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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 November 2004 Issue  Volume 5  Number 6

Editor's Page

This issue includes two articles on experiences that most people have taken for granted for a long time but which are new and exciting for people who are blind or visually impaired: voting independently and using cell phones. As you read this, a small percentage of you have probably just voted for the first time in privacy, using an accessible voting machine. This percentage will grow in future elections, as more states and municipalities purchase, and learn how to set up and run, accessible voting machines. This is quite a change from having to depend on a relative or poll worker for assistance and not knowing for sure which candidate you voted for.

Unfortunately, the accessible, electronic voting machines have been plagued by controversy over whether their software can be trusted to record all votes accurately and whether it would be easy for someone to tamper with the machines and change the results. Some people have tried to state the controversy as "security versus accessibility." But elected officials and the public must realize that both of these concerns can be satisfied, and we can all vote on machines whose results are verifiable.

We are about to experience the first presidential election since the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was signed into law in October 2002, mandating that the machines and the polling places housing them would provide accessibility to people with disabilities. In this issue, Deborah Kendrick indicates which states and cities will provide accessible voting machines in this election. She also discusses the controversy over whether electronic voting machines provide secure, verifiable voting and the effects of that controversy on accessible voting. Find out if your area will provide accessible voting machines on election day and what you can do now to make sure you will be able to cast an accessible vote by January 1, 2006, the deadline for states to come into compliance with HAVA and have at least one accessible machine in every polling place.

AccessWorld started reporting on cell phones two years ago, when there were no accessible products on the market. We were able to recommend telephones with usable keypads, but that was about it. We have come a long way since then. There are now two cell phone-based screen readers that provide access to most of the features of a few top-of-the-line cell phones. There are still some barriers to full access, but it is exciting to be able to tell you that you can now do most of the things with your cell phone that sighted persons can do with theirs.

Darren Burton of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), compares TALKS and Mobile Speak, two screen readers for the Symbian operating system used on a number of cell phones, most made by Nokia, and their provision of access to the Nokia 6620's features and functions. The Nokia 6620 is not a "friendly" phone--its keys are not easily identifiable by touch. Since it has an operating system, however, users can download and install software, such as video games and, more importantly for people who are blind or visually impaired, the TALKS and Mobile Speak software. As usual, a user who is blind must pay more, purchasing both the telephone and the screen reader to achieve access. However, this time we are talking about hundreds, rather than thousands, of extra dollars. Also, rebates are available for the phone, as well as part or all of the cost of the screen reader. Read about the best current option for accessing most cell phone features.

In other articles in this issue, Jim Denham and Heather McComas of AFB TECH and I explore the features of two GPS products, the Trekker from VisuAide and Sendero Group's BrailleNote GPS software. As the name suggests, BrailleNote GPS requires the purchase of a BrailleNote or VoiceNote from Pulse Data HumanWare and the GPS software and accessories, while the Trekker runs on an off-the-shelf personal digital assistant adapted by VisuAide. These two products provide tools for enhancing your traveling experience. You can plot and follow routes, explore an upcoming trip offline from the comfort of your home or office, and hear announcements of intersections and nearby points of interest such as restaurants, banks, and tourist attractions, as well as places you add to the supplied commercial database. Come along for the ride as we review these important products.

Deborah Kendrick reports on a treasure hunt using the Trekker and BrailleNote GPS products that took place at this summer's National Federation of the Blind's national convention. Ten teams of two blind or visually impaired people each set out to follow riddles to the desired destinations. This type of event has been available to sighted people using GPS products for years. Now people who are blind have the tools necessary to join in on the fun. Find out what happened when a group of people who are blind used assistive technology to explore new territory and discover prizes.

Susan Stageberg, Documentation Specialist, Iowa Department for the Blind Project ASSIST with Windows, discusses how to buy a braille display. She describes how a braille display works, and discusses the questions that should be considered before investing in such an expensive piece of hardware.

Janet Ingber, author and music therapist, reviews TADI, a talking personal digital assistant from Variscite Ltd. The TADI uses a QWERTY keyboard and voice recording for input, and speech for output. It includes a phone book, appointment diary, notepad, calculator, alarm clock, timer, five hours of recording and more. It does not have word-processing capabilities, Internet access, or a braille display. Read about this new, relatively inexpensive product.

It can be very frustrating to observe the evolution of mainstream technology. It seems that almost every device we interact with, from kitchen appliances to audio equipment to airline and train ticketing machines, has a touch screen or some unusable component. It is exhilarating to be able to report in this issue on major improvements in the accessibility of cell phones and voting machines.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

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Copyright © 2004 American Foundation for the Blind. ISSN 1526-9574. All rights reserved. AccessWorld® is a registered trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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