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

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Diabetes and Visual Impairment: New Talking Blood Glucose Monitors Enter the Market

Even though more than 3 million of the 20 million Americans with diabetes have some degree of vision loss, there are significant barriers to their independent use of blood glucose monitors. The Prodigy and the Advocate, two new talking products, make it easier for people to test their blood glucose levels independently.--Darren Burton

An Accessible Phone Comes Calling: A Review of the Jitterbug Cell Phone

We evaluate a phone designed for baby boomers that offers a good alternative for people with low vision.--Lee Huffman

Are We Ready for Vista?

Microsoft has finally released Vista, the long-awaited update to its Windows operating system. We contacted assistive technology manufacturers to learn when they will offer upgrades of their products that work with Vista. Here are their answers.--Jay Leventhal

Accessibility and Distance Learning: An Overview

We present solutions to potential problems in distance education.--Debbie Cook and Mark Harniss

Class Is in Session: A Review of the Telex Professor Desktop Audio System

A review of a versatile audio device that is especially useful for students.--Deborah Kendrick

ATIA 2007

This conference offered interesting exhibits, informative sessions and the first ATIA Leadership Forum on Accessibility--Jay Leventhal

AccessWorld News


Editor's Page

In 1997, Microsoft released Active Accessibility (MSAA)—a set of programming-language enhancements and standards for programmers to follow. MSAA provided programmers with access to the information they needed to improve the performance of screen readers and screen-magnification software. However, working with MSAA requires frequent updates and new versions to keep up with changes in off-the-shelf programs.

In December 2006, IBM announced new application program interfaces (API) called IAccessible2. IAccessible2 is based on open technology that IBM originally developed with Sun Microsystems to make Java and Linux accessible to those with disabilities and, in Windows, will provide access to advanced features in software programs, such as editing functions, hyperlinks, charts, and menus. The adoption of IAccessible2 requires work by both vendors of assistive technology and developers of mainstream software. Freedom Scientific, GW Micro, Mozilla Project, Oracle, SAP, and Sun Microsystems are the first to pledge support for the technology. IBM's announcement also holds promise of access to OpenDocument Format. IAccessible2 represents another example of IBM's leadership in accessibility. AccessWorld will keep you informed about how IAccessible2 is implemented.

In this issue, Darren Burton reviews the Prodigy and the Advocate, two new talking blood glucose meters. Even though more than 3 million of the 20 million Americans with diabetes have some degree of vision loss, there are significant barriers to their independent use of these tools. Blood glucose meters have revolutionized diabetes care by allowing individuals with diabetes to have more active control over their condition. If you are not able to operate the meter and read the results, the meter is not usable, and you have a much lower chance of keeping the ravages of diabetes at bay. Find out how well these new meters perform.

Microsoft has finally released Vista, the long-awaited update of its Windows operating system. I contacted manufacturers of assistive technology to learn when they will offer upgrades of their products that work with Vista. This article provides their answers.

Lee Huffman, of AFB TECH, evaluates the Jitterbug phones from GreatCall. The Jitterbug phones are easy-to-use cell phones with large buttons, bright, easy-to-read screens, and a wide range of adjustable volume both for the ringer and for listening to a call. These cell phones offer a good alternative for people with low vision who do not require phones that are packed with features.

Debbie Cook and Mark Harniss, of the University of Washington Center on Technology and Disability Studies, discuss the accessibility of distance education. Distance learning is increasingly preferred by both instructors and students for the delivery of courses in schools (from elementary schools to universities), businesses, governmental organizations, and almost every other conceivable kind of organization. This article discusses some tools that are specific to distance learning that may present barriers to access by people who are blind.

Deborah Kendrick reviews the Telex Professor Desktop Audio System. The Professor allows you to listen to commercial audio CDs, DAISY CDs, MP3 CDs, FM radio, standard cassettes, and the four-track, half-speed cassettes that are distributed by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Find out how well this versatile machine performed.

I report on the eighth annual conference of the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA), held on January 24–27, 2007, in Orlando, Florida. The ATIA conference featured many new products and updates of products, as well as a number of sessions of interest to people who are blind or have low vision. Learn what we found in the exhibit hall and conference sessions.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

Back to top

Product Evaluation

Diabetes and Visual Impairment: New Talking Blood Glucose Monitors Enter the Market

The number of people affected by diabetes is increasing rapidly. Since there is a close relationship between diabetes and vision loss, the researchers at the AFB TECH product evaluation lab are interested in determining the accessibility of the tools that are used to manage this disease. The more than 3 million of the 20 million Americans with diabetes who have some degree of vision loss face significant barriers to their independent use of these tools. At the end of this article, we provide links to articles that have been published in AccessWorld in the past five years that have detailed the barriers to accessibility of blood glucose monitors, home blood pressure monitors, insulin pumps, and insulin pens. The September 2002 article that evaluated blood glucose monitors showed that of the 30 monitors on the market at that time, only 1 used modern technology and featured speech output. However, that monitor, the Accu-Chek Voicemate by Roche Diagnostics, is 8 to 10 times bulkier and 10 to 20 times more expensive than the inaccessible monitors on the market. Nothing had changed to improve the situation until lately, when 2 new talking monitors came on the U.S. market in late 2006 and early 2007. This article presents our evaluations of these new monitors, the Prodigy and the Advocate, both produced in Taiwan by Taidoc Technology.

Why Is an Accessible Blood Glucose Monitor Important?

Because with diabetes, the body is unable to use and store glucose, or sugar, properly, it is necessary for people with this disease to monitor their blood glucose levels. You measure your blood glucose level by placing a small drop of blood on a test strip inserted into the monitor, and the monitor analyzes the blood and determines a blood sugar level. Using a blood glucose monitor to measure their blood glucose levels enables people to keep these levels within a normal range by taking a dose of insulin or eating a certain food. When not managed properly, diabetes can be a deadly disease, attacking several internal organs, including the heart and pancreas, as well as the eyes. Blood glucose meters have revolutionized diabetes care by allowing individuals with diabetes to control their condition more actively. If you are not able to operate the meter and read the results, the meter is not usable, and you have a much lower chance of keeping the ravages of diabetes at bay.

The Prodigy and the Advocate

Both priced at about $30, the Prodigy and the Advocate are similar to each other. In fact, they are really the same monitor wrapped in slightly different packaging. Other than minor variations in their shape, size, and weight, all their technical specifications are the same, including the computer chip that controls them. They are both small, inexpensive, and highly portable, easily fitting into a shirt pocket or purse. They are both roughly the same size, but the Advocate has rounded edges, while the Prodigy has more sharply angled edges.

About the size of a small cell phone, the Prodigy measures roughly 3.8 by 1.8 by 1 inches and weighs 2.8 ounces with the batteries installed. It has a 1.75-by-1.36-inch monochrome display screen and only three control buttons. The Main button, used to turn the unit on and off and to access past readings stored in memory, is located just below the display screen on the right. The Code button, which is used to calibrate the monitor to each new container of test strips, is on the right side panel. The Settings button, used to set such things as the time, date, and volume, is hidden in the battery compartment. The Advocate measures 3.7 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches and weighs 2.5 ounces with the batteries installed. It has the same display screen as the Prodigy and the same three buttons. However, the Code button is located to the left of the Main button instead of on the right side panel. Like the Prodigy, the Advocate's Setting button is in the battery compartment. The slot for inserting the test strip on the Prodigy is located on the left side of the back panel as you face the back panel. The slot is also on the back panel of the Advocate, but it is on the right side as you face it. Both monitors have data jacks on the front of the right side panel that are used to download results to a PC. The Advocate is distributed in the United States by Pharma Supply in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the Prodigy is distributed in the United States by Diagnostic Devices in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Photo of Prodigy blood glucose monitor.

Caption: The Prodigy blood glucose monitor.

Photo of Advocate blood glucose monitor

Caption: The Advocate blood glucose monitor

The reason these monitors will be of interest to readers of AccessWorld is that they both feature clear, easy-to-understand recorded human speech that reads the results of your blood glucose measurement aloud. Both have a built-in speaker with adjustable volume levels, but there is no jack for connecting an external headphone. Separate units are available with voices that speak in English or Spanish.

How Did We Evaluate the Monitors?

We first examined the tasks involved in performing the basic function of obtaining a blood glucose measurement and evaluated how easily a person who is blind or has low vision could perform each task. We looked at each task and determined if it could be performed by touch alone or if vision would be required. We then did the same with other tasks related to several other features and functions of the monitors. We also looked at how easily a person with low vision could read the display information and perform the other tasks that require vision. In addition, we evaluated the accessibility of the print and electronic manuals for people who are blind or have low vision.


I start with a section on the basic and most important task of obtaining a blood glucose measurement and continue with sections on the less important features and functions. Because the two monitors and their processes are similar, you can assume that the results pertain to both monitors unless otherwise noted.

Obtaining a Blood Glucose Measurement

The process of obtaining your blood glucose measurement is fully accessible with an easy-to-understand, recorded human voice guiding you along the way. The buttons on the monitors are tactilely identifiable and easy to discern from one another. Once you learn the process, it is easy to accomplish independently, and the results are spoken in only six seconds.

You first press the Main button to turn the unit on. The monitor plays a short welcome tune and then you hear a greeting, saying: "Thank you for using this product. Please relax during measurement." The monitor then displays a flashing image of a test strip and beeps once, waiting for you to insert a test strip in the slot on the back of the unit. Although there is a tactile ridge on the strip that indicates which end goes into the unit, it could be difficult to discern for some people, especially those with a degree of diabetic neuropathy. However, you will know that you have inserted the strip properly if you hear the monitor again play the welcome tune and speak the greeting message. After the greeting, the monitor speaks the room temperature and the code setting and then says, "Please apply blood into the strip." The strip uses what is called "capillary action" to pull the blood into the strip for analysis, which makes it easy to apply your blood with no need for a hanging drop of blood. This process also requires a small blood sample, with only 0.6 micro liters of blood required by each monitor. After you have applied your blood sample, there is an onscreen indication of a six-second countdown, after which the voice reads your blood glucose level aloud. You then simply remove and dispose of the strip, and because the strip extends away from the unit, there is no need to clean blood off the unit. The monitor turns itself off after three seconds, playing a short shutdown tune.


These monitors can store up to 450 test results in memory and can display averages for 7-, 14-, 21-, 28-, 60-, and 90-day periods, so you can track the trends in your blood glucose levels. You press the Main button twice to read your memory information and press it subsequent times to scroll through the various averages and then through the individual readings. However, there is no speech to support this process, and the memory values are displayed onscreen only visually.

Coding the Test Strips

These monitors require that you set a code number to calibrate them to the test strips every time you open a new container of strips. You do so by pressing the Code button until the number that appears on the screen corresponds to the number on the test strip container. The Code button is located on the right side panel of the Prodigy and beside the main button below the display screen on the Advocate. This process is only partially accessible. First, you have to learn what the code value is on the strip container. Second, the process of setting the code number on the monitor is only partially supported by speech. The first time you press the Code button, the monitor speaks the current code setting aloud, but then you have to press the Code button repeatedly to increase the code number until it reaches the value on the strip container. However, the values are not spoken as you go, so you have to keep a count in your head. On the positive side, the monitor speaks the code setting when you stop pressing the button, so you can tell if you coded your number successfully. Another positive development is that at the time this article was completed, Prodigy announced that it now has a version available that codes automatically, eliminating the need for this process. The Advocate will have an auto-code unit available later in 2007.


The Settings button, which is placed in the battery compartment, is used in combination with the Main button to adjust several settings on the monitor. You can set the time and date, which is important for tracking results and averages in the memory function, and delete values in memory to make room for future measurements. You can also set the volume level, which is important if you are testing in a noisy environment and need louder speech output. Finally, you can change the units of measurement between milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) and millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Health care providers usually prefer one measurement over the other, so it may be necessary to change that setting.

The bad news is that speech output does not support the process of adjusting any of these settings. A beep feedback confirms each button press during the settings process, but that is far too insufficient to be considered true accessibility. If your vision is such that you cannot read the settings information displayed on the display screen, you cannot perform these tasks independently, and will need to get sighted assistance.

Download Software

The web sites for both monitors have free software available that you can use to download your test results from your monitor to your PC. To do so, you have to purchase a cable accessory that is used to connect the monitor to a PC, and the cable is available from the web sites. You can then use the software to prepare reports that you can send to your health care provider, so he or she can track your blood sugar levels over time. However, although we had no problems downloading and installing the software, that is where the accessibility ends. We used both Window-Eyes and JAWS to test the accessibility of the software, but the software was unusable with either screen reader. None of the software modules was accessible or usable. We experienced such problems as unlabeled graphics, the inability to place the focus in edit fields, and text that was unreadable even with the screen readers' mouse keys, to name a few. The Help screen was also inaccessible, since it is an image-only screen.

On the positive side, however, our testers with low vision had success using ZoomText to use the software. Although the speech functionality of ZoomText did not work perfectly, the ZoomText "Speak It" tool spoke the onscreen text much better than the screen readers did. The ZoomText tools to change magnification and screen colors worked fine.

Warnings and Error Messages

These monitors provide several onscreen warnings and error messages, including a low-battery icon, a critical low-battery warning, a warning that the temperature is out of range for proper monitor function, icons that indicate if a blood glucose measurement is out of the normal range, and a warning if a measurement is in the dangerous range. However, these warnings and error messages are presented on the display screen only and are not accompanied by any speech output. The critical low-battery warning is accompanied by an auditory tone, as is the warning for a dangerous glucose level, but both tones are the same, so it may be difficult to tell one warning from the other.

Battery Replacement

Although it may be difficult or impossible for a person who is blind or has low vision to determine when it is time to change the batteries, the process of actually changing the batteries is accessible. It is easy to locate the battery compartment and change the batteries tactilely. However, each monitor uses two triple-A batteries, but there is no spring or other tactile markings to determine which way to position the positive and negative ends. In our lab, we simply were careful to note the position of the old batteries and place the new batteries in the same position. The manual says that the batteries should last for about 500 tests, so you could estimate the time to change batteries by keeping track of the number of tests you have performed.


The documentation for these products presents several barriers to accessibility. The print manual for the Advocate is in a standard 12-point font, which is too small for most people with low vision to read. The Prodigy's print manual is in 8-point font, which is much too small for most people to read, regardless of whether they have a visual impairment. No braille documentation is available, and the monitors do not come with electronic documentation. We were able to get an electronic version of the Prodigy manual in PDF (portable document format) from the MaxiAids retailer, but it was not compatible with screen-reader or screen-magnification software. We found a User Manual page on the web site of the Advocate's distributor, but the page was still under construction.

Low Vision Accessibility

Identical on both monitors, the monochrome display screen features black text and icons against a gray background. This low-contrast display is similar to the old calculator display screens and would not be preferred by most people with low vision. The icons, such as the low-battery icon and the frowny face indicating an out-of-range test result, are too small to be seen by most people with low vision, but some of the text is displayed in large print and could be read by our testers with low vision. The results of the blood glucose measurement are in a 60-point font, and the time and date are in a 26-point font. However, the text indicating the type of measurement, such as milligrams per deciliter, is in a 6- to 8-point font.

As far as the visual nature of the other physical characteristics of the monitors, our testers reported that they would prefer a more visual indication of where to insert the strip, rather than just the insertion slot that is cut into the back panel. The labels on the buttons are too small for most people with low vision to read, but because the buttons are easy to identify tactilely, it is not as important an issue as the visual nature of the display screen.

On the Horizon

As I stated earlier, a new auto-code version of the Prodigy recently came on the market, which eliminates the need to calibrate the monitors with every new container of test strips. The Advocate will have an auto-code version available some time in 2007. In addition, the distributors have announced the new Prodigy Duo and Advocate Duo, which add a talking blood pressure monitor to the blood glucose monitors. Unlike the inflatable-cuff type of blood pressure monitors that we evaluated in the September 2004 issue of AccessWorld, these are wrist-type blood pressure monitors and speak the results of your blood pressure and pulse readings. We also learned that the SensoCard, a talking blood glucose monitor from BBI Healthcare, is awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and should be on the U.S. market in the first half of 2007. You can learn more about the SensoCard by sending an e-mail message to <info@bbihealthcare.com>. On a somewhat disturbing note, we heard from a couple of certified diabetes educators that the Accu-Chek Voicemate talking blood glucose monitor that we evaluated in the September 2002 issue of AccessWorld is being discontinued by its manufacturer. We can only hope that it will soon be replaced by a new and improved version.

The Bottom Line

We are encouraged finally to see a portable and affordable alternative to the Accu-Chek Voicemate. The $30 price of the Prodigy and Advocate is one-twentieth the cost of the Voicemate, and the monitors are less than one-twelfth the size. Because the Prodigy and Advocate are actually portable and easily fit in a shirt pocket or purse, you will be more likely to take one with you and take your necessary blood glucose measurements throughout the day. However, unlike the Prodigy and Advocate, every task on the Voicemate is completely accessible, and there is never a need to get sighted assistance. As this article has pointed out, people who are blind or have low vision still face many significant barriers to the independent use of the Advocate and Prodigy monitors. Thus, we would like to see a monitor come on the market that is portable and affordable, as well as fully accessible. Nevertheless, Taidoc Technology, the manufacturer of the Advocate and Prodigy, should be applauded for bringing these products on the market. Even with the accessibility barriers that we have documented in this article, the main purpose of these monitors is to provide you with your current blood glucose level, and that process is easy to do and fully supported by speech output. These monitors are also fast, providing a result just six seconds after you apply your blood to the strip. They are the first portable blood glucose monitors with built-in speech output, and the price will not break the bank. We certainly hope that the big players in the diabetes-management world will take the lead of this small newcomer to the market and finally take some strides toward properly serving their customers who are blind or have low vision.

Product Features

Feature Prodigy; Advocate
Auto-Code calibration Yes; Available in late 2007
Blood sample size (in microliters) 0.6; 0.7
Capillary strips Yes; Yes
Cleaning required No; No
Response time (in seconds) 6; 6
Size (in inches) 3.8 by 1.8 by 1.0; 3.7 by 1.9 by 0.9
Weight with batteries (in ounces) 2.8; 2.5

Product Features

Feature: Prodigy; Advocate

Auto-Code calibration: Yes; Available in late 2007.

Blood sample size (in microliters): 0.6; 0.7.

Capillary strips: Yes; Yes.

Cleaning required: No; No.

Response time (in seconds): 6; 6.

Size (in inches): 3.8 by 1.8 by 1.0; 3.7 by 1.9 by 0.9.

Weight with batteries (in ounces): 2.8; 2.5.

Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Feature: Prodigy; Advocate

Portability: 5; 5.

Ease of blood application: 5; 5.

Speech quality: 5; 5.

Accessibility of memory function: 1; 1.

Accessibility of manual: 1; 1.

Compatibility of download software with screen readers: 1; 1.

Product Information

Products: Prodigy and Advocate Blood Glucose Monitors.

Manufacturer: Taidoc Technology, Dot 4F, No. 88, Section 1, Kwang-Fu Rd. San-Chung, Taipei County, Taiwan; phone: +886-2-6635-8080, Ext.368; e-mail: <anthony@taidoc.com>, technical service: tony.cc1128@msa.hinet.net, customer service: service@taidoc.com; web site: <www.taidoc.com>.

Price: $30.

U.S. Distributor of the Advocate: Pharma Supply, 3381 Fairlane Farms Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33414; phone: Customer Care Center, 866-373-2824; e-mail: <info@pharmasupply.com>; web site: <www.pharmasupply.com>.

U.S. Distributor of the Prodigy: Diagnostic Devices, 5900-A Northwoods Business Park, Charlotte, NC 28269; phone: customer service, 800-366-5901, technical support, 800-243-2636; e-mail: customer service <customerservice@prodigymeter.com>, technical support <techsupport@prodigymeter.com>; web site <www.prodigymeter.com>.

This product evaluation was funded by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia. We acknowledge the research assistance provided by our interns from the Reader's Digest Partners for Sight Foundation—Aaron Preece, Patrick Barbour, Brandy Jacobs, and Eric Dowdy, and by Marshall University intern Morgan Blubaugh.

Back to top

Product Evaluation

An Accessible Phone Comes Calling: A Review of the Jitterbug Cell Phone

Do you or does someone you know have difficulty using cell phones because of low vision? If so, you have undoubtedly been frustrated when shopping for one at your local cell phone retailer. It seems that cell phones are becoming increasingly complex devices, almost minicomputers. While this may be an advantage for some people, for others, every feature that is added to a cell phone can add one more layer of complexity or inaccessibility.

A large and growing number of people want simple, no-frills, easy-to-use cell phones with large buttons, bright, easy-to-read screens, and a wide range of adjustable volume for both the ringer and for listening to a call. Although this does not seem like much to ask for, most manufacturers of mainstream cell phones have not been listening. They have instead concentrated on producing and promoting cell phones that incorporate such features as picture taking, text messaging, e-mail, web surfing, games, customized ring tones, and downloading and playing MP3 files. Isn't anyone listening? Well, maybe someone is.

New to the market is a cell phone geared to baby boomers, their parents, people with low vision, and anyone else who wants simplicity in a cell phone. With the Jitterbug phones, GreatCall is looking to fill this growing segment of the cell phone market.


The User Manual is printed in approximately 12-point font. While this font size may accommodate many older people, to whom the Jitterbug was mainly targeted, a larger font size, such as the 18-point font recommended by the American Printing House for the Blind, would benefit many more potential customers with a diagnosed visual impairment. There are also several pictures and examples of onscreen menus that are too small for many with low vision to see.

The Jitterbug One Touch phone with the prompt “Need help?”

Caption: The Jitterbug One Touch Help screen.

The manual, while relatively simple to understand, gives some information that is not accurate. For example, it says that there are two ways to add, change, or delete names and numbers from your phone list—via the Jitterbug operator and via the Internet. However, although the Jitterbug operator can complete these tasks for you, as of this writing, you cannot do so through the Internet. The User Manual also says nothing about the ability to modify the Phone List manually through the phone's keypad. This omission could easily cause confusion when you attempt to use the web site or when you come across the Modify Phone List screen in the phone and find no mention of how to use it in the User Manual.

The User Manual also says nothing about the ability to access your voicemail by calling a toll-free number and entering a PIN number. This is a feature that owners of the Jitterbug need to know about.

I realize that these cell phones are brand new and seem to be evolving, but the User Manual should provide all information that relates to the product and not mention features that are not yet available.

Product Description and Features

The Jitterbug phone has two clamshell-style models, the Jitterbug Dial model and the Jitterbug One Touch model. Both models have your phone number printed directly onto the phone.

The Jitterbug Dial Model

The Jitterbug Dial model is intended for people who want to use the phone like a mainstream cell phone. It has a standard number pad, an Up and Down Arrow button, a Yes button, a No button, and an On/Off button.

The Jitterbug Dial clamshell-style phone is open and the screen shows the name and phone number as a listing in the user's phone list. At the bottom of the screen is the prompt “Call?”

Caption: The Jitterbug Dial phone has a standard keypad.

When you want to place a call with the Jitterbug Dial model, you can have the Jitterbug operator do it for you; you can speak the name of a person in your Phone List, and the phone will dial it by voice; you can use the Up and Down Arrow button to scroll through and select a name from your Phone List; or you can dial the number yourself.

The Jitterbug One Touch Model

The Jitterbug One Touch model has three buttons on its dialing pad—an Up and Down Arrow button, a Yes button and a No button—as well as an On/Off button. It is intended for those who want a cell phone for only a few calls or emergencies.

The One Touch clamshell-style phone is open, and the screen shows the name and the phone number as a listing in the user's phone list. At the bottom of the screen is the prompt “Call?”

Caption: The Jitterbug One Touch phone has just three buttons for people who want simple access.

The Jitterbug One Touch has three large buttons: Operator, 911, and one to which you assign a most frequently called phone number. With this model, if you need to call a number, you can use the Voice Dial feature, scroll through your onscreen Phone List or press the Operator button, and the operator will dial it for you. Pressing the 911 button connects you with emergency services, without having to scroll through your Phone List or go through your Jitterbug operator.

Both phone models are hearing aid-compatible with an adjustable ringer and call volume, a speaker phone feature, and an ear pad that helps to reduce some external noise. All the buttons on both phones are larger than on most cell phones. The dialing pad buttons on the Jitterbug Dial phone measure approximately 7/16 inch in diameter. These black buttons are outlined in white, have large white numbers, and are spaced approximately 3/16 inch apart. Their concave design helps you to find the correct place to press.

The three black concave buttons on the dialing pad of the Jitterbug One Touch measure more than an inch long by half an inch wide. All the buttons on both phones are backlit and show up well at night or in dimly lighted areas, and the screens are bright, with fonts ranging from approximately 9-point font to 36-point font.

Because the Jitterbug phones have fewer features, the menus are simpler than are those on off-the-shelf cell phones, and if you need assistance, you can call your Jitterbug operator. The Jitterbug operator acts like a concierge service. The operator will help you by maintaining your Phone List and placing calls for you. You can either call the operator and tell him or her the names and phone numbers of people you would like to have added to your Phone List, or you can fax the list to the operator, and within 24 hours of the operator entering the information into the system, the names and numbers will appear in your Phone List on your phone's screen. GreatCall also plans to enable Jitterbug owners or those they trust to update their Phone Lists over the Internet. Since this feature is not yet available, it could not be tested.

At this time, GreatCall recommends that you use the Modify Phone List feature to update your Phone List manually only if you live in an area that is not covered by its update service, because, at this time, there is no synchronization between information that an operator sends to your cell phone and information that you manually enter through the phone's keypad. A Jitterbug operator told me that if you enter contacts through your keypad, they will be overridden by the next Phone List update from your operator. This is important information that is not mentioned in the User Manual.

The Jitterbug phones have seven basic menu items: Onscreen Manual, Voice Dial, Phone List, Call History, Voicemail, and Phone Information. At the top of the Jitterbug screen, there is a blue, highlighted bar that tells you the menu item you are in. Another blue, highlighted bar at the bottom of the screen prompts you with a question that you answer by pressing Yes or No. You move through the menu items by continually pressing the No button until you reach the menu item that you want and then use the Up and Down Arrow button to move within each menu item. You press the Yes button to select an action.

Menu Items

Onscreen Manual

The Onscreen Manual offers the most basic information on how to press the phone's buttons to navigate through its menu items. While this may, in theory, be a handy tool, in reality, it does not provide enough information to be of much use.

Voice Dial

When you are in the Voice Dial menu item, you speak the name of a person or company in your Phone List, and the phone will dial the number for you. During testing, several people tried this feature, and the voice recognition worked well. The phone can respond to speech without having to be trained to your voice. This is a good feature because it allows other people to use the Voice Dial feature of your phone.

Phone List

The Phone List is a list of up to 50 names and phone numbers that you have stored in your phone's memory. By using this feature, you do not have to memorize or look up your most frequently dialed phone numbers in a phonebook. You use the arrow keys to scroll through the list of names, and when the desired person's name appears on the screen, you press the Yes button, and the phone dials the number for you. To help get you started, when you purchase a Jitterbug phone, it is shipped to you preprogrammed with 15 names and phone numbers of your choice, such as those of family members, friends, your doctor's office, or your bank.

Call History

The phone keeps a list of the 10 most recent incoming, outgoing, and missed calls. When 10 entries are exceeded, the oldest one is deleted.


Voicemail is an optional service that costs an additional $3 per month on the Basic calling plan, but is included on all other calling plans. If you want to check voicemail, you scroll to the Voicemail menu item and press the Yes button, and the phone calls your Voicemail box. You then follow the voice prompts to retrieve your messages and set up or change your personal greetings. Your Voicemail can also be reached using your Jitterbug phone or using any other phone through a toll-free number and entering a PIN number. This way, you do not have to have your Jitterbug phone with you to check your voice messages.

Phone Information

The Phone Information screen displays the battery level, signal strength, and number of minutes used on your phone.

Neither phone model has call waiting, picture taking, text messaging, or game playing capabilities. Neither model can be used for web surfing, e-mail, or downloading files from the Internet. But for a growing number of people, these capabilities are neither necessary nor desired.

Current Price and Calling Plans

As of this writing, the Jitterbug Dial and the Jitterbug One Touch are both priced at $147, which can be divided into three payments of $49 each. Several calling plans are available for you to select when you purchase a Jitterbug phone. You can purchase a 30-, 60-, 150-, or 300-minute-per-month plan for $15, $20, $30, or $40, respectively. There are no long distance, roaming, or peak time charges, and your unused minutes roll over each month for a total of 90 days. A plan can be paid in full a year in advance at a reduced rate. You can also use your Jitterbug phone infrequently and only for emergencies at a pay-as-you-go rate of 35 cents per minute plus a $10 monthly fee.

Another cost to keep in mind is that each time you have the Jitterbug operator dial a number for you, five minutes are deducted from your monthly allotment of time in addition to the minutes that were used during that call.

An optional service pack of 100 minutes for $25 gives you protection if you go over the number of minutes in your monthly plan. This service pack ensures that your monthly bills will be consistent. These minutes expire after one year.

Many people to whom I showed the Jitterbug cell phone were surprised and disappointed by the 300-minute maximum on the calling plans. They use their cell phones frequently and need more than 300 minutes per month on a calling plan. For some people, the calling plan was a deal breaker. One person said that she liked the style and features of the phone, especially the Voice Dial and large buttons. She said she did not even mind paying $147 for the phone and the calling plan, but she had to have more minutes or just could not change to the Jitterbug phone.

Jitterbug Phone Accessories

The Jitterbug phones have the following accessories that you can purchase when you buy your phone or at a later time if you decide that you need them.

Emergency disposable battery—A disposable 60-minute battery that will power your phone if your normal Jitterbug battery is not charged at a cost of $6

Black leather case—a leather case that protects your phone and clips onto your belt or purse at a cost of $19

Car power charger—a charger that allows you to charge your phone through the cigarette lighter adapter at a cost of $24. If you purchase the car power charger and a leather case, the cost is $39

Extra Jitterbug battery—a battery that replaces the standard battery on your Jitterbug phone at a cost of $39

Extra AC charger—a charger that costs $19

What Would Make It Better

With the Jitterbug phones, as with any new technology, there is some room for improvement. After a new product comes on the market, some adjustments often need to be made. With all the good concepts that GreatCall has incorporated into its Jitterbug phones, there are five main areas I would like to see improved.

1. The phone's screen displays characters in larger-than-normal font, but more people with visual impairments could use the phone better and more independently if the fonts were even larger. The larger fonts would be especially helpful in such areas as the Onscreen Manual, the blue, highlighted areas at the top and bottom of the screen, and the Phone Information menu item where the fonts are smaller. In most cases, there is room on the screen to accommodate larger fonts, and whenever possible, the fonts should be made larger.

2. The display on the front of the phone that shows the time, month, day, and volume level could be improved by making the display brighter and displaying the information in a larger font. The display itself is small and only about half as bright as the phone's main display.

3. When people who are visually impaired encounter a keypad, whether it is on a calculator, point-of-sale device, or telephone, they search for a raised nib on the 5-key to orient themselves to the numbers. Unfortunately, the Jitterbug Dial model phone does not have such a nib on its 5-key. Even though the keypad on the phone has large, tactile buttons, the addition of a nib would be a valuable improvement.

4. The number of minutes in the calling plans need to be increased. Many people who would benefit from the features and services of the Jitterbug and GreatCall use their phones more than 300 minutes per month. Many people use their cell phones for work or as their main or only telephones and need more minutes than are currently available with GreatCall's calling plans. GreatCall has gone a long way toward meeting the cell phone needs of a growing group of people; it would be helpful if it also met more of their calling plan needs.

5. The User Manual for the Jitterbug phones could be improved by revising it to describe more accurately and completely the available features of the phones. As it is, some features are not yet available, while others that are available are not mentioned.

The Bottom Line

The two models of Jitterbug phones offer potential cell phone buyers products and service options that, until now, have not been available on cell phones. They also have the potential to satisfy people with a wide range of needs. Whether you are looking for a cell phone for yourself, for a person with a visual impairment, for an older person, for an older person with a visual impairment, or even for a person who needs high levels of amplification, the Jitterbug phones deserve your consideration.

Unfortunately, you may not be able to try out a Jitterbug phone before you buy it because the phones are not sold in retail stores. You buy the phones and calling plans by contacting GreatCall through its web site or by calling its toll-free number. If you live in the Dallas, Texas, area, however, you can see the Jitterbug phones by visiting the American Foundation for the Blind's Center on Vision Loss at 11030 Ables Lane. By calling 214-352-7222, you can schedule a tour of the center, where you can try out both models of the Jitterbug phones and many other blindness and low vision products. At the center, you will see many other options for working and living independently with vision loss, which just may become solutions for you.

Product Features

Feature Jitterbug Phones
Design Style Clamshell
Hearing Aid Compatible Yes
Soft Ear Pad Yes
Onscreen Text Size 9- to 36-Point Font
Backlit Buttons Yes
Voice Dialing Yes
Voicemail Yes
Operator-Assisted Dialing Yes
Date and Time Display Yes
Text Messaging No
Camera Feature No
Internet Capabilities No
Various Calling Plans Available Yes

Product Features

Feature: Jitterbug Phones

Design Style: Clamshell.

Hearing Aid Compatible: Yes.

Soft Ear Pad: Yes.

Onscreen Text Size: 9- to 36-Point Font.

Backlit Buttons: Yes.

Voice Dialing: Yes.

Voicemail: Yes.

Operator-Assisted Dialing: Yes.

Date and Time Display: Yes.

Text Messaging: No.

Camera Feature: No.

Internet Capabilities: No.

Various Calling Plans Available: Yes.

Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Jitterbug Phones: Rating

Documentation: 3.5.

Simplicity of Use: 5.

Sound Quality: 4.5.

Calling Plan Choices: 3.5.

Jitterbug Operator Assistance: 5.

Voice Mail Feature: 5.

Voice Dial Feature: 5.

Product Information

Product Name: Jitterbug Dial Cell Phone and Jitterbug One Touch Cell Phone.

Manufacturer: GreatCall; phone: 800-918-8543 (to order a phone) or 800-733-6632 (for customer service); web site: <www.gojitterbug.com>.

Price: $147 plus the cost of your chosen calling plan.

Back to top

Access Issues

Are We Ready for Vista?

With all the hoopla about Microsoft's release of Vista, its new Windows operating system, on January 30, 2007, AccessWorld readers may have been wondering how long they would have to wait to be able to have access to this long-promised product. The good news for most screen reader users is, you don't have to wait at all.

Vista Versions

According to PC World magazine, Dell and Gateway began selling Vista-based PCs on January 30. Other companies will offer Windows XP as long as supplies last. There are five versions of Vista. According to Microsoft's web site, these are:

  • Vista Ultimate: The most complete edition; provides the power, security, and mobility features needed for work and all the entertainment features that you want for fun.
  • Home Premium: An edition for home desktop and mobile PCs.
  • Home Basic: Designed for homes with basic computing needs, such as e-mail, browsing the Internet, and viewing photos.
  • Business: Designed specifically to meet the needs of small businesses.
  • Enterprise: Designed to meet the needs of large, global organizations with complex information technology infrastructures.

After Microsoft released Windows XP in October, 2001, it took a few months for screen readers and screen magnifiers that worked with XP to be released. This time, some companies are ready with public beta versions of their products at the same time that Microsoft releases Vista. Here is a rundown of when you can expect screen readers and screen magnifiers that work with Vista to be available.


On January 11, Serotek Corporation announced that FreedomBox and Key to Freedom with System Access software were now integrated with Microsoft Windows Vista and available for download. Any current FreedomBox user or anyone with Vista can download the software from the company's web site <www.freedombox.info>.


GW Micro released a public beta of Window-Eyes 6.1 on January 30. The beta works with Vista, and can be used as demonstration software by any Vista user, regardless of whether they currently own Window-Eyes. The release date for a final version depends on how the beta-test goes. According to Doug Geoffray of GW Micro, "The biggest problem we have so far is the lack of Vista users to test Window-Eyes." Other companies mentioned a problem with finding testers as well.

Window-Eyes 6.0 users can get the 6.1 upgrade for free. GW Micro will provide a downloadable upgrade file on their web site. This can be used for Windows 2000 and XP. However, if you want to use Vista, you will need a full installation, requiring the company to send a Window-Eyes 6.1 CD. The only charge for the upgrade will be a small fee, probably $5.

Doug Geoffray says: "Vista has been a challenge, but, I believe in the end it will offer many benefits over XP. Vista has allowed us better access to information. The new Ease-of-Access features in Vista allow us to better support loading on secure web pages and reading information displayed on secure desktops, such as the Consent dialog.

"Microsoft is continuing to add more MSAA [Microsoft Active Accessibility] support to applications that ship with Vista. Perhaps the largest benefit of Vista is its new level of security. We'll continue to work with Microsoft to enhance Vista even more on the accessibility level."

JAWS for Windows

Freedom Scientific is planning to release a version of JAWS that will work with Vista by mid-February. This update will work for everyone using JAWS 8.0 and windows XP or Windows 2000. It will be a free update for all JAWS 8.0 customers who intend to use it on Windows XP and 2000. For JAWS 8.0 users who intend to buy Vista, Freedom Scientific will ask that they all participate in the JAWS software maintenance agreement (SMA) program to ensure that their JAWS 8.0 license will authorize in Vista. Those users will still receive the next SMA upgrades as expected, so this does not mean that installing in Vista will result in losing an SMA.


Ai Squared plans to release a public beta of ZoomText 9.1 during the second week of February. The final release is planned for late March or early April. ZoomText 9.1 will be a minor upgrade for owners of ZoomText 9.0. For this group, the upgrade price for ZoomText Magnifier will be $75. The upgrade for ZoomText Magnifier/Reader will be $99. Users of ZoomText 8.1 and earlier can upgrade their ZoomText Magnifier product for $149, or their ZoomText Magnifier/Reader product for $199.

Hal and Supernova

Dolphin Computer Access currently plans to release a version of Hal and Supernova that is compatible with Vista sometime in the second quarter of 2007. This version 8.0 will be a free upgrade for anyone who buys 7.03 after January 31, 2007. Hal users can expect access to Vista that is very similar to access provided to Windows XP.

Assistive technology companies have put a lot of hard work into their development of products that work with Vista. It is extremely encouraging to be able to inform you about products that are ready just as Vista is released. This is a welcome change from the delays when Windows XP was released, not to mention the battles that many of you remember following the release of Windows 95. AccessWorld will feature much more coverage of access to Vista in future issues.

Back to top

Access Issues

Accessibility and Distance Learning: An Overview

The term distance learning (sometimes called e-learning) encompasses many different instructional situations. The precursor to today's distance learning was the old-fashioned correspondence course, delivered via print materials through the mail. Today, distance learning courses may be Web based only or have a combination of Web-based instruction, print materials, audio and video materials, and onsite instruction. Even a college course that is taught on campus may put course materials, grades, and other supplementary materials online. Regardless of the delivery methods, distance learning is increasingly preferred by both instructors and students for the delivery of the courses of many different types of organizations, including colleges, primary and secondary schools, governmental organizations, and businesses.

Distance learning courses are generally delivered using a collection of tools, including e-mail, chat applications, threaded discussion groups, peer review tools, and whiteboard tools. For a course to be accessible to people who are blind or who have low vision, all distance learning components and tools that are used in the course need to be accessible; that is, the Web-based pieces need to follow good Web-accessibility practices, video needs to be described, and so on. This article discusses some tools that are specific to distance learning that may present barriers to access by people who are blind.

How Is a Distance Learning Course Constructed?

A course may be developed from individual components. For instance, an instructor may develop a web site with course materials and links from the web site to other tools, such as a threaded discussion group or chat application. In this situation, the tools to which the instructor will link are likely to have been developed by a number of different software companies and may not be hosted and managed by the organization that is offering the course. This process requires instructors to become fluent users of the information technologies that are used in the course, such as those that are used to develop web pages. Students may have to negotiate a different set of tools and different setup for each course, which places an additional burden on them as well. The accessibility of the course depends largely on the instructor's awareness of accessibility issues and how willing or able the instructor is to develop courses with accessibility in mind.

To avoid the problems associated with the individual-component approach, schools and other organizations frequently buy a commercial courseware package. Because these packages are expensive, organizations carefully investigate and select the features and functions they believe will best serve their students and faculty. Unfortunately, accessibility for individuals with disabilities may not be considered during this process. When an inaccessible courseware package is purchased, accessibility issues are compounded, since students and instructors encounter accessibility problems in every course they take or teach. Accommodations can be made, but they tend to be costly and not effective in facilitating full participation. Since the passage of Section 508 <http://section508.gov>, which raised awareness of accessibility issues, commonly used courseware packages, such as Blackboard <www.blackboard.com/company/accessibility.aspx>, have improved the accessibility of products, and some courseware packages, such as eCollege <http://ecollege.com>, have been explicitly designed with accessibility in mind.

Finally, the organization may develop its own set of proprietary distance learning tools. These tools often have accessibility problems similar to those of commercially available courseware packages. However, if the program's developers are trained and skilled in accessibility issues, there is no reason why proprietary tools cannot be developed to be accessible to students and instructors with disabilities.

Accessibility of Individual Tools and Features Used in Distance Learning

Courseware products include tools and features for both the instructor and the students. The tools include calendars, assignment tools, classroom discussion tools, tools for viewing grades, tools for evaluating progress, tools for sharing work and peer review, synchronous (real-time) chat, testing and assessment tools, threaded discussion tools, and many others. In some cases, students and instructors have the same access to these tools, and in other cases instructors have access to functions that are not used by the students. For instance, both the students and instructor can view grades online, but only the instructor can post grades.

In this article, we cover only information technology, but it is important to remember that distance learning courses may also require in-person meetings, proctored examinations, and printed materials and that these components must also be accessible to students and instructors with disabilities.

Synchronous and Asynchronous

Interactions that occur during a distance learning course can be divided into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous communication occurs in real time, similar to the way an in-person conversation or a telephone call occurs. Asynchronous communication has a time lag between individual communications. E-mail is one example of an asynchronous communication, and chat is an example of synchronous communication. Chat requires that those who are engaged in the communication are online at the same time, whereas the exchange of e-mail does not. We make this distinction here because synchronous tools tend to have more accessibility problems, while asynchronous tools tend to be more accessible.

Electronic Communications

Electronic communications, such as threaded discussion groups, Usenet discussion groups, bulletin boards, and e-mail, fall into the category of asynchronous text-based resources and are typically accessible to users of assistive technology, such as screen readers and screen magnification.

Tools for Sharing Work and Peer Review

Peer review tools are designed to simulate the sharing of work in a classroom environment. Typically, participants can upload their work into a shared work area where other students can access it and feedback can be provided. For users of screen readers or screen magnification to participate in these activities, both the content structure and the controls must be accessible. Typically, content is not accessible using these tools because the interface does not support commercial applications like Microsoft Office. Instead, content is delivered using a generic document viewer in which screen readers cannot detect the structural elements of the document, such as headings or tables. Sometimes, the use of color is the only way of identifying the author of comments or feedback. This is also a common problem with these tools.

It is possible to work around these limitations by using alternate approaches to peer review. For instance, the instructor can direct students to use e-mail as the vehicle to share work and provide feedback, while in other contexts, students can provide comments in the body of a text document, using an agreed-upon notation—such as surrounding edits with two asterisks and placing comments in brackets—or by using the tracking features that are built into Microsoft Word.

Chat Applications

Text chat is a synchronous tool that allows several users to communicate via typed text in real time. Users post messages and respond to other users' messages quickly. Users of screen readers may experience considerable difficulty when using chat programs. Screen readers are typically able to handle some HTML-based chat rooms, but the way in which new messages are displayed can be a problem. Most applications do not allow the user to control how and when new messages are displayed. Typically, as the screen refreshes automatically with each new message, the screen reader will interrupt reading in progress and move focus to the new message, making it difficult for the user to maintain orientation and read the entire thread. For a chat program to be accessible, it must allow users of screen readers to control the refresh of new messages.


Many courseware packages include a whiteboard tool. The purpose of the electronic white board is the same as that of a blackboard or whiteboard in a brick-and-mortar school. Instructors and students write or draw on the board to share their ideas and to deliver instruction. Electronic whiteboards work as graphical chat tools. They allow multiple users to draw, paint, and share existing graphical files in real time. As you may suspect, exclusively graphical workspace is not accessible to users of screen readers. Even the text tools that are available in these environments often produce text in a way that cannot be accessed by screen readers. Furthermore, whiteboard tools lack keyboard accessibility. Thus, students who are blind or have low vision cannot participate actively in whiteboard activities either because they are unable to use the graphical tools or because they are unable to see the shared environment. Students who are blind or have low vision must therefore use the same strategies that are used in the regular classroom; that is, the instructor needs to narrate consistently and meaningfully what is being drawn or typed on the whiteboard. Doing this consistently and meaningfully requires considerable skill and discipline by instructors and students alike. Distributing the information before the whiteboard session in accessible formats (for instance, as a Word document with graphs, figures, and pictures described) will make it easier for students who are blind or have low vision and for other students who need more time to engage with the material before or after the real-time session. At this time, the best way to accommodate users of screen readers and other assistive technology is to avoid using whiteboard tools for delivering content that is essential and significant.

Testing and Assessment Tools

Online assessment is important in distance learning because it is sometimes the only tool that instructors have for assessment, and assessment is a high-stakes process both for the students and the instructor. Great care must be taken to make sure that both the interface and the content are accessible to users of screen readers, screen magnification, word-prediction software, and reading programs. Graphics need alt text descriptions, all controls need to be keyboard navigable, and color should not be the only indication of an event or choice. If the event is timed, the software application should allow the instructor to provide additional time for selected students (although this feature is not available in any of the courseware packages we examined). As we mentioned previously, both the infrastructure and content need to be accessible. To be accessible, the infrastructure must, at a minimum, allow and, at best, invite instructors to develop accessible quizzes and tests. The instructor must understand the accessibility features and take the time to include them.

A Word About Media on the Web

Most commercial media players (the software used to play streaming video or audio from the Web) are accessible, but can play only media files that are formatted for a specific player. Instructors sometimes include more than one file format, so that students with different players can access the media. Accessibility of proprietary or imbedded media players varies widely and may not support use from the keyboard.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of how the distance learning environments are developed, the principles are the same.

  • The course materials and infrastructure need to be accessible to instructors with disabilities, so the instructors can develop and teach the material.
  • The infrastructure should provide easy and low-effort ways for instructors to build in accessibility and should guide them as to where and why accessibility features need to be included.
  • Instructors need training to develop accessible distance learning courses and understand accessibility issues. If an instructor does not understand the purpose of, for instance, including a description, he or she may dutifully include a description when prompted, but the description may say something like "graph." This type of description is not useful to students who cannot see the graph or cannot see it well.
  • All course materials and tools need to be accessible to students with disabilities, so the students can successfully complete the course and fully participate in course activities.
  • Students also create course content by participating in discussions, sharing their work, interacting in small groups, and so on. Content developed by students also needs to be accessible. Instructors routinely set requirements for the formatting, structure, and length of students' work. Basic accessibility guidelines can be included in these requirements. For instance, students who post their work on the Web could be required to include an alt tag (description) for every image.

Full accessibility can be achieved only if the course materials and infrastructure are accessible and facilitate the development of accessible content and if both students and instructors have sufficient understanding of accessibility and take the time to create accessible content. Of course, it is still possible to create inaccessible distance learning courses even when the infrastructure and all tools are accessible to the highest degree possible.

Back to top

Product Evaluation

Class Is in Session: A Review of the Telex Professor Desktop Audio System

With a combination of assistive and mainstream technology, there are almost more ways than one can count for a person with a visual or learning impairment to access information. But the number of gadgets that are needed to access information can be daunting. This is reason enough to take a close look at the Telex Professor Desktop Audio System.

With this single piece of equipment, you can listen to commercial CDs (music or spoken word), MP3 CDs, or DAISY CDs (digital content allowing audio navigation by page, chapter, section, or bookmark). You can listen to both standard cassettes and the four-track, half-speed variety that is distributed by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). The Professor is the only DAISY player on the market that also has a fully accessible FM radio that allows you to go directly to a desired station by punching in the numbers on its telephone-style number pad, announces the frequency of a station at the press of a button, and offers up to 32 preset stations. Because the Professor was designed with audio, rather than visual, users in mind, nearly all its functions include auditory feedback.

Physical Description

The Professor has a compact, solid appearance. It measures 11 inches wide, 10 inches deep, and 6.2 inches tall. Its built-in speakers wrap around the left and right front corners, extending below and above the unit, and deliver excellent sound quality. All the buttons are easily discernible by touch, representing a variety of textures, shapes, and sizes, and are logically grouped for quick tactile location. On top of the unit are the Power, Mode Selection (tape, radio, and CD), and Key Identification Mode buttons, as well as buttons for variable speed, volume, and tone. The CD player is also on top, with a door that pops up easily when the indentation in its lower right corner is pressed. Also near the top is a circle of four buttons with a round one in the center. These buttons are used for navigating a CD, as well as for accessing options and settings. On the front of the unit is the 12-key number pad to the right of center, and three additional buttons to the left of it. Finally, centered on the lower half of the face is the cassette door, with five buttons on the bottom edge. Other logically placed controls are for the cassette's track selection and variable speed control. The headphone jack is a distinctly recessed port on the top of the unit, and the AC power connection is in the back. The Professor has an internal rechargeable battery that takes about two hours to charge and gives audible warnings when it is running low. Audible feedback is delivered through either a strong radio-announcer kind of male voice or a distinctive series of chimes, clicks, or tones.

Photo of Professor DAISY player.

Caption: The Professor DAISY player.

Beginning to Play

When you press the Power button, there is a distinctive pop and then a long pause before the male voice announces: "Telex Professor." If the sliding Mode Selection switch is all the way to the left, for playing a cassette, that is all there is. If the switch is in the middle position, for radio, the announcer adds "FM." If it is all the way to the right, for a CD, the voice says "Reading disk," followed immediately by "Check disk" if there is no CD in the player. If the CD door is open, it says, "Door open." If there is a disk in the player, the next auditory cue will be determined by the type of disk it is.

Turn Your Radio On

Although finding an FM tuner in any device is not unusual, this radio's accessibility features were the first aspect to capture my attention. From the number pad, you can punch in the frequency of a desired station and go directly to that station—just like millions do with digital displays every day. If you are on a station and wonder what it is, you can get a spoken announcement of its frequency. And you can easily set up to 32 preset stations and cycle back and forth through them—all with voice-guided help.

Reading the Disk

When you insert a disk into the CD player, you hear the announcement "Reading disk," followed by a three-tone sequence that repeats until the Professor has identified the disk's format. If the disk is an audio CD (which is how the Professor refers to commercially produced CDs containing music or audio books), you hear a high-low tone sequence. If the disk contains MP3 files, you hear a three-tone high-low-mid sequence. And if the CD is a DAISY CD, the title is announced.

The Main Attraction

The DAISY player is, of course, the Professor's most sophisticated function. In this format, the Professor gives you the ability to go directly to a particular page; to move by page, section, or chapter (depending on the extent of digital navigation built into the particular book); and to set and directly access bookmarks. When a DAISY CD is playing, a variable speed option makes it possible to speed up or slow down the reading without altering the pitch. The Professor keeps track of your place in up to 32 books, resuming reading in each one at exactly the place you left off.

If you happen to put a disk in upside down, the Professor announces "Check disk." Oddly, however, if a data disk (with computer programs or files) is placed in the player, the Professor simply continues trying to read the disk, playing the three-tone sequence that indicates a search is in progress until you take the disk out. It then announces, "Door open."

Playing Cassettes

There are no flashy announcements to tell you that you are in tape mode or progress beeps or clicks. Nevertheless, the cassette player is more than adequate. It handles both two- and four-track and standard- and half-speed cassettes. A variable speed slide switch allows you to speed up tapes without altering the pitch. The buttons for Play, Rewind, Fast Forward, Stop, and Pause are awkwardly placed and somewhat difficult to activate, however. They are placed at the bottom edge of the front of the machine, which places your hand at a somewhat uncomfortable angle when you access them. Aside from this inconvenient bit of operation, however, the cassette player is a well-constructed aspect of the unit and a useful addition.

Whether you are listening through the built-in speakers or a headset, the quality of the sound from all sources—the radio, CD player, and cassette—is crisp and clear, delivering books, music, and other audio with style.

A Few Annoyances

When the unit powers up, it comes on with a distinct pop and announces itself via the male radio announcer's voice. When the unit powers off, a pleasant four-tone high-low chime sequence is heard. The response time, however, is often noticeably slow. When the unit is powering on, for instance, it generally takes 10 (and sometimes 15) seconds from the Telex Professor announcement for the unit to determine which mode it is in. Similarly, once a disk is placed in the player, it typically takes 10 to 15 seconds for the unit to identify its format. Again, it seems odd that the unit immediately announces "Check disk" if a disk has been inserted incorrectly, yet has no announcement to indicate that a disk contains material that the Professor cannot identify or read.

Another point which warrants mentioning is that this is a desktop audio system, not a personal or portable one. At 6.2 pounds, the Professor can easily be placed in a car or another conveyance while traveling, but it is certainly not intended to be carried around on a daily basis.

The Bottom Line

Minor annoyances aside, the Telex Professor Desktop Audio System is a unique and versatile audio system that would be especially useful for students or professionals who need to listen to material in a variety of media. With just one unit, you can listen to your favorite music CDs, audio books from the public library, DAISY-formatted books with extensive navigation capabilities, Talking Books from the NLS, and standard cassettes and can even find your favorite radio stations without stress or aggravation. You can pop one book out and put another one in without ever losing your place, and you can hop around within a book as effortlessly—or perhaps more so—than a sighted person with the print equivalent. When you consider that this clever boom box has capabilities that are comparable to four or five separate audio devices all in one machine, along with a number of bells and whistles, some 10-second delays do not seem quite so significant, and Professor's $349 price tag seems reasonable.

Product Features

Features Professor
Accessible DAISY player Yes
Variable speed in DAISY Yes
Resumes reading For up to 32 last books
Resumes play For last music CD
Cassette player Yes
Cassette recorder No
Variable speed for cassettes Yes
FM radio Yes
Preset stations Up to 32

Product Features

Features: Professor

Accessible DAISY player: Yes.

Variable speed in DAISY: Yes.

Resumes reading: For up to 32 last books.

Resumes play: For last music CD.

Cassette player: Yes.

Cassette recorder: No.

Variable speed for cassettes: Yes.

FM radio: Yes.

Preset stations: Up to 32.

Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Product Ratings

Feature: Professor

Physical design of CD and DAISY Player: 4.5.

Physical layout of controls for CD and radio: 4.5.

Physical layout of cassette controls: 3.0.

DAISY navigation: 4.5.

Speech quality of voice-guided menus: 4.5.

Sound quality from radio, CD, cassette player: 5.0.

Intuitive usability: 4.5.

Accessibility of FM tuner: 5.0.

Product Information

Product: Telex Professor Desktop Audio System.

Manufacturer: Telex Communications, 12000 Portland Avenue South, Burnsville, MN 55337; phone: 800-752-7560; web site: <www.telex.com>.

Distributor: Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, 20 Roszel Road, Princeton, NJ 08540; phone: 800-221-4792; web site: <www.rfbd.org>.

Price: $349.

If RFB&D members purchase the Telex Professor directly from RFB&D, it will be shipped with the capability to play RFB&D titles. If members purchased it elsewhere, they will need to send the unit to RFB&D for the adaptation to be installed.

Back to top

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.

Back to top

AccessWorld News

Keyboard Shortcuts for Vista

Microsoft provides a summary of keyboard shortcuts for navigating Windows Vista that computer users who are blind or have low vision may find useful. The links listed include general keyboard shortcuts, as well as shortcuts for navigating dialog boxes, Windows sidebars, Windows Explorer, and Microsoft keyboards. While many of them will be familiar to most users of screen readers, some are unique to Windows Vista. To take a look, visit: <http://windowshelp.microsoft.com/Windows/en-US/Help/2503b91d-d780-4c80-8f08-2f48878dc5661033.mspx>.

Text-Only Link to Google Maps

Using online sources to find driving directions from one location to another has been made easier for people who are blind who use screen readers or braille displays and for sighted people who use PDAs (personal digital assistants) or cell phones to get mapping information. Although services, such as Google Maps and MapQuest are usable by people who are blind, Google's Textual Maps UI makes accessing the actual directions considerably quicker and more efficient. To get accurate text-only step-by-step directions to a business or residence in just seconds, copy the following link into your browser <http://maps.google.com/?output=html>. In the edit box, type the starting point to the destination of your trip (such as 1234 Main Street, Smallville 12345 to 5678 Elm Street, Smallville 12345). The text directions will be delivered in seconds—without the tedium of finding your way around graphical clutter.

Seven-Ounce Braille Device

HumanWare has introduced BrailleConnect 12, the smallest braille display that is currently available. Weighing only 7 ounces and measuring roughly 3 by 5 inches, the device has 12 braille cells, 12 routing buttons, and keys for braille input and navigation. Connecting wirelessly via a Bluetooth connection, the BrailleConnect 12 was designed to work as a braille input and output display that is able to interact with a wide range of devices and software. It can be used in conjunction with a PDA, cell phone, PC, or notebook computer. Popular screen readers that are supported by the BrailleConnect 12 include Window-Eyes, JAWS, Hal, Virgo, Talks, Mobile Speak, and Pocket Hal. The unit is housed in a durable aluminum case and is reported to have a battery life of about 20 hours.

Also available is the BrailleConnect 40, which has all the same features but includes 40 braille cells and USB connection capability.

For additional information, visit HumanWare's web site <www.humanware.com> or phone 800-722-3393.

Dictionary and Thesaurus for BrailleNote Products

HumanWare has released the Concise Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus for use with the BrailleNote family of products. With a single keystroke, users can access definitions, spellings, and synonyms from anywhere within the KeySoft word processor, web browser, or book reader. Entries are spoken through the BrailleNote synthesizer and/or read on the braille display. The Concise Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus will run on the BrailleNote mPower, BrailleNote PK, or classic BrailleNote or VoiceNote products running Keysoft 7.2 Build 47. It can be easily accessed from either braille or qwerty-style BrailleNote products. The cost is $195. For more information, visit the HumanWare web site <www.humanware.com> or phone 800-722-3393.

New Digital Recorders with Voice-Guided Menus

Olympus has released three new digital recorders that are reported to be particularly accessible to users who are blind or have low vision. The DS-30, DS-40, and DS-50 offer high-contrast digital displays, voice-guided menus, easily discernible buttons for playing and recording music, audio books, podcasts, and personal recordings. All three are compatible with Audible.com materials. The storage capacity ranges from 256K to 1 gigabyte and the prices from $149 to $249. All features can be accessed through voice menus, including setting the time and date and setting a timer to start and stop recording at designated times. The Olympus DS series recorders include removable microphones and boast high-quality stereo sound. They are available at many retail and online electronics sources, including <www.amazon.com>.

Back to top


March 19–24, 2007

California State University at Northridge (CSUN) Center on Disabilities' 22nd Annual International Conference: Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference

Los Angeles, CA

Contact: Center on Disabilities, CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Building 11, Suite 103, Northridge, CA 91330; phone: 818-677-2578; e-mail: <conference@csun.edu>; web site: <www.csun.edu/cod/conf/index.htm>.

March 22–23, 2007

Assistive Technology Across the Lifespan Conference

Stevens Point, WI

Contact: Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative, 800 Algoma Boulevard, Oshkosh, WI 54901; phone: 800-991-5576 or 920-424-2247; e-mail: <info@wati.org>; web site: <www.wati.org>.

March 26–30, 2007

18th International Conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education

San Antonio, TX

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

April 19–20, 2007

Participation: Where It's AT (Assistive Technology for Children and Youth Conference)

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Contact: Events of Distinction, #104 - 2002 Quebec Avenue, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7K 1W4; phone: 306-651-3118; e-mail: <eofd@sasktel.net>.

May 2–4, 2007

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>.

June 21–23, 2007

Collaborative Assistive Technology Conference of the Rockies

Denver, CO

Contact: Assistive Technology Partners, Statewide Augmentative/Alternative Communication Program, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, 601 East 18th Avenue, Suite 130, Denver, CO 80203; phone: 303-315-1280; web site: <www.assistivetechnologypartners.org>.

June 30–July 6, 2007

National Federation of the Blind National Convention

Atlanta, GA

Contact: National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230; phone: 410-659-9314; e-mail: <nfb@nfb.org>; web site: <www.nfb.org/nfb/national_convention_2007.asp>.

June 30–July 7, 2007

American Council of the Blind National Convention

Minneapolis, MN

Contact: American Council of the Blind; phone: 202-467-5081; e-mail: <info@acb.org>; web site: <www.acb.org/convention/info2007.html>.

July 17–19, 2007

QAC Sight Village

Birmingham, UK

Contact: Queen Alexandra College; web site: <http://www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage/6-1.html>.

Back to top

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

Download the free AccessWorld appDownload the free AccessWorld app
Back Issues
Search AccessWorld
AccessWorld Alerts Signup
For Advertisers
Contact AccessWorld

Related Links

Using Assistive Technology
AccessWorld Appliance Accessibility Guide
Product Database for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
AFB Consulting
Orbit Reader 20 by Orbit Research. A low-cost Breakthrough for Refreshable Braille

Sprint Vision: Services for Consumers Who Are Blind Or Have Low Vision

Learn NVDA

HIMS New All In One Video Magnifier

Low Vision Simulators Plus VSRT (Pepper) Test LUV Reading Workbook

Foundations of Education, Third Edition

Exercise and Fitness Strategies for Older Adults

College Bound: A Guide for Students with Visual Impairments, 2nd Edition

The Why, When and How for Reading eBooks

College Bound: Practical Steps for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

AccessNote Accessible Notetaker App FREE on Android and iOS


NEW! iOS in the Classroom: A Guide for Teaching Students with Visual Impairments

Hope. Help. Connections for People with Vision Loss. VisionConnect FREE iOS app!
 End of advertising