In This Issue
Breaking News: Oratio for BlackBerry Is Now Available
Paul W. Schroeder
A Look Back: Two Historical Interviews with Deane Blazie
Burton--An Evaluation of Kindle II and Sony Reader Digital Book Players
Kendrick--Apex and Intel: A Commentary
Schroeder--What Can Policy Change Do for You?
Paul W. Schroeder
Hodges--The ScripTalk Experience
Grossman--Social Networking Is Becoming a Way of Life
Book Review: Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment
Letter to the Editor
Oratio for BlackBerry is Now Available
On February 1, Humanware and Code Factory announced the release of Oratio for BlackBerry®, the first screen reader available for the popular Blackberry line of cell phone/PDAs manufactured by Research In Motion. Their release note reports that Oratio will first be released in North America in English, supporting the BlackBerry Curve 8520 smartphone from AT&T. The Oratio software will be available through online purchasing from www.oratio4bb.com for $449 for a single license. Support for additional BlackBerry smartphone models and languages will be available in subsequent versions of Oratio. You may have heard it referred to as Orator over the last year or so, but the name was changed to Oratio because a US telecommunications company has an existing product called Orator.
We have had the good fortune to have a Blackberry Curve 8520 and a pre-release version of Oratio in our AFB TECH lab for a couple of days. We are putting it through the paces for a full product evaluation in an upcoming issue of AccessWorld, but in the meantime, we want to provide you with our initial thoughts. The text-to-speech is easy to understand, and we found it to be very responsive to key commands. It provides access to most but not all apps that come with the Blackberry Curve, and the interface will seem familiar to people who have previously used a cell phone screen reader. Like other cell phone screen readers, it provides features and functions such as:
- Talking caller ID
- Spoken battery level and signal strength
- Access to instant messaging, e-mail, SMS, and MMS
- Accessible contact list and call log
- Scheduling appointments and tasks with alarms and reminders
- Auto start mode when the device turns on
- Access to the phone's settings, ring tones, speed dials, and voice tags
- Different verbosity levels
- Keyboard echo settings for text entry
- Accessible documentation
- Partial but not full access to the web browser
Hardware-wise, the Blackberry Curve does have tactile buttons but its QWERTY keyboard will take some getting used to for those not familiar with the small QWERTY keyboards common on many of today's phones. It does have an easy-to-feel nib on the 5 key in the 3-by-4 dialing grid that is imbedded in the left side of the QWERTY, but it could benefit from another nib on the right side of the keyboard for orientation purposes. Also, instead of a joystick or D-pad type of 5-way navigation control, it has a track pad that is certainly usable but that will take some getting used to. The Blackberry also includes settings to accommodate people with low vision such as 14 point fonts, a black on white option, and a Clarity visual theme that is easier to view.
Oratio is the first text-to-speech on a java platform, and they have had many barriers to overcome. The release note admits that this first release version may not answer each specific individual user's needs. However, they also report that Humanware, Code Factory, and Research in Motion all remain committed to the future development and growth of the product. They have also asked for user feedback to help them with future development. Future development will surely enhance the user experience, but for now, if your job requires you to use a Blackberry and to track your e-mail and text messages, you now have an access solution.
More Cell Phone Accessibility Reports Coming to AccessWorld
Stay tuned to AccessWorld for much more on the ever-changing world of cell phone accessibility. We will soon be reporting on the new release of Mobile Speak 4, a cross-platform solution with expanded access to touch screen devices. We will also be reporting on access solutions for new phones using the new Android operating system developed by Google, as well as the release of version 4 of the TALKS screen reader from Nuance.
Back to top
Reflection, Revision, Renewal
We have witnessed an extraordinary decade in technological developments chronicled in AccessWorld since January 2000. No, I am not going to recite those developments or try to forecast the next ten years. However, I do want to reflect on a few milestones and suggest some needed revisions in our technology world. As we begin our second decade, the editorial staff of AccessWorld renews our commitment to objective coverage of information and communications technology issues of importance to people with vision loss.
In our inaugural January 2000 issue, we published an interview with Deane Blazie, the man who was the force behind the now ubiquitous notetakers, and in January 2010, AFB presented Deane with the Migel medal.
In that interview, Deane summed up his success saying, "I didn't really design these products: Blind people did. I just happened to take what they said, put it into a box, and make it work." His Braille'n Speak was indeed a game changer and gave blind people a taste of the power of the personal digital assistant (PDA) when blackberries were still a tasty fruit for sighted people.
Looking back at that first issue, it is interesting to note that both Blazie's company and Arkenstone (the innovative producer of reading machines) were soon absorbed into Freedom Scientific. Other significant mergers and changes would follow, including the combination embodied in today's HumanWare. I don't know how much these mergers led to product improvement or innovation, often touted as the expected outcome, but I do know that assistive technology continues to be very expensive. In her commentary in this issue, Deborah Kendrick reminds us of this lament and even notes that our AT companies sometimes miss on the innovation front too.
Back in 2000, after we published the interview with Deane, a colleague wondered why we didn't ask him questions about why his products, and all assistive technology is so expensive and why the prices for our technology do not get cheaper as happens with mainstream technology. Good questions and I wish I had asked, though I know the answer would involve some variant of low volume of sales, complex technologies and extensive technical support. Nonetheless, we need to look for ways to address the high cost of assistive technology.
The right technology can open the world of information and unlock independence, but it is far too often out of reach for people who do not have the personal means or support from vocational rehabilitation agencies, their employers or schools to purchase it. To put it bluntly, the expense of assistive technology is a "disability tax," which needs to be reduced or eliminated.
I believe that government can play a role in providing subsidies for the purchase of assistive technology. While subsidies are not a full answer, they do help to address the fundamental barrier facing consumers with disabilities who must pay unconscionably high prices for assistive technology just to have access to commercial information and communications technologies. Because AT developers often argue that they do not have the funding to keep up with changes in mainstream technologies, I also believe that government should be supporting research and development to spur improvements in assistive technology as well. In addition, we need to ask mainstream companies to do more to ensure that consumers with disabilities can access and use their technology-based products right out of the box. This means that some of the expense related to accessibility should be borne by the mainstream companies who develop and sell the terrific technologies on which so many jobs, educational opportunities and even leisure pursuits depend.
New legislation, H.R. 3101, described elsewhere in this issue, addresses both the availability of high-cost specialized technology and a set of reasonable access obligations for mainstream companies to meet. The legislation would create a program to provide a subsidy for deaf-blind individuals to purchase the very expensive telecommunications equipment with braille displays that they need to be able to use the telephone. This subsidy would be included in a long established program called the Universal Service Fund which was set up to ensure that telephone service would be available to individuals with low incomes and those living in hard-to-serve rural areas. If enacted, this model could help to spur other approaches to provide government support for assistive technology needed by people with disabilities.
At the beginning of the last decade, the Federal Communications Commission had just finally published the rules that telecommunications companies would be expected to follow in making their telephones and services accessible (as required by Section 255). Other government agencies were putting rules in place to ensure that the federal government would buy technology that was accessible (as required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act). In this issue, you will see that we are describing a new law and new policy struggles, but we are also still hoping to see more progress in accessible cell phones and business phones and in government procurement driving access to technology.
We need to keep working for changes in policy and meaningful enforcement to improve access to technology and to help to bring down costs. We also need to be vocal consumers, both in advocating for the right policies and in communicating our needs to both the assistive technology industry and to mainstream technology companies.
Back to top
A Look Back: Two Historical Interviews with Deane Blazie
The introduction of Apple's iPad in late January took place amid a media frenzy of unparalleled proportions. Not since the release of the previous Apple product had such intense anticipation been focused on a single piece of technology. More to the point, it wasn't since the introduction of the second generation iPhone that the spotlight had shown so brightly on a single man, Steve Jobs. In the era of mobile devices designed to satisfy virtually every conceivable market niche, Jobs demonstrates the triumph of vision and philosophy over group think and reductionism, in the development of the most innovative and popular technology of our time.
For those of us who have been privileged to know him, Deane Blazie demonstrated the same qualities of vision philosophy and dedication to his customers. And as with Jobs, the resulting technology which Deane introduced was equally compelling and revolutionary.
In this issue of AccessWorld, we reflect back to 1987, when a young man with a vision put everything he had on the line and ended up changing the lives of the blind forever. I recall my first experience with a Blazie Technology product. I remember telling my colleagues that someday they may be lucky enough to be able to purchase a hand held electronic note taker, calendar, address book for the sighted.
We also look back to 2000 when a more experienced Deane Blazie had earned the loyalty of an entire community. By listening to his customers and always delivering a little bit more than we expected Blazie products set the standard by which many of us still measure the success of specialized technology for the blind. Steve Jobs correctly observed that, "It's phenomenal to hold the Internet in your hand." Thanks to Deane Blazie the blind have known all about this for more than twenty three years.
An Interview with Deane Blazie
(Reprinted from TACTIC, Fall 1987.)
The Braille'n Speak, as indicated in the preceding article, is a new device uniquely tailored to the needs of Braille users. The device is so new, in fact, that Deane Blazie exhibited one of the first Braille 'n Speak units for the first time at the National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind conventions this past July. It is always interesting to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creative process which leads to adaptive devices, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Mr. Blazie during one such demonstration.
Veteran though he is in the field of technology for the blind, Deane Blazie is by no means a hardened technocrat. Indeed, he is so genuinely interested in people in general and in the needs of blind people in particular that it was sometimes difficult to tell the interviewer from the interviewee. Blazie himself felt, at that time, that the Braille 'n Speak still has too many features to add and bugs to subtract to warrant an in-depth technical review. The fact that both your editor and Fred Gissoni were eager to share some news of it with TACTIC readers right away probably speaks well for its future.
Kendrick: How did you, as a fully sighted person, become so involved with devices for blind people in the first place?
Blazie: When I was fifteen, I went to a ham radio club meeting one night, and Tim Cranmer was there. I became his Saturday boy — reading mail, washing windows, whatever needed to be done. That was 25 years ago, and I continued doing that through college. After college (I was in engineering school), Tim and I just worked together from that point on. He would invent something, and I would build it and make it work.
Twelve years ago, I started Maryland Computer Services as an engineering consulting firm (which I still do full-time) but I wanted to stay in this field, too.
Kendrick: You referred to doing full-time computer consulting. Are you talking about meeting specific needs for companies in the mainstream?
Blazie: Yes. I do a lot of local area networks for personal computers, and have some government contracts for various instrumentations. I have three or four commercial clients, and I do programming and system design for them.
Kendrick: What led you to developing the Braille 'n Speak?
Blazie: I started looking at the pocket technology that existed, and saw that there was really a need. I thought it should have a clock and a calendar, and still be truly pocket-sized. Actually, this is even twice the size I hoped it would be, but you couldn't make it any smaller and still have a decent keyboard.
It's built with surface-mount technology — which uses chips about one-third the size of regular chips — and so makes it about 66 percent of the size that it would have to be with regular chips soldered into a board. Many VCR's and other commercial devices are built with this technology simply to save physical space.
Kendrick: Can you turn it on and immediately enter text?
Blazie: Yes. That's called the clipboard, and then you can have 30 additional files as well. It seemed to me that a pocket device wasn't very useful if you couldn't write a lot of information, and know that you wouldn't lose it by turning the machine off.
Kendrick: You've been showing it to a number of blind people in the last two weeks. What kind of response have you been getting?
Blazie: Well, as I said, I've been around blind people for a long time, and I have always heard them say how vital Braille was. But only this last month — since I've gotten the first unit and have been handing it to people — did I finally realize what a personal thing Braille and those seven keys are.
I just hand it to people and say, "What do you think of this?" The minute they feel that Braille keyboard, they say, "Oh, I know what this is. And I love it!"
It's taken me 25 years to fully understand it, but I see now how personal and important Braille is.
Deane Blazie: Forging a New Path for Literacy
Paul Schroeder, Deborah Kendrick, and Jay Leventhal.
In 1987, Deane Blazie introduced his now ubiquitous notetaker, the Braille'n Speak. This remarkable device, which is the size of a videocassette and looks like little more than a box with seven keys, made it possible for visually impaired users to store up to 30 files of notes, keep a calendar and phone directory, check the time and date, and have quick access to a calculator and stopwatch.
That early version, now referred to as the "classic Braille'n Speak," weighed in at 2 pounds and sold for $895. The Braille'n Speak now has also been joined by spin-off siblings, the Braille Lite, Braille Lite 40, Type 'n Speak, and Type Lite. The available memory and processor capability in these notetakers also have greatly expanded since 1987.
From a personal start-up investment of $10,000 (to build the first 10 units), Blazie has watched his company grow to include $15 million in gross receipts annually, 70 employees, and an estimated 70,000 notetakers currently in the hands of blind consumers. It is rare to attend a meeting where blind people are present and not see a Blazie notetaker in use.
AccessWorld staff caught up with Deane Blazie at the October 6–9 ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) conference in Orlando, Florida. Paul Schroeder, Deborah Kendrick, and Jay Leventhal met with Blazie and spent an engaging few hours learning more about the man and his company, past and future. The following are some highlights from that interview:
Schroeder: How did you get started?
Blazie: After doing some consulting work, I came back to my roots of developing products for the blind. My good lifelong friend, Tim Cranmer, along with Fred Gissoni and Judy Dixon, all had a part in seeing the Braille'n Speak come about. I remember Judy Dixon saying, "He who makes the best notetaker will rule the blindness industry."
Fred Gissoni was then with the Kentucky Department for the Blind, and he was working on a device called the Portabraille, which was probably the first notetaker, although it was never commercially available. Fred interfaced a braille display with a small computer and some memory chips and made a notetaker. The problem with it was that when you turned it off, all the memory went away.
I remember talking to Fred about that device one day, and he was pulling it apart and took out one board to show me. On that board was the keyboard and the microprocessor and all the circuitry, and Fred said, "If you just took this board out, you could use it to take notes all by itself." That clicked in my head. I built a device that could be turned off and save memory. I added a file system and a lot of other features, and the rest is history.
There were several times when I almost gave up. With the first prototype, I brainstormed with Tim Cranmer and Fred Gissoni for a couple of hours and then went back and fixed some things. The first unit was wedge shaped, because I was thinking of the way sighted people's devices are built. That was one of the features Fred and Tim corrected right away, saying that when you write braille, your hands are flat!
So I invested $10,000, made 10 units, and took them to the NFB [National Federation of the Blind] convention in July 1987. I walked away from the convention with only my prototype left. I had checks in my pocket, cash in my pocket, credit card numbers in my pocket, from people who wanted me to ship them a unit as soon as more were made.
Kendrick: In your interview for Tactic in 1987, when you were first showing the Braille'n Speak around, you mentioned that you had been around braille for 25 years but that you had never realized how personal it was until you began putting the unit into the hands of blind people. Do you remember thinking about that?
Blazie: Yes. And to me it was definitely an awakening. Until that time, my work with computers had been mostly speech products. But I realized then how difficult it is for a sighted person to recognize the difference between braille and speech. Braille 'n Speak, of course, only went halfway—it only had braille input at that time with speech output—but I began to see how mystical that connection to braille is for people.
Kendrick: Can you talk a bit about the other products—the Braille Lite, the Type 'n Speak—and how they came to be?
Blazie: The next product was the Type 'n Speak. We began to realize that there were a lot of people who liked the unit but didn't really know braille. We began hearing enough of that that we decided to do a typewriter keyboard version.
Then, somehow something clicked, and we decided to put a braille display on it and came out with the Braille Lite. That was probably a big turning point in the company because it really increased our sales a lot. It just really made me a believer that the future of our company is braille, and that braille is going to be here forever.
After the first few generations of the Braille Lite, we realized that a braille device is different from a speech device. An example is the advance bar. In the beginning, the speech told you that the advance bar was going forward. Then we realized that you do not need that in the speech.
Schroeder: You have added a great deal to the line of products over 12 years. Each generation seems to add more functionality. What are you planning for the future?
Blazie: The present Braille'n Speak has a purpose, and I don't think that purpose is going to go away. If you add too much, it will become so complex that people won't use it. I think it should stay as it is: It should be very low powered, the battery should last a long, long, long time; it should be very simple—turn it on, nothing complex, no modes that you could get into that you can't get out of.
And then there should be something else. There should be something that is more like a PC [personal computer] but without the drawbacks of a PC. I'm not sure what the solution is, but whatever it is, I think it should come on very quickly. It should retain the things about a Braille'n Speak that made it in such demand. And it should have some things that we don't have—like easy access to the Web, easy E-mail access through mainstream Internet providers, and it should be something that people could add onto without needing special programs. One of the drawbacks of the existing Braille'n Speak is that you are running programs that are not available to someone else.
Leventhal: You are known for being responsive to the user. You have probably heard every possible suggestion—from not changing the Braille'n Speak to putting in a network card.
Blazie: Oh, yes. People want us to put in a hard drive or build a floppy disk drive in. These are valid suggestions, but sometimes you have to say, "This is the core product and this is what it should be."
Schroeder: Could Unix or Linux be a good platform for the next devices?
Blazie: In fact, we are looking at Linux, but whether we will actually use it is still hard to say. It is a nice operating system and nice base for building a whole new product. You could have it boot up quickly and could change those things about it that you don't like.
Schroeder: You purchased the line of braille products from Telesensory last summer. What has that purchase meant to Blazie Engineering?
Blazie: It was a great match for us. Telesensory's blindness products [division] was experiencing a lack of focus, so Larry Israel called to see if we were interested in purchasing that division. We purchased the Powerbraille line of products and the Versapoint printers. It brought us into a segment of the market that we were never in before—that is, computer access through braille displays. It has been very good for us financially and strategically, because it gets us into a bigger piece of that market that we were starting to get into anyway with the Braille Lite 40, but now we are in it in a big way. It was really a match made in heaven.
Kendrick: Aren't you doing some work to develop a product that will replace the Optacon?
Blazie: Yes, we have a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a product to replace the Optacon. The toughest part is the tactile array. It's hard to beat the current design.
Leventhal: Do you think there is still a niche for that design?
Blazie: I do. There always needs to be a device that takes an image and displays it tactually the way an Optacon does. That's not going to go away. Reading machines take away some of the need, but you never get a concept of what print looks like with a reading machine. Looking at this bottle of olives [picks up bottle from the table] or looking at circuit boards is not something you can do with a reading machine.
Kendrick: As popular as your products are, there is some comment that technical support is less than consistent. How do you measure the quality of your customer support?
Blazie: All computers crash, but boy, when you get a Braille'n Speak crash—well, I have almost cried myself. People run their lives on these products.
It's difficult to measure how one staff member handles a problem. We monitor calls and are always working to be better.
Something new that we've done is providing exchange units. When a unit breaks down, if you have paid for the maintenance agreement, we get another unit right out to you.
Schroeder: Any parting shots?
Blazie: I can't think of a better way to have spent my life so far. It's been just wonderful. I didn't really design these products: Blind people did. I just happened to take what they said, put it into a box, and make it work.
Back to top
An Evaluation of Kindle II and Sony Reader Digital Book Players
As many AccessWorld readers know, the accessibility of e-books and other digital publications has become quite a controversial, hot-button issue, and the Amazon Kindle has been at the center of much of the debate. In this article, I will briefly discuss some of the issues surrounding e-book accessibility, while the bulk of the rest of the article will evaluate the Kindle 2 and the Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-600. These two devices are the market leaders in a category of devices that display digital books and other content using e-ink, a technology that attempts to mimic the visual reading experience of a print book. In addition to the devices themselves, I will also evaluate the available software used to access their books on a PC or iPhone.
The Issues and Controversies
When Amazon released the Kindle 2 in February 2009, the fact that it had a built-in text-to-speech feature raised the hopes of many people with disabilities. However, the Author's Guild claimed that this would cause authors to lose out on profits from potential audio book sales. Amazon relented to pressure from the Author's Guild and has agreed to allow authors and publishers to disable the text-to-speech feature for their e-books available for the Kindle 2. To respond to this, several organizations representing people who cannot read print, including the American Foundation for the Blind, created the Reading Rights Coalition. The Reading Rights Coalition is now working to block what they consider to be blatant discrimination by Amazon and the Author's Guild.
Later in 2009, Arizona State University began a pilot project to deploy Amazon's Kindle DX as a means of distributing electronic textbooks to its students. The Kindle DX, by the way, is a larger screen version of the Kindle designed with newspapers and textbooks in mind. Because the device cannot be used by blind students, the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind filed a joint lawsuit against Arizona State in June 2009, to block them from deploying the Kindle 2. Although the lawsuit was recently settled with Arizona State promising to strive to accommodate their disabled students, Syracuse University and the University of Illinois have already cancelled plans to deploy the Kindle devices on their campuses.
Other e-book controversies will be sure to arise as more devices such as the new Barnes and Noble Nook enter the market, and as more and more books are published in electronic formats. Additionally, the accessibility of software-based e-book players will continue to be a concern. One of the leading e-book players in the market, Adobe's Digital Editions software, has yet to be made accessible to screen readers. However, Adobe has promised to work on improving its accessibility. More hope for our community may come in late January, when Blio, the new free e-reader software from K-NFB Reading Technology is released. You can read more about Blio at www.blioreader.com.
Kindle 2 and the Sony Reader
The Devices and Software
For this article, we chose to evaluate the $259 Amazon Kindle 2, because it is far and away the leading device in this market and because of its text-to-speech functionality. We chose the $299.99 Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-600, because it is the #2 device in the market, and because it is the Sony Reader closest to the Kindle 2 in size and shape. Amazon's original Kindle had no text-to speech, but its Kindle DX version does. It has a larger screen and is marketed as being more suitable for viewing newspapers and textbook content. Sony also has a PRS-300 model which is a smaller, pocket model, and they claim to be coming out with a larger PRS-900 model soon. None of the Sony Readers have text-to-speech functionality.
The Kindle 2 and Sony Reader PRS-600 are used primarily for reading digital books. However, they can also play music, podcasts and other audio files, display photos, and display PDF and other text files transferred from your computer. The Kindle 2 can also play books from Audible.com.
Both of these devices have many of the features that we have come to expect from a digital book player, including keyword search and bookmarking capabilities, as well as the ability to create your own comments associated with your bookmarks. Each also has imbedded dictionaries for quickly finding a word's definitions. The Kindle 2 is a wireless device that uses Amazon's Whispernet to download books and other content from the Kindle store anywhere you can connect to the service, which is provided by Sprint. The Sony Reader PRS-600 does not have a wireless capability, so all content must first be downloaded on your computer and then transferred to the Reader. However, the PRS-900 model reportedly will have wireless capabilities. Also, the Sony Reader does have a drawing and handwriting feature that is not available on the Kindle 2.
The Kindle Store now has 390,000 titles available, and you can also subscribe to numerous magazines and over 90 newspapers. The Sony eBook store currently has 200,000 book titles, as well as numerous magazines, but only 8 newspapers. It also can access Google Books, a collection of 1 million free, out-of-copyright titles in the public domain.
The e-ink display technology both of these devices use is a relatively new technology that has no backlighting. E-ink does not flicker, and it is touted as being easier on the eyes than an LCD display, but that may be subjective. The pixels that make up the letters and other characters are placed on the screen and then the electricity fades out, a process that significantly extends the devices' battery life, while providing more than 7000 page turns per charge cycle.
The three software products evaluated in this article are all available at no extra charge. Kindle for PC is a free software download for reading Kindle Books and other content on your PC. It basically gives you the same features and functions as the Kindle devices themselves, without having to actually purchase a Kindle. Similar to Kindle for PC, Kindle for iPhone is a free app available for iPhone users. eBook Library Software is an application that comes with your Sony Reader and is transferred to and installed on your computer when you connect your Sony Reader for the first time. You can also download it from the Sony website if you don't own a Reader. Like the Kindle, it allows you to read your books and other content on your computer, but it is also necessary for transferring content to your Sony Reader.
Specifications and Physical Descriptions
The Kindle 2 and Sony Reader are both thin rectangular devices with large e-ink displays measuring 6 inches diagonally, and each can display its content in both a portrait and landscape orientation. The Kindle 2's larger size accommodates a QWERTY keyboard below the display. It measures 8.0 by 5.3 by 0.36 inches and weighs 10.2 ounces. The Sony Reader has a touch screen interface and features a virtual onscreen QWERTY keyboard instead of a physical keyboard. It measures 6.9 by 4.8 by 0.4 inches and weighs 10.1 ounces.
The Kindle 2 is ivory in color, and the buttons are also ivory. Its QWERTY keyboard is below the display screen and its round domed keys are 0.25 inches in diameter, but there are no nibs on the F or J keys for orientation purposes.
Caption: The Kindle 2
Its other control and navigational buttons are along the left and right edges, and they are narrow rectangular buttons flush with the panel. They include the Next Page buttons Measuring 1.6 by 0.4 inches and the Previous Page and Home buttons measuring 0.8 by 0.4 inches. The Kindle 2 also has a small joystick to the right of the keyboard used to scroll through the visual interface and to select various options. It has 2 slider controls on the back panel, one for power and the other for turning on and off its wireless capabilities. The slot for connecting the AC adaptor and for connecting it to your computer is along the bottom edge, as is the headphone jack.
The Sony Reader has a black background, and has five thin rectangular silver buttons under its touch screen, each measuring 0.06 by 0.75 inches. Moving from left to right, the buttons are labeled Page Left, Page Right, Home, Zoom, and Options.
Caption: The Sony Book Reader
There is also a Power switch located on the top panel, used to place the Reader into standby mode. The slot for connecting the AC adaptor and for connecting it to your computer is along the bottom edge, and the headphone jack is along the top edge.
The Kindle 2 has a 2 GB internal memory capacity which reportedly holds up to 1500 books, but it has no expansion slot for accessing content on an SD memory card. The Sony Reader has 512 MB of internal memory, but only approximately 380 MB of that is available to the user for content, because the rest is reserved for firmware and formatting. However, it does have an expansion slot for SD or Pro DUO memory cards up to 16 GB in size.
How Did We Evaluate
We tested the Kindle and the Reader to determine how well a person who is blind or has low vision can access their major features and functions. We examined the visual nature of the displays as well as the visual and tactile nature of the buttons. We evaluated the usefulness of any text-to-speech or magnification features the devices may or may not have. We also tested each PC software product as well as the Kindle's iPhone app for compatibility with screen readers and screen magnifiers. Finally, as always, we report on the accessibility of the available manuals and other documentation.
Overall, neither of these devices does very well when evaluated for its accessibility. Both devices do have magnification features, and the Kindle 2 also has a text-to-speech feature. However, neither of the devices has properly implemented these features so that people who are blind or have low vision can independently access the major functions of the devices. I will explain that and other accessibility limitations in the following sections.
Visual Characteristics of Displays and Magnification Features
These are primarily visual devices, so that was the initial focus of our evaluation. Because a display's contrast ratio is the #1 indicator of how "viewable" the display is, we measured each device's contrast ratio in AFB TECH's optics lab. We found that the e-ink black on grey displays have very low contrast ratios, and in fact have the lowest ratios of any devices we have ever measured. The Kindle 2 came in at 30% and the Sony Reader came in at 42%. These compare very poorly to the iPhone, whose 96% ratio is the highest we have measured.
On the positive side, the display does not wash out in sunlight like cell phone LCD displays do, and its matte finish is less susceptible to glare than most displays we have seen. The lack of screen flicker is a benefit of e-ink, and some people with low vision may like that the display has no backlight. Both devices do use a serif font style that has the little embellishments on characters that are not preferred by most people with low vision. However, the embellishments are not as fancy and troublesome as many serif fonts can be.
In addition to the low contrast problems, the main interface screens of these devices use font sizes that are too small for people with low vision, and they cannot be magnified. The screen where you organize and choose the book you want to read as well as the menus for the other features such as the dictionary and search tools use small font sizes that vary in size from 8 to 12 points on the Sony Reader, and from 7 to 11 points on the Kindle 2.
There is, on the other hand, some positive news as far as large fonts and magnification, but what I am about to describe is available only while reading the actual content of books and other reading materials, and nowhere in the rest of these devices' interfaces.
The Kindle 2 allows you to increase the size of the "print" of your books up to 16 points, which is almost as large as the 18 point font size recommended by the American Printing House for the Blind. Additionally, the Kindle 2 allows you to increase the spacing between lines, a technique referred to as leading, and this can be beneficial to people with low vision.
With the Sony Reader, you can choose from 5 different font sizes: S, M, L, XL, and XXL, but the size depends on the file type. For example, a book purchased from Sony's eBook store in .bbeb file format has the following font point sizes. S: 6; M: 10; L: 14; XL: 19; XXL: 26. Additionally, the Sony Reader has a zoom feature, allowing you to further magnify the content, with the XXL size able to be magnified as high as a 72 point font. However, in what seems to be a flaw in the designers' logic, the onscreen icons used to choose the font size or the zoom icon are in difficult-to-see small 12 point fonts.
As mentioned earlier, the Sony Reader does not have a text-to-speech feature, but the Kindle 2 does. However, just as with the large fonts and magnification, it has been poorly implemented. Again, it is available only in the content of your books and other reading materials, and nowhere else in the Kindle 2's extensive interface. The speech is also limited in that you have no navigational control while reading at all, other than for starting and stopping speech. You have no ability to rewind or fast forward or to move by sentence paragraph or page, or even to spell a word. The text-to-speech provides no indication of structure at all, with paragraphs and headings all blended together, and it is very difficult to even tell where a new chapter begins. Also, the speech is not available when using the Kindle 2's interface to choose between the male and female voices, to adjust the speech rate, or even to turn the speech on or off.
We also found the text-to-speech voice to be of poor quality. The Kindle 2 uses concatenated speech synthesis, which is where a computer splices together recordings of human voices speaking a lot of words to create the synthetic speech. Some of these types of voices can sound very natural, but the versions on small devices like the Kindle have a shrunken database of sounds to use, and that is why its voices sound degraded.
Visual and Tactile Characteristics of Buttons
The labels on the buttons of both the Kindle 2 and the Sony Reader are too small for people with low vision to see, and the button colors also do not contrast sufficiently with the background panels. Tactilely, the buttons on the Sony Reader are easy to feel and operate by touch. However, the controls on the Kindle 2 may take a bit more getting used to. The navigational control buttons along the left and right edges of the device are flush with the panel and only separated by a slight slit in the plastic. The keys on the QWERTY keyboard are domed, but all users would benefit from nibs on the F and J keys for orientation purposes. Of course the practicality of using the control buttons on both of these devices is questionable without the benefit of text-to-speech and a better visual display.
The Kindle for PC and Sony's eBook Library Software are both 100% incompatible with the JAWS and Window-Eyes screen readers. We could access absolutely no functionality with either screen reader. The results were mixed when testing these software products from a low vision perspective and with the ZoomText screen magnifier. First of all, both software products allow you to increase the font size. The Kindle software allows you to increase the font size to as large as 76 points and the Sony software lets you increase it to as large as 58 points. However, as with the hardware players themselves, this adjustment is available only within the content of a book or magazine, and not for the general software interface. ZoomText did work well to magnify each software product's general interface and the Speak-It tool also worked to voice the names of buttons and menu items. Using ZoomText to magnify the content of books did cause some pixilation, so for best visual results, it is better to use the software's built-in font size adjustment. As was the case with JAWS and Window-Eyes, ZoomText's App Reader, Doc Reader and Speak-It tools did not work to voice the content of any books or magazines.
The Kindle for iPhone app was not designed to be compatible with the VoiceOver screen reader that comes on the iPhone 3G S model. I could access some of the main interface with VoiceOver, but once I opened an actual book, nothing at all was spoken, and I had no way to get back to the software's main interface. Additionally, there is no built-in text-to-speech for book content like the Kindle 2 has. There is a font size adjustment, but it only gets as large as an 11 point font. The software does work with Zoom, the iPhone's built-in screen magnifier. However, because of the need to do a lot of panning around to read a page of content even at a low magnification level, the experience is less than ideal. In fact, one of my colleagues with low vision said his head would explode if he had to read an entire chapter with the Kindle for iPhone app.
We looked at the available documentation for the Kindle 2 and the Sony Reader, and again, the situation is less than ideal. The Kindle came with a print manual in a small 10 point font, so we looked online and found a user's guide and quick start guide. Both were PDF documents, and the quick start was image-only and thus completely incompatible with screen readers. However, the user's guide was more accessible than most PDF manuals we have evaluated, and had only limited unlabelled graphical information. We also found a user's guide online for the Sony Reader, and found almost identical results as for the Kindle 2 user guide when testing it with screen readers. Both devices' user guides worked well with ZoomText, except for the Kindle 2's quick start guide, which did not work with ZoomText's App Reader and Doc Reader tools.
Accessibility aside, I have to admit these are very cool devices with a great deal of potential, and the popularity of the Kindle shows that the general public agrees with me. The Kindle's Whispernet download speed is impressive, with books arriving in less than 5 seconds after you purchase them. I particularly like how your subscribed newspapers can be automatically downloaded to your Kindle 2 and waiting for you when you wake up in the morning. It's just a shame the accessibility of both the hardware and software was not a major concern of the designers. It is especially frustrating that the large fonts available on both devices and the text-to-speech on the Kindle are available only for book content and not for the general interface. The overall poor quality and functionality of the text-to-speech is another frustration.
This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I remember the struggles I went through back in college to get access to the print materials required for my class work. The actual class work and exams were a walk in the park compared to the struggles I went through to just get my books and other print materials into an electronic format. It is honestly appalling to me that we are now fighting the same battles to access books that are already in electronic formats.
Those that wish to play devil's advocate may claim that these devices' large fonts and the Sony reader's additional zoom feature in fact do a good job of accommodating people with low vision. Certainly there are people with low vision who do use one of these devices for reading, perhaps using sighted assistance, a loop magnifier or CCTV to deal with the small print on the device's general interface. However, Amazon's and Sony's customers should not have to use another gadget to access their products, and nobody wants to have to rely on sighted assistance to choose the book they want to read. Others may claim that those of us with vision loss should just use the accessible Victor Stream or BookSense players to access our electronic books and not bother with the Kindle or Sony devices. However, that ignores the fact that we would also like to have the choice to use the same device that our sighted friends and colleagues use. The problem expands further when certain content is available only on these inaccessible devices. It is even worse when your university requires you to use these inaccessible devices. What we really need is for the manufacturers of these devices to employ universal design principles and to make their devices fully accessible to all of their customers.
The e-ink display is a relatively new technology, and it would be interesting to see how it would appeal to people with low vision if a device with an e-ink display is developed that is more accessible. The lack of flicker and no backlight might appeal to some people, but the low contrast of the display will most likely still be a barrier to many, especially without the benefit of a properly designed text-to-speech feature.
This brings us to Amazon's promise to make a new, accessible Kindle in the first half of 2010. I certainly hope that they succeed, but I remain skeptical until I get one in my own hands to test. The less-than-adequate font sizes and the basically useless text to speech features of the Kindle 2 as well as the serious accessibility barriers of the recently released Kindle for PC software do not bode well for the success of the new version. I just hope that this time they do consult some people with vision loss and some blindness and other disability organizations to ensure they do things right this time, because it is obvious they did not consult any of us on the Kindle 2.
Regarding Sony, we have heard nothing about any efforts to improve the accessibility of their Readers. In fact, just as I submitted this article to our AccessWorld editors, the new Sony Reader PRS-900 version, also called the Sony Reader Daily Edition, was released for sale. However, the websites that sell it all report that it is on back order and not available. Although we cannot get our hands on it, we scoured the internet and found nothing at all about improved accessibility, and we have absolutely no reason to think that they considered accessibility when designing the new version.
Product: Sony Reader PRS-600.
Manufacturer: Sony Electronics Inc., 16530 Via Esprillo, San Diego, CA 92127; phone: 858-942-2400, Customer Relations: 800-236-1877; web site: www.sony.com.
Product: Kindle 2.
Manufacturer: Foxconn, sold by Amazon Digital Services, 605 5th Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98104; Customer Relations: 866-216-1072; web site: www.amazon.com.
This product evaluation was funded by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, WV.
Back to top
Apex and Intel
Sometimes, a particular company just fits your personality. I have serious loyalties, for instance, to products by Liz Claiborne, Coach, or Gevalia! Transferring the concept to the world of technology, maybe you happen to follow every product put out by Panasonic or will only buy flash drives from SanDisk, and so it has been for me with HumanWare. Long before it was even called HumanWare, products from this company never failed to push all my happy buttons.
As long ago as 1987, I was waxing ecstatic in a product review of the first KeySoft product, the KeyNote portable computer. For its time, it was a revolutionary product — six pounds, amazingly clear speech, and could hold in memory up to 14 typewritten pages! Well, that latter is pretty funny now, but otherwise, re-reading that review today still makes the product sound pretty good.
Fast forward to the year 2000 and the introduction of the BrailleNote. Like its 13-year predecessor, this marvelous new device came up instantly when switched on, would return to the place where you left off in a file, could perform a multitude of tasks, and was just plain "blind-friendly." When the BrailleNote PK arrived four years later — weighing only a pound and so small that its actual size was replicated on the back of a company t-shirt — I was once again in love with a HumanWare product.
On and on it went. The mPower? I was in awe of how many wonderful features HumanWare could pack into a single portable device. Incorporating the "blind-friendly" way-finding features of the Sendero GPS software rendered the BrailleNote family of products more remarkable than ever, and the introduction of HumanWare Canada's Victor Reader Stream in 2007 elicited the "WOW" response once again from me. In fact, news of this versatile handheld device swept through the assistive technology marketplace with previously unmatched enthusiasm.
Then, the announcement came in October of two new products, Apex and Intel. I was so accustomed to welcoming each new HumanWare product with joy, my own reaction to news of these products came as not only a disappointment but a genuine surprise.
A new BrailleNote (Apex) that was somewhat smaller, had a few more ports, and cost over $6,000? An oddly formed clunker that could recognize text (Intel Reader) and store a few documents, and cost $1,500? My reaction was somewhere between underwhelmed and dismayed. I hadn't laid hands on these new devices — seeing is believing after all — so when I was invited to a workshop hosted by HumanWare, I called in my positive RSVP with gleeful anticipation. Certainly, I thought, once I saw these new products, I would recognize HumanWare had performed its magic again and introduce something truly revolutionary I could talk and write about with passion.
Jim Sullivan, the HumanWare representative, was the consummate host. Guests were welcomed, introductions made, and food and drink distributed with panache. His introduction of the products was informal and comfortable, and ample time allowed for all participants to acquaint themselves with the general appearance of the products.
When the Apex came my way, I willed myself to fall in love again — as I had so long ago when Russell Smith placed that Keynote portable computer in my hands or when Dominic Gagliano showed me the unbelievably cool BrailleNote mPower.
It didn't happen. Yes, the Apex is a rung or so higher on the assistive technology evolutionary ladder than the PK or mPower, but not so high as to warrant such excitement. It offers the unbeatable Keysoft (now at Version 9), 8GB storage capacity, 4 USB ports, and can interface with the ever-present SDHC Cards. There are, however, already portable devices intended for blind users that have considerably more storage, and, frankly, a device that couldn't take information from USB or SDHC storage would be laughed out of the marketplace at this point. Unlike earlier BrailleNote products, Apex has only one braille display size available, 32 cells. For reading, 32 cells is preferable, but many consumers were happy to purchase the 18-cell BrailleNotes in earlier iterations — affording the user braille access at a significantly lower price. Programs from the Apex main menu appear to be the same ones many have come to know and love throughout the decade — Keysoft's intuitive handlings of word processing, calendar, contacts, email, web browsing, etc. Apex can also run the popular Oxford dictionary and Sendero GPS applications customers love. Even if you already purchased these applications in the past for your mPower or PK, you'll have to pay again to use them on the Apex.
Caption: A man using the Apex while commuting on a train.
Don't get me wrong. It's a lovely unit, and if they were being given away, I'd certainly get in line. However, so much fuss for so little progress seems to me, well, far less than what we've come to expect from this innovative company.
The Intel Reader elicited an even flatter line on my heart rate monitor. If you had never seen a reading device before — a piece of equipment capable of snapping a picture of a printed page and reading it aloud — the Intel would be novel. Given the current marketplace, however, this product doesn't offer much to shout about. Basically, its "capture station" consists of a box platform for placing pages or books and about a 12-inch post supporting the camera and visual display. You can lift out the Reader itself, about the size of a substantial paperback book and weighing a pound and a half.
Caption: A man using the Intel Reader to capture an image.
Text recognition of pages tested was fair at best. Storage capacity is about 600 pages and navigation of text appeared limited. Unlike other products designed for the same purpose, Intel does not inform you of the quality of the picture snapped or the orientation of the page, features that are of considerable importance to visually impaired people handling such a product independently. Its recognition struck me as being good enough for on the fly reading — mail, receipts, menus — while not accurate enough for textbooks. Unfortunately, its size does not render it an on-the-fly product.
Caption: The Intel Reader Portable Capture Station.
Adding to the disappointment is the inaccurate message regarding the tools of blindness this product is sending to knowledgeable mainstream reviewers. Stephen Wildstrom, in a column in BusinessWeek, called the Intel Reader "remarkable" and made reference to its being more affordable than any similar product in the Assistive Technology market. At $1,500, it is, on the contrary, more expensive than any product for the same purpose on the market. More troubling is this mainstream nondisabled reviewer's misconception that marrying a digital camera, optical character recognition, and text-to-speech capabilities is in any way revolutionary.
Walter Mossberg, who reports on technology for The Wall Street Journal, took a slightly more candid and refreshing view of the product. He noted lining up the camera with the page took lots of practice, and the recognition results were "decidedly mixed." Still, as one only marginally familiar with the myriad products used daily by blind and low vision people, he missed the point in considering the product something of a breakthrough.
It isn't. For the same price, a KNFB mobile reader will slip in your pocket, include a state-of-the-art cell phone, and offer unlimited storage capacity. Similarly, the Kurzweil 1000 software, now at Version 12, offers almost flawless recognition. Both offer higher quality speech and information regarding the confidence level or resolution of the picture snapped as well as the page orientation. Granted, Kurzweil 1000 is a PC-based system requiring a computer or netbook and compatible scanner, but files recognized can be saved in any format — including MP3 and DAISY — for transfer to a number of handheld devices, including HumanWare's own fabulous Victor Reader Stream.
We are all too familiar with the role misconceptions play in impeding the path to education and employment for people with visual impairments. Companies with long histories in assistive technology have the opportunity to dispel those misconceptions when communicating product information to the mainstream media. It would seem in the examples above that that opportunity was not taken.
Of course, visually impaired testers have been, not surprisingly, tougher in their assessments of the Intel Reader than any mainstream reviewer. Gary Wunder, an Intel Reader tester who is blind, wrote in a memo to HumanWare:
"This unit simply is not comparable to other commercially available OCR products both in and outside the blindness field. …blind people who have not yet enjoyed the blessing of turning print into the spoken word deserve much better recognition than you can offer here."
Bottom line: If you are new to the land of vision loss and assistive technology, these two new products from HumanWare will perform well and are worthy of purchase. If, however, you are even a moderately seasoned user, hang on to what you're using currently and go into wait-and-see mode. HumanWare has astonished us before and will probably do so again, but these two latest rollouts simply don't measure up to the company's own high standards.
Back to top
Access Policy Update
What Can Policy Change Do for You?
Access to technology and information is heavily influenced by the actions of policy-makers, in Washington DC and often elsewhere too. From TV to books and mobile communications, let's look at some of the significant developments in access policies that are likely to be the subject of debate and action in 2010.
While you are reading through this summary of issues, remember the old civil rights era admonition, "nothing about us without us." If people with disabilities want to be in charge of their lives, their destiny, they must take responsibility and advocate loudly and clearly to policy-makers regarding the need for requirements that will improve access to information and communications.
To help you keep up with policy activities in Washington DC, AFB's Public Policy Center offers a periodic email newsletter called DirectConnect as well as extensive information about policy issues. You can sign up for DirectConnect and find other information at http://www.afb.org/policy.
Communications Technology Legislation (The COAT Bill)
A coalition of disability organizations has been working to update and improve government policies regarding access to technology. Organized under the clever acronym COAT, which stands for Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, the organization has been working with Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) who introduced the "21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009" (H.R. 3101).
Caption: Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.)
The legislation, introduced on June 26, 2009, encompasses a broad scope, modernizing disability accessibility mandates in the Communications Act, bringing existing requirements up to date to cover TV and communications services deployed over the Internet and ensuring access to television through accessible interfaces and video description. In short, this bill brings communications policy requirements into the 21st century to ensure that mobile devices and digital TV are accessible for people with disabilities.
The legislation is modeled on and builds on the language of current law which requires telecommunications equipment and services to be accessible and televisions to include closed captioning technology and TV programs to be closed captioned. Among other things, the bill would clarify current law to ensure that text messaging is required to be accessible under the legal mandates of Section 255 of the Communications Act. (Disability advocates believe that Section 255 covers text messaging, but telecommunications companies have argued that it does not). The new legislation would also:
Require that mobile and other Internet-based communications devices include accessible user interfaces and ensure that the telephone functions are fully hearing aid compatible
Provide people who are deaf-blind with vital, but costly, technologies they need to communicate electronically, establish a process for the provision of real-time text capability, clarify telecommunications relay requirements, and enhance universal service programs such as Lifeline and Linkup to support communications access for people with disabilities
Restore the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) modest video description rules and unambiguously establish the Commission's current and ongoing authority to increase the coverage area and amount of programming
Require emergency announcements and similar information to be accessible to people with disabilities through audible presentation of on-screen alerts
Ensure that video programming offered via the Internet will be both captioned and described
Require that televisions and program receivers like set-top boxes be designed with accessible user interfaces and allow ready access to electronic program guides and
Strengthen enforcement strategies for consumers and establish a clearinghouse of information about service and equipment accessibility and usability.
Currently, the legislation is awaiting further action in a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. There is not a similar bill in the United States Senate. Of course, Congress needs to hear from people with disabilities about the need for legislation to achieve these goals.
More information about the bill can be found at the COAT web site: http://www.coataccess.org/
What is Section 255?
Section 255 was added to the Communications Act in 1996. It requires manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications service to ensure that their products and services are accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities, if it is readily achievable to do so. The Federal Communications Commission, a government agency, has the responsibility of investigating complaints and enforcing the accessibility requirements.
Under Section 255, consumers with disabilities can lodge a complaint against a company because of an inaccessible telephone or telephone service (either traditional landline or mobile). If you would like to file a complaint, you can do so by contacting the Federal Communications Commission. You can send details about your complaint by mail to the Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20554. You can also send a complaint via email to the FCC at email@example.com. Finally, you can also use a specific FCC web-based form to file a complaint. The form (along with other information) can be found at http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm
If H.R. 3101 passes, the Federal Communications Commission would also be tasked with investigating and enforcing complaints regarding accessibility.
Access to affordable and high-speed Internet (or broadband) connections for all Americans has been adopted by the Obama Administration as a key policy goal. The so-called stimulus funding package enacted in 2009 included over seven billion dollars for broadband deployment (the first installment of grants were recently announced), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was tasked with creating a national broadband plan. Access to broadband service is often likened to the efforts at the dawn of the 20th century to spread the telephone. Along with the federal funds, the FCC is hoping to spur a number of strategies through its national plan to increase access to broadband. For example, wireless broadband is emerging as a key solution to increasing the availability of high-speed Internet connections. In addition, policy-makers will likely be asked to consider using universal service funds, originally established to pay for the installation of telephone networks in hard-to-reach places, to be used for broadband network deployment. Noting that only 42% of people with disabilities have adopted broadband, the FCC is also taking a careful look at strategies to ensure access for people with disabilities to broadband communications technologies as well as web content. The final plan is expected sometime this spring and we'll keep you posted on developments in this area. You can also track developments at : http://www.broadband.gov.
Getting Between the Covers, Improving Access to Books
Accessible books proved to be a hot topic during 2009, and we're likely to hear much more about it in 2010. The year began with the tantalizing, but ultimately frustrating, unveiling of Amazon's Kindle 2 with text-to-speech (TTS) access. Unfortunately, people with vision loss cannot independently operate the TTS function. (Recently, Amazon announced that it will address access to the TTS functionality for people with vision loss.) Then, adding insult to injury, Amazon caved to author and publisher pressure and agreed to block TTS access to books upon request by the copyright holder. A broad-based coalition of disability and other interest groups formed the Reading Rights Coalition to fight this open attack on accessibility. You can find out more about the coalition at http://www.readingrights.org/.
When Amazon announced a pilot effort to work with universities to test the Kindle DX, a larger version of the Kindle, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) took legal action against the universities based on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These laws require education institutions to ensure access for people with disabilities. As we went to press, a settlement was announced between NFB and ACB and Arizona State University. Other universities have already announced they will not use inaccessible e-readers.
Meanwhile, Google continues its quest to transform digital information, including access to books through Google's search. In 2004, Google shook the publishing world when it announced that it had entered into agreements with several libraries to digitize books, including books protected by U.S. copyright law, in those libraries' collections. Authors and publishers brought a lawsuit against Google claiming that its digitization without permission infringed their copyrights. In response to the authors' and publishers' claims of copyright infringement, Google argued that its digitization of the books and display of snippets, or a few lines, of the books is permitted under the U.S. copyright law's doctrine of "fair use." Eventually, the parties negotiated a settlement which is now awaiting final approval by a U.S. Federal District Court judge before it can be implemented.
There are several components to the Google Books effort including access to out-of-print and public domain books as well as various levels of access to large sections of text based on search results. The Google Books project is of particular interest to the disability community because Google is working on methods to provide access to the digital text.
As 2009 came to a close, excitement came from an unexpected place, a United Nation's Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The Committee with the Orwellian name of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) addresses international agreements on copyright to allow the orderly exchange of books, movies, and other intellectual property across national borders. For many years, advocates for people with vision loss have been working to allow braille, recorded and electronic books to be exchanged more easily among nations. Currently, books in specialized formats can be shared among libraries if individual nations have an agreement to do so, but advocates want a system that facilitates sharing of accessible formats throughout the world to make it easier and faster for people with print disabilities to get access to material regardless of where it was developed.
This seemingly straightforward issue has been complicated, because many governments and industries oppose easy transfers of accessible formats, especially electronic files which they fear could be pirated and sold to people who do not have print disabilities.
For people with vision loss, there are precious few books that are produced in accessible formats such as audio, large print, braille, and accessible digital text. This is true, even for those of us living in the US who are fortunate to have organizations and a robust government program that produce books in accessible formats. The situation is far worse for people with print disabilities in much of the rest of the world, especially developing nations.
Last December, at the WIPO meeting in Geneva, the United States government issued a statement pledging to work to "…reach international consensus on the free exportation and importation of special format materials for persons with print disabilities in all countries." This is a an important step toward making more books available, especially books in accessible formats produced here in the US that could be used in other parts of the world, but also books made accessible elsewhere that are otherwise not available here. In particular, this could be very helpful for people with print disabilities wishing to access books produced in other countries in languages other than English.
Because this effort will require changes in copyright laws and agreements among nations, this issue is complex and will take time to sort out. In fact, several more meetings of the WIPO committee working on this issue will likely need to convene before any solution is made final. However, George Kerscher, Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium, sounded an optimistic note. According to Kerscher, "the US is willing to look at a variety of approaches to solve the 'book famine' problem. To me this means that there may be options that will allow the cross border exchange of materials even before a treaty is passed and ratified by the member states."
The full U.S. government statement to the world copyright body, known as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) can be read at the following web site, http://www.uspto.gov/ip/global/copyrights/index.jsp.
The statement is titled "Statement on copyright exceptions and limitations for persons with disabilities to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) standing committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) in Geneva, Switzerland"
A good site for information on this topic is the DAISY Consortium which promotes international efforts to enable equal access to information for people with print disabilities. The web site is: http://www.daisy.org.
Get Connected, Speak Out and Stay Involved
Because information technology is so central to so much of our lives, the disability community continues to work for legal mandates that ensure the accessibility of the technology products and services. These legal mandates are powerful tools and they have helped to influence technology developers to address accessibility. However, legislation and government policy is very difficult and time-consuming to accomplish. Although many developers of technology may be very supportive of accessibility for people with disabilities, they resist specific government direction regarding how to achieve it. As a consequence, efforts to settle on final policy language often require lengthy debate and ongoing negotiations. One of the most important things that consumers with disabilities can do is to keep putting pressure on policy-makers such as members of Congress to make sure they understand that their constituents with disabilities really do care about being able to use technology-based products and services.
Back to top
The ScripTalk Experience
AccessWorld has reported on the technical characteristics of En-Vision America's ScripTalk talking medication system in the past, and we found the technology works well. The use of assistive technology for identifying prescription medications is relatively new, and only a relatively small number of people have access to it; therefore, we thought it would be useful to talk with some people using ScripTalk.
Caption: The ScripTalk Device
This article summarizes conversations I conducted with ScripTalk customers, and I have used first names and geographic locations when appropriate. Names were provided upon request by En-Vision America. These interviews and the resulting information provided a sort of "snapshot" of individuals using a relatively new technology.
In Rochester, New York, Robert is struggling with a situation familiar to some who use pharmacies covered by a medical plan, and he contacted AccessWorld when he heard about our interest in the technology. Despite his efforts to find a local pharmacy using ScripTalk and several calls to large mail order pharmacies that contract with his insurer, Robert can not find a pharmacy that has, or will install, the ScripTalk technology.
Despite early interest and excellent response from the community, ScripTalk availability remains very limited. To date, no national drug store chain has made the system available in all its stores. Walgreens, however, has conducted pilot programs in northern Indiana and Arizona, where I understand ScripTalk was well received. Unfortunately, no information about increased availability from Walgreens has been announced.
Robert is a braille reader, and fortunately one mail order supplier he contacted has braille medication labeling available. Robert had not yet received his first prescriptions with the braille labels when he spoke with AccessWorld.
Robert's situation illustrates an important factor identified by several individuals we spoke to. A familiarity with several nonvisual techniques, including braille, allows for more options in selecting a strategy for medication identification.
Eric, who lives in Columbus, OH, started using his ScripTalk about 6 months ago. Like Robert, he is familiar with a range of blindness techniques. He told AccessWorld, "It's really all about the independence. I have two kids who could read to me, but having the information available to me directly makes all the difference." Eric reports he and his family do not use that many prescriptions and that because taking meds isn't always part of the routine ScripTalk is helpful, because it reminds him of information he may have forgotten over a long period of time.
Eric uses a small pharmacy in Columbus, and he approached them when he saw ScripTalk demonstrated at a national convention of the blind. They immediately saw the benefit and purchased the technology.
Because of his children, Eric asked his pharmacy to label all medications for his family with ScripTalk. "If the kids have to take a prescription, now I can make sure it is administered correctly," he said.
In Fort Smith, Arkansas, Peggy is an enthusiastic ScripTalk customer. "I love it," was her first comment shared with AccessWorld. She learned of the device from a friend in the local chapter of a major consumer organization. This reflects a pattern observed among customers. Word of mouth, especially through the efforts of consumer organizations, appears to be the most important method by which people learn about ScripTalk. This is an interesting trend, since many of the individuals we contacted would also have had an opportunity to learn about the system from medical professionals.
Caption: A woman using the ScripTalk device.
Peggy and a number of others in Fort Smith use Vaughns, a local pharmacy. Again the pattern for a local provider to receive the business from a number of ScripTalk customers in the community follows a trend.
Peggy said she doesn't use many prescriptions, "But, I have had several surgeries, and let me tell you, when you have meds that change or you aren't using them all the time, it is really great." Again the independence to accommodate variable requirements for taking unfamiliar medications is an important advantage of the technology.
Peggy uses low vision techniques and talking technology. She uses a CCTV, but that didn't work well, and before ScripTalk she had to find someone to read things to her.
In Boynton Beach, FL, Randi uses ScripTalk to identify five medications she takes on a regular basis. She shared a very serious situation with AccessWorld. Before using ScripTalk she mixed two similar sounding medications. "I had a difficult time sleeping after loosing my vision, and the doctors were changing my meds, trying to find the best combination," she said. She also told us before using ScripTalk, she was transferring her meds to special containers which allow you to record a message on each. "I travel extensively, and they didn't last and it was costing me a fortune to keep replacing these talking containers." Randi has no trouble traveling with her medications and ScripTalk unit.
On Long Island, NY, Dennis received his ScripTalk from the Veterans Administration. Any patient of the VA system can request a ScripTalk unit and to have medications labeled for use with it. Dennis also experiences significant hearing los, in addition to his visual impairment. He reports the ScripTalk Station, the current version of the technology, is easy to hear and works well either with the internal speaker or with an earphone when he desires privacy.
Most importance to Dennis is the ability to manage receiving his medications by mail. The VA supplies prescriptions by mail. "When things arrive, my wife usually has a look first, and if she doesn't recognize something, I immediately take it to the ScripTalk Station and find out what it is." Dennis has had good luck with the VA stating that with only a few exceptions it has always included the ScripTalk labels. "When it didn't, I just took the container of medication to the VA pharmacy, and they put the label on it for me," Dennis told AccessWorld.
The VA is an important provider of medical care and prescriptions for many blind and visually impaired veterans. As the first nation-wide distributer of the hardware and meds the experience of VA patients helped refine the technology for the current ScripTalk Station.
Several important themes emerged as we spoke with ScripTalk customers. The first noticeable trend is people are very enthusiastic about the technology. This holds true for experienced users of assistive technology as well as those for whom ScripTalk is their only specialized blindness technology.
Using ScripTalk, all the people we spoke with are able to identify their prescriptions with minimal difficulty. Early users of the first generation technology provided by the VA said the newer ScripTalk Station has resolved issues of difficult to understand speech they encountered in early versions.
The deployment of the technology appears to have been a very grassroots effort even for the VA, which has the technology available. Groups such as the Blinded Veterans of America play an important part in demonstrating ScripTalk and encouraging members to order and use the device.
The National Federation of the Blind has also been very active with building awareness of ScripTalk's availability.
Back to top
Social Networking is Becoming a Way of Life
Much has been said about the influence of social networking and its effect on the way people live their lives. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube have shifted the paradigm from a world of static web pages to a world of interactivity. No longer are our social networks limited to just family, friends, and co-workers.
AccessWorld has published articles on the accessibility of these sites, but how do we really use them? Do people with vision loss use them differently than our sighted peers? Is there anything unique to our methods? This article will begin to explore the many ways the author uses these social networking tools at work and in his personal life.
In the second half of the 1990's, a whole new form of communication was gripping the nation. The World Wide Web was making the front pages of America's newspapers. E-mail and instant messaging were all the rage. With endless numbers of web sites to navigate, one might have thought we had reached the top of the technological mountain. Fast forward to the middle of the next decade and the beginnings of web 2.0 . The tell-tale signs of a 2.0 web site include the ability for users to interact with other users or change the content. This is contrasted by the static non-interactive web sites that allow visitors to only view the content that is provided to them. Some examples of this new technology include: blogs and micro-blogs like Twitter; web-based communities like Second Life; open source knowledge web sites called wikis like Wikipedia; video and photo-sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr; social news aggregators that consolidate news stories like Digg and Delicious; and social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Many of these new developments represent a fundamental shift where working on the internet would replace working on our own desktops. Applications would be made available through the web browser giving the public even greater computing possibilities. Content would no longer be controlled by the few. Anybody with access to the internet would be capable of writing a multi-page thesis on the philosophical significance of Star Wars characters or post videos of their cat playing chopsticks on the piano.
While this was moving along at light speed, the folks at the World Wide Web Consortium, the organization responsible for many of the guidelines and standards for information technology based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the browser makers such as Microsoft, the Mozilla Foundation, Opera, and assistive technology companies were working diligently to ensure that people with disabilities would be able to participate in the new web 2.0. However, it has been and continues to be an uphill struggle to make sure people with disabilities have the same access. New technology such as Ajax makes it possible for content to change onscreen without having to reload the web page. Flash makes it possible to have audio and video alongside standard HTML web pages. At the onset, many people believed that these new technologies were not accessible to people using assistive technology. However, due to the hard work of the people mentioned above, better authoring tools, and more attention being focused on accessibility by end users, web 2.0 sites have improved accessibility and become mainstream staples in our lives. It is really important to remember that many of these web sites and applications are still not 100% accessible and it is vital to be familiar with your assistive technology and be persistent to learn all of the tricks to navigating these sites.
AccessWorld has published quite a number of articles about the accessibility of these new types of web sites including reviews of Facebook and Twitter. In this article I will share some insights of how I actually engage these web sites.
I first started using LinkedIn about five years ago when a friend of mine sent me an invitation to join him as a connection. I gladly accepted the invitation and created a user profile. After that I was unsure what to do with the web site and while I entered the names of some friends and colleagues, I did not find any matches. For a couple of years, I only had a handful of connections. The concept behind LinkedIn is based on the idea that each of us is linked to one another by "six degrees of separation." Individuals all have a social network of colleagues, friends, and family that work in various positions. Why not harness the power of web 2.0 to help each other find the connections we are seeking by taking a look at their virtual rolodexes. As an accessibility specialist for AFB Consulting, I find myself constantly trying to contact people at different companies to discuss accessibility issues. For example, if I would like to speak with someone who works in the field of accessibility, I could enter the term into the search field and find everybody in my vast network that has put that search term in their user profile. Moreover, the search results will be sorted by the number of degrees they are separated from me. If the person is your connection, you are able to send them a message. If the person is two or three degrees from you, it is possible to ask your connection to put you in touch with the intended person. It is possible to search for former classmates and work colleagues by entering in your school and workplace information. As LinkedIn grew bigger, they have added modules to help people to connect in groups, share recommendations of colleagues, invite people to business events, and post job opportunities. Using this social network, I can find all varieties of articles on important topics. I can ask questions of my own connections of people who are members of the groups I belong to. I can help out others who are looking for answers to topics that I am also interested in such as accessibility. Recently, I have noticed that LinkedIn is migrating towards some of the features found on other sites, such as posting photographs and status updates but I feel that the real power behind LinkedIn is the quality of the connections you add to your network. While it may not be as fun as some other sites, I feel it is the best tool for business relationships.
While most people just enjoy saying the words "Twitter" and "tweet," there actually are compelling reasons to use Twitter to stay connected. Additionally, Twitter adds a new twist by allowing users to use Twitter through a variety of clients other than its web site. People tweet from their note-takers, iPhones, smart phones, or even using specialized clients such as Qwitter or Accessible Twitter. Many people choose these clients because they are optimized for accessibility and give full access to all of the features that might not be available to assistive technology on the Twitter web site. It is probably safe to say there are two types of people on Twitter — those who tweet and those who listen. The key to Twitter is being selective about who you follow. Since there is a limited amount of real estate on any web page, if you follow too many people and those people tweet all day, you'll have to spend a lot of time filtering through the tweets. Sometimes you might be interested in what your friend had for lunch but other times you are looking for more important information. By having a carefully screened list of people I follow on Twitter, I can learn about a lot of new articles on accessibility. Additionally, when I find an interesting article or news related to AFB, I can also post it to Twitter for people to follow. If I want to discover what people are saying about a particular subject, I can use the search field to type in a search term such as accessibility. Often, people will add a "hash tag" or the number sign to a search term in their tweet to make it easier for people to search for. Because Twitter limits messages to only 140 characters, there is a lot of shorthand used on the site. Most of it is pretty self-explanatory but be prepared to find a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes.
Not everything needs to be about work all the time. For an old-fashioned diversion delivered in a new package, I turn to Facebook. Now there are a million different ways to use Facebook to connect to other people and thus build a social network. Many companies have recently launched customer loyalty Facebook groups and fan pages. Thousands of would-be entrepreneurs have tried their hand at creating Facebook applications to entice people into spending even more time away from their actual work. Despite all of this effort by folks, all I want to really do is see what happened to my old friends from high school and college. I suppose there could be many people who are just dying to see photographs of me to compare my hairline "then and now" or to see if I got fat or both. When I do log into Facebook, it is usually to hear the status reports of my friends or check in on some of the groups I belong to. I am still not sure how I am going to use Facebook for purposes other than personal entertainment. It does not seem to have some of the business and professional network features found on LinkedIn. To be honest, perhaps that's not such a bad thing. Many of us spend eight hours or more at our desks planted on our fannies with our hands attached to our keyboards. From time to time, it feels good to crack a smile when you read that your best friend from college just ordered a double cheeseburger, large fries, and of course, a diet soda.
I can just imagine everybody asking why the person with vision loss might be interested in YouTube. All kidding aside, this site embodies the concept of user generated content in the best and worst scenarios. There are a whole host of accessibility challenges ranging from captioning for hearing impaired visitors to the lack of descriptive audio for videos but YouTube does plan to address many of its accessibility issues including captioning. With the spread of imbedded YouTube videos all over the Internet, there is a huge problem. Webmasters who embed the video player from YouTube are unaware that they have forgotten to label the controls making it virtually impossible for screen reader users to control the videos from their site. In these instances, I try to find the video on the YouTube site which has an easier interface for playing videos with a screen reader. If you navigate to YouTube and search for videos about assistive technology, one can find a variety of homemade and professional videos showing how it is possible to use different types of technology. Google has even created its own channel and posted videos describing its efforts to build and support accessible mobile products. It is no problem to search for videos of people explaining how to use a variety of gizmos and gadgets.
The AFB Experience
You may be asking yourself what the American Foundation for the Blind is doing to keep current with web 2.0? Many of AFB's staff use LinkedIn to communicate with others in the field, the communications department has posted videos to YouTube, and there are a couple of different Twitter accounts. We have the AFB blog (http://www.afb.org/Blog/) where readers are encouraged to post comments to articles we post. All of the AFB web sites including AFB.org, Senior Site, Family Connect, and Career Connect have message boards where readers are invited to ask and respond to questions. Career Connect has its own social network where mentors and mentees are able to communicate to learn about a particular career path. Coming soon in 2010, there will be a variety of new features found on all of the AFB web sites that expand the possibility of getting in touch with others whose lives are affected by vision loss.
The internet is constantly changing, and what is popular today may be yesterday's news in the near future. All of these sites represent a departure from traditional media outlets that create content and allow the end users to do the "heavy lifting." While each of these applications may appear to have specific usage, I fully expect them to morph as we see changes to mobile technology and additional bandwidth to allow for larger amounts of data to be transmitted. But before you feel pressure to go and click over to any of these web sites, just remember that your life will go on with or without these sites. However, if you are looking for a new job, new friends, new celebrity gossip, or new laughs, these sites might be just for you.
Back to top
Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment. Ike Presley and Frances Mary D'Andrea. New York: AFB Press, 2009, paperback, 548 pp., $49.95.
I was privileged this past winter to have the opportunity to see several prepublication chapters of Ike Presley and Frances Mary D'Andrea's new book, Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment, as I was deciding whether to use it as a textbook for my class at Florida State University on assistive technology for people who are visually impaired. My early glimpse at those chapters clearly showed me that this book is an important work that will stand the test of time, and it made me anxious to see the rest of the book.
So often, in the field of assistive technology, things change so rapidly that publications become outdated almost as quickly as they are published. Luckily for readers of this publication, Presley and D'Andrea have found a way to give significant information on assistive technology that is not likely to become obsolete as rapidly as other titles on the subject. Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired is an original piece of work, the foundation of which is solid research on the part of the authors. Throughout all the chapters, the findings are supported by current publications, as well as by some additional, older resources that provide historical perspectives on the information presented.
Overview of Available Assistive Technology
The book begins with an explanation of why it is important to help learners with visual impairments become "natives" in the "digital world" we all live in today, with the same ease and access to advanced technologies and information processing as their sighted peers. The five chapters of Part 1 provide an overview of the assistive technology tools that are currently available for individuals with visual impairments. Although the book focuses on working with students in educational settings, readers will find information that applies equally to the access needs of adult learners with visual impairments. Part 1 provides both general and specific information about a wide spectrum of software and electronic devices that are designed to enable individuals with visual impairments to access print and electronic information in a variety of formats. How to produce materials in braille, large print, and electronic formats is also addressed.
The discussion in Part 1 of the book is comprehensive and covers the full spectrum of products available at this time. Although the authors mention some specific products, the discussions about the utility of a particular product could be applied to any device or tool in the same category and are centered around the reasons why a particular type of device would be appropriate to meet a student's needs, rather than on the specific features of an individual product. The clear rationale the authors provide for selecting one type of device over another is the reason this book will be valuable for some time to come.
Step-by-Step Guide to Assessment
Part 2 has four chapters that describe the actual step-by-step process of conducting an assistive technology assessment, a primary purpose of the book. The authors emphasize that properly administered assistive technology assessments are needed to form the basis of decisions regarding the provision or attainment of software or devices for students with visual impairments. After reading Part 1, it is easy to understand why one would want to conduct a high-quality assistive technology assessment to determine what types of technology and accommodations would work best for an individual's specific needs. With so many options to choose from and such a wide variety of needs, it is not possible to arbitrarily provide technology to individuals based on only their degree of visual impairment.
The process of accomplishing a high-quality assessment is described in detail in this part of the book, with information on gathering background information, setting up the learning environment, performing the assessment, and completing and reporting the findings of the assessment. In addition, sample scenarios are provided, showing completed assessment forms. A complete set of reproducible blank forms is provided at the end of the book. However, the fact that the forms exist only in print, and can only be photocopied by individuals wishing to use these forms, poses a problem. My students and I concluded that it would have been good for a book on technology to have also provided electronic copies of the forms that could be filled out electronically.
The Right Tools for the Task
The essence of the entire book is captured in the following sentences:
… when completing an assistive technology assessment, it is important to remember that students will use a combination of formats, tools, and techniques to accomplish their educational activities. The objective of the assistive technology assessment, then, is to select the most efficient format for dealing with different types of information under different circumstances and choose the tools that are best suited for completing each task.
Presley and D'Andrea are talking about the use of technology in education, but what they say can be applied comfortably to any learner who wants to have better access to written or digital information or both. This book is right on target for evaluating and helping students and clients with visual impairments experience a level playing field in terms of access to written and electronic information. Not only does this book provide a step-by-step guide to conducting assistive technology assessments, it is an excellent resource manual and a resource well worth owning.
Karyl Loux, M.Ed., semiretired assistive technology specialist and adjunct professor, Florida State University; mailing address: 806 Bells Island Road, Currituck, NC 27929; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reproduced with permission of AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind, Book Review, by K. Loux, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Vol. 103, pp. 379–380, copyright © 2009 by AFB Press. All rights reserved.
Back to top
Wayfinder Access GPS System Discontinued: Future of Product Dims
The German telecom giant, Vodafone, has purchased Wayfinder, the cell phone-based GPS technology provider. Just as suddenly it appears that the plug has been pulled on any future development of Wayfinder.
Neil Barnfather, owner of TalkNav, the largest distributer of Wayfinder, posted the following statement on the Access Mailing List.
I had hoped to have more definitive information for you before having to make a statement about this.
My information is as follows:
Wayfinder have indeed terminated the Access application in terms of future development, TalkNav had hoped to purchase the application in order that it be further developed as a TalkNav GPS product under our control. Unfortunately this was rather suddenly and inexplicitly dropped at Wayfinder's end. This was quite a shock to us all at TalkNav, as we were quite extensively through negotiations and were but days away from signing a contract. We have no official word from Vodafone or Wayfinder as to why they would have chosen not to allow our acquisition of the product, however since that is what they have chosen to do, we have no further course of action available to us.
Existing customers we are assured will continue to receive full service and support from Wayfinder, the licenses that you have are fully valid and Wayfinder have informed us that they will honor the terms to which these licenses were sold.
In terms of future sales, the product is officially no longer being developed; however, we and no doubt other dealers, have stock licenses available. Wayfinder is allowing these to be sold at this time, and under the above clause that they'll not terminate support or service, you can be assured of use from your Access purchase.
You may ask why buy something that isn't being developed any further, it's a good question. For me I'd look at the alternatives, sure they maybe being onwards developed, however, Access still to date remains the cheapest blind accessible GPS product, and with Wayfinder assuring ongoing support / service, you can be assured that your product will last for a good while yet. Sure Access has some problems, but given the alternatives and their costs, the point is it's still to me a worthy consideration.
What of course is obvious is that once the remaining stock licenses are gone, that as they say, is that. They'll be no further way of purchasing Access licenses.
We are advised that we can offer up the following e-mail address to users for those who require more information; however, please note that they've not been able to tell us anything more, thus it's likely that they won't answer your questions along the above bases in any further detail. By all means though, if you wish please do try.
Cell Phone Updates
Stay tuned to AccessWorld for more in-depth articles on some new exciting developments in the world of cell phone accessibility. In the meantime, here are some quick bullets on the latest news:
- Phones with the new Android operating system from Google are now on the market, and several accessible apps as well as a general screen reading app are being developed. On January 6, Google released its own phone, the Nexus 1, an unlocked phone that is not restricted to one particular service provider.
- Nuance has released version 4 of TALKS for Symbian phones, and Code Factory has announced version 4 of Mobile Speak for Symbian and Windows Mobile phones. Mobile Speak for Windows Mobile phones now supports touch screen phones.
- With the release of version 6.3.1, the KNFB Reader Mobile software is now compatible with several additional Nokia phones. It allows for use of a trial license for a 14-day free evaluation period. The Nokia phones supported are the E71, N79, N82, N85, N86, N95 8 GB, N95 North American model, and the Nokia 6220 Classic.
Moshi Travel Alarm Clock
The Moshi Voice-Controlled Travel Alarm Clock is the newest iteration of the innovative voice-activated design from Moshi Lifestyle. Although it was not designed specifically for visually impaired customers, it is a decided improvement over the original model, and it is completely accessible. Although instructions are provided only in print, the clock is so easy and intuitive to use, reading them is almost unnecessary.
The clock measures about 2-1/2 by 3-1/2 inches, fitting easily into the palm of one's hand. On the top are two bars to press: A short one, called the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) button, and a longer one used to light the display or tell the alarm you want to snooze a bit more. On the right edge are two rectangular buttons. The one nearest the front requires a press, and toggles between Alarm On and Alarm Off modes. The other requires a sliding motion and is used to increase or decrease volume. On the left edge is a single rectangular button. This is the "key lock" button, and also requires a sliding motion.
The Moshi Travel Alarm Clock responds to voice commands. Commands include Time, Set Time, Alarm, Set Alarm, Alarm Sound, and Temperature. When the IVR button is pressed, the unit says, in a pleasant female voice, "Command please." If held at arm's length, the clock responds well to any of the above commands, responding in the same female voice with the desired information. It responds in complete sentences, e.g.: "The temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit."
The front side of the clock is its LCD display, which becomes brighter when the long bar on top is pressed.
When you respond to the command prompt with the words "Alarm Sound," you are given three choices: a single chime, a musical sequence reminiscent of game show ditties, and a 13-note chime sequence that is particularly robust. You select the desired sound by stating "Alarm 1," "Alarm 2," or "Alarm 3."
For approximately $25, this little clock is a snap to learn to use, convenient to carry, and responds reasonably well to all voices. The Moshi Voice-Controlled Travel Alarm Clock is available from a variety of sources, including:
Independent Living Aids
Blind Mice Mart
Or Bed Bath and Beyond
New Low Vision Product from Dancing Dots
At ATIA, Orlando, Dancing Dots introduced its new product The Lime Lighter Low Vision Music-Reading Device for people with low vision.
The Lime Lighter:
- Displays magnified print music notation.
- Magnifies music from 1.25 up to 10 times.
- Allows you to mark up your music on the screen with a stylus and lets you save it for later.
- Allows you to listen to music playback in tempo.
- Allows you to optionally use third-party magnification software to read text in program menus and dialogs.
For more information call Dancing Dots at 610-783-6692 (Press option 1 for Sales) or visit www.dancingdots.com/limelighter
Mark Your Calendar: Combined Call for Papers: February 15 – May 17, 2010
Calling all speakers for the new COMBINED Call for Papers for ATIA 2010 Chicago
(October 27-30, 2010) and ATIA 2011 Orlando (January 26-29, 2011).
ATIA is holding a combined Call for Papers for two conferences for an extended period of three months to enable speakers to submit abstracts for one OR both conferences.
How will it work? Speakers will submit abstracts online and select if they are submitting for one of three choices:
- ATIA 2010 Chicago
- ATIA 2011 Orlando
- BOTH ATIA 2010 Chicago and ATIA 2011 Orlando
Speakers receive discounted registration to the conference. Please contact email@example.com with questions.
Back to top
Letters to the Editor
Thank you for the informative comparison of the HumanWare Victor Reader, the PLEXTALK Pocket (PTP1), and GW Micro's BookSense. I found the article to be clearly written and informative. I have posted a link to it on our blog at www.readhowyouwant.com/blog and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Read How You Want is an accessible-formats book publisher that partners with more than 70 publishers to release their titles in DAISY, braille, and large print. We currently offer more than 4,000 books in our Classics library, as well as mysteries, cookbooks, children's and young adults' titles, health and wellness books, and more. We are constantly adding more titles and forming new partnerships. Our books can be found at www.readhowyouwant.com/daisy.
If you are interested in reading some of our books, we offer 5 free downloads from our Classics library as part of our partnership with PLEXTALK at www.readhowyouwant.com/plextalk. We also offer 20 first chapters from contemporary books and 5 other Classics titles as part of our partnership with HumanWare at www.readhowyouwant.com/humanware.
Read How You Want
Phone: 971-340-9853, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: www.readhowyouwant.com
Follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/readhowyouwant) and Twitter (twitter.com/readhowyouwant).
Back to top
Copyright © 2010 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.