When Amazon.com announced, on February 9, 2009, the release of its new Kindle 2 handheld e-book reader with the addition of text-to-speech capabilities, people who are blind became interested in this inaccessible device. Unfortunately, the text-to-speech capability does not work in the Kindel 2's menus, so it cannot be operated by a person who is blind. Then, the Authors Guild lodged complaints that the feature would interfere with audiobook rights. An unprecedented collaboration of more than 20 organizations, representing people who are blind, the elderly, and people with learning disabilities, has been formed under the umbrella Reading Rights Coalition, including an online petition and an April 7 protest outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York. What Amazon will do remains to be seen.
Accessible Mobile from Verizon
For years, Verizon Wireless has captured much of the visually impaired market because of its continuing line of partially accessible phones. The LG 4500, 4650, 8300, and 8350, as well as the newer Chocolate, Env2, Voyager, and others, come out of the box with voice-activation and self-voicing capabilities. Such features as talking caller ID, announcements of missed calls and voice mail messages, and the ability to enter and review contacts are all features that have added up to phones that can be used by people who are unable to read the screen, but not completely. With one exception (the Env2), sending and receiving text messages was not possible with these phones, and the spoken menus became silent when the second or third tier was investigated.
On March 15, because of a collaboration with Nuance and assistance from Dolphin USA, Verizon Wireless announced the release of its Motorola Q9C with TALKS. The PDA-style phone can be shipped with the TALKS program (and Eloquence speech synthesizer) already loaded, and thus be fully accessible out of the box. With it, users can access and manipulate Contacts, Calendar, and phone settings (such as ring tones and alarms. A user who is blind can easily send and receive e-mail messages and instant messages, surf the Internet, and more. Prices vary according to the contracts that are selected. With a two-year contract, for instance, with TALKS already loaded, the phone sells for $249. For more information, visit www.verizonwireless.com/accessibility.
Religious History on CD
Richard Seltzer has long been in the business of gathering public-domain books of one genre or another and making them available in electronic formats on CD or DVD. His latest compilations include a disc of 171 books pertaining to the Catholic faith and another of 23 books pertaining to modern Greek literature. The Catholic religion CD includes, according to a recent announcement from Samizdat, the Douay-Rheims Bible, works by saints and saintlike individuals, works about saints and saintlike individuals, early church history, later church history and doctrine, Jesuit pioneers, and books by Dante and John Henry Newman. The Modern Greek CD contains 23 books, including works by Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, Aristotle, Lucian, Konstantinos Christomanos, and Emmanuel. Books are in plain text format and can be read on the computer or transferred to handheld players. For a complete list of the collections that are available and information on ordering, visit www.samizdat.com or phone 617-469-2269.
Alexander Graham Bell probably never dreamed that his single invention would lead to so many options as consumers have today with regard to telephone service.
While some cling with a certain ferocity to traditional landline service, others are opting to function with only a mobile phone for connection to the world. Still others are buying phone service from cable companies or going with various voiceover Internet telephone options. Enter the MagicJack, which has been capturing attention from high-tech and low-tech customers alike.
Simply, this device is a small rectangular box (about one by three inches) with a USB connector for plugging into your computer and a standard telephone connection for connecting any cordless or hard-wired phone. Connect it to your PC, the manufacturers say, and you will be given a telephone number and prompted through a brief setup process. With MagicJack, callers can make local and long-distance calls throughout the United States and Canada for a $19.95 annual cost.
The device can be purchased through various retail outlets (Radio Shack, QVC, and elsewhere) or online at www.magicjack.com. Some computer users who are blind say that the setup process is a breeze, while others say that it is time intensive and requires sighted assistance. Although a 30-day free trial is offered when you order the device from MagicJack directly, some customers have reported that it is less expensive to buy it at a third-party source to avoid credit card charges that may have to be disputed later. The only additional service provided is voicemail, so if call waiting or forwarding are your must-have features, this is not the product for you. Again, while the jury is still partially out, many are singing the praises of this low-cost option to long-distance telephone service. Check it out at www.magicjack.com.
Victor Reader Stream 3.0 Released
HumanWare has released the 3.0 upgrade for users of the popular Victor Reader Stream. Easy, as usual, to install, the upgrade includes a number of exciting features, many of which are clearly the result of listening to customer feedback. Highlights of 3.0 include two text-to-speech voices that can now be on the Stream at once and accessed with a single key press, multilevel folders in the music folder, the availability of bookmark alerts as you pass over them, a 30-minute option added to the time-jump menu, the ability to search for specific words in text files, and more.
To download the upgrade--as well as documentation and an audio tutorial reviewing new features--visit www.humanware.com/stream_support.
HumanWare Companion 3.0 Released
HumanWare has also released an entirely new program to be used as an optional adjunct to the Victor Reader Stream and/or ClassMate Reader (the handheld player with a visual screen and talking dictionary for people with learning disabilities). Renamed the HumanWare Companion because it works with both the Victor Reader Stream and ClassMate Reader products, the program is not an upgrade to its predecessors but a new free download altogether. While using it is completely optional, it does offer some features that many will find appealing. With the HumanWare Companion software, the user can transfer Bookshare books or books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped without first unzipping them on the computer, enjoy more flexibility in transferring music, and add voice labels up to 50 characters to individual SD cards; optional progress beeps have been added to indicate that a transfer is in progress. To learn about these and other features in more detail and to download the new software, visit www.humanware.com/stream_support.
New iPod Shuffle
On March 11, Apple announced the release of their new 3rd Generation iPod Shuffle with VoiceOver. The exciting news about this new iPod Shuffle is that it can speak the names of the songs and playlists you have loaded onto it. It also speaks the names of the artists who recorded the songs, and it can also announce its battery strength. It uses a very high-quality synthetic voice--Mac users will recognize the voice as the Alex voice that is used by the Mac's built-in VoiceOver screen reader. This is Apple's second iPod product with speech output capabilities, joining the iPod Nano 4th Generation, reviewed in the January 2009 issue of AccessWorld.
Priced at $79, the new 3rd Generation iPod Shuffle is also the smallest digital audio player ever developed, measuring a tiny 1.8 by 0.7 by 0.3 inches and weighing only 0.4 ounces. However, this tiny package holds 4 GB of your music collection or Audible.com audio books, doubling the capacity of the previous iPod Shuffle. Like previous Shuffles, it has a convenient, built-in clip so you can fasten it to your hat or shirt while you are working out or working around the house. However, it only has one control, a switch that slides from Off to Loop to Shuffle, and it does not have the 5-way control found on previous Shuffles. Instead, the buttons to choose your music and control the volume are actually on the ear buds that are included with the new Shuffle. About 4 inches down the cord from one of the ear buds is a control with 3 buttons in a straight line, with the middle button for Play/Pause and the outside buttons for Up/Down Volume. Apple has cleverly designed the way they can be used to control your music and produce spoken information about your songs and playlists. A single click of the middle button is play/pause, a double click is next track or audio book chapter, and a triple click is previous track or audio book chapter. You fast forward by double clicking and holding the middle button, and rewind is triple click and hold. Pressing and holding the middle button causes the new Shuffle to speak the current song title and artist, and if you hold it until you hear a beep, your playlists are spoken in order, and you click again when you hear the playlist you want to hear.
To learn more about the new 3rd Generation iPod Shuffle, go to www.apple.com/ipodshuffle/voiceover.html.
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