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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 May 2005 Issue  Volume 6  Number 3

Editor's Page

AccessWorld is best known for its objective product evaluations. The evaluations are designed to help you decide which product will best fit your needs or the needs of consumers with whom you work, and, therefore, which product you should buy. Charts showing comparisons of product features and ratings are included.

Each product or group of products is tested using a specific set of criteria. Documentation and installation or ease of set-up are always tested. Screen readers and screen magnifiers, for example, are used to perform a set of predetermined tasks in a number of applications. We test the word processor, address book, calendar, web browser and other applications of personal digital assistants (PDAs). Mainstream products--cell phones for example--are evaluated using a set of features defined beforehand by surveying a group of people who are blind or visually impaired. Whenever possible, more than one person tests each product.

Therefore, our findings are the results of the tests performed, not one person's opinion of the product being evaluated. Our goal is to provide readers with objective, useful information. Our conclusions are often not as harsh as some readers would like them to be, or as positive as the manufacturers would like. Over the years, we can say that many of the bugs we have found have been fixed, and our suggestions for improvements have been implemented. You can be sure that we will continue to approach product evaluation in the same manner.

In this issue, Deborah Kendrick and I report on the 20th annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, hosted by the Center on Disabilities of the California State University at Northridge (CSUN). As we have come to expect, the CSUN staff again put on the largest and best conference in the business. Read our coverage to find out about new and updated products and a sampling of the hundreds of intriguing presentations.

Amy Salmon presents a step-by-step description of how people with low vision can make simple changes in Windows XP to make it easier for them to read their computer screens. She walks you through changes to a variety of settings to customize the Windows screen from the look of the desktop to the size and font of menus. Whether you use a screen magnifier or just have trouble reading some documents or dialog boxes, there is something in this article for you.

Jim Denham and Heather McComas of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH) and I review the PAC Mate from Freedom Scientific. The PAC Mate, like the BrailleNote PK from HumanWare, formerly Pulse Data, and the Braille Hansone (now known as the Braille Sense) from HIMS Company Ltd., is a personal digital assistant (PDA) with braille or speech output and a choice of a braille or QWERTY keyboard. This article evaluates how well the PAC Mate performs various functions and how easy it is to learn and use. The current generation of adapted PDAs include, in a small package, sophisticated word processors, appointment calendars, address books, e-mail capabilities, web browsers, media players, and multiple ways to connect with a computer and other devices. Charts are included comparing all three devices.

Deborah Kendrick reports on the merger of New Zealand-based Pulse Data International and Canadian-based VisuAide, announced in January 2005. The new company will be known as the HumanWare Group. The company's combined product line now spans CCTVs; the BrailleNote family and the Maestro PDAs; the Victor Reader Digital Talking Book players, and the Trekker and BrailleNote global positioning satellite (GPS) systems. We spoke with company executives about plans for the future. Time will tell whether assurances that this merger will foster product research and development--rather than the layoffs and consolidation with which we all are too familiar following mergers in other fields--will prevail.

Janet Ingber, author and music therapist, writes about Web-4-All, a program that makes computers in public Internet access sites of the Canadian Community Access Program (CAP) usable by people who are blind or visually impaired. Industry Canada, CAP's sponsoring agency, contracted with the University of Toronto's Assistive Technology Resource Center to design software for the project. Each user sets up a personal profile indicating which assistive technology should be used for Internet access, and this configuration is loaded when the user inserts a smart card into one of the over 1,000 computers that are now part of the network. No personal information is coded on the smart card. Read about this innovative project, which could have many practical applications in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Darren Burton of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), evaluates the LG VX 4500 cell phone from Verizon Wireless and Microsoft's Voice Command software, which can be installed on many of today's new Pocket PC phones and personal digital assistants. The LG VX 4500 is an off-the-shelf phone with some accessible functionality built-in. It features robust voice input control as well as speech output, and provides access to more features and functions than similar phones have previously. Voice Command Software brings a limited level of accessibility to touch-screen devices that have traditionally been unusable by people who are blind or have low vision. Find out what AccessWorld's expert thinks of these two approaches.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief


Correction

After the article "Thin and Sleek: A Review of Two Flat-Panel Desktop CCTVs" was published in the March 2005 issue, AccessWorld was notified by Optelec that the name of one of the products evaluated had been changed from ClearView Flext to ClearView Flat Panel. The name has now been corrected online. We regret any confusion that may have been created by this alteration.

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

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