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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2005 Issue  Volume 6  Number 2

Editor's Page

In some cases, there must be major differences between products developed for the mainstream market and products developed specifically for people who are blind or visually impaired. Of course, someone who cannot see the text and graphics on a computer monitor needs a screen reader or screen magnifier, products that require major development efforts, to access the information. However, someone who wants to download audio from the Web, carry around a small device that plays music and other audio files to be enjoyed anywhere or wants a usable cell phone should not have to be limited to an adapted device that costs 10 or 100 times more than a similar mainstream product.

The best solutions are products developed with accessibility built in from the beginning. Apple's iPod audio player, the most popular player on the general market, could easily be made accessible. Sighted consumers can live with the absence of any search capability, because they can quickly scroll visually through dozens or hundreds of songs or use a mouse to create playlists of the songs they listen to most often. The software used to load audio from your computer and CD collection into the iPod can be somewhat accessible since its menus can be accessed from the keyboard, but a mouse is required to drag and drop songs into a playlist.

People who are blind or visually impaired need audio prompts from the iPod, and accessible software to download and arrange audio, as well as to use the extras offered by the iPod, such as a clock, alarm, and calendar. Currently, Apple is losing part of a growing number of potential users who cannot see the iPod's small screen or manipulate a mouse. We hope that the review of the iPod in this issue will help to convince Apple to create an accessible audio player and give people who are blind or visually impaired access to all that their sighted peers are currently enjoying.

The Apple iPod unit that I tested for this article can store 20 gigabytes of data, is very small, and has very few controls. It is possible for a person who is blind or visually impaired to use both the iPod and the iTunes software that transfers audio from your computer to your iPod. This article describes the accessibility problems you should be aware of before you buy.

Deborah Kendrick writes about Audible.com, a source of spoken audio online since 1997. Subscribers can download a vast variety of books, periodicals, radio broadcasts, and more in a proprietary file format. Audible.com staff have also been refreshingly responsive to needs of customers who are blind or visually impaired. Join us for a visit to Audible.com, and get hooked on a book or keep up with your favorite National Public Radio show.

Carol Farrenkopf, Coordinator of Toronto District School Board Vision Services, reviews two flat-panel desktop CCTVs--the Eclipse from Ash Technologies and the ClearView Flex from the Tieman Group. Many users prefer the look and size of a desktop CCTV that has a significantly thinner monitor than those found on other CCTVs. A variety of users familiar with using a desktop CCTV for reading and writing tested both units. Find out what these users thought of both products.

Darren Burton of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), presents a summary of the options currently available to cell phone users who are blind or visually impaired. The article covers both off-the-shelf phones designed with speech output capability built in, and phones with the Symbian operating system, which allows for the installation of third-party applications, including screen-reading and screen magnification software. Information on pricing and where to find the phones and the service providers that carry them is included. Read this concise summary of the state of cell phone accessibility, and count on AccessWorld for more evaluations as phones come and go and accessibility improves.

Deborah Kendrick writes about the creation of training materials to assist computer users who are both deaf and blind by the Iowa Department for the Blind's Project ASSIST with Windows. Most training materials available currently rely on speech commands in order to do what needs to be done. The Iowa tutorials focus on how to use Windows, a screen reader, and Microsoft Word, Excel, and other applications exclusively with a braille display. Read about the process of creating these tutorials, and learn how they have helped some users.

Frances Mary D'Andrea, Director of AFB's Literacy Center in Atlanta, presents Part 2 of a review of the Mountbatten Brailler, an electronic braillewriter and printer used mainly in schools. In this article, D'Andrea discusses the Mountbatten's ability to both translate and emboss documents in braille that were entered in print and to back translate documents from braille to print; the Braille Exception Table, which allows teachers to use only those braille contractions that a student has already learned; and the unit's ability to save files to be embossed again later. Read more about this underutilized classroom tool.

Deborah Kendrick reports on the sixth annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference, held on January 19-22 in Orlando, Florida. The ATIA conference continues to grow, and this year featured more sessions of interest to people who are blind or visually impaired, as well as many new products. We were encouraged to find that this year's conference was more accessible than previous ones have been. Learn about what we found in the exhibit hall and conference sessions.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

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Copyright © 2005 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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