In This Issue
Summer Conferences and a New AccessWorld Team Member
A Hot Summer for Technology Policy
Paul W. Schroeder
Reading Made Easy: A Review of the Digital Talking Book Machine from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Social Networking Privacy Options
An Introduction to the Open Library Project
Productivity on the Go: Notetakers, Netbooks, and Everything in Between
Summer Conferences and a New AccessWorld Team Member
Dear AccessWorld readers,
Welcome to the second issue in our new monthly publication schedule!
It has been a busy July for me, attending the summer conferences. While a bit hectic, it has been great meeting many AccessWorld readers and even recruiting some new readers who were not familiar with our publication. I am also glad to hear how much many of you, especially those of you who are students or who work in the area of education, liked the information and resources in the July "Back to School" issue.
If you missed the "Back to School" issue, or any issue for that matter, you can always search our archives by selecting the back issues link from any AccessWorld webpage. Here, you can browse by month and year. You can also enter a search term, such as "cell phones," into the search AccessWorld box, and every online article that contains information on cell phones will be presented.
The AccessWorld team is very happy to welcome J.J. Meddaugh to our roster. We are sure the avid readers among you will appreciate his article on Open Library.
J.J. Meddaugh comes to AccessWorld with over 20 years of experience with assistive technology, dating back to the Apple II. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in telecommunications management from Western Michigan University and has led several online business ventures through the past decade. He was one of the founders of BlindBargains.com, an online resource featuring news and deals of particular interest to blind consumers and professionals.
Apart from technology, J.J. has held several managerial positions at Camp Tuhsmeheta, a camp near Grand Rapids, Michigan, that aims to increase independence and opportunities for blind youth and adults. A native of Saginaw, J.J. now lives in Kalamazoo and enjoys travel and playing the keyboard. You can look for more articles from J.J. in future AccessWorld issues.
Remember our new monthly publication schedule. Please look for us again in September!
Back to top
A Hot Summer for Technology Policy
Over my 20 years of advocacy in Washington, D.C., I have never seen such a time of celebration combined with as much substance as I've seen this summer. The occasion for celebration was the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was enacted on July 26, 1990.
Although the ADA is probably best known for improvements in physical access, much of the recent policy activity has been focused on technology. In fact, technology policy developments are popping up so fast that we can barely keep up. We'll try to keep you informed about the most important initiatives and ways for you to be involved. You may also visit the ADA website for extensive information about the legislation, as well as notices regarding new rules and proposed regulations. You may also sign up for email notifications of new ADA-related information.
Update on Legislation
On July 26, 2010, the very day the ADA was signed into being 20 years ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve H.R. 3101, the "Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010," by an overwhelming margin (348–23). (See AccessWorld's March 2010 issue for earlier reporting). The American Foundation for the Blind joined other organizations in the disability community in advocating for this legislation, which is intended to improve access to new communications technologies and television programs. Among other improvements, the legislation would, if enacted,
- mandate mobile communications companies make Web browsers, text messaging, and e-mail on smart phones fully accessible;
- require manufacturers of TV equipment to ensure all controls are accessible;
- require cable and other providers of television service to make their program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss;
- restore and expand requirements for video description of television programs, and ensure that people with vision loss have access to emergency broadcast information; and
- provide $10 million in funding each year for assistive technology for deaf-blind individuals.
There have been many twists and turns on the path to this successful vote by the House on H.R. 3101. Compromises were required to get it this far. Most of these compromises were pushed by technology industry advocates who demanded more flexibility in government requirements. During hearings before committees in both the House and Senate, vocal advocates within the technology industry, particularly representatives of the Consumer Electronics Association, spread false notions that innovation has, or will, solve access problems facing people with disabilities. Much was made of the iPhone and iPad, which do indeed demonstrate tremendous access innovations. However, they are the exception, not the rule. For example, people with vision loss still have only one Blackberry device that is fully accessible, and that access comes at the very high price of $449 for Oratio. Access to most other smart phones is possible only with the purchase of expensive screen-access software. The television industry also argued that access will cost too much. The industry sought to severely cap the amount of television programming that might be provided with video description. The video description requirements remained in H.R. 3101 only after they were scaled back.
Ten years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required television broadcasters and cable operators to begin providing a minimum of four hours a week of description for popular programs. The TV industry was adamantly opposed and convinced a federal court to overturn this modest effort based on the interpretation that the FCC lacked congressional authority to impose this requirement. As introduced, H.R. 3101 restores this modest requirement (providing a clear congressional directive) and authorizes the FCC to eventually require additional hours of description. The industry successfully lobbied to remove the additional FCC authority from the version of the legislation that passed a subcommittee in late June, leaving a cap of seven hours a week of programming that must be described and only for the largest cable networks and in the largest metropolitan areas. Congressional leaders worked out an agreement to allow the FCC to increase the amount of described programs after 10 years.
The United States Senate passed its version of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, S. 3304 on August 5, 2010. The bill was amended to be nearly identical to the House bill, H.R. 3101, but there are some differences that still need to be worked out before the bill can become law. Congress is away for the month of August, so no further action is expected until September when both the House and Senate return to complete work on pending legislation. Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), is the lead sponsor and champion of S. 3304.
One key difference between the two bills is that S. 3304 does not authorize the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require TV broadcasters and cable providers to increase the amount of video-described TV programs beyond a cap of 7 hours per week.
You can find out more about this legislation, including steps you can take today to help ensure it addresses the needs of the disability community, on the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology website.
Access to Cell Phones
On July 19, the FCC announced an initiative to improve access to cell phones for people with vision loss or who are deaf-blind. In a notice published in the Federal Register (the federal government's daily publication of proposed rules and new regulations), the FCC requested ideas from consumers, industry, and others regarding methods to improve access to cell phones. The notice states, "we are concerned that people who are blind or have other vision disabilities have few accessible and affordable wireless phone options.…the vast majority of mobile telephones are not accessible to this population without the addition of expensive software." The notice went on to acknowledge the specific obstacles experienced by individuals who are deaf-blind, particularly the cost of braille displays and the difficulty of getting the displays to work with cell phone technology. Comments are due by September 13, 2010, and the FCC will accept reply comments by September 30, 2010.
The FCC is particularly interested in obtaining information and ideas regarding the following:
- current cell phone features and functions that are not accessible for people who are blind, have vision loss, or are deaf-blind, and the cost and feasibility of technical solutions;
- reasons why there are not a greater number of wireless phones—particularly among less expensive or moderately priced handset models—that are accessible to people who are blind or have vision loss; and
- technical obstacles, if any, to making wireless technologies compatible with braille displays, as well as the cost and feasibility of technical solutions to achieve other forms of compatibility with wireless products and services for people who are deaf-blind.
AFB is gathering comments on our cell phone accessibility webpage and by email at email@example.com. The FCC notice is also available on the AFB site.
On July 19, Julius Genachowski, FCC chairman, announced the launch of the Accessibility and Innovation Initiative, which includes a "problem-solving commons" for the exchange of ideas on communications access, upcoming action on cloud-based computing, and a special chairman's award to be presented next July. More information can be found on the Accessibility and Innovation Initiative website.
But wait; as the infomercials say, "There's more!"
Proposed Action on Web Access and Video Description
The ADA anniversary was celebrated with more than just parties. The Department of Justice has made good on a promise to address website accessibility under the ADA. Although the Internet was a fledgling, and largely unknown, technology infrastructure when the ADA was enacted, the Web is now essential to access to products and services. As such, the Justice Department has announced an initiative to determine how best to ensure access to websites (especially commercial websites under Title III of the ADA). Summarizing the situation, the Justice Department's notice states, "Although the Department has been clear that the ADA applies to websites of private entities that meet the definition of 'public accommodations,' inconsistent court decisions, differing standards for determining Web accessibility, and repeated calls for Department action indicate remaining uncertainty regarding the applicability of the ADA to websites of entities covered by title III." In addition, the department also has issued a notice asking for comment related to requiring movie theaters to install the technology to provide video description and captions.
To learn more about the proposals from the Department of Justice, and to submit your comment in support of access to the Web and to video description, please use these links:
Department of Justice's advance notice of proposed rulemaking on movie captioning and video description
Department of Justice's advance notice of proposed rulemaking on Web access
Comments from the public are welcome and are due by January 24, 2011.
Obama Administration Ready to Ramp Up Efforts on Federal Government Technology Accessibility
Finally, progress is being made in the long-dormant arena of federal government purchasing of accessible technology. Section 508, a provision included in the Rehabilitation Act, requires the federal government to ensure that electronic and information technology purchased, developed, or used by federal agencies is accessible to individuals with disabilities, including employees and members of the public, unless it would be an undue burden to do so. The access to and use of electronic and information technology for people with disabilities must be comparable with that for individuals who do not have disabilities. Although this law applies to federal government agencies, it is also designed to use the market power of government spending to encourage the development of accessible information and communications technology. Unfortunately, the law has not been actively promoted at the highest level of government. But that appears to be changing.
On July 19, a memo was issued by the Executive Office of the President of the United States that states, "To ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access to their government, agencies must buy and use accessible electronic and information technology (EIT), as required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C 794d), as amended." The memo provides guidance and includes resources to help government agencies improve their efforts regarding technology access. Federal employees and members of the public will be invited to provide feedback at "listening sessions." In spring 2011, the Department of Justice will issue a progress report on federal agency compliance with Section 508, the first since 2004.
Important new changes are also being made in the rules implementing Section 508. Last March, the United States Access Board issued a proposal to update the Section 508 rules (as well as the access guidelines related to Section 255, a law that requires accessible telecommunications products and services). The board's proposal features a new structure and format integrating the 508 standards and 255 guidelines into a single document referred to as the "Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines." Requirements have been reorganized according to functionality instead of product type as many devices now feature an array of capabilities and applications. Products and technologies covered by this rulemaking include telephones, cell phones, and other telecommunication products; computer hardware and software; websites; media players; electronic documents; and personal digital assistants, among others. A first round of public comments closed in late June. You may read more about the new Access Board proposals and track comments by visiting the Trace Center's website.
The American Foundation for the Blind regularly reports on policy issues in Washington, D.C., through our blog and our Public Policy Center. In particular, AFB's Public Policy Center offers a periodic email newsletter called DirectConnect as well as extensive information on policy issues. You can sign up for DirectConnect and find other information on the Public Policy Center webpage.
Back to top
Reading Made Easy: A Review of the Digital Talking Book Machine from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
We Americans like to joke about the limitations of government. "Of course Project X was never finished," we'll say, "because it was done by the government." Or, "Of course no one saw the big picture in developing an idea because it was done by the government."
But the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, a division of the Library of Congress, which has distributed braille and recorded books nationwide since it was founded by Congress in 1931, has designed a transition from analog to digital talking books that is both commendable and excellent. The focal point of this transition for the blind or visually impaired patron is the digital talking book (DTB) machine.
Since machines began flying off regional library shelves last year, about 200,000 DTB have been shipped to date, and libraries are dispatching new ones (which are being produced at a rate of about 20,000 per month) as soon as they become available.
In extensive testing of machines and material, taking into account a multitude of individual needs among its patrons, NLS has designed a machine that appeals to and is usable by just about anyone. The books themselves are contained on a single cartridge bearing print and braille label information, which can be popped into the machine and easily retrieved via a convenient finger hole at the machine's front edge. For the more technologically inclined, books can be downloaded with ease from the NLS site and transferred to blank cartridges or USB flash drives for a listening experience that provides superb sound quality and content navigation sure to dazzle those who have previously used only cassettes. Although the site for downloading books and magazines from NLS is itself a feat in accessibility and user friendliness, the focus of this article is the DTB player itself.
As is the case with all technology, each machine developed for use by patrons in the NLS talking book program is smaller and lighter than its predecessor. Baby boomers reading this article who grew up listening to talking books will remember the heavy (probably 20-pound) machines used to play the long-playing records distributed in the 1950s and 1960s. By comparison, the cassette machines introduced in 1970 were remarkably more portable at about seven pounds and included a carrying handle. Thus it is no surprise that the new DTB machine measures about six by nine inches and weighs less than two pounds, somewhat similar in size and shape to a standard hardback book.
There are two versions of the NLS DTB player. About 20 percent of the units shipping are the Advanced player, with the remaining 80 percent being what is called the Standard model. The two machines look almost identical, except that the Advanced machine has an additional row of buttons and more features.
Buttons on the surface of the machine are large, distinctly shaped, brightly colored, and have braille indicators adjacent to them. Play/stop, for instance, is a large square button, green in color, and has a braille letter "p" directly above it. The power button is a red concave circle with a braille letter "p" to identify it. Controls for adjusting volume, speed, and tone are easily identified by touch as large up and down arrow keys, each with its corresponding initial in braille.
All controls for playback and navigation are on the top surface of the machine. These are divided into two groups with a prominently raised white horizontal bar to separate them. With the front edge (carry handle and cartridge slot) facing you, controls below the bar include: power, rewind, play/stop, fast forward, volume up and down, and sleep. (The sleep button is a crescent-shaped key with a braille "s" beside it that, when pressed, can direct the machine to power off automatically in 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes.)
Above the bar, controls include: an information key, tone controls, left and right arrows and a short horizontal key that comprise the navigation menu, speed controls, and a bookmark key. (The five keys that are not included on the Standard model are the information key, the three navigation keys, and a bookmark key.)
On the front of the device is the slot for cartridges and a pull-out carry handle. On the back is the storage compartment for the attached power cord, and on the right-hand side of the machine are a headset jack and USB port.
Roadmap to Reading
If you remember how much "fun" it was to have a long book on six cassettes, particularly when you needed to remind yourself of a fact in, say, chapter 4, you'll jump for joy with your first reading experience with the NLS DTB player. No more shuffling of cassettes. No more tedious rewind and forward and seemingly endless tweedling of the high-speed movement of the tape. No more frustration while listening to long passages, many of them the wrong ones, just to locate that single tidbit of information.
To play the book, you simply insert it, braille side up, quarter-sized finger hole toward you, into the slot and press play. If you have two or three or 10 books in process, each one resumes where you left off when you pop it into the machine anew.
The internal speaker is of such excellent quality that listening via the speaker in a car is no problem, and even people with some hearing loss find that listening while moving about an average-size room is effective. Adjusting a given book to a reading volume, speed, and tone level that appeals to you is simply a matter of pressing the up and down arrows designated for these three functions. There are 15 volume increments, 16 speed increments, and 11 tone increments, thus affording a wide range of sound quality variation. Even at the highest speed, there is no discernible loss of speech quality (although I stand in awe of anyone who can understand speech at the highest rapidfire rate).
With the Advanced player, the navigation menu key, pressed repeatedly, offers the options of navigating by chapter, bookmark, or phrase. Selecting one of these and then pressing the previous or next arrow keys, to the left and right of the navigation menu key, will move you through the book by that desired element. Whether a "phrase" is equal to a sentence, a paragraph, or an hour of reading depends entirely upon the particular book you are reading and how it was "marked up" while in production. The bookmarks are those that you have inserted yourself using the bookmark key.
Although the three navigation keys are not available on the Standard version of the NLS talking book machine, it is possible to navigate books in a similar fashion with that version. The rewind and fast-forward keys offer a number of navigational options. If you press and hold the rewind key, the machine will first announce "back 20 seconds." If you continue to hold the rewind key, it will soon say, "back one minute." The longer the key is held down, the greater the distance jumped, moving from one minute to five minutes, 15 minutes, and then to "jump back by chapter." Once the "jump back by chapter" announcement has been heard, continued holding of this key will result in a single beep for each chapter. By pressing and holding the rewind and fast-forward keys in this way, you can jump from, say, chapter 1 to the middle of chapter 12 in a matter of seconds.
The information key, unfortunately, is only available on the Advanced player. This diamond-shaped key has a single dot at its center and the braille letter "i" beside it. If tapped, an announcement of book title, position in book, time remaining, and battery status will be heard. Users of the Standard players, however, do have access to this information. On those units, battery status is announced at power-up, and book position is announced when a cartridge is inserted.
Asleep at the Wheel
Although the machine will power off automatically after 30 minutes of remaining idle, the sleep feature allows you to predetermine a shut-off time. If, for instance, you press the sleep key three times, thus setting it to 45 minutes, and do indeed fall asleep while the book is playing, it is a simple matter to go back 45 minutes in the book using the unit's navigation keys to find your place again.
Speaking of power, the battery life on the NLS DTB player is phenomenal in the realm of assistive-technology products for blind or visually impaired people. Recharging the unit by plugging it into a wall socket takes about two and a half hours. Battery life is then about 29 hours of use. If you choose to keep it plugged into a wall socket for most of the time, the battery life will not be at all diminished.
Throwing the Book at It
The purpose of the NLS DTB player is, of course, books, and the breadth of reading experiences it affords is heady stuff to book lovers. First, if you're not technically inclined, the books provided through the NLS network of libraries couldn't be simpler to access. Each book is contained on a single cartridge, and the books are shipped in small blue boxes designed specifically for them. They are shipped through the mail, just as books on cassette and books on long-playing records have been in decades preceding them. Each box has a reversible card on the outside that is addressed to the patron on one side and back to the cooperating library on the other.
The narrators, of course, are the same professional narrators you have always heard through this program. All books currently recorded are produced digitally and thus will be available on cartridges. Books previously in the collection are being converted. The task, obviously, is an enormous one, so it will be some time before the entire collection is available in this new format. Cassettes are currently also produced, but production of this older medium will cease in late 2011.
If your choice is simply to enjoy the books shipped to you from your cooperating library, the new player is indeed a boon to the reading experience. For those with just a bit of technical inclination, however, the possibilities for accessing reading material are considerably more significant.
First, NLS makes the books available on its own NLS BARD website. Even while prototypes of the new machine were being tested by scores of patrons with varying abilities, this site was also being tested and honed to a point of maximum usability by all. If you are an eligible patron of the NLS service and have an Internet-connected computer, you are eligible to download books from the BARD site. Downloaded books can either be transferred to blank cartridges (available from various vendors serving the blind community at about $15 each) or onto a USB flash drive available at any retail store where computer accessories are sold. When I first received my player, I purchased two 2GB flash drives for $20 at a nearby Staples, and have continued for the past year to use those devices to transfer books to the NLS player. About 30 NLS books are currently on one; I use the other drive for additional types of content.
And that's the other commendable feature of this player. You can play all manner of other content on it by transferring that content to a cartridge or flash drive. Music, podcasts, commercially available MP3 audio books and, if you are a qualifying member, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic content can be played on the machine as well.
The player has had several software upgrades since its initial release. When units are shipped, librarians typically ensure that the latest upgrade has been installed. This process has also been designed to be extremely easy, so that upgrading the machine can be done by just about anyone. (The upgrade file is downloaded to your computer and placed on a flash drive or cartridge. That device is then inserted into the appropriate slot and the machine is powered on.) Michael Katzmann, who serves as chief of the NLS Materials Development Division, believes that the fantastic response from the already 200,000 happy patrons who have received their machines is, in large part, due to the advance planning that went into the DTB's design and implementation. Library patrons of varying abilities were asked for their input at every step of implementation to test the resulting products and that involvement is evident. However, I must digress and ask how the conclusion was drawn that a good way to learn which software version a player has would be to press the sleep button 10 times?
Quirks aside, the NLS DTB player is an example of true design excellence, in which customer needs were clearly considered at every turn. The best part is, if you are an eligible recipient of materials from the NLS, one of these lovely machines with all of its capabilities is yours for free.
For More Information
About one-third of all NLS patrons have now received their NLS DTB players. To learn about shipment in your area, contact your cooperating network library (the one that currently sends you braille and talking books). You may also visit the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Physically Handicapped website for more program details.
Back to top
Social Networking Privacy Options
In the May 2010 AccessWorld article "Social Network Accessibility," I took a look at the various ways I use social networking websites for work and play. Since that time, you have likely read countless articles on some of the controversial issues surrounding online privacy. Rest assured, this is nothing new and maintaining online privacy has been a growing concern for many years, probably since the dawn of the Internet itself. Of course, there are people at both ends of the spectrum—those who refuse to use the Internet and others who are an open book. Because I have quite a few profiles online, I suppose I would have to put myself somewhere in the middle. So let's take some time to examine the issues and see how to adjust privacy settings on a handful of these websites.
What Is Privacy?
When you use a computer or handheld device such as a smart phone or notetaker that is connected to the Internet, you have taken your first step into a web of interconnected networks with identifiable features. Although the technology you are using might not be able to detect your name, address, and phone number right away, it does have a pretty good idea of what part of the world your connection is coming from, what type of browser software you are using, and may even collect data about which links you click on. If you choose to create online profiles with personal information such as your name, address, telephone number, or photograph, you should be aware that you have opened up your life voluntarily and must take precautions to protect yourself. However, before you heave your laptop out of the window and hide under the bed, know that there are plenty of things we can do to protect ourselves from cyber bandits. Although I will not detail stealthy methods or techniques to have a completely anonymous Web-browsing session, it is possible to minimize your exposure to potential problems. There are quite a few common-sense tips to remember when surfing the Internet and using social networking sites.
The number-one rule of thumb is to post nothing on the Internet that you don't want other people to know. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the terms of service pages or privacy statements that are posted on the websites you visit. All major e-commerce, e-mail, and social networking sites have links to these statements on their homepages. While at first you might think you need a degree in "legalese" to understand the language the lawyers have used to draft these documents, after reading a couple of them, they will begin to make more sense. These documents will spell out what personal information is collected from you and how the company plans to use it. Very often, the company uses information for their own purposes, such as measuring efficiency and improving the user experience, or the company might attempt to provide you with additional services. In other cases, the company might sell or rent your personal information to third parties that also want to market products and services to you.
Before we look at the privacy settings of some common social networking websites, I thought I would walk through some of the most obvious steps to protecting your privacy. First and foremost, if you don't want people to know something, it is probably a good idea not to post it on the Internet. For example, if you are embarrassed about an outfit you wore at a recent party, then you should avoid posting pictures of yourself in that outfit. If you don't want your boss to know you came to work with a hangover, then it is probably a good idea not to tweet about it on Twitter.
On most social networking sites, the registration process requires very little information; usually just a name, username, password, and a valid e-mail address. Any other information you provide, such as your birthday, address, and phone number, may be made available to other users and perhaps even to marketing companies. However, you usually are not required to provide this information. Also, because social networks function primarily on people inviting or accepting invitations from other people, it is important to filter these invitations. If you are invited to join somebody's Facebook network, but you don't know that person, think twice about accepting his or her invitation. It's the little things that are often overlooked that could be really important to maintaining your privacy.
For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, it is a microblogging platform that allows users to post "tweets" or short messages that are capped at 140 characters. This popular service has many unique features that are not found on other social networking sites.
During the registration process for a Twitter account, it is necessary to provide a valid e-mail address. It is used to verify user registration and to communicate with the user. At this time, you will also provide your name as well as a username. Obviously, one can use a real name or a fictitious name, but note that if you decide to use a fictitious name, your friends and family might not be able to search for you. The additional information that the site asks for, such as a photograph, geographic location, and short biography, are optional, and this gives you more control over how much information to display.
When it comes to Twitter, I believe that the service is designed to allow users to find and follow people whom they might not otherwise meet. Many Twitter users are happy to have complete strangers follow their tweets without worrying about how they might be received. As with most online profiles, you should choose a privacy level that you are comfortable with. If you plan to tweet your most intimate thoughts, you might want to keep it private, but if all you really want to do is let people know what novel you are reading, where you went shopping for shoes, and how sick you feel from ordering a double scoop at the ice cream parlor, then keep your tweets public. But keep in mind that you never know who is going to start following you or who might be reading your tweets if you choose this option.
The majority of LinkedIn users are focused on professional networking. In my opinion, there is more reason to balance what you make public and what you make private in this environment. For example, if you are seeking a new job or business partners, it might work to your advantage to display your job history and education--unless of course, you have not told your boss your are looking for a new job and your boss is connected to you on LinkedIn. However, there may be other reasons you might not want people to be able to identify you if they have not received your permission. The very nature of LinkedIn assumes that you want to share the names of people you know with others as a way to expand your professional network.
The site gives the user a lot of flexibility when it comes to providing and displaying personal information. Some of the options you have control over include selecting what information is made public to search engines, who can contact you through LinkedIn, and what information is visible to others. You also have the option of creating a public profile that could be different from a more robust profile that is visible only to your approved connections.
After navigating to the settings page, you can move by heading to see some of the various ways you can control your privacy. There are quite a number of areas where you can make changes, including whether you can be contacted for research surveys, the ability of your contacts to browse your list of connections, how to display your name if you search for someone, and controlling how updates made to your profile appear to other users. Don't forget that you can control how people, both in and out of your network, can contact you. You may want to play around with some of the settings until you find the perfect balance.
Unfortunately, many Facebook users who employ a screenreader to browse the Internet are going to be disappointed that I was unable to change my privacy settings on the mobile Facebook site; for this, you must navigate to the regular site. This could be difficult for people who are not familiar with navigating the site with their screenreader.
There are a couple of easy ways to adjust your Facebook privacy settings. As of early July 2010, there was a link to learn more about the new Facebook privacy controls at heading level two of my Facebook homepage. Clicking that link takes you to the Facebook privacy guide. If you cannot find that link, look for the link labeled "Account." A word of caution, this link will not take you to a new webpage. Instead, you will be presented with a list of seven additional menu options. You can use the down arrow key to find the link labeled "Privacy Settings." This link will also take you to the Facebook privacy guide page.
The page makes use of headings and you will find the information you need on the second level. Use your down arrow key or tab to hear the five categories available for configuration. The categories include profile information, contact information, search control, applications and websites, and block list. Each of the links has additional text, giving you more information about what types of controls you will find if you click on the link. These privacy controls will allow you to decide what information is displayed when people click on your profile or try to contact you, how your profile appears in search results on Facebook and search engines such as Google, how much of your personal information is available to third-party applications found on Facebook, such as games, and how to block people from contacting you.
Screenreader users should be aware that the technology used to change your settings might not behave like other controls you are used to. Once you find the category you would like to change, your screenreader will announce the category name and what your current setting is if you use the arrow keys on your keyboard. The current setting is a hyperlink that will open up a menu if you click on the link. You can use the arrow keys to scroll up and down to find the selection you are looking for. For example, it could be friends only, friends of friends, etc. Unfortunately, once you click on the link, you might not hear anything, but if you arrow down you will hear additional choices, including two unlabeled buttons (I have yet to determine their functions).
Where Do We Go From Here?
I would be shocked if we did not have more headlines across the Internet about new privacy concerns over the next several months. Companies are constantly introducing new technology and often this means new privacy concerns. One excellent resource is the Electronic Frontier Foundation website. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a civil rights organization that investigates a wide range of issues related to digital products and services.
In the meantime, you can go through your social network profiles and remove sensitive information such as birthdates, home addresses, phone numbers, children's names, and photographs. It is possible to apply the most conservative privacy settings to limit access from outsiders. Always be aware of who you are inviting into your network as well as who is inviting you to join theirs. If you are just too confused or don't care enough to check your privacy settings, all three services allow you to remove your profile.
Back to top
An Introduction to the Open Library Project
Until fairly recently, the number of sources providing books in any format accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired was quite limited. The high cost of producing braille or recording human narration rendered most off-the-shelf titles unattainable by most. While the National Library Service's (NLS) program was the most popular reading source for many, it still left many bibliophiles longing for more.
For the last 25 years, technology has made it possible to convert printed materials into electronic formats, but only recently has this power truly been explored. Websites like
Project Gutenberg and Bookshare have amassed collections that include tens of thousands of titles. This may seem like a lot until one browses the collection at the Library of Congress, the world's largest with over 20 million books alone. Clearly, access to the printed word has a long way to go.
However, a new project undertaken by the Internet Archive seeks to change this disparity. The Internet Archive website, perhaps most well-known for its snapshots of websites dating back to 1996, recently launched an accessible books search engine on Open Library, a free service offering over 600,000 titles in an accessible DAISY format to qualified individuals. As Jon Hornstein, a spokesperson for the Internet Archive explains it, the goal is to build a collection "that will scale well and promote the mission of the Internet Archive, which is universal access to knowledge."
How It Works
The operation is perhaps one of the more elaborate when it comes to creating accessible materials. Over 200 people work in 20 scanning centers across the world to digitize printed material. Many of these centers are housed at major libraries in such places as Boston and San Francisco. Although public-domain books were initially the primary focus, Open Library began to include more modern titles this past May. Once a book is scanned, it is processed by specialized software that converts the book's text into a variety of formats. For public-domain books, everything from a plain-text version to a file suitable for Amazon's Kindle is produced. For books not in the public domain, only an accessible DAISY version is made available for download. Individuals who have received an NLS decryption key for their digital talking book player can read these books.
The entire collection is available on the Open Library website for perusal and download with no account sign up or registration fee. It's apparent the organization performed quite a bit of research when designing the site, as many navigational aids are included to allow for easier browsing. The National Federation of the Blind and San Francisco Lighthouse were also consulted and provided valuable input, according to Hornstein. The result is a very accessible site offering thousands of books free for the taking.
In browsing the collection, Open Library's roots as a source of public-domain books become quite apparent. Many searches return titles that are several hundred years old—great for historians, but perhaps a bit disappointing for those seeking the latest bestsellers.
The collection is rapidly expanding, however, in large part due to a donation drive launched earlier this year. The archive has pledged to scan and make available the first 10,000 books it receives at its donation center. With a turnaround time of roughly three to four weeks, this presents a potential opportunity for those seeking accessible versions of books they wish to read for pleasure, business, or school. Many more recent titles, in fact, are already available, ranging from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series to Glenn Beck's Common Sense.
Testing the Books
This entire discussion would be moot unless the DAISY files provided worked with modern digital talking book players. And while there still is some work to be done on this front, the responsibility now falls largely with the manufacturers of these players. To explain, when support for NLS digital books was introduced in current models, it was assumed these books would be audio only, as this is the book format the NLS provides. Open Library breaks new ground by not only piggybacking on this NLS key for its own format, but by offering text-based DAISY books using this key. Because of this, many players that do not expect to see text in an NLS-authorized book will not play them. This situation is due to change shortly, surmises Hornstein, as the Internet Archive is working with manufacturers to allow for this format.
In our lab tests, only the HumanWare VictorReader Stream successfully played the encrypted titles from the Open Library site, and this only after upgrading to the latest firmware. To play books using the stream, place them in the same folder you would NLS titles. On the other hand, BookSense and PLEXTALK stumbled and did not provide any legible output. The public-domain books, however, were read by all of the players in our tests, and should be usable by any standard DAISY reader.
Open Library was created when engineers at the Internet Archive realized the potential of DAISY-formatted books and were able to adapt their current scanning methods to support universal access to Internet Archive materials. These same advances may enable more service enhancements in the future. Hornstein is exploring the possibility of server-side text-to-speech for book titles, which would allow for DAISY audio versions of books to be created dynamically. Expanding the collection to an international audience is also a goal of the archive. "We do fully intend to make the material available to people worldwide; we just need to make sure we do it in a way that doesn't violate our copyright. It's a real patchwork of potential solutions."
Room for Improvement
In addition to the work that still needs to be done to ensure compatibility with a wider variety of book readers, some areas of the website could also be improved. Although there is a checkbox to search for eBooks, this does not search for accessible titles, as one might expect. Rather, only public-domain books are included in these results. There is a special page to search for encrypted accessible books, but selecting many of the links off this page returns the user to the search of all books in the collection, making it somewhat difficult to separate accessible titles from those with just bibliographic information. In addition, there is little documentation on how to properly copy the DAISY books to a compatible player, or even which players are currently supported. This information would be a welcome addition, especially for new visitors. These minor quibbles are pretty common with websites undergoing growing pains, and we would expect them to be ironed out over time.
The Big Picture
To the employees of the Internet Archive, the Open Library project is not a competitor to other offerings such as Bookshare or the NLS's own program. For example, there are no plans to include human-recorded narration, a feature often desirable for textbooks and titles with a plethora of diagrams and pictures. Even Bookshare, which perhaps provides the closest to this style of service, is different, according to Hornstein. "Bookshare focuses more on books that are in print. We offer books that are not readily available in other places," he comments, referring to the millions of out-of-print books published since 1923, the cut off for much copyrighted material. And considering that most of the more than 20 million books available at the Library of Congress are still not available in an accessible form, it's a commendable undertaking.
The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and accepts donations of books to scan as well as financial contributions. To learn more about the book drive, please visit the Open Library's book drive webpage.
Back to top
Productivity on the Go: Notetakers, Netbooks, and Everything in Between
Mobile computing options appear to grow more complex every few weeks. Not too long ago, the specialized notetaker was, almost without exception, the default choice for blind and visually impaired individuals who wanted a portable, flexible productivity tool. Today, the notetaker is no longer the only tool of choice for individuals who need an on-the-go, accessible, and powerful tool for the office or classroom. Over the past several years, advances in laptop, netbook, and even smartphone technology have introduced many new and very attractive options.
Productivity or Lifestyle
Traditional notetakers, as well as netbook or laptop computers, function primarily as productivity tools. They mirror the scope and range of the personal computer (PC) in terms of the functions and applications they support. Full-featured word processing, databases, and other applications associated with PC office suites are available. However, some very specialized differences are apparent, as most notetakers have braille input and output, built-in speech synthesis, and support for specialized book formats. Still, the goals of a notetaker, netbook, laptop computer, or desktop are often comparable.
On the other hand, no one would confuse a smartphone or iPod with a computer. These pocketsize devices serve those who want instant access to services such as e-mail and text messaging. These "lifestyle" devices take advantage of increased memory and processor power to emulate some functions that were previously reserved for the desktop or laptop computer. However, the smartphone's small or virtual keyboards, relatively short battery life, and small screens combine to limit the intensity and depth of smartphone use for extended periods of time.
Luckily, numerous products are available to meet individual lifestyle and productivity needs. Perhaps a netbook with screen-access software or a traditional notetaker is what you need. On the other hand, an iPod Touch or iPhone with VoiceOver may do the trick. Chances are very good, however, that things aren't going to be so clear-cut once you make the decision to jump into the mobile pond or upgrade your current technology. We hope that this article, as well as AccessWorld's earlier coverage of mobile computing, can help you to identify options and ease the decision-making jitters.
The Netbook/Laptop Choice
In the September 2009 issue of AccessWorld, we explored the popularity of netbook computers. As background, you may want to read "Is a Netbook Computer Right for You?" to review some important information.
Laptops and netbooks offer an experience that most closely resembles that of a desktop. Windows 7 and Mac OS are the same when installed on either a mobile or desktop computer. Screen-access products, screen enlargement, and Apple's VoiceOver will behave similarly regardless of the physical size of the machine on which they are installed. Thus, the netbook or laptop may offer some distinct advantages when training time and price are of paramount importance. All of the skills you have mastered while using a desktop system will be transferable to a netbook or laptop system. At the same time, once a desktop solution is successfully configured for accessibility, the configuration can almost always be replicated on a portable system using the same assistive technology.
Specialized business and educational software that has been designed to operate specifically on Windows or Mac OS may limit mobile platform options. As well, the specific screen-access technology required to support these applications might decrease hardware options.
Some computing tasks important to AccessWorld readers may determine appropriate mobile solutions. Optical character recognition (OCR) is an excellent and very common example. If you are using, or contemplating using, Kurzweil or OpenBook products, then a Windows laptop will be the machine of choice. When combined with a mobile scanner or one of the recently announced camera solutions, even the OCR program benefits from a modest makeover.
Access to particular file formats, which can be a confusing and complex topic even for the most technically minded, can't be overlooked. Of particular importance are portable document format (PDF) files. For students and professionals who must read PDFs directly, only a Windows- or Mac OS-equipped computer will support the Adobe Reader program, which is required to open and read PDF files with assistive technology. Once again, existing screen-access technology can be installed and configured to operate consistently on both a desktop and mobile system. As an alternative, PDF files can be converted to other formats and shared with notetakers, smartphones, and other mobile technology.
An obvious limitation of the off-the-shelf netbook or laptop is the requirement to provide your own assistive technology. If you already use a screen-access program on a desktop system, installing it on an additional netbook or laptop computer should be relatively straightforward. Most licenses allow an individual to install a screenreader or screen-enlargement program on several computers.
Beyond speech, the choices for braille access with a netbook or laptop vary in both size and price. For example, a 40-character display may be a good fit for use with a traditional laptop. Both USB and wireless Bluetooth connectivity are available. Many assistive technology manufacturers offer braille display product lines. Specialized companies, such as Alva and Handy Tech, also sell display options designed to partner with netbooks and laptops.
Enter the Smartphone
In early June, Apple introduced a new version of its operating system for the iPhone line of devices, iOS 4. Included on the list of new features is refreshable braille support. According to Apple, more than 30 braille devices will be supported by its iOS 4 products, iPhone, iPod, and the iPad.
Early reports from several well-respected sources are cautiously enthusiastic. Some basic questions arose with the new device support. After spending limited time interacting with the braille features, we have confirmed that full navigation among applications and within an application is provided. Navigation relies on the keys and conventions of each braille display, making it relatively easy to explore and understand the use of the display with an Apple product. Because control keys, such as "home," have been assigned hardware values by Apple, some manufacturers report keyboard conflicts. AccessWorld will follow this development and plans to report in more detail in future issues.
A variety of mobile choices are available in addition to the iPhone. AccessWorld announced the release of HumanWare USA's Oratio screenreader for BlackBerry in its March 2010 edition. Those who need to use BlackBerry technology provided by an employer have eagerly anticipated this solution.
In addition, several other smartphone options that use third-party solutions, including Nuance TALKS and Mobile Speak, are available. Both applications are installed on a smartphone typically purchased from a cellular provider. Prices and functionality vary among products and are subject to change as cell companies introduce and drop phones. AccessWorld has covered smartphones and both Mobile Speak and TALKS for the past several years in many articles. Because models and accessibility are subject to change, it is important to investigate carefully the current availability of a product or program you may read about, either in this publication or elsewhere.
Braille displays and braille input devices can be used as companions for smartphones. As with laptops and netbooks, several manufacturers offer products in a variety of sizes and configurations. The smallest display/braille keyboard hybrids are barely larger than a typical smartphone or iPhone. Twelve braille characters are used on these very small devices. Larger models with 18, 20, 32, 40, or more cells are also available.
Device Size and Hours of Use
Do you anticipate spending several hours in class or working in a mobile setting, or are you interested in a series of quick "on-and-off" tasks, such as looking up addresses and tracking appointments? The laptop or netbook is large compared with some options and Windows and Mac OS take time to boot up. Some devices, especially larger laptops, don't run all day on a single charge, which may exclude them from consideration.
It is important to identify specific tasks that you require of the mobile system. As mentioned above, many devices cannot handle certain file formats. Still others cannot handle braille input or output. Establishing your expectations and creating a clear list of your priorities is very useful.
Training and Tutoring
Some systems will allow you to extend your knowledge of desktop computers to the mobile arena. Other interfaces may be new and require that you master new concepts and computer skills. Having a clear understanding of the scope and cost of training is important to maximize the effectiveness of a system.
All computer technology changes at an astonishing rate. If you purchase a conventional netbook, replacing it in 18 to 24 months isn't as difficult as replacing a full-featured braille notetaker. It is important to understand a manufacturer's future plans and the support that manufacturer will provide for the product you are considering.
Supported Formats and Styles
Most students and many professionals need to create documents and other print materials that conform to certain standards. These may be as simple as margin spacing and type size in a class project or paper. A requirement to submit documents compliant with more complex and exacting standards may also be encountered, including the use of footnotes, tables of content, and research citations. Submitting electronic files in specific formats is a given for most business and school situations in which computer files are submitted directly. A mobile system that isn't able to create the file format you need isn't going to be useful.
Networked Data Sharing
Keeping track of calendars, contacts, and to-do lists is a hallmark of mobile devices. The methods that are used to support the necessary updating of this information may differ dramatically. In some instances, you may be required to physically connect the mobile device to a primary desktop system and run a sync program every time you wish to update. Other technologies accomplish the same task wirelessly using either WiFi or cellular networks. Having a clear understanding of how you want to stay updated is worthy of a good deal of attention.
Complexity of Configuration
The cliché that less is more may very well have been coined to describe mobile technology. All things being equal, using fewer devices to meet your mobile computing needs is likely to be the best option. Combining several products to work as a coordinated package may be necessary if no individual product meets all of your criteria.
For some readers of this publication, the name Dean Blazie is familiar. If so, it may also be synonymous with a particular category of specialized product for the blind and visually impaired. The Braille 'n Speak was introduced almost 20 years ago. From that time, the notetaker has occupied a special and important place in the lives of many assistive technology users.
The earliest notetakers were unadorned yet functional boxes roughly the size of a paperback book. A braille keyboard and basic control keys occupied the top surface of the device. Output was provided by means of synthesized speech through either a speaker or earphone.
The revolutionary features of these notetakers included their ability to accept input almost immediately after flipping the on switch. A single and consistent interface made it easy to learn how to manage the applications suite included on the device. Applications included basic word processing, a calendar and appointment keeper, address and phone books, as well as a scientific calculator and other utilities.
Specialized conventions for navigation, which used the space bar in combination with the eight keys of the computer braille keyboard, were provided in order to maximize operation efficiency and reduce the number of keys required for both input and navigation. Many of these conventions are still used on today's notetakers that feature braille input.
Almost immediately after the advent of the first notetaker, the Braille 'n Speak's new competitors introduced additional features and functionality. Refreshable braille displays and QWERTY keyboards were the most obvious advances made throughout the 1990s.
The basic format of notetakers available today has been established for at least the last 10 years. Typically, a company offers between four and six models in a product line. These include units with speech-only output or speech and refreshable Braille output. Either Braille or QWERTY input can be selected depending on the user's preference. In addition, braille displays of either 18 to 20 or 32 to 40 characters are offered with either style of keyboard. The price range of notetakers also varies quite widely. Units with speech-only output and either braille or QWERTY input are priced in the $2,000 range. A full-feature machine with 32 characters of refreshable braille is available at the $6,000 price point. Smaller braille displays of 18 or 20 characters reduce the price somewhat, typically to around $4,000.
What They Do
The modern notetaker is a device that, in many important ways, rivals a notebook computer in both power and the variety of applications and tasks it is designed to perform. All of the notetakers we are familiar with include a full suite of applications and utilities. In addition to those tasks managed by the earliest devices, Web browsing, e-mail, audio book management, GPS support, audio recording, and music playback are available on current units.
Because notetakers have been designed to operate exclusively in the nonvisual domain, many features that address braille input and output are integrated into the typical notetaker. Examples of this close integration include the ability to enter computer code such as an e-mail address directly and the back-and-forth translation between contracted braille and text for word processor operation.
Is a Notetaker the Best Choice?
Comparing the functionality of each of these utilities and applications to those available on the PC or a notebook computer is an important exercise when deciding which device is best for an individual situation. Because the notetaker differs technically from notebooks and desktop computers, a mobile version of Windows is used as the operating system. Although powerful in comparison to the first notetakers, this version of Windows places some limitations on the applications notetakers are able to offer.
If you might share files, such as those from a word processor, with others who use conventional computers, it is important to understand how specific formatting and output from a particular application will behave. If the file is transferred to a PC, will formatting display correctly, or will it be lost? Can the notetaker create and recognize the formatting that is required for specific tasks, such as observing style conventions for particular professional documents? The visual appearance of printed output is also important in many situations when work is printed directly from the notetaker. Testing a model under consideration with the specific printer and in the context of your workflow is advisable.
Some specific concerns often arise when using the word processor on a notetaker. If footnotes and margin control are important to your workflow, ensuring you understand the capability of the word processor is a must.
Similarly, certain Web-browsing limitations may exist with the browser available on a specific notetaker. Because browsers intended for mobile use may not have as many features as their notebook or desktop counterparts, a clear understanding of what a notetaker browser can and cannot do is important for the intensive Web user.
Because notetakers are intended to be productivity tools, they are designed to operate for extended periods of time on a single battery charge. It is reasonable to expect that a fully charged machine will operate for an entire day at the office or in class. The longevity of a single charge has been one of the most important features of this class of equipment. Only some Windows netbooks and MacBooks can rival the notetaker for battery-powered running time.
The notetaker's relatively compact size and speed at boot up time are often identified as important features. An address book or appointment keeper is only good once you can get it open, and in a busy professional or school environment, time is of the essence.
Some functions that are available on a notetaker have no netbook or desktop counterpart. Real-time GPS navigation is the most significant of these. Notetakers, by virtue of their portability and specialized design are an excellent platform to support GPS applications. All of the notetakers we are familiar with support additional GPS-based technology. With these add-on products, navigation in both a pedestrian and car mode is offered along with the ability to browse and locate points of interest from an extensive database. Trip planning and creating favorites is also supported.
Because notetakers require mastery of a set of commands and navigation conventions that can differ quite dramatically from the traditional computer, planning for tutorial support and ongoing training on the finer points of the machine should take place in advance of a purchase. Establishing a good relationship with an independent dealer or directly with the device supplier is advisable as part of the pre-purchase process.
A notetaker represents a substantial expenditure for those who purchase the device directly. It may also be provided by a rehabilitation agency as a one-time-only proposition. Thus, the process of selecting the best model is very important.
I have worked with many individuals who have had to decide on a notetaker. One experience that many of them share is some confusion recalling reactions to notetakers, which can take place because typically only one manufacturer's line is auditioned at a time. Taking some time to plan your auditions and record information to compare after the final candidate has been examined can make for a smoother decision-making process.
Here are some items you may wish to make note of as you audition each line of notetakers. Assigning an A, B, or C grade or a number value to each might be useful. Taking some notes about your reactions can also help you to recall your experience several days or weeks after trying a notetaker.
Sound or loudness of keyboard
Arrangement and convenience of keys under the fingers
Location of function and navigation keys
Amount of pressure required to activate keys
Fatigue or tiredness of fingers after audition
Size and Shape
Ease of use without placing it on a hard surface
Ease of use on the lap
Ease of opening case to turn on or off quickly
Ease of turning on and off
Ease of locating connecter ports and memory card slots
Ease of connecting charger
Compatibility with any particular case or tote you are planning to carry
Position and convenience of navigation keys
Responsiveness of display when using navigation keys
Responsiveness of display for braille input
Evenness and consistency of cells across the display
Convenience of finger orientation moving from display to keyboard
Convenience of display across all positions of notetaker use
Audio and Speech
Text-to-speech engine(s) available
Quality of text-to-speech output
Quality of prompting and system messages
Quality of recorded voice narration
Quality of recorded music playback
Start-up and shut-down times and convenience
Consistency and layout of menus and options within and among all applications
Familiarity with menus and operating conventions
Specific file formats that need to be supported
Braille embossers and/or printers supported directly
Networking and connectivity provided and/or required
E-mail formats supported
Prospects for manufacturer support and operating system updates
Pricing for future operating system updates
Pricing for service
Service procedures, shipping procedures, and turnaround times
Tutorial or product training provided with purchase
Availability of additional tutorial support
Availability of self-paced training options
Back to top
This month's news items reflect the excitement and increased product activity associated with the two major blindness consumer organization conventions. Both the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and National Federation of the Blind (NFB) conducted their weeklong annual membership meetings in early July. The assistive technology companies, as well as other groups that want to bring products and services to our attention, set up shop in the exhibit halls of the NFB and ACB convention host hotels. Here are some of the highlights as noted by AFB TECH staffer Bradley Hodges.
Barcode-scanning products that allow for independent identification of food packages, household goods, and any item that has been labeled with a standard commercial barcode have been available for some time. A new $30 software product and a $299 hardware/internet option were on display, along with the long-established ID Mate.
Digital Miracles, LLC, demonstrated a new $30 iPhone app called Digit-Eyes. Once installed on an iPhone, the software can be used to identify barcodes already printed on food or other packages. In addition, software is provided that facilitates printing custom barcodes on the sort of inexpensive adhesive labels available at any office supply store. The company is careful to state that Digit-Eyes is intended as a helper application. It describes techniques for identifying and capturing barcodes using the iPhone camera. We have had an opportunity to try the product briefly at AFB TECH. Although it is not a substitute for a hardware-based device using a laser scanner, for $30 it may be useful, especially for those individuals who have experience using a camera. We are also encouraged by the thoughtful and refined interface and support information provided on Digital Miracles' website.
The A T Guys company demonstrated a somewhat different take on barcode scanning with a $299 customized scanner compatible with the company's BCScan online service. The device is a commercial-grade laser scanner, similar to those used in retail establishments. The scanner is held in the hand or attached to a stand. The product to be identified is moved in front of the scanner where an omni-directional laser system mounted in the scanner head picks up the barcode. A personal computer (PC) or other device connected to the Internet captures the digital information stored on the barcode and checks it against an online database of millions of products. If the product is found, the information is read via the screenreader installed on the computer. The $299 price tag is just for the scanner; there is no recurring charge for the look-up service. In addition to a PC, the service can be used with most braille notetakers and Apple computers. More information is available on the A T Guys' website.
Like barcode-scanning technology, specialized notetakers have been available for some time. This year, several new products and new opportunities to broaden the use of notetakers were very much in evidence.
For many attending the 2010 conventions, the HumanWare Apex range of products was new. The voice-only version of the Apex with either a braille or QWERTY input was introduced the Friday before the NFB Convention. The products are physically identical to Apex offerings that include a braille display. According to HumanWare, voice-only versions can be updated to include a braille display at any time.
GW Micro displayed its prototype of a new notetaker in the company's Braille Sense line. Known as the "Braille Sense OnHand," the prototype has a unique hardware design that reflects the general design sensibilities of other Braille Sense products. It offers 18 cells of braille in a compact unit that appeared to be only slightly larger than the similar Voice Sense voice-only notetaker. Exact pricing and availability were not available. GW Micro is now accepting orders for two products that were announced at last March's CSUN Conference, the Voice Sense QWERTY at $1,995 and the Book Sense DS at $499. Delivery information for the United States is expected shortly; however, no date has been announced yet. More information is available on GW Micro's website.
Refreshable braille displays are often among the most expensive specialized devices on exhibit. Two products drew attention for their relatively low cost and high value. Perkins Products offers an 80-cell refreshable braille display for the remarkably low price of $3,900. Manufactured by Seika, it offers a USB connection and is supported by all major Windows screenreaders and Apple VoiceOver.
Freedom Scientific highlighted a 40-cell refreshable braille display, which includes both Bluetooth connectivity and a full Braille keyboard for data input. The Focus 40 Blue braille display is available for $2,795.
On July 6, Bay Area Digital announced the introduction of the Pronto! range of notetakers in the United States. If you are familiar with the BrailleNote PK, then you have an idea of what the Pronto! looks and feels like. In addition to the updated 18-cell version (the Pronto! 18), a voice-only version (Pronto! QS) and the larger 40-cell (Pronto! 40) version are available. Pronto! features are said to be comparable with other specialized notetaker products. In addition, some unique functions, including a PDF reader and the ability to send and receive text messages via a connected cell phone, are supported. Prices range from $2,995 for the speech-only version, to $7,495 for the Braille 40 cell. Information is available on Bay Area Digital's website.
Beyond the new offerings and some welcome price reductions, most of the buzz surrounding notetakers and braille displays concerned Apple's recent support of full navigation and control of iPod, iPhone, and iPad devices using iOS4 software. There is no doubt that many braille-centric devices that are equipped with Bluetooth can now be used to interface with Apple's mobile products. What is not quite as clear is whether they will all behave equally well. Some technical matters involving the manner in which special commands, such as the home button, are supported are not yet totally clear. A few conflicts exist between the key commands that Apple has assigned for these functions and hardware keyboard commands that are used by some devices. Interest in this area is high, and we are optimistic that these growing pains will soon be behind us. On balance, response to this advancement in interconnected hardware appears overwhelmingly positive. Many conventioneers I spoke with expressed a desire to investigate an Apple device for the first time.
Lastly on the Apple front, three affordable screen protectors for Apple mobile devices have been introduced by Solona. The stand-out feature of the Solona protectors is their tactile markings. For iPod Touch and iPhone screens, rows of dots indicating the rows of letters when the keyboard is available occupy the lower portion of the clear plastic cover. Several additional dots orient the fingers to important screen locations, including the 5 key on the iPhone version. For iPad users, a braille keyboard is embossed for orientation to the virtual keyboard when the landscape mode is used. In my limited experience, the tactile markings were easy to find when desired, yet were never intrusive while flicking or using other VoiceOver gestures. Priced at $6 for the iPhone/iPod versions, slightly more for iPad, the screen protectors are available on Solona's website.
Optical character recognition is an important and evolving technology. Several new devices demonstrate the ongoing refinement and imaginative activity currently in progress. Freedom Scientific previewed the PEARL Portable Reading Solution at the CSUN conference. The product is now in production. The camera uses a folding design, which one colleague compared to a folding umbrella. When extended, it resembles a high-tech desk lamp. Documents are placed, face up, on a table or desk and oriented against the edge of the base. The image size is stated as 8.5 by 11 inches. A demonstration of the product revealed excellent speed and accuracy. The lighting issue, which was mentioned in this publication earlier this year, has been elegantly addressed with a switch-triggered internal light designed to provide consistent illumination of the document area. PEARL is a companion product to Freedom Scientific's OpenBook reading system. The camera alone is priced at $1,195.
A new and innovative self-contained reading machine, the ClearReader+ was previewed in the Optelec/VisionCue booth. The device looks remarkably like a compact boombox. To begin reading, a slender arm, which contains a small, downward-facing camera and light source, swings up from the front of the unit and extends several inches toward the user. The ClearReader+ recognizes print placed face up, beneath the camera arm on the table or desk immediately in front of the unit. A prominent round control with a center button on the ClearReader+ top begins document acquisition and control. Smaller controls are used for reviewing by word, sentence, or paragraph. Basic voice output options and selectable voices are offered. The system is intended for use in libraries and other public settings and by those who do not desire to interact with a conventional computer. ClearReader+ is expected to become available in the fall and will be priced at $2,495.
Many readers of this publication are aware of the difficulty in interpreting inaccessible images encountered online. Solona offers two services intended to address this situation. The newest of these is RAIVE, which stands for "remotely analyzing and interpreting visual elements." With a free software application available from Solona's website, an inaccessible image can be captured and submitted, along with a question, to a Solona volunteer. A service now under development will provide identification of images captured on mobile phones and other devices equipped with a camera and network connection.
Sendero Group has released a PC product called Sendero Maps. This highly anticipated product is a 21st-century version of the popular Atlas Speaks, one of the first specialized mapping and way-finding programs designed for the blind. The Sendero Maps application is loaded onto a PC along with state or regional (multistate) maps for the areas in which you wish to travel. The interface provides a unique virtualized method of exploring an area near a specific address or along a route. Points of interest are announced as you move ahead, in either direction or behind the current location. A 30-day trial is available by arrangement from the Sendero Group website. The product is priced at $395 for those who do not already own a Sendero product, with substantial discounts available for those customers who already have other Sendero products.
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Seek Comment on Accessible Mobile Phone Options
On May 13, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau held a workshop on "expanding disability access with wireless technologies" to learn more about mobile communications issues facing people with disabilities and the ways in which new technologies can offer opportunities to meet the communications access needs of this community. Participants included stakeholders from the disability community, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations. On June 15, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau met with 12 members of the deaf-blind community, along with representatives of the Helen Keller National Center and the American Association of the Deaf-Blind to discuss telecommunications and Internet barriers experienced by this population.
Based on the input that commission staff received during these events, along with the record developed in conjunction with the National Broadband Plan, commission staff concluded that people who are blind or have other vision disabilities have few accessible and affordable wireless phone options. More specifically, according to statements made at the workshop, the vast majority of mobile telephones are not accessible to this population without the addition of expensive software. Commission staff were also concerned that many wireless technologies may not be compatible with the braille displays needed by individuals who are deaf-blind. In addition, according to the participants of the June 15 meeting, many specialized technologies needed to enable wireless telecommunications access for the deaf-blind community are cost prohibitive and difficult to find.
In order to be fully informed on the issues raised by consumers and to determine appropriate next steps to achieve telecommunications access for these populations, the commission is seeking input from all stakeholders on the following:
- The wireless phone features and functions in the current marketplace that are not accessible for people who are blind, have vision loss, or are deaf-blind and the extent to which gaps in accessibility are preventing wireless communication access by these populations;
- The cost and feasibility of technical solutions to achieve wireless accessibility for these populations;
- Reasons why there are not a greater number of wireless phones—particularly among less expensive or moderately priced handset models—that are accessible to people who are blind or have vision loss;
- Technical obstacles, if any, to making wireless technologies compatible with braille displays, as well as the cost and feasibility of technical solutions to achieve other forms of compatibility with wireless products and services for people who are deaf-blind;
- Recommendations on the most effective and efficient technical and policy solutions for addressing the needs of consumers with vision disabilities, including those who are deaf-blind; and
- Recommendations on actions that the bureaus should take to address the current lack of access. For example, is additional guidance needed on specific access features that should be included in wireless products? Should the bureaus facilitate a dialogue among stakeholders in order to reach a specific agreement to address the accessibility concerns outlined above?
Interested parties may file comments on or before September 13, 2010, and reply comments on or before September 30, 2010. Comments may be made 1) through the commission's electronic comment filing system (ECFS), 2) via the federal government's eRulemaking Portal, or 3) by filing paper copies.
Comments may be filed electronically using the Internet by accessing the ECFS website. Filers should follow the instructions provided on the website for submitting comments. Parties who choose to file by paper must file an original and four copies of each filing. If more than one docket or rulemaking number appears in the caption of this proceeding, filers must submit two additional copies for each additional docket or rulemaking number. Filings can be sent by hand or messenger delivery, by commercial overnight courier, or by first-class or overnight U.S. Postal Service mail (although the commission has continued to experience delays in receiving U.S. Postal Service mail). All filings must be addressed to the Commission's Secretary, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission. The Commission's contractor will receive hand-delivered or messenger-delivered paper filings for the Commission's Secretary at 236 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, Suite 110, Washington, D.C. 20002. The filing hours at this location are 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. All hand deliveries must be held together with rubber bands or fasteners. Any envelopes must be disposed of before entering the building. Commercial overnight mail (other than U.S. Postal Service Express Mail and Priority Mail) must be sent to 9300 East Hampton Drive, Capitol Heights, MD 20743. U.S. Postal Service first-class, Express, and Priority mail must be addressed to 445 12th Street, SW, Washington D.C. 20554.
A copy of this document and any subsequently filed documents in this matter will be available during regular business hours at the FCC Reference Center, Portals II, 445 12th Street, SW, Room CY-A257, Washington, D.C. 20554 (phone: 202-418-0270). This document and any subsequently filed documents in this matter may also be purchased online from the commission's duplicating contractor or by calling 1-800-378-3160. A copy of the submission may also be found by searching on the commission's ECFS website.
To request materials in accessible formats for people with vision loss (braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at 202-418-0530 (voice) or 202-418-0432 (TTY).
For further information, contact Elizabeth Lyle, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, 202-418-1776 (voice); 202-418-1169 (TTY); or email at Elizabeth.Lyle@fcc.gov.
Back to top
Copyright © 2010 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.