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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 July 2008 Issue  Volume 9  Number 4

Book Review

A Pocketful of Sound: A Quick-Start and Buyer's Guide to Accessible Book and Music Players, by Anna Dresner, National Braille Press, hardcopy braille, CD, or for download, $14.

How-to books and articles abound in the mainstream world of publications, and Anna Dresner's A Pocketful of Sound brings a much-needed how-to compendium to any person who is visually impaired who is interested in using a portable player for listening to books or music. Whether you do not know an iPod from a Book Port or are an enthusiast who has been following the evolution of portable players for the past decade, you will probably find something of interest in these pages.

Anna Dresner and National Braille Press have a winning formula for zeroing in on specific bits of information that, if put directly into the hands of braille readers, will have broad appeal and, better still, practical applications. This book continues in that tradition. If you have been wondering what all the fuss with putting music or audio books on small players is about, or if you own one such player and are curious to know how it compares with other choices on the market, this book is a place to start. Dresner has rounded up many of the pocket-sized players that are usable by people who are visually impaired and, in one volume, provided potential buyers with most of the information they need. Most aptly described as a combination "how-to" and "resource" guide, the book performs admirably in both categories (with a few glaring omissions).

Product categories include mainstream off-the-shelf players, adaptive players that are intended specifically for use by people who are visually impaired, notetakers-personal digital assistants (PDAs) for people who are visually impaired, and a brief section on cell phones and mainstream PDAs. Taking one product at a time--Olympus DS series, Victor Reader Stream, Book Port, LevelStar's Icon, iPod Shuffle, and others--she provides a rundown of what the player will and will not do, describes it, and gives step-by-step keystroke instructions to get up and running.

Where the book shines is in the checklist provided for each product, the physical description of the device and its buttons, and instructions for use. From the checklist, it is immediately clear whether the player can handle the books or music of particular interest to the user. Will it play MP3, WMA, or OGG? Will it play books from commercial sources, such as Audible.com, or from specialty sources, such as the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), or Bookshare.org? Does it record as well as play? And how much memory does it have? All these features are quickly identified.

With the physical description and operating instructions in the book, readers who are visually impaired could pick up any one of these products and begin to use it. Because the instructions are clear and easily located, the book could also serve as a handy reference for people who own more than one device and need a refresher on operating one they have neglected for a time.

The "Would I Use It?" comments at the end of each product listing give Dresner's subjective appraisal of the product. Here, as elsewhere in the book, the language is casual, conversational, and easily absorbed.

Extras and Omissions

Although the book aims primarily to describe the players themselves, Dresner gives an extensive description of a firmware product called Rockbox. This is an open-source product, developed by volunteers, that essentially renders mainstream products more accessible to people who are visually impaired. Although it adds such friendly features as menus that speak and the manipulation of audible files and folders, it also causes the original iPod or other player to behave differently from its original self (a kind of two players in one), and Dresner does a laudable job of explaining the phenomenon and detailing the pluses and minuses of running the program.

Similarly, Dresner gives some detailed information on downloading and using products from such services as iTunes, NLS, and RFB&D. Although she frequently refers to podcasts and includes a source for downloading Juice, she provides no information on this topic, an omission that struck me as incongruous with the rest of the book.

Throughout the book, additional resources are provided. Many are sources of other discussions of a given product, additional help in using a given product, or tools that will make a player more versatile or friendlier to use. I was admittedly dismayed to see AccessWorld forgotten in these generous listings. Although nearly every player that is included in the book (as well as a few that are not) and many of the sources of material have been featured in comprehensive reviews in AccessWorld, in this book AccessWorld is mentioned only as a source for more information on cell phones, Smartphones, and PDAs.

That being said, I believe that this book will be a welcome reference for any person who is visually impaired who is enthusiastic about pocket-sized players for books and music. You can read the whole thing in one sitting and then pull it out time and again to refresh your memory on how Book Port's braille feature works, where the battery compartment is located in your Olympus DS series recorder, or any other detail. To echo one of Dresner's subheads: "Would I Use It"? Absolutely!

Editor's Note: Here is a list of AccessWorld articles that could have been referenced in this book:

"A Site for Sore Ears: A Review and Tour of Audible.Com" (March 2005 issue)

"A Library in Your Hand: A Review of the Book Port and the BookCourier" (March 2004 issue)

"M Is for Mobile, and the Result Is Empowering" (January 2006 issue)

"The Next Generation: A Review of Personal Digital Assistants, Part 1: BrailleNote PK and Braille Hansone" (January 2005 issue)

"Can You Get the Music? A Review of Music Download Sites" (July 2006 issue)

"An Image of Accessibility: A Review of the Icon" (July 2007 issue)

"Do the iPods Have It? A Review of Apple's iPod" (May 2005 issue)

"Marking the Road to MP3 Player Accessibility: A Review of the Milestone 311" (November 2006 issue)

"A Mountain of a Machine: A Review of the Olympus DS-40 Digital Voice Recorder" (November 2007 issue)

"The Next Generation: A Review of Personal Digital Assistants, Part 2: PAC Mate from Freedom Scientific" (May 2005 issue)

"Full Stream Ahead: A Review of the Victor Reader Stream" (January 2008 issue)

"Reading into the Future: An Overview of the National Library Service Digital Talking Book Test Program" (November 2007 issue)

"Zen and the Art of Portable Players" (November 2007 issue)

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

Related Articles

Do the iPods Have It? A Review of Apple by Jay Leventhal
A Site for Sore Ears: A Review and Tour of Audible.Com by Deborah Kendrick
The Next Generation: A Review of Personal Digital Assistants, Part 2 by Jim Denham, Jay Leventhal, and Heather McComas
Marking the Road to MP3 Player Accessibility: A Review of the Milestone 311 by Deborah Kendrick
An Image of Accessibility: A Review of the Icon by Jay Leventhal
Reading into the Future: An Overview of the National Library Service by Deborah Kendrick
A Mountain of a Machine: A Review of the Olympus DS-40 Digital Voice Recorder by Deborah Kendrick
Zen and the Art of Portable Players: A Look at the Zen Stone by Janet Ingber
Full Stream Ahead: A Review of the Victor Reader Stream by Deborah Kendrick
Google It! A Guide to the World by Deborah Kendrick

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