In This Issue . . .
Making Your Smartphone Smarter, Part 2: A Review of Smart Hal
We review the Smart Hal screen reader working on the AT&T 2125--Darren Burton
A Pocket Full of Access: A Review of Mobile Speak Pocket and Pocket Hal
We put two Pocket PC screen readers through their paces--Bradley Hodges
Connecting the Dots: Life Beyond Notetakers
A power user writes about the advantages of accessing mainstream personal digital assistants using wireless braille displays--Larry L. Lewis, Jr.
My Experiences Purchasing and Activating a New Cell Phone
A consumer tells the story of activating his cell phone and installing a screen reader on it--Ronald E. Milliman
From Street Kid to CEO: An Interview with Mike Calvo
We interview the driving force behind Serotek Corporation, maker of the System Access screen reader--Deborah Kendrick
Increased Independence in the Palm of Your Hand: A Review of the Nemo and Compact+ CCTVs
We review two new handheld closed-circuit televisions--Lee Huffman
myReader Take Two: The Continuing Story of an Auto Reader
We take another look at HumanWare's autoreader--Lee Huffman
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.
Editor in Chief
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Making Your Smartphone Smarter, Part 2: A Review of Smart Hal
This is the second in a two-part series of articles on smartphones, another category of cell phones that can provide access for people who are blind or have low vision. Access to smartphones is provided not by their manufacturers, but by third-party vendors of screen-reader software. In this article, I examine the access to smartphones provided by Dolphin's Smart Hal screen reader. My first article in this series appeared in the July issue of AccessWorld and discussed Code Factory's Mobile Speak Smartphone software.
To avoid being repetitious, I have excluded all the introductory information and general descriptions of smartphones that was included in the first article in this series.
Smart Hal and the AT&T 2125
We at AFB TECH evaluated Smart Hal on the Cingular 2125 from Cingular, which is now the New AT&T. The 2125 is a smartphone running the Windows Mobile Version 5.0 operating system. We purchased the 2125 from the web site <www.letstalk.com> in early May 2007. The price would have been $369 for the phone by itself, but I extended my current AT&T contract one year and got the phone for $219. I could have actually paid nothing for it if I had extended my contract further and chosen a more expensive service plan. Readers should be aware that the availability and prices of phones can vary greatly over a short period and that many different purchase and service options are available.
Caption: The AT&T 2125 phone with the Today Screen displayed.
The 2125 is a small brick- or candy bar-style phone weighing 3.9 ounces and measuring 4.5 by 1.75 by 0.75 inches. It has a color display screen measuring 2.3 inches diagonally. Below the screen are two long buttons called "soft keys" because their functions change, depending on the icon that is displayed above each of them on the screen. Below these keys is a 5-way joystick with two keys to its left and two to its right. On the left of the joystick, the Home key is above the Send/Call key, and to its right, the Back key is above the End key. Below these keys is a standard 3-by-4 dialing number pad with a nib on the top center of the 5 key.
The Power button is on the top panel to the left, and there are two Up/Down volume buttons on the left side panel. The small, 2.5 millimeter headphone jack is on the left side of the bottom panel, and the USB port for charging and connecting to a PC is on the right. The SIM and mini SD slots are beneath the battery in its compartment on the back panel, and the camera lens is above to the left.
For this evaluation, we used version 7.04 of Dolphin's Smart Hal screen reader for smartphones. Regular readers of AccessWorld will be familiar with Dolphin's Hal screen reader and its Lunar screen magnifier and Supernova combination screen reader and screen magnifier for PCs. Priced at $295, Smart Hal is a full screen reader, compatible with Windows Mobile Versions 5.0 and 6.0. It can access nearly everything that can be displayed on a smartphone. Smart Hal can navigate through and speak all the menu items on a smartphone and has a set of commands that combine the Home key and other keys on the phone. For example, Smart Hal reads the phone's status information, such as the signal and battery level, by pressing the Home key followed by the Right soft key. The Smart Hal manual on the web site <www.yourdolphin.com> lists all the commands. You can also have Smart Hal read the list of these commands by pressing Home followed by the Asterisk key.
Here are some of the tasks that you can accomplish with Smart Hal:
- Access status information, including signal strength, battery level, missed calls and text messages, and upcoming appointments.
- Listen to the name or phone number of an incoming caller.
- Browse the Internet with Internet Explorer.
- Change the speech rate and speech volume on the fly.
- Track your schedule and contacts.
- Play media files with Windows Media Player.
- Record voice notes.
- Install two text-to-speech engines in nine languages.
- Synchronize data with the PC via ActiveSync.
- Navigate and read by character, word, or line.
- Read continuously from the start of the text.
- Run third-party applications to enhance the functionality of the smartphone.
The Sweet 16
Readers who are familiar with my cell phone articles know that I use the "Sweet 16" to judge the accessibility of cell phones. As was reported in the previous cell phone evaluations, before we began our reviews, we surveyed 40 cell phone users who are blind or have low vision to determine which features they would most like to have made accessible. The 16 features that were rated the highest by the respondents became the basis of our evaluation and are known as the Sweet 16. We looked at whether users would be able to access these features and noted the barriers to accessing them.
The evaluation methods we used included these:
- measuring the ability to identify and use the keypad tactilely
- determining the ability to navigate menus
- noting auditory and vibratory feedback
- assessing the quality and responsiveness of the speech output
This time, I am going to mix it up slightly. I first discuss the Sweet 16 items that relate to the phones and then the items that relate to the screen-reading software. Note that some items apply to both phones and software and appear in both sections.
Keys That Are Easily Identifiable by Touch
The 2125's keys are easy to identify and use by touch. The dialing pad is a standard 3-by-4 grid with no curves or other design quirks, and there is a significant nib placed on the top center of the 5 key. Also, unlike most of today's phones, the soft keys protrude from the panel, instead of being flat and flush with the display screen.
The electronic version of the 2125 manual is in PDF (portable document format) and is partly accessible. The text of the manual reads well with a screen reader, but there are several untagged graphics that cause problems. You encounter several instructions, such as "press graphic to go to the start menu," where "graphic" is just a picture of the proper button to press.
Caption: The author using the AT&T 2125 while reading its manual on a PC.
The 2125 has no GPS receiver, but is compatible with Bluetooth GPS receivers and related software.
Smart Hal has two speech synthesizers to choose from—Eloquence and Orpheus—and is available in nine languages, with a British and a U.S. version of English. We used both synthesizers and found them to be responsive and easy to understand. You can listen to samples of the voices on the web site <www.yourdolphin.com>. Eloquence is the same voice that comes with today's computer screen readers, so many readers should be familiar with it.
Accessible Smart Hal manuals are available on the web site <www.yourdolphin.com> in five formats: Microsoft Word, HTML, PDF, DAISY, and MP3.
Battery Level Indicator
Pressing the Home key followed by the Right soft key is the Smart Hal command for reading your phone's status-information items. The battery level is among these items, and Smart Hal tells you the percentage of battery life that is remaining. When the battery level drains to the 20% level, Smart Hal says, "Battery alert: Main battery low. To prevent possible data loss, replace or recharge your batteries according to the Owner's Manual." This alert is spoken periodically as your battery continues to drain.
If you are roaming outside your service provider's coverage area and thus paying more for your calls, a visual icon appears onscreen to alert you. Smart Hal's Status command will tell you if you are roaming.
The Status command tells you if you have a voice mail message or text or e-mail message that you have not read or heard yet. The phone also emits a tone when the message is received. Smart Hal fully supports sending and receiving e-mail, text, and multimedia messages.
The phone book application, called Contacts on the 2125 and other smartphones, is fully supported by Smart Hal. You can create, edit, and phone contacts, and you can create voice tags for voice dialing. One thing that may take new smartphone users some time to get used to is the way you search for your contacts. Smartphones use predictive text instead of the multitap method to find your contacts. If you want to find your friend Kevin, you press the 5 key, and your phone guesses which contact you want. It will display a scrollable list of your contacts that contain the letters J, K, or L, the letters that correspond to the 5 key. You can continue to spell out Kevin by pressing the 3 key for e, then the 8 key for v, and so on. The more you spell, the more likely that Kevin will appear at the top of the list.
Phone Lock Mode
Smart Hal supports the process of locking your phone with password protection to block unauthorized people from using it. You press and release the Power button on the 2125 to open a Quick List of items that you can access without scrolling through the menu system. Smart Hal reads out the list as you scroll through the items, and you press the OK button when you hear it say, "device lock." A dialogue box then appears that is fully supported by Smart Hal, with options to configure how and when the phone locks. To unlock your phone, you press the Left soft key and are prompted to enter your unlock code; you can contact your service provider if you do not have your code handy.
Keypad Lock Mode
The Keypad Lock feature of the 2125 is fully supported by Smart Hal. Key Lock is an item on the Quick List, or you can simply press and hold the End key, and the keys are locked. To unlock the keys, you press the Left soft key followed by the Asterisk key. Smart Hal supports the process with speech-output prompts, and it supports this function on other smartphones, where the key commands may be slightly different.
There is no specific power indicator to show that the phone is on, other than seeing that the display screen is on. However, you can press a key, and if you hear a tone or Smart Hal speaking, then you know your phone is on.
Ringing or Vibrating Mode Indicator
Smart Hal does not have a specific command to read the type of ringer that is set on your phone, but you can use Smart Hal to change from a regular ring or a vibrating alert. From the smartphone's Today screen, you press the Left soft key to go to the Start menu and scroll to Settings and then Profiles. Then you press the Right soft key to go to the menu and choose Edit. In the dialogue box that appears, there is a control to choose from several types of rings, such as silent, single ring, or ascending ring, and one of the choices is vibrating alert. You can also use this method to check to see what type of ring alert is currently chosen. The Settings dialogue box also has a control for sounds, which you can use to select from a list of various ring tones. You can also use Smart Hal with the phone's sound recorder to create your own sounds to use as ring tones.
The 2125 does not have any GPS capabilities built in, but you can do some interesting things with third-party software and Smart Hal. Smart Hal is compatible with Microsoft Live Search, which you can use to get turn-by-turn directions that Smart Hal will read to you, so you can assist a driver in navigating unfamiliar areas. It is also useful to find local banks, hotels, and restaurants.
Signal Strength Indicator
You can learn your signal strength on a smartphone by pressing the keys for Smart Hal's Status command, the Home key followed by the Right soft key. Smart Hal announces the signal strength as a percentage of 100.
Ringer Volume Control
In the same dialogue box described for setting a ringer or vibrating alert, you can choose the volume level of the ringer. You can choose from five levels, from the lowest to the highest, or you can set the ring to silent. Smart Hal supports the process entirely. Alternatively, on the 2125 and many other smartphones, there are two physical buttons on the side panel to increase or decrease the ringer volume quickly.
If you press the Right soft key when your phone is ringing, Smart Hal will announce the number of the incoming caller. If the caller is in your contacts list, Smart Hal will announce his or her name.
Smart Hal supports the Speed-dialing feature on smartphones, and it is done via the Contacts application on the 2125. You navigate to the phone number for which you want to create a speed dial and then open the menu with the Right soft key. Then you scroll down and choose Add to Speed Dial and arrow to Keypad Assignment. There, you can arrow through a list of numbers from 1 to 99 and choose one to assign to the contact number you chose. Later, when you want to call one of these contacts, you press and hold that number, and your phone will dial that number. For contacts that have been assigned a two-digit speed-dial number, you press the first digit and then press and hold the second digit.
The Bottom Line
Smart Hal is a solid product, and I was impressed with the access it provides. During our lab testing, we found that it works well with common smartphone applications, such as the calendar, calculator, recorder, Windows Media Player, and Internet Explorer. All our lab testers were familiar with the Eloquence synthesizer and found it easy to understand. Although we found occasional response delays, especially when scrolling quickly through lists of menu options, these delays were more common using the Orpheus synthesizer than Eloquence.
Smart Hal is also able to provide access to a range of other third-party software applications that are designed using standard smartphone controls. Although we did not specifically test any of these applications, we have heard from AccessWorld readers who use Smart Hal with Audible Manager for recorded books from Audible.com; Microsoft Live Search mapping and direction-finding software, Skype; and Bluetooth headsets, among others.
Although browsing the Internet with Smart Hal generally worked well, we experienced occasional crashes during testing. However, the crashes also occurred when we tested Mobile Speak Smartphone on the Motorola Q, and we are not sure if the hardware or the software caused the problems.
Those of you interested in browsing the Internet with a smartphone should be sure to get a service plan that includes unlimited data service. An unlimited data plan is usually a $10 to $20 additional monthly cost, but if you don't have one, you will be charged by the kilobyte of downloaded data, and the costs can add up very quickly. Downloading one recorded book from Audible.com on a smartphone could cost hundreds of dollars without an unlimited data plan.
Decisions, Decisions . . .
As readers of AccessWorld, you would probably like a thumbs-up or thumbs-down rating of one product versus the other. However, I could not determine that much of a difference between Smart Hal and Mobile Speak Smartphone during testing. However, we tested only the more basic functions and did not go into all the third-party applications that may interest power users. We know that some readers of AccessWorld are indeed power users, so we would like to hear from you about your experiences using other applications with Smart Hal and Mobile Speak Smartphone
In the meantime, here are some of the advantages of each product reported by our lab testers and by the software manufacturers themselves.
Smart Hal Advantages
- Smart Hal has two "lives." When you purchase Smart Hal, two separate installations are available for the same user, so you can have Smart Hal on two phones or upgrade or replace your phone whenever you choose without incurring extra software charges.
- Six months after you install your first Smart Hal life, the life is replaced automatically.
- Smart Hal is available with the Eloquence synthesizer, which is familiar to users of computer screen readers.
- The User's Manual is more extensive than that of Mobile Speak Smartphone.
- The user's manual is available in more (five) formats (MS Word, HTML, MP3, DAISY, and PDF) than Mobile Speak Smartphone.
- When you press the Home key to initiate a command, Smart Hal says, "Dolphin," to indicate that the key was successfully pressed. This is especially helpful on phones with a Home key that is hard to distinguish tactilely.
Mobile Speak Smartphone Advantages
- Mobile Speak Smartphone is available with Mobile Magnifier.
- Mobile Speak Smartphone provides extensive support for wireless braille displays.
- Mobile Speak Smartphone has an easier-to-use Help command, featuring a Help mode that allows you to press a command and hear its function. Smart Hal's Help command reads out each command and its function, forcing you to listen to every command one by one.
- Mobile Speak Smartphone has a review cursor that lets you explore the contents of the whole screen, even areas to which the system focus cannot move.
- Mobile Speak Smartphone has commands to read from both the cursor position and the top of the document, message, or web page, so you do not have to move to the start of the text to read everything.
- When you browse with Internet Explorer, Mobile Speak Smartphone has commands for moving by link, which is especially important on a page with long text between links. It also has a command to determine the relative position of the cursor on a web page in terms of percentage (for example, 0% when at the top of the page, increasing as you move toward the bottom).
Regarding the phones, I prefer the 2125, with its standard grid number pad and easy-to-identify soft keys, over the Motorola Q that we used to investigate Mobile Speak Smartphone in the first article in this series. Although the Motorola Q's QWERTY keyboard has domed-shaped keys that are easy to distinguish from one another, there is no nib on the right side of the keyboard for orientation purposes. Also, the Q has soft keys and other control buttons that are flush with the display screen and difficult to get used to. However, I did like the scroll wheel on the Motorola Q, which makes it easy to scroll quickly through web pages and long documents.
In general, deciding on a number pad versus a QWERTY type of phone is up to you, and you should try out some examples at your local store before you decide. Of the QWERTY-style phones I have held, I have yet to find one with orientation nibs that I like. Most have nibs on the F and J keys, but the nibs are not as tactile or substantial as I would like. Also, I am used to typing on a phone with a number pad using the multitap method, so I prefer that type of keyboard. However, I have heard from many people who are blind from around the world who tell me they prefer using QWERTY-style phones, and I imagine it is just a case of getting used to them. For those of you who want both, you can check out the phones that have a standard number pad on the outside and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
Regardless of which phone or software product is better than the other, the emergence of these products dramatically increases the cell phone choices for people with vision loss. Both software products are available on numerous smartphones, and you can find smartphones from all service providers, regardless of which kind of network they use. You can find the list of compatible phones on the web sites of both Smart Hal and Mobile Speak Smartphone.
The fact that AT&T has announced that Mobile Speak products will be available on several smartphones that it offers is certainly good news. We hope that more and more service providers and manufacturers begin to meet their federally mandated obligations to provide accessible cell phones by offering Smart Hal or Mobile Speak on their phones.
Dolphin Computer Access
"AccessWorld readers may like to know that Smart Hal version 7.05 is now available and is compatible with the latest Windows Mobile 6.0 operating system (as well as 5.0). Smart Hal version 7.05, which is based on proved screen-reading technology from Dolphin, includes a number of improvements and works on a variety of new cell phones that have been added to the Smart Hal compatibility list. As well as working with the widest variety of third-party smartphone applications, Smart Hal is future proof because your license covers you, the user, not just a single cell phone. So, if you change your cell phone, you do not need to buy an additional cross-grade license. You can try a 30-day demonstration of Smart Hal for yourself by going to the web site <www.yourdolphin.com>."
Mobile Speak Smartphone
|Accessible web browsing
|Compatible with Audible.com files
Feature: Motorola Q; AT&T 2125
Voice dialing: Yes; Yes.
Voice recorder: Yes; Yes.
Feature: Mobile Speak Smartphone; Smart Hal
Multiple languages: Yes; Yes.
Multiple voices: Yes; Yes.
Accessible web browsing: Yes; Yes.
Voice dialing: Yes; Yes.
Voice recorder: Yes; Yes.
Compatible with Audible.com files: Yes; Yes.
Feature: Motorola Q; AT&T 2125
Keys easily identifiable by touch: 2.0; 4.5.
Accessible documentation: 3.5; 3.0.
Feature: Mobile Speak Smartphone; Smart Hal
Access to screen information: 4.5; 4.5.
Accessible documentation: 4.5; 5.0.
Speech quality: 4.5; 4.5.
Price: $369 without a service contract or rebate. I purchased the phone in April 2007 from <www.letstalk.com>, and by extending the AT&T service plan, I purchased the phone for $219. The phone can be free with longer, more extensive service plans.
Service Provider: AT&T Wireless.
Product: Smart Hal.
Manufacturer: Dolphin Computer Access, 231 Clarksville Road, Suite 3, Princeton Junction, NJ 08550; phone: 866-797-5921; web site: <www.yourdolphin.com>. (The web site includes free downloads of demonstration versions and a list of vendors.).
U.S. Distributor: Access Ingenuity, 3635 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, CA 95405; phone: 877-579-4380; web site: <www.AccessIngenuity.com>.
Compatible Phones: Cingular/AT&T 2125, HTC MTeoR, HTC Faraday, HTC S310, HTC S620, i-mate SPL, i-mate Smartflip, i-mate SP5/SP5m, i-mate SPJas, Motorola Q, 02 XDA Cosmo, O2 XDA IQ, Orange SPV F600, Orange SPV C700, Orange SPV C600, Qtek 8300, Qtek 8310, Qtek 8500, T-Mobile dash, T-Mobile SDA, Vodafone V1240, and Virgin Lobster.
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A Pocket Full of Access: A Review of Mobile Speak Pocket and Pocket Hal
In the world of smartphones, Pocket PCs, and competing personal digital assistants (PDAs), it can feel as though a score card is required to keep track of the current technology. In an earlier article, we took a quick look at a hardware and software package featuring Mobile Speak Pocket installed on a Dell Pocket PC. In this article, we explore this offering in more detail and review a similar combination of hardware and software that is available from Dolphin Computer Access.
Since we looked at the Mobile Speak package in the May 2007 issue of AccessWorld, the hardware choices that support the software have narrowed. Dell, which once sold a popular line of Pocket PC hardware, has withdrawn from the market. HP continues to offer several traditional Pocket PC models. Both products that are reviewed here are now sold as bundles featuring HP hardware.
Changes in the Windows operating systems that power this class of handheld devices have contributed to the further blurring of the lines that separated Pocket PCs from smartphones just a few months ago. Today, virtually all new development in this arena is telephone based. Only the additional power and availability of processing speed, sufficient to run larger applications like the Microsoft Pocket suite, and the fact that Pocket PCs have touch screens and smartphones do not separate one kind of device from the other.
Mobile Speak Pocket
Mobile Speak Pocket is software that can be installed on a Pocket PC. The software is available for download and may be purchased directly from Code Factory, the product's developer, for $595. In addition to the software-only option, bundles, which include the software and a Pocket PC and wireless, Bluetooth keyboard, are available from a number of vendors. The web site <www.codefactory.es> lists distributors who can assemble and sell a package. A fully functioning demonstration version of the software can also be downloaded.
For this evaluation, we received a ready-to-go package that included the Mobile Speak Pocket software preinstalled on a Dell Pocket PC, now discontinued. The system also included a Think Outside Bluetooth keyboard and was shipped with the required Windows Pocket PC instillation CD.
Although the hardware was packed securely and arrived in good condition, we were surprised that no documentation—electronic, braille, or large print—was included in the package. Code Factory offers electronic downloadable versions of its documentation on its web site. Documentation is also provided with the installation program when the full product is installed.
Downloading and opening the documentation file or viewing it directly from the web site revealed a well-structured layout in HTML format. The information can be browsed like a web page. Topics are logically arranged using headers. Command summaries are presented in easy-to-navigate tables. The information, while helpful and clearly stated, is densely packed and may benefit from several careful readings. Additional information that pertains specifically to more recent versions of the Windows Mobile operating system is included, when appropriate.
Technical support was provided by the distributor who supplied us with our demonstration system. Code Factory provides technical support only by e-mail to those who select the software-only option. E-mail messages are answered promptly and completely, in our experience.
Getting started with Mobile Speak Pocket was easy. The preinstalled software began to talk immediately after the Pocket PC hardware was turned on. As the manual noted, a Start Wizard is included to orient the newcomer to some of the basics of the Pocket PC environment. However, the Start Wizard did not activate. We also suggest that you keep notetaking equipment at hand. A Key Describer function can be turned on by pressing the Mobile Speak command Alt-Control four times in rapid succession. Information from the descriptions of keys is clear and easy to understand.
Once the program is installed on your own Pocket PC or you activate a bundled unit, you can start to learn the basics of Pocket PC navigation. The navigation of the interface is perhaps the trickiest part of mastering the Pocket PC. Mobile Speak Pocket offers several methods of interacting with the hardware. One method that is unique to the Pocket PC is to use short and long taps in each of four regions on the Pocket PC touch screen. Use of the touch screen can also be extended to a virtual keyboard, in which a stylus is moved from letter to letter and lifted to select the desired character. In our experience, the most flexible interface is a Bluetooth keyboard. This keyboard provides the traditional letter, number, and navigation keys that are associated with a computer keyboard.
Consulting the keyboard summary that is provided in the Mobile Speak Pocket documentation and exploring the various commands can be a useful way to orient yourself to the navigation and key commands that you need to perform common tasks.
The differences between the PC interface and the Pocket PC interface are frustrating at times. Two characteristics are noteworthy. The first is the gridlike arrangement of many controls and objects. Practice was the best way to explore and navigate among the available items from menus and lists. You can close dialogue boxes and some windows by pressing the Windows key-X command on the Bluetooth keyboard. No Close or OK button is available in many situations in which you would expect to find one, as you do when you use Windows on a desktop computer.
Editing text and saving and opening files were slow at first while I learned the navigation. The system was stable and responsive. The voice is similar to that found with Windows screen-access products.
One important function that many people perform with the Pocket PC is keeping track of contacts and appointments. The process of using the keyboard and entering and editing text and numbers in the appropriate fields was predictable. Tabbing among the fields can take a while, if you are filling out a lot of information for a contact. Closing the More Information edit box requires pressing the Alt key. Pressing the Enter key as you encounter edit boxes as they are navigated allows you to enter text and numbers.
Web browsing is convenient once you have subscribed to a data service from a cell company or when a WiFi connection has been established. The Pocket version of Internet Explorer can be controlled and navigated with Mobile Speak Pocket. As with the full PC version, the concept of Forms mode is used. Pressing Enter and Control-Enter places you in and exits you from Forms mode, respectively. Not all web pages format well with Pocket Explorer. This is not a result of the use of a Pocket screen-access program, but is noteworthy because difficulties can result.
The Bottom Line
After using Mobile Speak Pocket, one is left with the general impression that a great deal of effort has been made to customize the experience of using the Pocket PC. The extensive use of Windows key combinations from the Bluetooth keyboard and the unique strategies for navigating with the touch screen worked well. The challenges posed by the Pocket PC interface are addressed in the documentation.
At the same time, it must be pointed out that a do-it-yourself approach for setting up software and hardware of this complexity may be beyond the skill or interest of the average computer user. The added support of face-to-face or telephone support from a distributor may mean the difference between success and frustration, especially for beginners or those who are not interested in learning about the technology just from the manual.
Pocket Hal can be downloaded from <www.yourdolphin.com> and purchased for $495. In addition, bundles that include an HP Pocket PC and HP Bluetooth keyboard can be purchased. A list of distributors is available from the web site. A fully functioning demonstration version of the software can also be downloaded from the web site.
We received a bundled package containing the Pocket Hal software installed on an HP iPAQ Pocket PC. An HP Bluetooth keyboard, product documentation, and Windows Pocket PC software were also included.
The Pocket Hal hardware and software were securely packaged and ready for use. The documentation that is included is comprehensive and plentiful. A Braille Quick Guide and large- print version of the entire User Manual were nicely formatted. Electronic documentation, in DAISY and Word format, is included on one of the two CDs that are included. Dolphin provides a copy of its EasyReader DAISY player, which worked well and was stable. For the purposes of this evaluation, we used Word format.
In addition to the standard manual, tips and tutorials are available on Dolphin's web site. A knowledge base is also provided that includes technical information that is suitable for the advanced user or technology professional.
Getting started with Pocket Hal was easy. The product began to speak as soon as the Pocket PC was turned on. The voice that Pocket Hal uses has the familiar sound of traditional desktop screen-access products; it was easy to understand and responsive. After pressing the Connect button for the HP Bluetooth keyboard, the tone that indicated that the Pocket PC had contacted the keyboard sounded. It should be noted that if you leave the battery in the HP Bluetooth keyboard, it can run down quickly, since there is no On/Off switch.
Pocket Hal provides a more desktop-like experience than other Pocket PC access products. For example, pressing the Alt key activates the menu for any application that uses menus. Pressing Alt and Tab together cycles among running applications, reminding you of a desktop system running Windows.
At the same time, there are a number of specific navigation strategies and Pocket Hal-specific commands that are necessary for navigating applications and the desktop. For example, pressing Control-Right Arrow opens a special Hal Function Menu, from which important information, such as a list of running programs, is available. The Startup Wizard provides orientation to the Pocket PC, in general, and Pocket Hal, in particular. The Startup Wizard is useful, but it is necessary to understand the Function menu to turn it on. Pocket Hal also provides important shortcuts from the Function menu, including a way to reset the Pocket PC and the ability to establish a connection to the Bluetooth keyboard.
Taking the first steps of using Pocket Hal with typical applications took both patience and exploration. The Quick Start guide is excellent in summarizing important key commands.
Technical support is available directly from Dolphin through the U.S. phone number. Several phone calls for assistance resulted in prompt and helpful responses from the technical support unit in England.
Editing text and using the functions of Pocket Word was like using the desktop version. Pressing Alt brings the focus to the menus. Navigation is consistent, but differs from the desktop version of Word.
Navigating and entering text into edit fields when creating or editing contacts can take time, especially if complete information about an individual is entered. The Bluetooth keyboard is responsive, but the small size is especially obvious when rapid and repetitive navigation is desired.
Internet Explorer can be used once a WiFi or cell signal is available. Pocket Hal worked well with Internet Explorer. Forms mode is used, as with desktop screen-reading programs. Navigation by arrows for all text and tabs from link to link was smooth.
The Bottom Line
Pocket Hal is a powerful and full-featured screen-access program. It shares some important features with its full-size sibling. Customizable files that support specific applications are available for a number of third-party programs. In addition, the user or a distributor can customize the behavior of Pocket Hal to meet specific needs. For example, a downloadable application that provides directions to an address has been made accessible by the creation of a customized Map file, as Dolphin calls it.
Which Program Is Best?
The answer to this question depends on what kind of use you have in mind for the device. If work or school require the use of a full-featured Pocket PC and you appreciate a comprehensive manual and are adventuresome, then Pocket Hal is most likely to be the top pick. It is obvious that the Pocket version of Hal is a close relative to the company's full-size Windows screen-access product. The ability to create and customize specific files to support third-party applications is an important feature for some individual situations.
If you want to use a Pocket PC but appreciate a more customized and focused approach, then finding a vendor who will bundle the Mobile Speak Pocket software with a hardware package is worth considering. The option of using the touch screen is attractive to some users who want all the functions of the device to be reachable from a single piece of equipment.
As with any assistive technology purchase, careful shopping, including conversations with people who already use the technology, can pay off.
AFB TECH fields many calls and answers frequent e-mail inquiries about handheld technology. Behind many of these calls and messages is the larger question: Even if I install assistive technology, is the Pocket PC truly the most useful solution? As often as not, the answer is no. How, then, should you decide for yourself? Here are a few thoughts that are organized along the lines of how people typically use portable technology.
If you must have a Pocket PC for work or school, then choosing Pocket Hal or Mobile Speak Pocket is unavoidable. We think Pocket Hal is the more flexible and powerful program. It is important to note, however, that technical support is provided from England and there are fewer users of the technology, so finding a mentor near you is less likely. The program is stable and priced $100 lower than Mobile Speak Pocket.
If you want to use a handheld device to look at your calendar, send and receive e-mail, browse the Web, and view documents, then a Smart Phone may be the best option. AccessWorld reports frequently on the latest developments in the accessibility of smartphones. Both Code Factory and Dolphin have screen readers that operate on smartphones.
If you do not want to contend with several pieces of technology working together, then a small notebook computer or one of the blindness-specific PDAs may be your best choice. Bluetooth keyboards, headphones, and the Pocket PC all need to be charged and carried with you at all times. Some people do not find it convenient to manage this collection of devices. Mobile Speak Pocket takes advantage of the onboard touch screen for a one-piece solution.
If you need to take extensive notes in meetings or classes, then a notebook computer or blindness-specific PDA is best. Although a Bluetooth keyboard makes it possible to create short documents and enter data, the small size of the keyboard and limited running time for Pocket PC devices makes them impractical as heavy-duty notetakers.
If you need only to view documents and are primarily interested in on-the-go access to your calendar, address book, and e-mail in a one-piece unit, then a Pocket PC with Mobile Speak Pocket or a smartphone may be suitable.
Dolphin Computer Access
"Many handheld Pocket PC devices now feature integrated, thumb-operated QWERTY keyboards, which are ideal for making those quick notes, meaning it is not always necessary to use a Bluetooth keyboard for blind people who need to remain productive away from the office or the classroom.
"The Pocket Hal screen reader is available in a wide range of languages, supports literary braille input and output, and offers blind users true freedom and flexibility to move between a wide range of off-the-shelf Pocket PC devices at the same time and at the same cost as our sighted peers."
"We at Code Factory are grateful for this review and the opportunity to comment on it.
"Code factory is committed not only to making mainstream devices accessible, but also to giving people who are blind or visually impaired a user-friendly interface. We recognize the great potential of Pocket PCs as portable computers for notetaking, communication, and other useful functions. Mobile Speak Pocket has many features that contribute to intuitiveness and ease of use.
"Mobile Speak Pocket's unique feature of making the Pocket PC touch screen accessible out of the box: Though, as mentioned in the article, commands can be performed using a built-in or external keyboard, users who have no QWERTY or braille keyboard can still operate the device, even one-handed, by simply tapping the touch screen in different ways and pressing device hardware keys.
"Comprehensive support for Office Mobile: In addition to being the first Pocket PC screen reader to support viewing of PowerPoint presentations, Mobile Speak Pocket lets users read and edit Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.
"Support for messaging: Mobile Speak Pocket informs users if messages are unread, not completely downloaded, or have attachments. It is also the only Pocket PC screen reader to support MSN Messenger and Windows Live Messenger, reading even graphical emoticons in chat messages.
"Intuitive access to the Calendar and Tasks applications: Mobile Speak Pocket supports the Agenda, Day and week views of the calendar. Even without opening an appointment, the user can tell its subject, date and time just by focusing on it.
"Extra commands not native to Windows Media Player: Only when Mobile Speak Pocket is installed can users of Windows Media Player on the Pocket PC control the program using enhanced commands performed, via the touch screen and device keys, as well as letter keys on a QWERTY or braille keyboard.
"Input by voice command and output through Bluetooth headsets: With Mobile Speak Pocket, all Microsoft Voice command functions and settings are accessible. Speech output may also be routed to a Bluetooth headset, and, if the headset comes with a microphone, the user can control the Pocket PC without having to take it out of his pocket or bag.
"Braille support: Mobile Speak Pocket supports more than 20 braille devices from Optelec, HumanWare, Baum, Eurobraille, Handy Tech, and ONCE. Four games promoting braille literacy are available.
"Magnification component: Mobile Speak Pocket can be installed, and works seamlessly with, a plug-in for the only full-screen magnification software for Pocket PCs.
"Mobile Speak Pocket Review Cursor: If the user comes across a Windows or third-party application that has nonstandard controls, he can switch to a review cursor to explore the entire screen, navigate to areas to which the system focus cannot move, and activate items.
"In its next release, Mobile Speak Pocket will resolve many of the reviewer's concerns, particularly those regarding help and documentation.
"Mobile Speak Pocket's next version will contain an expanded help system. Context-sensitive help will be spoken if the user long-taps on the upper-right corner of the screen.
"Code Factory will soon launch a new web site with more user-friendly ways to get to company information, product documentation, and downloads. Quick-start guides, manuals and tutorials may be downloaded in text, braille and audio formats. In addition, a Knowledgebase with answers to frequently asked questions and descriptions of each supported device will be made available.
"The current version of Mobile Speak Pocket allows reading of braille-formatted (BRF) files with a braille display. The next release lets those using only speech read such files."
Mobile Speak Pocket
||Quick Start Guide, large-print full manual,
electronic versions with a DAISY player.
|Available for download from
the web site
|Available for a trial period
||Yes (30 days)
||Yes (30 days)
|Synthetic speech used
|Supports custom scripting
Feature: Mobile Speak Pocket; Pocket Hal
Included documentation: Electronic only; Quick Start Guide, large-print full manual, electronic versions with a DAISY player.
Available for download from the web site: Yes; Yes.
Available for a trial period: Yes (30 days); Yes (30 days).
Synthetic speech used: DECtalk; ETI Eloquence.
Supports custom scripting: No; Yes.
Price: $595; $495.
Feature: Mobile Speak Pocket; Pocket Hal
Voice quality: 4.5; 4.5.
Keyboard responsiveness; 4.5; 4.0.
Installation: 3.5; 4.5.
Documentation: 3.0; 4.0.
Keyboard support: 3.5; 4.5.
Manufacturer: Dolphin Computer Access, 231 Clarksville Road, Suite 3, Princeton Junction, NJ 08550; phone: 866-797-5921 or 609-803-2171; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.yourdolphin.com>.
Price: $495 plus shipping.
U.S. Distributor: Beyond Sight, 5650 South Windermere Street, Littleton, CO 80120; phone: 303-795-6455; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.beyondsight.com>.
Mobile Speak Pocket.
Manufacturer: Code Factory, S. L. Rambla d'Egara, 148, 2-2, 08221 Terrassa (Barcelona), Spain; phone: 0049-171-3797470; web site: <www.codefactory.es>. (The web site includes free downloads of demonstration versions and a list of vendors.)
U.S. Distributor: HumanWare: 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 800-722-3393; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.humanware.com>.
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Connecting the Dots: Life Beyond Notetakers
Editor's Note: AccessWorld usually refers to products such as the PAC Mate and BrailleNote as PDAs (personal digital assistants) because they include functions that are similar to those found in off-the-shelf PDAs. Since this article discusses both off-the-shelf PDAs and products that are specifically designed for people who are visually impaired, it will differentiate the two by using the term notetaker to refer to the products that are designed specifically for people who are visually impaired.
In march, 2005, at the annual CSUN Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, I attended a presentation given by my colleague and friend, JoAnn Becker, originally entitled "Letting Go of Wires." Over the past two and a half years, her original presentation has evolved into one which she recently gave in March, 2007, at this year's CSUN conference renamed "Connecting The Dots."
I liked the latter title, for it provided a vehicle for JoAnn to paint a picture of what the future would hold—that is, individuals who are visually impaired and who rely on a variety of desktop and portable software products, coupled with refreshable braille, would be able to access a variety of applications with a wireless braille display. Unfortunately for JoAnn and for the few of us who have been passionate about this evolving shift in how we access information, when she originally conducted this presentation, there were only alpha-tested prototypes of undeveloped products on which we could demonstrate this concept. And we were faced with a market of people who are visually impaired who happily used their choice of notetaker to complete the set number of tasks that their products allowed them to complete.
A great deal has changed since that presentation was given. Now, three industry leaders have brought to life the concept of using a wireless braille display to access multiple hardware platforms using your choice of portable or desktop screen reader. Now, those who want to move beyond the often-limited scope of notetaking technology can choose among a variety of products that range in price, portability, industrial design, ergonomic comfort, and a number of additional factors that are essential when making an informed purchasing decision.
However, for many of us, a great deal of confusion remains. What is the significance of using a wireless braille display to access a PDA, a SmartPhone, or a laptop? What are the advantages of such an approach to accessing applications, and what are the potential pitfalls? So I thought I would borrow the phrase "connecting the dots" as a title for an article that I hope will serve as a springboard for you, the inquisitive reader, to begin to get many of your questions answered.
We have come a long way over the past 30-plus years in which adaptive technologies have been developed for, and marketed and sold to, people who are visually impaired. Devices like the VersaBraille set the standard for information management through refreshable braille in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This technology gave way to Blazie Engineering's Braille 'n Speak revolution, which affected countless lives through its global notetaking contributions.
Over the past 10 years, manufacturers have produced products that are smaller, more powerful, and, despite the hefty price tag associated with refreshable braille, more affordable than they were in prior decades. I attribute this change to the ever-growing resurgence of the necessity for braille literacy that is often promoted by consumer groups and nonprofit organizations for persons who are visually impaired.
We have also witnessed a revolution in mainstream technologies. Sighted students and professionals who need to be mobile and organized are pushing aside their pens and notepads and are investing in their choice of PDA, SmartPhone, BlackBerry, and the like. I think it is ironic that those of us who are visually impaired began this shift toward portability and organization almost 20 years ago. I attribute this shift to the bulk associated with large quantities of hard-copy braille and the devices that are designed to produce it.
The portable organizers that are designed for sighted consumers cost hundreds of dollars, compared to the thousands of dollars for those that are designed for consumers who are blind, and are replaced by newer, faster, more powerful alternatives within four to six months of their initial release. As the performance of these less expensive devices improves, the devices not only begin to mirror the tasks and functionality of inexpensive, proprietary notetaking solutions, but surpass them in their ability to keep pace with those of Fortune 500 companies that invest millions of dollars on new and exciting development efforts.
In short, manufacturers of today's notetakers are faced with the arduous task of meeting the needs of visually impaired consumers who are beginning to demand access to the types of applications and solutions that are available to their sighted family members, friends, and colleagues. An alternative that the three manufacturers that are highlighted in this article have chosen to exercise is to shift from developing software solutions on proprietary hardware platforms to developing much sleeker braille-output devices that are designed to connect to PCs via Bluetooth or USB connections, as well as to PDAs and cellular phones through a Bluetooth connection. The end result is that through the use of either a desktop or a portable Windows-based screen reader, consumers who are visually impaired are able to access many of these devices and applications through synthetic speech and refreshable braille access. Often, these manufacturers work with screen-reader providers to develop a user interface that mirrors many of the commands that exist in many of today's notetakers. Let's face it, today's refreshable braille solutions have borrowed from many of the concepts that are present in devices that were developed more than 20 years ago, and there is nothing wrong with that. We are fortunate to have had a rich history with lots of talented people who have contributed to user interfaces that make sense to those who are visually impaired.
The remainder of this article gives you a snapshot of Handy Tech, Baum, and Optelec, the three hardware manufacturers that are providing palatable alternatives to access today's mainstream portable and desktop solutions. I provide a brief overview of each company's current product offerings and the philosophy that has driven the development of the products. I also provide information on the North American distributors of these three product lines.
Handy Tech: A Company of "Firsts"
Handy Tech is located in Horb, Germany, and has sales offices throughout Germany, as well as in the United States. Its commitment to software development know-how packaged in a rugged design has netted Handy Tech a number of international federal contracts. More notably in the United States, Handy Tech's Braille Star is the braille display of choice by the Internal Revenue Service.
Handy Tech produces a variety of devices, including Modular Evolution, Easy Braille, Braille Star, and Braillino. These displays share a number of similarities and tout as many differences, so that Handy Tech can serve a variety of customers. First, all these displays embody Handy Tech's concave braille cells that individuals seem to either love or despise. Regardless, Handy Tech has branded this similarity throughout its product line.
Handy Tech's Braille Star was the first braille display to offer Bluetooth connectivity to a PC. This display also has limited onboard memory for storing ASCII data that you can create from within the Braille Star's "scratch pad" and then transfer to a PC at a later time. Users may also download information from a PC to the Braille Star. Easy Braille lacks this internal memory, but offers a sleeker design with ergonomic braille entry keys located in front of the braille display; it also costs approximately $1,000 less than the Braille Star. The Modular Evolution enables the braille user to receive speech output as a secondary medium as fingers skim across the braille display—an intriguing feature to be sure, but a costly one. Finally, Handy Tech's Braillino is a 20-cell notetaker with serial and Bluetooth connection options that are designed to connect to a PC or an accessible cellular phone or PDA. Different braille-display lengths equal different price points, ranging from $3,995 to $12,000. For more information about these products, visit <www.handytech.de/en/normal/welcome/introduction/index.html?no_cache=1>.
In North America, Handy Tech distributes its products through its own sales office, Handy Tech North America <www.handytech.us>, headed by Earle Harrison. This distribution outlet markets, sells, services, and repairs all Handy Tech products and provides complete mobile and desktop solutions.
Baum: Setting Standards for Portability
Located in Wiesenbach, Germany, Baum boasts a rich history of innovation in its product design. It also produces a variety of braille-display lengths, offering the customer price points in line with the braille-display length that is purchased. In 2006, Baum released Conny, renamed BrailleConnect 12 in English-speaking countries, becoming the first company to launch a 12-cell braille display with the ability to write either 6- or 8-dot braille to a mobile device. BrailleConnect 12 has only a Bluetooth connection option, and while one can establish a connection with a PC via a Bluetooth link, it is designed to serve the needs of the cellular phone or PDA user. There is no onboard intelligence in this device. Baum's Pocket Vario 32- and 40-cell displays were renamed BrailleConnect 32 and BrailleConnect 40 in English-speaking countries. They offer a secondary USB option, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. Some may remember the launch of Brailliant in the United States three years ago. To be fair, Baum did bring the predecessor to BrailleConnect to market close on the heels of Handy Tech's Braille Star Bluetooth option. It should be noted that the primary difference between Brailliant and BrailleConnect is that BrailleConnect offers braille input keys directly behind the touch cursors of the braille display, while the Brailliant does not. For more information about these products, visit <www.baum.de/index-e.php>.
HumanWare is the exclusive distributor of most of Baum's product line in English-speaking countries, and Baum has renamed its products to meet HumanWare's specifications. HumanWare distributes these products through its distribution network. In the United States, salespeople are equipped with a minimum of one demonstration unit each, but the procurement of demonstration equipment is not mandatory for its authorized resellers. HumanWare services these displays in the countries where they are sold.
The Baum product line, coupled with HumanWare's distribution of Mobile Speak Pocket, offers HumanWare a fresh, alternative perspective for its sales and marketing efforts. However, the fact remains that HumanWare is extremely committed to KeySoft, a proprietary suite of applications that juxtaposes the product philosophy of BrailleConnect, but is also found on another Baum-manufactured product, the BrailleNote PK. Only time will tell how such an innovative approach to information access will be positioned against a product line that is HumanWare's current "bread and butter."
Optelec: A Possible "Dark Horse" in the Wireless Access Race
Optelec BV, a Netherlands-based holding company with sales offices on three continents, purchased the assets of its bankrupt Dutch competitor, ALVA BV, in September 2005. In doing so, it acquired a great deal of intellectual property and sales and development know-how. Optelec is the last horse to enter the wireless race, and at this year's summer conventions, it unveiled the ALVA Braille Controller, a product that made its industry debut more than a year ago.
The ALVA Braille Controller is probably the most feature-rich of all the products mentioned in this article. It has lots of buttons that can be mapped for use with a PDA or smartphone, along with traditional thumb keys that are synonymous with ALVA's historic utilization of such keys. It is interesting that the touch cursors are located below the braille display to save space. An optional "feature pack" can be ordered and attached to the display by VisionCue, the North American importer of Optelec's Blindness Products line. This feature pack enables you to enter braille either through a wireless or Bluetooth connection to a PC or accessible cellular phone or PDA. You may also select optional speech-output services through the Braille Controller's Bluetooth connection, which enables the speech of the PC, cellular phone, or PDA to be routed through the speakers at either end of the feature pack. The unit has 2 gigabytes of system memory, where, when connected to a PC via USB, files can be copied to the device as if it were a USB drive. This feature presents customers with the opportunity to take advantage of products like Serotek's System Access screen reader, which promises braille support by late fall 2007. Imagine being able to connect your braille display to a PC and host a screen-reading session on a computer that does not have a screen reader installed on its hard drive.
At this year's convention of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), I witnessed the ALVA Braille Controller maintain its Bluetooth Connection to a PC while its product manager walked a minimum of 250 feet across the exhibit hall with the Braille Controller in hand. This demonstration was impressive, to say the least.
But is this a matter of "too much, too late"? Without a doubt, the Alva Braille Controller is the most feature-packed wireless braille product to be introduced in quite some time. But Optelec is faced with the daunting challenge of playing catch-up with two competitors that have had products in the hands of key users for the past couple of years, and the fruits of these competitors' labors are beginning to pay off. It will be interesting to follow the progress of this product's success in the United States, which is riding heavily on the successful marketing and sales of the feature pack, which, in a sense, transforms the ALVA Braille Controller into a wireless notetaker with state-of-the-art Bluetooth capabilities, internal storage for system files, and additional storage for onboard memory, comparable to Handy Tech's Braille Star.
VisionCue is headed by Larry Lake, who was managing director of the U.S.-based ALVA Access Group. Lake has successfully steered the continual sales and support of the ALVA Satellite through some lean times and has a sufficient understanding of what he needs to do to take Optelec to the next level in its attempts to make continued in-roads into the competitive U.S. market. For more information about VisionCue and ALVA Braille Controller, visit <www.visioncue.com>.
With the emergence of the wireless braille concept discussed here, I am confident that over the next couple of years, the three manufacturers will have plenty of opportunities to market, sell, and further develop the products that they are providing to people who are visually impaired. Organizations, such as the NFB, Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the American Foundation for the Blind, have stressed issues that are related to braille literacy and competitive employment for people who are visually impaired. As employers continue to be forced to make decisions about hiring employees who are blind or have low vision, opportunities will soon give way to job responsibilities that will need to be carried out by users of cutting-edge solutions that can keep pace with a dynamic mainstream technological market, rather than play catch-up to it.
It is an exciting time. I count myself fortunate to have accessed the Windows Mobile 6 operating system within a week of Microsoft's release of it on a smartphone, using my wireless braille display, rather than wait months for a much larger notetaking alternative to offer me potentially the same access in a hardware configuration that simply does not work for me. Accessing this operating system enabled me to have wireless, tactile access to the soft keys on my smartphone through my braille display. This means that while my smartphone is in my pocket, I can activate these soft keys with the click of a routing button on my wireless braille display and quickly access either the Start menu or contacts from the Today screen. I can also review missed calls, text messages, the daily news, and other application-specific information that is vital to me without the need for speech output or the need to press any buttons on my smartphone. Of course, if I want to do so without the use of my braille display, I can use synthetic speech. I can review the contents of slides through PowerPoint Mobile, an application that is growing in popularity and usage on high school and college campuses, as well as in the workplace. I can review and edit Pocket Excel spreadsheets using my preferred grade of braille, and I have not been afraid of losing important data on my mainstream hardware for more than a year.
I could access all that Windows Mobile 6 has to offer as early as the second week of June, and this does not account for any preliminary beta-testing of Code Factory's latest Mobile Speak offerings. During this year's 2007 national consumer conventions in July, I listened to a manufacturer of a proprietary notetaker promise me all the aforementioned access as early as fall 2007, provided that I invest thousands of dollars in a hardware configuration that was designed in 2003. I was also regaled with promises by another manufacturer of its upcoming software upgrade, the first software upgrade release in a year. This upgrade guarantees users that if they synchronize their Microsoft Outlook contacts and calendar with this device, no data will be lost. It also guarantees that users will be able to use more than one or two USB flash drives and wireless Ethernet cards, which have a habit of becoming obsolete within a matter of months. This upgrade boasts the ability to support the usage of Play Lists within its Media Player, a feature that has been available for years on mainstream hardware.
I have been using Mobile screen readers regularly for more than 3.5 years, and the money that I have invested in three different Mobile devices and corresponding screen readers is less than $1,500. During the same period, notetaker manufacturers have charged thousands of dollars for upgrades for products that are now in need of major facelifts. My wireless braille display interacts well with the Symbian, Windows Mobile, and Windows Smartphone Mobile Operating systems, giving me incomparable flexibility and access to various iterations of countless mainstream applications that my sighted family members, friends, and colleagues also access. I am also confident that I will be prepared for Microsoft's next product offerings because I have adopted this modular approach to Mobile Access into my day-to-day usage of adaptive technologies.
And now to answer two final questions that the reader will undoubtedly ask. First, is this technology for you? I will answer that question with a question: How do you use technology, and how do you want to use technology? If you have money to spend, are content to have a self-contained notetaking solution, and your goal is productivity within a determined suite of applications and a specific operating system for the sake of convenience, then stick with a BrailleNote, Braille Sense, or a PAC Mate. If you are willing to deal with the steps required and occasional inconveniences associated with wirelessly connecting two devices, but your goals are to interact and share data with sighted colleagues and friends while taking advantage of the most current applications present on mainstream devices, then explore the purchase of one of these braille displays. It should be noted that like any new technology that is introduced, there are still growing pains associated with all aspects of this wireless braille paradigm. Bluetooth connectivity is not the most intuitive for anyone, whether one is sighted, has low vision, or is blind. To use a braille display in the manner that I have described, you must initially pair a braille display with a Mobile device and subsequently connect the display with a hot key on the Mobile device whenever you want to use the braille display. And if the braille display is connected to more than one mainstream piece of hardware, you may sometimes have to jump through a hoop or two to repair its connection with the original device to which you want to reconnect. It is also necessary to keep all the pieces charged with power.
Second, is this a solution that is applicable to deaf-blind users? The short answer is that in its current state, this technology may present some frustrations for persons who are deaf-blind in initially pairing a Bluetooth braille display to either a PDA or a cellular phone. Once the pairing occurs, you must then activate a sequential key combination as a hot key to enable braille connectivity on a Mobile Speak-equipped SmartPhone or PDA. Code Factory has put a nice speech-emulation feature in its refreshable braille support that displays all the information that hits the synthesizer of a Mobile device in your preferred grade of braille. This feature allows persons who are deaf-blind to access all the verbiage on a Mobile device across the braille display. Persons who are deaf-blind have had years to develop strategies for tackling the types of obstacles presented by a PC and a braille display with a hardwire connection, and like any new process, feedback from persons who are deaf-blind is essential so that manufacturers of Mobile screen readers can optimize this process for this highly significant segment of the market.
I conclude with the assurance that you are the ones who call the shots in this market, and you are the ones who will continue to enable these manufacturers to attempt to set market trends. You are the captain of your own technological ship, and manufacturers are there to present options to you, not impose their wills or directives on you. I believe that although there is still a niche market for notetakers, a new, alternative era is upon us. I predict that the continued rate at which mainstream technologies progress and move forward will exponentially increase, and I believe that a select group of companies that are driven by the need to innovate will continue to "push the envelope" to keep pace with what we visually impaired individuals so rightly deserve. I see the PC and the PDA moving toward common similarities, and I believe that the trend will continue that enables us to carry fewer devices and accomplish more tasks with greater ease and efficiency. I believe that synthesized speech and refreshable braille will continue to be the catalysts for those who want to embrace all the new and exciting applications that are available for us to experience and to improve the quality of our lives.
Select a solution that works for you. Do not be pressured to sell your notetaker and jump on the wireless bandwagon, and do not feel pressured to hold onto something that does not meet your needs. Once you take stock of your current wants and needs, then, and only then, will you be able to "connect the dots" and make an informed choice that works for you, thus giving the manufacturers the feedback they need to continue to develop solutions for you.
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My Experiences Purchasing and Activating a New Cell Phone
For a person who is blind, the choices of fully accessible cell phones are far more limited than the choices for a sighted person. This article summarizes the experiences I had when I purchased and activated my first cell phone. I am sharing this information to help other people who are blind and to prevent you from experiencing the frustration and challenges that I encountered.
First, let me state that I am not a technophobe. I have been working with computers and various types of technology for many years. However, I found this to be of little benefit when I launched the acquisition of my first cell phone.
The Initial Plunge
After searching around, I found the best prices for cell phones and service from Let's Talk (phone: 877-825-5460; web site: <www.letstalk.com>). I went to a few brick-and-mortar Cingular (now AT&T) phone retailers, who could sell me all kinds of phones and set me up with the wireless service. But when I asked about accessible phones and programs like the TALKS software, they had no idea what I was talking about, or if they had heard of them, they knew nothing about them and referred me to Cingular's home office. In one case, a retailer gave me the contact number for the Cingular National Center for Customers with Disabilities (phone: 866-241-6568). When I called that number, the representative was friendly, but had limited knowledge. When I called the center the second time, I received different information. I discovered that what the first person told me was wrong and would have caused me to purchase the wrong phone. As it turned out, the only phone that the Cingular representatives offered me was the Nokia 6620, a phone that has been obsolete for several years. Although the 6620 is a good cell phone, and many people who are blind have used it successfully with the TALKS software, I preferred the Nokia 6682, a newer, more up-to-date, cell phone. The Cingular representative could not sell me a package with the Nokia 6682 phone that also included Cingular's special TALKS Software rebate program. I was told that if I wanted the Nokia 6682 phone, I would have to find another Nokia phone provider and purchase the TALKS software from another source.
Caption: The author at his desk making a call on his Nokia 6682 cell phone.
I searched around, mostly using Google, and found Let's Talk. After I looked over the web site, which is only marginally accessible, I called Let's Talk and spoke to a person who was knowledgeable. I told the Let's Talk representative that I wanted a package that included two phones and probably a family calling plan with Cingular. I specifically needed the Cingular Wireless phone service because it was the only reliable service in the rural areas of western Kentucky where I spend considerable time.
I ended up purchasing the Nokia 6682 cell phone for myself from Let's Talk and received a second phone, a Nokia 6126, for my wife, free with the package. The Nokia 6682 cost me only $79 as part of the total package. The phones were shipped to us, and we received them in just two or three days.
At this point, the only problem was installing the SIM cards and the little extra memory chip that came with the phones. If you are blind and have nobody around to assist you, it is a challenge to figure out how these items go into the phones. Even though my wife is sighted, it took us quite a bit of studying to figure out exactly how the SIM cards and the additional memory had to be installed. It would have saved us some time and anxiety if we had taken the phones to a Cingular dealer for assistance, but we finally got it all figured out, and the phones were fully operational. Well, not quite. They were fully operational for a sighted person, but certainly not for a person who is blind.
Making the Phone Talk
Next, I needed to purchase the TALKS software and get it installed on the Nokia 6682. After searching around and talking to a few blind friends, I decided to contact Beyond Sight (phone: 303-795-6455; web site: <www.beyondsight.com>) to order the TALKS Software program. I talked to Seth at Beyond Sight and found him to be pleasant and helpful. Seth sent me a trial version of the TALKS software and told me how to install it. A CD came with the Nokia 6682, which contained some software that I needed to install on my phone. Installation required me to put the CD into my computer and follow the installation process. While there were several programs on the CD, the only one I needed to install was the Nokia PC Suite. This program allows you to do several things (such as viewing photos that you take with your phone, transferring files between your phone and your computer, etc.). Next, I had to connect the special cable that came with my phone to the USB port of my computer and to my phone. It took me a few minutes to figure out exactly how the cable connected to the phone, but once I figured it out, it was simple and easy to do.
Then, I went to the TALKS program Zip file on my computer and opened it up. The Zip file is an executable file and opens right up to reveal several other folders and files, like Manual, Eloquence speech software, Install, and the TALKS software program. When you select the Manual, a folder opens that provides the manual in HTML, text, or Word format. When you select Eloquence, it automatically goes into the installation routine. After you install Eloquence, you do the same thing to install the TALKS software—just select it, and the installation process begins. Then, you follow the prompts.
The next part is what caused me tremendous frustration. After the TALKS software was installed, unless it is purchased and registered, it is, by default, in the trial or demonstration mode. You can use it for only 10 minutes, and then it times out; to get it back, you have to turn the phone off and turn it back on again. You can get a less limiting demonstration mode, but I could not seem to get it to work and became extremely frustrated trying to do so. I found out that the way I was doing it, following Seth's instructions, required me to have the text messaging–Internet access functions operational, which cost an additional $39.99 a month. If I had been told this in the beginning, it would have saved me considerable anxiety and frustration. However, the 10-minute demonstration mode allowed me to determine if I liked the TALKS program and if I found it worth the money it cost to purchase it.
I called Beyond Sight back and told the representative that I wanted to purchase the TALKS package and get the registration code I needed for the phone. The transaction was handled by phone, and since Beyond Sight takes credit cards, I was able to charge my purchase. Shortly after I completed the purchase, Beyond Sight e-mailed me the registration code that I needed for my specific phone. And here was another little hitch that I need to caution you about: To complete the purchase and register my TALKS software, I needed the serial number of my specific phone. The number is easy enough to access by just hitting *#06# on the phone's keypad. However, the string of numbers is long and was spoken too rapidly for me to be able to take the numbers down or memorize them. Once again, I sought sighted assistance to copy down the long string of numbers. So, it took me an additional call to Beyond Sight to complete the transaction.
Once I got the key code that I needed from Beyond Sight, I ran into another problem. There were no clearly written instructions for how to put the key code into the phone. This is usually a simple process for other types of computer software. I was told to go into the Registration menu of the phone by hitting the TALKS key, then press the Menu key and soft key 1 and arrow down to Register and press the Select button. This brings up several other menu choices: 10-day demo, SMS Registration, Restore Registration, and Manual Registration. Before I got my key code to unlock the software, I tried the 10-day demo choice several times and got nothing, but, as I said earlier, I later found out that one has to have the $39.99 a month text messaging–Internet access package for this option to work. After I got the key code from Beyond Sight, I tried to register my software by going to the SMS Registration option and entering the code letters and numbers into the phone exactly as they were given to me. Nothing happened! It actually took me several tries to enter the code because I did not know how to input uppercase letters or a dash. So, it was quite a learning process, evoking considerable frustration and requiring several attempts to enter the key code. However, it still did not work. I gave up until the next day, when I could call Beyond Sight back and ask what I was doing wrong. That is when I was finally told that I had to have the additional $39.99 text messaging–Internet access package from Cingular for this option to work. I was irritated that nobody had told me about this earlier. Then I was told that I could register the software key code easily by going to the Manual option and entering the code in that area. I was also told that I could ignore the capitalized letters and the dashes in the key code that I was sent. Now, why didn't someone tell me that before?
The bottom line is that if I had not had sighted help, it would have been impossible for me to get the phone fully operational. Furthermore, both the instructions that come with the phone and the instructions that come with the TALKS software are poor.
In conclusion, with the TALKS software installed and fully operational, I enjoy the Nokia 6682 phone, and I especially like the TALKS software. However, for some people, it would be worth purchasing a complete package, including the phone and TALKS software fully installed and operational. Otherwise, I suggest that you keep this article handy and learn from my experiences. It will save you lots of anxiety and frustration.
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From Street Kid to CEO: An Interview with Mike Calvo
He was a kid on the streets in Miami, growing up in the center of gang life and the drug trade. Today, he describes himself as an entrepreneur, not ashamed that he is a high school dropout and proud that he is doing something to benefit a community that he did not know existed until he was well into his 20s—a community of like-minded, intelligent people who are blind, who enjoy the Internet and the power of technology as much as he does. As the only blind CEO among the most talked-about companies that provide screen access to people who are blind, Mike Calvo knows business and knows people. He is smart; articulate; and, most would say, hyper.
I caught up with him during a packed travel schedule this summer and learned about the man, the company, and past and future highlights of his product. Like many busy professionals, his hotel suite bore the signs of multitasking. The remains of his breakfast were carried away as we spoke, and his laptop on the desk chimed the arrival of new e-mail messages every little while, yet, he was relaxed, casual, and never interrupted our conversation for telephone calls or e-mail messages. He stopped only once to answer a knock at the door and to ask the representatives of another company if their meeting might be delayed an hour to give me more time. Calvo, a born storyteller, talks rapidly, and his language is colorful—in the sense of being peppered with slang and vernacular and filled with analogies and parables.
Caption: Mike Calvo accepting an award.
Calvo is the founder and CEO of Serotek Corporation, the company that launched the product formerly known as FreedomBox, a product that has evolved dramatically and is now called the System Access Mobile Network. A series of coincidences—or, as he calls them, moments when God chose to be anonymous—led him to a string of successful ventures and, ultimately, to develop a product that, although used by only a few hundred people five years ago, is now enjoying a virtual explosion in sales.
Love Affair with the Internet
Calvo's first foray into a product to benefit people who are blind was one that did not start out that way. As a teenager and young adult, Calvo says he did what every Latin kid (he is Cuban American) did on the streets of Miami. But a combination of marriage, religion, and a certain kind of growing up changed all that. In school and his early jobs, he recalled an unsettling assessment that he heard all too often from teachers and employers—a message of low expectations, the subtle reminder that he, as a person who is blind, should not aim too high. Unrealistic goals, he was told, would lead to disappointment. "I was a rebel without a cause," he said of himself in his early 20s. His response was to start his own company, a company that trained and placed over 400 people who are blind in competitive jobs with such corporate entities as Ryder Trucks, American Express, American Airlines, FedEx, and Marriott. His conviction that computers are a must for every person who is blind grew steadily more ardent, and, eventually, that certitude evolved into a love affair with the Internet. The Internet, Calvo came to believe, was the single force that could give people who are blind opportunities that are equal to those of sighted people.
In 1999, Calvo's best friend (a fellow high school dropout and successful entrepreneur) gave him an FM transmitter that allowed Calvo to listen to radio stations broadcast on his computer while he kept his wife company when she watched television. It was not long before Calvo's first Internet-related business venture, Radio Webcaster, was launched. With an FM transmitter connected to the computer, software to tune into thousands of radio stations, and an FM remote control that worked through walls, a person could listen to any radio station (or anything else on the computer) through any FM radio and do it from the comfort of the living room or patio.
Radio Webcaster was featured in Playboy magazine and, in 2000, was hailed by CNN as a flagship product of the new millennium. The way that the product was assembled and shipped provides an excellent example of Calvo's ability to form connections with a wide variety of people and then connect the dots, so to speak, to make these connections productive. The transmitters were built in Indiana, the FM remote controls came from California, and the software CDs were burned in Miami. Calvo's friend in a Mailboxes Etc. location received orders, assembled the various components of a Radio Webcaster package, and shipped them. Meanwhile, payment went to Calvo's bank account, and word was spreading not only among sighted Internet radio enthusiasts, but among the blind community, about this great new product.
"I started realizing that there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of blind people who were professionals, who were party animals, who smelled good, and dressed well," Calvo said. "They were people who were cool, and they had money to spend just like sighted people." Through electronic discussion groups, where people talked about audio, music, and assistive technology, and through his growing customer base, he realized that there were many blind people who saw things the way he did.
The Next Step
One good idea sparks another, and Calvo soon began dreaming about another product that he wanted to create. What he envisioned was, as he playfully described it, "A kind of AOL meets WebTV for blind people." In other words, whereas Radio Webcaster gave people who are blind a taste of the breadth of radio stations that are available through Internet connections, it did not give them the easy access to news, entertainment, shopping, instant messaging, and more that sighted people enjoyed with easily accessed commercial interfaces.
Once the idea was rooted in his brain, Calvo began to post to various electronic discussion groups to find the kind of collaboration he needed, and, as he put it, "This 20-year-old kid from Kansas, a typical geek who then spoke in three-word sentences, said he could do what I needed." That "kid" was Matt Campbell, and their relationship led to the development of software that, in January 2007, was demonstrated as the first access to Windows Vista for people who are blind.
"I write the road maps," Calvo explained, "but I don't know a lick of code. Matt is the one who makes the magic." Although Calvo lives in Orlando and Campbell lives in Kansas, the two are in constant contact, talking back and forth via Skype as though they were both zipping around in the same office space. "Sometimes it seems like I spend more time with Matt than with my wife and family," Calvo quipped. (Calvo has five children.)
The first FreedomBox product was designed with "technophobes" and people with limited dexterity in mind. The product was driven mainly by voice commands and offered an extensive web browser, providing instant access to e-mail, radio stations, news, entertainment, and instant messaging—in short, everything that sighted people with limited technical expertise were already enjoying.
Calvo recognized that this new business could not be operated alone and sought investors. One contact in the Minneapolis area led to another, and Serotek Corporation was formed. When the Serotek board involved Michael Fox, a consultant who specializes in business turnarounds, the company saw growth.
"Michael Fox polished me up, shaved me down, and taught me how to speak in the business world," Calvo said. (For AccessWorld readers who may remember hearing him on Internet radio programs back when Radio Webcaster was new, however, Calvo has clearly always had a decidedly engaging style and charming way of communicating his point.)
No Overnight Success
Sadly, as Calvo sees it, except for the few hundred early customers who discovered the first-generation FreedomBox, people who are blind were not quick to trust a product that did not cost much. (Access to the then FreedomBox Network—now SA Mobile Network—originally cost $99 a year or $9.95 a month.) Gradually, Calvo and Campbell started adding features of interest to more sophisticated users. The price was raised to $499, and sales increased exponentially.
When System Access became an integral part of the product—thus enabling a user who is blind to access such popular applications as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, some of the most serious—and savviest—blind computer users started paying close attention. With the software on a USB drive, a person could have access to the features of the network from any computer.
A lawsuit claiming trademark infringement inspired a change in the product's name this past June. The new name, SA Mobile Network, is, Calvo said, actually more reflective of where the product is headed. The latest development, called SA to Go <www.satogo.com>, affords computer users who are blind the opportunity to render any computer accessible simply by launching the <www.satogo.com> web site. The SA Mobile Network continues to evolve; blogging, podcasts, RSS feeds, and more have been added to its original smorgasbord of shopping, entertainment, and news, and more features are on the horizon.
In January 2007, Serotek demonstrated System Access with Windows Vista at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the same venue in which Microsoft rolled out Vista itself. The product will soon offer braille access and Java compatibility, Calvo said.
Serotek Corporation and its SA Mobile Network are gaining momentum and recognition in the assistive technology arena, and Calvo is giddy with the news that the product he loves and uses every day is gaining popularity. But "at the end of the day," as he said, he is first and foremost an entrepreneur.
"I feel called to do what I'm doing right now," he said, "but my major interest is facilitating the needs of my customers. Right now my customers are blind consumers, and I wake up each day to facilitate customers who want to open their wallets and put their credit cards on the virtual counter."
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Increased Independence in the Palm of Your Hand: A Review of the Nemo and Compact+ CCTVs
Portable, handheld, closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs), sometimes called video magnifiers, with 4-inch display screens have become highly sought-after devices by people with low vision who want to access print materials independently while on the go. Quick access to price tags in stores, restaurant menus, travel tickets, sales receipts, and other types of printed text is now more available. In response to the increasing demand for these products, more manufacturers of low vision products are offering their versions of handheld CCTVs, with prices ranging from approximately $695 to $825. With the increase in choices in this product category, we at AccessWorld are receiving more questions about them. To provide our readers with information, this article takes another look at this rapidly growing product category.
This article reviews two handheld CCTVs that are fairly new to the market: the Compact+ from Optelec and the Nemo from Enhanced Vision. Both CCTVs 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. The question is, does the similarity of these features make them equal? This article examines the features of each product to help you decide if one of them may be the best choice for you.
These two handheld CCTVs are reviewed in four areas: documentation, physical design and features, how well each displays different types of text, and how well each assists with handwriting. To evaluate these CCTVs, I tested them the same way I tested similar devices in the past. I used them in real-world situations—taking them to stores to read price tags and food labels and to restaurants to read menus and meal receipts and using them at home to look at various objects—including a telephone book, newspapers, magazines, and photographs—and to write notes. In addition to my testing and observations, others with low vision used the Compact+ and Nemo in similar ways to see how the magnifiers worked for their particular needs.
The Nemo's User Manual is printed in approximately 15-point font. Although this type is larger than the standard size, it does not meet the minimum 18-point font guideline of the American Printing House for the Blind for an audience with low vision. It is important for all manufacturers of low vision assistive devices to keep in mind that the intended user should be able to access their products' documentation independently. Thus, it is necessary to have larger fonts and pictures that persons with low vision can easily read. The User Manual does, however, provide a good amount of easy-to-understand information, as well as troubleshooting tips, warranty information, and details about other Enhanced Vision products that may be useful to those who purchase the Nemo. This is not only a good advertising tool for Enhanced Vision; it helps inform people about the variety of products on the market for people with low vision.
Caption: The Nemo can magnify many different types of text, including on a credit card.
Physical Design and Features
The Nemo measures approximately 6.25 inches long, 3.25 inches wide, and 1.13 inches thick and weighs 13 ounces. The camera is located under the left side of the unit and has a fold-down writing stand to assist with writing tasks. The unit is designed to be set directly on top of the text or object to be magnified, and the Nemo logo to the left of the display screen can be used as a guide for placing text under the camera.
The Nemo has tactile control buttons and dials to change its settings and comes with a carrying case, interchangeable wrist and neck strap, cleaning cloth, and power supply adapter. The unit has an internal, rechargeable battery with a charging time of approximately three hours and can sustain continuous use for approximately three hours. The Nemo can be used while the battery is being charged, and doing so will not affect the recharging time.
The Nemo's magnification is adjusted by rotating its Size wheel at the far right position at the top of the device. Three levels of magnification are offered: 4.5x, 6x, and 9x.
The Nemo has six viewing modes that are adjusted by rotating the Mode wheel, which is located at the far left position at the top of the device. The six viewing modes are as follows:
- High-Contrast Positive: This mode provides a white background with black text.
- High-Contrast Negative: This mode provides a black background with white text.
- Yellow Text on a Black Background and Yellow Text on a Blue Background: For some with low vision, alternative color combinations such as this provide better viewing conditions.
- Full-Color Image: This mode provides a color representation of what is being displayed. Enhanced Vision suggests that you use this mode for looking at pictures and reading handwriting.
- Black-and-White Image: This mode displays the image in grayscale, which may be preferred by some people with low vision.
The Freeze feature allows you to take a temporary picture of an image. It enables you to take a picture of an image and hold it closer to you to get a better look or take the image to another location to view it in a better environment or to show it to someone else.
The Nemo has a writing stand that flips out from underneath the camera area. This stand raises one side of the Nemo approximately 2 inches. You then place your pen under the edge of the raised side and write on the paper. If you prefer, you can leave the stand folded under the camera and just tilt up one side of the Nemo while you write.
For writing with the Nemo, the User Manual instructs you to set the device to the lowest magnification level and use either the Full-Color or Black-and-White Image mode.
The Nemo's antiglare screen reduces the amount of glare on the unit's display screen.
For these specific tests with both the Nemo and Compact+, we used a sampling of items that people would read with a handheld CCTV, including a local newspaper, telephone book yellow pages, glossy catalog pages, personal photographs, and the black-and-white text of a paperback novel.
When I held the Nemo still, directly over the top of the printed material, it did a good job of displaying the different types of materials in the various viewing modes. The Nemo provides a bright, clear view with high contrast between the text and its background. I found that the Black-and-White or Full-Color Image mode worked best for reading text on a colored background and that using the lowest magnification setting in the Full-Color Image mode provided the best view for looking at photographs. When I moved the Nemo to read text, there was a slight ghosting of the letters; as I moved the unit more quickly, the ghosting increased.
Using the Nemo for Handwriting
Using the Nemo for handwriting takes some practice. When you use the unit for handwriting, you use the Black-and-White or Full-Color Image mode, set the magnification to the lowest setting, and turn the device to point the camera toward your writing hand. If you are righthanded, you will use your left hand to move the Nemo along the page. However, the adjustment controls are then positioned in such a way that you can inadvertently press them with your thumb, which can change the display as you are attempting to write. You must take care to hold the device in such a way as not to press the control buttons accidentally. In addition, you must hold the pen farther up than normal to be able to place the tip of the pen under the camera, which can cause your handwriting to be less neat than it would otherwise be.
What Would Make It Better?
The following alterations to the Nemo could make it more usable by people with low vision:
- The unit is made of plastic, which is slick to the touch and can cause the unit to be easily dropped. I recommend that you always use the wrist or neck strap as a precaution. Adding rubberized pieces to the sides of the device would enable people to hold the magnifier more securely. The optimal solution would be to add a foldable handle to the unit to make it even easier to hold.
- Incorporating a battery-life indicator to let you know approximately how much battery life you have left would be a beneficial feature. Currently, a low battery light flashes when the battery needs to be recharged. The problem is that this indicator light is located on the side of the unit that faces away from you. You must remember to check to see if the light is blinking, but there is still no way to know how much time is left on a charge. Moving this flashing light to the display side of the unit would make it more functional.
- Relocating the control buttons to a centralized area and configuring them in such a way that they are not easily pressed accidentally while using the device would be an improvement. This accidental pressing of the control buttons, of course, changes the display's settings, making it necessary to readjust the settings to view the material as you would like.
- Improving the writing feature of the Nemo would make the device even more useful. Using the Nemo for handwriting is somewhat awkward, and a more efficient writing method would be welcome.
The Compact+, from Optelec, is new to the market and is a completely redesigned version of Optelec's previous handheld magnifier, the Compact.
The User Manual for the Compact+ is presented in a spiral-bound, postcard-style booklet that gives easy-to-understand instructions for using the device. The booklet is a good design, especially if you are using a magnifier or traditional CCTV to read its text, because the pages lay flat or can be held in one hand without bending. The problem is that you may have to use a magnifier to read the text because the manual is printed in only 14-point font, which is too small for many with low vision to read.
Caption: The Compact+ can be used in different situations. Here it is used to read an airline boarding pass.
Physical Design and Features
The Compact+ measures approximately 5 inches long, 3 inches wide, and 1.25 inches thick and weighs 10.6 ounces. Its camera is affixed to the battery compartment, which slides on a track on the underside of the unit. The User Manual suggests that you position the camera directly under the display screen for reading and then move it to the side position for handwriting.
The Compact+ has one control that is used to change both the magnification level and the viewing mode, and it comes with a carrying case, a neck strap, a battery pack containing two rechargeable AA batteries, and a power supply plug. When it is not powered by the AC adapter, the unit is powered by the battery pack consisting of two rechargeable batteries. Off-the-shelf AA batteries, either rechargeable or disposable, can also be used. Only the batteries that came with the unit should be recharged in its battery compartment. Recharging takes approximately three hours and provides about the same amount of time of continuous use.
The Compact+ also has a collapsible handgrip that unfolds from the underside of the unit and snaps into place. This handgrip acts like the handle of a traditional magnifying glass and offers another option for holding the device.
The magnification level of the Compact+ is adjusted by turning the lever on the round Magnification button that is located next to the display screen. Three levels of magnification are offered: 5x, 7.5x, and 10x magnification.
Pressing the round Mode button next to the display allows you to select from one of six viewing modes: Photo mode, which is used to view full-color text and photographs; Positive mode, which is used to read in high-contrast black on white; Negative mode, which is used to read in high-contrast white on black; high-contrast yellow on blue; high-contrast yellow on black; and Photo mode without light, which is used to read high-gloss pages or to look at small-screen displays, such as a cell phone's screen.
The Snapshot feature allows you to take a temporary picture of an image. It enables you to hold an image closer to you to get a better look or take it to another location to view it in a better environment or show it to someone else. With the Compact+, unlike the Nemo, you can also magnify the saved image.
Auto Off Feature
This is a battery-saving feature that automatically turns off the magnifier if it has not been used for four minutes.
When I held the Compact+ still, directly over the top of the printed material, it did what I would consider an "average" job of displaying the different types of materials in the various viewing modes, with the exception of the Photo mode without light. The Photo mode without light did not provide a bright enough display to read glossy paper, as the manual stated it would. It did, however, work better when I viewed displays, such as cell phone screen displays.
Overall, its display, especially in the Photo mode, was not bright; also, there was a slight quiver to the letters even when the unit was held still, and pixels were visible in the display. Using the Photo mode worked best for reading text on a colored background and when looking at photographs. Using the lowest magnification setting in the Photo mode provided the best view for working with photographs. When I moved the Compact+ slowly to read text, there was a shaking or smearing of the letters, and as I moved the unit more quickly, the shaking became more prevalent.
Using the Compact+ for Handwriting
The User Manual instructs you to move the camera to the side position, tilt the side of the device up, and place the tip of the pen under the camera for writing. However, I found it easier to extend the collapsible handle, hold the unit about 4 or 5 inches above the page, and place the pen under the camera to write. Although the lines and words were a bit out of focus, I found this method to be easier.
What Would Make It Better
The following alterations to the Compact+ could make it more usable for people with low vision:
- Improving the overall characteristics of the unit's display, especially in the Photo mode would be the most important alteration. Increasing the brightness, having more clearly defined letters with no quivering while the unit is held still, eliminating visible pixels, and increasing the display's contrast would be great improvements.
- Incorporating an antiglare screen would be useful because the slick plastic screen can cause glare on the display.
- As designed, the camera and battery compartment slide to allow you to adjust the camera view. While the ability to adjust the camera's position is good, the design seems a bit fragile and particularly susceptible to damage from bumping or dropping the unit. A design that better protects the underside of the unit would be an improvement.
- Adding a battery-life indicator would be useful. Now, there is no way to tell how much life is left on a charge, so you may need to carry the AC adapter, just in case.
The Bottom Line
The Nemo and the Compact+ have different strengths and weaknesses. The Nemo's strength is the quality of its display's clear, bright, crisp image with an antiglare screen. The Nemo's weaker point is its physical design, including the placement of buttons, awkward writing feature, and the fact that a better way is needed to hold the device securely while it is being used.
The Compact+ has a better physical design in that it is smaller and lighter in weight, and its magnification and viewing modes can be adjusted by one control with one finger. The collapsible handle is another useful feature, since it gives you a more secure and versatile method of holding the unit. The weak point of the Compact+ is its lower brightness, contrast, and overall image quality of its Photo mode. Its screen also tends to reflect light, causing glare on the screen.
All things considered, both products do what they are made to do: magnify text to make it more readable for people with low vision. Both are priced at $795, and either would be a valid choice for those who want a portable solution to their magnification needs. If, however, the strengths of each of these two products could be combined into one product, that would be a good thing.
If you happen to live in the Dallas, Texas, area, you can see the Nemo by visiting the American Foundation for the Blind's Center on Vision Loss at 11030 Ables Lane. To schedule a tour of the center, where you can take a look at the Nemo and many other blindness and low vision products, phone 214-352-7222. At the center, you will find many options for working and living independently with vision loss, which just may become solutions for you. As always, I suggest that you try both products—or any product for that matter—before you buy one to see which may suit your particular needs best.
AccessWorld will continue to watch this growing segment of low vision products and keep you up to date on new products in the portable, 4-inch screen CCTV category.
"As noted by AccessWorld, the greatest strength of the Nemo is the image quality and clarity of the display. This is the same consensus among eye care professionals and end users alike. Nemo's superior display and clarity of image allow users to use the product at a lower level of magnification than other units, thus allowing the benefit of more visual field. In addition, unlike other units, Nemo's patented lighting creates a very evenly lit image without hot spots even on the most glossy of surfaces. Better lighting distribution, coupled with our anti-glare LCD screen, helps eliminate reflection and provides the best image possible for the user.
"The suggestions from AccessWorld are duly noted, and we are thankful for the input. Enhanced Vision strongly believes in constantly improving our products and we are focused on always exceeding the customer's expectations."
"Thank you for your review of Optelec's newest product, the portable Compact+. The Compact+'s stylish design resembles a standard PDA and comes in seven fashionable colors. Like the Clearview+ desktop model, it functions with one-button simplicity. The camera is placed centrally for easy orientation when reading, and can slide to one side to allow additional space for writing. The foldable handle makes the transition from using a magnifier seamless and allows reading while using one hand. This is essential when shopping and writing. The Compact+ comes equipped with a detachable lanyard and a leather carrying case.
"The Compact+'s versatile display modes allow for ease of use in any situation. The lightless feature allows the user to view LCD displays without glare. The Color mode has significantly larger depth of focus than similar units in this product category. The Snapshot feature allows an image to be frozen, magnified, and maneuvered through the color modes. The image quality is perfect for all portable viewing tasks.
"The Compact+ is the only product in this category equipped with rechargeable AA batteries. Battery life has been shown to last up to three hours. Unlike similar products, there is no need to send the Compact+ back to the manufacturer when a battery change is needed. Store-bought batteries can be used, and have been proven to last more than two hours."
||4.5x, 6x, and 9x
||5x, 7x, and 10x
|Natural and inverse viewing modes
|Artificial color viewing modes
|External video input
|External video output
|Power saving mode
||About 3 hours
||About 3 hours
|Battery recharge time
Magnification levels: Nemo: 4.5x, 6x, and 9x, Compact+: 5x, 7x, and 10x.
Natural and inverse viewing modes: Nemo: Yes, Compact+: Yes.
Artificial color viewing modes: Nemo: Yes, Compact+: Yes.
Adjustable brightness/contrast: Nemo: No, Compact+: No.
External video input: Nemo: No, Compact+: No.
External video output: Nemo: No, Compact+: No.
Power Saving Mode: Nemo: No, Compact+: Yes.
Weight: Nemo: 13 ounces, Compact+: 10.6 ounces.
Battery life: Nemo: About 3 hours, Compact+: About 3 hours.
Battery recharge time: Nemo: 3 hours, Compact+: 3 hours.
Portability: Nemo: 4.5, Compact+: 5.0.
Quality of the screen display: Nemo: 5.0, Compact+: 3.5.
Usefulness for handwriting: Nemo: 3.5, Compact+: 4.
Overall ease of use: Nemo: 4, Compact+: 5.0.
Manufacturer: Enhanced Vision, 5882 Machine Drive, Huntington Beach, CA 92649-9933; phone: 800-440-9476; web site: <www.enhancedvision.com>.
Manufacturer: Optelec, 3030 Enterprise Court, Suite C, Vista, CA 92081; phone: 800-826-4200; web site: <www.optelec.com>.
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myReader Take Two: The Continuing Story of an Autoreader
Editor's Note: Our series of reviews of HumanWare's myReader represent an example that we want to duplicate with other manufacturers and other products. See this month's Editor's Page for more on this relationship.
In the January 2006 issue of AccessWorld, I evaluated myReader, HumanWare's transportable autoreader. At that time, the concept of capturing a page of text digitally and reformatting it into your choice of viewing styles was new. A year and a half later, more companies are trying it as an assistive technology solution for people with low vision.
In my January 2006 evaluation, I offered ideas for improving the product, and in HumanWare's rejoinder to the article, it said: "Every new technology presents opportunities for improvement and refinement, and the suggestions made by Lee Huffman in his kind review are among those that HumanWare has identified, some of which are already being incorporated into the latest version of myReader." This news was great to hear.
At the July 2006 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Dallas, I met with Jim Halliday, HumanWare's vice president of advocacy, and Vinnie Rappa, its vice president of low vision sales for the U.S. market, who showed me a newer version of myReader. They sent this version to my Huntington, West Virginia, office and asked me for feedback on the changes. The results were published in my January 2007 update article in AccessWorld.
This year, at the Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference in Los Angeles, I spoke with representatives from HumanWare, who again asked me to take a look at the latest updates to myReader. Now officially renamed myReader2, the product has undergone some significant changes that may make it more usable for people with low vision.
According to HumanWare, "as a result of feedback from users," HumanWare has made several changes to the previous version of myReader, resulting in an official name change for the product. Some features have been added and others have been removed in an effort to enhance its usability. The following list identifies these changes, and the remainder of the article focuses on ideas for modifications to existing features and improving the product.
What's New in myReader2?
myReader2 can now capture and store up to 10 pages for later reading; previously, only 1 page at a time could be captured and reformatted for reading. This added functionality allows you to read uninterrupted for a longer time. A new navigation bar that is displayed at the bottom of the screen allows you to move between the stored pages.
Caption: myReader2 displaying text in high-contrast colors.
Reference Page Storage
myReader2 can now store three reference pages for you to save and refer to at other times. These could include pages that you need to refer to quickly, such as frequently used telephone numbers or addresses, a bus schedule, or instructions for taking your daily medicine.
Overview has been added to the view options to allow you to navigate through the stored pages using the navigation bar displayed at the bottom of the page.
The font size of the menus that are used to set your display and personal settings has been increased, and the layout of the menus has been simplified.
The Control Panel
The control panel that is used to control the functionality of myReader has been redesigned, and the buttons have been relabeled, so that the Live button now says Live. The Read/View button is now the Views button, and the Start button is now the Capture button. The Capture button and the Views button now have a line drawn between them to help users remember the relationship between them.
A magnifying glass-shaped icon now replaces the rectangle icon as the position indicator. This icon appears on the screen when you are in Overview or Page View. It shows where the focus is on the page and lets you select a specific area of a page to zoom in on.
Clearer Messages and Prompts
The messages and prompts on the screen have been simplified.
A screen saver-type feature has been added. If no control is activated for 30 minutes, a screen saver appears. The default screen saver is the HumanWare logo, but you can store your own screen saver, such as a picture of a family member or one from a recent vacation.
Changed and Removed Features
Some of myReader's less frequently used features were removed, and some existing features were changed to meet the needs of customers. The removed and changed features are as follows:
The Image Markers feature; Page View autoscroll feature; Margins; and Next features, available in the Viewing Mode, have been removed, as has the Freeze feature, available in the Live mode. Activating and deactivating the Manual Focus feature in the Live mode now requires you to hold down the Views button for two seconds, instead of pressing it once.
Now you can capture a new page only when in Overview. If you press Capture in any other view, the view is first changed to Overview before the Capture occurs. Pressing the Live button while in the Live Mode no longer exits the Live Mode.
For myReader owners who upgrade their current model to the latest software, a menu option has been provided to restore some of the removed features. The option is Classic Controls. The Classic Controls feature reactivates the following features:
- The Page View (Viewing mode) autoscrolling feature.
- The Page View (Viewing mode) margins feature.
- The Page View (Viewing mode) Next feature.
- The Live mode Freeze Image feature.
Ideas for Modification and Improvement
I would like HumanWare to consider modifying one feature and making two product improvements during its next series of updates to myReader.
First, when capturing multiple pages, you now must capture one page, then turn the Speed Dial to select the next location for the second page to be saved, then capture that page, and so on. At times, during testing, I forgot to move the Speed Dial to select the location of the next page to be saved and inadvertently saved over the previously saved page, thus deleting it. I then had to go back and resave the pages correctly.
The process of capturing multiple pages would be easier if the Speed Dial did not need to be moved to select the location of the page to be captured. myReader2 could automatically advance to the next location, and you would simply position the next page to be saved and press the Capture button. The Speed Dial could be used to override the automatic location selection manually if you wanted to do so.
myReader2's 15-inch flat-panel display screen can be raised and lowered and tilted forward and back to make it more ergonomically suited to a particular person. It would be even better for the screen to swivel left and right and rotate to Portrait and Landscape views, as does the screen of HumanWare's SmartView Xtend. This would provide a great deal more flexibility for people, especially those who also use the screen for a PC display.
While I understand that myReader is a reading machine that is best suited to reformatting and displaying pages of text, using it to spot read or read three-dimensional objects in the Live mode is an important function needed by people with low vision. The Live mode's display characteristics need improvement. Increased focus, clarity, contrast, and color presentation would make the product more useful for day-to-day tasks other than reading text.
The Bottom Line
The updates and changes to myReader, especially the multiple-page capture, reference pages, and modified control panel, are significant and should enhance the user's experience. The removal of less frequently used features should also help make myReader2 easier to use.
The downside to myReader2 is the poor-quality image displayed in the Live mode. When in Live mode, text is fuzzy and not in sharp focus. Although the quality of the image can often be improved by switching to the high-contrast colors, many people like to view items in live color best. Some items that I looked at in Live mode, including instructions on cans of spray cleaner, were barely legible, and the display was made worse by switching to high-contrast colors. This is an area that HumanWare should focus on improving for its next series of updates.
"We want to thank AccessWorld for publishing these product reviews in such a fair and constructive way. They are a great service to the industry, and much appreciated. The input from AFB's technical team is always highly considered, and usually incorporated when HumanWare designs or improves future versions of the products reviewed. myReader2 is an excellent example of this, and we hope the market can tell that we are listening."
- When developing the multipage storage feature, we produced several versions of the user interface and conducted extensive user testing to evaluate the merits of each version. We found that although some users would benefit if the page location automatically advanced, many users became confused. Therefore, we implemented the system where the page location is manually advanced. We will keep a close watch on this feature to determine whether it needs to be modified in the future.
- "myReader2 is fundamentally designed for people with low vision who want to read. It has a Live Mode, which is essentially a CCTV mode for spot viewing and reading activities. HumanWare produces a line of SmartView CCTVs for people whose primary need is to view photos and spot read other materials. However, CCTVs are not conducive for extended reading activities, whereas myReader2 is all about reading for extended periods. Since myReader was first released, the Live (CCTV) Mode image quality has been significantly improved, and most users tell us that they are now satisfied with the quality. However, we are conscious of the desire to further improve the image quality, and this will be a priority when future versions of myReader are developed. When talking about a CCTV mode, however, it is important to keep in mind that myReader users have many more ways to read, explore, and view materials than they have with a standard CCTV. Because of these powerful advantages, myReader users spend a fraction of their time in the Live (CCTV) Mode. Effective reading involves speed, comprehension and endurance, all of which are benefits of a reading device like myReader2."
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>.
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GPS on the Phone
Handy Tech North America, formerly Triumph Technology, has announced the availability of Way Finder Access GPS Navigation software, an application that operates in conjunction with Mobile Speak for Symbian phones. Way Finder, a Swedish product, has teamed with Code Factory of Spain to provide way finding technology on mobile phones that are equipped with Mobile Speak. Way Finder provides information on points of interest, intersections, speed, altitude, or coordinates. It can announce a current location or map a route to a desired destination. The Handy Tech news release states that the software is intuitive and easy to understand. Way Finder Access can be purchased in a variety of configurations—with Mobile Speak and a GPS receiver, with just a GPS receiver, or as an entire start-up package—with prices ranging from $500 to $1400. Listen to an audio demonstration at <www.triumphonic.com/demos/wfademo.mp3>.
For more information, phone Earle Harrison at 651-636-5184 or send an e-mail message to <email@example.com>.
Books Added at Samizdat
Richard Seltzer, of Samizdat, the company that offers electronic texts of uncopyrighted books, has announced several new collections or enhancements of existing collections to its catalog. One CD offers 8 books by Jane Austen, another offers 31 by Frank L. Baum, and still another offers nearly 200 books by Irish writers. All the books are in plain text format, intended for use on standard PCs. Each collection—whether it focuses on a particular region of the world, period in history, or ethnic or cultural group—organizes the books logically. Purchase a CD collection of your favorite author—such as Dickens, Poe, Plutarch, or Twain—or a collection about a subject that you always meant to study (like government, art, or evolution). You can read the details (including the tables of contents) of all the CDs at the online store at <http://store.yahoo.com/samizdat> or phone Richard Seltzer at 617-469-2269.
HumanWare has announced the release of KeySoft 7.5 for the BrailleNote and VoiceNote family of products. This new version is said to offer the ability to read RFB&D (Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) and other DAISY-formatted books, a built-in playlist feature for selecting the order of music or audiobook segments to be heard, enhanced e-mail capabilities, improved synchronization for Outlook, and other features. Some features, however, are available only on certain models. Broader acceptance of various SD cards and USB drives, for instance, is available only on the mPower, and the direct access (for those with accounts) to RFB&D Audio Plus books is available only on BrailleNote mPower and BrailleNote PK. KeySoft 7.5 is the last version to be released for the BrailleNote and VoiceNote classic models. To learn more about it or check the status of your Software Maintenance Agreement (SMA), phone HumanWare at 800-722-3393 or visit the web site <www.humanware.com>.
Victor Reader Stream
New technology is part of the fun at the summer consumer conventions, and one device that drew particular excitement in exhibit halls and seminars in July was HumanWare Canada's Victor Reader Stream. This handheld player offers many of the features that are familiar to customers who have used other Victor players. In DAISY-formatted books, the Victor Reader Stream affords users the ability to navigate by page, heading, or bookmark. Bookmarks can be inserted, and a bookmark list can be reviewed. Volume settings can be set separately for headphones, and the built-in speaker, battery level, and storage space can be checked at any time from the keypad.
Additional features include variable speed and pitch and a built-in microphone for voice recordings. Content is stored on a removable SD card (not included). It can be easily transferred, via a USB minijack, from a PC to the Victor Reader Stream. The Victor Reader Stream can play books from RFB&D and Bookshare.org. Later this month, HumanWare plans to include compatibility with books from Audible.com. All the prompts are spoken by a prerecorded human voice, and all the text content is read by Nuance text to speech. The Victor Reader Stream sells for $329. For more information, visit the web site <www.humanware.com>.
Sendero GPS Version 4.0
Sendero Group has announced the release of version 4.0 of its GPS software for BrailleNote products. Sendero GPS 4.0 boasts 50 changes, including improved maps, faster route calculations, and the ability to switch to other BrailleNote tasks and quickly return to GPS with a few keystrokes. To read about the features or to obtain purchasing information, phone Sendero Group at 530-757-6800 or visit the web site <www.mysendero.com>.
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September 22–27, 2007
Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students
Contact: Dan Oates, coordinator, Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students, West Virginia School for the Blind, P.O. Box 1034, Romney, WV 26757; phone: 304-822-4883; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.tsbvi.edu/space/>.
October 4–5 2007
Contact: Royal National Institute of Blind People, 58-72 John Bright Street, Birmingham B1 1BN, UK; Phone: +44 (0) 121 665 4240; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: <www.rnib.org.uk/techshare>.
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>.
November 6–9, 2007
10th Annual Accessing Higher Ground: Accessible Media, Web and Technology Conference for Education, for Businesses, for Web and Media Designers
Contact: Disability Services, University of Colorado, Willard Administrative Center 322, 107 CU-Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309; phone: 303-492-8671; e-mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.colorado.edu/ATconference>.
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 312-673-6659; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; 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: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.csun.edu/cod/conf/index.htm>.
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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.