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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

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Letters to the Editor

Do the iPods Have It? A Review of Apple's iPod

They are everywhere, but are they accessible? We examine Apple's ubiquitous audio player--Jay Leventhal

A Site for Sore Ears: A Review and Tour of Audible.Com

You can download all things audio and listen to them anywhere--Deborah Kendrick

Thin and Sleek: A Review of Two Flat-Panel Desktop CCTVs

Many users prefer the look and size of flat panel monitors. We review two new offerings from this new breed of CCTVs--Carol Farrenkopf

You Get to Choose: An Overview of Accessible Cell Phones

Suddenly you need help sorting through several choices shopping for an accessible cell phone. Who you gonna call? AccessWorld!--Darren Burton

The Touch That Means So Much: Training Materials for Computer Users Who Are Deaf-Blind

The Iowa Department for the Blind's Project ASSIST with Windows has created tutorials for an often-neglected group of users--Deborah Kendrick

More Than a Perkins Brailler: A Review of the Mountbatten Brailler, Part 2

Think you know everything that Mountbatten Brailler in the closet can do? Dust it off and read the second part of our in-depth review--Frances Mary D'Andrea

ATIA 2005

While most of the country was in a deep freeze, this conference offered new and updated products, networking opportunities, and a major merger--Deborah Kendrick

AccessWorld News


Editor in Chief Jay Leventhal
Contributing Editors Paul Schroeder, Founding Editor
Deborah Kendrick, Senior Features Editor
Crista Earl
Mark Uslan
Managing Editor Ellen Bilofsky
Associate Editor Rebecca Burrichter

AccessWorld® is published bi-monthly 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.

All rights reserved. Copyright © 2005 American Foundation for the Blind.

AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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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Letters to the Editor

Action from Assistive Technology Act

For over a year now I have been working with my state services for the blind to get some badly needed equipment for my little business. They put me through three years of school to learn this trade. Even though I am now totally blind, I did very well and was able to keep up and do everything the fully sighted students did. But have I been successful at obtaining $1,300 of measuring equipment for my machines that are absolutely necessary? Well, the blunt answer is "Hell no!"

I was able to finance $7,000 worth of good mostly used equipment that I now have but cannot use very well because the lathe and milling machine aren't equipped with measuring instruments. It's like trying to be a carpenter without a tape measure. My bank says my business plan is good, but I have reached the limits of my ability to finance anything else for several months.

However, it looks like the loan program described in "The Assistive Technology Act of 2004" (AccessWorld, January 2005) will move up the timetable as to when I can purchase the digital measuring instrument and a bearing press I need to be fully set up for officially opening my doors.

Bernie Vinther

Editor's Note:

Good luck with your business. AccessWorld is thrilled that our article played a part in getting you started.

Best Buys

First, I love your magazine and the fact it is not just a promotion of products by one vendor. I have a question and a suggestion.

The question is, after reviewing numerous cell phones and supporting adaptive software, is there a top contender and a best buy? In other words, which cell phone is already most user friendly for a totally blind user without buying separate blindness software, and then which of these would be considered a "best buy"—the most accessible features for a reasonable price? In addition, which package of separate adaptive software is also best in providing the greatest number of adaptive features, and then which of the software packages is a "best buy" and provides a technological solution for the most reasonable price? Finally, which package works well with the most off-the-shelf cell phones?

Now for the suggestion. Perhaps you could provide a Buyers Guide for the holidays, mentioning the "best buys" in each category of hardware and software reviewed by the AccessWorld team so far, or recapping the best quality results during the past year for your readers. This could spur competition for the blindness market, and even encourage vendors to offer competing holiday specials to promote their products. If the vendors knew in advance this was a biannual or annual feature of Access World, they might vie to be on that "top quality" or "best buy" list by reducing prices and paying more attention to quality control.

Donna Ring

Editor's Note:

We seem to be on the same wavelength. Regarding your question, see" You Get to Choose: An Overview of Accessible Cell Phones," in this issue. As for your suggestion, AccessWorld has some similar initiatives under consideration.

Ideas about Braille Displays

I enjoyed the articles about cell phone access and refreshable braille in the November 2004 issue. I would like to share a couple of ideas. First, some European displays like the ones from Handy Tech and Papenmeier are available and supported here in the U.S. I got a Papenmeier two-dimensional display about 10 years ago. New distributors have taken over this product and are doing a good job. The Papenmeier displays work with JAWS and perhaps other screen readers. I use the 2D display which has the unique feature of having a second vertical braille display which shows which lines of the screen have text. It might be a good idea to have a review of this product and a discussion of the other Papenmeier displays.

Second, it might be a good idea to have another article discussing the possible future of refreshable braille. It is an interesting paradox that more and more products come to market though the prices of refreshable braille cells haven't decreased. I have read many announcements from various companies that they were working on low-cost solutions but none of these initiatives have resulted in new products. Is there anything consumers can do to get manufacturers to do research and develop new products? A related issue is the use of refreshable displays to show graphics. I would appreciate it if companies were more honest and wouldn't make announcements about breakthrough technology until there are real products available on the market instead of false promises.

Keep up the good work. I think the web version of AccessWorld offers many advantages.

Dan TeVelde

Editor's Note:

The LG VX 4500 phone from Verizon Wireless is mentioned in "You Get to Choose: An Overview of Accessible Cell Phones" in this issue, and will be evaluated in a future issue of AccessWorld.

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Product Evaluation

Do the iPods Have It? A Review of Apple's iPod

Few items were hotter as gifts this past holiday season than Apple's iPod audio player. This article evaluates the accessibility of this omnipresent little device. Portable devices that play music and other audio in MP3 format—in which audio is compressed into a file about one-twelfth the size of the original, while preserving the level of sound quality when it is played—have been around for years. The iPod has grabbed more than 60% of the current audio player market because of its small size, ease of use by the general public, and all the features that are packed into it.

Physical Description

The iPod measures 4 inches by 2 inches by .5 inches and weighs 5.6 ounces. It is a smooth, white rectangular device with only a few controls. (Accessories, such as cables and the AC adapter are also white.) On the front of the iPod, near the bottom, is the Click Wheel. This round, textured wheel is the unit's main control. In the middle of the Click Wheel is the raised Select button. On the iPod's bottom surface is a proprietary port, used for connecting to both a computer and to the unit's AC adapter. On the top of the iPod are, from right to left, the Lock/Unlock switch, a standard earphone jack, and a port for attaching a remote control. The remote control lets you operate the iPod's controls while the unit is in your pocket, for example, when you are working out at a gym.

The iPod and earbuds, with display screen menu showing Music, Extras, Settings, Shuffle Songs, and Backlight.

Caption: The iPod.

The iPod has a 2-inch diagonal LCD (liquid crystal display) with a blue-white LED (light-emitting diode) backlight and 160 x 128 pixel resolution. There is a battery gauge in the upper-right corner of the display that is not accessible to anyone who cannot read the screen. The iPod plays AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), MP3, Audible, AIFF, Apple Lossless, and WAV format files. The unit runs on a built-in, rechargeable lithium ion battery that will eventually need to be replaced. There is no external speaker. The iPod that was tested for this article had a 20-gigabyte storage capacity.

Getting Started

Documentation for the iPod is on the installation CD. There is a Read Me file in Microsoft Word format and a user's guide and tutorial in portable document format (PDF). Even when Adobe Reader 7.0 was used, the user's guide was not accessible. Some basic questions and answers about how to operate the iPod can be found at the web site <www.ipod.com>.

Using the iPod

The Click Wheel is the key to using the iPod. While a song is playing, gently moving a finger on the Click Wheel clockwise increases the volume, and moving a finger counterclockwise lowers the volume. The Click Wheel is sensitive, so it is easy to accidentally raise the volume dramatically. To skip to the next song, press the Click Wheel at the 3 o'clock position. To skip to the previous song, press the Click Wheel at the 9 o'clock position. To skip ahead or back within a song, press and hold the Wheel at the 3 o'clock or 9 o'clock position, respectively. To stop or pause, press the wheel at the 6 o'clock position.

You turn the iPod off by holding down the Click Wheel for a few seconds at the 6 o'clock position. A click heard through the headphones indicates that the unit is turned off. When the iPod is turned off, pressing down at the 6 o'clock position once turns the unit on with the music paused, and pressing it a second time in the same place starts the music playing where you left off.

Pressing the wheel at the 12 o'clock position is equivalent to moving back one level in the menu structure. So, if you get lost within the menus, you can press the Click Wheel at the 12 o'clock position several times to return to the main menu. The iPod itself provides no audible feedback, except for the clicks of the Click Wheel.

Where's the Music?

You load music from your computer into the iPod using Apple's iTunes software. The Windows version of iTunes will run only with Windows XP Home, Windows XP Professional, or Windows 2000. The software is easy to install. iTunes searches for and imports music from your computer and can take music from a CD in your collection and convert it to another format for importing to the iPod. You then connect your iPod to one of your computer's USB (universal serial bus) ports using the cable that is provided. Your computer recognizes the iPod, and the iTunes software begins transferring music to the iPod. You should not disconnect the iPod from the computer until the iTunes software displays a message indicating that it is safe to do so.

Unfortunately, the iTunes software is only somewhat accessible, although the latest version is an improvement over the version that I originally tested. The File, Edit, View, Actions, and Help menus can now be accessed from the keyboard, whereas it was previously necessary to click on them using a mouse or a screen reader's mouse keys. Menu options are read as you navigate using the arrow keys. There is no keyboard access to the rest of the iTunes screen. You must read the entire screen with a screen-reader command or use screen-reader mouse commands.

The main section of the iTunes screen is split into two parts. Across the top line are the following headings: Source, Song Name, Time, Artist, Album, Genre, My Rating, and Play Count. You can add headings by adjusting the settings in the iTunes menus. Below this line, iPod categories are listed in a column on the left: Library, Radio, Music Store, Recently Played, and so forth. To the right of these categories is a list of songs that have already been imported into iTunes.

All editing of iPod audio is done on your computer using the iTunes software. To delete a song from your iPod, right click or use your screen reader's right click command on the song in the list that is shown on the iTunes screen and select Clear from the menu that appears. The next time that you connect the iPod to your computer, that song will be deleted from the unit.

There is no speech access to menus or navigation while you are actually using the iPod. It is possible to start with the first artist alphabetically and hit Next Song repeatedly, which will move you through all the songs by the first artist, all the songs by the second artist, and so on. However, this is not a practical method once you have loaded hundreds of songs.

Photo of a young man with an iPod.

Caption: Shuffling around with the iPod. Most features are accessible, though you may have to scroll through a lot of songs to find the one you want.

True to its name, the iPod's Click Wheel makes audible clicks when it is turned on and no song is playing. So, another way to navigate is to press the Click Wheel several times at the 12 o'clock position, the equivalent of a Back button, to make sure that you are in the main menu. Then, as you move the Click Wheel clockwise, the first click is Music, the first item in the iPod's main menu. It is possible to customize the iPod's menu structure. To choose Music, press the Select button. Subsequent clicks, assuming that you or a sighted friend or relative have not reconfigured the choices, bring you to the following: (2) Artist, (3) Albums, (4) Songs, (5) Genres, and (6) Composers. If the iTunes software had access to a song's composer or genre from the original CD or from iTunes' online database when it loaded the songs, it will import Beethoven's Fifth Symphony into Classical under Genres, for example.

Another way to hear your music is to turn the Click Wheel clockwise until you hear three clicks, which puts you in Shuffle mode. Press the Select button, and the iPod will select and play songs randomly.

The iPod lets you create playlists, so you can hear certain songs in a particular order. Otherwise, you must scroll through dozens or even hundreds of songs to find the song that you want, since there is no search function and no keyboard or keypad to use to type the name of a song into the iPod. The method of creating playlists involves dragging names of songs from the list in iTunes and pasting them into a playlist. This operation will be inaccessible to almost all users of screen readers.

The Bottom Line

The iPod can hold an amazing amount of music as well as audio books. The documentation states that you can increase the rate of speech when listening to an audio book, but that feature was not used successfully during this evaluation. The iTunes software is only somewhat accessible. However, if you set iTunes to load all the music into its library, everything that is loaded will be transferred to the iPod the next time the unit is attached to your computer.

The iPod is accessible to a person who is blind or has low vision, especially someone with patience. It is more expensive than other MP3 players that are on the general market. However, the amount of music that the iPod can hold and the fact that the music can be accessed make it worth considering for people who are visually impaired.

Product Information

Product: iPod.

Manufacturer: Apple Computer, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; phone: 408-996-1010, Customer Relations: 800-767-2775; web sites: <www.apple.com/itunes> or, for iPod service and support <www.apple.com/support/ipod>.

Price: $299 with 20 gigabytes of hard-disk space; $499 with 40 gigabytes of hard-disk space.

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Untangling the Web

A Site for Sore Ears: A Review and Tour of Audible.Com

Sherry Gomes said that she used to dream of being locked in a library overnight—a library where all the books were accessible to a blind person. Today, Gomes, an access technology trainer in Colorado, has found, as have many other blind people, that through a variety of sources, they no longer have the problem of wanting a book and having nothing available to read. Certainly, there are a number of sources that make books in recorded and digital formats, especially for people who are blind. But Audible.com did not have blind people in mind when it went live in 1997. Its target audience was the busy on-the-go executive—the professional who wanted to listen to books, newspapers, and trade periodicals in transit, absorbing information while accomplishing other tasks like driving a car, sitting on an airplane, or waiting for a train. The happy coincidence is that a few people who are blind discovered the site when it was new and found a staff that was genuinely interested in making the product more friendly to blind people. The result is a source of audio books that are available 24 hours a day—books to suit every reading taste and are available at a reasonable price.

What Is Audible?

Audible.com began the unique business of providing spoken audio online in 1997. By mid-2000, the company had formed an alliance with Random House to provide that publisher's digital audio books (available in bookstores and libraries on audiocassettes and CDs) as downloadable files. Early offerings were audio compilations of news and some broadcasts. Today, the site offers a wide assortment of books, periodicals, radio broadcasts, and miscellaneous special features. Books of every category are available, from classics to best-sellers, including mysteries, fantasies, classical literature, and every type of nonfiction. The titles that are offered are both abridged and unabridged and, best of all, are offered at prices that are lower than are those that retail bookstores charge for the same titles in audio formats.

What Audible.com categorizes as "subscriptions" includes a variety of periodicals and radio broadcasts. You can sign up, for example, for a month or year of the National Public Radio program "Morning Edition," "Fresh Air," or "Marketplace," and it will be delivered daily to your My Library section on Audible.com. Jim Kutsch, who became a huge fan of Audible.com in 2000 (and is the author of an introductory article about Audible.com that appeared in the January 2003 issue of AccessWorld) said that what initially hooked him was the fact that the offerings are current.

"As a professional," said Kutsch, vice president of strategic technology for Convergys Corp., "I needed to talk about the same new books that my colleagues were talking about on airplanes, before meetings, and at conferences." He was especially excited about daily newspapers. Four years ago, when he had a 45-minute commute to work each day, he found that, for the first time, he was able to scan the same morning newspaper as his print-reading colleagues. At 6:30 a.m., the daily Wall Street Journal (an excerpted audio version of the same day's print publication) is available online to Audible.com subscribers. Kutsch would download it to his portable handheld player and listen to it on the way to work. "For the first time," he said, "I was the one to say, 'Hey, take a look at that article about Ford Motor or IBM.'"

In just four years, the Audible.com collection has grown dramatically. Today, subscribers can enjoy their favorite radio broadcasts—news, interviews, comedy, and other types of entertainment—on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. The magazines that are available cover such categories as business, technology, science, and finance. If you enjoy sampling a variety of content, the Basic Listener membership ($14.95 a month) allows you to choose one book and one subscription each month. Since all books and all subscriptions are included in this program, this option works well. John Grisham's newly released The Broker (unabridged, 11-plus hours of reading) costs $34.97 if you buy it outright; Bob Dylan's new memoir Chronicles, Volume One, costs $18.20; and Maya Angelou's Hallelujah! The Welcome Table (unabridged) costs $13.97. Book prices range from $5 to $40, but most seem to be in the $12 to $22 range. You could select any book for your monthly selection and add, say, a month of Harvard Business Letter (regularly $6.95), Jazz Time ($4.95), or the daily broadcasts of "Fresh Air" for one month ($12.95). Then, of course, you can purchase any additional books or subscriptions at their stated prices. For those who prefer books to other audio content, the Premium Listener Option allows you to choose two books per month for $21.95 per month.

Other Content

In addition to books, periodicals, and radio broadcasts, there are other types of content, so-called Audible Originals, to enjoy. Would you like to learn Spanish? Hear interviews with Robin Williams? Or listen to audio reenactments of the "Twilight Zone"? In addition to these rich offerings of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry, Audible.com introduced its "Free Audio" section in March 2004. The first of these offerings was the public testimony before the 9/11 Commission, followed by President Bill Clinton's address to Book Expo America, the U.S. presidential and vice presidential debates, and other political broadcasts. All these downloads are listed under the heading Free Audio and, accordingly, show up with a $0.00 price in the Shopping Cart.

How Does It Work?

The basic principle behind Audible.com is to make spoken audio materials available online and charge a fee for downloads. To make this idea profitable, the company encrypts files in such a way that you need the company's special software, AudibleManager, to open them on the computer or an "Audible-Ready" portable device to listen to them on the go. In the beginning, there was only one such player—the Mobile Player from Audible.com, followed by the Otis. Today, a few dozen compatible players are listed on the Audible.com site, and that list does not include some devices that were especially designed for people who are visually impaired that have also been enabled to play Audible.com's files.

Even though the site is one of the most friendly commercial sites for people who are blind that I have ever visited, getting started is not entirely a piece of cake. As one long-time user who is blind, Dan Rossi, a programmer for Carnegie Mellon University, put it: "I can just about guarantee you that at some point you will think that Audible is not worth the trouble. It will drive you nearly to tears." Although I did not find the process quite as daunting as did Rossi, there is admittedly a learning curve at the beginning, with a number of sometimes odd steps to get the books playing.

The process is like this: When you begin buying books, the software, AudibleManager, is installed on your computer. On the site itself, as you browse titles, you can mark a book or subscription to be added to your Wish List or to your Shopping Cart. When you proceed to the checkout and pay for the items, they are then placed in what is called My Library. From there, the books or other audio content can be stored as "New," "Heard," or "Archived." Once you get the hang of it, these concepts are all excellent ways to organize your Audible.com materials, but the process can be a bit confusing at first.

Once you have purchased a title, it is yours to download as many times as you want to and remains permanently stored in your library unless you get rid of it. To read the book, you select it from your library, click the Get It Now button, choose a format, and download it to your computer. Most titles are available in four different formats, ranging in quality from Format 1, which is of the poorest quality and takes the smallest amount of space, to Format 4, which is of an excellent quality and thus is the largest file. Downloaded materials go directly to AudibleManager's Inbox on your PC, where they remain ready for you to listen to in whatever manner you choose.

AudibleManager may be a little confusing at first, too. The menus may be troublesome initially, but there are shortcuts to most functions for users of screen readers that ultimately make it a friendly environment. I also found it helpful to turn on the sound effects in AudibleManager, which gave me constant confirmation with various musical sequences of what was going on.

Getting to the Book

All this, incidentally—from buying a book to hearing its opening words—takes less than five minutes once you have done it a few times. So, now that you have that best-seller on your PC, how do you listen to it?

Audible.com provides three options. The first option is to listen to the book on your PC. The second option—and the one that is used by most customers, blind or sighted, with whom I have spoken—is to transfer the book or program to a portable player. The third option is to burn the book onto CDs.

Listening on Your Computer

If you want to listen to books and other programs on your computer, AudibleManager gives you the option of listening with Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, or Audible's own Desktop Player (a free plug-in). To use the Desktop Player, you simply choose it from the Tools menu in AudibleManager, and it will be downloaded from the site. There are simple keyboard shortcuts to play, pause, fast forward, and rewind by entire sections or small increments. Books and periodicals are always divided into sections, which facilitates navigating a large amount of material. Sometimes the sections are chapters or articles, and sometimes they are just chunks of narration divided into reasonably consistent segments. With the Desktop Player, you can download a book or program, begin listening immediately, stop if you need to, and easily locate your place later.

Portable Players

The ability to download a book or several books, along with, say, a few news programs, a magazine, and a comedy routine, into one handheld player is the aspect of Audible.com that attracts the most customers. In July 2000, when the AudibleListener program was launched, Audible.com offered the Otis player free of charge as an incentive to sign up. Today, it offers the Creative Labs MuVo MP3 player (reviewed in the January 2005 issue of AccessWorld) free of charge to new listeners. If you already have a MuVo or do not want that player, you can instead deduct $100 from the price of an Apple iPod, HP iPaq, Dell Axim Pocket PC, Gateway Jukebox Player, or a number of other mainstream handheld players. Storage ranges from the 128 megabytes in the free version of the MuVo to 40 gigabytes in some Apple iPods. The advantage of the MuVo, other than that it is free of charge, is that it is the only one of the commercial handheld players that is entirely accessible to a blind user. In addition to the Otis, which is no longer available, and the MuVo, many customers who are blind have found success using the Rio 500. Along with this growing collection of commercially available handheld players that are compatible with Audible.com files, a growing number of devices that are designed for people who are visually impaired now include Audible.com file compatibility. Among these devices are the Book Port, BookCourier, and Freedom Scientific's PAC Mate.

Putting It On a Disk

If you want to listen to your book on a portable or car CD player, Audible.com makes that option easy, too. An easy-to-use feature from AudibleManager is the option to burn the book or program to CDs. The process is straightforward and simple, informing you how many disks will be required, telling you when to put in the next blank disk, and printing the proper labels.

Getting Help

The first thing you will notice when you log on to Audible.com is the frequency with which you hear the phrase "Click here to jump to the body of this page." Navigating Audible's site, however, was not always so welcoming to screen readers as it is today. Mary Otten, a long-time Audible listener who is blind, said that when she started to use the service in 1999 or 2000, she gave up because it was too difficult. Today, she is a frequent and happy customer.

That transition did not happen by magic. Jim Kutsch and other users who are blind provided ample feedback to the Audible.com staff. The perhaps-unusual element in the process is how willing and eager the company has been to cooperate. Not only has the company made use of a few outside consultants to render the web site more friendly to blind visitors, but Audible.com's employees have taken an interest in understanding more about screen readers and the obstacles that blind users may encounter. "There are a number of my coworkers who work on making the site more accessible to blind and vision-impaired listeners," explained Jonathon Korzen, director of public relations for Audible.com. "We've made improvements of late, but I know we still have a way to go."

Frequently Asked Questions on the site are often sufficient in providing needed information. In addition, Audible.com, together with Jim Kutsch, launched an electronic discussion group, called BlindAudibleListeners, that Kutsch continues to moderate. Participating in this discussion group are a number of Audible.com customers who are blind. Many of these bibliophiles are savvy users of Audible.com's software who are eager and willing to share their knowledge. They exchange opinions of the books they have downloaded, recommend devices, and pass along specific keystrokes for navigating the site and its software.

Nothing Is Perfect

The friendliness and effort exerted to make products accessible at Audible.com is in line with the kudos that the company has been receiving from the marketplace at large. In April 2003, Audible.com was named Best Consumer Web Service by the editors of CNet.com, and in 2002, it was named one of the web's 50 best sites by PC Magazine. Customers who are blind have found that the site is accessible; that the telephone support staff are helpful; and that the software, if somewhat clumsy at times, is able to perform the tasks for which it is intended once the quirks are understood.

There are a few bumps in the Audible.com road, of course. Sometimes, the links to skip navigation bars do not work. In many places, book titles appear twice, which makes browsing more time consuming than is necessary. A few blind listeners have complained that the Wish List feature can be cumbersome when there is more than one page of titles. If you have, say, four pages of titles on the Wish List and begin weeding out some titles, the system returns you to the top of page 1 after each individual deletion. This, however, is not an accessibility issue as much as one that is inconvenient for anyone who builds an extensive Wish List.

Minor imperfections and all, Audible.com has perhaps made greater strides to invite the business of customers who are visually impaired than has any other commercial online service. If you wake up in the middle of the night and want something to read, everything you have ever purchased from Audible.com is waiting for you—as well as thousands of hours of possibilities to choose from. With a MuVo or other handheld player, you can pack a variety of books, programs, and even some of your favorite songs into one small device that fits in your pocket for use during a trip to the dentist or a week in the woods. As Sherry Gomes put it, "When I was growing up, I never could have dreamed that so many options for reading would be available to me someday!"

For More Information

To browse content or learn more about Audible.com, visit the web site <www.audible.com>. To join or learn more about the Yahoo electronic discussion group for Audible.com customers who are visually impaired, visit the web site <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BlindAudibleListeners>.

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Product Evaluation

Thin and Sleek: A Review of Two Flat-Panel Desktop CCTVs

This is an exciting time for users of desktop closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs), also known as video magnifiers, as we move from the standard television-like large monitors to sleek, thin film transistor–liquid display (TFT-LCD) panels. TFT-LCD flat-panel CCTVs have come into favor with many who prefer the look and size of a desktop CCTV that has a significantly thinner monitor than the traditional monitors. Two companies have taken on the challenge of creating new LCD flat-screen desktop CCTVs: Ash Technologies and the Tieman Group (Tieman-Optelec). Ash Technologies has created the Eclipse, a stylish single-unit flat-screen CCTV that collapses. The Tieman Group has developed the ClearView Flat Panel, a flat-screen CCTV that is placed on top of a slightly modified ClearView base.

Several years ago, Betacom created a TFT-LCD flat-screen CCTV called the VisAble Image. Persons with low vision found the design and thinner monitor to be a wonderful addition to the low vision community. Students, in particular, thought that the VisAble Image was "cool" and did not seem to mind using the device in their classes. However, the company has since gone bankrupt, and VisAble Image CCTVs are no longer in production. Given the present gap in the market, other manufacturers have attempted to create similar flat-screen desktop CCTVs. We are in the infancy stage of flat-screen CCTVs as manufacturers take their first baby steps to refine their designs.

The Testers

The Eclipse and the ClearView Flat Panel were tested by eight users with low vision, aged 8-55, in their homes, at work, and at school. Each user was familiar with using a desktop CCTV for reading and writing. The youngest child had two years' experience using a CCTV at school and at home, while the oldest person had over 20 years'; experience using a CCTV at home and at work.


Physical Description

The Eclipse is a sleek, black CCTV that is contained in one folding unit with a socket in the back for the power adapter to connect to the unit. The Eclipse pulls out of the box easily and is essentially ready to use, with the exception of plugging it in and unfolding the monitor. The monitor is neatly tucked into the horizontal "arms" that are attached at its bottom right and left sides. These arms bear the weight of the monitor. The camera is located underneath the monitor in a portion of the monitor that is cut out in a semicircle. Beneath the horizontal arms is the X-Y table, which comes with a simple sliding Lock button on the right side of the tray that controls the in/out movement of the X-Y table. The rotary knob on the lower right side of the X-Y table locks the side-to-side movement of the table. The X-Y table, the camera mounting arm, and the monitor are connected in such a manner as to keep the entire unit balanced when the monitor is moved forward to a vertical position.

The controls for the Eclipse are located at the bottom of the monitor and are easy to distinguish from one another both visually and physically. Ash Technologies uses audible tones that provide users with additional information about what the control button is doing (such as the on/off beep and three beeps for the lowest magnification level). All the control buttons are either circular or oval and will be discussed as they appear on the monitor from left to right.

The oval Focus button is located slightly to the left of the center of the base of the monitor and is imprinted with a black capital letter "F" to remind users what this button is for. Directly in the center of the base of the monitor and the button to the right of the Focus button are the Zoom buttons. The two buttons combined look like a large oval that has been sliced horizontally through the middle. The Zoom buttons have black arrows on them to help users figure out which button increases or decreases the magnification level. The top half-oval button is for zooming in and increasing magnification (the arrow points upward), while the bottom half-oval button is for zooming out and reducing magnification (the arrow points downward).

To the right of the Zoom buttons are three smaller circular Function buttons. The first button has a black square on it that gives you access to the Overview mode. This button enables you to locate a specific spot on the material being read by zooming out to get a view of the entire document. A target symbol pops up to indicate where you were looking on the page. Next to the Overview button is the Line Marker/Shutters button (indicated by an "X" on the button). This button allows you to place a line marker on the screen (the color of the line can be changed to meet one's preference) or to block off text above and below a "window" of text (shutters). Next to the Line Marker button is the Semicolors button (indicated by a clear circle on the button). Pressing this button enables you to change the color of both the letters and the background. There are four preset foreground/background color settings. However, you can program the Eclipse to use colors of your choice.

Farther to the right are the Brightness buttons, which control the intensity and contrast of the images on the monitor. These buttons look like a large oval that has been vertically sliced down the middle. The half oval on the left has an arrow pointing to the left (to decrease the brightness or contrast of the image), and the half oval on the right has an arrow pointing to the right (to increase the brightness or contrast of the image).

Next to the Brightness buttons is the Mode button. This oval button has three circles on it: a solid black circle, a white circle, and a gray circle. By pressing the Mode button, you can switch from Picture (color) mode to the two "reading modes": Positive mode (black text on a white background) and Negative mode (white text on a black background). A convenient feature of the Eclipse is its ability to remember your last reading mode. For example, if you were reading a book in Positive mode and decided to look at the photograph of the author on the back cover, you would press the Mode button until the Picture/Color mode appeared. After viewing the picture, you would press the Mode button once, and it would automatically return to the Positive mode. Finally, the button on the far right is the Power button. Pressing this button will turn the unit on and off.


The Eclipse comes with a clear, easy-to-read, comprehensive user manual that is 15 pages long. The font is large enough and dark enough for most readers with low vision to see. The users aged 12 and younger had some difficulty understanding the language in the manual, but this would be a problem for most children of this age, whether visually impaired or sighted. The simple diagrams that accompany the text help you figure out what to do with the unit. In particular, the users whose first language is not English relied heavily on the pictures to figure out how to change the Eclipse's lightbulb. All the users who read the manual found the information on the control buttons to be useful. They especially liked the pictures of the symbols that are used throughout the manual, since they help users to locate specific information at a glance.


Setting up the Eclipse is easy and straightforward. The unit comes folded in the box with the power cable unplugged from the unit. After you lift the Eclipse out of the box, you place it on a flat surface about 4 inches from the edge of the table or desk. If the unit is placed too close to the edge of the table, it may fall forward. This point is stressed on the first page of the manual, which states that excessive weight that is placed on the reading table when the table is fully extended (if closer than 4 inches from the edge) may cause the unit to tip. To remind you of this potential problem, Ash Technologies has placed arrows and warning labels on the X-Y table to indicate where the maximum overhang is. However, these warning labels are not enough in and of themselves, since many of the young students forgot to check the position of the unit relative to the edge of the table. After several attempts to remind the youngsters orally of where to place the unit, I had to show them (in a safe manner) what would happen if the unit was too close to the edge. After this demonstration, all the students remembered what to do.

With the unit placed appropriately on the table, you place one hand on each side of the monitor and pull it toward you until the monitor reaches an angle that you find most comfortable. The monitor does not go beyond 90 degrees. For young children (or short adults), the 90-degree angle of the monitor may not be enough of an angle for optimum viewing, given the height of the table and the chair upon which the individual is seated. That is, the young children (and one older person) had to crane their necks backward because the monitor was not angled greater than 90 degrees (such as to 110 degrees). Alternative chairs and tables had to be located, so the height of the monitor would be ergonomically suitable for these users. Unfortunately, the height of the monitor is not adjustable; therefore, users have no choice but to find alternative ways to view the monitor comfortably if the standard position does not work for them.

Although the Eclipse is not intended to be a portable CCTV, the fact that it is collapsible makes it easy to move from one location to another and to put it back in the box for storage.

Ease of Use


Once the users found a comfortable viewing position, reading with the Eclipse came easily. Since all the users were familiar with how to read with a CCTV, the only skills that required some fine-tuning were figuring out what the control buttons did and getting the feel of the X-Y table's movement. All the users commented how smoothly the X-Y table moved and how they liked the auditory feedback made by some of the control buttons (such as the Power button, Mode button, and Zoom button).

The users enjoyed being able to increase and decrease the size of the text using the Zoom button. Each person commented that the continuous increase or decrease in the size of the text was a positive aspect of the electronic zoom feature. Only one individual commented that the "refresh rate" of the digital image was somewhat slower when the magnification was increased or decreased. That is, the image became slightly blurred as the letters changed in size.

The users tended to prefer the Positive mode for reading most documents; however, one 11th-grade student with albinism preferred the Negative mode. The users also noted that there was a slight "fuzziness" in both the Positive mode and the Negative mode around three-dimensional objects (such as a pill bottle, a can of beans, and a wristwatch) that they found to be distracting. The high school students found that text near the center of a thick textbook tended to look fuzzy when in the Positive or Negative mode. One 10th-grade high school student then switched to Picture/Color mode (instead of the Positive mode) and was able to read the text more easily without the fuzziness. If the material could be placed flat on the X-Y table, as with a single sheet of paper or a thin softcover book, then the fuzziness was no longer apparent. All the users found the Picture/Color mode to be useful for looking at pictures, diagrams, or charts with colored components. They also commented that the text below the pictures was easy to read and did not appear to be fuzzy.

After practicing using the line marker and changing its color, the users tended to prefer the preset yellow line marker. Only the two users who were older (40 and 55 years old) preferred using the shutter feature; they both commented that it made it easier to read materials like a newspaper whose columns and small print tended to make reading a full screen of words more difficult for them. It is interesting to note that the teachers of students with visual impairments found the shutter feature to be of great use with young students (more than did the students themselves) for helping the students to learn how to isolate questions on tests or to focus on only a few math questions at one time. In some cases, the extra visual clutter of a screen full of text tended to make it more difficult for the young students with low vision to complete their school assignments.

Users who were more technologically savvy than others enjoyed playing with the Video Control menu and the Manual Focus features. One user (an accountant with low vision) completely changed the Eclipse's settings to make reading budget reports and journal entries (usually written on light green paper with red lines) "easier on his eyes" than the preset options.


Generally, all the users found the Eclipse easy to use for writing once they learned where the unit needed to be positioned for safe use. To see what they had written, the users needed to pull the X-Y table toward them until their pens fell in the sightline of the camera lens. Consequently, the X-Y table often extended over the edge of the table or desk on which it was placed. At first, the young students did not trust that the device would not tip forward, but, with practice, their comfort level increased. In one instance, however, a student, a seventh-grader with low vision and additional disabilities (paralysis of his left side and a cognitive delay), placed too much weight on the X-Y table as he attempted to print his name. He could not hold himself up properly without using his right arm or hand to bear his weight at the same time that he printed. As a result, he could not use the Eclipse for writing.

Some of the users found it frustrating that the tops of their markers and pens hit the base of the Eclipse's monitor when the monitor was placed at a 90-degree angle. Only after they removed the lids of the pens or markers to make them shorter could they write freely under the unit.

How Good Is It?

Overall, the Eclipse is a versatile desktop flat-screen CCTV that is compact and relatively lightweight. Compared with Betacom's VisAble Image, the Eclipse is not as ergonomically designed, nor does it offer the same degree of monitor tilt as did the VisAble Image. Similarly, as a unit, the Eclipse is not as sturdy in its design as it could be. Nevertheless, it offers many excellent features and is close to being as good as the VisAble Image was.

What Would Make it Better?

Stabilizing the unit would be a priority when considering any changes to the design of the Eclipse. Users should not have to worry that the CCTV will fall off a table when he or she is using it. Also, enabling the monitor to tilt to an angle greater than 90 degrees would be a significant improvement, so that users would be able to angle the monitor downward if their seats were too low for proper body alignment with the monitor. Similarly, adding a height-adjustable feature to the monitor would be helpful in such circumstances. Finally, making the unit available with a 17-inch monitor would also improve its overall usefulness.

The Bottom Line

The Eclipse is a good first attempt by Ash Technologies to fill the gap in the market left by the bankruptcy of Betacom. Further redesign is needed for the Eclipse to be a direct replacement of the VisAble Image and a device that persons with low vision would purchase.

ClearView Flat Panel

Physical Description

Tieman's ClearView Flat Panel comes in two boxes. One box contains the base unit with a metal stand, power cables, a video cable, a remote "feature pack," a hexagonal bolt for attaching the monitor to the base, the user manual, and four installation tools. The second box contains the LCD screen.

The base unit appears to be the same base unit as the Tieman's previous CCTV models, the ClearView 517 or 700. The base unit and the monitor (in most cases) are beige--the color that is typically used with ClearView CCTVs. The feature pack, camera, and VGA output slots are located on the left side of the back of the unit's base. The AC output and input slots are also located on the back of the base unit, but on the right side.

The camera is located near the front underside of the camera mounting arm that extends over the X-Y table. Attached to the back of the camera mounting arm is a height-adjustable arm that extends above the camera mounting arm. The LCD movable 15-inch or 17-inch screen is attached to the end of this adjustable arm. Located behind the X-Y table on the stationary part of the base are the trays for the power adapter (on the left side) and the remote feature pack (on the right side). The remote feature pack can be moved and placed on either side of the Flat Panel; it has a coil cable (similar to a telephone cord) that enables you to place it wherever it is most convenient.

Photo of the ClearView Flat Panel CCTV showing nothing on the XY table but a bright color image of a boy with a kite on the screen.

Caption: The ClearView Flat Panel is a bulky but versatile flat-screen CCTV with adjustable height and tilt features.

The table-locking lever is located just under the control buttons at the front of the X-Y table. Sliding the lever fully to the right blocks all movement of the table. By sliding the lever all the way to the left, you can move the X-Y table only left or right. Unrestricted movement of the table occurs when the lever is placed in the middle position.

The black control buttons are located on the bottom center of the X-Y table, and each button contains a symbol in contrasting white. Starting from the left and moving right, the control buttons are as follows: the Brightness and Contrast Control buttons, the Pointer button, the Focus button, the Mode button, and the Zoom buttons. The Brightness button has a symbol of a sun on it to indicate that it is used to increase the contrast in Picture mode and the brightness in Reading mode. The button below the Brightness button has the symbol of the moon on it to indicate that it is used to decrease the contrast and brightness.

When you press the Pointer button (shaped like an arrow with a small dot in the center), the Flat Panel activates a red dot on the X-Y table. This feature is intended to help you locate the part of the text that is being magnified on the screen. The red dot is not visible on the monitor, only on the X-Y table.

The large, oval Focus button actually has the word focus spelled out on it. Since the ClearView Flat Panel arrives in Autofocus mode, if you want to adjust the focus manually, you must press the Pointer and Mode buttons simultaneously to switch to Manual mode. Then, you press the Focus button until the image is brought into focus. Given how infrequently this button is likely to be used, I am not sure why the Focus button is so large and prominently placed in the center of the control panel.

The Mode button (a square button divided diagonally into a white half and a black half) enables you to switch among Picture mode (to view pictures and photographs), Reading mode (black text on a white background), and Reverse Reading mode (white text on a black background). Finally, the Zoom button with the plus symbol increases the level of magnification, while the button below it with the minus symbol decreases the level of magnification.

The remote feature pack contains buttons for several added features. The oval Camera button (located on the top left side of the pack) is used when an external camera is connected to the unit and allows you to switch between the external camera and the Flat Panel camera. The oval Line button (located under the Camera button) allows you to switch among a horizontal reading marker, a vertical reading marker, or no reading marker. The oval Window button (located below the Line button) controls the horizontal, vertical, or no-windows markers. The windows block out distracting text that appears above or below the text that is being read. The Position knob is located in the center of the pack and allows you to position the lines and windows anywhere on the screen. The Width knob (located to the right of the Position knob) enables you to widen or decrease the amount of space between the lines or windows. Finally, the Color Select button (a longer horizontal button below the Position and Width knobs) allows you to choose among eight color combinations of foreground and background.


The documentation for the ClearView Flat Panel is simply laid out, in a large, easy-to-read font with bold headings. The user manual is printed in English, German, and French. Simple diagrams of the unit's parts and pictures of the control panel symbols are helpful to readers of all ages, although young children will have difficulty understanding the content. Unfortunately, some errors were noted in the English version of the user manual, including the term screen diameter and the subsequent recording of the screen-size information. The manual should use a clearer term, such as screen size (diagonal), to help the reader understand what information is being listed in the particular box. Also, the manual states that the monitor is a 15-inch monitor, but Tieman's web site lists the screen as 17 inches. After measuring the diagonal of the monitor I used for this evaluation, I determined that the screen size was actually 17 inches. The user manual needs to indicate that the monitor comes in either 15 inches or 17 inches, as that is not made clear in any of the documentation.


Setting up the ClearView Flat Panel is somewhat complicated. The device is shipped in two boxes: one box for the base and additional items and one box for the monitor. All the users, especially the young students, had difficulty assembling it independently. They all asked for help and stated that they would not be comfortable assembling the unit by themselves--they worried that they might drop the monitor while trying to mount it to the adjustable arm.

Setting up the CCTV also requires you to connect several cables and place the two packs in their appropriate "holding" trays. The users commented that this setup was even more difficult and time consuming than the setup for the standard ClearView CCTVs (for example, the ClearView 317, 517, or 700).

Since both the monitor and adjustable arm are movable, the users typically needed a few minutes to figure out how high they wanted the monitor to be and at what angle. All the users commented that they liked the height-adjustable feature of the Flat Panel, as well as the fact that the monitor is able to move beyond 90 degrees. The latter feature was especially useful for small children with low vision.

Ease of Use


All the users found that reading with the ClearView Flat Panel was easy. The X-Y table moved smoothly under the touch of each user, including a student with low vision who had additional disabilities (paralysis of his left side and a cognitive delay). Since all the users had previously used a ClearView CCTV (either the 317 or the 517), switching to the Flat Panel was relatively simple. The 17-inch flat screen was well received, and the users especially liked the height-adjustable arm and how far forward (and backward) the monitor was able to tilt. These two features made the Flat Panel more accessible than the Eclipse for users who were short or who required unique seating positions. Although the Flat Panel is not as sleek or modern looking as the Eclipse, the adjustability of the monitor's height and angle make it better ergonomically.

When a thick textbook was tested in the Positive, Negative, and Picture modes, the ClearView Flat Panelperformed well in all three modes; that is, little, if any, fuzziness was noted. There was only a slight delay when the focus changed from one type of text to another.

If the user moved the X-Y table too quickly, the screen often appeared to glow white, and the letters became blurred. Although the screen is considered to be high resolution, there is still a slight pause between moving the table and getting a clear, focused image on the monitor.


All the users found that writing with the ClearView Flat Panel was easy, since they did not have to remove the lids of their pens or markers to write underneath it, as they had to do with the Eclipse. They could write confidently knowing that their markers or pens would not hit the monitor. Generally, the users preferred writing in the Positive mode (black on white), but the student with albinism preferred to use the Negative mode.

The student with additional disabilities who needed to lean on the X-Y table to write under it was able to do so without the unit tipping forward. He was able to lock the table into place independently and then print slowly and carefully while leaning on the table for support.

How Good Is It?

The ClearView Flat Panel is a large, versatile flat-screen CCTV with adjustable height and tilt features that users will like. The comfortable X-Y table and accessible control switches make it easy for persons with low vision to use. Unfortunately, the weight, bulkiness, and cumbersome setup of the Flat Panel are negative features that need to be considered if and when the Tieman Group decides to improve this device.

What Would Make it Better?

The Tieman Group was on the right track by designing a flat-screen CCTV that has an adjustable monitor height and angle. However, by placing the monitor and adjustable arm on the already existing ClearView base, the manufacturer seems to have limited the overall design of the device. The ClearView Flat Panel is heavy and awkward to move, in addition to being difficult to assemble. The main difficulty with this CCTV is that it is made up of two separate pieces of equipment that must be bolted together properly to be used safely and efficiently. If the Flat Panel is to be transported anywhere, the CCTV must be disassembled properly, so that the monitor and camera are not damaged. Users may find this not to be worth the effort. Perhaps the Tieman Group can figure out a way to make the Flat Panel a single unit that is more compact.

The Bottom Line

The ClearView Flat Panel is another good first attempt by a different company, the Tieman Group, to fill the gap in the market left by the demise of the VisAble Image CCTV. The Flat Panel is able to do some of the things that the Eclipse is not able to do (such as adjusting height and proving a greater degree of monitor tilt and a greater clearance for writing), but it also requires further design changes. In particular, users would prefer to have a one-piece unit (as opposed to the two pieces that make up this unit) that weighs less and that is easier to assemble.

Given the pros and cons of both devices, neither device has met all the design and function challenges that are involved in creating the best-possible flat-screen desktop CCTV. The ClearView Flat Panelcomes out slightly ahead of the Eclipse with regard to function; however, designwise, the look and size of the Eclipse are much more appealing than are those of the Flat Panel. Both companies may want to reconsider their current designs, since users with low vision will probably wait for a better version to be created before they make the financial commitment to purchase a TFT-LCD flat-screen CCTV.

The devices used in this evaluation were provided by the Microcomputer Science Centre, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

Product Features

Feature Eclipse Flex
Weight 21.5 pounds 35.2 pounds
Dimensions Unit (width by height by depth):
21.2 by 21.2 by 16.9 inches
Collapsed height: 7.3 inches
Unit (width x height x depth):
15.8 by 24.6 by 20.5 inches
Display size 15 inches 17 inches
Magnification 3X–50X continuous 4X–50X continuous
Color/text mode Full color, enhanced black on white, white on black, preset semicolors (foreground/background colors), programmable semicolors Full color, black-on-white (Positive mode), white on black (Negative mode), eight preset foreground and background colors
Focus modes Autofocus, push to focus, manual focus Autofocus, manual focus
Power 12V 3A (input voltage 100V–240V), 50–60 Hz camera frequency 100–240V AC, 60 Hz camera frequency
Text marking Adjustable position line marker, adjustable-width shadow masking Vertical and horizontal line markers, vertical and horizontal adjustable position and width window markers
Warranty Two years Two years
Price $3,295 $2,895

Product Features

Feature: Eclipse; Flex

Weight: Eclipse: 21.5 pounds; Flex: 35.2 pounds.

Dimensions: Eclipse: Unit (width by height by depth), 21.2 by 21.2 by 16.9 inches, Collapsed height: 7.3 inches; Flex: Unit (width x height x depth), 15.8 by 24.6 by 20.5 inches.

Display size: Eclipse: 15 inches; Flex: 17 inches.

Magnification: Eclipse: 3X–50X continuous; Flex: 4X–50X continuous.

Color/text mode: Eclipse: Full color, enhanced black on white, white on black, preset semicolors (foreground/background colors), programmable semicolors; Flex: Full color, black-on-white (Positive mode), white on black (Negative mode), eight preset foreground and background colors.

Focus modes: Eclipse: Autofocus, push to focus, manual focus; Flex: Autofocus, manual focus.

Power: Eclipse: 12V 3A (input voltage 100V–240V), 50–60 Hz camera frequency; Flex: 100–240V AC, 60 Hz camera frequency.

Text marking: Eclipse: Adjustable position line marker, adjustable-width shadow masking; Flex: Vertical and horizontal line markers, vertical and horizontal adjustable position and width window markers.

Warranty: Eclipse: Two years; Flex: Two years.

Price: Eclipse: $3,295; Flex: $2,895.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Feature: Eclipse; Flex

Ease of use: Reading: Eclipse: 3.5; Flex: 4.0.

Ease of use: Writing: Eclipse: 3.0; Flex: 5.0.

Ease of setup: Eclipse: 5.0; Flex: 2.0.

Screen size: Eclipse: 4.0; Flex: 5.0.

Clarity of image: Eclipse: 3.5; Flex: 4.5.

Overall rating : Eclipse: 3.8; Flex: 4.1.

Product Information

Product: Eclipse.

Manufacturer: Ash Technologies, B5, M7 Business Park, Naas, Ireland; phone: 353-45-88 22 12; e-mail: <info@ashtech.ie>; web site: <www.ashtech.ie>.

American Distributor: Freedom Vision, 615 Tami Way, Mountain View, CA 94041; phone: 650-961-6541 or 800-961-1334; e-mail: <info@freedomvision.net>; web site: <www.freedomvision.net>.

Price: $3,295.

Product: ClearView Flat Panel.

Manufacturer: Tieman Group, P.O. Box 592, 3235 ZH Rockanje, The Netherlands; phone: 31 0 181-409444; web site: <www.tieman.com>.

American Distributor: Optelec U.S., 321 Billerica Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824; phone 978-392-0707 or 800-828-1056; e-mail: <optelec@optelec.com>; web site: <www.optelec.com>.

Price: $2,895.

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Access Issues

You Get to Choose: An Overview of Accessible Cell Phones

Since May 2003, AccessWorld has published a groundbreaking series of seven articles that have evaluated the accessibility and usability of several cellular telephones and add-on software applications. In this article, in response to readers' suggestions, we at AFB TECH (the American Foundation for the Blind Technology and Employment Center at Huntington, West Virginia), have put together a summary of the options that are currently available to cell phone users who are blind or have low vision. So, this is not a traditional product-evaluation article in which we compare the relative merits of particular products. Instead, it is a summary of the information available at this time, designed to help readers make informed choices for purchasing a cell phone and a service plan and to clear up any remaining confusion. We will continue to evaluate new cell phones and software applications as they become available, and you can look forward to the Breaking News section of AccessWorld for our next evaluation of cell phones, which will look at the upgraded LG VX 4500 from Verizon Wireless and the new Voice Command software from Microsoft that is available on some new Pocket PC phones.


In the early days of cell phones, when they were used only to make and receive calls, accessibility was not a major issue. As long as visually impaired people could tactilely identify the control buttons on the cell phone, it was no problem to make and receive calls. However, they were left out of the loop when the evolution of cell phones brought display screens and other new advances, such as phone books, text messaging, and e-mail, into the mix. Although people who are visually impaired were still able to perform the basic functions of making and receiving calls, the manufacturers did not design these new phones in a way that would allow them to independently access the new, more advanced features. There was no text-to-speech functionality to accommodate cell phone users who are blind, and there were no display screens with the visual characteristics, such as large fonts or highly contrasting colors, that would accommodate users who have low vision. However, over the past two years, several cell phones have become available that have speech-output and screen-magnification capabilities, providing access to many advanced features.

This article briefly describes the options that are currently available and includes information on pricing and where to find the cell phones and the service providers that carry them. The Product Information section provides contact information for the cell phone and software manufacturers and the service providers and other vendors that offer the products and services. The article also includes new options that are on the horizon and provides other resources, so you can research the issues for yourself and stay up to date as the world of accessible cell phones continues to evolve. This continuing and rapid evolution of the cell phone market is certainly exciting, but it also necessitates a warning that the information that is provided herein, especially the information on prices, may not be entirely up to date by the time it reaches you.

Photo of Darren Burton, looking bemused, with an armful of seven cell phones.

Caption: The author examining some of the options for accessible cell phones.

Built-in Accessibility versus the Screen Reader Option

Two categories of accessible phones are now available: off-the-shelf phones that are designed with built-in speech-output capability and phones with the Symbian operating system (an operating system that allows for the installation of third-party screen-reading and screen-magnification software applications). The off-the-shelf phones that we discuss have only limited speech-output capabilities, providing access to only a portion of the screen information and phone functionality. The Symbian-based cell phones, combined with additional software applications, provide access to nearly all the screen information and nearly all the features of the cell phones. These systems are analogous to a PC running a screen reader, such as JAWS or Window-Eyes, or a screen magnifier, such as ZoomText or MAGic.

Off-the-Shelf Phones

In early 2004, two cell phones came on the market that had some built-in accessibility features without the need to install third-party software. Sprint PCS offered the Toshiba VM 4050, which we reviewed in the May 2004 issue of AccessWorld, and Verizon Wireless offered the LG VX 4500. US Cellular also offered the same LG phone, but it marketed the phone as the LG 5550. Although these cell phones are by no means fully accessible, they both score fairly well when measured against "The Sweet 16" a list of 16 cell phone features that we developed by asking cell phone users who are blind or have low vision which features they would most like to be made accessible. However, neither cell phone had an accessible phone-book function, and the LG phone did not have a talking caller ID function.

In November 2004, Verizon and LG offered an upgrade to the LG VX 4500, which we are currently evaluating. It provides a talking caller ID, and it is the first off-the-shelf phone with nonvisual access to the phone-book function. If you have the older version of the LG 4500, you can go to your local Verizon store to have it upgraded. As of now, we have heard nothing about the availability of upgrades for the LG 5550 that is offered by US Cellular, so we do not recommend that phone. The LG VX 4500 employs voice-input commands to access some of its accessible functionality.

Sprint PCS has replaced the Toshiba 4050 with the Toshiba/Audiovox CDM 9950, which has the same accessible features as its predecessor. However, that phone is not easy to find; we could not find it on the Sprint PCS web site, and we were able to find it only by calling Sprint customer service. Sprint PCS is also now marketing the Samsung VI660 and MM-A700 phones to its customers who are visually impaired. Although we have not evaluated these cell phones, they reportedly do not feature the level of accessibility that is found in the LG VX 4500, and they rely entirely on voice-input commands to activate their speech-output functionality. From what we have learned, they seem to be similar to the Samsung SPH-a660 that we evaluated in the May 2004 issue of AccessWorld.

Sprint PCS is offering the Toshiba phone for $129 when purchased with a service plan, as well as the Samsung VI660 for $0 to $149 and the MM-A700 for $149 to $219 (after rebates) when purchased with a service plan. The LG from Verizon was priced at only $29 when purchased with a service plan. However, prices change rapidly and could be different when you investigate them on your own.

Symbian Phones Compatible with Third-Party Software

Similar to the way that a PC has a Windows or Linux operating system, Symbian phones were developed with the Symbian operating system, giving them the ability to install third-party software to provide accessibility. These systems would be the choice for those who want access to more functionality than the off-the-shelf models provide. The third-party software options provide speech-output or screen-magnification access to just about the entire phone interface and allow access to many more phone features, such as the entire phone book, e-mail, and text messaging. These cell phones work only on the GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) cellular network (which has been the standard in Europe and is now spreading across the United States), so they are available nationally only through Cingular, AT&T Wireless, and T-Mobile. However, local carriers may offer service on the GSM network, so you may want to check with your local providers to see if they offer these phones.

The Symbian cell phones come in two varieties, Series 60 and Series 80. They are manufactured mainly by Nokia, and the Series 60 phones include the Nokia 3650, 3660, and 6620, which were evaluated in the November 2003, July 2004, and November 2004 issues of AccessWorld, respectively. Other Series 60 phones that we have not evaluated include the Nokia 3600, 3620, 6600, 6630, 6670, 7610, 7650 N Gage, N Gage QD, and the Siemens SX1. The Series 80 phones, which are large personal digital assistant- (PDA) style phones with full QWERTY keyboards, include the Nokia 9210, 9210i, and 9290 Communicator that we evaluated in the January 2004 issue of AccessWorld. After examining several of these phones, we recommend the Series 60 phones over the Series 80 phones because they are much smaller and more portable and come with as much, if not more, functionality. In addition, the Series 80 phones seem to be disappearing from the market, since we were not able to find any service providers in the United States that still carried them.

Not all the Series 60 phones are available in the United States, and not all of them are carried by every service provider on the GSM network, so again, you need to check with your local service providers for current availability and pricing. Although pricing and availability are always changing and usually vary, depending on the service plan you choose, we want to give you a general idea of the situation. We found the following information on the Nokia phones that we found available in the United States: Nokia 3600: $179, from AT&T Wireless and Cingular; Nokia 3620: $199, from AT&T Wireless; Nokia 3650: No pricing available, from AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile; Nokia 3660: $299 or $0 to $179 with a service plan and rebates, from T-Mobile; Nokia 6620: $49 with a service plan and rebates, from T-Mobile; Nokia 6620: $149 to $199 with a service plan and rebates, from Cingular; Nokia 7610: $499 or $274 to $374 with service plan and rebates, from Cingular; Nokia N-Gage QD: $0 to $199 with service plan and rebates, from T-Mobile, or $49 to $149 with service plan from AT&T Wireless and Cingular.

All these Series 60 Symbian phones from Nokia have keyboard designs that could stand some improvement in tactile discernability, but we found that the ones we have tested are easy enough to get used to after a bit of practice. The third-party software applications work well on all these phones, but you may want to consider the 6620 or 7610 because they are more recent additions to the market and have larger memory capacities, enabling them to better handle more third-party applications that are being developed. You can go to the web site <www.nokiausa.com> to find out more about each of these phones, and the Additional Resources and Product Information sections of this article for more ways to learn about these phones.

Third-Party Software Applications

The software that makes these Symbian phones accessible comes from two companies, Scansoft and Code Factory. Scansoft recently purchased the TALKS software, which is now known as SpeechPAK TALKS. Code Factory now produces three separate software packages: Mobile Speak, Mobile Accessibility, and Mobile Magnifier.

SpeechPAK TALKS and Mobile Speak are both true screen-reader applications and work on a Symbian phone in a similar way as JAWS and WindowEyes work on a PC. You can read a full evaluation of these products in the November 2004 issue of AccessWorld, in which we reported that the two products are competing fairly evenly. Both packages performed well when installed on the Nokia 6620, providing speech-output access to nearly all onscreen information and access to such features as the phone book, call logs, text messaging, e-mail, calculators, alarm clocks, calendars, and the digital camera. Although we found that both had some minor glitches, these glitches are being worked out by ongoing software upgrades from each company.

Both products are priced at $295, but Cingular is offering SpeechPAK TALKS to its customers who are visually impaired for only $199, and those who sign up for a two-year service plan will receive a rebate of the full $199.

Code Factory's Mobile Accessibility is sort of a middle ground between the off-the-shelf phones and SpeechPAK TALKS and Mobile Speak. It provides speech-output access to more features than do the off-the-shelf phones, but less than the screen readers do. It is not really a true screen-reader software that provides access to the phone's actual interface. Instead, it is an application whose own interface is used to access many of the phone's features. You can read more about Mobile Accessibility in the November 2003 and January 2004 issues of AccessWorld, but be aware that we evaluated version 1.0, the initial release of Mobile Accessibility, whereas the current version is 2.5, which is now priced at $199.

Code Factory's Mobile Magnifier is the first screen-magnification software for cell phones. Although we have yet to evaluate this software, it reportedly enlarges all items of the phone's display, magnifying the area of interest as the user navigates through the phone's user interface. It can also be used in conjunction with Mobile Speak to provide magnification and speech output simultaneously. Mobile Magnifier is priced at $199 by itself, or $130 as an add-on to Mobile Speak.

These software products are continuously being upgraded and improved to fix bugs that are reported by users and to provide access to more and more functions. Both Scansoft and Code Factory are reportedly working on solutions for accessing the mobile Internet, and Code Factory has just announced new color-identification and light-detector software that can be used on cell phones that are equipped with digital cameras to speak the color of something like a shirt or a pair of pants and to determine the level of light in a room. Code Factory has also developed a "Mobile Keyboard" software that allows you to connect your desktop keyboard wirelessly to a Symbian phone to make it easier to enter text into text messages or e-mail messages. All the Scansoft and Code Factory software products work on nearly all the Symbian cell phones listed earlier, but you will probably want to double check with the manufacturers to determine which phones are compatible with which software products before you decide to purchase a product.

What Else Is Available?

Cell phones have certainly come a long way in the past couple of years, and we can expect to see even more developments in the future. Some items of interest that are already available include the Alva Mobile Phone Organizer (MPO), which we reviewed in the May 2004 issue of AccessWorld. The MPO is an expensive $4,000 accessibility solution that is a combination mobile telephone and PDA with a refreshable braille display.

Microsoft has also entered the fray with the introduction of Voice Command software, which can be installed on some of today's new Pocket PC phones/PDAs. These devices feature mobile phone functionality that is built into small handheld computers that run the Pocket PC applications that are also used on the PAC Mate PDAs from Freedom Scientific. Microsoft's Voice Command software uses voice-input commands, in conjunction with synthetic speech output, to provide access to many of the cell phone functions, the calendar, and even the music player that is included. Although our next product evaluation article will point out that we are finding some serious limitations in this system, it is interesting to see Microsoft bringing some level of accessibility to these touch-screen devices that have traditionally been unusable by people who are blind or have low vision.

There are also some interesting accessories available on the Nokia web site for some of the Symbian phones, including a hands-free wireless headset. In addition, the Braillino, a PDA from Handy Tech that features a refreshable braille display, can be connected wirelessly to a Symbian phone to provide accessibility for people who are both hearing and visually impaired. A company called Think Outside has developed a wireless keyboard that is compatible with the Symbian phones and that folds up so you can stow it in a pocket or purse. Furthermore, Peter Meijer of the Netherlands, who is conducting research on "seeing with sound," has recently announced a free color-recognizer software application that is compatible with the Scansoft and Code Factory software products.

What Is on the Horizon?

As you may have noticed, the rapidly changing nature of the cell phone market has been a recurring theme in this article, so we are sure that more innovations will continue to be made. New Symbian cell phones are always coming on the market, and we will certainly be seeing continuous upgrades to the software for these phones. In addition, the manufacturer of the Owasys 22C accessible cell phone, which we evaluated in the July 2004 issue of AccessWorld, will soon be offering it in the United States. Samsung also announced that it will soon release its P207 phone, which uses voice-recognition technology to allow users to create text messages by simply speaking into the phone. We can only hope that Samsung has also considered including speech-output functionality on that phone.

Which Option Should You Choose?

There are many things to consider when deciding on a cell phone that will meet your needs, including cost, portability, the degree of functionality that you desire, and the availability of the phone in your specific area. In addition, if you plan to travel abroad, you will need to choose one of the Symbian phones that is triband, meaning that it will work on all the GSM networks throughout the world. So, it is not possible to say which option would be best for every reader. The main advantage of the off-the-shelf phones is that they are less expensive than are the Symbian phone options because there is no need to purchase the third-party software. They are also small, convenient clamshell-style cell phones with tactilely identifiable control keys that are protected when the phones are closed up and carried in a pocket or purse. On the other hand, they do not provide access to nearly the level of functionality as do the Symbian systems, and they do not feature display screens with the visual characteristics that can be easily viewed by many people with low vision. Also, some of the accessible functions of the LG VX 4500 and all the accessible functions of the two Samsung phones rely on voice-input commands from the user, so they may not work properly in noisy environments.

After having tested several phones over the past two years, the staff at AFB TECH is most intrigued with the Symbian phones with SpeechPAK TALKS or Mobile Speak because of the level of access they provide and their ability to operate new software products that are being developed around the world. We particularly like the Nokia 6620 because it has a large memory capacity and its keypad is easier to identify tactilely than are the keypads of some of the other Symbian phones. However, we also like the off-the-shelf LG 4500, with its new upgrades, because it provides nearly all the functionality you will need, but at a much-lower cost than that of the Symbian systems.

Readers with usable vision who may not require or even desire speech output on a cell phone may want to visit a local store and look at some cell phones with large color-display screens. Ask the clerk to adjust some of the display settings for you and see how well you can read the onscreen information. If what you see does not work for you, then you may want to investigate the Mobile Magnifier software from Code Factory on one of the Nokia phones. The section on low vision accessibility in each of the AccessWorld articles we have published over the past two years may also help you make a decision.

We have one last bit of important advice for you as you try to find a cell phone option that is best for you. Please be patient but persistent when you try to get information about accessible phones from your service providers. The clerks who work at the local stores and national service centers are not always aware of the issues involved in accessibility for people who are visually impaired, and they are often not aware of any of the accessible phones that the providers do, in fact, offer. You may have to educate them, and you may have to use some of the information and resources that have been presented in this article to do so. Finding documentation in alternate formats for any cell phone, including the accessible ones, is another problem, and even when such documentation exists, you may spend a lot of time on the phone or on the Internet to track it down.

We hope that this article will help you in your decision process, but you will probably want to investigate the information we provide in the Additional Resources and Product Information sections of this article to help you make the choice that is right for you. They are valuable resources to keep you updated on all that is going on in the ever-changing world of cell phone accessibility, and they were also used to research some of the information for this article.

Additional Resources

We have found electronic discussion groups to be extremely valuable resources because you can learn from people who are visually impaired who discuss their experiences with cell phones. We often monitor three such groups that are dedicated to the issue of cell phone accessibility.

The Accessible Phones Discussion List is a general cell phone group that is not specific to any product. You can subscribe to it at the web site <http://mosenexplosion.com/mailman/listinfo/blindphones_
mosenexplosion.com>. There is also an electronic discussion group that is dedicated to discussing issues involving the Mobile Speak software. You can subscribe to it at the web site <http://list.codefactory.es/mailman/listinfo/

To join the group that is dedicated to issues involving the SpeechPAK TALKS software, go to the web site <http://www.talksusers.com/mailman/listinfo/talks>.

We found a web site that is dedicated to issues of cell phone accessibility; you can find it at the web site <http://itaf.home.att.net>. Among many other things, it includes more detailed information on the Symbian phones, including which ones are available in which parts of the world.

We also found another web site on cell phone accessibility, and although it is produced by a vendor who sells cell phone products, we have found it to be fair, evenhanded, and useful. You can find it at the web site <www.etoengineering.com/vision.htm>.

Several other online sites are available for purchasing cell phones, and you may find a better price by exploring these sites. Some of them are <www.letstalk.com>, <www.ebay.com>, <www.BizRate.com>, and <www.amazon.com>.

Section 255 of the Communications Act, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, requires that cell phone manufacturers and service providers do all that is "readily achievable" to make each product or service accessible. To learn more about this requirement or to learn how to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, you can visit How To Get an Accessible Telephone on the American Foundation for the Blind's web site <www.afb.org>.

Funding for this product evaluation was provided by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia.

Product Information


Product: Toshiba VM 4050 or Toshiba CDM 9950.

Manufacturer: Toshiba America, 1251 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 4110, New York, NY 10020; phone: 212-596-0620, Customer Service: 800-631-3811; web site: <www.toshiba.com>.

Service Provider: Sprint PCS: phone: 888-253-1315; Customer Service: 888-211-4727; web site: <www.sprintpcs.com>.

Product: LG VX 4500.

Manufacturer: LG Electronics, MobileComm U.S.A., 10225 Willow Creek Road, San Diego, CA 92131; phone: Customer Support, 800-793-8896; e-mail: <customerservice@lge.com>.

Web site: <http://us.lge.com>.

Service Provider: Verizon Wireless: phone: 800-256-4646; web site: <www.verizonwireless.com>.

Products: Samsung VI660, MM-A700, and A207.

Manufacturer: Samsung Electronics America, 105 Challenger Road No. 1, Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660; phone: 201-229-4000, Customer Service: 800-726-7864; web site: <www.samsung.com>.

Service Provider: Sprint PCS: phone: 888-253-1315; Customer Service: 888-211-4727; web site: <www.sprintpcs.com>.

Symbian Network Phones

Product: Symbian Phones from Nokia.

Manufacturer: Nokia Americas, 6000 Connection Drive, Irving TX 75039; phone: 972-894-4573; sales: 888-256-2098; web site: <www.nokiausa.com>. For more specific information on each phone, go to the web site <www.nokia.com/phones/PhoneNumber>. You need to replace the "PhoneNumber" part of the URL with the actual model number of the phone. For example, for the 6620, link to <www.nokia.com/phones/6620>.

Service Providers: Cingular Wireless, phone: 800-331-0500; web site: <www.cingular.com>; or Cingular National Center for Customers with Disabilities, phone: 866-241-6568; web site: <www.cingular.com/about/disability_resources>. T-Mobile, Customer Relations, P.O. Box 37380 Albuquerque, NM 87176-7380; phone: 800-T Mobile and 1-800-937-8997; web site: <www.t-mobile.com>.

Third-Party Software Products

Products: Mobile Speak, Mobile Accessibility, and Mobile Magnifier.

Manufacturer: Code Factory, S. L. Rambla d'Egara, 148, 2-2, 08221 Terrassa (Barcelona), Spain; phone: 0049-171-3797470; e-mail: <sales@mobileaccessiblity.com>.

Web site: <www.codefactory.es>.

U.S. Distributors: Optelec, 321 Billerica Road, Chelmsford, MA 01824; phone: 978-392-0707 or 800-828-1056; e-mail: optelec@optelec.com; web site: <www.optelec.com>. Eto Engineering, 303 Cary Pines Drive, Cary, NC 27513; phone 919-523-0205; e-mail: <ray.gonzales@etoengineering.com>; web site: <www.etoengineering.com>
Note: Optelec does not sell Mobile Accessibility, but they do offer an Optelec-brand product called MobileSpeak Plus, which is an add-on for Mobile Speak that includes color identifier, four pack of games, MP3 player, and Mobile Keypad—a utility that allows a person to use a PC to text message and e-mail via wireless connection through the cell phone. The price is $150. Eto engineering also sells many of the other phones mentioned in this article, and both vendors will install the software on the phones. See their web sites for details.

Product: SpeechPAK TALKS.

Manufacturer: Scansoft, Speech Works Division, 695 Atlantic Avenue, Boston, MA 02111; phone: 617-428-4444; web site: <www.scansoft.com>.

U.S. Distributors: Beyond Sight, 5650 South Windermere Street, Littleton, CO 80120; phone: 303-795-6455; e-mail: <info@beyondsight.com>; web site: <www.beyondsight.com>
Sendero Group: phone: 530-757-6800; e-mail: <GPS@SenderoGroup.com>; web site: <www.senderogroup.com>.

Other Products

Product: vOICe talking color recognizer.

Manufacturer: Seeing with Sound: e-mail: <feedback@seeingwithsound.com>; web site: <www.seeingwithsound.com/voice.htm>.

Product: Stow Away Keyboard.

Manufacturer: Think Outside, 85 Saratoga Avenue, Suite 200, Santa Clara, CA 95051; phone: 408-551-4545; web site: <www.thinkoutside.com>.

U.S. Distributors: D & H, 22525 North Seventh Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110-0967; phone: 800-340-1001; web site: <http://dandh.com>. WYNIT, 6847 Ellicott Drive, East Syracuse, NY 13057; phone: 800-GO-WYNIT or 315-437-1086; web site: <www.wynit.com>.

Product: Microsoft Voice Command software for Pocket PC phones.

Manufacturer: Microsoft Corporation; Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399; phone: 425-882-8080 or 800-426-9400; web site: <www.microsoft.com/VoiceCommand>.

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Trainer's Corner

The Touch That Means So Much: Training Materials for Computer Users Who Are Deaf-Blind

A growing number of computer users who are visually impaired are discovering the greater productivity that results from using more than one type of assistive technology to do their work. A decade ago, the usual response when a person with a visual impairment was asked how he or she used the computer was "with a braille display," "with magnification," or "with synthesized speech output." Today, the question is often answered with a two-pronged solution. If, for example, you have sufficient residual vision to see the arrangement of text or tables on a computer screen but not enough to read text comfortably, using screen magnification and a screen reader simultaneously can provide a significant boost in efficiency. The leading screen magnifiers now come with the option of a screen reader built in. Even if you are a rapid and fluent braille reader, you may find that a quick overview of a document being read aloud at 400 words a minute courtesy of your screen reader can save time and temporarily free your hands to collate pages or perform other tasks.

But what if you do not have the advantage of experiencing that double input? How, in other words, does a computer user who is deaf-blind fare when it comes to working efficiently in the Windows environment?

Although there a number of excellent tutorials on Windows and various applications from a variety of sources, most are available in audio formats. Even those that are available in electronic formats (which could be read on a refreshable braille display) tend to focus instructions on information that must be heard.

The Iowa Department for the Blind sought and received funding from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to create training materials to assist computer users who are both deaf and blind. The department had already established a track record for similar work. Its Project ASSIST (Accessible Step-by-Step Instructions for Speech Technology) with Windows was initially launched in 1997 with the goal of developing and distributing training materials to help computer users who are visually impaired move into the Windows environment on a par with their sighted peers. Tutorials were written that focused specifically on the use of JAWS for Windows and Window-Eyes, in conjunction with a variety of popular applications, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and several e-mail programs. The new project presented tutorial developers Brian Walker and Susan Stageberg with the additional challenge of ensuring that all information and exercises that are presented could be accomplished exclusively with the use of a braille display.

Without outSPOKEN

Kathleen Spear, a California woman who is deaf and blind, once trained other people who are blind in the use of computers when the operating system of choice was DOS, and WordPerfect 5.1 was the most popular program. Until May 2004, she was able to use Windows 98 with outSPOKEN for Windows, which, she said, provided the most braille support of all the available programs. When outSPOKEN was no longer upgraded, however, and her hard drive was destroyed by a virus, it was time to find a new solution. Spear has had her share of frustration—teaching herself to use Eudora, Outlook Express, and other programs with minimal braille support. Both JAWS and Window-Eyes, she said, focused learning on voice, and that method was simply not an option for her. Now, she is hoping to immerse herself at last in Windows with an XP Tutorial from Project ASSIST. She has equipped herself with JAWS for Windows and a Satellite 570 braille display and is ready to start. "Although I've met and respect a few trainers who are blind and knowledgeable of braille," Spear explained, "they all rely on voice messages, even when training. . . . The speech messages often differ from the braille; usually, . . . there is less [information] available on the braille display."

Catherine Thomas, a New York-based braille transcriber who has a strong preference for braille access over speech, is even newer to wrestling with braille displays driven by screen readers. Since 1992, she has continued to work with DOS and WordPerfect for DOS, but needs, for some aspects of her work, to become comfortable with Windows. "So far," Thomas commented, "my experience with Windows, Window-Eyes, and the braille display has been disappointing. The Window-Eyes documentation is oriented strictly toward speech users. There is only one chapter that relates to configuring braille displays, and no chapters explain what a person should do to use Window-Eyes with braille only."

Rendered Speechless

Brian Walker and Susan Stageberg recognized that even though the braille support in screen readers for Windows has come a long way, developing training materials that are centered entirely on use with braille would be challenging. They are both blind and longtime users of both speech and braille for accessing computers, and this project has required them to rely entirely on braille when developing strategies and testing them. "We worked entirely without speech for about six months before we actually wrote the first tutorial," Walker said. "And now we turn off speech for hours while testing to be absolutely sure that everything can be done without speech." Other people who are blind, including their supervisor, Curtis Chong, the director of field operations for the Iowa Department for the Blind, test the strategies presented in the tutorials to be absolutely certain of their accuracy before they are released.

"We wanted to develop training materials for an underserved population for whom magnification or speech are simply not options," Chong explained. "I don't think we realized how much feedback we get audibly." In other words, people who are blind who work without speech—who have been accustomed to using screen readers with both speech and braille—find themselves in a position analogous to that of sighted people who think they can use speech output easily until they turn their screens off. Each is somewhat unconsciously relying on additional input from a second source; people who are deaf-blind simply do not have that luxury.

Initially, to determine product areas for concentration, the team members sent out a survey and consulted with an expert in the field of assistive technology who is deaf and blind. Although they would ideally have liked to have developed tutorials for every screen reader and braille display on the market, available resources dictated that they make some choices. Each tutorial is specifically designed for work with a particular screen reader and a designated display, so that every keystroke and concept that are presented will match the experience of the student. In the end, the two displays they settled on were the ALVA Satellite 570 and the Braille Lite 40. The two screen readers used will be JAWS for Windows and Window-Eyes.

Beginning at the Beginning

The first tutorials, of course, needed to introduce Windows XP. Next came the introduction to Microsoft Word. Currently in progress are the Internet Fundamentals tutorials, which will teach people to use Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. Simply introducing Windows XP is complex, however, when it must be introduced in conjunction with a screen reader that may not be set up to display screen information in braille.

Recognizing which window is currently active on the screen is one example. For example, Insert-T is a JAWS keystroke that announces audibly the name of the active window, but that information is not displayed in braille in Structured Mode, the JAWS default setting for braille. When you switch to Speech Box Mode, the information does indeed appear on the display, but, since other necessary information does not, you need to switch back to Structured Mode or to Line Mode. "This is not necessarily difficult to do," Walker explained, "but it can become tedious." The challenges, in other words, have often turned out to be not so much to find the work-arounds to gain access to needed information without speech, but to present that potentially confusing information clearly in a tutorial that is intended for beginners.

"In the Windows XP tutorials with JAWS," Walker explained, "we put a lot of thought into the ordering of the information. The material about the JAWS Braille Modes was complex enough that we thought we wanted to introduce quite a few basic Windows concepts before we explained the modes. Then we did all that we could to ensure that we explained the JAWS Braille Modes as clearly as possible and that we explained the circumstances under which each mode was the most effective. The problem, as we perceived it, is that our tutorial is for beginners, but the JAWS Braille Modes are not beginner-level concepts."

Nothing Taken for Granted

For this article, the electronic version of the tutorial for Windows XP with JAWS and the ALVA Satellite 570 was evaluated. (Tutorials are also available in recorded format, professionally recorded by the Iowa Library for the Blind, and can be obtained in braille hard copy.) From a 3.5-inch floppy disk, the zipped files of 10 lessons and 4 appendixes easily unzip to the hard drive of a computer. All lessons and appendixes are provided as Microsoft Word files, as well as translated braille files that are ready for embossing or reading on the braille display.

The care that has been taken to be clear, thorough, and logical in the presentation of information and instruction is immediately apparent. The style is never patronizing and never instructs you to perform a given set of actions without giving a thorough explanation, as some trainers and training materials are wont to do. Instead, a clear overview of what you may see on the screen or hear from the synthesizer is provided, along with the method to obtain equivalent information from the braille display.

Other tutorials for computer users who are blind may tell you to "go to the desktop" or "go to the task bar" or "pull down the File menu." This tutorial does not assume that you know how to perform such actions. When you read "pwd" on your braille display, the tutorial explains that it means "Password." When you read "smnu," JAWS tells you that there is a submenu. It is gratifying to see such thoughtful detail in lessons that are intended to encourage beginners.

Each lesson tells you at the beginning what topics will be covered. At the end of each section is a review of what has been learned in that section. Another summary appears at the end of each lesson, along with executable exercises with which you can practice new material.

Whereas many tutorials will tell you to "press the left mouse button," the Iowa tutorials take a much more patient and unassuming approach. First, the concepts of mouse pointing and clicking are discussed. Then the location and function of the keystrokes that can be substituted for such mouse actions are provided. Nothing, in short, is taken for granted.

This first tutorial provides a thorough exploration and explanation of Windows XP and the accompanying keystrokes and functions with JAWS and a braille display that make navigating that environment possible. (If, for example, you are in Structured Mode and press Insert-F12, the current time is announced, but nothing changes on the display. If you switch to Speech Box mode, the time is both announced and appears on the display when the same key combination is pressed.) You will learn how to move among programs, menus, and dialogue boxes; how to create and delete shortcuts from the Start menu or desktop; when and why to use each of the three braille modes that are available to you; and how to make the best use of your braille display's status cells (which provide information about page format; underlining, bold, and other text attributes; and so forth).


The Iowa tutorials are arguably unsurpassed in their clear, comfortable, and thorough lessons that carefully build skill upon skill and concept upon concept as you progress through the material. There are, however, two significant drawbacks to these tutorials.

The first drawback is that tutorials have been written or are in progress for only two screen readers and two braille displays. Although the reason for this situation is easy to understand (simply not enough funds to purchase every product on the market), some students may be frustrated working with a tutorial that addresses the controls on one braille display while they are learning on a different model.

The second unfortunate factor is that each tutorial is written to address a given version of JAWS or Window-Eyes. The version of JAWS that is addressed in the tutorial that I evaluated, for instance, is 4.51, while computer users who purchase the program for the first time or upgrade from an early version will be working with 5.1. Still, the authors are able to recommend which tutorial will most closely resemble the braille display or screen reader version being used by the customer, and differences among versions are often small enough that little is lost. If one enters the learning experience of these tutorials fully cognizant of these circumstances, however, these products offer a richly rewarding training experience.

For More Information

Tutorials from Project ASSIST with Windows are available on audiocassette, on floppy disks, as e-mailed files, or as hard-copy braille. The braille version costs $35; all other versions are $25. In addition to the tutorials described here for non-speech users, other tutorials, intended mainly for use by people who use screen readers for speech output alone, that have been written since 1997 are still available. Keystroke guides for many programs are also available at $5 each and are available in electronic format. For a complete list or to order, contact: Project ASSIST with Windows, Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-2364; phone: 515-281-1317; e-mail: <ASSIST@blind.state.ia.us> or <walker.brian@blind.state.ia.us>; web site: <www.blind.state.ia.us/assist>.

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Product Evaluation

More Than a Perkins Brailler: A Review of the Mountbatten Brailler, Part 2

In the first part of this article, published in the January 2005 issue of AccessWorld, I discussed some of the basic features of the Mountbatten Pro, features that would be especially useful for young students or beginners to braille reading and writing. These features included basic embossing, using different speech modes (and for what purpose), erasing errors, changing the embossing impact, and using the one-handed mode for brailling. These features are available in Learn mode, which is the default mode for the machine. In this article, I present some of the advanced features of the Mountbatten that can be used by more-proficient students and classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, or family members who do not know braille but need to create materials for children or adults who are blind. These features may also be used by adults who are learning braille and have had experience with word processing. Directions for using some of these features will be familiar to people who have had experience with accessible personal digital assistants (PDAs) as well.

Features, Features, and More Features

One of the most useful features of the Mountbatten, and one that greatly adds to its usefulness in the classroom, is its forward-translation ability. This feature allows someone who does not know braille to connect a PC keyboard to the device, type in a file, and have the Mountbatten braille the file. This feature is a boon to any classroom teacher or paraprofessional who does not know braille but needs to provide braille materials immediately for a student (for example, in the absence of the teacher of students with visual impairments). Let's say, for example, that it is the end of the school day and the classroom teacher is reviewing the day's activities with the students by writing a story on chart paper, while the children sit on the floor in front of the chart. This is a common classroom scenario, and one in which the child who is visually impaired may be a passive observer, rather than an active participant, if the teacher of students with visual impairments is not present. With the Mountbatten, however, the classroom teacher or a paraprofessional can type in the story on a keyboard as it is being written on the chart, and the Mountbatten can then provide an instant braille copy. Now the braille reader can have a copy of the story to read while the other children read from the chart, and the teacher can lead the entire class in this learning activity.

Photo of the Mountbatten Brailler.

Caption: The Mountbatten Brailler.

And it is that simple—almost. With a keyboard or a computer connected to the Mountbatten, the machine will translate from the input device and create hard-copy braille. The trick is that the user must first put the Mountbatten in the Forward Translation mode. When a keyboard is attached to the Mountbatten, the device immediately starts brailling whatever is being typed in, but it will be in the computer braille code. For some files, such as simple spelling lists of words, it may not make much difference. But for a file that needs to use the capital dot and literary punctuation, not to mention contractions, the Mountbatten must first be told to go into Forward Translation mode. Then the Mountbatten will produce either contracted or uncontracted literary braille—whichever it is set to do. This is an important point that must be understood clearly by the teacher of students with visual impairments and must be part of the training that the teacher gives to anyone who uses the device to create braille.

Luckily, it is easy to get the Mountbatten to translate from print to hard-copy braille. First, the Mountbatten must be in Advanced mode. Attach the keyboard to the PS2 slot in the back of the Mountbatten. Commands can be entered into either the Mountbatten or the keyboard. With the keyboard, the Escape key acts as the command, and the End key acts as Enter. (The Mountbatten will say "on" when this is done.) When the command FE is typed in and the Enter key is pressed, the user can then type sentences and stories using the keyboard. After a pause while the machine translates chunks of text, the Mountbatten will then emboss the story. The default is contracted braille, so if uncontracted braille is desired, that command needs to be set on the Mountbatten before the machine is put in the Forward Translation mode. If several sentences are typed in quickly, the Mountbatten will start embossing, and when it gets to the next line, it will wait for you to hit the Return key before it continues. This way, you can choose to have it emboss all at once or bit by bit as information is entered. When the Mountbatten embosses several lines at a time, it embosses in a zigzag pattern; that is, it embosses the second line from right to left to save time as it swings back to the beginning of the line.

One feature that I briefly mentioned in the first part of this article is the ability for some contractions, but not others, to be embossed. This feature is called the Braille Exception Table, which can be used in both the Learn mode and the Advanced mode. The Mountbatten uses the list of contractions as they are found in the American Printing House for the Blind's Patterns series, although it is possible to create a personal list as well. Thus, the Mountbatten will emboss only the contractions that have been introduced to date and will use uncontracted braille for the rest. For example, if a student has learned the whole word and upper-cell contractions but not the lower-cell contractions, the Mountbatten can be set to translate only the contractions that are included in the particular Braille Exception Tables. There are 13 sets of contractions listed in an appendix to the Mountbatten manual, and each set lists the contractions that are included. For example, the set called "Patterns 1" includes the "alphabet words" (but, can, do, and so forth), "Patterns 2" set includes whole and part words of and, for, of, the, and with, and so on. Each set has to be entered into the Mountbatten separately.

The toggle feature (described in the first part of this article) applies with this command, so that the Mountbatten will tell you whether that set of contractions is on or off. With this feature, you can skip around and add specific contractions and patterns that the reader knows. This feature may be easiest to apply with adults who have been print readers and are learning braille, since they tend to learn contractions in chunks like this. With children, learning to read contractions is rarely this simple, since contractions may be introduced in other contexts and in a different order as children learn to read and write. Still, it is a useful option to have available.

Save Now, Braille Later

Another useful feature is the ability to save files into the Mountbatten to be embossed at a later time. The teacher of students with visual impairments can use this option to enter a file into the Mountbatten ahead of time—say, this week's spelling words or a list of homework tasks—and tell the student the file name. The student can then independently bring up the file and have it emboss by entering the command "pr" and then typing the file name and hitting Enter. Students can also save their own files, such as the draft of a paper, to add to or work on later. The Emboss mode can be turned off before a file is entered, so that you can compose silently and then print out the file later. The file can also be edited in speech.

I had trouble with the Editor feature, and after struggling to figure it out from the directions in the manual, I finally called tech support. The reason I had difficulty was easy to fix: The Mountbatten must be in Synthetic Speech mode to work, an important point that was not mentioned in the manual. Once I knew that trick, it was easy to use the Editor to change and add to files.

The Mountbatten can also back translate; that is, it can translate braille into print by connecting it to a printer. For students who like to write in braille, having the option of printing a document in print for the classroom teacher, for a friend who does not read braille, or for any other reason is a helpful option. The process works in the same way as the Forward Translation feature, in that a command is entered, the text is entered in braille with the Mountbatten, and then the printer prints a line at a time. It is important to know that the Mountbatten only works with "line printers" (which print one line at a time), such as dot-matrix and most bubble-jet printers, but will not connect to a laser printer. I was able to connect the machine to an Epson dot matrix printer, which dutifully printed while I was embossing. If you have access to an old Apple Image Writer, save it for the Mountbatten. I hope that the manufacturer is working on an upgrade of the Mountbatten, so it will work with a wider variety of printers, because this feature adds a great deal to the versatility of the machine.

The Mountbatten holds a charge for a long time, which is particularly helpful for use in school. The device will inform you of whether it is charging when it is turned on, and you can check the battery level. The Mountbatten beeps intermittently to remind you that it is on if it has not been used for a while.

The Mountbatten can also be used as a simple calculator and as a scientific calculator. I did not fully explore these options, but directions for their use can be downloaded from the Optelec web site (the American distributor of the Mountbatten).

But How Do I Use It?

I found that the most important trick for using the Mountbatten successfully is to input commands in the correct sequence. I sometimes found this sequence difficult to figure out because although the manual gives the name of the command, it does not always give the correct sequence for multiple commands. You must often figure out this sequence by trial and error. Remembering which commands to do in which sequence may also be confusing. For example, I wanted to do Forward Translation but in uncontracted braille with the speech off—a setting that I could see would be of great use in the classroom—but I had to try to do so a couple of times to make sure I had the correct sequence. It is helpful that the Mountbatten is good at remembering its settings, so when the machine is turned off, it will turn on again with the same settings it had when it was on last. It may take the teacher and student a few tries (and a cheat-sheet) to get common sequences down pat, but like any technological device, practice makes perfect. After a while, the settings become familiar and even second nature.

As I stated in the first part of the article, the Mountbatten is in desperate need of a user-friendly manual. The fact (noted earlier) that the manual does not tell you that the Editor works only when the Mountbatten is set for synthetic speech is an example of the many gaps that I found in the manual. I decided to review this machine as many teachers experience it: receiving the machine without any training and having to teach myself how to use it with nothing but the manual. Teachers of students with visual impairments often experience the scenario of their supervisor coming in with a large box, putting it on the desk, saying "Here's that technology thing you ordered," and then leaving. It is often up to them to figure out how a device works, what tricks to use to get it to work, and how to troubleshoot. A good manual is a huge time-saver for a busy teacher—and for a busy reviewer as well. Although technical support and training are available from Optelec (the U.S. distributor), many teachers do not have the time to telephone Optelec during the school day or cannot get time off to attend a workshop.

The Mountbatten is definitely a device that improves when you have had some training. It does so many things, and I am afraid that users will not take advantage of all its capacity or features in the absence of a decent manual or without receiving direct instruction through a workshop or tech support. You may get frustrated trying to figure out the directions from the current manual or will not take the time necessary to experiment with the features to configure them the way you want them to be. If so, you will not get all you can from the Mountbatten, and it would be a shame to use it as nothing more than a brailler.

The teacher of students with visual impairments is also left to figure out not just how to make the Mountbatten work, but how to teach it to his or her students. So I am happy to say that Special Education Technology–British Columbia, familiarly known as SET-BC, has come to the rescue. Graham Cook has developed a set of lessons for teachers and students that will be of great help to teachers who want to use the Mountbatten in their classrooms. Visit SET-BC's web site <www.setbc.org> or go directly to the URL <www.setbc.org/res/mbpro/default.html> to download the Mountbatten curriculum materials that SET-BC has developed. And as I mentioned in the first part of this article, Quantum Technology also has an excellent CD with easy-to-follow directions for basic features. It would be an enormous benefit if Quantum developed a version that explained some of the more advanced features of this multifaceted machine.

Although the many features of the Mountbatten seem to be overwhelming at first, a teacher of students with visual impairments can slowly add features and options as a student gains proficiency. At first, some features may seem to be less useful than others, but the fact that they exist gives users more options. For example, I did not see the usefulness of being able to set the left margin until I had to use paper that was three-hole punched. Then I could see why such a feature had been built in and was grateful for the ease with which I could set that option. The many features that are available for formatting and the many combinations of options make the Mountbatten truly versatile and able to meet individual needs.

The Bottom Line

Many of the features that are found in the Mountbatten are also available in other devices or can be produced in other ways. For example, an accessible PDA can save files, edit them, connect to peripherals, and so on, and most PDAs are small enough to fit in a briefcase or backpack. The Mountbatten is certainly less portable than a PDA. However, it is more than a PDA and more than a brailler. Like a PDA, it has speech for auditory feedback, works with other peripherals, and has a host of other features. But the greatest advantage of the Mountbatten is its ability to create hard-copy braille quickly from files without the need for an intervening machine (such as a separate braille embosser). For people who love "real" paper braille—as opposed to refreshable braille displays—the Mountbatten combines the best features of an accessible PDA and an embosser. This makes it a powerful classroom tool, one that can be used to create a braille-rich environment, surrounding the braille reader with as much braille as his or her peers have print.

I can also see the Mountbatten serving as a bridge between hard-copy braille and electronic text as the student gains experiences with electronic files, editing, and publishing. For young children, having that bridge between hard copy and more "virtual" content can be a useful step in their writing development. Eventually, students will learn to use a PC, an accessible PDA, a refreshable braille display for electronic books, and so forth. The Mountbatten can provide immediate braille in kindergarten and will still be useful for older students who are learning to use more advanced features. The Mountbatten may not be for everyone (what device is?), but it fills a unique niche, and one that can definitely meet the needs of individual students, especially those who need or want to use paper braille.

Manufacturer's Comments

"One of our biggest challenges with the Mountbatten has been to communicate effectively all that it can do, so thanks again to AccessWorld for this excellent review. Moving to an electronic device for early braille instruction can be challenging for some teachers of visually impaired students; however, this is typically not the case for the students. For them, the Mountbatten can help engender a sense of excitement about braille, provide a simple "bridge" between print and braille, and be the solid foundation on which they build the technology skills they will need throughout life. The criticism of the manual has been noted and will be rectified. In the meantime, the 'MB Pro: A Visual Guide,' available at <www.setbc.org> and our training CD are highly recommended. A new web site will be online in early March at <www.mountbattenbrailler.com>, which will contain some excellent resources, as well as information and news about the exciting plans for the Mountbatten in the future. The Mountbatten will continue to grow to meet the challenges that students who use braille face in our increasingly digital multimedia world."

Product Information

Product: Mountbatten Pro.

Manufacturer: Quantum Technology, P.O. Box 390, Rydalmere NSW 2116, Australia; phone: 61-2-9684-2077; e-mail: <info@quantech.com>; 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: <optelec@optelec.com>; web site: <www.optelec.com>.

Price: $3,895.

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Conference Report

ATIA 2005

When the first Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference was held in October 1999, some professionals in the field of assistive technology wondered aloud about the real value of another assistive technology (AT) conference. The learning curve has not been an easy one for ATIA, but efforts at both gathering feedback and learning from it were readily apparent at the 2005 ATIA conference, the sixth international event of its kind. Since that first conference, ATIA has been held in Orlando, Florida. As the site shifted from hotel to hotel, however, the venues might be described as moving from bad to worse to finally getting it right. With more than 1,200 participants, 150 exhibits, and sessions to interest attendees from every facet of the field, ATIA 2005 presented an environment of information sharing, learning, and respect—right in line with the mission and goals of the organization.

Photo of a crowded exhibit hall with some tropical-themed displays and a portable magnifier display in the foreground.

Caption: The ATIA Exhibit Hall was chock full of attendees and assistive technology.

Sessions ranged from beginner to advanced, with all disability needs well represented. Educators, rehabilitation professionals, developers, and consumers attended sessions to learn about a new authoring tool to determine factors needed to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in a given government agency setting; how to incorporate assistive technology into the testing arena; how a hearing-impaired actress and a sound engineer collaborated to develop new technology for the theatre; and a host of switches, communications devices, and picture-based learning tools for children and adults with an array of physical and cognitive disabilities.

The sampling of sessions specifically relating to assistive technology for people who are blind or visually impaired was impressive indeed. Participants could hear a brief history of video magnifiers and see new technology in action, learn how sighted musicians can produce braille music scores for their colleagues who are blind, and attend an explanation and demonstration of a fully accessible handheld personal digital assistant (PDA). There were sessions on using global positioning system (GPS) devices designed for people who are blind, a retail company's development of a payment terminal with text-to-speech capabilities and braille markings for independent use by a customer who is blind, and a wide variety of other relevant presentations.

New Products Launched

David Dikter, ATIA's executive director, stresses that one of the goals of the organization is to promote the development of the best assistive technology products possible for people with disabilities. "We're bringing key leadership from around the country and around the world together in a single place," Dikter said. "And we're creating an opportunity for our membership to work together as an industry."

Business is business, however, and it is no surprise that leading companies compete to bring out their newest additions to the assistive technology field during such focused events. Among the new product launches highlighted at ATIA 2005, there were several that will benefit people who are blind or visually impaired.

There were, of course, updates to such popular programs as Jaws for Windows and Window-Eyes. New braille displays vying for attention were Freedom Scientific's Focus 40 and Focus 80 and Pulse Data Humanware's Brailliant, ranging from a 24 to a 64-cell model. Unique features of the Focus products include a "seamless" display and Perkins-style keyboard for issuing commands. Highlights of the Brailliant include its under 1 pound size and intuitive USB-powered interface. (Both Focus and Brailliant displays will be reviewed in an upcoming issue of AccessWorld.)

IRTI drew considerable interest with its launch of eClipse Writer, a tool for creating your own DAISY format files. And Telex Communications announced improvements to its Scholar player, the sturdy machine that plays DAISY and other digital talking books.

Freedom Scientific also introduced its new SARA, Stand Alone Reading Appliance, a user-friendly reading machine that can store up to 20 gigabytes of scanned reading material in an organized structure on its hard drive, and an upgrade to the MAGic screen magnification software. Pulse Data introduced two new video magnifiers: myReader, a system that can produce an image of an 8 1/2-x-11-inch page in three seconds and present it in the same format as a large-print book, and the Pocket Viewer, a pocket-sized video magnifier for reading menus, labels, and other print materials on the go.

And, while you're on the go, both VisuAide's Trekker and Sendero Group's GPS software for use on the BrailleNote and VoiceNote were demonstrated with Bluetooth wireless receivers, resulting in less cumbersome hardware to tote when navigating a new or familiar route.

Come Together

Certainly one of the biggest news items at the conference was the announcement of the merger of two leading AT companies. VisuAide of Canada, the company that distributes the Victor Reader, Trekker, Maestro, and other products has merged with New Zealand-based Pulse Data, which offers BrailleNote, BrailleNote PK, Brailliant Braille Displays, Pocket Viewer, and a host of other products. The products and the people will now be one large entity, maintaining all existing offices—and the single name will be the resurrection of a familiar one: HumanWare. (See AccessWorld News in this issue for more details.)

Additional Accessibility

During previous ATIA conferences, environments were painfully less than friendly to attendees who were blind or visually impaired. David Dikter and other ATIA staff have worked hard to remedy the situation, consulting with a number of individuals who are blind. The result, while far from perfect, was a number of comfort-inducing accommodations.

The Caribe Royale All Suites Resort, ATIA's new home in 2005, is a collection of five towers and a convention center. Red-carpet runners led the way from one building to another, providing a tactile and high-contrast visual path for attendees who were blind or visually impaired. All conference materials were provided not only in braille and large print, but on CD containing a facsimile of the web site and a DAISY-formatted CD as well. "The aspect that most pleases me about the conference CD," Dikter commented, "is that it included every piece of information about the conference, and it was provided to every conference participant, not just as an accommodation to some."

There were braille menus in all of the hotel's restaurants and braille hotel information sheets. Tactile maps of the hotel and exhibit areas were also provided to participants who requested braille. While there were some problems (for example, some staff were unaware of the braille menus' existence), the level of comfort afforded customers who are blind was commendable. In fact, one winning quality of the Caribe Royale, as Dikter pointed out, was that the independently owned hotel has often gone beyond ADA compliance, and has held its own annual awareness trainings for staff long before ATIA brought its business.

The conference ended Saturday, January 22, and by Monday, David Dikter was already meeting with hotel staff, ironing out wrinkles and pressing for improvements for next year. "There is no such thing as pleasing 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time," he said, "particularly when we have so many constituents, but we'll keep working toward making ATIA the premier international AT conference."

ATIA 2006 will be held January 18-21, 2006, in the Caribe Royale All Suites Resort, Orlando, Florida. To learn more or register, visit <www.atia.org>.

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AccessWorld News

Window-Eyes Upgrade Promises Complete MS Word Support

Newly released Window-Eyes Version 5.0 breaks unprecedented ground, according to its manufacturer GW Micro. Promising 100% text accuracy, the company said that the screen reader's upgrade will provide "the most thorough and stable support" for Microsoft Word to date. Every text feature, including all columns, tables, and fields will now be read aloud in the word-processing program, and users will now be able to use Word's spell and grammar checking capabilities on the fly.

Another first with Window-Eyes 5.0 is its inclusion of a complete color dictionary, identifying screen colors with actual color names, rather than mystifying labels such as b51 or r204. Another improvement is increased support for the Mozilla web browser.

The program is being made available on a lease-to-own basis for customers who cannot or prefer not to pay all at once. With this plan, customers can purchase a 30-day evaluation copy for $50, and then pay $100 for 9 or 11 months, depending upon the upgrade plan they choose, to own a fully registered copy. For more information, contact: GW Micro, 725 Airport North Office Park, Fort Wayne, IN 46825; phone: 260-489-3671 or visit <www.gwmicro.com>.

The Biggest R&D Team in Our World

The news that had the most people buzzing throughout the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2005 conference and beyond is the merger of the Canadian-based VisuAide and New Zealand-based Pulse Data International into one company. Reclaiming the HumanWare name for the entire entity (the name was first coined in 1989), the company will be headed by Dr. Russell Smith, Pulse Data International's CEO, and will continue to carry the full line of products for customers who are blind or visually impaired from both organizations.

Both companies have pioneered in the use of global positioning system software for people who are blind, and both have been known for developing groundbreaking personal digital assistant products that are fully accessible. With the BrailleNote family of products, the Maestro, Trekker, the Victor Reader family, and a collection of video magnifiers and braille displays, the company plans to offer something for every consumer need in the blindness and low vision market. By joining forces, the company now boasts the largest research and development team in the blindness industry worldwide. To learn more, visit <www.visuaide.com> and <www.pulsedata.com>.

Web Browser Targets Companies and Organizations

Also released in concert with the 2005 ATIA conference was IBM's latest version of its self-voicing web browser, Home Page Reader. Home Page Reader Version 3.04 is particularly focused on individuals using the Internet in offices and organizations and those who are losing vision with aging. The product promises to read all text on web pages, enables you to enlarge text of an entire web page, and acts as a desktop application effective in some Microsoft products. Version 3.04 also claims to render accessible Adobe Reader 6.01 documents and Macromedia Flash 7 movies. The program sells for $142 to individuals or at a discounted price in larger quantities to organizations. For information, contact: IBM Corporation, 1133 Westchester Avenue, White Plains, New York 10604; phone: 800-IBM-4YOU or 800-IBM-3383 (TTY); web site: <www.ibm.com/able>.

JAWS at Ten

Freedom Scientific celebrates the tenth anniversary of Jaws for Windows this year, and to celebrate it has released Version 6.0 of the screen reader. One highlight of the newest release is the provision of training materials in DAISY format, along with a free DAISY reader for accessing them. A number of other features have been added, including "the introduction of Custom Labels, improved braille support, and superior access to the Outlook calendar."

Other recent announcements from Freedom Scientific include the launch of two new products, the SARA (Stand Alone Reading Appliance) at $2,595, and the new Focus braille displays (with $3,500 for a 40-cell display being the lowest price to date for such a device). Reduced prices for the PAC Mate 40 and PAC Mate 20 braille displays (to $3,200 and $1,400 respectively). Are also worth investigating. Contact: Freedom Scientific, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716-1805; phone: 800-444-4443; e-mail: <info@FreedomScientific.com>; web site: <www.freedomscientific.com>.

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March 13–15, 2005

Virginia Society of Technology and Education (VSTE) 2005 Annual State Technology Conference

Norfolk, VA


VSTE 2005, Virginia Society for Technology in Education, PMB 149, 9702 Gayton Road, Richmond, VA 23238; e-mail: <conference@vste.org>; web site: <www.vste.org/conference/2005/index.html>.

March 13–17, 2005

24th Annual Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE) INFOCOM

Miami, FL


INFOCOM 2005 Registrar, IEEE/CMS, 445 Hoes Lane, Piscataway, NJ 08855; phone: 800-810-4333 or 732-981-3415; e-mail: <c.lankenau@ieee.org>; web site: <www.ieee-infocom.org/2005/index.htm>.

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: <ctrdis@csun.edu>; web site: <www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2005/genconfinfo05.htm>.

March 16–18, 2005

Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) 2005 Conference

Detroit, MI


MACUL, P.O. Box 518, Holt, MI 48842; phone: 517-694-9756; e-mail: <macul@macul.org>; web site: <www.macul.org/contact.html>.

April 4–8, 2005

Vision 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: <bwhitlck@swbell.net>; web site: <www.ataporg.org>.

April 17–19, 2005

Technology and Innovation in Education (TIE) Conference

Rapid City, SD


Technology and Innovation in Education, 1925 Plaza Boulevard, Rapid City, SD 57702; phone: 605-394-1876; web site: <http://conference.tie.net/agenda/default.htm>.

June 5–8, 2005

Distance Learning Administration (DLA) 2005 Conference

Jekyll Island, GA


Stacey Rowland, DLA2005 Conference, State University of West Georgia, Distance & Distributed Education, Honors House, Carrollton, GA 30118; web site: <www.westga.edu/~distance/dla2005.html>.

June 9–11, 2005

Collaborative Assistive Technology Conference

Westminster, CO


Assistive Technology Partners (ATP), 1245 East Colfax Avenue, Suite 200, Denver, CO 80218; phone: 303-315-1283; e-mail: <maureen.melonis@uchsc.edu>; web site: <www.uchsc.edu/atp>.

July 22–27, 2005

11th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction

Las Vegas, NV

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: <hcii2005@ecn.purdue.edu>; web site: <www.hci-international.org>.

August 2–6, 2005

Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) 2005

Milwaukee, WI


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

Lille, France

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: <t.garmier@package.fr>; web site: <www.aaate2005.com>.

October 7–8, 2005

Virginia Murray Sowell Lecturer Series: Assistive Technology for the Visually Impaired and Multiply Disabled

Lubbock, TX


Angela Gonzalez, administrative business assistant, Virginia Murray Sowell Center for Research and Education in Visual Impairment, P.O. Box 41071, Lubbock, TX 79409; phone: 806-742-1997, extension 251; web site: <www.educ.ttu.edu/sowell>.

October 9–10, 2005

The Seventh International ACM SIGACCESS (Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing) Conference on Computers and Accessibility

Baltimore, MD


Andrew Sears, Information Systems Department, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Drive, Baltimore, MD 21250; phone: 410-455-3883; e-mail: <asears@umbc.edu>; web site: <www.acm.org/sigaccess/assets05/>.

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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