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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

In This Issue . . .

Editor's Page

Letters to the Editor

Rootbound Thinking in an Anemic Low Vision Industry

An assistive technology pioneer critiques the CCTV industry--Jim Halliday

Now Playing: A Review of the Accessibility of Digital Audio Players, Part 1

We determine the accessibility of off-the-shelf players, including ones from Apple, Microsoft, Creative Labs, Sony, and more--Darren Burton and Charles Wesley Clements

The Sky's the Limit: Accessible In-flight Entertainment and Information Systems May Be on the Way

Fasten your seatbelts for a preview of a system offering selectable fonts, video description, talking menus, and more--Lee Huffman

A Pocketful of Sound by Anna Dresner

We review a valuable how-to guide on audio players--Deborah Kendrick

Online Learning: What Works, What Doesn't

We feature a source of free, accessible online courses--Amy Salmon

AccessWorld News


Editor's Page

Jim Halliday, former president of HumanWare and now retired, spoke at a session I moderated at the American Foundation for the Blind's Jo Taylor Leadership Institute in early April. The session was on the future of assistive technology. Jim spoke about closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs). I found his comments about the current state of the CCTV market compelling and asked him to share them with AccessWorld readers. It is exciting to have an article by a pioneer in our field in AccessWorld. Please read what Jim has to say and send us your thoughts.

Many of you know Darren Burton best for his reviews of cell phones. These articles are some of the most popular articles that we publish. Darren has now taken on another type of product that should be popular—audiobook and music players. His articles in the May issue, this issue, and the one coming in September cover many players, both commercial ones and those developed specifically for people who are blind or have low vision. If you are looking for a player, you should find what you want on these pages.

In this issue, Jim Halliday writes about the current state of the CCTV market. He says that the basic concept of the CCTV, invented in the 1960s, has not changed. The original CCTV used a camera on a stand and a special lens to magnify text onto a television monitor. Early innovations included ergonomic ideas like x-y tables and space-saving ideas such as in-line units where the monitor was stacked on top of the camera and x-y table. Digital cameras, color monitors, larger screens, flat-panel monitors, and handheld CCTVs came along in time. However, CCTVs have serious limitations. Read this article to find out why the market has not changed and where it should be going.

Darren Burton and Charles Wesley Clements review mainstream digital audio players. Their evaluation includes the iPod line of players, the Creative Technology players, the Microsoft Zune, the Sony Walkman and E Reader, the Amazon Kindle, and the Olympus DS-50 digital voice recorder. Find out how accessible these players are and watch for our review in September of players made specifically for people who are blind or have low vision.

Lee Huffman, of AFB TECH, wants to know if you have been bored on a long plane flight lately. Worse, while you were twiddling your thumbs, the other passengers may have been passing the time by enjoying in-flight entertainment and information systems provided by some airlines. With some airlines now charging passengers to check even one bag on a flight, we should all be able to take advantage of any extras that are available. This article discusses a prototype in-flight entertainment and information system being developed by the WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM). NCAM's prototype was designed on a system offered by Panasonic Avionics Corporation and demonstrates an accessible interface, user-selectable captions, selectable fonts, video description, and talking menus. Read about this system, which we hope will someday be available when you board a future flight.

Deborah Kendrick reviews A Pocketful of Sound by Anna Dresner, published by National Braille Press. The book covers such product categories as mainstream players, adapted players intended specifically for use by people who are blind, notetakers/personal digital assistants for people who are blind, and a brief section on cell phones and mainstream PDAs. The author 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. Read our review of this valuable how-to guide.

Amy Salmon, an instructor at the Hadley School for the Blind, writes about distance education. She indicates that more and more people are taking online courses. However, many sources of these courses are inaccessible. Hadley offers a wide range of courses, and they are accessible and free. Learn more about this source of distance education.

Jay Leventhal
Editor in Chief

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Letters to the Editor

Synchronizing the iPod Shuffle Under Leopard

I just read your latest article on the accessibility of MP3 players (in the May 2008 issue of AccessWorld) and would like to make a quick comment that will help readers synchronize an iPod Shuffle with Leopard. I've done it several times and had good results.

  1. In iTunes, create a playlist with the songs you want to synchronize to your iPod
  2. Use drag and drop as follows. Position the VoiceOver cursor on the new playlist that you created with all your songs
  3. Press VoiceOver-Command-F5 to route the mouse to the VoiceOver cursor
  4. Press VoiceOver-Command-Shift-Spacebar to lock the mouse button
  5. Place your VoiceOver cursor on your iPod and route the mouse to it in the process above
  6. Press VoiceOver-Shift-Command-Spacebar again to unlock the mouse, and your files are synchronized

Please note that many people who are blind use the larger iPods just fine with the click counting method. I was using mine after an hour. Also, Apple has licensed some technology that could conceivably make the iPod Touch and iPhone more accessible and is working on iPod accessibility. Thank you for the positive things that you said about Apple in your article.

Jesse Kragiel

Accessible Telephone System Software

Thanks for the great article, "Who's on the Line: Access to Phone Systems at Work and at Home" (in the May 2008 issue of AccessWorld), which explains changes to the telecommunications industry during the 20th century and how Avaya's UAPS software is increasing accessibility for individuals with visual impairments. Avaya has teamed up with Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired and donated a state-of-the art VoIP system for our entire agency, including call center software. It is our intention to train individuals with visual impairments and physical disabilities to use the Avaya call center software and then employ them in a call center setting at Olmsted Center. We have every intention of using the UAPS application when the system goes lives sometime in June 2008. Paul Michaelis, among others at Avaya, has been a wonderful resource to help ensure that this new venture is a success for all our employees—sighted and blind. Later this year, Avaya is planning to include us in its customer showcase gallery.

Michael Jackson

Operations Manager

Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired

Buffalo, New York

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Rootbound Thinking in an Anemic Low Vision Industry

Jim Halliday

Caption: Jim Halliday

Sam Genensky first applied closed-circuit television (CCTV) technology for large-print reading in the late 1960s. Although the technology was somewhat crude by today's standards, the basic concept has not changed. Genensky's CCTV used a camera on a stand and a special lens to magnify text onto a television monitor. It was a simple way to create a much stronger magnifier than anything that existed through basic optics. There was no other technology that provided this level of magnification, and CCTVs soon became the accepted way for people with severe low vision to read.

Companies like Apollo Laser and Visualtek (later VTEK) took the seeds of Genensky's concept and planted them in a pot that we now call the CCTV industry (the "CCTV pot"). Early innovations included ergonomic ideas like x-y tables and space-saving ideas such as in-line units whose monitors were stacked on top of the cameras and x-y tables. Telesensory Systems (TSI) acquired Apollo Laser in 1984 and replaced vidicon cameras with digital cameras on its new CCTVs. Features like line markers and blinds were added to help address the difficulties associated with reading. Color monitors soon became available, as well as larger screens. In the late 1980s, companies like Optelec and HumanWare planted yet more seeds in the still-fertile CCTV pot. TSI tried to take over the market in 1990 by acquiring VTEK and creating Telesensory Corp. (TSC), but merely succeeded in dispersing its distribution among the new companies that were entering the market. Adding the ability to use CCTVs in conjunction with computers became commonplace. More recently, flat-screen technology has replaced bulky old monitors. Soon after HumanWare introduced the first handheld video magnifier, a rash of alternatives appeared on the market from nearly every other major CCTV company—and, indeed, a lot of companies were planting still more seeds in the same CCTV pot.

What was attracting all these new companies and, I might add, new investors, to this niche industry? These new companies and investors became fixated on the belief that the potential number of users of low vision technology is as many as 22 million in the industrialized world. This is an extremely tempting number for a niche market. Yet, most companies, both new and old, planted their seeds in the same old CCTV pot, rather than inventing new solutions to meet the needs of the broader low vision market. As more companies entered the market, the limited size of the CCTV pot became a factor but was generally ignored. Tieman, a Dutch company that had been making CCTVs in Europe since 1975, acquired Optelec in 1997. As more new companies entered the industry, prices started dropping and margins started shrinking. A huge red flag went up when the old stalwart industry leader, TSC, suddenly went out of business in March 2005. But even then, CCTVs remained the focus of the industry.

Limitations of CCTVs

Yes, CCTVs serve important low vision needs and will continue to do so, but they are essentially glorified magnifiers. They are good for spot reading and handwriting, but ineffectual for extended reading—the kind of reading that most people who are slowly losing their vision are used to and desire. This fact was prominently revealed in AFB's research, which found that typical CCTV users became so fatigued after only 15 minutes of reading that they had to stop and rest. Reading rates were also slow, and comprehension suffered from the constant interruptions that are associated with searching for the next line of text.

It is no wonder that eye care professionals are hesitant to recommend CCTVs for most patients with low vision. These patients expect to receive eyeglasses to help them read, not a huge contraption. They also expect a price somewhere in the neighborhood of eyeglasses—no more than $1,000. The potential number of persons with low vision who are driving the 22 million figure that is attracting new companies and investors to the industry includes the growing number of elderly people with macular degeneration. However, these elderly people are not sighted one day and low vision the next. Depending on the individual, macular degeneration may take years before it is severe enough for an eye care professional to think that a CCTV is appropriate. However, many of the patients have lost touch with their eye care professionals long before their vision has deteriorated to that level. During that time, they have used the recommended handheld magnifiers and have slowly become spot readers out of necessity, but they have lost their choice of reading for pleasure. Unfortunately, the acquisition of a CCTV merely expands the number of materials one can spot read, but it does not restore the ability to read for extended periods.

An Innovative Product

In 2000, HumanWare started work on the concept that people with low vision actually want to read rather than only spot read. The resulting development was myReader. Although it did not achieve all the original goals that were specified in terms of price or options, myReader redefined low vision technology. While it provided basic CCTV functionality for spot reading and handwriting, it changed the way users read. By taking a picture of the reading material and reprocessing the text, it gave users a variety of ways to read without the distraction of an x-y table or the visual fatigue of letters blurring backward across the screen. People who were never able to use a CCTV because of motion sickness were suddenly able to read again. Comprehension significantly improved, as did reading speeds, and, what is most important, users were able to read for hours instead of minutes. Smaller print options made it logical for people with slowly deteriorating vision to start using myReader far sooner than they would consider using a CCTV. myReader increased the reading speed of students and business professionals and restored pleasure reading to elderly people. So why hasn't myReader technology replaced CCTVs?

myReader2 with a book on its viewing table displaying the text in yellow letters on a blue background.

Caption: myReader2 displaying text in high-contrast colors.

The answer is twofold. First, the CCTV pot has been around for so long that many eye care professionals and even some distributors have come to accept spot reading as actual reading. Although it has a CCTV mode for spot reading and handwriting, myReader is light years ahead of a CCTV in terms of reading. Even though it folds up and is easy to carry, when it's set up it looks like a CCTV. Second, the $4,000-$5,000 price tag seems outrageous for a CCTV, which it is—if myReader was a CCTV. However, comparing a CCTV to myReader is like comparing a bicycle to a car. Most of us get tired after a few minutes of riding a bike uphill, but a car lets you drive comfortably all day long, although it costs a lot more than a bike.

Despite myReader's superiority as a reading device, it does not meet all the basic expectations of people with low vision, such as the ability to read where they want to read—in an easy chair, in bed, or on a bus. Handheld CCTVs have tried to address this desire, but these are still only spot-reading devices. People with low vision want a solution that is as available (and cheap) as eyeglasses. It is probably unrealistic to believe that the fulfillment of these desires is achievable in the next few years, but there are some positive signs. The fact that myReader exists is a huge first step. The more that people with low vision embrace myReader technology, the more they realize how important "real" reading is to them. Products like the K-NFB Reader show that optical character recognition is possible in an extremely portable package—a cell phone with a digital camera. Although the K-NFB reader does not produce large print, it is important to realize that the use of speech technology can augment the acquisition of information as one's vision deteriorates. Other technologies are under development that will create new and better solutions. We are still struggling with the challenge of a car for the price of a bike, but who knows? There is more computing power in a Smartphone these days than there was in a room full of technology not too many years ago.

These advances in mainstream technology will help us to break out of the CCTV pot and start looking at broader opportunities for this increasingly anemic industry. We will not see changes overnight, however. Until the prices of myReader-type products come down to the level of CCTVs, we will continue to see new CCTVs enter the market. We may also see companies consolidate to increase their sales volumes and reduce their costs. Meanwhile, myReader is a great first step that more people are discovering, and the fact that myReader seeds are planted in a whole new pot will invite others to break out of the rootbound mentality of CCTVs and embrace the idea of reading again.

AccessWorld invites responses from both CCTV users and people in the industry. How do you see the current state of the CCTV industry? How should it change? E-mail us at accessworld@afb.net with your thoughts.

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Product Evaluation

Now Playing: A Review of the Accessibility of Digital Audio Players, Part 1

Thanks to grants from the Reader's Digest Partners for Sight Foundation and the Huntington Foundation, AFB TECH has been evaluating the accessibility of what we call portable media players. Our project has focused on using these players with digital music, books, and other sources of digital information. Apple's iPod is certainly the most well-known product in this category of devices, which are sometimes referred to as MP3 players or digital audio players. For this project, we gathered the current line of Apple iPods, but we also examined several other mainstream devices, including the Creative Technology line of players, the Microsoft Zune, the Sony Walkman and E Reader, the Amazon Kindle, and the Olympus DS-50 digital voice recorder. Stay tuned to AccessWorld for our next article on what we call adaptive players that are designed to be more accessible to people who are blind, such as the Book Port and BookCourier, the Victor Reader Stream, the Milestone 311/312, and the new player from Plextor. That article will also look at 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, it will examine accessing digital audio on cell phones using the third-party screen-reader software products TALKS, Mobile Speak, and Smart Hal.

Mainstream Commercial Players

Well, let's get the bad news out of the way first and start with mainstream commercial portable media players. There are only three fully accessible mainstream players, and only one of them has speech output to read menus and onscreen information. The rest have no speech output at all and various degrees of inaccessibility. We begin with the most inaccessible players that we tested and progress to the more accessible ones. Fortunately, there are several more accessible options in the adaptive-assistive world, and our next article will focus on those options. For the less accessible players that we review in this article, we did not do our usual detailed physical description of the devices and instead describe the physical characteristics only of the more accessible players.

The Inaccessible Mainstream Players

The most inaccessible portable media player for people who are blind or have low vision is Apple's iPod Touch. Just like the iPhone, its flat touch screen interface makes it completely unusable. Apple is certainly aware of the hits it has taken from the blindness community, and this one is the worst so far. However, the iPod Shuffle is fully accessible, and other more encouraging news about Apple is discussed later in this article.

The Microsoft Zune player is the next worst. Although the Zune has tactilely discernable control buttons, it would be difficult to memorize button presses and use it independently, even if you were clever and patient enough to memorize all the button presses for navigating menus and settings, because the menu options circle around, so you never really know when you are at the top of a menu. If you happen to get lost in the fairly complex menu system, it would be difficult to get back to your starting point of reference without sighted assistance. The Zune setup and registration process is inaccessible, and arduous, requiring several updates to the player software and your PC software. Also, the Zune software, which has functions similar to Apple's iTunes software, including purchasing and loading music on the Zune player, is pretty much a train wreck as far as accessibility goes. A savvy screen-reader user with a great deal of patience could use some of the Zune software features, but we found it to be a real nightmare. Like the iPod Touch, we do not recommend the Zune to any of our readers.

Somewhat Accessible Mainstream Devices

Most of the other off-the-shelf mainstream portable media players are by no means what we would call fully accessible. However, if you are extremely patient and adventuresome, the idea of picking up and using an off-the-shelf player isn't beyond consideration. For one of these players to be usable, it has to have buttons that are easy to identify and use by touch, and you have to be able to feel or hear the button presses. The menu structure is the other major factor in predicting whether a particular player is going to be usable. If, as with Microsoft's Zune player, repeated presses of the Up and Down buttons circle the menu highlight around and around the list of options, the player isn't usable. On the other hand, if you can get the menu selector to a predictable location and hear or feel the button presses that are required to get it to where you need to go, then you may be able to learn how to use the device. All these devices have display screens for viewing the fairly complex, multilevel menu system, so some initial sighted assistance to learn the layout will definitely be necessary. A large-print or braille cheat sheet would also be helpful for learning and using the menu layout.

We examined three lines of players that may be suitable for the patient and adventuresome among us: the Creative Zen V, the Sony Walkman, and the Apple iPod. They all have tactilely discernable buttons and predictable menu systems that stop at the top and bottom of menus instead of circling around endlessly. Next, we briefly describe the technique to access the content of your music album independently on each player. Be aware that this is just one function of these players, and you would need to learn and memorize a multitude of techniques to access the various functions such as watching videos or listening to podcasts or books.

The Creative Zen V

The Creative Zen V should not be confused with the fully accessible Zen Stone that is discussed later. The Zen V measures 2.7 by 1.7 by 0.6 inches and weighs 1.6 ounces, with a display screen measuring 1.5 inches diagonally. Below the screen is a 5-way joystick-type control, as well as a Play/Pause button and a Back button to back out of menus.

Let's say you have used Windows Explorer to copy 20 albums onto the Zen V, and you want to listen to one of them. Pressing the lower right-hand button repeatedly will ensure that you are at the top of the main menu. Pressing the Down arrow once lands you on Album View, and pressing Select displays your albums in alphabetical order. As long as you have memorized the order of the albums you have loaded, you can scroll to the album you want and press Play to begin listening to that album. Pressing the lower right-hand button once takes you back to the album list, with a focus on the album that is playing.

The Sony Walkman

The Sony Walkman players are very much the same and offer some additional predictability. For this article, we examined the 8 GB NWZ-A728BLK, priced at $199. This player measures 3.75 by 2.1 by 0.4 inches and weighs 2.1 ounces. A 5-way control is the most prominent feature of the lower part of the face of the device. Two additional buttons are found on the face of the unit, their exact location differing somewhat, depending on the model of the Walkman that you have.

Again, let's assume that you want to play one of the albums you have loaded using Windows Explorer. After turning on the unit, pressing and holding the Play button in the center of the 5-way control brings up the main menu. The view is a tic-tac-toe-style arrangement of 9 icons. Music is the center icon and is always highlighted when you go to the main menu. Pressing Play again brings up the Music menu. Pressing the Down arrow once highlights Albums, and then pressing Play brings up a list of your albums. You can use the arrows to scroll to the album you want to play, as long as you have memorized the order. With the album you want highlighted, you can press and hold the Play button for a second or two until you hear a beep, and the first track in that album will begin to play. Alternatively, you can press and release Play, and the view changes to the list of songs, and again, you can scroll to choose a song. Pressing the Back button twice returns you to Albums, where you can navigate up or down to select your next album.

If you get lost in the weeds, pressing and holding the Back button for a second or two takes you to the main, tic-tac-toe-like, display, where you are focused on Music, and you can start over.

The Apple iPod Classic and iPod Nano

The iPod Classic measures 4.1 by 2.4 by 0.53 inches and weighs 4.9 or 5.7 ounces, depending on the size of the hard drive that you choose. The Classic is a bit larger than the other mainstream players we have examined, but it has a huge hard drive, available in 80 GB or 160 GB versions, allowing you to carry up to 80,000 songs in your pocket. The 80 GB version costs $249, and the 160 GB version costs $349. Measuring 2.75 by 2.06 by 0.26 inches and weighing only 1.8 ounces, the Nano is a smaller, more portable, iPod. The hard drive is also significantly smaller, available in 4 GB or 8 GB versions, but it pretty much functions exactly like its big brother. The 4 GB costs $149, and the 8 GB costs $199.

iPods are controlled by their patented click wheel, which consists of a center Select button surrounded by a larger circle. The click wheel concept comes into play when you want to adjust the volume or scroll through a menu item. Instead of pressing buttons to accomplish these tasks, you simply run your finger along the outer circle. You move your finger clockwise to increase the volume or move forward in a list of menu items and counterclockwise to decrease the volume or move back in the menu list. You will hear an audible click sound as you increase the volume by each unit or as you go from one menu item to another.

Here is what you would do on an iPod to listen to the albums you have loaded with iTunes. Press in on the top of the click-wheel circle several times to make sure you are in the main menu. Then move your finger along the click wheel counterclockwise until it stops clicking to ensure that you are at the top of the menu, which is the Music choice. Press in on the center button to enter the Music menu. Again, move along the wheel counterclockwise to make sure you are at the top of the menu, then click clockwise three times to reach Albums, which is the fourth item in the Music menu. Press Enter, and you are in a list of your albums; you can continue to scroll with the click wheel but, again, you have to remember your list of albums and count clicks until you are at the one you want. Press down on the center button and then press down on the bottom of the click wheel to begin playing the tracks. If you get lost, repeated presses of the top of the click wheel will get you back to the main menu.

A nice thing we found about the iPod is that you can get sighted assistance to delete most of the menu items. Deleting menu items makes for fewer menus to memorize, but you lose some functionality. For example, on my Nano, I deleted all the main menu items except for Music, but doing so took away my ability to access videos, photos, podcasts, extras, and settings. The click wheel concept may seem a bit foreign the first time you try it, but you can get used to it with practice and patience. Also, the iPods have a slider switch to lock the controls, so you don't inadvertently change any settings or switch songs. In addition, the Bose SoundDock iPod speaker accessory, described in the May 2008 issue of AccessWorld, has a tactilely identifiable remote, making the iPod a bit more accessible.

Intern Wes Clements pointing the remote at the SoundDock which has an iPod in it.

Caption: Wes Clements listening to music on the iPod.

Accessible Mainstream Players

Now for the good news in the mainstream portable media player market. We examined three accessible mainstream devices that fit in the traditional portable media player/MP3 player category: the Zen Stone and MuVo T100 from Creative Technology and Apple's iPod Shuffle. We also examined the Olympus DS-50, which is marketed as a digital voice recorder.

The Zen Stone

Priced at an affordable $34.99, the Creative Zen Stone is small, about 2 inches by 1.5 inches by a half-inch deep, and weighs only 0.7 ounces. It has a tactilely discernable circular five-way control on the right side of the front panel. The button in the center of this control functions as the On/Off button and the Play/Pause button. The top and bottom of the circle increase or decrease the volume, and the left and right sides move you to the previous or next song. Pressing and holding the left or right side will rewind or fast forward through your current song or book. A USB port is on the bottom left side of the Zen Stone, used to connect it to your PC for transferring content and for charging the unit. The headphone jack is on the top left panel, and a slider switch is to the right of the headphone jack. Sliding the switch to the right position will set the Zen Stone to shuffle your songs randomly, and sliding it to the middle position will set it to play your songs in order. Sliding it to the left and letting it spring back will switch to the next folder of music.

The Zen Stone has no screen, and except for some battery indicator lights, it is fully accessible. Its 1 GB of memory holds up to 500 songs, and it is easy to use Windows Explorer to load protected or unprotected MP3 or Windows Media Audio files onto the Zen Stone. However, the Zen Stone will not play subscription music from online subscription sources like rhapsody.com or napster.com.

The Zen Stone does a nice job playing and navigating through format 3 books from Audible.com, allowing you to navigate from section to section as well as with standard rewind and fast forward. It also keeps your place in Audible books when you turn it off or move to a music folder to listen to music.

The Zen Stone takes about 3 hours to charge, giving you about 10 hours of play time. So, if you keep in mind how long you have been using it, you should know when it is time to recharge it. Creative also has software called Creative Media Light, and JAWS scripts are available at www.hartgen.org to make it more accessible for JAWS users. It can be used to rip audio CDs, and, when the Zen is connected, you can learn its battery level with this software.

There is also now a 2 GB Zen Stone Plus with a built-in speaker for $49.99. The Zen Stone Plus has the same accessibility as the standard Zen Stone, but readers should be aware that it has a display screen and is not as accessible, requiring you to memorize the same button presses as were described for the Zen V. You can read a comprehensive review of the Zen Stone by Janet Ingber in the November 2007 issue of AccessWorld.

The MuVo T100

Priced at $39.99, the MuVo T100, also from Creative Technologies, has nearly identical functionality and accessibility as the Zen Stone. It has the same buttons, switches, and ports, but it has a different shape. It measures 3.0 by 0.9 by 0.3 inches and weighs 0.7 ounces. The MuVo looks and feels like a thumb drive, or memory stick, that many of us use to store and transfer computer files. In fact, it really is a 4 GB memory stick that happens to have an audio player built in. Although the MuVo and Zen Stone can both be used to store and transfer computer files, one advantage of the MuVo over the Zen Stone is that it does not require a cable to connect it to your PC. Instead, when you remove the small cap on the top, it has a USB connection, so you can plug it directly into your PC's USB port. However, it does not have the ability to navigate between sections of an Audible book like the Zen Stone does.

The iPod Shuffle

Priced at $49 for the 1 GB model or $69 for the 2 GB model, the Apple iPod Shuffle we examined is the second-generation Shuffle. It is rectangular and measures a tiny 1.6 by 1.1 by 0.4 inches and weighs only 0.6 ounces. Like the Zen Stone, it has a five-way control on the right side of the front panel that functions the same as the Zen's five-way control, except that the center button does not turn the unit on or off. The iPod has no slide switch like the Zen Stone does, but it has two switches on the bottom panel, one for On/Off, and one for Shuffle/Repeat. It has a headphone jack on the top left that is also used to connect the Shuffle to your computer for charging the battery and transferring files. It has a handy clip built in, so you can attach it to any part of your clothing while walking or working out.

The iPod Shuffle has no screen, and like the Zen Stone, it is fully accessible except for some battery indicator lights. It takes about 3 hours to charge fully and plays for 12 hours on a full charge. Its 1 GB of memory holds up to 500 songs, and it plays several formats, including MP3, WAV, and iTunes, but does not play Windows Media Audio files. The Shuffle also plays formats 2, 3, and 4 of Audible.com books, but does not have the ability to move between sections of Audible books as does the Zen Stone. However, it does keep your place in an Audible book when you turn it off or move to another file. It also has a handy key-lock feature that is activated by holding down the Play button for three seconds, which keeps you from accidentally moving to the beginning of an Audible book.

The Shuffle is easy to use, but loading books or music onto it may be a problem. If you have an Apple Macintosh computer with the Leopard operating system's built-in VoiceOver screen reader, it is both accessible and fairly easy to do. However, if you have a PC, you have to purchase the J-tunes JAWS scripts for $75. These scripts work well and can be purchased in the United States from Next Generation Technologies at www.ngtvoice.com. At the time we were testing these products, Window-Eyes did not yet work with iTunes, but GW Micro reported that it should be compatible in the next release of Window-Eyes.

The Olympus DS-50 Digital Voice Recorder

This device is marketed as a digital voice recorder, but it also plays MP3 and Windows Media music files and podcasts, as well as Audible.com books. It is the only mainstream player we found that has both tactilely discernable buttons and speech output for navigating menus. Although we evaluated the DS-50, Olympus actually has three similar gadgets in this product line, the DS-30, DS-40, and DS-50. The main difference is the amount of storage memory, with the DS-30 having 256 MB, the DS-40 having 512 MB, and the DS-50 having 1 GB of memory. The prices are about $150 for the DS-30 or DS-40 and about $250 for the DS-50, which comes with a belt-clip carrying case and a remote control.

A comprehensive review of the Olympus, by Deborah Kendrick, can be found in the November 2007 issue of AccessWorld. Kendrick described the device as follows: "All the buttons are easily discernible by touch and are logically arranged. On the front surface, the upper half is devoted to the visual display. Below the display are the buttons for folder selection, menus, and general navigation. On the right side of the unit are tactilely distinct buttons for Record, Stop, Play, and Power, and on the left side is a sliding switch for setting the microphone's sensitivity. The unit has a small, built-in speaker, but to appreciate the superb stereo sound, headphones are recommended."

A British-sounding female voice provides access to almost all the functions of these devices. The settings for the time/date and alarm are not supported, but you can independently access all the other features. You can adjust various settings, such as the playback speed, recording levels, and volume. To transfer music and audio files back and forth from your Olympus and PC, you simply connect them with the included USB cable, and the Olympus appears as an external drive in Windows Explorer. As long as you are comfortable with the file-management process used in Windows Explorer, you will have no problem doing so. You can independently access all your various folders, as well as the music, books, and voice recordings that are stored in each folder. However, the names of the individual tracks are not spoken, so you will have to memorize the order of files or just navigate around until you find what you want to play. Audible books work well in all formats, and the Olympus has a dedicated folder for Audible books. You can navigate between Audible book sections instead of just straight through from beginning to end. Furthermore, this is the only mainstream player that we reviewed with variable speed playback, which allows you to adjust the speed incrementally between half and one-and-a-half speed. It uses sound compression, so that you don't hear a chipmunklike voice.


We found a mixed bag as far as the accessibility of the documentation for the players that are reviewed in this article. On the positive side, the manuals for the Creative Technology players were all accessible HTML files. We also found all the Apple iPod manuals to be accessible, and although they are well-designed PDF (portable document format) files, some screen-reader users may have not yet mastered the ins and outs of using PDF documents with Adobe Reader. Also, you may have to adjust the reading settings in Adobe Reader for the best reading experience with the iPod manuals. The Olympus manuals are also in PDF format, but they are not designed to be completely accessible to screen-reader users. Like most PDF manuals we have come across, the Olympus manuals have some graphical instructions that screen readers will read as, "to access the 'graphic' menu, press the 'graphic" button.'" However, we found some audio tutorials in MP3 format that can help you learn how to use the Olympus devices. The Sony Walkman and Microsoft Zune manuals that we found online were the worst of the lot; they were poorly designed PDF manuals.

The Amazon Kindle and Sony E Reader: Two New Book Gadgets that Miss the Mark

We put these devices into a section of their own, because they represent a new type of electronic reading device that came onto the market in 2008. The Amazon Kindle, from amazon.com, and the Sony E Reader, from Sony, are portable book-sized units that display electronic books in what is being called electronic paper or e-ink, a visual experience that is designed to give the reader an experience similar to reading a print book. The Amazon Kindle is a wireless device that allows you to search for, purchase, and quickly download books, newspapers, music, blogs, and podcasts anywhere that has cellular service. The E Reader has similar functionality except that it does not have wireless capabilities. Instead, you have to download your materials with your computer and then connect the E Reader to your computer to transfer the materials. The books and other materials are presented visually only, but you can also play Audible.com books and MP3 music on these devices.

These definitely represent a new class of device, and our sighted testers found them to be a great way to access books and newspapers. They especially liked the Kindle's wireless capability and library of 120,000 books available on the Amazon site. However, they are just two more mainstream devices to throw on the junk heap of inaccessibility. There is no text-to-speech to accommodate using the complex menu systems, or, what is more important, to read the books and newspapers.

These devices are highly vision oriented and are not designed to be usable by people who are blind. However, we still wanted to investigate if the visual nature of these new devices would accommodate people with low vision, but again we were disappointed. The Kindle's menu system is displayed in an 11-point font, which is too small for people with low vision to read. It has six levels of magnification for the books and other content, but it tops out at only a 16-point font, smaller than the 18-point font recommended by the American Printing House for the Blind. Also, you have to use the inaccessible menu system to adjust the font size. The Sony has similar problems. Although the menus are in a 16-point bold font, the font size for books and other content is too small. The Sony has a dedicated button on the unit to adjust the font size, but it only adjusts the font size between 8-, 10-, and 12-point settings, which are all too small for people with low vision to read. The "electronic paper" or "e-ink" displays produce less glare than a cell phone's LCD (liquid crystal display) display, but their contrasts are not sufficient for most people with low vision.


Many AccessWorld readers have probably heard of Rockbox, which is a free, open-source project developed by dedicated volunteers. Rockbox is software that can be run on a number of mainstream portable media players to make menus, folders, and file names speak. It creates an accessible interface that provides access to a much wider range of features and functions than any of the players reviewed in this article. Rockbox doesn't actually make the player's existing menus speak. Instead, it creates its own interface on your player, so it actually works the same, regardless of the player you are using. Since it is an open-source project, you may occasionally run into some bugs running Rockbox, and Rockbox is not for the beginner. You should be familiar with today's computer technology and be willing to take some time to learn everything. Also, because it is developed by volunteers in their spare time, it usually doesn't work with new players as soon as they are released. In fact, although Rockbox works on several older iPods, it does not work on any of the current iPods we purchased in late 2007 and early 2008. The Rockbox web site, www.rockbox.org, has a wealth of information, including which players work with Rockbox. You may need to go to eBay or other online swap markets to find one of the players that work with Rockbox. Also, Anna Dresner's book A Pocket Full of Sound (reviewed in this issue) provides detailed information about installing and using Rockbox.

The Mainstream Bottom Line

The bottom line is that the mainstream market has not paid a great deal of attention to the accessibility of portable media players. Even though the Zen Stone, iPod Shuffle, and Olympus voice recorders are good devices, they don't have all the cool advanced functionality that many other mainstream devices have, like playing videos and organizing music by genre, artist or composer. None of the mainstream players has the ability to speak file names, which is a major shortcoming in providing people who are visually impaired with the ability to organize, find, and play the songs and books that we want. Also, none of the mainstream players has a speech synthesizer that we need to play books in plain text format or books and magazines from Bookshare.org, and none has the ability to play the downloadable books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

That being said, there are certainly many savvy people who are visually impaired who use iPods and other mainstream players. The iTunes software is mostly accessible on a Macintosh with VoiceOver or a PC with JAWS and the JAWS scripts, and it is certainly a cool, powerful piece of software. We think that the iPod is a cool, slick device, and enjoy being able to carry tens of thousands of songs in our pockets. Also, with information provided by a few helpful AccessWorld readers who are also strong Mac users, we have learned how to add songs and play lists independently onto our iPods with iTunes on a Mac. We have put about 30,000 songs onto our iPods that we play on a Bose SoundDock, and appreciate not having to change albums or CDs any more. However, with that many songs and books, you really need speech output to be able to have much hope of quickly finding the precise music or book you want to listen to. Speech output would allow you to enjoy all the features and functions of these fantastic devices. Who knows, perhaps Apple will soon begin to add speech output to its iPod devices. Considering the tremendous advance in the accessibility of the Apple Macintosh computer's interface provided by continuous improvements in the built-in VoiceOver screen reader, nothing seems to be out of the question. That would truly be great news for people with visual impairments, especially with the increased use of iPods in schools and colleges.

Stay tuned to AccessWorld for our next article, which will contain much better news about the latest in fully accessible players that are specifically designed for people with visual impairments.


In A Pocketful of Sound, an excellent book from National Braille Press, Anna Dresner provides much more detail on the operation of many of the devices covered in this article.

Brian Hartgen's web site, found at www.hartgen.org, provides lots of information about players and about Rockbox.

www.Blindcooltech.com often has informative podcasts regarding portable media players, and you can listen to two informative podcasts on the Zen Stone by David Miles, one of which describes techniques for tagging folders and albums with voice tags that identify the folders' or albums' names.

Dean Martineau's weekly e-mail message of Top Tech Tidbits often has useful information about media players and sources of books and music at www.topdotenterprises.com/tidbits.htm.

www.rockbox.org has all you need to know about installing and using Rockbox on an iPod or other mainstream player.

There is a tutorial for JAWS users of Windows Media Player at vip.chowo.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/jaws/Windows-Media-Player-11-Guide.html.

www.redchairsoftware.com is the web site to find out information about the Anapod Explorer file transfer software.

www.macvisionaries.com has reviews and mailing lists.

Digital Audio Players with Screens

Player Size (in.) weight (oz.) Storage Removable Media
Zune 4.37 × 2.44 × 0.63 5.8 30 GB or 80 GB No
iPod Touch 4.3 × 2.4 × 0.31 4.2 8 GB, 16 GB, or 32 GB No
iPod Classic 4.1 × 2.4 × 0.53 4.9–5.7 80 GB or 160 GB No
iPod Nano 2.75 × 2.06 × 0.26 1.8 4 GB or 8 GB No
Zen V 2.7 × 1.7 × 0.6 1.6 1 GB No
Creative Zen V Plus 2.7 × 1.7 × 0.6 1.6 2 GB or 4 GB No
Olympus Digital Voice Recorder DS-50 4.4 × 1.5 × 0.6 2.9 1 GB No
Sony Walkman 3.75 × 2.1 × 0.4 2.1 8 GB or 16 GB No

Digital Audio Players without Screens

Player Size (in.) Weight (oz.) Storage Removable Media
Creative Zen Stone 2.1 × 1.4 × 0.5 0.7 1 GB No
Creative Zen Stone with speaker 2.1 × 1.4 × 0.6 0.9 2 GB No
Creative Zen Stone Plus 2.2 × 1.4 × 0.5 0.7 2 GB or 4 GB No
Creative Zen Stone Plus with speaker 2.2 × 1.4 × 0.7 1.0 2 GB or 4 GB No
MuVo T100 3.0 × 0.9 × 0.3 0.7 2 GB or 4 GB No
iPod Shuffle 1.6 × 1.1 × 0.4 0.6 1 GB or 2 GB No

Product Features

Plays DAISY books? No players reviewed in this article play DAISY books.

Plays NLS books? No players reviewed in this article play NLS books.

Plays RFB&D books? No players reviewed in this article play RFB&D books.

Plays Audible.com books? Zen stone: yes; MuVo T100: yes; iPod Shuffle: yes; Olympus DS-50: yes; iPod Nano: yes; iPod Classic: yes; Creative Zen V: yes; Sony Walkman: no.

Plays protected OverDrive and NetLibrary books? Zen stone: yes; MuVo T100: yes; iPod Shuffle: no; Olympus DS-50: yes; iPod Nano: no; iPod Classic: no; Creative Zen V: yes; Sony Walkman: yes.

Plays plain text .txt files: No players reviewed in this article play text books.

Plays iTunes music: Zen stone: no; MuVo T100: no; iPod Shuffle: yes; Olympus DS-50: no; iPod Nano: yes; iPod Classic: yes; Creative Zen V: no; Sony Walkman: no.

Plays MP3 files: All players play MP3 files.

Plays Windows Media Audio: Zen Stone: yes; MuVo T100: yes; iPod Shuffle: no; Olympus DS-50: Yes; iPod Nano: No; iPod Classic: No; Creative Zen V: Yes; Sony Walkman: Yes.

Plays WAV files: Zen Stone: yes; MuVo T100: yes; iPod Shuffle: no; Olympus DS-50: no; iPod Nano: no; iPod Classic: no; Creative Zen V: yes; Sony Walkman: yes.

Storage capacity (in gigabytes): Zen Stone: 1, 2; MuVo T100: 4; iPod Shuffle: 1; Olympus DS-50: 1; iPod Nano: 4, 8; iPod Classic: 80, 160; Creative Zen V: 4, 8; Sony Walkman: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16.

Digital Audio Players with Screens

Size (in.), weight (oz.); Zune: 4.37 × 2.44 × 0.63, 5.8; iPod Touch: 4.3 × 2.4 × 0.31, 4.2; iPod Classic: 4.1 × 2.4 × 0.53, 4.9-5.7; iPod Nano: 2.75 × 2.06 × 0.26, 1.8; Zen V: 2.7 × 1.7 × 0.6, 1.6; Creative Zen V Plus: 2.7 × 1.7 × 0.6, 1.6; Olympus Digital Voice Recorder DS-50: 4.4 × 1.5 × 0.6, 2.9; Sony Walkman: 3.75 × 2.1 × 0.4, 2.1.

Storage: Zune: 30 GB or 80 GB; iPod Touch: 8 GB, 16 GB, or 32 GB; iPod Classic 80 GB or 160 GB; iPod Nano: 4 GB or 8 GB; Zen V: 1 GB; Creative Zen V Plus: 2 GB or 4 GB; Olympus Digital Voice Recorder: 1 GB; Sony Walkman: 8 GB or 16 GB.

Removable media: Zune: no; iPod Touch: no; iPod Classic: no; iPod Nano: no; Zen V: no; Creative Zen V Plus: no; Olympus Digital Voice Recorder: no; Sony Walkman: no.

Digital Audio Players without Screens

Size (in.), weight (oz.): Creative Zen Stone: 2.1 × 1.4 × 0.5, 0.7; Creative Zen Stone with speaker: 2.1 × 1.4 × 0.6, 0.9; Creative Zen Stone Plus: 2.2 × 1.4 × 0.5, 0.7; Creative Zen Stone Plus with speaker: 2.2 × 1.4 × 0.7, 1.0; MuVo T100: 3.0 × 0.9 × 0.3, 0.7; iPod Shuffle: 1.6 × 1.1 × 0.4, 0.6.

Storage: Creative Zen Stone: 1 GB; Creative Zen Stone with speaker: 2 GB; Creative Zen Stone Plus: 2 GB or 4 GB; Creative Zen Stone Plus with speaker: 2 GB or 4 GB; MuVo T100: 2 GB or 4 GB; iPod Shuffle: 1 GB or 2 GB.

Removable media: Creative Zen Stone: no; Creative Zen Stone with speaker no; Creative Zen Stone Plus: no; Creative Zen Stone Plus with speaker: no; MuVo T100: no; iPod Shuffle: no.

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: 1 GB (240 songs), $49; 2 GB (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: 4 GB (1,000 songs), $149; 8 GB (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 (40,000 songs), $249; 160 GB (80,000 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: 8 GB, $299; 16 GB, $399; 32 GB, $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: 1 GB, $34.99.

Product: Zen Stone with 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: 2 GB, $49.99.

Product: Zen Stone Plus.

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: 2 GB, $54.99.

Product: Zen Stone Plus with 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: 2 GB, $59.99.

Product: Zen V.

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: 1 GB, $59.99.

Product: Zen V Plus.

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: 2 GB, $69.99; 4 GB, $89.99.

Product: MuVo T100.

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: 4 GB, $69.99.

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: Olympus DS-50.

Manufacturer: Olympus Imaging America, 3500 Corporate Parkway, P.O. Box 610 Center Valley, PA 18034-0610; phone: 888-553-4448; web site: www.olympusamerica.com.

U.S. Sales Outlets: www.olympusamerica.com.

Price: 1 GB, $249.99.

Product: Sony Walkman.

Manufacturer: Sony Corporation of America, 1 Sony Drive, Park Ridge, NJ 07656; phone: 877-865-7669; web site: www.sony.com.

U.S. Sales Outlets: www.sony.com.

Price: 8 GB, $199.99; 16 GB $299.99.

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

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Access Issues

The Sky's the Limit: Accessible In-flight Entertainment and Information Systems May Be on the Way

Did you attend the conference of the Assistive Technology Industry Association in Orlando, the Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference in Los Angeles, or AFB's Josephine L. Taylor conference in San Francisco this year? Are you planning to attend the national conferences of the National Federation of the Blind or American Council of the Blind this month? Perhaps you are planning to visit your grandchildren in Louisville or your grandparents in Lancaster. Whatever your travel plans, they may well include a long, boring airplane flight.

To make long flights more enjoyable, several major commercial airlines offer in-flight entertainment and information systems to their passengers. Many of these systems are operated via a touch screen that is located on the back of the seat in front of you. While the passenger sitting to your left may be giggling while watching a movie she selected from the touch screen interface, the man to your right may be high-fiving himself because he is winning the trivia game that he is playing with other passengers on the flight. Although these options may be great for many passengers, they are inaccessible to those who are blind and to most who have low vision, as well as to people with other disabilities—such as people who are deaf, hard of hearing, have motor impairments, and who struggle with literacy.

In addition to movies and games, airlines are increasingly offering passengers Internet connectivity, which can turn their airline seats into extensions of their workplaces or home offices. These in-flight entertainment and information systems often offer other features, such as the ability to select from genres of music and artists to listen to and up-to-date flight information. The flight information can be anything from the number of miles you have traveled to the time remaining in the flight and the altitude at which you are flying. These systems may also provide connecting information on gates for connecting flights, tell you if your connecting flight is on time or delayed, or let you know where your baggage claim is located. All this can be yours if you can read the text on the screen and use the touch screen interface.

If you are unable to use the touch screen interface, it can be extremely frustrating knowing that all these features to make your flight more enjoyable are literally at your fingertips but, in essence, are far out of reach. There may be some good news on the horizon, though. In 2005, the WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) was awarded a three-year grant (2005-08) to research and develop solutions to make airline entertainment, communications, and information accessible to passengers with sensory disabilities. The resulting recommendations will cover the integration of captioning for video, video description for video and visual images, and audible navigation of the system's menus and accessible interface design.

In-flight entertainment (IFE) systems represent yet another area in which the pervasiveness of media technologies in every aspect of our lives is needlessly placing people with disabilities at a disadvantage. Given the role that communication technologies and news media play during emergencies, the need for equal access to information via in-flight entertainment and news systems is critical to the safety of passengers with disabilities.

I recently had the opportunity to try out the prototype in-flight entertainment and information system, as well as to watch other people who are visually impaired test it. As with all new technologies, refinements are still needed, but the people I saw using the system were hopeful and excited about its potential and the possibility of having access to flight entertainment and information systems as they travel.

The Prototype System

NCAM's prototype was designed on an IFE system offered by Panasonic Avionics Corporation and demonstrates an accessible interface, user-selectable captions, selectable fonts, video description, and talking menus. With the addition of a handheld EZ-Access style remote control (http://trace.wisc.edu/projects/ez) to a touch screen interface, people with visual impairments can have access to many of the features just mentioned. The tactile keypad remote control works in conjunction with the system's on-screen Large Font mode, Spoken Menus mode, or Spoken Menus with Large Fonts mode. You press the Up and Down arrow keys on the remote to navigate through the menus, which are read aloud. Then you press the circular key, located on the lower right side of the remote, to select the desired menu item. There are also a Back button and a Help button to assist you in navigating the system.

The Accessibility Options screen displaying in Large Fonts Mode with Large Fonts and Talking Menus options both checked. The menu also shows other Accessibility options, including Captions and Video Descriptions.

Caption: The Accessibility Options screen displaying in Large Fonts mode with Large Fonts and Talking Menus options both checked.

Larry Goldberg, director of NCAM, noted that some airlines are beginning to explore IFE systems that use a browser-based interface and are designed to work with personal devices, such as laptops, PDAs (personal digital assistants), and Smartphones, for Internet and e-mail access. If properly implemented, these new interface designs may serve consumers who require keyboard access for alternate navigation.

NCAM is working with the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA), a membership organization that represents 100 airlines and more than 250 airline suppliers and related companies, to inform members about accessibility needs, develop amendments to industry specifications, and promote the implementation of potential solutions within IFE. After a number of years soliciting comments about access issues related to travel, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued a Notice of Final Rulemaking that includes some requirements that are related to captioning but does not address the accessible navigation of IFE systems. Working within the WAEA and with the National Center on Accessible Transportation at Oregon State University, NCAM has as its goal to show technology and policy developers that accessibility is possible within the next generation of IFE systems if the interface is properly designed and captions and descriptions are included in the content-distribution chain.

"Many of the movies shown on airlines have already been captioned and/or described for showing in those theaters that have installed access technologies (such as WGBH's MoPix system)," Goldberg noted. "The challenge is similar to some of the work we are doing on the web and with handheld devices. We find that companies are using content-management systems that have no provision for identifying or carrying captions or descriptions and customized media players that cannot play supplemental audio or text tracks. Through this grant, we are working with IFE suppliers to see how we can make it easier for their content-management systems to include caption and description files and with IFE system developers on the hardware and software interface."

This work is being funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education, under Grant H133G050254. The user testing of the prototype will result in a report and recommendations for the airlines and their suppliers. When the report is complete, the idea of accessible entertainment and information systems will need to be sold to the commercial airlines, and the airlines will have to acquire the necessary equipment and software to ensure accessibility. We at AccessWorld will follow the development of this technology and let you know when more information is available about the accessible in-flight entertainment and information systems that NCAM is working to make a reality.

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

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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.

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Untangling the Web

Online Learning: What Works, What Doesn't

According to an article by Lois Romano, entitled "Online Degree Programs Take Off" (Washington Post, May 16, 2006), "By early 2008, Eduventures predicts, about one in 10 college students will be enrolled in an online degree program." As more adults are moving from traditional classroom settings to their home computers to pursue educational opportunities, educators are scrambling to meet their needs. Whether you are pursuing a postsecondary degree or just taking a course for personal or career improvement, the ability to complete the course from the comfort of your home and at your own pace is a growing trend in the field of education.

Web lectures, live chat rooms, and the ability to e-mail assignments are just a few features of many online courses that are offered through community colleges and universities. Almost 3.5 million students took at least one online course during the fall 2006 academic year, a nearly 10 percent increase over the number reported in 2005. This growth rate far exceeds the 1.5 percent growth of the overall population of students in higher education. These figures were cited by I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman in Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning (Needham, MA: Sloan Consortium, 2007).

Degrees of Access

Although several universities, such as Utah State University and Michigan State University, are offering accessible online courses, the unfortunate fact is that most online learning programs are inaccessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision because the developers of online courses are not following basic accessibility guidelines (see Resources section). The use of flash technology, inaccessible Javascript, video, and graphics may make the online course more visually appealing, but it poses significant barriers to accessibility.

Not unique to online education, accessibility and usability barriers abound on the Internet. So, where does someone who is blind or has low vision turn for accessible online learning opportunities? And can an online course truly be accessible for someone who is blind or has low vision?

Yes, and some courses are even free.

Take Another Look

The Hadley School for the Blind is the largest worldwide distance educator of people who are blind or have low vision, their families, and blindness service professionals. Founded in 1920 by William Hadley and Dr. E. V. L. Brown, Hadley offers classes that are free of charge to its students who are blind or have low vision and their families and affordable tuition classes to blindness professionals. Today, the school serves more than 10,000 students annually in all 50 states and in 100 countries.

When most people think of Hadley, they think of a traditional "correspondence school"—students enroll in a course, course materials are mailed to the students' homes, and students submit assignments via regular mail. Although Hadley still offers most courses in braille or large print or on audiocassette to accommodate its students, it now offers 21 courses (and the number is increasing) in an accessible, online format. Simplicity and following the rules of accessibility are key cornerstones that Hadley's course developers implement when they design an online course. All of the school's online courses are evaluated and tested using the most current access technology, including various screen reading and screen magnification programs and braille displays.

"Hadley's online course web page layout is easy to access with screen reader software. The courses are well structured and easy to navigate. When you submit assignments, you don't have to fax or mail them or wait a few weeks for a response. You virtually receive immediate feedback on tests. In addition, instructors quickly reply to e-mails and, if needed, send any additional information to complete assignments," said Tolita Mitchell, a Hadley student who has taken several online Hadley courses.

For a sample of how accessible Hadley's online courses are, select the following link www.hadley.edu/coursedemo/IBBL3_Textbook1.asp.

Online Hadley students access the course material on the school's web site, complete and submit the lesson assignment online, and receive immediate feedback. The students and instructors then receive e-mail messages with the results for the assignments, which lets the instructors know how the students are doing on the assignments and allows the instructors to provide assistance if needed.

Each question is listed with the correct answer shown, highlighting the student's performance.

Caption: A screenshot of a student's results from a quiz in lesson 3 of Internet: Beyond the Basics.

Some courses offer a mix of formats. For example, the students may opt to take the course material online, but submit their assignments via postal mail in their preferred formats.

The ability to submit assignments via e-mail significantly improves the response time for distance education students. Rather than wait weeks for a response from their instructor, students receive feedback within days and sometimes hours. More and more Hadley students are opting to submit assignments via e-mail even for courses that are not offered online.

Link and Learn

Hadley currently offers the following courses online:

  • Access Technology: Beginnings
  • Blindness Basics
  • Business Communications
  • Business Writing
  • Container Gardening
  • Contracted Braille
  • Diabetes: Toward Self-Management
  • Glaucoma
  • Going Places
  • Guide Dogs (two versions)
  • Internet Basics
  • Internet: Beyond the Basics
  • Introduction to Braille
  • Learning Through Play
  • Literature: Fiction
  • Macular Degeneration (two versions)
  • Parenting Children with Multiple Disabilities
  • Safety in the Home
  • Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness
  • Using Excel
  • You, Your Child and Your Community

To learn more about Hadley's online course offerings for individuals who are blind or have low vision, their families, and blindness professionals, go to www.hadley.edu/2_h_onlineCourses.asp.

So Much More

In addition to online courses and the ability to submit assignments via e-mail, Hadley students can take advantage of the following

  1. OASIS, the Online Automated Student Information System. OASIS allows students to request personal transcripts, sign up for courses, and view grades. It is available to any Hadley student anytime
  2. Live online chat. Many Hadley instructors now offer the chance for students to log in to a conference room online and talk live with their instructor
  3. Discussion boards. These online forums cover a variety of topics. Students are encouraged to use them as a way of connecting with their fellow students and sharing ideas and thoughts
  4. Seminars@Hadley. These monthly web seminars offer learning opportunities on topics ranging from interior design to woodworking to online shopping and are hosted by Hadley free of charge. To receive e-mail notification of upcoming seminars and other Hadley events go to www.hadley.edu/9_a_mailingList.asp. You can find archived web seminars at www.hadley.edu/2_f_past_seminar_hadley.asp
  5. Free Bookshare.org membership. All actively enrolled Hadley students are eligible for a free membership with Bookshare, an extensive virtual online library with more than 37,000 books and 150 periodicals in accessible formats that are available for downloading. Learn more about Bookshare at www.bookshare.org/web/Welcome.html

You Have Options

If you are eager to pursue educational opportunities online, there are many accessible options. Hadley is just one example of a school that is bringing education to students who are blind or have low vision. The following are additional resources for online courses that are accessible for individuals who are blind or have low vision:

Accessible Online Learning Resources

ATC: 5330 Power Inn Road, Suite F, Sacramento, CA 95820; phone: 888-723-5011 or 916-381-5011; web site: www.atechcenter.net

The Carroll Center: web site: www.carrolltech.org/#content

Access Technology Institute: phone: 916-922-3794; e-mail: classes@accesstechnologyinstitute.com; web site: www.accesstechnologyinstitute.com

American Foundation for the Blind: Bridging the Gap: Best Practices for Instructing Adults Who Are Visually Impaired and Have Low Literacy Skills; and Using Source Files: An AFB Online Course for Braille Transcribers; web site: http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=44&documentid=2939

Resources for Issues in the Accessibility of Online Learning

The following resources are courtesy of the web site of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired: www.tsbvi.edu:

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

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AccessWorld News

New Embossers, New Dot

ViewPlus Technologies has announced that the latest additions to its series of braille embossers, the Tiger Elite and Tiger Premier, are now shipping. Features highlighted in a recent announcement include automatic two-sided embossing, long hours of continuous production, and a compact-desktop size. The "newly redesigned" braille dot reportedly offers improved readability while maintaining high-quality tactile graphics.

The Tiger Premier 80 produces 80 characters per second, handles paper from 4 inches to 12.5 inches wide, and is priced at $9,995. The Tiger Elite 150 produces 150 characters per second, handles paper 4 inches to 12.5 inches wide, and is priced at $17,995.

For more information, visit www.viewplus.com or phone 541-754-4002.

Multilingual Spanish Stream

HumanWare has released Version 1.2.18 for the Victor Reader Stream, offering an English-Spanish multilingual capability. The version offers two text-to-speech voices, Monica speaking Spanish and Samantha speaking English. To toggle between the two, users press and hold the 7 key. To download this latest version, customers can visit the web site www.humanware.com/en-canada/support/vr_stream_software.

Word 2007 Tutorial

Cathy Anne Murtha, of Access Technology Institute, has produced a new textbook for blind computer users of Word 2007. An Immersion into Microsoft Word 2007 promises to be a comprehensive exploration and tutorial for both new and experienced users of Microsoft Word. Step-by-step instructions, including keystrokes for both JAWS and Window-Eyes screen-reading software, will take the user through such processes as formatting tables, using mail merge, producing all manner of documents, and navigating the Office 2007 ribbons. The tutorial is available on DVD and costs $125. To order or to read about this and other tutorials, visit the Access Technology Institute site at http://tinyurl.com/5u4b9t.

Serotek's Summer Sizzle

Serotek Corp. is conducting an online drawing this summer called Summer Sizzle. With a prize of what the company has dubbed a "digital lifestyle makeover." Valued at about $2,000, the "makeover" includes an Asus 8 G 2-pound Netbook PC, a Victor Reader Stream, a complete System Access Mobile package for four years, and more. To be entered in the drawing, participants need only to complete a brief online survey about assistive technology. The winner of the contest will be drawn on the "Marlaina" show, on ACB Radio, the evening of September 7, 2008. (You must be home at the time of the drawing to win.) To enter or to read more about the contest and Serotek products, visit www.serotek.com and click on the Summer Sizzle link.

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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.

September 20-25, 2008

Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students

Huntsville, AL

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: scivis@atlanticbb.net; web site: www.tsbvi.edu/space/.

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.

November 11-14, 2008

Accessing Higher Ground: Accessible Media, Web and Technology Conference for Education, Businesses, Web and Media Designers, University of Colorado-Boulder

Boulder, CO

Contact: Disability Services: phone: 303-492-8671; e-mail: dsinfo@colorado.edu; web site: www.colorado.edu/ATconference.

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

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.html.

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