Accessibility Is a Right
Probably one of the most talked-about news items to surface during the ATIA 2008 conference, held in Orlando, Florida, in late January, was the launch of the new nonprofit AIR (Accessibility Is a Right) Foundation. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the foundation will make available to anyone who uses a computer anywhere in the world an application that renders computers instantly accessible to persons who are blind or have low vision. Through an Internet connection, users can access, free of charge, the SA To Go screen reader, powered by Serotek's award-winning System Access. With SA To Go, users can browse the web, read web pages, fill out forms, and use applications that reside on the host computer. When the connection is terminated, there is no trace of the software remaining, thus delivering an efficient, nonintrusive way for people who are blind or have low vision to use computers in libraries, Internet cafés, and other public settings. Art Schreiber, executive director of the new organization said, "The basic tenet of the AIR Foundation is that accessibility is a fundamental human right, regardless of financial or geographic constraints."
SA To Go is available in English. The first priority of the AIR Foundation is to develop a version in Mandarin Chinese, with other languages soon to follow. Serotek Corporation will continue to sell its System Access product, which offers features that are not available in the free Internet-based application. For more information, visit www.AccessibilityIsaRight.org or telephone 877-369-0101.
Maestro 2.1 Adds Web Browser
HumanWare Canada has announced the addition of web access for its Maestro handheld product. Based on an off-the-shelf PDA (personal digital assistant) and with the addition of a tactile overlay, the Maestro has become popular with many customers who are blind or have low vision as a notetaker; DAISY book player; voice recorder; calendar; address book; portable music player; and, with the addition of Trekker, GPS (global positioning system) navigation tool. With version 2.1, customers can now surf the web, read web pages, navigate links, headings and frames, and fill out forms. Using screen-reading commands, users can access the Internet anywhere that wireless Internet capability is available.
Version 2.1 is available for download as a free upgrade to current Maestro customers. For information on the new features, visit www.humanware.ca/web/en/maestro-trekker-upgrade.html. For more information on the Maestro product itself, visit www.humanware.ca/web/en/maestro.html or phone 450-463-1717.
Perkins to Acquire ATC
The Perkins School for the Blind, in Watertown, Massachusetts, has recently announced its plans to acquire the assets of Adaptive Technology Consulting (ATC). Owned and operated by Gayle Yarnall, ATC is a private company that sells a wide range of assistive technology products, including screen readers, magnification products, braille displays, and embossers.
Along with hundreds of products, Perkins will also acquire the ATC staff, who have provided training in a variety of products. According to Steven Rothstein, president of the Perkins School, in a recent announcement: "We have been looking for a way to dramatically increase our technological expertise and offer a greater variety of adaptive devices to better educate students and to enhance lifestyle for all."
Exactly what the acquisition means for the school or the individuals it serves is not entirely clear at this time, but Perkins is definitely expanding its boundaries beyond the familiar (mechanical) Perkins Brailler. For more information, visit the Perkins School for the Blind at www.perkins.org or Adaptive Technology Consulting at http://adaptivetech.net.
A Low-Tech Innovation for Science and Math
Anyone who went through high school or college as a blind student before the 21st century can probably remember the struggle involved in getting concepts like graphs, charts, diagrams, and other pictorial representations off the page and into the brain without seeing them. Thanks to a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and an innovative collaboration between Andy Van Schaack, lecturer at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development, and Joshua Miele, a blind researcher at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Institute in San Francisco, that age-old conundrum may well soon be solved. Not only can their proposed product do the job, but it promises to do it at an affordable price.
Originally designed for the mainstream market, the basic product is a kind of computerized paper plus pen incorporating handwriting and audio recording. With notebooks called LiveScribe and a device called Smartpen, students will be able to touch raised drawings of figures and charts and then touch the Smartpen to specific points to hear an audio explanation. While writing notes in class, students can simultaneously record the lecture and later touch the pen to one handwritten note to hear in detail what the professor said at that particular time in the discussion.
Miele and Van Schaack are working with Sewell raised-line drawing paper as an add-on to the Smartpen and LiveScribe product, to incorporate raised graphics into the existing framework of touching the pen to a particular point on the paper to hear audio.
The LiveScribe notebooks are to be the size and price of traditional notebooks and the Smartpens are expected to cost approximately $200.
With offices in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand and assistive technology products that extend into the braille, speech, and screen-magnification markets, HumanWare is certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest company in the assistive technology industry. The company recently announced a restructuring of its management staff in an attempt to serve its customers better in a growing number of countries.
In November, Gilles Pepin was named the company's new CEO. The reorganization includes the appointment of three vice presidents, for marketing, research and development, and operations. These vice presidents will be responsible for activity in New Zealand and Canada. The company's business managers in the United States, Europe, and Australia will each have expanded geographic responsibilities.
A recent news release illuminated some of the personnel shifts as follows: "The following people within the organization have been assigned new group responsibilities: Greg Brown as corporate controller, Richard Nadeau as vice president of operations, Pierre Hamel as vice president of research and development, and Ivan Lagacé as vice president of marketing. Ron Hathaway, managing director of Australia and Asia, will now add New Zealand sales to his responsibilities. Renee Gosselin is now the manager of market development for all products. Pedro Polson and Phil Rance are keeping the same positions."
The company offers a growing list of products for people who are blind, have low vision, or have learning disabilities. How the new reorganization will affect the development and delivery of products remains to be seen. For more information, visit the web site www.humanware.com.
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