In This Issue . . .
Letters to the Editor
To Vote or Not to Vote Is Not the Question
Find out why security versus accessibility should not be a contest in the 2004 presidential elections; and check whether you'll vote for president on an accessible machine in your state—Deborah Kendrick
Now They're Talking! A Review of Two Cell Phone-Based Screen Readers
After a string of missed calls, companies finally connect, with two cell phone-based screen readers that bring substantial accessibility to the Nokia 6620 and other phones—Darren Burton
Getting from Point A to Point B: A Review of Two GPS Systems
These two GPS systems can set you free to explore your own environment. Plot routes, stop counting streets, and forget the panic of feeling lost—Jim Denham, Jay Leventhal, and Heather McComas
Geocaching: A "Treasured" Experience with GPS
Find out who cashes in when teams set out to hunt for "treasure" using the newest navigation tools in this "way fun" accessible activity—Deborah Kendrick
The Device That Refreshes: How to Buy a Braille Display
If you're thinking about spending several thousand dollars on a refreshable braille display, you'll want to check out these tips, the result of 1½ years of research from Project Assist.—Susan Stageberg
An Easy-to-Use Talking Organizer: A Review of TADI
TADI (which stands for TAlking personal DIgital assistant) may be just the thing for people who don't use braille and who want their lives to be more organized—Janet Ingber
|Editor in Chief
||Paul Schroeder, Founding Editor
Deborah Kendrick, Senior Features Editor
AccessWorld® is published bimonthly 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.
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.
Editor in Chief
Back to top
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
Back to top
To Vote or Not to Vote Is Not the Question
It is an amazing presidential election we are having in 2004, one that will certainly capture a special spot in history books, and the candidates are only part of the phenomenon. First, of course, there are the campaigns themselves--garnering more rapt attention from the American public than any in perhaps 40 years. Second, there is all the furor about a paper trail for vote verification and recount purposes. One unusual element of this particular chapter of history in progress is that people with disabilities, a group who rarely loom large in politics or public policy, have a significant role this time.
The ballot recount in 2000 stirred up a number of issues regarding our electoral system. First, there was the concern that the paper ballots produced by punch-card and mechanical machines were not reliable. Second, there was the issue of voters whose names had erroneously appeared on lists of people who had died. Clearly, it was time for some reform—and, of course, in the 21st century, reform involves technology. A means of voting that was more reliable than, say, the one that produced the hanging chads had to be found. For people with disabilities, this unfortunate state of affairs was something of an opportunity, a chance, at long last, to step inside the voting-rights circle with the status of more than neglected stepchildren. Not only were millions of dollars allocated to research and install electronic voting machines, but the Help America Vote Act, signed into law in 2002, guarantees that the machines and the polling places that house them will provide accessibility to people with disabilities.
AccessWorld has evaluated electronic voting machines in past issues (most recently in July 2004); for this article, suffice it to say that there are several models that provide accessibility to voters who are blind or have low vision. If progress had continued in the direction it was headed without interference, at least 12 percent of the voting population would be voting on accessible machines on November 2. Even so, a good 8 percent of the population will be casting ballots on machines that all voters can use independently.
Caption: For the first time this November, a substantial number of voters who are blind or visually impaired will be able to cast their ballots independently on electronic voting machines.
The "interference" was the highly controversial debate over the necessity (or lack thereof) of a "voter-verifiable paper-audit trail." The argument for this type of paper trail was initiated by Rebecca Mercuri in her 2000 Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, "Electronic Vote Tabulation Checks and Balances," Some computer scientists fear that the electronic machines can be tampered with, and votes will be altered; political scientists and election officials argue that these claims are made without a real understanding of how elections and vote-counting procedures really work.
Paper Is Not Perfect
Jim Dickson, vice president of governmental affairs for the Washington, DC-based American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), pointed out in a recent interview that percentages of voting errors are much higher on machines that produce paper than on touch-screen machines. He cited data gathered in California and elsewhere that estimated that the error rate of touch-screen voting is about 1.5 percent (as low as 7/10 of 1 percent in some cases), whereas the error rate for optical scan systems is at least 2.7 percent, and for punch-card systems as much as 6 percent of votes cast will not be counted. Dickson pointed out that it was paper (in the form of punch cards and hanging chads) that triggered the 2000 voting debacle in Florida. Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University professor of law and civil rights, adamantly agreed: "If electronic voting had been in place in those Florida jurisdictions where punch cards were used in 2000," he wrote in his online blog <http://equalvote.blogspot.com/> "the result would very likely have been different. Fewer votes would have been lost, especially in minority communities that tend to benefit most from voting technology that provides error notification and 'second chance' voting."
In some states, legislators have canceled the purchase of accessible touch-screen machines or postponed their use, mandated the addition of printers, or otherwise detoured from the march toward accessibility. Certainly, people are stirred up on both sides of this debate. While the mass media in some areas have depicted the problem as a "verification versus accessibility" dispute, groups like the AAPD, League of Women Voters, and others have contended that to presume such an either/or choice is to misconstrue the facts. Those who are opposed to the voter-verified paper trail have argued that secure, verified voting is essential—but not via paper. Votes can be cast electronically and verified electronically as well. When all is said and done, the point is that legitimate concerns about security of electronic voting can be satisfied without stopping the move to accessible machines.
The Access States
Although progress for voters with disabilities is definitely in jeopardy as a result of the delays in implementing accessible voting machines caused by the controversy, the good news is that in many counties in many states, people who are visually impaired or have other disabilities will be able to vote independently in the 2004 election. If you live in either Maryland or Georgia, you are in the friendliest states for voters who are blind or have low vision this year. At least one accessible machine will be located at every polling place in these two states. Washington, DC, will also have one accessible machine per polling location. In Florida, about 40% of all voters will cast their ballots on accessible touch-screen machines, as will voters in most large cities in Texas, much of California, suburban Denver, and five Ohio counties. All voters in Nevada will use touch-screen machines, although these machines are both new, accessible machines and the older inaccessible units. Machines that are being used are a mix—Diebold in Maryland; Sequoia in Washington, DC; and Hart eSlates in suburban Denver and Alexandria, Virginia. Other states have a mix of manufacturers, with Diebold being perhaps the most widely represented.
The Many Faces of Accessibility
Just knowing that there is an accessible touch-screen machine at your polling place is not, Dickson warned, sufficient information for ensuring yourself that this year you can vote the way the designers of that machine intended—that is, without sighted assistance. Some poll workers have not been trained to turn the access features on (this caveat is not relevant in the case of the Hart eSlate, since the text-to-speech feature is always active and can be heard as soon as a headset is plugged in). Or perhaps the poll worker knows how to turn on the access features, but someone misplaced the headphones. Election officials in Palm Beach, Florida, thought it would be enough to apologize for forgetting to turn on the access features, but they are in court for the second time, being sued by individuals with disabilities for their "oversight." Dickson stated that people need to call the local election board before election day to be sure that someone will be on hand to render accessible voting machines truly accessible.
And for the vast majority of Americans with disabilities whose counties have not yet adopted accessibility, Dickson said, "You must be vigilant. These counties have until January 1, 2006, to come into compliance," with at least one accessible machine in every polling place, "but to do that, they need to get started immediately. It takes a year to get up and running once the decision has been made to put in the touch-screen machines." He suggested that people need to telephone their election officials right after the November election, and again in early January, to inquire whether an order for equipment was placed, a contract was signed, or delivery is scheduled.
The Sleeping Giant
An estimated 40 million Americans of voting age have disabilities. Historically, voter turnout among this group has been extremely low. In Ohio, for example, a recent "get out the vote" effort by 19 cooperating disability organizations found that of 50,000 people with disabilities, 70 percent were not registered voters. To Dickson, who has dedicated the past 15 years of his career to building the voting power of people with disabilities, figures like these are appalling.
"We've had a lot of progress," Dickson said, "but if you want programs created, if you want civil rights laws, there are two ways to make things happen: You give a lot of money to politicians, or you get a lot of votes. . . . To see real change, we have no choice but to become the largest voting block."
People with disabilities have been called the sleeping giant in the voting population, and Dickson is by no means alone in believing that the time has come for the giant to wake up. For people who are blind or have low vision who go to the polls this year, slap on a headset, and navigate through the audio to exercise their right to vote, November 2 will have an added bonus. But for most of us this election year, the old method of taking a friend or relative to read and help mark the ballot, asking a poll worker for assistance, or marking an absentee ballot at home is just as vital. An estimated one-third of the country's voters in November will still use punch-card systems, and an estimated 1 million of those ballots will fail, for one reason or another, to make it into the count. If the value of disaster is newly acquired knowledge, then people with disabilities have benefited in at least two ways from the disputed election and recount of 2000: First, with continued vigilance and advocacy there will be accessible voting machines in every polling place by 2006 and, second, and of more immediate import, now that we have learned that some votes will inevitably be lost from the count, the power of each and every one of our ballots assumes additional significance.
In other words, whether you can do it independently or not, the most important message to people with disabilities is, as disability rights leader Justin Dart, Jr., used to say: "Vote as if your life depends on it—because it does."
Back to top
Now They're Talking! A Review of Two Cell Phone-Based Screen Readers
As the world of cell phones and accessibility evolves, AccessWorld continues to examine the ever-changing landscape. When we first examined top-of-the-line cell phones in May 2003, we concluded that if only the phones had speech output and keypads that were identifiable by touch, we would be headed in the right direction. A year and a half later, the bad news is that the keypads are only slightly better. The very good news is that we can now compare two screen readers that can be installed on a few different cell phones and that provide access to most of the functions of a mainstream, feature-rich cellular telephone.
This article evaluates the Nokia 6620 cell phone with both TALKS and Mobile Speak, two screen readers for the Nokia's Symbian operating system, and compares how they provide access to the Nokia's features and functions. TALKS is produced by Brand & Gröber Communications; its performance on three other Nokia cell phones was evaluated in the January and July issues of AccessWorld. Mobile Speak is a new software product that is produced by Code Factory, makers of the Mobile Accessibility software that we evaluated in our November 2003 and January 2004 articles. These software applications were installed on two Nokia 6620 cell phones to compare them side by side on an identical system. These software products can be installed on a select number of cell phones that use the Symbian operating system, most of which are produced by Nokia. The 6620 is the latest one available on the U.S. market.
Caption: People who are blind or have low vision now have a choice of two screen readers that provide access to the features of the Nokia 6620 cell phone.
The Nokia 6620
The Nokia 6620 is the latest cell phone in Nokia's "60" series of phones, similar to the 3650 and 3660 models that were evaluated in the November 2003 and July 2004 issues of AccessWorld. It is another flat, "brick"- or "candy-bar"-style cell phone, with the control buttons exposed. It is slightly smaller than the 3650 and 3660 phones, measuring 4.3 inches by 2.4 inches by 1.0 inches and weighing 4.5 ounces. It has a large 2-inch by 1.5-inch color display screen and includes many of today's popular features, such as web surfing, text and multimedia messaging, an appointment calendar, a digital camera, and sound and video recorders.
Menus are navigated with a small five-way joystick, along with two keys placed to its left and right. The dialing keys are arranged in a stylized version of the standard 3-by-4 grid, with two nibs placed on the left and right of the 5 key for orientation. The grid is slightly curved, dipping down in the middle and rising up toward the sides, and the keys get slightly smaller as you move toward the bottom of the telephone. There are also three control keys that are placed vertically on the left edge of the phone and two that are placed on the right edge. The telephone uses the GSM network and features the Symbian operating system, which gives it the capability of downloading and installing software, such as video games and the TALKS and Mobile Speak software. The cell phone is now offered by Cingular, T-Mobile, and AT&T Wireless, but the cell-phone market changes quickly, so it is advisable to check with the service providers in your area for availability and pricing.
TALKS and Mobile Speak
TALKS and Mobile Speak are software packages that work on cell phones in much the same way as screen readers, such as Window-Eyes and JAWS, work on personal computers, providing text-to-speech access to nearly all the cell phone's features and functions. Mobile Speak is much more of a competitor to TALKS than its less-robust predecessor, Mobile Accessibility, which created a separate interface to access only a limited number of the cell phone's features and functions. We evaluated the most current versions of each application as of September 2004: TALKS for Series 60, Version 1.30.6, and Mobile Speak Version 1.0. Both TALKS and Mobile Speak use the Eloquence speech synthesizer that Window-Eyes and JAWS use, so many readers should be familiar with the voice produced by each system. TALKS and Mobile Speak can be installed on the Nokia 6600, 6620, 3620, 3650, 3660, 7650, N-Gage, and Siemens SX1. In addition, TALKS works on the Nokia 3600, and Mobile Speak works on the 7610. Not all of these telephones are offered in every market, so you need to check with the service providers in your area for availability.
The process for downloading and installing the software on a cell phone is not accessible and must be done with sighted assistance. However, Cingular offers the TALKS software as an accessory to the 6620 on a chip (what they call a "multi media card") that can be easily installed by placing it under the battery on the back of the cell phone. Beyond Sight, the distributor for TALKS, also sells the telephone with the software already installed. The distributor of Mobile Speak, Optelec, will install the software for a $100 charge if you send the telephone to them.
The Sweet 16
As we reported in our previous cell phone evaluations, before we began our reviews, we surveyed 40 cell phone users who are blind or have low vision to determine which features they would most like to have made accessible. The 16 features that were rated the highest by the respondents became the basis of our evaluation. We looked at whether users would be able to access these features and noted the barriers to accessing them. The evaluation methods we used included these:
- measuring the ability to identify and use the keypad tactilely,
- determining the ability to navigate menus,
- noting auditory and vibratory feedback, and
- assessing the readability of the visual display.
The following analysis lists the 16 cell phone features that the respondents rated as the most important for accessibility and how Mobile Speak and TALKS measured up on each feature.
Keys That Are Easily Identifiable by Touch
The keys of this cell phone were not designed to be easily operated by touch. We showed the phone to six people who are blind or have low vision, and they reported some initial difficulty in differentiating one key from another, especially when moving horizontally across the dialing keys. They said that it was not efficient to dial telephone numbers with this keypad, and they had initial difficulty identifying and using the control keys on the left and right edges of the cell phone. However, they did make positive comments about the joystick and the two nibs on the right and left of the 5 key. Although using these keypads will never be as efficient as using the standard 3-by-4 grid, the respondents agreed that it is possible to get used to these keys after some practice. Also, once you program your contacts into the cell phone's memory, you do not have to use the dialing keys as often as you would with a cell phone with inaccessible menus.
Both TALKS and Mobile Speak provide voice output to access menus and screen information through the easy-to-understand Eloquence speech synthesizer, and voice characteristics, such as speed, pitch, volume, and key echo, can be adjusted according to your preferences. Both TALKS and Mobile Speak provide text-to-speech access to nearly every function and application on the cell phone, including status indicators, the Contacts application, text and multimedia messaging, and e-mail. Web browsing is not currently supported by either program.
The biggest problem we discovered is that neither TALKS nor Mobile Speak works during an active call, so you do not have access to the calendar, contacts, or other information stored on your cell phone while you are on a call. This was not a problem with TALKS on the Nokia 3650 or 3660 that we evaluated in the July issue. The Mobile Speak manual says that Mobile Speak should work while on a call, so this may be a bug that is particular to the Nokia 6620, and perhaps it will be worked out in future releases. A problem that is more of an issue of privacy, rather than accessibility, is that both applications produce voice output through the speaker phone instead of the earpiece of the phone, so that others who are near you may get annoyed listening to your phone talk. Mobile Speak has a setting to make the output come out of the earpiece, but we heard little difference when that option was activated. Nokia sells earphone accessories for this cell phone that would eliminate this issue, but they cost between $20 and $100.
Another bug that we discovered with both software products involves entering punctuation marks and symbols into notes or messages. Up to 40 different punctuation marks and symbols can be entered via multiple presses of the 1 key. However, this process is impractical because you would have to press the 1 key up to 40 times to enter the punctuation mark or symbol you want. For example, you would have to press the 1 key 24 times to enter a dollar sign or 40 times to enter a carriage return. Alternatively, the user can press the asterisk key to bring up a list of the 40 punctuation marks and symbols presented in a grid layout. The user can then scroll through the grid and select the desired punctuation mark or symbol. However, neither software product provides speech output to identify the punctuation marks and symbols while you scroll through the list to choose one of them.
We were able to acquire an accessible manual for the 6620 from Nokia in large-print and cassette formats, but braille and CD-ROM versions were not available at the time of writing. We found an electronic manual in PDF format on the Nokia web site, but it was not designed to be accessible using a screen reader.
The TALKS manual comes in several formats, including an audio CD recorded in clear human speech, as well as HTML, TXT, and Microsoft Word formats. The Mobile Speak manual is available in Microsoft Word format. The manuals for both software products are limited, designed just to get you started using the cell phones, so you can learn as you go. They do not completely describe all functions of the cell phone as the full Nokia manual would, but they both provide access to the cell phone's online help system. TALKS has a "training mode," which allows you to press keys and key combinations and to hear TALKS describe their functions. What is missing with both products is a manual that describes how to use the phone's features with a screen reader. Manuals for Windows-based screen readers orient you to the operating system as well as teach you to use screen reader commands. The same is needed here, as the Nokia manual assumes you can see the telephone's screen.
Battery Level Indicator
Both TALKS and Mobile Speak have a keystroke command to access status information, telling you how many bars the on-screen battery indicator is displaying. The cell phone also emits a warning tone every half hour for two hours before the battery dies completely. Although we did not specifically test how long a charge lasted on this cell phone, we did notice that when we ran either TALKS or Mobile Speak, the battery's power was used up quickly. During our testing, when we used the cell phone and the software for a full work day, the battery would drain almost completely. However, normal use should not drain the battery so quickly.
The status information provided by both TALKS and Mobile Speak tells you the name of the service provider to which you are currently connected, so if it is not your service provider, you will know that the cell phone is roaming and thus that you are paying more for your call.
The cell phone emits an audio tone to alert you that you have received a message, and both TALKS and Mobile Speak can also access on-screen information to alert you that an incoming message has arrived, including voice mail, e-mail, and text and multimedia messages. Composing, sending, receiving, and reading these messages is accessible with both TALKS and Mobile speak, but you may need to activate the service with your service provider. To write messages, you use the alphanumeric keypad. For example, you press the 2 key once for A, twice for B, and so forth.
Nokia calls the phone-book feature the Contacts application, and you can quickly access it by simply pressing in on the joystick while in standby mode. All the Contacts functions are accessible with TALKS and Mobile Speak. You can search your contact list; call, add, delete, or edit contacts; and assign unique ring tones to your contacts. Numbers from the call logs can also be automatically entered into the phone book.
Phone Lock Mode
The Nokia 6620 can be locked with password protection to prevent unauthorized use, and both TALKS and Mobile Speak provide the speech output to make the process accessible.
Because this is a brick- or candy-bar-style telephone with its keys exposed, it is important to have a keypad-lock feature to prevent the keys from being activated while in a pocket or purse. Both TALKS and Mobile Speak provide access to this function.
There is no specific visual power indication on the Nokia cell phones, other than the display being on. Without vision, you can simply press a key and listen for speech output from TALKS or Mobile Speak, and you will know that the phone is on.
Ringing or Vibrating Mode Indicator
The Nokia 6620 can alert you to an incoming call by either ring tones, vibrations, or a combination of the two. Both TALKS and Mobile Speak have an accessible way of navigating the menus to determine which type of alert is active and to change the setting.
Some of today's cell phones have a GPS feature that uses global positioning satellites to help emergency services locate you if you make a 911 call, but that feature is not part of the Nokia 6620.
The status information provided by both TALKS and Mobile Speak tells you the strength of the signal you are currently receiving. It tells you how many bars (between 0 and 7) that the on-screen signal-strength icon is displaying.
Ringer Volume Control
Both TALKS and Mobile Speak give you the ability to adjust the ringer volume by navigating through the accessible menu system to the Ringer Volume setting and choosing the desired volume level. Both systems also allow you to choose from various ring tones, but TALKS only reads out the names of the tones, while Mobile Speak both reads the names and allows you to listen to the tone at the same time.
Both TALKS and Mobile Speak have a keystroke that will silence the ring during an incoming call and then speak the phone number of the caller. They will also speak the caller's name if it has been previously entered into the phone book.
The Nokia 6620 allows you to assign keys to a number in the phone book for speed dialing, a feature called One-Touch Dialing. You can use either TALKS or Mobile Speak to access the One-Touch Dialing feature to assign telephone numbers to the 2 through 9 keys on the dialing keypad. Then you can press and hold one of those numbers, and a call is placed to the corresponding number in the phone book. However, we discovered a bug with the Mobile Speak software when using this feature: It actually assigned a One-Touch number to a key one digit higher than the one we chose. So, if you thought you assigned your brother's phone number to the 5 key, you actually would have assigned it to the 6 key.
Low Vision Accessibility
The Nokia 6620 has a large 1.4-by-1.7-inch multicolor display with 4,096 colors, but the text on the screen is small, ranging from 10 to 14 point, which is too small for many people with low vision. Unlike the Nokia 3650 and 3660, the 6620 does not have a contrast-adjustment feature, but the brightness can be adjusted to improve viewability slightly. Although the clock icon is in 24-point font, it is difficult to see. Our testers without any visual impairment could barely read the time on the analog clock. The digital clock is easier to see, but it is still difficult because there is a white background behind part of it and a darker background behind the rest of it. If the large display screen were used more effectively, a larger clock would be easier to see. The keys on this cell phone are small and have text or icon labels that are too small for most people with low vision to read, but both the TALKS and Mobile Speak manuals have a section that describes the layout of the keys and their functions. Also, with TALKS, you can use the Training Mode to learn the keys and their functions. Better features for users with low vision, such as zoom, contrast adjustment, and larger fonts, would certainly be desirable, but TALKS and Mobile Speak can provide access to nearly all the features that would normally require vision.
Comparing TALKS and Mobile Speak
The Sweet 16 analysis showed that TALKS and Mobile Speak both perform well when measured against the features that are important to cell phone users who are blind or have low vision, but we also investigated how well the two programs performed when measured against each other. Since they both use the ETI Eloquence speech synthesizer, the voice quality is identical, and we found both packages to be good-quality products. Since these are third-party software products that are installed on the cell phones, we expected some instability problems. But during several weeks of relatively heavy usage, we experienced only a couple of "crashes" with each product. However, we did find some differences in the way the two products performed.
TALKS responded immediately to keystrokes, while Mobile Speak had about a half-second delay in responding, but the delay was not all that significant. The Training Mode that TALKS provides to orient users to the keys and their functions is a more important advantage that TALKS has over Mobile Speak. TALKS also provides better access to the One-Touch Dialing feature. However, Mobile Speak also has some advantages. If you want to change the ring tone on the 6620, you can go to the appropriate menu and scroll through the list of available tones. When you scroll through the list, Mobile Speak will announce the names of each tone and will let you hear the tones. TALKS only reads the names and will not let you listen to samples of the tones. Mobile Speak also provides better access to the audio that can be played through the Real Player feature on the 6620. Mobile Speak can be active when you listen to sound clips or MP3 files, but TALKS has to be muted. Also, when you dial a telephone number and press the "call" button to place the call, Mobile Speak says "calling," followed by the telephone number, while TALKS says nothing to alert you that you have actually placed the call.
The Bottom Line
Overall, these are both good-quality products that provide true cell phone accessibility, and there are no really significant differences in their performance. Mobile Speak is slightly less expensive, but if Cingular service is available in your area, you can get TALKS on the 6620 essentially for free if you sign up for a two-year service agreement.
The fact that two good-quality screen-reader products are available to make cell phones more accessible is exciting news for people who are blind or have low vision because we now have a choice of two products that provide much better access to the features of the Nokia 6620 than we had with any of the phones we have evaluated previously. Nothing else has come close. Competition between the two should create more incentive for the designers to continue making improvements. Code Factory has already announced plans to include an accessible web browser in a future release, and TALKS will probably do the same. Code Factory has also announced a new screen-magnification software product that will provide more access for people with low vision. We can only hope that more service providers will follow Cingular in offering these software products as options for their customers so that they will be complying with federal regulations that require accessibility. Now, if we could just get the cell phone manufacturers to build some cell phones that are not only compatible with access software, but also have keys that are easy to identify by touch—or, better still, cell phones that are accessible out of the box, without the use of a separate screen reader—we may finally have fully accessible cell phones.
"We're most pleased to distribute Mobile Speak software throughout North America and to work with Code Factory as a global partner to ensure that this innovative solution remains at the forefront of mainstream hand-held access. We'll be releasing both Bluetooth QWERTY and braille keyboards to enable the end user to effortlessly interact with the cellular phone in order to take advantage of all of the phone's robust applications at a price thousands of dollars less expensive than alternative, dated speech-only notetakers on the market today. We will endeavor to keep the end user's needs at the center of our thinking during these and other pending development efforts on the Mobile Speak front. This is evidenced by the truth that product bugs which have been acknowledged in this product review have either been addressed in a software release that succeeds the software version which has been evaluated, or are being addressed through ongoing, aggressive development efforts."
Funding for this Product Evaluation was provided by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia.
Product: Nokia 6620
Manufacturer: Nokia Americas, 6000 Connection Drive, Irving TX 75039; phone: 972-894-4573; sales: 888-256-2098; web site: <www.nokiausa.com>.
Price: $299 after a $100 rebate. Service available from AT&T Wireless, Cingular, T-Mobile, and others. Check with your local service providers for the availability of cell phones and prices.
Product: TALKS for Series 60 Software
Manufacturer: Brand & Gröber Communications, Dresdener Strasse 2, 51373 Leverkusen, Germany; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.talx.de> for purchasing information, free downloads of demonstration versions, and new compatible phones. U.S. distributors: Beyond Sight, 5650 South Windermere Street, Littleton, CO 80120; phone: 303-795-6455; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.beyondsight.com>; Sendero Group; phone: 530-757-6800; e-mail: <GPS@SenderoGroup.com>; web site: <www.senderogroup.com>. Service provider: Cingular Wireless, phone: 800-331-0500; web site: <www.cingular.com>; or Cingular National Center for Customers with Disabilities, phone: 866-241-6568; web site: <www.cingular.com/about/disability_resources>.
Price: $295. Cingular is currently offering TALKS to customers at the introductory price of $199, with a rebate to customers with qualifying visual disabilities of either $100 or $199, depending on the length of their service contract (see <www.cingular.com/about/talks_rebate> for details). The rebate is returned to customers in the form of Cingular credit, which can be used to pay monthly service bills.
Product: Mobile Speak
Manufacturer: Code Factory, S. L. Rambla d'Egara, 148, 2-2, 08221 Terrassa (Barcelona), Spain; phone: 0049-171-3797470; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.codfact.com/english> or, for free downloads of demonstration versions, <www.mobilespeak.com>. U.S. distributor: Optelec, 321 Billerica Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824; phone: 978-392-0707 or 800-828-1056; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: <www.optelec.com>.
Price: $295, or $395 if you ship your telephone to Optelec for installation of the software.
Back to top
Getting from Point A to Point B: A Review of Two GPS Systems
This article reviews two orientation tools that are based on global positioning satellite (GPS) technology: VisuAide's Trekker and Sendero Group's GPS product, which runs on Pulse Data's BrailleNote and VoiceNote personal digital assistants (PDAs). GPS technology is now widely available as a navigation aid for drivers. GPS systems also have enormous potential for assisting people who are visually impaired in navigating. One of the greatest benefits of using an accessible GPS system is the ability to explore your environment. Knowing information, such as which streets intersect and the name of the restaurant you are passing, can be extremely helpful. The two systems evaluated here finally bring GPS technology to devices that are small enough to be carried around and operated comfortably. It's important to remember, however, that GPS receivers have to have a direct line of sight with one or more of the 24 GPS satellites in orbit around the Earth to receive GPS data. The devices will not function indoors or when surrounded by tall buildings.
Both products use commercial databases that are filled with points of interest, such as gas stations, restaurants, tourist attractions, and automatic bank teller (ATM) locations. They also use mainstream GPS receivers that communicate with satellites in orbit around the Earth to pinpoint where you are. We tested both systems and point out their strengths and weaknesses.
Trekker consists of an off-the-shelf personal digital assistant, a GPS receiver, a speaker, and a battery pack. These four pieces are attached to a strap that is worn around the neck. Trekker weighs 1.3 pounds and comes with documentation and accessories, including a PDA charger, a PDA cradle or base, PDA styli, keyboard static stencils (for the braille keyboard), and a user guide. The packaging for this version is sturdier than the previous version, reviewed in the July 2003 issue of AccessWorld, especially the PDA's case and the metal hooks that attach the PDA to the strap.
Caption: The Trekker.
The On/Off button for the PDA is located above the PDA screen. There is no audible feedback to tell you whether the PDA has been turned off, although pressing the button that runs the Trekker program also turns on the PDA. Trekker is a self-voicing application that runs on the PDA, using Eloquence as its synthesizer. No other applications on the PDA are currently accessible.
Trekker's controls consist of four round buttons, two on each side of a much larger, oval-shaped Navigation key. The Navigation key serves as a cursor cross and is used for navigating Trekker's menus. To the right of the Navigation key are the Enter button, used for running the Trekker program, opening menus, and responding to queries from Trekker, and the Where Am I? button, which provides information about your current location. To the left of the Navigation key are the Escape button and the Mode button, which toggles between Trekker's reading and browsing modes.
When you turn Trekker on, it begins searching for satellites to provide the information needed to announce your location. You hear a series of beeps during the satellite search. When a GPS signal is received, usually in two to three minutes, Trekker announces the name of the street on which you are walking. When you are about 30 feet from an intersection, Trekker describes the intersection, for example, "Four-way intersection, Queens Boulevard crossing Ascan Avenue."
The unit contains points of interest from a commercial database, including restaurants, banks, schools, and gas stations. When you arrive near one of these locations Trekker announces it; for instance, "Citibank, on your right." (This feature can be turned off if desired.) You can add your own points of interest to the list using the microphone built into the PDA. You press the Record button, on the left side of the PDA, and speak your message. You must make the initial recording at the location, such as at the entrance to a train station, but you can edit the recording later to provide a longer description of the location. Since Trekker uses a commercial database, the emphasis is on places that would interest drivers. Many local stores are omitted and must be entered by the user.
During testing, announcements of points of interest were inconsistent. Typically, a point was identified one out of every two times the tester passed it. Announcements of intersections were more consistent. However, Trekker sometimes announced the "next" intersection after the tester had begun crossing the street or even after he finished crossing it. Both these problems are explained by the fact that, for civilian use, GPS is accurate only down to about 30 feet. But this fact emphasizes the point that GPS devices are just a supplement to a cane or a dog guide.
You open Trekker's menus by pressing the Enter button and move from menu to menu by pressing the Navigation key. The Points of Interest menu allows you to search for, create, edit, or delete points of interest.
The Search function lets you type in the name of a point of interest or select from a list of more than 50 categories, including restaurants, tourist attractions, banks, hotels, and bowling centers. Typing in a name requires the use of a keyboard composed of 12 buttons, in 3 vertical rows of 4 keys each, on the front panel of the PDA. VisuAide has adapted these buttons so that 3 buttons in the left-most column represent dots 1, 2, and 3 of a braille cell, and 3 buttons on the right represent dots 4, 5, and 6. So, to type the letter R, you press dot 1, dot 2, dot 3, dot 5, and then the Enter button in the middle column on the braille keyboard. No contractions are allowed. Needless to say, this process is tedious, especially for typing long names, and is one of the drawbacks of adapting an off-the-shelf PDA. (The advantage of using an off-the-shelf PDA is a lower price.) If you do not know braille, you can choose the telephone keypad to enter data.
In the Info menu, you can find out how many satellites your receiver is currently tracking, hear the current time, and find out your current location, which you also get by simply pressing the Where Am I? button. The System option in this menu gives information, including battery level, the version of Trekker, space remaining on the flash card, and so on.
The Settings menu contains options to turn the GPS on or off and to adjust the amount of information and prompting Trekker provides: general settings, such as voice rate and volume and backlight control for the PDA screen. There is also a volume control on the speaker on Trekker's strap. In the Help menu, you will find Getting Started and Quick Reference files. These files do a good job of orienting a new user and getting you going with Trekker.
In addition to Pedestrian mode, used when you are walking, Trekker now works in Motorized mode, when you are traveling in a car, and in Free mode, used in open spaces, such as parks or parking lots. So, you can create a point of interest at a park bench, and Trekker will guide you back to near that point. These two new modes, along with the "Browsing Offline" mode, are found in the Tools menu. In contrast with pedestrian mode, Motorized mode worked consistently, with Trekker announcing intersections as or soon before they were crossed. Browsing offline allows you to explore a neighborhood before you actually travel there. This option lets you explore an unfamiliar area or plot your route.
The most significant addition to Trekker 2.0 is the ability to plot and follow a route. The Route submenu lets you choose a starting point and a destination. Trekker will then guide you from Point A to Point B. The easiest way to do so is to choose your last GPS location as the starting point and one of the points of interest you entered previously as the destination. For example, you can use your home as the starting point and choose your favorite restaurant as the destination. Trekker will compute the route and guide you to the destination. While you are traveling the route, Trekker announces whether you are "on route" or "off route" and how far you are from your destination and alerts you to the next turn you have to make.
If you want to travel from where you are to the Empire State Building, you can either type in "Empire State Building" on the keyboard or search the Tourist Attractions category. Such a search will usually bring up 500 possible points in alphabetical order. You then have to arrow down, using the Navigation key, to "Empire State Building." You can limit the number of items found using this type of search by choosing to restrict the search to, for example, "five minutes"—that is, five minutes in driving time from your location. This is the most useful way to restrict a search, since many points in the commercial database do not have a city or zip code attached to them. So, if you enter a city name or zip code, you are likely to get no results. The map used for this test included all of New York City.
In the Route menu, you can activate, create, deactivate, delete, edit, and reverse routes. So, after finding your way to the Empire State Building, you can reverse the route and retrace your steps to your hotel.
The Bottom Line
Trekker version 2.0 is a much more attractive product than the first version we evaluated in the July 2003 issue of AccessWorld. You can now adjust the speech rate and, what is more important, use the maps to plan and follow routes that you travel regularly or just once. Trekker's drawbacks are the clumsy way you must enter any data on the keyboard, the fact that you have to navigate over and over through the menus (since Trekker exits the menus when you choose most options), and the fact that a person who is visually impaired can never be sure that the PDA is turned off and is not using up the battery. These drawbacks are all related to using an off-the-shelf PDA. The advantage of this approach is that the price can be kept relatively low. We would like to have Trekker announce the direction in which we are traveling and be more consistent in announcing points of interest.
The BrailleNote GPS system consists of a GPS receiver and software that can be loaded on any of Pulse Data's BrailleNote or VoiceNote series of products. Using this powerful orientation tool, you can plan routes, determine your current location and direction of travel, and locate nearby points of interest. These points of interest can be any one of thousands of predefined points like restaurants, hotels, and other local businesses. The BrailleNote GPS system can also store user-defined points, such as bus stops or businesses that are not included in the commercial database of predefined points.
Caption: The BrailleNote GPS system consists of a BrailleNote or VoiceNote personal organizer and a cell phone-sized receiver.
What Is in the Package?
BrailleNote users have the option of purchasing the GPS system in one of two ways. The first and less expensive option includes all the map data on CD-ROM. A 256-megabyte compact flash storage card is included, so you can copy the data you want on the card. This card can hold several states' worth of map and points-of-interest data. The second option includes a 1-gigabyte card. This card can hold more state maps, but maps for all 50 U.S. states would require 5.5 gigabytes.
The folders for the CDs containing maps have braille labels, and the documentation, including audio tutorials, is also on CD. The command lists are in braille and print, and a braille manual can be purchased. Both options include a cell phone–sized GPS receiver that attaches to the BrailleNote via a serial port. When the product is shipped, the serial cable is not connected to the receiver. We found the process of connecting this cable to be a bit tricky, and it is not well documented. The package also includes software that must be installed on the BrailleNote. Experienced BrailleNote users should have no problems performing this task.
The front of the BrailleNote GPS system's cell phone-sized receiver contains seven small rubber buttons and one large round button. Only two of these buttons are useful to BrailleNote GPS users. The bottom-right button turns the receiver on and off. There is no audible indication when the product is switched on or has a low battery. A button on the bottom left corner is used to turn a light on within the receiver's display. When this light is on, the device makes a faint buzzing sound. Turning this light on and off and carefully listening for the buzzing sound is the only way for a person who is visually impaired to know if the receiver itself is on or off. This process is described in the tutorial that is shipped with the product, but the tutorial is not good enough, especially for new users.
The GPS receiver is hooked to the BrailleNote via the serial port. The cord that leads from the GPS receiver can be stored using the shoulder strap on the BrailleNote; there is a long strip of Velcro that will hold the wire so that it does not hang down. The receiver can also be attached to the strap via the Velcro strips on the strap and side of the receiver's case. During our evaluation, we found that the receiver was much more secure when it was attached to the strap by the clip on the side of the case. Even with the receiver firmly in place, walking around carrying the BrailleNote receiver and strap can be a bit bulky and takes some practice before it can be done comfortably and efficiently.
Exploring Your Environment
The BrailleNote GPS system provides several methods for its users to explore their environment. The product has a Look Around mode, which works indoors and outdoors. When this mode is active, BrailleNote automatically announces and displays the name of any points of interest within a specified distance from your current location. Even if Look Around mode is not activated, this information is just a single keystroke away. The product can also be set to inform you of the name of upcoming intersecting streets.
If you want to explore without all the legwork, BrailleNote GPS offers a powerful virtual mode. Using the virtual mode, you can locate an address, find points of interest that are near that address, or plan a route to another address. The latest version of the system, version 3.0, incorporates an Explorer mode. For those who used the old Atlas Speaks software from Arkenstone, Explorer mode will be familiar and a welcome return. Using keystrokes on the BrailleNote, you can virtually explore an area using Explorer mode. One keystroke, for example, moves your virtual position one block forward. Another keystroke will allow you to turn right or left 90 degrees virtually. Using these keystrokes, you can traverse any area to find intersections or addresses. Explorer mode can be used only in the virtual mode. It gave us the opportunity to study an environment before we walked around in it.
When the BrailleNote GPS system is used in an outdoor environment, it offers a variety of commands to give you information. Information, such as your current direction and speed of travel, the current altitude, and the closest address, can all be obtained with a single keystroke. Since many users will use this product while walking, Sendero has endeavored to make several of the more frequently used commands available with a keystroke that requires only one hand. Even so, learning how to control and gather information from the product while concentrating on information provided by your cane or guide dog takes some practice.
Another useful feature of the system is the ability to plan a route automatically. Once a route has been calculated, the BrailleNote can advise you of the next turn in the route, the total distance of your route, and the distance to the end of the route. Routes can be saved and reloaded the next time you want to travel to the same location. We did find that planning and using routes was not well documented, however.
How It Worked
During our evaluation, the BrailleNote system was used in different settings for a variety of tasks. In a small downtown area, we located a specific address and plotted a route to a second address. During this trip, we found that the system had great variations in its accuracy. It is true that the GPS system is only as good as the signal it receives from the GPS satellites. While you are using the unit, a keystroke can be pressed at any time that will inform you of the current status of satellite reception. Even when reception was excellent and the receiver was communicating with seven satellites, the system told us several times that we were approximately 500 feet from an address when, in fact, we were directly in front of it. This variation was not consistent, even when we used the same address. This lack of consistency could be a problem for users who are visually impaired.
We also used the product in a wide, open park. In this test, we set a series of way points—essentially, dropping electronic bread crumbs—and attempted to navigate back to their exact location. The system is much more accurate in finding way points than it is in finding points of interest. We found that the accuracy improved the farther the different way points were from each other. So, a way point that was 500 feet from the next closest way point was found more accurately than a way point that was only 100 feet from a neighboring point. When conducting both these tests, we found that the system worked much better when we walked at a steady and consistent rate of speed, such as 3 miles per hour.
Finally, we evaluated the system while riding in a car. This was probably the most productive of our product tests. The Look Around feature allowed us to learn the location of businesses as we passed them. Not all major businesses were announced, but this is undoubtedly a problem with the map data. The BrailleNote GPS also did a great job of conveying the name of the current road being traveled and our direction and rate of speed on that road. All this information was both spoken and displayed in braille.
The Bottom Line
The BrailleNote GPS system is a great tool to use for orienting yourself to a new environment or learning about the current environment. The Look Around feature and Explorer mode are useful additions to the product. The inaccuracy of points of interest is an issue, but it is an issue you can learn to account for in your daily travels. The product is not, nor does it claim to be, a replacement for a primary mobility tool, such as a white cane or a guide dog. Rather, it is a tool for gaining useful information about a particular area. For users of the BrailleNote series of products who are considering adding an accessible GPS solution, we would encourage you to take a look at the BrailleNote GPS product.
"We would like to thank AccessWorld for reviewing Trekker and for letting more users know about our products. As is mentioned in the article, GPS does not provide an absolute position, but we are confident that it will keep improving with planned evolutions in the satellites and receivers. VisuAide is busy working on Version 3 of Trekker that will address the issues raised in this article. In addition, we would like to mention the launch of Maestro by VisuAide this past July that allows users to have access to more functions on the PDA (agenda, contacts, vocal and text notes). Maestro provides a tactile screen interface that makes it easier to enter information than does Trekker. Maestro can be bought as an addition to Trekker for $300."
"A Beta version of the BrailleNote GPS Version 3 was provided to AFB for review. Accessible manuals are available as well as an audio tutorial. Optional GPS courseware can be purchased.
"One of the benefits of the BrailleNote GPS is that we can upgrade to the state-of-the-art receiver at any time. The review was based on an older model receiver and is incorrect on a number of points. The current Earthmate is 2 inches square and better in performance and convenience.
"Many years of feedback from blind users of Sendero's GPS products means the BrailleNote GPS has a depth of features not able to be covered in this review nor available in other recent GPS products. A complete list of features and Version 3 changes are available on the SenderoGroup.com site."
||Braille quick reference, online, print
||CD, online, braille and print command lists, MP3 tutorial
|Type of keyboard
||Braille letters entered on an adapted PDA keypad
||Braille or QWERTY
Feature: Trekker; BrailleNote GPS
Speech output: Trekker: Yes; BrailleNote GPS: Yes.
Braille output: Trekker: No; BrailleNote GPS: Yes.
Documentation: Trekker: Braille quick reference, online, print; BrailleNote GPS: CD, online, braille and print command lists, MP3 tutorial.
Planning routes: Trekker: Yes; BrailleNote GPS: Yes.
Type of keyboard: Trekker: Braille letters entered on an adapted PDA keypad; BrailleNote GPS: Braille or QWERTY.
Feature: Trekker; BrailleNote GPS
Documentation: Trekker: 3.5; BrailleNote GPS: 3.5.
Ease of setup: Trekker: 3.5; BrailleNote GPS: 3.0.
GPS accuracy: Trekker: 3.5; BrailleNote GPS: 4.0.
Ability to determine the status of the device: Trekker: 3.5; BrailleNote GPS: 4.5.
Overall rating: Trekker: 3.5; BrailleNote GPS: 4.0.
Manufacturer: VisuAide, 841, Jean-Paul-Vincent, Longueuil, Quebec, Canada, J4G 1R3; phone: 888-723-7273 or 450-463-1717; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.visuaide.com>.
Product: BrailleNote GPS
Manufacturer: (GPS software) Sendero Group, 1118 Maple Lane, Davis, CA 95616-1723; phone: 530-757-6800; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.senderogroup.com>.
Manufacturer: (BrailleNote): Pulse Data HumanWare, 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 800-722-3393 or 925-680-7100; fax: 925-681-4830; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.pulsedata.com>.
Price: $1,099, $1,049 with 256 MB compact flash, and $1,399 with 1 GB compact flash.
Back to top
Geocaching: A "Treasured" Experience with GPS
There is nothing like a little friendly competition to pique interest, and so it was on July 3, 2004, at the National Federation of the Blind's (NFB) convention in Atlanta. Pulse Data HumanWare, of California, and VisuAide, of Quebec, Canada, teamed up to sponsor a competitive "treasure hunt" to generate interest in their products. Each company sells a product that is designed to assist people who are blind or have low vision in using the global positioning system (GPS) for wayfinding and locating information. Ten teams of two people each who were blind or had low vision, five using VisuAide's Trekker and five using Pulse Data's BrailleNote, both of which were equipped with GPS software, set out to follow riddles to the desired destinations.
Caption: One treasure hunt team uses the Trekker.
Although these products are reviewed in this issue of AccessWorld, a brief description is in order here. Pulse Data's product consists of a BrailleNote or VoiceNote (personal organizers and notetakers about the size of a hardcover book) and an attached satellite receiver (about the size of a mobile phone). The GPS software from Sendero Group is loaded onto the BrailleNote or VoiceNote, and thus all information is read via that device. A shoulder strap attached to the personal organizer holds the receiver in place. The Trekker is much smaller. Its software is loaded onto a handheld personal digital assistant (PDA). The PDA unit, satellite receiver, and small speaker are mounted on one strap and worn about the neck. This device has speech output only.
Caption: Another team uses the BrailleNote GPS.
Starting the Hunt
GPS receivers typically have difficulty picking up satellite signals in areas that are congested with tall buildings. For that reason, the event was moved out of the downtown area where the NFB convention was located and into a quiet area that was mostly residential with some businesses. All the teams began at a CVS pharmacy. Once given the first riddle, it was up to the participants to determine the names of the streets nearby and the direction of travel that would move them toward their destination.
Both devices contained U.S. maps, thus giving the participants the names of streets and intersections and the direction of travel. The software tells you your location and direction of travel. Say, for instance, that you are headed east on High Street with the next intersection being Main Street. You know from exploring with the GPS device (offline while standing still) that you will need to go north on Main Street to reach your destination. The device announces when you reach Main Street, confirms that you are going north when you turn left, and provides the name of the next intersection as you approach.
For reasons that remained unclear, the organizers from VisuAide and Pulse Data HumanWare chose to create points that were make-believe. A clue, for example, might be quickly interpreted to be pointing toward a Starbucks coffee shop. Sure enough, exploring the prerecorded list of way points, a Starbucks was located, leaving the participants with the task of mapping the route to get there. The coffee shop itself, however, did not exist. Instead, a volunteer was stationed there to announce to the teams as they arrived that that particular spot had been designated the Starbucks spot for the purposes of the game.
The weather was extremely warm that day, with temperatures in the 90s and high humidity, so a few participants dropped out early. Most intrepid souls persisted. Five riddles, two miles, and a few hours later, winners Kelly Prescott, of South Lebanon, Ohio, and Robert Smith, of Atlanta, Georgia, reached the final destination and brought the treasure hunt to an end. The winning team was provided with one of each product. (Robert Smith chose the BrailleNote software, and Kelly Prescott chose the Trekker.)
When Wayfinding Is Way Fun
NFB promoted this particular treasure hunt to its members and certainly set a precedent in incorporating such an event into a national convention. The concept of using technology to ferret out a "secret" spot is not a new one, however—to either blind or sighted individuals.
Michael May, CEO of Sendero Group, is renowned for many reasons, one of which is his passionate pursuit of adapting GPS software for use by people who are blind or have low vision. Under the banner of "Way Fun," May and others organized a weekend excursion in California's Gold Country in September 2003 and a 10-day trip to Ireland and Scotland in September 2004. The first Way Fun event drew about 40 participants, both blind and sighted. Each team of 4 or 5 participants was equipped with at least one BrailleNote or VoiceNote loaded with Sendero's GPS software and satellite receiver and a set of instructions for points to discover. Way Fun rules dictate that the only information that teams can use is that provided by the GPS software or through auditory, tactile, or other clues that are gleaned from traditional orientation and mobility techniques. Some exploration is done on foot, and some is done in cars. The sighted driver of each car takes directions from the blind passengers. For the 2003 Way Fun weekend, participants navigated Volcano, Jackson, and Sutter Creek, California, following written clues to, in this case, real points of interest. Richard Rueda, a visually impaired participant, said that he knew about the software before the weekend but did not realize how powerful it actually was. With the software on his VoiceNote, he learned that he could identify a location through latitude and longitude or by typing in an address. "The first day out," he recalled, "we just wandered around Volcano—finding the shops and the pubs. We plugged in the address of the cemetery and learned it was 1½ miles east. By following the information we got from the GPS software, we went up a hill—and we were there! It was mind-blowing that I could actually do that without sighted assistance!"
Caption: The Way Fun group tours Edinburgh Castle.
In the Way Fun adventures, there are no prizes (except perhaps discovering a special bottle of wine). The competition is simply in finding the secret destination without sight.
Sighted people around the world have been participating in "treasure hunts" using technology and GPS since May 2000, when President Clinton removed the restrictions on the availability of information from the satellites. Previously, the greatest accuracy was available only to the military, but the Select Availability Act opened it to civil and commercial uses as well. The sport is called geocaching (pronounced jee-oh-cashing) and has now spread to all 50 states and 211 countries. Clues or instructions are obtained from various Internet sites, and treasure is tracked accordingly. Typically, the thrill is in finding the specified spot, with the prizes, if any, being of no or little value. Families, students, and groups of all ages and configurations are seeing parts of the world they might not otherwise see because the routes followed in geocaching lead to exploration.
And that is exactly what it is about for geocachers who are visually impaired as well. In fact, GPS software arguably gives visually impaired people the first real opportunity to do some casual exploring. Although the ultimate destination on a Way Fun expedition may be, for instance, a pub in Dublin, participants can enjoy other discoveries—a shop, a museum, an unusual flower—along the way; they can even enjoy getting lost. For Mike May, the value of getting lost and the discoveries made in doing so are a large part of what the fun is all about.
Geocaching, in other words, has benefits on multiple levels for people who are visually impaired. First, as the game of geocaching gains more and more attention from people around the world, people who are visually impaired can join the trend as well. Second, in the process of participating in events like the Atlanta Treasure Hunt and Sendero Group's Way Fun trips, a growing number of people who are visually impaired are learning the power of GPS software for exploring environments and navigating independently.
The Thrill of the Hunt
Paul and Kathy Shelton, an Oklahoma couple who are blind, have participated in both the California and Ireland-Scotland Way Fun trips. Paul clearly recalled finding a cave, a grocery, and a picnic spot in Volcano—and the thrill that accompanied each discovery, along with wrong turns and missed entrances. Before the event, he said that he was amazed that the software could distinguish between the highway itself and the exit ramp and could identify his own address accurately, but the experience of using it in the geocaching expedition made the power of the tool even clearer.
Richard Rueda was sufficiently impressed by his experience with the group in Volcano that he bought the software for his own VoiceNote a month later. Today, he uses it routinely to locate the addresses of his new clients as a rehabilitation counselor for the state of California and frequently recommends it to others as an important tool for independence and searching for a job.
And Kelly Prescott, the proud winner of the Atlanta treasure hunt, is using his Trekker in a variety of ways. As a passenger in his wife's car, he said, he has learned a great deal about the names and layout of streets in nearby Cincinnati. In his more rural neighborhood of South Lebanon, Ohio, he said, it is a real treat to go for a walk with his guide dog without having to concentrate on counting blocks. (The GPS products can announce streets as they are crossed.)
Certainly, there are shortcomings to using a GPS product for navigation. Sometimes, the commercial maps offer a name for a road that does not match its sign. The preloaded points of interest may tell you that there is a gas station straight ahead when actually the property now houses an apartment complex. Maybe the weather or the configuration of buildings blocks out the satellite signal when you want it most, or the signal just cannot find a point of interest you know you have recorded recently. As a tool or a toy for people who are visually impaired, however, the benefits of GPS software are greater than the drawbacks and are constantly becoming more so. The products available from VisuAide and Pulse Data Humanware are steadily improving, and other assistive technology companies are introducing GPS products, too. Strong orientation and mobility skills, along with a white cane or guide dog, are enhanced by the addition of GPS devices. But treasure hunts (whether for fictitious points and big prizes or bona fide locations and huge satisfaction) are putting a new face on the business of navigating for people who are visually impaired.
For More Information
For more information about geocaching, visit <www.geocaching.com>. For information on Way Fun expeditions, go to the web site <www.senderogroup.com>.
Back to top
The Device That Refreshes: How to Buy a Braille Display
"I am thinking about getting a braille display. Which one should I get?" I was asked this question recently at a conference that I attended with my colleagues from the Iowa Department for the Blind's Project ASSIST with Windows. The questioner assumed, after hearing our presentation entitled "The State of Refreshable Braille in Today's Screen Access Technology," that I would be the person with all the answers. Surely, I would be able to name one brand, one model, one manufacturer. Maybe I could even say, "Don't you dare buy such-and-such a display; it's got quality issues." Anyone who is thinking about spending several thousand dollars on a piece of equipment wants to make an informed decision. What better way to get informed than to ask someone who has just given a talk on refreshable braille?
As it happens, I have a lot of information for my questioners, more than I could tell them in a casual conversation. As part of Project ASSIST's three-year deaf-blind grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, I have been learning about and testing several of the braille-display models that are on the market in the United States. I have discovered a lot about how screen readers and braille displays work together and have developed some opinions of my own. The general information and specific product comparisons that follow are based on 1½ years of working with screen readers and refreshable braille all day, every day. In this article, I share what I have learned in the hope that my experiences will be helpful to someone who is thinking about buying a braille display.
Before You Buy a Braille Display
A refreshable braille display is a major purchase. Before you spend the money, you should spend some time considering several questions. Your answers will help determine which model you choose. On the basis of my work over the past 1½ years, I offer the answers to some typical questions that consumers have about refreshable braille displays and discuss how to choose one that works best for an individual situation. Then, I offer my observations about some of the braille displays we have worked with in our project.
Keep in mind that the "perfect" braille display does not exist. Each model has both strengths and quirks. The important thing is to decide which features are the most important to you and which ones you can live without. Then you can choose the model that best meets your needs.
What Is a Refreshable Braille Display, and How Does it Work?
A refreshable braille display is a piece of hardware that provides braille output from your computer. All displays have 8-dot refreshable braille cells--refreshable because they change, or refresh, according to the part of the screen that has the computer's attention. These refreshable braille cells are the costly part of the machinery; the more cells you have, the more expensive the display will be.
Caption: A refreshable braille display provides braille output from a computer.
Displays that are marketed in the United States typically show one line of braille at a time. Most of the time, the line that has the computer's focus is displayed. If you are in a word-processing document, the display shows the line of text at the insertion point. If you are in a dialogue box, the display shows you information about the active control and perhaps some of the surrounding controls, depending on the screen-reader settings. You move the focus to the next line or dialogue-box control by pressing keyboard commands or buttons on the braille display.
Each braille cell on a refreshable braille display is capable of showing up to 8 dots. In English braille, dots 1 through 6 are used to display traditional braille, which can be uncontracted or contracted. Dots 7 and 8, the bottom 2 dots of each cell, are used by the screen reader to show the cursor position, capitalization, highlighting, and other attributes, depending on the screen reader's settings. Some European languages use dots 7 and 8 as part of their standard braille symbols.
The screen reader drives the braille display. You cannot run a braille display without a screen reader. The screen reader sends information to the braille display. Screen readers provide settings that allow you to adjust the braille that is displayed according to your preferences. For example, you can choose to have either computer braille code or contracted braille displayed. You can also choose either 6- or 8-dot braille. You can choose to have the label for a field or the information in a field appear first. For example, in an e-mail message, you could choose to display "Subject: Meeting Agenda" or "Meeting Agenda Subject."
To reduce the need to move your hands back and forth from the display to the keyboard, the braille display provides buttons that allow many tasks to be performed with your hands on the display. For instance, most displays have a button that performs the same function as the Tab key on your keyboard. All the displays discussed here provide commands for moving to the top of the window or for reading the next or previous line.
Locating the Cursor
All the displays that were tested and both screen readers provide for "blinking" dots (usually dots 7 and 8 bouncing up and down) to represent the cursor. You can choose from several options—different dot configurations and blinking or not blinking.
Cursor Routing Buttons
One of the most useful features of the braille display is the row (or rows) of cursor routing buttons. These buttons are located above the line of refreshable braille cells. Pressing one of these cursor routing buttons "routes," or moves, the cursor to the cell below the cursor routing button that you pressed.
Cursor routing buttons can be used to simulate mouse clicks. With the touch of one of these buttons, you can click on links, mark checkboxes, or choose menu items. If you are filling out a form, you can put the cursor right where you need it before you type in the information. You can edit a misspelled word by routing the cursor directly to the incorrect character, rather than using keyboard navigation to move to the misspelling. Cursor routing buttons are especially useful on the Internet, where you can activate links or fill out forms without the guesswork that is sometimes involved in navigating a web site from the keyboard.
Status cells are a feature provided by some displays. Depending on the model of display and the screen reader you are using, three, four, or five of the refreshable braille cells display information about which cursor is active; attributes, such as underlined or bold text; and so on. In many cases, the status cells can be placed where you want them on the display or turned off altogether. Note that JAWS supports status cells, but Window-Eyes does not.
Advantages of Using a Braille Display
Here are some situations in which a braille display may be indicated:
1. You are deaf-blind and cannot use speech output. A deaf-blind computer user with good braille skills will find refreshable braille a required tool for determining what the computer is doing.
2. Your job requires telephone work, which makes listening simultaneously to a screen reader and the telephone a challenge. People who are visually impaired and are employed in call centers and customer service settings have historically resorted to listening to computer speech in one ear and a caller's voice in the other, which can be distracting at best. With the braille display running, the computer's speakers can be turned off and all output can be obtained in braille, leaving both ears free to attend to the caller.
3. You do a lot of proofreading. Even the most careful speech-only user has missed an error when proofreading a document. Most of these errors, such as extra spaces between words and incorrectly capitalized letters, become readily apparent when viewed in braille.
4. Your job requires a great deal of work on the World Wide Web. As I noted earlier, interaction with a web site can be accomplished more quickly and efficiently using the braille display's cursor routing buttons and other navigation features.
The Best Way to Choose a Braille Display
When choosing among different braille displays, put your hands on different models, if possible, and see how they feel. Admittedly, this is not an option for most consumers, but it is the ideal solution. If it is not possible to physically examine the braille displays you are considering, talk to someone who has worked with several different display models. There are a number of organizations that provide information about accessible technology. For example, you can call the Iowa Department for the Blind at 515-281-1333 during business hours and ask for a member of the technology team. You can also call the International Braille and Technology Center at the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, at 410-659-9314. The technology database on AFB's web site <www.afb.org/prodBrowseCategory.asp> allows you to compare features of braille displays and read product reviews. Whether you are test-driving displays or quizzing someone else, here are some things to consider.
How Many Cells Do I Need?
Braille displays are available with as few as 18 and as many as 84 cells. The number of cells you need depends on the kind of work you do. If you are proofreading formatted braille that will be embossed on a standard-sized sheet of paper, you will be working with lines that are approximately 40 characters long. If braille proofreading makes up the bulk of your work, the 40- or 44-cell display may be enough. If you mostly proofread text created with a word processor on the computer, you will be viewing lines of approximately 72 characters in length. A 40-cell braille display will show you only about half of each line at a time, but a 70-cell display will show most or all of the line you are proofreading. On the web, a line may have many more than 72 characters. If you are a computer programmer, you may need all 84 cells on the largest displays.
All displays provide for "panning," that is, reading material to the left or right on the line that is too long to fit on the display. If you are using a 20-cell display and need to read a 72-character line, you will need to pan at least twice to read the entire line. You will have to decide how much panning you are willing to do to get the information you need. Remember that more cells mean more expense.
How Does the Display Feel?
One model, Handy Tech's Braille Star, displays the braille dots in a concave "trough," rather than on a flat surface. Displays from ALVA Access Group have "rounded" braille dots; some displays, such as Handy Tech's Braille Star, have "sharper" dots. Do you have a preference?
How Well Is the Display Supported by My Screen Reader?
Some screen reader–display combinations work better than others. Talk to the screen-reader manufacturer. In some cases, the screen reader and the display are produced by the same company. (For example, JAWS for Windows and the Focus braille display are both produced by Freedom Scientific.) In such a case, it is reasonable to expect that the screen reader will support its "own" display well.
Read your screen reader's online help system for information on the display you are considering. Look for a list of the commands that are assigned to the display by the screen reader. The more commands the screen reader assigns to the display, the more tasks you will be able to accomplish by using buttons on the display. You will find that you can work more quickly and efficiently if your hands can remain on the display most of the time, rather than jump between the display and the computer keyboard.
Are the Buttons and Switches on the Display Comfortable and Easy to Use?
Make sure you can distinguish one button from another and that the buttons move easily but not too easily. (You do not want to issue commands accidentally with your elbow while you are reaching across the keyboard.)
How Easily Do the Cursor Routing Buttons Operate?
Some displays have sensitive cursor routing buttons, and some require a firmer touch. If you can, test the routing buttons on the displays you are considering to determine whether you like the way they feel and the way they perform their assigned functions.
Is the Display Supported and Repaired in This Country?
The answer to this question will be crucial when your unit needs repair. Papenmeier and Baum make fine displays, but both companies are located in Europe, which could make getting the unit repaired difficult and expensive. (Check with their U.S. distributors.)
How Good Is the Tech Support?
If you have a problem with the display, can you call the company and talk to a live person who can answer your questions knowledgeably? Find out who to call if you have a problem and how soon someone will get back to you.
How Complete Is the Documentation?
Read your screen reader's online help system and the manual that comes with the display. Be sure you understand the terms and concepts that are discussed. Also consider whether braille documentation is supplied with the braille display.
How Does the Display Connect to the Computer?
A USB (universal serial bus) connection is the easiest to set up, but it may not be supported by the screen reader–display combinations you are considering. Assistive technology tends to lag behind mainstream products in development, so be sure that your computer has the type of port required to connect to the braille display and that you have the necessary cable or adaptor.
How Will the Display Get Its Power?
Some displays, such as the ALVA 544 Traveler, are intended to be portable. They have their own internal power supply and do not need to be plugged into a wall outlet. If you are considering using your new display on a laptop, this portability will be important.
Some displays use USB power from the computer, meaning there is only one cable—the one from the display to the computer—and no additional power cord to worry about. Although this cable will drain a laptop's battery power, it also increases portability, which may be important in your situation.
How Large Is the Actual Display?
Some displays are bulkier than others and may not fit in your work space. For example, the Braille Star 80 is too wide for my current keyboard tray, but the ALVA Satellite 570 fits nicely.
Does the Computer's Keyboard Stay in Place on Top of the Display?
Some displays have grooves or raised bars to keep the keyboard from shifting as you type. For example, the Focus 84 has a rack for the keyboard behind the display. The physical arrangement of the display and the computer keyboard will have a tremendous impact on how comfortable you are at the computer.
How Much Can I Afford to Spend?
If you are paying for the display yourself and your income is limited, you may opt for fewer cells for economic reasons. But be sure not to settle for so few cells that the display is not useful to you.
Some braille-based notetaker/personal data assistants (PDAs), such as the BrailleNote and the Braille Lite Millennium series, can be used as braille displays with both JAWS and Window-Eyes. You may find this option attractive, since you also get all the functions of a PDA, usually for less money than a braille display. State rehabilitation budgets are tight, and a consumer who is buying equipment independently will certainly think of the cost. The idea of a personal organizer, which serves the functions of two devices, seems appealing and may be a workable solution.
Keep in mind, though, that in some cases the device cannot serve as both a personal organizer and a braille display simultaneously. If you want to transfer files between your notetaker and your computer, for example, you will have to accomplish this task without the braille display.
The other major drawback is the small number of cells. The largest number of cells provided by a notetaker at present is 40 (as is the case with the Braille Lite M40). Physical placement may also be a consideration. The personal organizer must be placed off to one side or behind the computer keyboard; it cannot be placed under the keyboard. Either placement creates the need for more hand-and-arm movement. A personal organizer may be ideal for occasional use or for traveling. If your job requires you to use braille all day, every day, however, you may decide you need a desktop display.
After You Make Your Purchase
It is imperative that you take the time to learn how to use the display. Read the screen reader's help file and the manual. Ask questions of tech support.
Do not let your new braille display just sit there taking up space under the computer keyboard because you do not understand its functions. Learn all you can and then try out the display's features to see how they work. Be patient and persistent. A braille display is too big an investment to end up gathering dust.
Displays We Tested
ALVA Satellite 570
The ALVA Satellite 570 features 70 braille cells. Models with 40, 44, and 84 cells are also available. ALVA displays have rounded dots whose firmness can be adjusted. They can be connected to the computer using a serial or USB connection. The displays do not have an internal power source, so they must be plugged into a wall outlet.
I found the ALVA Satellite easy to install with both JAWS and Window-Eyes. The front panel buttons have distinctive shapes that help you remember what they do. The ALVA Satellite features two rows of cursor routing buttons. The top row is used in JAWS to simulate a right mouse click. In Window-Eyes, the top row of cursor routing buttons can be assigned to commands by the user. ALVA displays work well with both JAWS and Window-Eyes.
This compact display is easy to learn and use. However, the front panel buttons were prone to being bumped unintentionally, and the computer keyboard tended to move around on top of the display.
Handy Tech Braille Star 80
The Handy Tech Braille Star 80, available in the United States from Pulse Data HumanWare, features 80 braille cells and one row of cursor routing buttons. A 40-cell model is also available. Piano-style keys on the front panel are used for navigation and for issuing Windows and screen-reader commands. An auxiliary keypad on the right end of the display has 16 keys that are programmable by the user. The Braille Star also features an onboard notetaker function. Text can be stored in a buffer within the display or transferred to the computer. The display supports both serial and USB connections. The Braille Star can be connected to two computers at once and switched between them, a feature that could be useful in training situations.
Caption: The Handy Tech Braille Star 80.
The Braille Star's cursor routing buttons are responsive and easy to use. I found the concave surface on which the braille is displayed comfortable to read. The front panel keys can sometimes be activated unintentionally. Status cells, supported by JAWS, must be toggled on or off; they do not appear by default. I found installation to be tricky on some systems. The onboard notetaker has limited functions and is not meant to be a viable alternative to a stand-alone portable digital assistant.
Freedom Scientific's Focus 84 has 84 braille cells, and models with 44 and 70 cells are also available. The Focus has keys in a Perkins-style configuration for issuing commands. It runs on USB power, so no external power cord is necessary. Whiz wheels at either end of the display are used for navigation. Braille-display commands resemble those used on the Braille Lite/Millennium personal organizers from Freedom Scientific; this could be a bonus for users who are already familiar with these devices.
JAWS installation and support for the Focus display are excellent. Window-Eyes support is still relatively new. The buttons on the front panel require firm pressure to be activated. I found that the rack provided for holding the computer keyboard behind the display was not reliable, forcing me to place the keyboard on the desk behind the display, which made for a longer reach and was less comfortable.
BrailleNote BT 32
The BrailleNote BT32 personal organizer, also from Pulse Data HumanWare, which can be used as a braille display when connected to a computer, features 32 cells and one row of cursor routing buttons. An 18-cell model is also available. The BT models have Perkins-style keys for issuing commands. A QT model, with a typewriter-style keyboard, is also available. The braille dots are sharp. Thumb keys on the front panel are used for navigation. Since the personal organizer runs on its own power, it does not need to be plugged into the wall outlet during normal use. Installation and support are straightforward with both JAWS and Window-Eyes.
Caption: The BrailleNote BT32 personal organizer can be used as a braille display when connected to a computer.
The major drawback is the shorter line of 32 cells. This drawback is especially noticeable on the Internet. In addition, status cells, supported by JAWS, are not available on the BrailleNote. The BrailleNote must be in Braille Terminal mode when it is being used as a display. While it is in terminal mode, none of the other functions of the personal organizer is available, but you can switch to its other functions with a single keystroke. If, however, you want to move files between the BrailleNote and the computer while you are using the BrailleNote as a braille display, you cannot move the files and still maintain the braille display function.
Braille Lite M40
The Braille Lite M40 personal organizer, from Freedom Scientific, which can be used as a braille display, features 40 braille cells and one row of cursor routing buttons. A model with 20 cells is also available. Whiz wheels at either end of the display are used for navigation. The braille dots are rounded. The command structure is like that of the Focus 84.
The Braille Lite M40 has excellent support in JAWS and Window-Eyes. The 40-cell line is a good length for many applications and requires less panning than the 32-cell BrailleNote BT32. Installation is straightforward. Since the M40 has its own battery, no external power cord is required. A flip of a switch on the side of the unit turns the braille display mode on or off.
With both the BrailleNote BT32 and Braille Lite M40, you get the personal organizer functions as well. These machines are a good solution for portable use. The computer keyboard could be placed on a thick book or another slightly elevated surface, and the display could be placed in front of the keyboard for more comfortable use.
The Bottom Line
A refreshable braille display can be a powerful tool and can greatly enhance your work on the computer in certain situations. Although not every computer user who is blind needs a braille display, for those who do and will take the time and effort to learn to use it, the display can make a world of difference in the efficiency and productivity of computer use.
Product: ALVA Satellite 570
Manufacturer: ALVA Access Group, 436 14th Street, Suite 700, Oakland, CA 94612; phone: 510-451-2582 or 888-318-2582; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.aagi.com>.
Product: Handy Tech Braille Star 80
Distributor: Pulse Data HumanWare, 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 925-680-7100 or 800-752-3390; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.pulsedata.com>.
Product: Focus 84
Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716; phone: 727-803-8000 or 800-444-4443; e-mail: <Info@freedomscientific.com>; web site: <www.freedomscientific.com>.
Product: BrailleNote BT32
Manufacturer: Pulse Data HumanWare, 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 925-680-7100 or 800-752-3390; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.pulsedata.com>.
Product: Braille Lite M40
Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716; phone: 727-803-8000 or 800-444-4443; e-mail: <Info@freedomscientific.com>; web site: <http://www.freedomscientific.com>.
Back to top
An Easy-to-Use Talking Organizer: A Review of TADI
This article reviews TADI, a talking personal digital assistant (PDA) from Variscite. The name TADI comes from the words talking and digital. TADI uses a keyboard and voice recording for input and speech for output. It has a sophisticated phone book, appointment diary, notepad, calculator, alarm clock, timer, five hours of recording time, and more. It does not have word-processing capabilities or Internet access. It is, however, significantly less expensive, smaller, and lighter than PDAs that have these features.
TADI measures 5.75 x 3.5 x .5 inches and weighs about 6.7 ounces with batteries. The female voice that TADI uses is clear and has a pleasant tone. TADI's raised number and letter keys are arranged exactly like those on a standard computer keyboard. Each key speaks when pressed. The unit operates on three AAA batteries or with an included D.C. adapter. According to the manufacturer, battery life, with normal use, is about six months, but the test unit's batteries lasted about four months. TADI will inform you when the batteries need to be changed. The battery compartment is on the back of the unit and is indicated by a grooved arrow. It is secure yet easy to open with your fingers.
Caption: The TADI talking personal digital assistant.
TADI opens with the push of a button. It has a hinged top that has a raised wave pattern to indicate the correct position for opening. This hinged top prevents TADI from being turned on accidentally when it is in a purse or backpack. When the unit is opened, the keyboard is exposed. At the top upper right above the keyboard is a microphone and phone dialer. To the left is a display screen. On the sides are ports for headphones, the D.C. adapter, and a USB (universal serial bus) port for a PC interface kit that can be purchased separately. The PC interface kit, which allows you to store data from TADI on your computer, input data to TADI using your computer keyboard, and send voice e-mail from one TADI to another using Outlook, is compatible only with Windows 2000 and Windows XP. As of this writing, this fact is not included in TADI's manual or on Variscite's web site.
The volume and rate of speech are controlled by arrows on the right of the keyboard. These arrows perform other operations, depending on which function is in use. For example, in the phone book, the left arrow becomes the delete key, and the right arrow becomes the space bar. There is a password feature that can be enabled for extra security. It is easy to back up or restore data with just two keystrokes. The On/Off button is at the bottom left of the keyboard, and the Record button is next to it. The Talk button is above and slightly to the left of the On/Off button; when it is pressed, the last thing TADI said will be repeated. The Edit button is above and slightly to the right of the Talk button. The Enter button is next to the down arrow. The Escape key is at the top left of the keyboard. Three additional keys are used for entering information: the Underline, Dot, and @ ("at" sign) keys, which are located next to the left arrow.
Getting Started and Getting Help
TADI is easy to use right out of the box. The user manual is on audiocassette and CD-ROM. It gives a precise description of TADI's layout and functions. Each operation is clearly explained. As you use each function, TADI prompts you step by step on how to enter and retrieve data. I was able to start using the phone book after I read the manual for only a few minutes.
The programming for TADI is menu based. Each key at the top row of the keyboard controls a different function, such as phone book or diary. The Learning key is at the top right of the keyboard. Pressing the key once will put you in the Learning mode. From there, when you press any key, TADI will tell you its name and functions. Pressing the Learning key twice will give you a more detailed description of where you are in the menus and how to use them. This onboard help system can be used at any time.
Turning It On
Once the unit is opened, TADI can be turned on or off with the lower left button. When it is turned on, TADI will say, "Hello, choose function." If a letter is pressed, TADI will start searching the phone book for entries with that letter. If you press any number key, TADI will announce its function and put you into that menu. A notepad message can be recorded as soon as TADI is turned on. If Escape is pressed, you will hear how much available recording time is left. If you happen to press a key that is not used at this point in the menus, TADI will say, "Invalid key." When TADI is turned off, it says, "Good-bye." TADI will turn itself off to conserve battery power if it is not being used for several minutes.
Voice recording is used for the alarm diary and the notepad. The phone book has a field to add a recorded message if desired. To record, press and hold down the Record button. TADI will sound a short beep. When your recording is finished, release the Record button, and TADI will say, "Done."
The phone book is one of TADI's best features. There is room for 900 contacts, with each contact having up to six telephone numbers, distributed in the following fields: home, mobile, work, and fax. There is a field for the contact's e-mail address, and you can record a message, such as a street address or name.
It is easy to add, find, or edit an entry. To find a number, go into the phone book and type the first letter or letters of the name you want. TADI will speak the name of the first entry with those letters by spelling out the names, rather than saying them. If there is a space anywhere in the name field, TADI says "Space." You can use the up and down arrow keys to browse the phone book until you find the entry you want. However, if you have recorded a message in an entry, TADI will play the recording, rather than speak the letters of the entry. Therefore, I chose not to add recordings to most of my phone book contacts.
To create a new entry, go into the phone book and press the Edit key. TADI will then talk you through entering each field. To edit an existing entry, go to that entry and press the Edit key. TADI will tell you the information in each field, and you can make changes. The phone dialer will dial a telephone number for you by playing the corresponding tones into a phone—you just hold it next to the mouthpiece of the phone and press the dialer key. It's performance is quite inconsistent, however, and it doesn't work with all cell phones.
The alarm diary is a convenient way to keep an appointment calendar and reminders. It can hold up to 400 separate entries. To enter an appointment, go into the alarm diary and press the Edit button. TADI prompts you to enter the time, date, and a recorded message. You can store more than one entry for the same time and date. To find an entry, you can browse the diary using the up and down arrows. If you know the date of your appointment, enter it, and TADI will go to appointments on that date. You can then browse the list. For each appointment, TADI will say the time, day of the week, date, and recorded message. You can change existing diary entries via the Edit key and remove entries with the Delete key. When you are deleting an entry, you will be prompted to confirm this action.
TADI sounds a series of beeps for 30 seconds when its clock reaches the date and time of a new message. It does so whether TADI is on or off. You can hear the message by going into the alarm diary. There is no way to stop the alarm from sounding. The only way to avoid the alarm is to delete the entry before its designated date and time.
The notepad is good for recording quick reminders, messages, and directions. The recording quality is fair, and you need to be no more than about six to eight inches away from the microphone. Recordings that are made at a greater distance sound less clear and are at a lower volume. Although TADI has a lot of available recording time, it is not particularly good for recording lectures or speeches. You can browse the notepad by using the up and down arrows. The down arrow moves you toward the most recent notes, and the up arrow brings you to the older ones. When you delete a note, TADI prompts you to confirm this action by pressing the letter "Y." For hands-free recording, hold the record button and press the Enter key, which locks the Record button in place. When you have finished, press Escape.
The calculator can perform simple and advanced operations. In Calculator mode, the letter keys become operation keys. For example, the "Q" becomes the plus sign, and the "H" becomes the square-root key. The number keys on the top row of the keyboard are used to enter numerical values. TADI can handle and clearly pronounce seven-digit numbers. When a number has more than seven digits, TADI will say, "Number too large."
Cut and Paste
It is possible to move recorded messages among the phone book, alarm diary, and notepad. The same key is used for cut and paste. If you attempt to paste a new recording over a previously existing one, TADI will ask you to confirm this action. There is no copy-and-paste feature.
In addition to the alarm diary, there are three different clocks in TADI: an alarm clock, a countdown timer, and a current-time clock. The alarm clock will work even when TADI is off. If you are a sound sleeper, however, the alarm, even at its highest volume, may not be loud enough to wake you. Also, TADI does not have a snooze alarm.
The Bottom Line
Although TADI does not have the capabilities of Pac Mate or VoiceNote, such as word processing, braille notetaking, e-mail, or Internet access, it does provide a good way to keep track of phone numbers, appointments, and notes. The calculator, alarm clock, timer, and current time clock are extra added features. TADI gives you plenty of warning about when the batteries are going to run out. With the included D.C. adapter, you can use the TADI if you want to conserve battery power or have run out of batteries. The backup system gives you the option of backing up or restoring data. It is recommended that you back up the data once the low battery warning is given. TADI's small size, light weight, ease of use, and available functions make it well worth its price.
Fixing a Problem
A few days after this article was completed, my TADI had the equivalent of a nervous breakdown. It kept telling me to change batteries or that my database was empty and that TADI was restoring data. In addition, TADI's clock would stop working. Sometimes TADI would just turn itself off and then not come on again even when I pressed the On/Off key. Within a few minutes, I determined that the problem was not caused by defective batteries. My next step was to e-mail the manufacturer's technical support staff. Unfortunately, they did not respond.
After waiting more than a week, I telephoned Maxi-Aids, the only vendor of TADI in the United States. I spoke to Maxi-Aids' sales manager for adaptive technology. He said that he had never encountered this kind of problem, but that I should send him the old TADI, and he would send me a new one. I am happy to report that my new TADI arrived quickly and that it is working just fine.
Product: TADI Talking Organizer
Manufacturer: Variscite, P.O. Box 465, Nesher, Israel 36603; phone: 972-4-8200727; e- mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.variscite.com>.
U.S. distributor: Maxi-Aids, 42 Executive Boulevard, Farmingdale, NY 11735; phone: 631-752-0521; web site: <www.maxi-aids.com>.
Back to top
The DECtalk USB is a small small speech synthesizer measuring 5.5 inches by 3.6 inches by 1.1 inches and weighing 9 ounces. It has a built-in speaker, volume control, and output jack for headphones or external speakers. The unit is powered by the USB port, a 9-volt battery, or an external power supply (which is included). It can be connected to either a USB or serial port, and offers speech which is similar to the DECtalk 4.2. The $695 price includes the DECtalk USB, power supply, USB cable, serial cable, headphones, and shipping costs. (Add $30 for shipping outside the U.S.) For more information, contact: Access Solutions: 916-481-3559; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.axsol.com>.
New List for Optacon Users
One of the first breakthrough technological devices for blind people just prior to the personal computer was the Optacon. As its name (taken from the words "optical to tactile converter") proclaimed, this device transmits printed text, one character at a time, to a vibrating array felt by the index finger. Many technologically savvy users continue to utilize their Optacons daily, making it perhaps the most enduring piece of assistive technology in three decades. A new electronic mailing list has been formed by Optacon users to share information with one another regarding the use of this unique piece of equipment. To join, send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org> and put the word "subscribe" in the subject field.
Two Quick References in Braille
National Braille Press has announced two new quick-reference guides, one for Windows XP keyboard commands and the other for Office XP. The "Windows XP Keyboard Commands" reference card includes all commands for Windows Desktop, Windows Explorer, menus, dialog boxes, accessibility features, and more. Similarly, the "Office XP Keyboard Commands" reference includes keyboard commands for Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint. Keys specific to either Window-Eyes or JAWS for Windows are also included, as well as some guidance in configuring your system for optimal results. As a recent release from National Braille Press explains: "Whether you're a student trying to figure out how to add acute accents to vowels for a foreign language class, an office worker trying to create PowerPoint demonstrations, or anyone else who needs to use one or more of these programs on a regular basis," these reference cards will help.
Each costs $10 and is available in either hardcopy braille or PortaBook format. To learn more or to order, contact: National Braille Press; phone: 800-548-7323; website: <www.nbp.org>.
Read Your Newspaper in Braille
Bookshare has teamed up with the National Federation of the Blind to add newspapers and magazines to its growing collection of books for download to PCs and notetakers. The Federation's Newsline is a telephone menu-driven service that provides over 100 newspapers via synthesized speech. Now, on Bookshare, those same digital files are used to bring periodicals to the Bookshare collection. At present, only two magazines, the Economist and the New Yorker, plus a few newspapers, are available, with more planned in the future. Like the books, the newspapers and magazines are available in either BRF (braille) or DAISY formats. Members can go directly to the newspapers and magazines at <bookshare.org/periodicals>. For general information, go to <www.bookshare.org>.
Merging with the Mainstream
Rarely have blind and visually impaired people been able to go to a large commercial outlet and purchase assistive technology products, but that seems to be changing, as three products almost simultaneously became available through mainstream outlets during the month of September. As discussed elsewhere in this issue, two screen-reader software packages for certain cell phone models became available that render mobile phones almost as friendly to blind people as they are to sighted people: TALKS, available from Cingular Wireless <www.Cingular.com> and Mobile Speak from Optelec USA <www.Optelec.com>. Finally, Premier Assistive Technology Inc. announced that nine of its software programs designed for users who are blind will be available on Amazon <www.amazon.com>. Among the programs are a Talking Word Processor, Talking Checkbook, and Premier CD/DVD Creator.
Upgrade for Pico Video Magnifier
Telesensory Corp has announced improvements to Pico, its handheld video magnifier. Weighing 10 ounces, this device enables people with low vision to see text and photos in all environments. Improvements include two new viewing modes (black text on a white background or yellow on blue), a brighter display with increased viewing angle, and the addition of an AC adapter for recharging the unit's power. Other features already familiar to Pico users are its one-button on/off and mode selection, 4-inch color display, and illumination control for reducing glare when viewing electronic displays such as ATMs or cell phones. The Pico sells for $795. For more information, contact: Telesensory Corporation; phone: 800-804-8004; web site: <www.Telesensory.com>.
Back to top
November 4–5, 2004
Bridge to Total Efficiency: A Pragmatic Approach to Visual and Nonvisual Technology Workshop
The workshop is sponsored by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) and National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.
AER, 1703 North Beauregard Street, Suite 440, Alexandria, VA 22311; phone: 877-492-2708 or 703-671-4500; web site: <www.aerbvi.org>.
November 17–20, 2004
Annual Conference of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH)
TASH, 29 West Susquehanna Avenue, Suite 210, Baltimore, MD 21204; phone: 410-828-8274; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.tash.org>.
November 18, 2004
Assistive Technology: Improving Lives Daily Conference
TechACCESS of RI, 110 Jefferson Boulevard, Suite I, Warwick, RI 02888; phone: 401-463-0202; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.techaccess-ri.org>.
November 18–19, 2004
Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) Techshare 2004
Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
Sally Cain, web technologies officer and project manager, Techshare, RNIB Technology in Learning and Employment, 58-72 John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN, England, United Kingdom; phone: +44-(0)121-665-4226; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.rnib.org.uk>.
January 6–9, 2005
International Consumer Electronics Show
Las Vegas, NV
2005 International Consumer Electronics Show, c/o ExpoExchange, P.O. Box 590, Frederick, MD 21705; phone: 866-233-7968 or 301-694-5124; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.cesweb.org>.
January 19–22, 2005
The 5th Annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) Conference
ATIA, 401 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611-4267; phone: 877-687-2842; e-mail: <info@ATIA.org>; web site: <www.atia.org>
January 27–29, 2005
Technology, Reading and Learning Difficulties (TRLD) Conference
San Francisco, CA
Don Johnston Incorporated, 26799 West Commerce Drive, Volo, IL 60010; phone: 888-594-1249; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.trld.com>.
March 14–19, 2005
California State University at Northridge (CSUN) Center on Disabilities' 20th Annual International Conference
Los Angeles, CA
Center on Disabilities, CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Building 11, Suite 103, Northridge, CA 91330; phone: 818-677-2578; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2005/genconfinfo05.htm>.
April 4–8, 2005
London, England, United Kingdom
The conference is organized by the International Society for Low Vision Research and Rehabilitation and is hosted by the Royal National Institute of the Blind.
Royal National Institute of the Blind, 105 Judd Street, London, WC1H 9NE, England, United Kingdom; phone: 011-44-20-7388-1266; fax: +44-(0)20-7388-2034; web site: <www.rnib.org.uk/vision2005/welcome.htm>.
April 17–19, 2005
Power Up 2005 Conference and Expo
Osage Beach, MO
Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, c/o Montana Assistive Technology, 4731 South Cochise, Number 114, Independence, MO 64055; phone: 816-350-5288; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.ataporg.org>.
June 9–11, 2005
Collaborative Assistive Technology Conference
Assistive Technology Partners (ATP), 1245 East Colfax Avenue, Suite 200, Denver, CO 80218; phone: 303-315-1283; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.uchsc.edu/atp>.
July 22–27, 2005
11th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction
Las Vegas, Nevada
The session, Non-Visual Access of Complex Document Components, may be of particular interest to AccessWorld® readers
Conference Administrator, School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University, Grissom Hall, 315 North Grant Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907; phone: 765-494-5426; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.hci-international.org>.
August 2–6, 2005
Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) 2005
AHEAD, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125; phone: 617-287-3880; web site: <www.ahead.org/conference>.
September 19–22, 2005
Assistive Technology from Virtuality to Reality: 8th European Conference for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe
The conference is sponsored by The Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE).
Package, 140 cours Charlemagne, 69002, Lyon, France; phone: +33-(0)4-72-77-45-50;
e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.aaate2005.com>.
January 5–8, 2006
2006 International Consumer Electronics Show
Las Vegas, NV
2005 International Consumer Electronics Show, c/o ExpoExchange, P.O. Box 590, Frederick, MD 21705; phone: 866-233-7968 or 301-694-5124; e-mail: <CESinfo@CE.org>; web site: <www.cesweb.org>.
Back to top
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.
|End of advertising|