In This Issue . . .
Several Models in One: A Review of HumanWare's SmartView Xtend
Rather than offering a number of CCTVs with different features, HumanWare sells the SmartView Xtend. This product offers a variety of upgrades designed to meet the changing needs of consumers.--Lee Huffman
Accessibility Wash: New, Usable Washers and Dryers Are Released
Accessibility is now part of the design cycle at Whirlpool and Sears Kenmore.--Bradley Hodges
New personal digital assistants, screen readers for pocket PCs and new CCTVs were the highlights at this year's conference.--Deborah Kendrick and Jay Leventhal
Show Me the Money: An Evaluation of the Note Teller 2 Money Identifier
We review the only device available for identifying U.S. currency.--Bradley Hodges, Darren Burton, and Mark Uslan
The Large Challenge of Small Devices: A First Look at the Mobile Device Landscape
We define the differences among Pocket PCs, smartphones and Symbian phones, and provide a first look at Pocket PC access.--Bradley Hodges
A colleague recently purchased a new PDA (personal digital assistant) that is designed specifically for people who are blind. He was attached to his old, comfortable PDA, but now he has to learn new commands to perform tasks that were once second nature.
My colleague's frustrations remind me of what AccessWorld's product evaluators sometimes experience when we test a new, unfamiliar product. We try our best to treat the product as if we had just purchased it ourselves. We take it out of the box, read the manual, set the product up or install it if it is software, and start to use it. We experience the frustration of not knowing the commands to perform familiar tasks. We make mistakes. We wonder why the product is not responding. We read more of the manual and, when necessary, telephone the company for technical support.
Of course, we cannot totally re-create the situation of being beginners who are struggling to learn to use new products. But, we do our best to simulate what the typical user goes through on our way to producing our product evaluations.
In this issue, Lee Huffman, of AFB TECH, evaluates HumanWare's SmartView Xtend closed-circuit television. The SmartView Xtend aims to minimize the fear of "buyer's remorse" by providing one unit that can be customized and upgraded at a later time. Five different modules are available. Find out about the flexibility provided by these different options.
Bradley Hodges, of AFB TECH, provides an update on the accessibility of washing machines and dryers. Whirlpool and Sears Kenmore have both introduced controls that use tones of different pitches, in combination with easy-to-feel buttons and turn knobs. The new controls make these two already-usable product lines even more useful and accessible. Read about these products that reverse the recent trend toward appliances that are hard to use by people who are blind or have low vision.
Deborah Kendrick and I report on the 22nd annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, hosted by the Center on Disabilities of the California State University at Northridge. Read our coverage to find out about new and updated products and a sampling of the hundreds of presentations.
Bradley Hodges, Darren Burton, and Mark Uslan, of AFB TECH, evaluate the Note Teller 2, the only device on the U.S. market for identifying currency. This review was prompted by a federal judge's ruling, in December 2006, that U.S. currency is inaccessible to people who are visually impaired. AFB TECH decided to test the technology, and this article reports on the findings.
Bradley Hodges provides a first look at pocket PC technology. What are the differences between smartphones and Pocket PCs? How are these technologies different from Symbian cell phones? If this revolution that is happening in the palms of people's hands is as important as the media say it is, how do people who use nonvisual techniques stand to benefit? This article answers these questions and provides an introduction to Pocket PCs.
Editor in Chief
Back to top
Several Models in One: A Review of HumanWare's SmartView Xtend
Has the traditional desktop closed-circuit television (CCTV) really changed much over the past few decades? If you have not shopped for a desktop unit lately, you may not think so. If, however, you are looking to upgrade your current desktop CCTV or to buy your first CCTV, you may be overwhelmed by the number of manufacturers and CCTV models that are on the market.
You may be at a loss in deciding which features you really need and which you do not, and cost is always a consideration. For example, do you need a black-and-white or color model? Which size and type of monitor are best for you? Do you see high-contrast artificial colors best? Do you need a computer-compatible model? Does the height of the CCTV's monitor need to be adjustable? What happens if you buy one model and soon realize that you need an additional feature because your type of work or vision changes? Are you stuck, or do you have to buy another model? If you have these questions and concerns, you are certainly not alone.
HumanWare has recently replaced its line of SmartView desktop CCTVs with one product, the SmartView Xtend, which is intended to minimize the fear of "buyer's remorse" by providing one unit that can be customized and upgraded at a later time.
Caption: The SmartView Xtend showing magnified text in high contrast.
This is a new philosophy in the CCTV market. For the most part, CCTV manufacturers sell a few different models—a black-and-white model, a color model, a color model with some advanced features, and a computer-compatible model, for example. The idea of being able to upgrade a CCTV by using an "upgrade key" or plugging in an external component is unique to the market. Thus, we at AccessWorld wanted to find out how and how well this new concept works. This review of the SmartView Xtend discusses the product's documentation, its physical design and features, the upgrade options, and the process involved in upgrading the product and highlights both the positive characteristics and those that could be improved.
The SmartView Xtend
The SmartView Xtend comes with a Quick Start Guide and a User Guide. The Quick Start Guide is presented in a foldout style, similar to a road map. The 17-inch by 24-inch foldout shows six large pictures that are supposed to provide information on setting up and using the Xtend. There are no captions or instructions under the pictures, and the pictures do not provide enough information to get a customer started, especially if the person is unfamiliar with CCTVs. For some, this format could be confusing because they would not be sure what the pictures are trying to explain.
The spiral-bound User Guide is printed in an easier-to-read, approximately 22-point font, and the instructions are easily understandable. It even gives "Handy Hints" about how to use CCTVs better, including such information as tips on reducing glare and using the Page Locator button. The User Guide presents information in three languages: English, French, and Spanish. For a person with low vision, these options may not be apparent at first. It may be helpful to have protruding tabs that separate the languages more prominently to make the preferred languages easier to find.
In addition, two main problems with the User Guide should be addressed. First, there are 18 documented errors in the User Guide. These errors are noted in a separate insert labeled "SmartView Errata." This insert needs to be read along with the User Guide, or a person could be confused while learning to use the CCTV. The insert also needs to be kept with the User Guide for future reference. When there are this many errors in a manual, an updated printing is in order. Mistakes happen; when they do, they need to be corrected. The User Guide should be error free.
The second issue with the User Guide is that it does not mention the display-adjustment buttons on the LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor. The labels on the buttons are too small to be read by most people with low vision. According to a HumanWare representative, these buttons are not to be used to adjust the monitor's display; only the Xtend's control panel controls should be used. A customer would certainly wonder what the buttons do and would be at a loss when looking for the answer in the documentation. The fact that the controls are on the monitor should be addressed, even if they are not to be used to adjust the Xtend's display.
Physical Design and Features
The SmartView Xtend desktop CCTV is 11 inches high (without the monitor), 14 inches wide, and 18 inches deep and weighs 27 pounds. Its reading table (often called the X–Y table) is 14 inches square and has a left and right travel (X dimension) distance of 5.4 inches and a foreword and backward travel (Y dimension) distance of 11.4 inches. The reading table has adjustable margin stops at the left and right and friction-pad adjustments. There is a working distance of 6 inches between the reading table and the Xtend's auto-focus camera.
Although most VGA and LCD monitors can be used with the Xtend, HumanWare ships it with a 17-inch flat-panel LCD monitor that can be upgraded to a 19-inch flat-panel LCD monitor or a 19-inch TV LCD monitor with built-in speakers and Picture in Picture capability. The speakers and Picture in Picture capability allow you to watch television in a second window on the Xtend's screen while using the SmartView Xtend to read text. The monitor is fitted to the Xtend on an ergonomically designed arm that allows the screen position to be adjusted. The screen can be raised and lowered, can be tilted toward or away from you, can be positioned in a portrait or landscape orientation, and can be swiveled 360 degrees on its arm.
Located above the reading table, the Xtend's front control panel has five main controls—the Text button, Picture button, Zoom knob, Brightness button, and Power button. The Text button is selected when you want to read text. It cycles you through 18 combinations of foreground and background high-contrast colors. The Picture button is selected when you want to look at pictures or when you want to see text or objects in their natural colors. If you have the black-and-white Xtend model, pictures and objects are displayed in gray scale. The Zoom knob is used to adjust the level of magnification. Depending on the size of your monitor, the Xtend can display from 3 times to 68 times magnification. The Brightness button is used to adjust the brightness level of the display; you can set the brightness level in the Text mode separately from the brightness level in the Photo mode. Holding down the Brightness button for a few seconds displays the Xtend's Main Menu, which allows you to adjust a number of settings, including brightness (for both the Text and Photo modes); Contrast (for both the Text and Photo modes); Color (for the Photo mode); Normal/Enhanced Color, Output Display Frequency (60Hz or 75Hz); Beeps (on or off); Language (English, U.S. English, and European languages); Region; System Information; and Preferences (for Modules 2 and 3 only). While in use, the Xtend's Power button lights up and displays a bright green light to indicate that the power is on.
Upgrading the SmartView Xtend
The basic black-and-white Xtend model comes standard with high-contrast false colors that are used for reading text. These false colors are normally an advanced feature on CCTVs from other manufacturers. If you purchase this basic SmartView Xtend model, it can be upgraded to a color model, features can be added, and it can become computer compatible without the need to buy an entirely new unit. By purchasing upgrade modules, you can increase the functionality of your existing unit. According to HumanWare, "each of the SmartView Xtend modules has been designed to suit the different needs of our customers."
The five upgrade options, called Modules, include an upgrade Module 1, an upgrade Module 2, an upgrade from Module 2 to Module 3, and an upgrade Module 3.
If you want to upgrade to the color model from the black-and-white model to see colors in pictures and objects, contact HumanWare and purchase the Color Upgrade Kit. You will be shipped an Upgrade Key, which you insert into the Xtend. After approximately two seconds, the Upgrade Key enables the color feature and is then removed. You then have a color model of the SmartView Xtend. When the color feature is activated, you have the choice of seeing pictures in their realistic colors or adjusting the color settings to view the picture in enhanced, more saturated, color.
If you want to add features to your unit, you can purchase Module 1, which includes the Simple Remote that provides the functionality of the front control panel, as well as some extra features. The cord from the Simple Remote plugs into the back of the Xtend and allows you to position the 3-inch by 11-inch remote anywhere you like—on a desktop, in your lap, or held in your hand. The Simple Remote has the Text button, Picture button, Zoom knob, and Brightness button, just like the front control panel. It also includes a Page Locator button, Preset button, Lines and Blinds button, and Plus and Minus buttons.
Caption: The SmartView Xtend shown with the Simple Remote from Module 1.
The Page Locator button is used to help find your place on a page. When this button is pressed, a red dot shines down on your reading material, and a red square is displayed at the corresponding point at the center of the screen. To turn this feature off, you press the button again.
The Preset button is used to preset a magnification level of your choice. If there is a magnification level you like to use often, you can save that level in the machine's memory. Saving the magnification level may increase your speed in finding your optimal magnification for documents that you read often, such as newspapers.
The Lines and Blinds button is used to set reading guides. Repeatedly pressing this button cycles you through the reading-guide options. The display cycles through horizontal lines to assist with general reading tasks, vertical lines to assist with reading columns of text, horizontal blinds that black out the top and bottom of the display to hide adjacent lines of text, and vertical blinds that black out the sides of the display to assist with reading columns of text. The Plus and Minus buttons are used to set the spacing of the lines and blinds to accommodate your reading needs or to shift them across the screen.
A more advanced upgrade, Module 2, includes the functionality of Module 1. Instead of the Simple Remote, Module 2 includes a Keypad that also provides on-screen clock, calendar, and calculator features.
Pressing the Time key on the keypad displays the time, day, month, and year in the corner of the screen; pressing it a second time turns it off.
Pressing the Calculator key on the keypad displays the calculator in the corner of the screen; pressing it again turns it off. The four-function calculator with a memory feature can display up to a nine-digit number and is operated by the number pad located on the keypad.
Pressing the Size key on the keypad cycles you through the five different size options for the Time and Calculator displays.
Pressing the Arrow keys on the keypad moves the reading lines and blinds up and down and increases or decreases the separation of the reading lines and blinds. The Arrow keys also change the position of the Time, Date, and Calculator displays on the screen and move between items in the onscreen menus.
The Preference menu is available within the Main menu with Module 2 and Module 3. It allows you to make minor modifications to the Date and Calculator displays.
The most advanced upgrade, Module 3, has the functionality of Module 2, as well as the ability to display images from a personal computer or external video camera. It comes with the same keypad as Module 2. With Module 3, however, the PC key on the keypad becomes active and allows you to display images from a personal computer or external video camera. With this configuration, you do not need a computer monitor on your desk, but can use the Xtend's screen instead. This could be an option for saving desk space.
Once you connect a personal computer to the SmartView Xtend with the cables provided in the Module 3 Upgrade Kit from HumanWare, you can cycle through the following display options:
- a full SmartView Xtend camera view,
- a split screen with one side displaying the SmartView Xtend's camera and the other side displaying the computer's screen, and
- a full computer screen view.
The split-screen view can be adjusted to display horizontally or vertically, on the top or bottom, and left or right. The Arrow keys can also be used to adjust the proportions of the split screen. While in the split-screen modes, the C key (Cancel) can be used to return to the 50% split-screen factory default display.
All these upgrade kits can be purchased from HumanWare anytime after the initial purchase of a SmartView Xtend. After you purchase the upgrade kit, all you do is plug in and unplug the Upgrade Key, which enables the additional features, and then attach the Simple Remote or Keypad cable to the back of the Xtend, and you are finished. It literally takes only seconds.
What Would Make It Better
With the unique, upgradeable philosophy built into the SmartView Xtend and the various modules with features to fit a wide range of CCTV buyers, there are still some areas that could be modified to make it more usable. In addition to the aforementioned changes to its documentation, the following modifications could improve the product.
- Customers may benefit from a greater working distance between the reading table and the camera. Problems can arise when you use a pen with a cap on the end or a new pencil. Writing in thicker books, such as a three-ring binder or my day planner, for example, was awkward. There was not enough clearance to write comfortably without hitting the top of the pen on the camera area under the front control panel. Adding an extra inch or two to the clearance would increase the usability of the Xtend. It would also allow people to view larger objects, such as cooking instructions on boxes of food, more easily or to perform hobbies under the camera.
- The Xtend could be more usable if text could be viewed at a lower level of magnification. While this may at first sound strange, people with low vision use lower levels of magnification to gain orientation to a page of text. Four times magnification, the lowest level available on the 17-inch monitor, is a bit large when you want to gain orientation on a page before you turn up the magnification level to read the text.
- The keypad that is used with Modules 2 and 3 could be made more user-friendly. First, the buttons should be a high-contrast color from their background, such as the buttons on the Simple Remote. Second, increasing the size of the letters and numbers on the keypad, when possible, would make them even more visible. In addition, the Xtend's usability could be increased by adding the functionality of the Text, Picture, and Brightness buttons to the keypad, as on the Simple Remote.
- You should be able to set the Brightness level for the Photo mode to a lower level. For the most part, I set the brightness level well below 50%. Setting the brightness level much higher than 60% tends to wash out both text and colors. Even the 0% brightness level would give many users sufficient light to see photos and read text in the Photo mode.
- Modifications to the reading table would also be beneficial. Adding rubberized grips to the front sloping edge of the reading table may help guide its movement. Adding a handle to the front of the reading table may be another possible solution. As it is, you must be careful when you take hold of and move the reading table not to get your fingers caught in the sliding tracks.
- It would also be helpful to have a larger font for onscreen menu items that are accessed by holding down the Brightness button for three seconds. A larger font would allow people with lower levels of vision to adjust their preferred settings more independently.
- CCTV manufacturers have various opinions for the best placement of a display's controls. Some place them on the monitor; some place them on the reading table; and others, like HumanWare, place them on a front control panel located near the camera. With the new ergonomic arm, if you are short, you can pull the monitor down quite low. The problem that then arises is that the monitor will cover the front control panel. You can reach behind the monitor to make the adjustments or move the monitor out of the way to make adjustments and then move it back into position, but that can be a cumbersome task. A remote, similar to Module 1's Simple Remote but without the additional functions, could be an option to alleviate this situation. With such a remote, the controls would no longer be obstructed for those who need to position the monitor low.
The Bottom Line
The SmartView Xtend represents a step forward in the development of desktop CCTVs because it allows customers to upgrade a more basic model to a more advanced one without having to purchase an entirely new device. Purchasing a module upgrade can save customers money if they need to add functionality in the future because of changes in their vision or the demands of work.
The upgrades are easy to perform without the need for a technician to visit your home or office. The monitor attached to the stable ergonomic arm provides a great benefit over CRT or stationary flat-panel monitors because you can position it as you need to without having to adjust the height of your table or chair.
The Xtend's responsive auto-focus camera and good-quality display, along with the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, and color saturation; to modify the Calendar and Calculator displays; and to position the Simple Remote and keypad controls wherever you wish, make this CCTV customizable. If you are in the market for a desktop CCTV and are concerned about changing vision needs, the upgradeable SmartView Xtend is a model to check out before you make a purchase.
"HumanWare would like to thank Lee Huffman and AFB for the insightful review of SmartView Xtend and the many positive comments. In keeping with our ongoing quest for product improvement and quality, we have already taken some of Lee's suggestions into account. For example, we have completely updated the manual, which, we believe, addresses Lee's recommendations. We have also decided to include Module 1 with the base SmartView Xtend unit. This means that all customers now have the added features and the related benefits of the extended remote control, plus the unique option of placing these controls wherever they find them most ergonomically suitable. Also, false colors come free with all units.
"There are some additional SmartView Xtend features about which AccessWorld's readers will be excited:
- User-selected color and false color, brightness, and contrast settings are remembered after the unit is turned off. Accordingly, the Xtend is always ready to go when it is turned on, requiring no further adjustment. (On the other hand, Xtend's many user-selectable options are also ideal for multiuser environments, such as schools, libraries, rehabilitation centers, and senior citizens centers.)
- In addition to Lee's comments about the quality of the auto-focus and screen display, additional onscreen messages make it easy for users to see what settings they are adjusting.
- Almost any external video camera can be used for distance viewing, giving the user a wide range of flexibility. Toggling between the reading camera and an external camera is easily handled with the touch of a button or a foot pedal.
- Units that are purchased with 17-inch and 19-inch LCD monitors come already assembled, so as soon is the unit is removed from its shipping box and plugged in, it is ready to go. (Most units are sold through authorized dealers who are happy to handle the setup at the user's location.)
"In addition to the simplicity with which users can currently upgrade their units, as noted in Lee's review, there is another truly exciting benefit. As new software enhancements for SmartView Xtend are developed in the future, users will have the options of adding these improvements to their existing units. The idea is that SmartView Xtend can continue changing as its users' needs change."
|Magnification 3x to 68x
|Lines and blinds:
|Toggle and split screen
Color: Xtend (color): yes; Module 1: yes; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Auto focus: Xtend (color): yes; Module 1: yes; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Flat-screen monitor: Xtend (color): yes; Module 1: yes; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Magnification 3x to 68x: Xtend (color): yes; Module 1: yes; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Brightness control: Xtend (color): yes; Module 1: yes; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
High-contrast/false colors: Xtend (color): yes; Module 1: yes; Module 2: yes ; Module 3: yes.
Lines and blinds: Xtend (color): no; Module 1: yes; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Page locator: Xtend (color): no; Module 1: yes; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Magnification preset: Xtend (color): no; Module 1: yes; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Calculator: Xtend (color): no; Module 1: no; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Clock: Xtend (color): no; Module 1: no; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Calendar: Xtend (color): no; Module 1: no; Module 2: yes; Module 3: yes.
Computer access: Xtend (color): no; Module 1: no; Module 2: no; Module 3: yes.
Footswitch: Xtend (color): no; Module 1: no; Module 2: no; Module 3: yes.
Toggle and split screen: Xtend (color): no; Module 1: no; Module 2: no; Module 3: yes.
Feature: SmartView Xtend
Auto focus; 5.0.
Display quality; 5.0.
Ease of upgrading; 5.0.
Reading table design; 3.5.
Adjustability of ergonomic arm and monitor position; 5.0.
Working distance under the camera; 3.5.
Manufacturer: HumanWare, 1 Expo Place, P.O. Box 3044, Christchurch, New Zealand; phone: +64-3-384-4555; e-mail: <email@example.com> web site: <www.humanware.com>.
U.S. Office: 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 800-722-3393; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Price: $1,795 to $3,995 (depending on the model and upgrade options chosen)
Back to top
Accessibility Wash: New, Usable Washers and Dryers Are Released
For more than a year, AFB TECH has tracked the accessibility and usability of controls on appliances. The resulting articles, published in AccessWorld, tell a story of diminished usability and the increasing difficulty in finding appliances that are usable by people who are blind or have low vision. The laundry room is a case in point. The electronic controls that operate today's high-tech front-loading washers and their dryer brand-mates often leave those who use nonvisual methods behind.
Two recent products appear to reverse the trend toward inaccessibility. The recently redesigned Whirlpool Duet HT full-size washer and dryer, along with a revamped version of the Sears Kenmore HE3 and HE5t washers and matching dryers, include controls that make these appliances remarkably usable. Both brands have introduced controls that use tones of different pitches, in combination with easy-to-feel buttons and turn knobs. Whirlpool's Duet models have been among the most accessible front-loading washers and dryers, and the Kenmore full-size, High Efficiency (HE3 and HE4) were also more usable than other brands that AFB TECH evaluated. The new controls make these two already usable product lines even more useful and accessible.
Using a modern front-loading washer or dryer is a two-step process. The first step is to select a cycle by turning a knob or pressing a selection button. The second step is to make the desired changes to the cycle by pressing buttons on a control panel. Duet washers have always included a pointer-style main selection knob and easy-to-feel cycle-modification controls that beeped when you pressed them. The challenge has been how to know which settings are changing and what the settings are. For example, if you selected Regular cycle and wanted to change the spin speed, you had to know that when "Regular" was selected, the spin speed was at the fastest setting. You also had to know how many speeds there were and then had to count beeps as you pressed the spin-speed selector. The use of the matching dryer, while more convenient than many, was still far from intuitive when specific changes needed to be made. The new design is the first, of which we are aware, to allow nonvisual selection by using different tones to represent the available choices.
How They Work
The Kenmore and Whirlpool controls allow you to identify options by listening. If, for example, five spin speeds are available on the Regular cycle, five different tones will be heard as you repeatedly press the Spin Speed button. The highest tone indicates the fastest speed, and the lowest tone represents the slowest speed. When you cycle among the speeds, it is a simple matter to learn how many are available. Similarly, using the dryer is much easier than with earlier controls because tones inform you that changes are being made and cue you as to how many choices there are. This simple but important advancement increases the certainty that you have set your appliance as you intended and provides a much higher level of confidence to those who use nonvisual methods that the washer or dryer will behave as intended.
The Duet Controls
Although both the Whirlpool Duet HT and Sears HE3 and HE5t use tones, there are some important differences in their designs. The Duet HT retains the pointer-style main selection knob that was introduced with the first-generation models. The knob has a solid feel and clicks as you move from cycle to cycle. An illuminated pointer has been added to make it easier to see which cycle is selected. An "index tone" sounds as you turn the pointer to the Normal Casual setting, located at the 12 o'clock position. Normal Casual is Whirlpool's default cycle. The buttons that are used to modify the cycles are easy to feel and are laid out in a logical arrangement beside the main control.
When you press the On/Off button to activate the Duet, you hear a series of quick ascending tones. The washer and dryer display the default settings for the cycle, which are indicated by the position of the pointer on the main rotary control. In the event that you lose track of your place while making changes in the cycles, turning the Duet off and back on returns you to the defaults for the selected cycle. The tones that are heard each time a cycle-modification button is pressed are organized in a descending pattern. The highest tone indicates the fastest speed, hottest temperature, and heaviest soil, and the lowest tone signals the slowest speed, coldest water, and lightest soil. A distinct error tone alerts you to a problem. A different tone indicates that changes in a particular setting cannot be made, such as in the temperature setting when the Sanitary cycle is used, because the temperature is automatically set. Several selectable options, including prewash, presoak, and extra rinse, can be turned on and off. Selecting these options produces two tones. An ascending or descending pattern indicates on or off, respectively.
The Sears Kenmore Controls
The Kenmore HE3 and HE 5t use a circular knob that has no pointer. The washer selector turns with a relatively positive click as you move from cycle to cycle. Turning the selector all the way around causes the unit to beep when the default cycle is reached again. The controls to start and stop washing are semicircular flat buttons that are surrounded by the main selector knob. These buttons are easy to feel and are separated by a thin groove in the smooth surface of the control. Selecting cycle particulars, such as the water temperature or the dryer time, is similar to that of the Duet HT. Tones of different pitches are heard as options are changed. Turning the unit off and then back on by pressing the On/Off button resets the washer to the default cycle.
How Dry I Am
The clothes-dryer counterparts to both the Duet and Kenmore models share most of the control features of their respective washing machines. The Duet HT dryer allows drying by type of load—towels, jeans, and so forth—or by time. The Wrinkle Shield on and off is indicated by a pair of ascending or descending tones. In the case of the Kenmore, our evaluation of 10 dryers in three static displays at Sears's appliance departments revealed that the main selection knob has a much looser action than that of the washing machine rotary control. Since there is no sound to let you know that you have changed cycles, these controls may not be as usable as those of the HE3 or HE5t washing machines. AFB TECH will attempt to conduct a real-time evaluation of both the Duet and Kenmore dryers as soon as possible.
How Do They Stack Up?
AFB TECH has defined true accessibility to include the ability to learn which settings have been made and to track the progress of the device through a cycle. Although the designs of these controls do not provide a method to learn the progress of the controls, beyond the sounds of the device in operation, they are among the most usable controls on any major appliance of which we are aware. The Duet HT edges out the Kenmore offerings because of the pointer and the more solid click, which gives maximum certainty when used without vision. For this reason, we have placed the Duet HT washer and dryer, along with the Fisher and Paykel GL 15 washer and matching dryer, at the top of our list of Appliance Accessibility Top Choices for front-loading and top-loading washers and dryers, respectively.
Is Whirlpool Serious About Accessibility?
After we learned that Duet HT washers and dryers include an innovative strategy of using tones of different pitches to allow users who are visually impaired to change cycle settings independently, we wanted to find out a bit more about how and why the largest manufacturer of household appliances addresses accessibility. Thus, we telephoned Whirlpool's Benton Harbor, Michigan, headquarters to ask if someone could talk with us about these issues. The response from top Whirlpool staff members clearly signals that this company is serious about accessible design. We spoke with two key individuals: Pamela Rogers and Doug Beaudet.
Rogers is category director of Whirlpool Brand Laundry. As her title suggests, she is directly in charge of the development of all aspects of laundry equipment that is sold under the Whirlpool brand. In a telephone interview from her office, Rogers shared her thoughts and Whirlpool's intentions with respect to accessibility.
According to Rogers, the design of Whirlpool appliances is driven by consumers. Rogers clearly stated that Whirlpool seeks to meet consumers' needs and that a great deal of effort and many resources go into finding out which features are important. In terms of accessibility, including the needs of consumers who are blind or have low vision is very much a part of the design process. The use of tones in the new Duet design is a result of the desire for Whirlpool laundry equipment to be usable by all.
Although accessibility features are important to those who are blind or have low vision, Rogers also stated that these features are beneficial to all consumers. "A confusing control panel won't help anybody" she stated.
While the future is impossible to predict with certainty, Whirlpool intends to provide solutions that meet people's actual needs. The company has demonstrated technology that links laundry equipment to a cell phone. After we spoke with Rogers, it was clear that Whirlpool will not introduce high-tech innovations for their own sake.
Doug Beaudet is director of global usability interaction design for Whirlpool. His responsibilities include addressing accessibility and usability for all consumers. In a wide-ranging discussion that touched on many aspects of the issues of accessibility, he shared some of his thoughts with us. According to Beaudet, accessibility is best achieved by good design, not as an afterthought. The Duet controls, which reached stores in March 2007, demonstrate this philosophy. At the same time, Whirlpool is aware of areas in which improvements can be made.
Investigating the potential to include tactile marks in the materials that are used in control surfaces is of interest, as are other strategies. The use of plastic overlays with control cutouts is among the techniques of interest. This technique has not been widely used to provide nonvisual access, but may be worthy of increased attention by both manufacturers and people who are blind or have low vision as another strategy.
After we spoke with Rogers and Beaudet, we concluded that Whirlpool is making a real effort to address usability. The improvements in the controls of the Duet HT laundry equipment reveal a true understanding that accessibility and usability are important. This is incontrovertible evidence that this understanding is providing improved accessibility at Whirlpool. By setting the gold standard for laundry-room accessibility, the Whirlpool Duet HT laundry appliances have answered the question, "Is Whirlpool serious about accessibility"? The answer is, you bet it is.
Back to top
In some ways, it resembles a family reunion or a classic play whose lines are so familiar that you could recite them with the actors. But family reunions can surprise everyone with some brand-new members, and seeing King Lear performed in blue jeans or beachwear puts a new spin on what you remember. So it is with the Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, called by the name of its sponsoring organization, California State University at Northridge (CSUN). The 22nd annual CSUN conference was held on March 19–24, 2007, at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott and Airport Hilton hotels. For those who attended past events, there was indeed much that was familiar. There were also, however, numerous surprises—most of them pleasant.
With the rollout of Microsoft's new operating system, Vista, occurring only two months before the CSUN conference, Vista naturally claimed a certain amount of attention in the arena of assistive technology for people who are blind. Serotek's FreedomBox (the first to go public with access to Vista), as well as GW Micro's Window-Eyes and Freedom Scientific's JAWS for Windows, were all demonstrated running Vista throughout the conference. But if you are not the kind of person who cares much about the next operating system until it has been around for a while, there was much more to see.
If traveling and mobility are your highest priority, there were many devices and systems of interest. Maps that can be interpreted by touch but provide detailed audio output are becoming increasingly stable. One research project examined the value of receiving a combination of tactile and audio information while walking through a new environment with a white cane or a dog guide. In addition, GPS (global positioning systems) excursions were hosted by both HumanWare Canada, using the handheld Trekker, and Sendero, demonstrating the popular Sendero GPS product running on the BrailleNote family of products.
Speaking of handheld devices, closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) are becoming increasingly small and sophisticated, and several portable CCTVs that are small enough to put in your pocket were on display at CSUN. Of course, pocket-sized devices for people who are blind using media other than magnified print were on display as well. HumanWare's smallest braille display, for example, the Braille Connect, provides only 12 cells and is about 5 inches long. For those who are looking for new and versatile handheld devices with speech output, probably the two newest attention getters were the Icon, by LevelStar, and BraillePlus, from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). A PDA (personal digital assistant) that is designed specifically for users who are blind, the Icon PDA has large, distinctly tactile, buttons; a 30GB drive; and the capability to do everything from playing your music collection to storing your audio book collection and roaming the Internet or reading e-mail wherever there is a wireless connection. APH purchased access to the original Icon design, made the case a bit larger to accommodate six extra keys, and added the functionality of a simple braille keyboard.
CSUN's organizers threw a surprise element into the selection of individual sessions this year. There are hundreds of sessions to choose from, and the conference has, for years, indicated, by simple abbreviations, whether a workshop may be most relevant, to, say, people who are blind or have low vision; have mobility impairments, learning disabilities, or hearing impairments; and are at the beginner, intermediate, or advanced level of expertise on a given topic. The new twist was to require the participants to make reservations online for the sessions they hoped to attend. Monitors were on duty at each workshop, checking names against a list. However, those (more than half in our very unofficial poll) who had not noticed or not chosen to reserve space in the sessions did not need to worry. Although many sessions were indeed packed with participants, an empty space could generally be found for those whose names were not on the list. However, presentations by both Google and Microsoft were filled by people who had preregistered.
In the case of sessions coded "BLV," for or pertaining to people who are blind or have low vision, there were nearly 150 options. These sessions included demonstrations of products, presentations of research findings, and discussions of ways to incorporate assistive technology of various sorts into university or workplace settings. There were sessions on web accessibility, audio CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart), map reading-wayfinding, and how to conduct research with a PDA.
The participants seemed particularly excited about the Trekker GPS or Sendero GPS sessions. Sendero took small groups on a limousine tour with Sendero GPS on the BrailleNote PK reporting the landmarks, street names, and headings, and HumanWare Canada took a group of 10 on a walking-teaching tour, as well as providing demonstrations in traditional sessions.
Other Sessions of Interest
A personal favorite was the session by Roger Smith, of APH, on accessible games. Although this session was targeted primarily to educators and the games are for children or young adults, any computer user who is blind or has low vision who enjoys a little silliness should check these games out. Through magnification, contrasting colors, sound effects, and lots of spoken cues, APH has rendered some relatively typical video games that are usable by—and useful in building skills for—students who are blind or have low vision.
Peter Brunet and Larry Weiss, of IBM, discussed IAccessible2, an extension of Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA), which provides access to advanced features in Windows programs, such as editing functions, hyperlinks, charts, and menus. IAccessible2 enables assistive technologies like screen readers and screen magnifiers to access information from the operating system that was not available before. The developers of the Firefox browser are implementing IAccessible2, and IBM is encouraging other companies, including Microsoft, to use it as well.
Ai Squared, Dolphin Access Products, Freedom Scientific, and GW Micro all demonstrated their screen readers or screen magnifiers working in Windows Vista. Beta versions of these programs were available at the conference, and almost all the programs are projected to be released by the time you read this article.
Jennifer Bilotta and Richard Boardman, of Google, discussed the beginning of their company's accessibility efforts. They focused on the research that has been conducted to develop the audio CAPTCHA that Google uses on Gmail. The speakers admitted that this solution did not work for people who are deaf-blind, however, and asked for suggestions.
Geoff Freed, of WGBH's National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), demonstrated ways to make onscreen information and emergency alerts available to television viewers who are blind. Such information may include school closings, breaking news, and warnings about tornadoes and other disasters. The Federal Communications Commission has ruled that emergency information must be made accessible to people who are blind, but stations have not done so yet. NCAM is using text-to-speech to develop a prototype system that makes these text messages accessible.
More New Products
GW Micro and Human Information Management Service introduced the Voice Sense, a PDA with speech output and a braille keyboard. The Voice Sense features a word processor, appointment calendar, phone book, media player, FM radio, and scientific calculator. The price is $1,895. The companies also showed the Sync Braille, a small, lightweight braille display, which is available in 20- and 32-cell models.
Freedom Scientific has added a 21-inch screen model to its line of TOPAZ CCTVs. It also announced that it will soon be possible to play DAISY books from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic on its PAC Mate PDA.
Still other products that were demonstrated included Zoom-Ex from ABISee—software and a camera that allow you to scan, read, and listen to a page or an entire book of text on a laptop computer, and the Junior, a new, handheld CCTV from Clarity Solutions that has a 4-inch screen, weighs 11 ounces, magnifies from 3x to 9x, and sells for $695.
Rating the Conference
The CSUN conference has historically been the event against which to measure the level of accessibility provided by other conferences. Sadly, this is no longer the case. Problems that were reported in AccessWorld in 2006 and discussed with the CSUN staff after the 2006 conference were repeated this year. Once again, a poor job was done in producing the braille version of the conference program.
For such a large and detailed conference, braille materials are voluminous. In past years, to make the bulk more manageable (and usable), the conference provided the program materials for the entire week in several smaller booklets—one booklet for each day, for example—rather than the entire list of sessions in one continuous volume, as well as a separate volume for exhibitors, speakers, the conference overview, and so on. This year's program had no breakout booklets, with the exception of a Quick Overview volume. The remainder of the information was in three enormous braille volumes, which were awkward to leaf through for any kind of quick reference and even more awkward to lug around from session to session.
A transcriber's note stated that advertisements and hotel maps were omitted. Thus, the advertisements, which were paid for by the exhibitors, including the American Foundation for the Blind, were not available to the braille-reading participants. Therefore, these attendees could not learn about special offers, upgrades, or other announcements that the exhibitors paid for them to know. Similarly, although menus in the hotel restaurants were provided in braille, they were either abbreviated versions of the printed menus or presented offerings that were no longer available. No breakfast menu was available in braille.
The CSUN conference's web site was redone during the past year. Shockingly, when you select many of the links on the site, the resulting pages open in a new window, a violation of the guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative. Online conference registration was outsourced this year to an organization called Let's Go Expo. This site was accessible, but important information that was available in previous years was impossible to obtain this year. For example, it was not possible to search for and download a list of all sessions related to blindness and low vision that included descriptions of the sessions. You could download only a list that included each session's name, presenter, location, and time. This information is not good enough to plan your conference schedule. The CSUN staff completely changed in the past year and a half, and the new staff did a poor job of handling accessibility issues at the 2007 conference. The staff of AccessWorld are willing to advise CSUN on improving the situation at the 2008 conference.
An e-mail message that was distributed prior to the conference announced that in 2008, all the exhibits will be located in a tent in a parking lot between the Marriott and Hilton hotels. This is a bad idea and will present problems involving navigation and mobility, climate control, and security for both people and equipment.
If you missed CSUN 2007, you may want to plan now for the 2008 conference. Next year's event will be held on March 11–15, 2008, and you do not need to read a conference program or a list of exhibitors to know that it will be a fact-filled, fun-filled, technological and networking bonanza for anyone who is interested in assistive technology.
Darren Burton and Marc Grossman contributed to this article.
Back to top
Show Me the Money: An Evaluation of the Note Teller 2 Money Identifier
The independent identification of U.S. currency by people who are blind or have low vision was not often the center of conversation until a federal judge ruled, in December 2006, that U.S. currency is inaccessible to people who are visually impaired. The resulting media attention and discussion within the blindness community have touched on many aspects of the subject, including using technology as a strategy to identify money. At AFB TECH, our mission is to evaluate technology and to provide information to the community. We recently tested money-identification technology. This article reports our findings, including how well the technology works and whether people who are blind or have low vision find it useful.
What should a portable money identifier be able to do? Besides being able to handle a variety of old and new currency designs and bills in various conditions, a money identifier must work efficiently and accurately; that is, it should not be difficult to use, it should work quickly, and it should not require numerous attempts before it works. No money identifier is worth having if it misidentifies bills. Of course, it should also be affordable and small enough to carry around in your pocket. Is there such a device?
As of January 1, 2007, we were aware of only one device that is intended specifically for personal use to identify U.S. paper money—the Note Teller 2, manufactured by BRYTECH of Canada. Another device, Voice-It-All-USA, which combines money identification, color identification, and a digital voice recorder, was withdrawn from the market pending the update of new currency, according to the web site for the reseller of the device. Alternatives for identifying paper money include the Kurzweil 1000 and OpenBook computer-based scanning/reading packages, which were evaluated in the July 2006 issue of AccessWorld, both of which include a money-identification mode, but we did not evaluate them for this article because they are not portable. Also, as we were finishing this article, we learned that the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader, which was evaluated in the November 2006 issue of AccessWorld, has a new software upgrade that includes a money-identification mode. This article focuses exclusively on the Note Teller 2.
The Note Teller 2 is a black, rectangular box measuring 6 inches long by 3 inches wide by roughly 1 inch thick and weighing 8 ounces with a 9-volt battery installed. The top of the device has a slot about two-thirds of the way toward its back edge, which is where you insert a bill to be identified; molded edges along the side of the unit help guide the bill into the slot. The front edge of the unit has a headphone jack for privacy and a slider switch that is used to adjust the volume and to select announcements in English or Spanish. When the unit is silent, the switch selects low, medium, or high volume, and while the unit is speaking, the switch is used to change from English to Spanish, or vice versa. The back edge of the unit is slightly thicker than the front and has a ring, so you can attach the Note Teller 2 to a neck or wrist strap or secure it to a desk or counter. The device comes with a vinyl sleeve for protection while not in use.
Caption: The Note Teller 2.
The Note Teller 2 is designed to recognize all U.S. bills, from $1 to $100, and can be upgraded by the manufacturer to identify new bill designs that may enter circulation. Sliding the end of a bill into the slot activates the Note Teller. It does not matter which end of the bill you slide in or which face is up, but the instructions advise you to insert a bill "swiftly" for the best results. Within two to four seconds, a male voice clearly announces the bill's denomination. If the Note Teller 2 cannot determine the bill's denomination, it says "cannot read." The unit also announces "replace battery" when the battery is weak. If you hear it continually say "out of order," then it is time to send the unit in for repair.
How We Tested
We divided our examination of the Note Teller 2 into two parts: a lab test and a user study. In our lab, three AFB TECH staffers used the device to identify a sample of U.S. bills to measure the accuracy of the Note Teller 2 (see
at the end of this article). The lab test also assessed the general ease of use of the device, along with the included documentation. For the user study, we assembled two groups of six people who are blind or have low vision, one group in Huntington, West Virginia, and the other in Dallas, Texas (see
The User Study: People Try the Device
at the end of this article). We observed the way they used the device and noted their reactions to it.
Documentation, Ease of Use, and Convenience
The Note Teller 2 is one of the easiest devices to learn and use that we have ever tested at AFB TECH. It works right out of the box, and there are no complicated setup procedures. You simply slide a bill into the slot and wait to see what the device says. The documentation is also of the highest quality, is straightforward, and provides an excellent description that was written with the reader who is blind in mind. Although braille is not available, the manual comes in large print and on an audio CD in both English and Spanish. It provides hints for using the Note Teller 2, and we found them to be useful. In particular, a specific note about keeping bills as flat as possible and directions on how to insert bills swiftly were important. Additional information about dealing with creased bills would have made the instructions even more useful.
Although we were impressed with the simplicity and accessibility of the Note Teller 2, our observations revealed some design limitations related to its size. That is, the unit is too large to carry in a pocket, and some people may find it awkward and cumbersome to use in many settings, such as at a checkout counter.
Does It Identify Money Well?
To answer this question, we repeatedly used the Note Teller 2 in the lab using expert testers who operated the device as consistently as possible and in two user studies in which participants who are blind or have low vision encountered the device for the first time.
The device is simple, accessible, and easy to figure out. Despite these pluses, the Note Teller 2 did not overcome its middling money-identifying ability when it was tested a total of 564 times by our experienced evaluators in the lab. It successfully identified bills in four out of five trials, which is, in our experience, on par with using vending equipment that accepts paper money. The condition of bills was the strongest predictor of success, with bills in good condition identified easily and worn or wrinkled bills identified with more difficulty. The Note Teller 2 is confused by $2 bills. Each of the three testers heard the clear and unmistakable voice announce "$50" when they inserted at least one of the $2 bills that were used to test the device. Since $2 bills are rarely found in circulation, their misidentification is not as serious a problem as the misidentification of more common denominations. Nevertheless, this shortcoming could conceivably be costly if you are not aware of it.
While the lab tests presented a picture of a device that compares favorably with other technologies that accept cash, the experiences of the two groups of users told a much more nuanced story. Most of the participants in the Huntington group used the Note Teller 2 successfully most of the time, but several became frustrated while using it, in two instances going so far as to give up trying to identify a bill. When considering the Note Teller 2 as a piece of technology, the group rated it highly. Yet when asked, only two of the six Huntington participants stated that identifying money is both a significant and frequent problem for them.
The experience of the Dallas group painted a somewhat more complex picture. Getting the device to work was much more difficult for these participants. As in the lab, the Note Teller 2 misidentified two bills, but this time they were $10 bills, which the machine declared to be "$100." Despite considerable frustration and the two misidentifications, five of the six Dallas participants said that identifying money is important and rated the Note Teller 2 highly.
All the members of the Dallas group with low vision and two of the three members of the Huntington group with low vision found the Note Teller 2 more appealing than did those who were blind who used nonvisual techniques for everyday activities. One could speculate that they experienced problems with fluctuating vision and certain environmental lighting conditions and that they did not have nonvisual techniques to accommodate the identification of money.
The Bottom Line
The Note Teller 2 is a simple device that worked reasonably well and reliably in the lab when tested by experts, with the exception of identifying $2 bills. But when users tried out the device, it was apparent that it should work much better and more reliably. The two groups of users had what might be termed a mildly positive experience with the device, but did not show the level of enthusiasm that might have been expected had the identification of money been more of a problem for them and had the device worked better. The Note Teller 2 is accessible, but it clearly has limitations in doing what it is designed to do. There is room for improvement in reliability, ease of use for bills in poor condition, convenience, and accuracy. The most disturbing finding was that on two occasions in the user study, the device misidentified $10 bills as $100 bills.
The efficiency of use was much less consistent among members of the Dallas group. Both the number of times the participants gave up on a bill and the number of times a bill had to be reinserted before it was read were much higher than for the participants in the Huntington group. These issues notwithstanding, the Dallas group rated the device highly.
Opinions varied widely among the 12 members of both groups who tried the Note Teller 2. Most rated it highly and expressed serious to moderate concern about identifying money. However, some preferred the techniques they use to identify money over the Note Teller 2 and stated that they are not concerned about identifying money. Like other studies that AFB TECH has conducted, this one included some still unanswered questions. What is the significance of the misidentification of $2 bills and a few $10 bills? If all the participants knew a variety of techniques for managing money, would their opinions and the results have been different? And most important, will many people who are blind or have low vision invest $270 on another assistive technology device that has limitations and is not confidence inspiring in its ability to do what it is supposed to do? Don't bet money on it!
Funding for this product evaluation was provided by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia. We would like to acknowledge the research assistance provided by Lee Huffman, Priscilla Rogers, and the Huntington and Dallas volunteers.
Note Teller 2
|Bilingual (Spanish and English)
|Manual in accessible format
|Can be updated for new currency designs
Feature: Note Teller 2
Battery operated: Yes.
Bilingual (Spanish and English): Yes.
Manual in accessible format: Yes.
Can be updated for new currency designs: Yes.
Earphone connecter: Yes.
Feature: Note Teller 2
Voice quality: 5
Quality of construction: 4
Printed and recorded documentation: 5
Overall accuracy for all denominations: 5
Accuracy for $1 bills: 5
Accuracy for $2 bills: 1
Accuracy for $5 bills: 5
Accuracy for $10 bills: 4
Accuracy for $20 bills: 5
Accuracy for $50 bills: 5
Accuracy for $100 bills: 5
Average rating by all users: 4
Note Teller 2.
Manufacturer: BRYTECH, 600 Peter Morand Crescent, Suite 240, Ottawa ON K1G 5Z3 Canada; phone: 613-731-5800; e-mail: <email@example.com> web site: <www.brytech.com>.
To learn about bills that are currently in use, we consulted a local bank. We were told that the distribution of money to banks has changed in the past few years. Rather than packages of new, pristine paper currency from the Federal Reserve, packages of money now contain bills of varying quality and may contain one of several designs that include color and other attributes. Therefore, a teller may give a customer five $20 bills ranging from new to used and that have either the newest colorful designs or earlier designs.
For the lab tests, three experienced users of assistive technology who are AFB TECH staffers (two are blind and one has low vision) used the device to identify a sample of 47 U.S. bills of all denominations, from $1 to $100, including $2 bills. The sample of bills included currency in good condition (crisp and unwrinkled), in poor condition (well-used bills that were wrinkled), and in average condition (between good and poor). Of the 47 bills that were tested, 10 were in good condition, 14 were in poor condition, and 23 were in average condition.
The sample of bills also represented what we determined were the three main categories of currency design: "colorful bills," which include color in addition to the traditional black and green associated with U.S. currency; "off-center-portrait bills," which are characterized by an offset portrait and large numbers on the back; and "center-portrait bills," on which the portrait is centered and that lack large numbers. The "colorful" and "off-center-portrait" bills occur only in $10, $20, and $50 denominations. Twenty of the sample bills were in these denominations and represent all three design styles. Trials with these 20 bills were used to determine differences in success rates among the three styles.
The Note Teller 2 was placed on a table with the bill slot facing the tester, as suggested in the instruction manual. Each of the three testers inserted each of the 47 bills into the device four times: once on each face of the bill and once at each end of the bill. In this way, the Note Teller 2 was tested in a total of 564 trials. Each tester inserted each bill as consistently as possible according to the instructions. Observations were made for each of the 564 trials to determine if the Note Teller 2 identified a bill successfully, misidentified a bill, or said "cannot read."
With the exception of $2 bills, the Note Teller 2 correctly identified all the bills, but not always on each of the four tries of a particular bill. Success rates for the denominations other than the $2 bills ranged from 88% to 93% except for the $10 bills, which were identified 68% of the time. The condition of the bills mattered. Disregarding the $2 bills, overall success rates were 97% for good bills, 82% for average bills, and 74% for poor bills. The testers observed that bills in poor condition required special attention to make sure the edges were as even as possible and not folded. Unlike the condition of the bills, the design of the bills did not affect the success rate. The success rates of the three designs were nearly identical, with the center-portrait bills scoring 79%, the off-center portrait bills scoring 80%, and the colorful bills scoring 81%.
The $2 bills, all of average condition, were particularly troublesome. The Note Teller 2 successfully identified the $2 bills on only 6 of 36 trials for a success rate of 16.7%. Even worse, the $2 bills were misidentified as $50 bills five times, with each bill misidentified at least once. None of the other bills, regardless of its condition, was misidentified during the lab tests.
The User Study: People Try the Device
We recruited two samples of six participants, each of which had three persons who were blind and used nonvisual techniques to read and three persons with low vision who used either vision or a magnification device to read. The Huntington, West Virginia, group ranged in age from 25 to 66, and the Dallas group ranged in age from 61 to 100. None of the participants had any experience with the Note Teller 2.
We asked each participant to take part in a series of four trials using the Note Teller 2 to identify a set of five bills in each trial. At the beginning of each session, the participants were asked to listen to the audio instructions on the CD that came with the device. We used bills of the most common denominations that are in circulation ($1, $5, $10, and $20) and used an equal number of bills in good and poor condition. The same bills were used in both testing locations. In addition to recording the number of times it took for the Note Teller 2 to identify each bill successfully, we observed the participants' use of the device and asked the participants several follow-up questions.
Results from the Huntington Users
Although no bills were misidentified, there were three instances in which it took four tries to get the device to recognize a bill and two instances in which it took five tries. Two participants were so frustrated trying to get the device to work that they gave up trying to identify one of the bills after four attempts.
It took four of the six participants (two who are blind and two with low vision) from 30 to 37 attempts to identify the 20 bills, but those attempts included the two instances in which the participants never succeeded in identifying the bills. When asked to rate how the Note Teller 2 compared to their current method of identifying money, two rated the Note Teller much worse than the methods they use, and two rated it much better. The remaining two participants took fewer tries and were successful with each bill. One, with low vision, took 23 tries, and the other, who was blind, took 21 tries. The blind participant rated the Note Teller 2 as equal to the usual method of identifying money, and the participant with low vision rated it as somewhat better.
The two participants who rated the Note Teller 2 the highest had low vision and stated that handling money was a significant and frequent problem for them. When asked how important it was to have a device to identify paper money, the participant who rated this device as very unimportant was blind and expressed complete satisfaction with the current method of identifying money.
Techniques mentioned to identify money included asking a teller or cashier, requesting return change in specific denominations, using vision, holding money for later identification, and organizing money either by location in a purse or by folding methods once bills had been identified. Two of the three participants with low vision stated that they look for the large numbers on newer bills.
Answers to a question about how frequently they experience difficulty handling money varied widely from "not very often, perhaps twice a year" to "all the time." The participants considered the price of the Note Teller 2 ($270) to be high, and several observed that using it in a public situation would be time consuming.
Results from the Dallas Users
On two bill-reading attempts, once for each of two users, a $10 bill was misidentified as $100. One of the bills in question was in good condition with a "colorful" design, and the other was in poor condition with an "offset-portrait" design. In addition, the number of attempts required to identify bills was high for several participants, and these participants exhibited frustration. In one trial, seven attempts were made before the participant gave up. Two other participants gave up after five attempts. The condition of the bills played a major part in effecting success. The bills in poor condition took more than twice as many trials to be recognized as those in good condition.
Four of the six participants (three who were blind and three with low vision) took from 36 to 39 attempts to identify the 20 bills, but these attempts included 8 in which the participants did not succeed in identifying the bills. When asked to rate how the Note Teller 2 compared to the current method they use to identify money, three rated it as much better than the current method, and the fourth expressed a neutral rating.
One participant with low vision had a particularly rough time, taking 51 attempts with three give-ups, but one participant who was blind took only 25 attempts and identified all 20 bills. Both participants rated the Note Teller 2 as much better than the current method they use to identify money.
Four of the six participants rated the Note Teller 2 as excellent or very good, and the remaining two were neutral. Five of the six participants said it was important to have a money-identification device, and one with low vision expressed a neutral opinion. When asked to compare the Note Teller 2 to the method they generally use to identify money, five of the six participants rated it as much better. The participant who provided a different rating was blind and was neutral about the device. The money-identification techniques mentioned by the Dallas participants were similar to those mentioned by the Huntington participants.
The participants stated that they experienced difficulty identifying money from 20 percent of the time to all the time. The grocery store was the most commonly mentioned place where they had difficulty, with half the group mentioning it.
Back to top
The Large Challenge of Small Devices: A First Look at the Mobile Device Landscape
According to many technology annalists, the era of the PC is over. Consider, if you will, the media frenzy that surrounded the announcement of the Apple iPhone, an unreleased product. The unavoidable coverage of the event provides a glimpse at the importance of handheld technology. Recall the images and descriptions of Steve Jobs waving his finger in front of a five-inch screen, whipping iPod devotees into a frenzy of iPhone lust. Try to watch a TV program without a cell phone company tempting you with miniaturized technology to organize your life; download and listen to music; watch TV; text message your friends; and, oh yes, even place a telephone call. All these things and many more are possible with currently available handheld technology. When you consider the functions that are packed into smartphones and Pocket PC devices, prices can be surprisingly low.
If this revolution that is happening in the palms of people's hands is so important, how do people who use nonvisual techniques stand to benefit? Or do we? In this article, I address the three basic types of handheld technology that are in common use. I describe how they are similar and the important ways in which they differ. Strategies and programs that provide accessibility to these products are described, and I conclude with some thoughts on which devices may be best suited to your situation.
Pocket PCs are a specific class of a broad category of devices that are often referred to as PDAs or personal digital assistants. To be sold as a Pocket PC, a device must include some specific characteristics, which are important to understand. In addition to complying with hardware standards, Pocket PCs are intended to be companion devices that you regularly connect to a personal computer that is running the Windows operating system.
All new Pocket PCs run on an operating system from Microsoft called Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile bundles some applications that have been tailored to operate on a handheld device with a basic operating system. These applications include Pocket Word and Pocket Excel.
Pocket PCs also share some physical characteristics. The most obvious is a touch screen. The touch screen allows you to tap, with a stylus or fingertip, on regions of the screen or icons to perform specific tasks, such as opening e-mail or the calendar. The appearance of the touch screen resembles the Windows desktop that is common to PCs that run Windows. In addition to the touch screen, several buttons and controls are included on all Pocket PCs. One such control is a five-way directional navigation key to perform many navigation tasks, as the arrow keys do on a conventional PC. The Enter button is located in the center of this control. In addition, four function keys, sometimes called soft keys, two on each side of the Navigation key, are found on all Pocket PCs. The action of these keys is dependent on the application that is running.
Beyond the touch screen and basic controls, Pocket PCs may include additional keys. The most common addition to the basics is a miniature keyboard. Sometimes called thumb keys, the rows and columns of these miniature keys are laid out in the traditional style of a QWERTY computer keyboard. Some designs place the QWERTY keys on the face of the Pocket PC, below the screen and navigation keys, whereas others use a slide-out keyboard that is oriented along the long axis of the device.
Regardless of the specific design, the primary functions of a Pocket PC are centered on the Windows Mobile package. "Pocket" versions of familiar Microsoft programs, including Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket Internet Explorer, and Pocket PowerPoint, are intended to give on-the-go access to files that are shared with a desktop computer. Third-party programs can also be installed on the Pocket PC. Many popular Windows applications offer "Pocket" versions.
Because Pocket PCs fit easily in the hand, it is not surprising that cell phone technology has been built into some of them. Dubbed "Pocket PC phones," these models often fill out the high end of a manufacturer's line. On Pocket PC phones, selected keys on the QWERTY keyboard perform double duty as a keypad for the phones. While telephone functions are included, the look and feel of the screens and navigation remain similar to Pocket PC models that do not include a cell phone.
Several fundamental characteristics of the Pocket PC have important implications for nonvisual use. The most important is the manner in which the Pocket PC handles turning on and off. Unlike a desktop computer, the Pocket PC is never truly off. A sleep state can be invoked. This is the closest comparison to the "off" state on computers and PDAs that are designed for people who are blind, such as the PAC Mate or BrailleNote. While the Pocket PC is in the sleep mode, controls can be activated, requiring that care be taken when using the device. Many Pocket PCs have a key-lock control to prevent accidental activation while in the sleep mode.
Some Pocket PCs encounter difficulty if the battery is allowed to discharge completely. Losing all power can cause a catastrophic loss of data in some models. Other models require that a visual screen calibration be completed before they are rebooted from a discharged condition.
Reading descriptions of the seemingly endless parade of mobile devices, it is no wonder that people are confused by the terms Pocket PC and smartphone. A Pocket PC phone is a conventional Pocket PC that includes cell phone technology. A smartphone is primarily a cell phone that includes some additional functions that are found on Pocket PCs. Differentiating between the two types of devices is not always easy. Smartphones most often use a conventional cell phone-style keypad, although some models now offer full QWERTY keyboards. Smartphones are designed for one-handed operation like traditional cell phones. The interface of a smartphone is similar to that of a cell phone and does not include the touch-screen desktop that is found on Pocket PCs. The interface is comprised of two soft keys, a joystick, and Home and Back buttons. Navigation on the smartphone differs from that on the Pocket PC. Icons for functions are displayed on the screen in a grid arrangement. Selections are made from the grid by entering the number for the desired function or navigating to it with the joystick.
You enter text on a smartphone using one of two methods: a QWERTY keyboard, if available, or the multipress and predictive text (also known as T9) if the phone has the traditional mobile keyboard layout.
Smartphones focus on phone tasks and functions. The information that is presented on the primary screen of a smartphone includes messages, missed calls, profiles, and recently used applications. Screens on smartphones are generally smaller and have a lower resolution than their Pocket PC counterparts. Smartphones are generally less expensive than Pocket PCs, especially those that include cell phone technology.
In addition to the two members of the Microsoft clan, Pocket PCs and smartphones, there is another family of devices that provide mobile functionality: cell phones that are based on the Symbian operating system. Like smartphones, Symbian phones are phones that also include some basic PDA functionality, such as a calendar, address book contact manager, file viewer, and music player. In addition, third-party applications are becoming increasingly available for Symbian phones. In the United States, the lion's share of Symbian sales are models that are manufactured by Nokia.
Pocket PCs include the ability to browse the web, handle e-mail in real time, and run messaging software—as long as they are connected to the Internet. Several methods of connecting to the web are available to Pocket PC designers. The first is WiFi connectivity, the same wireless technology that is used in most laptops and some desktop computers. If the Pocket PC has WiFi built in and if a network is available, the device can perform tasks that require access to the Internet or a corporate network. Many public WiFi hot spots provide access, either as a complimentary service or on a fee-for-use basis. Home WiFi routers are also a popular way to connect wirelessly for Internet access.
Built-in broadband access is another technology that links the Pocket PC to the Internet through a cellular network. This technology is most commonly found on Pocket PC phones that access a cellular network. Unlike WiFi hot spots, a network connection should be available wherever a cellular signal is found. A monthly fee, in addition to normal cell charges, is charged for the service, which typically ranges from $20 to $60 or more.
Smartphones and Symbian phones always include the technology that allows them to connect to the Internet through their cellular carriers. A monthly fee, typically $20 to $60, is charged for the service. Some cell phone providers also bill for data on a pay-as-you-go schedule. WiFi is being introduced on some new smartphones, further blurring the line between the categories of devices.
Bluetooth and infrared are technologies that allow Pocket PCs, smartphones, and Symbian phones to connect to other devices. Bluetooth is the more commonly used of these technologies. Intended to connect devices within 30 feet or less, Bluetooth is a wireless method for connecting keyboards, headphones, two-way phone earpieces, and a variety of other peripheral devices. The process of establishing a Bluetooth connection between a device and a Pocket PC or cell phone, referred to as "partnering" or "pairing," can be complex and inconvenient. The number of Bluetooth peripherals that can communicate with your Pocket PC or cell phone at any time may be limited to just one.
Managing software and files on the Pocket PC is facilitated through Microsoft Active synch for Windows XP and earlier versions. Windows Vista includes an integrated synchronization utility that is launched automatically when a compatible device running Microsoft Mobile is connected. Functionally, once your Pocket PC is connected to a Windows computer, several important tasks can be completed. The first task that many Pocket PC owners perform is e-mail and contact synchronizing, or synching. Synching means that if you have added or deleted contact information on your Pocket PC since the last time you connected to your Windows machine, your contacts will be updated on the host computer. Conversely, changes to contact information on the desktop system will be reflected in the Pocket PC address book after synching has concluded. E-mail messages that you create on your Pocket PC can be transferred to the desktop system and sent, and new messages that have been received since your last synch will be downloaded to your Pocket PC.
Other programs that provide information that is regularly updated can also communicate with the Pocket PC application to make changes in the information that is available to you. The Zagat restaurant review program is a popular Pocket PC application that provides ratings and addresses for restaurants. As the information about the ratings changes and restaurants are added and dropped, the Zagat program on your PC will collect updated data from the Internet and share the changes with your Pocket PC each time you run Active synch. Finally, Active synch is used to install and remove third-party programs from your Pocket PC. This management also extends to managing files and allows you to make some changes to and to update the Mobile Windows operating system.
Smartphones and Symbian phones can also be connected to your computer. Unlike the Pocket PC, which is a companion technology, smartphones and Symbian phones do not expect or require that you will connect them regularly to a Windows computer. Because smartphones run a Microsoft operating system, Windows Active synch is used just as it is for Pocket PCs. Symbian phones use a separate desktop application to link the phone to the personal computer. The functions that this program performs are the same as those that Windows Active synch includes.
Since Pocket PCs are small, many computer users cannot manage the five-way navigation button or Lilliputian keys. For these individuals, and the rest of us, a thriving market of devices has emerged. The goal of most of these devices is to provide an alternative to the Pocket PC interface.
Because the touch screen may pose access issues for those who use the Pocket PC nonvisually, many of the peripherals that are optional for most users are important alternatives for nonvisual users. Two popular Bluetooth keyboards are commonly used with Pocket PCs: the Think Outside Bluetooth Keyboard and the HP Folding Keyboard. Each is a Bluetooth add-on. Each folds up into a pocket-sized self-contained package; when it is unfolded, the keyboard resembles the keyboard on a laptop computer. The Think Outside unit has no number row; to enter a number, you hold down a function key in combination with the top row of letter keys. The HP Folding Keyboard is a bit larger and includes a full number row. Several larger keyboards, with a footprint about the size of a notebook computer, are attractive to those who need a full complement of keys and have the space to transport them.
Listening in to a Pocket PC, smartphone or Symbian phone is possible with the built-in speaker that is included on all these devices. The volume of these speakers is relatively low, and voice and musical fidelity is seriously limited. This is of particular concern to those who use synthetic speech as part of a package that provides access. To solve this problem, an array of Bluetooth headsets are available. A variety of manufacturers, including HP, Motorola, and Nokia, sell compatible headsets. An alternative to a headset that covers both ears is an earpiece, which is available from manufacturers of cell phones and Pocket PCs. The advantage of an earpiece is that you can use it to talk on the phone without affecting the hearing in both ears. Listening to a Pocket PC speak and attending to other sounds in the environment may be easier with an earpiece that covers just one ear.
Choosing a Technology
Pocket PCs, smartphones, and Symbian phones each offer advantages and have limitations. Careful consideration and some research will help ensure that the technology and device that you select will provide the results that you are looking for. Stable functional screen-reading software is available for all three categories of devices. Code Factory offers the widest array of products with screen reading and magnification for all three kinds of devices. If you are not comfortable managing downloadable software and connecting a device to your computer for installation, you need to find a dealer who can assist you. Dealers can also provide packages that are ready to go. TALKS is a screen-reading and magnification program that operates only on Symbian devices. The same process of downloading and installing it on a device is necessary. Dealers of TALKS can provide out-of-the-box solutions.
Pricing among the three categories of devices differs substantially. Smartphones and Symbian phones are offered at deep discounts by cellular providers. Pocket PCs, which must be purchased on their own, are the most expensive of these devices, but they do not come with a string to a cellular company attached. Smartphones are available from $99 with a cellular contract. Pocket PCs with no phone connectivity are typically available from $200. Including a cellular function adds approximately $125.
Training for these devices contributes to a successful and positive experience. It is fair to say that these devices are not as intuitive or consistent in their behavior as are special-purpose devices, such as the PAC Mate or BrailleNote. In addition to downloadable manuals from Code Factory and Nuance Technology's TALKS, a variety of recorded demonstrations can be found online. Two web sites that feature many articles on mobile computing are <www.blindcooltech.com> and <www.acbradio.org>.
Generally, Pocket PC technology has a high geek factor and is popular mainly among the technically adventuresome. The "build-it-yourself" nature of installing and configuring software to provide access and the requirements for learning to navigate and operate the device create a steeper learning curve than the phone-centered devices. At the same time, Pocket PCs can open a world of highly productive and extremely mobile features and programs.
Phone-based devices offer a more focused experience in which the operation of the phone is the primary activity. Those who desire a handheld organizer, telephone, e-mail system, and web browser may want to give the smartphone or Symbian-based models first consideration. Extras that allow you to create and edit documents, listen to music, and so forth are also available. These extra functions and third-party programs may not be as advanced as those for Pocket PCs. Regardless of the device that you choose and the access strategy that you use, advanced planning to learn how to use your new toy is the most important step you can take.
A Preliminary Look at Access
Mobile Speak Pocket and Pocket Hal are the two screen readers that are intended to provide access to Windows Mobile devices. Both products are software applications that are installed on off-the-shelf Pocket PCs. To get a feel for the Pocket PC experience with speech, we at AFB TECH obtained Mobile Speak Pocket, which is marketed in the United States by HumanWare. We also received a similar system featuring Pocket Hal, which will be reviewed in a future issue of AccessWorld. In addition, we will conduct and report on a more comprehensive review of the HumanWare Mobile Speak Pocket system.
What You Get
For now, let us take a quick look at what $600 buys. Our system arrived from HumanWare in a sturdy box. The packaging for all components was provided by the manufacturer of each piece of equipment. Opening the box revealed a Dell Axium 50 Pocket PC, a USB charging stand, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a shrink-wrapped print manual and Pocket PC CD. No braille, large-print, or recorded documentation was included with the package.
The On/Off button on most Pocket PCs is located on the face of the unit, above the touch screen. Because I am somewhat familiar with this class of technology, I knew where to look. Pressing the On button results in no audible response from the Pocket PC. After experimenting several times, I learned that it is necessary to hold the On button for at least a full second. The difficulty of managing on and off reveals one of the more unsavory features of Pocket PC devices. They are really never off. The screen turns off, indicating that the device is in a sleep mode. Pressing buttons can wake it up, however, so care must be taken when using and managing the device.
Pressing the Navigation key caused the system to speak. "List, no items" was announced after I pressed the Up arrow, and "edit" was announced after I pressed the Down arrow. If you are not familiar with the Pocket PC interface, you will be hard pressed to make any further use of your new technology right out of the box.
Because I had encountered the Mobile Speak Pocket interface in the past, I was aware that the software makes use of the touch screen. Mobile Speak divides the touch screen into 4 quadrants. Each quadrant can be tapped once, tapped twice quickly, or touched and held for a longer time. This results in 3 control functions for each of the 4 quadrants, providing a total of 12 functions that can be performed from the touch screen alone.
In addition to the touch screen controls, the nine hardware controls that are situated below the screen are used. The Alt key, second from the left on the Dell Pocket PC, if pressed four times in succession, will place the system into Command Help Mode, a key-identification mode. From this describer function, it is possible to tap, double tap, press, and hold the screen controls and generally to explore the hardware controls. The functions for the keys are announced clearly and concisely.
The documentation for Mobile Speak Pocket is available in PDF (portable document format) on Code Factory's web site. It is readable with screen readers, but should be available in a more accessible format. It should also be included in the product's package.
According to Command Help, tapping the upper left quadrant twice takes you to the Start menu. I was successful in activating the menu as described. Using the Up/Down arrow keys moved among the 11 items. Mobile Speak announced the menu item, its number on the list, and the total number of items on the menu. Moving to calendar, a popular Pocket PC application, I found that pressing the Enter button opened the application. The Up and Down arrows read "no items." Relying on the information while in Command Help, I pressed and held Quadrant 2 for help. No help was provided; the unit was silent.
Experimentation again was my only recourse. Tabbing revealed three items: "date edit, press Enter to display the month calendar, followed by "list, no items" and "cap s, 1 of 10." Further exploration disclosed that the date was set for Wednesday, August 3, 2005. I was not able to determine how to change the date and time within the time that was available to me.
I did not use the Bluetooth keyboard for this first look. Mobile Speak Pocket features an innovative approach to leveraging expanded control functionality from the device itself. The system of tap and hold worked well most of the time. The speech is not as easily interrupted as on a desktop using a conventional screen reader. Given the limited resources and architectural limitations of the Windows Mobile environment, this is not unexpected, and Code Factory manages these limitations well.
The process of turning off the Pocket PC is similar to that of turning it on. Pressing the Power button for a second turns off the screen. No audible tone signals turn off. A key-lock slide control allows you to deactivate the keyboard and touch screen.
Mobile Speak Pocket is a technically sophisticated application that provides clear speech and 100% stability. At the same time, significant lapses in consistency and an immature interface make the experience frustrating, and the product was difficult to use. Without prompts to alert the novice Windows Mobile user in matters of navigation, the promise of a quick easy-to-use set of on-the-go applications is empty. Help messages that should be available, according to the command Help, are missing.
For its part, HumanWare delivered the hardware and preinstalled software packed nicely in a sturdy box. The absence of accessible documentation fails to meet the usual standards of other ready-to-use packages from this company. We found out that systems that were shipped after our unit was received included a one-page braille and print Getting Started document.
Is the Pocket PC for You?
If you plan to order a system, open the box, turn it on, and be up and running, then Windows Mobile systems are not for you. This technology generally appeals to the technically adventuresome user who has the time and knowledge to manage the required learning and setup that are associated with applications that are downloaded and installed by the user.
If portability; integration of your technology with cell phone functionality; exploring applications, such as Audible Manager; and reading books in WMA (Windows Media) format appeal, then investing the time and effort to configure and learn the Windows Mobile interface can be fruitful. Mobile Speak Pocket is stable, has good support tools available, and felt and sounded responsive and solid.
This first look approached the use of the HumanWare Mobile Speak Pocket package, comparing it to taking the first steps with a PDA that is designed for people who are blind. We expected a ready-to-go, convenience-oriented experience. That is not what we found. For our full review, we will roll up our sleeves and approach the task at hand from the vantage point of complexity and the requirement to do it yourself. The point is simple: The Windows Mobile environment is not the easy-to-use digital playground that some have described. In fact, the use of the Pocket PC interface is at least as complex as its desktop kin. We will explore this environment further in our full review.
Back to top
Low-Cost Portable Video Magnifier
Clarity USA has introduced the Junior ultraportable video magnifier, stating in a recent press release that, at $695, it is the least expensive portable video magnifier on the market. Weighing only 11 ounces and with a 4-inch viewing screen, the Junior fits easily into a pocket or handbag. Capable of magnification from 3x to 9x, the Junior offers four viewing modes, including color, and can be adjusted at various angles for reading bills, receipts, labels, or other pieces of information that are encountered every day. The Junior comes with a wrist strap, a carrying case, and a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 3 hours. The product comes with a 1-year warranty and a 30-day money-back guarantee. To find a Junior dealer near you or for further information, visit the web site <www.clarityusa.com> or telephone 800-575-1456.
HumanWare Launches the Nemeth Code Tutorial
The Nemeth code, named for its creator Dr. Abraham Nemeth, is to a person who is blind and is pursuing mathematics what braille is to a person who is blind and is pursuing literacy. HumanWare has recently made the Nemeth code more accessible by releasing the new Nemeth Code Tutorial, which is designed to run on the BrailleNote mPower family of products. Written by Dr. Gaylen Kapperman and Jodi Sticken, of Northern Illinois University, the tutorial consists of 18 chapters, each divided into 4 parts, and covers everything from writing numbers to statistics. The ability to read and write mathematical symbols is important for all people who are blind, both children and adults, who are pursuing an education or employment, and this guide makes the process easier for teachers and students to use the current technology.
The Nemeth Code Tutorial is available as an option for the BrailleNote mPower BT and QT only, running the latest version of KeySoft. The cost is $395 for the BT or QT version.
For further information or to find the HumanWare sales office near you, visit the web site <www.humanware.com> or telephone 800-722-3393.
Expanded Access to Microsoft Office 2007
Serotek has announced an increased level of accessibility and usability of its FreedomBox System Access with Microsoft Office 2007. System Access users can now create, read, and edit spread sheets in Microsoft Excel; presentations in Microsoft PowerPoint; and, of course, documents in Microsoft Word. Any notes that the user adds to images in PowerPoint can be spoken by System Access to assist in the delivery, but, if the user chooses, need not be displayed on the screen.
The portability of FreedomBox System Access on any U3-enabled USB drive makes it easy to carry necessary presentations, spreadsheets, and documents. When custom settings are configured for a particular Excel document, they travel with the document from computer to computer. A recent news release from Serotek said: "The number of configuration options and keyboard commands is kept to a minimum, so users can get started quickly with little training." For more information or a 30-day trial, visit the web site <www.freedombox.info> or telephone 866-202-0520.
Audio Graphing Calculator Upgrade
ViewPlus Technologies is now shipping the third edition of its Audio Graphing Calculator. Using audio tones and cues to describe the shape of a graph, this fully accessible, scientific graphing calculator program is compatible with Windows (including Vista) operating systems. The program's new features include advanced matrix functions, the ability to display multiple graphs and to find intersections, the increased functionality of the expression evaluator, and the greater quantity of statistical functions. The upgrade alone sells for $195, and the full version costs $295. For more information or to download a 30-day demo version, visit the web site <www.viewplus.com>.
Boosting Equality for Students Who Are Blind
Quantum Simulations, a company that produces interactive tutorials to assist students in the sciences, from middle school through college, has received a $750,000 grant from the National Eye Institute to make its chemistry products accessible to students who are blind or have low vision. Because Quantum's artificial intelligence tutor programs are dialogue driven, it is believed that they will blend well with students' familiarity with screen readers and refreshable braille displays. Students who are visually impaired in the Boston Public Schools have successfully used the accessible portions of Quantum's Chemistry Tutors, and teachers believe that the projected increase in accessibility will vastly enhance blind students' equity in exploring the sciences. Quantum's materials are used by educators across the United States and, according to a company press release, have been shown in research studies "to improve comprehension, problem-solving skills and test scores by as much as 50%." For such materials to become equally available to students who are blind represents significant progress. For more information, visit the web site <www.quantumsimulations.com>.
Back to top
June 21–23, 2007
Collaborative Assistive Technology Conference of the Rockies
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
Contact: National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230; phone: 410-659-9314; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.nfb.org/nfb/national_convention_2007.asp>.
June 30–July 7, 2007
American Council of the Blind National Convention
Contact: American Council of the Blind; phone: 202-467-5081; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.acb.org/convention/info2007.html>.
July 17–19, 2007
QAC Sight Village
Contact: Queen Alexandra College; web site: <http://www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage/6-1.html>.
October 18–20, 2007
25th Annual Closing the Gap Conference: Computer Technology in Special Education and Rehabilitation
Contact: Closing the Gap, P.O. Box 68, 526 Main Street, Henderson, MN 56044; phone: 507-248-3294; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.closingthegap.com>.
January 30–February 2, 2008
Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2008 Conference
Contact: ATIA, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611; phone: 877-687-2842 or 321-673-6659; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.atia.org>.
March 11–15, 2008
California State University at Northridge (CSUN) Center on Disabilities' 23rd Annual International Conference: Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference
Los Angeles, CA
Contact: Center on Disabilities, CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff Street, BH 110, Northridge, CA 91330-8340; phone: 818-677-2578; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.csun.edu/cod/conf/index.htm>.
Back to top
Copyright © 2007 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.