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

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Letters to the Editor

Diabetes and Visual Impairment: Are Home Blood Pressure Monitors Accessible?

To the millions of people with diabetes who are visually impaired, controlling blood pressure is as important as controlling blood sugar, but are the tools they need accessible?—Steven Taylor, Darren Burton, and Mark Uslan

Recognizing and Rewarding: A Review of OpenBook and Kurzweil 1000

It's an OCR program, it's a money identifier, it's a web searching tool, it's an MP3 player! These two OCR packages do all that and more. Find out how they compare—Koert Wehberg, Deborah Kendrick, and Jay Leventhal

The Man and the Machine: An Interview with Ray Kurzweil

The renowned inventor and futurist is known for much more than the revolutionary reading machine that bears his name. Catch a glimpse of his amazing accomplishments and perceptive predictions—Jay Leventhal

You Can Take It with You II: A Review of Two More Portable CCTVs

This month, AccessWorld examines the QuickLook and the Assist Vision Slider AV-300 and then compares them to three previously rated devices to find out which of these portable magnification devices is best for reading and writing reports and which works best in the supermarket—Carol Farrenkopf

Out of the Blue: Usability Testing at IBM

Many mainstream companies are promoting their products as accessible, but IBM actually puts their products to the test. Find out how IBM is pioneering usability testing of its products—Joseph Sacco, Guido Corona, and Leila Johannesen

A Virtual Virtuoso: CathyAnne Murtha

AccessWorld chats with the founder of Access Technology Institute, technology textbook author, and teacher par excellence, who conducts her online training via voice chat—Deborah Kendrick

Not Just Playing Around: A Review of Accessible Windows-based Games

Need a break from research or shopping on the Internet? Read on—you'll find our reviewers are not just playing around!—Jim Denham and Heather McComas

AccessWorld News

Calendar


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

Walk from booth to booth in the exhibit halls at any of the annual conferences of organizations of and for people who are blind, and you will find screen readers, screen magnifiers, braille displays, CCTVs and other assistive technology products. Each company boasts the latest and greatest new features. The prices are extremely high, because the manufacturers can hope to sell only hundreds or, if they are lucky, thousands of each product.

Something important is conspicuously absent from all of the booths at these shows, as well as from catalogs of products for people who are blind or visually impaired: accessible medical devices. Millions of people need, and are searching for, accessible medical devices such as blood glucose monitors and home blood pressure monitors. Without these products, these people are dependent on others for vital information about their health. A talking blood pressure monitor is a novelty item to most sighted users, but it is a necessity to someone who is blind.

Product manufacturers don't know that these potential customers are out there. Over the years, talking devices have come and gone from the market. This is partly because the potential users did not know the products existed, and, as a result, too few were purchased.

Doctors, nurses and others who counsel people with diabetes and other diseases must be made aware of the need for accessible medical products. Advocates for people who are blind or visually impaired, and professionals in the blindness field, have not done their part to draw attention to this critical need. How can people live independently and hold a job if they cannot monitor and make decisions about their health?

In this issue, intern Steven Taylor, Darren Burton, and Mark Uslan of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), evaluate home blood pressure monitors. The authors state that in managing diabetes, maintaining proper blood pressure is as important as maintaining proper blood glucose levels. Studies have shown that people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure (also called hypertension) and that more than 50% of people with diabetes actually do have high blood pressure. Despite the fact that nearly one-third of the 17 million Americans with diabetes have a visual impairment, this article shows, as did our previous articles on insulin pumps and blood glucose monitors, that there is an extreme shortage of accessible medical devices to help these people monitor their health. AFB TECH staff are reporting their findings to the manufacturers of these devices, and AFB is educating these companies about the need for accessible devices and the number of people who would benefit from having them, and is offering to work with companies to bring more accessible devices to the market. Your help is needed in this effort. Please contact us and we will share your experiences with our readers and product manufacturers.

Koert Wehberg, a longtime summer intern and now a college graduate, Deborah Kendrick, and I evaluate the two leading optical character recognition (OCR) packages, Kurzweil 1000 version 8.0 and OpenBook version 7.0. OCR technology continues to improve, and both companies keep adding other features, such as the ability to search the web for e-books, create MP3s, read PDF files, recognize currency and more. As a result, people have begun using both of these products for more and more tasks at work and at home. Find out how they compare.

I interview Ray Kurzweil, renowned inventor and futurist. Kurzweil was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition program, the first CCD (charge coupled device) flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition software and, of course, the first text-to-speech reading machine for people who are blind. He has successfully founded nine businesses in OCR, music synthesis, speech recognition, reading technology, virtual reality, financial investment, medical simulation and cybernetic art. It was fascinating to hear firsthand his account of events from back in the mid-1970s, as well as some amazing developments he predicts as computers continue to grow smaller and more powerful in the twenty-first century. I am sure you will find both his story and his predictions riveting.

Dr. Carol Farrenkopf, Coordinator of Toronto District School Board Vision Services, evaluates two portable CCTVs, the QuickLook from Ash Technologies and the Assist Vision Slider AV-300 from the TIMES Corporation. The Slider is a lightweight, compact CCTV, while the QuickLook is a handheld device that can fit in a pocket or purse. The two devices were tested by students and adults in a variety of locations. Ratings and features charts compare these two products with similar products that Farrenkopf reviewed in our July 2004 issue.

Joseph Sacco and Leila Johannesen, IBM Human Factors Engineers, and Guido Corona of IBM's Accessibility Center describe IBM usability testing conducted at the company's Silicon Valley Laboratory in San Jose, California. People who are blind or visually impaired tested the usability of online documentation for IBM products. They were questioned about descriptions of figures in documentation, where figures should be placed, whether phrases such as "begin figure description" are useful and how complicated descriptions of figures could be made more useful. The results were recorded, and will be incorporated into future IBM products. IBM has been a leader in accessibility for decades. We hope other mainstream companies will follow IBM's lead in including people who are blind or visually impaired in usability testing.

Deborah Kendrick interviews CathyAnne Murtha, founder of Access Technology Institute. Murtha teaches beginners to use assistive technology, writes textbooks and conducts online training via voice chat. There is a shortage of qualified trainers in the field. Sit in on a class with Kendrick, and learn about this excellent source for increasing your knowledge from the comfort of your own home.

Jim Denham and Heather McComas of AFB TECH review accessible games from All inPlay, BSC Games and GMA Games. Whether you want to drive a tank through enemy territory or simply play a good game of cards, these authors say, there is something for you. In the past, AccessWorld readers have told us that playing games is at the bottom of the list when it comes to how they spend their time online. So, at the risk of having our editorial priorities questioned, we present this overview of what is out there.

More than 1,800 people are now signed up for AccessWorld Extra, the e-mail newsletter produced by AccessWorld staff in each of the six months when AccessWorld is not published. Issues e-mailed to a number of you have bounced with messages stating that we were denied access by your Internet service provider (ISP) or that your ISP classified AccessWorld Extra as spam. If you have signed up for AccessWorld Extra and are not receiving it, please contact your ISP and let them know that e-mail from accessworld@afb.net should not be blocked as spam.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

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Letters to the Editor

Demystification

Joe Lazzaro's article "An Introduction to Web Design" in the May issue of AccessWorld, was simply fantastic. Joe demystified Web design for me. He is a marvelous teacher.

Morgan Jones

What AccesssWorld Means to Me

I am a totally blind high school student, and I read AccessWorld regularly, and I must say that it is one of the best technology magazines that I have come across so far! Keep up the extremely good work! I love reading all of the different articles about cell phones, PAC-Mates, BrailleNotes, etc.! I think that you should do a comparison of the new BX, QX models of the PAC-Mates, and the current BrailleNotes. I think that this would be very interesting for current PAC-Mate users, BrailleNote users, and of course potential buyers!

I hope to keep reading AccessWorld forever! You don't know how helpful it is to the blind consumers, and technology buffs/geeks like myself! SMILE!

Kolby Garrison

The Editor responds:

It is great to know that high school students are reading AccessWorld, and that one of them considers herself a "technology buff/geek."

Easy and Convenient

I just wanted to say thanks for the Web-based AccessWorld. What an easy, convenient way to read this great magazine!

In the July 2004 issue, I especially enjoyed the articles "A Library in Your Hand" and "How Do I Read Thee?" and I would also enjoy an article on the Bookworm, a braille small reading device.

Thanks and keep up the good work!"

Beth from Virginia

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Product Evaluation

Diabetes and Visual Impairment: Are Home Blood Pressure Monitors Accessible?

As we reported in our two previous evaluations of the accessibility and usability of diabetes management devices, diabetes is a rapidly growing disease with a close relationship to vision loss. Nearly one-third of the 17 million Americans with diabetes are visually impaired, so it seems natural that the devices that are used to manage diabetes should be accessible. We have discovered that this is not always the case. In our September 2002 article evaluating blood glucose meters and in our March 2004 article evaluating insulin pumps, we found both product categories to be severely lacking in accessibility and usability for people who are visually impaired. In this article, we evaluate home blood pressure monitors (HBPMs), which are also important medical devices that are used in the management of diabetes.

Why Are HBPMs Important?

Endocrinologists, physicians who specialize in the glands and hormones of the body and related disorders, including diabetes, have told us that in managing diabetes, maintaining proper blood pressure is as important as maintaining proper blood glucose levels. Studies have shown that people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure (also called hypertension) and that more than 50% of people with diabetes actually do have high blood pressure. A person with diabetes is more likely to develop clogged arteries, and has two to four times the risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, more than three-fourths of people with diabetes eventually die of a heart attack or stroke. However, tight control of your blood pressure can reduce these risks and reduce the risk of other complications of diabetes, including the deterioration of vision from hypertensive retinopathy, macroaneurysms, optic neuropathy, and vitreous hemorrhages. In addition to the health problems related to diabetes, high blood pressure itself has reached crisis proportions in this country. Nearly 60 million Americans, 1 in 4 adults, have high blood pressure.

Self-monitoring your blood pressure with an HBPM is an important step in maintaining healthy blood pressure. With greater knowledge of your blood pressure readings over time, you and your physician can better manage your condition with proper medication and exercise. Frequent self-monitoring gives you much more information to work with than the occasional check you get when visiting your physician, and it avoids what researchers call "white coat syndrome." Studies have shown that white coat syndrome—the tendency to exhibit higher blood pressure in the presence of a physician—can lead to the mistreatment of persons who suffer from this phenomenon. Also, many people with diabetes and heart disease have a condition called silent ischemia, which masks the chest pains and other symptoms that are normally associated with the insufficient flow of oxygen to the heart. This condition may prevent people from seeking medical attention, so they have even more reason to use an HBPM.

What Is an HBPM, and How Is It Used?

Most people are familiar with the manual blood pressure device, or mercury sphygmomanometer, used by health care providers to measure blood pressure in a physician's office. A sphygmomanometer is the most accurate tool for measuring blood pressure, and it is actually used to determine the accuracy of HBPMs. Like sphygmomanometers, one type of HBPM is placed over the upper arm, but other types come in wrist and finger units. We chose to evaluate only the upper-arm units because they have been proved to be the most accurate, and none of the wrist or finger units has fulfilled the validation requirements of the British Hypertension Society (BHS), which measures the accuracy of the devices.

The units we evaluated are all similar. They all have an inflatable cuff that is placed over the upper arm and secured in place with Velcro. They all have a tube connecting the cuff to a small box that houses the electronic circuitry, control buttons, and display screen. The boxes are about the size of a small clock radio, have large LCD (liquid crystal display) screens, and two to six control buttons. Two of the units we evaluated are available with a small printer and can provide a paper printout of the results. We also evaluated one "talking" unit with recorded human speech to announce the results orally.

Photo of a woman sitting at a desk with a blood pressure cuff over her upper arm. She is looking at a small rectangular device with a display screen on the desk.

Caption: Home blood pressure monitors using inflatable cuffs over the upper arm are the most accurate. This model is the Omron HEM-757-E.

To use a monitor, place the cuff over the upper arm and position the tube so that it is on the inside of the arm in line with the middle finger. Then you press the start button on the unit. The cuff then begins to inflate. You need to remain calm, breathe normally, and not talk while the measurement is taken. In less than a minute, the cuff deflates, and the monitor provides a reading of blood pressure as well as pulse rate.

Most monitors have a feature that determines when to stop pumping up the cuff. Using a mathematcial algorithm involving what is known as "fuzzy logic," this feature makes sure the cuff is pumped up enough to be accurate but not so much that it causes pain. To the user, fuzzy logic means greater comfort, in that the cuff squeezes your arm only as much as necessary to get an accurate reading. Also, two of the monitors from Microlife feature what they call the Microlife Averaging Mode (MAM), which produces a more accurate reading by taking three measurements in a row and averaging the results.

Which HBPMs Did We Choose to Evaluate and Why?

As mentioned earlier, the HBPMs had to be the more accurate upper-arm type to be included in our evaluation. They also had to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and to be recommended by the BHS. The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety of food, drugs, and medical devices, and approves HBPMs on the basis of companies' use of the protocols of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation to evaluate their own devices. BHS publishes protocols for measuring the accuracy of HBPMs in accordance with a mercury sphygmomanometer for consumer use. When devices are tested using BHS protocols, they are actually graded according to their accuracy. BHS also provides a list of HBPMs that it recommends for use by consumers, whereas the FDA does not. This is why we chose to evaluate the devices that are approved for sale in the United States by the FDA and that are recommended by the BHS for their accuracy.

The HBPMs that we evaluated are the ones that the BHS rated most highly: four from Omron Healthcare (HEM-705CP-II, HEM-711AC, HEM-712C, and HEM-757-E), four from Microlife USA (BP 3BT0-A, BP 3AC1, BP 3AA1-1, and BP 3AA1-2), and three from A&D Medical (UA-779, UA-787 and the talking UA-767T). We also discovered three other talking HBPMs, but they have not been approved as yet by the FDA for sale in the United States (see "Talking, But Not Available" to learn more about those monitors).

Photo of four blood pressure monitors showing large-print displays.

Caption: Four of the non-talking monitors. Clockwise from upper left: Omron HEM-705CP-II; Omron HEM-757-E; A&D UA-787; Microlife BP 3AA1-2.

How Did We Evaluate the Devices?

We evaluated the accessibility of the monitors by assessing the following six areas:

  • Visual display: Can a person with low vision read the information on the screen?
  • Quality of speech output (talking monitor only).
  • Control buttons: Can a person who is blind or has low vision easily identify and activate the buttons?
  • Documentation: Are the manuals available in alternate formats?
  • Positioning of the cuff: Can a person who is blind or has low vision easily position the cuff properly?
  • Battery replacement: Is it easy to change the batteries tactilely?

Results

Visual Display

All the monitors we evaluated feature low-contrast, black-on-gray LCD displays, similar to those found on blood glucose meters. The contrast could not be adjusted. However, although there was no zoom feature, the displays used large fonts to show information. Some people with low vision would be able to read the displays because of the large fonts, which ranged in size from 56 points to 82 points for the blood pressure readings and 36 points to 72 points for the pulse readings. Others might not be able to read the displays because of glare, low contrast, and the lack of color and backlighting.

The HEM-705CP-II comes with a small printer to print out the results in receipt form. However, the printout is in only about an 11-point to 12-point font, and scanning it with the Kurzweil 1000 scanning software did not produce good results. The Microlife BP 3AA1-2 also has a small printer, but it must be purchased separately, and we did not evaluate it.

Quality of Speech Output

The speech output on the talking UA-767T is high-quality recorded human voice, and it is easy to understand. It also features a volume-control slider and headphone jack for privacy. The results of the test are repeated until you press a button to turn off the device.

Control Buttons

Most of the buttons on the monitors are well designed and easy to distinguish and identify by touch. There are from one to six buttons on each monitor, so it is easy to learn and memorize their functions. The buttons on the Microlife BP 3BT0-A, BP 3AA1-1, and BP 3AA1-2 are flush with the panel and slightly more difficult to identify, but, with minimal practice, they are still easy to operate.

Documentation

We found the manuals for the nontalking monitors only in print and in PDF computer files. The PDF files were not designed to be accessible using a screen reader, such as JAWS or Window-Eyes, but they worked fine with the ZoomText screen-magnifier software. We found no manuals in braille, audiocassette, large print, or accessible electronic formats.

We also could not find many manuals in accessible formats for the talking monitor. A&D Medical had a large-print manual and a manual in PDF format, but although it worked fine with the ZoomText screen magnifier, it was inaccessible to screen readers.

Positioning of the Cuff

It is easy to place the cuff properly on the arm with all the meters we evaluated. All monitors, with one exception, feature a flexible cuff. In this design, you simply clasp the cuff around your upper arm and secure it in place with Velcro. The exception is the A&D UA-787, which features the EasyCuff, a semirigid plastic component that is added to the cuff design to enable the cuff to mold itself better to a user's arm.

Battery Replacement

All the monitors use four AA batteries. Once you learn how to locate and open the battery compartments, it is easy to replace the batteries. The compartments all have springs placed where the negative ends of the batteries should be, so it is easy to position the batteries to obtain the correct polarity.

Which Monitor Do We Recommend?

If you have diabetes or your physician has recommended that you monitor your own blood pressure with an HBPM, which one should you choose? If you have low vision and are able to read display information in large fonts between 36 and 82 points on a low-contrast LCD display, you should be satisfied with one of the monitors that do not talk. Among these nontalking monitors, there are four that we recommend. The Omron HEM-705CP-II has earned the highest accuracy rating from the BHS, comes with a printer, and has buttons that are easy to identify tactilely. The HEM-757-E features an 82-point blood pressure display font and buttons that are easy to identify tactilely. The Microlife BP 3AA1-2 also earned the highest accuracy rating, has an 80-point display font, offers an optional printer, and features a three-test averaging mode for greater accuracy. The A&D UA-787 has an 82-point display font, buttons that are easy to identify tactilely, and the EasyCuff, and it adapts for an irregular heartbeat.

If you cannot read large-print visual displays and require speech output, you have only one choice because only one "talking" monitor has been approved by the FDA to be sold in the United States. The A&D UA-767T has both FDA approval and the highest accuracy rating from BHS. Its voice output is clear and understandable, buttons are tactilely identifiable, and the monitor is generally easy to use.

Photo of the A&D Medical UA-767T.

Caption: The A&D UA-767T is the only talking monitor approved to be sold in the United States.

Why Are Talking Monitors Not Available on the Market?

Not only is the A&D UA-767T the only "talking" monitor available on the U.S. market, but the company told us that they don't sell many of them. In addition, four other talking monitors used to be on the market, but the manufacturers have discontinued them. The fact that these talking monitors are not available on the U.S. market is certainly frustrating, but it also raises the question of why they are not available.

The manufacturers of the three talking monitors discussed in the sidebar ("Talking, But Not Available") reported that they have been seeking FDA approval, so perhaps it is just that the FDA process takes a long time. Perhaps the blindness and low vision market is too small to support accessibility in mainstream products, but we are curious whether there are other reasons. Perhaps people who are blind or have low vision are simply not aware of the existence of talking monitors, and perhaps this article will help to change that situation. Or perhaps physicians are not aware of talking monitors and have never recommended them to their patients who are visually impaired. We welcome your thoughts on this issue; you can send your responses to AccessWorld.

Recommendations to Manufacturers

When we evaluate products at AFB TECH, we do it to inform our AccessWorld readers about products, but we also do it to influence manufacturers to design products to be more accessible. The talking monitor is already accessible and easy to use. The real message to the manufacturers is to ask them to make these monitors available on the market. For the manufacturers of the nontalking monitors to reach their entire market, including elderly people and people with diabetes who are losing their vision, we suggest that they include speech-output capabilities in future models. We would also like them to continue to use large fonts on their visual displays and to consider using higher-contrast color displays on future models. Our final recommendation is to produce manuals in a variety of accessible formats. Although these monitors are relatively easy to use and can be mastered with a couple of minutes' training, it would still be helpful to have manuals that we can read.

Manufacturers' Response

Microlife

"Microlife is dedicated to providing medically accurate blood pressure monitors for home use, and our upper-arm units have achieved an AA grading from the BHS. Microlife is sensitive to the special needs of those who are blind or visually impaired and is investigating components for next-generation monitors that can better address their needs."

A&D Medical

"We applaud your efforts to help raise awareness of the value of home blood pressure monitoring in the diabetes population. A&D Medical is also committed to raising this awareness and making our products easily accessible.

"There are other important features of the A&D product line worth mentioning. A&D Medical is the only company that has received FDA clearance on an Irregular Heart Beat feature that enables accurate readings and notice in the event an irregular heartbeat occurs during the reading. An irregular heartbeat typically causes measurement problems, resulting in an error message, or inaccurate reading. The newest A&D LifeSource products contain a high-speed microprocessor and a software program to determine if there are extra or missing heartbeats. If this is the case, the monitor can "add" or "subtract" the heartbeats and then correctly calculate the systolic and diastolic pressure and pulse rate.

"A&D also offers the only 'family' blood pressure monitor with illuminated buttons for ease of use with the visually impaired. The UA-774 is the first monitor specifically designed for two or more people and is one of the few monitors available that enables multiple users to share the same monitor but store their individual readings separately. Each user has a unique illuminated Start button for easy identification. This monitor also features a 'guest mode' that allows a third person to take a measurement, but without storing the reading in memory.

"The UA-774 also has enhanced features such as automatic 'Average Reading.' Each time the start button is pressed, the average of the total measurements in memory (up to 30) will flash on the display. This allows each user to obtain a quick average of their past measurements.

"A&D offers a new large-print instruction manual online. The manual comes in an illustrated 11" x 8.5" PDF file format and includes a log sheet for tracking and sharing results with the physician or other health care provider. This may be found at www.lifesourceonline.com."


The authors thank Cliff Winters and Taine Duncan of AFB TECH, as well as the Marshall Diabetes Center of Cabell Huntington Hospital, Huntington, West Virginia. Funding for this product evaluation was provided by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia.


Product Features

Product Speech
Output
BHS Rating* Blood Pressure
Font Size
Pulse
Font Size
Averaging
Mode
Fuzzy
Logic
Printer
Available
Omron
HEM-705CP-II No A/A 72 36 No Yes Yes
HEM-711AC No B/A 72 72 No Yes No
HEM-712C No B/B 70 70 No No No
HEM-757-E No Not rated 80 46 No Yes No
Microlife
BP 3BT0-A No A/A 72 54 No Yes No
BP 3AC1-1 No A/A 56 50 Yes Yes No
BP 3AA1-1 No A/A 80 54 No Yes No
BP 3AA1-2 No A/A 80 54 Yes Yes Yes
A&D Medical
UA-779 No Not rated 64 38 No Yes No
UA-787 No Not rated 82 50 No Yes No
UA-767T Yes A/A 72 36 No No No
*The BHS ratings indicate how closely the blood pressure measurements produced by the home monitors match the standards set by a mercury sphygmomanometer, with an A rating denoting the greatest agreement and a D denoting the least agreement. The two letters for each rating refer to the two measures produced in a blood pressure reading (the systolic and diastolic pressures—for example, 120/80); the BHS rates the accuracy of both readings.

Product Features

Product: Omron: HEM-705CP-II, HEM-711AC, HEM-712C, HEM-757-E; Microlife: BP 3BT0-A, BP 3AC1-1, BP 3AA1-1, BP 3AA1-2; A&D Medical: UA-779, UA-787, UA-767T.

Speech output: Omron: HEM-705CP-II: No; HEM-711AC: No; HEM-712C: No; HEM-757-E: No; Microlife: BP 3BT0-A: No; BP 3AC1-1: No; BP 3AA1-1: No; BP 3AA1-2: No; A&D Medical: UA-779: No; UA-787: No; UA-767T: Yes.

BHS Rating*: Omron: HEM-705CP-II: A/A; HEM-711AC: B/A; HEM-712C: B/B; HEM-757-E: Not rated; Microlife: BP 3BT0-A: A/A; BP 3AC1-1: A/A; BP 3AA1-1: A/A; BP 3AA1-2: A/A; A&D Medical: UA-779: Not rated; UA-787: Not rated; UA-767T: A/A.

Blood Pressure Font Size: Omron: HEM-705CP-II: 72; HEM-711AC: 72; HEM-712C: 70; HEM-757-E: 80; Microlife: BP 3BT0-A: 72; BP 3AC1-1: 56; BP 3AA1-1: 80; BP 3AA1-2: 80; A&D Medical: UA-779: 64; UA-787: 82; UA-767T: 72.

Pulse Font Size: Omron: HEM-705CP-II: 36; HEM-711AC: 72; HEM-712C: 70; HEM-757-E: 46; Microlife: BP 3BT0-A: 54; BP 3AC1-1: 50; BP 3AA1-1: 54; BP 3AA1-2: 54; A&D Medical: UA-779: 38; UA-787: 50; UA-767T: 36.

Averaging Mode: Omron: HEM-705CP-II: No; HEM-711AC: No; HEM-712C: No; HEM-757-E: No; Microlife: BP 3BT0-A: No; BP 3AC1-1: Yes; BP 3AA1-1: No; BP 3AA1-2: Yes; A&D Medical: UA-779: No; UA-787: No; UA-767T: No.

Fuzzy Logic: Omron: HEM-705CP-II: Yes; HEM-711AC: Yes; HEM-712C: No; HEM-757-E: Yes; Microlife: BP 3BT0-A: Yes; BP 3AC1-1: Yes; BP 3AA1-1: Yes; BP 3AA1-2: Yes; A&D Medical: UA-779: Yes; UA-787: Yes; UA-767T: No.

Printer Available: Omron: HEM-705CP-II: Yes; HEM-711AC: No; HEM-712C: No; HEM-757-E: No; Microlife: BP 3BT0-A: No; BP 3AC1-1: No; BP 3AA1-1: No; BP 3AA1-2: Yes; A&D Medical: UA-779: No; UA-787: No; UA-767T: No.

*The BHS ratings indicate how closely the blood pressure measurements produced by the home monitors match the standards set by a mercury sphygmomanometer, with an A rating denoting the greatest agreement and a D denoting the least agreement. The two letters for each rating refer to the two measures produced in a blood pressure reading (the systolic and diastolic pressures—for example, 120/80); the BHS rates the accuracy of both readings.

Product Information

Products: UA-787, UA-767T, and UA-779

Manufacturer: A&D Medical (Lifesource), 1555 McCandless Drive, Milpitas, CA 95035; phone: 408-263-5333; e-mail: <support@lifesourceonline.com>; web site: <www.lifesourceonline.com>.

Price: $109.95, $89.95, and $99.95, respectively.

Products: HEM-705CP-II, HEM-711AC, HEM-712C, and HEM-757-E

Manufacturer: Omron Healthcare, 300 Lakeview Parkway, Vernon Hills, IL 60061; phone: 847-680-6200; e-mail: <mark.rinker@omron.com> (Canadian contact); web site: <www.omronhealthcare.com>.

Price: $99.95, $175.89, $49.88, and $77.99, respectively.

Products: BP 3BT0-A, BP 3AC-1, BP 3AA1-1, and BP 3AA1-2

Manufacturer: Microlife USA, 424 Skinner Boulevard, Suite C, Dunedin, Fl 34698; phone: 727-451-0484 or 800-568-4147; e-mail: <custserv@microlifeusa.com>; web site: <www.microlifeusa.com>.

Price range: $54.99–59.99, $79.99–89.99, $59.99–69.99, and $79.99–89.99, respectively.

Sidebar: Talking, But Not Available

In addition to our main test group, we also wanted to take a look at every talking HBPM that we could find, regardless of their availability on the U.S. market or their FDA or BHS status. We were able to find three monitors that are produced in Europe and Asia: CareTec's SweetHeart, Cobolt Systems' SE-7000, and Shengfu's SF860. The CareTec and Cobolt monitors are based on products that do not have speech output, and they have been modified to include speech. None of the three talking devices has been rated for accuracy by BHS, and we could not judge or determine their accuracy. Also, and more important for U.S. citizens, since none of these devices currently has FDA approval, they cannot be sold in the United States under federal law. We present information on these devices only to indicate possible products that may enter the U.S. market some time in the future.

The speech output for these devices is produced by recorded human voice, rather than synthetic speech. It is easy to understand in all the monitors except the Shengfu SF860, which has a strange-sounding high-pitched voice. However, with minimal use, it is easy to get used to the voice and understand what it is saying. Also, the initial pump-up pressure value on the Shengfu can be set by the user, but the process of setting the initial pressure is not accessible to users who are blind because the number settings are not spoken. All the monitors speak the value of the blood pressure and pulse readings, but the CareTec is the only one that orally alerts you to a low battery or speaks an error message when the unit malfunctions. The CareTec can also be connected to a braille display, but we did not evaluate that feature.

The buttons in all these devices, except the Shengfu, are tactilely identifiable and easy to use. The Shengfu's buttons are flush with the panel and slightly more difficult to identify, but with minimal practice, the monitor is still easy to operate.

All these devices come with a standard print user's manual in 10–12-point type, but all have other options. Cobalt has a manual on audiocassette, and CareTec e-mailed us a manual in plain-text format, as well as in a PDF format that was accessible using both screen readers and the ZoomText screen-magnifier software. Shengfu provided us with the manual on a CD in Microsoft Word format.

Like the A&D UA-787's cuff in our main test group, the CareTec features a semirigid plastic component added to the cuff design to enable the cuff to mold itself better to a user's arm.

The standard AA battery-replacement technique of placing the negative end toward the spring can be used in all the devices except the Shengfu. In the Shengfu, a visually impaired user would have to memorize the battery position or place braille dots or other raised markings to indicate polarity.

Although none of these products are currently available in the United States, the manufacturers are all seeking FDA approval, and they could be on the U.S. market sometime soon. For more information on these devices, you can visit the following web sites: SweetHeart by CareTec <http://www.CareTec.at>, SE-7000 by Cobolt Systems <http://www.cobolt.co.uk, and SF860 by Qingdao Shengfu Electronics Company <http://www.shengfu.com>.

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Product Evaluation

Recognizing and Rewarding: A Review of OpenBook and Kurzweil 1000

When optical character recognition (OCR) software was introduced, its ability to scan and recognize characters and text seemed like magic. Today, we take accurate scanning and recognition almost for granted. This review examines OpenBook, version 7.0, from Freedom Scientific and Kurzweil 1000, version 8.0, from Kurzweil Educational Systems, the two leading adapted OCR software packages on the market.

Both programs do far more than scan the printed hard-copy page. They search for and download books and magazines from the Internet, send e-mail and faxes, convert files from all sorts of other formats, and make manipulating and interacting with written material almost as efficient for people who are blind as for those who are able to read print. Essentially, the creators of both programs have attempted to look at all the myriad directions from which literacy can be approached with a computer and then have built some semblance of each of them into the programs.

Between the Lines

To determine accuracy, we used a variety of text styles and formats. For a simple test, we printed a sample of 12-point black text on white paper using the Arial and Times New Roman fonts. For greater difficulty, we introduced bold, italics, underlining, and tiny print to our printed material and decreased the font size. We added deliberate errors to our test pages, such as "tht" for "that" and "tke" for "the." For more advanced scanning, we used magazines printed on multicolored paper, books with diagrams, newsletters with columns, double-sided business cards, and more.

Testing was done in Windows XP and Windows 98. The scanners we used were the HP IV and HP 2C from Hewlett-Packard and the Epson 1650.

OpenBook, Version 7.0

Installation and Documentation

OpenBook comes with IBM's ViaVoice synthesizer, which provides speech throughout the installation. If a previous version of OpenBook is found on the hard drive, you are prompted to delete it before continuing. OpenBook's help system consists of a contents and tree-view setup. The tree view contains topics that constitute the OpenBook manual. You can use the arrow keys to open each topic. Pressing Enter will have the program speak the selected topic and subsequent text. OpenBook's documentation can also be found in print and braille and on Freedom Scientific's web site. A Key-Describer mode is included for new users who are not acquainted with OpenBook's command structure. You press the Key Describer key and then any other key to hear that key's function. Both the number pad and conventional Windows hotkeys can be used to navigate OpenBook. Keyboard layouts for Jaws for Windows and Window-Eyes are included for users of these screen readers.

A Simple Scan

OpenBook had no trouble scanning the various text styles and formats as long as they were larger than 4-point font. To scan 4-point print or smaller, it was necessary to change the scanner's resolution to at least 400 DPI (dots per inch) to decipher what was on the page.

OpenBook did not correct our deliberately misspelled words, However, this version does fix a previous problem with the omission of long dashes from scanned pages. In previous versions, two words separated by a dash would appear as one long word; this version recognizes dashes correctly.

Open Book can now be used to scan documents directly into Microsoft Word. If you want to add information to a Word document that is only available in print or to edit a scanned document in Word, you just choose the "Scan with OpenBook" option from the File menu in Word. OpenBook then opens, scans the page, and inserts the text in Word at the cursor.

OpenBook comes with the Omnipage, Recognita, and Fine Reader scanning engines. Although these engines are supposed to contain distinct features, such as different recognition speed and different abilities to recognize languages, we found little difference during our evaluation. For example, OpenBook took over 40 seconds to scan and recognize text, no matter which recognition engine we used.

Scanning in Depth

OpenBook made few errors in our magazine with multicolored paper. Pictures were ignored, but the text around and underneath them was read accurately. However, parts of the text in one column were sometimes read in the middle of text of another column.

OpenBook did a good job of reading newsletters and business cards. Few changes needed to be made to the default settings to read the text. Nevertheless, zeros were often misread as Os, and the "com" at the end of e-mail addresses was often mistaken as "corn." We also found scanning documents with multiple languages to be a problem. While OpenBook recognizes a wide array of languages—including French, German, and Finnish, to name a few—ViaVoice is unable to toggle among them while reading text.

More Than Scanning

OpenBook has the ability to save files as MP3s. You can then download these files to a portable MP3 player and listen to them on your daily commute to work or on vacation. OpenBook also supports the DAISY file format, so you can download your favorite books from Bookshare.org and other online sources.

One of OpenBook's most innovative features is the Freedom Import Printer, which allows you to recognize, format, and read PDF files and turn them into text. The ability to translate unreadable PDF files can be especially helpful for college students who attend institutions where electronic resources are often scanned as inaccessible PDF images. In addition, OpenBook identifies American and Canadian currency with its "BuckScan" feature. Simply place a bill in the rear right corner of the scanner to determine how much money is left in your wallet.

Kurzweil 1000, Version 8.0

Installation and Documentation

The Kurzweil 1000 comes with the Microsoft speech engine, which guides you through the setup process. If there is a previous version of Kurzweil installed, it will be removed and replaced with the new version.

The product manual and quick reference guide are available in the Help menu, as well as on Kurzweil's web site. The quick reference guide allows you to learn important hotkeys in a timely manner. The Kurzweil uses the function keys and the number pad in conjunction with conventional Windows menus for its commands.

A Simple Scan

In addition to the default RTK recognition engine, the Kurzweil comes with the Fine Reader engine. Although the Kurzweil had no difficulty scanning the text styles and formats we chose as long as they were larger than 4-point font, for smaller fonts it was necessary to increase the scanning resolution. The Kurzweil scanned and recognized a page in roughly 15 seconds but, unlike previous versions, it did not correct our deliberate errors.

Scanning in Depth

The Kurzweil had no difficulty scanning magazines with multicolored pages. Articles and advertisements that contained graphics were read with few mistakes. Columns also presented little difficulty. However, the Kurzweil occasionally confused numbers and letters on the address lines of business cards.

The Kurzweil recognizes a variety of languages, including Portuguese, Dutch, and Swedish. It will change reading languages more than once on a page if you change the "Language Identification" option to "Per Paragraph."

Additional Features

The Kurzweil identifies bills using its Recognize Currency feature. It identified all the bills we tried. MP3 files can be created from pages that have been scanned. The files can then be played on an MP3 player or by a media player on your computer.

With the Online pull-down menu, you can search for books, magazines, or news about the Kurzweil product itself. When "search for books" is selected from the Online menu, you can type in an author or title and then select which online sources to search. Among the list of sources are two that will be familiar to many AccessWorld readers: Bookshare.org and Web-Braille (the site that makes available braille files of books and magazines from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, NLS). For example, if you select Web-Braille and type Grafton in the author box, the Kurzweil will ask for your user name and password and present the 15 titles by popular mystery writer Sue Grafton that are available for download—all in about six seconds. Select the desired book or books for download, and, voilà! they are on your hard drive and ready for reading. The Kurzweil can also convert files from braille or DAISY formats instantly, which can then be saved as any other format of your choosing.

The magazines available in Version 8 are those available on Web-Braille (all those that are produced in braille by NLS), as well as the Braille Forum and the Braille Monitor. Version 9 (to be released at about the same time as this article) includes AccessWorld in the magazine search options.

Although most computer users already have a word processor of their choice, the Kurzweil includes an easy-to-use text editor. In addition to the usual arsenal of editing tools, the most notable features of this aspect of the program are its dictionary and thesaurus. By highlighting a word in a document being read or just typing in a word, you can quickly obtain definitions or synonyms. In addition, the Kurzweil recognizes and converts PDF files into text and then reads them. However, the quality of the resulting text depends on how the file was created—photocopies will not be as clear as original files.

Some people have begun to use the Kurzweil as their main computer application. They use it to read documents, to search the web, to look up words in its dictionary, and to perform other word-processing functions. The main task for which they switch to another application is writing.

Let us say that you have just scanned a hard-copy contract for a new mortgage, and you want to send it to your brother, the lawyer, for examination. By choosing the "Send to" option in the pull-down files menu, you can compose the e-mail right where you are, and the Kurzweil will launch your e-mail client for you and send the message. And speaking of the "Send to" option, let us say that the contract is so encrypted in legalese that you would like to study it during your commute to work tomorrow. Sending a file directly to such popular devices as the BrailleNote, PAC Mate, Book Port, BookCourier, and other products is easily accomplished with a few keystrokes. Once you have scanned a document, you can make an additional hard copy of it through the Kurzweil. Or if you prefer to fax a document that has just been scanned or is already on your hard drive, you can fax it as well. All these options work well, but setting them up takes time and may be a bit daunting for novice users. Just as the Kurzweil needs to be told what device it needs to look for to find the scanned material to recognize, so must it be told which printer to send material to (presumably, the printer already in use for printing documents from other applications). Once the fax capability has been set up (do not forget to connect the telephone line to your computer), faxing from the Kurzweil is not difficult.

Did It Really Say That?

You can allow the Kurzweil to tell you, upon scanning a new document, the percentage of predicted accuracy. (This feature can, of course, be turned off if you find it annoying.) While scanning accuracy is about 95% most of the time, the Kurzweil will undoubtedly encounter some hard-copy print that is incomprehensible. The announcement of accuracy is particularly useful in forewarning you of this event (which occurred in our tests mainly with bulk-mail advertising or product packaging of various kinds). Most books, magazines, and computer-generated documents (such as memos and bills) pose few difficulties. In our tests, however, the program did present an occasional disconcerting message, both in scanning hard-copy documents and in reading electronic files, that an error had occurred and the program needed to close. Again, this was a rare instance and was delivered with extreme courtesy ("We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused"), but warrants mentioning. In addition to reading aloud, the program offers a variety of screen-magnification and contrast options. It also provides braille, but in our tests, the braille appeared only in messages and pull-down menus and was not available in the text itself.

Recognition Complete

OpenBook version 7.0 and Kurzweil 1000 Version 8.0 have similar features. They both do a good job of scanning and recognizing printed material and include more than one recognition engine. Both also include many additional features, some directly related to scanning and some not. As in our previous evaluation, a major difference is speed. Kurzweil 1000 has a significant advantage in that it scans and recognizes print more than twice as fast as does OpenBook. Using either program, you can break down the barrier keeping you from almost instant access to printed material.

Manufacturer's Comments

Freedom Scientific

"Freedom Scientific would like to expand and clarify a number of issues addressed in the article. When using BuckScan, the position for bill placement is scanner-specific; place the bill at the point where the scanning head begins scanning. OpenBook's default settings are capable of handling all fine print normally found in documents such as contracts or legal papers. Four-point print is roughly the same height as a braille dot and is rarely found in any type documents. OpenBook 7.02 (August 2004 release) includes great improvements in scanning and recognition speeds, as well as updated versions of all the OCR engines for even more reliable scanning. The versatility of the Freedom Import printer is not limited to Adobe PDF documents. You can also use it to recognize text in graphics or any other document or image that you can open and print using a program installed on your computer. Connect Outloud, which is included with OpenBook, broadens the access provided by OpenBook to provide speech and braille access to the Windows operating system, Internet Explorer, and Outlook Express."

Kurzweil Educational Systems

"Thank you for a thoughtful review of Kurzweil 1000 Version 8. Kurzweil 1000 ships with two text-to-speech (TTS) engines: NeoSpeech (male and female voice), and IBM TTS (large number of voices in many languages). Kurzweil 1000 also ships with Microsoft TTS (both the SAPI 4 and SAPI 5 versions are on the product CD), but it is not installed automatically. Kurzweil 1000 does not directly support refreshable braille support, but braille support can be provided by your screen reader.

"Kurzweil 1000 Version 9, available in late summer, has many new features, including online encyclopedia search, a Create a Note feature to annotate documents, and DAISY file support (text only). Also, OCR is improved with an update of FineReader 7 and the addition of ScanSoft OCR® Version 12 (the RTK OCR no longer ships with Kurzweil 1000). Toll-free customer support is available."

Product Features

Feature OpenBook Kurzweil 1000
Location of commands on computer keyboard Number pad Number pad and function keys
Corrects scanning errors No No
Recognizes/reads language other than English Yes Yes
Recognizes and reads PDF files Yes Yes
Includes a dictionary Yes Yes
Searches online for e-books Yes Yes
Recognizes currency Yes Yes

Product Features

Feature: OpenBook; Kurzweil 1000

Location of commands on computer keyboard: OpenBook: Number pad; Kurzweil 1000: Number pad and function keys.

Corrects scanning errors: OpenBook: No; Kurzweil 1000: No.

Recognizes/reads language other than English: OpenBook: Yes; Kurzweil 1000: Yes.

Recognizes and reads PDF files: OpenBook: Yes; Kurzweil 1000: Yes.

Includes a dictionary: OpenBook: Yes; Kurzweil 1000: Yes.

Searches online for e-books: OpenBook: Yes; Kurzweil 1000: Yes.

Recognizes currency: OpenBook: Yes; Kurzweil 1000: Yes.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Feature: OpenBook; Kurzweil 1000

Documentation: OpenBook: 4; Kurzweil 1000: 4.

Scanning speed: OpenBook: 3; Kurzweil 1000: 4.

Recognition speed: OpenBook: 3; Kurzweil 1000: 4.5.

Simple scanning: OpenBook: 4.5; Kurzweil 1000: 4.5.

Reading magazines: OpenBook: 3.5; Kurzweil 1000: 4.

Reading small print: OpenBook: 4.5; Kurzweil 1000: 4.

Overall rating: OpenBook: 3.5; Kurzweil 1000: 4.5.

Product Information

Product: OpenBook 7.0.

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

Price: $995.

Product: Kurzweil 1000, Version 8.0.

Manufacturer: Kurzweil Educational Systems, 14 Crosby Drive, Bedford, MA 01730; phone: 800-894-5374 or 781-276-0600; e-mail: <info@kurzweiledu.com>; web site: <http://www.kurzweiledu.com>.

Price: $995 with FlexTalk speech, $1,195 with DECtalk speech.

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Interview

The Man and the Machine: An Interview with Ray Kurzweil

Over the years, there have been numerous pioneers and innovators in the field of assistive technology. Undoubtedly, one of the best known and most admired is Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil has won many honors, including the 1999 National Medal of Technology, America's highest honor in technology. AccessWorld had the opportunity to interview Kurzweil in March 2004, just after he accepted AFB's highest honor, the Migel Medal at the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute in Washington, DC.

Photo of Ray Kurzweil.

Caption: Ray Kurzweil. (Credit: Michael Lutch)

In the Beginning

Kurzweil developed the first Kurzweil reading machine from his interest in pattern recognition. In the early 1970s, optical character recognition (OCR) machines could recognize only a single style of type. Kurzweil was studying pattern recognition, which, he says, the human brain does well. For example, chess masters can recognize patterns on a chessboard at a glance, while chess computers have to analyze millions of irrelevant moves to find the best move. Similarly, to the human brain, what makes a capital A is its shape, whereas an OCR program guesses at each letter based on stored information and tries to make words from the images. Once a more sophisticated character recognition program was developed, Kurzweil said, "this solution needed a problem." The problem was suggested by a blind man who sat next to Kurzweil on an airplane trip and explained that he needed access to many types of printed materials. Two other problems needed to be solved: Both a flatbed scanner and a full text-to-speech program had to be developed. Kurzweil solved these problems by developing both products.

Blind scientists from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) tested the resulting product and made suggestions for improvement from a user's perspective. These suggestions included not placing braille labels on the user controls, since users would quickly learn the keys, and adding a Nominator key that would announce the functions of other keys.

The prototype of this first reading machine was completed in late 1975, and the new machine was announced on January 13, 1976. It was featured on all three national television networks' nightly newscasts, and it read Walter Cronkite's sign-off at the end of the CBS broadcast. The original Kurzweil Reading Machine had a minuscule 64,000 bytes of memory and cost $30,000 to $50,000. Units were placed in schools and libraries.

Just Enough for the Synergy

Stevie Wonder heard about the new reading machine that night on a national news broadcast, which Kurzweil says started a long relationship. In 1982, Wonder gave Kurzweil a tour of his new studio and lamented the state of the art in music production. Wonder's frustrations got Kurzweil pondering the differences between current synthesizers and traditional musical instruments. On the one hand, traditional instruments sounded good, but no one was a virtuoso on more than one or two of them, and a person could not play more than one instrument at a time. On the other hand, electronic instruments "sounded thin," but you had control of them. The synergy between the two men led to the founding of Kurzweil Music Systems and Kurzweil's development of synthesizers that could reproduce the sound of grand pianos and other instruments. Before he did so, Kurzweil said, "you had to hire musicians to learn and play your music. But, "now a college student can create and edit music in her dorm room."

Photo of Stevie Wonder sitting at the keyboard of a large synthesizer with many buttons and switches, while a young Ray Kurzweil looks over his shoulder.

Caption: Stevie Wonder and Ray Kurzweil with the Kurzweil 250 Music Synthesizer in 1986.

When asked how to bring down the cost of assistive technology, Kurzweil advised: "Use mainstream products and functions whenever possible." He said that it was ironic that some specialized technology has ultimately gone mainstream. As examples, Kurzweil cited the telephone, "which Alexander Graham Bell originally conceived as an aid for people who were deaf," and, of course, Talking Books, which found mainstream favor first as 33 1/3 RPM long-playing recordings of music and the spoken word, and, much later, as audio books.

Kurzweil is now working with NFB to develop a handheld scanning device that will use a digital camera and a portable computer and will perform two-dimensional scanning. Previous handheld scanners have failed because users who were blind could not move them straight across a printed page. Kurzweil believes that digital photography will solve this problem. "This device will be able to recognize objects at odd angles and under unpredictable lighting," not just text that is lined up on a scanner bed. A user will simply snap a picture, and the machine will recognize and read the writing on a cereal box, for example.

"You encounter a lot of reading material throughout the day, [but] reading machines are not portable now," Kurzweil said. He hopes to start testing the handheld scanner in 2005 and have a working model available in 2006.

The Future and Beyond

When asked about future developments in assistive technology, Kurzweil stated that a new mobility device will have some intelligence. It should be able to "look around the vicinity" and identify people and objects. By the end of this decade, something could be mounted on eyeglasses or pinned on your clothing. "It, combined with GPS [global positioning satellite] technology, would help direct a person."

Thinking further into the future, Kurzweil explained that electronics will be tiny, high speed, and wireless. "In the 2020s, information will come directly into our brains by nanobots," microscopic devices that will travel through our bloodstreams.

Kurzweil said that the goal of work in the disabilities field is to prevent blindness from becoming a handicap. Technological and nontechnological solutions are both key. Through information, devices—from fiberglass canes to screen readers—and appropriate training, people who are blind can succeed. "Ancient prejudices and a lack of understanding persist in society. People who are blind have to avoid internalizing these prejudices and realize that they can do almost anything," he noted.

Many of us have benefited from concepts and products that Kurzweil dreamed of and developed—from the original Kurzweil reading machine to the current Kurzweil 1000 OCR software that bears his name to the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech-recognition software. His views of technology and the future are exciting and uplifting. We do not know what Kurzweil's next revolutionary idea will be, but we can be sure he will think of something.

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Product Evaluation

You Can Take It with You II: A Review of Two More Portable CCTVs

Portable closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) have become much-sought-after devices for persons with low vision who want to have access to print materials while on the go. In Part I of this article (see the July issue of AccessWorld), three portable CCTVs were reviewed—(the Olympia (by Telesensory), the Traveller (by the Tieman Group), and the Pico (by Telesensory). The first two might be considered portable CCTVs, while the Pico is a lightweight pocket-size magnification device. In this review, I present two more portable CCTVs: the QuickLook (from Ash Technologies) and the Assist Vision Slider AV-300 (from the TIMES Corporation). At the end of this article you will be able to use the rating chart to compare all five products and decide for yourself which portable CCTV best suits your needs.

The QuickLook and the Assist Vision Slider AV-300 (hereafter referred to as the "Slider") were tested by a number of teenagers (aged 12–17) and adults (aged 22–63) with low vision at home, at school, and in the community while engaging in everyday tasks. Some of the individuals who tested these products had also tested the portable devices in the previous review of portable CCTVs, thereby providing some interesting comparative information about all the devices.

QuickLook

Physical Description

The QuickLook is a highly portable, lightweight magnification device (comparable to the Pico reviewed in Part I of this article) that comes with a built-in rechargeable battery, charger, cable, and protective carrying case with a belt loop, shoulder strap, and wrist or neck strap. It is 1-inch thick and fits in the palm of your hand. The power input and charging-indicator light are located at one end of the device, and the camera encasement is located at the other end. The attractive dark blue and metallic gray colors give the QuickLook a sleek, modern look. The 4-inch screen makes up most of the 6.5-inch-long face of the device. The camera rotates easily from the "Off" position, where the camera encasement is flush with the face of the device, to the "On" position, where a 90-degree turn (until you hear the "click" sound) of the camera encasement starts the device. To turn off the device, simply rotate the camera encasement the other way. This is a unique way to turn the device on and off, since most CCTVs have an On/Off button. A brief high-pitched tone (for "on") or low-pitched tone (for "off") is emitted as the camera is rotated into position.

Photo of a hand holding a pocket-size magnifying device over a newspaper. The screen displays the words "Full COLOR Portable Magnifier."

Caption: The QuickLook.

There are two buttons on the QuickLook that control the brightness and the mode. The Brightness button comes with four settings to suit individual needs and is located on the side of the QuickLook near the camera encasement. The Mode button is located on the opposite side of the device, also near the camera encasement. An exciting feature of the QuickLook is the tone that is emitted while the user presses the Brightness or Mode buttons. As the brightness is increased, the tone increases in pitch, and as the brightness is decreased, the tone decreases in pitch. When the mode is changed (from color to black on white or white on black), a tone is emitted to indicate that the mode has changed. However, this tone does not change in pitch. All the participants who tested the QuickLook found this feature to be useful and opted not to silence the audio output (an option that is available by pressing the Mode button as the device is turned on). They enjoyed the additional feedback that the tones gave them.

Documentation

The QuickLook comes with a manual that describes all the device's functions in simple, clear terms. Since the participants found the QuickLook so easy to use, many of them chose not to refer to the manual at first. After trying out the device and wanting to learn more about its features, they then referred to the manual. Two participants found the color of the paper on which the manual was printed (black print on yellow paper) to be too bright and stated that they preferred the usual black print on white paper. Similarly, all the participants who read the manual stated that they preferred reading Arial font, rather than the font used in the manual (probably Times New Roman).

Setup

The QuickLook is easy to set up and use. Simply take the device out of its case, rotate the camera, and place it on top of the print. For writing, it is just as easy to set up—the user rotates the camera even farther out until he or she hears the "click" sound. According to the participants who tested all five portable CCTVs, the simplicity of the QuickLook could not be matched by any other.

Operation

Reading. Like the Pico, the QuickLook is easy to use and is able to magnify to 5X, slightly more than the Pico's 5X maximum magnification level. For individuals who require less than 5.5X magnification, the QuickLook can be moved farther from the printed page, thereby reducing the magnification level.

The QuickLook moves smoothly across most reading materials (large and small books, thick and thin books, single sheets, pictures) in any direction. It does not have sliders (small wheellike rollers) underneath it, so it is not restricted in its direction in any way. If the camera is placed on the right side of the device and the user slides it along a single sheet of paper, it often gets caught on the edge of the paper. However, if the device is flipped around so that the camera is on the left side, it slides smoothly across most flat reading surfaces.

To read print material on curved or odd-shaped surfaces (for instance, bottle labels, soup cans, a telephone keypad, or the spines of books), you must hold the device slightly above the object to read the print. On curved surfaces, the print image is the clearest in the center of the QuickLook's display. The participants found that they had to adjust the brightness level on curved surfaces because a bright spot in the center of the display was more obvious and distracting. This bright spot was not evident when the QuickLook was placed over flat surfaces.

Writing. All the participants enjoyed using the QuickLook for writing. Setting up the device for writing involves a simple turning of the camera until it clicks into place. Two clicks are audible when you rotate the camera: one click to indicate it is in the reading position, and the second click to indicate it is in the writing position. All the participants found the QuickLook to be the easiest of all the portable CCTVs for writing (as long as magnification greater than 5X was not needed). All that is needed is for the user to find his or her place under the camera and to begin to write. If the user is right-handed, the left hand slides the device along the page as he or she writes with the right hand. If the user is left-handed, the user holds the device with his or her right hand. The positioning of the camera lens is such that the pen never hits the QuickLook and is about 1 inch away from the device. Ash Technologies has created an ingenious way to mount the camera so it does not interfere with the user's physical writing space.

Photo of the QuickLook on a piece of paper. To the right is a hand holding a pen over some text. The screen of the device displays, in reverse polarity, "...oved By:" and the beginning of a signature "Harr..." and the tip of a pen.

Caption: Using the QuickLook for writing.

How Good Is It?

The QuickLook is an outstanding pocket portable CCTV that incorporates audio output with its basic features of color and brightness. Its lightweight, sleek, modern design and high-quality LCD (liquid crystal display) make it an invaluable tool for gaining access to print material. All the participants who used both the QuickLook and the Pico preferred the QuickLook, primarily because of the way it could be used for writing.

What Would Make It Better?

  • A user manual printed in Arial font (at least 16-point font) and on white or buff paper instead of yellow paper.
  • The addition of a zoom lens that could bring items into view that are farther away—this would make it the best and most versatile device on the market today.

The Bottom Line

The QuickLook is an excellent pocket magnification device that surpasses the already-well-respected Pico pocket magnifier. Its versatility for both reading and writing tasks cannot be matched by any other pocket magnifier tested to date. For anyone who is looking for a portable magnifier that can fit inside a purse or backpack, the QuickLook is the answer.

Assist Vision Slider AV-300

Physical Description

The Slider is a heavier (4.2 pounds) portable CCTV (comparable to the Olympia and the Traveller reviewed previously) that comes with a built-in rechargeable battery in the main unit, an adjustable monitor (6.4-inch diagonal display), a camera holder, a detachable camera, an AC adapter, a power cable, a video cable, and a camera input terminal (for connection to a camcorder for distance viewing; camcorder not included). There are three parts to the Slider: the main unit, with the monitor located on the top of it; the camera holder within which the camera unit slides; and the camera unit.

Photo of hands holding a cylindrical device with two white prongs against a medicine bottle. The separate monitor display, in large print, reads "...her pain relievers/fever...may cause liver damage...her product containing...or if new symptoms oc...esent...pain gets worse..."

Caption: The Slider's camera unit can be used separately from the base. The prongs must touch the reading material to position the unit correctly.

The base of the main unit is rectangular, and the control switches (On/Off switch, Brake knob, and Mode/Contrast knob) that push in to change the mode (from color to black on white or white on black) and turn the knob (to adjust the contrast) are located on the front side of the base. Behind the unit are the video 1 (camera input) terminal, video 2 (video input) terminal, and camera select switch. The LCD monitor can be tilted forward, to the right or to the left. Four small wheels or rollers are located under the main unit for horizontal movement of the device over the print material. Because the device is designed to move horizontally across a page, it is somewhat resistant to vertical movement and any vertical movement is choppy. The participants found it easier to pick up the Slider instead of trying to slide it vertically.

The camera holder can be mounted to the main unit in three places: at the back of the unit, on the right side, or on the left side, depending on the task and whether the user is right- or left-handed. For example, if the user is right-handed, he or she should mount the camera on the right side of the unit in order to write. To use the Slider for a typical reading task (for example, reading handouts in class or reading the newspaper at a breakfast counter), the camera is best mounted at the back of the unit. The camera unit has a zoom ring located approximately 1 inch from the top and connected to the main unit by a cable. The camera unit can be removed from the holder for both reading and writing; however, the cable can get in the way if the user does not pay attention to where it is. Two adjustable inch-long "prongs," or white pins (as labeled in the manual), extend from the bottom of the camera unit. These prongs must touch the surface of the object being viewed, because the camera's focus is fixed and the prongs maintain the appropriate focal distance from the reading surface. If the user does not place the prongs on the surface of the print material and holds the camera unit further from the paper, the image will not be clear.

Documentation

The Slider's manual is written in large, easy-to-see black print, on off-white 8 x 11.5-inch paper (not the typical 8.5 x 11-inch paper). The instructions for use are somewhat complicated because the Slider can be used in several different ways to accomplish reading and writing tasks, and it can be connected to a camcorder for distance viewing. Also, some of the instructions are difficult to understand, perhaps because the manual was translated from Japanese to English.

Setup

The Slider is somewhat cumbersome to set up because it has three separate parts that need to be put together, along with a cable that needs to be connected to the main unit. The teenage participants had the most difficulty setting up the device and required a great deal of practice to be able to set it up independently. The adult participants eventually figured out how to put the device together, but had to read through the manual to find out where to put the camera holder. Unfortunately, the instructions are written in such a way that one cannot locate the information at a glance; the user typically ends up reading the entire manual before he or she finds the information being sought.

Although the manual states that the brake should be switched on when the Slider is not in use or when it is on a "slightly tilted surface," it does not state that the brake is necessary in these circumstances because on angled surfaces, the weight of the device causes it to slide downward quickly and unexpectedly. A more strongly worded warning may prevent users from letting the Slider accidentally slip off a desk.

Operation

Reading. The Slider can be used to enlarge print materials for reading in two ways: as a whole unit with the camera mounted to the main unit or by holding the camera unit only and sliding it over the print. When the user reads using the first method (whole unit), the Slider tends to catch on the edges of books and single sheets of paper. The camera unit can be mounted on either the left or the right side of the main unit or behind it. Most participants found that mounting the camera unit behind the main unit was the best option. They were able to trace lines of print relatively easily while they looked at the monitor that had been angled to their preferred positions. When the camera unit was mounted on either side, they found that the entire unit tended to get caught on the edges of the paper. Moving from side to side was relatively smooth, but all the participants complained that the rollers under the unit made vertical transitions difficult.

When reading using the second method (holding only the camera unit), the participants found that they could read more quickly because the camera unit did not catch on the edges of the paper, and the unit could be moved vertically or horizontally with ease. Similarly, by holding the camera unit, they could read print on curved surfaces (such as pill bottles or cans). The only difficulty with this method was the positioning of the monitor on the main unit. For example, a right-handed individual would hold the camera in his or her right hand with the print material on the right side of the table. The monitor and main unit would be slightly to the left of center. Thus, the individual had to turn his or her head to the left to view the monitor while his or her right hand moved across the paper. All the participants needed to practice reading this way and to experiment with different locations and monitor angles before they were comfortable using the Slider.

Finally, the Slider offers an additional feature: It can be hooked up to a camcorder for distance viewing. When I attempted to connect a camcorder to the Slider, it took some time before everything could be connected properly. When the camcorder was finally connected, the image appeared to be grainy, perhaps because of the quality of my camcorder. Given the mediocre results, the process of connecting a camcorder to the Slider may not be worth it for users with low vision who want quick access to print materials in the distance. Other devices are readily available that have been designed specifically for distance viewing (e.g., the VisAble Video Telescope, Flipper, and monocular telescope). Perhaps the TIMES Corporation was trying to do too many things with one device.

Writing. As with reading, the Slider can be used in two ways to accomplish writing tasks: as a whole unit with the camera mounted to the main unit or by holding the camera unit only and sliding it along as you write. Using the first method, you must slide the entire unit along a line of print as you write. Given the bulk and weight of the unit, this was not a graceful task. The participants, especially the teenagers, found it too big to maneuver over print on a regular-size desk. The edges got caught on the side of the paper, regardless of where the camera unit was mounted (on the left side for those who wrote with their left hands or on the right side for those who wrote with their right hands). Filling out forms or fill-in-the-blank question sheets took a lot longer using this method, since the participants needed to move the Slider vertically to find the correct blank to fill in.

Using the second method, in which the camera unit is held on its own, the participants found it easier to fill out forms and fill-in-the-blank sheets. As long as they could coordinate moving the camera unit with one hand while writing with the other hand, writing was much faster. However, the younger students had to be reminded to make sure that the camera unit was positioned properly (with the arrow pointing upward), because the image would appear upside down or sideways on the monitor if it was improperly positioned.

How Good Is It?

The Slider has many good features, such as the ability to use the camera unit to read on curved or flat surfaces and for quick writing tasks. The display is reasonably sized, clear, and can be angled to meet individual preferences. Material can be enlarged to as much as 17.5X, thereby making it a good choice for users who have very low vision. However, as a whole, the Slider was not well received by the participants. In fact, it ranked third among similar-sized portable CCTVs (against the Olympia and the Traveller reviewed in the last issue). The Slider has the added features of being able to connect to a camcorder or a television, but the process of connecting these peripherals detracts from the ease and convenience users might expect from a portable CCTV.

What Would Make It Better?

  • Reduce the weight.
  • Make it easier to put the device together.
  • Add vertical rollers to make movement in every direction possible and smoother.
  • Revise the manual to include easier-to-understand directions.

The Bottom Line

The Slider attempts to address all the features an individual with low vision would want in a portable magnification device. However, its versatility tended to work against it, since the participants found it to be too cumbersome and complicated to use. The key to a successful, popular portable CCTV is its ease of use and portability.

Manufacturers' Comments

Ash Technologies

"Thank you very much for the Quicklook review. Regarding the reviewers' comments on the manual (black print on yellow paper, also choice of font), these have been duly noted and the advice of the students will be taken on board and the necessary changes will be made."

TIMES Corporation

"The Assist Vision Slider was designed with all the features you would want from a desktop CCTV, plus the added function of portability. It is ideal for students in a classroom setting who want to see both the textbook materials as well as information on the chalkboard (using the one-step video camera connection), as well as active adults who don't want to be limited to one reading area—they can take the Slider from room to room or even out shopping and other places. The battery is already built into the unit so there is no additional connection or weight, and the left-right rollers move in a horizontal direction so that the user can easily stay in a straight line. Users need only to move the unit slightly toward them to move to the next line. A one-page Easy Connection and Instruction Manual is also included (in addition to the more comprehensive instruction manual) for instructions at a glance. Please refer to our web site for further information on our products."


The author thanks the Microcomputer Science Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, for providing the five portable CCTVs evaluated in Parts I and II of this article.


Product Features

Feature QuickLook Slider
Price $795.00 $2,195.00
Weight 11 ounces (312 grams) 4.2 pounds (1.9 kilograms)
Dimensions 6.5 x 3.78 x 1.1 inches
(1.68 x 9.6 x 2.8 centimeters)
Camera unit: 1.38 inches diameter x 5.51 inches length (3.5 x 14 centimeters)
Main unit: 6.93 x 6.89 x 6.3 inches (17.6 x 17.5 x 16 centimeters)
Display size 4 inches, diagonal (10.2 centimeters) 6.4 inches, diagonal (16 centimeters)
Magnification 2X–5.5X 8.5X–17.5X
Color/text mode Full color, black on white, white on black Full color, black on white, white on black
Auto focus Yes Fixed
Writing clearance Unlimited Unlimited
Connects to a television? No Yes
Battery life 1.5 hours 2 hours continuous
Recharging time 3 hours 2 hours
Carrying case Yes, neck or wrist, belt loop, and shoulder strap Yes, shoulder strap
Warranty 1 year parts and labor (in the United States)
90 days (battery)
2 years limited

Product Features

Feature: QuickLook; Slider

Price: QuickLook: $795.00; Slider: $2,195.00.

Weight: QuickLook: 11 ounces (312 grams); Slider: 4.2 pounds (1.9 kilograms).

Dimensions: QuickLook: 6.5 x 3.78 x 1.1 inches, (1.68 x 9.6 x 2.8 centimeters); Slider: Camera unit: 1.38 inches diameter x 5.51 inches length (3.5 x 14 centimeters); Slider: Main unit: 6.93 x 6.89 x 6.3 inches (17.6 x 17.5 x 16 centimeters).

Display size: QuickLook: 4 inches, diagonal (10.2 centimeters); Slider: 6.4 inches, diagonal (16 centimeters).

Magnification: QuickLook: 2X–5.5X; Slider: 8.5X–17.5X.

Color/text mode: QuickLook: Full color, black on white, white on black; Slider: Full color, black on white, white on black.

Auto focus: QuickLook: Yes; Slider: Fixed.

Writing Clearance: QuickLook: Unlimited; Slider: Unlimited.

Connects to a television?: QuickLook: No; Slider: Yes.

Battery life: QuickLook: 1.5 hours; Slider: 2 hours continuous.

Recharging time: QuickLook: 3 hours; Slider: 2 hours.

Carrying case: QuickLook: Yes, neck or wrist strap, belt loop, and shoulder strap; Slider: Yes, shoulder strap.

Warranty: QuickLook: 1 year parts and labor (in the United States); Slider: 90 days (battery); Slider: 2 years limited.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Lightweight Pocket-Sized Magnification Devices

Feature: QuickLook; Pico

Ease of use: Reading; QuickLook: 5; Pico: 5.

Ease of use: Writing; QuickLook: 5; Pico: 4.5.

Ease of setup: QuickLook: 5; Pico: 4.5.

Screen size: QuickLook: 4; Pico: 4.

Portability: QuickLook: 5; Pico: 5.

Overall rating: QuickLook: 4.5; Pico: 4.5.

Larger Portable CCTVs

Feature; Traveller; Olympia; Slider

Ease of use: Reading: Traveller: 3; Olympia: 4; Slider: 3.

Ease of use: Writing: Traveller: 3.5; Olympia: 5; Slider: 3.5.

Ease of setup: Traveller: 4.5; Olympia: 4; Slider: 3.

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

Portability: Traveller: 4; Olympia: 4; Slider: 3.

Overall rating: Traveller: 3.8; Olympia: 4.5; Slider: 3.3.

Product Information

Product: QuickLook

Manufacturer: Ash Technologies, B5, M7 Business Park, Naas, Ireland; phone: 353-45-88 22 12; fax: 353-45-88 22 14; e-mail: <info@ashtech.ie>; web site: <www.ashtech.ie>.

American Distributor: Freedom Vision, 615 Tami Way, Mountain View, CA 94041; phone: 650-961-6541 or 800-961-1334; e-mail: <info@freedomvision.net>; web site: <www.freedomvision.net>.

Price: $795.

Product: Assist Vision Slider AV-300

Manufacturer: TIMES Corporation, 1-6-11, Takatsukasa, Takarazuka-City, Hyogo, 665-0051 Japan; phone: 81 797 74 2206; fax: 81 797 73 8894; e-mail: <info@times.ne.jp>; web site: <www.times.ne.jp>.

Price: $2,195.

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Access Issues

Out of the Blue: Usability Testing at IBM

Many companies have begun to incorporate U.S. government and industry guidelines into product development. However, incorporating accessibility requirements does not necessarily guarantee usability of a software product when accessed by a person who has a disability. A simple example is alternative text. Requirements often state that meaningful alternative text must be provided for all important images. But it is the web-page author who determines what meaningful alternative text is. If the author's description is ambiguous or insufficient, the web site's usability can suffer.

Some companies, like IBM, have gone beyond adhering to the letter of the law and are thinking in terms of usable accessibility. To design products that are both usable and accessible, it is necessary to include participants who have disabilities when testing for usability.

IBM's Laboratory

The IBM Silicon Valley Laboratory in San Jose, California, has an all-digital usability studio, where usability sessions are conducted. It has two sets of user rooms and observation rooms. The user rooms house computers on which the software to be tested is installed, along with commercial screen-reading software. Cameras in the user room capture the user's facial reactions and keystrokes. These images, along with the user's computer screen, are projected in the observer room, where developers, testers, technical writers, and design engineers can witness firsthand the problems that the users are experiencing. The sessions are digitally recorded and indexed, so the results can be shared with the larger IBM community.

Photo of a room with several computer monitors, keyboards, and other equipment, desk chairs, and a small round table.

Caption: One of the user rooms in IBM's usability studio at its Silicon Valley Laboratory.

Test Preparation

IBM began including participants who are blind or visually impaired in testing the usability of product documentation in November 2002. E-mail invitations from IBM to blind advocacy organizations, including the California Council of the Blind and the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, yielded a significant number of test participants. These participants were provided with paperwork in accessible formats and time to install and customize screen-reading software on the test systems.

Testing and Results

Recent sessions at the IBM laboratory have focused on documentation issues. Enhancements, such as creating accessible syntax diagrams and other improvements, will be evident in the IBM documentation of Information Management System (IMS) version 9 and Database 2 (DB2) Universal Database version 8.2. The following are examples of the design questions and results of the usability sessions:

Question: How should descriptions of figures be handled? What type of wording is preferred, and what is the best way to handle a figure described in surrounding text?

Result: The participants appreciated knowing when a figure was being described or if a description was being omitted. It is useful to hear "Description of figure . . ." or "Figure X shows . . ." at the beginning of a figure description, so that it is clear that a description is being provided. When the description provided in the surrounding text is sufficient, it is preferable to state something concise to that effect, such as, "Figure 10 is a graphical depiction of the information just described."

Photo of a man sitting in front of a computer monitor with hands on a keyboard.

Caption: A visually impaired user testing the usability of IBM software.

Question: Are the complex HTML tables in this documentation coded correctly? Are they both accessible and usable?

Result: Nested tables that are comprised of multiple rows and columns may be accessible for someone who is visually impaired, but they may not be usable. If a table is complex, a user will not be able to represent it in his or her mind. Also, vertical text in column headers is read by screen-reading software not as a word, but by letter, so vertical text is not a usable way to label column headings.

Question: Where should figure captions be located: before or after an image?

Result: Captions are preferred at the bottom of a figure because they do not interrupt the flow of text as the user reads through it. One user said, "If the caption is at the bottom, it doesn't interfere with the rest of the page."

Question: Are figure-description delimiters, such as "Begin figure description" and "End figure description," useful?

Result: Providing "begin figure description" and "end figure description" delimiters is useful. Since screen readers have search functions, a user could search for the words "begin figure description" and jump directly to a figure description or jump to the next one if the page contains more than one.

Question: How can complicated figures be made more usable?

Result: Providing a link to a separate HTML page with a longer, more detailed description of a complex figure is useful. One participant explained, "If I needed to know this much detail on something, this would be excellent. It really does help a lot!" The participants said that when providing a link to more information, a link back to exactly where the user was on the preceding page should be included.

Question: How should updated text be brought to the attention of a user who is blind?

Result: Using change bars (|) or vertical bars at the beginning of a line of updated text may be an insufficient way of marking that text for a blind user. Depending on the user's punctuation settings, the vertical bar may not be read by the screen reader. Furthermore, it was not clear that "vertical bar" signified updated text. Use small graphics such as >> and << to bookend changed text and provide alternate text, such as "Begin changed text" and "End changed text," respectively. This way the visual cue remains for sighted users and is clear to visually impaired users as well.

The findings from these studies have led to improvements in IBM documentation solutions both on the projects being tested and within the IBM technical writing community. Because the results were shared with IBM's technical writers, documentation guidelines were updated to reflect these suggestions for greater accessibility.

Future Testing

Focusing on documentation was a first step that made an immediate impact on accessibility. Now, IBM plans to focus on products. As new versions of the DB2 Universal Database product are released, these new testing techniques will be incorporated to help make sure that products that are accessible are usable as well.

IBM is looking for participants for future usability testing. If you would like to participate, know someone who would like to participate, or would like to comment on this article, please e-mail Joe Sacco, of IBM's User-Centered Design Department, at <jsacco@us.ibm.com> or telephone him at 408-463-2050.

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Interview

A Virtual Virtuoso: CathyAnne Murtha

The atmosphere is that of a group of friends gathered in one's living room—bantering, catching up on personal news, falling back on one-liners understood only by shared experience, and encouraging one another to succeed. But it is not a living room, although indeed those who are present vow they expect to be friends for life. Each one is in his or her own work or home environment, sitting in front of a computer, talking into a microphone and listening to the others through a headset or speakers. The occasion is an online class, taught by CathyAnne Murtha, founder of the Access Technology Institute (ATI). The format is called voice chat, in which the students and teacher talk "live" to one another from points scattered around the country in a virtual classroom that renders distance irrelevant. The positive energy they create as a unified group is palpable.

It is the final week of classes for this nine-month training course for will-be trainers of assistive technology. The class has met twice a week for nine months, and final presentations are due this evening. The participants have gathered 15 minutes before the teacher arrives, chatting, joking, and catching up. Asked about their teacher, they respond with exuberant praise. One after another, they praise her teaching style, her extensive knowledge, her patience, and her confidence in their success.

"This class saved my job, literally," says Paula Brannan, a teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in Saint Augustine. "Teaching assistive technology just landed on me this year when another teacher retired, and I knew almost nothing about JAWS or Window-Eyes. I've learned more in this class than I ever dreamed, much more than in any college class." Brian Higgins offers several glowing remarks about Murtha's teaching and then says, "Let me sum it up this way. I was a photographer for 25 years and then I lost my vision. Because of CathyAnne and this class, I now have a great job teaching assistive technology to others at the Veterans Administration in Palo Alto."

The tone here is one of sharing skills, breeding success, and helping the one who lags behind. In this instance, the only one who is lagging behind is me, the visitor from AccessWorld! "If you press Alt-F5, you'll see Paula's web page," Murtha instructs in a conversational tone that one friend would use with another. Paula Brannan is making her final presentation to the class, and Murtha wants to be sure that everyone is literally on the same page with the presenter. As problems arise, Murtha calmly suggests solutions. With apparent ease, she remains aware of what all the students are doing—hearing their voices and their screen readers via voice chat and guiding them gracefully through the sometimes-complex world of Windows. Her teaching is not rooted in an understanding of just one or even two applications. Rather, as one student puts it, "Her approach is comprehensive. She teaches the whole computer in the way that some teachers teach whole language."

Murtha explains it another way: "I'm not just teaching them JAWS or Window-Eyes or Microsoft Word. I'm teaching them to understand Windows from the inside out." JoAnn Becker, a Boston-based blindness products manager for Optelec, praises the approach. "CathyAnne teaches you to listen to your screen reader," she says. "My screen reader was saying all those things like "dialogue box" and "combo box" and "radio button," but I had no idea what they really were or what my screen looked like."

Students who graduate from the class for trainers will be versed in Window-Eyes, JAWS for Windows, ZoomText, Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook. They will know how to design web pages and write tables and frames. And they will know how to teach others what they have learned. "When they're finished," Murtha says, "I really believe that my students are the best-trained trainers in the world."

"Diving Off a Cliff"

When she is not teaching trainers, Murtha is teaching beginning and intermediate students of assistive technology or writing the textbooks that are a large component of her business. ATI, this one-woman enterprise, is a thriving, growing business that was begun just four years ago in a gesture that Murtha refers to as "diving off a cliff."

At 43, this arguably brilliant woman has had a life that would make good Hollywood material. At 25, she found herself a single mother of three young children— and absolutely no prospects. Totally blind since birth because of an underdeveloped optic nerve, Murtha had never worked for pay. "I had no skills, no education," she recalls. I was living in a small town up in the mountains," in Pioneer, California, "and there was just no work there I could do. I couldn't work in a grocery store or department store."

The creativity that would ultimately find her pioneering on more than one front in the field of assistive technology initially showed itself in keeping Murtha and her children well and together. "I lived completely off the government," she says. "We wound up in homeless shelters three times and sometimes didn't have electricity. But my kids remember those times as adventures."

In 1993, Murtha was able to enroll in college, where she soon earned an associate's degree in English and communications. But the computer she was given as part of her college plan would have a much larger impact on setting Murtha on her path. "I was immediately so fascinated by the Internet," she recalls. Living in the mountains where she did, the calls her computer made with the modem were all long distance. "So I'd get on, grab my e-mail, and get off. Then get on, grab my e-mail, and get off." When she discovered online sources of information, there was no stopping her.

Computer users who are visually impaired who were using technology in the mid-1990s will probably remember the legendary "Cathy's Newsstand." The site was an enormous collection of accessible sources of information that Murtha compiled in her own relentless browsing. "I figured if I wanted to read them, other blind people would, too," she says, "so I just started putting them all on my own web page." There were newspapers from every state in the United States and several countries around the world and countless other sources of information. That insatiable appetite for accessible reading material was tangible evidence of Murtha's quest to know all she could about computers.

Curiosity inspired Murtha to explore and master one application after another. In 1994 and 1995, she took her first stab at writing tutorials for other computer users who are blind. Looking back, she says now, "They were pretty lame. I just went through menu options for Eudora and Netscape Navigator and other programs, but back then, that was what people wanted." The tutorials, recorded on audiocassettes by Murtha, were fairly popular. Unfortunately, she made little money. "I had a business partner who handled all the money," she says. He wasn't a very good choice. In the end, she netted about $400 to his $10,000. Still, she has no regrets. "I honed my skills then," she says, "my writing skills for writing real textbooks and my business and marketing skills that would go into ATI."

In 1999, Murtha was hired as a computer trainer by the Society for the Blind in Sacramento. The story of her job interview is a perfect example of her resourcefulness and innate rapport with computers. The job interview required her to write a letter. As a blind person, Murtha needed a screen reader to use the computer, and Window-Eyes, a program that she had never encountered, was the only screen reader it had. Murtha panicked for a minute and then realized that it did not matter whether she knew the particular screen reader because she knew how to use Windows itself. She wrote the letter—letterhead and all—and was immediately hired. (She also downloaded the Window-Eyes demo when she got home, determined to have intimate knowledge of the program before she met her first group of students.)

Natural Talent

Murtha began writing training materials for JAWS, Window-Eyes, and other applications while on that job, and she discovered that she loved teaching and had a natural talent for it. "But I didn't enjoy teaching students who didn't want to learn," she recalls. When suddenly faced with an ultimatum that involved working a schedule that was, for her, untenable, she took a sudden and impulsive risk. "I walked," she laughs, "and it felt great—until I got home and realized I had about $200 in my bank account!"

Her best friend, George Buys, an Arizona businessman who is blind and who founded Audio-tips, an online "voice chat" community, had listened to her talk about her dream of using the voice chat medium to teach. "To my knowledge," Murtha says, "it had never been done before." Buys persuaded her, reminding her that she was a "cliff diver," and eight days after she left her job, she was online teaching her first students.

That was in May 2000, and today, Murtha is more financially successful than she has ever been, and she is doing something she loves. She spends part of each day writing—constantly editing and updating her collection of textbooks—and the rest of the day either teaching or distributing information about upcoming classes. She gets the word out by posting announcements to a few dozen e-mail lists that are accessed by users of assistive technology and some direct mailings to agencies and schools. Frequently, her announcements are about upcoming classes that can be attended for free.

"What I want more than anything," she reflects, "is to be reputable. I take great pride in my work. I'm selling a product, and it's a quality product. I ask a fair price for my product, but I also believe that the more you give away, the more you receive."

In keeping with that conviction, she gives away plenty. On her web site, for example, prospective students can download for free the recordings of a two-week class in Windows 98/ME/XP that she offered (also at no charge) in December 2003. Also on the ATI site are free sample lessons that introduce potential students to her training in Excel, Word, Eudora, Outlook, and other programs. Murtha is confident, she says, that when people use her free classes and samples, they will probably buy textbooks for independent study or pay to sign up for an online training session.

About 90 percent of ATI's business, however, is in the sale of Murtha's textbooks. Murtha has written tutorials for using JAWS for Windows, Window-Eyes, Microsoft Word, Excel, HTML, and more. Each "book" arrives in the form of a single CD, clearly labeled in both print and braille. On the CD, each individual lesson is available in multiple formats—HTML, Microsoft Word, MP3, and RealAudio. Choosing either of the latter two, you hear Murtha's own teaching (sometimes including a bit more than in the Microsoft Word document, she admits) talking the user through the new learning process, each keystroke of the way.

"I was providing textbooks in digital files before anyone else," she says, "and at first there was a real uproar against it. People wanted tapes, good old familiar cassette tapes, and I'd tell them, 'No, this is so much better.'" Now, she says, with all her material produced in digital formats, only one file has to be changed when updating is necessary—not an entire set of tapes or another product—so that teaching materials are always current.

An Outstanding Teacher

Listening to her warm, articulate style, it is tough to comprehend that this entrepreneur and pioneer is actually shy. Murtha has never gone to a technology conference or organized blindness convention (with the exception of accepting two invitations to present papers). When her students chat about having ATI class reunions at future conventions or conferences, they all say, almost in unison, "But CathyAnne will be there via voice chat!"

Even granting this interview, she explains, was an unusual gesture. "I guess it sounds odd," she muses, "but I have my family, I have my boyfriend, I have my guide dog—I'm happy in my world! I don't want anything else."

When she looks back over the past decade, Murtha says it is clear to her now that, without planning it, every pursuit was ultimately preparing her to launch ATI. "My college English classes prepared me to do all the writing," she says, referring to not only her textbooks, but her web site, which is written and designed entirely by her. "My speech classes prepared me to communicate clearly and to teach." And all that insatiable curiosity about the Internet and every other piece of the computer world she has encountered prepared her to be an outstanding and successful teacher. If students come with a desire to learn, Murtha guarantees that they will.

For more information, visit her web site,
<www.accesstechnologyinstitute.com>.

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Access Issues

Not Just Playing Around: A Review of Accessible Windows-based Games

What do you do with your computer after you have read all the e-mail messages, properly formatted the documents, and completed all your spreadsheets? Believe it or not, computers can be used for fun as well as for work. One way to spend your leisure time is to play games.

For computer users who are visually impaired, accessible text-based games were a common thing in the days of MS-DOS. When Microsoft Windows became the predominant operating system, games, like so many other applications, were no longer accessible. A number of companies have been working to change that situation over the past several years. The latest generation of accessible software includes a wide variety of games that are both fun to play and appeal to almost every interest imaginable. Whether you want to drive a tank through enemy territory or simply play a card game, there is sure to be a game out there that you will enjoy.

All inPlay

All inPlay offers two accessible web-based games. For a monthly fee, users can log on to its web site and play the classic Crazy Eights card game or try their hand at poker. The monthly fee gives players access to both games. Since the software is web based, users can pit their skills against players from all over the world. Both poker and Crazy Eights have incorporated a chat feature that allows users to send text messages to each other as they play. Although the games are fully accessible, they are also designed in such a way as to be appealing to sighted users. All inPlay, as its name suggests, encourages sighted individuals to play alongside their friends and family members who are visually impaired. The company also regularly hosts online tournaments for games that are both competitive and fun.

How It Works

Crazy Eights is a game similar to the popular card game Uno. The strategy is to be the first to get rid of all your cards and force your opponent to pick up more. At the beginning of each hand, all users are given five cards, and one card is dealt out to determine the starting suit and number. When it is his or her turn, a player must lay down a card that matches either the number or the suit of the previously played card. The eights in the suits are considered wild cards, and they allow the player who holds them to change the current suit. In addition to the standard numbered cards, you may also play "skip," "reverse," and "draw two" cards, which makes the next player skip a turn, reverses the direction of play, and makes the next player draw two cards, respectively. When a player runs out of cards and wins the game, he or she is given points equal to the value of all the cards that his or her opponents are still holding. The goal is to get as many points as you can and to give up as few points as possible.

In playing Crazy Eights, you can select which card you want to play simply by using the arrow keys. The game also has keystrokes that allow you to hear various pieces of information, such as the number of cards left in your hand or the suit and number of the last card laid down. Crazy Eights also has sound effects to make the game a little more fun to play. For example, when a reverse card is played, a tape rewinding sound is heard. Although these sounds are fun, they can also be distracting. Fortunately, All inPlay allows you to turn the sound affects off with a simple keystroke.

All inPlay's version of poker is five-card draw. All new players are given a predetermined number of chips that they may use to place bets. The goal of poker is to get the highest hand while placing bets with other players. All inPlay has established various tables or rooms that players are allowed to enter and play. Each table can host up to five players and has a different betting limit. The more advanced tables also move faster, since they are intended for more-advanced players. For novice poker players, All inPlay's web site contains some very informative getting-started documents.

All inPlay poker has a straightforward keyboard interface. All the commands are issued with the letter keys, and cards can be either kept or discarded using the number keys. As is the case with Crazy Eights, poker contains several useful hotkeys that provide information on the status of the game. Poker also uses various sound effects during the game. Unlike Crazy Eights, these sound effects are not entertaining. While we were evaluating the product, we found it necessary to turn off these sounds almost immediately.

Want to Chat?

As mentioned earlier, both All inPlay products incorporate a chat feature. Pressing the Tab key while playing either game places focus on (that is, shifts the active window to) the chat window. While in the chat window, you can type a message that is sent to all the players in the current room. Since the game is continuing while you are in the chat window, most messages are fairly short. This is, however, a great way to meet the people you are playing against. Unfortunately, it is not possible to send a message to a single user in the current room.

For players who are visually impaired, both of All inPlay's games were designed to work well with JAWS and Window-Eyes. Both screen readers include configuration files (script and set files) that are designed to work with All inPlay's products. Both games have also incorporated several hotkeys that tell the screen reader to read various pieces of information, such as the last comment in the chat window.

Try Before You Buy

For users who are just getting started, All inPlay offers a free trial membership. Simply by going to the web site and filling out a registration form, you can play both poker and Crazy Eights for 15 days. Once this trial period has expired, you can purchase a subscription that will allow you to play both games for approximately $7.95 per month. Quarterly and yearly memberships are also available. One problem we encountered with this site is that these prices are not listed until you sign up for a free trial. There is, however, a link to send an e-mail to customer support. When we did so, we received a rapid response to our request for information on prices.

BSC Games

Another company that creates accessible games is BSC Games. This company offers a number of freeware and shareware (try-before-you-buy) titles, all available for downloading from its web site. AccessWorld evaluated two of the company's freeware games, Crazy Darts and Sonic Match. Although these games are not fancy, they are fun, and they are a great way for new users to try accessible Windows-based games.

Crazy Darts

This audio-based game allows you to throw a dart at a moving target. When the game starts, sound comes out of either the right or left speaker and moves to the opposite speaker. When you believe the sound is directly in front of you, you press the spacebar to throw the dart. A recorded voice announces the scoring region on the dartboard that the dart hit. To keep the game interesting, the target moves across the speakers at a variety of different speeds. When the game is over, your total score is announced.

This game is simple to operate (requiring only one keystroke to play) and is an easy way to test your hand-ear coordination. Unfortunately, it does have some bugs. On some machines, the game would occasionally play sound using only one speaker for a split second and then report zero points. It would usually do so only once or twice per game, so unless you are trying to reach the maximum score, it is not an issue.

Sonic Match

Sonic Match is a classic memory match game. Each arrow key has a specific sound. The computer plays these sounds, and you must imitate them by pressing the appropriate arrow keys. The more sounds you get correct, the less time you are given to press each key. When you get one wrong, the game ends, and you are told how many you got correct. The game also has three levels of difficulty. The first two levels use three of the arrow keys, and the final level uses all four keys.

Both Sonic Match and Crazy Darts can be played without the use of a screen reader. They are self-voicing applications and guide you through all menus. Both titles are also audio only. When you play the game, only the name of the game is shown on the screen. Sighted users found this lack of visual input disturbing and actually played better when they closed their eyes or switched off the monitor.

Although these games are challenging and entertaining, they lack the sophistication of other titles we evaluated. They also have limited documentation, most likely because they are freeware. Still, these two games are a great way for new players to venture into the world of accessible games.

GMA Games

Tank Commander

This game is for all of us who have ever dreamed of being in command of a fully armed tank rolling through enemy territory. Your assignment is to do as much damage as possible to the computer-generated enemy while you complete several missions. You are equipped with two types of missiles, two types of shells, a machine gun, and other high-powered weapons. Each weapon has its advantages and disadvantages. While you roll through enemy territory, you will encounter such things as tank traps, several types of enemy tanks that have much better weapons than yours, and helicopters that you must blow out of the sky before they drop bombs on you. Your ultimate goal is to complete all six missions and meet up with a tank transport.

One of the most striking aspects of this game is the realistic sound effects. Everything, from the rumble of enemy tanks to the burning of buildings or vehicles you have destroyed to the gurgling of a river, is presented in striking detail. The game relies heavily on sound spacing. If a player hears an enemy tank through the left speaker, for example, the player knows to turn left to face the enemy. This sound spacing can be used to place objects in a variety of directions relative to your current location.

Tank Commander uses a fairly straightforward keyboard interface. The arrow keys are used to control the movement of your tank. Weapons can be selected using the numbers 1–6 on the number row. The game has a large number of commands that provide information, such as your tank's current heading and what objects are close to your current position. The game comes with excellent documentation that explains the functions of all keyboard commands.

Tank Commander actually functions best when a screen reader is not active. The game speaks all menus and status reports in a prerecorded voice, so a screen reader is not necessary to convey any information. During our evaluation, we played the games both with and without a screen reader. Pressing certain keystrokes, such as CTRL right arrow to turn the tank 90 degrees to the right, caused the screen reader to speak up. This extra chatter made the game much more difficult to play. One disappointing aspect of Tank Commander is its lack of on-screen information. Sighted players are forced to rely only on their ears because the game displays only its title on the screen at all times. One might think that a game with this much audio detail would have some fairly decent graphics, but this is not the case.

The game can be played in one of two modes: standard or arcade. Standard mode allows users to play as long as they can stay "alive." Once your tank is destroyed in standard mode, the game is over. Standard mode does allow you to save your current game location, so you can come back to this position at any time. The second mode is arcade mode. Arcade mode gives the player three lives. If your tank is destroyed, you lose one of these lives, and play continues until you have lost your last life. Each completed mission gives you another life. When you play in arcade mode, it is not possible to save your current game location. Before you play in either mode, you must select one of five levels of difficulty. These creatively named levels of difficulty range from "It's my turn daddy" to "It's a good day to die." As you increase the level of difficulty, the enemies move faster and become more aggressive.

A demonstration version of Tank Commander is available from the company's web site for download. It runs for 10 minutes or until you complete the first mission. In addition to Tank Commander, GMA Games sells several other audio-based action adventure games.

The Bottom Line

Accessible games have definitely made their way to the Windows environment. Many of the titles rely heavily on complex sound effects and good hand-ear coordination, which are great for individuals who are visually impaired but not for those who are deaf-blind. When we tested these games using a screen reader and a refreshable braille display, almost all were unusable. The exceptions were the games from All inPlay, which worked fairly well using refreshable braille. The fact that most of these games had no on-screen text and therefore were challenging for sighted users to play is also disturbing. Despite these shortcomings, it is encouraging to see that companies are realizing that some people who are visually impaired are using their computers for more than just work-related tasks.

Product Features

Feature All inPlay Poker and Crazy Eights GMA Tank Commander BSC Sonic Match and Crazy Darts
Requires a screen reader Yes No No
Has multimedia sounds Yes Yes Yes
Includes on-screen information for sighted users Yes No No
Requires a live connection to the
Internet
Yes No No
Requires stereo speakers or headphones No Yes Yes
Cost Monthly sub-
scription ($7.95
per month)
$35 (one-
time fee)
Free

Product Features

Feature: All inPlay Poker and Crazy Eights; GMA Tank Commander; BSC Sonic Match and Crazy Darts

Requires a screen reader: All inPlay Poker and Crazy Eights: Yes; GMA Tank Commander: No; BSC Sonic Match and Crazy Darts: No.

Has multimedia sounds: All inPlay Poker and Crazy Eights: Yes; GMA Tank Commander: Yes; BSC Sonic Match and Crazy Darts: Yes.

Includes on-screen information for sighted users: All inPlay Poker and Crazy Eights: Yes; GMA Tank Commander: No; BSC Sonic Match and Crazy Darts: No.

Requires a live connection to the Internet: All inPlay Poker and Crazy Eights: Yes; GMA Tank Commander: No; BSC Sonic Match and Crazy Darts: No.

Requires stereo speakers or headphones: All inPlay Poker and Crazy Eights: No; GMA Tank Commander: Yes; BSC Sonic Match and Crazy Darts: Yes.

Cost: All inPlay Poker and Crazy Eights: Monthly subscription ($7.95 per month); GMA Tank Commander: $35 (one-time fee); BSC Sonic Match and Crazy Darts: Free.

Product Information

Products: Crazy Eights and Poker

Manufacturer: All inPlay, P.O. Box 335, Oxford, MA 01540; phone: 413-585-9690; e-mail: <info@allinplay.com> web site: <www.Allinplay.com>.

Price: $7.95 per month; quarterly and yearly plans are also available.

Products: Crazy Darts and Sonic Match

Manufacturer: BSC Games, c/o Justin Daubenmire, P.O. Box 3716, Boardman, OH 44513; phone:559-224-2436; e-mail: <sales@BSCGames.com> or <support@BSCGames.com> web site: <www.BSCGames.com>.

Price: Free.

GMA Tank Commander

Manufacturer: GMA Games, 245 Hillsdale Avenue East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4S IT7; phone:416-489-1933; e-mail: <davidgreenwood@gmagames.com> web site: <www.GMAGames.com>.

Price: $35.

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AccessWorld News

Kurzweil: Scholarships, Upgrades, Predictions

At conferences in June and July, Kurzweil Educational Systems demonstrated Version 9, an upgrade for the Kurzweil 1000 scanning and reading software, to be released in September. Building on the program's diverse range of features designed to enhance reading productivity, the new version includes additional online search capabilities (AccessWorld® and two online encyclopedias have been added to the fixed list of online publications it can access), improved scanning accuracy, the ability to navigate links in documents, a talking business calculator, and expanded study tools.

Ray Kurzweil, renowned inventor of the first reading machine 30 years ago, presented 30 scholarship winners with a copy of the software on July 4th at the National Federation of the Blind convention in Atlanta, Georgia. At the same event, Kurzweil, now chairman emeritus of the Bedford, Massachusetts, company bearing his name, delivered a speech predicting the technology of the year 2020. One prediction, currently well on its way to becoming reality in the next year or two, is a portable scan-and-read device, a handheld unit that voices such environmental items as signage, product labels, or restaurant menus. For more information on Kurzweil products, go to <www.kurzweiledu.com> or call 800-894-5374 or 781-276-0600.

Jot a Dot, A Long-awaited Solution for Braille Users

Quantum Technology, the Australian-based company best known for its Mountbatten Brailler and PIAG tactile image maker, plans to release its innovative, handheld brailling device, the Jot a Dot, near the end of 2004. Intended to serve as an easy, mechanical means of making quick braille notes, the Jot a Dot has a Perkins Brailler–style keyboard, can be held in one hand, and allows you to write braille directly onto paper. Simple to use, the device will provide an efficient means of making braille notes on paper, offering an alternative to individuals who have found the slate and stylus to be difficult or inefficient. Quantum has recently made an agreement with Optelec USA, making the latter the master U.S. distributor for all Quantum products. For more information about the Jot a Dot, go to <www.jotadot.com>. For information on other Quantum products, go to <www.quantech.com.au> or e-mail <info@quantech.com.au>. To learn more about Optelec USA, go to <www.optelec.com> or call 800-828-1056 or 978-856-2511.

Maestro—An Accessible PDA

VisuAide, the Canadian-based company that has brought two of the leading digital talking book players to the market, introduced its new Maestro at consumer conventions this summer. Maestro is an off-the-shelf handheld PDA that has been adapted for use by people who are blind. Over the unit's touch screen, which is used by sighted individuals with a special stylus for pointing and drawing, VisuAide has added a keypad membrane that can be navigated easily by touch. According to VisuAide, in addition to performing its own functions (such as an address book, personal organizer, and memo recorder), the Maestro can be used to operate VisuAide's GPS device, Trekker, and its digital talking book device, Victor Reader, and to act as a PC operated by a wireless keyboard. The device is expected to begin shipping in September 2004. For more information, visit VisuAide online, <www.visuaide.com>, or call 888-723-7273 or 819-471-4818.

BrailleNote PK on the Way

Pulse Data has announced the imminent arrival of the BrailleNote PK, the company's newest PDA. The BrailleNote PK weighs less than one pound and measures 6.8 inches by 3.6 inches by 1.3 inches. It includes BlueTooth wireless technology, which allows you to securely exchange information with other BlueTooth-enabled devices. BlueTooth is available on many mobile phones, personal computers, headsets, and keyboards. Other features are compatibility with all braille formats and Microsoft Word and an address list that can be synchronized with other BlueTooth-enabled devices. The BrailleNote PK will ship later this year. For more information, contact: Pulse Data HumanWare; e-mail: <info@humanware.com>; web site: <www.humanware.com>; phone: 800-722-3393 or 925-680-7100.

Easy Searching

YouSearched.com is a new search engine, designed with the intention of being fully accessible to people with disabilities. Supporting its claims of friendly searching for all, the site boasts seals of approval from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (United Kingdom), with its "See It Right Accessible Website" logo, and Bobby WorldWide, as well as compliance with 508 web accessibility guidelines. The aim of YouSearched.com is to offer an easily navigated web site and search engine that can be used by people with screen readers, refreshable braille displays, and other technology that might pose difficulties in the graphical environment. To test it yourself, go to <www.yousearched.com>. For more information, contact: YouSearched; phone: +44-207-935-1244; e-mail: <info@yousearched.com>.

"A Library for the Price of a Book"

Founded by Richard Seltzer, Samizdat is an online store that provides collections of books on CD, all in plain text format and organized logically for easier location and retrieval. The CDs are usually $20 or $30 and are available in such categories as literature, history, philosophy, and science. For example, a CD of world literature contains over 1,200 books, a CD of children's literature has over 500 offerings, and one containing American literature has recently been increased to nearly 1000 titles. There are collections featuring a particular genre, country, author, or topic. Those interested in joining an e-mail list can receive a free e-book of the week. For a list of books, prices, and complete tables of contents, go to <www.samizdat.com>, or send an e-mail to Richard Seltzer at <seltzer@samizdat.com>.

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Calendar

August 1–6, 2004

Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) Workshop

Washington, DC

Contact:

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

Contact:

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>.

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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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