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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 May 2008 Issue  Volume 9  Number 3

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Letters to the Editor

CSUN 2008

This year's conference featured new GPS systems, personal digital assistants and cell phones and related software--Deborah Kendrick

From Vinyl to Digital: My First Experiences with Electronic Audio Players

A record lover falls for 21st century technology--Darren Burton

Who's on the Line: Access to Phone Systems at Work and at Home

Software from Avaya makes the company's business phone systems accessible--Bradley Hodges

The SenseView Handheld CCTV Adds a Handwriting Feature

We describe a useful addition to a portable CCTV--Lee Huffman

AccessWorld News

Calendar


Editor's Page

The AT&T Technology Innovation Award was presented to Benetech on March 14 at the 20th Anniversary Gala Celebration of the Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) that took place during the Technology and Persons with Disabilities (CSUN) Conference in Los Angeles. The ATA is a national network of community-based resource centers, developers, vendors, and associates who are dedicated to providing information and support services to children and adults with disabilities. The AT&T Technology Innovation Award recognizes an outstanding assistive technology company that has created a lasting impact through the development of assistive technologies that are applied in communication, education, employment, daily living, and recreation. Benetech received the award for running Bookshare, the online repository of more than 37,000 books that can be downloaded by people who are blind, have low vision, or have other print disabilities.

Benetech CEO Jim Fruchterman, well known to many AccessWorld readers, is one of the most innovative and dynamic leaders in the assistive technology field. As the keynote speaker at this year's CSUN conference, Fruchterman spoke about the Raising the Floor initiative that he and Gregg Vanderheiden, of the TRACE Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, developed. Fruchterman noted that most people who are blind do not have technology. He sees a future in which technology will be less expensive and more available. The cell phone could be the platform on which a wide range of technologies are delivered. This sounds wonderful. But if you have shopped for an accessible cell phone lately, you know that there are not that many attractive options. As a start, we need more cell phones with keys that are easily identifiable by touch for Fruchterman's vision to come true.

In this issue, Deborah Kendrick reports on the 23rd annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, hosted by the Center on Disabilities of California State University at Northridge. Read our coverage to find out about new and updated products and a sampling of the hundreds of presentations.

Darren Burton presents an overview of digital audio players. He contrasts the experience of listening to the vinyl records many of us remember with using current players. He writes about the Creative Zen Stone, different versions of Apple's iPod, the Book Port, BookCourier, Victor Reader Stream, Milestone 311, Icon, Braille+ and more. Darren will follow this article with a more detailed comparison of these players in the July issue of AccessWorld.

Bradley Hodges, of AFB TECH, writes about the accessibility of business phone systems. He describes a solution developed by a business phone company called Avaya—Universal Access Phone Status (UAPS.) This software monitors all activity for any phone on a system and will announce changes as they happen or on request, depending on the customer's preferences. The article also describes the process of setting up a VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) phone system at home.

Lee Huffman, of AFB TECH, provides an update on the SenseView CCTV from GW Micro. He evaluates the addition of a camera for handwriting. This new, extremely lightweight, plug-in style camera has increased the SenseView's functionality, allowing you to sign documents, write checks, and fill out short forms and write notes, which you could not do with the SenseView before.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

MUD Wrestling

I read your article "Exploring Methods of Accessing Virtual Worlds" in the March issue of AccessWorld. A nice article, an inspiring read.

[It included an] erratic description of Terraformers; it is not a MUD (multiuser dungeon) game. MUDs are text-based, multiuser domains/dungeons. Terraformers is a real-time 3D [three-dimensional] single-user adventure game—a very different thing, indeed. Furthermore, a screen reader cannot get text from DirectX or OpenGL, as far as I know, which is used for rendering graphic displays in Terraformers. Hence, we have used voice recordings for in-game textual feedback (and some built-in speech synthesis for dynamic texts, too).

Please try the game and correct the description of Terraformers. You can download a fully playable demo at www.pininteractive.com.

Thomas Westin

CEO, Pin Interactive AB

The authors respond:

We thank Mr. Westin for pointing out a flaw in our article. The use of a screen reader like JAWS 9.0 does not yield greater accessibility to Terraformers, but, in fact, may interfere with Terraformers' keyboard operation. In addition, as Mr. Weston correctly points out, the Terraformers game may not—strictly speaking—be deemed to be a MUD because it is a single-user game and graphic in nature. However, the recorded verbal cues that it generates are closely reminiscent of those yielded by some legacy text adventure games, like the Zork series or MUDs. It is also worth pointing out that the accessibility method pursued in Terraformers yields a rich and immersive sonic tapestry that is optimized for a gaming environment, where the attainment of a goal is subservient to the values of entertainment and excitement, and a certain degree of user confusion and bewilderment is rightfully pursued intentionally. Conversely, the goal of our accessibility project for virtual worlds is to achieve a more expeditious form of accessibility, where user entertainment is subservient to the immediately successful attainment of transactions, in general-purpose environments that have the potential to be utilized for conducting business and education.

Bill Carter and Guido D. Corona

Designing for Web 2.0

[Regarding "Surfing into the Future: An Introduction to Web 2.0"]

[Web 2.0 is] one of my pet peeves as a web developer who strives for accessibility. The Web 2.0 model presented by SitePoint.com (and elsewhere) is a good one for developers to keep in mind. It envisions the web as three layers: content, presentation, and behavior. We should have no problems if people can design in such a way that they keep those layers separate, which isn't so hard to do.

Content is key and can be styled simply in ways that preserve accessibility. Then you can add "rich media" using various methods of expanding the experience. There really is no advantage to doing otherwise—only the lack of knowledge and/or laziness. In another 20 years, America will be overrun with aging baby boomers like me, and age-related vision loss will be common among the very people who have the most money to spend in the marketplace of the World Wide Web. So web developers who don't get the point now will pay a price with their failed businesses later.

Progressive enhancement is the only structural model that makes sense for the web, although I'm sure many people will continue to violate the web standards simply because they can. Ironically, it's because they lack the vision to look far enough into the future.

Jeff Seager

Communications Specialist

West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services

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Conference Report

CSUN 2008

If you've been involved with assistive technology in the past 23 years, the chances are that you are at least aware of the Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, the international event informally known as CSUN, for the place of its origins. Begun in 1985 by the California State University at Northridge (CSUN) Center on Disabilities, the conference was originally held on the CSUN campus. Dr. Harry J. Murphy, founder of the event, served as the master of ceremonies for the March 12 kick-off breakfast this year and, as he reflected, 200 participants was deemed an enormous success that first year. The conference quickly outgrew its original site and has, for many years, filled a few hotels at the Los Angeles International Airport. Hosted this year by the Los Angeles Airport Marriott and the Renaissance hotels, the conference welcomed some 4,530 participants, representing a wide range of disabilities, professional perspectives, countries, and levels of technological expertise.

The first two days of the conference, as is the CSUN custom, were devoted to in-depth preconference sessions, each lasting three to six hours. The program for Wednesday through Saturday offered a smorgasbord of presentations ranging from demonstrations of products to the presentation of research findings and all manner of technologically interesting matters. The sessions were coded to indicate whether the presenters deemed them to be at the beginner, intermediate, or advanced level, as well as to which disability group they might of greatest interest. These latter designations included such tracks as learning disabilities; deaf and hard-of- hearing; aging; mobility impairments; augmentative communications areas; and, of course, those of interest to technology users who are blind or have low vision.

Vendor presentations in the blindness arena could be found for all the well-known and lesser-known companies that distribute products for this particular population, including Freedom Scientific, HumanWare, GW Micro, Dancing Dots, Handy Tech, Touch Graphics, and Serotek. Participants could attend workshops on popular GPS (global positioning system) products for people who are blind or PDAs (personal digital assistants) or how to teach braille music notation to children who are blind. There were sessions on producing blogs, podcasts, and DAISY-formatted audio materials. If you were looking for something a bit more off the beaten path, you could attend a session by researchers from Arizona State University on a shopping device that could enable shoppers who are blind to browse the shelves in a grocery store; a session on structured negotiations presented by attorney Lainey Feingold (who has negotiated scores of agreements resulting in accessible ATMs and point-of-sale devices); and, my favorite, a talking kiosk by Steve Landau, the president of Touch Graphics, which despite some initial technical difficulties, demonstrated a talking wayfinding kiosk with light and animation sufficient to attract any tourist, as well as completely tactile and auditory information to assist visitors in navigating unfamiliar public facilities. (Two such kiosks are currently installed, one in New York City's Penn Station and the other at the Staten Island Ferry terminal.) Imagine walking up to a kiosk in an airport or shopping mall, touching the screen, and being guided through an audio question-and-answer process to trace the route to your desired location on a completely tactile surface!

Two conference highlights that were packed to capacity were keynote addresses by men whose names will be familiar to most AccessWorld readers. On March 12, the keynote speaker for the official kickoff breakfast was Jim Fruchterman, the founder in the 1980s of the Arkenstone company, the first company to market a PC-based reading system for people who are blind, and later, the founder of Benetech and Bookshare.org, a nonprofit peer-to-peer organization through which people with print disabilities share books that are scanned and converted to machine-readable text. For a man who began his professional career as a rocket scientist and who was named a genius in 2006 (when he received the MacArthur Fellowship's Genius Award), Fruchterman's lively and entertaining speech was solid evidence that he is still the same warm, engaging, and compassionate social entrepreneur whom so many have come to love over the past few decades. His newest initiative, Raising the Floor, is the embodiment of his goal to put technology in the hands of all people with disabilities, worldwide, without regard to economic capabilities.

Fruchterman briefly assumed another role following his address, that of "audio describer," for the purpose of describing the presentation made by Gilles Pepin, CEO of HumanWare, to Jim Halliday, founder and former president of the HumanWare company to honor Halliday on his retirement. (The presentation itself was an original oil painting of Halliday's home and vineyard in Oregon, where he will be retiring with his wife Karen.)

The other keynote address that drew a full house was that given by Raymond Kurzweil, on March 13, in the Sheraton Four Points hotel. Kurzweil, whose name is familiar to many AccessWorld readers for the reading technology that bears his name, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of fame in 2002 and, along with being known for having invented the first reading machine for blind people and the first music synthesizer, has earned a reputation for making remarkably accurate predictions about the future of information technology. He predicted in the 1980s, for example, that the Arpanet, an information network shared by a relative handful of scientists, would become a worldwide network by the mid-1990s. The Internet was the realization of that prediction.

In 2002, Kurzweil said that it would take about four years to develop a handheld reader for people who are blind. In 2006, the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader, a PDA joined to a digital camera that could shoot and read a page of print, was introduced.

His CSUN topic, "The End of Handicaps," presented his theory that in another decade or two, technology will have shrunk to its smallest external size and will begin finding internal applications. Destroyers of cancer cells will be sent into the bloodstream, he said, and programming will be sent to the brain to eliminate bipolar disorder or rewire visual perceptions.

The CSUN exhibit halls are always hubs of major activity, and 2008 was no exception. One of the hottest products of interest to blind consumers was the KNFB Mobile, a Nokia N82 mobile phone with the Kurzweil reading software on board. HumanWare introduced the Trekker Breeze, a new GPS product and announced a new upgrade for the Victor Reader Stream that includes, among other features, compatibility with Serotek's System Access Mobile Network. A bit of just plain fun is always welcome, and one of the highlights of the conference for me was playing a lively game of Snakes and Ladders at the Touch Graphics booth just before the conference closed on March 15. The fast-paced game of chance for all ages, which combines a tactile playing board with audio cues, is completely interactive. Progress around the board is accompanied by lively sound effects. Encountering a ladder means multiple moves in one turn and landing on a fellow player triggers the computer sound of that player being kicked down the stairs. When so many pieces of assistive technology are focused on work and productivity, it was a breath of fresh air to encounter one that was purely entertainment with no higher purpose.

Speaking of fun, another off-topic highlight for many was the poolside HumanWare party, where Stevie Wonder joined in the fun, greeting partygoers and even joining in a group sing-along led by "The Visuettes," an "ensemble" of HumanWare friends who are known for an annual five-minute frivolous performance.

Deborah Kendrick, Stevie Wonder and Sheri Albers at the HumanWare party at CSUN.

Caption: Deborah Kendrick, Stevie Wonder and Sheri Albers soak up some sun at the CSUN conference.

Conference Accessibility

A hallmark of the CSUN conference has long been its attention to detail in providing accessibility and accommodations to attendees with all types of disabilities. The good news is that conference materials were provided in all alternate formats—print, braille, audio, and a completely navigable CD produced by the DAISY Consortium. The bad news is that the beauty of the CD was undoubtedly missed by many attendees because no general information accompanied it to describe its nature or content. There were no tactile maps as there have been in the past. Some workshops that required hands-on activity offered completely accessible workstations for those who needed screen readers as well as those who used typical screens, while other workshops had no accessible demonstration models available.

Other changes that were not necessarily positive included the requirement that participants register for all sessions. Many people reported that their desired sessions were displayed as completely full online, but when they visited the sessions, there was ample space. Clearly, people change their minds about which workshops to attend after they arrive at the conference, and the requirement for registering in advance may actually discourage full participation.

Another change was the opening time of the exhibit halls. Traditionally, exhibits have opened with an exhibitors' reception on Wednesday evening—which has been the most popular and animated exhibit period. This year, exhibits opened early Thursday morning—a time when many participants were not yet in the exhibit hall frame of mind.

While changes in organization may not have made a good thing better, the CSUN conference is still a good thing. If you can attend only one technology conference a year, this one would be a profitable choice.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail us at accessworld@afb.net.

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Access Issues

From Vinyl to Digital: My First Experiences with Electronic Audio Players

I may argue that I am not really that old of an old dog, but working with Marshall University interns who are less than half my age continuously proves me wrong. This was never more evident than during a recent AFB TECH project to evaluate iPods and other digital audio players. iPods and other MP3 players are simply second nature to the interns who come from a generation that never played vinyl records. Although I have paid attention to the changes that have occurred, I did not embrace the digital music revolution before this project. However, that has all changed now, and this article discusses my transition to digital audio and some of my new favorite ways of listening to digital music and reading digital books.

Before I get into my personal experiences with digital audio players, let me state that this article is a precursor to a more comprehensive overview of digital audio players that will soon appear in AccessWorld. Thanks to grants from the Reader's Digest Partners for Sight Foundation and the Huntington Foundation, AFB TECH has been evaluating the accessibility of many of today's digital audio players. Our project has focused on using these players with digital music, as well as with books and other sources of digital information. Apple's iPod is certainly the most well-known product in this category of devices, which are referred to as both MP3 players and portable audio players. For this project, we gathered the complete line of Apple iPods, but we also examined several other mainstream devices, including the Creative line of players, the Microsoft Zune, the Sony Walkman and E Reader, and the Amazon Kindle. In addition, we included players that are designed to be accessible to people who are blind, such as the Book Port and BookCourier, the Victor Reader Stream, and the Milestone 311, as well as the media players that are included in several assistive technology PDA (personal digital assistant) devices, such as the PAC Mate, BrailleNote, Braille Sense/Voice Sense, and Braille+/Icon. Finally, we examined accessing digital audio on cell phones using the third-party screen-reader software products TALKS, Mobile Speak, and Smart Hal.

From Big and Bulky to Petite and Portable

Now that our AFB TECH project has dragged me into the 21st century, I realize how convenient digital audio is. Instead of performing a 5-minute album-changing ritual every 20 minutes, I can touch one button and listen to continuous music for days on end if I want to. The old furniture-sized stereo has been replaced by a tiny player like the iPod Shuffle or the Creative Zen Stone, smaller than a matchbook, that I can take with me anywhere. Of course, digital books are also a large part of the digital audio revolution. When I lost my vision in 1993, the first thing I got was one of the large, bulky Talking Book cassette players from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) with which most of us are familiar. We are all obviously thankful to everyone at NLS and the local libraries and the volunteers who kept the old machines working, but digital players are so much more convenient and efficient. I remember carrying my old cassette player and books around in a huge hiking backpack, and I can now carry hundreds or thousands of books in a small player in my pocket. That old player weighed 5 pounds, but my Zen Stone and iPod Shuffle each weighs less than 1 ounce.

A photo of Darren holding the huge old NLS cassette player and a box of cassettes in one arm, with the tiny iPod shuffle in his ear.

Caption: Darren Burton showing the large NLS player and cassette tapes with the tiny iPod shuffle in his ear.

What Are My New Favorite Ways to Listen to Music?

I still have my old-fashioned stereo, and my wife brought her CD collection with her when we got married. But even though I added braille labels to all the CD cases, it is still a fairly cumbersome process to find and play them. And I can't for the life of me remember the logic behind the position of the CDs when I remove them from the carousel CD player and often need to bother my wife to help me put the CDs away properly. However, now I am using Apple's iTunes on a PC as a jukebox. iTunes is not compatible with the JAWS or Window-Eyes screen readers out of the box, but T&T Consultancy has developed scripts that make it work well with JAWS. The scripts are available for $75 from Next Generation Technologies at www.ngtvoice.com/products/software/tandt/jtunes.htm. GW Micro reports that it will soon have iTunes working with Window-Eyes.

I have used iTunes to copy all my wife's CDs onto the PC's hard drive, and iTunes allows me easily to choose the music I want to play or to create a play list of songs for a get-together with friends. It is also accessible to search for music with iTunes and buy individual songs from Apple's iTunes store. However, it is not yet accessible to purchase albums. So, if you want all the songs from an album, you have to buy each song one at a time, and you end up paying a bit more than a sighted person pays for an album. Even so, I have to admit that I love searching for music on iTunes and listening to the 30-second teaser samples of the music, but my wife reminds me that I can easily get carried away and buy too many songs.

I also like buying and downloading digital music from Amazon.com because the music files are unprotected MP3 files that can be easily loaded onto my portable players. I probably now listen to more music while hiking, exercising at the gym, or relaxing in my hammock than in my living room, so a small portable and accessible player is important. The Creative Zen Stone fits my lifestyle, and its $34.99 price tag fits my budget. It is small, about 2 inches by 1.5 inches by a half inch deep and weighs only 0.7 ounces, so it does not get in my way at the gym. It has tactile controls and no display screen, so other than some battery indicator lights, I am on the same page as my sighted friends. Its 1Gb (gigabyte) of memory holds hundreds of songs, and it is easy to use Windows Explorer to load MP3 or Windows Media Audio files onto the Zen Stone. There is also now a 2Gb Zen Stone with a built-in speaker for $49.99.

The Zen Stone also does a nice job playing and navigating through books from Audible.com, allowing you to navigate from section to section as well as with standard rewind and fast forward. Navigating from section to section comes in handy if I accidentally press the Back button while working out or hiking because I can more quickly find my place than with other players that may take me to the beginning of the book. It also keeps your place in Audible books when you turn it off or move to a music folder to listen to music. You can listen to two informative podcasts on the Zen Stone by David Miles on www.blindcooltech.com, one of which describes a techniques for tagging folders and albums with voice tags that identify the folders' or albums' names. You can also read a comprehensive review of the Zen Stone by Janet Ingber in the November 2007 issue of AccessWorld .

What Are My New Favorite Ways to Listen to Books?

I had a great time broadening my musical horizons while working on this project, but I have to admit that it is the access to digital books that has really excited me. I enjoy downloading books from many online sources, including www.audible.com, www.bookshare.org, and the NLS digital download test site.

The Book Port from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) and the BookCourier from Springer Design were the first devices designed specifically for people who are visually impaired that I tried for reading digital books. These are similar products, both featuring tactile buttons that are easy to distinguish. They both work with recorded speech books from Audible.com and have built-in text-to-speech for reading electronic files from sources like bookshare.org and Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org). You can also play MP3 music files with these devices, and you can read a comprehensive evaluation of these devices in the July 2004 issue of AccessWorld .

The Book Port and BookCourier are powerful reading tools, and I enjoy using them. However, the Victor Reader Stream from HumanWare is my device of choice. At $329, it is $50 to $70 less expensive and has several advantages over the Book Port and BookCourier. I like its Vocalizer speech synthesizer over the Double Talk synthesizer used by the Book Port and BookCourier, but that is just a subjective opinion. A more objective advantage is how quickly you can transfer books to the Victor Reader Stream. An Audible book that takes over 20 minutes to transfer to the Book Port takes less than a minute to transfer to the Victor Reader Stream. I also like the fact that you can adjust the speed at which recorded books are played with the touch of a button, and I find the user interface to be more intuitive. The Victor Reader Stream also plays a wider range of file formats, including music in MP3 and Windows Media Audio formats, and has a button on the side to record meetings or lectures quickly and easily. You can read a comprehensive review of the Victor Reader Stream in the January 2008 issue of AccessWorld .

Another important factor that attracted me to the Victor Reader Stream is that it was the first handheld player that is compatible with the recorded Digital Talking Books that can be downloaded as part of the NLS test program. This test program is now open to all NLS-eligible patrons, allowing you to search for and download books quickly to play on the Victor Reader Stream. NLS will soon have a player available for these books, replacing the bulky cassette players that many of us now use. Other commercially available players will also soon be compatible with the NLS downloadable books. At the recent CSUN Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, I was told that the Icon from LevelStar and the Braille+ from the American Printing House for the Blind will be certified to play NLS books by the time you read this article.

The NLS books are professionally recorded human speech files, so they will appeal to people who are not familiar with or uncomfortable with synthetic speech. I have enjoyed participating in the NLS pilot test of these downloadable books and having them at my fingertips, rather then ordering and waiting for books on cassette to be mailed to me. It will be great when NLS begins to add thousands of books to their digital collection. However, I have to admit that I have been disappointed in the level of markup that has been included for navigating through the books. I know that these are mainly books for pleasure reading and are read straight through by many people, but I like more control of my reading experience. If I want to go back and check something I read previously, I want to be able to navigate by chapter, page, paragraph, sentence, word, or even character if I need to learn how to spell a word. That is why I am a big fan and heavy user of books from Bookshare.org. These books are available in DAISY format, ready to load onto a Book Port or Victor Stream, but you have to use your device's synthesizer to read them. I am comfortable with and, in many cases, prefer, synthetic speech, so these books are perfect for me. I am also able to navigate in many different ways to find the part of the book I want quickly. Bookshare also has more than 37,000 titles available, so I will not run out of books during my lifetime.

I have mentioned Audible.com books several times in this article because they are high-quality human speech-recorded books that play on several handheld players, and the web site keeps up with best-sellers hot off the press. However, these books are not free, and I pay a $14.95 per month subscription fee, which allows me to download one book per month; and I have also paid anywhere from $15 to $40 for the extra books I have purchased. Bookshare has only a $50 annual fee, and the NLS books are free to eligible users. So comparatively, Audible.com may not be such an attractive option. I will still use Audible.com, though, because my wife and I come from huge families, and we like to put an Audible book on a Zen Stone and give copies away as Christmas and birthday presents.

The New KNFB Reader

I just received a new KNFB Reader the day I turned in this article, so I cannot report my experiences with it yet. The KNFB Reader is now a Nokia N82 Symbian Cell phone with the Reader software installed. It uses the phone's built-in camera to capture images of books, memos, or currency and then to read the print information or the denomination of the bill. The Nokia N82 is also compatible with the TALKS and Mobile Speak screen readers, so it has the potential to be an all-in-one solution. I saw Mobile Speak demonstrated at CSUN reading Bookshare books on a phone, and I cannot wait to find out how it all works on my new KNFB Reader. I have successfully used Mobile Speak and TALKS to access and read text files and Audible books on my other phones, so this takes it one step further.

Apple Accessibility

Apple's iPod is far and away the leader in the digital audio player market, and the term "iPod" has become widely used to describe this category of devices. The access barriers that are inherent in most of Apple's iPod line of products are well known in the blindness community, and Apple certainly has some serious work to do to make its products accessible. However, while working on the project at AFB TECH, we discovered some accessibility improvements from Apple, and some work-arounds to help in using their products.

We first learned to use the new Macintosh OS 10.5 operating system, also known as Leopard. Leopard includes VoiceOver, the free built-in screen reader that is used to access some but not all the applications on the Mac. The speech synthesis is outstanding, sounding better to me than any I have ever used, but it still does not speak as fast as I would like it, even at its highest rate. The Mac still does not provide nearly the access that we enjoy on a PC with the JAWS, Window-Eyes, or Hal screen readers, but you do not have to pay an additional thousand dollars or so either. iTunes was what we concentrated on for this article, and iTunes works well right out of the box with VoiceOver. Once I learned the keystrokes to use with iTunes, I found VoiceOver to be crisp in responding and doing what I told it to do. A big limitation with iTunes is that only Apple's iPod line of players is compatible with it, so I could not load the songs I purchased onto my accessible Creative Zen Stone or my Victor Reader Stream. An even larger problem is that other than the iPod Shuffle, I could not figure out how to load songs onto the iPod line of products. As with J-Tunes, I could not purchase albums, so I had to pay the higher cost of individual tracks. The Mac VoiceOver's responsiveness was slightly better than what I experienced with JAWS and the J-Tunes scripts on a PC, but I could actually load up my iPod with J-Tunes on a PC.

You may ask why, if iPods are so inaccessible, am I worried about loading songs onto them? Well, most of the iPod line of products are definitely not what one would call accessible. None has any speech output to help navigating its visual menus. The iPhone and new iPod Touch use a flat touch-screen interface with no tactile buttons and are about the most inaccessible products on the market in any category. The iPod Classic does have a tactile "click wheel," along which you run your finger to navigate the menus and that makes a click sound when you move from item to item in the menus. The extremely bright and patient among us have, with sighted assistance, learned to memorize the menus and count clicks accordingly. Although I am certainly not among that group, my clever interns told me that they could go into the iPod's settings and delete many of the menus to make it easier to navigate. Although doing so certainly takes away much of the iPod's functionality, it makes it easier to use for the basics. My iPod now has only two items on the main menu—Music and Settings. I can easily move my finger counterclockwise on the click wheel to choose music. Then, I have only two items on the Music menu—Playlists and Songs—so again it is easy to choose between the two and begin listening. The iPod Nano is pretty much the same as the iPod Classic, except that it is only about a quarter the size, and instead of holding 80 or 160 GB of music, it holds only 4 to 8 GB.

The iPod shuffle has 1 GB of memory and far less functionality than the other iPods. However, it is a tiny and easily portable 0.6-ounce player. It does not require any clever work-arounds and has no screen, so it is in line with the Creative Zen Stone as far as accessibility. I was able to use iTunes on the Mac and PC to transfer songs and Audible books to it, and it has a simple interface. It has a built-in clip, which makes it easy to clip to any part of my clothing, so I can keep it out of the way when I am at the gym. Although it does not have the section/chapter navigation feature that the Zen Stone does for reading Audible books, it does have an easy key lock feature that helps you avoid inadvertently moving to the beginning of a book or song.

Bose SoundDock

There are dozens of iPod accessories on the market, and I decided to check some of them out. By far, my favorite is the Bose SoundDock. This is a powerful yet portable, high-quality loudspeaker system for playing music on your iPod. It has a dock that slides out from the front, and you simply set your iPod into it and use the remote control to control your music. The remote has eight easy-to-distinguish tactile buttons, and it actually makes it a bit easier to play the music on your iPod. If you get sighted assistance to create playlists and load them onto your iPod, you can easily switch from playlist to playlist or song to song without having to go into the iPod's inaccessible menu system. You can also connect your accessible Zen Stone or Book Port or Victor Reader Stream to the SoundDock using a 1/8-inch stereo cable from a retailer like Radio Shack, but the SoundDock's remote cannot be used to choose the music you want to hear.

A Close-up of the Bose SoundDock containing the iPod Classic.

Caption: The Bose SoundDock with the iPod Classic.

Although the SoundDock is an expensive $299 to $399 accessory, it is certainly cool, and it produces phenomenal sound quality that is large enough to fill a gymnasium from its small quarter of a cubic foot 5-pound size. The $399 version has a rechargeable battery that lasts about 10 hours, so it is perfect to take outside on the patio for a cookout. My neighbors probably will not appreciate its huge sound, so I will have to keep the volume down a bit.

The other accessory that I am eager to try out is Apple's waterproof case for the iPod. I include swimming in my summer workout schedule, and musical accompaniment would be super. I cannot imagine that the case is waterproof enough to allow swimming, but I will find out soon.

OK Apple, What Next?

Certainly, Apple has made solid progress in making the Macintosh more accessible without the need to purchase an expensive screen reader, and improvements are being made in each successive release of the Mac's operating system. Still, the iPod line of products remains largely inaccessible, and the new iPod Touch goes in the wrong direction as far as accessibility. We would love for Apple to work with blindness organizations to improve the accessibility of the iPod products. The fact is that the iPod is a cool device. It is sleek and holds tens of thousands of songs. In addition to playing music and books, it also plays video and podcasts, and schools are beginning to use the iPod for educational purposes. It would be great if students who are blind or have low vision could use the same iPods as sighted students use.

The Bottom Line

These new digital audio players, especially the Victor Reader Stream, the Creative Zen Stone, and the Apple iPod Shuffle, have enhanced my workout and leisure time and have brought me back to listening to my old music as well as my new books. I also travel a great deal in my work, so they have made the inevitable flight delays much more bearable. However, this article just touches on devices and sources of media that I have found fit my tastes. I have in no way covered all the options that are available for digital music and books, so stay tuned to AccessWorld for my more comprehensive overview of the subject, and please write us with your experiences and let us know about options that we did not cover.

Although I have successfully transformed from an analog curmudgeon to digital devotee, I still cannot avoid being reminded by the college interns that I am indeed an old dog. While testing the accessibility of downloading music from a site like Amazon.com or from Apple's iTunes store, I would suggest searching for an artist or group that I used to enjoy like David Bowie or Cream, and I would be greeted with blank stares from my young assistants. Similarly, when they would play one of their current favorites, I would hear my dad's voice in my head as I would critique the song with a comment like, "That is nothing but loud obnoxious brain-rotting garbage." I guess some things never change.

Product Information

Product: iPod Shuffle.

Manufacturer: Apple Computer, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; phone: 408-996-1010, Customer Relations: 800-767-2775; web site: www.apple.com.

Price: 1GB (240 songs) $49, 2GB (500 songs) $69.

Product: iPod Nano.

Manufacturer: Apple Computer, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; phone: 408-996-1010, Customer Relations: 800-767-2775; web site: www.apple.com.

Price: 4GB (1,000 songs): $149, 8GB (2,000 songs): $199.

Product: iPod Classic.

Manufacturer: Apple Computer, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; phone: 408-996-1010, Customer Relations: 800-767-2775; web site: www.apple.com.

Price: 80 GB (20,000 songs): $249, 160GB (40,000 songs) $349.

Product: iPod Touch.

Manufacturer: Apple Computer, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; phone: 408-996-1010, Customer Relations: 800-767-2775; web site: www.apple.com.

Price: 8GB $299, 16GB $399, 32GB $499.

Product: Zen Stone.

Manufacturer: Creative Labs, 1901 McCarthy Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; phone: 408-428-6600; web site: www.us.creative.com.

U.S. Sales Outlets: Numerous online and brick-and-mortar retail stores, such as www.amazon.com, www.target.com, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Wal-Mart.

Price: 1GB $34.99.

Product: Zen Stone with a built-in speaker.

Manufacturer: Creative Labs, 1901 McCarthy Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; phone: 408-428-6600; web site: www.us.creative.com.

U.S. Sales Outlets: Numerous online and brick-and-mortar retail stores, such as www.amazon.com, www.target.com, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Wal-Mart.

Price: 2GB $49.99.

Product: Victor Reader Stream.

Manufacturer: HumanWare Canada, 445, rue du Parc Industriel Longueuil, Quebec J4H 3V7, Canada; phone: 888-723-7273; e-mail: ca.info@humanware.com; web site: www.humanware.ca.

Price: $329.00.

Product: Book Port.

Manufacturer: American Printing House for the Blind, P.O. Box 6085, Louisville, KY 40206-0085; phone: 800-223-1839 (toll free) or 502-895-2405; web site: www.aph.org.

Price: $395.

Product: BookCourier.

Manufacturer: Springer Design, 375 Diablo Road, Suite 105, Danville, CA 94526; phone: 925-838-1885; e-mail: sales@bookcourier.com; web site: www.bookcourier.com.

Price: $379 (discounts are available for Bookshare.org subscribers and users of Kurzweil 1000).

Product: SoundDock portable digital music system.

Manufacturer: Bose Corporation, the Mountain, Framingham, MA 01701; phone: 800-999-2673; web site: www.bose.com.

Price: $399.

Product: J-Tunes Scripts for JAWS.

U.S. Distributor: Next Generation Technologies, 20006 Cedar Valley Road, Suite 101, Lynnwood, WA 98036-6334; phone: 425-744-1100; web site: www.ngtvoice.com.

Price: $75.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail us at accessworld@afb.net.

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Access Issues

Who's on the Line: Access to Phone Systems at Work and at Home

I recently had an opportunity to try to explain VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) technology to a friend who is still trying to understand exactly what caller ID is. I did my best to tell her that all phone calls travel most of the distance from you to the other party as digital data and explained patiently that you can use the Internet to digitize your calls as you place them, rather than use the phone company. I then showed her the SIP (session initiated protocol) box that I have for my own VoIP line. After a long and uncomfortable silence, she asked, "Well then, which is it, a phone or a computer?"

Answering the question of what is a computer and what is still a telephone may be as good a place as any to begin to sort out the technical and accessibility challenges that are presented as voice communications technology moves from the familiar domain of "the phone company" to an almost endless array of services, such as Vonage and Skype, operating on an almost-limitless system of home networks, office systems, the open Internet, and specialized digital networks like MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) and cloud networks.

The Past aka Ma Bell

In the beginning, there was "the phone company," usually, but not always, part of AT&T. Regardless of ownership, the phone company controlled all aspects of placing and receiving a phone call—from the instrument on your desk or in your home to the switching equipment and long distance lines. Placing a call was relatively straightforward—lift the hand set; dial; and, in a few seconds, you were connected, all thanks to one or perhaps two phone companies, yours and the one at the other end of the call. For most of the 20th century, which generally spans the history of the development of the phone system, the call traveled as an electrical signal along a circuit created by the wires from your telephone to the telephone of the other party. This explains why calls across town were usually much clearer than those traveling long distances across country or internationally. This technology, known as circuit switching, also required that the call could travel only along dedicated wires owned by the telephone company.

From the mid-1960s through the late 1980s, a change quietly took place in the telephone system. Digital technology was introduced. At first, digital information was used to route calls. Rather than the physical opening and closing of mechanical switches to connect callers, digital techniques were used, increasing the speed and reliability of placing a call. This is the technology that made touchtone phones possible. The second part of this quiet change was the digitizing of voice conversations. Rather than traveling as analog electrical signals, conversations were encoded at the switch on your end of the call, traveled along the phone company's long distance lines as packets of data, and were decoded on the switch at the other end. For many of us of a certain age, comparing the quality of the long distance calls of yesteryear to those of today highlights the remarkable effect of digital technology. This is the method you will use the next time you pick up your "regular" phone and place a call from your home.

This Is the Internet Calling

Switched circuit systems require the digital packets containing the call to be routed along a specific set of lines, from you to the other party. A much newer technique, known as packet switching, allows the packets of data containing your conversation to travel across the Internet or other digital networks to reach the intended party. A useful analogy to help you understand the full implication of packet switching, is to the post office. Imagine that each packet of data representing a conversation is an envelope. The envelope contains an address, in this instance the location of the phone you are calling. When you mail an envelope, let's say from New York City to Chicago, you do not tell the post office, "Send the envelope by way of Indianapolis." The post office routes the envelope as it sees fit, since it can determine the most efficient route for the particular envelope to take. Similarly, packet switching allows packets containing conversations to move along the most efficient route available. In addition, the address on an envelope or packet contains a header with a description of the contents, let's say, "voice conversation." This header allows envelopes with different kinds of content to travel along the network and be sorted out in the correct sequence at the other end of the conversation. Last, the packet contains a sequence number, which ensures that the conversation is reassembled in the correct order at the other end of the call. The technology used for these processes also discards packets that arrive too late and mask the momentary dropouts in the conversation.

More than Just a Conversation

Since packets can contain information other than a simple conversation, it was inevitable that visual information would be encoded to travel from one caller to another. The most obvious example may be the caller ID. A visual display to show this important piece of information is found on virtually all phones that are sold today. Caller ID is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Many desk phones include a sizable screen. On this display, information, such as a corporate directory, can be shown. More significant is the use of this display to indicate the function of four identical "soft" buttons that sit across the bottom of the screen. The functions of these buttons change, depending on a number of variables. It is impossible to know what each label is unless you document or memorize the many possible permutations. This phone is connected to a Cisco phone system, which is typical of many similar systems in use in schools, offices, and other places of business. Because the packets that move across the system can include data, these visual elements of the system have been incorporated into its use, like it or not.

VoIP at Work

The Avaya Accessibility Strategy

Avaya is not a household name, unless you are in the telephone business. Formed as a spin-off of what was originally the hardware branch of AT&T, Avaya is a major player in the enterprise telecom arena. I recently had an opportunity to use the accessibility features of an Avaya Commuication Manager, a large business system. Because configuring a full business-phone setup was not a practical way to evaluate the performance of these systems in the AFB TECH lab, the following observations are based on a demonstration that took place in Washington, DC, in late January. Although not a perfect solution, the efforts of this company are impressive and demonstrate that accessibility is possible.

To understand how Avaya approaches accessibility, it is useful to recall that the packets of information that make up phone calls contain more than just voices. Two additional digital channels accompany the main voice channel for each call. The "media" stream and "control" stream handle separate yet related streams of packets that are required to conduct a call and use the phone. A switch or "telecommunications server," manages the flow of calls across the network, let's say of a medium to large business or institution. The server "looks" at the phones that are attached to it and routes the calls as they are placed and received. When a call is taking place, the server tracks certain of its characteristics. In addition, it continually monitors each telephone that is connected to it. For example, by looking at the phone, a sighted person can see whether any of the LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that indicate the use of one of the lines is lit. On the server, software keeps track of which of the line LEDs is lit, as well as many other functions.

Now, you are asking yourself, what is the big deal about software tracking whether a led is on or off, and what can that have to do with accessibility, since I cannot see the LED? The answer can be found in an elegant piece of software that Avaya makes available for all its systems. Universal Access Phone Status (UAPS) monitors the activity, actually 240 activities for any phone on a system, and announces changes as they happen or on request, depending on the customer's preferences.

To implement UAPS, a small software application needs to be downloaded and installed on a computer that is capable of communicating with the same server on which the phone system is running. In the typical business, the same network supports both computers and phones. Most commonly, the desktop PC near the phone hosts the UAPS software. Once the software is installed and activated, the user will hear the functions of the phone announced in a synthetic voice through the computer speaker, as you would hear a screen reader.

To begin the demonstration, I was invited to press the lower right hand-most button on a standard Avaya desk phone. The computer immediately announced "line 1 is available, line 2 is available, line 3 is available, and you have no messages." My host for the presentation then dialed my phone from another phone. "Line 1" was announced, followed by the regular ring tone. I was asked to press the same Announce button as before, only this time the caller ID information appearing on the screen was clearly announced with the name and number of the caller.

When several lines are in use in a busy office or for situations in which you are juggling calls among several lines, pressing the Announce key will summarize the status of your lines. During the demonstration, placing a call on hold or when a caller disconnected caused UAPS to announce the change immediately.

According to Avaya, there are 240 functions of the system, all of which can be announced by the software. Complex yet important information for users in special situations, such as customer service centers or offices that handle calls for a number of organizations, can also be announced. For example, an insurance call center that receives both sales and claims calls will display which kind of inbound call is being received, allowing the representative to answer appropriately after hearing the announcement. The corporate directory can be displayed on the phone's screen, and by pressing the Announce button, you will hear the current name and number spoken. To locate a number more efficiently, you can use the numbers corresponding to the first few letters of the last name. For example, if you entered 463, the letters Hod in Hodges would be looked up.

As the demonstration continued, it became clear that the Avaya approach is comprehensive and powerful. The steps that are necessary to conduct a conference call are announced, making this task manageable, especially compared to doing so without the benefit of accessible prompting.

The UAPS software, which provides accessibility, runs in the background on the PC that supports the application. It is important to note that it is not a soft phone and is intended to provide access to the conventional phone that the customer uses. Some computer keyboard hot keys can be specified if the user finds it convenient as an alternative to reaching for the phone. The software is completely compatible with screen readers, such as JAWS, Window-Eyes, and ZoomText. The configuration of the functions and their voice behaviors takes place using an HTML interface.

Despite Avaya's achievement of making the functions that take place on the telecommunications server accessible, changing settings on the phone itself is not accessible. Most notable for purposes of the demonstration was the inaccessibility of the menus to set ring tones and similar phone functions.

Avaya demonstrated UAPS on examples of phones that are of the more traditional variety. On these models, each line is represented by a separate button. A total of 24 buttons are arranged in two columns. These buttons are easy to feel and are placed conveniently to the right of the main keypad. The accessibility software allows specific accessibility functions to be associated with these buttons. The Announce command is given by pressing the lower right hand-most button, which has been assigned to this purpose.

The keypad is easy to identify with two clearly discernable nibs on the 5 key. Six keys, including Hold and Transfer, are arranged in two rows above the keypad. The oval shape and flat face of each key make them easy to locate.

Avaya also offers a less accessible phone that uses a large visual display and four soft keys as the primary interface. We understand that this design arrived in the United States from some German designers, and looking at it, it is hard to argue with the observation that it is Avaya's answer to the popular Cisco 7900 IP phone. This Avaya phone, like the 7900, is not accessible for even basic functions. The good news is that to compensate for the use of soft keys on this Avaya phone, the UAPS software allows all functions that are presented by the soft keys to also be accessible using commands that the user specifies on his or her computer keyboard.

The Best News

As the demonstration made clear, Avaya has taken much care and invested significant resources in the development of UAPS. To its credit, it has patented the technology as well and has participated actively in efforts to strengthen accessibility requirements for federal procurement. Perhaps the most innovative feature of the software is its price. Avaya gives UAPS away. Any Avaya IP-based phone system can operate a version of the accessibility package. Installing and configuring the software should be well within the skills of a network administrator.

The View from the Field

Tony Cooke works as a communication services manager for the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. Following the demonstration of the Avaya accessibility features, I talked with him about his experience deploying the UAPS for over 100 individuals in his agency.

Cooke spoke enthusiastically about UAPS. The installation is "a no-brainer," he said. "Once I memorized the IP address on the phone server, it became so easy. You just fill in the information about the phone extension, and the UAPS finishes the work for you." The software self-configures the features associated with the particular phone it is supporting.

Cooke reported that UAPS works well with screen readers: "Most people here are using JAWS, and I have never had a single problem in over 100 situations." The program also works well for advanced users who want to make their own adjustments in the behavior of UAPS.

An additional application that Cooke recommended for many who use low vision devices is the Avaya soft phone. "People using ZoomText like to bring up the large display of the soft phone on their monitor and look at the caller ID," he noted. In addition, UAPS offers a mode in which the caller ID is presented on the screen, but the preference is to use the soft phone and ZoomText.

In his experience, Cooke has found that users like to create PC keyboard shortcuts for a few of the most frequently used functions. Caller ID and a report of the status of all lines are available by pressing Control F8 and Control F9 for the systems that Cooke configures.

You May Have an Accessible System

Because Avaya is such a large company and provides phone systems for many governmental agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. House of Representatives, employees of these businesses and agencies may have accessibility within reach. Because it is not always a high-priority item for network administrators, you may want to check for yourself whether you are using an Avaya phone system. If you are, let your network administrator know or follow your organization's procedure to refer technical questions in order to request that the appropriate software be downloaded and installed at your workstation. Check to see if your telephone has a label that says either Avaya or Lucent. If it does, you may be able to have an accessible phone sooner than you thought possible.

When a Small Phone System Is All I Am Using

The demonstration of the Avaya UAPS was conducted on a large system, appropriate for organizations with 100 employees or more. Similar accessibility is available on the company's smaller systems, including IP Office. Avaya has partnered with SSB Bart Group to produce complete documentation for these systems in accessible formats.

The switch to a new office system can be a devastating event if the new phones are not accessible. According to Avaya, these small-business systems compete well with inaccessible brands. In addition, a tax credit of up to $5,000 may be available, since switching to an Avaya small office system provides accessibility.

VoIP at Home

AT&T Callvantage, Vonage, and Broad Voice

It hardly seams possible, but there are still people who do not know about VoIP alternatives to the regular phone company. These services can be broadly separated into two groups—those that use a specialized or SIP (session-initiated protocol) router to interface the conventional phones in your home to the Internet for placing and receiving calls, and those, such as Skype, that generally place and receive calls directly through your computer using a headset and/or a microphone.

The accessibility of VoIP systems, including AT&T's Callvantage and the industry leader Vonage, is excellent. When you access features from the hand set, such as retrieving voicemail, accessibility really is not much of an issue, since all users perform these functions using a recorded voice provided by the carrier.

The real advantage of these systems, for purposes of accessibility, is found in their web interfaces. Unlike a land-line carrier, a VoIP provider can offer dozens of features and options. In addition, there is an expectation that signing up for service and managing your account will all take place via the company's web site.

Several months ago, I decided to obtain a VoIP line as a second phone in my home. After I read a number of user reviews, I decided to become an AT&T Callvantage customer. If my experience is typical, I am pleased to report that the accessibility of the sign-up process and the Callvantage web site are good.

Using the Callvantage web site, I was able to sign up for new service without the intervention of a sighted helper. The process was involved, since gathering detailed information about your location and selecting a phone number involves a number of steps. I found that most edit fields were labeled properly. At several steps in the process, it was necessary to explore the screen carefully for the text that explained the step I was interacting with. Nevertheless, I was eventually able to press the Submit button and began to wonder if a router and the promised welcome kit would arrive.

Several days later, a box was delivered that promised to contain the router. Sure enough it did, and with a brief description of the labeling on the RJ-45 and RJ-11 connecters on the device, from a sighted person, I headed to the den to connect my new toy. Interacting with the web page, I followed the instructions and connected the gear. My first few attempts to place a call were not successful, but after about the third time, I lifted the receiver and was greeted by the welcome sound of a dial tone.

Now that I have had the service up and running for several months, I find that I occasionally use the web site to manage the service and review my bill. One of the most useful features is the call log. Information summarizing all calls is presented in table form. I can sort the view by received calls, placed calls, or all calls. The tables are well designed and labeled correctly.

Vonage is an alternative to Callvantage that several users of screen readers have enthusiastically embraced. In comparison to Callvantage, which offers about 8 advanced features, Vonage has created more than 25 customizable settings to modify the behavior of the technology to suit your precise needs. Users of the service uniformly report that adjusting these features is easy with both JAWS and Window-Eyes.

In addition to changing settings by way of the web site, you can configure settings directly from the phone by dialing a command sequence. After the sequence is entered, the system prompts you by voice. Users of both Vonage and another competitor, Broad Voice, report that more and more features are available in this manner.

To assess the usability of the web site for any VoIP service you are considering, it is useful to visit the respective web site and look around. In AFB TECH's experience, the overall accessibility and usability of the phone controls will reflect the general layout and structure of the web site.

The experiences and information that we have gathered over the past several months reflect our own experience. Additional information has been provided by Avaya, as well as the network administrator of an Avaya system. We welcome your comments and experiences. The fast pace of change in these technologies can mean that what was inaccessible only yesterday is accessible now or that web sites that were useful when this report was written will become inhospitable before you read it.

For more information about UAPS, contact Paul R. Michaelis, consulting member of the technical staff, Avaya Labs, phone: 303-538-4101; e-mail: prmichaelis@avaya.com.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail us at accessworld@afb.net.

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Evaluation Update

The SenseView Handheld CCTV Adds a Handwriting Feature

"Waiter, we are ready for the check!" After dinner out with friends, it is time to pay the bill. For people with low vision, this can be an awkward time. If you are the host, you may not want the guests in your party to know the amount of the bill or how much of a tip you leave for the server. But if your low vision keeps you from clearly seeing the bill, writing in the amount of the tip, and seeing the line on which to sign, you may have to ask for assistance from a sighted person to do so. But, then again, maybe not.

In past issues, AccessWorld responded to readers' questions about the recent growth in the number of portable, handheld closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) on the market by publishing reviews of several models. This particular product update reports on a new feature of the SenseView, the handheld CCTV from GW Micro, that was originally reviewed in the November 2006 issue.

Most handheld CCTVs have some sort of handwriting feature. But the facilitation of handwriting is second in priority to magnification for these devices. Therefore, the design of the handwriting feature is often less than ideal or nonexistent. In AccessWorld's November 2006 review, I wrote: "The SenseView is not well suited to handwriting because you must keep the camera close to the text you want to see. Therefore, there is not enough room to place your hand under the device to facilitate handwriting. This is a significant shortcoming. Handwriting is not even mentioned in the User Manual as a use for the SenseView." In the article's "What Would Make it Better" section, I suggested including the ability to handwrite. I mentioned that I often travel for my work and frequently need to review hotel and meal receipts and then add a tip, write in my hotel room number, print my name, and add my signature. I explained that these tasks were not suited to the SenseView and stated that without the handwriting function, the usefulness of any handheld CCTV is limited.

The good news is that it looks like the manufacturer has been listening to feedback on its product because it has now added an optional camera to facilitate handwriting. This new, extremely lightweight, plug-in style camera has increased SenseView's functionality, allowing you to sign documents, write checks, fill out short forms, and write notes, which you could not do with the SenseView before. All these tasks allow for greater independence.

This new plug-in camera is different from handwriting cameras on other handheld CCTVs in two main ways. First, it is a separate, optional accessory to the product. With most similar devices, the main camera rotates to provide a handwriting feature, or you hold one end of the device up off the paper a few inches and place the tip of your pen under its camera to write.

Second, because it is a separate camera, it attaches in a way that enables you to hold the pen in a natural, more comfortable, position. The models for which you hold up one side of the magnifier to write make it necessary to grip your pen about halfway up, instead of closer to the tip. Gripping the pen in this manner causes your handwriting to be less neat than it otherwise would be.

With the new SenseView camera feature, it seems that what makes it stand out from its competition in a positive manner is a detraction at the same time. The plug-in camera allows you to write more comfortably, resulting in neater handwriting than with some other models, but it is a separate piece that must be attached and removed. The fact that it is a separate piece also adds to the risk it could be lost or damaged.

The plug-in camera has a one-year warranty and comes with a small, black velvet drawstring bag that can offer protection while being carried in a pocket or purse. When you want to write, you plug the camera into the side of the SenseView, turn on the SenseView, and then press the button on the camera, which turns on the camera and its LED (light-emitting diode) lights.

When you first use the plug-in camera, you may, as I did, find it a bit awkward to attach, although after a little practice, you will get the hang of it. It is best to use the handwriting feature in the full-color display mode with the lower levels of magnification.

Although the addition of the handwriting feature is a great improvement, one way this product could be improved is to incorporate the plug-in camera into the physical design of the SenseView. Doing so would obviously require a great deal of effort to redesign the product, but it would make it more streamlined and easier to use.

The SenseView is priced at $825, and its optional handwriting camera has an introductory price of $99. The two items can be purchased at the same time, or if you already own a SenseView unit and would like to add handwriting functionality, you can contact GW Micro to purchase the optional camera. The camera will work with the unit you already own.

While neither the SenseView's plug-in camera nor any other handheld CCTV camera takes the place of a more traditional desktop CCTV, it does add a good bit of needed functionality while you are on the go.

Product Information

Product: SenseView Handwriting Camera.

Manufacturer: GW Micro, 725 Airport North Office Park, Fort Wayne, IN 46825; phone: 260-489-3671; e-mail: support@gwmicro.com; web site: www.gwmicro.com.

Price: Introductory price $99.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail us at accessworld@afb.net.

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AccessWorld News

Two More Devices to Play Talking Books

Patrons of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and its Talking Book program now have more options for downloading digital versions of books and magazines for listening on handheld devices. The Icon from LevelStar and Braille+ Mobile Manager from the American Printing House for the Blind can now play books that are downloaded from the NLS Digital Talking Books site.

Both devices can fit into a pocket and offer a wide variety of features—including a contacts manager, web browser, large hard drive, built-in text-to-speech, and much more. Wireless capabilities make it possible for NLS patrons to download Talking Books to either device without using a computer. Customers who have already purchased either device are invited to download a free software upgrade and then register with the NLS Digital Talking Books site. To learn more about the Icon, visit www.levelstar.com, phone 800-315-2305, or send an e-mail message to info@levelstar.com. To learn more about the Braille+ Mobile Manager, visit: www.aph.org/tech/pda_info.htm.

Braille Sense Plus Announced

GW Micro announced the release of the Braille Sense Plus, the latest version of the company's braille PDA (personal digital assistant), originally introduced in March 2005. The new version offers 8GB of built-in memory and 128MB of RAM "for quick response time." Features include a compact flash card slot, two USB ports, a serial port, a VGA port, and an Ethernet port. Braille Sense Plus offers wireless capabilities, a GPS system, and the ability to record to the MP3 format. A keylock switch enables users to listen to music or other audio without inadvertently pressing keys.

Braille Sense Plus sells for an introductory price of $5,995 and began shipping in May. For more information, send an e-mail message to sales@gwmicro.com or phone 260-489-3671. To read more about Braille Sense Plus or other GW Micro products, visit www.gwmicro.com.

Leading Braille Publishing Organization Hires New CEO

After 32 years of growth under the gifted leadership of William Raeder, who recently began a well-deserved retirement, the National Braille Press (NBP) in Boston announced that Brian MacDonald will serve as its new president. MacDonald has an MBA in marketing and finance from Boston College and 20 years of experience leading nonprofit organizations. Most recently, he served as chief operating officer for New Hampshire Audubon, where, according to the NBP press release, "he helped lead a major restructuring that included strategic planning, change management, and improved revenue generation. He also has significant experience in planned giving, business development, and building corporate partnerships."

MacDonald's volunteer commitments have been extensive, including four years as director of the Essex County (Massachusetts) Special Olympics, founder of the Northeast Whale Watching Association, and more. His personal interest comes from having a grandmother who reads braille.

Before his retirement, Raeder launched a strategic initiative involving the expansion of NBP offerings and increased outreach and advocacy. For more information, visit www.nbp.org.

HumanWare Adds New GPS Device

HumanWare announced the addition of Trekker Breeze to its popular line of GPS (global positioning system) products for people who are blind or have low vision. The Sendero Group's talking GPS software, running on the BrailleNote family of products, was the first accessible navigation product. Trekker, GPS software running on a handheld PDA with built-in text-to-speech, soon followed.

With Trekker Breeze, HumanWare says that accessible GPS will become available to an even wider audience of customers who are blind or have low vision. Trekker Breeze announces streets and points of interest, enables users to record routes and follow them turn by turn, and can be used either while riding in a vehicle or traveling on foot.

For more information on Trekker Breeze, visit www.humanware.com/en-usa/products/gps.

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Calendar

June 12-14, 2008

Collaborative Assistive Technology Conference of the Rockies

Denver, CO

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

June 29-July 5, 2008

National Federation of the Blind National Convention

Dallas, TX

Contact: National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230; phone: 410-659-9314; e-mail: nfb@nfb.org; web site: www.nfb.org/nfb/national_convention_2008.asp.

July 5-12, 2008

American Council of the Blind National Convention

Louisville, KY

Contact: American Council of the Blind; phone: 202-467-5081; e-mail: info@acb.org; web site: www.acb.org/convention/info2008.html.

July 15-17, 2008

QAC Sight Village

Birmingham, UK

Contact: Queen Alexandra College; web site: www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage/index.html.

September 5-6, 2008

Envision Conference A multi-disciplinary low vision rehabilitation & research conference.

San Antonio, TX

Contact: Michael Epp, Envision; phone: 316-425-7159; e-mail: michael.epp@envisionus.com; web site: www.envisionconference.org.

October 16-18, 2008

26th Annual Closing the Gap Conference: Computer Technology in Special Education and Rehabilitation

Minneapolis, MN

Contact: Closing the Gap, P.O. Box 68, 526 Main Street, Henderson, MN 56044; phone: 507-248-3294; e-mail: info@closingthegap.com; web site: www.closingthegap.com.

January 28-31, 2009

Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2009 Conference

Orlando, FL

Contact: ATIA, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611; phone: 877-687-2842 or 312-321-5172; e-mail: info@atia.org; web site: www.atia.org.

March 16-21, 2009

California State University at Northridge (CSUN) Center on Disabilities' 24th 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: conference@csun.edu; web site: www.csun.edu/cod/conf/index.htm.

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