In This Issue
Gift Ideas 2010: Great Gift Ideas for People with Vision Loss
Accessible Toys for the Young and Young at Heart with Vision Loss
An Accessibility Review of the Verizon Haven Cell Phone
Tara Annis and Morgan Blubaugh
Kindle 3: An Accessibility Evaluation...Is the Third Time the Charm?
An Accessibility Check of Popular Online Shopping Sites
Website Evaluation: Directions for Me, a Gift to People Who Can't Read the Box
Cleaning Up Online: A Review of Soap.com
Greeting Card Sites, Are They Accessible to People with Vision Loss?
Dear AccessWorld readers,
Last month, AccessWorld celebrated Disability Employment Awareness Month. We took the opportunity to focus on employment and provide information about employment resources, strategies, and insider perspectives for getting the most from vocational rehabilitation services. We hope you enjoyed the spotlight on the working world, where we highlighted the career of New York State Assistant District Attorney and Deputy Bureau Chief, Rackets Division, Celeste Lopes.
We also hope you enjoyed "An Introduction to Twitter," from J.J. Meddaugh, and the third installment of our series on illuminated magnifiers, "Lighting Up Your World: A Closer Look at Illuminated Magnifiers, Part 3," from Morgan Blubaugh.
As you know, there is now a chill in the air, and the days of fall are well upon us. It is time to start thinking about the holiday gift giving season. I know, I know...I can't believe it, either; summer completely passed me by. Ready or not, the shopping season is just around the corner, and the AccessWorld team wants you to be ready with gift ideas for those in your life who have experienced vision loss. In addition to in-depth product reviews of the Kindle 3 and the Haven cell phone offered from Verizon, we are focusing the November issue on helping you to shop for young and old alike with vision loss.
In this issue, Bradley Hodges provides great gift ideas ranging from low-tech household items to high-tech productivity tools; some ideas are "high-dollar," whereas others are "priceless." J.J. Meddaugh walks us through the toy store and provides a great run-down on accessible toys and games for the young-at-heart on your shopping list. Janet Ingber takes us on a virtual tour of popular online shopping sites and provides advice, tips, and tricks to get the most from your online holiday shopping experience.
Speaking of shopping, in this issue, Deborah Kendrick reviews the Directions for Me website, an accessible online resource for package information and directions on how to use thousands of products, from cake mixes to vacuum cleaners. Can't read the package information? Directions for Me can help. If you find it difficult to get reliable transportation to and from the store, or if lugging heavy bottles of laundry detergent and household products on the bus weighs you down, check out the review of Soap.com from Bradley Hodges. This online store offers free telephone orders and free shipping on orders of $25 or more.
We at AccessWorld hope this issue will give you ideas and inspiration for finding just the right gift for anyone on your holiday gift list with vision loss. If, however, e-greeting cards are more your style, read Marc Grossman's review of popular e-card sites.
The AccessWorld team wishes you and yours health, happiness, and prosperity as we enter the holiday season.
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Gift Ideas 2010: Great Gift Ideas for People with Vision Loss
The holiday gift-giving season will soon be in full swing. Some of Santa's helpers, also known as AFB TECH staff, have provided the following guide to gifts that may be of interest to the more technically inclined on your list. They also have some ideas if the gift giver has some technical experience to share.
Stocking Stuffers, $10 to $100
It may be true that the best things come in the smallest packages. For those small but very welcome items, sources such as Independent Living Aids and the LS&S Group offer dozens of accessible products to choose from. Each organization also offers toll-free ordering.
Clocks and watches with either voice output or large numbers are convenient to many people. The latest generation of clocks automatically sync to the U.S. Bureau of Standards radio time signal. They also offer some of the best-sounding voices available. This is especially important for those who are not accustomed to synthetic speech or for those with hearing loss. Watches, again with large print, braille, or voice, are available in a wide variety of styles.
Kitchen tools that provide convenience at meal time shouldn't be overlooked. Talking meat thermometers, a variety of timers, and talking food scales are just a few things the cook on your list might find useful.
For the hobbyist with low vision, you can find items to make crafting or gaming easier, such as lamps, stand magnifiers for assistance with building models or sewing, and games with large-print and high-contrast colored pieces.
Books, Books, and More Books
Among the most important uses of technology by individuals with vision loss is gaining independent access to the written word. Here are some gift ideas for the bookworm.
Portable Book Reader, $299 to $350
About the size of two decks of cards, these devices can store and play a variety of electronic book formats. Leisure reading titles available for free from the National Library Service (NLS), as well as books for purchase from Audible.com, are fully narrated. Titles from Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic would appeal primarily to the students on your list, whereas the text files of the tens of thousands of titles from Bookshare.org have broad appeal and are read by the text-to-speech voice included in this class of technology.
HumanWare's VictorReader Stream is the standard bearer in this group. It is well regarded for the clear speech of its menus and its logical control layout. However, its very soft-spoken loudspeaker may be a shortcoming for some. Further, whereas its small size makes it portable, it is also considered fragile by some users, so care should be taken to avoid dropping the Stream. The GW Micro BookSense includes an FM radio in one of the three versions on offer. The unit is somewhat smaller than the Stream and more closely resembles other popular consumer electronics. The ability to manage MP3 files is a strength of this player. Again, the speaker is small and volume levels are best suited for personal listening in a quiet area. The BookPort Plus is the newcomer to this trio of readers. Built on an existing and sturdy hardware platform, this device includes some of the most sophisticated and effective recording capabilities to be found in this group. A software update expected sometime this month will enable the BookPort to use Wi-Fi connectivity to stream Internet radio, podcasts, and eventually DAISY books online.
Among the many features of Apple's iPod and iPad product lines is the accessible iBook format. The required software is available, free of charge, from the Apple App Store. Titles are purchased individually for $9.90 on average. Many public-domain titles can be downloaded free of charge. All titles that AFB TECH has evaluated are accessible, making iBooks the most accessible of the competing eBook reader formats. We must caution readers that not all periodicals, especially popular on the iPad, are accessible. All current versions of devices that use Apple's iOS4 operating system will play iBooks using the included VoiceOver utility.
Book Reader Accessories, $10 to $100
Whether it is a portable book reader, the free player from the National Library Service, an Apple product, or some other reading device, well-chosen accessories often make the reading experience a real pleasure.
External speakers can be connected to these devices and may be especially welcome by those who sometimes want to relax in a favorite easy chair and spend some time reading. Altec Lancing manufactures a variety of self-powered speakers. The smallest and least expensive of them, the IM207, has been a hit in the AFB TECH lab. It resembles a large muffin, only made of plastic. The audio quality is surprisingly good and the three AAA batteries operate the speaker for many hours. The speakers are available from several online sources and are priced from $10 to $15. For additional speaker ideas, a trip to Radio Shack or a computer store may be helpful. In addition to Altec Lancing, JVC and Logitech offer many high-quality products. On Amazon, search results can be arranged by average customer rating. This can be a helpful tool when deciding between two candidates, or to gauge customer reaction to devices with which you are not personally familiar.
Another popular solution is to use a high-quality table radio as a speaker. Those products that include a line level input for an external source are all set to amplify the output from a book player or iPod.The Tivoli table radio has been popular for many years. Both mono and stereo sound models are available with or without clock radio functions. Pricing and availability are available on the Tivoli website.
On the Universal Radio website, you will find a wide variety of FM tabletop radios. The helpful staff at this Columbus, OH, store is also a toll-free phone call away and will provide expert and friendly guidance. Be sure to let them know that you are looking for a model with line level input and that quality of speech is of paramount importance.
Connecters and Memory, $10 to $50
Regardless of what book player or portable device is used, some extra memory or other accessories are sure to be a hit. The three portable players above all use SD memory cards. These can be purchased at retailers including Best Buy, Target, Walmart, or at computer stores. Available in sizes of 1, 2, 4, or 8 GB, most major manufacturers' cards should work in any of the players. If you are uncertain, purchase your card from a source that can be easily reached by the recipient in case an exchange or return is necessary.
For those who have the free digital Talking Book player, provided by the NLS, a specialized memory cartridge and data-transfer cable make it possible to download and play Talking Books immediately using the NLS BARD website. Perkins Products sells both cartridges and cables. A gift of two 2-GB cartridges and a transfer cable can be had for less than $30. Each cartridge can store between 15 and 18 average-size books.
Thumb drives (also known as jump drives or flash drives) are an easy-to-use, flexible, and affordable way to save and transfer data files, MP3 music files, library book files, and anything else you would otherwise save to a hard drive. In our experience, the most basic thumb drives work best in devices that are not running Windows, such as the new NLS digital Talking Book player. Sizes of 4, 8, and 16 GB are most popular. Avoid more elaborate technology that will be identified as using U3, a format that can block some devices from accessing the drive's contents. Prices range from $10 to $50. Target, Office Depot, and computer stores offer good choices.
Don't forget the connecting cables. If you are giving someone a device that they will be connecting to another bit of technology, make sure you provide the necessary connecting cables. For iPods and other music players used with an amplified speaker, a 3.5-mm audio cable is likely to be what you will need. RadioShack offers cables that are a bit more rugged than the least expensive kind, and the quality is worth the slight price difference. For devices that transfer data to or from a computer, a USB cable is likely to be a requirement. Several differing standards, including "micro" and "mini" are used, so check carefully in advance of purchasing.
Earphones or Headphones, $50 to $500
The opposite of listening in the comfort of your home is reading or music listening on the go. There are many aftermarket headphones and earphones available, almost any of which will provide a better sound than the typically inexpensive earbud-style phones included with portable players. Earphones are designed to fit snugly in the ear and often extend into the ear canal. Headsets or headphones fit entirely around the ear or rest (float) on the surface of the ear. Many individuals have a strong preference for one style or the other. For those with vision loss, traveling independently and safely with a cane or dog may also influence style preference. An additional twist is the necessity of a small in-line microphone and controls when using many Apple products. Often, manufacturers sell a version with and without iPod controls. Sources such as Consumer Search provide reviews of all styles across a wide price range. Headphone.com sells an almost bewildering array of models. They provide good online information, including the ability to group products by activity. Each product is also assigned a rating from 1 to 5. The company enjoys a reputation for honesty and rigor when rating and describing the products. The Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones are popular. Many frequent travelers consider them indispensable, but not everyone is as enthusiastic, with some noting the feeling of pressure on the ears when the noise-canceling circuits are engaged. It is a good idea to make some inquiries before giving these or other noise-canceling earphones.
The Perfect Bag, $7 to $300
Whether it is a perfectly chosen digital camera bag designed to hang on the belt, or the latest in design from Tumi or Crumpler, a bag to hold a collection of gadgets and related paraphernalia might be just perfect. For the person who already has a bookport or similar device, a belt case intended for a point-and-shoot digital camera is a good choice. Best Buy and Target usually have good selections. If possible, take the player with you. If it is going to be a surprise, choose from the largest of this kind of bag available. Luxury goods stores and specialty luggage retailers can provide guidance if you are giving a high-end bag. Tumi offers several in both leather and synthetic materials. Such bags are also sometimes referred to as "Euro totes." For online purchasing, eBags offers dozens of suitable options and has a good reputation for quality phone support and easy exchanges.
A Gift of Your Time, $0
It's likely that not everyone on your gift-giving list is a geek. Still almost everyone can benefit from technology if it is accompanied by a helping hand. The NLS is rolling out the new digital Talking Book program. In addition to receiving books by mail from the library, the entire catalog of digital books is available for immediate download. With an aftermarket cartridge and data-transfer cable, any Internet-connected computer can be used to transfer books for immediate playback on the library's free digital player. Why not offer to download books for someone who enjoys reading but may not have access to their own computer? At the NLS BARD website, you will find registration information and be able to log in to begin downloading titles. Note that an e-mail address will be required for the subscription process. Titles can be browsed by subject, category, and author. New titles are grouped together and are usually posted on Friday. A wide variety of magazines is also available.
Teaching someone to use a free screenreader is a bit more ambitious, but may prove to be a very valuable endeavor. Two reasonably well-regarded free screenreaders are available for Windows. NonVisual Desktop Access and System Access to Go are both free. NonVisual Desktop Access is installed on the computer or can be operated from a thumb drive. System Access to Go requires Internet connectivity and is downloaded via Internet Explorer each time it is used. Of the two, System Access is the most popular and also provides very good screen magnification for those who wish to both enlarge the screen and use speech. Every Mac computer running the current operating system can be made accessible by activating VoiceOver, Apple's screenreader, or ZOOMS, the screen magnification program. These utilities are powerful and comprehensive. They require advanced understanding of their use by the person providing assistance.
Major Home Appliances
The holidays are a time to share ourselves with others, and very often this includes food. At AFB TECH, we are always tracking the availability of accessible appliances. Although not as personal as some gifts, the opportunity to independently operate a major appliance in the home may very well make an accessible range, dishwasher, laundry room pair, or microwave a truly memorable gift this year. A listing of our top picks can be found in the sidebar at the end of this article.
A Gift for All Year, $19 to $130 per month
It should never be taken for granted that everyone has Internet access or good mobile or landline phone service. These services can provide an indispensable connection to information and entertainment from this holiday season to next. However, deciding to provide an ongoing service requires a bit more research.
Internet service can often be purchased as an add-on to an existing phone line or cable contract. If available, DSL service from the phone company is often the least expensive Internet connection. Prices of $19 to $35 per month are typical. Introductory rates are also common, but caution must be exercised in the event that taking advantage of a low introductory rate may obligate the subscriber to an extended contract. Cable Internet is typically more expensive than DSL, from $35 to $60 monthly, without discounts. Again, introductory rates are usually available, and cable companies are less likely to require an extended contract.
An accessible cell phone may be welcome this year. AFB TECH is very impressed with the Haven, a basic phone available from Verizon. The phone is priced at $39 with a new contract or qualifying upgrade. All phone features are voiced, including text messages. For information on using the Haven with low vision, see the review article in this issue. The Haven isn't the most feature-laden phone available. That honor, perhaps, goes to the iPhone, currently available exclusively from AT&T. All iPhones offer built-in accessibility, and that accessibility is free. The VoiceOver and ZOOMS programs provide either voice output or screen enlargement on the iPhone. The best value may be the iPhone 3GS. Priced at $99 with a new or qualifying renewal, it offers almost all of the same features as the $199 and $299 iPhone 4 models. The accessibility is the same and many accessories are available for the 3GS family of phones.
Mobile broadband allows the Internet to travel wherever you go. A recent product introduction has many technology analysts, including David Pogue of the New York Times, talking. The $40-per-month plan from Virgin Mobile uses a $150 device called the MiFi to send and receive Internet signals using the cellular phone network, in this case, from Sprint. The MiFi device creates a small WiFi network wherever it is, allowing as many as five laptops and mobile devices, including iPods and iPads, to connect to the Internet. Unlike some competing offerings, including Sprint's own plan, Virgin Mobile will not meter or cap data use. It is not necessarily the plan for everyone; speeds are on the slow side and service may vary from area to area. It has enough speed to support radio or video streaming, including Netflix. Downloading NLS books is possible, but may require considerably more time than using another kind of Internet connection.
Skype is a popular and remarkably economical alternative to either cell or landline phones, particularly for international calling. The service uses software, which you install on a computer, smartphone, or iPod Touch to place and receive phone calls to either other Skype users, free of charge, or to any telephone using SkypeOut. In order to activate SkypeOut, an account needs to be established, which can charge a credit card or a prepurchased Skype card. The SkypeOut service is priced at $2.95 per month. A SkypeIn service, which includes an inbound phone number, is also available at an additional cost.
Although Granny Smiths make wonderful pies, and Golden Delicious are great by themselves, as technology guys, we prefer Apples of the electronic variety. Thanks to VoiceOver and ZOOMS, all currently available Apple products are accessible. Deciding on a gift from among the rich offerings is a pleasant task.
iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano, $49 to $149
These are the simplest and most affordable iPods. Both devices are intended to play music and other audio files. In addition to audio playback, the Nano offers picture and video viewing. VoiceOver controls use the recently introduced touch screen. The same screen is used for controlling the Nano and navigating songs, albums and play lists. The shuffle has no screen, instead using three buttons for playback and file navigation. Both of these iPods record audio, when a compatible microphone or earphone/microphone is used.
iPod Touch and iPad $249 to $600
These products range from the middle to the high end of the iPod line. They all share the basic ability to play music and audio files with their siblings, but the universe of applications or "apps" sets them apart as powerful and flexible personal computing devices.
has reported on the capabilities of these products and we encourage you to refer to those articles for more detailed information.
An Internet-connected Windows or Mac computer running iTunes, a free application, is required to activate and manage all iPod and iPad devices. Versions for both Windows and the Mac OS are downloadable from the iTunes website. System Access to Go provides excellent support to iTunes on Windows computers. While the accessibility of iTunes is very good, it should be noted that the interface is complex and uses some navigation conventions that may not be familiar to some users of screen-access technology.
In order to be used as intended, a WiFi connection should be available to the iPod Touch and iPad. A version of the iPad that connects directly to the cellular network is available. Unlike the iPhone, data for the network-connected iPad is purchased on a monthly or as-needed basis and requires no contract.
Mac Computers, $995 to $2,700
Mac computers have increased their market share in recent years. Fortunately, VoiceOver and a suite of accessible applications included with all Macs make Apple a serious alternative to Windows for blind and visually impaired individuals. Since there is no additional price associated with accessibility, shopping for the best combination of price and service should guide the purchase of a Mac for use with VoiceOver or Zooms.
It is important to recognize that despite the robustness of VoiceOver and the many accessible applications that it supports, the relatively few options for training remain an issue. Many Web-based resources, including Blind Cool Tech and Sero Talk, offer audio tutorials and reviews for those experienced and motivated individuals who want to learn how to use VoiceOver independently. In-person training, especially for the beginner is not widely available. Consumer organizations, including the
National Federation of the Blind and the American Counsel of the Blind, may be good resources to locate VoiceOver training providers
A Gift to AFB
On almost every holiday gift list is that "hard-to-buy-for" person, or someone who "has everything he or she needs." Consider a gift to AFB in support of our valuable work. You will celebrate the holiday season with the certain knowledge that your donation is working 365 days a year to provide valuable information to expand opportunities for people with vision loss.
AFB TECH's APPLIANCE BEST BETS
For Nonvisual Use
Washer and dryer
Whirlpool Duet (full size)
$800 to $1,200
Whirlpool, models beginning with GF
$600 to $1,000
Whirlpool Gold 2320 and similar models
$400 to $600
Panasonic 25603 (Walmart)
For Low Vision Use
Washer and dryer
Sears Kenmore washer 49032, dryer 89032
Microwave, over the stove
Frigidaire Gallery FGMV173KW
[Note: We have not evaluated countertop microwaves for low-vision accessibility.]
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Accessible Toys for the Young and Young at Heart with Vision Loss
With the holidays fast approaching, the aisles of virtually every toy store will be buzzing with activity. Parents, grandparents, family, and friends are likely already pondering the gifts to purchase for children and the young at heart. Often, individuals are of the belief that shopping for a blind or visually impaired child is an immensely more difficult task. Although it is true that some toys and games present greater challenges, there is a nearly endless supply of gift ideas available for children everywhere.
Generally speaking, there are two major groups of gifts to consider when purchasing toys and other fun items for children who are blind or visually impaired. Many items, such as building blocks or some electronic games, are completely usable out of the box without modifications. In other words, a blind child can open their gifts and begin playing immediately. But a bit of ingenuity and creativity can open the door to another class of toys which can be made accessible with a bit of tinkering, brailling, or marking. We've split up this buying guide into several sections in order to help you find the items you're looking for. You can browse through these sections using the headings below.
Toys for the Little Ones
Many toys for infants and toddlers are naturally usable because of their lack of complexity and multisensory designs. These toys play songs or music, emit funny sounds or tones, and are very colorful in presentation. They usually include large, uniquely shaped buttons and controls. All of these qualities make them perfectly usable by the little ones.
Those looking for a talking and singing companion or two may consider the new Sing-a-ma-jigs! from Mattel. These squeezeable characters speak gibberish and sing songs on their own. But the real magic comes when you put more than one of these huggable friends together, as the toys spontaneously join each other in perfect harmony. As their motto confirms, "They love nothing better than singing together."
Toys for Learning
What better way to teach a child the alphabet, spelling, or mathematics than with toys? Many such toys are tactile in nature, and some even come with braille or other tactile markings. Lindenwood, Inc. has manufactured the popular Uncle Goose braille blocks for over 20 years. These wooden blocks include embossed braille letters or numbers, depending on the set chosen, and can be used to learn braille, spelling, and arithmetic. Sets with deeply embossed print letters, which can be felt by touch, are also available. Many teachers would concur with the importance of a blind child also learning print numbers and letters. There are a number of manufacturers that produce magnetic letters and numbers, which often can be felt by touch. The best ones are most likely magnets cut in the shapes of the letters, as opposed to flat magnets with letters printed on them.
For a richer multimedia experience, check the clearance bins or online stores for Leapfrog's Fridge DJ. It's like a mini music player for kids, but instead of listening to Lady Gaga, they can tune to three stations featuring songs about letters, numbers, and other elementary concepts. Because it has dials to switch between the songs, it's perfectly usable by children who are blind or visually impaired.
For older learners, the Educational Insights Geosafari Talking Globe remains as a popular option for the visually impaired and sighted alike. Intended for children grades 3 and up, it asks over 10,000 questions on topics ranging from states and capitals to European rivers. The presentation is similar to a TV game show, and all of the questions are read aloud. Although the globe itself isn't tactile in nature, the bulk of your child's time will probably be spent playing the various games. You could put some tactile marks on the globe if you felt it necessary.
When shopping for accessible educational toys, watch out for many of the electronic computers and visual games. These items may talk, but often require visual assistance to play or set up. The Leapster Explorer, for example, falls into this category because of its inaccessible touch screens and its visual interface.
Dating back to the days of the first electronic Simon or the Speak 'n Spell, electronic games have been delighting children for decades. Although many early titles produced just a few beeps and blips, many modern entries are fully interactive, human-sounding machines sure to engage children and adults alike.
Perhaps the most well known of the current crop of electronic game franchises is the Bop It line of games from Hasbro. Available over the years in several models, including Bop It Extreme and Bop It Blast, the general concept requires the user to perform the requested command to the unit. To "Bop it" is to press or hit the big round button on the center of the unit. Other actions often include "pull it," "twist it," and "spin it." Because the commands are spoken out loud or given using sounds, Bop It has become one of the most popular handheld games for the blind. The most widely available iteration currently is simply called Bop It and includes a new "shout it" mode where you must shout or say something when commanded. Bop It Bounce is a recently released addition to the Bop It family and includes various games involving a ball and a paddle, with the same audio high jinks as the other models. This one may be more challenging to play by anyone, but with some determination and patience, it's a great way to practice coordination and dexterity. Other Bop It models may be available online or through auction sites such as eBay.
If you're seeking a more intellectual challenge, Radica's Say What offers a pop culture mind game for young and old. The goal is to unscramble a famous phrase from TV, music, or pop culture. Each portion of the phrase is represented by a ball, and these balls must be rearranged as fast as possible to unscramble the secret phrase. The phrases, scoring, and instructions are all voiced by a recorded male voice, and the game includes three levels of difficulty. Race against the clock and compete against your friends for pop culture glory.
Educational Insights, makers of the Geosafari Talking Globe mentioned above, has released a new talking category game called Freeze Up. Can you think of a fruit that starts with M? Think quickly, because time is ticking in this fast-paced and self-voicing title, similar to the parlor game Scattergories. It includes over 170 categories and is intended for two to eight players.
A variety of other talking electronic games have been released over the years, though some of these have been discontinued. BrailleGifts.com is an online store specializing in these hard-to-find titles and includes many gems, including the NuJam Guitar, Groove It, and Torx, all fun and potentially addictive time wasters.
Board and Card Games
Although many board or card games are not easily playable by a blind child out of the box, they often can be made accessible. Cards can be marked using a braille writer or Dymo labeler, and Puffy Paint is often a simple way to mark sections or paths on a game board.
Bananagrams is quickly gaining popularity as a fast-paced, competitive word game, similar to Scrabble. Each player draws a set number of titles and then must create a grid of words using these tiles, similar to a crossword puzzle. Players can exchange unused letters, albeit for a penalty, and the player who empties the pile is declared the winner. The game is packaged with 144 letter tiles, and upon brailling these tiles, the game would be playable by a blind person.
Another game that should be relatively easy to braille is Mattel's Apples to Apples. The game invites participants to suggest comparisons of seemingly unrelated items. The game cards usually contain one- or two-word phrases, and the size of the cards is plenty large enough to fit the required words.
Scattergories by Hasbro is a classic parlor game of words and categories. Players have roughly three minutes to think of 12 items that all begin with the same letter and fit the categories for the round. Blind players can braille or type up a listing of the categories for the game and then record their answers using a braille writer, notetaker, or raised-line paper. The only partially inaccessible item in the game is the 20-sided die, which includes small letters that may be difficult to feel.
Don't forget the classics. A braille deck of playing cards has the potential for hours of fun, whether for a four-year-old playing a game of War or Go Fish, or an older child or adult playing Rummy or Spades. Other card games, such as Uno, Old Maid, or Phase 10, can be easily marked with braille. In addition, many stores that offer products for the blind and visually impaired include braille and other accessible games in their catalogs. An eBay seller who goes under the username "bjornskov" has been creating and selling braille and tactile games and toys for several years. Some recent items have included a Fisher-Price Fun-2-Learn Teaching Clock, a Playskool ABC Game, and a braille Rat-A-Tat Cat card game. Most items are priced similarly to their print counterparts, making this a rather affordable option for family or friends who lack the expertise or ability to adapt games as gifts for the blind.
Accessible Computer Games
Audio-based computer games offer opportunities for blind children to enjoy a wide variety of entertainment. Younger users may be interested in the low-cost titles from
7-128 Software. The PizzaGames for Children offers opportunities for learning the placement of keys on the computer keyboard as well as letters and simple addition. Older users may be interested in Q9, a side-scrolling action game from Blastbay Studios. The title character is an alien who needs to traverse through 12 levels in order to find his spaceship, killing everything in his path.
In addition, two websites offer subscription-based online games that are playable by both visually impaired and sighted players. All inPlay offers six games with full multimedia sound and graphics. These range from card games like Blackjack and Crazy Eights to two-word game titles. All of these games are multiplayer, meaning you can compete against others from around the world. Blind Adrenaline offers a similar service geared especially toward card game fanatics. The six game titles include Hearts, Spades, Poker, and Euchre.
In summary, when shopping for a toy or game for a blind or visually impaired youth, the possibilities are limitless. Many items are quite accessible out of the box, whereas others can be modified so they are just as enjoyable. Truth be told, the people with vision loss you are shopping for want many of the same things as their fully sighted friends, and there's no reason to deny them of this fun just because of their vision loss.
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An Accessibility Review of the Verizon Haven Cell Phone
For the over 25 million Americans who experience vision loss, it can be difficult to find a simple, easy-to-use cell phone that isn't overly expensive or complicated. To date, the majority of accessible cell phones are either accessible smartphones that offer full accessibility but can be difficult to learn and are designed for more advanced use, or simple flip or brick phones that either require the installation of additional screen-access software or that don't extend accessibility to all phone functions. There is a need for a simple, easy-to-use cell phone that offers full accessibility right out of the box. The Haven cell phone, developed by Samsung and offered through Verizon, seeks to address this need by offering a phone that is designed for full accessibility from both low-vision and blindness perspectives.
The question is whether this phone actually offers the accessibility promised by Verizon. Is this phone that much better suited for people with visual impairment than other cell phones on the market?
In this article, we examine the accessibility of the Haven cell phone, taking into consideration its physical design, documentation, keypad, voice output, quality of its display, menu navigation, and its features.
The Haven is a small, dark-gray, rectangular flip phone weighing 3.7 ounces and measuring 4 by 2 by 0.7 inches when closed. The Haven features two electronic displays: a 1 by 1 inch display on the outside of the device, and a 1.4 by 1.8 inch internal display that can be viewed when the phone is flipped open. When closed, the phone is light and compact and fits easily into a pocket or the palm of your hand.
Along the left side of the phone are a raised, tactile volume rocker and an audio jack for headphones. The volume rocker is raised to a height that allows for it to be found easily. Along the right side of the phone is the USB data port for charging the device. Both the audio jack and USB port are the same color as the background, and the USB port has a covering that can make it difficult to find the first time you use the phone, but it is something that you can get used to.
The Haven is a basic cell phone, so it does not feature a camera and does not use any touch screens or touch controls. It does have a speaker built into the back, just above the battery compartment, which can be used as a speakerphone.
The Haven comes with a 174-page user manual in a 6-by-4-inch booklet. The manual is printed in 12-point Arial Narrow font, which is far from the worst documentation we've seen, but is still considerably less than the 18-point font recommended by the American Printing House for the Blind for people with low vision. Additionally, there are a number of images and icons that are simply too small for many people with low vision to see. This is particularly evident when showing images of the keys, which are poorly labeled and extremely difficult to read when sized down to fit on the page. Fortunately, the manual is organized well and, with the exception of using images or icons in the place of text, easily understandable.
An electronic version of the manual is available on the Verizon website, under the accessibility section, along with the documentation for many of their other phones. There is also an option to order the Haven manual in an alternative format, such as braille or large print. The electronic version of the Haven's manual is an improvement over other Verizon phone documentation that AFB TECH has evaluated. For example, the documentation for the LG VX 4500 phone we evaluated in the May 2005 issue of AccessWorld
was poorly written with regard to usability for people with vision loss. It did not provide page numbers in the table of contents for the various sections, and it was difficult to tell these various sections apart from one another due to poor text formatting in the print user manual.
The Haven manual does not contain the errors found in the LG VX 4500 manual, and even goes as far as providing descriptions of the phone's layout, such as:
"Voicemail Key: Press for voicemail. [Located at top of flip, bottom right hand side]"
The Haven's keypad is broken into two parts: the numeric pad on the bottom, and a square grid of eight buttons directly above the numeric pad that surrounds a 4-way navigation key with OK button. The buttons on the top row of the square grid consist of two soft keys on either end with a "911" button between them. On the second row is a speakerphone button and a button labeled "ICE," which stands for "in case of emergency" and is used to automatically dial emergency numbers that can be programmed into the phone. The third row has, from left to right, the send, clear/backspace, and power/end buttons.
The numeric pad consists of 12 black keys with white lettering that have tactile distinctions between them. The numeric keys on the Haven are extremely easy to identify by touch. The 5 key has two nibs on it, on the left and right side, for orientation purposes. The keys are convex, except for the 5, which is flush with the surface of the phone, allowing for easy navigation across the keypad. The labeling on these buttons contrasts well with the background, and the numbers are large. Unfortunately, the buttons themselves are the same color as the background.
The square grid of buttons surrounding the four-way key are also easy to identify by touch because they alternate between being convex or flush with the phone's surface. So, when running a finger across the grid, you will trace in a pattern of convex, flat, convex, flat. The only button that may be somewhat difficult to feel is the four-way inside the grid as the four arrows and the OK button are all flat. If a large nib were placed on the OK button, as is found on the four arrow keys, this problem could be solved. The square grid is visually distinctive from the background, unlike the numeric keypad; these buttons are metallic and contrast strongly. Unfortunately, the labeling on the metallic buttons is noticeably smaller than the labeling on the numeric pad and does not contrast well with the metallic background. The 911, send, and power/end buttons are color coded, but more visual distinctions between these keys would make the device much more usable for people with low vision.
In addition to the numeric keypad and the square grid, there is a single row of buttons directly below the display on the top half of the phone. These are shortcut keys that can quickly access certain phone functions. From left to right, they are as follows: voice commands, my pictures, and voicemail. These buttons are the same color as the background and do not have any text labeling, instead using small icons that are difficult to see. The buttons are flush with the phone, but do have an indented vertical line between them, so they are somewhat easy to distinguish from one another.
The Samsung Haven has built-in, digitally recorded human speech in a clear female voice that speaks everything on the phone's display, including caller ID and menu items; it also echoes keypad presses. Previous Samsung models, such as the a640, did not allow for access to all of the phone's features, creating partial accessibility, so this model is a step forward for Samsung in the accessibility arena.
By default, when the phone is turned on for the first time, the voice output is not activated and there is no accessible method to turn on the speech. When first obtaining the Haven phone, a sales representative or sighted helper will need to go into the menu and activate speech. Following this activation, the voice will remain on and will not need to be reactivated.
You cannot adjust the pitch or rate of the speech as you can when using third-party screen-access software, Talks, or Mobile Speak. Yet, the volume of the built-in speech can be increased or decreased using the volume rocker on the left side of the phone. One somewhat frustrating aspect was the fact that the speech was lagging in its response. For example, when dialing a number on the numeric keypad, we had to make the key presses at a moderate pace or we risked pressing too quickly for the speaker to announce individual numbers. Or, when making a menu selection, there would be a slight delay after we had pressed the OK button for the submenu title to be announced.
The Haven has two visual displays, a small external display used when the phone is closed and a larger internal display used for menu navigation and advanced features. Both displays are bright, full color, and high contrast, which is a welcome change from many flip phones that use cheap, hard-to-read monochrome displays on the outside. Additionally, the clock on the external display uses a 24-point font, making it one of the easiest-to-read external displays of any cell phone AFB TECH has evaluated.
In the AFB TECH Optics Lab, we can measure the amount of contrast provided by visual displays. We found that the contrast for the Haven ranged from 88 to 95 percent depending on the selected color theme, which makes it one of the highest-contrast displays of any device we have examined--not just cell phones. Although the actual size of the main display, 1.4 by 1.8 inches, is below average for display size on these types of phones, and much smaller than you would find on a smartphone-type device, the information on the display is organized well and is large enough to be useful to some people with low vision. The Haven, unlike many similar phones, does not try to fit a lot of information on the screen all at once, which makes for a much friendlier user interface.
The Haven features a simple menu interface that is easy to use and fully accessible. You can access the menu from the home screen by pressing the left soft key, and the Haven will announce the first menu item. You can scroll down the list and it will speak every item. An item is selected by using the OK key, which will lead you to another screen, where the submenu options will be announced.
This is unique to the Haven as no other Samsung model reads aloud any submenus. Besides the common menu options, such as call log, messaging, and ring tone, there are unique items, such as the tip calculator and world clock.
All of the menus use high-contrast text; there are no confusing images or icons in any of the menu screens. All the menus and features on the phone use a 14-point sans-serif font, which is a definite improvement over most cell phones on the market.
By default, the phone uses a white-on-dark-blue color scheme for the menus, with selected items highlighted in black on gold. This color scheme can be changed under phone settings; users have the choice of this default color setting, named "Golden Blue," or they can switch to a simple black-on-white color scheme (selected items highlighted in white-on-blue) named "Simple Blue." Both options offer high contrast, and users can also choose between normal and reverse polarity.
When receiving an incoming call, the Haven will either speak the phone number or the person's name if it is saved in the phone book. The Haven will only announce the information once, so if you miss it this one time, you have missed it completely.
We wanted to create a specific section about text messaging as the Haven is fairly unique in that it allows you to send and receive text messages, whereas many phones with off-the-shelf speech do not allow for this feature.
When a text message comes in, there is a spoken announcement. When the message is opened, the Haven will speak who it is from, the date/time received, and the complete body of the text. If you want to hear the body of the text again, be aware that you can only reread it character by character and do not have the sorts of reading options found in third-party cell phone screen-access software, such as reading line by line or the say-all command.
Another way to use the phone, instead of listening to the built-in speech, is to use the voice command feature. The accessibility section of the Verizon website provides in-depth information on the voice command as many of Verizon's phones have this feature. The voice command feature is activated by pressing the voice command key and then saying a command or by using arrow keys to scroll through the choices, which are the following:
Call: You can call a person in your phonebook or your voicemail.
Send text: You can send a text message to a person whose number is entered in the phone book.
Check: You can check your voicemail or the time, signal strength, battery status, volume level, and your account balance.
The Haven is available for purchase through Verizon with the option of three different pricing plans. The Haven can be purchased without a long-term contract for $169.99 plus the cost of month-to-month coverage. The cost of the phone can be reduced by agreeing to either a one- or two-year contract. With a one-year contract, the phone costs $109.99, and with a two-year contract, its cost drops to $39.99. If you are interested in a long-term contract, the Haven offers an affordable solution, but if you would rather purchase coverage on a month-to-month basis, the Haven may become quite expensive.
The Bottom Line
The Haven succeeds in offering a simple, lower-cost accessible solution for anyone looking for a basic cell phone. The Haven is a giant step forward regarding usability, allowing for total access to the phone's features. Only slight improvements could make it better.
From surveys AFB TECH has conducted in the past, such as the "Cell Phone Accessibility Survey" administered in 2008, we have learned that the majority of participants want a low-cost clamshell or flip-style phone that allows for text messaging, has an easy-to-feel keypad, and built-in speech output. The Haven definitely fits this description as it has all of these features.
If you want to use your cell phone to check e-mail, browse the Internet, or play MP3s, the Haven may not be for you, as it lacks these features. Those who want more advanced features may want to purchase an accessible smartphone, such as the iPhone. Or, they may choose to purchase third-party software, such as Talks or Mobile Speak, for their Windows Mobile or Symbian smartphone. However, anyone who is interested in a basic, easy-to-use, accessible, off-the-shelf cell phone should consider the Haven from Verizon.
Verizon's "accessibility" website offers text manuals for many of their phones (including the Haven), information on how to order your phone bill or user manual in braille or large print, contact information for the Customer Service Center for Persons with Disabilities, and a summary of voice commands.
The Mystic Place blog has a podcast demonstration of the Haven, along with an index of all of the podcast segments.
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Kindle 3: An Accessibility Evaluation...Is the Third Time the Charm?
My July 2008 and March 2010 product evaluation articles did a pretty good hatchet job on the first 2 versions of the Kindle e-book reader, so I thought I should give the new version a chance. This article will examine the Kindle 3 and report on the accessibility improvements included in this latest design. I will report on the Kindle 3 from my perspective as a person who is blind, and I will also report on issues of concern to people with low vision. I will discuss the accessibility of each feature and provide a list of suggestions for further accessibility and usability enhancements.
The Kindle 3 is a little smaller and lighter than its predecessor, but it keeps the same basic form. There is a general description of the Kindle 3's features and its physical layout, including pricing information, in a sidebar at the end of this article, so I won't bore those of you already familiar with the Kindle.
What's the Big News?
I'll start with the most important accessibility enhancement with this latest Kindle. It now has two speech output features to provide access for people with vision loss: "voice guide" and "text-to-speech." They both use the Samantha and Tom voices from Nuance, which should be familiar to users of HumanWare's Victor Reader Stream; iPhone users will recognize the Samantha voice.
Voice guide provides speech output to support most of the general interface of the device, including accessing the menus and scrolling through lists of books and other content. The lack of that feature was one of the main reasons the Kindle 2 reviewed so poorly in my last evaluation, so this is a major improvement. However, it doesn't support the entire interface, and there is a nearly two-second delay between your press of the down arrow and the speech actually reading the next menu item. Also, another major flaw with voice guide is that it is not accessible for a blind person to turn on independently. You have to get sighted assistance to first use the menus to get to the setting to turn it on. However, after you do that once, voice guide will remain on until you again go into the settings and turn it off. It also stays on if you turn the Kindle completely off and back on again.
Text-to-speech is the speech output feature that supports the actual reading of books, magazines, and other print content on your Kindle. Although it is a feature that we want in an e-reader, it has unfortunately again been implemented very poorly with this version of the Kindle.
Once you turn text-to-speech on and begin reading, you have no navigation options at all. You can pause and restart, but that's it. You cannot rewind to catch a word or phrase you might have missed, and you cannot move by page, paragraph, line, word, character, or so on. There is also no way to spell a word. Sighted users are able to navigate by page, line, and word, but none of that is supported by speech. There is actually a workaround if you want to replay a passage you have missed, but it is a bit cumbersome. First, you pause text-to-speech, press back, hit the previous page button, press the text key, scroll down 4 lines, and press in on the five-way control to begin reading again. That's a total of 9 keystrokes, and you still have to cross your fingers and hope you catch the passage this time through.
Another problem is that you have to turn on text-to-speech every time you open a book or other item, and it does not stay on if you close the book. Also, the back button used to back out of a menu or close a book actually turns off text-to-speech.
On the positive side, the text-to-speech function does use the spacebar as a convenient way to pause and restart speech, and it does restart exactly where you stopped. It also has a quality speaker with significant volume adjustment. The only text-to-speech enhancement over the previous version that we can see is that voice guide now supports turning text-to-speech on and off, adjusting the rate of the speech, and choosing between the male and female voices. However, the rate only adjusts between normal, slower, and faster, and the faster rate isn't very fast. The faster setting also makes the speech sound choppy.
Tactile Nature of Controls
The keys on the QWERTY keyboard are domed and easy to distinguish from one another. However, although they did add nibs on the F and J keys for orientation purposes, they are too small for human beings to feel, so they are absolutely useless. I know that nibs on a keyboard seem like a trivial thing to some, but it is a simple thing that can truly enhance usability. Also, the next and previous page buttons along the left and right sides are flush with the panel and are only separated by a slight slit in the plastic, so they can be difficult to feel or distinguish tactilely. On the other hand, the five-way control, used to navigate menus and select items is well designed from a tactile perspective.
What Features Are Now Supported by Speech?
I will now go through the various features of the Kindle and briefly discuss if and how each one is supported by speech.
Home Screen Items
For the most part, items on the home screen are fully accessible. The home screen lists your books and other content, and you can scroll through them as voice guide speaks each item. When you scroll to an item you want to read, you simply press in on the five-way control to open the book. The home screen is also where you will find any book collection folders you may have created, as well as your archived items. The only item on the home screen that presents usability problems is the "My Clippings" item. It contains all the newspaper articles you have clipped, and although text-to-speech will read the clippings, they are all run together in one large file, and it is difficult to move from clipping to clipping.
Main Menus from the Home Screen
Pressing the menu key from the home screen brings up a list of several features and functions, and voice guide will read each one as you scroll.
Shop in Kindle Store
This feature is totally inaccessible and is not supported by speech. Visually, you can browse through categories of books and other content, view bestseller lists, and search the store using key words, but none of that is accessible. Although there are some usability issues, you can purchase your books from the Kindle Store on your computer and have them sent immediately to your Kindle. You just can't take advantage of the Kindle's ability to instantly browse and purchase content anywhere you happen to be.
View Archived Items
This is fully supported by speech. When you scroll to archived items, the voice guide tells you how many items are archived, and when you open it, it speaks the items as you scroll.
This search feature allows you to enter a search term and then choose among five different types of searches: My Items, Dictionary, Kindle Store, Wikipedia, and Google. The My Items search is the only one that is useful to those of us relying on speech output, but there are still problems with entering text into the search field. Your typing is not echoed as you type, and you cannot read back what you have typed. This problem is further compounded by the lack of useful orientation nibs on the keyboard. Additionally, if you want to type in a number or a symbol, such as a dollar sign, you are out of luck. You have to first press the symbol key, and then scroll through the grid of numbers and symbols, but voice guide does not speak as you scroll through them. However, if you do successfully type in a search term, the rest of the process is accessible, and you can scroll through your hits as it speaks the name of the book in which each hit occurs as well as the text surrounding your search string. When you hit "enter" on the one you want, it takes you directly to that part of the book, and you can turn on text-to-speech and begin reading.
This is a very powerful tool allowing you to search every book, newspaper, or other type of content you have on your Kindle. Unfortunately the Kindle Store, Wikipedia, and Google searches are not accessible because they rely on the Web browser, which is not accessible. The dictionary search would be accessible, but the manufacturers have decided to use a dictionary whose publisher chose not to allow text-to-speech to work with its dictionary.
Create New Collection
This feature allows you to create folders where you can group books by genre, author, or any way you want. The process is accessible other than for the text-entry problems described for searching. Adding or removing books from a collection or deleting a collection entirely is also accessible.
Sync and Check for Items
This feature checks for items you may have purchased online but not downloaded. Although it does not speak as it goes, it is accessible. You just choose the item on the menu and it does its thing. It places items it finds on the home screen and places the word "new" before those items.
All of the settings functions are accessible, except for when you need to enter text, such as when registering or entering your Wi-Fi password. As with all edit fields on the Kindle, characters are not echoed as you type them, and entering symbols or numbers is not accessible.
This is the last item on the menu accessed from the home screen, and it opens a page with three items the manufacturer still considers to be experimental. The first one is the Web browser, which is totally inaccessible with no speech support at all. The second is the MP3 player, and it is somewhat accessible. You can play and pause music and skip to the next track, but that is it. There is no speech support to access the names of the songs or artists you have loaded onto your Kindle 3. The final experimental item is the text-to-speech feature that I have discussed, and the screen explains a little about this feature. Ironically though, you can use speech to read the Web browser and MP3 player items, but not the text-to-speech item.
Menus Available When a Book is Open
A new set of menus is available when you are reading a book or other content. Voice guide will read these items, but you first have to turn off text-to-speech to access them.
Turn Wireless Off
This item is accessible. You just enter on it and it turns wireless off. The item then changes to "turn wireless on," so you can also use this menu item to learn the state of your wireless feature.
Shop in Kindle Store
As was the case with this item on the main menu, it is totally inaccessible.
The features available via this item are mainly inaccessible. You can go to the table of contents and read it, but you cannot scroll to an item in the table of contents and choose to move to its corresponding location in the book as a sighted person can. You can go to a specific location in a book, but you have to type in a number to do this, which is inaccessible. However, speech does support using the "go to" function to go to the cover or the beginning of the book.
Sync to Furthest Page Read
This item is accessible. It speaks your current location as well as the farthest point into the book that you have read. It then asks you if you want to go to that point and you press the five-way button to do so.
This item brings up a page with a brief description of the current book you are reading, but the page is not supported by speech, so it is inaccessible.
Search This Book
This search works the same as the main menu search tool, but it searches only the current book you are reading. Again, there are the same problems I have described with entering text, but if you are able to enter the search string you want successfully, the rest is accessible.
Add a Bookmark
If you choose this item, the page visually appears as if it has been dog-eared, as if the page corner has been folded over. "Delete bookmark" now appears as a menu item. Although reading the page with speech does not indicate that the page in fact has a bookmark, you can later return to your bookmarked pages via the "View my Notes and Marks" menu item.
Add a Note or Highlight
This tool allows you to visually highlight a passage or write in a margin note, but it is mainly inaccessible. There is no way to know what you are highlighting if you are using speech output, and text-to-speech does not indicate the highlighted text as you are reading. When writing a note, you are again faced with the same barriers I have described that make entering text on the Kindle very difficult. Plus, the text-to speech does not indicate that the page has a note when you are reading the page.
View My Notes and Marks
This tool is completely accessible with speech. Voice guide reads each item as you scroll through the list, and it even reads the full text of any notes it comes across in the list. When you find the one you want, you simply press down on the five-way control to move directly to the page in the book that contains the mark, highlight, or note.
I will now discuss the Kindle 3 from a visual standpoint, determining how it would accommodate a person with low vision. I will discuss the visual characteristics of the display, its large-print capabilities, and the visual nature of the keyboard and other controls.
Because a display's contrast ratio is the number 1 indicator of how "viewable" the display is, we measured the Kindle in AFB TECH's optics lab. When we measured the Kindle 2's display for my last article, we found its 34.6 percent contrast ratio to be one of the lowest we've ever measured. Amazon claims the Kindle 3's contrast is 30 percent better, and we found that to be an accurate claim. However, the Kindle 3 display's 48.9 percent ratio is still too low for many people with low vision, and it compares poorly to the iPhone's 97 percent ratio. That being said, there are some positive things to report for people with low vision. The display does not wash out in sunlight like most cell phone displays, and its matte finish is less susceptible to glare than most displays we have seen.
The Kindle 3 also allows you to increase the font size to as large as a 40-point font, which is a significant improvement over the Kindle 2, whose largest font size is 16 points. It also allows you to choose a sans-serif font; such fonts lack the little embellishments on the letters that are seen with serif fonts, making them easier to read for many people. However, although these font enhancements are available when reading your books, newspapers, and other content, they are not available on the Kindle 3's home screen or in its menus, which instead feature 10-point font sizes and serif font styles. The enhancements are, however, available in most, but not all, of the tools accessed via the menus. For example, they are available in the search and go to tools but not in the book description screen. Also, even though the home screen and menus cannot be visually enhanced, a person with low vision could use voice guide to read them.
The Kindle 3 does not do well regarding the visual nature of its keyboard and other controls, especially with the graphite model. The labels are too small to see, and the grey-on-black contrast on the graphite model is very poor. The grey-on-white contrast on the white model is not much better, but its keys are easier to distinguish from one another visually. Again though, the keyboard would benefit from better nibs on the F and J keys. The previous and next page buttons on the side are also difficult to see, and the fact that they are flush with the panel doesn't help.
Caption: The Kindle 3 graphite model.
The Kindle iPhone App
I did not evaluate the latest Kindle computer software for this article, but I did try out the latest Kindle iPhone app, version 2.2.1. However, the app is still not accessible. Interestingly, this time, the general interface of the app is accessible, but none of the content of the books or other materials is accessible.
The Bottom Line
I have to admit that the Kindle 3 is a very cool device. It is great to have newspapers I subscribe to immediately available on the Kindle before I get out of bed. Its many useful features and its immediate access to 700,000 e-books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs make it a very compelling device. I also like that the price has dropped significantly since the release of the original. However, although significantly improved as far as accessibility, this latest Kindle still has not reached the point where I would recommend it to our blind readers. The lack of any navigation options with the text-to-speech function is a real deal-breaker, especially for a student. Although not perfect visually, this device may accommodate some people with low vision but not others. We would suggest to a person with low vision that he or she try to get a demonstration of the Kindle 3 and investigate its visual and speech features before purchasing.
Further Enhancements We Would Like to See
Amazon has certainly "matriculated the ball down the field," as the legendary NFL coach Hank Stram used to say, but the company has yet to score a touchdown. Here are some accessibility and usability enhancements we would like to see:
- More navigation options with text-to-speech
- Higher display contrast
- Large, sans-serif fonts on all screens
- Larger, more tactile orientation nibs on the F and J keys
- Ability to speak text entered with the keyboard
- Ability to turn on voice guide nonvisually.
- Access to the Kindle Store
- Access to the Web browser
- Key learn mode
Basically, we want it all! Considering the legal battles Amazon and others have faced over the inaccessibility of the Kindle, I am disappointed that Amazon has again failed to make a fully accessible device. I cannot imagine that proper design would cost more than the attorneys they have been paying to fight against it. It is also pretty pathetic that they have chosen to use as the default dictionary one on which the author has disallowed text-to-speech. And come on Amazon, can someone get the point that humans have to be able to feel the nibs on your keyboard? The third time is definitely not the charm for the Kindle, especially considering that it took only one try for Apple to make their iBooks app accessible.
Finally, I have not heard any accessibility news regarding the Sony eReader or the Barnes & Noble Nook. I am also disappointed in the initial inaccessibility of the Blio eBook software recently released by KNFB Reading Technologies. Hopefully, by the time this article gets posted, KNFB will have everything straightened out.
The Kindle 3 is priced at $189 for the version with both wireless and Wi-Fi connectivity, and $139 for the version with Wi-Fi only. It is a little smaller and lighter than its predecessor, measuring 4.8 by 7.5 by 0.34 inches and weighing 8.7 ounces. It has a 6-inch e-ink display and is available in its original white and new graphite color.
The Kindle 3 is primarily used for reading books, but it can also play music, podcasts, and other audio files, as well as display photos, PDF files and other text files transferred from your computer. It can read newspapers and magazines from the Kindle Store, and it can also play audio books purchased from Audible.com. The Kindle 3 has 4 GB of memory that can hold roughly 3,500 books.
The Kindle 3 has many of the features common with today's electronic book readers, including keyword search and bookmarking capabilities. It also has a built-in dictionary for quickly finding a word's definitions. The version with wireless access can browse the Kindle Store's 750,000 books, newspapers, and other content anywhere a cellular network is in reach, and it can also use a Wi-Fi connection at your home or local coffee shop. The Wi-Fi-only version is limited to shopping and downloading only where a Wi-Fi connection is available.
The e-ink technology used by the Kindle 3's display is designed to mimic the experience of reading a regular print book. It has no backlighting and has no flicker. 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 device's battery life.
The Kindle 3 is a thin rectangular device with a 6-inch display on the top and a QWERTY keyboard on the bottom. The keyboard features round, domed keys, and a five-way navigation control and menu buttons are on its right side. Along the left and right edges of the Kindle 3, on either side of the display screen, are 2 identical pairs of buttons that are flush with the panel. The top button on each side is the previous page button, and the bottom one is the next page button. Along the bottom edge of the device from left to right are a volume rocker switch, a headphone jack, the AC adaptor/data port, and a slider power control. The Kindle 3's built-in speakers are on the top corners of the back panel.
Manufacturer: Foxconn, sold by Amazon Digital Services, 605 5th Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98104. Customer Relations: 866-216-1072 or 866-216-1072; website: www.amazon.com.
Price: $189 for wireless and Wi-Fi and $139 for Wi-Fi only.
This product evaluation was funded by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, WV
I would like to acknowledge and thank Marshall University interns Adam Vanhorn and Zach Coakley for their contributions to this article.
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An Accessibility Check of Popular Online Shopping Sites
The holiday season is rapidly approaching. In fact, if you celebrate Chanukah, it's just a few weeks away as it begins on the evening of December 1. Instead of fighting crowds to get to employees who are unable to answer your questions, or finding out that your item is no longer in stock, consider buying your gifts online. You can shop anytime and just use the website's search features to find what you want. Many online retailers have more than one way to search, including by category, price, and by placing the name of an item into an edit box.
When choosing an online shopping site, pick one that is reputable. You will be providing credit card numbers, your address, and other information about yourself. Ask friends or family for recommendations or use sites from major retailers. It's possible to find different prices for the same item on different websites, so shop around before making your purchase. Also, check shipping costs on each website. Some offer free shipping, but do not have this as their default setting. Usually, when free shipping is offered, it will take longer to arrive, but if you shop early, this shouldn't be a problem.
This article will review websites from the following major retailers: Macy's, Toys"R"Us, Best Buy, and Walmart. In addition, two sites designed for people with visual impairments will be reviewed: Amazon's accessible website and Blind Mice Mart.
Prior to beginning the online shopping process, learn your screenreader's hot keys for finding words, headings, tables, links, and forms. These keys will save you a tremendous amount of time and frustration. In addition, because you will have to input information when you purchase items, you must know how to use form controls, such as edit boxes, combo boxes, check boxes, radio buttons, and buttons that will perform specific actions. For this article, I used a PC running Windows XP, Internet Explorer 8, and Window-Eyes 7.2. When the word "click" appears in the article, it means to activate a link rather than clicking the physical mouse.
Amazon.com's Accessible Site
If you have never tried online shopping before, this might be a good place to start. The accessible version of Amazon.com has significantly less clutter than the regular site. If you know exactly what you want, shopping can be relatively easy. Also, Amazon, like many other online retailers, offers free shipping when more than a designated amount of money is spent. Not all Amazon items are eligible for free shipping as the website will link you to other retailers if Amazon doesn't carry the item. If the item does qualify for free shipping, it will be stated within the item's description.
When the homepage loads, there are clearly labeled links, including Books, DVDs, and Music. Activating any of those links will bring up a list of top sellers in that category. There is a search form that consists of an edit box and a search button.
I put the word "Beatles" in the edit box and clicked the search button. Because my term was so general, I got a lot of hits, including CDs, T-shirts, and posters. Along with my results, a combo box appeared to narrow my search criteria. I chose "music" from the combo box and, although I still got a lot of results, they were all music. I selected the Beatles stereo box set.
Clicking on the link for the item loaded a new page with two clearly labeled buttons, one to add the item to my cart and the other to add it to my wish list. There's also a link that says, "Description & Details." When that link was activated, the new page gave some information about the CD and, most importantly, the track list for all 16 CDs in the box set. There wasn't a form control to add the item to the shopping cart, but using the alt-left arrow keystroke, the previous page was loaded and the button was easily located. The next page had clearly labeled buttons to check out or keep shopping. Items in the cart were clearly displayed near the top of the page.
The checkout procedure is straightforward and all form controls speak when registering for the site. If you have met the criteria for free shipping, this will not be the default shipping method when you check out. Rather, there will be a button to change the shipping method; activate that button, and on the next page, select the radio button for free shipping.
The Bottom Line
The main drawback of this site is that there isn't any live help, but there is an online help section. Everything is clearly labeled and the site is easy to navigate.
Blind Mice Mart
The Blind Mice Mart website has many items specifically designed for people with visual impairments, plus hundreds of items for the general population. Even if you decide not to purchase anything, check out the link to their "Blind Mice Movie Vault."
At the top of the homepage is information about some popular products for people with visual impairments. There is a list of search categories that can be easily located by using a screenreader's table hot key. In addition, there is a search form comprising an edit box and search button.
When a category search is performed, the results are displayed as tables. Each item is described, and the retail and Blind Mice Mart savings prices are listed. There are clearly labeled links to place the item in your cart or to your wish list. If a search is performed using the search form, the results are listed and can be found by using your screenreader's find hot key for the word "results."
Because I have been looking for a fruit and vegetable slicer, I chose the "Cutting, Slicing and Chopping" category. Among the results was exactly what I wanted, an "Adjust-A-Slice" mandolin. This is a mainstream product. The description was clear and it specifically said that it was designed to protect fingers. Clicking on the item's link gave me even more useful information. When viewing the item's link, buttons are used to add the item to the cart. Either way, you can check if the item has been added by finding the link that says, "Your Cart." Do not activate the link, but instead, arrow down one line and the number of items and total cost will be there. Of course, a more detailed description is available if you activate the link. Cart information is clearly labeled and there are links to delete an item, keep shopping, or check out.
Although the registration process is straightforward, many of the edit boxes to input information do not speak. In some cases, irrelevant text was spoken. The workaround for Window-Eyes is to turn browse mode on to check what information goes into a specific edit box and then turn browse mode off to enter the text. There is a CAPTCHA, but the audio version is extremely clear and only a few digits. There is an option to receive e-mail notifications about sales. These e-mails are easy to navigate and links are provided within the e-mail to go directly to a specific item.
The Bottom Line
Assistance is available by phone, Skype, or e-mail. All links are clearly labeled and once your initial registration form is completed, it's easy to log into the website.
When the Toys"R"Us website loads, there are over 300 links and many ways to search. Although there is a "Gift Finder" link near the top of the page, it does not provide a form to enter your criteria. In fact, when the link is activated, there are some broken links and some information about gift cards. If you know what you want to get, there is a search form containing a categories combo box, including "All Products" and "Toys & Games."
My nephew loves the Cadillac Escalade, so I entered the word "Escalade" in the edit box and searched within the "Toys & Games" category in the combo box. To find results, search for the term entered in the edit box. I found my results by searching for the word "Escalade." The results were clearly displayed and I could narrow my results by several categories, including age and gender. When I found the toy I wanted, there were basic details, including description, price, and the fact that there was free shipping for the item. In order to add the item to my cart, I had to click on the item's link. When the new page loaded, by using Window-Eyes' find form hot key, I eventually came to the edit box that said that I want one car. The link to then add the item to my cart was under that box. When the new page loaded, there was a table with the item in my cart.
The advantage of Toys"R"Us is that a user can do searches by categories. This can be very useful if you're not exactly sure what you want to get. There are links to search by age, gender, brand, and more. The difficult part is finding specific links as table and heading screenreader hot keys do not work. It might be worth the time to scroll through the various links to determine what is available. Some of the links are broken and consist of a few words and then a string of numbers. To find the links to search by the child's age, use your screenreader's find command and look for the words "birth-12 months." Directly under that link are links for other age groups. Other useful category links include Dolls, Blocks, Riding Games, Boys, and Girls. Once you locate the words, there will be additional links within each category.
Check-out and creating an account are mostly easy. All form controls speak, but toward the end of the checkout process, just under the credit card information, there is a great deal of information about having payments deferred. Under all that is the button for continuing the checkout process.
The Bottom Line
Even though it might take some extra time searching the links, in my opinion, it's better than going to the actual store and dealing with the crowds. Telephone help is not offered, but there is an online help section and a form to e-mail customer support.
The links on the Macy's homepage are clearly labeled and there is not a lot of clutter. Toward the bottom of the page there is a link for visually impaired customers to download their user-assistance tool. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the tool is a third-party application. If you cannot see the screen or you already have software to enlarge text, then this application is not necessary.
Searches can be performed through a search form consisting of an edit box and search button or by specific categories including Men, Women, Jewelry, and Bed & Bath.
I decided to check out clothing for petite women. Right on the homepage, there was a link to this category. My results were easy to find and there were many ways to sort the results, including by type of item, brand, and size. Another way to perform the search was to type the word "petite" in the search form or to first search for women's clothing, which would then bring up a link for petite women's clothing.
I first sorted my results by size, and when the new page loaded, I further refined my results by choosing the "sweaters" category. To find the results, use your screenreader's form controls, and directly under the combo box for results per page, are links for the results. Clicking on an item's link will load a new page where you can select size and color through combo boxes and add the item to your shopping bag with a button. Above the size combo box, there is some information about the item, but the amount of information varies with each item. There is a link that says, "Shopping Bag" and under it is the number of items currently in your bag.
In order to purchase items, you must create a profile. All form controls speak, and there are check boxes for whether you want to receive e-mails or texts from Macy's.
The Bottom Line
The clearly labeled search options make this website a possible place to shop if you're looking for items that Macy's carries. The pages where items are described can get cluttered, but most of the useful information is toward the top of the page. There is online help, but no phone support.
Although the Best Buy homepage has more than 300 links, with the use of a screenreader's headings hot key, it's relatively easy to find specific categories of electronics and accessories. Categories include Computers, Audio Equipment, and Home and Appliances. Within each category, is a list of subcategories. There is also a gift center where gift ideas are displayed according to gender and general age. A section called "Featured Offers" can be found by using those words with your screenreader's find command. In addition, there is a search form consisting of an edit box, combo box, and a search button.
Because I didn't know what to get for a female teenager, I activated the link in the gift center that said "For Teen Girls." When the new page loaded, the results could be sorted further by price, shipping cost, and brand. Sorting results is accomplished by links. Under each link is the number of results available for that selection. To find results throughout the sorting process, find the words "current offers," and the results will be just below those words. I chose gifts for under $50 and my results were basically displayed in the same format as the search. In addition, by searching for the words "shop category," I could find my search results by category.
There were four results in the audio category; when the link was activated, a new page loaded with the results. On this page, there was a combo box to sort the results by price and best selling. Even if you don't want to bother with the combo box, it's an easy way to locate your results. Using the headings hot key from your screenreader can move you around the results, but you will have to use your up and down arrow keys as well. The result text begins with a model number, the price, a link to add the item to your cart, and finally, on the fourth line of the result, the name of the item, presented as a link. The additional information provided includes customer rating and shipping information.
I chose a pair of headphones that cost under $25 and clicked on the link for the item. There were many check boxes to write or print reviews. The easiest way to find information about the item was to look for the word "overview" and then arrow down. Overview provides ratings snapshots followed by information about the item. To put the item into the cart, activate the "add to cart" link.
Once the item was added, the shopping cart was easily found by using Window-Eyes' table hot key. All of the relevant information was there in the table. There was also an option to have the item shipped or to check store availability. A second table listed the item plus a form to calculate shipping. Below the second table was the link to check out.
The check out page has edit boxes for returning customers to enter their user name and password. There are two buttons for people who do not have accounts. The first button is for those who want to create an account and the second is for customers who want to purchase items, but do not wish to create an account. The check-out process is straightforward and all form controls speak.
The Bottom Line
Several years ago, I reviewed this website as part of an online shopping article for AccessWorld. I am happy to say that Best Buy has improved their website significantly for people with visual impairments. Links are clearly labeled and, although each page contains a lot of information, there isn't too much clutter. It might be simpler if the "add to cart" link and several other actions could be buttons rather than a link as they would be easier to locate, but overall, if you can use your screenreader's headings, find, and table hot keys, this site is easy to navigate. If you have a problem, live and online help are available.
As with most online websites, there is more than one way to search for an item on the Walmart website. There's a search form comprising an edit box and a search button or you can navigate by categories. Activating any of the category links will bring up a list of subcategories. For example, in the electronics category, iPods and MP3 players and computers were subcategories. In the iPods and MP3 players category, there were results for Apple iPods, MP3 accessories, and a link to see all MP3 players. To find results, search for the word "shop" followed by the name of the category you are searching. In this case, "shop electronics." The results are provided under those words. After the results is a list of related categories and then links to shop by price.
I chose the option to view all MP3 players; when the page loaded, I could narrow my results, via check boxes, according to capacity, brand, and price. Once I made my selection based on capacity, a new page loaded that indicated how many players, within each brand and within each price range, met the search criteria. Additional options, such as color, were narrowed down through check boxes, and there was a link to update results at the end of the form.
The results appeared underneath the same form. The form allows users to make changes to the search, but this can make results difficult to find. By using arrow keys or link hot keys, the results can be read. The results include the product name, customer rating, and price. There is no link or button to add the item to the shopping cart at this point. Therefore, the item's link must be activated.
Once the new page loads, the first table contains the name of the product, the price, and some additional information, plus a button to add the item to the cart. There is a second table that discusses customer ratings, model number, and product size. The shopping cart is not clearly labeled. The easiest way to view contents is to use form controls; right under the search form is the shopping cart. After the description of the contents, there's a link to check out.
The registration page asks new customers to click a link labeled "continue" in order to begin the registration process. Returning customers are asked to enter their e-mail and password.
The registration form is standard and the edit boxes do speak. There are some items on the Walmart site, such as the iPod I selected, that must be picked up at a store. Within the registration form is a link to select a store; when the link is activated, a table appears with information about several of the nearest Walmart stores. Once the selection is made, the registration process continues.
The Bottom Line
Live help is available by phone and online. The site can be a bit tricky, but with some patience and practice, it works well.
With some patience and practice, people who are blind or have low vision can successfully use many online shopping websites. If you're having a problem and live help is available, call and ask for assistance.
It's important to remember that online retailers, like the actual stores, get very busy as the holidays approach. Many online retailers have special discounts on "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving, but even with a high-speed Internet connection, an online shopping site might be particularly slow during "high-traffic" times. Check the site out in advance and determine if the item you want is available. Also, shop as early in the day as you can. No matter what day you shop, don't wait too long as retailers can run out of stock or your package may get lost in transit.
Shop early and don't forget to compare prices. Happy shopping!
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Website Evaluation: Directions for Me, a Gift to People Who Can't Read the Box
I can't count the times I have stood in drugstore or supermarket aisles, looking at products with a friend or relative, while wishing I could read everything on the package. Directions, ingredients, and the name of the manufacturer are all available at a glance--unless you can't see to read the mystery print on the package.
The new Directions for Me website, a service of Horizons for the Blind, is an amazingly simple and beautiful solution. Directions, ingredients, and product details for over 300,000 food, health, beauty, and other products have been gathered into one place for easy examination. The site's welcome message claims that it has been designed to be 100 percent accessible with text-to-speech, magnification, and braille output products, and the claim is definitely well founded.
When first launching the site, you'll find a simply constructed, easy-to-navigate page. There are links to decrease and increase font size, links to the various categories of products, and a search box for entering a specific product. It is gloriously simple, with no unnecessary clutter and verbiage to confuse or frustrate the screenreader user.
Every page has the three primary links: Food, Health and Beauty, and Other. Clicking on one of these links nets a list of alphabetized product category links. Clicking on Food, for instance, gets a resulting alphabetized list ranging from Baby Food to Wine, with such categories as Beer, Cat Food, Dog Food, Frozen Pizza, and Pickles along the way.
Clicking on the Baking link results in 190 pages of alphabetized products. Each page contains about 20 items. You can browse the product names easily by producing a links list with your screenreader, or you can jump around by page number. Jumping to page 19 under Baking, for example, begins a long list over several pages of Betty Crocker products. If you click on, say, Betty Crocker Muffin & Quick Bread Mix, you immediately find the following directions:
You will need: 3/4 cup milk; 1/4 cup vegetable oil; 2 eggs. 1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F (or 400 degrees F for dark or nonstick pan). Place paper baking cups in 12 regular-size muffin cups, or grease (or spray with cooking spray) bottoms of muffin cups. 2. Stir muffin mix, milk, oil and eggs in medium bowl just until blended (batter may be lumpy). Divide batter among muffin cups (each about 2/3 full). 3. Sprinkle streusel over batter in each cup; press lightly. Bake 16 to 21 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes (if you did not use paper baking cups, run knife around edges of cups before removing); carefully remove from pan. Cool completely before storing. High altitude (3,500-6,500 ft): Use paper baking cups. Stir 1 tbsp flour into dry muffin mix. Betty's tips: Use an ice cream scoop to fill muffin cups with batter.
Did you know, by the way, that there are nearly 20 different flavors of Betty Crocker's Super Moist Cake Mix? You'll find directions, ingredients, and product details for every one of them on this site.
If you go back to the homepage and select the Health and Beauty link, you'll again find a long list of alphabetized categories. You can look up products for cold remedy, first aid, face care, hair care, or whole groups of products by one manufacturer such as Covergirl or Neutrogena. Again, each selected link results in another alphabetized list of product links, about 20 per page.
If you're not interested in food or beauty products, Directions for Me still has much more to offer. That Other link, the third of the available primary links to products, lists an amazing collection of items. Here you'll find perhaps the longest list of categories, including such products as air fresheners, cleaning supplies, computers and accessories, office supplies, paper, paint, toys, and much more.
Under Appliances, for instance, there are five pages of products, including such items as a Cuisinart coffeemaker and Signature Classics toaster oven. It warrants pointing out that for these kinds of products, only the information that appears on the package is included, such as how many cups of coffee or slices of toast the unit can accommodate. This is not a location for the user's manual of such electronics, which would be found inside the box. That said, the box information is far more than what many of us who are blind or visually impaired are accustomed to accessing with household products. Following the link for Brooms, for example (where there are 8 pages of products, including an array of brooms, mops, and electric floor-cleaning products), the Shark Cordless Sweeper offers the following information under product details:
30-minute cleaning time. Rechargeable. Lightweight. Powerful motorized brush roll. Exclusive swivel steering. Quick 'n' quiet. Rechargeable sweeper. For life's real messes! From dirt on a carpet to soggy pieces of food, to metal nuts on a hard floor. Any kind of mess! Any carpet, any floor! Exclusive swivel steering: Patented maneuverability for instant direction change. Powerful brush roll: Picks up small and large particles of dirt. Long reach/low profile: Access the hardest areas to clean at any angle. Powerful brush roll cleaning-action that cleans any carpet or any floor by depositing dirt, dust and debris into an easy to empty dirt tray! Large capacity dirt tray removes easily for quick emptying. Low profile and long reach...perfect for cleaning hard to reach areas under furniture. Converts easily to a hand held sweeper...ideal for stairs. Low noise design. All surface cleaning action. For household use only. ETL-Intertek listed. Made in China.
Once you've selected a product, navigation is a piece of cake. Multiple-level headings have been skillfully used to make navigation a breeze. Level 2 headings are always product names, and at level 3, you will find Directions, Ingredients, Manufacturer, Warnings, UPC information, and so on. Every page again offers the links increase or decrease font size, home, and back to the original category being examined.
If you aren't going to the site, but want information for a particular package you are holding in your hand, the search function appears on every page and works exactly the way we wish search functions on all websites would.
Going to the site for the first time, for instance, I typed "Olay Age Defying Cleanser" in the search box, and immediately read that there was one result. Clicking on the link, I read the following:
Olay Age Defying Daily Renewal Cleanser.
Directions: For best results, use every time you cleanse. Wet your face. Dispense a generous amount of product (about 2 pumps) and gently massage over face and neck. Rinse thoroughly with water and dry.
Product Details: Beta hydroxy complex with gentle microbeads. Reveals fresher, radiant skin. Cleanses by gently lifting away dirt, oil and make-up. Renews and reveals by gently lifting away dull, dry skin to start reducing the signs of aging. Leaves skin noticeably soft and smooth the minute you cleanse.
Ingredients: Water, PPG-15 Stearyl Ether, Glycerin, Stearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Betaine, Salicylic Acid, Distearyldimonium Chloride, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Oxidized Polyethylene,Cetyl Alcohol, Steareth-21, Behenyl Alcohol, PPG-30, Steareth-2, Fragrance, Disodium EDTA.
Warnings: For external use only. Do not get into eyes. As with all facial cleansers, if product gets into eyes, rinse thoroughly with water. If skin or eye irritation develops, discontinue use. Keep out of reach of children.
Manufacturer: Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH 45202 800-395-0737
Horizons for the Blind is a nonprofit organization based in Crystal Lake, IL, founded by Camille Caffarelli in 1977. At the time, she was a young, blind widow and mother of three small children, and initially operated the business out of her basement. Today, she is still the executive director of Horizons, an organization boasting 40 employees, 70 percent of whom are blind or visually impaired. The organization produces materials in braille, large print, and audio formats focused primarily on crafts, cooking, gardening, and inspirational reading. According to its mission statement, Horizons for the Blind is committed to improving the quality of life for people who are blind by "increasing accessibility to culture, education, recreation, employment, and consumer information."
If the launch of Directions for Me is any indication, Horizons for the Blind is living up to that mission with impressive aplomb.
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Cleaning Up Online: A Review of Soap.com
Online shopping isn't anything new. Market leaders, including Amazon, offer a soup-to-nuts array of merchandise. A new player in the online marketplace hopes to establish itself as something of a specialty destination. Soap.com is precisely what its name suggests, an online retailer that specializes in soap, personal care products, household cleaners, and related merchandise.
You may be asking yourself why AccessWorld is reviewing a site that sells laundry detergent. For at least some readers of AccessWorld, transporting jugs of Tide detergent and other heavy, bulky items on the bus may be inconvenient. Paying for a cab or hiring a driver makes a trip to Target or Costco a more expensive proposition. What if those heavy items were available at good prices and with no delivery charge? Perhaps an online site is a practical alternative.
What Is It?
Soap.com is the sibling to Diapers.com, which has been a very successful seller of baby care items. The backers of the new venture use the same shipping technology to package and ship laundry products that they have used to track and send diapers and baby products. According to information displayed prominently on Soap.com, you can use your Diapers.com account at Soap.com and vice versa.
The Soap.com homepage is well labeled and presents a comprehensive overview of the merchandise available on the site. In addition, log-in, shopping cart, and account information can be accessed by using the dedicated links at the top of the page. A toll-free number (1-800-762-7123) is also displayed.
Headings and lists are used liberally on the homepage and subsequent pages throughout the site. The upside is that once the gist of header labeling is understood, navigating to and among product types is consistent. I did observe that many headings are used, and for the most part, quite well. On the home page, major categories such as "Household Products" and "Personal Care" are marked as heading level 1. Within a category, heading level 3 identifies subcategories such as "Paper Products," "Laundry," and "Cleaning Products." The only confusion may arise from the use of heading level 4 near the top of the homepage. A featured section combines this heading level with lists. I did find that I was able to locate quite a few categories in this feature section once I understood how the site is organized.
Finding Laundry Detergent
To check out how it all works, I decided to find Tide 2x liquid laundry detergent, a Consumer Reports top pick. After following the "Laundry" link under "Household Products," a new page appeared. Navigating, again by headers, revealed several choices. Tide was located near the top of the page, again in a section of popular and highlighted products. It is also found with other brands farther down the page in a comprehensive list of brands. A helpful feature is the listing of the number of products in the category, immediately under the Tide link. In this case, I learned that there are 44 Tide products available on the site.
The "Tide" page displayed each of the products as a link associated with heading level 1. Prices followed, in plain text, immediately after the Tide link, when reading line by line. Navigating by heading level 1 made locating and selecting Tide 2x concentrated liquid detergent-original a simple matter.
The resulting page repeated the usual labels for shopping cart and similar information at the top. A well-formatted table displayed the product options and prices--in this case, a 64-load container for $14.39 and a 32-load container for $8.39.
On Soap.com, tables contain edit fields beside each product. Entering the number of containers I wanted to purchase was a required step. The page also offered check boxes for $1 off any Tide product.
After entering the quantity and checking the discount checkbox, I looked for the submit button. The submit button appears immediately below the product table, but it is not labeled. However, it is the only button on the page and it is easy to find.
After adding the Tide, a review of my shopping cart revealed all pertinent information in a clear and easy-to-understand layout. By returning to the homepage, I was able to navigate to a new product, either by using the edit field to search by name or key word, or by navigating to a product category.
Before checking out, you must create an account. By following the "My Account" link near the top of the homepage, I located the "New to Us" option to create my account. I don't know when I have used an easier site to create an account. I simply entered my e-mail, password, and zip code into well-labeled edit fields. I had the option of clicking on several check boxes to control e-mail offers and a single unlabeled button that actually created the account and automatically signed me in.
I observed that editing specifics, such as my shipping address, was less elegant, but this is a good time to mention the other interesting and rather remarkable feature of Soap.com. I called the toll-free number, which is prominently posted at the top of the page, unsure of what to expect. A simple prompt asked me if I was calling to place an order or to check on an existing order. After choosing the new order option, the phone was immediately answered by a very friendly and helpful woman. She said she was more than happy to help me to finalize my address details or to assist with changes on my account. She also noted that Soap.com accepts phone orders for any of the products on the website. Operators are available 24 hours a day, every day. The same prices and shipping terms, including free shipping with a $25 order, apply to phone orders.
I found Soap.com easy and pleasant to use. I am an experienced screenreader user, in this case using Window-Eyes version 7.2 and Internet Explorer version 8. Although I did not conduct a direct price comparison locally in Huntington, WV, the prices that I found while browsing a number of product categories appeared to be quite reasonable. I found the ease of using the $1 off coupon much more convenient than managing comparable print discount offers.
I concluded my search for Tide detergent satisfied that Soap.com may be more than an alternative to taking an expensive cab or struggling with household items on the bus--it may well be the most convenient way to shop for these items I have found.
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Greeting Card Sites, Are They Accessible to People with Vision Loss?
Ah, fall is in the air. Lazy summer days on the beach are just fading memories. Halloween has come and gone and I am still finding candy corn in between the sofa cushions. The leaves are turning red and orange and storefront windows are filled with images of gobbling turkeys and Pilgrims with funny socks and buckles on their shoes. Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and with it comes holiday gift shopping. Yes that time-honored tradition of spending too much money on gifts for people you may or may not like is here again.
I have decided this year that I am going to put forth some real effort to remember the special people in my life. I thought about possible gift ideas, but this year I am going to dazzle them with holiday cards. Not just your run-of-the-mill greeting card from the local stationery store, but exciting electronic cards (e-cards) with goofy animation and humorous sound effects and music.
Of course, the real concern is the accessibility and usability of the websites that provide these e-cards. Judging from a quick perusal of the Web, the most popular e-card websites are 123Greetings, American Greetings, and Hallmark. My evaluations were performed on a laptop running Windows 7, Internet Explorer 8, and the latest version of a popular screenreader.
My first impressions of the 123Greetings website were pretty favorable. The site had plenty of headings to take visitors to areas of the site that highlighted the various cards available. I had no idea there were so many oddball reasons for sending cards. Because it was only October when I visited the site, the holiday cards were not front and center yet; finding them required some investigation. Using my screenreader's quick navigation keys, I located the well-labeled search field. Using the search terms of "Christmas," "Chanukah," and "Kwanza," I performed three searches and was presented with search results for each holiday. Each of the 10 search results was presented at heading level three and contained a link, a description of the card, and information related to user ratings and number of views. After the last result, there was a link to display an additional 10 results from the category.
Personalizing the Card
Things were moving pretty smoothly up to this point and I was feeling pretty good. As soon as I clicked on the link of the card I wanted, I heard about one to two seconds of music. My heart sunk for a moment as I thought I would have to contend with holiday music as I personalized my e-card. I don't have a problem with holiday music per se, but it does interfere with my screenreader. Fortunately, the music stopped right away. The next page was filled with multiple frames and lots of Flash content. Adobe Flash is a popular platform used to add interactive features to websites. It could have been advertising, but because some of the buttons were unlabeled, it was difficult for me to tell. I pulled up a list of headings, but on this screen, there were only two. I navigated to the first one because my screenreader announced the holiday I was trying to find a card for. I found all sorts of brackets and text describing the holiday, but thought I might have been lost. This was followed by links to sign up, log in, a "tweet" button (for Twitter users), and a Facebook "like" button. The rest of the page was quite confusing, with a couple of buttons labeled "send this e-card" and links to rate the card or leave a comment. I also found a combo box labeled "change music" with different options for music, but I could not figure out how to hear samples. I finally decided I should probably try selecting the "send this e-card" button, even though that's what I thought I had already decided when I selected it from the previous list of choices.
On the next screen, I navigated to the first heading and kept my fingers crossed. As I started arrowing down, I was not encouraged when my screenreader repeated all sorts of information that I was not looking for: "left double bracket" and so on. Finally, I heard "Please fill in the details below, write your personal message, and click 'Send this e-card.'" I continued to arrow down and found edit fields for my name and e-mail address, as well as a place to type my message. There were even accessible combo boxes to select my desired font and links to customize the card's look and feel.
Fair warning: The edit field for the message does not behave like a typical edit field. I had to tab out of it because I was unable to toggle modes with my screenreader, and when I did, I found myself beyond the next step. I needed to move backward with the arrow key to find the fields for entering recipient information. I entered the name and e-mail address of the recipient and moved on to the next area. When I tried to enter the date to send the card, everything started to go haywire. It was not possible to do so, so I clicked on the link for the calendar. This apparently is not accessible to screenreaders. Even though I could not figure out how to change the date, I decided to preview the card by activating the preview button. To the best of my knowledge, this did nothing. I was doggedly determined and went ahead and activated the send button. Is it really so bad that my wife gets her holiday card two months before the holiday? Doesn't it show how much I truly care for her?
The Bottom Line on 123Greetings
I had pretty high expectations from my first impressions on the homepage and the first set of search results. However, it pretty much went downhill from there. The screen is very cluttered, with a lot of repetition. I was afraid to click on anything without having read the entire page first, but the pages were extremely long.
Because I am going through the different companies in alphabetical order, the next site on my list was American Greetings. I was moderately concerned when I reached the homepage and found headings. I hadn't expected 22 of them. The good news is that they appear to be labeled appropriately and help the user to navigate a pretty busy site. There were certainly a handful of poorly labeled graphics, but I was pretty confident that I could avoid having to use them. I did encounter some inaccessible Flash content, but I am not sure what I missed because it was obviously not accessible. I could not find a search box anywhere on the homepage, but it appears as if nearly every occasion one could ever dream about sending an e-card for is well represented on the homepage. I clicked on holidays and moved onto the next screen.
Selecting the Card
The first thing I noticed was that the headings were out of sequence. Level-four headings came before level-two and -three headings. I pulled up a list of all headings and looked for one that would be the best fit for me. At level two, there is a heading for holidays. I arrowed down and activated the link for December. There, I learned I had 100 holiday e-cards to choose from. Once I selected the particular holiday I was looking for, I clicked on the link and the next page showed me a narrower list of categories for that holiday. Again, if you navigate using headings, you need to move past all of the level-four headings before you get to your selections, this time at level three. Be prepared to listen to your screenreader repeat the word list many times because the page is filled with them.
When I clicked on the link for funny cards, a video launched for something completely unrelated to the holiday I selected. This raises a big red flag for me. I think it was some form of advertisement. I was unable to find any play/pause controls or volume. I tapped the keyboard to move back one screen and the video stopped. I tried a couple more times and still found myself having to listen to this video commercial. Finally, I was able to select the link with the name of the card I wanted.
Customizing the Card
The moment I clicked on the card I wanted to personalize, music began blaring in my headphones. Luckily, it stopped after 10 seconds and I was not forced to hurl my laptop out the window. I am sure my boss is thankful for that.
One surprising feature on the site is the ability to send an e-card either to an e-mail address or Facebook account. From here, however, the process became confusing. I found a CAPTCHA with an audio alternative, but I was not sure if I needed to pass this test before I could continue. I moved past it and found a section called "Send this e-card and more." I clicked on the link to start my free trial; apparently, e-cards on this site are not free.
The form started out by asking for an e-mail address, but on the next screen, the radio buttons to select membership level were not labeled properly. This could lead to confusion. Fortunately, the rest of the form appears to be accessible. After completing the trial sign up, I found myself on a confirmation page, where my greeting card was waiting at level three. I clicked on the "personalize and send" button, which prompted more music. Luckily, it only lasted 10 seconds.
Unfortunately, this is where the fun came to a grinding halt. Try as I might, I could not figure out how to customize the card, select a recipient, or send the e-card. I started at the top of the page and moved all the way to the bottom, but none of the links or form controls appeared to make sense for the task at hand. There was a flash movie section that had a button labeled finished and some text telling me to press it when I was finished, but nothing else was accessible.
The Bottom Line
I don't recommend this site for people using a screenreader. If you figure out how to make the magic happen, please let us know.
I suppose the best-known name in the greeting cards world is Hallmark. In addition to e-cards, the website has lots of gift and holiday ideas. The homepage appeared to be accessible, with well-labeled graphics, form controls, and, my personal favorite, intelligently designed headings.
Selecting a Card
From the homepage, there are links to shop by product or by occasion, but I discovered the Quick Finder at heading level two to be an easy way to find what I was searching for. I simply selected "e-card" from the first combo box and then the holiday. If appropriate, the last box is for the type of person you are sending the e-card to, such as a child, a relative, or a friend depending on the different cards they have in that category. When selecting the occasion in the second combo box, the first several choices will be upcoming holidays in chronological order, but you can continue to hit your down arrow to find the usual suspects, such as anniversary, birthday, and get-well cards. Be sure to fiddle around with your screenreader if you are having trouble opening the combo box. You may need to toggle in and out of different modes in order to open the control. Don't forget to use alt and the up or down arrow to open and close the control. Tab over and activate the "find products" button.
The results page has one heading at level one, so that is where I started. At first I was a bit confused, but I tabbed around and finally found something that made sense. There is a combo box that allows you to control how many cards appear on the page, followed by links for the page number. There are also three combo boxes that allow you to change the order in which the cards are displayed, such as price, feature, and tone. The cards are listed as links and include the price. Hallmark offers both free cards and cards that are free if you sign up for their subscription plan. After selecting my desired e-card, I activated the link that took me to a new page. Keeping my fingers crossed, I navigated to the first heading and found some interesting information, including a note that let me know that the e-card could be personalized and that it also had both sound and motion. This was immediately followed by a level-two heading that told me the name of the e-card and the price. Finally, at heading level three, I found the link to personalize the card.
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. It is not possible to personalize the e-card using a screenreader. In fact, I could not figure out how to send an e-card even without personalizing it.
The Bottom Line
I would be hard pressed to recommend this site to anybody using a screenreader. The site is pretty accessible until you arrive at the final steps, which is too bad because the developers had done such a nice job up to that point.
It looks as if I may need to rethink my holiday plans this year. Because I won't be able to save some moolah by sending free e-cards, perhaps I'll need to search the Web for cheap gifts instead.
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Desire2Learn Offers Accessibility
According to the October 20, 2010, posting on the Access Technology Blog, the National Federation of the Blind has evaluated the Desire2Learn Learning Environment version 9.0.1 and is reporting it to be accessible for instructors and students. This software has not been evaluated by AccessWorld, but it reportedly provides access to tasks including checking grades, creating and taking quizzes, completing assignments, viewing course content, changing preferences, and navigation to courses, among others. To learn more, visit the Access Technology Blog.
GW Micro's President Announces Restructuring
GW Micro announced recently that, after nearly 6 years of working together, HIMS Co., Ltd., the Korean-based manufacturer of the BrailleSense, VoiceSense, BookSense, and SenseView products, has made the decision to restructure its sales strategy and will open its own U.S. office. As a result, GW Micro will no longer be national distributors for these products and within a few weeks will end nationwide technical support, related e-mail lists, and repair service operations.
GW Micro will continue to develope and support Window-Eyes.
If you have specific questions about this announcement please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Windows Screenreader Supporting Contracted Braille Input
On October 25, 2010, Freedom Scientific announced the release of JAWS for Windows version 12, including JAWS BrailleIn, a new feature that enables users who prefer typing in Braille to use contracted braille in common Microsoft applications, such as Internet Explorer and Word. JAWS 12 includes a new Virtual Ribbon feature, which provides a way to navigate the ribbon menus that Microsoft uses in Office 2007 and Windows 7. JAWS 12 also replaces the Configuration Manager with a new Settings Center. The Settings Center allows access to JAWS settings and includes a search box to locate and adjust the desired settings.
"This release represents a huge step in productivity for Braille users," says Eric Damery, Vice President of Software Product Management for Freedom Scientific. "Many expert Braille readers are much faster and more accurate typing on a Perkins-style keyboard than on a QWERTY keyboard, and they will be more efficient using JAWS 12 with applications like Word, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Notepad, and WordPad. The BrailleIn feature instantly back translates the Braille input, displaying text on the PC screen, so parents and teachers can follow along as their students type in Braille. The new Virtual Ribbon Menu has also been very well received by our customers during the beta phase of this release and will greatly reduce the learning curve for users upgrading to new versions of Office and Windows 7."
The upgrade is an SMA release and can be downloaded as either 32-bit or 64-bit versions from the JAWS downloads page. DVD shipments to SMA holders and new product customers will commence on November 2, 2010.
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