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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2007 Issue  Volume 8  Number 5

Editor's Page

In August 2007, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) launched the Cell Phone Accessibility Project. Cell phone features, such as keys that can be identified by touch, displays that can be read by people with limited vision, and phones with speech output for people who cannot read the phone's display, are not widely available. Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires cell phones and phone services to be designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. However, far too many manufacturers and carriers of cell phones are not taking their obligation to provide accessibility seriously.

In July 2007, 11 customers in Florida, Georgia, Colorado, California, and West Virginia filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Frequent complaints from users of cell phones who are blind or have low vision include the facts that cell phones do not provide for audio output of information displayed on the screen; the visual displays on most phones are hard to read; numeric and control keys are not easy to distinguish by touch; and product manuals or phone bills are not available in braille, large print, or other formats that they can read. You can follow the progress of this project by visiting <www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=4&TopicID=327>.

AccessWorld's first article on the accessibility of cell phones was published in January 2002. Since then, we have kept you up to date on new phones and software that have come along, and progress that has been made toward greater accessibility. This month, we feature four articles that are related to cell phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants).

In this issue, Darren Burton reviews Smart Hal from Dolphin Computer Access, running on the AT&T 2125 from AT&T (formerly Cingular). This is the second of two evaluations of screen readers for smartphones. Smartphones are a category of handheld devices that run Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system. They generally have fewer features than Pocket PCs, but they are becoming more and more popular. Learn what you can expect from access to smartphones.

Bradley Hodges, of AFB TECH, evaluates Mobile Speak Pocket from Code Factory and Pocket Hal from Dolphin Computer Access, two screen readers for Pocket PCs. Pocket PCs are different from smartphones because they have additional power, more processing speed, and touch screens. Find out how these products performed.

Larry L. Lewis, Jr., president of Flying Blind, writes about accessing mainstream PDAs using wireless braille displays. He has worked in management positions for HumanWare and Optelec and brings an insider's perspective, as well as the experience of a power user, to this subject. Lewis contends that the new method of accessing off-the-shelf Pocket PCs is superior to using devices that are designed specifically for people who are visually impaired, such as the BrailleNote or the PAC Mate. He discusses the strengths and weaknesses of braille products that were developed by Handy Tech, Baum, and Optelec and then highlights what he views as the advantages offered by using these off-the-shelf devices. Read this hard-hitting view of what could be the future of PDA access.

Ronald E. Milliman, a professor of marketing at Western Kentucky University, describes his experiences in buying and using a cell phone with the TALKS screen reader installed. He covers purchasing the phone and the software and the trials and problems and frustrations he encountered to get everything working. We offer this account to make you aware of what is involved in the process and to help you avoid some of the possible pitfalls.

Deborah Kendrick interviews Mike Calvo, CEO of Serotek Corporation. Serotek introduced the FreedomBox, now known as the System Access Mobile Network. The company's System Access screen-reading software was the first product to provide compatibility with Microsoft Vista. Read about the accomplishments of the man, the company, and its products.

Lee Huffman, of AFB TECH, reviews the Compact+ from Optelec and the Nemo from Enhanced Vision, two handheld closed-circuit televisions. Both products have 4-inch TFT-LCD (thin film transistor-liquid crystal display) screens, various high-contrast color modes, adjustable magnification levels, and rechargeable batteries and weigh less than 1 pound. Find out how these new products compare.

Lee Huffman also takes another look at myReader2, the updated version of HumanWare's autoreader. The original myReader was the first product to be able to capture a page of text digitally and reformat it into a variety of viewing styles. Read about how this product has changed since we first reviewed it in the January 2006 issue of AccessWorld.

It is our goal at AccessWorld to build positive, working relationships with manufacturers of assistive and mainstream technology, to facilitate two outcomes. First, we want to give readers information about products that they can use to make informed decisions about which products may work well for them, their clients, students, or family members. We want to give objective reviews of products to provide answers to questions about what technology can realistically accomplish.

Second, we want manufacturers to know that it is our goal to evaluate their products objectively and offer constructive criticisms. Manufacturers will, we hope, accept these comments and consider incorporating the suggested changes into new versions of their products. Doing so could result in products that better meet the needs of people with vision loss (to increase their independence, as well as educational and employment opportunities) and, in turn, increase sales of the products.

We invite manufacturers to allow us to review their products. Then, as additions or changes are made, we will be happy to reevaluate the products and tell readers about the changes, to keep them up to date, just as Lee Huffman has done with HumanWare's myReader. Through an open, objective sharing of information, better products will surely be developed.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

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

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