. Its navigation is intuitive. Its drawbacks are the need to download files from a computer and the limited range of file formats that it reads.

Manufacturer's Comments

Springer Design

"By summer of 2004, BookCourier will support DAISY files as well as text, MP3, Audible, and BRF files. Along with the DAISY file support, you'll find additional navigation features to allow you to jump though a document by chapter, section, or any other increment defined in your DAISY file. In the current release, BookCourier has a Check for Updates feature that allows you automatically to download newer versions of the software from our web site. For example, we've corrected the error in the User Guide instructions mentioned in this review. So, you can easily download the corrected version of the User Guide directly into your BookCourier using the Check for Updates feature. This update feature also gives you access to new features as soon as they become available."

Product Features

Features Book Port BookCourier
Size: 4 inches by 2.25 inches by 1 inch 5 inches by 2.5 inches by 1 inch
Weight 6 ounces (with batteries) 6 ounces (with batteries)
Type of files played ASCII text, HTML, BRF, MP3, WAV, DAISY 2 and 3, Microsoft Word 97 or later, and RTF ASCII text, MP3, and Audible.com
Synthesizer Double Talk Double Talk
Built-in speaker No No

Product Features

Feature: Book Port; BookCourier

Size: Book Port: 4 inches by 2.25 inches by 1 inch; BookCourier: 5 inches by 2.5 inches by 1 inch.

Weight: Book Port: 6 ounces (with batteries); BookCourier: 6 ounces (with batteries).

Type of files played: Book Port: ASCII text, HTML, BRF, MP3, WAV, DAISY 2 and 3, Microsoft Word 97 or later, and RTF; BookCourier: ASCII text, MP3, and Audible.com.

Synthesizer: Book Port: Double Talk; BookCourier: Double Talk.

Built-in speaker: Book Port: No; BookCourier: No.

Ratings Chart
Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Feature: Book Port; BookCourier

Keys easily identifiable by touch: Book Port: 4; BookCourier: 4.

Documentation: Book Port: 4; BookCourier: 4.

Overall rating: Book Port: 4.5; BookCourier: 4.

Product Information

Product: Book Port

Manufacturer: American Printing House for the Blind, P.O. Box 6085, Louisville, KY 40206-0085; phone: 800-223-1839 (toll free) or 502-895-2405; web site: <http://www.aph.org>.

Price: $395.

Product: BookCourier

Manufacturer: Springer Design, 375 Diablo Road, Suite 105, Danville, CA 94526; phone: 925-838-1885; e-mail: <sales@bookcourier.com>; web site: <www.bookcourier.com>.

Price: $379 (discounts are available for Bookshare.org subscribers and users of Kurzweil 1000) .

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Access Issues

How Do I Read Thee? A Librarian Expands the Ways

If you are blind or have low vision, you are undoubtedly familiar with the litany of questions, often clichéd queries, that are proffered by strangers who are not familiar with visual impairments. Children ask the best ones: "How do you drive?" "How do you find your food?" And the one that presents a delicious teaching moment: "How do you read?" Let me count the ways!

A few decades ago, there was a simple answer to the last question. People who were blind could read books in braille, books in large print, and books recorded on long-playing records by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). Adding audiocassettes to the mix was a piece of heaven for bibliophiles. Technology began to increase the options significantly in the late 1980s, and now, for people who are sighted and those who are visually impaired, the snowball of electronic books is rolling down the hill at a speed that is more rapid than any reader can match.

In other issues of AccessWorld, we have written about some of the wonderful and varied ways that people who are blind or have low vision can now gain access to books. Online sites such as Bookshare.org and NLS's Web-Braille offer thousands of books to be downloaded and read either on a personal computer (PC) or a portable notetaker. (At this moment, for instance, I count 44 books and 6 magazines for reading in braille or through synthesized speech that are waiting in my own braille notetaker.) Hardware and software players for listening to DAISY-format e-books are now available from a variety of companies. Sighted people are downloading e-books into handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs) and cell phones. A growing number of mainstream libraries are offering titles in various electronic formats. In other words, whereas people who do not read print have options for reading books electronically, people who do read print have many more.

Serving Up New Options

Lori Bell, director of the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center (MITBC) in East Peoria and Quincy, Illinois, a subregional library within the NLS network of cooperating libraries that is operated by the Alliance Library System, has spearheaded a series of projects that are designed to put new and emerging reading formats into the hands of patrons who are blind or have low vision. "Talking Books are my business," Bell explained, "and I love Talking Books. I'm not trying to replace them. But I'm a librarian, and my job is to serve library patrons. No matter what library I'm in, I'd be looking at new technology and how it serves readers."

There have been five projects to date (the fifth began in July 2004), and each has been an exploration of formats and devices that are used for reading digital Talking Books. The first project, the eAudio study, which ran from January through June 2003 and included 40 MITBC patrons, used Audible.com books that were loaded onto Audible's proprietary Otis players. Audible.com is a commercial service that offers books and other materials to its customers in an electronic format that can be either played on a PC or downloaded into the Otis for portability. In this study, a $2,000 donation was used to purchase eight Otis players and 48 digital audio books from Audible.com. Players were mailed, loaded with one book each, to patrons for a period of two weeks at a time. Each package included instructions in large print and a set of earbuds. The Otis player resembles a pager in shape and size and has buttons, a liquid-crystal display (LCD), and a jack for connecting the earbuds, other headphones, or an external speaker. The Audible.com files are commercial recordings of human voices. The books are narrated by professionals, in much the same manner as the Talking Books that are provided through the NLS library. (Many participants commented that they preferred the narration of NLS Talking Books to the commercial, more "expressive" recordings from Audible.com.)

Although the participants responded favorably to the quality and portability of this format, the fact that the players are not user-friendly to people without vision was clear. The participants commented that the buttons were too small and that audible clues were needed to indicate a button's performance, and many missed the variable-speed control that is available on NLS Talking Book players. (Many also expressed annoyance with the earbuds, although this is clearly the most easily remedied complaint, since other headsets could be used.)

The second project, called the Lobe Library Project, expanded the exploration of Otis players and Audible.com books to include library patrons in five states (Illinois, Hawaii, Mississippi, Montana, and New Jersey). The Lobe Library Project ran for one year, from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004; a final report will issued later in the year.

Upward and Onward

From the single-format studies that explored the Audible.com files, MITBC moved on to examining seven digital talking book players in its third project. Conducted by Tom Peters, a consultant from TAP Information Services, the study explored seven products—including those that Peters described as "next-generation" Talking Book players (the Victor Classic and Plextor), upgraded personal compact disk (CD) players (Victor Reader Vibe, Telex Scholar, and SoulPlayer), and two devices that are "dependent on the mothership PC for downloads"—the Book Port and BookCourier. (The latter two devices are reviewed elsewhere in this issue of AccessWorld.) In a report available online, Peters discussed the pros and cons of these devices from the vantage point of usability by persons who are unable to read print and concluded, as has AccessWorld, that although the perfect device has by no means been created, people who are blind or have low vision may well want to avail themselves of such products.

"We don't know what the e-book of the future will look like," Peters said. "Maybe we won't even call it a book. . . . The first cars were called 'horseless carriages' because carriages were what was known. Eventually, we called them something else. [In the same way] books of the future may not be called books or look like any that we know today."

Although he is sighted, Peters is a longtime proponent of e-books, saying that he always has his handheld PDA with him for a quick read of a beloved John Milton poem or a short dip into the New York Times Book Review section. His own appreciation for carrying unlimited reading in a handheld PDA, Peters said, has led him to believe that people who are blind, have low vision, or have physical disabilities are an underserved readership.

Underwhelmed by the OverDrive Project

Meanwhile, as the seven players were being evaluated, yet another electronic format was advanced in the beta-test queue by Bell and MITBC in the OverDrive and Adobe Book project, MITBC's fourth project. OverDrive, a Cleveland-based company that sells e-book systems to mainstream libraries, installed the same software on the MITBC system for beta testers (NLS patrons from around the country) to explore. With the circulation software donated by OverDrive and a small but eclectic collection of Adobe-based books, the project allows a participant with a library card number and a PIN to "check out" a book from the library, downloading it to his or her PC, and enjoy it for the 14-day borrowing period. When the two-week period has elapsed, the OverDrive software removes the book, "returning it to the shelf," so it can be lent to someone else. Although the primary incentive for all these projects is to provide patrons with an opportunity to explore a variety of e-book formats, the OverDrive-Adobe project has received mixed reviews at best. (See "Accessing Adobe PDFs" for information on how Adobe-based books can be read.)

Initially, the PDF files were accompanied by a Microsoft text-to-speech engine, which evoked a resounding thumbs-down from all the beta testers. Accustomed to the comparative clarity and ease of use provided by synthesizers that are shipped with screen readers, such as JAWS for Windows and Window-Eyes, the beta testers found the Microsoft voice sluggish and aggravating. Once they began to turn off the read-aloud function in Adobe and to use their personal screen readers for reading and navigation, however, their judgments became more favorable. Still, many of the users I spoke with for this article said that they had read only one or a portion of one book with the software.

Bryan McMurray, supervisor of sensory and testing accommodations in the office that provides services to students with disabilities at the University of Illinois, is one beta tester who has persevered. "It took some time figuring it out," he explained, "but I've read a couple of books so far. My job is to provide the best accommodations to our students, some of them blind or visually impaired, and electronic formats are going to be an absolutely essential part of that." Yet, even though McMurray managed to enjoy a few Adobe books by reading them with Window-Eyes, he believes that what students— and other people who are blind—need most is a set of solutions that offer the same portability that print readers take for granted. "Our students get all their books and handouts scanned and proofread for reading electronically," he said, "but they are always tied to that computer. They can't go read in a snack bar or lie in the grass somewhere like their sighted peers can."

Barry Levine of Homer Glen, Illinois, expressed similar sentiments. "This particular project is really important," he said, "because blind people need to take advantage of all the forms of access that are out there. Reading with Adobe wasn't bad. Eventually, I figured out how to navigate the book like other files, but it wouldn't be my first choice." A longtime proponent of all libraries (president of his local library's board of trustees and Illinois's 2001 Library Trustee of the Year head the list of his numerous accolades and library affiliations), Levine joined the advisory committee for Bell's next project, which may well be the most energizing and informative of them all.

Pulling It All Together

The fifth project, a group project proposed by the MITBC, OverDrive, and TAP Information Services, was named the winner of the 2004 Sirsi Leader in Library Technology Grant, awarded by the American Library Association for creative and groundbreaking use of technology to deliver library services. Bell and the MITBC launched its MIDTB (pronounced "my D T B," for the Mid-Illinois Digital Talking Book Project) in July 2004. The project's goal is to put as many formats of audio digital books and ways of listening to them as possible into the hands of readers who are blind or have low vision and to publicize the results. OverDrive is planning to produce books in Windows Media, which are expected to be much friendlier to screen readers than the Adobe files have been, but this is only the beginning of the reading list. If you have wondered about audio books in DAISY, Windows Media, Adobe, MP3, or Mobipocket electronic formats, as well as the array of devices and programs for hearing them, here is your opportunity to find out more and provide some valuable input (see For More Information at the end of this article). This project will run from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2005, and is being coordinated by Tom Peters.

Input about Access

Despite the abundant praise from borrowers of talking books who have participated in these projects, Bell humbly insisted that the work is the result of many—her director, Sharon Ruda; grant writer Tom Peters; and several others who have provided ongoing input.

"Lori's vision," commented Kelly Pierce, a disability-rights specialist for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and an NLS patron, "is to understand that access is on the verge of change. . . . With short-form information services, blind people lagged behind the general public. Now, with long-form information, we have a chance to get involved, [to] have input about access, from the beginning."

Pierce's point is well taken. In the past 25 years, the choices for news information—which Pierce refers to as "short-form information"—that are available to people who are unable to read print have gone from local radio stations and television news on three networks to news-laden National Public Radio (NPR) stations in most cities, widespread AM talk radio, a plethora of informational cable and satellite television channels, countless daily newspapers on the Internet, and more. "There has been a real transformation in our access to short-form information," Pierce noted. "And [the MITBC projects] are giving us an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the next transformation."

Bell has always pursued technology, she said, in every library she has worked—citing as an example her effort as a hospital librarian to bring reference materials directly to the medical staff via their handheld PDA's. Bell sees it as her obligation as a librarian, although ironically, she has never read a book on a PDA and prefers a good old-fashioned hardcover print book. Some of her greatest fans among users of Talking Books and beta testers reported similar personal leanings.

Pierce, for example, said that although he has enjoyed participating in the Lobe Library Project and listening to a book produced by Audible.com on the Otis player, his preferred medium is the NLS four-track Talking Book. Levine, on the other hand, said that he wants to read a book any way he can—and he does. If a book is on CD from the public library, on four-track half-speed audiocassette from NLS, in HTML from Bookshare.org, or available some other way, that's how he wants to read it.

Admitting some annoyance that NLS will not be offering a digital solution until 2008, Levine stated that people who are blind need to know more about commercial choices that are evolving. "We'll never be able to read the printed word," he noted, "but now there's the electronic word—and we can access it."

And that reality is the essence that seems to be driving Bell and other members of the project team—sharing words in a multitude of venues and spreading the word about the effort. "Part of our work with Talking Books is outreach," Bell said, "and these projects help make people learn about our services." What may be even better than that, commercial entities are recognizing that people with disabilities are a viable, profitable market. "The folks at Audible.com or OverDrive never thought much about people who are blind or can't read print," Bell stated, "but now, they're starting to think about visually impaired people as a market and know that some people are trying these formats and then going online to buy their own Adobe books or subscribe to Audible.com."

Presumably, as such awareness grows, so may the attention paid to the needs of customers who use screen readers or require audible indicators when buttons are pushed. Perhaps one day, the question children will ask will not be "How do you read?" but "What do you like to read?"

For More Information

To read the final report of the eAudio project, go to the web site <http://www.mitbc.org/eaudiofinal.doc>. To read the Project Hal final evaluation of digital audio players, go to the web site <www.tapinformation.com> and click on Documents.

For information on participating in the MIDTB project, investigating multiple formats and players, e-mail Tom Peters at <tpeters@tapinformation.com> or Lori Bell at <lbell@alliancelibrarysystem.com>.

Accessing Adobe PDFs

Jim Denham

If the proper steps are taken, documents in Adobe PDF format can be accessible to individuals using screen-review software. The first step is to obtain the most current versions of both your screen-review software and Adobe Reader. Users of screen-review software will want to have at least JAWS 5.0 (the March 2004 update) or Window-Eyes 4.5. The latest versions of these software applications add a great deal of support for proper reading of PDF documents. These screen readers work best with Adobe Reader version 6.01, the latest version of Adobe's PDF reader. This application can be downloaded for free from <access.adobe.com>. When downloading, users will want to select the full version for Windows.

The second step, and the step that is more difficult for the end user to control, is to ensure that PDF documents are created properly. PDF documents that are not created properly will cause significant problems for assistive technology such as screen readers. If, for example, the author of a PDF document simply includes an image of text instead of the actual text in the document, screen review software will be unable to read this document. The latest versions of tools used to create PDF documents, such as Adobe Acrobat Professional, include features that help authors create accessible content. Authors can also find guidelines for creating accessible content at <access.adobe.com>.

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AccessWorld News


Share your assistive technology expertise as a speaker at the 2005 Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) Conference, the industry's leading conference in educating and showcasing the latest advances in assistive technology. Assistive technology specialists and professionals in the blindness field are invited to submit proposals to present during the ATIA Conference, to be held for the first time at the Caribe Royale All-Suites Resort in Orlando, Florida, January 19-22, 2005.

ATIA is seeking presentations in assistive technology from professionals who work in the field of blindness technology: clinicians, teachers, assistive technology specialists, rehabilitation specialists, assistive technology teams, government personnel, and assistive technology vendors. Presentations should focus on practical applications and innovative uses of assistive technology. All submissions must be received by August 2, 2004. For more information, contact: Jim Denham, e-mail: <jdenham@afb.net> or ATIA web site: <www.atia.org/conf_2005.html>.


Ai Squared recently announced the release of version 8.11 of its popular ZoomText program. Among the added features are the ability to read PDF files without special settings in Adobe Reader, support for Find and Spell Check in Microsoft Word, and improved support for creating and reading e-mail in such programs as Outlook, Outlook Express, AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo and Lotus Notes. The update is available free for download by registered users of ZoomText version 8.10. Either activate the automated update feature in ZoomText or manually download the new release at <www.aisquared.com/Support/Updates.htm>. To learn more about the ZoomText program or for a 30-day trial of Version 8.11, go to <www.aisquared.com/zt8> or request the free trial version on CD by calling AI Squared sales at 800-859-0270.


If you've ever gotten a new computer and realized that you liked your old Windows Media Player 7.0 better than the new 9.0, or needed an earlier version of Eudora or WinZip to function more compatibly with some other applications, OldVersion.com is a site you'll want to bookmark. The site offers 474 downloads, which are various versions of 51 different programs. Each program is accompanied by a brief description of its functions and features. All downloads are free. Check it out at <www.OldVersion.com>.


The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) invites nominations for its 2005 Access Awards, which honor individuals, corporations, and organizations that strive to eliminate or substantially reduce inequities faced by people who are blind or visually impaired. The awards will be presented on March 11, 2005, during the 2005 Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. The deadline for letters of nomination is Monday, September 13, 2004.

Nominations for the AFB Access Awards should illustrate an exceptional and innovative effort that has improved the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired by enhancing access to information, the environment, technology, education, or employment, including making mainstream products and services accessible. The effort should be one that has a national impact or can be a model for replication on a national level.

Letters of nomination should be sent, preferably via e-mail, to: James Denham, AFB 2005 Access Awards Committee, 949 Third Avenue, Suite 200, Huntington, WV 25701; e-mail: jdenham@afb.net; web site: <www.afb.org>.


Optelec USA has been moving fast in 2004—adding products, adding people, and making deals. Known for its prominent role in the field of video magnifiers and other products for people with low vision, the company is expanding its North American business by the addition of a new blindness products division. Larry Lewis, Optelec's new vice president of blindness sales, has a reputation for standing behind innovative technology in the blindness field and for attention to detail in terms of quality and usability. Additions to his team thus far include JoAnn Becker, blindness product manager, and Mike Pedersen, director of corporate development, both of whom are blind themselves and who bring expertise in the use of braille and speech technology.

Another feature of Optelec's new presence in the field is a promising collaboration with Dolphin Computer Access. The two companies plan to work together promoting, from Optelec's holdings, the Tieman line of refreshable braille displays, along with Dolphin's screen-reading software. From June 1–September 30, 2004, Optelec and Dolphin are promoting a package of Braille Voyager plus Supernova at a considerably reduced price to bring the collaboration to the attention of consumers who are blind. Braille Voyager is a lightweight braille display, available in either 44- or 70-cell versions. Supernova is Dolphin's integrated screen reader and screen magnifier. For the four-month promotional period, the combination of Supernova Version 6 with either of the Braille Voyager braille displays will be available at a 15% discount from suggested list prices. For further information, contact: Optelec USA; phone: 800-828-1056; web site: <www.optelec.com> or Dolphin Computer Access; phone: 866-797-5921; e-mail: <info@dolphinusa.com>.


In a special arrangement with Springer Design, manufacturers of the BookCourier, the Lutheran Braille Evangelism Association has made available a digital talking Bible at a subsidized rate for people who are blind or visually impaired. About the size of a pager, the unit comes preloaded with any one of seven different translations and includes all 66 books of the entire Old and New Testaments. Using a telephone-style keypad, the user can navigate easily by book, chapter, or verse, can search for particular passages, bookmark passages, and adjust volume, speed, and other functions. The device uses the Double Talk speech synthesizer. The unit is about the size of a pager, and comes ready to use—with an AA battery installed, earbuds included, and a quick-start user's guide both on cassette and in print. The complete user's guide is in the BibleCourier itself. The BibleCourier is available for a $100 donation. To order, contact: Lutheran Braille Evangelism, 1740 Eugene St., White Bear Lake, MN 55110-3312; phone: 651-426-0469; web site: <www.lbea.org>.


Freedom Scientific has recently released MAGic 9.0, the latest update to its versatile screen magnification with speech program. Version 9.0 affords the user considerable flexibility in customizing and control over screen colors, cursor, and mouse pointer. The appearance of cursor or mouse pointer can be varied in terms of line thickness, shape, size, and configurations of schemes can be saved and called up for use in various contexts. The Quick View Frame allows the user to monitor a small area on the screen that is not magnified while working in other areas that are. Many other options are available in this new update, giving each individual the opportunity to customize the program to accommodate his or her degree and type of vision. MAGic 9.0 is available free to all registered users of MAGic 8.X as a download or on CD for a charge of $10. Contact: Freedom Scientific, phone: 800-444-4443; web site: <www.freedomscientific.com>.

The SAL (Speech Assisted Learning) interactive braille learning system continues to evolve. Students learning braille can progress at an individual pace, working on lessons without a teacher present while receiving immediate feedback from the system. Teachers can adapt their own braille instruction or other tactile perception curriculum by using Script Authoring for SAL, or SALSA, available from Duxbury Systems, or can use courseware already available from Exceptional Teaching Aids. Dr. Sally Mangold, SAL's developer, will be holding workshops in its use at various locations, including the AER international conference in Orlando, Florida, July 13–19. For more information, contact: Duxbury Systems, 270 Littleton Rd., Unit 6, Westford, MA 01886-3523; phone: 978-692-3000; web site: <www.duxburysystems.com/salsa.asp>. Exceptional Teaching Aids, 20102 Woodbine Ave., Castro Valley, CA 94546; phone: 800-549-6999; e-mail: <ExTeaching@aol.com>; web site: <www.exceptionalteaching.com>.

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July 12–16, 2004

Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) Workshop

Monrovia, CA


Kirk D. Behnke, Center on Disabilities, California State University, Northridge; phone: 818-677-2578; e-mail: <kirk.behnke@csun.edu>; web site: <http://www.csun.edu/codtraining>.

July 13–15, 2004

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

Birmingham, England, United Kingdom


Queen Alexandra College; phone: +0121-428-5050; e-mail: <enquiries@qac.ac.uk>; web site: <http://www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage>.

August 2–6, 2004

Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) Workshop

Washington, DC


Kirk D. Behnke, Center on Disabilities, California State University, Northridge; phone: 818-677-2578; e-mail: <kirk.behnke@csun.edu>; web site: <http://www.csun.edu/codtraining>.

November 18–19, 2004

Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) Techshare 2004

Birmingham, England, United Kingdom


Sally Cain, web technologies officer and project manager, Techshare, RNIB Technology in Learning and Employment, 58-72 John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN, England; phone: +44-121-665-4226; e-mail: <sally.cain@rnib.org.uk>; web site: <http://www.rnib.org.uk>.

January 19–22, 2005

2005 Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) Conference

Orlando, Florida


Jim Denham; e-mail: <jdenham@afb.net>; web site: <http://www.atia.org/conf_2005>.

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Copyright © 2004 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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