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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 July 2005 Issue  Volume 6  Number 4

Editor's Page

The assistive technology field appears to be at a crossroads. In May, we reported on the merger of two apparently successful companies--Pulse Data International and VisuAide; this month we cover the closure of Telesensory, a company that dominated the field for many years.

A large majority of assistive technology products are purchased by state agencies for the use of consumers who are either making the transition from secondary school to college or who are searching for a job. This fact, along with the high cost of research and development, has kept prices very high. For most consumers who are blind, the costs of products that could change their lives are beyond their reach.

In the past couple of years, state budgets have been cut, and, as a result, so has the amount of assistive technology that state agencies can purchase. This has put the squeeze on manufacturers. The key question is how manufacturers will respond. Will they move toward adapting off-the-shelf products to lower costs? This has worked with optical character recognition software, and it is beginning to have an effect with personal digital assistants. Will they have to cut prices, as some companies have on braille displays and closed-circuit televisions? There may well be more changes in store in the next several months.

In this issue, Deborah Kendrick reports on the surprise closure and bankruptcy of Telesensory Corporation on March 14, 2005. She tells the story of what happened to the company from which you probably purchased your first assistive technology product if you began using assistive technology in the 1970s or 1980s. Weaving history with quotes from former employees, this article describes the ignominious end of the assistive technology field's pioneering company, which was founded in 1970.

Jim Denham and Heather McComas of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH) and I evaluate the Maestro personal digital assistant (PDA) from HumanWare Canada. The Maestro is the first off-the-shelf PDA to be adapted for use by people who are blind or visually impaired. The PDA's touch screen is made accessible through the use of a tactile keypad overlay. The Maestro currently offers a contacts list, a calendar, the ability to enter text and vocal notes and the option of adding the Trekker global positioning satellite (GPS) system. Read about this innovative product that holds the promise of adding even more functionality at a relatively affordable price.

Amy Salmon, a technology trainer from Illinois, provides a guide for customizing the mouse for people with low vision. She provides instructions for controlling features on the mouse and changing the size, color, shape and look of the mouse pointer. If you are tired of hunting for the mouse pointer on your computer screen, this article is for you.

Jim Denham and Heather McComas evaluate the Focus 40 braille display from Freedom Scientific. Available with either 40 or 80 cells, the Focus displays offer improved ergonomic design, additional controls and smoother braille cells. Find out how these displays performed with both the JAWS and Window-Eyes screen readers.

Janet Ingber interviews five current and former broadcasters--a recording engineer, a gospel radio deejay, a former jazz show host and music director, a director of a radio reading service and a sports announcer and highlights coordinator. They each tell the story of how they got into the radio business and how they persevered as the industry consolidated and became more technology-based in the 1990s. Find out what you can expect if you are interested in a career in front of or behind the microphone.

Deborah Kendrick writes about the KeySoft 6.1 upgrade to HumanWare's BrailleNote and VoiceNote family of PDAs. This software improves the BrailleNote or VoiceNote's connectivity with other devices and networks, and tweaks other features as well. Read about how you can reinvigorate a device you may have purchased up to five years ago.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

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