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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 November 2009 Issue  Volume 10  Number 6

In This Issue

Product Evaluation

Product Evaluation: Two New Portable Digital Book Players Enter the Market

GW Micro's BookSense and the PLEXTALK Pocket (PTP1) from Shinano Kenshi mean competition for the Victor Reader Stream. This article describes these new players and compares their features and functions with those of the Stream.--Darren Burton

Access Issues

Screening Displays for Low Vision Access: A Look at Popular Audio Players and Book Readers

For people with low vision, it is important to consider the readability of small visual displays when selecting products to purchase.--Lee Huffman, Morgan Blubaugh, and William Reuschel

Lighting up Your World: A Closer Look at Illuminated Magnifiers

Information in this article will enable consumers to become much better informed about these devices, and with the assistance of their professional eye care team, select the magnifier best suited to their vision needs.--Lee Huffman, Morgan Blubaugh, William Reuschel, and Greg Goodrich, Ph.D.

Go Shopping, and Let Your Screen Reader Do the Walking

Read about the shopping experiences of a screen reader user while visiting popular web sites.--Janet Ingber

Bosch Puts New Spin on Washer and Dryer Controls

A laundry appliance accessibility update.--Brad Hodges


Cool Stuff in Every Pocket: An Interview with Fred Gissoni

This article takes a look into the life of the legendary blind pioneer, who has gently, humbly devoted his life to learning, and sharing that learning with other blind people.--Deborah Kendrick


Editor's Page

Product Evaluation

Two New Portable Digital Book Players Enter the Market

In the May, July, and September 2008 issues of AccessWorld, we published a series of three articles discussing the accessibility of iPods and other digital audio players. In the September article, which focused on players designed specifically for people with vision loss, we determined Humanware's Victor Reader Stream was the leading product in the portable player category on the strength of its easy-to-learn interface and ability to play a wide range of books and music. However, the Stream is facing competition in the market from two new accessible digital audio players — GW Micro's BookSense and the PLEXTALK Pocket (PTP1) from Shinano Kenshi.

Like the Stream, both of these new players have the ability to play digital music in various formats, as well as the ability to play DAISY and other digital books from sources like bookshare.org and the recorded books available from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). This article describes these new players and compares their features and functions with those of the Stream. I start with a description of each of the two new players, but to save space, I provide the following link to our September 2008 article, which includes a description of the Stream: Now Playing: A Review of the Accessibility of Digital Audio Players, Part 2: Assistive Technology Players.

However, for quick comparisons, I note here that the Stream costs $349, measures 4.6 by 2.6 by 0.9 inches, and weighs 6 ounces.

A photo of all 3 book players side by side from largest to smallest. The Stream is on the left, the PTP1 in the middle, and BookSense on the right.

Caption: The Victor Reader Stream, the PTP1, and BookSense.


Priced at $349, the PLEXTALK Pocket, also called the PTP1, is manufactured by the Japanese company Shinano Kenshi, makers of the PTN1 CD players and PTR2 CD player/recorders. It measures 4.4 by 2.2 by 0.6 inches and weighs 3.9 ounces. It is shaped like a deck of cards, but thinner, perhaps a deck of cards with a quarter of the cards missing. This evaluation is based on software version 2.01.

Most of the controls are on the front face of the PTP1, with a monaural speaker running across the top of the front face. There are two buttons directly below the speaker, a Record button on the left and a Power button on the right. Below these buttons and in the middle is a familiar five-way control with the Play/Stop button in the middle surrounded by four navigation buttons. The Play/Stop button is concave for easy identification. There are two buttons each to the left and right of the five-way control. The top left button is the Go To key for going directly to pages and other navigation elements. Below the Go To key is the Bookmark key, which is used to set, move to, and delete bookmarks. The top right button is the Menu key, and you can also press and hold this button to enter or exit the key describer mode. Below the Menu key is the Title key, which you press to begin browsing for a book or song to play. The bottom half of the PTP1's front face is taken up by a 3-by-4 number pad similar to that found on a telephone. There is a substantial nib on the 5 Key, and there are two substantial nibs on the Power button for easy identification.

The right side panel of the PTP1 has a spring-action volume control at the top. You slide it up to increase or down to decrease volume, and it springs back to its middle position. Below the volume control is a key lock switch, which is used to avoid inadvertent button presses. The SD memory-card slot is on the left side panel, and the standard microphone jack and standard 3.5-mm headphone jack are on the top panel. A hole for attaching a lanyard is at the top left corner. The bottom panel has a jack for connecting the AC adapter on the left and a USB port on the right. The battery compartment is on the back panel.

The PTP1 has a lot of features packed into a small device. It has a recorded human voice for reading menus and other announcements and the Tom and Samantha voices from Nuance for reading text files and books from bookshare.org. The PTP1 is now compatible with the digitally recorded books available on the NLS' BARD web site, which adds to the books it can play from Bookshare and Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). It can also read electronic text files in .txt and .html formats. Although it is not currently compatible with recorded books from audible.com, the manufacturer tells us it is working on such compatibility with audible.com and hopes to support its books soon.

The PTP1 can play music in the MP3, WAV, and AMR-WB+ file formats. It has the ability to record short voice memos and has a substantial voice-recording capability, allowing you to create recordings with a DAISY structure for easy navigation. Other features of note include support for SD cards up to 32 GB in size, bookmarking capabilities, a built-in microphone, and a battery that can be charged from your PC as well as from the AC adapter.

testing the BookSense

Caption: AFB TECH staffer tests the BookSense.

The BookSense from GW Micro

The BookSense is sold by GW Micro, makers of the popular Window-Eyes screen reader. It is manufactured by HIMS Co., makers of the BrailleSense line of PDAs (personal digital assistants). It is available in two versions, standard and XT. The XT version is physically the same as the standard version, but it includes an FM radio, 4GB of built-in memory, and Bluetooth headset support. The standard version is priced at $349, and the XT version is priced at $499.

Similar to a candy bar-style cell phone, the BookSense measures 4.25 by 1.85 by 0.73 inches and weighs 4 ounces. We evaluated the XT version of the BookSense with software version 1.1.

The stereo speakers are at the top of the front face, and there is a raised button for playing the time and date in the center just below the speakers. Below that button is a five-way control with nibs on each of the four relatively large navigation buttons. The center button is relatively small, and it is the Menu button. Below the five-way control is a 3-by-4 number pad similar to that found on a telephone. There is a nib on the 5 key, and the number pad employs a "hills and valleys" approach where every other key is either slightly concave or slightly convex.

The Play/Pause button is at the top of the right side panel, and you can also press and hold this button to turn the BookSense on or off. Below the Play/Pause button is a Record button, and below that button is a key lock switch, which is used to avoid inadvertent button presses. At the top of the left side panel is a Mode button, which is used to switch the DAISY player, document reader, FM radio (XT only), and media player for listening to music and podcasts. Below the Mode button are the Up/Down Volume buttons and the SD memory card slot. A lanyard is attached in the middle of the top panel, with a standard microphone jack to its left and a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack to its right. The bottom panel has a jack for connecting the AC adapter on the left and a USB port on the right. The battery compartment is on the back panel.

Like the PTP1, the BookSense also has a lot of features packed into a small device. It features the Neo Speech Paul and Kate synthetic voices for reading menus, text files, and books from bookshare.org. In addition to Bookshare, the BookSense is compatible with recorded books from NLS, audible.com, as well as DAISY books from other sources. It can also read electronic text files in several formats, including TXT, BRL, BRF, DOC, DOCX, HTML, RTF, and XML.

The BookSense can play music in MP3, WAV, WMA, FLAC, OGG, MP4, and M4A formats. Like an iPod, it can also organize music by artist, album, or genre or in playlists. Other features of note include a voice memo feature with a built-in microphone, bookmarking capabilities, and a battery that can be charged from your PC as well as from the AC adapter.

Two men in an office setting, testing the PTP1

Caption: AFB TECH intern shows the PTP1's buttons to the author.

Getting on the Same Page: Comparing the PTP1, the BookSense, and the Victor Reader Stream

Tactile Controls

The controls on all three devices can be distinguished and used tactilely. While testing the devices in our lab, we found that once you get used to them, there is little difference in how easy it is to find and press the button you need. However, if we had to rank them, we think the Stream would be the easiest to use by those who may have less tactile sensation in their fingers. The PTP1 would be next because its five-way control is a bit easier to feel than the five-way control on the BookSense.

Speech Output

When I talk with people about speech synthesis, I find more and more it is an extremely subjective matter, so I do not want to get too much into the quality of the speech synthesis of these devices. For reading text files and bookshare books, the PTP1 features the Tom and Samantha voices from Nuance, as does the Stream. The BookSense uses the Neo Speech Paul and Kate voices, and it also uses these synthetic voices for navigating menus. The PTP1 also uses a synthetic voice for navigating menus, but the Stream features a recorded human voice for menu navigation.

Book and Text Navigation

Those of us who are avid readers will be interested in how effectively and efficiently a player navigates through a book's content, so I have devoted a little more space to this section. These navigation capabilities are particularly important when you need to get specific details like the spelling of a word or the measurements in a recipe, but they often affect reading enjoyment as well. Regarding navigation, we found the Stream to be superior on several fronts. The BookSense is second, and the PTP1 comes in third place.

The first area in which the Stream is superior is the navigation levels that are available when reading a Bookshare book. The PTP1 and BookSense can navigate by the DAISY navigation elements coded into the book itself, usually consisting of Level 1, Level 2, page, and phrase. However, the Stream also allows you to navigate these Bookshare books by line, sentence, word, and character. In addition, the Stream can navigate by word while spelling each word as you go. The PTP1 and BookSense have the ability to navigate by sentence, word, and character when reading files in .txt format, but neither has a "spell" navigation mode like the Stream. Also, the PTP has a noticeable two-to three-second delay when moving by these levels, which can be time consuming and frustrating when trying to spell a word character by character. In addition, when it moves by sentence or paragraph, the PTP1 continues reading rather than stopping at each sentence or paragraph, which is again a problem when you read for detail.

The Stream's convenient Rewind and Fast Forward buttons are another navigation advantage over the BookSense and PTP1. This advantage is evident when you listen to books with a text format as well as recorded audio books, like those from NLS or audible.com. If you miss something while reading with the Stream, you can simply press the Rewind button to move quickly back 5 seconds per press to reread what you missed. Although the PTP1 has a Rewind feature, it is not as efficient because of the time it takes. You have to press and hold the left arrow to activate the rewind feature and wait several seconds for beeps to indicate you are rewinding. In text files, you move back five phrases per beep, which could move you a paragraph or up to several pages back, depending on the book's markup. In recorded audio files, each beep moves you back 5 seconds, but again it is inefficient. It takes 5.5 seconds to move back 5 seconds, and 11 seconds to move back 20 seconds. The BookSense performs even worse in this category because it has no rewind feature at all. It does have, however, a time-jump feature to move back or forward by 1-minute intervals in recorded books.

The PTP1 has the additional problem of not being able to speak the title of many Bookshare books when you arrow through your books. Instead of speaking the name of the books like the Stream and BookSense do, it speaks the first phrase in the book, which is often just the word "Notice." There is also a noticeable two-to three-second delay when you arrow through your books on the PTP1.

Search Feature

Although many of you may consider a search feature to be a navigation feature, it can be so crucial for a student that I decided to give it a section of its own. Although its search feature, of course, does not work in a recorded audio book, the Stream allows you to search for any word or phrase in a text or Bookshare file. To enter your search terms, you use the multi-tap method that many people use for composing text messages on their cell phones. However, the PTP has no search feature at all. Although the BookSense does have a search feature, it does not work in Bookshare books, and it has limited practical use, because instead of having the ability to enter a search term, you have to be positioned in your book on the actual word you want to find. You can see where this can be a problem. Imagine you want to find a passage in which a certain character is introduced in the book, and, of course, you will not be able to perform the search until you first find the scene in which the character is introduced.


If you are like me and find that a smaller player fits your active lifestyle, the BookSense is the smallest of these devices, with a total size of 5.7 cubic inches. The PTP is next at 7.3 cubic inches, and the Stream is the largest at 10.8 cubic inches. The PTP and BookSense weigh virtually the same at 3.9 and 4 ounces, respectively, but the Stream is 50% heavier at 6 ounces.

Recording Capabilities

Here is a category in which the PTP1 stands head and shoulders above the other two players, and the Stream actually comes out in third place. The Stream and BookSense both have the ability to record short memos, and you can also make longer recordings, such as of a lecture or other presentation. In addition, you can place bookmarks in the recording to make it easier to find certain parts of the recording. The BookSense records in MP3 or WAV formats, and can record in mono or stereo. The Stream records in the AMR-WideBand+ (AMR-WB+) audio format and only records in mono. The Stream is also limited in that you have to use the Stream's companion software to convert its recordings into WAV format if you want to listen to them on your computer.

The PTP1 has all the recording capabilities listed for the Stream and BookSense and can record in mono or stereo. However, it also has several more recording options and settings, and it can create its own DAISY recordings. It has six preset recording modes for such situations as when you are recording a lecture or making a recording from a CD or analog cassette. It also has the ability to customize your own recording modes with various parameters, such as the level of audio quality and the level of background noise. You can edit and insert headings into your DAISY recording, and it automatically places phrase markers at appropriate places, such as when a professor pauses during a presentation. The PTP1 also has a "Build Book" feature, which allows you to share your recording with others who have other DAISY hardware or software players.

Battery Life and Battery Charging

When testing the battery life of these players, we found their performance was consistent with the manufacturers' claims. The Stream provides about 16 hours of continuous play when fully charged, the BookSense provides 12 hours, and the PTP1 provides 10 hours. To charge fully from a drained battery, the BookSense takes roughly two hours using an AC adapter or five hours using a PC. The PTP1 takes four hours either way, and the Stream takes four hours using the AC adapter, but it cannot be charged with a PC. It should be noted that charging and the battery life of each of these devices are affected by use conditions and ambient temperature and their capacity to store a charge reduces over time.

Each device also has a command for announcing the remaining battery charge, and we like that the PTP1 announces it as a percentage, so you know exactly how much you have left. The BookSense provides the second-highest level of accuracy by reporting the charge level as a number between 1 and 10. The Stream simply announces the battery as being high, medium, low, or critically low. Each warns you when the battery needs to be charged.

Key Lock

Each of these players has the ability to lock the keys to avoid inadvertent key presses. The PTP1 and Booksense have a convenient slider switch on the side panel to unlock. However, the Stream has a harder-to-remember sequence of pressing and holding the asterisk (*) key to lock and holding down the 1, 2, and 3 keys in sequence to unlock.


Each of these players comes with accessible, well-organized user manuals in MS Word format on a CD. The manuals all describe the physical layout of the players well and provide all the information you need to learn to use the players. The PTP1 and Stream also come with the manuals pre-loaded. The PTP1 manual includes an extensive explanation of DAISY files for those who are interested and a convenient linked table of contents for easy navigation throughout the manual.

Low Vision

Although there is no display screen, and these devices are designed to be used primarily with non-visual techniques, people with low vision will be interested in the visual nature of the buttons and their labels. For people with low vision, one of the most important reasons for having large fonts and highly contrasting colors on these players is they will make them easier to learn to use. The PLEXTALK Pocket has a black case with a highly contrasting white number pad and navigation buttons. The number pad buttons are labeled with a black 16 point font. This highly contrasting, larger-font interface design is preferred by people with low vision, and it would be helpful if the BookSense and Stream would more closely follow its lead.


Here are a handful of items with a bit of information that may be of interest:

  • The BookSense and PTP1 both have a convenient clock, but the Stream does not.
  • The internal speakers on the BookSense and PTP1 are louder than the Stream's, but we would not consider any of them of a high-enough quality for listening to music.
  • The BookSense XT is the only device with a built-in FM radio. It has six presets and the ability to scan to the next station and to record radio broadcasts.
  • You have to turn off the PTP1 before you insert or remove the SD memory card.
  • It is easier to load content onto the PTP1 because you do not need to worry about putting different types of content into specific folders. You just load content on the memory card, and the PTP1 automatically organizes it.
  • Speaking as someone with dozens of AC adapters, I find it convenient that the AC adapter for the BookSense comes with a braille label on it.

The Bottom Line

People with vision loss now have three solid accessible digital audio players from which to choose, and these three products should push each other competitively toward even more higher-quality improvements. All of us in the AFB TECH lab who had a chance to use the devices agree each is a good-quality product with its own advantages. I still prefer the Stream for its superior navigation options and its search feature. However, if making recordings is your highest priority, the PTP1 would be the choice for you. Alternatively, if you prefer a built-in FM radio, 4GB of internal memory, the ability to read MS Word documents, and a smaller size, then the BookSense XT is for you. Also, if you like having a clock, then these two new players will be of interest.

There is one thing to keep in mind regardless of what I have written in this article. These are all software-based players, and we already know the manufacturers are committed to working on updates. In fact, just as I submitted this article to my AccessWorld editor, a new software update was announced for the PTP1, claiming enhanced navigation features. The software for the Stream has been regularly updated and improved since its introduction. You can check the manufacturers' web sites to learn of more updates, and you can download the user manuals to learn more details about each device.

Product Information

Product: PLEXTALK Pocket PTP1.

Manufacturer: Shinano Kenshi Co., 6-15-26, Chuo, Ueda-shi Nagano-ken 386-0012 Japan; phone: +81-268-28-8282; web site: www.plextalk.com., For links to U.S. distributors, go to http://www.plextalk.com/in/sales.html.

Price: $349.

Product: BookSense.

Manufacturer: HIMS Co., sold by GW Micro, 725 Airport North Office Park, Fort Wayne, IN 46825; phone: 260-489-3671; web site: www.gwmicro.com.

Price: Standard: $349; XT: $499.

Product: Victor Reader Stream.

Manufacturer: HumanWare: (800) 722-3393; web site: www.humanware.com.

Price: $349.

Manufacturers' Comments

GW Micro

Dear AccessWorld,

Many thanks for writing this article and for the chance to publish our comments.

  1. 1. BookSense description.
    • The time and date button gives the day of the week and also works regardless of whether the BookSense is powered on or off.
    • The record button has 2 small nibs to distinguish it from the Play/Pause button.
    • The standard microphone jack also doubles as a line in jack for use with an audio patch cable.
  2. 2. BookSense features.
    • RFB&D support is in progress but not yet available. We hope to have it in the next firmware.
    • Audible books support format 4 and enhanced. Currently, I believe only BookSense supports enhanced Audible.
  3. 3. Book and text navigation.

    • In the current 1.1 firmware, the navigation of sentence, line, page, word, character, and spell is available in all documents of the document reader, not just with text files, but also with rtf, doc, docx, html, xml, and brl. I.E. all supported electronic documents.
    • Currently, the DAISY reader in version 1.1 only allows navigation by the markup such as heading and phrase; however, in the new firmware release hopefully later in November or early December, the same navigation of sentence, word, character, etc. will also be available in DAISY text content.
    • Regarding movement by time, with firmware 1.1 the smallest increment in NLS books is 1 minute. However in all other audio books such as audible books or recorded mp3, smallest increments are 5 seconds. This has been corrected for the new firmware of the BookSense so the smallest increments are 5 seconds for all recorded material.

    Also, if you are in a document such as txt, rtf, ETC, you can move backwards or forwards by the selected section, sentence, word, character, page, etc.

  4. 4. Recording.
    • In addition to recording in MP3 or WAV, you can select the sampling rate which helps in determining the quality of your recording.
    • You can choose to record from a line in source such as a CD or cassette.
    • You can adjust the sensitivity of the microphone.
  5. 5. Miscellaneous
    • The clock speaks the day of the week as well.
    • The clock works regardless of whether the BookSense is on or off.
    • The speakers are stereo speakers.
    • You can record the radio in MP3 or WAV.
    • It should be noted the BookSense XT is the only unit of the 3 devices to have Bluetooth.
    • It should be noted the standard BookSense is ruby red while the BookSense XT is off-white.

Shinano Kenshi Co.

Dear AccessWorld,

We offer the updated version 3.0 firmware for the PLEXTALK Pocket via the PLEXTALK website www.plextalk.com

In addition to the formats listed in the article, version 3.0 now supports the following: Serotek, Microsoft Word.doc file formats, Unprotected Windows Media Audio (WMA), and Read How You Want.

  • Audible.com support by the end of December 2009.
  • Version 3.0 also includes the following improvements and enhancements.
  • PLEXTALK Pocket now announces the title of Bookshare content and can now properly navigate this content by page.
  • All key responses have been improved. A key confirmation sound or a voice prompt comes up more quickly after pressing a key.
  • PLEXTALK can now announce an album or track name.
  • Automatic bookmark numbering.
  • When you select a title after pressing the Title Key, Pocket PTP1 makes more simple announcements than the previous versions.
  • PLEXTALK plays text files more naturally when going to the next line.
  • We added two navigation levels for text playback; line and screen. Now you can navigate a text file by screen, paragraph, line, sentence, word, or character, and a DAISY title by heading (level 1 to 6), group, page, phrase, screen, paragraph, line, sentence, word, or character if such items are defined on the DAISY title.
  • We added a DAISY-like level navigation feature for html files by recognizing H1 through H6 heading levels.
  • We improved the recording sound quality by MP3 for DAISY recording and voice memos.
  • New MP3 high-quality modes when backing up a music CD. You can select 'MP3 256kbps high-quality' or 'MP3 128kbps high-quality' in addition to the previous modes, 'MP3 256kbps', 'MP3 128kbps,' and 'PCM'.
  • We enhanced the compatibility with a variety of MP3 formats.

For more information, please go to www.plextalk.com


Dear AccessWorld,

Your article is informative and objective, and we appreciate that AFB provides AccessWorld to inform the community. We would also like to provide the following additional information about the Stream.

Search: You mentioned the multi-tap search of the Stream, but the Stream also has the feature of finding the next occurrence of the word you are currently positioned at.

Battery: Some of our users tell us they appreciate that the Stream does not have a standby mode that uses battery power when the unit is powered off.

Bookmarking: We believe the Stream has the most extensive bookmarking features including simple, highlight, and audio bookmarking as well as an option to alert you during playback when you pass over a bookmark.

This includes auto-announcing your voice recording for an audio bookmark. Since an audio bookmark is equivalent to a print reader writing in the margins its value is enhanced by automatically playing that voice recording when you later replay the bookmarked passage. In other words, a print reader would see his margin comments so a talking book reader should similarly hear his voice comments.

Best regards,
The Team at HumanWare

This product evaluation was funded by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Access Issues

Screening Displays for Low Vision Access: A Look at Popular Audio Players and Book Readers

Products of all types now seem to have an embedded small visual display interface that creates a significant accessibility barrier (and opportunity) for people with vision loss. These displays are everywhere—on cell phones, digital watches and clocks, calculators, household appliances, home medical devices, such as blood pressure monitors, point-of-sale devices at store checkouts, bank ATMs, digital cameras, and exercise equipment, to name a few. These displays often have small fonts, poor contrast, glare, flashing or moving text, and colors that can be difficult to see, creating accessibility barriers to people who have low vision. Additionally, technology developers are dramatically shrinking the size of handheld devices and home electronics, using very small displays, resulting in condensed text and information.

AFB TECH recently examined several characteristics of small visual displays embedded in popular digital audio players and e-book readers, including: font size and type, the display's contrast level, and the resolution of the screen.

The readability of these small visual displays varies greatly from product to product, due to the display's quality. Higher quality displays most often exhibit brighter and more easily readable text. However, aside from display quality, display characteristics chosen by manufacturers, such as font size and type, and colors and display styles used, are also major factors affecting readability. For people with low vision, when comparing the readability of small visual displays and selecting products to purchase, it is important to consider all these factors.

This problem is made more severe, because manufacturers of small displays, unlike manufacturers of large displays such as computer monitors and televisions, do not have an industrial standard for display characteristics. This means there is no agreement among manufacturers about font size, color choice, display technology, or overall quality of the display used. As a result, readability can vary wildly between devices.

Last July, we published the article entitled, "Combating the Small Visual Display Invasion: AFB Works to Set a Display Quality Standard," in which AccessWorld readers learned of AFB TECH's initiatives to set a quality standard for small visual displays (SVDs). AFB TECH has received a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, to develop standards for small visual displays. As part of this project, AFB TECH has been working with the Rehabilitation Research & Development Center of Excellence at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, to validate a contrast standard to improve the overall accessibility of small visual displays for people with low vision.

Before looking at specific products, we provide this explanation of display measurements, as well as information explaining how we obtained them and why they are important for people with low vision.


Contrast is perhaps the most important characteristic determining readability of a small visual display. For a display to be easily read there needs to be a clear separation between the text and its background. Many lower-quality displays use dark text on a grayish or non-white background, which can make it very difficult to read. To facilitate high contrast, a display must be capable of displaying both very dark characters and very bright backgrounds, or vice-versa for those who see reverse polarity best.

Even high-quality displays can exhibit poor contrast through color choices made in the menu screens. If manufacturers choose a color scheme other than white and black for their devices, such as black-on-blue or white-on-gray, this can decrease the level of contrast. When taking contrast measurements, AFB TECH examines the contrast between the text and its background for the main screens in each of the devices and calculates a percentage value for its contrast. Contrast for small visual displays can range from around 30% (very poor) to 95% (very good).

Font Size and Type

Font size is a major issue for small visual displays, because the limited display size often leads to small and crowded text. For printed text, the American Printing House for the Blind recommends a minimum of 18 point font, which in Arial is 4.5 mm, but for many of these small visual displays the font can be as small as 1.7 mm. Even the largest default fonts are rarely larger than 3 mm, which can be a serious problem for people with low vision.

Additionally, the font style used can have a significant effect on readability. There are two basic font styles: serif and sans-serif. Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, use fine lines to add detail to characters, but this can have the effect of making the text thinner and more difficult to read. Sans-serif fonts are usually simpler in style and easier to read, thus are better for people with low-vision. In our measurements, we determine both the size and style of the fonts used for the menu screens in each of the devices.


All the small visual displays evaluated in this article are composed of thousands of tiny pixels that are used to create the images and text displayed. The more pixels a display has, the more detail it is capable of producing. Displays with fewer pixels are less capable of rendering detail, which often results in "blocky" shaped characters that are more difficult to read.

There are two ways to measure the amount of pixels on a screen. One method is resolution, a count of the total number of pixels horizontally and vertically in a display. For example, a display with a resolution of 320 x 240 would have 320 pixels horizontally and 240 pixels vertically. The resolution of small visual displays can vary from approximately 96 x 32 (low) to 800 x 600 (high).

A similar measurement to resolution is pixels per inch (PPI) which, as the name suggests, measures the number of pixels per inch of display diagonally. This, unlike resolution, is not related to the size of the display but reflects how sharply the screen can display images and text in a given area. This measurement is provided as a single number, and for small visual displays, it can range from around 30 (low) to 200 (high).

How do the Products Measure Up?

We compared display measurements of the Sansa Fuze, Microsoft Zune, iPod Classic, iPod Nano, iPhone, Sony eBook Touch Reader, and the Amazon Kindle.

The Sansa Fuze's main menu has a contrast of 88.14%, while its submenu has a contrast of 89.4%. It has a display resolution of 220 x 176, and a font size of 1.9mm.

The Microsoft Zune has a contrast measurement of 91.06% on its display, but when a menu item is selected the contrast drops to 59.68% making it actually more difficult to see than the other choices in the menu. Its display resolution is 320 x 240, and the maximum font size in its main menu is a very large 8.5 mm and has a minimum font size of 2.0 mm.

The iPod Classic has a display contrast of 91.44% and a resolution of 320 x 240. The font on its display measures 1.85mm.

The iPod Nano has a display contrast of 91.50%, and a display resolution of 320 x 240. It has a maximum font size of 1.90mm and a minimum font size of 1.71mm.

The iPhone has the highest contrast of any display we have measured to date with a 96.12% contrast and a display resolution of 320 x 480. It has a maximum font size of 3.89mm and a minimum font size of 1.87mm.

The Sony eBook Touch Reader used for reading electronic books has a display contrast of 41.7% which is notably lower than the previously listed devices. It has a display resolution of 800 x 600, with a maximum font size of 5.94mm and a minimum font size of 1.96mm.

Lastly, the Amazon Kindle has the lowest display contrast we have measured to date, with a 30.08% contrast measurement. Its display resolution is 600x 800; its maximum font size is 3.79mm, and its minimum font size is 1.80mm.

Because of the amount of variance in font size, contrast, and resolution in these displays, it is difficult to specify which display is the most accessible for people with low vision. Some devices, such as the iPod Nano, use high contrast with small fonts. Other devices, like the Microsoft Zune, have large characters with fairly poor contrast. Additionally, the two book readers, the Amazon Kindle and the Sony eBook Touch Reader, have a type of display that allows for large and adjustable font, but use a black-on-gray color scheme that has very poor contrast.

If you have difficulty reading small text in these types of devices, then the minimum font size for each of these digital audio players should be more important to you than the maximum font size; for a screen like the Zune, although the main menu has a very large 8.0mm size font, all submenus and text are much smaller. Likewise, for contrast values, some of these devices have differing levels of contrast, and the lowest level is what will likely cause the most problems when using it. Resolution, although important when comparing the amount of detail a display is capable of producing, does not have as large effect on low vision accessibility as contrast or font size. When purchasing a digital audio player or any product with a visual display, it is important to consider how important contrast, font size, and resolution are to your reading experience.

All of these characteristics combine to form a set of potential problems for consumers as well as manufacturers. AFB TECH hopes to measure as many small visual displays as possible, and make the data available for the benefit of people with low vision. As AFB TECH continues to expand its optics lab, we hope to measure more display characteristics, such as glare, and present the findings to industry, in order to make products more accessible to people with vision loss.

Sidebar for "Screening Displays for Low Vision Access"

How Measurements Were Taken

AFB TECH's custom-designed optics lab consists of four separate parts:

  • A platform to secure the device
  • A light source that shines a controlled level of light onto the small visual display
  • A digital camera which takes a precise image of the display
  • A dedicated computer which analyzes the display's image

As stated previously, contrast is the most critical measurement determining a display's readability. To calculate its value, we use a computer program developed in cooperation with Marshall University researchers and interns. This program takes the image of the display and calculates its contrast.

Information on a device's display resolution and PPI can often be found in its user manual or spec sheet. If that information is not available, we can determine the resolution by taking a picture of the entire display and counting its pixels horizontally and vertically. PPI is calculated through a formula using the vertical and horizontal size and pixel count of the display.

To determine font size, a reticle, which is a piece of glass with a very fine ruler printed on it, is placed on top of the display being measured. An image of the display is then taken with the reticle attached. That image is then viewed on a full-size monitor, so the font height can be precisely measured. Since font size can differ on a device from menu to menu, measurements for every menu on the devices were taken. Determining if the font is serif or sans serif is simply a matter of examining the letters to see if they have embellishments.

Why These Measurements are Important

Since SVDs can be found everywhere in this new digital era, it is becoming less of an option to find ways around seeing the display. Touch screen displays, for example, can be completely inaccessible to a person who does not have sufficient vision to read them. Fortunately for users of digital audio players, there are still options for those who are not able to read the displays including voice output and models that operate completely without a display. For people with low vision and who have the potential to read a display, contrast, font size, font style, resolution, and PPI all play a part in determining readability of a display.

Future Plans

The AFB TECH Optics Lab is under constant development to measure as many visual characteristics of small displays as possible. The lab is currently capable of taking measurements of contrast, font size, font style, and resolution/PPI, but work is being made to include measurements for other characteristics as well, including reflection. Reflection measures how reflective a display is and the amount of glare it gives off under normal lighting conditions. This has been found to be a major cause of inaccessibility for people with low vision, and will be part of the AFB TECH Optics Lab in the near future.

The goal of AFB TECH's optics lab is to take measurements of a wide range of devices with small displays, and use that information to create a user-friendly and accessible database to be posted on AFB TECH's website. This database will list the display measurements of hundreds of products, so consumers and manufacturers can determine which SVDs provide the best accessibility for low vision users. The completed database will also offer instructions and explanations on how to interpret the data, with easy-to-understand examples. This way, people with vision loss will be able to use the database to determine how accessible a particular display will be for them, based on its usability and the quality of its display.

Additionally, the database will be made available to manufacturers of SVDs, allowing these companies to gauge the accessibility of their displays against their competition. By providing detailed technical data to the manufacturers, it will be possible for them to determine the aspects that contribute to SVD accessibility and will hopefully encourage companies to make their displays readable to a larger population.

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Access Issues

Lighting Up Your World: A Closer Look at Illuminated Magnifiers

If traditional eyeglasses or contact lenses do not provide enough visual correction for a person to read printed material, he or she or a family member or friend will often purchase a magnifier. However, without a proper clinical low vision eye examination and guidance, few actually get the magnifier best suited to their needs.

In a two-part article, AccessWorld will report on the findings from a study of illuminated magnifiers conducted by AFB TECH in cooperation with the AFB Center on Vision Loss in Dallas. The study incorporates laboratory research and data collected from experts in the field of low vision, along with a survey of seniors with vision loss who use magnifiers. This project is being undertaken to provide relevant information to the increasing number of people with vision loss who are looking to acquire an illuminated magnifier. This information will enable consumers to become much better informed about these devices, and with the assistance of their professional eye care team, to select the magnifier best suited to their vision needs.

This first article in the series discusses the value of a proper clinical low vision examination, as well as several characteristics of illuminated magnifiers and why they are important to take into consideration when selecting an illuminated magnifier.

The Low Vision Examination

Once you have learned you have vision loss that cannot be completely corrected and could interfere with your everyday living, it is of the upmost importance to schedule an appointment with a low vision specialist. A low vision specialist is either an ophthalmologist or optometrist who is trained to conduct a special low vision eye examination.

The low vision examination includes a functional vision assessment to determine how your specific visual impairment affects your ability to perform everyday activities. The low vision specialist will assess your level of vision, prescribe and teach you how to use low vision devices, and recommend helpful services.

This may be a situation in which you need to be proactive. If it is not mentioned to you, ask your eye doctor about a referral to a low vision specialist. The low vision examination is especially important because it is customized to you and addresses your particular life situation. Depending on whether you are in school, in the workforce, or retired, the low vision specialist will work with you to help find ways to accomplish the tasks you need to perform.

In addition, the low vision specialist may recommend specialized reading training. This training can provide useful information and practice that will allow you to read faster and for a longer period. People with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), for example, benefit from eccentric viewing training. This training is important because AMD causes the loss of central vision. Central vision is, as the name suggests, the center of the visual field and normally provides the best ability to read print and see small detail. When this area is damaged, the person will need to use a magnifier to see small details in such tasks as reading or viewing photographs. For the person with AMD, it is important to train another area of the retina to function in place of the lost central vision. This training is called eccentric viewing training.

In combination, magnifiers and eccentric viewing training can greatly improve a person's reading ability and use of magnifiers. There are other conditions that also impair reading ability, and specific training for those types of vision loss can also improve the person's ability to use a magnifier.

Characteristics of Illuminated Magnifiers

The characteristics discussed in this article include the types of illuminated magnifiers, magnification levels, illumination levels, types of light bulbs, light color, battery life, size of the lens, and weight of the magnifier. The following are descriptions of these characteristics and a discussion of why they are important.

An array of illuminated magnifiers

Caption: Many sizes and shapes of illuminated magnifiers are available.

Types of Magnifiers

There are two types of illuminated magnifiers: handheld magnifiers, which are lighter and more compact models designed to be held in your hand, and stand magnifiers, which are larger and designed to be placed on a flat surface. Handheld magnifiers offer greater convenience and portability, but often at a cost to illumination and battery life.

Stand magnifiers usually feature an enclosure around the lens and a light source that most handheld magnifiers do not, which has the effect of making the magnified area much brighter. In addition, they usually use larger batteries, and although larger batteries lead to a heavier and bulkier device, they extend the battery life of the magnifier. Stand and handheld magnifiers both have their advantages, and it is important for you and your eye care team to consider which of the two types better suits your needs.

Magnification level

Magnification level is an important characteristic when trying to determine which magnifier is most appropriate for a person's needs. The magnification level is usually stated on the packaging and is an important criterion for many buyers when purchasing a new magnifier. The magnification level can vary greatly among models and generally ranges anywhere from 2x (low) to 14x (high).

When comparing magnifiers, it is important to remember a higher magnification level does not necessarily mean a better magnifier. The ideal magnification is dependent on a person's eye condition. A higher level of magnification will increase the amount by which the magnified text is enlarged, but it also reduces the total amount of text viewable through the magnifier. Thus, the higher the magnification, the smaller the viewable area or field.


A major feature of these illuminated magnifiers is their ability to brighten the magnified area via a light bulb built into the magnifiers. This feature can have the effect of increasing the contrast and brightness of the magnified area, making it easier to view, and while all these magnifiers can light up the viewed area, the total level of brightness, or illumination, can differ greatly from magnifier to magnifier. The illumination provided is a measure of the amount of light that passes through the magnifier. This value can range anywhere from 50 candelas per meter squared (low) to 5,000 candelas per meter squared (high).

As with magnification level, it is important to note brighter illumination does not necessarily mean increased readability for everyone. Depending on a person's visual diagnosis, a specific level of illumination may be required.

a woman's hand positioning an illuminated magnifier against the yellow pages of a phone book.

Caption: A woman uses an illuminated magnifier to read a phone number from the yellow pages of the phone book.

The amount of illumination is not the only relevant quality of the light used in an illuminated magnifier. The type of light bulb and the color of the light also play a role in readability.

Type of Light Bulb

Three types of light bulbs are commonly found in illuminated magnifiers: LED bulbs (a moderately bright, low-power consumption bulb), halogen bulbs (a bright, high-power consumption bulb), and incandescent bulbs (similar to the style of bulbs commonly found in households, but much smaller). The type of light bulb used affects the level of illumination, the color of the light, the amount of heat given off by the bulb, and the battery life.

Most illuminated magnifiers use LEDs, with older models still supporting incandescent bulbs and some of the more expensive magnifiers using halogen bulbs. A 2005 study by Bryan Gerritsen and Robert Christiansen entitled, "Contrast Sensitivity Function Testing and Magnifier Lighting Preference," showed the lower a person's contrast sensitivity, the more likely he or she was to prefer halogen light bulbs, but there were still many people who preferred incandescent or LED bulbs. A drawback of using halogen bulbs is they usually require the magnifier to be plugged into a wall outlet to operate, making it less portable. LED bulbs, while not offering the same level of brightness, require less power to operate than either halogen or incandescent bulbs and can last much longer. So, it is important to realize not one type of bulb is best for everyone. Advice on which type of illumination is best for an individual is another benefit of a low vision evaluation.

Color of Light

The color of light emitted from the magnifier can play an important role in the readability of the magnified area. It is related to the type of light bulb used; LEDs normally give off a bluish light, incandescent bulbs give off a yellowish light, and halogen bulbs give off a yellow-white color. There is no one "best" option when it comes to the color of light, because it depends upon the needs of the specific person. Different people will respond differently to different-colored illumination.

Battery Life

Battery life is an important measurement for illuminated magnifiers for two reasons. It measures how long a magnifier will function before the batteries die and how much illumination is lost when weaker batteries are used. A drop in battery power often leads to a drop in illumination provided by the magnifier, which can result in decreased readability. After a magnifier is used for 24 hours, it is not uncommon for it to lose a third of its battery power and have its illumination drop by more than 50%. This measurement is also related to the type of light bulb being used; for instance, LEDs consume little power and can last for many hours before draining a set of batteries, while incandescent bulbs consume more power and will not last as long. Some magnifiers use AC adapters and need to be plugged into wall outlets to operate, so they cannot be operated by battery power.

Size of the Magnifying Lens

The size of the magnifying lens does not have any effect on its level of magnification, but is still an important measurement. A larger lens will allow you to view a larger area, but can be more difficult to move around the page or take with you. When you purchase a magnifier, it is important to determine the best size for the tasks you want to accomplish. If you plan on reading large documents, a larger lens may be more useful. However, if you need a magnifier only for spot reading, it may be more appropriate to choose a smaller lens. Lens sizes generally range from 1 to 3 inches in diameter for round illuminated magnifiers and 1 inch by 1 inch (small) to 3 inches by 4 inches (large) for rectangular illuminated magnifiers. Higher magnification lenses are usually smaller than low magnification lenses because they have to be much thicker. This makes creating a large high-magnification lens less practical for handheld use because it would be too heavy.


Weight is another important characteristic of magnifiers, particularly for magnifiers that need to be held above the viewed area. A heavier magnifier can be more difficult to hold or move around a page for extended periods. Even stand magnifiers, which rest on a flat surface, can be difficult to move around the page if they are particularly heavy. Although magnifiers rarely get heavier than 1 pound, this can still be a considerable weight when used often. Handheld magnifiers generally range from 3 to 7 ounces, while stand magnifiers are typically heavier and can range from 6 to 14 ounces.

By explaining the need for a clinical low vision evaluation from a qualified eye care professional and identifying the pertinent characteristics of illuminated magnifiers, we hope to begin building your information base about illuminated magnifiers.

In the next installment of this two-part article, we will discuss AFB TECH's optics lab, measurements we are in the process of taking of popular illuminated magnifiers, as well as the measurement procedures. We will also report on a survey of seniors who use illuminated magnifiers, to add valuable "real-life" perspectives on the benefits and limitations of these useful devices.

Woman holding a handout up with one hand, and positioning the illuminated magnifier against the paper with her other hand

Caption: A woman uses an illuminated magnifier to read handouts from a meeting.

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Web Accessibility

Go Shopping and Let Your Screen Reader Do the Walking

This holiday season, are you dreading long lines, salespeople who are not able to help you, and going from store to store to find that perfect gift? If so, it may be time to consider online shopping. You can shop to your heart's content from the comfort of your home or anywhere else where you have access to a computer and the Internet. These online stores never close.

If you decide to try some online shopping, be sure to use only reputable web sites. Most major retailers have them. If you are not sure about a web site, ask advice from people you know. When shopping online, you will be giving personal information, including your address and credit card numbers. An item may be slightly cheaper, but you do not want to use a site without a good reputation. Check any web site's return policy, because some are better than others. For example, if you order clothes from landsend.com, you can return them to the company or to any Sears store.

What to Expect During Your First Online Shopping Experience

Not all online shopping web sites are easily accessible for people with visual impairments who use screen access technology. Many web sites still use unlabeled graphics, unclear links, and forms that do not speak all the necessary information. If you encounter a web site with significant accessibility issues, try another site. There are many accessible, reputable online shopping sites out there. Try not to get frustrated. It takes time to learn all the skills for online shopping. For practice, try Amazon.com's accessible site, www.amazon.com/access. Search for something specific, such as the name of a CD or author. A full description of the site is presented later in the article. Since it is an easy site to use, it may be a good starting place.

The majority of online shopping web sites contain many links on their pages. Although these links may seem overwhelming, if they are clearly labeled, they can be searched and navigated with a little practice. Unfortunately, some web sites still use unlabeled links, which sound like gibberish when your screen reader reads them. This problem usually occurs when the web site developer has not associated meaningful text with the link (the dreaded "click here" or "learn more" links), or has not provided alt text for an image that is serving as a link.

Depending on the verbosity settings on your screen reader, a great deal of information, including the number of lists, headings, and tables can be read when a new web page loads. This information may be useful when trying to locate items. Each web site has its own specific layout, so while some may use many headings, another may use only lists.

There is usually more than one way to search for an item. Almost all web sites use a search form. Along with that form, there are other ways web sites design search features, such as by department and price. As you familiarize yourself with each web site, you will figure out which method works best for you.

Getting Started

Online shopping is somewhat easier if you are familiar with your screen reader's form controls, including edit boxes, combo boxes, and check boxes. So that you do not have to read everything on a web page, learn your screen reader's navigation keys for headings, tables, links, and finding words or phrases. These hot keys can save you a significant amount of time.

All shopping web sites use some kind of search form consisting of an edit box and search button. Some sites also have a combo box to narrow results during the initial search. There are also links on the page to bring the user to a specific category, such as electronics, toys, or jewelry. All these links have sublinks where there is more specific information about each category. For example, a jewelry link may have links for earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. When you use an edit box for a search, try to be specific, but do not use too many words.


Before you purchase items, you will need to register with the web site or at least provide information on where to ship your items and how you will pay for them. Some web sites require registration while others do not. Once you are registered, many web sites make it much easier to use their sites again to purchase items. You may have to enter only your user name and password, rather than provide all the extra information.

Each site uses different forms for registration. The web site will ask for a user name or e-mail address. You will need to create a password, and most web sites have you reenter the password to make sure it is correct. Your address and phone number will be entered in edit boxes. Sometimes edit boxes for phone numbers have the area code in one box, the first three digits in the next, and the last four digits in the final edit box. Some forms have the entire phone number in one edit box. There is usually a separate line for your city and a combo box for your state. To pay for your items, you need to provide a valid credit card number. Your credit card choice is usually done with a combo box; then there is an edit box for the card number, followed by combo boxes for expiration month and year. There may be check boxes or radio buttons to choose whether you want to receive e-mail information from this web site. Some sites send information about special promotions, such as free shipping or sales. Read the form carefully before you fill it out. There is always the possibility a form control will not speak when you are in "forms mode," because the developer has not used label tags appropriately.

This article looks at target.com, walmart.com, overstock.com, jcpenny.com, llbean.com, and amazon.com's accessible web site. Web sites were evaluated on a computer running Windows XP, Internet Explorer 8.0, and Window-Eyes 7.1.1. Throughout this article, the word, "click," means using a screen reader's mouse left click hot key, rather than the physical mouse. Web sites can change on a regular basis, so they may look slightly different when you visit them.


The advantage of shopping at Target is that it has a wide variety of merchandise, so you have to navigate only one web site. When Target's home page loads, more than 200 links are presented. By using your screen reader's headings hot key, you can quickly get an overview of the page. Although there are many links, they are clearly labeled.

The search form is easy to find by using your screen reader's form controls, in Window-Eyes the letter C or Shift-C. JAWS users can use F or Shift-F. The first control is an edit box to type in the item for which you want to search. The next control is a link, so just ignore it and go to the next control, which is a combo box containing categories, such as toys, electronics, and music. Find the category you want and then move to the next control, which is the Search button. For this web site, I entered "Barbie" in the edit box and chose "toys" from the combo box.

I received many search results, but by using my screen reader's headings hot key, there were ways to filter them: by age, character, and price. I filtered by price, and under that heading were several links with various price ranges, including how many search results were within the designated price range. I clicked on the link that said "0–$25." That link also told me there were 94 items that matched my criteria. I could then filter these results further with various links, such as age range and departments.

To read my results, I could navigate by headings until I landed on the Results heading, or use the Find command and search for the word, "results." Once I found them, there were ways to customize the display, including by price, popularity, and number of results per page. Target also offers ways to customize the view by columns. After reviewing my results, I decided on the Barbie Doggie Park Doll—Caucasian. Right under the doll's name was the price. On the next line was a link to add the item to my shopping cart, and under that link was a store search for the doll.

Since I wanted more information, I clicked on the link that had the name of the doll. This link activated a page that had a photograph of the doll and would have had reviews if any were available. To find the information on this page, I used my screen reader's form hot key until I came to the edit box for how many dolls I wanted to add to my cart. By default, the number is 1. From there, I was able to read the information posted by using the arrow keys. Unfortunately, there was no description of the doll. The information did tell me the doll was in stock, and it was available online and at Target stores. To add it to my cart, I found the Add to Cart button, and when the next page loaded, the item was in my cart. Finding this information just involved using the forms hot key to look for the quantity. There are buttons to keep shopping or to check out. Once you are a registered customer of target.com, the checkout process is much quicker.

Woman wearing headphones browses Target.com

Caption: A woman uses her screen reader to navigate sites while doing holiday shopping.

Getting Help

Target.com provides customer assistance through e-mail and by phone. The number for assistance by phone is (800) 591-3869. By calling this number, I was quickly transferred to a representative who answered my questions. I asked if merchandise bought on target.com could be returned to any local Target store. The representative replied that some items can but some cannot. I then told the representative I was blind and asked if she could please give me a description of the doll. She gave me a detailed description, including what the doll looked like and what clothes it was wearing.

The Bottom Line

Do not let target.com's many links intimidate you, because items are clearly labeled and organized. Competent phone help is also available if you need it.


Overstock.com's home page opens with 191 links. The items are grouped in lists, such as jewelry, clothing, and electronics. There are many lists and several numbered links to get to view them all. To find the various lists, use your screen reader's list hot key. This hot key will tell you the list number and how many items are in the list. To read the list title, arrow up one line. Within each list category there are many sublinks. For example, for the electronics link, there are sublinks that include televisions, home theatre systems, and DVD players. There are links to view all items in a category and links to view the category's clearance items.

The search form is easily located and consists of an edit box and a search button. To find search results, look for the words, "Your Search," and all results will appear directly under those words. I searched for Barbie and got 180 results in several categories, such as entertainment, jewelry, and electronics. Each category listed how many results were present. For example, entertainment yielded 164 results and electronics had 2. I could sort my results by price, with the low amount being under $5, which had 38 results, and $5 to $10 having 33.

As I continued to look for items and click on their links, I could find the information on an item by using my screen reader's hot key for form controls and find the edit box for the quantity of an item. By arrowing up, I could get more information. There is a place for an item's complete description, but descriptions were not available for many of the items I checked. At the beginning of an item's listing, there may be a brief description. For example, I clicked on a link that said, "Barbie" on my list of results. I thought I would be getting information about a doll, but instead the item was about a Barbie reading series.

I added the item to my cart, with the Add to Cart button. When the next page loaded, I could read the contents of my cart by using the Window-Eyes table hot key. Under the total cost of all items in the cart is a link that ends with Login. If you are a new customer, the first form control brings you to an edit box for your e-mail address. Above the edit box, it says, "Are you a new customer?" The registration form was easy to complete, with all edit, combo, and check boxes speaking.

Getting Help

Overstock.com has a FAQ (frequently asked questions) link. There are also options for e-mail support, live chat, and a toll-free phone number: (800) The-BIG-O. I called customer support and asked if Overstock.com had any actual Barbie dolls. I explained I was blind and there were many Barbie results. The representative was helpful, doing the search for me and reading the descriptions of each doll. Also, as I searched the web site for other items, I found many did have accompanying descriptions.

The Bottom Line

Overstock.com's site is well organized and presents many items. Customer assistance is helpful.

JC Penny

The JC Penny web site's home page contains 190 links. These links are clearly labeled, and a user can search categories by using their screen reader's hot key for lists. The list hot key read the list number and how many items it contained. By arrowing down, I was able to find the list title, which was presented as a link. Under that link were sublinks for different sections of the department. There is a site search form that is easily found and consists of an edit box and a Search button.

To review this web site, I went looking for a skirt. Since I am five feet tall, I needed to find a skirt in a petite size. By reviewing the site, I used my list hot key and found the list for women's clothing, and under that list, I found a link for the Petite Department. I could have typed in the words "petite skirt" in the search form, but since it was so easy to find the link to the Petite Department, I chose that method.

When the Petite Department's page loaded, there were combo boxes to shop by size and/or brand. I selected my size from the combo box, and when I pressed tab to check if there were other form controls, a new page loaded that contained items in my size. There was no Submit button or link. The same was true for the brand combo box. I could filter my results further by item, such as pants, skirts, and tops. The results were displayed in a table format, which was located by using the find table hot key.

Additional combo boxes were displayed to choose color and skirt length, along with the same combo boxes for size and brand. Each result seemed to have identical links except the first link said the name of the garment, and the link just below it said the name of the garment and its price.

Once I found a skirt, I clicked on its link and looked for form controls to give me options for color and quantity. The skirt's description was above the combo boxes and just under the words, "print this page." The description was good, but it did not give the length of the skirt. All I knew was the skirt came below the knee because that is what I chose from the combo box for skirt length. Under the Add to Bag button, there are links for other garments that may be of interest. Under those links, there are product reviews, if available. As I looked for other skirts, frequently after only about one or two minutes, when I used Alt-Left Arrow to go back to the results page, I got the message the web page had expired. This message can be frustrating, especially if you have to go through several pages to get back to your results.

Once I finished shopping, the Shopping Bag link was clearly labeled. When I reviewed the bag's contents, I found the description of the items in the bag was good. There is also a check box at the end of each item's listing to remove the item. To have an item removed, check its box. Form controls are needed to find the button that says, Apply Changes.

The Check Out button is clearly labeled, and JC Penny gives the user the option to become a registered shopper or just to provide the necessary information for the current order. Registration and checkout are straightforward.

Getting Help

JC Penny provides online help. There is also a toll-free number 7 days a week, 24 hours a day (800)-322-1189. I called customer service to inquire about the length of the skirt I liked. The original representative could not find the answer, so she checked with a supervisor who had the information. Also, items purchased online can be returned to any JC Penny store.

The Bottom Line

This web site is relatively easy to navigate, and customer support was helpful. My main frustration was I was sometimes unable to go back to my results page, because the page expired very quickly.


Walmart.com is another site that contains many items and categories. The online shopper is presented with 461 links on walmart.com's home page. The search form consists of an edit box and a button that says "Find." There is one list that gives the store's departments, such as electronics, jewelry, and apparel. Farther down the page, these departments are listed in more detail. For example, the electronics link has links for audio, iPods & MP3 players, and cell phones. The only way to find information is to tab through the various links, search for a word, or use your screen reader's links hot key and figure out what the link's name should be. There are no lists or headings to get there quickly.

I used the search feature and looked for the Creative Zen Stone MP3 player. In the search box I typed "Creative Zen Stone." The easiest way to find results was to use the Find hot key for the word "results." There were no headings, lists, or links to get there more quickly. I was informed my search did not have any exact matches, but there was a list of partial matches. The results were clearly displayed and could be narrowed by department, price, brand, or memory capacity of the player. I chose to view all the Creative products. When the next page loaded, there were still opportunities to filter the results by such parameters as memory capacity and color of player.

Each item in the results list was clearly described, including shipping price, availability in Wal-Mart stores, and the player's features. Activating a player's link brings shoppers to a page to add the player to their cart. To find this answer easily, use form controls to find the Add to Cart button. Arrow up and down to read additional information and other recommendations. There may also be customer reviews.

After I activated the Add to Cart button, it appeared the same page loaded again. I was back to the same button and could not find a link to determine whether my product was added. Arrowing up, I determined the item was in my cart. I could have searched for the words, "most recently added." There were options to edit my cart, check out, and so forth. The checkout process is straightforward.

Getting Help

Wal-Mart's Help section can be found at www.walmart.com/help. There is a link for help with registration on the registration page. Phone help is also available by calling (800) 966-6546. The representatives are helpful. I asked a question about an MP3 player, and the representative found the answer and was courteous.

The Bottom Line

This site takes a bit of extra work to navigate. However, it has many products and is known for having low prices. Live help is available if you need it.

L.L. Bean

L.L. Bean's home page contains 247 links and a search form consisting of an edit box and a button that says, "Go." There are many headings and lists. Moving around the page by headings will give the item category, but will not tell you if the items are for men, women, children, and so forth. The same can be said for moving around by lists. Either way, you would need to arrow around to determine who these items are for. Of course, you can use your screen reader's links hot key and type M for men, W for women, and so on. All links are clearly labeled.

For this review, I searched for a sweater to give as a gift. The word "sweater" went into the edit box. By performing a search for the words, "search results," I could check what L.L. Bean had to offer. The first results were for men's and women's cashmere sweaters. A few lines farther down the page was a list of how many sweaters were available for men, women, and children and which were on sale. I was looking for a sweater for a woman, and the web site said 46 sweaters were available. If I had written "women's sweaters" in the edit box, I would have gotten to my desired selection more quickly.

L.L. Bean allows the user to choose how the search results are displayed by a combo box. Options include newest, price low to high, price high to low, and recommended. Once the choice is selected, hitting the enter key will organize the results. By using form controls to find the combo box, you are automatically just above your results.

Reading the search results can be tricky. If you arrow down, you will discover the results are in groups of tables. If you tab through links or arrow down, it will sound like the name of each sweater is repeated. In fact, this is not the case. Ignore the second read through. The next section of the table is the price, so you have to count how many lines down the table the item is that you want to check, and then you can locate its price. For example, the women's North Haven Sweater was the first on the list. Arowing down, it was the first price listed. With sighted assistance, I also discovered there were star ratings, but they were presented as an unlabeled graphic.

If you find an item of interest, click on its link, and when the next page loads, look for the word, "data." Below that word will be information about the garment, including a description and any reviews or star ratings. Within the description is a link for more details. Item selection is done with combo boxes for size and color. Pants also have an inseam combo box. There is an Add to Bag button. Below the item's information and Shopping Bag button are several other suggestions to purchase.

To view the contents of the shopping bag, activate the Shopping Bag link. When the new page loads, use form controls to find the edit box for an item's quantity. There are options to make changes to the items in your bag. Below the contents is information on the estimated cost of shipping and buttons to keep shopping and check out. L.L. Bean's checkout procedure is straightforward.

Getting Help

L.L. Bean has a FAQ section, e-mail help, and phone assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (800) 441-5713. The phone assistance is excellent.

The Bottom Line

This web page can be a bit cumbersome to navigate, but phone assistance is available if you need it.

Amazon's Accessible Web Site

Amazon.com's accessible web site makes finding items relatively easy. The home page opens with only 18 links. The web site's search form consists of an edit box and a search button.

Toward the bottom of the page are links for books, DVDs, music, electronics, and more. The music link brought up a list of Amazon's top sellers. The second item on the page was Soul Book by Rod Stewart. Under the title was information about the price and shipping cost.

Clicking on the link brought up a page with the same information on the previous page plus reviews and a link for product details. This page had information on the CD's release date and Amazon.com's sales ranking. It also had a list of tracks, but offered no way to listen to snippets of the songs (a feature that is available on the main site). The Add to Cart button is easily accessible.

Once the initial search results are displayed, the search form offers options for refining the results. I put the word, "earrings," in the search form. A list of different earrings appeared on the next page. There was a combo box for sorting my results, but not all the options worked. I performed another search using the word "Lego" in the search form. This time the Sorting combo box allowed me to sort by best selling, but not other options, such as price or average customer review.

Amazon is also linked to other retailers. For example, it is linked with Sephora for certain beauty products. However, all the information and controls are provided by Amazon, so there are no accessibility issues.

When checking out, be sure to check the shipping costs. Many of Amazon's items are available for free shipping if the total cost of all your items is $25 or more. If the item is available for free shipping, this information will be included as part of the item's description. When you are ready to check out, the Place Your Order button is way above the place to make shipping changes. By default, Amazon does not automatically give the discount. You must go farther down the page to Shipping Speed and activate the button under it. Doing so will bring up a page where you can select shipping through radio buttons. The top button is for free shipping. Once you have made your selection, activate the Continue button.

You will be brought back to the page for checkout. There are options to make any changes to your order, including the quantity of an item, a different credit card, or any gift options. If you are satisfied everything is correct, activate the Place Your Order button.

Getting Help

Amazon has a page with help topics but does not offer live help.

The Bottom Line

Although Amazon does not have live help, it is easy to navigate and use. Because of its wide range and list of products, it is best if you have some idea of what you want to purchase.


Online shopping is convenient and can be fun. Take your time going through web sites. Sometimes using a search form works better, and sometimes it is easier to search by links. Having a competent customer service representative can make your shopping experience a lot less frustrating, if you have a question or problem. Although Amazon's web site does not offer live help, it is an easy site to use. If you plan on buying gifts for the holidays, start shopping early.

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Product Evaluation

Bosch Puts New Spin on Washer and Dryer Controls

Bosch Vision 500 series front-loading washers and companion dryers feature new control panels with far fewer buttons than is customary in today's high-tech laundry equipment. The controls on both washers and dryers resemble the traditional controls of washing machines of yesterday by using a main rotary control with click settings for fabric type and washing temperature.

On the washers, the rotary control is divided into three regions offering separate choices for "Hot," "Warm," and "Cold" temperature for both Cotton and Permanent Press fabrics. The control has a mechanical feel, clicking into place as the control is turned. Continuing the somewhat retro theme, a subtle, but clearly identifiable notch on the outer edge of the dial indicates the pointer for the main control. Since both fabric type and washing temperature are selected with a single choice, there are only a few additional buttons to manage. These include a Spin Speed selector, Delay Start, Echo Wash control, and a Final Rinse control. Pressing any of these controls will result in a positive mechanical action. The Spin Speed selector always returns to the same selection for a given cycle, meaning that knowing the order of speeds makes it possible to count button presses for the desired speed, if different from the default. A smooth and spacious region behind the cycle selector appears to offer ample room for tactile or braille marking for at least some cycles. While the mechanical feel of the controls is quite good, in our opinion, there are fewer beeps or tones than in other front-loading units.

Controls on the dryers employ the same concept, and are even more basic and offer similar tactile characteristics. Again, separate regions of the dial selector are devoted to Permanent Press and Cotton fabrics. In each, either 3 or 4 levels of dryness are offered. A "Time Dry" region of the dial provides times in 20-minute increments from 20 to 80 minutes. A "Temperature Control," optional "Steam Dry," and a "Start" button complete the control panel.

Note: We reviewed the four Bosch Vision 500 machines at our local Lowes store. Best Buy, which carried Bosch equipment in the past, has discontinued the line.

Bosch Front-Loading Vision 500 Washers and Dryers

Bosch Dryer WTVC5330US
$998 (Lowes)
Includes steam feature and smooth-textured chrome ring around window opening.

Washer WFVC5400UC
$998 (Lowes)
Offers both spin speed and delay start controls, with smooth chrome ring around window.

Less Elaborate Bosch Models

Bosch Dryer WTVC3300US
$898 (Lowes)
Has no steam feature, white, somewhat textured, plastic ring around window opening.

Bosch Washer WFVC3300US
$898 (Lowes)
Has no delay start control, white plastic ring around window.

AccessWorld's Top Laundry Picks

While AccessWorld does not report on the cleaning ability of laundry equipment, we do believe you may find an accessible choice for your laundry room among the following. Other brands offer a variety of control characteristics and behaviors, some of which may also meet your needs.

Top-Loading Washer with Companion Dryer

Maytag Bravos — Most Accessible

Front-Loading Washer with Companion Dryer

Full-Size Whirlpool Duet — Most Accessible
Bosch Vision 500 Series — Very Accessible

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Cool Stuff in Every Pocket: An Interview with Fred Gissoni

My friend, Michael Lichstein, a clinical psychologist who is blind, once told me I was reminding him of Fred Gissoni. I considered it the highest of compliments. We were having lunch, and I had pulled a few of the latest "gadgets" of interest to blind people, maybe a Book Port, a Victor Reader Stream, or an Olympus 40, whatever I was reviewing at the time, out of my bag to show him. When Michael was a child, he said, he and his mother would sometimes meet with Fred, and it seemed, as Michael recalled, "He just kept pulling amazing objects out of his pockets to show us."

I love that image of Fred Gissoni, the legendary blind pioneer who has a droll sort of humor that has me smiling throughout any conversation with him, and who has gently, humbly devoted his life to learning and sharing that learning with other blind people. Since 1988, Fred Gissoni has been with the customer relations department of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). That was a job he took, incidentally, after a 30-year career and retirement from the technical services unit of the state agency that was then called the Kentucky Department for the Blind. He provides tech support for various APH products, but he also just generally answers questions. So renowned is he for answering questions, the popular APH database and blog created to disseminate tidbits of information of relevance to every aspect of blindness was named for him: Fred's Head.

Fred Gissoni

Caption: Fred Gissoni

Fred Gissoni was born in New Jersey. Blind since birth, he did not, as he tells it, go to one of the five widely renowned schools for the blind in that area, but rather, to a resource room in a public school, first in Garfield, NJ, and later in Hackensack. He was interested in amateur radio at age six or seven, and although it would be a while untill he actually obtained his license, that marked the beginning of a lifelong passion for all things technical.

His first job was in a factory, drilling holes in radio brackets. He had already obtained a four-year degree from Rutgers University (or "universable" as he says in his whimsical way) and had begun work on a master's degree at New York University. During his internship with the New Jersey Commission in 1954, he met the love of his life, Betty, who was also working as a teacher for the commission. The two were married in her home state of Kentucky in 1956, the same year that Fred took a job with a subsection of Kentucky's Department of Education. His boss was the legendary Tim Cranmer, a combination that would bode well for blind people everywhere.

Gissoni and Cranmer learned the abacus together, and Gissoni wrote detailed instructions for its use. That book, "Using the Cranmer Abacus," is still available from the American Printing House, as is the abacus itself. Fred wrote and taught a course on use of the abacus for the Hadley School for the Blind as well.

His passion for sharing information and teaching others has been so widespread and abundant, it's difficult to catalog. While he worked some conventional resume builders into his full-time career (part-time teaching at the University of Kentucky, for example) he has written and shared how-to and other information far and wide throughout the blindness field. He wrote for Dialogue magazine for four years, and developed materials for the Hadley School for the Blind. He was one of the earliest contributors to TACTIC magazine, a quarterly publication on access technology I founded and edited from 1985–1999. Whenever I received an article from Fred, I knew it would be interesting and require little editing. What made his contributions particularly unusual, though, was I never had to ask. If Fred learned something new or interesting, or just thought of a new or interesting way of accomplishing a task, he would write an article about it.

In terms of the technology blind people are using today, what stands out most notably in the work of Fred Gissoni would probably be the development of the Pocketbraille and Portabraille, collaborations of Fred Gissoni and Wayne Thompson, while the two were colleagues at the Kentucky Department for the Blind. The Pocketbraille was built to be housed in a videocassette box (one for a VHS cassette, which was state-of-the-art in the mid 1980s.) One could enter data from a Perkins-style keyboard and hear it spoken through speech. When Fred learned of a braille display manufacturer in Italy, the project grew into a refreshable braille device called Portabraille. With the Portabraille, a person could enter data and read it in braille, and could transfer that data to a computer for storage or manipulation. You couldn't store the data; you could simply write it and "dump it" as Fred explains, but it represented an astonishing breakthrough in terms of braille and portability at the time. The Kentucky Department made only 12 Portabraille units — two of which enabled blind people to retain their jobs. Rather than making a profit from the machines themselves, Gissoni and Thompson sold the detailed instructions for building the device for $5, and directed interested individuals to Southland Manufacturing for the circuit boards. About 200 copies of those instructions were purchased — by individuals representing 45 states and 20 other countries. One of the people interested in those plans and circuit boards was Deane Blazie, who had worked as a teenager for Tim Cranmer and became a lifelong friend. Deane Blazie's interest in those plans, of course, led to the birth of the Braille 'n Speak, a truly revolutionary product for the blind.

When Deane Blazie showed the Braille 'n Speak to Fred Gissoni, Fred was so excited he did what his generous teacher instinct always prompted him to do. He shared the information. He sat down and made a recording, explaining all of the amazing features of this brand-new product. He also wrote an article which appeared in the Fall 1987 issue of TACTIC, recommending the product as a portable, versatile, $895 constant companion. When asked about his own inventions, though, Fred Gissoni does not distinguish between high tech and low. He is particularly proud of the Janus Slate, for example, the double-sided interline braille slate that holds a three-by-five index card for brailling on both sides. When I asked him why the name Janus, he replied, "Well, Janus was the Roman God of portals. But I like to tell people that he was the Roman God of braille, and since we didn't actually have braille for several hundred more years, he didn't have much to do." And yes, that is a sampling of what I like to think of as vintage Fred Gissoni banter.

Other inventions he developed for APH were also small items including a pocket braille calendar and a gadget he called FoldRite, which simplified folding an 8-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper into thirds.

Similarly, when asked about his proudest accomplishments, he doesn't mention Portabrailles or courses teaching blind people to be competitive in math class. Instead, his reply involved people. "I think my proudest accomplishments would be introducing Larry Skutchan to APH and, on another occasion, letting a capable woman who worked switchboard know about a job in customer relations, hoping that she would apply. She did and went on to head the department."

Where does this spirit of generosity come from? Fred seems unaware of his own generosity, of course, but when pressed for explanation he points out that many people were generous with him when he was young. There was a high school teacher, he recalls, who made raised-line drawings for him (by hand and on his own time) to clarify concepts in science and math. And there were many people involved with amateur radio who shared information willingly as he was learning.

Although he has plenty of tech savvy (using a computer daily and providing tech support for such products as the APH Braille Plus Mobile Manager), he continues to use the abacus and is never without a slate and stylus. "Batteries die and chips fail," he says simply.

Ham radio has been a favorite pastime for Fred Gissoni since childhood, and still claims much of his time (although he says the apartment he now lives in is "electronically noisy." He is active with his church, on the parish committee and has a variety of duties including putting up signs for Sunday school. In the past, he enjoyed swimming, some cross-country skiing, and for over 30 years walked to work each day, but today he gets a ride to work from a friend and is more likely to be found exercising hands and brain exchanging emails or working out a technical problem. You can find him on the social networking site Linked-In, but he says this is only because he responded to the invitation of a colleague and not due to any personal interest. Don't ask him to sign up for MySpace or Facebook, he says, because he doesn't have time for that sort of thing.

Fred Gissoni will celebrate his 80th birthday on December 21, 2009. Yet, he still works five days a week, eight hours a day, at the facility he affectionately refers to as "the AP&H." Why doesn't he retire?

There are four things, he told me, which could cause that to happen.

  • "AP&H says 'We've had enough of you; please go.'"
  • "Health gets to the point that it is not possible."
  • "I'd need to take care of Betty." (His wife of 53 years was diagnosed with Alzheimer's three years ago, and moved this year to a nursing home.) Or
  • "It isn't fun any more."

Although Fred Gissoni has more than his personal share of health concerns, he apparently doesn't believe that the second criterion has been met. APH has clearly not had enough of him. His wife is cared for by others, and perhaps most importantly, he told me: "It's still fun!"

On the Fred's Head web site, APH refers to him as a legend. He is that. But Fred Gissoni is also a treasure — who has shared his tips, techniques, knowledge, genius, and generous spirit with blind people everywhere for 80 years — and is still having fun doing it. You might say his magic trick of pulling cool stuff for blind people from every pocket is not finished.

To learn more about Fred Gissoni, products mentioned in this article, or to visit Fred's Head, go to www.aph.org.

A note about Fred's Head: Fred Gissoni was initially hired by APH as a consultant, a person to answer far-ranging questions about blindness, assistive technology, or anything else — because there was so much information stored in his head! Thus, the Fred's Head site evolved and was so named. Today, the site, which is maintained by Michael McCarty, is a constantly growing collection of tips and techniques on any topic — e.g., abacus, advocacy, audio description, braille, carpentry, self-defense, travel, and more — as it relates to blindness. Access the site directly at: <www.fredshead.info>.

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AccessWorld News

Accessible TV Technology

Obtaining access to television programming information is important to those of us who cannot view on-screen information. Recent and on-going efforts in the United Kingdom may provide a tangible solution to this well-documented problem.

RNIB, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, is engaged in the development of accessible set top boxes for use in the United Kingdom. While there are significant differences between the United States and United Kingdom in the delivery of television, the underlying technology required to provide accessibility has some universal potential.

The following outlines the efforts of one of the participants in the RNIB effort, and sheds some light on the technical particulars.

Software Provides Talking Menus for the Visually Impaired, Deaf, and Elderly

Bristol, UK/Hong Kong-based, Ocean Blue Software, a specialist digital TV software house, has developed "talking" digital TV technology for set top boxes and televisions that could potentially benefit millions of people who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, dyslexic, or elderly.

The technology, produced in conjunction with RNIB and other digital technology companies, works by converting on-screen based text menus into speech output. Consumers will be able to control how audio information is spoken to them and have the ability to change the language and level of speech through a customizable interface.

Developers are optimistic this new technology will improve the quality of life for 8 million people living with disabilities in the UK, and even more around the world.

Source for complete article: http://www.examiner.com/x-18867-NY-Disability-Examiner̃y2009m9d2-Digital-TV-

E-book Accessibility: Three Recent Announcements May Signal the Future Direction of E-book Accessibility Efforts.

1. In a press release posted on its web site, www.knfbreader.com, knfbReading Technology, Inc., manufacturers of the knfbReader Mobile, announced a partnership with the publishing giant, Baker & Taylor. The announcement which was released not in the US, but at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, detailed an agreement between the organizations. Baker & Taylor will acquire and distribute digital media for a new soon-to-be-released e-reader, which according to knfbReading Technology, "delivers the most advanced, flexible and open reading platform technology developed to date."

Several technical particulars about the e-reader were previewed in the release which states, "knfbReading Technology's new e-reader will operate seamlessly on a variety of electronic devices, including personal computers, smart phones, and cell phones." Ray Kurzweil also referenced the company's "cutting-edge 3-D book technology." More information on the e-reader will soon be available at www.knfbreader.com.

2. knfbReading Technology wasn't the only organization making announcements impacting accessibility in Frankfurt. Wire services including Frankfurt (Reuters) flashed the news Google plans to launch an online store to deliver electronic books to any device with a web browser. This development poses a direct threat to Amazon and could upset an escalating market for dedicated e-readers dominated by its Kindle. The web search giant said, it would launch Google Editions in the first half of next year. It will initially offer about half a million e-books in partnership with publishers with whom it already cooperates, where they have digital rights. Google stated readers will be able to purchase e-books from Google directly or from other online stores such as Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com.

Google spokeswoman, Jennie Johnson, said many of the details of the project, including which online retailers would participate and whether the digital books would be viewable on e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, have yet to be determined. Google also ruled out making the device itself. "We're not focused on a dedicated e-reader or device of any kind," Tom Turvey, Google's director of strategic partnerships, told journalists at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It was confirmed that Google will host the e-books and make them searchable.

3. Closer to home, the Los Angeles Public Library has suspended the purchase of electronic books published in the Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) format. This decision may be significant for at least two reasons. A large, highly visible public library system has implemented an American Library Association resolution adopted last summer stating libraries purchasing electronic resources should take steps to ensure such resources comply with accessibility standards. Perhaps more significantly, it excludes the purchase of books delivered in Adobe's ADE electronic format. To date, this format remains inaccessible and is the focus of much on-going advocacy efforts in the United States and Europe.

In a letter to the Reading Rights Coalition, the Los Angeles Public Library explained the books were accessible when purchased from one of its e-book providers, OverDrive, but Adobe had altered its software to block text-to-speech technology and then forced OverDrive to implement the new software. Los Angeles City Librarian, Martin J. Gómez, stated no additional ADE books will be purchased until they are fully accessible to the visually impaired and others with print disabilities. The library also said all its other digital offerings are currently accessible to such readers.

While making predictions in this arena can be a risky business, is it unreasonable to anticipate the availability of an accessible e-book format from a global distributer such as Baker & Taylor would place pressure on other players in the market? Despite delays in the process, a Google settlement which includes very specific accessibility requirements appears to remain on track, with the accessibility provisions of the agreement undisturbed. With both Google and Baker & Taylor's materials available in accessible formats, where does that leave Adobe's Digital Editions and Barnes and Noble's fledgling e-book efforts? AccessWorld will continue to provide coverage and information.

For a related article from Library Journal: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6701693.html?desc=topstory

ClickAndGo Maps

A new service intended to provide detailed travel information was released at the recent Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in suburban Chicago. The web-based system is called ClickAndGo. The developers shared some information about the technology with AccessWorld; here is what they have to say.

The system is called ClickAndGo Wayfinding Maps, and it offers detailed narrative route descriptions that help people who are visually impaired successfully find their way to unfamiliar destinations. The maps are free to users and can be accessed by telephone. "This is modeled after the popular 'directions' feature of Yahoo, Google, and MapQuest maps," said inventor and mobility specialist Joe Cioffi, who has 28 years experience teaching blind and deaf-blind clients white cane techniques. "With Internet maps, sighted users select a starting point and destination from a drop-down menu and then click 'go' for driving directions."

"We adapted ClickAndGo Wayfinding Maps by adding the options of voice output or braille that literally walks blind and deaf-blind people through the route to the destination with customized 'mobility-friendly' walking directions," Cioffi said.

Rather than depend on strangers for directions, blind ATIA Conference attendees will pick up a telephone or use a computer to access a web site, give their point of origin and destination, and hear specific directions to help them find their way independently to the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center's registration desk, interior restaurants, ballrooms and function rooms, restrooms, guide dog relief areas, and other destinations.

A caller may hear, for example: "After entering through the main doors, the flooring changes from carpet to tile. There are two elevators along the right side wall, 25 feet away. The elevator call button is located between the 2 elevators. Enter and press floor 2. Exit on floor 2 and walk straight. In 10 feet you will reach entry doors separating the elevator foyer from the main hallway. After these doors, walk straight 5 feet and turn right. You are now facing a 20 foot wide hallway, and straight ahead in 70 feet you will reach the double doors of the hotel ballroom." The directions can be downloaded on a notetaker for later access.

ClickAndGo Wayfinding Maps are mainly intended to help vision-impaired travelers more easily orient themselves and move through airports, schools and universities, hotel and convention centers, public parks, amusement parks, tourist destinations, and other public places. But Cioffi also offers customized narrative walking directions for outdoor landmark-to-landmark route travel. All directions and point of interest information can be downloaded through ClickAndGoMaps' fully accessible web site as both web pages and MP3 downloads, orobtained by using the company's voice-activated technology with a standard telephone. The system has been praised by users such as Ken Rodgers, who is blind and a Master's candidate at Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and the past Minnesota Chapter President of the American Council of the Blind. Rodgers said the system offers a level of detail that is unparalleled by any other service or technology today. "The ClickAndGo narrative mapping technology is absolutely phenomenal!" said Rodgers, who tested the product at the University. "It's easy to use and will revolutionize the way I find unfamiliar destinations without the fear of getting lost. Talk about maintaining my independence!"

Cioffi is the owner of InTouch Graphic which also produces tactile/low vision maps for people who are blind and vision impaired.

ClickAndGo Wayfinding Maps will be offered free to users. Cioffi is hoping to market the product to participating institutions such as airports and hotels that wish to accommodate their customers as well as comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The ADA offers some tax incentives and under certain conditions, reimburses businesses up to $15,000 for adaptations that encourage accessibility of public accommodations.

For more information, contact Cioffi at 612-220-6657.

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Editor's Page

After Ten Great Years, We're Excited about the Future and We're Making AccessWorld Even Better

As we complete the tenth year of AccessWorld, the web-based magazine you've come to know and love, we are planning to make some changes that we hope will make your experience even better. One major enhancement will be to engage you, our readers, more directly in the discussion of technology accessibility. We're also working on a plan to publish content more frequently; we hope to make AccessWorld a monthly early in 2010.

Since its inception, AccessWorld has been published bimonthly, first as a subscription in various formats and since 2003, free on the AFB web site. For several years, we have offered an e-mail brief called AccessWorld Extra. The time seems right to move to a monthly schedule which will mean we will stop sending out the Extra. However, a more frequent publication schedule will be especially useful in enabling us to bring you news about new developments more rapidly. In order to ensure the right level of detail and quality in the articles, the monthly issues will have fewer articles than the current bimonthly issues, but over the year, we expect a roughly similar amount of material.

While the monthly schedule will allow us to share news and product reviews sooner, we also want to be careful not to spoil what our readers say they appreciate about AccessWorld. A few months back, we asked readers to respond to a survey regarding future directions for AccessWorld. We received around 150 responses to the questions in part 1 of that survey, and approximately 50 dedicated souls went on to complete part 2.

Many of the comments we received were quite positive about the mix of articles and quality of material in AccessWorld. We are pleased to have the affirmation. I was particularly pleased that our product evaluations seem to have about the right amount of detail for most of you, 62 percent, while nearly equal numbers said they would like a little more detail (16 percent) or a little less detail (18 percent). Most of the product evaluations you read in AccessWorld are written by our very dedicated AFB TECH staff, and I know they put a great deal of work into their reviews. I also was heartened that so many of you seem to rely on AccessWorld for in-depth reporting. Nearly three quarters of those who responded to the survey indicated they would still read the detailed article even if we began providing more initial information through "breaking" news.

In responding to questions about the mix of content in AccessWorld, your choices were largely in the ballpark we might have expected. You are very interested in assistive technology, telecommunications, and information about web sites and web access. Well, we're interested in providing you just that kind of information as well. I was a bit surprised at the strength of interest in two other categories: operating systems (several survey respondents specifically mentioned interest in the MAC OS and Windows 7), and information about way-finding technologies. Information about training strategies and medical devices garnered lower scores, though still with strong support, so we will certainly continue to keep watch for important developments or opportunities in those areas. By the way, for those of you who did venture on and complete part 2 of the survey, we thank you for your persistence. In that area, we asked a few more questions to try to elicit more information about your interests. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, survey respondents showed high interest in articles about how to techniques and technology explanations. Somewhat surprisingly, product updates received a fairly low interest score.

Because we value the thoughts and voices of our readers, we're looking forward to providing you better ways to give us feedback, to comment on articles and hopefully even to interact with each other. We're still working this out, but this is in the plan. I'm also pleased to tell you that we will be providing more coverage of social networking and other interactive web content. I know that this is an area of increasing interest.

We'd been mulling the move to a monthly schedule for a while, and the results of the survey helped make it happen. We'll be drawing on the insights provided in the responses and more detailed comments that many shared. We appreciate that so many of you took time to share your thoughts with us.

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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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College Bound: Practical Steps for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

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