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

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Letters to the Editor

Driven to Succeed: A Tribute to Russell Smith

After the sudden and untimely death of the newly formed HumanWare's CEO, we remember his role in developing the products that so many visually impaired people depend on--Deborah Kendrick

What's in a PDF? The Challenges of the Popular Portable Document Format

Find out why Portable Document Format (PDF) is so popular, and how its accessibility has recently improved--Jamal Mazrui

Let Your Fingers Do the Shopping: A Review of Seven Online Shopping Web Sites

Read about a welcome alternative to fighting for the items you want in your local mall--Janet Ingber

Shop Till You Drop--A Lot!

Has this ever happened to you? Take a walk on the lighter side of online shopping--Susan Mazrui

Simply Out Scanning: A Review of SARA and ScannaR

We review two easy-to-use, stand-alone optical character recognition systems--Darren Burton and Heather McComas

Express Yourself: An Introduction to Blogs

An initiation into the hottest new way to tell the world what you think about anything and everything--Janina Sajka

Braille.com and Beyond, by Anna Dresner

A review of a handy guide for new web surfers and inexperienced online shoppers--Deborah Kendrick

Dialing Up the Magnification: A Review of Mobile Magnifier

Read about a product that brings magnification to cell phone screens-- Darren Burton and Lee Huffman

AccessWorld News

Calendar


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

Assistive technology is a relatively young field. The products many of us use currently have been around for only a few years. Earlier products, gathering dust on our shelves, are not really that old either. A good number of us went through school and our early careers without assistive technology.

One advantage of being a young field is having many of the pioneers still among us. We profit from their inventions and memories and from continued innovations. We recently lost one of these pioneers prematurely. Because of his unassuming manner, many of his company's customers did not know or realize who he was. In this issue, AccessWorld pays tribute to this major figure in assistive technology. From the Sonic Guide of 1976 to the BrailleNote mPower released in July 2005, many innovative devices aimed at assisting people who are blind or visually impaired throughout the world resulted from the work of just one man. Deborah Kendrick provides a tribute to that man, Dr. Russell Smith, founder and CEO of Pulse Data, now HumanWare. On August 7, Smith and his wife, Marian D'Eve, were killed in an airplane crash in New Zealand while returning home from a weekend conference. Read about the life of this passionate pioneer and leader of the assistive technology field.

Jamal Mazrui, Technology Specialist in the Industry Analysis and Technology Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, provides an overview of the Portable Document Format (PDF) one of the most popular file formats for publishing on the web. He identifies features behind the popularity of PDF, analyzes their impact on accessibility, and discusses use of the Adobe Reader program with a screen reader such as JAWS or Window-Eyes. Find out why publishers love PDF and how access to PDF has improved if you have the most recent versions of both Adobe's software and your screen reader. AccessWorld Solutions, the consulting division of the American Foundation for the Blind, has worked with Adobe since August 2003 to help them to improve and enhance the accessibility and usability of several Adobe products for people with disabilities, including Adobe Acrobat and Reader products 6.0 and 7.0 versions. Jamal Mazrui is not affiliated with AccessWorld Solutions or the American Foundation for the Blind.

Just in time for the holidays, Janet Ingber, author and music therapist, reviews seven online shopping sites: Amazon.com, ToysRUs.com, Drugstore.com, PetDiscounters.com, BestBuy.com, Gap.com and LandsEnd.com. These sites and others present a convenient, welcome alternative to traveling to and shopping in crowded malls. Check out what these sites have to offer, and learn how to complete their registration forms.

Susan Mazrui, a writer from Virginia, recounts another side of shopping online--some of her humorous, and occasionally horrifying, experiences. Coverage of technology, assistive and otherwise, is often much too serious. Here we present the first in a series of Susan's reflections under the heading of Mazruminations, which will focus on the lighter side of technology. Let us know what you think of bringing some humor to AccessWorld's web pages.

Darren Burton and Heather McComas of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), evaluate the Scanning and Reading Appliance (SARA) from Freedom Scientific and the ScannaR from HumanWare, two stand-alone optical character recognition systems. These products are aimed primarily at people who are not sophisticated computer users. Find out how these two systems, which perform basic scanning and reading functions, compare with one another.

Janina Sajka, technology consultant from Washington, DC, writes an introduction to blogs. A contraction of the words "web" and "log," a blog is created on the World Wide Web and represents someone's "log" of their thoughts and activities. You have probably heard about blogs in the news, as they are a hot topic in the media. Find out more about how to read blogs and even how to start writing your own.

Deborah Kendrick reviews Braille.com and Beyond by Anna Dresner, published by National Braille Press. The book teaches you how to navigate web pages, follow links, save favorite pages to your Favorites folder, locate specifically desired information, and more. The main audience is new web surfers and inexperienced online shoppers, but a comprehensive listing of Windows and screen reader commands will be useful to others as well.

Darren Burton and Lee Huffman, a new staff member at AFB TECH, evaluate Mobile Magnifier, a screen magnifier from Code Factory for selected cell phones. Mobile Magnifier stand-alone features a separate magnified window providing an enlarged view of the active portion of the main window. Mobile Magnifier Plug-In works in conjunction with Code Factory's Mobile Speak screen reader to provide you with both screen magnification and speech output. Learn how well this product performs.

Correction

There are two inaccuracies in "Not What the Doctor Ordered: A Review of Apple's VoiceOver Screen Reader" in the September issue.

  • The correct command to type in a web address is Command-L.
  • There is now a spell checker in TextEdit. Press Command-Colon or choose Check Spelling from the Spelling submenu in the Edit menu to access it.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

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Letters to the Editor

A Tale of Two Cell Phones

Your article on the LG VX 4500 in the May issue of AccessWorld was most interesting and useful. Since my two-year contract with Verizon Wireless was almost up, I called the local Verizon store to ask about the 4500. "Discontinued," they said. "Replaced by the 4650." So, armed with notes from your article on the 4500, I went into the store and put the 4650 through its paces. "I'll take it," I quickly said, and they wrote me a new contract on the spot. What's more, they charged me nothing because I had some credit left on my first contract.

I am so very pleased with my new LG VX 4650. I am eager to see what AccessWorld thinks of it. Of course, I realize that by the end of my new contract the 4650 will have been replaced with something hopefully much better. But for now, I'm as happy with the 4650 as a dog with two tails!

Morgan Jones
New Paltz, NY

Talking Signs for Elevators

In the article on Otis Elevator's new control system, the mention of talking signs could possibly lead to solutions for several problems on which you briefly touched. A blind potential passenger not familiar with the system could be guided to the control panel and given a basic hint to its use by a talking sign transmitter installed just above said panel: "Elevator control panel. Use key pad to enter floor destination," or the like.

Also, a similar sign over the intended car's door, such as "Car E for floors _____," could better direct someone to the correct car when sound from a speaker could be difficult to locate in a possibly noisy, echo-full environment.

I realize that inclusion of such technology could increase cost to the company, but I believe at least mentioning the existence of such solutions is obligatory for access professionals!

Tom Fowle
Smith-Kettlewell Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center
San Francisco, CA

Darren Burton responds

Your first suggestion of using your talking signs technology makes good sense. A message perhaps giving the location of the keypad in relation to the elevator doors, along with a brief note telling the user to press the "accessibility" key to begin, might be very helpful to a blind or visually impaired passenger.

Your second comment suggesting that a talking sign be placed over the intended elevator, however, would not work in this situation. That is because cars are not permanently assigned to certain floors. Instead, it is a dynamic process in which a particular car could be assigned to serve any floor in the building. The computer decides which car to assign to which floor based on efficiency, and the speaker at the keypad directs the passenger to the assigned car.

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In Memoriam

Driven to Succeed: A Tribute to Russell Smith

Photo of Russell Smith.

Caption: Russell Smith, 1944-2005

Get a bunch of blind people together who were using technology 10, 20, or even 30 years ago, and the rekindling of the awe that was inspired by tools that could render us equal with sighted colleagues is almost palpable. The first machines to make it possible to proofread one's own work, calculate and record finances, read a document available only in print, or do research without sighted assistance--while taken for granted by many in college today--were viewed as miracles by blind people who were students in the 1970s or earlier.

Even more remarkable than the technology itself, perhaps, is this single fact: From the Sonic Guide of 1976 to the BrailleNote mPower released in July 2005, an astonishing number of innovative devices that have been aimed at assisting people who are blind or have low vision throughout the world resulted from the work of just one man. In defining Russell Smith, the word icon and references to Bill Gates have been heard repeatedly, and after researching information about him, it seemed to me that, indeed, no praise seems too lavish. To add to the wonder, Smith was not just a genius, he was a fine human being--loved and revered by CEOs and customers around the world.

On August 7, 2005, Smith and his wife, Marian D'Eve, were killed in an airplane crash while returning home from a weekend conference. Smith was a passionate pilot. The couple's intended destination was the private airstrip at their home at Aylesford, New Zealand. The Cessna 182 crashed into the sea north of Christchurch, New Zealand. Smith was 61.

In January 2005, just seven months before his tragic death, the merger of New Zealand-based Pulse Data International (the company that Smith founded in 1988) and Canada-based VisuAide was the hottest news in the assistive technology industry. Smith was now CEO of the newly formed company called HumanWare, and his enthusiasm for leading it into new and exciting venues was electric. His untimely death has been a shock to many around the world, yet, given the enormous number of lives that his work has affected in measurably positive ways, a relatively small number of customers were aware of exactly who this man was or the role that he played in developing the products that so many visually impaired people depend on.

Starting with Sonar

Smith's initial forays into blindness were academic. He earned his Ph.D. in underwater sonar technology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. "His professor got the idea that this technology could help blind people find their way in the streets," recalled Jim Halliday, president emeritus of HumanWare's U.S. division. Before long, the company for which Smith was working, Wormald International, formed a new division called Sensory Aids to pursue that idea with Smith at the helm. The first product was the Sonic Guide in 1976, which resembled a pair of heavy eyeglasses and transmitted information about the physical environment in an auditory format. In 1978, the company introduced the second electronic travel aid, the Mowat Sensor, which transmitted information on surroundings via vibrations in a handheld device. In his role with Telesensory, Halliday was the U.S. distributor of both devices and subsequently developed a relationship with Smith that led not only to the formation of a giant presence in the assistive technology industry and numerous "firsts" in products for people who are blind or have low vision, but a personal relationship that Halliday tearfully described as being "like family."

The next few products for which Smith was responsible, also world firsts, were embraced by the low vision community. The Viewscan, introduced in 1980, was a portable large-print hand-scanning device for people with low vision, and the Viewscan Text System, introduced in 1983, was the first large-print word processor. (Some of these devices, including the Viewscan Text System, have no real equivalents in today's market.)

Jeff Moyer, vice president of Marketing for Talking Signs, described himself as "a fan, a friend, a decades-long champion of Russell and his work." Although the two did not meet until 1983 or 1984, Moyer recalled testing the Sonic Guide with the teenagers he taught at a center in Palo Alto, California, in the mid-1970s. Now totally blind himself, he said of the device, "I wish I had one today."

But Moyer's personal breakthrough with a device that was inspired by Smith was the Viewscan Text System in 1984. "I could no longer read my giant magic marker notes for presentations," Moyer said, "[and with the] gorgeous orange-on-black scrolling words, I could read again. What I really loved was the Viewscan Text System, the early computer. Data were saved in 3K blocks on microcassettes [and later] to a CP/M format on 5.5 inch floppies." Later, when Moyer lost all his vision and considerable use of his hands, he needed to switch to a device with a smaller keyboard--then the Braille 'n Speak, distributed by Blazie Engineering. Smith spent hours converting all Moyer's songs, memos, essays, and other files to 3.5-inch floppies for use with the new system. As Moyer said, "Now, that's service!"

From Keynote to Braille Note

In 1986, Smith spearheaded the development of the first portable talking word processor that was useful to people who were blind or had low vision. The Keynote portable computer was based on an Epson HX20 computer, weighed about six pounds, and had state-of-the-art word-processing capabilities, along with a variety of other functions. The highly intuitive, user-friendly Keyword application, familiar to so many BrailleNote and VoiceNote users today, was born in the Keynote. Indeed, many of the positive features of the device have a familiar ring to those who wrote or read reviews of the BrailleNote 15 years later. Consider some comments from a review I wrote in the Spring 1987 issue of Tactic: "Speed, portability, good internal speech, multiple capabilities, and ease of operation head the list of the Keynote portable computer's positive attributes"; "I became enchanted with the Keynote's capabilities after just 30 minutes of experimentation"; and "Switch Keynote on, and in about 7 seconds you are in the file of your choice." Nearly 20 years ago, in other words, similar power and innovation, along with the same intuitive help messages, were resident in that device that would later blossom into the now-familiar Keysoft environment.

In 1988, Smith led a management buyout of Wormald's Sensory Aids Division and founded Pulse Data International. At roughly the same time, HumanWare, led by Halliday (with a large portion of its funding from Pulse Data), opened its doors in the United States. Although Pulse Data maintained high visibility for the next few years with its video magnifiers Viewpoint and Smartview, it would be the introduction of the BrailleNote in 2000 that would send company profits soaring and render the name Pulse Data International, the company founded and driven by Russell Smith, a household name throughout the blind community.

In a spirited informal sales meeting in a California hot tub, Halliday, Dominic Gagliano, Jerry Kuns, and several others recalled, a round of brainstorming took place that would later become legendary. The Keysoft environment already existed--intuitive, multifaceted, and solid. What was needed, the team realized, was the right package to put it in. It would not be long before Smith accepted the proposition, and the BrailleNote--a sort of braille-based portable digital assistant and another world first--was launched.

Russell Smith holds a BrailleNote as an interested Bill Gates points to it and speaks. Jim Halliday smiles.

Caption: Russell Smith (right) showing the BrailleNote to Bill Gates (left) at the product's official launch, as Jim Halliday watches.

The success of the BrailleNote was such that in 2002, the company's profits were boosted by 76%, and Smith was featured as one of the top five exporters of his country in a television documentary entitled "Exporters--Selling New Zealand to the World." Pulse Data has, in fact, been named a top New Zealand exporter for the past three years (exporting $70 million worth of products to 30 countries, including France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States in 2004). In June 2004, New Zealand journalist Herman Michael wrote in the Canterbury Press: "Years spent helping to improve the lives of the visually impaired have finally been recognised for Christchurch businessman Dr Russell Smith." The particular honor of the moment was Smith's inclusion as a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, which may be described as the New Zealand version of England's knighthood. The writer went on to say that Smith was "self-effacing" and "reluctant to accept the glory as all his own" but flattered and pleased that his company's success was noticed.

An Ordinary Man

The theme of Smith as an "ordinary man," an executive who was often present on what Jonathan Mosen, HumanWare's manager of blindness products, called "the shop floor," is a recurring one. Smith did not introduce himself as the company's CEO and did not hesitate to demonstrate a product in the exhibit hall, just as his key employees would do. Marlaina Lieberg, a Seattle-based entrepreneur who runs the consulting firm she founded with her husband, Gary, and hosts a popular Internet broadcast on ACB Radio, worked for Pulse Data/HumanWare for two years as the director of training services. She recalled with amusement how she met Smith her first day on the job.

Her boss, Jim Halliday, mentioned that "Russell" was working on the BrailleNote's case and asked if she would like to give him her ideas. Indeed, she would. A few minutes later, the stranger placed an updated case in her hands, and she blasted him with her criticism and suggestions for improvements. When Halliday broke in with an introduction, "Marlaina, I'd like you to meet Russell Smith, founder and chief executive," Lieberg's quick and humorous recovery was, "Why, you've made a fine case, a wonderful case!" Then, she said, "He just punched me on the arm and said, 'Ah, go on with ya,' and that just sealed us." She had given him the honest feedback that he truly wanted. When the next generation of the carrying case was released, it included Lieberg's suggestions.

Every colleague and employee who was interviewed for this article consistently stressed certain characteristics in remembering Smith: his warmth, generosity, attention to detail, and methodical way of analyzing and solving a problem. Tales of his graciousness--his and Marian's actually--abound, from preparing a last-minute meal, rather than putting hungry colleagues on an evening flight, to insisting that airplane seats be reassigned so an employee could sit beside him.

But you do not become a millionaire and top exporter in your country by simply caring about people. Smith's legendary focus, drive, and energy set an exhausting and exhilarating example for employees that ultimately netted profits for everyone. Colleagues talked about hearing Smith work well into the night while others slept and marveled at his stamina for uninterrupted weeks of travel. Blended with that self-motivation and meticulous analysis of problems was an innate wisdom about people. Rather than being the invisible CEO, the money behind the outfit, Smith was in the exhibit hall, chatting with colleagues, demonstrating products to customers. He believed in his work, in the company that he led (evidenced early on by putting up his own home as collateral), and in the people to whom his work was dedicated. He was a millionaire who did not need for anyone to know it, and an innovator who loved his wife, his family, his airplane, and his technology.

In July 2005, Smith spoke to the National Federation of the Blind during its national convention in Louisville, Kentucky. His address to that body, presented with Gilles Pepin, president of HumanWare Canada, was one of the most eloquent of the week. I asked Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, to reflect on his experience of Smith. "He was a fellow who was a good man, an energetic and a committed man," Maurer said, "and . . . I think he thought we might do work together that would be of interest to the blind of the world." Reflecting the facet of Smith that was all about fun, he added, "He said to me that when I got to New Zealand, he would show me his airplane, . . . [which] is something I would have done with considerable joy."

Doing the Right Thing

HumanWare also acted as the lead sponsor for that convention, and I asked Smith about it one day. "It's a huge commitment for us," he told me, "but it's the right thing for us to do." That confidence--knowing the "right thing" --whether as an engineer, a businessman, a pilot, or a human being--is what those who were closest to him will carry and benefit from over the long haul. Certainly, there will also always be the wondering, the "what else might he have done had he lived longer?" But as HumanWare's senior management team continues without the leader who brought their company to world renown and success, as they pursue the paths that he might have pursued, perhaps his sense, both pragmatic and humanitarian, of the "right thing" will be the flight plan that they follow.

On August 16, 2005, the double funeral service for Russell Smith and Marian D'Eve was packed to capacity with family members and friends from around the world. Jim Halliday, "clearly grief stricken" as a local account reported, was the last of 11 speakers to eulogize the couple. In recognition that there were many, however, throughout the United States and elsewhere who could not attend, HumanWare is orchestrating a small memorial service, to be held at the home of the New Zealand ambassador to the United States in Washington, DC, on October 11, 2005, and a much larger, public memorial during the annual CSUN conference hosted by the Center on Disabilities at the California State University at Northridge in March 2006.

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AccessIssues

What's in a PDF? The Challenges of the Popular Portable Document Format

Editor's note: AccessWorld Solutions, the consulting arm of the American Foundation for the Blind, has worked with Adobe since August 2003 to help them improve and enhance accessibility and usability of several Adobe products for people with disabilities, including Adobe Acrobat and Reader products 6.0 and 7.0 versions. Jamal Mazrui is not affiliated with AccessWorld Solutions or the American Foundation for the Blind.

Portable Document Format (PDF) is an electronic file format developed by Adobe Systems of San Jose, California. PDF has become one of the most popular file formats for publishing documents on the Web and is thus a common medium for the dissemination of knowledge. This article identifies features behind the popularity of PDF, analyzes their impact on accessibility, and discusses the use of the Adobe Reader program with a screen reader, such as JAWS or Window-Eyes.

Popular Features

Adobe publishes an official specification of PDF, which has evolved over the years to version 1.6 at present. Compared to other formats that can be used for storing and distributing documents electronically, such as HTML or Microsoft Word, PDF is distinguished by at least four features: visual fidelity, compact storage, security settings, and cross-platform portability.

Visual Fidelity

By preparing a document in PDF, one can be reasonably confident that the precise visual appearance that is intended is presented to the reader, including layout, fonts, colors, and pictures. This is true whether the output is displayed on the computer screen or printed as hard copy. Since a PDF file is internally divided into pages of output, each page of an author's work will have the look and feel that he or she wants to convey. This visual fidelity is a reason why PDF is widely used for distributing publications in electronic form.

Compact Storage

A document in HTML format is typically divided into multiple files that are presented as separate pages on a web site. Moreover, pictures are further separated as graphics files that are linked to the text pages. Thus, distributing a document in HTML usually involves collecting various files at the source and placing them in an appropriate arrangement at the destination for the document to be coherent.

If a document is prepared in PDF, on the other hand, all the text and graphics are bound in a single file. In addition, this file is compressed: Techniques are used for storing repeating sequences of data in more compact ways, thus reducing the total size. The software for viewing a PDF file automatically decompresses the data as it presents its content in readable form. This compact storage means that a web site can store publications in a single file that corresponds to each document, a user can download them faster, and both sending and receiving are easier.

Security Settings

PDF contains optional settings that an author can incorporate to limit how a PDF file is used. Without such restrictions, the Adobe Reader program permits a user to view a PDF file on the screen, print it, copy it to the clipboard, and save it to disk in plain text format. With security settings, however, any of the uses besides on-screen viewing may be blocked completely or limited in some way. For example, only a portion may be copied to the clipboard or only a range of pages may be printed once a week. Stricter settings can prevent a PDF file from being viewed on any computer that does not contain a license key for a specific PDF file. The mechanism is similar to those that are sometimes used to prevent unauthorized copying of software to other computers. These security settings mean that authors can choose to limit who uses their documents and how.

Cross-platform Portability

An integral piece of PDF support is the free software that Adobe also develops for viewing PDF files on several different computer platforms or operating systems, including Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh, UNIX, and handheld personal digital assistants. The Adobe Reader program ensures that a PDF file can be viewed with the same visual fidelity on almost any type of computer. Since these programs may be obtained without charge, the cost of the Adobe Reader software is not an obstacle to viewing a document that is available in PDF. This cross-platform portability means that authors can disseminate their works widely.

Accessibility Challenges

The popularity of PDF as a means of distributing publications has some benefit for people who are blind or have impaired vision. In general, electronic publications offer more potential for accessible, independent reading than do print publications, since computer programs can produce output in flexible and alternative ways, including synthetic speech, braille, and magnified text. This means that an intermediary sighted assistant is not needed, thus providing convenience and privacy. The benefits of PDF, previously discussed, help to increase the amount of reading material that is published in electronic form. In addition, someone who is visually impaired benefits directly, as others do, from particular PDF features, such as compact storage.

Yet, some PDF features that provide benefits of a general nature have had inadvertent adverse side effects for nonvisual readers. To understand why, this section explains some technical inner workings of PDF. The specification for the current version 1.6 is over 1,200 pages long. To keep within the scope of this article, the discussion will necessarily simplify a technical explanation of the format, focusing on the concepts most relevant to accessibility.

The PostScript Language

PDF originates in a specialized programming language, called PostScript, developed by Adobe in the 1980s. Part of the power of PostScript derives from its flexibility about the order in which parts of output are placed on a page. The order does not have to be from left to right and top to bottom. A PostScript-enabled printer produces output a page at a time. Each page of output is transmitted as a batch after all drawing operations on it are complete. An observer of the visual page may guess, but does not actually know, in what order the output was drawn.

Three Components of Output

Producing output may be subdivided into drawing three components: textual characters, vector graphics, and photographic images. How these different objects are used and combined has implications for accessibility, as explained later.

Textual Characters

Textual characters are based on a font table: a set of associations between the visible form of a character and its numeric value in a system called Unicode. The historically popular code called ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) defines about 250 possible characters, which typically suffice for expressing English and other European languages. Unicode, by comparison, defines tens of thousands of characters in order to support numerous written languages of the world, as well as many specialized symbols used in particular subject areas. A PostScript program draws a string of characters on a page by using the Unicode value of each character and looking up its associated shape in a font table.

Vector Graphics

Besides textual characters, many other kinds of shapes may be drawn on a page based on mathematical calculations. Such shapes--called vector graphics--may be straight or curved lines, geometric designs such as circles or squares, or filled areas according to a pattern. In fact, PostScript can draw vector graphics to create a picture of almost anything on a page.

Photographic Images

A third component of output is a photographic image, which may be thought of as an array of colored dots that create a literal picture. PostScript does not know the internal structure of an image, so it essentially copies rather than generates it to a particular location on the page. Such images are typically defined in a format called TIFF (Tag Image File Format).

The PDF File Type

Adobe built PDF as a file type on the foundation of PostScript as a printing language. PDF is a way that documents can be viewed on the screen and exchanged among users, not just printed onto paper. PDF uses the same "imaging model" as PostScript for describing how a page looks. A PDF file contains an abbreviated set of PostScript instructions: basically, a sequence of drawing operations without other programming constructs such as conditions and loops.

Hence, a PDF document is a file that contains PostScript instructions and the data they use. The commands and data follow certain rules that Adobe has defined as the specification for Portable Document Format. As opposed to a file format whose internal structure is only known by its developers, the PDF specification is published and open rather than private and proprietary. It is copyrighted and controlled by Adobe, but anyone is free to use it for developing software that either creates or views PDF files within general licensing terms. Adobe also publishes a free viewing and printing program for many different devices so that all understand PDF in the same way. Adobe has, therefore, established the combination of a file format and software interpreter that enables authors to publish documents with a certain look and feel for potential readers in a broad variety of environments.

Three Types of PDF Files

PDF files may be subdivided into three types: image-only, searchable image, and formatted text and graphics. These types differ in their use of the different components just described--textual characters, vector graphics, and photographic images.

Image-Only PDF

An image-only PDF contains a photographic image representing each page, and virtually no textual characters or vector graphics. Although text may appear on a page, the text is actually a surface picture without underlying characters. Individual characters are needed for translation into speech or braille, so an image-only PDF file is inaccessible.

Image-only PDF files are usually created by scanning hard-copy documents into a computer with attached scanning equipment. Essentially, the system takes a picture of each printed page and then packages the pages in a PDF file. It is possible to use optical character recognition (OCR) software to create textual characters in the PDF file, but this is often not done because the process takes much longer: minutes for OCR compared to seconds for photographic snapshots. Another reason for avoiding OCR is that the resulting text usually contains recognition errors that require manual proofreading and correction to be accurate, thereby involving more staff time and skill.

Scanning documents into image-only PDF files has been a common way of storing information for archival purposes because electronic media are much smaller and less cumbersome than is paper storage. The more that documents originate in electronic, rather than hard-copy, form, the less likely that documents need to be scanned to be archived. Thus, as authors rely more on computers as the original source of documents, the accessibility problem of image-based PDF may lessen over time.

Searchable Image

Searchable-image PDF also contains an image for each page, but this type includes a text layer as well. The textual characters are produced from an OCR process, which analyzes each image for what appear to be characters. Wherever characters are recognized in the image, the software draws a layer of text under them. An observer of the page sees the surface image only, as with image-only PDF.

The text layer enables a PDF file to be searched for phrases of interest to a reader who is viewing the document. This text also enables PDF files to be indexed with keywords in a collection of electronic documents, thus permitting a researcher to find particular ones worth further study.

Adding a text layer increases the size of a PDF file, so text may be omitted if compactness is of primary importance. Usually, however, the ability to search, for sighted as well as visually impaired readers, outweighs the cost in extra size, especially since the text is compressed, as previously mentioned. Since nonvisual access to PDF content requires text, adding searchability to a PDF file also benefits accessibility.

Formatted Text and Graphics

A third PDF type, called formatted text and graphics, minimizes the use of photographic images in favor of textual characters and vector graphics. No image layer rests on top of a text layer. Instead, textual characters and vector graphics are drawn wherever they can represent the content of a page. Photographic images are used only when they are pictures that cannot be generated from building blocks of textual characters and vector graphics. This type of PDF is usually the result of conversion from another electronic file format, such as Microsoft Word. This type is the most compact (often 10% of an image-only file with the same content). Also, since this type is built from more structured components, it may be used more flexibly for other purposes. For example, such a PDF file might be converted to HTML for display as web pages or converted to Microsoft Word for editing as part of another document.

A PDF file composed as formatted text and graphics is likely to be more accessible than one composed as searchable image. Although both types contain textual characters, the quality of the text is almost necessarily better in the latter type because it serves the purpose of presentation as well as searchability. If the PDF file was created by scanning, more work has probably been done than with the searchable-image type in order to correct OCR errors and achieve presentable text. If the PDF file was created by converting another electronic format, then the textual components are probably more complete, since they derive directly from character fonts rather than indirectly from recognized images. Despite the accessibility potential of this PDF type, however, other problems of a structural nature may pose significant accessibility problems, as subsequently explained.

Character Decoding

Textual characters are a necessary condition for the accessibility of PDF, but they are not sufficient on their own. Some PDF-creation tools do not leave enough information about the fonts used for a PDF viewing program to decipher all the characters in terms of a well-understood computer alphabet. The viewing program sees shapes that it knows are characters drawn on the page. The program then has to do a back-translation of their drawing operations, looking up the Unicode value for each shape and rendering it as a standard screen character. If the original font table is embedded in the PDF file, the viewing program can decode the characters. Decoding is also possible if a common font was used, such as one built into the operating system. Without an available font table, however, the viewing program does not know what textual characters exist because it does quick table lookups rather than sophisticated OCR.

Reading Order

Even if complete character decoding is possible, a PDF file may be inaccessible because of problems in "reading order." This term refers to the order of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Can they be extracted from the text of the PDF file in a coherent, linear order, or are they mixed together in disconnected, confusing ways?

For example, the text of a PDF file may appear visually like newspaper columns, where a line stops midway across the page and continues underneath, rather than continuing across to the right margin. Visually, on a screen or printout, the structure of the document is apparent because of extra spacing or a border line that indicates where one column of text ends and another begins. Information about this document structure, however, must be represented in the PDF file for the reading order to be rendered in an intelligible manner by assistive technology. Without structural information that groups and separates regions of the page, the document may be inaccessible to nonvisual readers.

Since PDF is frequently chosen for publications that are intended to look fancier than single-column text, PDF files often contain irregular page layouts with multiple columns, sidebars, and picture captions. If these files lack an internal structure, a nonvisual interpretation of them necessarily involves guesses about reading order, and mistakes can seriously undermine the comprehension of their content.

Accessibility Options

Tagging PDF Files

To address such accessibility problems, Adobe introduced an extension to PDF called "tagging." The concept is similar to tags in the HTML format. As background, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) did pioneering work with HTML tags to incorporate the document structure that was needed for accessibility as the HTML standard evolved.

HTML encloses portions of text with markers that indicate the structure or purpose of the text. For example, a phrase may be tagged as the heading of a section, the caption of an image, or a cell within a table. Some tags are necessary for proper visual display in a web browser that interprets HTML files, whereas other tags--although still a standard part of the HTML language--are recommended specifically to aid accessibility. For example, accessibility tags include an indication of the row and column labels of a table, which enables a screen reader to tell the user about the context of each cell. The cell information may be useless or confusing without knowing the associated row and column labels. Collectively, the HTML tags that are needed for accessibility are sometimes called "accessible markup."

The tagged PDF that Adobe developed provides similar functionality. Tags mark portions of PDF content and are organized in a sequence that conveys the suggested reading order. Whereas HTML files are readable text with tags as words enclosed in brackets, however, PDF files are in a compressed, binary form with tags that can be viewed only with special software, such as Adobe Acrobat.

Accessibility Standards and Incentives

The W3C has defined standards for accessible markup, called the "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines" (WCAG 1.0). The U.S. government has also defined accessibility standards for web sites, software, and other information technology in regulations that were first published in 2001 to implement Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended. (See For More Information at the end of this article for a link to these regulations.) Section 508 mandates that federal agencies provide information to people with disabilities in a manner that is comparable to that provided to people without disabilities.

Section 508 does not require software manufacturers to make accessible products, but it does provide them with significant market incentives to do so because the federal government is a large customer that is interested in products that meet minimum standards of accessibility. Indeed, Congress adopted Section 508 partly with the stated purpose of creating voluntary market incentives to develop technologies that benefit people across a broad range of physical characteristics, not just those with typical levels of eyesight, hearing, manual dexterity, and other traits.

Adobe, like other companies that sell to the federal government, has noticeably increased the accessibility of its products in recent years, and its web site includes information on compliance with Section 508 standards. The tagged PDF format is an accessibility innovation that the company introduced in 2001. Besides the free program for viewing PDF files, called Adobe Reader, Adobe sells a commercial program for creating PDF files, including tagged PDF files, called Adobe Acrobat. The program is available in both a Standard and Professional version, with the latter having the most tagging features and being recommended by Adobe to customers who are concerned with accessibility.

Adobe Acrobat

The basic content and layout of a PDF document is usually created and revised using a word-processing program, such as Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect, and is then converted to PDF to create the final form, exploiting features like visual fidelity, compact storage, security settings, and cross-platform portability, as previously described. Adobe Acrobat enables one to convert a document into PDF from other formats, including plain text, HTML, and popular word-processing programs. It lets one combine multiple source documents into a single PDF file, such as a report consisting of a Microsoft Word narrative and a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. It then allows the author or designer to touch up the appearance for the precise presentation that is desired.

Adobe Acrobat includes a feature that analyzes the accessibility of a PDF file. It reports potential problems, such as characters that are unidentifiable, structure that is ambiguous, or pictures that are unlabeled. A related feature adds tags when this can be done with a high degree of certainty about what markup is appropriate in the context of the document. For example, it may associate each page footer with a corresponding tag when the analysis finds significant space between the rest of the page and the last line of text and that line contains a page number.

Adobe Acrobat cannot tell what a picture contains, so an author needs to enter a caption tag for the picture manually. Tables also present a challenge. Does the left column of the table consist of labels for the rows to the right, or does it consist of actual data in a table with column labels but no row labels?

The accessibility report that is produced by Acrobat identifies potential problems that one typically corrects by selecting a portion of the document and picking a tag to indicate its purpose. This manual tagging process may involve significant time and skill, depending on the complexity of the document.

Using Adobe Reader

Adobe and Screen Readers

Assistive technology companies, such as Freedom Scientific, the developer of JAWS, and GW Micro, the developer of Window-Eyes, have worked with Adobe to make their screen readers understand the tags of a PDF file that is viewed in Adobe Reader (or Acrobat) and thereby render more accessible output in speech or braille. At the time of this writing, the latest release of Adobe Reader is version 7.0.3, which requires Windows 2000 or XP. When Adobe Reader is launched, it detects whether a screen reader is running. If so, it presents a dialog box of configuration options that affect accessibility and sets the default choices to ones that Adobe Reader finds are the most likely to work best.

The most significant accessibility setting is called "infer reading order from document." With this setting active, Adobe Reader will analyze an untagged PDF file and add temporary tags to optimize its reading order. The analysis examines spacing between blocks of text, for example, to decide whether there are multiple columns of information.

Although the automatic tagging process is beneficial for reading order, it has three drawbacks. First, with a large PDF file, containing more than 50 pages, the process may take a few minutes or more to complete, depending on the complexity of the document and the speed of the computer. Second, one may not be able to work with other programs while a document is being tagged because the tagging process may slow the other programs to an unusable crawl. Third, the tagging process does not signal when it is complete, so one has to keep checking with the screen reader to determine whether the file is ready for reading.

Because of the drawbacks of automatic tagging, Adobe Reader asks the user to confirm whether to add tags before initiating the process each time it opens a file. The user will usually want the tagging for better reading order. If the extra confirmation step seems inefficient or annoying, however, one can turn it off. The downside is that the computer will then become unusable for a few minutes whenever a large PDF file is opened and automatic tagging occurs for the whole file. This tagging process occurs even if the same file has been opened before--such tags are temporary and not saved by Adobe Reader from one session to another.

If the confirmation setting is on and the user declines to add tags to the whole file up front, the user can still read a large PDF file a page at a time. Whenever the user navigates to a new page, however, there is a pause of a few seconds while Adobe Reader adds temporary tags for that page and communicates them to the screen reader.

The many configuration settings of Adobe Reader are located in the Preferences dialog box under the Edit menu. A hot key for this dialog box is Control-K. Users of JAWS versions prior to 6.1 should note that pressing its bypass key, Insert-3, may be necessary before pressing Control-K because JAWS uses Control-K for other purposes.

Accessibility-related settings of Adobe Reader are located primarily in two tab pages of the Preferences dialog box, those named Accessibility and Reading. Adobe Reader also groups most accessibility settings in another dialog box, however, called the Accessibility Setup Assistant, which is a choice on the Help menu. This convenient dialog box lets you configure screen-reader settings, screen-magnifier settings, or both. It lets you either accept all recommended settings or customize settings through a series of wizard pages. It is suggested that you accept all recommended settings initially and then explore possible modifications later if your results are unsatisfactory.

Since screen reader users rely on common hot keys, rather than pointing and clicking with the mouse, an application may be more challenging if it involves nonstandard keystrokes. This is partly true of the screen reader interface to Adobe Reader. For example, one has to learn that Control-Shift-PageUp, rather than Control-Home, goes to the top of the document. Configuration options are on the Edit menu, rather than on the View or Tools menu. Some unconventional interface elements may exist because Adobe makes versions of its Reader software for several operating systems, so may trade some Windows conventions for cross-platform consistency.

The problem of unconventional interface, however, is also due to screen reader adjustments made to accommodate the two different tag modes available: single page or whole document. Using the example above, Control+Home is, in fact, the hot key for going to the top of a document in Adobe Reader, just like other Windows programs. When a screen reader is running, however, it uses Control+Home to go to either the top of document or top of page, depending on whether document or page mode is active. Therefore, Control+Shift+PageUp is implemented as a way to always go to the top of document.

Useful Hot Keys

Some nonstandard but useful hot keys of Adobe Reader are as follows:

  • Control-PageDown or Control-PageUp: Go to the next or previous page
  • Control-Shift-PageDown or Control-Shift-PageUp: Go to the bottom or top of the document
  • Control-K: Go to the Preferences dialog box
  • Control-D: Display document properties, including security settings and tagged status that affect accessibility
  • Control-Shift+6: Check for accessible reading order
  • Alt-F then V: Save to text
  • Alt-H then T: Accessibility Setup Assistant

JAWS vs. Window-Eyes

Accessibility comparisons between JAWS and Window-Eyes are often challenging to make because each program may adopt and add to features that the other started six months before. Both companies claim to provide support for Adobe Reader that is comparable to their support for Internet Explorer. With JAWS 6.20 and Window-Eyes 5.0, we observed progress toward this end.

The table navigation commands of JAWS, which previously worked with web pages in Internet Explorer, now also work with PDF files in Adobe Reader. The Adobe Reader Find command, invoked with Control-F, does not work with JAWS. It does work with Window-Eyes, but after a noticeable delay. Both screen readers, however, have implemented alternate Find commands that work better: Control-Insert-F using JAWS or Control-Shift-F using Window-Eyes. Neither screen reader fully identifies security settings in the Document Properties window without requiring navigation of the window using mouse-simulation keys.

In general, both screen readers are sluggish in Adobe Reader, enough so that we sometimes felt frustrated by the experience of inefficiency (when run under Windows 2000 on a Pentium 4 computer at 1.9 GHz).

The Bottom Line

PDF files are widespread and necessary to access by people who are blind or have impaired vision. Although the original format made accessibility difficult, the newer, tagged format holds promise, and recent versions of Adobe Reader work better with screen readers.

For More Information

Adobe Systems accessibility page: <www.adobe.com/accessibility>.

Adobe page on Section 508 compliance: <www.adobe.com/enterprise/accessibility/section508.html>.

Adobe Reader download page: <www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/alternate.html>.

Using Accessible PDF Documents with Adobe Reader 7.0: A Guide for People with Disabilities: <www.adobe.com/enterprise/accessibility/reader/main.html>.

Online PDF conversion tool: <www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/access_onlinetools.html>.

Creating Accessible PDF Documents with Adobe Acrobat 7.0: <www.adobe.com/enterprise/accessibility/pdfs/acro7_pg_ue.pdf>.

Web content accessibility guidelines: <www.w3.org/WAI/GL/2005/06/f2f-agenda.html>.

Section 508 regulations: <www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_04/36cfr1194_04.html>.

Section 508 technical assistance: <www.accessboard.gov/sec508/guide/1194.22.htm>.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Communications Commission or the United States Government.

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Untangling the Web

Let Your Fingers Do the Shopping: A Review of Seven Online Shopping Web Sites

With the holidays just around the corner, there is an alternative to going to the store, searching for what you want, and then standing on long lines. Shopping online is convenient and, depending on the web site, relatively easy to do. You can shop in the middle of the night, early in the morning, or at any other time that is good for you. These online stores never close.

When choosing an online shopping site, it is extremely important to use one that is reputable. You do not want your credit card information out there in cyberspace. In addition, you want to shop on a web site that is easy to use and delivers what it promises. This article reviews seven such web sites: < www.amazon.com>, <www.toysrus.com>, <www.drugstore.com>, <www.petdiscounters.com>, <www.bestbuy.com>, <www. gap.com>, and <www.landsend.com>. Amazon also has an accessible site, www.amazon.com/access, which is described in the section on Amazon.com. I have used all the sites before, except the Best Buy site, and I have been extremely satisfied with them.

What to Watch Out for

Before you venture into the world of online shopping, it is a good idea to become familiar with how your screen reader handles Windows controls, including combo boxes; edit boxes; check boxes; radio buttons; and buttons that initiate actions, such as searches. (For help, and definition of these terms, see "Redoing Windows: A Guide for Customizing Windows for Users with Low Vision" in the May 2005 issue.) These controls are found on forms, and online merchants use forms extensively. Before you fill out any form, you may want to review it, so you are aware of what questions will be asked. Some forms are more difficult than are others to complete. Be aware of shipping costs and be sure to choose the shipping method that you want, since rates can vary greatly. Some web sites offer free shipping if an order exceeds a certain amount.

As with many other web sites, these online shopping sites, with the exception of Amazon's accessible site, have extra links on each page. Your search results may be displayed in the middle or at the end of a web page. Each site has its own format. There may be words or phrases on certain web sites that may sound like gibberish when the screen reader pronounces them. Going through a series of unlabeled links that do not make any sense can be both time consuming and frustrating. Here is an example, from Amazon web site: <exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0009X7768/qid=1126228498/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-6276803-3059918?v=glance&s=music>. Right below this unintelligible, unlabeled link is the link to find out additional information about Faith Hill's CD, Fireflies. The link is labeled correctly and clearly says, "Fireflies." Activating either link had the same result. In all fairness to Amazon, there are now fewer of these "hard-to-understand" links than in the past. Both the Amazon and Toys R Us sites have some unlabeled links starting with the phrase "exec\obidos."

Another type of unlabeled link is found on Best Buy's home page. The link says <olspage.jsp? type=category&id=pcmcat68400050000>. There are five such-sounding links in a row, and their meanings are not identifiable. Clicking on these links will bring you to a page where particular categories of items are sold. For example, one of the links loaded a page dealing with computers for sale.

The remaining web sites that are reviewed in this article do not have a problem with unlabeled links. There is also an accessible version of Amazon's web site, which also does not have this problem.

Registering

Although many web sites use a search form that consists of a combo box, an edit box, and a search button, these controls may be in a different order. All the web sites in this article use registration forms and retain some of your information, such as your name and address, for future visits. Each site will ask you to create a user name. Some sites use your e-mail address as your user name. All these sites ask you to create a password. You will need your user name and password to access your account.

Here is a description of how to register on the Amazon site. Both the standard site and the accessible version are relatively easy to use. The major difference is that the standard site has more links and information on the page. By using your screen reader's controls for navigating forms, it is possible to use the standard site. After you put the items that you want into your cart, click on the Check Out button. (In this article, the word click refers to a screen reader activating a button or link. It does not necessarily mean that a mouse or mouse hot keys need to be used.) On the next page, you are presented with several edit boxes and two radio buttons. The edit boxes are for people who already have an account. Check the New Customer radio button and then continue.

The next page contains a form with several edit boxes. The first box asks for your full name, although most registration forms have separate edit boxes for your first and last names. The next edit box asks for your e-mail address, and the box after that asks you to reenter your e-mail address. The fourth edit box asks you to enter a password, and the final box asks you to confirm the password. The last control is a button that says "Create Account."

The next page has an edit box to reenter your full name. Next comes an edit box for your shipping address, followed by edit boxes for city, state, and zip code. Some web sites use combo boxes for city and state. Below these boxes is a combo box for country. Another edit box asks for your telephone number. This registration form uses three edit boxes for this information: the first for area code, the next for the exchange (the first three digits of the number), and the final one for the last four digits. Some sites also have an edit box for an extension. Once all the required information is entered, click the Continue button.

The next page presents options for shipping your items. Simply check the radio button that matches how you want your items to be shipped. The least expensive shipping method is almost always the first radio button. This is usually the slowest method as well.

Now it is time to pay for your purchases. Most web sites use a combination of edit boxes and combo boxes for this information. On Amazon.com, there is a combo box to choose the type of credit card. Then comes an edit box for the credit card number. Next is a combo box for the month in which the card expires, followed by a combo box for the year in which the card expires. If you don't want to give your credit card information via an online server, there are links on the page for entering only some of the digits and having Amazon send you an e-mail address to which you then send the entire number. There is also a link to pay by money order. However, the easiest way to make purchases on any online site is with a credit card.

The next page asks you to enter your billing address. It is similar to the form that is used when entering the shipping address. Some web sites have a check box that indicates that the shipping and billing addresses are the same. Click the Continue button when your billing information is entered.

The final page presents all your information for you to check, including your billing and shipping addresses, the shipping method, and the items in your shopping cart. Clicking the Purchase button completes your transaction. The next time that you use the standard or accessible Amazon web site, you will need to enter only a few details, such as your user name and password.

Amazon

Getting Started

Amazon has come a long way from just selling books and CDs. It is now one-stop shopping. There are actually two Amazon web sites: the standard site <www.amazon.com> and the accessible site <www.amazon.com/access> (described in "Navigating the Mighty River: A Review of Amazon Access" in the May 2002 issue), which has no extraneous links or unlabeled links is easy to use. When the accessible version of Amazon is loaded, the title bar reads, "Amazon Anywhere."

When the standard site is loaded, there are 243 links and a combo box with 43 product categories. By contrast, when the accessible site is loaded, there are 24 links and a combo box with 33 choices. Most of the links on the opening page are the same as the choices in the combo box. Some of the extra options on the standard site's combo box are Yellow Pages, movie start times, and automotive supplies. Categories on both sites include books, CDs, apparel, jewelry, electronics, and toys, among other products.

Registration on the standard site is relatively simple, but since there is so much extra information on the site, your screen reader may have some difficulty with the forms. Registration on the accessible version is quicker, and there is no need to navigate a plethora of extra links.

Once the registration process is complete, either version of the site can be used. When the standard site is loaded, among its many links is information that is specific to the individual user. There may be recommendations and a list of items that were previously purchased. To access this information, the user has to go through the many links on the page. In addition to user-specific links, there are links for services that Amazon provides, gift ideas, and top sellers. The accessible version does not show user-specific information or extra links when the home page loads.

To search for an item, simply choose a category from the search form's combo box. Then, in the form's edit box, type the name of the item. Finally, click the Search button. A search was performed putting "music" in the combo box and "Ray Charles" in the edit box; both Amazon sites came up with the same 399 results. On the standard page, there were 167 links, many unrelated to the search, and on the accessible page, there were 12 links. Both sites displayed 10 results per page, with each item's name and price. To get additional details about an item, you click the item's main link. When the main link for the CD Ray Charles's Ultimate Hits Collection was activated, the following information was displayed: release date, track list, and editorial reviews. For the standard version, the link for this CD was number 39 out of 269. On the accessible site, the link for this CD was number 3 out of 12 on the page. On both Amazon sites, there are usually links that allow you to listen to brief segments of some of the songs on a given CD.

To purchase an item, click the Add to Cart button. This button may be hard to find on the standard version. Amazon often pairs a CD with another related CD and sells the two together at a reduced price. This information is found below the button for adding the one CD to the cart. Be careful not to accidentally put the two-CD group in your cart if you want only the one CD. Once you are finished shopping, click the Check Out button. Checkout is particularly easy on the accessible site. Like many online shopping sites, Amazon retains your information, so checkout is accomplished with just a few clicks.

Once your order is placed, you will receive a confirmation e-mail message from Amazon.com. Another e-mail message will be sent when the items have been shipped.

Getting Help

There is no live help on the Amazon web site. The standard page has a Help link, which brings up links to various topics, including tracking your order, making changes to an order, and returns. If a satisfactory answer cannot be found within the help topics, there is e-mail support. The accessible version does not contain a link to help topics, but the ease of using the site may create less of a need for support.

The Bottom Line

The accessible version of Amazon's web site is significantly easier to use than is the standard web site. No extraneous links or unlabeled links are displayed on the pages. There's no need to scroll down numerous links and unrelated details to find what you are searching for. Amazon.com is reliable no matter which web site version is used. Items arrive in good time, and they are packed securely.

Toys R Us

Shopping on the Toys R Us web site can help alleviate some of the insanity of shopping for toys and games during the holiday season. The long lines, screaming children, and harried sales help are mercifully gone.

Getting Started

When the page for ToysRUs.com is loaded, the title bar reads, "toysrus.com/Amazon.com." The Toys R Us web site is part of Amazon.com's business. As with Amazon's standard home page, there are many links--187 on Toys R Us's home page. However, the layout of the page is easier to navigate, and some useful links, such as shop by age range, type of toy, and brand, are listed. There are many links above the search form both on the home page and when the search results are displayed. Information about your past Amazon purchases and searches may appear on some Toys R Us web pages.

To search for an item, first select from one of four categories in the combo box. The choices are Amazon.com, toys and games, Imaginarium.com, and "R" Zone. The next field in the form is an edit box where the name of the item is entered. The final control is the Search button.

A search was performed using "toys and games" in the combo box and "Barbie" in the edit box. The search produced a total of 724 results within several categories, including Barbie dolls, doll fashions, and software. There were links for each of the subcategories. As with the home page, many other links were present that did not directly relate to the search. This web site has an advanced search option where variables, such as age range and price, can be entered.

When the same search was performed on the accessible version of Amazon, 724 results also came up. Although the page was significantly easier to read, no subcategories were displayed, and there was no advanced search option to refine the search.

Once you find an item of interest, clicking on it will bring you to a page where more detailed information is presented. In addition to the product description, age range, and price, there are also reviews, additional product recommendations, and the size and weight of the item. To purchase an item, click the Add to Cart button. The text for this unlabeled button is "images/G/01/detail/buybox/add-to-cart-02.gif."

Checkout on the Toys R Us site is the same as on the Amazon site. If you already have an account with Amazon, it is not necessary to create a new one. Once your order is placed, you will receive a confirmation e-mail message and another e-mail message when your items have been shipped.

Getting Help

The Toys R Us web site uses the same help system as does the Amazon web site. There are help topics on the web site and an option to e-mail customer service. Live help is not available.

The Bottom Line

Although the web pages on the Toys R Us web site have many extraneous links and some unlabeled links, the web site is still user friendly. The ability to refine a search and to view subcategories makes this site especially useful when searching for a common toy, such as a Barbie doll. In addition, the links for searching for a particular brand or type of toy can be helpful for someone who is not exactly sure what to buy.

Drugstore.com

Do not let the word drugstore fool you; this site has many more items and options within each product category than would be found even in a large chain drugstore. On this web site, you can purchase much more than personal grooming products, vitamins, first aid supplies, and over-the-counter pain relief medication. Prescriptions can also be filled. The web site also links to the web site <www.beauty.com>, and the information you have from drugstore.com is automatically used in that web site. There is no need to set up a new shopping bag, so it is easy to use both sites at the same time. Although the web site may have over 300 links on a page, the links are clear, without any abbreviations or phrases that a screen reader might not say clearly.

Getting Started

One of the best things about this web site is that after your first order, you can easily access a list of items that you have previously purchased. The list is on the home page when the site is loaded. Any new items that you purchase on subsequent visits are also added to your list. This list saves you significant time when shopping. If an item that you previously bought is no longer available, links to similar items are provided. When you click on the product's name in your list, the product is added to your shopping bag. If you want more than one of the item, change the quantity in the edit box.

There are other ways to find products on drugstore.com. The search form consists of an edit box and a search button. When the word shampoo was put in the edit box, 581 results were listed. Using more specific terms will narrow the field. For example, when the words kids' shampoo were placed in the edit box, 22 results were found.

The site also has many category links, including personal care, household supplies, the natural store, food, pet supplies, and health. There is also a link to view products on sale. There are links to view recent categories that have been visited and links to recently viewed products. These links are particularly helpful when you are trying to find a product that was not added to the shopping bag but that still may be of interest.

The Shop by Brand link is another easy option for locating products. When this link is activated, just choose the first letter of the brand, and all brands carried on the web site that start with that letter are displayed. From there, just click on the brand, and all the products made by the brand are presented. Once you choose the item, simply click on the link, and detailed information about the product is shown.

The Gift Guide link provides many options for holiday gifts and gifts throughout the year. When this link is activated, a list of more specific links is presented, including gifts for her, gifts for him, gifts for pets, gifts under $25, and gifts for kids. There are many gift options for each category.

To purchase the product, click the Buy button, and the item is added to your shopping bag. By default, the Items edit box indicates that only one of the items is desired. To purchase more than one of the item, simply change the quantity in the edit box. Make sure that the quantity entered is the quantity that you want. For example, when you change the quantity from 1 to 2, be sure that the edit box does not say 12.

The checkout procedure is simple. There are times when free product samples are included. Free standard shipping is available when you spend $49 on eligible items. Free three-day shipping is available when you spend $99 or more on eligible items. Most items are eligible, but prescriptions are not. Once your order is placed, you will receive a confirmation e-mail message. Another e-mail message will be sent when the items are shipped.

This web site provides incentives for future site visits. Depending on the size of your order, you may receive drugstore.com dollars to use toward your next purchases. These dollars do have an expiration date. When you return to the drugstore.com web site for more shopping, there is a link called Your Diamond Deals. These special deals change weekly. For selected items, there is a significant discount. The products tend to be related to items that you have previously purchased.

Getting Help

Live help is available at 800-DRUGSTORE (378-4787.) There is also a Help link on the home page.

The Bottom Line

This web site's great variety of products, having your shopping list saved, rewards for shopping, ease of use, and live help make this site an excellent option for people who are visually impaired.

Pet Discounters

Whether you are buying a gift for your favorite pet or just stocking up on pet supplies, there is much to choose from at Pet Discounter's web site. The links are clear, and there is not a lot of extra information on the page. The registration process is simple, and Pet Discounters retains your information for future purchases.

Getting Started

Pet Discounters sells products for aquariums, dogs, cats, hermit crabs, birds, and reptiles. Items include toys, food, vitamins, and maintenance supplies. There is a simple search form with an edit box and a Search button. The best way to search for a product is to activate the animal link. For example, when the Dog and Puppy link is activated, the following choices are displayed: sale items, unusual products, gift ideas, beds, carriers, bowls and feeding equipment, collars and leads, flea and tick products, grooming products, health products, toys, training aids and treats.

Clicking on one of these links will display a list of products that are specific to that link. The Toys link yields separate links for balls, Frisbees-flying disks, nylon and gummy toys, stuffed and plush toys, rope toys and tugs, tough rubber toys, and vinyl and leather toys. Once a product link is activated, the product's description is displayed. This information is presented toward the bottom of the web page. These descriptions are clear and easy to read. There is an edit box for quantity, and just below it is a button to order the product. This button is unlabeled, but when the screen reader locates the button, it will read a string of information ending with the word submit.

The checkout process is simple, especially after an account has been established. On the home page, there is a log-in link. When your order has been placed, you will receive an e-mail message confirming your order. When the items have been shipped, another e-mail message will be sent.

Getting Help

There is a FAQ (frequently asked questions) link, an e-mail link, and a fax number.

The Bottom Line

This web site is laid out well and is easy to navigate. There are many products for each category of animal.

Best Buy

This web site provides another option for buying electronics, music, DVDs, and more. The web site opens with 175 links, some of which are unlabeled. Also, some of the links are not clear as to what information is contained within. There are gift links by price and gifts for different people, such as gifts for teenagers and gifts for women. The page also contains category links, such as computers, home appliances, and electronics. Under each link are subcategories.

Getting Started

The registration form is a standard form. Even before all the registration information is submitted, Best Buy sends a welcome e-mail message explaining how to get help and manage your account. This letter is sent as soon as a new e-mail address and password are supplied.

Best Buy's search form consists of a combo box with 17 items. These items include electronics, telephones, and home appliances, as well as search options for music and movies, with more specific criteria, such as artist and title. The rest of the form is an edit box and an unlabeled search button, which has many words on it and ends with the words "go.gif."

When performing a music search by either artist or title, it is possible to get many unrelated hits. There are many links to go through before you find the search results. When I searched for Faith Hill's album Fireflies, for example, there were 128 matches for the title. The first result displayed was the correct album. When you search by artist, any music that has anything to do with the artist will be displayed. For example, in the Faith Hill search, when the singer's name was put in the edit box, many results came up, including karaoke CDs, tribute albums, and Faith Hill's albums. Once a particular CD is chosen, there are links to listen to brief segments of the songs, along with the track list.

When the category Phones and Communication was selected for the combo box and the brand LG was typed into the edit box, the search yielded 135 results on the site, and 30 of these results were in the area selected with the combo box. The results in the Phones and Communication combo box included cell phone cases, hands-free headsets, and car adapters, but no actual cell phones.

Activating the Add to Cart link puts an item in the shopping cart. There is also a link for In-Store Pickup. The checkout form is standard.

Getting Help

In addition to the e-mail message that is sent once an account is created, there is a Help link near the top of the home page.

The Bottom Line

Although this site offers many items and has the advantage of in-store pickup, it can be cumbersome to navigate. The unclear links present a problem when you are working on a web page with many, many links. However, there is live help and, with some patience, it is possible to use the site successfully.

Gap and More

The Gap web site carries everything that is found at Gap stores. It has more than just jeans and sweaters. The first link on the web site invites you to learn about how Gap is working to improve the web site experience for people with disabilities. This is a newly designed web site with clearly labeled links. Fortunately, since Old Navy and Banana Republic are also owned by Gap, Inc., their web sites function in the same manner. For this article, the Gap web site was reviewed, but the sites for Old Navy and Banana Republic follow the same general format.

Getting Started

Instead of a search form, the web site uses a series of links. The initial links bring you to a specific department, such as Women's, Men's, and Baby Gap. After a department is selected, various types of items within the department are displayed. For example, after you activate the Women's link, some of the subcategory links include Pants, Skirts and Dresses, and Shirts.

When the Shirts link was activated, a new list of choices was displayed, including links for sleeveless tops, short-sleeved shirts, and long-sleeved shirts. Below these choices were links for several specific shirts. When the long-sleeved category was chosen, a variety of shirts were displayed. Clicking on a particular style of shirt shows a description, including the fabric content and design. Size and color are selected via combo boxes. The Add to Bag link puts the item into the shopping bag.

Once an account is created, checkout is fast and easy. Gap frequently has shipping specials for free standard shipping with an order of $100 or more in merchandise.

Getting Help

The web site has live help at 800-GAPSTYLE (427-7895.) Visitors with visual impairments are encouraged to use this number if assistance is needed.

The Bottom Line

This web site is easy to use and offers many choices in each category. The live help is also a plus.

Lands' End

The Lands' End catalog has been around for many years. The web site provides a way for people with visual impairments to use the catalog independently. Almost all the links are easy to understand, and the home page layout works well with a screen reader.

Getting Started

The web site has a search form that features an edit box, followed by a combo box with nine choices, including clothing choices for women, men, boys, and girls. The next control is the Search button. Lands' End features mostly clothes, but there are products for the home and luggage. There are links for all the Search categories on the home page as well.

This is one of the few web sites where women's petite sizes are available. When the words petite sweater were entered in the search form's edit box and Women's was selected in the combo box, the search found 18 results. Once the search results are found, a combo box allows you the option to display the results according to popularity, highest to lowest price, lowest to highest price, or alphabetically. The default choice is by popularity.

Under the link for each result is a brief description of the item. It is also possible to view results by fabric, sleeve length, style, and price. Clicking an item's link brings up a more detailed description. Color and size are chosen by link. The name of the color is listed, and then the available sizes in that color appear as links. Once the size link is chosen, a new page appears showing the item that was ordered and a button to add it to the Shopping Bag.

Lands' End offers monogramming on many items for an additional charge. It can also gift box items. Once all purchases have been added to the shopping bag, checkout is simple.

Getting Help

This site offers live help as well as e-mail support.

The Bottom Line

Lands' End is easy to use. Brief descriptions under items from a search speed the browsing process. The web site has many items in petite sizes.

Conclusion

Shopping online can be an enjoyable experience. There may be an initial period of frustration, but the benefits are worth the effort. Spend time reviewing a site and checking out all the forms.

The most user-friendly site is the accessible Amazon site. Drugstore.com, Pet Discounters, Gap, and Lands' End are all good web sites with screen readers. The web sites for Toys R Us, Amazon, and Best Buy require more work and patience, but are definitely usable. One final tip: Don't wait for the last minute to do your shopping. It takes time for merchandise to get to your house, and if you are buying a gift, you don't want your item to be on back order.

A word to merchandisers: The easiest way to improve the accessibility of a site is to label all the links, since users often move through a page by tabbing from link to link. And the labels should make sense. "Click here" does not stand alone well, but "Buy This Beautiful Dress" is self-explanatory. It is also necessary to provide alternative text equivalents for all meaningful graphics. If the graphic includes text, be sure that the alternative text (often referred to as an "alt tag") supplies all the words. For more information about making web sites accessible, see "Tips & Tricks to Improve Web Accessibility" on AFB's web site. It is preferable to make the main site accessible, rather than building a second, accessible site. This allows all customers to use the same site. And, the web master only has to update one site when the styles change!

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Mazruminations

Shop Till You Drop--A Lot!

There are salespeople who are knowledgeable and have the patience of Job, but even these remarkable people are taxed by the holiday rush. So, blind and sighted computer users alike often find visiting well-designed web sites a great way to do holiday shopping. Making informed purchases through descriptions of products developed by professional writers can be far more pleasant than trying to get the same information from a salesclerk whose main career goal is to be promoted to the level that will enable him or her to use a pricing gun. In virtual stores, there are no screaming toddlers, roving bands of tweens, or background music that is designed to tame or, at least, deafen the savage teenager. Best of all, you do not need to defend yourself against perfume attacks from cosmetic salespeople who are working on commission. Finally, if you break something in your own home, you probably already own it. So, the only thing you need to worry about dropping is too much cash!

Online products frequently come with useful and detailed, almost poetic, descriptions. For example, Amazon.com gives us the following. "You can take this tie to the bank, boardroom or banquet room for that matter. Woven from 100% imported silk, the C.E.O. Collection tie is accentuated with a geometric pattern of light and dark satiny contrast circles for a dramatic appearance." Evidently, at least one fantasy writer has found gainful employment. It is clear to me that anyone who receives this tie should feel honored--even if it is in hot pink. There is no doubt from this description that the recipient will get a promotion as a result of wearing this tie--regardless of his work performance. (The only exception may be if the recipient wraps the tie around his head and shouts "Banzai" while running through the office, which will probably only lead to a long period of rest.)

Of course, there are pros and cons of having a professional description. Can anyone who did not major in French guess what color aubergine is? And what the heck is celadon? It sounds more like a dinosaur than pottery. Whatever happened to purple and light green? If you are creative enough, you can make up your own color name. (If you do, I suggest using a French accent.) Keep in mind that being able to quote the thread count and fiber can help distract the recipient from noticing that the gift was a virtual blue-light special purchased at WalMart.com, rather than a Ralph Lauren shirt from Neiman Marcus.

Some Internet sites allow you to e-mail a product page to a friend for a second opinion. Doing so may help you spread the blame if the gift is not well received. It is also a bonus for those of us with dual disabilities--that is, neither vision nor taste.

Mistakes Happen

The virtual store is not a perfect world, however. You can make mistakes that you would never make in a bricks-and-mortar store. Although I am a veteran online shopper, one December, I purchased 30 pounds of potatoes for my family of two. I am certain that this would never have happened with a real life salesclerk--if for no other reason than it would require too much work. What I intended to purchase was six potatoes, rather than six bags containing five pounds of potatoes each. Since I am not one to throw away food, had it been October, the trick-or-treaters in my neighborhood would have been sorely disappointed. As it stood, I was the potato supplier for most of the Hanukah latkes on my block. I like to think of it as a creative alternative to the holiday cookie platter. And no, if you are on my shopping list this year, you will not have to worry about getting rutabagas. I am far more careful now. But, the Neiman Marcus thing ain't going to happen either.

These days, my husband and I rely almost entirely on shopping online for the holidays. This is good for us because we can shop when it is convenient--about 5 A.M. for him and 11 P.M. for me. Before online shopping, we were pretty much limited to 7-Eleven stores. Sadly, Slurpees just do not wrap well. The downside of off-hours shopping is that help lines are not always staffed in the evenings or on weekends. But if a site has 24-hour support, those who cover the night shift are usually really happy to hear from anyone who is not in prison.

Gift wrap that is sold online can also be expensive and vary in quality. A hint for the holidays: No matter how cute it may sound online, gift wrap with little pigs on it is probably not the best choice for a Hanukkah gift. My old standby selection is plain silver wrap, which seems to make everyone happy, regardless of the holiday being celebrated, although it cannot be put in a microwave. For relatives over the age of 12, I almost never pay the extra fee for wrapping. I figure that what is good enough for the U.S. Postal Service should be good enough for them. I just tell my relatives to close their eyes and pretend that the gifts are wrapped beautifully. Why not? It works for me.

Goth Gifts and More

If you cannot find just the right gift to share the spirit of the season with your Goth, punk rocker nephew, an online gift certificate is an easy alternative. You may want to try www.GothicAsylum.com. In truth, I have not actually tried the site, but I figure that if it is not accessible and you are into that scene, you probably will not mind suffering a little anyway. I do not know whether that web site really has gift certificates or if the gift certificates will be signed in blood.

There are many more mundane Internet sites that offer gift certificates that can be redeemed for a wide range of products. Not all these sites will carry safety pins that can easily go through human flesh. Even Internet stores have to draw the line somewhere for holiday inventory. Some gift certificates can be delivered via e-mail on a specific date. Others can be delivered on the same day, which can be helpful when a neighbor brings over a homemade gingerbread house, and all you have to give in return is a half-eaten bag of Cheez Doodles. Some certificates must be mailed, which is less than optimal for those who may procrastinate. (Not that I would know anything about that … )

The biggest danger of online shopping is that it does not really feel like you are spending money. However, if you compare the risk of overspending online with that of being trampled to death in a shopping mall, it is not so bad. So, I am forever in debt to those companies that put forth the effort to make online shopping accessible--but I am paying it off a little each month.

To be fair, online shopping was designed to make shopping easy, not to promote frugality. The only thing more risky to the wallet than online shopping may be Internet auctions. At online auctions, you can not only drop a lot of dough, but the amount you drop can grow dramatically without much thought. On the other hand, eBay probably has a section for people who are interested in body piercing, so I guess there is a plus side for everything.

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Product Evaluation

Simply Out Scanning: A Review of SARA and ScannaR

AccessWorld has periodically published articles that have reviewed the latest versions of the popular optical character recognition (OCR) software products Kurzweil 1000 and OpenBook, the latest article appearing in the September 2004 issue. This time, we review the Scanning and Reading Appliance (the SARA) from Freedom Scientific and the ScannaR from HumanWare, two stand-alone hardware systems that come out of the box ready to scan and read printed material without having to install software or connect to a computer. These systems do not have additional features, such as e-mail and Internet access, that are found in the OpenBook and Kurzweil products. Rather, they are designed with simplicity in mind. They are marketed for a user who would like an easy way to access print material and who perhaps does not have a great deal of computer experience or skills.

Speed and Accuracy

To determine print-recognition accuracy and scanning speed, we used methods similar to those used in our September 2004 review of Kurzweil 1000 and OpenBook. We used a variety of text styles and formats. For a simple test, we printed a sample of 12-point black text on white paper using the Arial and Times New Roman fonts. For more advanced scanning, we tested a 6-point font, and we also tested business cards, multicolumn newspaper print, and brochures and magazines that were printed on colored paper with photographs mixed in with the text. Testing was done on both machines, with the ScannaR in Easy mode.

The SARA

Measuring approximately 20 inches long by 11.75 inches wide by 4 inches high and weighing approximately 18 pounds, the SARA looks similar to an off-the-shelf scanner that one may purchase to use with Kurzweil or OpenBook. However, it is much heavier because all the computer processing is built in to the unit itself, eliminating the need to attach it to a computer. The unit is dark gray. If you place it in front of you with the control buttons facing you, the scanner lid opens from the front and is hinged in the back. Lifting the lid reveals an 8.75-inch by 11.75-inch glass scanner bed. The back panel has a number of ports and connections similar to those that one would find on the back of a computer, but the only ones that would normally be used would be the power adapter jack and the ports that are used to connect an optional monitor.

Photo of the SARA.

Caption: The SARA has big, colorful buttons.

The majority of the buttons on the SARA are big and colorful, with tactile shapes that differentiate one from another. The control panel juts out a bit from the bottom front of the unit and has control buttons on its front facing the user and on its top facing the ceiling. Moving from left to right on the front panel, the first button is a round green On/Off button with a raised tactile marking of a white circle with a vertical line through it, the universal symbol for power. Next is an orange Volume rocker switch with a raised tactile white horn symbol. The next four buttons are round gray buttons with no label or tactile markings; these are the File button, Erase Page button, Language button, and Scanning Mode button. The last button on the front panel is an orange rocker switch with a raised tactile image of a white rabbit, and it is used to control the speed of the voice output. To the right of that last control is a headphone jack.

On the left of the top panel, there is an oval green Read key with a raised white tactile image of a triangle with two vertical lines, and behind that button is an oval red Scan key with a raised circle on it. To the right of these buttons is a pattern of seven buttons that are used to navigate around a document and through the menu system. Each of these buttons is blue with raised tactile markings that are white. In the center is a round Selector key with a raised white center. Surrounding this key are four arrow keys pointing up, down, left, and right, and they each have a raised line outlining the edge of the arrow. Farther to the left and to the right are the Rewind and Fast Forward buttons, which are marked by two raised lines on the arrows' edges. To the right of the Fast Forward button is a yellow Help button with a white raised question mark symbol. The last button on the far right side of the panel is a square brown Menu button with raised white horizontal lines. On the front panel of the unit above the control panel are two speakers with a built-in microphone to the right. Between the speakers is a CD drive with a red Eject button beside it. The CD drive is used to read files that you have on a CD-ROM; the SARA will read files in .ark, .txt, and .rtf formats.

The SARA uses the OmniPage OCR engine and the RealSpeak speech synthesis software, both produced by Scansoft. It can be attached via the serial port to a monitor or television screen for visual output. The SARA is able to store hundreds of thousands of pages. It can be set to speak in 13 languages, all of which are Western European or North or South American (U.S. English, British English, Danish, Dutch, Belgian Dutch, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Norwegian, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, and Swedish).

Setting Up and Controlling

The SARA is simple to set up even for those who have no technical experience. Once the product is unpacked, place it on a desktop or table top, plug the AC adapter into its jack on the rear port, and press the On/Off button located on the left side of the front panel. After about 10 seconds, a welcome message is spoken, and you are ready to begin scanning. To get a verbal description of what each button does, you can press the Help button to enter the Help mode. After you enter this mode, you can press each button to hear a description of its function. You press the Help button again to exit this mode. Once your document has been placed face-down on the scanning surface, all you need to do is hit the Scan key. After scanning and recognizing the text, the SARA will automatically start reading.

Photo of a woman placing a page on the SARA's scanning surface.

Caption: Positioning a document for the SARA to scan.

There are many ways to control the way that the SARA reads and to navigate through a document: The green Read key will stop or start reading; the Language key toggles between the various languages that are available; the Up and Down arrows move up or down a line at a time; the Right and Left arrows move left or right a word at a time; the Rewind and Fast forward keys move a page at a time; the Erase key erases the current page; and the File key moves you between files to read if you have more than one file open at a time. The Scanning Mode key toggles the SARA between a mode that recognizes and divides columns of text and a mode that ignores columns.

For those who are interested in the more advanced features, the menu system will allow you to access much more of the SARA's functionality. Pressing the Menu key takes you into a list of menus, and the SARA says, "File," the first menu. The Down arrow key scrolls you through the various menus, which include File, Voice Settings, Scanning Options, Visual Settings, and Double Arrow Movement. When you find the menu that you want, you press the Selector button or the right arrow to move to a list of its submenus. You can now arrow through that list and press the Selector button to choose the item that you want.

For example, if the document you happen to be scanning is a favorite book or newspaper article and there just is not enough time to read it right then, all you need to do is save the file and come back to it later. To save a file, you press the Menu key, and when "file" is spoken, you press the Right arrow to access the list of items in the File menu. Then, you press the Down arrow to scroll through the list of items, which includes New Document, Open Document, Open from CD, Close, Save, and Delete. When you hear "save," you press the Selector button. Since there is no keyboard to type in a file name, the SARA prompts you to use your own voice to speak the name you wish to give the file. To open the file and read it at a later time, you follow the same process to access the file menu and select the Open Document option this time. You are now in a list of files, and you hear your own voice read the names of the files as you scroll through the items with the down and up arrows. You then press Select when you hear the name of the file that you want to open.

The menus other than File are used to configure the SARA to perform the way you would like. The Voice Settings menu has items that allow you to adjust the speech rate and to choose the languages that are enabled on the SARA. It also has an item that allows you to choose from three available voices, one male and two female. The Scanning Options menu simply allows you to set the scanner either to recognize or to ignore columns, just like the Scanning Mode key discussed earlier. The Visual Settings menu is used if you have connected a monitor to the SARA, and it allows you to adjust the text font, text size, color, and spacing characteristics of the visual display. The Double Arrow Movement menu allows you to set the way you move through a document when pressing the Rewind and Fast Forward keys. The movement can be set to page, paragraph, or sentence.

Documentation

Users of the SARA will find an audiocassette of the user's manual, as well as a file saved on the unit itself in rich text format. You can also find a downloadable text file on Freedom Scientific's web site. The documentation is straightforward and gives a good description of the SARA's features and how to use them. It also describes the layout of the machine's ports and control buttons.

How Does SARA Scan?

Straight Text

The SARA averaged just under 35 seconds to scan and recognize plain text documents in a 12-point font size and usually made no recognition errors, except when reading the addresses of web sites. Similar results were obtained when reading documents that were printed in a 6-point font.

Color and Photographs

The SARA averaged just under 45 seconds to recognize the text on colored magazine pages with photographs. It did a good job of ignoring the photographs and was accurate; it made about one recognition error per page.

The SARA did not do well with a color brochure with photographs and text in 16-point font. It averaged about 47 seconds, but reported that the page was blank.

Currency

We tested the SARA with various U.S. currency bills, and it was not able to recognize any currency.

Business Cards

The SARA averaged about 40 seconds to scan and read business cards and did well, making no recognition errors, even on web addresses and e-mail addresses.

Newspaper Columns

After we set the SARA to divide columns, it took about 40 seconds to scan and recognize a newspaper with three columns in a 12-point font, and it made about one mistake every other sentence.

The ScannaR

The ScannaR Measures 18.5 inches long by 12.75 inches wide by 3.5 inches high and weighs approximately 15 pounds. It looks similar to but weighs more than a conventional off-the-shelf scanner. The unit is off-white in color, and if you place it in front of you with the control buttons facing you, the scanner lid opens from the front and is hinged in the back. Lifting the lid reveals an 8.75-inch by 12-inch glass scanner bed. The back panel has many of the similar ports and connections that one would find on the back of a computer, but the manufacturer has chosen to cover these ports with the scanner's housing. The only ones left exposed are the power adapter jack and the serial port, which is used to connect the ScannaR to a BrailleNote or VoiceNote personal digital assistant for saving scanned files to those devices.

Photo of the ScannaR.

Caption: The ScannaR features protruding buttons with raised black borders.

The ScannaR's silver control panel is on the front panel facing you. It features six black-and-white buttons, two black-and-white knobs, a headphone jack, a condenser microphone, and a speaker. The six round black control buttons protrude about a quarter-inch from the panel and are encased in raised black borders with tactilely identifiable shapes to differentiate one from another. Each button, including its border, is roughly an inch wide and an inch high.

Moving from left to right along the control panel, the first button is the On/Off button, encased in a border that has a flat bottom and a rounded top, and it has a white print label showing a circle with a line on top. Next is the headphone jack labeled with a black print image of a headphone, followed by the condenser microphone and the round audio speaker. To the right of the speaker are the two round black rotary knobs, which have a white print circle along their edges. They are arranged one above the other, with the top knob being used to adjust the volume and the bottom knob being used to adjust the rate of the speech output. To the right of those knobs is the Scan button, encased in a triangle border pointing to the right, with a white triangle label. Next is the Pause button, encased in a round border labeled with two white vertical lines. To the right of the Pause button are the up and down arrow keys, encased in triangular borders with the top one pointing up and the bottom one pointing down. Their print labels are white triangles that also point up and down, with a horizontal line above the top one and below the bottom one. Finally, the last button, on the far right of the control panel, is the Repeat button, encased in a square border with a white square print label.

The ScannaR uses the Abby Fine Reader OCR engine that is available with the Kurzweil 1000 software, and users can choose between the AT&T Speech engine, Microsoft Speech, RealSpeak, or IBM Via Voice for synthesized speech output. Users can choose from five languages: English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, and the ScannaR is able to connect to BrailleNote or VoiceNote to save files on those devices for future reading.

The ScannaR has two modes of operation, Easy and Advanced. Easy mode is used for the basic functions of scanning and reading and is designed for people with little or no prior computer experience. Advanced mode is for more savvy users who want more functionality in their reading machine. In this mode, users have the ability to save files, and they have much more latitude to configure the way the ScannaR performs.

Setting Up and Controlling

The ScannaR is in Easy mode when you turn it on for the first time, and it is simple to set up and use. After connecting the power adapter to its jack on the back of the unit and plugging it into an electrical outlet, you press the On/Off key. After about a minute, the ScannaR speaks a welcome message, and you are ready to scan and read. Pressing and holding the On/Off button until you hear a double beep turns the unit off. But if you just press and release the On/Off key, you will hear a description of all the keys and their functions. Once your document has been placed face-down on the scanning surface, all you need to do is hit the Scan key. After scanning and recognizing the text, ScannaR will automatically start reading.

Photo of a woman placing a page on the ScannaR's scanning surface.

Caption: Positioning a document for the ScannaR to scan.

The ScannaR's Easy mode is fairly limited as far as controlling the way it reads. After scanning a page, it reads the page from top to bottom. You can pause and restart speech with the Pause button, and the Up and Down arrow keys move the text forward or back a word at a time. Holding down the Pause key while pressing the Up or Down arrow key moves forward or back a paragraph at a time, and the Read key reads the current word. Pressing the Read key a second time spells the current word. The ScannaR can have only one page of text in memory at a time in Easy mode, so when a new page is scanned, the previous page is no longer available to read. If you want to scan multipage files or save files to read at a later time, you have to use the Advanced mode.

Advanced Mode

Those who want to use the ScannaR's advanced mode need to contact technical support at HumanWare because the instructions are not on the documentation that comes with the product. This mode has a menu system that allows such actions as saving, opening, and deleting files. It also allows you to set bookmarks in files and provides more robust navigation methods than does Easy mode. Advanced mode also lets you choose from several reading voices and lets you switch between the various reading languages that are available. It also has scanner settings for adjusting column recognition, brightness, contrast, image type, and resolution. Connecting to a BrailleNote or VoiceNote and saving files on those devices is also covered in Advanced mode. The ScannaR can save as many as 500,000 pages on its hard drive in this mode, a considerable amount of room for saving a great number of books.

Documentation

Included in the package were a large-print manual and a large-print chart describing what the key functions are. There is also a short audio CD available from HumanWare, but it was not included in the shipping of the product. The CD lasts approximately 5 to 10 minutes and gives a brief description of how to set up the ScannaR, a description of the control buttons, and a telephone number for technical support if there are any problems. A more advanced user's guide for learning how to use the Advanced mode is available from HumanWare technical support, and it is in a .txt format.

How Does ScannaR Scan?

Straight Text

The ScannaR averaged just under 40 seconds to scan and recognize plain text documents in a 12-point font and usually made no errors, even for web site addresses. The same results were seen for the ScannaR when reading documents printed in 6-point font.

Color and Photographs

The ScannaR averaged 40 seconds to read colored magazine pages with photographs. It did a good job of ignoring the photograph, and it was accurate; it made about two errors per page.

The ScannaR did not do well with the color brochure with photographs and text in 16-point font. It averaged about 35 seconds per scan, and although it did recognize some text, the text mainly came out as gibberish.

Currency

We tested the ScannaR with various U.S. currency bills. It was not able to recognize any currency.

Business Cards

The ScannaR averaged about 40 seconds to scan and read business cards, and it did well, making no recognition errors, even on web addresses and e-mail addresses.

Newspaper Columns

The ScannaR recognizes columns by default in Easy mode, and it averaged about 44 seconds to scan and recognize. It was slightly more accurate than the SARA on newspaper pages three columns in a 12-point font, averaging about one mistake every third sentence.

The Bottom Line

Both these reading systems are certainly easy to use and do not require any prior computer experience for a person to use them without assistance. They both have keys that are simple to identify and use, and both provide good verbal prompts during the scanning and reading process. In addition, they are both accurate, performing as well as the Kurzweil and Open Book products do.

The SARA includes more functionality out of the box, but after getting HumanWare technical support to set the ScannaR to Advanced mode, we found that it has similar capabilities. Both Freedom Scientific and HumanWare representatives have told us that their products are aimed at beginners without a lot of prior technical experience, such as, say, an elderly person who is just beginning to experience vision loss. Either of these systems would be appropriate for this kind of a person. Both systems are equally easy when doing basic scanning and reading. The ScannaR would be slightly easier for a raw beginner to use right out of the box because there are fewer keys to learn, but it was easier to navigate around a document with the SARA. The SARA was a bit easier and more straightforward when working with the more advanced processes because the keystroke commands were more intuitive, and there were some fairly complicated keystroke combinations to learn when using ScannaR's Advanced mode.

In short, we would have no problem recommending either of these products for a person who is interested only in basic scanning and reading. For people who are interested in all the advanced features of scanning and reading and have more technical skills, we would recommend investigating the Kurzweil or OpenBook products. Those products, even with the added cost of a computer and a scanner, are less expensive than these stand-alone products.

Manufacturers' Comments

Freedom Scientific

"Thank you for your review of the SARA. Since your evaluation, Freedom Scientific has issued the 7.5 update for the SARA. This update will be sent on CD to existing customers who can install it easily by simply pressing the Menu key and selecting 'Update from CD' in the File menu.

In regard to your test results, we have not yet implemented Currency Recognition. It is planned for a future update that will be distributed on CD. The results will always be better with the scanner lid closed, especially with glossy material like the color brochure you tested or thin material like newspaper, where bleed-through of the text from the other side can impact OCR accuracy.

The 7.5 update includes the following features:

  • The new RealSpeak® Solo speech synthesizer provides even higher-quality speech in 18 languages.
  • The SARA can now play audio material produced in the DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) format from a CD. When listening to DAISY audio, the user can quickly navigate between sections, rewind and fast forward, and adjust the rate of the audio narration.
  • After the file is closed, the SARA returns to the last location in the file when it is reopened.
  • The SARA can scan a new page in the background while the user continues reading a current page.
  • The SARA comes with 40 public domain books for countless hours of reading enjoyment. The collection includes such classics as A Tale of Two Cities, Dracula, Treasure Island, and many more.
  • Files can be saved from the SARA directly to a burnable CD-ROM and opened with the SARA's built-in CD-ROM drive.
  • The SARA now supports ARK, DOC, PDF, HTML, and XML formats.
  • Files opened from a CD can be saved to the internal hard drive using a different file name of your choice.
  • The four keys on the front of the unit provide quick access to commonly used functions. Users can assign a variety of different commands to these four keys. This means that you can set up quick-access functions, such as moving to the top or bottom of a document or toggling scanning modes.

If you have the SARA and have not received the update, please contact Freedom Scientific."

HumanWare

"The self-contained design of the ScannaR is particularly appropriate for someone with little or no computer or keyboard skills. Keeping this in mind, we created a user interface that is simple, thus ensuring a comfortable and manageable environment. Also, when a page is scanned, it is retained even if the unit is turned off, allowing the user to resume reading at a later time. There are a host of Advanced mode features, but we have found that few users have transitioned to using these more powerful features. Clearly, there are lower-cost and more sophisticated OCR software solutions for the experienced computer user, but ScannaR is most advantageous to users who appreciate a more portable, one-piece reading device that is easy to learn and simple to use."


Product Features

Feature SARA ScannaR
Saves scanned documents for future reading Yes Yes (in Advanced mode only)
Easy voice rate/volume adjustability Yes Yes
Corrects scanning errors No No
Recognizes/reads language other than English Yes Yes (in Advanced mode only)
Includes a dictionary No No
Recognizes currency No No

Product Features

Feature: SARA; ScannaR

Saves scanned documents for future reading: SARA: Yes; ScannaR: Yes (in Advanced mode only).

Easy voice rate/volume adjustability: SARA: Yes ; ScannaR: Yes.

Corrects scanning errors: SARA: No; ScannaR: No.

Recognizes/reads language other than English: SARA: Yes; ScannaR: Yes (in Advanced mode only).

Includes a dictionary: SARA: No; ScannaR: No.

Recognizes currency: SARA: No; ScannaR: No.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Feature: SARA; ScannaR

Documentation: SARA: 4.5; ScannaR: 3.5.

Scanning speed: SARA: 4.5; ScannaR: 4.5.

Recognition speed: SARA: 4.5; ScannaR: 4.5.

Simple scanning: SARA: 4.5; ScannaR: 4.5.

Scanning magazines: SARA: N/A; ScannaR: 4.0.

Scanning small print: SARA: N/A; ScannaR: 3.5.

Overall rating: SARA: 4.5; ScannaR: 4.0.

Product Information

Product: SARA: (Scanning and Reading Appliance).

Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific, Blindness and Low Vision Group, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716; phone: 800-444-4443; e-mail: <Sales@freedomscientific.com>; web site: <www.FreedomScientific.com>.

Price: $2,595.

Product: ScannaR.

Manufacturer: HumanWare, 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 800-722-3393 or 925-680-7100; e-mail: <us.info@humanware.com>; web site: <www.humanware.com>.

Price: $2,995.

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Untangling the Web

Express Yourself: An Introduction to Blogs

Do you want to speak your mind to anyone who may listen? Do you want the latest news from your neighborhood, nation, or political party or about your hobby or interest? The rights to express your views freely and to a "free press" are considered essential freedoms of democracy, guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution for Americans and similarly protected by law in every democracy on the planet. Although the framers of the Constitution may not have conceived that every Tom, Dick, and Harry would set up a printing press and turn out a newspaper, exactly that seems to be happening on the web with blogs.

What Is a Blog?

If you understand what the World Wide Web is, you are not far from understanding the term blog, a contraction of the words web and log. As these words imply, a blog is created on the World Wide Web and represents someone's "log" of his or her thoughts and activities. A blog is nothing more than a web page. You read a blog with your web browser. Just like any other web page, a blog can be easily accessible or maddeningly inaccessible. Fortunately, for the reader who is blind, many (maybe even most) blogs are wordy and as delightful to read as a web page from the web's early days--before navigation bars (and other technologies) cluttered it up.

Perhaps you have never been interested in starting your own newspaper. Perhaps you have never even considered it because it is an expensive proposition as well as a lot of work. Blog technology provides a readily affordable mechanism for making anyone a publisher. Blogs have become an established component of the World Wide Web environment. They are widely used for everything from political organizing in presidential elections to religious education to prurient pursuits to every topic of great or small interest. Famous people blog, as do many ordinary people.

Perhaps you are only a consumer of news and commentary. But if you have ever posted your two cents on some e-mail list, you have done the electronic equivalent of a letter to the editor. The difference, of course, is that your message was sent out to everyone else on the e-mail list, whereas only a few select letters to the editor ever get published. Another difference that should not be forgotten is that writing a letter to the editor was a daunting task for most people who are blind only a few years ago before accessible computers gave us the ability to spell check and format our words for printing on paper.

Writing your own blog or sending a comment on someone else's blog is different still from sending an e-mail message to an electronic mailing list. The e-mail message is distributed to the other subscribers to the list and then promptly disappears into an archive on Google or another search engine. The blog posting stays on a web page for some time, ready for anyone who wanders by to read it. What is more important, it is picked up by the web equivalent of news wire services like the Associated Press or Reuters and propagated across the blogosphere (the world of blogs and bloggers) in a 21st-century version of "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"

Of course, there is no guarantee in life--on the web no less than with more traditional media. You could write copiously, but will anyone read what you have written? Our interest in this article is, of course, the technology that allows you to do so, not your literary merit. Computers have made the tasks of reading and writing far more accessible than ever before for people who are blind or have low vision. Blogs do not make the tasks of reading and writing more accessible, but they do make publishing accessible in every sense of the word. Best of all, you do not need new software or a screen-reader upgrade. In fact, any old computer will do, even an old computer, as long as you can access the World Wide Web with it.

How Are Blogs Different?

To understand how a blog is different from other web pages, one needs only to consider how blogs are created. The point of blog technology is to make it as simple as possible for ordinary people to create all the online web content that they may want to publish without the assistance of nerds and geeks. Blogs do not make it easier to put a web server (the hardware and software that "serves" web pages to browsers) together--that part still requires technical know-how. But once a blog page is installed, publishing it can be as simple as filling out a simple web form and pressing the Submit button. It is a template approach to creating online content--just like baking cookies using commercial frozen cookie dough and cutting out the cookies with a cookie cutter: Each new web page may say something different, but it will look and feel exactly like every other page that has been produced by that particular blog template. Blogging is the mass production of web content.

Of course, there are fascinating variations to this simple procedure. Blog content can be created and published from a word-processing program (like Microsoft Word), from an e-mail submission, or even from a portable digital assistant or cell phone. Not all blogs are wordy. Some are about displaying photographs or about publishing audio recordings. But whatever the elaboration of how they are created and published or what combination of media is used, the underlying process is still the same. A well-defined e-form is filled out and submitted to the web server for publishing.

Getting Started

An extremely simple, yet powerful, blog search tool was recently opened by Google at the web site <http://blogsearch.google.com>. Use this tool to find blogs on subjects of interest. Just like anything else on line, some of the pages you find will be not so accessible.

If reading blogs that are published by and for readers who are blind seems a more comfortable way to be introduced to the blogosphere, try the blogs <http://www.jeffbishop.net>, <http://journal.shandrow.com>, or <http://mosenexplosion.com>. Or try Matt Bailey's readable blog <www.accessibilityblog.com>. Notice that each of these blogs allows you to submit a comment on what you read. If you like, you can submit your comment, and it will show up along with the original posting and any other comments--assuming that the owner of the blog accepts your comment; in order to prevent spam, most blogs do not let just anyone add a comment. Blogs are not necessarily one-way publishing; they can also become online conversations. The same web form-based tools support comments.

But accessing blogs like an ordinary web page falls short of what you can do with blog technology. I cannot think of a simpler way to get started with the power of blog technology--reading or writing a blog--than to use an accessible web blog service like <www.bloglines.com>. Now a service of Ask Jeeves, Bloglines is a simple-to-use entrée to the blogosphere because you do not need to learn anything new about how to use your computer to use Bloglines, either to read at random or to collect blog postings on topics of your choice or to create your own first blog. Best of all, Bloglines is free of charge. You will need to sign up for an account, but the web form is straightforward and as simple as it can be. Another good choice is the web blog service <www.blogger.com>, a service of Google. Sign up with one of these services and select some topics of interest, and the service will automatically build a page for you to read that is tailored to your interests. It will be there waiting for you the next time you log in.

It is one thing to look for a blog posting on some topic of interest. It is another thing to have that content come to you. Services like Bloglines aggregate new postings on topics that you have previously identified or from blogs that you want to track. When something new shows up--and these aggregators are always searching the blogosphere--the new posting shows up on your personal web page, just like new e-mail messages arrive in your e-mail box. And if you choose to make your personal collection of aggregated blog clippings public, you will have actually created a blog of your own. It is perhaps the simplest kind of blog to create. Go ahead and comment on the clippings you receive on your personal page, and Presto! you have become a blogger. If you also invoke the "track back" mechanism link, you will inform the originator about your comment electronically, in a web format that will provide a web link back to your comment. And that is how the web is woven.

Of course, there are dizzying variations and elaborations, far too many to discuss in this article. Some of the more important ones are aggregators. I have discussed how services like Bloglines help your blog-reading experience by searching for blog content and presenting it to you on your own Bloglines web page. But what if you want the content to show up in your e-mail or on your desktop? Aggregators work by using XML specifications, such as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) or Atom--two competing technologies for identifying and retrieving blog posts. There are aggregators for every environment on your computer--even the Linux (or Shell World) command-line prompt.

A good choice is PubSub <www.pubsub.com>. PubSub has a great deal to offer computer users who are visually impaired because it allows subscribers to view PubSub updates in a variety of ways--including Instant Messenger notification and e-mail distribution, both of which are screen reader-friendly. A podcast is a blog that comes as an audio file that you listen to with your media player, as opposed to words that you read with your screen reader. The word was created as a combination of syllables from iPod and broadcast. It is a term that is probably here to stay, even though you may listen to your podcast on something other than an Apple iPod. Podcasts are particularly interesting and useful to people who are blind because they are audio. Some regularly scheduled radio programs can now be downloaded as podcasts to be listened to when you are ready to listen. ACB's radio shows are available as podcasts.

AccessiblePodcatcher <www.webbie.org.uk/accessiblepodcatcher/index.htm> is a simple tool for users of screen readers to use to listen to podcasts. Podcatching is receiving and listening to other people's podcasts. Another podcatcher that is accessible is Ipodder <www.ipodder.org>. A good choice on the Linux command line is podracer, available at <http://podracer.sf.net>.

Just as podcasts are blogs in audio, there are visual blogs that are aimed at publishing video and photographic content. After all, the underlying web technology lends itself readily to all the different kinds of media that human beings use online.

Beyond Basic Blogging

Although a service like Bloglines is a great way to start, you may soon want more if you are serious about becoming a blogger. In particular, you may want a simple domain name, perhaps your first name plus your last name followed by ".com." You can host this domain yourself if you have a reliable broadband or high-speed connection that does not block web servers. I have found the WordPress blog tool particularly straightforward to install and configure on my Apache server, and the WordPress documentation, available at <codex.wordpress.org/Accessibility>, appears to be refreshingly unique in providing excellent and detailed explanations about why and how to make blogs accessible. However, most bloggers do not host their own domains; they seek an online provider to handle all the technology for them. Tens of thousands of hosting sites are ready to accept your monthly payment. Needless to say, not all of them are good choices for accessibility reasons, if not for other reasons as well.

My advice is to use the time-honored technique of copying someone you admire. If you find a blog that is similar to what you would like to have, find out where it is hosted and check into opening an account there for yourself or just hunt around. Here are some solid starting points:

  • WordPress is one of the premier accessible blogging technologies. Several sites that were mentioned previously in this article use it--can you spot them? The home page for WordPress is <http://wordpress.org>, and the hosting recommendations all look dependable to me--but I have not used WordPress hosting. Find the hosting recommendations at the web site <http://wordpress.org/hosting>.
  • Live Journal <http://livejournal.com> is both a blogging technology and a hosting site. Basic blogs can be had for free, and nominal fees provide a wealth of attractive additional features, including the ability to add audio to a blog by dialing a telephone number and recording your posting by telephone. In fact, reading the features page at <www.livejournal.com/paidaccounts> also serves as a useful overview of the kinds of uses that blogs can be put to.
  • The granddaddy of blogging technology is Movable Type <http://movabletype.com>. The aforementioned Live Journal is now part of the MovableType suite of products. Perhaps the better starting point for MovableType is <www.sixapart.com/movabletype>, and it is one of the few blog sites that I have found that offers a "Skip Nav Bar" link.
  • The New York Times site about blogs <http://weblogs.about.com> is also useful. Although its navigation bar and advertising make the site a bit bulky, it is a wonderful resource for blogs and for information about blogging.

The Bottom Line

What all this means is simple. You should feel free to make of it what you will. The blogs that you will find are as varied as the people who write them, some that are reasoned and highly articulated and others that are terse and pithy. Technologically, blogs are useful web technology because they help take technology issues out of the act of creating online content. If you come upon some blog tool that is inaccessible, keep looking. There are many tools for bloggers, and among these tools are accessible options that can facilitate your creativity.

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Book Review

Braille.com and Beyond, by Anna Dresner

National Braille Press; 119 braille pages (also available as a PortaBook or ASCII disk); $10.00.

Each of us has a different learning style--techniques and approaches that work best to facilitate the understanding of new material. To understand how to check the oil in an automobile, for example, some people learn most quickly by listening to a lecture, others by looking at pictures, and still others by putting their hands under the hood to handle all that grease and metal. For people who are blind, the best recipe for learning sometimes requires even more specific ingredients. Some of us need combined audio and visual input, some of us need audio and tactile input, and some of us know that the best approach to learn something new is to sit down with a braille book in hand and read all about it.

For blind computer users who are fairly new to navigating the World Wide Web and shopping online--and who happen to be among those "braille is best" learning types--Anna Dresner's Braille.com and Beyond is a compact and concise road map to getting that "how to do it" picture in a flash.

Using the National Braille Press (NBP) web site as her teaching model (which can be reached using either <www.nbp.org> or <www.braille.com>), Dresner outlines and explains every detail of the navigation process. The book teaches you how to navigate web pages, follow links, save favorite pages to your Favorites folder, locate specifically desired information, and more. Best of all, because this book was written specifically with users who are blind in mind, Dresner not only tells you what to do but how to do it, including specific keystrokes every step of the way. When a general Windows key command is available (one that is a feature of Microsoft Windows itself and thus available to any user of the program, sighted or blind), she includes it in the main narrative. If screen-reader commands are needed, the keystrokes for both Jaws for Windows and Window-Eyes are indicated in parentheses.

Users of screen readers may laugh out loud when they first read an exact reproduction in braille of what one hears if one is listening to the synthesized speech of a screen reader. To show the reader what a page looks (or will sound) like, words like link, image, and graphic are all represented on the braille page. For example, a portion of a braille page describing a particular screen appears like this:

list of 3 items
link UEBC Perspectives, in contracted braille
link UEBC Perspectives, in Microsoft Word
link UEBC Perspectives, in ASCII text
heading level 2 Christmas Carols
Includes lyrics to 14 popular Christmas carols.
list of 1 item
link Christmas Carols, in contracted braille
list end

The instructions are consistently thorough and clear. Dresner walks the reader step by step through browsing, downloading, and ordering materials. As an added incentive, NBP is offering a free book, Front Porch Tales, in either hardcopy braille or electronic format, as the reward for readers who make it to the end of the lesson and learn to order it online.

Although this book is primarily for beginning web shoppers and information seekers, there is something in it for computer users at any level. The five appendices at the back of the book, which make up roughly one-third of the entire volume, are crammed with useful information on resources that can be located quickly and easily. Among other things, the appendices list other sources of assistance in learning the two screen readers; tips for Lynx users; detailed instructions for downloading a variety of types of files; and, best of all, a comprehensive list of all keyboard commands--in Windows, JAWS, and Window-Eyes–to use Internet Explorer successfully with a screen reader.

This book is a simple and compact resource at a bargain price. If you already know how to order online, you can order it online. If you need it to learn how to order online, NBP offers a toll-free number. Contact: National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115; phone: 800-548-7323; web site: <www.nbp.org> or <www.braille.com>.

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Product Evaluation

Dialing Up the Magnification: A Review of Mobile Magnifier

Since May 2003, AccessWorld has published a series of eight articles that have evaluated the accessibility and usability of several cell phones and add-on software applications. In this article, we at AFB TECH (the American Foundation for the Blind Technology and Employment Center at Huntington, West Virginia) evaluate Mobile Magnifier, a screen magnifier that is currently available as an option for cell phone users who have low vision. Mobile Magnifier is produced by Code Factory, the makers of the Mobile Speak cell phone screen reader that we evaluated in the November 2004 issue of AccessWorld.

What Is Mobile Magnifier?

Mobile Magnifier is available in two versions: Mobile Magnifier Stand-alone and Mobile Magnifier Plug-in. Mobile Magnifier Stand-alone magnifies areas of the cell phone screen as you move through the information being displayed on the screen. Like the Magnifier application that is built into the Windows operating system, it features a separate magnified window that provides an enlarged view of the active portion of the main window. Mobile Magnifier Plug-in works in conjunction with Code Factory's Mobile Speak screen reader to provide both screen magnification and speech output.

As a screen magnifier, Mobile Magnifier functions independently of the user's language. When using the Mobile Magnifier Plug-in, along with Mobile Speak, however, the user has the option of choosing the following languages for the speech output: English, French, Russian, Czech, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Polish, Turkish, Finnish, Danish, Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, German, Italian, and Spanish. The Mobile Magnifier's user manual is available in Microsoft Word format only in a 12-point font, and it can be downloaded from the manufacturer's web site. No large-print or audio version is currently available. It is a brief manual designed to get you started with the product, but it does not give detailed information on using the cell phone and the magnifier.

System Requirements

To install and run Mobile Magnifier Stand-alone or Mobile Magnifier Plug-in, you must have a Symbian Series 60 cell phone. This series currently includes the Nokia 3230, 3620, 3660, 6260, 6600, 6620, 6670, 6680, 7610, 7650, N-Gage, N-Gage QD, Siemens SX1, Panasonic x700, and Panasonic X701. These are the same cell phones that can use the TALKS and Mobile Speak screen-reader applications we have reviewed in past articles. As we mentioned in the June 2005 AccessWorld Extra, several new Series 60 phones will soon be introduced to the market. As always, we suggest that you check with the manufacturer's web site and your local service provider to determine which cell phones are available.

How Did We Evaluate Mobile Magnifier?

To determine how much assistance Mobile Magnifier can provide to a cell phone user with low vision, we installed the Mobile Magnifier Plug-in on a Nokia 6620 cell phone, which we evaluated with the Mobile Speak and TALKS screen readers in our November 2004 article in AccessWorld. We chose this particular cell phone because it is a popular Symbian phone in the United States. We decided to use the plug-in version because the manufacturers said that its functionality is identical to the stand-alone version, and we wanted to test magnification and speech output together.

We tested the system in our laboratory using people with low vision to evaluate how well the various features of Mobile Magnifier provide access to on-screen information, such as the battery and signal-strength icons. We also looked at how well it provides access to features of the cell phone, such as the phone book, camera, and web browser. After a discussion of the various features of Mobile Magnifier, we report our testing results and recommendations.

Features of Mobile Magnifier

Mobile Magnifier has several features that a person with low vision can use to enhance and customize the display on the cell phone screen.

Magnification Level

Mobile Magnifier can be set to provide between 2x and 6x magnification in the magnified window, and the size of the magnified window will change as the level of magnification is adjusted by the user. The magnification window generally takes up a quarter to a third of the total display screen. As is the case with all magnifying products, as the magnification level increases, the amount of information that will fit in the magnifier window decreases.

A Nokia cell phone in a user's hand. The screen displays the magnification window at the top, showing the word "Log." The rest of the screen shows "Contacts," "Log," and "Gallery," with icons for each.

Caption: The Mobile Magnifier on a Nokia 6620 cell phone.

Auto Zoom

When activated, Auto Zoom automatically adjusts the level of magnification in the magnifier window, depending on the amount of screen content, so the level of magnification will change as the information on the screen changes. For example, the fewer words there are on a screen, the higher the magnification, and the greater the number of words on the screen, the lower the magnification. People who prefer a constant level of magnification or need high magnification may want to turn off this feature.

Beep on Location

At times, the magnifier window will move from the top to the bottom of the display screen. When the Beep on Location feature is activated, the cell phone will beep whenever the magnification window changes location.

Border

A colored border around the magnifier window can be turned on to differentiate it more clearly from the main window. The choices for the border color include white, red, black, yellow, green, or blue. The border size can also be adjusted to meet the preference of the user. The user can select from a small, medium, or large border.

Color Scheme

You can further customize the display by adjusting the color scheme. The following choices of color schemes are available: normal, black and white, color low resolution, color high resolution, gray low resolution, gray high resolution, and inverted color.

Magnifier Priority

The Magnifier Priority level has two settings, Normal and Low. When the Magnifier Priority is set to Low, the magnification window will be refreshed less often and will use less system resources. The manufacturer suggests using the Low setting if you are running applications in addition to Mobile Magnifier and the cell phone begins to perform poorly.

Auto Start

Mobile Magnifier can be set to start automatically when the cell phone is turned on. When you use the plug-in version, Mobile Speak must also be set to Auto Start for this feature of Mobile Magnifier to work.

Function Keys

The function keys are shortcuts to activate various features of Mobile Magnifier. Pressing edit twice, followed by another key on the cell phone, activates a function key. For example, pressing Edit twice, followed by the 4 key, toggles the Border on or off, and Edit twice, followed by the 5 key, toggles Auto-Zoom on or off. Several other function keys are available to pan the magnifier to move its focus to other regions of the screen. For example, pressing Edit twice, followed by moving the cell phone's joystick up, down, left, or right, pans the magnifier focus in the corresponding direction.

Function Key Timeout

The Function Key Timeout has two settings: Two Seconds and Unlimited. When this key is set to Two Seconds, you have two seconds to press a function key after the Edit key has been pressed twice. If more than two seconds elapse, Mobile Magnifier will drop out of the Function Key mode. When set to Unlimited, the Mobile Magnifier function keys will not time out after the Edit key is pressed twice, giving you unlimited time to select a function.

How Does Mobile Magnifier Pan Out?

Mobile Magnifier is the first attempt by the industry to make a screen magnifier for cell phones. As may be expected when evaluating a relatively new product such as this, it still has a way to go to be the top-quality product that we have found Mobile Speak to be.

It can be a cumbersome process to pan around the screen to change what appears in the magnification window. At higher levels of magnification, the user must pan up and down, in addition to left and right, to read all the letters in the magnifier window. This requires an extra step, patience, practice, and good manual dexterity, especially when you must pan through multiple lines of text. The calendar feature, for example, was particularly difficult to use because of problems with screen orientation. The panning tool, although needed to use the magnifier, currently creates an obstacle to the efficient use of the cell phone's functions.

Caller ID is an important feature to most cell phone users, but it is difficult to read the Caller ID information efficiently with Mobile Magnifier. When the cell phone rings, the incoming number is displayed in the magnifier window. If you have the magnification level set high, you must press Edit twice and then move the joystick to pan across to see the entire number. The number must be panned across quickly, or the call will go to voice mail before it can be answered. Even at 2x magnification, you still cannot see the last digit of the incoming phone number in the magnifier window without panning. It becomes even more difficult to use as you increase the level of magnification in the magnifier window.

Indicator icons on the screen are also difficult to view with Mobile Magnifier. The signal strength icon is too large to fit in the magnifier window, and the battery level icon is not visible at all with Mobile Magnifier because the icon disappears when Mobile Magnifier is active.

While using the web browser function of our cell phone, Mobile Magnifier did not always magnify the highlighted word on the screen. Also, we could not get the speech output from Mobile Speak with the plug-in version to speak the content of the web pages that we browsed. Thus, the web browser function of our particular phone was inaccessible, even when using Mobile Magnifier software. According to Code Factory, the web browser is Mobile Speak dependant, and web browsers on Series 60 phones vary greatly from cell phone to cell phone and between firmware revisions. Code Factory informed us that Mobile Speak must be adapted to each cell phone specifically and that the Nokia 6620 that we tested must be one of the ones that it is currently working to adapt to be supported in an upcoming release.

Most users with low vision will not be able to distinguish between high- and low-resolution color schemes because there is not enough of a significant difference between the two resolutions.

Mobile Magnifier was not helpful when we used the camera feature. It would not magnify the image that appeared on the screen of the subject that we were about to photograph. It also would not magnify the actual photograph that we took to give us an enlarged view of the photograph. It actually made the camera feature more difficult to use, since the magnifier window obscured too much of the camera's window.

Although the preceding list of problems may sound discouraging, we did find Mobile Speak to be useful in improving visual access to some of the screen information. When navigating through the cell phone's menus, Mobile Magnifier did a good job of magnifying the items as we scrolled through them. The magnified window focused well as we scrolled through the items, and if a menu item was too large to fit in the magnified window, we could use the panning feature to view the rest of the item. This was also true when we used some of the applications that are built into the cell phone, such as the contacts application and the e-mail and text-messaging applications. For example, when we used the contacts application to add a contact, Mobile Magnifier did a good job of magnifying each field as information was inserted. It would magnify and pan through the information in the name field and then switch focus to the next field as we moved the cursor to enter a number into the cell phone number field.

What Would Make It Better

An easier-to-use, faster, more efficient panning feature would make Mobile Magnifier much more useful to people with low vision. It would be especially useful when panning through multiple lines of text or when timing is important, such as when using Caller ID.

In taking a picture, the image that is being photographed is the most important thing. Decreasing the size of the magnifier window in the camera mode would, therefore, be useful so the user with low vision could see a larger image of what he or she is photographing. It would also be better if Mobile Magnifier would actually magnify the photographs that are taken, so that users could take advantage of the magnification feature when viewing their photographs.

We also recommend more options for the Function Key Time Out. A 5- or 10-second option, for example, would give a user a few more seconds to remember and then press the appropriate function key. Two seconds may be insufficient time for users who have limitations in manual dexterity to press the Function key, and the Unlimited setting could be too long.

Mobile Magnifier also needs to be more responsive in the web browser to make the Internet accessible. As for using the plug-in version along with Mobile Speak, the speech output needs to support all facets of the web browser on all Series 60 phones.

Large-print and audio versions of the user manual would also make this product more accessible. When a product is made for people who are visually impaired, the accompanying material should be available in a variety of accessible formats to meet individual users' needs. A more comprehensive manual would also be helpful. More detailed information on the installation process and use of the product is needed.

Because most cell phones have relatively small screens, it is not possible to fit much information on the screen after it has been magnified, so Mobile Magnifier would work better on future cell phones that may come onto the market with larger screens.

The Bottom Line

Users with sufficient visual acuity to read the screen with 2x magnification may find Mobile Magnifier Stand-alone useful when using their cell phones, but those with lower levels of vision may not. Users who require 3x or higher magnification may find that the plug-in version with speech output or Mobile Speak would better meet their needs. As we stated previously, the higher the level of magnification in the magnifier window, the more cumbersome Mobile Magnifier is to use.

For those who are interested in purchasing Mobile Magnifier, we recommend that you download a trial version and test it on a compatible cell phone before you make a decision to purchase it. If you have low vision and can view information on a computer monitor using only 2x magnification, then the stand-alone product may work well for you. However, if you use 3x magnification or higher, we recommend that you use the plug-in version, along with Mobile Speak, because of the extra level of access that is provided by the speech output. This would also be a good idea for someone who may be gradually losing his or her vision and may require higher magnification in the future.

Mobile Magnifier is a step in the right direction toward making cell phones usable by all people. We hope that Code Factory will continue its work and improve upon its existing product to make it more accessible, while setting an example for others in the field to follow.

Please watch for future articles; we will continue to evaluate new cell phones and software applications as they become available.

Manufacturer's Comments

Code Factory

"Thank you for your review of Mobile Magnifier. One item that you highlighted as a shortcoming was the difficulty in focusing on important areas of the screen, such as Caller ID and the status icons. The current version actually does address this through the use of keyboard shortcuts, including specific shortcuts to focus on the status indicators or the button area. By adjusting the magnification level and using these shortcuts, the majority of the information can be accessed quickly. Because Mobile Magnifier and Mobile Speak operate at the level of the mobile phone's operating system, they are more dependent on differences between phone models than other, more general-purpose applications. As you correctly pointed out, this may prevent web content from being handled properly on some phones; however, we are continuing to invest effort in expanding the list of supported phones, especially with popular models such as the 6620.

All our products are driven primarily by user feedback, and many of the suggestions mentioned in the article are very good candidates for inclusion in future versions, such as better camera integration, finer control over magnification levels, and more customizable function key options."


Product Features

Feature Mobile Magnifier
Compatibility Compatible with Symbian Series 60 cell phones
Levels of magnification 5, from 2x to 6x
Color scheme adjustment Yes, including screen resolution
Reverse polarity Yes, Inverted Color feature provides white-on-black text
Auto zoom Yes
Auto start Yes
Hot keys For common features

Product Features

Feature: Mobile Magnifier

Compatibility: Compatible with Symbian Series 60 cell phones.

Levels of magnification: 5, from 2x to 6x.

Color scheme adjustment: Yes, including screen resolution.

Reverse polarity: Yes, Inverted Color feature provides white-on-black text.

Auto zoom: Yes.

Auto start: Yes.

Hot keys: For common features.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Feature: Mobil Magnifier

Accessible documentation: 4.0.

Content of documentation: 4.0.

Magnification quality: 5.0.

Color scheme adjustment: 2.0.

Ease of installation: 2.5.

Overall usability: 3.0.

Product Information

Product: Mobile Magnifier.

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

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: $130 for the plug-in; $295 for the Stand-alone version. Free 30-day trial version available.

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AccessWorld News

Window-Eyes Upgrade Released

GW Micro has announced the release of the public beta version of Window-Eyes 5.5. Following its earlier enhancement of accessibility in Microsoft Word with Window-Eyes 5.0, this latest upgrade increases support for accessibility in Microsoft Excel and provides improved support for such applications as Sonar, Visual Studio, Lotus Notes, Instant Messenger 7.5, and VISTA, the next version of Windows, due out in 2006. The company reports that Window-Eyes 5.5 will be the first screen reader to offer full support of Mozilla Firefox, in addition to offering beginner, intermediate, and advanced menu levels, less confusing layout and function of the Window-Eyes Global menu, an automatic reading of autotext completion in e-mail programs, and other improvements. A free download of 5.5, as well as a complete list of all new features, can be found at <www.gwmicro.com/beta>. For additional information, contact: GW Micro: phone: 260-489-3671; web site: <www.gwmicro.com>.

JAWS 7.0 Released

Freedom Scientific has announced the release of JAWS 7.0, available for download for customers who have purchased software maintenance agreements or who purchased the JAWS software after August 2, 2005. If you've ever copied text to the Windows clipboard and then wished you could add a bit more, the extended JAWS clipboard feature will definitely be welcome. Other features of the upgrade include support for MSN Messenger 7.0 and 7.5, training materials in DAISY format for quick and easy reference, the ability to carry your JAWS programs with customized settings on a USB thumb drive, enhanced support for reading tables and PDF documents, support for Yahoo Messenger 7.0, and new shortcuts to popular applications for customers using Focus 40 or Focus 80 braille displays. On the lighter side, the new version offers an MSN dictionary--a quick reference for translating that growing plethora of conversational abbreviations used in instant messaging. A demo copy can be downloaded free from <www.freedomscientific.com>. To confirm whether or not your software maintenance agreement includes an authorized copy of 7.0, you can visit <www.fsactivate.com> and look up your serial number. For more information or to order, contact: Freedom Scientific: phone: 800-444-4443; web site: <www.freedomscientific.com>.

See It More Clearly with ZoomText 9.0

Ai Squared has announced the latest upgrade to its popular screen magnification program, ZoomText 9.0, which promises to bring greater clarity and flexibility to the screen, along with the clearer speech provided by NeoSpeech. Enhancements include increased magnification from 16x to 30x, as well as a more finely tuned adjustment between 2x and 3x with a 2.5x option. Applications settings can now be saved "on the fly," and the improved Find option allows users to locate desired text in e-mails or on web pages quickly. The program is available in 15 languages, including German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, U.S. English, and U.K. English. Users who have paid for a software maintenance agreement or enhanced support plan can receive 9.0 free of charge. A 30-day trial version can be downloaded free. For additional information, contact: AI Squared: phone: 800-859-0270 or 802-362-3612; web site: <www.aisquared.com>; e-mail: <sales@aisquared.com>.

New Braille-Only Tutorial Available

Iowa Department for the Blind's Project ASSIST has announced the availability of its latest tutorial for people who are blind or deaf-blind or otherwise using braille for computer access. The Microsoft Internet Fundamentals with JAWS 6.1 and the ALVA Satellite 570 is a 14-lesson tutorial that takes users from the beginning level through more advanced strategies to exploring the Internet and using e-mail with Jaws 6.1 and the ALVA Satellite braille display. Step-by-step exercises provide all necessary keystrokes and hands-on experience. The tutorial is available in electronic format (which includes all exercises in Microsoft Word, braille-ready [BRF], and ASCII text formats), audiocassette, or hardcopy braille. The electronic version costs $25; the cassette version (which includes five tapes plus the electronic tutorial on CD) costs $35; and the hardcopy braille is $35 per volume. To order or for additional information, contact: Project ASSIST, Iowa Department for the Blind: phone: 515-281-1317 (voice) or 515-281-1259 (TTY); web site: <www.blind.state.ia.us/assist/order-info.htm>; e-mail: <assist@blind.state.ia.us>.

National Braille Press Offers Downloads

National Braille Press (NBP) made national news in July this year when its braille version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sixth in J. K. Rowling's popular series, became available at the same time as the print edition. Now, NBP offers the Harry Potter books--as well as its diverse collection of other titles for children and adults--for immediate download as well as in hardcopy braille. When ordering from the NBP site, a choice of formats is offered. The customer can select either braille (the old-fashioned kind, shipped in a box), or what NBP calls PortaBook. This format can be shipped on CD, shipped on floppy disk, or purchased for immediate download. The downloadable version then offers two choices: PBD (which is an already translated contracted braille format) or as ASCII text. Prices are the same regardless of format. To shop or browse, visit National Braille Press at <www.nbp.org> or www.braille.com; phone: 800-548-7323.

Victor Reader Wave

HumanWare Canada (formerly VisuAide) has announced the newest member in its family of popular DAISY players, the Victor Reader Wave. Similar to the Victor Reader Vibe, this new player is a clamshell-style CD player that plays commercial CDs as well as formatted DAISY books. The Wave features a telephone-style keypad on the lid for easy navigation, enhanced memory for storing hundreds of bookmarks, a larger visual display to assist users with low vision or learning disabilities, and support for CDs carrying MP3-formatted material. The Wave saves the listener's place not only in DAISY books but on MP3 and music CDs as well. Purchase includes the Victor Reader Wave, power adapter, earphones, carrying case, and rechargeable batteries. Although currently available in English only, the company says that other languages will be available soon. For more information, contact: HumanWare Canada: web site: <www.humanware.com> or <www.humanware.ca>.

Free Games for Kids

Hark the Sound is a suite of games, available free of charge, for children who are blind or visually impaired. Guessing games and category games allow children to choose the sound to match a given animal or place a food in the proper category, all by using just the arrow keys on the computer keyboard. "Pad" games involve a 3-by-3-foot square pad on which children sit or stand while using hands, feet, and upper body to produce the desired effects. A free version can be downloaded from <www.cs.unc.edu/~gb/HarkTheSoundSetup.exe>. A package including the "Dance-Dance-Revolution" pad and game CD can be purchased for $30 by sending an e-mail to Diane Brauner at <dianebrauner@earthlink.net>.

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Calendar

November 8-11, 2005

Eighth Annual Accessing Higher Ground: Assistive Technology and Accessible Media in Higher Education

Boulder, CO

Contact: Disability Services, University of Colorado, Willard Administrative Center 322, 107 UCB, Boulder, CO, 80309; phone: 303-492-8671; e-mail: <dsinfo@spot.colorado.edu>.

November 9-12, 2005

TASH (The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps) Annual Conference

Milwaukee, WI

Contact: TASH, 29 West Susquehanna Avenue, Suite 210, Baltimore, MD 21204; phone: 410-828-8274; e-mail: <dmarsh@tash.org>; web site: <www.tash.org>.

November 17, 2005

Assistive Technology: Improving Lives Daily

Warwick, RI

Contact: TechAccess of Rhode Island, 110 Jefferson Boulevard, Suite I, Warwick, RI 02888; phone: 401-463-0202; e-mail: <techaccess@techaccess-ri.org>; web site: <www.techaccess-ri.org/index.htm>.

November 17-18, 2005

Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) Techshare 2005

Birmingham, England, United Kingdom

Contact: Techshare, Royal National Institute of the Blind, 58-72 John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN, England, United Kingdom; phone: +44-121-665-4226; e-mail: <techshare@rnib.org.uk>; web site: <www.rnib.org.uk/techshare>.

December 1-2, 2005

15th Annual Assistive Technology Expo: RecreATe the Possibilities

Raleigh, NC

Contact: Partnerships in Assistive Technology, 1110 Navaho Drive, Suite 100, Raleigh, NC 27609; phone: 919-872-2298; e-mail: <assist@pat.org>; web site: <www.pat.org>.

December 1-2, 2005

Tactile Graphics 2005: Third International Conference on Tactile Diagrams, Maps, and Pictures

Birmingham, England, United Kingdom

Contact: National Centre for Tactile Diagrams, Royal National Institute of the Blind, 58-72 John Bright Street, Birmingham, B1 1BN, England, United Kingdom; phone: +44-121-665-4257; e-mail: <info@nctd.org.uk>; web site: <www.nctd.org.uk/conference/conf2005>.

December 1-3, 2005

World Congress and Exposition on Disabilities

Philadelphia, PA

Contact: H. A. Brunno, LLC, 210 Route 4 East, Suite 304, Paramus, NJ 07652; phone: 201-226-1446; e-mail: <wcdinfo@wcdexpo.com>; web site: <www.wcdexpo.com>.

January 5-8, 2006

2006 International Consumer Electronics Show

Las Vegas, NV

Contact: 2006 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>.

January 18-21, 2006

Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2006 Conference

Orlando, FL

Contact: ATIA, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611; phone: 877-687-2842 or 321-673-6659; e-mail: <info@atia.org>; web site: <www.atia.org>.

January 26-28, 2006

24th Annual Technology, Reading, and Learning Difficulties (TRLD) Conference

San Francisco, CA

Contact: TRLD, Don Johnston Incorporated, 26799 West Commerce Drive, Volo, IL 60073; phone: 800-999-4660 or 847-740-0749; e-mail: <trld@donjohnston.com>; web site: <www.trld.com>.

March 20-24, 2006

Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference

Orlando, FL

Contact: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, P.O. Box 3728, Norfolk, VA 23514; phone: 757-623-7588; e-mail: <info@aace.org>; web site: <www.aace.org/conf/site>.

March 20-25, 2006

California State University at Northridge (CSUN) Center on Disabilities' 21st Annual International Conference: Technology and Persons with Disabilities

Los Angeles, CA

Contact: 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/index.htm>.

April 10-11, 2006

Power Up 2006 Assistive Technology Conference and Expo

Columbia, MO

Contact: Missouri Assistive Technology, Office of Administration of the State of Missouri, 4731 South Cochise, Suite 114, Independence, MO 64055; phone: 816-373-5193; e-mail: <matpmo@swbell.net>; web site: <www.at.mo.gov>.

May 3-5, 2006

2006 Solutions for Assistive Technology Conference

Baton Rouge, LA

Contact: Adaptive Solutions, 2127 Court Street, Port Allen, LA 70767; phone: 225-387-0428; e-mail: <sherry@adaptive-sol.com>; web site: <www.adaptive-sol.com/conference.htm>.

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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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