Letters to the Editor
Shh! We're Playing
I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful article ["Not Just Playing Around: A Review of Accessible Windows-based Games," September 2004 issue]. I appreciated the level of detail and the fairness. Thank you for pointing out weaknesses!
And in case you did not know, in poker you have the ability to adjust the ambient crowd noise volume distinct from the audio-cues (such as chips hitting the table, cowboy saying "Bettin' time," etc.). Again, thank you for this detailed and well-written article!
Would the iPod be accessible for blind or visually impaired users?
The Editor responds:
We receive more questions about the accessibility of the iPod and other off-the-shelf MP3 players than any other type of product except cell phones. We are working on a review of MP3 players for an upcoming issue.
Access for Deaf-Blind Voters
I just read the review of the four voting machines which are accessible to blind voters. I have a few questions, though. Have any of the manufacturers taken into consideration that there are deaf-blind voters out there that need accessible voting machines, too?
A deaf-blind voter may need such additional features as
- the ability to choose between a female voice and male voice output. Some types of hearing losses involve high-frequency or low-frequency losses. Some can understand a male voice easier than a female voice.
- a volume control. Some deaf-blind voters have a moderate hearing loss and could function with the headphones if the volume could be raised.
- a braille display. Some deaf-blind people have profound or total loss of their vision and hearing. The large-print and/or voice output would not assist them at all. This population usually knows braille.
- a computer monitor, which allows both contrast and size enhancement. For those deaf-blind voters who have low vision and need specific accommodations in order to read computerized information, this would be a fairly simple feature to add.
- a jack where an assistive listening device could be plugged in for severely hearing impaired. Sometimes the voice output needs to be "routed" directly into the ear of a deaf-blind person by using this device, which they can adjust the volume on.
I'd appreciate you letting me know if you have passed these on to the manufacturers and fill me in on whatever responses you get back from them.
Thank you for what you're doing to assist the blind and low vision voters, but don't forget about us deaf-blind voters.
Darren Burton responds:
Regarding the ability to choose between a female voice and male voice output: The only machine with that ability is the Vote-Trakker by Avante International. It uses configurable synthetic speech output, so you can choose the rate, pitch, and gender of the voice. The other machines use recorded human speech, which is not configurable.
Regarding volume control, the only one with a built-in volume control was the AVC from Sequoia Pacific. It had a volume slider on the handheld controller. The other companies provided headphones with a volume adjustment control built into them. However, those headphones might not be available at the polling places, so voters might be well-advised to bring along their own pair of volume-adjustable headphones.
In my discussions with manufacturers, when I suggested the possibility of adding a braille display, all of them told me that the high cost would be prohibitive. States would most likely balk at the cost of braille displays, which would more than double the price of the machines. The Help America Vote Act does not provide for that accommodation, nor does it provide money for that. For now, people who are profoundly deaf-blind will still have to vote with assistance from a friend or relative who can communicate the ballot information to them and help them make choices.
As for a computer monitor that allows both contrast and size enhancement, that was one of our major recommendations to the manufacturers. They told me that they would take that into consideration, but I haven't noticed any movement in that direction so far. Most of the machines have large color displays, but do not utilize large fonts or have the ability to adjust size, contrast, or brightness.
Regarding a jack where an assistive listening device could be plugged in for severely hearing impaired persons, I did not discuss this issue with the manufacturers, but all the machines all do have jacks for headphones. I am not familiar enough with assistive listening devices, but if they could be plugged into a standard headphone jack, then it should work.
In general, most of the manufacturers were receptive to my recommendations and suggestions, but they are now working on ways to reply to the growing controversy over a "paper trail" to be used as a backup in case a recount is necessary, so I think that accessibility issues have been put on the back burner for now.
From Cell Phone to PDA
I have used a cell phone for about 12 years. To be honest, I got the Nokia 6600 with TALKS because it seemed the right thing to do. Not until I began to use it did I realize the leap up in effectiveness.
I am surprised by the number of features I enjoy which you did not seek an opinion about. You did not mention network strength and battery strength in your list. I know when I am in a low coverage area. I know when to charge the battery without having to remember that one extra thing. While I am out and about on journeys, I can check the cell site. Of course, it is no way near as precise as GPS, but it is just another piece of geographic information I might not otherwise have.
I can send and receive emails on my laptop from anywhere there is GPRS [general packet radio service] coverage via Bluetooth. I travel a fair amount and that is a wonderful freedom, especially in boring airports.
I have learned to text. I am not particularly fast, but my messages get through. My cellular provider texts me when someone leaves a voice mail. I find it is quicker and less intrusive to use this service than have my voice mail phone me, when a message is left. I enjoy the freedom to assign sound bites, rather than someone else's ring tones, to contacts.
I was most apprehensive about the 6600 keyboard when first I held the phone in my hand. The knowledge that several blind friends had mastered it was sufficient incentive to pull me through. It is not that good a keyboard, but I can make it work.
I have crossed the divide from cell phone to PDA. One can only speculate what the next year or two might offer blind people.
Mary A. Schnackenberg
Auckland, New Zealand
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