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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2007 Issue  Volume 8  Number 2

Conference Report

ATIA 2007

The eighth annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference was held on January 24-27, 2007, at the Caribe Royale All-Suites Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. More than 2,200 people attended, and 140 exhibitors showed products for people with a wide range of disabilities.

ATIA is a not-for-profit membership organization of manufacturers, sellers, and providers of technology-based assistive devices and services. One in three people at this year's conference was a first-time attendee. There were international exhibitors and attendees from Europe, Australia, China, Singapore, and Japan.

Access for attendees who are blind was much improved at this year's conference. The people who worked registration did a good job of supplying materials in large print and braille and answering questions. Like most hotels in Florida, the Caribe Royale presents navigation challenges in moving among its various buildings. Red carpeting was again used to assist people in navigating among the hotel towers and the convention center where the events were held.

One disappointment was the braille menus in hotel restaurants. The braille menus in the moderately priced Tropicále restaurant were not current, and there were no braille menus in the more expensive Venetian Room or in the 24-hour Café Largo.

First Leadership Forum

This year's conference included the first ATIA Leadership Forum on Accessibility. The forum, led by IBM, AOL, Canon, Adobe, and others, provided an opportunity for business leaders to explore specific strategies for integrating accessibility throughout their enterprises. More than 60 accessibility leaders attended from major corporations in the insurance, retail, banking/financial services, pharmaceutical, travel, and information technology industries.

IBM, which helped ATIA develop the concept for the forum, provided an overview of its own internal accessibility transformation and lessons learned. "For IBM, accessibility is fundamental to helping us attract and retain the best talent and to developing solutions that help our clients reach the widest possible audience with their products and services. Our approach has been to begin integrating accessibility practices in all areas of our business to create an internal transformation that we can translate into outward-facing solutions that benefit corporations; individuals; and, ultimately, we hope, society as a whole," said Frances West, director of the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center.

Conference Sessions of Interest

ATIA featured sessions that appealed to people of various levels of expertise, including sessions in which new products and updates to products were introduced, sessions on different ways to use products in the classroom and elsewhere, and sessions in which the results of research studies were reported.

Anne Taylor, of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), gave a presentation entitled "Challenges and Observations in Nonvisual Approaches to Consumer Electronic Devices." NFB has produced a demonstration model of how a microwave oven could be controlled with voice commands. The unit would provide audio feedback for confirmation. A list of accessible appliances is available on NFB's web site <www.nfb.org>.

Bruce McClanahan, of the Washington State School for the Blind, demonstrated the use of the HumanWare BrailleNote as a one-handed input device for computer access. He has used this system with students to access Kurzweil 1000, JAWS, Microsoft Word, the Internet, and e-mail. McClanahan is interested in connecting with other instructors who have students who are one-handed braille readers and may be able to use this tool for computer access.

Gaylen Kapperman and Jodi Sticken, of Northern Illinois University, developed a Nemeth tutorial for braille readers that runs on the HumanWare BrailleNote mPower. This is a much-improved version of the Nemeth tutorial that they developed earlier for the Braille Lite. Kapperman and Sticken have made numerous revisions and improvements in the student exercises and instructional lessons. The tutorial should be available as an add-on to the BrailleNote mPower later this year for approximately $395.

Ola Holmberg, of Low Vision International, showed the new OCR (optical character recognition) camera that is now available on the MLS Student Classic or MLS Student Edition. The MLS OCR products are connected to a laptop or desktop computer through a USB2 port, and all the system's functions are handled through the keyboard. This OCR allows you to do two main things: first, to capture a text document and read it within an Automatic Reading Window, which can scroll reformatted text displayed in high-contrast colors, and second, to convert the OCR-processed text into an RTF (rich text format) file and transfer it to your word processor. You can then edit, store, or e-mail the document.

Cathy Gettel, of Ai Squared, discussed and demonstrated ZoomText 9.1. This new version will support Windows Vista, dual monitors, Office 2007, and Internet Explorer 7.0.

New Products

LevelStar's Icon is a small, Linux-based personal digital assistant with a 30-gigabyte hard drive and wireless capability. It includes an address book, calendar, word processor, MP3/DAISY player, voice recorder, journal, web browser, and e-mail. A docking station is available. The Icon provides speech output and braille input on a telephone keypad. The docking station includes a full keyboard.

GW Micro and Freedom Scientific showed versions of their screen readers working with Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system. A public beta version of Window-Eyes was posted on GW Micro's web site on January 30, the day Vista was released. Freedom Scientific promised that a version of JAWS would be available in mid-February.

The BrailleConnect 12 from HumanWare is a 12-cell braille display with cursor routing, six navigation keys, and a long battery life. Braille input keys allow you to take notes, write e-mail and navigate the web. The BrailleConnect 12 can be connected to a cell phone, personal digital assistant, or computer via Bluetooth.

Guerilla Technologies introduced MobilEyes, a portable OCR product offering an array of audiovisual tools. MobilEyes scans and magnifies text. It also includes a digital recorder, voice note player, and MP3 player.

This is just a fraction of the information and networking opportunities that the participants shared at the conference. The ATIA conference continues to grow and has become an important annual event in the field of assistive technology.

Related Articles

ATIA 2005 by Deborah Kendrick
ATIA 2006 by Jay Leventhal


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