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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 January 2006 Issue  Volume 7  Number 1

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Letters to the Editor

The Sound of Computing: A Review of Three Screen Readers

Read about the latest enhancements to JAWS, Hal, and Window-Eyes, including Firefox accessibility--Amy Salmon

A Nonrocker from Motorola: A Review of the Rokr E1 Cell Phone with iTunes

Get the lowdown on a popular phone that doesn't connect for people who are blind--Darren Burton

Take Me to myReader: An Evaluation of HumanWare's Transportable Auto-Reader

We review a unique, innovative video magnifier--Lee Huffman

Buy It, Sell It: eBay 101

Take a tour of the place to go online to buy and sell anything--Janet Ingber

M Is for Mobile, and the Result Is Empowering

Read about a PDA upgrade packed with a plethora of connectivity options, a stereo media player and more--Deborah Kendrick

There's Gold on Those Old Tapes: Recording and Editing Digital Audio Files with GoldWave

Here's how to convert your cassette tapes into digital audio--Joe Lazzaro

AccessWorld News


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

AccessWorld® is published bi-monthly by AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind, 11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300, New York, NY 10001. Products included in AccessWorld® are not necessarily endorsed by AccessWorld® or AFB staff.

All rights reserved. Copyright © 2006 American Foundation for the Blind.

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

Editor's Page

It is instructive to compare and contrast the accessibility efforts of mainstream companies. IBM has perhaps done more than any other company in the arena of accesibility. One of IBM's latest contributions is its effort regarding the open-source Firefox browser. IBM programmers wrote and donated tens of thousands of lines of code to make Firefox usable with screen readers. Screen reader manufacturers were then hired by IBM to write configuration files so that their programs would work with Firefox. As part of the screen reader evaluation in this issue, we tested three screen readers' functionality with Firefox.

In contrast, Apple has not made an effort to make its mainstream products accessible. The iPod, which AccessWorld reviewed in March 2005, could easily be made accessible to people who are blind. The iTunes software, which is part of the Rokr cell phone evaluated in this issue, is also very difficult for people who are blind to use. Unfortunately, Apple has not chosen to pursue the same course as IBM and other companies.

Amy Salmon, a technology trainer from Wisconsin, reviews three screen readers: Freedom Scientific's JAWS for Windows 7.0, GW Micro's Window-Eyes 5.5, and Dolphin Computer Access's Hal 6.51. Each product was evaluated in the following areas: installation; documentation and support; basic performance in Microsoft Word and Excel; and on the Web using Internet Explorer 6.x and Mozilla Firefox 1.5. Find out how these three products performed.

In the latest of AccessWorld's popular series of cell phone evaluations, Darren Burton of AFB's Technology and Employment Center in Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), reviews Apple's Rokr E1 cell phone. In addition to a description of this mainly inaccessible phone, this article offers a listing of other current accessible cell phones. These include the LG VX 4650, 4700, and 5200 models from LG Electronics; Nextel's Motorola i355; the Samsung MM A800, which is a music- and TV-enabled multimedia telephone; and a brief update on the Mobile Speak and TALKS cell phone screen readers.

Lee Huffman, also of AFB TECH, evaluates HumanWare's myReader, a new type of video magnifier. myReader captures an image of whatever is placed on its viewing table, and then reformats it into an arrangement chosen and customized by its user. myReader has no x-y table. Instead, it uses navigation through its control panel and its automatic scrolling feature to eliminate the back-and-forth movement of a document on an x-y table and reduce user fatigue. Read about this unique product.

eBay is the place to go online to buy or sell merchandise. Janet Ingber, author and music therapist, describes how to buy and sell merchandise on eBay using a screen reader. eBay is more difficult to use than the typical online shopping site, but it is possible to participate in both the buying and the selling. Read our how-to and get ready to join the fun on eBay.

Deborah Kendrick writes about the latest edition to HumanWare's family of BrailleNote personal digital assistants (PDAs), the BrailleNote mPower. Additions found on the mPower include a secure digital flash slot (a storage card about the size of a postage stamp), two USB host ports, one USB client port, BlueTooth capability, a 28MB flash drive, the ability to make digital voice recordings, a stereo media player, and more. Read about the latest upgrade to this popular PDA.

Joe Lazzaro, director of the Adaptive Technology Program at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind in Boston and a freelance writer, writes about the GoldWave sound editor, an inexpensive and fairly accessible software package. GoldWave lets you record from a variety of inputs, including microphones and auxiliary input, using patch cords, and even lets you record streaming audio while you're listening online. A number of readers have asked us to publish an article explaining step by step how to convert material from audiotape to digital files. If you want to do this, or have any interest in recording onto your computer, this article is for you.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief


In the report on the CSUN 2004 conference in the May 2004 Access World, a photograph was labeled incorrectly. The device in the picture captioned "Close-up of the Talking Tablet" is actually the Talking Tactile Tablet from Touch Graphics. We apologize for any confusion.

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Letters to the Editor

Pessimistic on PDFs

Thank you very much for publishing the article "What's in a PDF? The Challenges of the Popular Portable Document Format," by Jamal Mazrui. The information in this article is very helpful in explaining to people the challenges that screen reader users have with PDF files. And it offers some helpful tips.

However, I do think that the author is too optimistic about the current and future accessibility of PDF files for three reasons:

1. Although recent versions of Adobe Reader may be made to work better with recent versions of screen readers, many of us who use screen readers cannot afford the newest versions of our screen readers. Many of us do not have state or employer sponsorship to pay for such upgrades. And, many people who make PDF files do not follow the guidelines necessary to make the files truly accessible.

2. In my experience, scanning documents into image-only PDF files continues to be a fairly common way of storing information for many purposes. I continue to find them on all sorts of public web sites, even those maintained by local and state governments and schools and colleges.

3. I am finding that more and more people are producing their publications in PDF format in ways that will result in them being printed out with decorative background designs, and this makes them very difficult to be read by character recognition programs and transformed into text that screen readers can read. Although some PDF files do have text on top of the decorative designs, many do not.

Nevertheless, I do appreciate the article for all the helpful information it provides.

Sylvie Kashdan

Laughing Out Loud

What a wonderful and useful edition of Access World! I was asked to review a PDF document for access yesterday, so I jumped right into reading Jamal Mazrui's article. I found it very helpful in understanding PDF access, and I appreciated the refresher on hot keys that I had forgotten--the search function particularly. I forwarded the article to someone in my office and to the person who had the question about accessible PDFs. I have saved it in my "computer help" folder so I can refer to it again if needed.

Yes, I did read the articles about online shopping on work time! Maybe being a more efficient online shopper will leave me more time for my job responsibilities! I kept laughing out loud reading Susan Mazrui's article, which made my colleagues wonder what my boss had assigned me that was so much fun!

Keep these well-written and useful articles coming!

Bonnie O'Day

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Product Evaluation

The Sound of Computing: A Review of Three Screen Readers

If you are blind or have low vision and use a computer, then you are probably familiar with one of the products that are evaluated in this article: Freedom Scientific's JAWS for Windows 7.0, Dolphin Computer Access's Hal 6.51, and GW Micro's Window-Eyes 5.5. If you are already familiar with one or all of these screen readers, then you know the power and access that a good screen reader can provide to today's computer user who is visually impaired. If you are just beginning to dive into the wonderful world of screen readers, read on and be amazed at how these products can empower you.

Each screen reader was evaluated independently using the same testing and criteria. Specifically, each screen reader was evaluated on its accessibility and usability in the following areas: installation, documentation and support, basic performance in Microsoft Word and Excel, and basic and some advanced features on the Web using Internet Explorer 6.x and Mozilla Firefox 1.5. Testing was conducted on Pentium 4 computers at 3.8 GHZ with 1 gigabyte of RAM running Windows XP Professional and Microsoft Office 2003 Service Pack 2.

Since AccessWorld's last evaluation of screen readers in May and July 2004, significant upgrades and new features have been added by many of the manufacturers. This article evaluates the changes and upgrades that most significantly impact the average user of screen reading software. For a complete description of individual upgrades, consult your screen reader's What's New materials or manual.

Note that evaluation was not conducted on each screen reader's support and functionality with various braille displays. Stay tuned to AccessWorld for a future article that will include an evaluation of braille access.

JAWS for Windows 7.0

Freedom Scientific's JAWS for Windows screen reader has been providing speech access output, enabling users who are visually impaired greater access to the computer and information, since the mid-1990s. JAWS supports numerous refreshable braille displays and several languages. A standard version of JAWS can be used with Windows 98, ME, and XP Home. JAWS Professional also works with Windows NT 4.0, 2000, and XP Professional.


The overall installation of JAWS 7.0 was simple and easy to follow. You can install training materials, such as a basic training guide and a guide on surfing the Internet, directly on your computer. If you choose not to install the training materials, you can access the materials directly from the CD at a later time or from Freedom Scientific's web site <www.freedomscientific.com>.

New since JAWS 5.0 is the Internet License Manager (ILM). No longer do users have to deal with installing JAWS authorization from a floppy disk. Users who have the ILM CD and access to the Internet can easily install their JAWS authorization. Some users may experience problems installing their ILM, depending on their individual Windows firewall settings. Users who do not have their ILM authorization CD or access to the Internet can have a Freedom Scientific technical support representative walk them through the installation over the telephone. Although this is not a difficult process, users need to be aware that they have to pay for the telephone call, since it is not a toll-free number.

Also new to JAWS 7.0 is the ability to install and run JAWS from a Dongle (a hardware device that you can connect to a computer's parallel or USB port or from a USB thumb drive). This is an added-value feature, but there are some limitations. There is an additional cost for the Dongle version of JAWS. If you use a USB thumb drive, you must install one of the JAWS authorization codes, or the program will run only in the 40-minute demonstration mode. The Dongle and USB thumb-drive versions offer portability to install JAWS on other computers, but users should be aware that speech is not immediately available when the device is plugged in. Most of the manufacturers recommend that you initially run Windows Narrator (a utility in Windows 2000 and XP that speaks dialog boxes, menus, and web pages) to open the device and program.

If you are updating from JAWS 5.0 or later, you can easily merge your configuration (JCF) files, dictionary (JDF) files, graphics (JGF) files, and voice settings from a previous version of JAWS using the Merge Utility option.

Documentation and Support

Most JAWS users who upgrade to 7.0 receive only the program and ILM authorization CDs in a CD sleeve that includes braille and large-print labels. First-time purchasers of JAWS also receive a regular print and a braille quick-reference guide and an audiocassette tape describing basic information on the program. For most users, this slimmed-down version of the JAWS documentation is a welcome relief, since they no longer will need an entire shelf to store all the documentation. The reason for this slimmed-down version is that all the support and Help features are available on the program CD and on Freedom Scientific's web site <www.freedomscientific.com>.

During installation, you can choose to download JAWS 7.0 training materials, such as Basic Training and Surf's Up HTML Challenge! and can access the JAWS manual and Quick Reference cards in text format through the JAWS menu. JAWS also offers its training materials, manual, and Help features in DAISY format, which can be read using the built-in DAISY reader or by inserting the JAWS program CD into any standard DAISY reader. These and additional training materials can be accessed through Freedom Scientific's web site <www.freedomscientific.com> in MP3 and text files. A standard feature of JAWS is its online Help system, which includes context-sensitive help, hot-key help, and application-specific help. JAWS keyboard Help mode is another tool for learning the keyboard and JAWS commands.

Microsoft Word 2003

JAWS 7.0 performed well with Word 2003, reading documents, menus, and dialog boxes in a predictable and efficient manner. The most notable problem occurred with Spell Check: Occasionally, JAWS did not read the misspelled word, and it was necessary to use Insert-F7 to determine the error. JAWS' loss of focus when reading a document appears to have been resolved in 7.0. Although JAWS lost its ability to move through a document paragraph by paragraph or page by page for no apparent reason, the problem was resolved when the document and Word were shut down and restarted. However, when working in Word 2000, JAWS froze and no speech support was available to read the error dialog box. Windows Narrator was used to access the dialog box and shut down JAWS, after which JAWS had to be restarted.

Freedom Scientific has added several new features to JAWS 7.0 support of Word. Similar to the JAWS navigation quick keys that were introduced for Internet Explorer, JAWS now offers navigation quick keys that provide users with an easy and efficient way to move through a document by headings, tables, form fields, pages, and sections. This is a helpful feature for anyone who has to slog through lengthy documents. JAWS can now automatically announce the nesting level of paragraphs that are formatted as bulleted or numbered lists. Pressing Insert-T announces the name of the current document and its document view (Normal, Outline, or Print). Those who like to create and use bullets will appreciate that JAWS can now announce the types of bullets, such as filled square, star, or arrow.

Although unrelated to JAWS' performance in Word, the following problem warrants noting. When using Alt-Tab to cycle through open programs and files, JAWS frequently loses speech. It is not clear why this problem occurs, since it does not occur consistently and is resolved by minimizing all applications, returning to the desktop, and trying again.

Microsoft Excel 2003

JAWS 7.0 provides excellent support in Excel 2003. Simple and complicated spreadsheets are easy to read and navigate. New to JAWS 7.0 is the Custom Summary feature, which allows you to create a snapshot of important data from a worksheet, such as subtotals, monthly totals, and grand totals. You define which cells appear in the custom summary by assigning labels to each cell. The summary then displays the contents of all the specified cells as links. One feature in JAWS 7.0 that many users will greatly appreciate is the ability to press the Insert-Tab key twice to receive information that is specific to a cell, such as text, cell height and width, font specifics, and number format.

Internet Explorer 6.x

JAWS 7.0 continues to build on the advances that Freedom Scientific has made in making the Web more accessible and user friendly. Similar to upgrades in JAWS 5.0, the new features in JAWS 7.0 work not only on the web, but in most standard applications, such as Word and Adobe Acrobat/Reader. The main problem encountered with JAWS on the web was that occasionally speech support was lost, and the system required a complete reboot.

Custom Labels enables you to customize any HTML element on a web page that can be moved to by pressing Tab, such as text links; graphic links; and all form fields, including buttons and images. The unique feature of custom labels is that you can label a link to a web site, and that link will appear with the new label on any page on which it is displayed. The Custom Label feature is also a real plus for any user who is frustrated with mislabeled form controls. If you regularly visit a site like <www.walmart.com> or <www.amazon.com>, where the form controls are not labeled correctly, you now can create new labels for all the form controls, and the new labels will be there every time you visit the site. This feature was tested on the web site <www.marriott.com> and proved to be easy to use. Custom Labels can also be used to label form fields in Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat/Reader.

Also new to JAWS (in version 6.x) is the Skim Reading feature, which lets you quickly browse through cluttered web sites or long documents by reading the first part of each paragraph. This feature can also be used to skim a web site or document for elements or paragraphs that contain certain words and phrases. Users can define skim-reading rules and create a summary of all skim-reading rules for easy navigation to specific sections of the web site or paragraph. This feature was tested using a publication from the web site <www.socialsecurity.gov> and a 95-page Word document. In both cases, there were complications using the feature, and on several occasions JAWS crashed, which required a complete reboot of the system. The real advantage of this feature is not clear, since JAWS already offers excellent features like Insert-F7 (which provides a list of links), Insert-F5 (which provides a list of fields), and the navigation quick keys.

Mozilla Firefox 1.5

JAWS now supports the Mozilla Firefox web browser version 1.5 beta or later <www.GetFirefox.com>. As of the JAWS 7.0 release, the current level of support for Firefox remains under development, and technical support is not currently available. However, when testing was conducted using JAWS 7.0 with Firefox 1.5, all the features of JAWS performed well. This is a major improvement over JAWS 6.2 support of Firefox. Using the Google search engine and accessing web sites, such as <www.amazon.com>, <www.walmart.com>, and <www.socialsecurity.gov>, presented no difficulties, and all JAWS navigation quick keys and Internet browsing features worked well. Also, JAWS online help through Insert-H and Insert-F1 provided detailed information on supporting Firefox.

HAL 6.51

Dolphin Computer Access software has been assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision to access a wide range of Windows programs through magnification, speech, and braille since 1986. Hal is Dolphin's screen-access solution supporting both speech and refreshable braille output. Hal supports all Microsoft operating systems (Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, NT, and XP Home/Professional), and support for Citrix networks and Terminal Server sessions is standard.


Although installation of Hal was fairly simple, the three-level installation seems a bit complicated for the average user. You first install the screen reader; then Dolphin's synthesizer access manager (SAM); and finally Orpheus, Dolphin's software speech synthesizer. After all that, you have the option to install IBM's Via Voice from a CD that is provided. It would seem that the entire installation process could be consolidated and simplified.

Once Hal is installed, users can access the Update from Internet option to see if any new or updated map files are available from the Dolphin server. Map files are Hal's configuration files for specific applications. The entire process is easy to perform, and Dolphin recommends that you check for Hal updates on a regular basis using this feature.

New for Dolphin is the ability to purchase Supernova, Hal, Lunar, and LunarPlus in the new Dolphin Pen edition, as well as in the standard PC edition. The Dolphin Pen runs from a USB pen drive, which plugs straight into the USB slot of a computer. Several good features are offered by the Dolphin Pen: Your settings are saved to the pen every time it is used; the pen installs Dolphin's interceptor on the first installation, so you can return to the same computer, plug in the pen, and have full access support; and the pen and all software on the pen are copy protected, so you cannot accidentally erase or overwrite the program. One drawback is that for computers that do not have Dolphin's interceptor installed, you first have to install the interceptor from either the pen or the Dolphin web site. This process is not supported with speech, and Dolphin recommends that users activate Windows Narrator to get them through this part of the installation.

Documentation and Support

Hal's manual is available in print, on a CD as an interactive DAISY file, and through the Dolphin web site. A copy of Dolphin's EaseReader player is included on the CD. Users will also find print manuals for the Getting Started Tutorial and Using Windows and a braille Quick Reference Guide. Online tutorials are available through Dolphin's web site that provide easy-to-follow instructions for performing most basic tasks with Hal, such as setting verbosity and using the Internet. Application-specific help can be accessed through a hot key or through the Hal control panel. Outside the application-specific help, all the documentation and Help menus are generic for all Dolphin products (SuperNova, Hal, Lunar, and Lunar Plus). You have to dig through information to find Hal-specific help. Finally, you will need sighted assistance to determine which CD in the case is the program CD, since there are no braille or large-print labels.

A unique feature of Hal is keyboard emulation, which allows you to select another product's keyboard command set. So, users who are familiar with JAWS commands can set Hal to use JAWS commands. This can be a plus for new users of the product who have previously used other screen-reader or screen-magnification products. For users who want to customize Hal's commands, the fact that they can use the left and right modifier keys gives them even greater functionality when selecting key combinations.

New in Hal 6.51 is a feature that allows users to configure their own Dolphin products to a range of different keyboards and languages. This is a real plus if you want to be able to switch keyboard languages without changing your keyboard.

Microsoft Word 2003

Hal 6.51 reads documents, menus, and dialog boxes in a predictable manner in Microsoft Word. Text attributes and styles are read automatically, as well as with the Hal hot key. Problems may be encountered when using the Spell Check feature. For example, during testing, Hal read the context of the misspelled word but not the misspelled word, and when the Hal hot key was used, Hal spoke color information first, then the context of the misspelled word, then the misspelled word, and finally the first suggestion. All this information is confusing and makes it difficult to identify the misspelled word. Hal reads selected text and even the number of lines that are selected. However, if you cut, copy, or paste the selected text, no speech feedback is provided.

Hal properly reads tables within a Microsoft Word document. When the focus is placed on a new cell, the cells column or row number is spoken. Moving between cells is accomplished using the Tab or arrow keys. Hal informs you when you are entering a table and provides the table parameters but does not announce when you leave a table.

New in Hal 6.51 is its ability to announce embedded objects, page or section breaks, and hyphens. Hal also offers the ability to review a Word document through a list of links, headings, objects, spelling errors, grammatical errors, and revisions through simple hot keys. Users also can get Hal to tell them the type of bullet in a bulleted list, such as a filled round bullet or an arrow.

Microsoft Excel 2003

Hal 6.51 accurately reads worksheets in Microsoft Excel and consistently identifies and reads cell values and cells with formulas. Switching between Hal's three default verbosity levels dramatically affects the amount of information that is spoken while moving through a worksheet. When using high- or medium-verbosity levels, Hal announces the cell location, cell contents, text attributes and alignment, and if a formula or comment is used. Hal also announces the type and style of a cell border and if you have gone outside the spreadsheet print area. In addition, Hal reads dialog boxes, such as the formula-selection dialog box, with few problems. You can read the equation that makes up a formula with one of Hal's hot keys.

New in Hal 6.51 is the ability to pull lists of information from an Excel spreadsheet using a hot key. You can now easily skim through a list of worksheets, objects, charts, visible cells with formulas, visible cells with content, and visible cells with comments. This makes it easy to go directly to a specific cell or information.

Internet Explorer 6.x

Hal 6.51 performs well accessing and reading web sites in Internet Explorer. However, users who like to switch between HTML pages, such as web pages or HTML Help areas, and another program, such as Word, may get frustrated with Hal. Every time you leave and then return to an HTML page, you are returned to the top of the page, rather than to the location that you left. Hal does provide the ability to list links, headings, and frames with a hot key.

New in 6.51 is Hal's ability to announce bulleted lists on HTML pages. The speed of Hal's Virtual Focus mode and Find feature have also been improved. However, on the web sites <www.amazon.com>, <www.walmart.com>, and <www.socialsecurity.com>, Hal appeared to move sluggishly. A unique feature that Hal offers is the ability to access a link's URL address, even if the link or graphic is not properly labeled. This allows you to know exactly where selecting the link will take you. Another upgrade in Hal 6.51 is its improved Forms mode. Hal can now intelligently detect the label to edit areas; return you to Virtual Focus mode when you land on buttons, radio buttons, and check boxes; and then return you to Interactive mode once more when an edit area or list box is reached. Hal's ability to pause a web page that is constantly refreshing by taking a snapshot of the page, allowing you to review the page content in full, is a real plus for anyone who regularly visits web sites with autorefreshing pages.

Mozilla Firefox 1.5

In repeated testing, Hal 6.51 did not work with Mozilla Firefox 1.5. Users cannot even access the main Firefox Google page to perform a simple search. Dolphin states that support for Firefox will be available in an upgrade that is due out in early 2006.

Window-Eyes 5.5

Since 1990, GW Micro has been providing computer access for users who are visually impaired. GW Micro's Window-Eyes screen reader offers speech features with full braille support and the flexibility needed for running many of today's most advanced Windows applications. Window-Eyes is compatible with Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, and XP and supports multiple users either on a stand-alone machine or across a network remote access with Citrix MetaFrame, Microsoft Terminal Services, and Windows XP Professional Remote Desktop.


Installation of Window-Eyes 5.5 is simple and straightforward. You can download the upgrade to Window-Eyes 5.5 from the GW Micro web site <www.gwmicro.com> or install it from the program CD. When installing the Window-Eyes 5.5 upgrade, you now have the option to make a backup of existing configuration files.

During the installation, Window-Eyes prompts you if you do not have the latest version of Microsoft Word installed and provides steps on updating Word with the latest updates, service packs, and hot fixes. In addition, GW Micro informs you that most of the new features in Window-Eyes will be available only if you are using Microsoft Office 2000, XP, or 2003 and recommends that users upgrade to Office 2003 for maximum benefits with Window-Eyes 5.5.

New in Window-Eyes 5.5 is the ability to install Window-Eyes on a portable device, such as a USB stick or removable drive, or to another directory on the computer. To use the Window-Eyes Mobile Install feature, you also must install video support from the Window-Eyes program directory. As with any of the portable devices, you do not have speech during installation, but you can use Windows Narrator to get you through the initial installation process. The Mobile Install feature is a real plus for anyone who requires access to several computers that do not have speech support. Also, if you customize Window-Eyes while using the Mobile Install version, you can save the changes to the portable device.

Documentation and Support

Users who are upgrading to Window-Eyes 5.5 will receive a program CD in a braille and large-print labeled sleeve. First-time purchasers of Window-Eyes will receive the Window-Eyes program CD, Window-Eyes tutorial on audiocassette, Print Installation Guide, Braille Installation Guide, and Hot Key Quick Reference Guide. Included on the Window-Eyes program CD are electronic versions of the manual in text, PDF, MP3, and HTML formats and the Window-Eyes tutorial in MP3 format. You can also access the various formats of the manual and the tutorial from the GW Micro web site. Application- and task-specific help are available for most programs through the hot key Control-Shift-F1. The Window-Eyes manual and online help provide excellent support. However, the MP3 single-track format for the tutorial does not allow you to skip to specific content, requiring you to listen to the entire tutorial, rather than specific sections of interest.

For Windows 2000 or later systems, you can now place Window-Eyes in the system tray. Window-Eyes 5.5 also now provides access to those annoying balloon tool tips that pop up, such as the Update Windows balloon tool tip in the system tray. You can route the mouse pointer to the tool tip and press the left mouse button to close the tool tip. Also new in 5.5 is the ability to customize the Window-Eyes Control Panel menu to your preferences and skill level with different menu structures for beginner, intermediate, and advanced features.

Microsoft Word 2003

Window-Eyes 5.5 performs well in Microsoft Word and reads documents, menus, and dialog boxes in a predictable manner. The Read-to-End function reads documents without interruption. It is easy to read and navigate tables, and the fact that Window-Eyes shortens the announcement of cell locations with "r" for row and "c" for column (resulting in the cell location announced as r2c3) is a plus. No problems are encountered when using the Spell Checker; misspelled words and errors are announced, and the use of the hot keys provides added support. Occasionally, Window-Eyes did not correctly read the text that was selected during testing.

A new feature since Window-Eyes 5.0 is the ability to use the Insert-Tab key to access a summary of features for that document, such as spelling errors, grammatical errors, and hyperlinks. You can select the desired summary (such as a list of spelling errors), navigate through the list using the arrow keys, and then press Enter to move to the item in the document. Window-Eyes also has added default hot keys for moving to the next or previous sentence in a document.

Microsoft Excel 2003

Window-Eyes 5.5 has made significant improvements in its support of Microsoft Excel. The most notable problem that was encountered in Excel during testing was the missing documentation for the Window-Eyes Application Help screen. GW Micro is aware of the missing documentation and is working to update these files.

Some of the new features in Window-Eyes 5.5 support of Excel include more than 30 new verbosity options; consistent application of navigation tools; page Navigation and Element Properties among Internet Explorer, Firefox, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Word, and Excel; a Headers and Totals dialog box, which simplifies the reading of spreadsheets; the Monitor Cells dialog box, which allows you to monitor specific cells across worksheets; and chart navigation using the arrow keys for all 73 possible Excel charts.

You will find the Page Navigation dialog box (Insert-Tab) useful when working in Excel. Through this dialog box, you can access a summary list of different elements in your spreadsheet, such as comments, hyperlinks, objects, named areas, cells in row, page breaks, monitor cells, charts, and worksheets.

Internet Explorer 6.x

Window-Eyes 5.5 continues to build on the advancements made in previous versions in its support of Internet Explorer. In addition to the quick access keys that were introduced in Window-Eyes 4.5, Window-Eyes 5.5 enables users easily to access a variety of different web-page elements through the Page Navigation dialog box. In this dialog box, you can access a list of links, tables, lists, forms, anchors, headings, and frames, depending on what is available on a particular web site. When a new web site or web page is loaded, Window-Eyes 5.5 can announce the number of links, tables, headings, and frames in addition to the page title. This provides a snapshot of what you can expect to encounter on the particular web page and can be a real bonus. One problem was that no application-specific help is available for Internet Explorer using the Control-Shift-F1 hot key.

The most noticeable change in Window-Eyes 5.5 is that it now refers to the environment that is used for browsing web pages, PDF documents, HTML help, and HTML e-mail messages as Browse Mode. Although Window-Eyes now announces Browse Mode versus MSAA (Microsoft Active Accessibility) Mode, that is the only difference. All features and hot keys that are associated with MSAA Mode still apply. You do have to listen to fewer syllables, though.

Mozilla Firefox 1.5

Window-Eyes' support for Firefox is almost identical to that of Internet Explorer. All the quick access keys work in both Firefox and Internet Explorer. In other words, regardless of the browser, C will move you through form controls, S will move you through lists, L will move you through links, and so on. No problems were encountered when navigating web sites or completing forms on the web sites <www.amazon.com>, <www.walmart.com>, and <www.socialsecurity.gov>. However, similar to Internet Explorer, no application-specific help is available for Firefox through the Ctrl-Shift-F1 hot key.

The Bottom Line

All three screen readers have made significant improvements in the latest versions. JAWS 7.0 continues to expand its support for HTML documents. Hal 6.51 has added a list function for Word and has improved its Internet accessibility by enabling users to pull summaries of specific elements on a web site and through the new Interactive Forms mode. Window-Eyes 5.5 includes expanded support for Microsoft Excel. Both JAWS and Window-Eyes support Mozilla Firefox 1.5 through the use of existing HTML hot keys and features; therefore, users are not required to learn an entirely new set of commands.

Manufacturer's Comments

GW Micro

"Although our manual covers in great detail how to use Window-Eyes with Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Firefox, we understand that our context-sensitive help needs to be enhanced. We plan on improving all our on demand help in the next release. Until then, I suggest users refer to Section 20 of the Window-Eyes manual for Word, Section 21 for Excel, and Section 19 for Internet Explorer and Firefox.

"It was stated that occasionally Window-Eyes did not correctly read text being selected in Word. This very much surprises me, as we are talking directly to Word for the selected text and as of the release of our enhanced Word support in January of 2005 we have had no reports of this. I would welcome the reviewer to expand on this to determine if this is truly a problem."

Additional Resources

JAWS user lists

  • JAWS Lite: <Jawslite@blindprogramming.com>
  • JAWS Employment User Group: Subscribe at <jfw-employment-subscribe@yahoogroups.com>
  • JAWS-List User Group: Subscribe at <jaws-list-subscribe@yahoogroups.com>
  • JAWSScripts User Group: <Jawsscripts@blindprogramming.com>
  • Blind Programmers User Group: <Programming@blindprogramming.com>

To subscribe to the JAWS mailing list, send a message to < jfw-request@freelists.org> with the word subscribe in the subject line.

Window-Eyes User Lists

Visit the GW Micro web site at <www.gwmicro.com/support> to subscribe to any of the following e-mail lists:

  • GW-Info: The GW-Info list is a discussion list, which often contains many messages per day.
  • GW-News: The GW-News list is a low-traffic, announce-only list. Messages on the GW-News list are posted by GW Micro employees only.
  • GW_Italiano: The GW_Italiano list is specifically for users of the localized Italian version of Window-Eyes. The majority, if not all, the traffic on this list is not in English.
  • GW_Polska: The GW_Polska list is specifically for users of the localized Polish version of Window-Eyes. The majority, if not all, the traffic on this list is not in English.
  • GW_UK: The GW_UK list is a low-traffic, announce-only list. Only GW Micro employees and GW Micro UK dealers are able to post.
  • GW_DE: The GW_DE list is a discussion list that is available for German users of Window-Eyes. The majority, if not all, the traffic on this list is not in English.

Note: There is currently no discussion list for Hal users.

Product Features

Feature JAWS 7.0 Hal 6.51 Window-Eyes 5.5
Manual in DAISY format Yes Yes No
Portable installation option Yes Yes Yes
Online help Yes Yes Yes
Reads tables in Word 2003 Yes Yes Yes
Accurately reads Spell Check in Word Yes No Yes
Reads well in Excel Yes Yes Yes
Reads web pages and elements in Internet Explorer Yes Yes Yes
Reads web pages and elements in Mozilla Firefox Yes No Yes
Citrix Metaframe support No Yes Yes
Microsoft Remote Desktop support No Yes Yes

Product Features

Feature: JAWS 7.0; Hal 6.51; Window-Eyes 5.5

Manual in DAISY format: JAWS 7.0: Yes; Hal 6.51: Yes; Window-Eyes 5.5: No.

Portable installation option: JAWS 7.0: Yes; Hal 6.51: Yes; Window-Eyes 5.5: Yes.

Online help: JAWS 7.0: Yes; Hal 6.51: Yes; Window-Eyes 5.5: Yes.

Reads tables in Word 2003: JAWS 7.0: Yes; Hal 6.51: Yes; Window-Eyes 5.5: Yes.

Accurately reads Spell Check in Word: JAWS 7.0: Yes; Hal 6.51: No; Window-Eyes 5.5: Yes.

Reads well in Excel: JAWS 7.0: Yes; Hal 6.51: Yes; Window-Eyes 5.5: Yes.

Reads web pages and elements in Internet Explorer: JAWS 7.0: Yes; Hal 6.51: Yes; Window-Eyes 5.5: Yes.

Reads web pages and elements in Mozilla Firefox: JAWS 7.0: Yes; Hal 6.51: No; Window-Eyes 5.5: Yes.

Citrix Metaframe support: JAWS 7.0: No; Hal 6.51: Yes; Window-Eyes 5.5: Yes.

Microsoft Remote Desktop support: JAWS 7.0: No; Hal 6.51: Yes; Window-Eyes 5.5: Yes.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Feature: JAWS 7.0; Hal 6.51; Window-Eyes 5.5

Installation : JAWS 7.0: 4.5; Hal 6.51: 3.0; Window-Eyes 5.5: 4.5.

Word 2003: JAWS 7.0: 4.0; Hal 6.51: 3.5; Window-Eyes 5.5: 4.0.

Excel 2003: JAWS 7.0: 4.0; Hal 6.51: 4.0; Window-Eyes 5.5: 4.0.

Internet Explorer 6.x: JAWS 7.0: 4.5; Hal 6.51: 4.0 ; Window-Eyes 5.5: 4.5.

Mozilla Firefox: JAWS 7.0: 4.5; Hal 6.51: 0; Window-Eyes 5.5: 4.5.

Overall rating: JAWS 7.0: 4.0; Hal 6.51: 3.5; Window-Eyes 5.5: 4.0.

Product Information

Product: JAWS for Windows 7.0.

Manufacturer: Freedom Scientific Blind/Low Vision Group, 11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716-1805; phone: 800-444-4443 or 727-803-8000; e-mail: <Info@FreedomScientific.com>; web site: <www.FreedomScientific.com>.

Price: JAWS Professional (works with Windows NT/2000Pro/XPPro), $1,095; JAWS Standard (works with Windows 95/98/Me & XP Home), $895.

Product: Hal 6.51.

Manufacturer: Dolphin Computer Access, 60 East Third Avenue, Suite 301, San Mateo, CA 94401; phone: 866-797-5921 or 650-348-7401; e-mail: <info@dolphinusa.com>; web site: <www.dolphinusa.com>.

Price: Hal Standard edition (runs under Windows XP Home and Professional editions, Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 98), $795; Hal Professional edition, $1,095.

Product: Window-Eyes 5.5.

Manufacturer: GW Micro, 725 Airport North Office Park, Fort Wayne, IN 46825; phone: 260-489-3671; e-mail: <sales@gwmicro.com>; web site: <www.gwmicro.com>.

Price: Window-Eyes Professional (works with Windows 95/98, Millennium, 2000, Windows XP Home/Professional and Windows 2003), $795.

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Product Evaluation

A Nonrocker from Motorola: A Review of the Rokr E1 Cell Phone with iTunes

Another in our series of cell phone articles from our product evaluation lab at AFB TECH (the American Foundation for the Blind Technology and Employment Center at Huntington, West Virginia), this article examines the popular Rokr E1 cell phone. The Rokr--pronounced "rocker"--includes a built-in version of Apple's iTunes audio software, so in addition to having most of today's advanced cell phone features, it also has similar functionality as Apple's iPod digital audio player, which was reviewed in the March 2005 issue of AccessWorld. The Rokr is available from the Cingular Wireless service provider and is manufactured by Motorola. Since this evaluation shows that this device has similar barriers to accessibility as do those that we exposed in our iPod article, we balance this article with a brief section in which we update readers on the current choices in cell phones that are more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.

The Motorola Rokr E1 with Apple iTunes

The Rokr has many of the bells and whistles that are found on many of today's popular cell phones, such as text messaging, web browsing, games, and a digital still-and-live video camera, but the iTunes media player is the hot feature that the marketing efforts have been touting. Because of this feature, in addition to our regular analysis of the general accessibility of this cell phone, we also report on the accessibility of using the iTunes features on the cell phone itself, as well as the accompanying PC software that is used to purchase, organize, play, and transfer audio files to the Rokr.

Physical Description

The Rokr is a flat, candy bar-style phone that weighs 3.8 ounces and measures 4.3 by 1.8 by 0.8 inches. On the top of the front panel is a 1.5- by 1.0-inch color display screen with two soft keys: the iTunes key and a Menu key that is directly below it. Below these keys, from left to right, are the Send key, a joystick, and the End/On/Off key. The 12 dialing keys are below these keys and are arranged in a three-by-four grid with the outer keys slightly curving upward. The camera lens is on the back panel, the Camera button is on the right side panel, and the Up and Down Volume keys are on the left side panel. The headphone jack is on the top panel, and the bottom panel is where you will find the USB data port that is used to connect the cell phone to your PC for loading songs. The Rokr is able to hold up to 100 songs to play MIDI, MP3, WAV, and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) file formats.

Photo of the Rokr cell phone.

Caption: The Motorola Rokr.

The Sweet 16

As we reported in our previous cell phone evaluations, before we began our reviews, we surveyed 40 cell phone users who are visually impaired to determine which features they would most like to have made accessible. The 16 features that were rated the highest by the respondents became the basis of our evaluation and are known as "the Sweet 16." We looked at whether users would be able to access these features and noted the barriers to accessing them. The evaluation methods we used included these:

  • measuring the ability to identify and use the keypad tactilely,
  • determining the ability to navigate menus,
  • noting auditory and vibratory feedback, and
  • assessing the readability of the visual display.

As cell phones began to come onto the market with capabilities to make the Sweet 16 features accessible, we wondered what other features would be important to users who are visually impaired. We surveyed readers of our AccessWorld Extra publication in 2004 to establish more features that would be important for the accessibility of cell phones. We received over 60 responses and came up with a list of eight more features to evaluate, which we call "the Elite Eight." The following analysis lists the 16 cell phone features that our original survey determined to be the most important for accessibility and how the Rokr measured up on each feature. After this analysis, we present our analysis of the Elite Eight.

Keys that Are Easily Identifiable by Touch

Although there is still room for improvement, most of the keys on the Rokr are relatively easy to identify by touch. The dialing keys are in the familiar 3-by-4 grid, and the 5 key has a substantial nib that is properly placed in the middle for orientation purposes. Although the dialing keys are located a bit too close together, the center column of keys is raised higher than the outer columns, which assists in identification. The other keys on the cell phone pose no problems except for the four keys that are just below the screen. These keys--two soft keys, the iTunes key, and the Menu key--have no gap between them and at first feel like one long key. However, with some initial sighted assistance and minimal practice, the keys are not a problem and are not the real accessibility barrier to using this phone.

Voice Output

There is no voice-output feature on this phone that would allow people who are visually impaired to access any of the information on the screen or to navigate through the menu systems. This is the main barrier that prevents access to the many features of this phone, including iTunes.

Accessible Documentation

No accessible documentation is available for this cell phone. The phone came with only a print manual in an 11-point font; no large-print, braille, audio, or electronic documentation is available.

Battery Level Indicator

This cell phone has a small icon on the display that visually indicates the battery level, but there is no auditory indication of that level. It does, however, produce a unique audible tone that warns that the battery is low every three minutes for an hour before the battery dies.

Roaming Indicator

Because this cell phone is offered through Cingular Wireless, which is a national service with no roaming charges, it has no roaming indicator.

Message Indicator

In addition to the on-screen indications, the Rokr emits unique audio tones to indicate that you have either a voice or a text message. Although the voicemail system that Cingular provides for its customers using this phone is accessible, nothing about text messaging is accessible on this phone.

Phone Book

The phone book on this phone is inaccessible because of the lack of a voice-output feature and the small size of the print on the displays.

Phone-Lock Mode

To lock the Rokr to prevent unauthorized use, you have to use the menu system, which is inaccessible because of the lack of voice output and the small size of the information that is displayed on the screen.

Keypad-Lock Mode

A keypad-lock feature is used to avoid inadvertent dialing if the phone is jostled while in a pocket or briefcase. It is possible to lock or unlock the Rokr simply by pressing the Menu key, followed by the Star key. However, the menu key is one of the more difficult-to-identify keys just below the display screen.

Power Indicator

The Rokr plays a short tune when it is turned on or off, but that indicator does not help if you just want to check to see if the phone is currently on or off. If you have sufficient vision, you can tell whether the phone is on simply by looking to see if the display is on. If you do not have sufficient vision, you can press any number key and listen for a tone, which will indicate that the phone is on.

Ringing or Vibrating Mode Indicator

You can control whether the Rokr alerts you to an incoming call by either ringing or vibrating using the volume buttons on the left side panel. While you are in standby mode, these buttons increase or decrease the ringer volume among five different levels. Pressing the down button once more past the lowest volume setting puts the phone into vibrate mode, and the phone vibrates briefly to confirm that it is in this mode. Pressing down once more is the lowest position, and it shuts off both the ringing and the vibrating alerts.

GPS Feature

The Rokr does not have a GPS (global positioning system) feature that is used by some of today's cell phones to help local 911 systems locate you in case of an emergency.

Signal Strength Indicator

There is a small antenna icon with bars to indicate the signal strength, but there is no auditory indication of the signal strength.

Ringer Volume Control

As was stated earlier, the volume keys on the left side panel adjust the ringer volume. An indication tone is played as you adjust the volume, and that tone increases or decreases in volume, depending on the direction in which you are adjusting the volume of the phone. These buttons are also used to adjust the volume of the iTunes music or other audio files when they are playing.

Caller Identification

The Rokr displays the telephone number of an incoming caller or the name of the caller if you have entered the caller into your phone book, but it is displayed in an 11-point font, and there is no voice output of that information.

Speed Dialing

On the Rokr, there is no speech output to assist in setting up speed dialing, but if you get sighted assistance to associate certain contacts with speed-dial numbers, you simply press and hold a number between 2 and 9 to call one of your contacts quickly. Of course, you have to remember which contact is associated with which speed-dial number.

Elite Eight

Call Log Access

There is no voice output to support accessing call logs.

Customizable Ring Tones

There is no output to assist in customizing ring tones.


You press Backspace to backspace over misdialed numbers. The backspace is not a dedicated key. Instead, it is assigned to a soft key, so users who are visually impaired have to memorize when and which soft key is assigned the backspace function.

Voice-Activated Dialing

The voice-activated dialing that is built into the Rokr is inaccessible to set up independently, but the network voice-dialing service that is provided by Cingular at no cost to its customers who are visually impaired is fully accessible.

Voice Recorder

There is no speech output to support the voice recorder.

Ringer-Type Selection

There is no speech output to support the selection of the type of ringer.


The documentation for the Rokr said nothing about a redial function.

Text Messaging

There is no voice output to support text messaging

Low Vision Accessibility

In addition to the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight, we looked at the overall accessibility of these cell phones from a low vision perspective. The Rokr has a high-resolution color display, but most of the text and icons that appear are in font sizes of 10 or 11 points, which is too small for most people with low vision. It also does not have a zoom feature to increase the size of the text or icons, and there is no contrast-adjustment feature either. The Rokr does have a setting to adjust brightness, but it did not help the screen-magnification users who assisted in testing the display. Glare was not a problem with this phone, but that was of little consequence to our testers with low vision, who could not read any display information without the aid of an external magnification device.

Apple iTunes

Although the Rokr produces high-quality audio output through its built-in speakers or when it is connected to headphones or external speakers, there is no speech output to make the process of controlling the audio output accessible. Although there is a dedicated iTunes Menu button on the cell phone to open the iTunes player software quickly, actually playing the music is controlled by an onscreen menu system that is inaccessible to anyone who cannot read the screen. Users who are visually impaired would have to work with sighted assistance and to memorize a great deal of keystrokes to play the songs they would like to hear.

Music is purchased, organized, and transferred to the Rokr using the accompanying iTunes software. Although we had no problem installing the software on our PCs with screen-reader or screen-magnification software, we found significant barriers to accessibility when we tried to use the software with Window-Eyes and JAWS. Although the menu items are accessible, many tasks must be completed using a screen reader's mouse keys, and some functions are completely inaccessible because of the need to drag and drop icons. Even worse than the main iTunes software was the Music Store software. Clicking on the Music Store icon brings up a software application that browses Apple's library of available music to buy, but without sighted assistance, it is impossible for a person who is visually impaired to use this application. Among the barriers, we found that the icons that are used for browsing for and purchasing music cannot be accessed by screen-reader software without sighted assistance to guide the user in moving pixel by pixel to find the icons. An advanced screen-reader user with a great deal of patience may be able to figure out ways to make Apple's iTunes software more usable, but the manufacturer will have to make great strides to make the software easily accessible to the average user. We were surprised to find, however, that the software did work well with both the magnification and text-to-speech functionality of the ZoomText screen magnifier software.

A man shaking his fist at iTunes menu on his screen.

Caption: iTunes software is not accessible.

A web site called the Blind iPod Portal has resources for using portable audio players if you are visually impaired, including JAWS scripts and WindowEyes set files for the iTunes software. It can be found at <www.hartgen.org/blindipod.html>.

The Bottom Line

If you have read this far, then you already know that we do not recommend the Rokr cell phone to persons who are visually impaired. We had hoped to come to a different conclusion because devices like this and the iPod, which we reviewed in the March 2005 issue, have great potential as useful gadgets for people who are visually impaired. In addition to playing music, these devices could also play the wide range of digital audio books that are currently available from sources like the web sites <www.audible.com> and <www.recordedbooks.com>. Motorola and Apple both have to do a lot more to make their products accessible and to meet the federal accessibility mandates of Section 255 of the Communications Act, which requires that cell phone manufacturers do all that is "readily achievable" to make each product or service accessible. We all know that it is certainly "readily achievable" to make the Rokr accessible because the pages of AccessWorld are full of examples of accessible cell phones and software. It is now time for Apple and Motorola to step up to the plate and do what is right and what federal law mandates them to do.

Update on Accessible Cell Phone Choices

Although this evaluation has pointed out significant barriers to accessibility in the Rokr cell phone and iTunes, progress is still being made elsewhere in the world of cell phone accessibility. The accessibility features that are built into the LG VX 4500 from Verizon Wireless that we evaluated in the May 2005 issue of AccessWorld are now part of several other cell phones that are manufactured by LG Electronics. Verizon Wireless has replaced the LG VX 4500 with the LG VX 4650, 4700, and 5200 models; US Cellular now offers the LG UX 4500; and Alltel offers the LG AX 4500, all of which have the same accessibility features of the LG VX 4500.

Nextel now offers the Motorola i355, which has a text-to-speech software upgrade. Although we have not tested this cell phone, the manufacturer claims that it uses voice playback to guide you through menus and through placing and receiving calls. They say that with the TTS feature, you can hear the following as you use your phone:

  • The number keys you have pressed
  • The names and numbers of each contact entry as you scroll through Contacts
  • The status information, such as signal strength, battery level, date and time, and service status
  • Main menu options as you scroll through the main menu
  • A prompt indicating that your cell phone is placing a call

Sprint PCS still offers the Toshiba VM 4050, which we evaluated in the May 2004 issue. It now also offers the Samsung MM A800, which is a music- and television-enabled multimedia cell phone that features voice dialing and responds to your voice prompt, "status" (by speaking your phone coverage), signal strength, and battery strength. However, this is an expensive phone, in the $350 range after rebates, and it has many advanced features that are not accessible to people who are visually impaired.

In addition, the Mobile Speak and TALKS cell phone screen readers are still available and are always being updated. They now provide speech access to cell phone web browsers, and the list of Symbian phones with which they are compatible is growing. The Nokia N91 was originally slated to be a part of this evaluation article, but its release date was delayed. This cell phone will be Nokia's entry into the digital audio player market, and it includes an advanced video camera. We had planned to evaluate how TALKS and Mobile Speak provide access to the digital audio features of this phone as compared with the Rokr with iTunes.

The parent company of TALKS is now called Nuance Communications, and in addition to TALKS, they now also offer ZOOMS, a screen magnification software product for cell phones that will compete with the Mobile Magnifier software from Code Factory that we evaluated in our November 2005 issue. Code Factory has also released Mobile Speak Pocket, a screen reader software package for use on small handheld personal digital assistants, including some of the smart phone units. Similarly, Optelec is now offering Pocket Hal, another screen reader for personal digital assistants and smart phones. You can learn more about these products at <www.nuance.com>, <www.codefactory.com>, or <www.optelec.com>. One final note: Cingular Wireless is still offering TALKS to its customers who are visually impaired at no cost after rebates.

Product Features

Feature Motorola Rokr E1
Size (in inches) 4.3 x 1.8 x 0.8
Weight (in ounces) 3.8
Display screen size (in inches) 1.5 x 1.0
Phone style Flat/candy bar
Voice output No
Voice dialing Yes, but not accessible

Note that prices for cell phones and service change rapidly, so check with your service provider for current prices and availability.

Product Features

Feature: Motorola Rokr E1

Size (in inches): 4.3 x 1.8 x 0.8.

Weight (in ounces): 3.8.

Display screen size (in inches): 1.5 x 1.0.

Phone style: Flat/candy bar.

Voice output: No.

Voice dialing: Yes, but not accessible.

Note that prices for cell phones and service change rapidly, so check with your service provider for current prices and availability.

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Feature: Motorola Rokr E1

Keys easily identifiable by touch: 3.5.

Access to screen information: 1.0.

Accessible documentation: 1.0.

Access to iTunes: 1.0.

Voice dialing: 1.0.

Sound quality: 5.0.

Product Information

Product: Motorola Rokr E1 cell phone.

Manufacturer: Motorola, phone: customer service: 866-289-6686; web site: <www.motorola.com>.

Service provider: Cingular Wireless, phone: 800-331-0500; web site: <www.cingular.com>; or Cingular National Center for Customers with Disabilities, phone: 866-241-6568; web site: <www.cingular.com/about/disability_resources>.

Price: Cost: $284.99 with no service plan, $234.99 with a one-year service plan, and $149.99 with a two-year service plan from Cingular.

Product: iTunes.

Manufacturer: Apple Computer, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; phone: 408-996-1010, Customer Relations: 800-767-2775; web site: <www.apple.com/itunes>.

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

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Product Evaluation

Take Me to myReader: An Evaluation of HumanWare's Transportable Auto-Reader

The past 10 years have seen many changes in the traditional desktop video magnifier, and 2005 was no different. Technology has enabled the manufacturers of video magnifiers to produce more portable and feature-rich products that can better meet the needs and preferences of people who have low vision. One company is pushing the envelope by introducing a new type of video magnifier that is unique. In early 2005, HumanWare launched and began shipping myReader.

What makes myReader different from other video magnifiers is its ability to capture an image of whatever is placed on its viewing table, which HumanWare calls "the platter," and then to reformat it into an arrangement that is chosen and customized by its user. myReader has no x-y table. Instead, it uses navigation through its control panel and its automatic scrolling feature to eliminate the back-and-forth movement of a document on an x-y table and to reduce the user's fatigue. The total myReader reading system, including its 15-inch flat-panel screen, folds down into a device that can be transported.

Physical Description

myReader's platter is approximately 12 inches by 14 inches, and the machine is approximately 18 inches high. The top of the machine, called the head, is directly over the platter and holds the camera and lightbulbs. The 15-inch flat LCD (liquid crystal display) screen is attached at the front of the head, which is close to the user's face, and can be adjusted to accommodate almost anyone's height. The control panel has eight controls: the Size knob, which increases and decreases the size of the magnification; the Live button, which switches the camera to show the platter in real time; the Picture knob, which moves you from full color to positive and negative and user colors; the Speed Dial wheel, which controls the speed of the scrolling text; the trackball, which is used to navigate the page and takes the place of the x-y table; the Start button, which captures an image; the Read/View button, which selects the reading mode; and the Next button, which moves you through the online menus.

Photo of woman using myReader to read a book at a table in a library.

Caption: myReader uses navigation controls instead of an x-y table to move through a document.

At the product evaluation lab of the American Foundation for the Blind Technology and Employment Center at Huntington, West Virginia (AFB TECH), I conducted an evaluation of myReader, replacing my traditional desktop closed-circuit television with myReader and using it daily for three months.

As part of the evaluation, the accompanying documentation was assessed for clarity and accessibility. Assembly and setup procedures and transportability were tested as well to determine how easy the machine is to assemble, fold down, and transport. The control panel was examined in terms of function and ease of use. The display quality and all myReader's magnification and text reformatting functions were also tested using various objects and types of documents to determine how well myReader's features meet the needs of users with low vision. After I completed the evaluation, I came to an overall conclusion that takes into account all the previously discussed assessments.


The documentation with myReader is just about as good as it gets. myReader comes with a Quick Start Guide, printed in 24-point type, and a User Manual, printed in an 18-point font. Using this Quick Start Guide, you should be able to set up the myReader and, if needed, as I did, use the machine to read the User Manual and the rest of the accompanying documentation, which is informative and easy to understand.

Assembly, Setup, and Transportability

myReader can be unfolded in five steps that can be easily learned. Even though the hinge-release buttons are marked with removable tape, it would be helpful if the buttons and slider to release the screen were permanently labeled on the machine. The two release buttons are large, round black buttons. The word Push is written in raised letters on the buttons, but the raised letters are also black, which creates virtually no contrast. Therefore, it is possible that a person with low vision would not see these words. Changing these raised letters to high-contrast white letters would make learning the assembly even easier.

The fact that myReader is transportable gives it a definite advantage over most traditional desktop video magnifiers, which are often bulky, difficult to move, and weigh well over 50 pounds. At about 20 pounds, carrying myReader from one room to another may be easily accomplished. But carrying it from one building to another, across a school's campus, or between home and work or home and school on a daily basis is a different story. HumanWare describes myReader as "transportable," which it is, but the potential buyer should not confuse that term with "easily portable."

Photo of man from waist down carrying myReader folded up.

Caption: myReader is "transportable" but not easily portable.

To increase its transportability, a carry bag for myReader is also available as an accessory at a price of $95 plus $15 shipping. The carry bag is similar to an airline carry-on bag with wheels and has an extendable handle. This type of bag is necessary to make myReader truly transportable over a distance. Unfortunately, it does not provide sufficient protection to be used to transport myReader on an airline. To do so, the User Manual suggests using the original packaging and consulting the airline's customer service representative. This sounds like a logistical challenge.

The Control Panel

myReader's control panel is a lightweight, 5 x 8 3/4-inch component that is attached to the machine by a cable. This feature enables the control panel to be moved as desired and positioned in a way that is most comfortable for you. The control panel's eight large function controls are all different shapes and sizes, making them tactilely distinguishable. The controls are also well spaced across the control panel, making them easy to use, especially for someone who has limited manual dexterity. Most of the controls click when they are pressed or turned to give auditory confirmation that they have been successfully pressed or turned. The trackball sensitivity can also be set through the on-screen menu to customize its movement to your preference. Each control is labeled underneath with black lettering. Some of the controls have more than one function, although they are labeled for the function for which they are most commonly used. The Speed Dial control and the trackball can also be used interchangeably at times.

Until you have had time to acquaint yourself with myReader, the control panel may be confusing. There are many ways to view text on the screen, and learning how to use the control panel and what ways of viewing text work best for you will take some time, patience, and practice. You will most likely need to keep the User Manual close by when you start to use the machine, so you can review how to access the features through the control panel. Once you are familiar with the control panel and its features, you need to select customized settings, which rarely need to be changed; therefore, you will not need to use all myReader's features on a regular basis.

The On-Screen Menus

The on-screen menus, which are used to set preferences and settings, such as brightness, contrast, volume of auditory tones, and user colors, are accessed by pressing and holding the Live button for two seconds. You then use the Speed Dial control or the trackball to scroll through the menu items, which are highlighted when selected, so you know where you are at all times.

The words and information contained in the menus have a set font size and cannot be adjusted. Thus, for some users with low vision, the menus may not be accessible. Also, the product-version information may be inaccessible for some users. Having a larger font in the menus or the ability to adjust the font size would be a big improvement.

In addition, the brightness and contrast settings are set on a shaded bar scale, but the bar is not labeled. Labeling the scale, for example, with "highest contrast" and "lowest contrast" with indicators in between would make these menu items more user friendly. Moreover, there is a fine-tuning brightness-adjustment button on the bottom of the flat panel screen, but this button had no effect on the screen's brightness.

If you have sufficient vision to see the menu items, navigating the menu is fairly simple. While in the on-screen menu mode, myReader displays reminder prompts at the bottom of the screen for guidance. The ability to modify and customize the foreground and background colors through the menu is also a helpful feature that will be appreciated by those who see higher-contrast colors best.

Maintenance Procedures

On a daily basis, the only cleaning needed is to wipe the machine with a dry lint-free cloth; no water or cleaning products should be used. The trackball should be cleaned approximately once a month by removing it, polishing it with a dry cloth, and blowing out any dust from the cavity. The problem is in removing the ring that holds the trackball in place. The User Manual says to grip it firmly and twist counterclockwise, but when I did so, I found that the ring was difficult to turn, especially the first few times that I tried to remove it. Also, the grips are small and smooth, making them difficult to grasp. People with limited manual dexterity may have a hard time caring for the trackball. A wider ring with a rubberized surface and ribbed grips would make the trackball easier to remove, thus increasing the likelihood that the trackball will be cared for properly.

Heat is created by the light bulbs that illuminate the platter, and myReader uses a small fan to keep the machine cool. This fan emits a low humming sound, which some visitors to my office mistook for a car alarm going off in the distance. This humming ground on my nerves and, at times, distracted and frustrated me to the point of turning off the machine.

Quality of the Display

myReader has a built-in 15-inch LCD matte-finish, flat-screen monitor. The monitor has good resolution and displays color well, making it stand out from low-cost or older-model video magnifiers. The screen height and tilt angle can be adjusted to help eliminate glare and meet individual preferences. The fact that the monitor can be made more ergonomically suited to the user means that it can be used longer with a greater level of comfort.

One significant limitation in the display of myReader, however, is the focus in the full-color setting. In this setting, text is not as sharp and in focus as in the user-selected colors or positive and negative settings. In fact, the larger I made the text in the full-color setting, the more out of focus it became, although it always remained legible. It was also disappointing to find that the text in the full-color setting cannot be made as large as in the user-selected colors or positive and negative settings. This is a definite problem if you require higher magnification and like to see objects in their original colors or for situations in which the user-selected colors and positive and negative settings are not suited for viewing an object or text.

Another display issue arises when you use automatic scrolling. When I used this feature, the movement of the letters across the screen was not smooth, and there was a distracting flickering or shaking of the letters in all user-selected colors and positive and negative settings. This shaking of the letters occurred when I used lower levels of magnification, but as I increased the level of magnification, it became less and less noticeable.

Document Capture Accuracy

You have five options when reading text with myReader. You can use one of the three reading modes to capture an image of the page digitally and reformat it to your preference, or you can use the Viewing mode, which displays the image in its original format but magnified. The fifth option is to use the Live mode, which shows the page in real time.

Column layout works much like a TelePrompTer that is used by television broadcasters. In this layout, the page is reformatted into a newspaper-like column with one to three words across the screen and the next words appearing below them and continues to scroll down until the bottom of the page is reached. This layout works best with moderate to lower levels of magnification. If the magnification level is set to high in Column layout, a word with many letters may take up two or three lines, which makes it distracting and difficult to read.

Row layout reformats a page of text into one continuous line that scrolls from left to right across the screen, much like a marquis. This layout works well with all levels of magnification, and it may be the best choice if you prefer higher levels of magnification.

Word layout flashes one word at a time on the screen. Like Column layout, Word layout works best with moderate to lower levels of magnification. If the magnification level is set to high in Word layout, part of the word will flash on the screen, and then the next flash will show the rest of the word; this makes it difficult to read and know where one word stops and the next word starts. In the Viewing mode, you can adjust the level of magnification to your preference while using automatic scrolling, the Next button, or the trackball to navigate the page.

To test the accuracy of the document capture in each layout, I used fonts of various sizes, as well as red, blue, green, and black ink. All size and color fonts captured equally well. myReader's User Manual instructs you to use Viewing mode when you read documents with complicated layouts because the three reading modes will not work well in these situations. Even the seemingly simple layout of an indented, numbered list was captured inaccurately in the Column, Row, and Word layouts. The same document would be captured less accurately at some times than at others. In Word layout, ink dots or smudges on the page would flash on the screen as if they were words because myReader could not distinguish them from text.

Other types of text caused inaccurate captures as well. When a document contained underlined text, the underline was not displayed. If a letter fell below the underline, such as a lower-case "g" or "q," that letter and sometimes the letters on either side of it are omitted from the displayed word. A dropped capital letter, which often appears at the beginning of a magazine article or chapter in a book, will also cause an inaccurate capture. Switching to Viewing mode will alleviate these inaccuracies because it displays the text in its original format but magnified. The more straightforward the text and simple the layout, the better myReader will work in each layout in the Reading mode.

You can also use the Live mode to read text. It is necessary to use Live mode when you write by hand, fill out forms, or proofread. The problem with this mode is that the viewing area is small, approximately 2 9/16 inches wide x 2 inches long. When a sheet of paper is placed on the platter, you can write only two-thirds of the way down the page until you have to bend the paper up and push it back to be able to read the bottom of the page. When you write on lined paper, you must use the Full Color mode. Otherwise, when you try to write on lined paper in the user-selected colors or positive and negative settings, the lines disappear when you put your hand and pen under the camera.

The User Manual says to use the Viewing mode to look at pictures, but tests that I conducted consistently showed that looking at pictures in the Live mode gave the best results. Crosshatch lines appear in the pictures, especially those in black and white, and although using the plastic sheet provided with myReader to look at pictures did remove them, it slightly blurred the image.

Dual-column magazine pages with simple page layouts were readable in the Reading mode with the use of the margin-setting feature. The margins are easy to set around the column that you are reading, and then the Reading mode works as normal. Curved surfaces, such as on a medicine bottle, can also be read with myReader by using the Live mode and turning the bottle as you read the label from side to side. Shiny pages of a magazine are also easily read by myReader.

Computer Compatibility

myReader is computer compatible, and the myReader screen can take the place of the PC monitor. A foot switch toggles you between the computer display and myReader's camera, with a split screen also being an option. While connecting your computer to myReader may save a good deal of desk space, if you are used to a large monitor, you may find it uncomfortable or impractical to trade your large monitor for the 15-inch myReader screen. As I noted regarding automatic scrolling in the Viewing mode, the letters on the screen flicker or shake when you scroll with the mouse using screen-magnification software. In addition, having the ability to toggle through the PC and myReader settings by using the control panel instead of the foot switch would be a big plus.

The Bottom Line

The new concepts that are built into myReader are noteworthy. The ability to customize the reading of documents to this level is a first in the video magnifier market. HumanWare has set a new standard for others in the video magnifier market to look to when developing their next generation of products.

Some of myReader's most noteworthy features include its ergonomics and transportability. The ability to capture and reformat text documents digitally is also a unique feature of myReader that can make the reading of long documents much easier than it would be with an x-y table. The accompanying documentation also does a good job of describing myReader and its features and functions and is accessible for many with low vision.

As exciting as this technology is, there are still areas of myReader that need improvement, two of the most noteworthy being the lack of a clear focus and the inability to reach high magnification in Full Color mode. Full color should be just as in focus as all the other color settings, and the sharp focus should remain constant as the level of magnification increases.

The shaking of the letters on the screen, when you use automatic scrolling in the Viewing mode and myReader with a PC is also an issue. It would also be an improvement for myReader to have the ability to capture less-straightforward text accurately. It would be helpful if the time taken to capture a document was reduced from approximately 10 seconds and the ability to capture and save multiple pages at once was added. One additional issue is the noise created by the fan, since the low humming sound sometimes became so annoying that I had to turn the machine off.

All things considered, myReader may be an option if you will use it mainly to read multipage documents or for lengthy sessions of reading straightforward text. However, if you need magnification for proofreading, filling out forms, or viewing three-dimensional objects, you may find that another device may better fit your needs. For my office work, I would use the text-reformatting feature infrequently and would therefore not choose myReader. Above all, potential buyers should strongly consider whether the document-reformatting feature will work for their individual magnification needs and, if so, whether it is worth the cost. With a retail price of $4,995, it leaves potential buyers asking themselves, Should HumanWare's autoreader be my reader?

Manufacturer's Comments


"myReader is first and foremost a low vision reading device, an autoreader, not a video magnifier. AccessWorld has, in the past, published research explaining that 76 percent of video magnifier users become fatigued with 15 minutes or less of use. Although myReader has a video magnifier (live) mode, this mode is rarely, if ever, used for extended reading because myReader offers far superior reading modes. Since a 'live' mode is all that video magnifiers offer, users are stuck with manually manipulating reading material beneath a camera that magnifies everything, not just the words one is trying to read. That's it! No reading modes, just magnification. Former video magnifier users who now use myReader report that they can read faster for longer periods of time with far less fatigue. They have also noted how much easier it is to orient themselves to complicated layouts and to find what they want to read more efficiently. These improvements are critical for students and professionals who need to read volumes of text. We have also found that myReader is usable by people who have been unable to use video magnifiers in the past either because of the difficulty of using the x-y table or because of the constant motion on the monitor. myReader solves these inherent video magnifier problems and offers a variety of ways to sit back, hands free, and enjoy reading a full page of text without interrupting one's concentration at the end of every line.

"myReader is the first device of its kind. HumanWare did not just repackage old magnification ideas that have been around for 35 years. It came up with a totally new and fresh way of helping people with low vision to read. Every new technology presents opportunities for improvement and refinement, and the suggestions made by Lee Huffman in his kind review are among those that HumanWare has identified, some of which are already being incorporated into the latest version of myReader."

Product Ratings
Product Ratings

Ratings Chart

Feature: myReader

Transportability: 4.0.

Control panel: 4.0.

Document capture: 5.0.

Text reformatting: 3.0.

On-screen menus: 3.0.

Documentation: 5.0.

Ergonomics: 5.0.

Auto focus: 5.0.

Product Information

Product: myReader.

Manufacturer: HumanWare, 1 Expo Place, P.O. Box 3044, Christchurch, New Zealand; phone: +64-3-384-4555; e-mail: <info@humanware.com>; web site: <www.humanware.com>. U.S. Office: 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 800-722-3393; e-mail: <us.sales@humanware.com>.

Price: $4,995.

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Buy It, Sell It: eBay 101

Millions of people buy and sell on eBay. It has revolutionized the world of online shopping. On the CNBC program, "The eBay Effect," eBay's CEO Meg Whitman accurately described her company as "the first global online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers 24 by 7 and has fundamentally changed the way people think about trade."

It is possible to use eBay with a screen reader, but it can be frustrating to do so. Keep in mind that sighted people also experience frustration with the site, especially in the beginning "learning" stage.

There is a lot of information on eBay's web pages, which may be difficult to navigate at first, but with time and practice, you can do so successfully. If this is your first venture into the world of online shopping, you may want to consider starting off by using a regular retailer's web site. Either way, it is essential to become familiar with forms, combo boxes, edit boxes, check boxes, control buttons, and radio buttons. (For definitions, see "Redoing Windows: A Guide for Customizing Windows for Users with Low Vision" in the May 2005 AccessWorld.)

There is no way to learn everything about eBay in one article. But even with limited knowledge, it is easy to get started both buying and selling. You can learn the fine points as you work. Many books have been written about how to use eBay. For example, on the Amazon web site <www.amazon.com>, I found 373 results when I inserted "books" in the search combo box and "eBay" in the edit box.

How It Started

Pierre Omidyar, a software engineer, invented eBay during his spare time in San Jose, California. Legend has it that he did so because his wife collected Pez dispensers and wanted a place to buy and sell them. On "The eBay Effect" TV program, Omidyar set the record straight: "My wife did collect Pez dispensers; she was very passionate about it," he explained. "The passion people have for collectibles was really a key learning piece for me." He developed eBay because he had an interest in efficient markets, not Pez dispensers. On Labor Day 1995, eBay's web site was launched.

Getting Started

When eBay's web site <www.ebay.com> is loaded, there are over 100 links on the page. These links include Shop for Items, Sell Your Item, Track Your eBay Activities, and Pay. There are links for all the categories that are used to classify items. There is also a Sign In link.


To buy or sell anything on eBay, you must first complete the registration form. Activating the Register Now link on eBay's home page will bring you to the form. The registration form is straightforward. It uses a series of edit boxes and several combo boxes. The first two edit boxes are for your first and last names. Next come two address edit boxes. If you have a short address, just put it in the first box. Next comes a city edit box and then a state combo box. Next is a zip code edit box, followed by a combo box for a country. The top choice, which is already displayed, is the United States.

The next part of the form is for telephone numbers. To register, a primary phone number must be provided. The first edit box is for the area code, the second is for the first three digits of the telephone number, and the third is for the last four digits. There is also an edit box for an extension. A secondary telephone number can be added, and the edit boxes follow the same entry format.

eBay users must be at least 18 years old, so you need to enter your date of birth on the registration form using two combo boxes and an edit box. The first combo box is for the month, the second is for the day, and the edit box is for the year. Next come two edit boxes to enter and then reenter your e-mail address.

Finally, you are presented with eBay's rules and privacy policy. If you agree to these rules, check the I Agree box and then activate the Continue button.

Now it is time to choose a user identification (ID). Pick an ID that you will remember. Do not use your name unless it is the name of your business. Your user ID identifies you to other eBay users. eBay will display several choices for a user ID via radio buttons. You can pick one of eBay's suggestions or check the radio button that says, "Create Your Own ID." Right below this radio button is the edit box to enter an ID. Note that e-mail messages from eBay always include your user name.

Since so many people use eBay, it is possible that your first choice for a user ID will have already been taken by someone else. If it has, eBay will give you several options for creating a new one. There are three edit boxes where eBay asks you to name three of your favorite things. If you fill out these edit boxes and choose the Create New User ID button, eBay will display several choices. Select the one that you want by checking its radio button. Another option is just to enter a new user ID in the user ID edit box. You may have to try many times with this method.

The next two edit boxes are for entering and then reentering a password. The password must be at least six characters. Next comes a security measure in case you forget your password. The first part of the security measure consists of a combo box where you choose a question that eBay will ask if you forget your password. Questions include What is your mother's maiden name? What is your pet's name? and What street did you grow up on? Once you select a question, type the answer in the edit box that is below the question. Then select the Continue button.

Once your user name, password, and secret question have been accepted, a new page will come up telling you to check your e-mail. You will quickly receive an e-mail message from eBay explaining how to validate your registration. To perform this task, just select the line Complete eBay Registration in the e-mail. Once your registration is validated, you can buy and sell on eBay.

Before you shop or list an item for sale, it is a good idea to visit the Track Your eBay Activities link. If you have not already signed in, activating the link will bring up the form. Once you are signed in, you can view and manage various aspects of your eBay activities. You can track items of interest, receive and send messages to and from sellers, have eBay keep you signed in on the computer you are using, and much more. It is definitely worth the time to review this section.

Let's Go Shopping

eBay uses a simple search form, consisting of an edit box, a combo box, and a search button. When you fill out the edit box, be as specific as possible, or you may get too many hits. The combo box consists of 39 categories, including collectibles, jewelry, musical instruments, clothing, and search all. There is also an advanced search, which includes searching within a particular country or distance from home, price, and when the auction for that item closes. You can also enter the words on which you do not want to hit.

When you search for some items, such as clothing or jewelry, you can refine the search by filling out an additional form, which provides more details about what you are looking for. This will narrow the search results. For example, if you are looking for shoes, you can search by size, heel height, and color. If you put the brand of shoes in the edit box, the search results will be even more focused. Once your results are displayed, there will be a lot of additional information on the pages, so you may need to arrow around to find what you want.

When the word braille was put into the search form's edit box and "all categories" was selected in the combo box, the search yielded 165 results in a variety of categories, including books, toys, and collectibles. When the same search was performed using books as the category in the combo box, 69 books were displayed in such categories as children's books, fiction, nonfiction, and textbooks. Each subcategory had a link to it, and the number of books in that category was also shown. Activating the Children's link brought up 52 results. eBay displayed subcategory links for these results, including Bedtime, Fiction, Nursery Rhymes, and Other; 19 of the books were in this category. Once this link was activated, a further breakdown of the books was displayed using categories such as age range, condition, and format. Under "condition" were the choices new and used. Activating the Used link yielded 7 results.

Once your search is narrowed, it is possible to choose how your results are displayed. eBay uses links, check boxes, and combo boxes to accomplish this task. This is particularly useful if you have many results to go through. By default, all results are displayed, but you can choose to have only auction items displayed or only Buy It Now items shown. A Buy It Now item has a price listed, and you can immediately buy the item for that price without placing a bid and waiting to see if you have won the item. It is an easy procedure if there is something that you just have to have.

Each listing contains the following information: item title, whether the seller accepts PayPal, bids, price, shipping cost, and time left for the auction. PayPal is eBay's online payment service and is usually available to buyers. It is described later in this article. Many listings have photographs. There are times where the seller does not list the item in the correct category. For example, I found braille magazines listed in the fiction category of braille books, rather than in the nonfiction category.

Above each listing is a check box that can be used to compare several items by activating the Compare link. From the seven results that were displayed, I selected the book, Love and Kisses Darling. The listing appeared as follows: First there was a check box for comparison with other items. Next came a link that said "Item has pictures." Underneath that link was the title of the item; in this case, the title was, "Love and Kisses Darling--Board Book! BRAILLE!" On the next line, the words "PayPal buyer protection program" appeared. The line after that said $4.99, to indicate the current price, and the line below that had $3.00, which is the shipping price. The bottom line said when the auction would end. In this case it was 9 hours, 57 minutes. If there was a Buy It Now option, it would have been placed just above the shipping cost.

To find out more information about a product, select its title link. The title of the item appears, and its number is underneath. Below that is a link to watch the item in the My eBay section of the web site, which is part of the Tracking Your eBay Activities area. Putting the item in that area makes it easier to track, but it is not necessary to do so. There are several other links about the item and the item's bidding history. Then there is a button to place a bid.

Before you place a bid, it is extremely important to read the information regarding the seller, which is found in the Seller Information section of this item. Once you place a bid, you are in a legal contract with the seller, not with eBay. It is important to know about the seller and to have the ability to ask him or her any questions about the item. Just as in any business, most sellers are reliable, but there have been occasional problems. eBay has employees whose job is to monitor the web site for fraudulent listings, but they do not catch everything.

There is a lot of information in the Seller Information section. By activating the link with the seller's user name, you can view the seller's member profile. This profile contains the seller's feedback rating, which is the number of people who have done deals with the seller and gave him or her positive feedback on eBay's web site. For example, if a seller completed 200 transactions and 199 buyers left positive feedback and 1 person left negative feedback, the seller's feedback rating would be 99.5%. There are links that say, "learn what these numbers mean," which are helpful in explaining how eBay rates members and calculates their feedback scores.

Back in the Seller Information section, there is an About Me link, where a buyer can find out additional information about the seller, including when he or she started selling on eBay and other items that the seller may have available for sale. There are also links to feedback comments left by past purchasers.

Sometimes a buyer may have a question about an item. The Ask Seller a Question link is easy to use. In my case, the first item on eBay that I ever purchased was a pair of UGG slippers. The item had a picture, but that did not help me with the description. I e-mailed the seller through the Ask Seller a Question link and got a much better description. The e-mails are sent through eBay, and the seller's response appears in your e-mail's in box. You can reply to the message, and then the seller will have your e-mail address, or you can use the Respond Now button, and your response will be sent to the seller's My Messages mailbox on eBay, and your e-mail address will not be visible.

Below the information about the seller is some more information about PayPal, followed by the word description and a more detailed description of the item. The description includes details about the item, the shipping cost, and methods of payment that the seller will accept. EBay strongly recommends using PayPal, but some sellers accept checks or money orders.

If you are satisfied with the item and think that the seller has an acceptable feedback record, it is time to enter a bid. Just below the Place Bid button is the bidding history for the item. It shows how many other bids have been placed and who is the high bidder. The start date and time, plus the remaining time for the auction and where the item will be sent from, are also indicated. Activating the Place Bid button will bring up an edit box in which you can enter your bid. Next is a button that says "Continue." Below that button is a line that says "You will confirm in the next step."

A new page is displayed that has information about the item, shipping information, the payment methods that the seller will accept, and the Confirm Bid button. Under the button is a reminder from eBay that confirming the bid means that if you win the item, you are in a legally binding contract with the seller. If you are sure about the item and your bid, go ahead and activate the Confirm Bid button. eBay will automatically bid for you, up to your maximum bid. This automatic bidding is called "proxy bidding" and is a key feature of eBay. Should you win the item, you will have to pay only one increment above the second-highest bid. eBay uses a formula to calculate bid increments. The greater the cost of the item, the greater the increment.

Shortly after you place your bid, you will receive a confirmation e-mail message that also contains a link that will bring you directly to your item. If you are outbid, eBay will send you an e-mail message to inform you. The message will also contain a link so you can rebid. Many people wait until the last possible moment to bid, so eBay sends you a reminder e-mail message when the auction is almost over. If you want to view the bidding, just activate the link on the item. As the end of the auction gets near, activate the Refresh button on the screen, and an updated page with the current high bid will be displayed. If you are the high bidder, that information will be on the screen. There will also be a graphic of a green check. If you are no longer the high bidder, there will be a graphic of a red letter "X." (Window-Eyes was able to read both without any special graphics dictionary editing.) When the auction for the item ends, you will receive another e-mail message informing you whether you did or did not win the item. If you check the item's page after the auction ends, it will state that you have won or have not won. If you won, there will be a button that says, Pay Now. If you wait for your announcement e-mail message from eBay, you can click on the item's link in the message. Once there, you will find the Pay button.

Pay Up

After you win an item, you are expected to pay for it promptly. According to eBay's rules, the buyer and seller must contact each other within three days. In the original listing, each seller indicates the forms of payment that he or she accepts, which you should keep in mind when you decide to bid. Just about every seller accepts PayPal. Some dealers accept money orders or checks, but PayPal is by far the easiest way to pay for your purchases.

Information about PayPal can be found in various locations on eBay's site. PayPal will bill your credit card, or you can put money into your account. Sellers can have the profits from their sales go directly into their PayPal accounts. Registering for PayPal is quick and easy. Also, PayPal provides insurance up to $1,000 for your items at a nominal cost. Before you set up a PayPal account, it is worthwhile to read the New Buyer Overview.

eBay encourages both buyers and sellers to leave feedback about their experience. Reminders to leave feedback will appear in the My eBay section, where you track your eBay activities. The reminder is toward the bottom of the page, and as each item is displayed, there is a link under it that says "Leave Feedback."

The feedback form consists of an edit box, which has the name of the item that you purchased. Underneath it is another edit box, which contains the item number. Four radio buttons appear next. You check one to rate the experience: positive, neutral, negative, or "I will leave feedback later." Below the radio buttons is an edit box to leave comments. The final control is the Leave Feedback button. If you have a problem, there is a link that says, "Dispute Console." This is the link to go to if the item was inaccurately described or if you have not received your item in a reasonable amount of time. The link presents a form and instructions about how to submit your problem to eBay.

Once you buy an item, the seller can leave feedback for you. In the Track Your eBay Activities section, there is a number right under the user ID. Clicking on this number brings up a page that shows which sellers left feedback and what they wrote. The first time you receive feedback, eBay sends you an e-mail message. After that, the information is on eBay's web site.

Learning and Getting Help

On eBay's home page is a link called Learning Center. When this link is activated, the next page has information about various aspects of eBay, including how to buy, how to sell, and safe trading tips. There are also brief Audio Tours with such topics as registering, searching for items, bidding, and selling. However, these "tours" are not specifically designed for individuals with visual impairments. Before you play the Audio Tours, you may need to turn off any pop-up blocker software.

The Getting Help link provides several ways to get assistance with a problem. There is a list of most frequently asked questions and their answers. Links to eBay Acronyms and the eBay Glossary are also on the Help page. There is also a help query where a topic is entered in an edit box and a search button is activated. The A-Z Index link brings up a list of topics.

eBay's corporate telephone number is 800-322-9266, but customer support can be found only online. On the program, "The eBay Effect," eBay's vice president of customer support for North America, Wendy Jones, explained, "We average about a hundred thousand contacts a day. Our response often comes across as less personalized and less friendly than we would like." Jones added that this problem is being addressed.

Selling Items

Listing items for sale is significantly more difficult than is buying them. Numerous forms need to be completed, and they do not always work well with a screen reader. Completing all the required information is time consuming, and the process can really test your tolerance for frustration.

The majority of items that are sold on eBay include photographs with their listings, but providing photographs is not mandatory. If you do not have enough vision to take a picture, you may want to consider getting sighted help for this task. If you plan to sell many items, a digital camera is more cost-effective than is a 35-millimeter or Polaroid camera. A scanner may be good for some items, such as autographs or CDs. If you plan to use photographs, they must be loaded onto your computer's hard drive. When it is time to upload the photographs for your item, you will need to know where they are located on the hard drive.

Before you choose to sell an item, check to see how much the same item or a similar item has sold for on eBay in the past. Simply check the Completed Listings check box in the Customize Search Options section of the item listings. Doing so brings up a list of previously offered items with details about how many bids there were and the price that an item sold for or that the item did not sell. To see the description of an item, simply select its link, just as if you were interested in buying the item. Reading the item's description may provide ideas about how to word the description of your item or about which words are not good to use.

Seller Registration

Before you can start selling items, you must complete a seller registration form. To begin this process, activate the Sell Your Item link on eBay's home page. The next page gives reasons for selling on eBay, and there is a Sell Your Item button. Information about this button is found on the page that is displayed when the button is activated. After you read through the information and decide to go ahead with the process, activate the Create Seller's Account button.

The account form is slightly different from a standard registration form. The first part is for filling out credit card information. First, there is an edit box for the credit card number, followed by two combo boxes for the month and year of the card's expiration date. Then there is an edit box for the credit card's security code. Underneath the credit card information is your billing information. This information may already be filled in. Just check it to ensure that the information is correct. After the billing information, there are two radio buttons. The first one says that the credit card will be used for verification of your identification and eBay fees, and the second one says that eBay fees will be paid through a checking account. Choose the one that you prefer and activate the Continue button.

The next page says "Congratulations" and your eBay user name. Your seller's account has been created successfully, and you are ready to sell. On the same page are radio buttons to select the selling format. The top one is to sell an item using an online auction. Review the other buttons and pricing information on the page. Once you select a selling format, activate the Continue button. Almost immediately after the account is created, you will receive an e-mail message that contains some tips on how to sell items.

Listing an Item

The next page that comes up walks the seller through the listing process. The first edit box in the form is for entering a category. Here is where a screen reader can have some difficulty. There is a way to browse the categories, but it is not a link or a combo box. There is, however, a link that tells you to click there if you are having trouble browsing the categories. Activating the link presents the original categories in eBay's combo box as radio buttons. Check the one that best fits and then activate the Continue button. The next page is where subcategories are chosen, and it too has the same problem. Activate the link for having trouble viewing the subcategories, and you will be presented with a list box, so just arrow down to what you want and click Continue.

Next, it is time to enter a title for the item. Enter a clear description with as many key words as possible. A subtitle can be added for an additional cost. Next enter the item's description. Again, the edit box for this task is not easily located. There is another Having Trouble link for finding the place to enter the description. Activating this link puts you on a page where you can insert the description. You can use HTML commands or write a description in advance and then cut and paste it into the edit box. The advantage of doing the latter is that the application's spell checker and grammar checker can be used. Also, it is easier to make changes than to manipulate the text once it is in the edit box. There are also combo boxes for selecting the type and size of print and other visual attributes. If you plan on using photographs, there are numerous choices that need to be made, including the number of photographs, size, and location. eBay charges different amounts, depending on how the photo display is arranged. Be sure to fill out the edit boxes for the location of the photographs for the item and then upload them. There is an option to select the type of counter for showing the number of times your item has been viewed. Select Andale Counter. A description of this type of counter is given later in this article.

Next set the start and end dates and times for the auction using a series of combo boxes. There are a variety of theories about when it is the best time to run an auction. In general, it is best to have the item available over a weekend and to end the auction at night. This time frame allows for the highest number of last-minute bidders, since it is more likely that people are at home at these times.

The last part of the listing process deals with payment, shipping, and returns. Most sellers on eBay accept PayPal. Other options include a money order, cashier's check, and personal check. Choose all the ones that you are willing to accept. There is also an edit box to explain your return policy, if you have one. For example, I listed a poster on eBay, and my return policy was that I would give a full refund if the poster was not as advertised.

It is important to determine how much it will cost to ship the item before you list it. There are check boxes for determining where you will ship the item, such as the United States only, Europe, or worldwide. Enter the price and check the correct radio button for the shipping method, such as ground UPS or U.S. Postal Service. When all the information is completed, choose the Submit button. You will immediately get a page showing you the link for your item. Before any bids have been placed, it is still possible to make changes to the listing. Once the first bid is received, it is possible to add to but not change the description. You can still change the category if you find that you are getting few hits.

When an item is listed for sale, eBay immediately charges the "insertion fee" to your account, starting at 25 cents and going up to $4.80. When the item is sold, eBay charges a modest "final value fee." There is no final value fee if the item does not sell.

Once the auction starts, eBay sends an e-mail message saying that the item has been successfully listed. The seller can track the bidding process through the My eBay section of the web site. In My eBay, all your items for sale are listed, along with the number of watchers, the high bidder's user ID, the current price, and the time until the auction closes.

Within your listing, the number of hits (people who have viewed your item) is presented as a graphic. To get the number of hits on the counter, you can register at the web site <www.andale.com> for no additional charge. Andale will send you an e-mail when your registration is complete. Live help and e-mail help are available for this site. Once you are registered, there is no need to log in each time you visit Andale if you allow your computer to set a cookie; the web site will know who you are. The information about the items you are selling is in the middle of the page. Above this information are some links that may be difficult to understand with a screen reader, but the important information is the last few words of each link.

eBay notifies you if your item receives a bid. Once the auction closes, eBay sends the information about the buyer and how much the item sold for. This e-mail also contains an option to send the buyer an invoice. At the bottom of the e-mail is the information that would appear on the invoice.

If the buyer uses PayPal, you will receive an e-mail message informing you that you have received an instant payment. In fact, the message will have the buyer's e-mail address as a return address, but it is actually sent through PayPal. In the body of the e-mail message is a link to view the transaction online. Activating this link brings up the PayPal log-in page. After you log in, the transaction page is displayed. Basically, this page lists the item's name, price, and shipping cost and the buyer's name, eBay ID, and e-mail and shipping addresses. Once the money is deposited into the seller's PayPal account, the seller can use these funds to pay for future eBay purchases. Money is deducted from the PayPal account first, and then the balance of the cost appears on your credit card statement.

Just as a buyer can leave feedback about a seller, a seller can and should leave feedback about a buyer. Leaving feedback for a buyer can be helpful if this person also sells on eBay. Future buyers can check the particular buyer's feedback score to determine whether they want to bid on an item that the person is selling. Feedback is critical to the eBay system.

It is possible that you will receive spam e-mails that appear to be from eBay and PayPal. If an e-mail message is really from eBay, your user name will be included, but that is not definitive. Never give out additional information by e-mail. It is fine to view an item using the link in an e-mail message from eBay, but do not give out your user name, password, or any other information. The same is true for PayPal. Do not give out your PayPal password, and do not enter your credit card number or other personal information unless you have gone to PayPal's web site manually, rather than through an e-mail link.

The Bottom Line

Be prepared to experience periods of frustration with eBay and do not try to learn everything in a day. With patience, eBay can be a lot of fun to use and a huge time saver. It is a good place to hunt for bargains, sell things that you do not need, and maybe even get some extra money. It can save you a lot of time traveling to stores and keep you out of long lines.

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Product Evaluation

M Is for Mobile, and the Result Is Empowering

There are notes in these familiar songs that I have not heard before--a piano riff here, a subtle harmony there, a bit of percussion that I know I have never noticed. I am listening to songs from the 1960s and 1970s, songs that I have heard countless times before, but the quality of the stereo is such that these nuances are lovely surprises.

I go back to the work at hand, transferring blocks of text carried on a thumb drive from my desktop PC and pasting what I need into the current project. Another section of my writing finished, I switch gears to check my e-mail, downloading 233 messages in about three minutes. Reading through them quickly, replying to them, and then deleting them, I wonder if my pace has picked up as I continue to enjoy the upbeat tempos of old, familiar music in the background. I have been listening to these songs courtesy of streaming media from the Internet and now decide that it is time to shift my listening attention to something a bit more educational. Typing the web site <www.npr.org> (National Public Radio) into my web browser, I wait a few seconds and am now listening to the latest news stories. In one of them, I hear the name of a program that I would like to investigate later, so I make a quick voice recording of the title to remind myself to do so at a more convenient time. Meanwhile, I go back to the article that I need to complete by the end of the day. When I finish it, I save it as a Microsoft Word document, place it on the USB thumb drive, and return to listening to the hourly newscast streaming from National Public Radio.

To do all these things is becoming routine for many users of sophisticated technology. What moves the collective capabilities into the realm of noteworthy for people who are blind is that all these functions have been performed with a single device, a device that, to a sighted onlooker, is intriguing but mysterious because of the absence of any visual output and to the user who is blind offers an environment of absolute comfort and familiarity with its refreshable braille display, synthesized speech output when desired, and stereo delivery of music and audio information.

The device is the latest addition to HumanWare's family of BrailleNote products, the BrailleNote mPower, introduced on June 28, 2005, and first demonstrated at the conventions of the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind in Louisville and Las Vegas, respectively. Like any piece of technology, whether mainstream or designed for use by people with disabilities, the mPower has its sprinkling of imperfections and shortcomings. Yet as the current marketplace goes, this new kid on the block is phenomenal.

Before the mPower

For those who are not familiar with the BrailleNote products, a quick review is in order. Introduced in March 2000, the BrailleNote was the first piece of assistive technology to be likened to a personal digital assistant. Like the Blazie Engineering products before it, the first BrailleNote offered word processing, a planner, an address book, a calculator, and an alarm clock. What set it apart from its predecessors was its ability to import documents that were formatted for sighted users in, say, Microsoft Word and read them easily in contracted braille. Similarly, documents that were created in the BrailleNote's KeySoft environment could be exported as Microsoft Word files and thus seamlessly shared with sighted individuals. The built-in e-mail program (called KeyMail) was one quick way of facilitating the exchange of information between a braille-reading BrailleNote user and anyone else, again in the comfortable environment of composing and reading all messages in braille.

Since the original model, improvements have appeared at a fairly steady pace-- adding web-browsing capabilities, a compact flash card (in addition to the already available PCMCIA slot), and a media player for playing MP3 files. Even when Keysoft 6.1 added wireless capability, however, e-mail and web access were decidedly slower than what most PC users have come to expect. The media player did allow some MP3 files to be played, but with a sound quality that could best be described as serviceable. And there were other features that, although not exactly sensed as missing, could be (and have been) overshadowed by newer, flashier effects.

The mPower

A cursory examination of the mPower yields the impression that it is much like the earlier BrailleNotes and VoiceNotes. It is the same size and has the same keyboard (braille or QWERTY), thumb keys, and braille display (again, optional 18- or 32-cell displays are available). Visually, the mPower appears somewhat sleeker and offers a bit more pizzazz, replacing the formerly gray case with a silver case and the teal keys with forest green keys. But a closer examination reveals distinct differences.

Photo of the BrailleNote mPower with braille keyboard. Photo of the BrailleNote mPower with QWERTY keyboard.

Caption: The BrailleNote mPower comes with either a braille or QWERTY keyboard.

Along the back panel of the mPower are the jacks for the power cord, traditional telephone line, and serial port, as on the earlier models. In addition to the compact flash slot (added with KeySoft 4.0 and higher), there is now a secure digital flash slot (a storage card about the size of a postage stamp), two USB host ports, one USB client port, and BlueTooth capability. The PCMCIA slot is still available on the right side of the unit. On the left, in addition to the earphone jack and power switch that were on earlier BrailleNotes, there is now a jack for an external microphone and a recessed Record button for making voice recordings. (The mPower has an internal microphone as well, so that attaching an external microphone is not necessary for making recordings.) Of course, as the old saw would have it, it's what's inside that counts.

What's Inside

First, there is plenty of onboard storage space with a 128MB flash drive. (Earlier BrailleNotes came with 16MB or 48MB.) With the addition of the secure digital (SD) and USB ports, not to mention the compact flash, the amount of storage that is available is virtually unlimited. The ability to play MP3 files and to stream audio from the Internet are worthwhile features in and of themselves, but the outstanding sound quality is an unexpected treat. (Note that this quality of sound is available only when you use headphones. The built-in speaker is the same as in earlier BrailleNotes, and while it is adequate for hearing what is being played, its delivery is by no means noteworthy.)

Using All Those Ports

Sharing or "syncing" data between devices is growing in popularity, and users who are blind or have low vision are not excluded when using a device like the mPower. From the client USB port, the mPower can be connected to a PC or notebook to transfer contacts and calendar items via ActiveSync swiftly and conveniently. Similarly, data can be swapped or "synced" between the mPower and any Bluetooth-capable device (such as many of the new mobile phones).

The two USB host ports make it a simple matter to attach thumb drives, external hard drives, USB-compatible printers, or other USB devices. The compact flash slot can accommodate a wireless adapter card or a compact flash storage card. (Some cards offer both features--a wireless adapter in addition to 128MB storage.) For those times when high-speed Internet access is not available, there is still an internal 56K modem and a standard telephone jack for dial-up access. One port that has not been included with all this new connectivity is the parallel port, although the manufacturer points out that parallel printers and other devices can be connected with a USB-to-parallel converter.


The most noticeable gain in the BrailleNote mPower is speed. Opening documents, downloading web pages, moving from one application to another--all these tasks are now possible faster and on the fly. In conjunction with this faster pace is the online flexibility. As I mentioned earlier, I downloaded 233 e-mail messages in about three minutes one day, and I have, at times, loaded web pages faster than when I used the high-speed connection in my office. When you audiostream news, music, or other entertainment, you can continue to work in other KeySoft applications--to read a book, write a paper, check your calendar, or calculate how much money is in your bank account. The same is true, of course, when you play MP3 files that you have stored on the flash disk, thumb drive, or other external location. The volume of the speech synthesizer and the volume of the media player are controlled separately, so that, for example, if you are listening to Mozart to help inspire the muse and then want the mPower to read back to you the last paragraph that you wrote, you can simply turn the music down and the speech synthesizer up.

Although it was not tested for this review, the GPS (global positioning satellite) software from Sendero Group LLC is one more option that is available for the BrailleNote or VoiceNote mPower. This software, in conjunction with traditional mobility skills, enables a person who is blind or has low vision to identify such points of interest as banks, restaurants, recreational centers, supermarkets, and hotels, as well as to learn the names of streets and to determine compass directions, speed of travel, and more.

Another "frill" that is resident in the mPower is a memo or voice recorder. User options allow the quality of recording to be set at low, medium, or CD quality (each taking more disk space, respectively). The Record button is deliberately recessed to avoid being pressed inadvertently. When a recording is desired, however, the button can be pressed, and no matter what application you are currently working in, the recording begins immediately. Voice recordings can then be played back in the Media Player.

Although this is a quaint addition, I suspect that it will have limited use. If, for example, you want to record something while taking notes simultaneously, the otherwise-quiet keyboard dominates the recording with a loud clatter. Still, when both hands are not free for ready keyboarding, the quick press of a single button to capture a phrase, title, telephone number, or other tidbit of information could prove to be convenient.


No piece of assistive technology is, as yet, able to meet every imaginable need of most users, and the mPower is no exception. First, the mPower does not, for example, have the capacity to play DAISY-formatted books or to import the Audible.com files that are gaining widespread popularity in the blind community. Second, the carrying case needs to be updated to accommodate a wireless adapter. (At this point, to close the case, the wireless card must first be removed.) The unit that I used for this review had a considerably shorter battery life than that of earlier BrailleNotes, which requires the unit to be charged every other day with heavy use, rather than every five or six days. Finally, the Record button, which was obviously made small and unobtrusive to avoid unwanted presses, may actually pose difficulties for some users.

That being said, this new product from HumanWare is an example of the company's continued attention to detail and commitment to developing products that feel immediately at home in the hands of users who are blind. If you want a single mobile device for reading books; writing documents; surfing the Web; listening to news and music from the Internet or from your own collection; and handling your e-mail, calendar, and contacts--and one that permits some serious multitasking--this will be a welcome set of solutions. With a wireless card, you can do all these things wherever a wireless environment exists--on a college campus or in a hotel, coffee shop, airport, or your own backyard (or in the home of a friend who has a wireless network). It is, in short, one more in a flurry of new products that bear witness to the fact that ours, at last, is a truly consumer-driven and competitive market.

The mPower is available in all the configurations of earlier BrailleNote models: 18-cell braille, 32-cell braille, a VoiceNote version (with voice only, no braille), and with either a braille or a QWERTY-style keyboard. For owners of earlier units who want to upgrade, HumanWare offers a "transplant" option, in which your current braille display is placed in an entirely new unit.

Product Information

Product: BrailleNote mPower.

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: BrailleNote mPower BT32 or QT32: $6,195; BrailleNote mPower BT18 or QT18: $4,395; or VoiceNote mPower BT or QT: $1,995; plus $45 shipping (all models).

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There's Gold on Those Old Tapes: Recording and Editing Digital Audio Files with GoldWave

If you want to use your computer to record, edit, and play back digital audio files, but think that you cannot master the complexity, read on. This article is for you--the average computer user who wants to use his or her PC as a digital recorder and editor. You are probably already playing audio files on your computer using programs like Winamp, Windows Media Player, or RealPlayer, so you are already somewhat familiar with the process. Using your desktop PC or laptop to record audio is not rocket science, and it does not even require the latest hardware platform or operating system. Another piece of good news is that you will not have to break the bank to add this capability to your set of skills. All you need is a computer that is equipped with a standard sound card and digital recording software. You also need to be slightly familiar with the hardware of your PC--more accurately, the jacks on your sound card--so you can plug in microphones, speakers, headphones, patch cords, and other connectors. But you have probably already worked with this basic technology with cassette, reel-to-reel, and minidisk recorders. In this article, I describe the GoldWave sound editor, an inexpensive and fairly accessible software package.

I learned about GoldWave from a trusted source, Tim Cumings, the audio engineer and onetime web master for the Visually Impaired/Blind User Group (VIBUG) in Boston. VIBUG meets at the National Braille Press, and the group was originally founded by the legendary Boston Computer Society. The Vibug web site <www.vibug.org> contains a lot of useful information, as well as audio recordings of past meetings and demonstrations that were all recorded using GoldWave.

The GoldWave digital audio editor is a product of GoldWave, a small, privately owned, Canadian corporation located near St. John's, Newfoundland, and sells for less than $50. The software runs on the Windows operating system, and there are versions for Windows 98, ME, XP, and 2000. You can visit the GoldWave web site <www.GoldWave.com> and download a fully working demonstration of the software to try before you buy it. The program is available by download from the web site only. Upon purchase by online by credit card or by mail order, you will receive a "license" to unlock the download.

Just like the familiar analog audiocassette recorders of old, GoldWave lets you record from a variety of inputs, including microphones and auxiliary input using patch cords, and even lets you record streaming audio while you are listening online. If you have always wondered how to make high-quality tutorials with narration plus synthesized speech, this article tells you how to do it. I have used GoldWave to record voice and music and to convert vinyl record albums and cassettes to digital audio files. In this article, I cover the basics of GoldWave, and explore a few of the advanced features and special effects.

System Requirements

What hardware do you need to get started? Not much, according to the company. Basically, you must have a computer or laptop computer with one of the supported operating systems, which is easy, since GoldWave supports everything from Windows 98 to XP Professional. GoldWave also requires an industry-standard sound card. You also need headphones, speakers, a microphone, and a patch cord or two. With this basic kit, you can record from almost any source and store and edit it digitally using your PC.

According to GoldWave, the minimum system requirements are

  • a Pentium-based PC or compatible
  • Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, or a later version
  • 128 megabytes (MB) of RAM (256 MB recommended)
  • 10 megabytes of hard disk space
  • a mouse
  • a sound card with a Windows-compatible driver

Types and Sizes of Files

Digital audio files are similar to document, spreadsheet, database, or other files that are stored on your computer. But instead of containing text or graphics, these files contain audible content, such as voice, music, or other audio information. There are many different types of audio files, but I focus on only two of them in this introductory article, Wav and MP3. These types of files are playable on virtually any device or computer.

The Windows Volume Control

Before I discuss GoldWave, I need to explain the Windows Volume Control. As with a conventional tape recorder, the Windows Volume Control plays an important role in both recording and playing back audio by managing all input and output levels of the sound card. Since this is the master volume control for the Windows operating system, programs like GoldWave, Sound Forge, and other audio software rely on it to set recording and playback levels. The Windows Volume Control can be found on the Start Menu. Press Control-Escape to go to the Start Menu, arrow down to Programs, and press Enter. Then arrow down to Accessories and press Enter. From there, arrow down to Entertainment and press enter. Finally, arrow down to Volume Control and press Enter. If you do not find the Volume Control under Entertainment, look for it under Multi Media. You can also access volume control settings from the Options menu from within GoldWave itself, but in this article, I focus on making audio settings via the Windows Volume Control. This approach will assist you with GoldWave and will also pay off when you run other audio applications.

The Windows Volume Control lets you set volume levels for speakers, microphones, line inputs, and other audio sources that are supported by your sound card. It breaks down into two basic sections, one for playback and another for recording. When you start the Windows Volume Control, you are placed by default in the Playback Volume Control section. This allows you to adjust the balance and volume level for each device, including the master volume for the system, wave device, CD audio, microphone, and line input. There is also a check box to mute or unmute each device. Use the Tab key to move through this dialog box, and you will find the various controls and their balance, volume, and mute settings.

The first control in this dialog box is the Playback Control. This is the master volume control for your sound card. It controls the overall level of volume for speaker and headphone outputs. You can use the Arrow keys to make small adjustments in the system's volume and the Page Up and Page Down keys to make larger adjustments. Make sure that the Playback Control is set to 100% and that the balance is set to 50%. If you check the Mute check box, you will set your sound output to zero. Now, use the Tab key to move from one control to the next until you reach the end and then cycle around again to the beginning.

Setting Volume for Recording

The next step is to set the volume for inputs, such as microphone and line in. To do so, press Alt-P to bring up the Options menu. This menu has three choices: Properties, Advanced Controls, and Exit. Arrow down to Properties and press Enter. This brings up a combo box that lets you choose the mixer device and to adjust the volume for recording and playback. The Mixer Device is just another name for the sound card. If you have more than one sound card installed in your system, you will find multiple entries here. But if your system is of a standard configuration, there should be only one mixer device or sound card installed. Press the Tab key to move to the next control, which is a series of radio buttons that let you select either playback or recording settings. You can use your Arrow keys to select from Adjust Volume for Recording or Adjust Volume for Playback. Arrow down to Adjust Volume for Recording and press the Tab key to move to the next control. This places you in a list view, containing the following entries: What You Hear, microphone, line in, S/PDIF input, TAD in, and auxiliary. Depending on your sound card, you may have more or fewer objects in this list.

For the purposes of this article, I discuss only the microphone, line in, and "what you hear" objects. Use your Up and Down Arrow keys to move through the list until you hear "line in." Then, press the spacebar to check this control. Make sure that all the other objects in the list are unchecked and then press the Tab key to move to the OK control and press Enter. Now use your Tab key to move through this last dialog box, making certain that the volume level is set to 100% and that it is checked. The final step is to press Alt-F4 to quit the Volume Control, which exits and automatically saves any changes. Now you are ready to run GoldWave and to create your first audio file.

Recording Your First Audio File

The first step in recording a file is to start the GoldWave program. GoldWave can be found by going to the Start Menu, arrowing to programs, pressing Enter, arrowing to the GoldWave entry in the list, and pressing Enter. This will open the GoldWave submenu, which includes the actual GoldWave program, help file, manual, and setup program. Arrow to GoldWave and press Enter to start the program. When GoldWave is installed, it places an icon on the desktop, so you can launch it from there, as well as with fewer keystrokes.

Once GoldWave is started, the first step is to make one small adjustment to the GoldWave configuration. Do so by pressing the F11 key, which takes you to the Control Properties screen--a multipage dialog box with several tabs: Play, Record, Volume, Visual, and Device. Press Control-Tab until you hear "Record Tab." Then use the Tab key to move to the Unbounded radio button, a three-state button that can be set to Unbounded, Bounded to Selection, or Bounded and Looped. Set this button to Unbounded, which will allow you to make recordings of any length, limited only by the amount of hard-disk storage space on your computer. Tab to OK and then exit this dialog box. Now you are ready to begin your first file.

GoldWave obeys many of the Windows standard keyboard shortcut commands, such as Control-S to save, Control-O to open a file, and Control-N to create a new file. Once GoldWave has been started, press Control-N to start a new file and then answer the questions in the dialog box.

The New File dialog box asks you a few questions about the new file that is being created. The first question is if the new file will be mono or stereo. Stereo files take up two channels and twice as much disk space as do mono files. As in all dialog boxes, use the Tab key to move from one field to another. Use Shift-Tab to move backward through the dialog box. The next question asks what sampling rate you want to use. The sampling rate tells the computer how many snapshots per second to take of the sound source--the higher the sampling rate, the higher the sound quality of the file and the more storage space that is used. The sampling rate can be a number between 1,000 and 192,000. For high quality, use a sampling rate of 44,100, which is known as CD quality. If you are not fond of numbers, you can choose the sampling rate from a series of preset rates. The following list, from the GoldWave documentation, shows the various sampling rates and their uses:

  • 8,000: telephone quality
  • 11,025: low-end radio quality, good for voice
  • 22,050: radio quality, good for music and voice
  • 44,100: CD quality
  • 48,000: DAT quality
  • 96,000: DVD quality
  • 192,000: high-end DVD quality

The last setting in the dialog box is the file length, in hours, minutes, and seconds. You can record files for a maximum of 99 hours. You do not have to enter the length of the file because you checked the Unbounded box in the Control Properties configuration screen, which allows you to record until you run out of disk space or press the Stop Recording button. To finish, tab to the OK icon and press Enter. Now that you have defined the file, the next step is to plug in an audio source to begin recording.

For the first example, connect the line outputs of a stereo cassette deck to the line input on the sound card. To do so, I used a patch cord with two RCA plugs on one end and a stereo 1/8-inch mini-phone plug on the other end. I plugged the RCA plugs into the line outputs of my Yamaha stereo cassette deck and the other into the line in of my sound card. This procedure allows you to make digital copies of stereo and mono cassettes. It will also let you quickly copy Talking Book cassettes that are recorded in the standard four-track format of 15/16 inches per second, but more on that later.

GoldWave Tape Transport Controls

So far, you have adjusted the Windows Volume Control to make the line-input device active and told GoldWave to create a new file with Control-N. GoldWave is now waiting for you to plug in a line source or a microphone and begin recording by pressing the Record button. Like an analog tape recorder, GoldWave offers controls to play, record, rewind, fast forward, pause, and stop, all of which are performed using the standard Windows function keys. Once you have defined a new file with Control-N and have plugged in a line source or microphone, you can just start recording by pressing Control-F9. To stop recording, press the Control-F8 key. It is that easy.

Here are some more transport controls. To play back the recording, press the F4 key, to rewind the currently loaded file, press F5, and to fast forward, press F6. To pause a file while it is being played, press F7. To pause while making a recording, press Control-F7.

Saving Your Work

Now that you have recorded a file, use the File menu to save it. Press Alt-F to go to the file menu, arrow down to Save, and press Enter. A dialog box now appears that asks for the file name, file type, and directory in which to store the file. To simplify matters, type in C:\TEST or c:\test (you can use upper- or lower-case characters) and then press the Enter key. Admittedly, this will save the file in the root. But there is not enough space in this article to teach a course on file and folder management. If the thought of saving a file on the root of your hard drive sends you into fits, and you know how the Save dialog box works in most Windows applications, save the file in a new or existing folder. Suffice it to say that the Save dialog box lets you save on any drive, folder, or subfolder on your computer.

Congratulations! You have just saved your first file with GoldWave. The name of the File is Test.wav, and it should be in the root of your C drive; that is, if you typed the full file name of c:\test.

Now, play the file by pressing the F4 key. If you want to stop the file anytime during playback, press the F8 key.

You can modify the file by adding a special effect. Press Alt-C to go to the Effects menu, arrow down to Echo, and press Enter, which will add an echo to your file. If you want to make this change permanent, press Control-S to save the changes to c:\test.wav. If you do not like the echo effect, press Control-Z (another standard Windows shortcut key), and the echo will be erased, and your file will return to the condition before you applied the echo effect.

GoldWave always assumes that the file extension is .wav, so you never have to type it. But you can save and load many different types of files, such as MP3. To retrieve the file, just type Control-O and then c:\test and press Enter. GoldWave will assume the extension .wav unless you specify another file type in the configuration menus.

Converting Four-Track Cassettes to Digital Audio

If you have a stereo cassette deck, you can use it to play four-track audiocassettes, record them digitally with GoldWave and your sound card, and then use GoldWave to adjust the playback rate and save each track to an individual sound file. To do so, connect the line output of your stereo cassette deck to the line in of your sound card using a patch cord. I used a patch cord with two RCA plugs on one end and a stereo 1/8-inch mini-phone plug on the other. I plugged the RCA jacks into the line output of my cassette deck and the mini-stereo plug into the line in of my sound card. The next step is to create a new file with GoldWave's Control-N command. Be sure to specify that the file is stereo and use a sampling rate of 22,050, about half the quality of a standard CD, more than good enough for the job. Tab to the OK button and press Enter. GoldWave is now waiting for the Record button to be pressed.

The next step is to press GoldWave's Record button and then press the Play button on the cassette deck (which is hooked up with the aforementioned twin RCA/mini-phone plug), insert the tape into the cassette deck, and press Play. Then press GoldWave's Record button, Control-F9. If you hooked up the patch cord correctly, you will hear the tape being played back on your computer speakers. One channel will be in forward, and the other channel will be in reverse. When the tape ends, press the Stop Recording button, Control-F8. Then save the file by pressing Alt-F, arrow down to Save, and press Enter. Type in a file name and press Enter.

Now you can work on the file using some of GoldWave's digital editing capabilities. Four-track cassettes are generally recorded at a speed of 15/16 inches per second. When you played the tape back on your stereo cassette deck, it played at 1 7/8 inches tape speed, twice that of a Talking Book cassette. You need to slow down the file to its normal speed. To do so, press Alt-E to go to the Edit menu, arrow down to Playback Rate, and change the rate to 11,025, which is half the 22,050 rate at which you sampled the file.

The next steps involve cutting up this stereo file into two files, one channel per file. To begin, select the left channel and save it as a file. To do so, go back to the Edit Menu with Alt-E, arrow down to the Channels selection, and press Enter. Select the left channel and press Enter. Then press Alt-F to go to the File Menu, arrow down to Save Selection, and press Enter. This will save the left channel in a separate file. Go back to the Edit Menu, arrow down to Channels again, and this time select the right channel. Then go to the Effects Menu using Alt-C and arrow down to the Reverse option. This will reverse the file, and it will no longer be backward. Go back to the File Menu and arrow down to Save Selection and press Enter. Type in a file name and press Enter. Repeat this process with Side 2 of the cassette tape.

Although this procedure may seem complex, it is actually fairly simple. The process involves taking a stereo file and splitting it into two mono files, slowing down the recording, and applying the Reverse function to the tracks that were backward to make them sound normal.

What You Hear

If you want to record live streaming audio from the Internet, such as from an online radio station, web site, or other portal, GoldWave can record the streaming audio and allow you to save the resulting file. First, go to the Windows Volume Control, adjust the controls for recording, and make the What You Hear device active. Then start GoldWave, create a new file with Control-N, and start recording with Control-F9. When you are finished recording, press Control-F8. Finally, go to the File Menu, arrow to Save, and press Enter. Type in a file name and press Enter. Then you are done. Keep in mind that this process will record everything you hear in real time, including the output of your screen reader and speech engine. There are ways to filter out your screen reader and speech engine using the Windows Volume Control.

Some Advanced Functions

There are advantages to recording audio files with your computer. You can clean up the files by removing pops and clicks from recorded vinyl albums. You can filter out hiss, hum, highs, lows, and other noises from files. You can add special effects like echo, reverb, and mechanize. You can even mix two files together for sound on sound.

GoldWave is a powerful audio editing program, and I have only scratched the surface with this introductory article. The software is inexpensive, works well with screen readers, and supports a lot of keyboard shortcuts. You can download a free demonstration of GoldWave from the web site <www.GoldWave.com>. With a little practice, you can copy cassettes to audio files, preserve old vinyl recordings, record streaming audio off the Internet, record using a microphone, clean up old tapes and vinyl albums using filters and noise-reduction plug-ins, and have a lot of fun in the process!

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AccessWorld News

New FaceToFace Communication for People Who Are Deaf-Blind

Freedom Scientific has released a new product with exciting communication possibilities for people who are both deaf and blind. Designed as an adjunct to the company's PAC Mate PDA (personal digital assistant), FaceToFace makes it possible to have a conversation with an individual up to 30 feet away. From either the Pac Mate QX (with a standard QWERTY-style keyboard) or the Pac Mate BX (the model with the Perkins Brailler-style keyboard), an individual can type conversation, which is then immediately displayed on either another PAC Mate or the visual display of an iPAQ Pocket PC. Responses are then typed and sent back from the iPAQ or another PAC Mate and read on the PAC Mate's braille display. Both sides of the conversation are automatically displayed on both units.

FaceToFace costs $1,400 and includes the FaceToFace application, an iPAQ with a thumb keyboard, and a CompactFlash Bluetooth card. Freedom Scientific's earlier release of its FSTTY application enables Pac Mate users who are deaf-blind to make TTY or relay phone calls wherever a phone line connection is available. Now, sitting in an airport or a coffee shop wireless "hot spot," a person who is both blind and deaf could send and receive e-mail, conduct a conversation via instant messaging, or even hold a conversation with a person across the table without benefit of an interpreter or any special training. For more information, contact Freedom Scientific: web site <www.freedomscientific.com> or phone: 800-444-4443 or 727-803-8000.

Instant Messages Press Pause

America Online (AOL) has announced its newest release for real-time communication via instant messaging called the AIM Triton service. A recent announcement from GW Micro, however, advises screen-reader users to postpone installing the new release. Although it is not currently compatible with screen readers, GW Micro and Freedom Scientific are working with AOL to render the release user friendly for people who are blind or have low vision. For more information, contact GW Micro: phone: 260-489-3671; web site: <www.gwmicro.com>; or e-mail: <imaccessibility@aol.com>.

Mapping Input Sought

The University of Oregon has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop software for producing tactile maps for people who are blind or have low vision. The resulting application will be available as a free download to anyone who is interested in producing tactile maps. The research team is seeking input from orientation and mobility instructors, parents of blind children, and people who are blind or have low vision who are interested in tactile maps. To respond to a three-question survey regarding your use of tactile maps and suggestions of features to be incorporated for the greatest usability, contact Amy Lobben, Department of Geography, University of Oregon, by e-mail: <tactmaps@uoregon.edu> or phone: 541-346-4566.

FreedomBox Receives da Vinci Award

At the fifth annual da Vinci Awards dinner, sponsored by the Engineering Society of Detroit and the Michigan chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Serotek Corporation was honored for its development of the FreedomBox software. Presented in previous years to such companies as IBM, the GM Mobility Center, Walt Disney World, and the Delphi Corporation, the da Vinci Award recognizes individuals or companies for innovative products in the field of assistive or adaptive technology that go beyond legal mandates to empower people with disabilities. The FreedomBox software enables a user who is blind to access any computer with a Key to Freedom USB device or FreedomBox Pass Key (a credit card-sized CD-ROM) with tremendous flexibility. Launched in 2001, the FreedomBox family of products enables users with little computer experience to access the Internet, create Word documents, review PowerPoint and Excel documents, and query their home systems from anywhere via the Internet. For more information about Serotek Corporation or the FreedomBox products, visit the web site <www.freedombox.info> or phone 866-202-0520.

New Web Site to Promote Braille Literacy

Quantum Technology, of Sydney, Australia, has recently launched a web site for parents and teachers of children who are blind. Centered on the company's Mountbatten Brailler, a Perkins-style braillewriter with a speech interface that enables children to write, edit, store, and retrieve their documents, the site will be a place for sharing success stories and finding papers and presentations, links to sources of curriculum materials, and anything else that is related to the Mountbatten and braille literacy. The site can be found at <www.mountbattenbrailler.com>. For more information about the company and its other products, visit the web site <www.quantumtechnology.com.au>; phone: 61 2 8844 9888.

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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>.

June 8-10, 2006

Collaborative Assistive Technology Conference of the Rockies

Westminster, CO

Contact: Assistive Technology Partners (ATP), 1245 East Colfax Avenue, Suite 200, Denver, CO 80218; phone: 303-315-1280, 303-837-8964(TTY) or (800) 255-3477; web site: <www.uchsc.edu/atp>.

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Copyright © 2006 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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