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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2009 Issue  Volume 10  Number 5

Product Evaluation

Lexmark Marks a Path Toward Accessibility: A New Solution for their Multifunctional Document Centers

In 2006 and 2007, AccessWorld published a series of four articles that evaluated the accessibility of multifunction printers (MFPs), examining the large stand-alone units as well as the smaller, less expensive desktop units for offices that may not need a large workhorse copy machine. Those articles pointed out that most of the features and functions of the desktop units were not accessible to customers with visual impairments and that only two manufacturers of the large machines had designed solutions for these customers. The Xerox Copy Assistant software, which is placed on a separate PC, provides access to only some of the machines' copy features, and Canon's Voice Operation Kit, loaded directly on the copy machine itself, provides access to some of the machines' copy, fax, and e-mail functions. This article introduces the Lexmark Accessibility Solution, a new solution for MFP accessibility. The Lexmark Accessibility Solution is a web-based interface for using the copy, fax, scan, and e-mail features of many of the small, medium, and large multifunction machines.

The Lexmark Accessibility Solution

Priced at $499, the Lexmark Accessibility Solution is a Web-based interface available for 20 of Lexmark's MFPs. It is an embedded Java application that is installed as a flash file on the MFP, and you use your browser to link to the machine and configure the job you want the machine to perform. Lexmark worked with assistive technology companies to ensure that the software was designed to be compatible with a wide variety of assistive technologies. On a PC, it is compatible with GW Micro's Window-Eyes and Freedom Scientific's JAWS screen readers. It works with Freedom Scientific 's Magic and AI Squared's ZoomText screen magnifiers. It also works with the Web browser on GW Micro's Voice Sense and Braille Sense PDAs (personal digital assistants). If you use a Mac, the Lexmark Accessibility Solution is compatible with Apple's Safari Web browser using the Mac's built-in VoiceOver screen reader. It is also compatible with the voice-recognition software that some people with mobility impairments use on their PCs. As I was evaluating this product, I was also evaluating Apple's new iPhone 3G S, which now has the VoiceOver screen reader built in, and discovered that it was also compatible with the Lexmark Accessibility Solution. You can read my article on the new iPhone in this issue.

A visually impaired employee using the Lexmark app on her iPhone to control the copy machine

Caption: Using the iPhone to operate the Lexmark

How Does It Work?

Instead of using the touch-screen interface on the Lexmark MFP as your sighted colleagues would do, you use your Web browser to link to the IP address of the MFP where the Lexmark Accessibility Solution is installed. For convenience, you can place a shortcut on your desktop or bookmark the address in your browser. When the Lexmark Accessibility Solution comes up, you interact with it just like you would any accessible Web page on the Internet. It has properly tagged headers, links, and form fields that you use to configure the job you want to perform on the MFP. When you submit all the parameters of your job, a message appears telling you to go to the MFP to load the paper and to enter a code for the job. You then put the document that you want to be copied, faxed, scanned, or e-mailed face up in the document feeder or face down on the scanner glass and enter the code on the MFP's tactile keypad. The code is always the pound key followed by a number--usually 1--unless you have configured more than one job at a time.

The home screen has links to all the major functional categories of the MFP, including copy, fax, e-mail, scan to FTP, and scan to PC. To print a file, you simply use the print dialogue of your word processor or other application, so you do not have to use the Lexmark Accessibility Solution to print. You activate the link to the category that you want to use, and a group of properly tagged form fields that are used to configure the features you want to use appears. These fields represent nearly all the features and functions of the MFP, providing access to over 70 controls for configuring your document.

Not all the Lexmark MFPs have all the same functions, so the Lexmark Accessibility Solution will show only the functions that your particular MFP has. For example, if yours does not have a stapler function, then the staple field will not appear on the Lexmark Accessibility Solution. Also, the Lexmark Accessibility Solution accesses most but not all the functions that sighted users can access via the MFP's touch screen interface. The list of functions that it cannot access is limited to those options that require input via the touch screen, such as these:

  • Auto Size Match
  • Book Original (scan type)
  • Custom jobs
  • Manual feeder
  • Secure PDF (portable digital format)

After you configure all the settings that you want for your job, you press the Submit button. However, for settings that require you to enter a numeric value, such as the number of copies that you want, you have to hit the Save and Continue button. Doing so can add a bit more time to your task, but, according to Lexmark, it was required to enable the Lexmark Accessibility Solution to work on GW Micro's Voice Sense and Braille Sense PDAs because of a Javascript problem. To save time on a task that you perform often, you can save a job's settings and access it again later with one click on the main function screen.

Other Features

With the Lexmark Accessibility Solution, a user with low vision can adjust the way the interface is displayed on the screen, allowing you to choose the font size and colors that are used without a screen-magnifier application. It also has a link to an MFP status page, where you can learn if the paper tray is empty or if the fax line is disconnected. The version that we tested had a problem with this status page refreshing every 15 seconds, which forced JAWS constantly to move to the top of the screen and away from where we were reading. However, we reported that problem to Lexmark, which immediately fixed the problem for their current version. The home screen has a convenient link to the manual. It also has a convenient "bread crumbs" way of informing you where you currently are in the interface, with links to the parent pages that are used to get you to your current position.

The MFPs

The Lexmark Accessibility Solution is compatible with 20 of Lexmark's MFPs, ranging in price from $999 to $11,099. The MFPs range in size from the desktop, which measures about 19 by 17 by 16 inches to the larger floor models that measure about 43 by 26 by 28 inches. They come in color and black and white models, and all have a touch screen interface as well as a tactile keypad. You can go to the Product Information section at the end of this article for the complete list of compatible MFPs.

As with nearly all MFPs, the basic maintenance tasks, such as changing paper and clearing paper jams, can be accomplished nonvisually on the Lexmark machines. However, these tasks require some initial sighted assistance and practice to learn to perform them.

Documentation

The manual for the Lexmark Accessibility Solution is embedded in the software, and you link to it from the software's home screen. It is a fully accessible HTML interface, and we were able to use it with all the devices that we used to test the product. Each page of the application also has a Help button to access more information.

Is Everything Accessible?

Although nearly everything is accessible, we did find a few issues when testing the Lexmark Accessibility Solution. Some error reports and the fax transmission confirmations are presented on inaccessible paper printouts. However, you can use the Scan to PC function to send the printouts to your PC and use your OCR software to read them. By the way, the Scan to PC feature is a great way to do a batch scan of a large amount of printed material and then use your OCR software to read it. MFP configuration is not an entirely accessible process because it requires some interaction with the MFP's touch screen. However, this is a one-time-only task that is done when it is installed on your office's computer network. We had a little trouble setting up the e-mail function, but our problems were with determining the proper settings for our office's e-mail system. The setup process itself is accessible, except for the final step of entering your e-mail password on the MFP's touch screen. Again, though, this is a one-time-only process.

The Bottom Line

The Lexmark Accessibility Solution is a solid product that provides access to more MFP features and functions than people with visual impairments have ever had. There are still some minor accessibility gaps, such as the printed feedback regarding errors and confirmations of fax transmissions, but that is also true of the other solutions.

In our 2006 evaluations of the Xerox and Canon solutions, one of the reasons why we preferred the Canon solution was that the individual user interacts with the machine, not a separate PC wired to the machine. However, even though the Lexmark Accessibility Solution relies on a separate device for the interface, it provides access to more features and functions. In addition, we did not encounter the problems that are associated with using a separate computer for the interface that we found when testing the Xerox system. The Lexmark Accessibility Solution even has several advantages of its own. The fact that you can use such a wide variety of devices (PC, Mac, Braille Sense, iPhone) provides a great deal of flexibility. Also, creating a job on your PC or PDA and then just entering a code on the MFP does not tie up the machine while you are configuring the job. Furthermore, you start the job at the machine itself, so you always know which paper output is yours. My sighted colleagues also liked using the Lexmark Accessibility Solution because they could quickly configure their jobs at their desks and did not have to use the touch screen on the MFP.

We congratulate Lexmark for taking the initiative to create this access solution in a product category where there are few options for accessibility. It joins Xerox and Canon as the only companies in this field that have developed accessible interfaces. We at AFB TECH love it when we find more choices in the world of accessibility.

Product Information

Product: Lexmark Accessibility Solution.

Manufacturer: Lexmark International, 740 West New Circle Road, Lexington, KY 40550; phone: (859) 232-2000; web site: www.lexmark.com/accessibility.

Compatible MFPs.

X463de, X464de, X466de, X466dte, X466dwe, X651de, X652de, X654de, X656de, X658de, X734de, X736de, X738de, X738dte, X860de 3, X860de 4, X862dte 3, X862dte 4, X864dhe 3, and X864dhe 4.

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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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