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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2009 Issue  Volume 10  Number 2

In This Issue . . .

GPS Made Simple: A Review of the Trekker Breeze

We review a new, easy-to-use GPS product--Jay Leventhal

ATIA 2009

New products and warm weather were a winning combination at this year's conference--Deborah Kendrick and Jay Leventhal

A New Way to Find Old Friends: A Review of the Accessibility of Facebook

Parents have joined their teenagers on Facebook, but how accessible is it?--Janet Ingber

Screen-Reading Alternatives: An Overview of Lower-cost Options

We explore less-familiar screen-reading programs--Brad Hodges and Lee Huffman

A Study of Factors Affecting Learning to Use a Computer by People Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

We describe a small study on learning to use computers--Brad Hodges and Lee Huffman

A Passion for Technology and Helping Others: An Interview with Amy Ruell

We interview the president of the Visually Impaired and Blind Users Group in Boston, an advocate for technology and braille literacy--Deborah Kendrick

Editor's Page

AccessWorld News

Calendar


Product Evaluation

GPS Made Simple: A Review of the Trekker Breeze

Global positioning systems (GPS) have become popular among the driving public. Adapted GPS products have been around for 10 years and have shrunk from heavy laptop computers to small, handheld devices. A criticism of adapted GPS products is that they are too complicated for many users—with too many commands and difficult-to-use data entry methods. HumanWare has attempted to solve this problem by introducing the Trekker Breeze. The Breeze has fewer buttons and a simplified interface. This article reviews the Breeze and provides background information on its development.

The Trekker Breeze uses GPS to guide you. GPS consists of 24 satellites orbiting the Earth. Commercial GPS devices are allowed to be accurate down to about 30 feet. Factors that affect accuracy include the following:

  • How clear a view of the sky the receiver has.
  • Any obstructions blocking signals, such as tall buildings or overhangs.
  • The position of the satellites being tracked—overhead, on the horizon, or somewhere in between.
  • The number of satellites being tracked.
  • The presence of cloud cover or overhead power lines.
  • The speed at which you are moving.

The Trekker Breeze is shipped with a one-gigabyte SD card installed. The package also includes a leather case with a belt clip, a shoulder strap, a speaker with a clip and cable, a power adapter, a USB cable, and a lanyard.

A product shot of the Trekker Breze.

Caption: The Trekker Breeze.

Physical Description

On the left side of the Breeze are the Volume control, SD card slot, and USB connector. On the right side are the Power On/Off switch and the Reset button.

The Power connector is located on the bottom right side of the unit, covered by a rubber protective flap. The external speaker connector is located in the middle of the rounded top edge of the unit.

At the top left edge of the face of the Breeze is the built-in microphone for recording the names of routes and landmarks. To the right is the built-in speaker, which is used when you do not have the stronger external speaker plugged in.

Below the microphone and speaker are three buttons. The Where Am I button is large, orange, and circular. It is in the middle of this three-button group and provides information about your position. Pressing and holding the Where Am I button provides information about landmarks and points of interest. To the left of the Where Am I button is the Information button, which gives you information about the status of the Breeze. To the right of the Where Am I button is the Repeat button. It repeats the last message that was spoken. If you press and hold the Repeat button, the Breeze enters Help mode. In Help mode, you can press any button to hear a description of its function.

Moving down the front of the Breeze, you find the Left and Right arrows and the Confirm button. As you would suspect, the arrow keys are used to move through menus, and the Confirm button is used to make a selection.

At the bottom of the front of the Breeze are the Record, Go To, and Explore buttons. The Record button lets you record the name of a landmark or route. The Explore button is below and to the left of the Record button. Pressing Explore deactivates the current route. Pressing and holding Explore launches the Backtrack function, allowing you to retrace your steps on a saved route. The Go To button is below and to the right of Record. It lets you select and activate a route you wish to follow. Holding down the Go To button activates guidance to a landmark that you have saved.

Documentation

The Breeze comes with documentation in two formats. The User Manual is available on a CD in HTML and Microsoft Word files. It is also available on a CD as an MP3 file. The manual does a good job of describing the Breeze and explaining how to use it.

How It Works

When you turn the Breeze on, you hear a beep, a welcome message, and an announcement of the battery status. It then begins searching for satellites to provide the information that is needed to announce your location. You hear a series of beeps during the satellite search. When a GPS signal is received, usually in two to three minutes, the Breeze announces the name of the street on which you are walking. When you are about 30 feet from an intersection—the Breeze describes the intersection, for example, "Four-way intersection, Queens Boulevard crossing Ascan Avenue."

The unit contains points of interest from a commercial database, including restaurants, banks, schools, and gas stations. The default setting is to have announcements of these places turned off. If you turn announcements on, when you arrive near one of these locations, the Breeze announces it.

The Breeze is designed to be an easy-to-use device for people who are not sophisticated computer users. It announces intersections as you walk. You can record names of landmarks when you are near them. Later you can select a landmark and have the Breeze lead you to it. If you make a wrong turn, the Breeze says "You are off route. Please turn back." At that point, you can either retrace your steps or have the Breeze direct you to your destination from where you are.

There is no keypad for entering data into the Breeze. With other GPS systems, you can search for a restaurant and make it your destination. You cannot do so with the Breeze. To be able to set a landmark as a destination, you must visit that landmark and record it yourself first.

HumanWare says that its representatives spoke with users and orientation and mobility instructors who found existing GPS products to be too complicated to use. Many users who own HumanWare's Trekker reported that they only use the Where Am I? feature and record their own landmarks. So, the company decided that there was a market for a less complicated, less expensive device.

Training with the Breeze

Leader Dogs for the Blind, in Rochester Hills, Michigan, incorporated the Trekker into its dog training in 2005. I spoke with Rod Haneline, chief operating officer, and Harold Abraham, director of program services at the school, about their input in the development of the Breeze and how they were using the Breeze with students as of November 2008.

They told me that the school brings students from across the country into an unfamiliar environment. Training with a new dog under these conditions is stressful. A GPS system can remove stress by providing a student with important information about the surroundings.

The Breeze is valuable because it is easy to learn and use. "The Breeze has 9 buttons, instead of the 39 on the Trekker," Abraham said. Students learn to use it quickly and can concentrate on working with their dogs.

Students' reaction to the Breeze has been positive. According to Haneline, "The dog guide business has been the same for 80 years. It's nice to add technology."

The Bottom Line

The Trekker Breeze is easy to learn and use. It performs the task of guiding you from point A to point B. It can help you find your way if you stray off your route. As advertised, the Breeze does not have advanced GPS functions. It will be interesting to learn whether this simplified product catches on with people who are blind or have low vision. If it does, other less-complicated products may be developed and come to market.

Manufacturer's Comments

"With this new addition to our product line, HumanWare now offers GPS benefits to an even wider portion of the visually impaired population. This simple orientation tool is designed for use when traveling in familiar surroundings or on predefined routes. Trekker Breeze enhances independence and confidence in traveling and makes learning new routes easier."

"HumanWare offers the most complete line of GPS tools for visually impaired people. Other models include our BrailleNote GPS and Trekker, both popular full-featured GPS products. BrailleNote GPS integrates seamlessly with our BrailleNote family of products. Sleek and discreet, the Trekker solution runs on a mainstream palm-size PDA."

Product Information

Product: Trekker Breeze.

Manufacturer: HumanWare Canada, 445, rue du Parc Industriel, Longueuil, Quebec 4H 3V7, Canada; phone: 888-723-7273 or 819-471-4818; web site: www.humanware.ca.

Price: $895.

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

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Conference Report

ATIA 2009

For those of us with long histories in the assistive technology field, it is hard to believe that it is already more than a decade since a group of industry leaders gathered to talk about a new international organization and conference, acting as the collective voice of the industry. This year's ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) conference, however, held January 28–31, 2009, in Orlando, Florida, was a celebration of the organization's 10th anniversary, and the event was a fitting success.

There were more than 125 exhibitors and more than 2,200 participants in attendance at the conference this year, held as it has been for the past few years at the Caribe Royale All-Suites and Convention Center. International speakers and attendees came from places as far away as Australia, Canada, China, Ecuador, Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, and Vanuatu. Scanning either the collected participants or exhibited products, it was clear that ATIA strives to represent all types of disabilities. Attendees used wheelchairs, augmentative communications devices, guide dogs, white canes, and a variety of technological tools for listening, communicating, and notetaking. Touring the exhibit hall on the opening evening, it seemed challenging at first to find anything of particular interest to AccessWorld readers. There were a variety of communications devices (electronic boxes with text-to-speech systems that enable users with speech disabilities to point to a picture to communicate with others), as well as software to boost the reading and writing proficiency of individuals with learning disabilities, and switches and software of all kinds for children with disabilities to operate toys or for adults with mobility-related disabilities to operate computers or consumer electronics with minimal physical intervention. But the companies of interest to AccessWorld readers were indeed present, announcing a plethora of new products, upgrades, and concepts.

Some Product Highlights

Serotek Corp. hosted one of the liveliest booths, largely because of its ongoing demonstration of the newly accessible iTunes (in conjunction with System Access in this company's case) and the fourth-generation talking Nano iPod. The booth also drew attention with its launch of SAMNet radio, conducting interviews—and thus offering free airtime—to any vendors who were interested in participating. Willing interviewees included David Dikter, ATIA executive director, and a variety of CEOs or representatives of such well-known companies as GW Micro, Freedom Scientific, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), LevelStar, and Benetech.

Although we did not find any products that represented dazzling new concepts or breakthroughs for users who are blind or have low vision, there were definitely some new spins on existing technology.

Now that the Victor Reader Stream has enjoyed immense popularity over the past year and a half as an MP3 player/book player/voice recorder that is designed specifically for users who are blind, at least two new competitors in this area have emerged. Japanese-based Plextor introduced the PlexTalk Pocket, and GW Micro was showing a prototype of a similar handheld product.

At least two new braille displays were available at ATIA, both from companies that have not previously participated in the braille display market. APH demonstrated a small display, sporting 12 refreshable cells and a Perkins-style keyboard, that is designed to operate in conjunction with LevelStar's Icon Mobile Manager and the APH adaptation of that product, the Braille+. (Icon and Braille+ are handheld devices with myriad capabilities, including the ability to play digital books from such sources as the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Bookshare.org and Audible.com, to connect wirelessly for Internet access and e-mail, and a host of other functions. Prior to the launch of the new display, these two products did not support braille access.)

The other newcomer to the braille display marketplace was one of the oldest institutions in the field of blindness. The Perkins School for the Blind, primarily known as a venerable educational institution and information source, exhibited two products of its own. The Seika braille display, a simple 40-cell refreshable braille unit, boasts perhaps the lowest price ever seen in the industry for a display of this size, $2,495. Alongside the new display was Perkins's other new product release, its updated Perkins Brailler, designed in collaboration with APH and offering a slightly smaller, lighter-weight, and more brightly colored version of the 1950s classic braille-writing machine.

Optelec introduced the FarView video magnifier, which has a 4.3-inch screen and weighs 10.2 ounces. The FarView offers both distance and close-up viewing, can save 100 images for later viewing, and can connect to a VGA monitor or a PC via USB. The FarView sells for $1,495. Optelec also premiered the ClearView+ Generation 2 video magnifiers, which feature quieter, smoother images, one-button control, an ultra-flexible arm, and adjustable viewing arm and brightness. The ClearView+ models range in price from $2,095 to $3,695.

Ai Squared announced ZoomText version 9.18, which will work with 64-bit versions of Windows Vista. The company will also integrate scripting into the regular version of ZoomText and discontinue ZoomText Scripting Edition.

Events

Of course, as is always the case, there were numerous workshops and training sessions demonstrating the technology and techniques that were visible in the exhibit hall. For users of assistive technology who are blind or have low vision, the AccessWorld staff found the offerings to be paler than might have been desired and targeted mainly to beginning users. The lunches on January 29 and 30, sponsored by Intel and Microsoft, respectively, featured speakers who would have been more favorably appreciated in quieter venues. The Microsoft presentation, in particular, featuring George Kerscher's demonstration of the use of Microsoft Word to create DAISY files, was barely audible in the animated pavilion where the participants enjoyed box lunches.

Ike Presley, of the American Foundation for the Blind, presented a preconference session, called "Conducting an Assistive Technology Assessment of Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired." This session provided attendees with an overview of various types of technology tools that are available to assist individuals who are blind or have low vision in conducting an assistive technology assessment. Suggestions for acquiring the appropriate background information and preparing for the assessment were discussed. These subjects were followed by the presentation of and discussion of a checklist form that can be used as a guide in conducting the assessment. The presentation then provided examples and suggestions on how to write the report on the final assessment, with an emphasis on the rationale and justification for including the technologies that were recommended.

Melissa Ireland, a rehabilitation technology specialist with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, presented a session on choosing a video magnifier. She presented work that she and her colleagues in Alabama did on the various features and types of electronic pocket model video magnifiers. After looking at such topics as ghosting, physical casing (durability of construction materials), size, style, place of controls, glare, brightness, color quality, and control adjustments, they developed a comparison chart that provides information on various features of more than 15 devices. The chart provided space for adding additional information and impressions of the various devices that attendees could use when visiting vendors in the exhibit hall.

Debra Bauder and Thomas Simmons, of the University of Louisville, described a study they conducted on the use of electronic travel aids as secondary aids to the traveler's primary mobility system. The study looked at the Miniguide US, the UltraCane, and the K Sonar Device. The performance of the five participants was mixed. Some participants performed better on both devices while others performed better on neither. The results indicate that the electronic travel aids are useful for avoiding obstacles.

Ike Presley presented a discussion, entitled "Selecting a Video Magnifier," of the various types of video magnifiers: desktop models, flex-arm camera models, head-mounted display models, handheld camera models, electronic pocket models, and digital imaging system models. He emphasized the advantages and disadvantages of each type with regard to the specific task that a user needs to accomplish. Some models are better for continuous text reading, while others are more helpful with spot reading. At this time, there is no single model that meets both these needs. Consumers must evaluate their greatest need for magnification; determine if that need can be met by a standard magnifier; and, if not, evaluate the various video magnifiers to determine which model will best suit them. The newer digital imaging system models, such as the myReader 2, the ZoomTwix, and the MobileEyes, offer additional features that make this type of technology appealing to some consumers.

"Accessible GPS Overview and Comparison plus Methodologies for Teaching and Training," presented by Mike May of the Sendero Group and Jerry Kuns of the California School for the Blind, compared the various features of the current accessible GPS systems and implications for providing instruction in their use.

Leadership Forum

On January 29–30, 100 representatives of leading corporations, governmental agencies, and educational institutions participated in the 2009 ATIA Leadership Forum on Accessibility. During the opening general session, Dan Hubbell, technical evangelist for the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft, and program managers from the Microsoft Windows and Office teams presented "Accessibility and the Software Development Lifecycle." They were followed by Simon Cooper, program director for the IBM CIO Employee Client and Workplace, and Frances West, director of the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center, who discussed "Innovation, Inclusion, and Emerging Technologies" and how to respond to the challenges associated with integrating emerging technologies and providing workplace accommodation.

On Friday morning, attendees heard the keynote address presented by Tony Coelho, former U.S. congressman from California and author of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Coelho provided an inspiring look at how far we have come in regard to equal rights for persons with disabilities. He also talked about the work that still needs to be done.

Additional educational sessions throughout the two days provided excellent case studies from California State University, the Social Security Administration, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Permanent TSB, Hilton Hotels, and Hunter College. Each presenter discussed the accessibility integration strategies that are used in their organizations, the benefits they realized, and the lessons they learned.

Conference Accessibility

ATIA continues to show progress in making all aspects of the conference accessible to participants with disabilities. A preconference training session for temporary staff was provided on disability awareness, with special emphasis on the sighted guide technique.

Accessible materials provided by conference organizers for the participants who were blind or had low vision were first-rate. A disk of conference materials in DAISY format was available, and the conference materials—the schedule, exhibitors' directory, overview, and tactile maps—were provided in four spiral-bound braille volumes, enabling braille-using participants to carry only those documents they required at a given time. We would like to see braille on the cover of each volume, in addition to the raised print letters provided. Handouts for individual sessions were not always available in accessible formats. The tactile maps, although esthetically pleasing both visually and tactilely, were far more decorative than useful. The facility—several buildings around a central outdoor area—is an orientation and mobility challenge for pedestrians who are blind. To the credit of the conference organizers, significant attempts were made to enhance the usability of that environment. Red carpet runners outdoors, for example, again marked the pathway to individual buildings. But the maps did little to clarify the overall picture of the environment for blind participants. The conference organizers would do well, in the future, to consult with map users who are blind before they contract for this particular piece of the project.

ATIA worked with vendors to provide accessible computers in the lobby of the conference center, where the participants could review detailed descriptions of sessions, check e-mail messages, or browse the Internet. Unfortunately, the fact that the computers contained screen-reading and screen-magnification software was not clearly evident to the attendees. This is an area that can easily be improved upon for next year.

Summary

ATIA has much to celebrate in its 10th year. The conference was well attended, represented all disabilities, and was extremely well organized. Two announcements of particular note for the future warrant mentioning here. First, ATIA is sponsoring a YouTube competition, inviting individuals and companies to submit videos to the popular YouTube site to demonstrate the power of assistive technology in the lives of people with disabilities. The other exciting announcement was the addition of a fall ATIA conference, to be held for the first time in Chicago, on October 28–31.

For more information on the YouTube contest, the upcoming Chicago conference, the 2010 ATIA Orlando conference, or past events, visit the web site, www.atia.org.

Ike Presley contributed to this article.

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

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Untangling the Web

A New Way to Find Old Friends: A Review of the Accessibility of Facebook

In the 21st century, there has been a communications revolution. Social networking sites, including MySpace, Friendster, and Facebook, have given people a new way to interact. By using each site's methods for finding friends or people you may know, it is possible to connect with people from the past or make new friends. These sites have specific groups with a wide variety of topics, including "high school class," "where you grew up" and "fans of a particular television show." During the past election, many newscasters mentioned Facebook's exit polls.

In this article, I discuss the social networking site Facebook, although all the sites basically work the same way. You fill out a profile by answering questions and inputting information. You then verify that you are not a spammer by typing a CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) into an edit box. A CAPTCHA is a randomly generated string of letters and numbers. Once you are registered, you can communicate with friends, join groups, post personal updates, and much more. I indicate where some controls, text and links are when using a screen reader. The location will probably be different for people not using a screen reader—for users with low vision, for example.

Getting Started

Several months ago, Facebook changed its format. The original format was more accessible, and pages had a lot less clutter. Unfortunately, Facebook does not give users the option to use the older format. Some groups that were created on Facebook lodged protests to no avail.

Before you embark on a trip into Facebook, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with your screen reader's search functions, navigation keys, and mouse keys. This knowledge will be critical once you start using Facebook's features. Be prepared to expect some frustration while using this web site. There is a lot to learn and some accessibility issues. As you make more friends and participate in other Facebook offerings, your page will become even more cluttered. I recommend that you move slowly and learn one part of Facebook at a time. The layout of the Facebook page changes, depending on which operation or search you are doing at a particular moment. There are also many advertisements, and they can interfere with how your screen reader presents information. While using the site, if you get overwhelmed or confused, reload your Facebook home page and start again. For this article, I used Windows XP, Window-Eyes 7.01, and Internet Explorer 7.0.

Registration

When the Facebook page loads, there is a login form for members, and under that form is the sign-up form. The edit boxes do speak, but, when the Sign-up button is activated, there is a CAPTCHA to enter in an edit box. There is an option for an audio CAPTCHA, but it has a lot of background noise and the numbers are spoken by various, sometimes hard-to-understand, voices. With Window-Eyes 7.1 not in Browse mode, there was a link to replay it. The advantage of this link is that the CAPTCHA is played through your audio program, such as Windows Media Player, so it can be replayed many times to ensure that the numbers are correct. MySpace does not offer an audio version of its registration CAPTCHA. The CAPTCHA will be discussed further later in this article.

If a mistake is present on your registration form, there is no way for your screen reader to announce where the problem is. You need to navigate around the page to find the error message, because it isn't always in the same location. Once the registration form is successfully completed and sent, you will receive a confirmation e-mail message to which you must reply in order to activate your registration.

Navigating Facebook

Throughout Facebook, there are times where just activating a link does not do anything. Here's a Window-Eyes trick that can help. You can use this procedure whenever buttons or links do not appear to work.

  1. Route the mouse pointer to the link or button that you want to activate. This process is not exact, so you may have to spend some time looking for what you want.
  2. Turn Browse mode off.
  3. Click the left mouse button.
  4. Wait for the page to refresh.
  5. If the page does not refresh, manually turn Browse mode back on.

Another major difficulty with Facebook is that there is so much other clutter on the page. It will be necessary to use your mouse keys frequently. There are advertisements on the page that are constantly changing. When using the mouse keys, you will hear relevant information as well as part of the advertisements. This can be confusing and cumbersome to navigate.

Your Profile

The first time that you log in, there will be a lot of information at the top of the page, including links for applications, photographs, and groups. From now on, your Facebook pages will contain these links. This information is not important now, but will be discussed once your profile is created and you have been in contact with other Facebook members. On the screen, there is a heading that says, "Fill out your profile info." You do not have to fill out all sections, and you can go back and edit your profile. The profile form is straightforward, using a combination of check boxes, combo boxes, and edit boxes. Make sure that you save changes as you go through the profile-completion process. Think carefully about what information you want to make available in cyberspace.

Along with your profile, you will need to fill out information about who can see it and how you want Facebook to communicate with you. The Account Settings link brings you to a series of links where you can make choices regarding where to receive e-mail, how to change a password and join a network, and how Facebook notifies you about various activities and interactions. The advantage of having Facebook send you information through your regular e-mail program is that you do not have to go onto Facebook to view it. This is especially useful if someone sends you a friend request or wants to communicate with you.

The Privacy Settings link brings you to options that allow you to choose who can view the profile and how much information is available. These options are also accessed through a series of links within the Privacy Settings link. Some of the options include how people can search for you, what profile information is available for anyone to read, and what stories about you people can view. There is an Applications Settings link, which will be discussed later in the article.

Finding Friends

Now that your profile is set up and you have decided who can view it, it is time to start making friends. The simplest way to get friends on Facebook is to ask people whom you know, who are already using Facebook, to send you a friend request. Depending on how you set up the Account Settings section, Facebook can send you an e-mail message, informing you of the friend request. The message will say, "Facebook," then the name of the person and the words, "has added you as a friend on Facebook." In the e-mail message is a link to go to the confirmation form. For someone to be a Facebook friend, you must confirm that you approve him or her.

If you have not chosen to receive a separate e-mail message, the friend request information will also be on your Facebook page. You can use your screen reader's Find function and look for the word "request." This technique is useful as you start using more of Facebook's functions and making more friends. Another option is to search for the Friend Request link and activate it. Both methods will bring you to the confirmation form.

The confirmation form is toward the bottom of the page. There is a button to confirm the friend request and a button to ignore it. Above the button is a link to view the person's profile. Along with the Confirm and Ignore buttons, there is a link to send the person a message. If this link is activated, an edit box will appear, and you can write a message. Sending a message does not confirm or ignore a friend request.

To confirm the friend, activate the Confirm button. For Window-Eyes, you will need to turn Browse mode back on manually. When you do, instead of hearing the Friend Request buttons, you will hear that you have no more friend requests and that you are now friends with whomever you just approved. If you want to check to make sure that the friend request went through, there is a link on your Facebook page that says, "recently added." Activate this link, and you will be able to find the most recently added friends, including the one you just added. If the friend's name is not present, repeat the friend confirmation process.

Since Facebook is a social networking site, you may receive friend requests from people you do not know. Friends of your friends can see part of your profile. Your name may come up through Facebook's various search options. If you do not recognize the name, you can ignore the request or activate the link for the person's profile. Depending on how your screen reader functions, you may need to use your mouse keys to view some or part of the profile. How much of the profile is available to people who have not been accepted as friends has been determined by the person's decisions in the person's privacy settings. If you decide to accept the friend, activate that button. If not, you can just ignore it or use Facebook's ignore feature.

Locating Old Friends

Facebook is a good way to get in contact with former classmates, coworkers, and old friends. Go to the Find Friends link. From there, you are presented with several search options. You can upload the contacts file from your e-mail program, and friend requests will be sent to the people who are already using Facebook. However, if you are on an e-mail list, everyone who is also a member of Facebook will get the friend request. This could anger some people.

Another option on the page is to search for coworkers and another is to search for former classmates. There is also an edit box for searching by name. If you are using Window-Eyes, you will need to use your mouse keys to view the search results. Route the pointer to any of the search results and activate your screen reader's left mouse button. This operation makes all the search results accessible with standard navigation keys. Once you find the correct person, you can activate his or her link. If you are searching for a friend, you may receive many hits on the same name. You can limit your search results according to where you live.

Toward the bottom of the page there is a button to add the person as a friend. The person will receive notification of your request and has the option to approve or ignore it. Above the buttons is a line that says, "send a personal message." This is not a link or button. Use your mouse navigation keys and click on the words. When the page reloads, an edit box will appear right below the message line. You can then type in your message. Next, activate the Add Friend button.

When the page reloads after activating the Add Friend button, you are presented with a CAPTCHA. As before, there is an option to hear an audio version. Right below that link it says, "Sick of these" and then a link to "verify your account." Activating this link brings up an additional web page where you are instructed to enter your cell phone number, and Facebook will send a text message with a confirmation code to enter into the form. Obviously, this can be a problem if you do not have a cell phone, have a cell phone without either the feature or third-party software to read text messages, or do not have sighted assistance available to read the text message. Once the text is correctly entered, Facebook immediately responds that your account has been verified. If you do not have your account verified, every time you send a friend request, post a comment, or take many other actions on Facebook, you will have to use a CAPTCHA.

Once your friend request has been sent, it is now up to the person whether or not to accept it. If the person has accepted it, you will receive notification on your Facebook page. If you have chosen, in your account settings, to have Facebook notify you about friend requests being approved, then you will also receive an e-mail saying, "Facebook," followed by the name of the person and that he or she has confirmed you as a friend on Facebook.

Facebook has a feature called People You May Know. Check the bottom of your Facebook page periodically, and you will find this feature. Facebook lists people on the basis of your profile and those of your friends. This feature does not appear on every Facebook page that you load, so you will have to look for it. If you find someone you know, there are links to add the person as a friend and to send him or her a message.

Interacting with Friends—Facebook Style

Now that you have some Facebook friends, it is time to communicate with them. Facebook offers many ways to do so. The simplest is to comment on what someone has written about himself or herself or to write something about yourself, and other people can comment on what you have written. As you start having more interactions with friends, you will find their responses listed near the top of the page. A response will say the friend's name and then whatever action the friend took.

To write something for your friends to view, find the edit box for status updates, which is located under your profile link. It will say, "What are you doing right now?" then your name, followed by the word "is." Write your information in the edit box and press Enter. You can change your status as often as you wish. This information is then sent to all your Facebook friends.

To read what your friends have posted, find Friend List Feeds in the middle of the page. You can then arrow down and find the person's name, what the person has written, anybody's comments, and what time the original post was made. If you want to make a comment on what your friend wrote, left click your mouse where it says, "add comment." Doing so will open up an edit box where you can type your response. Under the edit box is a button that says, "Comment." Your response will now be visible to all people who are somehow connected to the original writer, including their friends and your friends.

Each Facebook member has a "wall." The wall is used for writing anything. The subject does not have to be a status update. It can be a happy birthday wish or a quick note. Before you write your first wall post, you may want to view the walls of your Facebook friends, just to get an idea about what to write. To write on someone's wall, you must first access the person's profile. You can do so by activating the link that says, "All Friends." If you recently added the friend whose wall you want to write on, you can activate the link that says, "Recently added."

Once your friend's profile loads, click on the wall. When the page reloads, click where it says, "Write something," which will bring up an edit box. Write your message in the edit box and then activate the Post button.

If someone writes on your wall, this fact will be noted by your friends' responses. You can also have Facebook send you an e-mail message when it occurs. The e-mail message will contain the text of whatever your friend has written.

E-mail

Like your regular e-mail program, you have an In-box and a Sent box on Facebook. This feature is useful if you want to tell a friend something that you do not want everyone else to read. To send an e-mail message, find the link that says, "Compose New Message." Activate the link, and a form will be loaded. Type in the person's name, the subject, and the message. When you are done, activate the Send button.

To see whether you have e-mail, find the link that says, "In-box." Next to these words, the number of messages in your inbox is displayed. If you do not have any messages, the number zero is displayed. Above each e-mail message is a check box. The boxes control what you do with the e-mail message. You can mark the checked messages as read, unread, or delete. There is a combo box, but it does not offer the delete option. The easiest way to delete a message is to use mouse navigation to find the word, Delete and left click it. Then a Delete and Cancel button is displayed. When you activate the In-box link, there is also a link for sent messages. The same operations work here as with the In-box.

Too Much Information

It is possible that some Facebook friends will inundate you with posts, photographs, and other information. There are ways to control how much information about a particular friend you receive. If you want to remove a person from your friend list, open the friend's profile and activate the Remove from Friends link.

If you do not want to remove a friend but want to limit the kind of information that you do and do not want to receive, activate the Options link within the Newsfeed list. Enter the names of the people you want to receive less information about in the edit box. In the same setting is an edit box to add people who you want to receive more information about.

Another way to control information is to use the links under your status. These links include News Feed, Status Updates, and Notes. Activating these links brings up only the specific area that these links address when you view what information friends have recently entered.

Virtual Things

You can send and be sent many virtual things, such as coffee, hugs, snowballs, and fish. These virtual items do not come directly from Facebook, but from separate applications (apps) that you must install on your computer. How Facebook handles each app is controlled by the apps settings, which are under the Account and Privacy settings. Each application functions differently, so some are more accessible than others. If someone sends you a virtual thing, you must install its application before you can receive it. To send a virtual item, you must install the application and then select who you want to receive it. Some applications use check boxes for selecting people, while others use links and others use graphics. Most applications also have an edit box where you can type the friend's name. If you want to block an application that was sent to you by a friend, go to Requests, toward the bottom of the page. Find the link that says "Block This Application" and activate it.

There are many apps from which to choose. Beside using the ones that friends use to send you stuff, you can search for other apps. On the top of the Facebook page, just below the title is the Applications link. Activating this link brings up several search options, including a list of most popular users. Remember that not all applications are accessible. Before you send something to your friends, think about whether they would really like to use the application required to receive your gift.

Under the Account and Privacy settings links is an Applications settings link. These settings are controlled by radio buttons. There is a combo box to choose which applications are displayed for editing. Along with Applications, other Facebook options, such as Special Events and Notes, can also be edited through the Applications settings link.

Finding Special Interest Groups

Another way to meet people on Facebook is to join a group. Facebook has many groups that are related to schools, specific interests, neighborhoods, music, and much more. Any Facebook user can create a group. You can view groups that users' friends have joined, or you can search for a specific group or interest. Toward the top of the page is a link that says, "Groups." Activating that link will bring up a search form and a list of groups that your friends have joined. If you have joined any groups, they will be listed under My Groups. If you use the groups search form, enter key words and review the results. Try to be as specific as possible with your search terms. There is also a form to create a new group.

If you find a group that may be of interest, activate its link. A more detailed description of the group will be presented, along with the names of some of its members. It is possible to view the entire membership. You will also be able to view the group's discussion board and wall. Although many groups are open to the public, some are not. This information is given in the group's description. If you decide that you want to join the group, just activate the Join button. Once you are a member of a group, you will need to visit the group's page to see who else has joined, read and/or post comments, and take part in other group activities. If you have joined a group, but no longer want to be a member, there is a Leave Group option on the group's page.

Events

People can post specific events on Facebook, such as concerts, camp reunions, rallies, and workshops. Other, more generalized events are posted, such as when merchants are giving discounts or when people are celebrating something. As you review your friends' posts, you may find events that they will be attending, either physically or virtually. There is usually a link to take part in the event. Facebook also gives you the option to create your own event.

Universal Search Form

Slightly above the middle of the Facebook page is a Universal Search Form. You can type anything into the form and receive many results. When the search page reloads, you will be given links to narrow the results. For example, my guide dog search query brought up filters to limit the results according to groups, events, networks, and much more. My search brought up more than 500 results. When I did the search with the groups search form, my results were about half the number as with the universal search.

Photographs

Even if you cannot see photographs, you may want to post some for others to view. Before you begin this process, make sure that you know where the photographs are located on your computer. Activate the link near the top of the page that says, "Photos." From there, go to My Photos. Next is a link to create an album. Once that link is activated, there will be edit boxes to enter information about your photographs and then to activate the Create Album button. A new page will load, offering an Active X control to upload photographs. According to Facebook's instructions, you should see a bar at the top of the window or a pop-up window, neither of which was spoken by Window-Eyes. There is also a Simple Uploader from Facebook, but according to the site, it will not be as easy or as simple to use as the "Active X control." However, I actually found it easier to use. The major difference is that you cannot upload as many photographs at a time, but you can use arrow keys for part of the process. Just click on the Simple Uploader link.

If you want to try the Active X control, click on Active X, and the download will start. Once the control is loaded, your desktop will appear near the bottom of the screen. Find the photographs the same way you would find any other files. The Active X control gives you the option of uploading all the photographs in a folder at the same time.

Once the photographs are uploaded, via either method, they need to be labeled. There are edit boxes to do so. If the photographs contain other Facebook members, there is an option to click on the member and type in his or her name. Sighted assistance is needed, since this task is completely graphical.

Chat

In spring 2008, Facebook began offering its own version of instant messaging, called "Chat." These communications are done in real time and are not visible to anyone other than the parties in the conversation. Although Chat is a nice feature, it is difficult for a screen reader user to navigate. However, with patience and practice, it can be done.

Toward the top of your page, it says, "online friends" and then gives a number. This is not the place to activate Chat. Toward the bottom of the page, after Applications, it says, "Online Friends." This information can be accessed only with mouse hot keys. Left clicking on these words opens up a list of friends who are currently online. Activate the link for the person you wish to chat with. You may hear that no one is available to chat, but if there is a list of people who are online, just ignore that message and choose someone from the list.

Toward the top of the page, there will now be two edit boxes. When you use Chat, always type in the bottom edit box. Type your text into the second edit box and press Enter when you are ready to send your message. Facebook, by default, has your computer make a sound when a Chat message is received. To view the message, you can reload your page; use your navigation keys to find the response; or, for Window-Eyes users, find the two edit boxes and turn Browse mode off. Now use the tab and shift tab to read the messages. The person's name will appear before what the person has written. When you are finished chatting, you can clear the Chat history and/or close the Chat window. These options are above the dialogue.

Additional Features

There are other features not covered in this article. Some of them, such as bumper stickers and flair, are completely graphical. It is possible to upload video, write notes, and perform other operations.

The Bottom Line

Although Facebook requires skill and a lot of patience, it is possible to use it. In fact, a lot of skill is required, and some screen reader users will find using Facebook to be too difficult. If you do stick with it, even if you do not use all its features, you can reunite with old friends, meet new people, and join common interest groups. As I said, learn one feature at a time and expect some frustration. Please feel free to visit my Facebook page.

The American Foundation for the Blind is on Facebook. Visit us at http://apps.facebook.com/causes/16290?m=de0957a2.

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

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Product Evaluation

Screen-Reading Alternatives: An Overview of Lower-cost Options

If you are using a screen-access program to read this article, it is probably safe to say that you are using JAWS (Job Access with Speech) from Freedom Scientific, Window-Eyes from GW Micro, or ZoomText from Ai Squared. These "big three" products provide access to both the Windows operating system and a wide array of programs and technology that operate on Windows computers.

In addition to these three products and others that typically dominate the market, some other compelling access technologies have emerged in the past several years. Each of them addresses a more specialized segment of the larger community of computer users who require access technology for either screen enlargement or speech output.

As part of a project that evaluated the usability of two of these products, we gathered data about other important additions to the well-established companies in the screen-access arena. The length of this overview prevents us from describing every technical characteristic of each additional product. However, here, we summarize the behavior of each in several important areas, as identified by the participants in our small user study. If one of the products interests you, we encourage you to obtain an evaluation copy or to try the product if it is provided without charge.

The Products

Guide, distributed in the United States by EVAS, is a comprehensive set of applications that replaces the customary programs that are commonly used with Windows, such as Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word. Its objective is to provide a consistent interface across more than 20 functions, rather than require you to learn the different interfaces of a separate web browser, e-mail program, personal calendar application, address book, and so on.

Visually, Guide provides a simple, high-contrast proprietary interface. Numbers for each choice or option are associated with the function and can be entered directly from the keyboard. For example, if you want to send an e-mail message, you press 1. If you want to write a letter, you press 2. To navigate, you use the alphanumeric keys or the arrow keys. A voice-input option is also available at an additional price.

Narrator is the built-in Microsoft screen reader. It is included on all Windows computers and can be activated free-of-charge by pressing the Windows key and letter U together. Narrator can help people with visual impairments use a computer, but Microsoft makes it clear when the program starts that it may not work well with some programs and that it speaks only in English. It also states that Narrator has limited functionality and that people with visual impairments need a screen reader with higher functionality for daily use.

All users of Windows computers can use the Accessibility Wizard to change display settings to make the screen easier to read. You can increase the font size, enhance the mouse pointer and cursor, and increase the size of the desktop and other icons and the size of the scroll bar and windows borders. The Magnifier tool can also be used. This section of the screen works as a magnifying glass and magnifies the area around the mouse pointer. The magnified portion can be moved to any part of the screen to suit your needs better. This built-in access tool most likely works best for people who are just beginning to lose their vision or who need only minor enhancements to the screen. As with Narrator, Microsoft acknowledges that these magnification enhancements provide only a minimal level of functionality and are intended for users with slight visual impairments.

System Access and System Access to Go, developed by Serotek Corporation, are different distributions of the System Access technology. Intended to provide both screen reading and screen magnification to Windows programs, these programs more closely resemble the traditional screen-access programs than do the other programs in this group. System Access places a heavy emphasis on facilitating the use of lifestyle features of the computer and related products. A subscription-based companion service, System Access Mobile, provides a simplified, consistent interface as an alternative to Windows programs for such functions as handling e-mail, browsing news, and accessing music content.

VoiceOver is the only available screen-access technology for the Macintosh computer. It can be activated on any Mac that runs the current version of the Mac operating system. VoiceOver is intended to provide access to the Mac user interface and the applications that are included with the Mac operating system. These applications include the Safari web browser, a full-featured editor, an e-mail client, and iTunes. Because VoiceOver is provided by the manufacturer as an integral part of the operating system, the user experience is highly responsive. The community of Mac users is uniquely dedicated to the Mac operating system and applications, and for those who want to interact with these programs, VoiceOver has been well received.

When using the Mac, you can also use Zoom, which allows you to use the scroll wheel on a mouse or key commands to magnify the contents of your screen. You can use the Zoom dialogue to set maximum and minimum values for instant zooming to a particular magnification. The dialogue lets you create custom key commands and offers options for cursor tracking when magnified.

When using the Mac, you can scale the cursor so that it is easier to see and follow when you move the mouse. The Mac includes adjustments for controlling the characteristics of your display. These adjustments are system wide, not application specific, so they provide a consistent view in all Mac applications. You can also increase or decrease contrast.

View Options can be used to adjust the text size of icon names and their thumbnail previews from 10- to 16-point font. You can change the background, normally white, to any color to increase contrast, and you can adjust the grid spacing between icons as well.

The Dock offers a way to access commonly used applications, files, and folders, although Mac OS X lets you set the default size of Dock icons so they are easier to see. You can also use Dock Magnification automatically to enlarge the icon that is currently under the mouse pointer.

The Safari web browser that is included with Mac OS X features additional Universal Access preferences for web browsing. For example, a checkbox can be set to prevent a web page from being displayed using fonts smaller than the minimum size you set, from 9 to 24 point. Using the style sheet pop-up preference, you can apply a custom cascading style sheet, called a "CSS," that changes the way a web site is displayed without requiring the web site author to make any changes. This is a way to customize the appearance of web pages to suit your needs.

How They Sound

For experienced users of screen readers, matters of speech quality and speed can be personal. For the new user, the job of learning to appreciate the "foreign"-sounding speech emanating from the computer can be frustrating. It is important for the novice to realize that, with experience, the importance of the voice quality may take a backseat to the desire or need for speed. Some voices lend themselves well to fast reading rates, while others simply do not.

Guide uses Neo Speech, the most advanced, processor-intensive speech technology available for screen readers. The participants in our tests found that Neo Speech was clearly synthetic in nature, but generally agreed that it was easy to listen to. Many advanced users find that Neo Speech is not as easy to understand at faster reading speeds.

Narrator uses the Microsoft voices that are included with Windows. Generally, these voices are the least natural sounding of the synthetic speech technologies in common use. Speeding up the Microsoft voices provides a somewhat reduced level of understandability. Note that because of the limited functionality of Narrator, speed is not usually an issue.

System Access and System Access to Go provide DECtalk voices as their default speech technology. These well-known voices will be familiar to those who have some experience with traditional Windows screen readers. The Neo Speech package can be purchased for an additional set of more natural-sounding voices. A common reason sighted by those who embrace DECtalk voices is the ability to increase speed dramatically and retain intelligibility.

VoiceOver provides a set of voices that are not in use on any other screen-access product. Alex, the default voice, sounds realistic, according to several VoiceOver users we contacted. At the same time, speeds can be increased, as with the Windows voices, and Alex is still understandable. Other voice choices are also available. An additional common observation is that the Mac voices are well suited for extended reading of text, such as e-books.

Using Important Applications

Unlike the big three screen-access programs, it should not be assumed that users of these four products will rely on Windows Office applications to perform tasks on a computer. We highlight five tasks and offer observations on how each of these access products supports them. We include web browsing, handling e-mail, creating documents, maintaining an address book, and maintaining a personal schedule. These tasks were identified as important or very important by the participants in our user study and by others we contacted.

Web Browsing

Along with e-mail, our participants and the other consumers we interviewed identified using the Internet as the most important function that individuals want to perform on the computer. These products provide some dramatically different approaches to the task of navigating the web.

Guide uses its own web-browsing application. When it reads a web page, links and items are given numbers. You can choose to listen to the entire page from the beginning to the end or enter a number for a specific link. The page can also be navigated with the arrow keys. Information is entered in edit fields directly as they are encountered while browsing. In our study, the participants often found that they did not want to listen to an entire page, opting to navigate and interact with the page more directly by using the navigation keys.

Narrator is not intended as a tool to support web navigation. Only links and buttons are read when browsing a web page. Narrator is, therefore, not an effective tool to support web browsing.

System Access and System Access to Go provide the widest range of options for web browsing. Both Internet Explorer and the Firefox browser are well supported. Note that there are some important differences that affect accessibility in the behaviors with both browsers. System Access provides a rich set of navigation keys. What is important is that a system of labeling web pages that may not be accessible with other screen readers is implemented. Text is entered directly in edit fields, eliminating the requirement to move in and out of an MSAA buffer or Forms mode. The System Access Mobile Desktop provides a comprehensive set of links in an easy-to-understand arrangement to reach important features, such as e-mail, a social networking tool that supports Facebook and other popular social networking sites, and the ability to connect with other System Access Mobile subscribers for interactive computer-to-computer sessions with voice chat.

VoiceOver supports the Safari web browser, which is included as part of the Mac operating system. The strategy of interacting with individual objects, which is the cornerstone of VoiceOver, holds for Safari as well. Because VoiceOver is relatively new, techniques to support nonvisual web browsing are still maturing. Some navigation, by object, link, and the like, is available. A limitation that is often mentioned is the difficulty in searching the contents of an entire web page. It is important to note that unlike Windows web browsing, the Mac may divide a web page into several sections and that it may be necessary to navigate among them to understand a page in total. Text can be entered in edit fields when interacting with them. It is also possible to navigate by headings on web pages.

E-mail

Guide provides an e-mail client that follows the conventions of the program interface. Messages are numbered for direct access and can also be navigated with the arrow keys. Users found the interface easy to follow and appreciated the consistency of the interface.

Narrator provides limited access to a standard Windows e-mail client, such as Outlook Express. Message headers and Outlook controls are read, as is the content of messages. Narrator is slow and sluggish, so only rare use is suggested.

System Access and System Access to Go provide two methods to manage e-mail. Standard Windows e-mail clients, including Outlook and Outlook Express, are supported. System Access supports full access when using the conventional Windows navigation techniques for these Windows programs. An additional option is to use the System Access Mobile Desktop to manage e-mail. The interface is designed to be simple and consistent. The Mobile Desktop provides an e-mail account as part of the service, and this account is the default for new users.

VoiceOver supports the Mac e-mail package. Full access is provided. Consistent with other applications, interacting with the e-mail interface gives access to all aspects of message management and account settings.

Word Processing

Guide includes a word processor that follows the conventions of the interface. As with other Guide applications, navigation can be easily accomplished by entering an option number or by using the arrow keys. The spell checker follows the same conventions as the rest of the Guide interface.

Narrator provides limited and slow access to Windows WordPad, while more advanced word processers, such as Microsoft Word, are not well supported.

System Access and System Access to Go support both Microsoft Word and WordPad. The spell checker for Word is used in the same manner as with other screen-access products that support Word. Users of the Mobile Desktop program also have access to a spell checker in any application, including WordPad. As an alternative, third-party spell-checking utilities are available. It is important to note that the traditional screen-access programs provide extensive support to understand and create detailed formats. System Access may not provide the same depth as the traditional programs. If you require specific support, it is important to evaluate the particulars before you decide to use System Access.

Mac Edit is fully supported by VoiceOver. Spell checking, along with full editing support, takes place using the standard set of user commands for VoiceOver. The Mac Editor, included with the Mac operating system, is arguably the most powerful of the word processers included with an operating system. Full spelling check and advanced formatting are offered. Note that navigating a document differs from Windows navigation. The location of the insertion point is influenced by the direction of navigation. Windows users who have adopted the Mac report that this difference can be annoying until the Mac strategy is mastered.

Address Book

Guide provides a built-in address book that follows the conventions of the Guide suite, facilitating operation by entering a number or navigating with the arrow keys. If phone numbers are configured on a computer with a connected modem, they can be dialed directly from Guide.

Narrator provides limited access to the Windows address book. As with other Narrator support, the behavior is slow, and not all parts of the address book interface are announced, but basic information can be accessed.

System Access and System Access to Go support the Windows contact manager. For users of the Mobile Desktop, the Notes function can also be used to keep track of contact information as a text file.

VoiceOver supports the Mac Contact Keeper. Interacting with the address book takes place as with other Mac applications.

Appointment Manager

Guide offers an appointment manager as part of the product package. As with other Guide applications, the interface follows Guide navigation conventions. Alarms can be set for events, with event information announced along with the alarms.

Narrator provides no direct access for Outlook Calendar, the Microsoft calendaring application.

System Access and System Access to Go support Outlook Calendar. All functions of the Calendar program are accessible. In addition, software for managing third-party contact and personal information may be accessible. It is important to note that for many users of access technology, the Outlook Calendar is cumbersome. Alternatives are often embraced by those who have the option of using an alternative schedule manager.

VoiceOver provides support to the Mac Calendar. As with other components of the Mac operating system, navigation is facilitated by the standard VoiceOver conventions.

Which Is Best for You?

No single screen-access technique or program can be the choice for every user. If this were possible, there would be no room for the range of products that are now available. We can make some broad observations that we hope will give you some direction in the use of an access strategy.

Guide is a compelling application for several important reasons. The consistency in operation across almost two dozen different computer tasks means that once the basics of the interface are understood, there is little that cannot be immediately accomplished. At the same time, it is necessary to have basic keyboarding skills, including an understanding of navigation and the ability to remember and recall the numbers that are associated with the on-screen options. Guide provides an easier-to-see interface that some may find much less confusing than the typical Windows screen. All of this is at a price, however. Guide is the most expensive of the applications discussed here.

Narrator is a limited but important utility. When no access product is available or when you are setting up or activating some access products, launching Narrator and using it means that a totally inaccessible computer can be started or used. Computer professionals often make use of Narrator when they interact with many computers, not all of which can have a screen reader or magnifier installed.

System Access and System Access to Go are powerful and flexible. They provide full access to Windows and many popular Windows programs, such as Word, Internet Explorer, and iTunes. In addition, the Mobile Desktop provides easy and well-organized access to the lifestyle-oriented aspects of the computer, which many people find of greatest interest. Because Windows access is provided, the requirements for learning to use the full range of Windows programs make learning the system much more involved than learning Guide. Identifying tutorial or educational resources before you use System Access is essential.

Consistent interaction, the free price, and an easy-to-understand voice make VoiceOver on the Mac a real option. Professionals and others who must use a Mac are no longer shut out of important work or educational opportunities. As with Windows, addressing tutorial and training matters ahead of time is critical to success.

Individuals who have not used a computer and want to do so with either nonvisual or low vision techniques may want to give Guide and System Access a first look. Guide is expensive, but learning it is intended to be easy. A sighted computer user who is willing to work with you may be all you need to be up and going quickly.

System Access and the free System Access to Go are strong, competitive applications with some compelling features. Access to media, lifestyle, and other non-business-oriented computer functions make them stand out from the big three. The learning curve is much greater, and that reality is a barrier for many people who are blind or have low vision.

If you are using a Windows computer with the assistance of screen magnification and/or speech and have experience with Windows, System Access may be an attractive solution. For those who want to use the mouse, selecting a mouse and configuring it are important parts of making the most of System Access.

For Mac users who already know the operating system and Mac conventions, turning on the voice and screen-magnification utilities described earlier is clearly the solution of choice. Tutorial tools and information are important elements in making the most of these relatively new technologies.

Product: VoiceOver.

Manufacturer: Apple Computer, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; web site: www.apple.com.

Price: Included at no cost in Mac OS X.

Product: Microsoft Narrator.

Manufacturer: Microsoft, 1020 102nd Ave NE, Bellevue, WA 98004; web site: www.microsoft.com/enable/training/windowsxp/usingnarrator.aspx.

Price: Included at no cost in Windows.

Product: System Access to Go.

Manufacturer: Serotek Corporation, 1128 Harmon Place, Suite 310, Minneapolis, MN 554031; web site: www.satogo.com.

Price: Downloaded as needed at no cost.

Product: Guide.

U.S. Distributor: EVAS, 39 Canal Street, P.O. Box 371, Westerly, RI, 028911; web site: www.evas.com.

Price: $795 plus shipping.

This article was produced with support from a grant from the AT&T Foundation.

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

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Access Issues

A Study of Factors Affecting Learning to Use a Computer by People Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

For people who have access to vocational rehabilitation services, the path to computer literacy through training in the use of traditional screen-reading and screen-magnification products is predictable. For the vast number of people who have little experience using a computer without vision or with low vision, however, learning to use a computer can be challenging.

Two major obstacles that AFB TECH has identified are the high price of conventional access technology and the lack of training for people who are not connected with vocational rehabilitation. These obstacles mean that the vast majority of older people who experience vision loss, yet still want to use computers, face some serious problems.

In this article, we highlight the experiences of seven individuals who participated in a user experience study conducted by AFB TECH and the AFB Center on Vision Loss. The study was designed to illuminate issues that face those who want to learn to use a computer but may not have experience with the Windows operating system or access to formal training.

The Products

To present a contrast in both scope and price, we selected two lesser known screen-access programs: Guide, $795, available in North America from EVAS (www.evas.com) and System Access to Go, from Serotek, which is free (www.satogo.com).

Guide is a program in which all its 23 applications, including word processing, e-mail, calendar/planner, phone directory, web browsing, and DVD viewing, share a common look. The presentation is not like conventional Windows programs. A simple text-based visual design is combined with keyboard commands that use only the alphanumeric keys, cursor navigation keys, and the number row. (Note that more advanced hot-key combinations are available for advanced users of Guide, but they are not necessary to operate the program.) In this study, Guide was used without a mouse, which is the standard configuration.

System Access to Go is a free, publically available, screen-reader application that individuals may access at www.satogo.com. When the site is visited, the user is prompted, by voice, to press several Windows key commands to load the screen reader on the computer. After several seconds, the system is ready to accept a user name and password. System Access to Go is functionally similar to the traditional screen-access programs, such as Window-Eyes and ZoomText. For the purposes of this study, it is appropriate to think of System Access to Go as you would conventional screen readers and magnifiers because it is compatible with standard Windows applications. For the purposes of this project, we selected Internet Explorer 7 and Outlook Express configured in a traditional manner on a computer operating Windows XP. System Access to Go supports the use of a standard Windows mouse, and during the study, a mouse was available to those who chose to use it.

Purpose

After analyzing the nontraditional screen-reader and screen-magnifier technologies on the market, we selected two that provided a contrast in user requirements and that would allow us to observe and interact with a small group of users who do not have immediate access to traditional screen-access products or training. We wanted to look at the experience of using two different types of products. The first was Guide, which is intentionally designed to be a simplified program that eliminates the need for a person to learn the more complex concepts of the Windows operating system and its applications. At the other end of the spectrum, System Access to Go is free and therefore addresses the other major obstacle: the price of access technology and training.

Process

We invited seven individuals, aged 60 to 88, to the AFB Center on Vision Loss in Dallas. Each individual spent about 90 minutes with two staff members who were visiting from the AFB TECH office in Huntington, West Virginia.

The activities were divided into three segments. We began by asking questions about each participant's computer experience and his or her attitudes toward access technology and desire to use a computer. We also asked each participant about his or her knowledge of training resources in the community.

After we gathered the biographical data, we asked each participant to complete some basic computer tasks using Guide and System Access to Go. These tasks included basic navigation, either in the Guide menu or on the Windows desktop; browsing a list of e-mail messages; selecting and reading a message; browsing the www.afb.org web page; finding a specific headline; and reading that item.

One AFB TECH staff member helped each participant to understand the technology. In this way, we attempted to focus on how easy each program is to use, not on the specific skills of the participants. After these tasks were completed, we concluded by asking each participant follow-up questions.

Overview of Observations

Because only seven individuals participated in the study, no universal conclusions can be drawn. Despite this limitation, some useful information emerged, including important technical themes and interesting comments about the availability of training and services.

Several skills were identified as either enabling or, more commonly, inhibiting successful use of the computer. The most important was the lack of keyboarding skills. We asked the participants to rate their keyboarding skills on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent. For five of the seven participants, the ratings of both the reported keyboard skill assessment and the observed keyboarding skill were 3 or lower. The two participants who rated their skills at 4 or 5 had previous experience using the keyboard before they lost their vision and used touch typing techniques. Only one participant was receiving formal training in the use of a conventional screen-reading product, but since training had only recently started, he stated that his keyboarding skills were still on the lower end of the scale. Keyboarding proficiency affected the use of both Guide and System Access to Go.

The majority of the seven participants stated that they use low vision techniques as the primary strategy for accommodating their vision loss. This finding is not surprising, given the population of older people who are experiencing vision loss. For those who use some or totally nonvisual methods, no particular pattern emerged that would distinguish them as a group from the others. Although this finding is not conclusive, it suggests that the availability of training and other factors, not the degree of remaining vision, are strong predictors of successful computer use.

Both Guide and System Access to Go allow individuals to change the font size and to control the appearance of the screen. Three participants preferred using System Access to Go with the mouse and magnification over using Guide. All three (one of whom was a skilled keyboard user) reported that the movement of the mouse pointer was difficult to follow while using the program. They also noted that the mouse jiggled with small, inadvertent hand movements. One participant stated that slight hand tremors exacerbated the situation.

These experiences suggest that tailoring the Windows settings for the mouse pointer to optimize its size, appearance, and speed can assist in maximizing the usefulness of the screen magnification that is available in System Access to Go. In addition, selecting a mouse or an alternative, such as a track ball, may be useful. A mouse pad is also a means of controlling the movement of a mouse and provides a physical reference for the individual.

An additional factor for this group was the familiarity with the visual layout of Windows and Windows applications. The participants perceived their existing skills and knowledge as valuable skills and viewed the magnification in a positive light.

Each participant was asked to navigate a list of e-mail messages using Guide's e-mail client and Outlook Express, respectively. No appreciable differences among the participants were observed. When each participant was asked to navigate in a message, differences in use and preferences were revealed. The participants could be placed in one of two groups. Some, primarily the mouse users, preferred to navigate content, while the non-mouse users preferred to listen. Thus, we can think of some individuals as "navigators" and others as "listeners."

When a message was allowed to be read in its entirety, no pattern of preference for one product was revealed. Several participants reported that they lost track of information if the message was long.

A difference that emerged was for the participants who wanted to navigate through content, rather than to listen to it as continuous text. For the navigators, System Access to Go was preferred. This was especially true for the group of three who used screen enlargement and the mouse.

The participants who were the least familiar with Windows stated some preference for Guide, which assigns numbers to various functions. A drawback that was also expressed was that if the individual was just listening, the list was long, and it was easy to forget which number had appeared at the top of the list by the time the system was finished reading the entire list. In instances in which individuals did forget, it was necessary to navigate, perhaps reducing some of the intended functionality of the Guide interface design.

Web navigation was the third of the three task areas that each participant completed. It is not surprising that navigating the Web is a more complex visual and auditory task than is using e-mail. When pages were allowed to be read as constant text, both programs announced links and other information clearly. Two participants clearly preferred the Guide web-browsing experience. The three mouse users with low vision preferred System Access to Go; however, they found the visual element more complex than it was for navigating e-mail and reading messages. For these individuals, System Access to Go provided focused verbal output; however, since their preference was for magnification, listening to content was not as desirable as using vision.

The most complex element of our design included listening to or navigating the AFB.org web site to locate the Headlines link. From this link, an item about Carl Augusto, AFB president and CEO, was to be read. Some users, particularly when using Guide, were unable to listen to and track the information. For both programs, navigating and listening in combination produced the best results. Those who preferred System Access to Go also had the most satisfactory experience with this task. It is reasonable to conclude that the relatively more advanced design of the Internet Explorer browser, used with System Access to Go but not with Guide, is in, some part, responsible for this difference.

Beyond the tasks of navigating menus, reading an e-mail message, and browsing a web site, we discussed both perceptions and experiences with each of the seven participants. Only two participants were familiar with the major screen-reader manufacturers, one of whom is learning to use JAWS.

As part of the initial interview, the participants were asked how much they would be willing to pay for computer access technology. Their answers to this question varied a good bit. Some were very concerned about the cost of purchasing access technology, while others had less concern about the cost and were more interested in what the technology could do.

Only two of the seven participants were able to identify training options in the Dallas area, the location of the study. One person identified the Hadley School, in Illinois, while another stated that networking with other people who are blind had resulted in contracting with a tutor for $30 per hour for JAWS training. The remaining five all expressed frustration over the lack of training and said that it has been somewhat discouraging to them as they try to learn about technology.

When asked a general question about training methods, all the participants stated that they were willing to attend classes if training would be effective. There was a general preference for in-home training if it was equally available and effective.

After the hands-on portion of the session, we asked some follow-up questions. All the participants said that they understood at least some of what the computer was communicating and what was going on. Two of the experienced users understood all of what the computer was communicating and, on the basis of observations, had the easiest time tracking familiar processes, especially using e-mail.

Because it is important to be able to understand and repeat the steps for using programs and performing tasks, we asked each participant to tell us how easy it was to follow the steps to using each program. All reported that it was easy, with no difference among those who preferred one program or the other. However, our observations revealed some difficulty for several of the participants despite their self-reported ease in understanding. This is a potentially important aspect of tutorial or other kinds of training and merits further consideration. These difficulties were equally common for both Guide and System Access to Go.

These observations are contrary to the common understanding that Windows is significantly more complex than is a consistent or custom user interface. Again, the size of the group prevented us from conducting a more definitive analysis; however, as with all aspects of the study, keyboarding skills and confidence may play a large role.

When asked to state which program they preferred, three participants stated a clear preference for Guide. An equal number preferred System Access to Go, with the remaining participant expressing no clear preference for either program.

We were also interested to learn how confident each participant was in his or her ability to learn his or her preferred program. The levels of confidence, expressed on a scale of 1 to 5, included 1 participant at Level 2, two at Level 3, and the rest at Level 4.5 or 5. The participants with the highest levels of confidence were the three who preferred System Access to Go and who had earlier computer experience. The participant who expressed the lowest level of confidence had no preference for either product.

We want to stress that we cannot state that System Access to Go provided the higher levels of confidence because the three individuals who reported a rating of 5 on the scale were the three most experienced users of Windows. It is reasonable to conclude that System Access to Go facilitated the use of existing skills effectively.

Although the products differ dramatically in price, we did not reveal the price of either one to the participants until the end of each meeting. After we told the participants that Guide is priced at $795 and System Access to Go is free of charge, their reactions were varied and interesting. For six of the seven, price was a serious or high-level factor in influencing which product they might select. The participant who stated that money was not an issue expressed no preference for either product. This was also the participant who expressed the lowest level of confidence in the ability to learn to use the computer with one of the products. All the Guide users stated that they would consider price if they were to purchase one of these products.

Conclusions and Recommendations

We want to reiterate that because this study included only seven participants, we cannot provide a comprehensive or universal overview of the experience of all individuals. Some important and obvious commonalities were observed, and a few more subtle patterns emerged.

The major lesson we can draw from our study is that keyboarding skills, or the lack of them, played the most important role in whether or not a participant could or would be likely to use a computer. For all the participants, increasing intermediate skills or learning keyboarding by touch would be first on the list of steps to learning to use a PC. Thus, for individuals and organizations that provide computer training, identifying and providing keyboard instruction is critical to laying the necessary foundation to using either of the products discussed here.

When we reviewed the data and observations, it became apparent that some participants did not have sufficient keyboarding skills to use even a simplified or specialized interface. It is possible that for an individual to use any interface, including a simplified design, a minimum level of keyboarding skill must be achieved. The question then becomes, how much higher a level of keyboarding skills is required to use Windows without a specialized or simplified user interface? By answering this question, future research may direct the development and implementation of the most useful user interface.

The second clear message is that even with a program like Guide or System Access to Go, instruction is critical, and without instruction, the participants would not be likely to use a computer. No clear preference for one kind of instructional method was expressed. All the participants stated that they would be open to a class or individualized instruction either at home or in a central location as long as it is affordable and effective.

The group of participants who use low vision methods and who had preexisting computer skills all found System Access to Go to be useful. Our observations suggest that some refinements of the Windows setup, including mouse settings, simplifying the desktop, and optimizing Outlook Express and Internet Explorer settings for users with low vision, will make this software a powerful tool for this group.

At the same time, for those who were open to using System Access to Go, but who did not have Windows skills, tutorial or other instructional assistance is required. The complexity of Windows makes this task more difficult and increases the length of time until an individual is able to use the computer independently.

For those who had relatively poor keyboarding skills and did not use the mouse or used fewer low vision strategies, Guide was the clear preference. While the program is costly, the requirements for instruction may be far fewer than with Windows, thus reducing the price of related training.

An intriguing strategy of training sighted individuals in the use of Guide and methods of instruction for users who are blind has been discussed. A local network of tutors, perhaps college or high school students, could be envisioned who would be a free or low-cost training resource.

For the time being, users with low vision who have used the Windows operating system in the past should be encouraged to try System Access to Go. Identifying an assistant or computer professional to refine settings is relatively easy, and the free-to-use model creates no financial downside.

At the same time, Guide can be obtained in a 30-day demonstration edition. This is a generous evaluation period. Again, an individual with intermediate or better skills may be able to grasp the Guide interface and conventions easily and to assist a potential Guide user in understanding the program.

Further study of existing instructional methods is desirable. The use of traditional, center-based approaches, as well as more innovative strategies, including phone-based and web-based techniques, would be a valuable next step.

In all instances, the participants stated that they were interested in using a computer and other technology to increase their independence and to communicate with others. Both Guide and System Access to Go have the potential to facilitate this common desire. The data collected and observations recorded in this study suggest some patterns of use for specific groups of individuals. Despite the technical stability and availability of these programs, the lack of training options may, unfortunately, still stand between individuals and their goal of independent access to the computer.

This article was produced with support from a grant from the AT&T Foundation.

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

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Interview

A Passion for Technology and Helping Others: An Interview with Amy Ruell

Amy Ruell came to computers later than most of her peers, busy as she was with her career and family and other life issues while other people who were blind were divining the mysteries of Apple IIs, early speech synthesizers, and MSDOS. There were advantages to her inadvertent delay in coming into the world of computers and assistive technology. When she jumped in, it was full immersion, and because she did not have the earlier operating systems to impede her progress, she learned Microsoft Windows quickly and was often considered the expert among her blind friends. So it was that in 1996, having obtained her first computer, she joined and rapidly rose to the presidency of VIBUG (Visually Impaired and Blind Users Group, originally a subset of the Boston Computer Society and the oldest computer users group for people who are blind in the country).

Amy Ruell in her cubicle at work. She is typing on her computer keyboard and using headphones to listen to her screen reader.

Caption: Amy Ruell at her desk at work.

From 1998 to 2002, Ruell became more widely known throughout the blind computer-using community because of her subscription-based distribution list, Amy's Filters and Forwards. Mining a variety of sources for technology-related information that was of interest to computer users who are blind, she sifted the items of greatest common interest and distributed them as routine compilations. She discontinued the service when she went to work full time for the National Braille Press (NBP), heading a program of braille literacy for young children. In the ReadBooks program, Ruell, on behalf of NBP, distributed bags of learning materials to blind children and their parents, giving parents just enough braille instruction to serve as cheerleaders for their budding readers of braille, and giving age-appropriate books to keep the children interested. The service has blossomed into such spin-offs as a web site called Everything Braille (www.everythingbraille.com), which identifies sources of braille publications, tactile graphics, and braille toys; and a series of webinars, all focused on braille literacy for young children who are blind.

Ruell's passion for braille literacy grew out of personal experience. Blind from birth, Ruell attended public school "before it was fashionable for blind kids" and was an adept user of the Perkins Brailler at age 7 and the slate and stylus a year or two later. She learned to type on a standard typewriter in the second grade. These basic tools—a brailler, a slate and stylus, and a typewriter—were center stage in Ruell's methods for acquiring a bachelor's degree in sociology from Smith College and a master's degree in social work from Simmons College. For 25 years, much of it while also raising her two children, she worked in clinical practice, most of that time as a therapist and clinical supervisor for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. Although other blind people were using computers, she continued to type reports on clients, inserting them into records without rereading her own work.

All that changed in 1996, when Ruell obtained her first computer and discovered that she had a real aptitude for technology. Although she was off duty from VIBUG for a few years, she is once again president of the group and has a passion for bringing computer information and know-how to other people who are blind.

In September 2008, Ruell attracted attention from the blind computer-using community when her name was drawn from nearly 2,000 entries for Serotek Corp.'s Summer Sizzle contest. When Ruell received the call from Marlaina Lieberg of ACB Radio, announcing that she was the winner, it was not surprising that her initial comment was that the prize would benefit her friends and colleagues among the VIBUG membership.

Serotek launched its Summer Sizzle contest in June 2008, offering a prize that the company called an accessible digital life makeover. Worth more than $2,000, the prize consisted of an Asus 8G Netbook PC, a Victor Reader Stream, a Zen Stone MP3 player, a copy of Mobile Speak, the System Access software for two computers, and a four-year subscription to the System Access Mobile Network. To enter, applicants filled out a brief survey identifying the types of assistive technology they used. One lucky winner would receive the prize, and Serotek received some useful information regarding the technological preferences of 2,000 computer users who were blind or had low vision.

Ruell said that she was already a user of Serotek products, although she had used only the free online System Access To Go (SAToGo) product (www.satogo.com). "If I needed to work in another office at work, where the computer did not have a screen reader on it," Ruell explained, "I would just run SAToGo, and I could do everything I needed to do." She also used SAToGo while traveling. For example, at a conference, she went to the hotel business center and ran it on the computer there to check her e-mail messages. Similarly, while looking at colleges with her daughter, she was able to get MapQuest directions and other needed information on a public computer by running the free screen-reading software. Since part of her Summer Sizzle package included a license for System Access for two computers and on a U3-enabled USB drive, she said that she now uses the software much more extensively than she has in the past.

Upon receiving the on-air phone call announcing that she had won, Ruell immediately commented that she would use the prize to benefit her work with VIBUG. Here's how. Each VIBUG meeting features a demonstration of mainstream hardware or software, which is used in conjunction with adaptive equipment. Recently, the group purchased a computer to facilitate streaming its meetings and demonstrations on the Internet, thus reaching a broader audience. The Asus Netbook, Ruell said, will be perfect for use as the demonstration machine. Her System Access license allows her to put the software on two machines—her current computer at home and the Asus for use at VIBUG meetings. Of course, her prize also includes one "key"—putting the System Access software on a USB drive—which will make using computers anywhere even easier than in the past. Because she already owned a Victor Reader Stream, she packaged the remaining items to use as a fundraiser for VIBUG.

Recently, Ruell changed careers again, going to work once again for a managed care company. "I'm delighted to be using my clinical skills again," she said, "although it was difficult to leave the many professionals and families with whom I was privileged to work during my tenure at NBP."

While the work itself is similar, the techniques are different from those Ruell used 20 years ago.

She enjoys using her small Asus laptop, she said, which is now getting plenty of mileage because of its ease of use and portability. Working with the company's software is a challenge to screen readers, but Amy Ruell is no stranger to technological challenges, and she is figuring it out.

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

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Editor's Page

In this issue, I review the Trekker Breeze, a new GPS (global positioning system) from HumanWare. The Trekker Breeze is a simplified version of HumanWare's Trekker product. The Breeze announces intersections and points of interest as you walk, and allows you to record new landmarks and travel routes. It does not let you enter data or look up a landmark in a database. HumanWare says that the Breeze was developed because both consumers and orientation and mobility instructors wanted an easy-to-use GPS product. Find out just how easy it is to use.

Deborah Kendrick and I report on the tenth annual conference of the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA), held from January 28–31, 2009, in Orlando, Florida. The ATIA conference featured many new products and updates of products, as well as a number of sessions of interest to people who are blind or have low vision. Learn what we found in the exhibit hall and conference sessions.

Social networking sites are extremely popular these days. Janet Ingber, author and music therapist, reviews Facebook, one of the most popular sites. Facebook started as a site for college students, but has grown far beyond that. This article walks you through the sign-up process, and discusses how to use many parts of Facebook.

Bradley Hodges and Lee Huffman, of AFB TECH, present two articles. First, they describe some lesser-known screen access software. They include Guide from EVAS, VoiceOver from Apple, System Access and System Access to Go from Serotek, and Microsoft's Narrator. The article lists strengths and weaknesses of each product, and describes how the products performed specific tasks.

Next, Hodges and Huffman write about the challenges of learning to use a computer when you are blind or visually impaired. They highlight the experiences of seven individuals who participated in a user experience study conducted by AFB TECH and the AFB Center on Vision Loss. This study was designed to illuminate issues facing those who wish to learn to use a computer who may not have experience with the Windows operating system or access to formal training. Learn the results of this study.

Deborah Kendrick interviews Amy Ruell. Ruell worked as a therapist and clinical supervisor for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health for many years. She has also worked for National Braille Press, heading up a program of braille literacy for young children. Ruell is currently president of the Visually Impaired and Blind Users Group in Boston. Read about this advocate for braille literacy and computers.

Jay Leventhal
Editor-in-Chief

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AccessWorld News

CSUN Highlights Aging Population

The CSUN conference, which takes its name from its sponsoring organization, the California State University at Northridge, has been one of the most revered events showcasing assistive technology for people with disabilities for more than 20 years. At its 2009 event, March 16–21, CSUN will host its first DATE (Design, Access, Technology, and Education) Symposium, examining the particular issues of elderly users of assistive technology. Held on March 20, the DATE Symposium will open with an address by Gail Sheehy, renowned author of the book Passages and current AARP ambassador, and will close with a presentation by Dr. Mary Furlong, an authority on marketing to the baby-boomer generation, as well as on aging and technology. A complete list of sessions and speakers for the DATE Symposium has not yet been released as of this writing, but early registration for this event is recommended. CSUN 2009 will take place at the Los Angeles Marriott and Renaissance Montura hotels. For more information about the DATE Symposium and other CSUN events, visit www.csunconference.org.

More on the Phone That Reads

knfbReading Technology has announced the release of version 6.1 of its knfb Reader Mobile, the software that runs on the Nokia N82 mobile phone. The new version has added text translation in up to 16 languages, more reading voices, and noticeably faster recognition time (reading now beginning within about five seconds after a picture of the printed page is snapped).

The company has also added the Nokia 6220 as a platform for operating the knfb Reader software, a phone that is slightly less expensive and, to some, more tactilely friendly. The overall cost of the product has also been lowered. A single-language license for English now costs $995, while a version with three languages sells for $1,295. This amount does not include the price of either the Nokia N82 or Nokia 6220 classic mobile phone.

For more information, contact a local dealer or send an e-mail message to Lisa Galloni at lisa@knfbReader.com.

KeySoft 8.0 for PK and mPower Users

HumanWare has announced the release of KeySoft 8.0 in March for the PK and mPower models in the BrailleNote family. This upgrade promises a host of exciting new features. KeyChat, according to a company release, will allow users to use popular instant messaging services to communicate in real time with others, writing and reading conversations in one's preferred grade of braille, as well as downloading and unpacking books directly from BookShare, playing audio books from Audible.com, and accessing various other services. KeySoft 8.0 will include a 90-day free trial version of the popular Sendero GPS software, inviting customers to download maps of choice from the Sendero site. (A GPS receiver is required to take advantage of this particular offer.) Users with SMA agreements can use one SMA upgrade credit to receive KeySoft 8.0, and pricing for those who purchase it outright will soon be available.

For more information, visit www.humanware.com.

A Little Entertainment

Having difficulty making friends who do not have disabilities understand what makes the Web accessible or not? David MacDonald produced a hilarious four-minute video on YouTube that provides some fun insights, both audio and visual, into what technology and following Web Accessibility Content Guidelines can achieve.

For a brief trip to the lighter side, visit the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines theme song at www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtuna2AWvqk&feature=channel_page.

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Calendar

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.

July 3–8, 2009

National Federation of the Blind National Convention

Detroit, MI

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.asp.

July 4–11, 2009

American Council of the Blind National Convention

Orlando, FL

Contact: American Council of the Blind; phone: 202-467-5081; e-mail: info@acb.org; web site: www.acb.org/convention/info2009-1.html.

July 14–16, 2009

QAC Sight Village

Birmingham, UK

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

October 15–17, 2009

27th 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.

October 28–31, 2009

Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2009 Chicago Conference

Schaumburg, IL

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.

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Copyright © 2009 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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