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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 January 2007 Issue  Volume 8  Number 1

AccessWorld News

Kurzweil 1000, Now Shipping Version 11

Kurzweil Educational Systems has released Version 11 of its popular Kurzweil 1000 software. The newest upgrade offers a number of features, all of which, according to Stephen Baum, vice president of engineering, are features requested by the product's users. Perhaps the most significant highlight is the added ability to recognize forms, reading fields, labels, and text in order, thus allowing the user who is blind to complete a printed form independently. Other highlights include

  • The ability to add a scanned signature to any Kurzweil 1000 document, including forms.
  • A new Appointment Calendar with audible reminders to create, add, edit, and delete calendar entries simply from the desktop taskbar.
  • Bookmarks in MP3, WAV, and DAISY files. Kurzweil 1000 creates separate audio files on your portable players on the basis of your document bookmarks.
  • Quicker access to scan, photocopy, and fax features by pressing a single button to perform the desired task.
  • Access to 18 bilingual dictionaries and the Merriam-Webster medical dictionary.

Customers who purchased Kurzweil 1000 after November 1, 2005, will receive the Version 11 software automatically, free of charge. Those who purchased Kurzweil 1000 before this date can order the Version 11 upgrade for $125 by calling 800-894-5374, by sending an e-mail message to <sales@kurzweiledu.com>, or by contacting local distributors. To learn more about Kurzweil 1000, Version 11, visit the Kurzweil Educational Systems web site at <www.kurzweiledu.com>.

Trekker 3.0 Available

HumanWare Canada has released an improved version of the software for Trekker, the popular handheld GPS (global positioning system). Loaded onto a PDA (personal digital assistant), Trekker can be worn about the neck and announces the names of streets and businesses, directions, and more through a tiny speaker or wirelessly through a Bluetooth earpiece.

Improvements in Trekker 3.0 include maps of larger regions and increased memory for storing and accessing multiple maps at the same time. Shortcut keys now give users instant information about speed, direction, city name, altitude, latitude, longitude and number of satellites being detected. Points of interest can be searched for on the basis of several criteria, including categories, distance, and postal codes. User POIs (points of interest) can be uploaded for sharing with other Trekker users. Step-by-step or turn-by-turn directions are provided whether you are following a route on foot or in a vehicle.

Trekker 3.0 is now available from HumanWare subsidiaries and distributors. A free upgrade is available for users of earlier versions at the web site <www.humanware.ca/web/en/UpdateMap.asp>.

For further information, contact HumanWare Canada, phone: 450-463-1717; web site: <www.humanware.ca>.

Baen Books Free to Readers with Disabilities

Baen Books <www.baen.com>, a publisher of science fiction, began providing its electronic books free of charge to fans who are blind or have other disabilities on November 11, 2006. It announced this offer in recognition of Veterans Day and disabled military veterans. Many Baen authors are veterans themselves, using military settings in their tales. The announcement further explained that "convalescing vets might welcome an exciting, fast-action tale to pass the time."

Since 1999, Baen has published its new books as e-books each month in several formats, with no digital rights management, through WebScriptions <www.webscriptions.net>, for a small fee. Now, this service is available at no cost to readers with disabilities.

Applications will be processed by ReadAssist. For more information, contact <www.readassist.org> or WebScriptions <www.webscriptions.net>.

Congress Funds Talking Signs Pilot Project in Seattle

The Federal Transit Administration announced that Sound Transit of Seattle, Washington, has been selected to receive a grant for $2 million to make Seattle the host city for the Remote Infrared Audible Signage (RIAS) Model Accessibility Project (MAP). RIAS/Talking Signs technology, currently marketed by Talking Signs, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, provides orientation and wayfinding access for people with visual, cognitive, and learning disabilities. Talking Signs technology was first developed by Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute of San Francisco.

Talking Signs is an orientation and wayfinding accessibility system that allows travelers who are blind to locate and identify landmarks, signs, and places of interest. It uses speech messages that are stored in labeling transmitters that broadcast directional, human voice messages that are silent and invisible to the general public. With a handheld receiver, a traveler who is blind scans the environment and can hear messages to locate restrooms, offices, or other sites in buildings. Outdoors, the traveler who is blind with a Talking Signs receiver can identify approaching buses and bus shelters and hear Walk and Wait announcements at crosswalks. By following the sound in the same way that the eyes are drawn to a designated point, travelers who are blind can easily locate desired points.

Sound Transit participated in a pilot project with King County Transit, ITS Oregon, TriMet, the City of Portland, and AMTRAK investigating the value of RIAS/Talking Signs technology in providing orientation and wayfinding access for people who have visual impairments or otherwise have difficulty reading signs. The testimony of the subjects of the pilot project was positive in every case.

RIAS technology has been implemented in projects across the United States and in Canada, Japan, and Norway. The equipment has also been installed in parts of Colorado Springs and Lansing. The significance of the RIAS Model Accessibility Project in Seattle is that, for the first time, this technology will be implemented to create a seamless signage path, allowing easy travel and wayfinding from buses, trams, and trains; across streets; and throughout public buildings.

The RIAS MAP was mandated by Congress in the 2005 Federal Public Transportation Act. It calls for a three-year evaluation of the effects of RIAS on work life, education, community integration, and improvement of independence and quality of life for people who have visual, cognitive, and learning disabilities. The secretary of transportation will make a report of the results to Congress in October 2009.

For additional information on the Seattle project or the Talking Signs technology, contact C. Ward Bond, president, Talking Signs, 812 North Boulevard, Baton Rouge, LA 70802; phone: 225-344-8212; e-mail: <ward@talkingsigns.com>.

JAWS 8.0 Released

It has been a year since JAWS for Windows 7.0 was news, and Freedom Scientific has now released JAWS 8.0, an upgrade with some interesting additions. One minor change that will be warmly welcomed by users who frequently used the JAWS Find command, is the development of a history list of search terms that have been entered. If, for example, you frequently search for the word title on one page and opera on another, the JAWS Find command will now bring that list up for you to arrow up or down to the word of choice, rather than continually retyping it. Another change that will be welcomed by many is the addition of RealSpeak Solo voices from Nuance with SAPI5 synthesizer, offering a number of new voice options. Mostly female and with New Zealand-sounding accents, these voices offer options for designated tasks for those who prefer alternate voices.

To hear a 90-minute presentation covering all the features added to JAWS 8.0, visit <www.freedomscientific.com> and after you open the link called JAWS Headquarters, download the compressed audio file found there. Those who are familiar with JAWS products will not be surprised to hear the voices of Eric Damery and Dan Clark. Perhaps the highlight of this presentation is the sudden appearance, via a Skype connection, of Jonathan Mosen, vice president of blindness hardware products. Mosen talks a bit about the Skype program, as well as about his inventive use of JAWS with the PAC Mate to turn his computer into a media center.

If you are a current JAWS customer and have purchased the appropriate software maintenance agreement, JAWS 8.0 should be on its way to your mailbox. If not, and you would like to learn more, call Freedom Scientific at 800-444-4443 or visit the web site <www.freedomscientific.com>.

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Copyright © 2007 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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