In This Issue . . .
Letters to the Editor
The Next Generation: A Review of Personal Digital Assistants, Part 1
Packed with features and numerous options for connecting with other devices, these small products can play a large role in organizing your life--Jim Denham, Jay Leventhal, and Heather McComas
A Packed Day with My PAC Mate
Find out how a high school student who is blind keeps up with peers who seem to have been born clutching a cell phone--Kolby Garrison
Science Is Golden: Interviews with Four Scientists Who Are Visually Impaired
The stories of an oceanographer, an astronomer, a physicist, and a chemist show that when it comes to employment for people who are blind or visually impaired, the sky is the limit--Janet Ingber
More than a Perkins Brailler: A Review of the Mountbatten Brailler, Part 1
It's a brailler, it's a printer, and more. Read the first part of an in-depth examination of this multifaceted device--Frances Mary D'Andrea
Diabetes Management and Visual Impairment: Are People Aware of Accessible Home Blood Pressure Monitors?
Why aren't more diabetics with visual impairments using accessible devices to monitor their medical conditions? This article presents one answer--Taine Duncan and Darren Burton
On the Move with MuVo
This tiny, accessible MP3 player is a good option for taking your music and audio books on the road with you--Deborah Kendrick
The Assistive Technology Act of 2004
Thinking of buying a new CCTV or braille printer? Read about the leading source of financial assistance for assistive technology--Joy Relton
|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.
More and more people are using personal digital assistants (PDAs) to keep track of appointments and contact information at work and at home. For many sighted people, a PDA is simply a small device to use when away from their desks. They check their schedules to confirm future meetings, jot down short notes, or maintain a to-do list. Back in their offices, they transfer the information to their computers.
For people who are blind or visually impaired, PDAs can serve a much more significant role. They make appointment calendars—which are unfriendly programs on desktop computers—easily accessible. Unlike laptop computers, they can be carried around comfortably, switched on, and used immediately to write down an e-mail address or phone number. They include handy utilities like a stopwatch, alarm, and calculator. As many of us have discovered, one of these devices can quickly become indispensable or, if you don't back up your information regularly, a disaster waiting to happen.
In this issue, Jim Denham and Heather McComas of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), and I review the BrailleNote PK from Pulse Data and the Braille Hansone from HIMS Company, Ltd., two adapted PDAs. These products include, in a small package, sophisticated word processors, appointment calendars, address books, e-mail capabilities, web browsers, media players and multiple ways to connect with a computer and other devices. We evaluate how well each product performs and how easy they are to learn and use. In March, we will evaluate the PAC Mate from Freedom Scientific and VisuAide's Maestro. Find out what the next generation of products has to offer as they shrink in size and grow in power and versatility.
AccessWorld articles usually focus on new products and how new features can help people who are blind or visually impaired do their jobs. For a change of pace, Kolby Garrison, a high school student from North Carolina, takes us through a busy day and explains how she uses her PAC Mate PDA both at school and at home.
Janet Ingber, author and music therapist, interviews four scientists who are blind or visually impaired. They discuss their experiences while training to enter their fields, how they accomplish their jobs, and how they relate to their sighted colleagues. Discover how a physicist, an oceanographer, a chemist and an astrophysicist use technology and ingenuity to perform their fascinating jobs.
Frances Mary D'Andrea, Director of AFB's Literacy Center in Atlanta, reviews the Mountbatten Brailler, an electronic braillewriter and printer packed with additional features. D'Andrea covers what the Mountbatten does now and its place in the classroom for beginners. Part 2, in March, will focus on the device's more advanced features. The main reason the Mountbatten has been confined to the classroom is its high price tag. For students, it provides an alternative to the omnipresent Perkins Brailler.
Taine Duncan and Darren Burton of AFB TECH write about the current troubling paucity of accessible home blood pressure monitors (HBPMs) on the market. In previous articles, AccessWorld has documented the fact that only one blood glucose monitor currently available uses modern technology and is accessible, but it comes at a price 10 times that of the inaccessible monitors. There are only two HBPMs for sale that have speech output. This article discusses an informal survey of diabetes educators and highlights their lack of knowledge of how to instruct patients who are blind or visually impaired to independently monitor and manage their health.
Deborah Kendrick reviews the MuVo, an extremely small device that plays files in MP3, WMA, or the proprietary format produced by Audible.com. This article describes the MuVo and puts it through its paces. Learn more about this tiny, accessible off-the-shelf player.
Joy Relton of AFB's Governmental Relations Group in Washington, DC, discusses the Assistive Technology Act of 2004. Signed into law this past October, the act reauthorizes funding for Assistive Technology Act Programs (ATAPs) created under the law in 56 U.S. states and territories. These ATAPs (some of which are part of state agencies for the blind), provide demonstrations of and low-cost loans for the purchase of assistive technology, as well as information and referral. Learn about and use a major source of financing for assistive technology.
Editor in Chief
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Letters to the Editor
GPS for Walking and Riding
Thank you for the thorough review of GPS travel devices. I hope you will soon review the GPS add-on for the Pac Mate. I am a long-time user of Atlas Speaks and later GPS-Talk [originally developed at Arkenstone], but have never been able to afford a dedicated PDA [personal digital assistant] for the blind. I do wish these manufacturers would write software-only GPS mapping products that can be run on any Windows-based laptop. My guide dog and I depend on GPS-Talk to confidently explore new areas, and sub-notebook laptops are cheaper than dedicated devices.
GPS-Talk, the only product to run on a standard laptop, was discontinued four years ago. Based on 16-bit Windows 3.X code, and unable to handle the challenges of car navigation, it is hopelessly out of date.
I think product designers and reviewers are putting too great an emphasis on pedestrian navigation. Sighted spouses assume that now you have spent a fortune on a talking GPS, you will be able to give them turn-by-turn directions wherever you go. Even the current products can't look ahead far enough to tell a driver when to get into the correct lane. My husband was quite annoyed to discover, that after we'd budgeted for my GPS-Talk, I couldn't even give him the names of highway exits.
More and more blind people today are seniors with medical problems that limit their ability to walk long distances. It is also important to realize that New York City, where AccessWorld is edited, is one of the few places with good public transportation where the sighted get out of their cars. In most parts of the country, we blind people are often stuck with paratransit, because there are simply no sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and buses. We therefore need to know if our dial-a-ride driver is actually taking us on the shortest route.
Alternate Media Specialist, DeAnza College
Waiting for the Rebate
Just a quick note to tell you about my experiences with the Nokia 6620 telephone with TALKS software via Cingular. First, overall, I'm pleased with the phone, though I'd like Web access and the ability to use speech while in a phone call (that deficiency was mentioned in the article.)
Second, I've had some difficulty getting the rebates back from Cingular. The rebate forms are their standard forms, and don't address the rebate issue for the speech software. While their National Center for Customers with Disabilities sent me the form as I requested, I have no guarantee that I'll get the rebate for the access software; it would certainly be nice to apply the $199 to my phone service, which Cingular mentions on their Web site. While they had the infrastructure to send out the phones and software, the salespeople at Cingular didn't know what I was talking about. So, unless they've straightened out the bugs, I'd wait awhile.
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The Next Generation: A Review of Personal Digital Assistants, Part 1
This is the first of a two-part evaluation of four personal digital assistants (PDAs.) In this article, we review the BrailleNote PK from Pulse Data and the Braille Hansone from HIMS Company. In the March 2005 issue, we will review the PAC Mate from Freedom Scientific and VisuAide's Maestro. These products are all much more than notetakers, the term often used to describe the old Braille 'n Speak. They all include, in a small package, sophisticated word processors, appointment calendars, address books, e-mail capabilities, web browsers, media players, and multiple ways to connect with a personal computer and other devices.
A major trend in the consumer electronics industry is constantly to decrease the size of products. Everything from cell phones to laptops is shrinking. Fortunately, this trend is not limited to mainstream products. In July 2004, Pulse Data International announced the newest member of the BrailleNote family of products—the BrailleNote PK—which is the smallest Windows-based accessible PDA currently on the market. Weighing about a pound and measuring approximately 7 inches wide by 4 inches deep and 2 inches thick, this tiny case packs most of the functions of other BrailleNote products and then some. Offering both refreshable braille and speech output and running Pulse Data's familiar Keysoft suite of applications, this accessible PDA truly puts computing power in the palm of your hand.
Despite its size, the BrailleNote PK has many controls and ports. The front edge of the PK contains a small four-way joystick. This joystick can be used to move quickly through menus or documents, all with one finger. Pressing on this control also allows you to select a menu option. Immediately to the left of the joystick on the front panel is a small button. Although the user manual makes no mention of it, the audio tutorial states that it is reserved for future use.
Caption: The BrailleNote PK has many controls and ports.
The top surface of the BrailleNote PK contains five major types of controls. Two smooth keys located on the top front edge both serve as spacebars. On either side of the spacebars, there are two small, slightly indented buttons. These four buttons are called control keys and control power and reset options. The BrailleNote PK does not have an on/off switch. Turning the product on and off is accomplished by holding down one of these control keys. The fact that these keys are slightly indented and need to be held down reduces the possibility of accidentally switching the product on or off. The exact function of all four of these control keys is not clearly stated in the user guide.
An 18-cell refreshable braille display is located behind the spacebars and control keys. Each cell of the display has a corresponding cursor-routing key directly above it. Pulse Data recently changed to a new supplier of refreshable braille cells. As a result, the refreshable braille display in the BrailleNote PK is much quieter than the displays found on older products.
On either side of the refreshable braille display are three small buttons arranged vertically. These six keys are used to scroll the braille display. In addition to standard scrolling functions, such as previous and next, the top key on each side allows you to start and control the speed of automatic scrolling of the display. Immediately behind the display, eight square braille input keys are positioned. The outer keys are located farther back than the inner keys to allow for proper finger placement. As with the display, these input keys are among the quietest we have ever encountered on an accessible PDA. Their placement and the location of the spacebars below the braille display takes some adjustment for new users.
The back panel of the PK contains all the connection ports. In addition to standard power and headphone jacks, the product offers a USB (universal serial bus) port, a Compact Flash slot, and a serial port. The serial port is not a standard nine-pin port. Cables are included that allow users to connect the product to standard serial devices. Likewise, the USB port must be used with the cable supplied by Pulse Data. As was the case with previous BrailleNote products, the Compact Flash slot can be used for storage or to plug in a Compact Flash accessory, such as a modem or Ethernet card. Unlike other BrailleNote products, the PK does not contain a parallel or infrared port. The infrared port has been replaced with a small Bluetooth antenna that protrudes approximately a half inch from the back panel. The PK also does not contain a built-in modem.
The BrailleNote PK comes with a carrying case that allows easy access to almost all controls and ports. The case fits securely around the PK and can easily be attached to an included shoulder strap.
The BrailleNote PK's user manual is stored on the product and is provided on CD-ROM. The product also ships with one volume of braille. This volume is the first chapter of the PK's users guide and provides basic information, such as the features of keys, basic navigation, and general familiarization with the hardware. It also shows users how to access the entire user manual stored on the PK. The unit we tested did not include a single piece of printed documentation. The CD-ROM includes the user manual in text, PDF (portable document format), and HTML (hypertext markup language) formats. The full version of the manual does a good job of explaining all the product's features in detail.
The CD also includes an audio tutorial. This nine-part tutorial, produced by Jonathan Mosen, the marketing manager of Pulse Data's Blindness Products, provides an excellent overview and brief demonstration of the key features of the BrailleNote PK. It would be helpful, however, if this tutorial were provided on a Compact Flash card, so users without a PC could access the tutorial directly using the BrailleNote PK's media player.
In addition to the manual and tutorial, the BrailleNote PK includes the context-sensitive Help feature that previous BrailleNote users have come to know. Pressing chord h (that is, holding down the spacebar and pressing the keys for a braille h), will cause Keysoft to announce what commands and actions are currently available.
Those who are familiar with the BrailleNote PK's larger siblings will be happy to know that KeyWord is very much a part of this product. For those who are unfamiliar with KeyWord, the application allows you to edit and navigate documents quickly and efficiently. The word processor provides logical keystrokes that allow you to move through a document by sentence, word, or character. The application also offers functions, such as Find and Replace, the ability to perform complex formatting operations, and an easy-to-use Spell Checker. The PK easily converts documents between contracted and uncontracted braille. Since KeyWord can read and save documents in both Microsoft Word and WordPerfect file formats, BrailleNote PK users can type documents in contracted braille and then easily share their work with sighted colleagues. One notable difference between the BrailleNote PK and other BrailleNote products is the lack of printing commands in the KeyWord menu on the PK. To print a document, it must first be transferred to a PC. When we used this application, we found the joystick control, located on the front of the PK, particularly useful for quickly moving through large documents.
Planning Your Life
With today's busy lifestyle, we all have appointments and events we need to remember. KeyPlan, the BrailleNote PK's planner, can assist you with this task. The application allows you easily to schedule, reschedule, and review upcoming appointments. Since it is compatible with Microsoft Outlook, items in your Outlook calendar can be synchronized with KeyPlan. Because the Outlook calendar can be difficult for some screen-reader users to access, having the ability to read this information on the BrailleNote PK is helpful.
When you schedule a new appointment, KeyPlan allows you to specify the length, location, and recurrence of an appointment. The recurrence feature is especially useful for meetings that are held on a regular basis, such as the first Tuesday of each month. When you indicate the length of a meeting, you can enter either the length of the appointment or the ending time. It is also possible to indicate that this will be an all-day appointment. Unlike other calendar applications, it is not possible to set a default meeting length. Unless otherwise indicated, KeyPlan automatically assumes that all appointments will last 30 minutes.
From any Keysoft application, pressing one keystroke causes KeyPlan to announce your next scheduled appointment. The only issue we had with this feature is when we scheduled an all-day appointment. By default, when an all-day appointment is scheduled, KeyPlan marks this time as free. Even if the title and location of an appointment are entered, KeyPlan does not change this setting. Unless you manually indicate that this block of time should be considered busy or out of office, KeyPlan will not recognize this appointment when the next appointment keystroke is made.
Connecting in New Ways
The BrailleNote PK offers you new ways to connect to the outside world. Gone are the days of plugging into large parallel ports or aligning infrared ports. As mentioned earlier, the infrared port has been replaced by Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth allows the BrailleNote PK to connect wirelessly with other Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as cell phones and keyboards. Unlike infrared, these devices do not need to be in a direct line of sight with the PK. When the Bluetooth option is activated, using the new connections menu, the BrailleNote PK begins to search for other Bluetooth-enabled devices within range. Since Bluetooth typically has a range of approximately 30 feet, all Bluetooth-enabled devices in this area will be displayed.
What you use Bluetooth for depends on what kind of device you connect or pair with. If you pair the PK with a Bluetooth keyboard, you can control the product using a QWERTY keyboard. If your PC is Bluetooth enabled or has a Bluetooth adapter, you can establish an ActiveSync connection and transfer files wirelessly. During our evaluation, we paired the PK with a Nokia 6620 cell phone. Using the cell phone as a modem, we were able to connect to the Internet and access e-mail.
Another new connection option is support for Wireless Fidelity (WiFi.) WiFi allows the BrailleNote PK to connect to the Internet or a computer network wirelessly. For this feature to be active, a separate WiFi Compact Flash card (which usually sells for less than $75) must be purchased. Once this card has been inserted, the BrailleNote PK will be able to access the web at any location that has a wireless hot spot. Many businesses and public locations, such as Starbucks, hotels, and airports, have wireless hot spots. Some of these locations charge a small fee for web access, but others do not. In addition to web access, the BrailleNote PK's WiFi access also allows you to log on to computer networks. In a work environment, this means that provided that your company has a wireless network, you could access all the files stored on public network drives using only your BrailleNote PK.
Now that you have all these new ways to get connected, what are you going to do with that access? One option is to send and receive e-mail using the BrailleNote PK's built-in e-mail application, KeyMail. Although the interface may be a bit clumsy at times, KeyMail offers BrailleNote users many powerful e-mail features. This application allows you to send and receive e-mail with attachments; to sort mail into predefined folders; and to save connection settings, so you can easily access more than one e-mail account.
Using KeyList, the BrailleNote PK's contact-management system, KeyMail offers a versatile address book, which is convenient for users who want to read messages when they are not at home. When sending messages, KeyMail allows users to type their messages in contracted braille. When the messages are sent, the PK automatically back translates this text. Similarly, if you attempt to attach a file to an e-mail message that is a KeyWord document, the PK can automatically translate this document into a standard format, such as Microsoft Word.
One problem we encountered when using KeyMail was the lack of intuitive commands. The command to activate the action menu, for example, is a chord with dots 2–6. If there is a logical reason for this key combination, we could not determine what it was. Difficult-to-remember commands, such as this, may make the application a bit tricky for new users to learn.
The other major problem we had when using this application was its constant prompting. When closing a message that has been read, for instance, most e-mail applications simply mark the message as read and return you to the list of messages. KeyMail, on the other hand, prompts you to move the message to a different folder each time the message is closed. This constant prompting for information or actions to be taken makes the application frustrating, especially for advanced users who want to perform common e-mail tasks quickly.
Browsing the Web
The BrailleNote PK includes an upgraded version of KeyWeb, Pulse Data's web browser that has been designed specifically for the BrailleNote family of products. Once the commands for this browser are mastered, KeyWeb offers users efficient access to web sites. You can navigate the page using standard BrailleNote reading commands or move by link, frame, heading, or input control.
The browser has many of the features you would expect on a desktop browser, such as a favorites list and the ability to read web pages offline. We tested KeyWeb with a variety of simple and complex web sites and had few problems. Sites that contained popup ads, such as CNN, occasionally caused the browser to crash, but this was not a common occurrence and was corrected with a reset of the PK. Filling out online forms and downloading files were also accomplished with no major problems. Although it has a media player, the BrailleNote PK cannot handle streaming media from the web, such as Internet radio.
The Bottom Line
With its compact size and range of powerful features, the BrailleNote PK is an impressive addition to the accessible PDA line of products. Its WiFi and Bluetooth capability make connecting to the outside world simple and efficient. Users who are familiar with the BrailleNote series of products can pick up the product and start using it immediately. For those who have never used Keysoft before, the supplied documentation will have you using the basic features of the product in no time. As is the case with most new products, the BrailleNote PK has a few new-product quirks, such as unused or unexplained controls and the lack of printed documentation. These are not major problems, however, and do not detract from the overall experience with the product. If you are considering the purchase of an accessible PDA and are looking for a powerful product that is small, you should definitely consider the BrailleNote PK.
"Hansone" means "to see the world through one fingertip" in Korean. Because this meaning didn't translate to English speakers, HIMS is changing the name to Braille SENSE. You may find it under either name.
The Braille Hansone measures 9 inches by 5 inches by 1.5 inches and weighs 2.7 pounds. It has an 8-key braille keyboard; dot 7 is the Backspace key, and dot 8 is the Enter key. There are four oval-shaped function keys; F1 and F2 are to the left of the spacebar, and F3 and F4 are to the right of the spacebar. F1 opens the unit's main Program menu, F2 opens each individual program menu, F3 is the Tab key, and F4 is the Escape key.
An LCD (liquid crystal display) is located in the middle, above the braille keyboard. At the edges, above the Enter and Backspace keys, are two stereo speakers.
A 32-cell braille display is below the keyboard. Directly above the display are 32 cursor-routing buttons that are used to move the cursor to the right place for editing. At the right end of the row of cursor-routing buttons is an Advance key for scrolling the braille display forward, and at the left end is the Scroll Back button.
On the Braille Hansone's front panel, from left to right, are the microphone jack, the stereo headphone jack, and five buttons for recording and playing back audio: the Previous, Record, Stop, Play/Pause and Next buttons. From the front to the back of the unit, on the right side, are the on/off switch, the AC adapter, and the compartment for the detachable Lithium Ion battery. The left side of the unit contains two compact flash slots. The back panel of the Braille Hansone contains, from left to right, an infrared port, two USB ports, a network (LAN) connection, a parallel port, a video output port, and a serial port.
Getting Started and Getting Help
The Braille Hansone's manual explains what each function does and lists the commands. However, it does not do a good job of explaining what happens when you actually turn on the Hansone and try to open and read a file in the word processor or open and play a file in the media player.
In fact, when you turn the unit on, it does not announce which application is running or give the name of the current file if you are in the word processor. The manual is poorly written, and we learned how to use most functions by trial and error or by e-mailing technical support.
The Braille Hansone runs on Windows CE.NET, and its applications are proprietary programs written by the manufacturer. The interface resembles Windows on a desktop computer. So, for example, in a menu, you arrow down to the choice you want and tab to the Confirm button to make a selection.
When you select the word processor from the Braille Hansone's main menu, a new, blank document is opened. As on your desktop computer, to open an existing document, you press the Menu command, which opens a dialogue box. In this dialogue box, you can type in a file name or review a list of existing files. You navigate in this dialogue box by pressing Tab (dots 4–5 with the spacebar) and Shift-Tab (dots 1–2 with the spacebar). You must also select the file format you want; to open a Word document, for instance, you can type in the full name of the desired file or scroll through a list of all Word documents one at a time.
To delete a block of text, you mark the beginning of the block by opening the Menu with spacebar-M and selecting Edit and then Block. You then move the cursor to the end of the desired block, enter the Menu again, select Edit, and choose Delete. There is no message asking you to confirm that you want to delete the block. The Braille Hansone has no spell checker. The Braille Hansone supports files in the following formats: HBL (the unit's default format), BRL, TXT, and Word 2000 or earlier.
The Braille Hansone's Address Manager lets you add, edit, and search for an address. When you open the Address Manager, the Find Address dialogue box opens. You can enter data in the Name field or any of 15 other fields and press Enter to search. To add an address, you press the spacebar with M for Menu and select Add Address. The manual incorrectly states that "You type in appropriate information for each field and press Enter or press down arrow key (Space-4) to move to the next field." Actually, you must press the down arrow key; pressing Enter saves the data and returns you to the Name prompt to start adding another new address. When you finish adding data for a contact, you must tab to the Confirm button to add the address.
Surfing the Web
The Braille Hansone has a built-in LAN connection but no modem. Before you launch the web browser, you must set your web connection, LAN or modem, in the Utilities menu. You then select Web Browser from the main menu to get connected. During our tests, the Braille Hansone connected successfully to our network only about one in every three times. It was often necessary to reset the unit before getting connected.
Web pages load slowly on the Braille Hansone, even with a high-speed connection. As a page loads, the braille display shows the percentage loaded, but we were unable to get the unit to speak this percentage. When the page is done loading, the unit speaks the first line of text. "Skip to Content" links, used for jumping past the navigation bar and other repetitive links, consistently did not work with the Braille Hansone.
The text on web pages is reformatted to be read on the Braille Hansone's 32-character braille display. This was especially frustrating, since we could not get the Braille Hansone to read a full screen or a full web page continuously. We were able to read only by line, which made reading articles and other information tedious.
The Braille Hansone can download and play Windows Media files. It does not play RealAudio files. If you attempt to open a RealAudio file, the unit freezes, and you must reset it. Freezing also occurred when we tried to open some web pages.
Planning Your Life
The Braille Hansone's Schedule Manager allows you to schedule meetings and other items. The Schedule Manager opens in the Find Date dialogue box. If you press Enter on the current date, you will find a list of that day's appointments. Once you hit Enter, you cannot move through the calendar to check or set appointments for the following day or the day afterward. You must return to the Find Date dialogue box. From there, you can navigate by day, week, month, or year.
When an alarm rings to alert you of an appointment, you press Backspace-Enter to silence the alarm. The unit then announces the reason for the alarm and exits from the Schedule Manager. So, if you miss the announcement, the information is gone. Also, the speech is choppy when the alarm is going off.
To schedule an appointment, you press the Menu command and select Add Schedule. You move to the date you want and press Enter. You then fill in the subject and time of the appointment, tab to the Confirm button, and press Enter. You are then returned to the Appointment Date prompt, rather than being able to read and confirm the appointment you just set.
In the Utilities menu, you can set and check the date and time. When you select "check date and time," the Braille Hansone announces and displays the time. You must press Tab to have the date announced and displayed in braille. The Utilities menu also includes a calculator, pronunciation dictionary, and stopwatch.
The Bottom Line
The Braille Hansone offers yet another option for a PDA with braille and speech output. The unit can be confusing to learn and use, since its manual is poorly written, its applications do not behave like those of other PDAs on the market, and it does not provide feedback at certain times. For example, the Braille Hansone gives no audible indication or message on the braille display when the AC adapter is plugged in or unplugged. Like many new products in this field, the Braille Hansone apparently has not been used by enough people to discover its bugs and to point out the places where it acts erratically. We have pointed out some of the areas that need work and anticipate that we will find a better product the next time we evaluate it.
"We appreciate your evaluation of our product. The Braille Hansone has many new features. It provides an LCD monitor for text display and VGA output for magnified text display for people who have low vision who have to learn braille. We will soon upgrade our software with more useful features. The user interface of the Braille Hansone is based on that of Windows. Conventional notetaker users may have difficulty using the Braille Hansone. But it is easy and fast for Windows users to learn and use the unit.
"We are now rewriting our user manual to make it more informative. And we will also add a Quick Start Guide for beginners.
"A software upgrade will be available by the time this article is published. This upgrade will include an improvement of features and corrected bugs, including the advice of AccessWorld."
||Windows CE 4.2
||16MB RAM, 16MB flash memory
||64MB RAM, 64MB flash memory
||7 inches by 4 inches by 2 inches
||9 inches by 5 inches by 1.5 inches
||Yes, except for serial and USB
|Can function as a speech synthesizer or a braille display for a computer
|Plays MP3 files
Feature: BrailleNote PK; Braille Hansone
Operating system: BrailleNote PK: Windows CE 4.2; Braille Hansone: Windows CE.NET.
Memory: BrailleNote PK: 16MB RAM, 16MB flash memory; Braille Hansone: 64MB RAM, 64MB flash memory.
One-handed mode: BrailleNote PK: Yes; Braille Hansone: No.
Battery type: BrailleNote PK: Lithium Ion; Braille Hansone: Lithium Ion.
Battery gauge: BrailleNote PK: Yes; Braille Hansone: Yes.
Internal modem: BrailleNote PK: No; Braille Hansone: No.
Dimensions: BrailleNote PK: 7 inches by 4 inches by 2 inches; Braille Hansone: 9 inches by 5 inches by 1.5 inches.
Weight: BrailleNote PK: 1 pound; Braille Hansone: 2.7 pounds.
Ports standard: BrailleNote PK: Yes, except for serial and USB; Braille Hansone: Yes.
Can function as a speech synthesizer or a braille display for a computer: BrailleNote PK: Yes; Braille Hansone: Yes.
Plays MP3 files: BrailleNote PK: Yes; Braille Hansone: Yes.
BrailleNote PK; Braille Hansone
Documentation: BrailleNote PK: 4.0; Braille Hansone: 2.5.
Word processing: BrailleNote PK: 4.5; Braille Hansone: 3.5.
Web browser: BrailleNote PK: 4.0; Braille Hansone: 3.0.
Calendar: BrailleNote PK: 4.5; Braille Hansone: 3.0.
Address list: BrailleNote PK: 4.0; Braille Hansone: 3.0.
Speech quality: BrailleNote PK: 4.0 ; Braille Hansone: 4.0.
Braille quality: BrailleNote PK: 4.5; Braille Hansone: 4.0.
Manufacturer: Pulse Data International, 1 Expo Place, P.O. Box 3044, Christchurch, New Zealand; phone 64 3 384 4555; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.pulsedata.com>.
U.S. Distributor: Pulse Data HumanWare, 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 925-680-7100 or 800-722-3393; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.pulsedata.com>.
Manufacturer: HIMS Company, High-Tech Venture Hall 5104, 53-3, Eueon-dong, Yuseong-gu, Daejeon, Korea 305-701; phone: 82-42-864-4460; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.hansone.net>.
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Perspectives: Technology in Our Lives
A Packed Day with My PAC Mate
Editor's Note: High school students now use technology incessantly. They use their cell phones to text-message their friends on anything from "What are you doing right now?" to "What's happening Saturday night?"; play online games; meet people and do homework in online chat rooms; and visit web sites on any subject imaginable.
Like their peers, high school kids who are visually impaired use technology nearly every waking minute. However, for them it has become a necessity. Technology is often the only way that they can do what their peers are doing, both at school and at home—keep up with soap operas on the web, access dictionaries and other reference books, print out homework and term papers, send and receive instant messages, and so on.
We asked Kolby Garrison, a tenth grader in Greensboro, North Carolina, to tell us how she uses technology in her daily life. Her answer is the first in an occasional series "Perspectives: Technology in Our Lives." With AccessWorld's constant focus on technology in the workplace, we thought it would be refreshing to hear a different point of view.
"Ding dong! Ding dong! Ding dong!" My PAC Mate's alarm wakes me up. I hit the Dismiss button, get up, and get ready for school.
Just before I head out the door, I synchronize my PAC Mate with my PC using Microsoft ActiveSync and download my e-mail for reading on the go. I can read my e-mail on my PAC Mate, respond to the important ones, and then, when I synchronize my PAC Mate with my PC again, my replies are sent out. I have the PAC Mate BX420, which has a braille keyboard and 20-cell braille display.
I head to school and go to my office. Here, I print out my homework assignments. I also use ActiveSync to print out my homework on the school's computer. After printing my homework, I go to my first period class, which is Geometry.
In Geometry, I use my PAC Mate to do in-class assignments and homework assignments, as well as taking tons of notes on a daily basis. I use FSEdit, which is one of two word processing applications found on the PAC Mate. FSEdit allows you to write in contracted braille, as well as computer braille. The PAC Mate also has Pocket Word, but I rarely use that application, because FSEdit is more robust. I also use FSCalc, which is a calculator developed by Freedom Scientific specifically for the PAC Mate. It is a basic operations, statistical, scientific, financial, and trigonometric calculator. It can be easily activated with the touch of a key. I use this calculator for all my mathematical needs.
My second period class is honors Earth Science. In this class, I use my PAC Mate constantly, because of all the notes we take. My PAC Mate is never turned off in this class! My fingers never stop tap tap tapping away at the keyboard! My teacher says that she can see smoke coming out of my fingers, because I type so fast!
My third period class is an honors Show Choir. My PAC Mate gets some use in this class, but not quite as much. I use FSEdit to copy down lyrics to songs, and sometimes I use the Resco Audio Recorder to record the class singing, so I can go back for future reference and review.
My fourth period class is a V.I. period. In this class, I work on the computer constantly. I use my PAC Mate to do research and read books. I am a proud user of bookshare.org, rfbd.org, and Web-Braille.
Now the school day is over, and the real fun begins! I head home, and synchronize my PAC Mate with my PC. I get my e-mail and use MSN and AOL instant messengers to communicate with family and friends. I surf the Internet and read some more books. I use bookshare.org and Web-braille for school-related reading materials, as well as pleasure reading materials. I also have Skype on my PAC Mate. Skype is an Internet telephone program, and it allows you to communicate with people around the world. It is really cool! I talk to people on Skype on a daily basis.
I love music, and I have plenty of that on my PAC Mate! I use Windows Media Player, GS Player, and RealPlayer to listen to the various types of media on my PAC Mate. With GS Player, I can even listen to Internet streams. My favorites are ACB Radio, and the Mosen Explosion.
I think that having a braille display is essential for a student. All in all, my PAC Mate helps me out a great deal in my daily life. I consider notetakers to be invaluable for me, and I can't imagine life without one!
For more info on the PAC Mate and its many great features, visit: <www.freedomscientific.com> and <www.pacmategear.com>.
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Science Is Golden: Interviews with Four Scientists Who Are Visually Impaired
Thanks to advances in assistive technology, jobs that were once virtually impossible to obtain are now a reality for people who are visually impaired. Careers in science are now within reach. People who are visually impaired have become successful in many scientific fields, including engineering physics, oceanography, chemistry, and astrophysics.
At Xerox, in Rochester, New York, research scientist Peter Torpey is living proof that you do not need to see images to work with them. Born with glaucoma, Torpey had some functional vision until about age 20. He was able to read a book by holding it a couple of inches from his nose and could read a blackboard with a monocular telescope. Shortly before he entered graduate school at the University of Virginia, Torpey lost almost all his vision. He switched to braille, a closed-circuit television (CCTV), and an extensive number of books from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) and earned a Ph.D. in engineering physics. He also began using a cane for mobility. Now, at age 52, his vision is limited to being able to tell where lights and windows are located.
Major moves were required for attending college and graduate school and working at Xerox, none of which proved particularly difficult. Torpey credits his parents for raising him to be independent. "My folks were always supportive. For instance, when I went to the University of Virginia, they came down there for a couple of days and said, 'Here's the physics building, here's the dorm, here's where you eat.' The rest I learned myself."
In 1979, Torpey's career with Xerox began with his writing computer models. "It was my first job out of graduate school. Xerox happened to need a physicist who knew something about fluid mechanics, and I had studied some of that stuff, and bingo, there I was," he explained.
Caption: Peter Torpey in his office.
In the late 1980s, Torpey got more into image processing, and in the 1990s, he managed the image-processing group that developed the drivers for Xerox's ink jet printers. "It was kind of interesting having a blind guy lead the group," Torpey said with a laugh. "People got to learn to be verbal and to look closely. I think it improved other people's perception skills. I think it worked to everyone's advantage."
Torpey enjoys his job, specializing in image processing, modeling physical phenomena, and printer operations. "I love computer programming. I'm a geek," he admitted. "I do mostly individual contributor stuff now, and that's fine with me."
Throughout the years, Xerox has been accommodating with regard to Torpey's lack of vision and has provided all the assistive technology equipment he needs. An ALVA refreshable braille display assists Torpey in writing computer programs because he likes to "see" the details of what he's writing at his UNIX workstation. His computer has the JAWS screen reader, and Torpey uses the OmniPage Pro OCR program for scanning. He points out that so much material is now accessible by computer that there is less of a need for an OCR (optical character recognition) program. The Imp, from Voice Diary, is his choice for taking quick notes and he uses the PAC Mate for giving presentations, taking notes at meetings, and scheduling appointments. Torpey also enjoys trying new assistive technology products and then giving feedback to the manufacturers. He said, "I guess they get feedback from an engineer, and it's kind of in a language they can understand."
Acceptance in the Workplace
Acceptance has never been an issue. Torpey said that his coworkers respect him. He added, "I'm a research fellow. Out of a company of 60,000, there are only 20 of us. I've done pretty well here."
Xerox runs a science consultant program in which Torpey and his wife participate. About once a month, they go to a school and bring items, such as liquid helium and dry ice, and give the students an opportunity to do some "hands-on" science experiments. Torpey always does an additional experiment: "Here's What It's Like to Be Blind." He shows the students his adaptive equipment and then asks, "You've seen all my stuff. Now think of something you think I can't do, and let's figure out a way we can do it."
In his free time, Torpey, the father of two, and his wife like to exercise. He jogs and has started swimming again. Reading is another favorite pastime, and piano playing is one of his passions. "I love playing the piano," he said, "but it's a lot easier to make money as an engineer."
Words of Advice
"I think the higher-tech jobs are easier for blind folks to get into," Torpey said. "It's harder to do some jobs like the lower-level jobs: being a cashier, stocking shelves in a supermarket, or flipping burgers. Those are the tough things. Technology has become so accessible with computers. I can access anything on the Web and e-mail the way anybody else can. Any job that uses a computer seems to be made for blind people." The advice he likes to give people is something a kindergarten teacher said to his children, "Never say you can't; always say you'll try." He added, "If you decide what you want to do, there's always some way of doing it. You may not think that blind people can do it; let's figure out how they can."
Whether in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean or at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, research oceanographer Amy Bower studies ocean currents—where they are, how they change in time, and why. Diagnosed with macular degeneration at age 24 while at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography, Bower quickly lost her central vision and needed special magnifying glasses for reading and computer work. She also used magnifying bifocals with embedded telescopic lenses. She was frightened that the diagnosis would mean the end of her aspiration to be an oceanographer.
Caption: Oceanographer Amy Bower on the research vessel Oceanus with one of the drifting buoys she uses to study ocean currents.
Later, Bower's diagnosis was changed to retinitis pigmentosa with macular changes. Now aged 44, her peripheral vision and light adaptation have decreased significantly. Bower is considered legally blind. She uses a cane for most travel but will soon get a dog guide.
In 1988, after completing her Ph.D. in oceanography, Bower applied for and was given a postdoctoral position at Woods Hole. The move presented some challenges. "It was hard to come to a new place with a significant disability," Bower said. "I didn't know anyone here very well, and I had no idea how they would react if they knew I had a vision problem. Therefore I wasn't always very forthcoming about it. I'm better about that now, I suppose, partly because I know people so much better, and I guess because I'm older and have a better (more mature?) outlook."
In 1990, Bower joined the permanent staff at Woods Hole as a research scientist. She was awarded tenure in 1999, and in the next year hopes to apply for the highest staff position, senior scientist.
At work, Bower is able to set her own research goals and topics. However, she is in a "soft-money" environment. Therefore, she has to write proposals, mainly to the National Science Foundation, to cover the cost of her salary, the salaries of engineers and research assistants who work with her, and the purchase of research equipment.
Day-to-day job duties vary considerably and include writing reports on research results, reading the reports of others' research results, analyzing data, corresponding with colleagues, programming, attending lectures and professional meetings, and going to sea on research vessels to collect new measurements of ocean currents. As Bower said, "I am typically the chief or cochief scientist on these cruises. By the way, the cruises are on ships that look more like large fishing vessels—not the Love Boat!"
Going to sea is by far Bower's favorite part of her job. "It's very exciting; you feel like a pioneer explorer," she explained. "Very few people have the privilege to go out onto the deep sea (I mean the middle of the Atlantic or Indian Ocean, not 20 miles from the coast!), drop instruments into the water, and wait for them to tell you something new about how the ocean works. It also can be challenging visually; I don't always have as much control over the work environment as I might in my office on land, but with technological advances, I've been able to maintain this activity. I mainly need access to a computer to monitor all the data coming in, the weather, and so forth." There are some tasks that Bower cannot do, especially on deck at night, but the other professionals who come on these research trips with her are capable of handling the deck work.
At sea, Bower's main job is to supervise the activities, make decisions on changes to the research plan, and ensure that as much of the planned work as possible gets done. "Sometimes the weather gets bad, and you have to decide what to cut out of the plan. That would definitely be my responsibility. Also, we may discover some new, unexpected feature. I may then decide to change the research plan to follow up on the new finding."
With regard to accommodating her disability, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has been "absolutely excellent," Bower said. All the necessary adaptive equipment or software has been provided. When she needs it, sighted assistance is given for professional meetings and research cruises.
Bower uses a variety of assistive technologies, primarily for access to text and graphics on the PC. She uses ZoomText for screen magnification, JAWS as a screen reader, and desktop and handheld CCTVs for accessing material that is not on the PC. She recently got a PAC Mate, mainly for taking notes at meetings, although she likes its other features.
Acceptance in the Workplace
Her coworkers treat Bower well. No one has ever questioned her ability to perform research because of her visual impairment. "My biggest barrier has probably been my own worries about my ability to keep up," Bower said. "These worries can cause quite a bit of anxiety. This anxiety sure would be lessened if there were others like myself in this field, but I know of almost no one. It can be quite hard to be the first."
Men have dominated her particular field of oceanography, physical oceanography. There are only 5 women scientists, Bower being the most senior, out of 35 in her department.
Bower and her husband like to sail their 37-foot sloop. They sometimes use adaptive equipment, so she can steer and navigate. They also enjoy tandem cycling. However, since they now have a 2-year-old, they do not do so as often as they used to.
Words of Advice
"One thing that has helped me is interacting with other visually impaired professionals, just so I don't feel so alone. Also, demand as much as possible from your university or employer—don't be afraid to ask! Physical accommodations are possible, as are more intangible ones. For example, I requested and was granted slightly more time to achieve tenure. I have had generally good luck when I am up front with colleagues about my visual impairment; I find they are almost always more than willing to lend a hand if I need it."
Covering All Colors
In a laboratory of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Philadelphia, chemist Judy Summers-Gates checks pharmaceuticals and other products to identify their color additives and to determine whether they are permitted in a product. "If something isn't black or white, basically it's my problem," she noted.
Caption: Judy Summers-Gates using her bioptic device in front of the computer monitor of a liquid chromatograph/mass spectrometer.
Summers-Gates has been visually impaired since infancy because of retinopathy of prematurity. In 1990, she received a bachelor's degree in unified science (a combination of biology, chemistry, and physics) from Drexel University in Philadelphia and has completed some graduate courses. Since the college was near her home, she did not have the difficulty of moving to a new location.
In college, Summers-Gates used a CCTV, readers, and textbooks from RFB&D. Initially, she had a problem with her engineering graphics course; because of difficulty with depth perception and poor distance vision, she was unable to copy an object correctly and then draw an "exploded" blueprint of it. Summers-Gates overcame this problem by explaining to her instructors that she needed a tactile sense of the object. It took a while for them to understand because this was something they had not dealt with before.
In her quantitative analysis class at the chemistry laboratory, she asked people to help her pour chemicals and weigh samples. There was never a problem finding someone to help with these tasks. "The quantities of the materials we were working with were so small and the operations were so delicate that it was really hard for a person who could not see well to do those really fine manipulations," she explained. "There was little room for error if you had to weigh a sample out; you couldn't reweigh it."
Today, Summers-Gates's vision varies from day to day. "I really don't use my right eye at all. In addition to the retinopathy of prematurity, I also have multiple sclerosis, which has done quite a bit of damage, and diabetes. I have cataracts and glaucoma, so if you can do it wrong, I've done it," she said with a laugh. Summers-Gates uses a wheelchair and a telescope for mobility. She is searching for other options. A guide dog that can assist with the wheelchair is not being considered because she works in a laboratory. "That's a very harsh environment, and I don't want to bring an animal in there. My thought would be more for the dog's safety than for mine. If I were strictly an office rat, I'd say OK," she remarked.
Prior to working for the FDA, Summers-Gates was employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and then the U.S. Department of Defense. Before she took her job with the FDA, she was receiving disability because of her problems with multiple sclerosis. Summers-Gates did not want to stop working. When she was well enough, she contacted her state rehabilitation agency and was told about the position at the FDA. Because of her previous governmental service, she had reinstatement rights and interviewed for and got the job.
Since 1991, Summers-Gates has been a chemist with the FDA. She has a wide range of job duties, including analyzing samples; working as a training coordinator for the laboratory; doing work for the district director; performing administrative duties; performing coordination responsibilities, such as planning activities for other branches in the district; and acting as the payroll officer. "I actually have a foot in various areas," she said. The only part of her job description that she does not do is foreign inspections, more because of transportation logistics than because of her visual impairment.
"The FDA covers foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical products, but in the Philadelphia laboratory, we focus primarily on pharmaceuticals," she explained. "My expertise is in color analysis, to identify the color additives and to determine whether they are permitted for use in the item we find them in or whether an artificial color is being used in a place where only a natural color would be permitted. We see lots of products, especially those coming from overseas, where something may be permitted in the country of origin, but when it comes here, if it's not permitted, we can't allow it to come into our marketplace. We have to stop it at our stage. It can be something frivolous, or it could create a serious hazard."
Interaction with consumers is one of Summers-Gates's favorite parts of her job. Schoolchildren visit, and she goes out to speak to people in industry. As she put it, "I like the personal aspect where you actually get to talk to consumers and tell them why something is important or how they can protect themselves."
According to Summers-Gates, the FDA has been good in accommodating her disability as her needs have changed over the years. She added that it was hard for her managers to envision how she was going to be able to do her job at first, but now they know it is possible. Sometimes people borrow her equipment. For example, if they need something magnified, they put it under her CCTV.
At work, Summers-Gates uses a Telesensory Atlas CCTV that has been modified so she can use it with her microscope. Slides go under the microscope and are then projected onto the screen. A video recorder can be plugged into the CCTV to capture an image—a procedure, Summers-Gates said, that can be useful for sighted employees as well. On her PC, she uses ZoomText for screen enlargement and voice output. She also uses DragonDictate voice-recognition software frequently, since her hands do not work well because of her multiple sclerosis. Summers-Gates uses a Telesurgical bioptic telescope with various lenses that she can take on and off. For fieldwork, she takes a Pocket Viewer CCTV. She also uses a stand-alone speech synthesizer when her speech is not clear because of her multiple sclerosis. "I use a lot of little magnifiers and little tricks that they teach you, such as increasing contrast for things, and a lot of the basic living skills that people learn," she said. "After you've been doing this for a while, you realize that these skills transfer to work; they're not just things you use at home."
Acceptance in the Workplace
At first, her coworkers were leery of Summers-Gates because they had safety concerns. Now there are no problems. As in college, if she needs to manipulate small samples, pour chemicals into a small tube, or weigh a sample, she asks a colleague to do it for her. These operations take only a minute or two, and her coworkers are willing to assist. "They've integrated me into their lives and integrated my tricks of the trade into their lives. We're perfectly fine."
Knitting, crocheting, cooking, and sewing are some of Summers-Gates's favorite pastimes. She likes to do things with her hands.
Words of Advice
"Be persistent. The biggest problem you're going to run into is an attitude barrier. There are ways around any problem; you just have to be creative. You cannot take no for an answer because you'll run into it a lot in the sciences." Summers-Gates noted that some scientists believe that if you do not perform a task in a standard way, then you cannot do it, but that is not true. "Science is really a mindset and how your mind works—how you manipulate the information that you gather."
Summers-Gates is active in the American Chemical Society's Committee on Chemists with Disabilities and invites readers to visit the society's web site <www.membership.acss.org/c/cwd>. Members of the committee provide resources and are happy to answer questions. Professionals in other scientific fields contact them as well. Even if you are not interested in becoming a scientist, the web site is worth visiting.
A Star Is Born
At the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, research scientist David Mehringer writes astronomical software programs. Mehringer was born with glaucoma and has only light perception in his worse eye. When in college at Denison University in Ohio, his vision in his better eye was considerably less than 20/200 with a visual field of 10 degrees. Shortly before he started college, his vision worsened, and he needed to adjust to moving away from home in addition to the vision loss.
"It was difficult for me to adjust to the fact that the first impressions other students formed about me were based on their perceptions of visual impairment," he said. He used a cane, more for identification than mobility, but stopped using it except sometimes at night.
Mehringer was able to find his niche in the physics department, which was small, and there was a lot of interaction between faculty and students. He used a CCTV and books from RFB&D. He then went to the University of Chicago, where he received a Ph.D. in astrophysics in 1993.
Today, at age 39, as a result of some successful surgical procedures, Mehringer's vision is the best it has ever been. Mehringer has a visual acuity of 20/60, with the same 10-degree field of vision, in his better eye. The only mobility aid he requires is a 10X monocular telescope for distance vision.
About six years ago, Mehringer read an advertisement in the American Astronomical Society Job Register for a research associate at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. "I had actually worked at the same place in the past and knew one of the people who was on the search committee. I'm sure that the fact that he knew of my capabilities helped in getting the job," Mehringer said. A year and a half later, he was promoted to his current position.
Mehringer's job is to create new software for astronomy. "Essentially what this means is that I have developed software to archive astronomical data and am currently writing software for the database management system of a new telescope," he explained.
Mehringer particularly welcomes the opportunity to be creative. "Producing good software requires a great deal of creativity," he explained. "I love this aspect of my job. I'm constantly challenged (in a good way) to come up with novel solutions to complex problems. When I can come up with a great solution that no one else has thought of, I find it very rewarding."
Because of his improved vision, Mehringer has not needed special accommodations. He uses relatively large fonts on his computer, which he configures himself.
Acceptance in the Workplace
There aren't any acceptance issues at Mehringer's job. "My coworkers are aware of my visual impairment and never point it out or make an issue of it. They know I'm quite competent at what I do. One coworker is conscientious about it being easier for me to see larger fonts, so when I go to his office to discuss things and have to look at what he is doing on his computer over his shoulder, he is quick to increase the font sizes of the screens he is using. Normally, I don't even have to ask."
Mehringer's hobbies include reading, traveling, and working with computers. "I enjoy computers, from surfing the Web to finding information about anything that happens to pop into my head to creating my own fun programs (which no one else would probably classify as 'fun')." Mehringer also likes gadgets, such as MP3 players and GPS (global positioning satellite) receivers. His wife and he enjoy watching "many of the silly reality-TV shows."
Words of Advice
"A career in science is not for the faint of heart, regardless of your visual acuity. To do well in such a career, one usually needs an advanced degree, which requires many years of intense class work and research. One important consideration to make before you travel too far down this path is what the job prospects will be after you have your degree." Mehringer mentioned that scientists often need to move to a new place to get a job. This is an important consideration for someone who is visually impaired.
"On the flip side, with a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, a career in science can be rewarding. You will find few other professions where you will get paid for coming up with your own ideas about how nature works and for using multimillion-dollar instruments to test these ideas."
Although all of these scientists have different visual acuities, they did not let their visual impairments stand in the way of becoming successful in their chosen fields. Each of these talented individuals also has a sense of humor, and it was a pleasure discussing their careers with them.
[The individuals profiled in this article are all mentors in CareerConnect®, AFB's free online employment planning and mentoring service. Visit CareerConnect to get in touch with a mentor or to become a mentor and to find out about the variety of jobs performed by adults who are blind or visually impaired.]
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More than a Perkins Brailler: A Review of the Mountbatten Brailler, Part 1
The Mountbatten Brailler is not new technology, since it has been available since 1991. But for some reason, even though I have had access to one, I had never taken the time to play around with it. What I had thought of as simply an electronic braillewriter is now so much more. Over the years since its introduction, many features have steadily been added that increase the versatility of the device. This review covers what the Mountbatten does now and what place it may have in the classroom, both for beginners (in Part 1) and for more advanced students (in Part 2).
Out of the Box
The manufacturer provided me with a demonstration model of the Mountbatten Pro. The Pro is the top-of-the-line unit and has the most functionality of the three models that are available (the basic Mountbatten Writer, the Mountbatten Writer Plus, and the Mountbatten Pro). The unit I received also came with a visual read-out device, called the MIMic, and its connection cord. The MIMic, a small box with a screen that connects to the Mountbatten through a serial port, allows a teacher to read visually in print what is brailled on the Mountbatten. Also in the box was a power cord and two additional cables that could be used to connect the unit to peripherals, such as a personal computer.
It was easy to set up the unit with the MIMic attached by following the directions and diagrams in the manual. The various slots are easy to locate and use. The toggle switch to turn on the Mountbatten is in the front left corner, and the toggle switch for the MIMic is on the back of that unit. The MIMic must be turned on separately from the Mountbatten.
At first glance, the Mountbatten looks like a larger and more colorful Perkins Brailler (it is 3.54 inches high by 9.44 inches deep by 17.7 inches wide), with its kid-friendly yellow panel, black keys for the braille dots, and bright blue buttons. The blue buttons are a clue that the Mountbatten does more than just directly emboss braille. The diagrams and text that accompany the unit indicate that while one blue button is the familiar Backspace key, the extra buttons are left and right Function keys, a Command key, and an Enter key. Below the braille keys, where the spacebar is on the Perkins Brailler, are two thin keys—also blue; the right key puts a space between words, and the left key moves the paper to the next line and the embossing head back to the left. Another immediate reminder that the Mountbatten is more than just an electric Perkins Brailler is the voice that greets you with a cheerful "G'day!" when the unit is turned on (the Mountbatten is manufactured in Australia by Quantum Technology). The Mountbatten also announces its battery status and which mode it is in.
Caption: The Mountbatten Brailler looks like a larger and more colorful Perkins Brailler.
Because the Mountbatten has many features that can be confusing for a beginner, when the unit is first delivered, it is in Learn mode and can be used right away as a braille writer. A second mode, Advanced mode, allows you to enter commands by pressing the Command key and a combination of braille keys and the Enter key. I will describe further the advanced features that can be programmed in Part 2 of this article.
I was interested at first in how the Mountbatten compared in the Learn mode—its simplest option—to the familiar Perkins Brailler as it may be used with beginning students. Even in Learn mode, however, the student or teacher can enter commands to add features that can help a beginning braille student, and these commands will be described throughout this article. Commands are easy to turn on and can be turned off by simply entering the command again (which is referred to as a "toggle" feature).
Simple but Helpful Features
As someone who has used the Perkins Brailler, I had trouble putting the paper into the Mountbatten at first—it just felt unfamiliar. For example, the bar that holds the paper in place does not move. I had to slip the paper underneath it, and I found it tricky to put the paper in straight at first. I had also moved the right margin stop well to the right but forgot to move it back. When I loaded the paper and then turned on the machine, the embossing head moved so far to the right (called the Margin Search feature) that it went off the paper. The head crumpled the paper as it moved back toward the center of the machine. It was easy enough for me to fix this problem and to remember from then on to make sure that the right margin was in the correct position. After loading paper in the device a few times, I got the hang of it. It is not difficult—just different.
Once the paper is inserted, the Mountbatten is ready for immediate embossing and behaves reassuringly like the familiar Perkins Brailler, albeit with a different feel. The six braille keys are in the customary position, with keys for braille dots 1, 2, and 3 on the left and keys for braille dots 4, 5, and 6 on the right. The keys are arranged at a slight angle that is more ergonomic than the Perkins Brailler. The keys require only a light touch to press, a helpful feature for young students or those who lack the finger strength to depress the keys on the standard Perkins Brailler. The recorded speech provides instant feedback and reinforcement by announcing the letters that are formed or the names of the keys that are pushed.
There are two speech options: recorded speech and synthetic speech. Recorded speech, which is the default, is a digital recording of a man's voice with an Australian accent, easy to understand even for beginners who are not familiar with talking computers. Synthetic speech, available in Advanced mode, can be manipulated in ways that are familiar to people who use screen-reading software: pitch, rate, quality, and so on. Since new users of synthetic speech often have difficulty understanding it immediately, it makes sense to have the default be recorded speech, even though it is slower than synthetic speech. As users gain speed and accuracy, they can try synthetic speech by using the Command key on the Mountbatten and entering the correct code. The speech can even be turned off entirely with another command. (These are definitely commands that teachers could try with beginners.)
I was interested to notice that in both the Learn and Advanced modes, recorded speech announced the names of the letters, not the contraction or word. For example, if I brailled in the letter "b" and then a space, the Mountbatten said "b space," rather than the word but. It took some getting used to, to hear a question mark referred to as "low h." (In recorded speech, the Mountbatten will say some of the contractions that are key combinations, such as the, wh, and ch.) The teacher or student can hear the contracted braille read by putting the Mountbatten in Advanced mode and then into synthetic speech. This may be a feature that teachers will want to use with beginners who are learning contracted braille, even though it is considered an "advanced" feature.
The MIMic's LCD (liquid crystal display) is designed to show in print what is being brailled on the Mountbatten, a boon for classroom teachers and others who do not know braille but need to give feedback and reinforcement to students as they write. However, the MIMIC displayed the word in its contracted form as a default. For example, if I brailled the contraction part, the Mountbatten announced "dot 5 p," but the MIMic displayed the word part. This is a helpful feature for classroom teachers who do not know braille, but they may not understand why the Mountbatten will announce "w space" but then show the word will on the MIMIC. The teacher of students with visual impairments will need to provide some training to the classroom teacher, paraprofessional, or parent on braille contractions and how they work. The MIMic display can be changed to show a letter-by-letter depiction of what was entered on the Mountbatten by typing in the command for "grade 1" (uncontracted) braille into the Mountbatten. For beginners who are using uncontracted braille or invented spelling, this is a helpful option.
The MIMic turns off automatically after 15 minutes of disuse to save the battery. You have to hit the keys firmly to get it to follow commands. You'll know the MIMic is paying attention to you when you hear it beep. The MIMic that came with my unit accurately displayed the text when it was first turned on. But after the MIMic went into battery-saving mode and then was reactivated, it would not automatically display the text as it was entered in the Mountbatten. I had to keep pushing the Scroll Down button for it to display what I was brailling. It seemed to work better if I turned it off when I was not using it and then turned it back on.
Basic Embossing Features and Options
The Mountbatten leaves five spaces at the end of each line before moving to the next line. I found this irritating at times. For instance, I wrote the word we and then wanted to braille the word can, which would have fit on the same line, but the Mountbatten sent me to the next line instead. Then, when I was brailling quickly and wrote a long word at the end of the line, the Mountbatten hyphenated at the end of the line. I found this feature by accident. Sometimes it would hyphenate correctly (such as "refrig-erator") and sometimes not (such as "Washingt-on" and "chan-ge").
There are two ways to overcome this problem. The easiest is to use the command for Word Wrap, which will have the machine emboss a word only after the spacebar is hit. Then the Mountbatten will judge if there is enough room to put the word on the line or to move to the next line. This is the feature that the Mountbatten representative recommended. A second possibility is to put the Mountbatten in Manual mode. In this mode, the Mountbatten acts more like a Perkins Brailler; you have to hit the Line Down key to move to the next line. This means that you must think ahead to how much space is left at the end of the line or hyphenate the word yourself.
(An aside: When I learned braille on a Lavender Brailler back in the Dark Ages, space saving and maximizing each line was considered important. I wonder if teachers still teach students to do so, now that paper is inexpensive but time is not. Braille readers have gotten used to seeing large spaces at the ends of lines because of computer translation software that does not hyphenate; it simply moves a word to the next line. Also, in word processing with a computer, students are not taught to hit Return at the end of every line as people did with a typewriter. So should students be taught to use the Manual mode of the Mountbatten so they get used to thinking ahead as they braille to maximize the symbols per line? Should they learn to hyphenate and, if so, at what age? Or should teachers not worry about hyphenation anymore and focus instead on just teaching students to write? I am interested in hearing from teachers how they use braille devices to teach the writing process.)
The Mountbatten also erases errors. To erase a symbol, you must hit Backspace and the Correct Letter commands at the same time. The Mountbatten also replaces a letter with a space when you hit the Backspace and the Space keys at the same time. The correction feature is helpful for beginners, although I can imagine that some students will overdo it. I have had students who get so obsessed with correcting mistakes that they would continually erase or cross out their braille, rather than write first and edit later. Luckily, the Mountbatten has an editing feature in its Advanced mode, which will be discussed in Part 2 of this article.
You can control how heavily the Mountbatten impresses the paper. To braille on lightweight paper, you can hit the Command key and the left Function key simultaneously. The Mountbatten will say "down" and emboss a sample full cell. To braille on heavier paper, the Command key and the right Function key are depressed together. The Mountbatten will say "up" and again will emboss a sample full cell. Sometimes you will not want the full cell to appear, so the Embossing mode can be turned off first; the Mountbatten will announce "up" or "down" without the embossed full cell.
For brailling on heavy materials, you can set the Mountbatten to do the Multistrike feature. Any teacher who has tried to label thick file folders or plastic sheets will appreciate this feature. Teachers can also use smaller paper, such as index cards, to make flash cards. If a small piece of paper has been inserted and the Mountbatten cannot sense it, you can set the device to do "no paper operation," which tricks the Mountbatten into embossing on small slips of paper (although I would just use a slate instead). The options available to use different kinds of paper and materials for embossing certainly increase the flexibility of the device and set the Mountbatten apart from other braille writers.
The Graphics mode can be set in Learn mode—this is not an Advanced feature. This mode will create dots that are closer together, apparently with the idea that the teacher can create lines and other simple shapes. However, there was little information in the manual about how to use Graphics mode, other than how to turn it on. By playing around with this mode, I was able to make some unconvincing shapes using commands described in the manual on how to move around the page, such as up and down a column. Apparently, software and a tutorial are available that teach how to use this mode, but I did not have access to these resources to try them out.
One-handed mode is another option available in Learn mode, which would be helpful for students with physical disabilities. To turn on the One-handed mode, press Command, then k and u and Enter. In this mode, you must press the spacebar after each letter (or, to make a space, hit the spacebar twice). When you want to return to regular two-handed mode, you need to remember that it is still in one-handed mode and enter the command as such, which means you must hit k, then space, then u, then space, and then Enter, otherwise it will not toggle off again. The Mountbatten is fairly forgiving of people who do not hit the keys simultaneously, which is helpful for users who have less manual dexterity.
One other feature that teachers may be interested in for beginning braille readers and writers is an Advanced feature for Patterns, a popular braille reading series that is available from the American Printing House for the Blind. There are two ways to use this feature. First, the teacher can set the Mountbatten to speak certain sets of contractions, as they are introduced in Patterns, as the students braille, but not to speak others. Second, people who do not know braille can use the forward-translation feature from a keyboard connected to the Mountbatten, so it will only translate the Patterns contractions the students know and not emboss others. This feature will be described in more detail in Part 2.
Classroom teachers are sometimes concerned about the noise made by braille devices, afraid that they will distract other students. While in my experience, the sounds made my various adaptive devices quickly become part of the general hum of the classroom, there are ways to minimize the noise made by the Mountbatten. The speech can be controlled by turning down the volume (the volume control is on the front of the device), using headphones, or turning off the speech entirely. Controlling the embossing pressure and using lighter-weight paper will also make the Mountbatten quieter to use. The manufacturer suggests putting the device on soft rubber pads, such as two mouse pads, to minimize the noise.
The Mountbatten, like other electronic devices, may not be able to withstand the abuse that a Perkins Brailler can take. Say what you will about the Perkins, it is virtually indestructible. My coworker has seen a Perkins tumble down the stairs and still work. I have seen all kinds of strange things stuck in a Perkins, such as BandAids and once a shirt, yet I was always able to fix it easily.
My Mountbatten unit, on the other hand, had some difficulty after a showdown with my 6-month-old kitten, Lilli. Lilli was fascinated by the device, biting the embosser head, stepping on the keys, and digging around inside the machine. She made it beep alarmingly once, but I simply turned the machine off and then on again (as was recommended by the troubleshooting section of the manual), and it worked. For the most part, the Mountbatten was able to take kitten abuse with no trouble, claws and all, until Lilli grabbed the embossing head and stopped it from moving. The Mountbatten yelled at her repeatedly "braille head error." I turned the unit off to let it sit for awhile, but it still would not emboss and only made a loud beeping noise. By the next day, though, it was fine again and worked with no problem. Catastrophe was averted. (There are also reset commands available for such occasions.) That the Mountbatten was vanquished for several hours by a kitten, however, made me wonder how it could withstand an entire kindergarten class of children with curious fingers.
Caption: Lilli meets the Mountbatten.
I was disappointed with the Mountbatten's manual. I found it hard to follow, and it provided poor directions on how to use the many features that the Mountbatten offers. There were also inconsistencies in how the commands were described. For example, BS + S means "backspace plus the spacebar" not "backspace and the letter 'S'," which was a mistake I made several times. Other commands are shown, such as "spk r," and one has to know to put the space in the command and not type it in all together. So in some cases, the manual uses the letter "S" to indicate a space and in other places, the directions show an actual space. I also looked high and low for the directions on how to turn the Learn and Advanced modes on and off. Luckily, an excellent CD tutorial is available free of charge from Quantum Technologies, and it is well worth the teacher's and parent's time to go through it. The CD not only explains more (and more clearly) about how to use features of the Mountbatten, it allows for practice activities and feedback.
Caption: The Mountbatten Pro offers an array of options and features, including the ability to connect to a QWERTY keyboard, printer, PC, and the MIMic display.
More for More
So for a beginner, the Mountbatten has many features that the Perkins Brailler does not. The ease of depressing the buttons, the device's ergonomic design, its speech reinforcement, its ability to correct errors, and the visual display on the MIMic make it a wonderfully enhanced brailling device. For its high price (see the Product Information section), however, the Mountbatten must be better than just a souped-up Perkins Brailler—and it is. In the Learn mode, you can still set margins, tabs, line spacing, and centering; turn the embossing on and off; and save files to memory. In Part 2 of this article, I will consider the dizzying array of options and features that the Mountbatten Pro offers, such as those just mentioned, as well as forward and backward braille translation; the ability to connect to a QWERTY keyboard, printer, and PC; and the ability to create files that can be stored in the device. These are the capabilities of the device that send it off in the stratosphere compared to the humble Perkins Brailler and make its high price more justifiable.
"We'd like to thank AccessWorld for this review and for Kitten Lilli's groundbreaking work. The issues we'd like to emphasise concern the literacy tasks and outcomes the Mountbatten enables, and these include enhanced opportunities for independent learning through multisensory feedback, increased excitement and motivation to write braille because the Mountbatten is considered "cool," and the integration of technology skills and braille skills from the earliest possible age. Specific skills that are augmented include navigating, formatting, and gaining technology concepts that enhance transition to other devices. The Early Braille Readers Project currently underway at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (see <www.tsbvi.edu/Outreach/seehear/summer04/braille.htm>) has found that all 20 pre-K to Grade 2 students using Mountbattens in the project quickly moved to Advanced mode. The Learn Mode increases the comfort level of teachers.
"Any desired combination of braille grade, speech output, and Mimic display can be selected, so that the needs of each individual student can be met. A free manual written by a teacher of visually impaired students in Canada is available at <www.setbc.org/res/mbpro/default.html> and provides the best guide to taking full advantage of all the Mountbatten's features."
Manufacturer: Quantum Technology, P.O. Box 390, Rydalmere NSW 2116, Australia; phone: 61-2-9684-2077; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.quantech.com.au>.
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>.
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Diabetes Management and Visual Impairment: Are People Aware of Accessible Home Blood Pressure Monitors?
As has been reported in three previous articles in AccessWorld on the accessibility and usability of diabetes self-care devices, diabetes is a serious health concern with a close relationship to vision loss. Because of this close relationship, one would assume that self-care devices would be accessible and that people who are visually impaired could use them independently as part of their diabetes care regimens. However, the three previous articles painted a different picture. The first article, on diabetes technology, in the September 2002 issue, reported that of the roughly 30 blood glucose monitors on the market, only 1 uses modern technology and is accessible, but its price is 10 times that of the inaccessible monitors. In the second article, in the March 2004 issue, none of the insulin pumps that were evaluated was found to be accessible.
The third article, in the September 2004 issue, reported that three accessible home blood pressure monitors (HBPMs) with speech output were taken off the market by their manufacturers because they were not selling. Currently, there are only two HBPMs on the market that use the more accurate upper-arm technology and have speech-output capabilities—the A&D Medical UA-767T (reviewed in the September 2004 article) and the Maxi-Aids Reizen (formerly known as the Shengfu SF860, which was discussed in the sidebar to that article; see the Product Information section of this article for contact information for ordering these monitors).
Caption: Currently, there are only two HBPMs on the market using the most accurate technology that have speech-output capabilities—the A&D Medical UA-767T (top) and the Maxi-Aids Reizen (bottom).
Those of us at AccessWorld and AFB TECH (the American Foundation for the Blind Technology and Employment Center at Huntington, West Virginia) were curious why there are so few options available for people who are visually impaired to manage their diabetes independently. We assumed that because one-third of Americans with diabetes also have some degree of vision loss, manufacturers would be eager to compete for that large market sector. Perhaps manufacturers have simply overlooked this market, but perhaps there is simply not enough demand by people who are visually impaired. We were particularly interested in the case of HBPMs. Why would three of the accessible monitors be taken off the market at a time when research studies and physicians have stated that monitoring blood pressure is as important as monitoring blood sugar for people with diabetes? Are health care providers not passing this information on to people who are visually impaired? Are they not recommending accessible HBPMs? Do they know that accessible HBPMs exist? Is that why there is not enough demand for accessible products?
To try to answer these questions, we created a 16-question survey that was aimed at certified diabetes educators (CDEs), the health care professionals who train individuals in proper diabetes management. The questions were designed to find out if CDEs recommend home blood pressure monitoring and if they were aware of accessible HBPMs for people who are visually impaired. We also asked the readers of our AccessWorld Extra publication to answer these three questions:
- Has a physician or other health care professional ever recommended to you that you take your blood pressure at home?
- Has a physician or other health care professional ever recommended a specific HBPM?
- Have you ever tried to purchase or use an accessible HBPM with voice output?
Once the CDE survey was created and a pilot study was completed, a population of qualified CDEs was established. To ensure that the sample was representative of qualified CDEs, we established contacts from a list of members of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. The sample was modified in an attempt to include specialists in diabetes education of people who are visually impaired. After contacting several clinics and visual impairment rehabilitation and information services, we discovered that there are few CDEs who specialize in caring for people who are visually impaired. To strengthen our sample, we found more qualified individuals with a greater knowledge base through recommendations from rehabilitation services and other diabetes educators.
Overall, 34 diabetes educators were contacted by telephone, usually at the clinics where they worked, in an attempt to create the most qualified sample. Of the 34 CDEs with whom we spoke or left messages, only 9 agreed to complete the survey.
Even though every participant agreed that blood pressure monitoring is an important part of overall diabetes care, five of the nine do not recommend or give out HBPMs. Only one participant recommended a specific brand of HBPM, and she admitted that she did so only because it was a free model that was part of a manufacturer's promotion. The other three participants who recommend home blood pressure monitoring refer their patients to a pharmacist or other professional for recommendations about models. Although all nine participants have had at least minimal experience with patients with diabetes who are visually impaired, only one had received any formal training in adaptive diabetes care education. Three admitted that they usually recommend that their patients who are visually impaired receive help from a sighted person, rather than learn self-care for their diabetes. Six would offer training in the use of HBPMs, but they all agreed that they would like to receive more information and better training in HBPMs themselves.
Of the three readers who responded to our AccessWorld Extra questions, all had been told by their health care professionals to check their blood pressure at home, but none was advised to purchase an accessible HBPM. One reader did purchase an accessible monitor, but he found it on his own, without advice from his health care provider.
The Bottom Line
Our survey of CDEs and the questions we asked AccessWorld Extra readers were informal surveys and do not provide hard scientific evidence. However, they do provide strong anecdotal evidence that health care providers are unaware of the existence of accessible HBPMs. Although they are obviously aware of the importance of blood pressure monitoring for their patients with diabetes, health care providers are not passing that information on to their patients who are visually impaired in an effective manner. Simply telling a person who is visually impaired to monitor his or her blood pressure at home does no good unless an accessible monitor is recommended. Relying on pharmacies to provide these HBPMs is also ineffective because the demand for accessible HBPMs needs to increase before pharmacies will regularly stock them. Currently, accessible HBPMs with speech output are sold only at specialty stores, such as Independent Living Aids and Maxi-Aids.
One particularly disturbing finding was that three of the nine diabetes educators recommended that their patients who are visually impaired get help from a sighted person, rather than learn self-care for their diabetes. Also, several of the educators we contacted said that they were unwilling to participate in the survey because they were inexperienced in working with people who are visually impaired. It seems that diabetes educators experience a level of discomfort in teaching self-care to people who are visually impaired. Their discomfort could inhibit proper diabetes self-care for their patients. A great deal of work goes into properly managing diabetes, and if you have to rely on sighted assistance every step of the way, it will most likely not be done properly. Individuals must take full responsibility for managing their own diabetes, so it is essential that they be able to do so independently.
The findings of our survey point out that there is a large gap between the theory of proper diabetes management and what is actually practiced by the health care professionals who treat people who are visually impaired. There must be both more accessible diabetes management devices on the market and more awareness among health care professionals of what is available. Diabetes educators must also become more comfortable and practiced in teaching self-care to the increasing number of people who are visually impaired who have diabetes. How can someone properly and independently manage his or her diabetes if health care professionals are unaware of how it can be done? If health care professionals were more aware of how to treat and advise their patients who are visually impaired, perhaps these individuals would purchase the few accessible products that are on the market. The pharmaceutical industry might then realize that there is a real demand for accessible products and decide to serve this overlooked market.
We at AFB certainly do not have all the answers to how the knowledge and awareness of health care providers can be improved, but we will continue to work to increase the accessibility of diabetes self-care devices. We always send the results of our product evaluations directly to the manufacturers and ask for their comments. We also publish our results in the medical journal Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics, and we attend the journal's annual conference and present our results at poster sessions. In addition, AccessWorld Solutions, the consulting arm of AFB, is working with manufacturers of diabetes devices to show them how to design their products with accessibility in mind. We also ask that you, our AccessWorld readers, do what you can to help educate your health care providers. Mention to them that accessible self-care devices do exist and that with proper training, people who are visually impaired can indeed manage their own health care independently.
Product: A&D Medical UA 767T
Manufacturer: A&D Medical (Lifesource), 1555 McCandless Drive, Milpitas, CA 95035; phone: 408-263-5333; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.lifesourceonline.com>.
Retail Vendor: Independent Living Aids, 200 Robbins Lane, Jericho, NY 11753; phone: 800-537-2118; web site: <www.independentliving.com>.
Maxi-Aids Reizen Talking Blood Pressure Monitor Kit (formerly called the SF860 by Qingdao Shengfu Electronics Company).
Retail Vendor: Maxi-Aids, 42 Executive Boulevard, Farmingdale, NY 11735; phone: 800-522-6294; web site: <www.MaxiAids.com>.
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On the Move with MuVo
Do you like to have a book or magazine to listen to while you ride the train to work, fold laundry, or work out on a treadmill? Do you sometimes have trouble choosing between carrying a sound recording of the latest romance novel and the music by your favorite band? Technology has certainly made many things possible that were once impossible for people who are blind, but a definite drawback has been the amount of poundage carried on even a brief commute. Thus, for its size and simplicity alone, the MuVo portable audio player from Creative Technology commands attention.
The MuVo is similar in shape and size to a pack of chewing gum or a disposable lighter. In other words, it could sit in a shirt pocket with plenty of room to spare! The MuVo weighs just slightly more than 1 ounce, so it can be worn around the neck and barely be noticed.
Caption: The MuVo's tiny size is a primary advantage.
The MuVo I tested has 128 MB of space for you to store your files—whether they are MP3, WMA, or the proprietary format produced by Audible.com (a commercial online supplier of audio books and programs). For example, the unit I experimented with arrived with a track of brief instructions, a promotional sampling of products (books, magazines, and radio broadcasts) available from Audible.com, and the complete recording of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. From my personal computer, I then added about a half dozen songs (some WMA and some MP3 files) and, just to see how it would sound, converted a book from Web-Braille to an MP3 file using a Kurzweil 1000 and loaded some of the chapters in the MuVo.
All that transferring, incidentally, took about 15 minutes, and a portion of that time was spent browsing Web-Braille, choosing a book, downloading it, creating the MP3 files, and wandering around my music folder to pick fun files to copy to MuVo.
The sound quality ranged from good to excellent, with plenty of volume. I listened to the MuVo only through its stereo earbuds, but it can be connected to a set of speakers as well.
The MuVo has six small, but readily discernible, buttons that are arranged in two rows of three along one long edge of the device. The top row has a Play/Pause button, a button for moving forward, and a button for moving back. The bottom row has a Volume Up button, a Volume Down button, and a Repeat button (which is actually used for several functions.) To begin listening, you press the Play/Pause button for about five seconds. To pause, press the same button briefly, and to stop play altogether, hold the same button again for five seconds. (If neglected for a few minutes, MuVo powers itself off.)
To cycle through the tracks, press the Repeat button once and then use the Forward or Back buttons to move from file to file. When you have found the file you want, press Repeat again. If you stop in the middle of a file, MuVo will pick up where you left off when you turn it on again. The only other tactile occurrences on the unit are the jack for earbuds or speakers and a notch through which a neck cord can be threaded.
As small as it is, the MuVo has two distinct halves. Just pull it apart, and you hold the AAA battery pack in one hand and the "guts" of the player in the other, where the USB (universal serial bus) port is located on the inside edge. To transfer files, simply plug the latter half of the unit into your PC's USB port. Windows Explorer then shows the MuVo as a generic drive (probably E or F, depending on how your PC is set up), and files are easily manipulated as with any other drive. Simply select the files you want to put in the MuVo, copy them, and paste them to the drive where MuVo is connected. Snap MuVo's halves back together, and you're ready to go.
Caption: MuVo pulls apart into two halves to remove the battery pack and upload files.
MuVo can be purchased at some discount and online stores—Wal-Mart <http://www.walmart.com>, Target <http://www.target.com>, or Amazon.com <http://www.amazon.com>—for less than $100. Audible.com is currently offering it free with a 12-month commitment to the Basic AudibleListener plan. If you are not familiar with Audible.com, it is an online commercial service offering more than 23,000 books, several magazines, and popular radio broadcasts for sale. These are commercially recorded human-voice productions, the same ones you would find on the audiocassettes or CDs that you can purchase at a local bookstore. The basic plan costs $9.95 per month and entitles you to one book and one magazine or program each month. If you get the MuVo from Audible.com, Audible's proprietary software for transferring files to the MuVo will be included with the MuVo, plus its accompanying earbuds, extra battery pack, and cassette adapter.
The Bottom Line
A more complex version of MuVo is also available with more memory and for more money. The 256 MB model has an LCD (liquid crystal display) and a dictation option, but it was not evaluated for ease of use by people who are visually impaired. There is no display on the 128 MB MuVo. Its only visual indicator is a light that flashes red or green and is not essential for the smooth operation of the device. For its price, simplicity, and delivery of sound, the MuVo 128 is an excellent product to put in your pocket.
Manufacturer: Creative Technology; U.S. headquarters: Creative Labs, 1901 McCarthy Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; phone: 408-428-6600 or 800-998-1000; web site: <us.creative.com>.
Price: Available from discount and online stores for less than $100. Audible.com <www.audible.com> is currently offering it free with a 12-month commitment to the Basic AudibleListener plan.
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The Assistive Technology Act of 2004
The Improving Access to Assistive Technology for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004, signed into law by President Bush on October 25, 2004, ensures the continued existence of a major source of funding for assistive technology. This is a reauthorization of the Assistive Technology Act that has been on the books since 1998, but its purpose and the related services have not always been apparent or well publicized to the intended recipients. The goal of the act is to provide assistive technology to persons with disabilities, so they can more fully participate in education, employment, and daily activities on a level playing field with other members of their communities. Under the law, each U.S. state and territory receives a grant to fund an Assistive Technology Act Project (ATAP). These projects provide services to persons with disabilities for their entire life span, as well as to their families or guardians, service providers, and agencies and other entities that are involved in providing services such as education and employment to persons with disabilities.
Although the program has been in existence for some time, the new legislation makes significant strides toward providing appropriate assistive technology to every person with a disability who needs it. First, up till now the law expired each year, unless its authorization (or license to continue to do business and to be considered in the annual budget) was renewed. Thus, advocates had to lobby Congress each year for a waiver of these sunset provisions to continue the provisions of the law and to obtain appropriations to fund the programs. Elimination of the sunset provisions represents an important commitment on the part of the federal government and removes a recurring obstacle to services for people with disabilities. Second, the way in which the Assistive Technology Act Projects were created from state to state meant that services and organization varied greatly. The new law is a bipartisan bill, and in drafting the law, representatives of all stakeholders—including consumers, advocates, and industry—worked to make the types of services provided by each state more consistent. In this way, citizens have more consistent, reliable services they can depend on if they move from state to state.
The 56 ATAPs created under the law provide a place where consumers can go for demonstrations of products they may be interested in obtaining, low-cost loans for their purchase, and information and referral on these products. Your state ATAP is the place to go to comparison shop before buying a screen magnifier, adapted personal digital assistant, or braille printer. If traveling to the location of the ATAP is a problem, arrangements can be made to ship equipment to you for a trial period.
States are to provide, either through the funding under this act or other sources, alternative financing for the purchase or lease of equipment, training and technical support for equipment, short-term loans of equipment, referrals for repairs and servicing of equipment, demonstration of equipment, and referrals for evaluation and assessment related to the selection and integration of appropriate assistive technology. Examples of entities that ATAPs need to work with include centers for independent living, hospitals, rehabilitation agencies, so-called one-stop offices (which were created to help persons with disabilities find employment under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998), and educational agencies.
Funding is made available for each state to provide legal assistance to consumers with disabilities on issues related to services provided by state and territory ATAPs. Thus, persons with disabilities who believe that they have been unjustly denied services by their state ATAPs may appeal the decisions or receive other legal assistance. Although various states were providing some of these services already, under the new legislation all states need to provide all of them in some manner.
In addition, there is a provision for discretionary funding for research and development projects, such as establishing standards for the interoperability of information technology and assistive technology and researching technical solutions to known problems or barriers. Funding for such projects will become available after Congress increases appropriations to more than $165,000 above the base funding. Universities, governmental agencies, commercial businesses, and nonprofit organizations will be eligible for this funding.
Current ATAP Activities
The level and the types of activities already undertaken by the various ATAPs have varied from state to state because of the way the programs are organized as well as variation in funding levels and the number of years that the programs have been in existence. In the state of Washington, for example, the program was instrumental in providing accessible technology for persons with disabilities to use when they obtained services from their state's one-stop offices. In Missouri, persons with disabilities can receive training in the use and integration of assistive technology and, in turn, obtain jobs to train other persons with disabilities to use computers to do basic word processing and surf the web. In Virginia, people have received assistance to make their homes accessible and to purchase vans and other equipment to enable them to return to work after they have become disabled. In Delaware, a music teacher with a visual impairment was able to retain her job in the school system by obtaining and receiving training on the use of software to enable her to read and grade her students' compositions.
Your State ATAP and You
Each state or territory must establish an advisory committee to determine the priorities and policies of its ATAP. These advisory committees must have a majority of persons representing the disability community, either through representation of an organization involved with disabled persons or by disabled individuals themselves. Consumers, professionals, and family members can ask to serve on an advisory committee in order to influence policy decisions that have an impact on them. Members are not paid for their work, but they may be reimbursed for expenses related to their service on the advisory committee.
These centers have become almost the only alternative, other than direct arrangements with manufacturers, to go for financial assistance with the extremely high prices of assistive technology. If you are considering the purchase of assistive technology, it pays for you to visit the center in your state, in person or on the Web. This will help you to become an informed consumer and make a better selection of assistive technology that fills your particular needs. If your state's ATAP has a newsletter, get on the mailing list to keep informed about policies and programs that may benefit you.
For More Information
For further information, go to the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs web site <www.ataporg.org/stateatprojects.asp>, which has a complete list of the state ATAPs, including contact information, and web sites. For an analysis of the act, go to the following web sites: <www.resna.org/taproject/at/connections.html>, <www.ittatc.org>, <www.assistivetech.net> (for information on technology), and <http://Thomas.loc.gov> and search for either H.R. 4278 or Assistive Technology Act. The American Foundation for the Blind will post an analysis of the act in the near future on its web site <www.afb.org>.
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Ad Blocker Compatible with Screen Readers
SuperAdBlocker.com recently announced that its product for stopping pop-up ads has been enhanced to work compatibly with Window-Eyes. The company says that work has been done in collaboration with GW Micro, ensuring Super Ad Blocker's compatibility with Window-Eyes. Although other screen readers are not specifically referenced, a recent announcement says: "Super Ad Blocker is screen-reader aware and automatically configures itself for optimum performance when a screen reader is detected."
The program is designed to avoid pop-up, pop-under, spyware, and adware interference, while providing descriptive text in options in all screens. A 30-day trial version is available. For more information, contact SuperAdBlocker.com: phone: 541-607-6553; web site: <www.superadblocker.com>.
New Hands-Free Reading Device for People with Low Vision
Pulse Data has released myReader, a new automatic reading device which, the company says, represents the most significant breakthrough in 30 years in reading technology for people who are visually impaired. Unlike traditional video magnification devices, which require the user to read line by line and move the material to get to the next set of text, myReader captures an image of the document on the reading surface and, within three seconds, rearranges the text to appear on the monitor according to the user's preferences. Text can be displayed in three different formats, or modes—paragraph (column layout), as a continuous horizontal line (row layout), or one word at a time—with a variety of color combinations. Users navigate around a document with the control panel instead of having to physically move the document. The text can also be set to scroll automatically for hands-free operation. For more information, contact: Pulse Data HumanWare: Phone: 866-773-2337 or 925-680-7100; web site: <www.myreader.com> or <www.pulsedata.com>.
Lower Priced Braille Displays
"Our customers told us that they wanted a more ergonomic control layout, a braille display that felt like paper, and lower prices," commented Dr. Lee Hamilton, CEO of Freedom Scientific, in the company's recent announcement of its newest refreshable braille displays. With the Focus 40 and Focus 80 (a 40-cell and 80-cell braille display, respectively), the company believes those issues have all been favorably addressed. The displays are described as offering smooth, seamless braille that feels more like paper, a comfortable arrangement of controls for the hands, and the lowest prices to date for such products. At $3,495 for the Focus 40 and $6,995 for the Focus 80, the displays are priced 35% lower than the industry average for similar products. For more information, contact: Freedom Scientific: Phone: 800-444-4443; web site: <www.freedomscientific.com>.
Personalized Electronic Assistance for Crossing the Street
You've heard of audible pedestrian signals that buzz or tweet to indicate when the light has changed at a pedestrian crosswalk. Maybe you've even heard about white canes that talk or talking signs that transmit directional information. But a new device developed in Japan just might do it all. Tadayoshi Shioyama and Mohammad Uddin, from the Kyoto Institute of Technology in Japan, have developed a system that is able to detect the presence of a pedestrian crosswalk, determine the width of the crossing, and announce when the traffic light has changed. All necessary technology is housed in a single camera mounted on spectacles that would be worn by the pedestrian. Information is delivered via synthesized speech through a small speaker located near the ear. The development, the culmination of a research project, was announced in Measurement Science and Technology, published by the Institute of Physics, headquartered in London. To learn more, go to <www.iop.org/journals/mst>.
Time-Limited Offer to Benefit National Braille Press
In a collaborative effort to promote braille literacy, National Braille Press, a leading publisher of braille materials for blind children and adults, and Optelec USA's blindness products division have teamed up for a win-win offer to customers visiting either site. By following the links from the Highlights section of the National Braille Press site, customers purchasing Optelec's blindness products can receive a 10% discount until January 31, 2005. Optelec will then donate the same 10% to National Braille Press. For more information, go to <www.nbp.org> or <www.optelec.com>.
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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: <email@example.com>; 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: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; 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: <email@example.com>; 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 Missouri Assistive Technology Project, 4731 South Cochise, Number 114, Independence, MO 64055; phone: 816-350-5288; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; 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: <email@example.com>; 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: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; 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: <email@example.com>; 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>.
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