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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 December 2010 Issue  Volume 11  Number 8

In This Issue

Editor's Page

AccessWorld Provides Reviews and Resources for Independent Travel

Independent Travel Issues

GPS on your iPhone

Bradley Hodges

Android GPS Evaluation

J.J. Meddaugh

Celebrating Nearly 12 Years as a Bioptic Driver

Deanna Austin

Frequently Asked Questions about Independent Travel from the Desk of AFB's Information and Referral Specialist

Tara Annis and Lee Huffman

Product Reviews

An Evaluation of the Olympus DM-4 Digital Recorder

Deborah Kendrick

Cell Phone Access Issues

Microsoft Backtracks on Accessibility in New Mobile Operating System, Commits to Accessibility in Future Windows Phone Platform

Paul W. Schroeder and Darren Burton

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor


Editor's Page

AccessWorld Provides Reviews and Resources for Independent Travel

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

Last month, AccessWorld served up its best holiday gift-giving ideas for your friends and family with vision loss. We took the opportunity to tell you about some new accessible technology and games that would be sure to make that special someone on your shopping list very happy. We hope you also enjoyed the Haven cell phone review from Tara Annis and Morgan Blubaugh. This accessible phone is sure to make staying in touch easier in the coming year.

Perhaps Janet Ingber's review of popular online shopping sites is making purchasing your holiday gifts a little easier. Did Bradley Hodges review of Soap.com make stocking up on household cleaning essentials more convenient this month? Maybe Deborah Kendrick's review of Directions for Me is taking the guesswork out of preparing those holiday meals by having package directions available at your fingertips. We hope so.

In this issue, we focus on independent travel. AFB's Information and Referral Specialist, Tara Annis, provides answers to her most frequently asked questions related to travel. J.J. Meddaugh takes a closer look at the accessibility of GPS for the Android operating system, while Bradley Hodges looks at GPS applications for the iPhone. Another great article in this issue comes from the desk of Detra Bannister, AFB's CareerConnect specialist, as she relates the success story of Deanna Austin, a driver with low vision who has been using bioptic lenses for the past 12 years.

We at AccessWorld hope this issue will give you ideas and information to improve your ability to travel independently. The AccessWorld team wishes you and yours health, happiness, prosperity, and safe travels during the holiday season

Sincerely,

Lee Huffman
AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

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Independent Travel Issues

GPS on Your iPhone

Until the introduction of Apple's VoiceOver screen-access utility, an off-the-shelf GPS solution wasn't a practical reality for blind and visually impaired individuals. As it has in so many other corners of the technology arena, Apple's iPhone/VoiceOver combination has turned GPS access on its ear.

The availability of a powerful processor, GPS receiver, and an easier-to-read screen in a small handheld unit has significantly affected manufacturers of specialty GPS navigation hardware. TomTom, Magellan, and others have all reported dramatic sales losses as downloadable applications (apps) replace dedicated hardware offerings.

So as not to miss out on the action, TomTom and the lesser-known Navigon have entered the GPS app market.

What Do They Do?

The TomTom and Navigon apps emulate the appearance and behavior of their respective hardware-based products. The primary function of each app is to route a motorist or pedestrian from point A to point B automatically. In doing so, a number of features, such as route preferences and display options, can be configured to meet specific preferences or requirements. Entering destination information creates opportunities for each product to offer features. Points of interest (POI) can be viewed by category—for instance, "ATMs," "Restaurants," and "Automobile Services." The app can display the relevant information according to distance from your current location or proximity to your destination.

Along the route, these apps provide voice guidance to prompt you to make necessary turns in order to reach your destination. In addition to these automated functions, some information regarding route and real-time location can be revealed using VoiceOver.

The Apps

Navigon Mobile Navigator is available at several price points depending on the size of the region or country you wish to explore. Regions of the United States (East, Central, and West) are priced at $25 each. All of the United States is available for $49. TomTom USA is priced at $49.95, and like Navigon can be downloaded from the App Store using iTunes.

In comparison with other apps, these are large files and may require iTunes to download and install. If you are using the iPhone to download the file, a Wi-Fi connection is strongly recommended.

How Well Do The Apps Work with VoiceOver?

Both Navigon and TomTom are remarkably accessible. In addition, the products are also remarkably similar. Differences are subtle, but may be important to users.

Navigon

Navigon features a main screen with options to "Enter an Address," "Search for POI," "Take Me Home," "Show Map," and "Main Menu." Before entering a destination, it is necessary to find "Options" and select the button labeled "Speed." This is where the pedestrian or car mode is selected. The "Pedestrian with Voice Announcements" option provides the most comprehensive self-voicing directions.

From the main menu, entering a destination can be accomplished in one of two ways. Selecting "Enter an Address" opens the first of a sequence of steps you follow to record the destination address. The first screen selects your metropolitan area. Once a metropolitan area is chosen, it will appear for future entries until you change it. The subsequent screens record street name and number information. Street names are suggested as you enter street information, again based on your selection of the metropolitan area. After entering all required information, tapping the "Done" button will bring up the first screen for navigation.

Navigon will now display your destination address. A button labeled "Start Navigation" will appear, along with the current temperature, a report of parking availability, and the name of the closest restaurant. Activating "Start Navigation" begins voice prompting. As you travel, Navigon announces turns at both 200 feet and when it is time to make the turn. In my experience, the turns were precise and corresponded with the appropriate intersection. This is especially important in situations where angled streets intersect close to the position where Navigon wants you to turn.

"Points of Interest" can also be used to create a route. Several options display POI near the current location as well as by category. Typical iOS4 and VoiceOver navigation is used. We found all controls and options to be accessible and announced clearly.

TomTom

This app will appear on the screen as "USA." An important quirk of the TomTom app is the labeling of the main menu function as "Driving View Image." Selecting it from the TomTom home screen opens the main menu.

On the main menu, options include "Navigate To," "Mute Sound," "Day Colors," "2D Map," "TomTom Traffic," "Advanced Planning," "Browse Map," "Help Me," "Manage Favorites," and "Change Settings."

Before using the TomTom app for the first time, it is helpful to make some settings selections. "Set Home Location" gives you the option to enter your metropolitan area and home address. "Voice Select" offers several options for the voice that TomTom will use to provide directions. The recorded voices are human speech, but do not announce street names. Two computer voices, Samantha and Tom are available. Either will announce street names. Because VoiceOver is already using Samantha, selecting Tom provides a contrasting voice for TomTom instructions.

The choice to "Read Street Names" should be on. "Route Planning" offers several important options. "Always Ask Me" is helpful if you plan to use the TomTom both in a car and while walking as you will not have to reenter "Settings" for each trip.

We found that the menus and choices on the TomTom were generally a bit easier to understand and were a bit more logical in layout than those on the Navigon. However, navigating with the TomTom was somewhat less precise than with the Navigon. TomTom did not announce street intersections as consistently in advance as did the Navigon. Each app uses different maps, so whether this is a consistent behavior could not be determined.

At the same time, if your use of a GPS includes car navigation, the TomTom may prove to be the more convenient option.

The Bottom Line

Although both the TomTom and Navigon can accurately route a pedestrian from point A to point B, some subtle but important differences are noteworthy. The TomTom provides an option to preview the streets along a walking route. Both apps have a "Help" option that provides a description of your location, with the TomTom having the better text description. The availability of Tom as a contrasting voice may be a convenience that only the TomTom app provides. Navigon's more consistent turn prompting may outweigh TomTom's subtle control niceties.

Neither app is cheap, but for just $25, you can purchase the Navigon U.S. region that includes your area. If you use the car at least some of the time, spending $49 on TomTom USA may be money well spent.

LookAround a Helpful Addition

The name Sendero may be familiar to AccessWorld readers. The technology from this company is generally associated with specialized note takers. An inexpensive and simple-to-use iPhone app has recently been added to the Sendero product list. LookAround ($4.99 from the App Store) provides very basic information about your current location and up to five points of interest in your immediate vicinity. A compass function is also included.

Sendero recommends considering using LookAround at the same time as Navigon. Based on our experience and reports from several users of both products, this appears to be an intriguing option.

By using the three primary controls on the LookAround screen, your iPhone will report "Where Am I," "Nearest Cross Street," or "Nearest Five Points of Interest." For more detailed information about the app, consult the well-organized and clearly written information on Sendero's iPhone support webpage.

Kapten: The Not-So-Successful Navigator

Although Navigon and TomTom are closely matched in both their interfaces and capabilities, a third GPS app has been mentioned as offering good performance with VoiceOver. Kapten is a large application that should be downloaded using iTunes. It can be purchased in one of two ways. For $7.95, you can activate the app for a month. For $79, you can purchase Kapten outright. We suggest that you give the monthly option a try to evaluate the usefulness of the app for yourself.

The Kapten feature we found of most interest is its stated ability to include public transit in a pedestrian route. Public transit includes rail services only as that is the data set that can be accessed by apps such as Kapten at this time.

I tested Kapten on a sunny afternoon in New York City. My starting address was at the intersection of Grand Street and FDR Drive, on Manhattan's Lower East Side. My destination was 1972 Broadway, the soon-to-be shuttered Barnes and Noble store at Lincoln Center.

I am reasonably familiar with the Lower East Side, at least that portion of it near Grand and FDR. The route that most locals choose includes walking approximately a half mile west on Grand to Essex, then turning right for two blocks to enter the subway at Essex and Delancey streets. The uptown F train serves this station and most people would take it, transferring at 4th Street for an uptown A or C train, to Columbus Circle.

I entered my information in the Kapten app. The destination entry process is familiar if you have used other iPhone apps. Choosing the public transit option was easy to do. With the Kapten in hand, I headed west on Grand. To my surprise, the voice prompted me to make several turns to the south. It was soon evident that rather than routing me via the Delancey and Essex station, a smaller station on Rutgers was the probable destination. This appeared to be the case, at least for a few more blocks. Suddenly Kapten told me to enter the subway at Jefferson, a full block short of the actual subway entrance. Given this strange and inaccurate routing, I investigated the screen to realize that my next steps would include leaving the F train at 14th Street and walking along Union Square, only to reenter the subway several long blocks further west. Remember, a same-station transfer is very easily accomplished at 4th Street.

Fortunately, my knowledge of New York geography saved me from a frustratingly long and overly complex route. If I had not been aware of the area, and if I had had to pay for each subway ride, using Kapten would have placed me at a distinct disadvantage.

Bottom Line

Kapten was somewhat more useful in a moving car, reporting basic information about speed and distance to the next maneuver in a route. However, a price of $79 for poor pedestrian directions when using the New York subway, and only slightly more useful information in a car, places this app at the bottom of my list.

NYC Transit Info by Phone

After my experience using the Kapten, I wanted to check out transit directions from the source. A call to Goog-411, a free call-in, voice-activated directory-assistance service offered by Google (now discontinued) connected me to 718-330-1234. This number appeared to be a main contact point for several agencies providing transit in New York. After selecting a travel information option, I was connected to an automated system.

A number of airlines and transit agencies use interactive voice technology to provide automated information. My experience using the New York transit system placed it in about the middle of the pack. Overall, the system was slow to respond. Voice prompts were also slow, with many dramatic pauses between pieces of information. I was able to speak my starting and ending locations and select bus preference, subway preference, or no preference.

The route from FDR and Grand to 1972 Broadway used the B train, a longer walk from my starting point than the F train. Still, this is not an unreasonable route, and when I asked for directions using the bus and subway system, correct routing, with departure and total travel time, was provided.

The bottom line is that while not the most elegant, the automated directions were accurate, reasonable, and free of charge.

A Cautionary Note

When traveling using a navigation app, it is important to position the iPhone in a manner that allows you to manipulate the touch screen safely and conveniently. Additionally, keep in mind that the device is small and may be difficult to hear on a busy street. A small speaker may be an alternative to using earphones.

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Independent Travel Issues

Android GPS Evaluation

Over the past two years, Google's Android operating system has quickly risen to become a major player in the mobile phone arena, becoming available on phones from every major carrier. Compared with Apple's iOS for the iPhone, however, the accessibility that is included in the Android operating system is not as refined. But, with recent improvements and an ever-changing number of third-party applications (apps), Android is quickly becoming a viable option for many mobile phone users who are blind or visually impaired.

In the May 2010 issue of AccessWorld, we posed the question "Can an Android Make Your Mobile Phone Accessible?" Since that time, further enhancements and new applications have opened up greater accessibility choices for these devices.

One of the areas where Android excels is with global positioning system (GPS) navigation. And considering Google's strengths lie in the search and retrieval of information, this should come as little surprise. As with the iPhone, access to navigation and position information has not reached the level available with products like Sendero GPS for the BrailleNote or the Trekker Breeze. That said, there are a host of tools available for travelers and virtual tourists alike, most of which are available for free. We tested out several apps that will explain or give you clues about your surroundings, as well as assist in getting you to a destination. All of these apps are available from the Android Market, the operating system's built-in method for downloading and installing applications.

The Basics of GPS on Android

Most Android phones available today include a built-in GPS receiver. Unlike GPS receivers on older off-the-shelf cell phones, built-in receivers on phones today are more sensitive and are often sufficient for navigation. This is in part because of the additional data provided by nearby cellular towers. Modern technology allows for GPS information to be obtained from satellites as well as by calculating the distance to your nearest phone tower. This gives you the greatest accuracy while outside, but allows for a rough estimate of your location while inside most buildings. This, combined with the improved battery management available with today's internal GPS chips, makes an external Bluetooth receiver less of a necessity.

All of the programs discussed below were tested with TalkBack and Spiel, two freely-available screenreaders for Android phones. Both give similar results when working with these applications.

Learning About Your Surroundings

Before traveling to a destination, you will often wish to learn more about where you are currently, especially if in an unfamiliar location. Using the touchscreen or keyboard, you can have your location spoken, explore nearby streets, or find a restaurant, hotel, or other location to travel to.

Getting Your Current Location

The quickest way to learn your current location may be through the use of the Eyes-Free shell, an alternative homescreen program. From this screen, there is a built-in command that will give your current street, city, and compass direction. The latter is quite reliant on the quality of the built-in compass on your phone, however, and we often were told the compass needed to be calibrated. The address is given as a range, such as near "100-199 Main Street," so this method cannot be used to find out how far you are from the corner. This would, however, be an excellent tool for gaining a quick view of what's nearby, but it lacks the consistency we would hope for from a command of this nature.

A more accurate and useful option called "Intersection Explorer" has recently emerged from the Eyes-Free group. This program provides a way to virtually navigate a map using the touchscreen, learning about nearby streets and the distance between them. Intersection Explorer divides the screen into nine sections, similar to a tic-tac-toe board. The center of the screen is considered "home," and tapping this section will speak the current intersection. You can slide your finger in a circular motion around the screen to explore nearby intersections; releasing your finger allows you to virtually travel in that direction. The distance traveled and the new intersection is then spoken. This interface provides much of the same functionality as Sendero's virtual navigation modes, and allows users to learn the layout of nearby streets and perhaps form a mental map of the area. One can also input an address or location in another city to virtually explore that area before traveling.

For a slightly different approach, try out the VOIC. This program provides an augmented reality view of your physical surrounding through sound. It can identify colors and light patterns, tell you your direction of travel and nearby streets as you travel, and provide additional audio clues about your surroundings. It may be difficult to use this program while traveling, however, because it works best with headphones, which may severely limit your ability to listen to the sounds around you.

What's Nearby?

Finding nearby points of interest is one of the simpler tasks on an Android phone, with several available apps to choose from. One of the most accessible programs we tested is the Places Directory, also from the Eyes-Free team. The main screen presents the user with a list of popular categories, such as restaurants, banks, and hotels. Simply select one of these categories to receive a list of nearby points sorted by distance. After selecting a location, you can receive driving or walking directions, call the location, or see a map of the location.

You can also type in the name of a place to search for. This can be a category like "pizza," or a specific business like McDonalds. If you find yourself searching for the same places often, you can save your search as a favorite for easy access in the future. Using this app, we were able to successfully locate nearby places of interest and contact the business or navigate to the location.

Foursquare is a social-networking, location-based game where users can "check in" to locations they visit to gain points and badges. After signing up for a free account, one can use the Foursquare app to check into a place that is nearby and view tips left by other users, perhaps including food specials or particular items of interest. Since the app is location based, it's another simple way to see what is popular and close to your current location.

Other apps provide similar services for various types of locations. For example, the GasBuddy app will show you the nearest gas stations and also display the cheapest prices reported by users.

Navigating with Android

The built-in navigation in Android is based on Google's map and direction-based services, which have been available on the Google website for several years. Both driving and walking directions are available to specific addresses or points of interest. Android will use the built-in text-to-speech on the phone to speak turns as they are approaching, and it offers a way to view a textual list of the directions for a given route. These services are available in the built-in navigation app, as well as from other apps, such as the Places Directory.

From an accessibility standpoint, the built-in navigation was quite useful. One has the choice of either typing a destination or speaking into a handset. Once directions were generated, we were able to view the list of directions for the route and be given spoken feedback as we navigated. It is possible to place Navigation in the background and run another program, such as Intersection Explorer, while traveling.

That being said, users of other accessible GPS solutions, such as Sendero GPS or the Trekker Breeze, may miss the ability to hear specific information while traveling, such as the businesses they are passing, the speed of travel, or the distance until the next turn. Android's GPS solution would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion and availability of this information on-demand.

The WalkyTalky app for Android provides additional voice feedback for walking directions, including the announcement of nearby addresses and an audio tone when it is time to turn. While the tones and spoken directions were quite accurate, many of the enhancements seemed overly verbose, especially the constant announcement of the current street and address range.

Summary

Android's built-in GPS solutions provide many options for users who wish to navigate their surroundings and travel independently, and there are many more accessible applications beyond what we have mentioned in this article. We appreciated the number of programs available for free, which contrasts with offerings for other operating systems. Some of the applications tested were a bit rough around the edges and could use some improvements and additional functionality to make them truly useful. That being said, we certainly see a lot of potential with the Android operating system and look forward to following new developments in the coming months.

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Independent Travel Issues

Celebrating Nearly 12 Years as a Bioptic Driver

Editor's Note: Bioptics make driving possible for some people with low-vision. This eye-opening story is presented as told to Detra Bannister, AFB's CareerConnect specialist. — Lee Huffman

Everyone knows that telescopes are used to magnify distant objects. What is less well known is that telescopes may be mounted in eyewear called bioptics or telescopic glasses. Thousands of people in the United States with low vision use bioptics to drive, watch television, or perform other distance tasks. A bioptic is a lens system with a telescope attached to a pair of prescription glasses above or below one's normal line of sight. This allows a trained user to detect objects or movement within his/her field of vision through the regular eyeglass lens, and to resolve fine details such as road signs and traffic lights by glancing briefly into the miniature telescope. Bioptic telescopes enlarge images just like binoculars, though their purpose for driving is not to see things larger, but to see them further away. The difficulty that the visually impaired encounter while driving is that they must get so close to a sign or signal to see it, that there is not sufficient time for them to make the appropriate driving adjustments. The bioptic telescope allows them to see the target from farther away, giving them more time to react. While driving, bioptics are used in much the same way that we use side and rear view mirrors--for spotting purposes and for brief periods of time.

For most people, driving is something taken for granted. However, millions of people in the U.S. have low vision, which is sight that cannot be corrected to 20/40; 20/40 is what is needed to get a driver's license. The good news is that 39 states now allow people with low vision to drive using telescopic glasses. Many also allow people who are blind in one eye to drive if the other eye has good vision. Some states allow for restricted licenses based on time of day, distance from home, and even maximum speed. You should consult your low-vision specialist and your state's Department of Motor Vehicles to determine the laws where you live.

Please note that even when legal, bioptic driving still may not be safe for an individual; for example, poor peripheral vision will keep you from getting a license in most states. Also, pre-driving skills are required, such as hazard perception and the ability to make and act on decisions quickly and independently, as well as visual skills involving recognition, peripheral identification, and scanning types of tasks. With these cautions in mind, here is one driver's account:

"Daddy, how will I get around when I grow up if I can't see enough to drive?" My dad replied, "Well, pumpkin, you will just marry a doctor and have a chauffeur drive you around!" I vividly remember this conversation as a 9-year-old with my dad. Not that I truly believed it would come true (that I would have a chauffeur), but I figured no one with low vision would be driving a car in my lifetime. Of course I wanted to try, so when I turned 16, my mom and I went to the driver's license office where I attempted to take the eye test. "Read line 3, please," the clerk said. I thought to myself, "What line?" Although I could see something black in the viewer, there was no way I could read line 3 or any other line. I walked out discouraged but not really surprised. After all, my dad had been warning me about this possibility for a long time.

Fast forward a few years to graduate school, where I sat in a classroom working on my master's degree in blind rehabilitation teaching. On the overhead projector were devices to help people with vision loss to drive using special glasses. I had never heard of such a thing and thought this surely would not apply to me.

In 1995, I moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, to start my career as a blind rehabilitation teacher. I was encouraged to attend a luncheon held every month for professionals working in the field of vision rehabilitation. The first luncheon meeting was in Indianapolis and I took the bus there. At lunch, I spoke with two vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors about bioptic driving. "Why don't you check it out?" they suggested. "Meet with a VR counselor for help in pursuing this option." I decided not to let this opportunity pass me by; if I could legally be allowed to drive, then whatever fears I had were not going to get the best of me.

To start the process, I called a VR counselor, who helped me to complete a plan for employment. As an itinerant rehabilitation teacher, driving was going to be a great help. Then it was off to an appointment with the low-vision doctor, who would determine whether it would be possible for me to qualify for bioptic driving. Once I got his okay to proceed and received the bioptics (which must be prescribed and fitted by your doctor), I needed to practice looking through the bioptic properly. The next step was going to a rehabilitation agency for a test to determine if I had good reaction time. Once this was completed, I was able to take a letter from my low-vision doctor to the driver's license office that excused me from taking the standard eye exam. I took the written test, passed, and got my learner's permit.

In Indiana, a person must have a learner's permit for six weeks. As a bioptic driver, I was only allowed to learn under a qualified professional, so for four weeks, I had the learner's permit, but could not legally drive alone. After four weeks, I began 30 hours of driver's training. By the end of my first week of training, the lessons included driving downtown as well as driving on the interstate. As I went home, I wondered if I could really do this. I was not so sure. Then I said to myself, "Even if the only place I go is to the grocery store, I will legally drive if I am allowed to." The second week of training went by, I took the driver's test, and passed with flying colors! The whole process took from August of 1995 to May 1996.

I have now been a bioptic driver for more than 11 years and so far, so good. I drove for nine years as an itinerant rehabilitation teacher and took vacations here and there (one time driving over 3,500 miles). I now drive all over Indiana as an itinerant rehabilitation teaching manager at Bosma Enterprises and still enjoy my time behind the wheel. I am extremely thankful for all who helped me through this process: vocational rehabilitation, the low-vision specialist, and my driving instructor who worked for a rehabilitation agency. I recognize that I am very lucky to have this privilege and am thankful every day for the opportunity I have to drive. My dad would be so proud and amazed that this is possible for someone with vision loss.

For further information, please contact: Deanna Austin

Further reading:

Low Vision Driving with Bioptics: An Overview (JVIB article)

By Anne L. Corn, Ed.D., Chuck Huss

Price: $5.95

Format: Online

This article presents an overview of driving for adolescents and adults who meet their state's visual requirements for low-vision driving using bioptic lenses. It also discusses the outcomes of two studies of bioptic driver education.

Suggestions for rehab specialists who become involved in the provision of low-vision driver education training and assessment services.

By Chuck Huss, C.O.M.S.

Bioptic Driving Network

A registered nonprofit organization founded in 2001 to serve the needs and interests of those with stable low vision who may be able to drive using bioptic glasses.

For more commentary on low-vision driving, read the 2007 Samuel N. Hesch Window on the Working World of Law Success Story by CareerConnect mentor and attorney Davin Seamon.

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Independent Travel Issues

Frequently Asked Questions about Independent Travel from the Desk of AFB's Information and Referral Specialist

Editor's Note: Tara Annis is an information and referral specialist for AFB. In the July 2010 issue of AccessWorld (Educational Resources and Tips), she provided answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) regarding higher education. This month, she turns her attention to questions related to independent travel. Below are some FAQ that Tara receives on this subject and their corresponding answers. — Lee Huffman

Orientation and mobility (O&M) encompasses a wide array of topics, some of which are quite controversial within the visually impaired community. This is one reason why I enjoy this subject—I think it can spur some interesting discussions and debates. Over the years, there have been a myriad of advances in this area, so this will always be a dynamic field of study.

The AFB website contains a wealth of information about travel. Of particular interest might be our guide to getting around, which will take you to the section that explains how to use white canes, dog guides, and public transportation, to name a few topics covered here.

In this article, I have covered topics that may be common knowledge to persons with vision loss who are intermediate to advanced travelers, but that may not known to those who have recently lost vision. For those who are more experienced, I have also included topics that are not widely known about travel.

Question: Where can I receive O&M training?

Answer: Agencies for the visually impaired, located in every state, provide O&M services to registered clients. These services are for persons with vision loss from a variety of backgrounds and cover basic to advanced skills. Our website has an online directory of services that provides contact information for these agencies. You can search by state, and even specify "orientation and mobility" services in your search criteria.

The Hadley School for the Blind offers distance education courses on a myriad of topics, including travel. The "Going Places" courses discuss using public transportation, taxi cabs, and other ways of getting around. The "Guide Dog" course provides a wealth of information on this topic, from making the decision to use a guide dog, discussing the application process, and talking about the training a dog receives.

These courses are free of charge to visually impaired persons, and the course materials, textbooks, and supplementary handouts are provided in accessible formats. Upon registration, you will be assigned your course instructor, who will answer questions you have during your studies, and will provide feedback on course assignments that you must submit in order to finish these two courses.

One of the dog guide schools, Leader Dog, offers two types of travel programs besides their actual dog guide training. These programs are available to persons with vision loss from across the country, and you do not need to own a Leader Dog guide to participate.

Leader Dog's Accelerated Mobility program is a week-long course that assists students in learning basic O&M skills with a white cane. It is taught by certified O&M instructors on a one-on-one basis. The Trekker program is a week-long residential program that teaches students to use the Trekker GPS device. (To learn more about Trekker, see the question about GPS in this article.) Students must already own a Trekker GPS to participate.

Question: Where can I get a white cane?

Answer: White canes come in a variety of heights and materials, and they can be used with a variety of tips, so choosing one can be more confusing than you might think.

When deciding the proper height of the cane, it used to be standard protocol for the cane's height to reach to the top of the person's sternum or to their shoulder blade, when the cane was standing straight up. Some O&M professionals feel that a taller height is needed for some persons, such as to the top of one's chin or to the tip of their nose. This is especially true for fast walkers or those persons who would like a little more warning of approaching obstacles. You may need to experiment to find the appropriate height, and you may want to speak with O&M instructors for assistance.

Canes can be aluminum, carbon fiber, or fiberglass, among other materials. Variations in material came about due to individual preferences. Some persons want a lighter-weight cane, so their hands and arms do not tire out as easily. Others want a sturdier cane, one they can lean on for balance.

Cane tips vary according to personal preference as well. Some tips, like the marshmallow tip, are used for gliding across the sidewalk, instead of using the standard tapping motion. Metal tips may pick up echoes more easily, and allow one to use more sound cues while traveling.

Lastly, canes can be straight, folding, or telescoping. Many people who are visually impaired own two or more canes; for example, a straight one for walking long distances and a folding one for going to places where it will not be in much use, such as when going to a movie or eating at a restaurant.

Many state agencies will provide a cane to their clients. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) will give a white cane to any blind person in the United States. You can get one every six months. Be aware that the canes are only the straight variety and have a metal tip. You can learn more, and fill out the application form, by visiting the NFB's "request a free white cane" webpage.

There are a large number of companies that sell adaptive products for persons with vision loss, including a variety of white canes. You can ask staff from your local agencies for the blind to assist you in locating these companies, or use a search engine to locate vendors.

Question: I have been thinking about using a guide dog, any advice?

Answer: There are many myths about using a guide dog, such as believing one has to be totally blind to use one. Be aware that many dog handlers have some vision. Also, the phrase "seeing eye dog" only applies to dogs from the Seeing Eye school, but dogs are available from a variety of schools. The general term for all such dogs is "guide dogs" or "dog guides."

Admission criteria vary from school to school, but most will require that you fill out an application, have a physical examination ensuring you are in good health, submit a reference from an O&M instructor, and provide documentation about your visual impairment.

Some schools will conduct a home interview before admitting you. Once you are accepted, most schools have you stay on campus, learning all aspects of working with a guide dog. The cost for the dog varies according to which school you attend; many are free of charge.

The NFB and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) both have a consumer group devoted to guide dogs that provides the following support: meetings at national conventions; discussions of guidework on e-mail listservs; contact information for all the schools in the United States and other countries; and contact information for persons who own a guide dog, so you can have a mentor to answer questions about being a guide dog team.

To learn more, visit the NFB's National Association of Guide Dog Users or the ACB's Guide Dog Users, Inc.

Question: I have low vision and do not feel I need a cane or dog to get around. What devices can I use that will allow me to use my remaining vision?

Answer: Some persons with low vision use monoculars or binoculars to read road signs, tell the color of stop lights, or see the name of businesses. There are a wide variety of these devices that come in a myriad of magnification levels. Check with a low-vision specialist who can recommend a specific magnification level that will suit your unique needs.

Some persons with low vision are able to drive by using a special magnification device, called bioptics, which are worn over prescription glasses. Regulations for drivers using these devices vary from state to state, so you should check with a low-vision specialist to see if you qualify. This month's AccessWorld features an article about a bioptic driver. The article's subject discusses her daily driving routine, and provides websites that relate to this topic, such as the Bioptic Driving Network.

Question: I want to use a global positioning system (GPS) to expand my travel experience, what should I know about this topic?

Answer: There are numerous GPS hardware and software programs on the market today, some of which were specifically created for persons with vision loss. A GPS program can tell you what intersection you are approaching, provide information about points of interest (restaurants, golf courses, movie theaters, law offices, hospitals), keep track of the distance you travel, and plan a route to your destination. As a blind person, I like to use my GPS while traveling by bus so I know when my stop is and do not have to rely on the driver, who might forget my destination. Please see Bradley Hodges' article (GPS on Your iPhone)in this issue of AccessWorld as well as past issues for more information on using a GPS program to get around.

HumanWare sells the Trekker and Trekker Breeze GPS devices. Trekker has a myriad of features, such as finding nearby points of interest, a route creator, and intersection announcement. The Trekker Breeze has fewer features than the Trekker, and was designed for the less tech savvy. For more information, read this AccessWorld review of the Trekker Breeze.

Another accessible GPS hardware unit is the Captain, sold by Independent Living Aids. Mobile Geo, made by Sendero, works with Windows Mobile 6.5 Smartphones and Pocket PC phones. (If you decide to purchase this software, be aware that it does not currently work with the new Windows Phone 7 operating system.) Sendero also sells the LookAround GPS application for the iPhone, as well as Sendero Maps software for the PC that allow for virtual exploration of one's surroundings.

Wayfinder, created by Wayfinder Access, works with cell phones, but unlike Mobile Geo, runs on the Symbian network. The company has recently announced it will discontinue the Wayfinder Navigation Service, and will make the software open source; however, it will not provide technical support.

The following articles from AccessWorld provide in-depth information on these two software programs:

Navigating by Phone: A Review of Wayfinder Access and Mobile Geo, Part I

Navigating by Phone: A Review of Wayfinder Access and Mobile Geo Part II

LoadStone GPS software is free, but be aware that it does not currently contain all of the features of GPS programs that you have to purchase. It can be downloaded from the LoadStone website.

There are also GPS programs for electronic notetakers, including the Sense Nav for the Voice and Braille Sense sold by GW Micro; the StreetTalk VIP for the PAC Mate and PAC Mate Omni sold by Freedom Scientific; and the BrailleNote GPS for the BrailleNote line of notetakers sold by HumanWare.

Blind Cool Tech is a website that features podcast reviews of products used by persons with vision loss, among other topics. You can search this site in order to locate reviews of GPS hardware and software.

Question: Do you have information about using public transportation and paratransit?

Answer: Many states have public transportation in the form of buses, subways, and light rail. Your state may have a paratransit system as well, which is public transportation specifically created for persons with disabilities. It usually comprises vans or minibuses, equipped with wheelchair lifts that will pick you up directly at your place of residence. Note that paratransit systems usually follow a strict set of guidelines, usually only traveling to areas near the regular bus routes.

Many transit systems have a telephone number you can call to hear information about their routes, including times of departure and arrival. Be sure to add this to your cell phone contact list, so you will not have to struggle to remember the phone number when you are traveling.

Some transit authorities have implemented audible announcements on their buses, subways, and light rails that let you know what route you are traveling, as well as naming intersections or nearby points of interest. If your public transportation system does not have this type of announcement system, be aware that by law, there is supposed to be spoken information given to visually impaired passengers.

Some stations may offer their route brochures and other literature in an alternate format, such as braille or large print. The Library of Congress does some braille transcription or it can provide contact information for other braille transcription agencies.

Question: I live in an area without public transportation. How can I run errands, like shop for groceries or attend doctor appointments?

Answer: This is a common problem for many people with vision loss. You should contact your state agencies, checking to see if they have any type of transportation service for clients. Many offer a few trips, like a monthly visit to the mall.

Some persons choose to walk to destinations if they are near enough. For example, they will walk the seven blocks to the grocery store, purchase their items, and place them in a backpack or suitcase with wheels for easier carrying on the walk back home.

Others use a combination of taxi and walking, or just use the taxi for routes that are impossible to walk. For example, a person might walk the 15 blocks to the grocery store, buy a large number of items that will not fit in a backpack or suitcase, and call a taxi to take him or her home. This split method allows the person to save some money, only having to pay for the trip home.

Some persons with vision loss use a volunteer, or paid driver, allowing them to schedule a variety of trips to a number of destinations, according to their guidelines. You should contact volunteer groups, like the Lions Club, and see what they offer. You could also advertise for a driver by placing fliers at local colleges and universities, in your place of worship's newsletter, or on the bulletin board of your apartment complex.

Question: I have tried to explain how to provide sighted guidance to my family and friends, but they are still somewhat confused. Does AFB have any resources?

Answer: Yes, our website for seniors, AFB SeniorSite, has a wealth of information about sighted guide techniques, including a video demonstration. Although the content was created for senior citizens, it applies to any person. Check out the "Getting Around All Over Town" guide to find all the information related to this topic.

Question: I have heard of echolocation, where blind persons snap their fingers or tap their canes, in order to get around. I heard there were devices created that use this echolocation in the form of ultrasound. Where can I purchase these devices? What research is being conducted in this area?

Answer: This subject is quite controversial to many persons with vision loss, but I wanted to include this topic as my goal is to provide information without any bias toward one travel method over another.

The American Printing House for the Blind is one of the main vendors of electronic travel aids in the United States, selling the Miniguide US and the 'K' Sonar, both of which serve to enhance obstacle detection, among other travel features.

World Access for the Blind is an organization that has delved into the topic of echolocation. Organization members who use this technique have been featured in news articles and television documentaries. In addition, WAB staff conduct research in this area, and teach echolocation techniques to children and adults across the world who are interested in this form of travel.

Question: Can you tell me more about audible pedestrian signals?

Answer: This is another controversial topic among some people with vision loss. Many believe audible pedestrian signals are not necessary, and that persons with vision loss can use their travel skills to cross any type of intersection. Protesters feel they are too costly and offer little value to pedestrians.

Many models of the audible signal have been created, some offering a continuous tone that cannot be turned off, while others require that a button be pressed for the audible feature to be activated.

The May 2009 issue of AccessWorld featured an article about some audible signals placed around San Francisco.

Question: What are some major research projects that are being conducted related to travel?

Answer: Around the world, a fairly large number of people, from college students to university professors to staff at organizations for the blind, are researching travel methods for visually impaired persons. In this article, I wanted to focus on projects that were large scale, already in the advanced phases, perhaps with a prototype, and supported by a large number of researchers and blind persons.

Many of you have probably heard of the Nintendo Wii, one of the most popular video gaming devices on the market today. The Wii is known for featuring games where participants mimic motions using a remote, such as tennis, boxing, and bowling. Researchers from the company Touch Graphics, Inc., decided to expand upon this idea and created a video game that teaches players to use the white cane. Players learn the appropriate tapping motion and how to maintain the proper width on both the left and right sides. The prototype model features a Wii remote that is mounted to a white cane; a camera on the device tracks the position of lights along an overhead strip. It connects to a computer via Bluetooth radio and sends audio and vibratory feedback to the student's headphones and to the motor in the Wii remote. More information, including a video demonstration, can be found on the Touch Graphics homepage.

Another interesting research project has the NFB partnered with Virginia Tech researchers to create the first "car for the blind" prototype. The car uses auditory and tactile feedback built into the seats, steering wheel, and other parts of the vehicle, allowing for a person with vision loss to steer and perform all other aspects of vehicle operation independently. You can learn more about it by visiting the Blind Driver Challenge website.

Question: Do you have any other miscellaneous travel resources?

Answer: Being legally blind myself, I have gathered some resources over the years that may prove useful.

Many of you use Internet sites for GPS information, but be aware that there are also phone hotlines where you can access walking and driving directions. I find these especially handy for those who do not own a GPS device or software.

A popular service is 800-555-TELL, which will provide spoken driving directions, among other topics, such as horoscopes, stock quotes, news, and weather.

The TravelVision website contains some interesting content about O&M, and much of the content is written by professionals in the field. You can find deaf/blind resources, advice on purchasing low-vision aids, and information on sighted guide techniques.

The Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired is an organization that deals with professionals in the visual impairment field, including O&M instructors (part of Division 9). The organization's website provides information on conferences, job postings, and advocacy resources.

The Orientation and Mobility website has some information on travel and features a message board and listing of universities that offer O&M certification.

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Product Reviews

An Evaluation of the Olympus DM-4 Digital Recorder

When the Olympus DS-30, DS-40, and DS-50 digital recorders came on the market a few years ago, word spread quickly throughout the community of blind and visually impaired technology fans. In particular, those interested in sophisticated recording equipment welcomed the sleek, pocket-sized recorders that delivered superb sound in a small package. Better still, the units were mainstream but offered enough accessibility that individuals unable to see the LED displays could operate them.

Apparently, the makers of the Olympus digital recorders heard enough feedback from customers with vision loss that they wanted to make a good thing even better. When the Olympus DM-4 became available, all company promotional materials referenced its usability by blind and visually impaired individuals, and Olympus Imaging America, Inc., was eager to have one of us at AccessWorld take the new model for a test drive.

The results are impressive on the one hand and frustrating on the other. Perhaps the best news is that this is yet another superb, sleek little recorder capable of recording in a number of settings and delivering excellent results. Its built-in noise-canceling feature and variety of recording settings will please the most seasoned audiophile. In addition to recording anything from personal memos to lectures to full-blown concerts with its built-in directional microphone (not to mention from such devices as your telephone, computer, or stereo via direct hookup), the Olympus DM-4 also comes out of the box prepared to accept music, podcasts, audio books, and text files from your computer. You can even attach a digital camera and display pictures on its LED display. Getting from here to there, however, is where the frustration enters the stage.

Description

The Olympus DM-4 measures about 1-3/4 by 4-1/4 inches. The LED display occupies about two-thirds of the front of the unit. The external speaker grill occupies about one inch above the display. The buttons (five of them plus an oval of up-down and right-left arrow buttons plus a center OK button) fill up the remaining third. There is a directional stereo microphone on the top with a jack for attaching an external microphone if desired. On the left is a slot for the microSD card and a headphone jack. On the right is the power button. On the bottom edge is the jack for the AC adapter (included) and the USB cable (also included). The unit runs on lithium-ion batteries (one is included and the batteries are user replaceable) that can be charged via either its AC adapter or by attaching the USB cable to your computer. Battery life is excellent, although the manual does suggest using the AC adapter if possible for particularly long recording sessions. For storage, the unit features 8 GB of internal memory and potentially unlimited storage if you take advantage of the microSD card slot on the side.

For personal recordings, the unit comes already set up with folders labeled A through E, reminiscent of the earlier Olympus recorders. In addition, there are folders already established to accept music, podcasts, Audible.com materials, and DAISY and text files. Each category can hold up to 999 files per folder or, counted another way, up to 8,000 songs or 1,000 audio books and 999 each of the other types of files. The unit has a clock, calendar, and can handle up to three preset alarms. It comes ready to present information in one of three languages: English, French, or Spanish. The built-in speech for voice guidance is the same relatively clear, female voice employed in earlier Olympus products. (I say "relatively clear" here because she does seem to drop her d's and t's, so that "artist" sounds more like "arist" and "recorder" like "recorer," but most people accustomed to a variety of speech products will probably find these to be negligible affectations.)

Instructions

Getting started is no piece of cake. The unit's "Quick Start" guide, for instance (which is provided in print only), tells you to begin recording by selecting folder A through E, but doesn't tell you how to access said folders. The "Detailed Instructions" file, downloadable from the Olympus site, is a PDF file. This file is readable with screen-reading software, but refers to many of the functions as symbols, so that following the instructions without sighted assistance is cumbersome at best. Sight is definitely required to turn on voice guidance initially, which enables the menus to speak. From there, navigation is decidedly easier, but not universally available as not all menu items have voice tags attached.

In setting the time, for example, voice guidance can get you into the menu to set the time. Once there, however, the hours and minutes are not announced. With experimentation and patience, it is possible to set the clock independently by counting beeps, but the method is inconvenient at best. The same is true for setting the date and alarms.

Manipulating Content

The Olympus DM-4 can handle a variety of audio formats, including WAV, MP3, and WMA files. Transferring music, audio books, or other content to the Olympus DM-4 is straightforward. The "Detailed Instructions" file stresses the importance of using the dedicated USB cable so vehemently that I lacked the courage to try another method, but I did find this a bit unusual. That said, with the unit attached via USB to your computer, moving material from one device to the other is similar to doing so with any portable device. You can accomplish the task using Windows Explorer, iTunes, or Audible Manager (depending on the type of content being transferred) and, as with many other portable devices, you simply need to be sure to put content in its appropriate location.

Listening to content, particularly music, is where the somewhat steep learning curve for this device pays off. Listening to material on the Olympus DM-4 is pure pleasure, particularly when using headphones. Moving from folder to folder and file to file within the Olympus DM-4 is possible without seeing the visual display. Once you become acclimated to the method of navigating the folder structure, jumping from book to music to podcast to personal memo is quick and easy.

Caveats

Although the Olympus DM-4 is a digital recorder and player of inarguably high quality, it is somewhat troubling that the company's promotional materials state that it is a product accessible to people with visual impairments or dyslexia. Whereas the device does indeed have voice guidance throughout most menus, there are a great number of areas for which necessary information is displayed on the screen while the unit remains silent. When exiting one menu to locate another, for example, the unit says nothing, although the display clearly indicates that the next menu or next level has been reached. Some menu items are spoken, but once the item is opened, the speech is absent (such as system information). When attempting to do certain routine tasks, spoken confirmation can be found, but only in a work-around sort of way. When erasing a file, for instance, once the "Erase" function has been selected, one might assume that pressing OK would initiate the process. However, it is first necessary to arrow up, again, to "Start Erase" and then to press OK once more.

Several areas seem to function in this manner; that is, by arrowing away from the item and then back to it again, the internal speech confirms that you are where you want to be. Needless to say, for the user who is able to decipher what is displayed on the screen, such desired confirmation is always immediate. One item from the primary menu, the Audio Diary, seemed to have no accessibility whatsoever. When this item is selected, a blank calendar appears on the display, but there is no voice guidance to assist a person with visual impairment or dyslexia in using it.

In some instances, the user guide prepares one for the inconsistencies. Forward and rewind, the manual tells us, do not work in DAISY or text files. Although the power switch offers a "hold" position, a great convenience to prevent the unit from inadvertently coming on in a pocket or briefcase, the visually impaired user has no way of confirming that the function is in effect. Further, "If you press any button in Hold mode," the Detailed Instructions file informs us, "the LED indicator light flashes blue, but no operation is performed."

Again, these may be minor nuisances to some users, and for many of the nonverbal oversights in the product, workarounds exist. But if the manufacturer's aim was to make a product fully accessible to people who are blind or dyslexic, they have not quite yet met the goal.

The Bottom Line

If you want a multipurpose, high-performance digital recorder that will deliver excellent sound and record anything from your Sunday school lesson to your music collection, audio book, podcast, or personal notes, and if you don't mind spending some intense concentration time with sighted assistance to get up to speed with its operation, then this is a marvelous product. If, on the other hand, accessible instructions and a fully accessible product are must-haves, you might want to keep shopping.

The Olympus DM-4 sells for $300. Package includes a lithium-ion battery, AC adapter, and USB cable.

For more information, visit the Olympus America website

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Access Issues

Microsoft Backtracks on Accessibility in New Mobile Operating System, Commits to Accessibility in Future Windows Phone Platform

Last month, senior Microsoft officials acknowledged to advocates for people who are blind or visually impaired that its new mobile platform, Windows Phone 7 (WP7), does not include the accessibility components that were part of earlier Microsoft mobile operating systems. This means new cell phones that run on WP7 will not include any significant built-in accessibility for people with vision loss, and it is not compatible with any third-party screen-access solutions.

During the day-long meeting at the Redmond, WA, campus, Microsoft officials were candid in acknowledging the serious damage they had done to accessibility for people with vision loss. Andy Lees, president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, accepted responsibility, saying, "We were incompetent on this."

The Microsoft team also admitted they were late in engaging advocates and assistive technology developers regarding the problems with WP7. In addition to the American Foundation for the Blind, other blindness organizations represented at the meeting included the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind from the United States; the Canadian National Institute for the Blind; the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the United Kingdom; ONCE, Spain's National Organization of the Blind; and Vision Australia.

Lees said Microsoft is committed to accessibility, but admitted that it will be a multi-year process.

What Happened?

Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.5 does support Code Factory's Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier screen-access programs, and can still be found in smart phones like the Samsung Jack and the HTC Touch Pro 2. So what happened?

The number of smart phones running Microsoft's mobile operating system has slipped rapidly to less than 5 percent of the market. The company decided to completely rework the platform in an effort to rebuild its market in mobile communications. Chuck Bilow, who handles accessibility for WP7, stressed that it is an entirely new operating system and user interface. He noted that no applications from earlier Microsoft mobile operating systems will run on WP7 and no handset that currently runs Windows Mobile 6.5 can run the WP7 operating system.

Lees said Microsoft did a "hard reset" with their WP7 efforts. Microsoft will have more control over the specific features and functions that will be built into the phones, while leaving room for innovation by the manufacturers. He described WP7 as falling between the very restrictive Apple iPhone model and the wide-open Android model. Manufacturers currently building Windows 7 phones include Samsung, Dell, LG, and HTC. Although he is positive about the future of WP7, Lees admitted that Microsoft is not yet where it wants to be with this new operating system. Accessibility is an obvious area where improvement is critical, but Lees also mentioned the need to add multitasking and cut-and-paste capabilities. He also said WP7 currently works only on GSM networks used by carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile, and that they need to develop compatibility with CDMA networks such as those used by Verizon and Sprint. Both GSM and CDMA are common mobile telephony standards.

What Is the Road Map to Accessibility?

According to Bilow, Windows Phone 7 does include a few useful features for people with low vision. For instance, there is a contrast control to help accommodate people with low vision, and it also has zoom capabilities within certain HTML-based applications, but not yet in the general interface.

In a statement released after the meeting, Lees said, "Microsoft's goal is to deliver platforms, products, and services that are accessible. We recognize that there is more we can do in this respect, and our goal is to develop Windows Phone into a compelling option for people who are blind or visually impaired."

Lees went on to say, "These plans include further expanding use of speech functionality to create a better eyes-free phone experience, and building on this technology to enable screenreading functionality specifically tailored to the one-of-a-kind Windows Phone interface." And, he added, "We hope to shape and define this future in partnership with the blind and visually impaired communities."

What Will Happen?

Although Microsoft officials did not make specific commitments regarding the access features that would be added to future releases of the Windows Phone platform or state when changes would take place, they did embrace the call for built-in screen access. The iPhone solution was mentioned many times.

As representatives from the blindness community, we made it clear that we want built-in accessibility at no extra cost, and Microsoft representatives agreed with that goal. We also agreed that we want to keep it open for third-party developers to be able to enhance that access with additional applications. We further urged Microsoft to make it easy for all third-party application developers to make their apps accessible. Microsoft agreed with our suggestions to incorporate more users who are blind or visually impaired into the design process, and they agreed to provide us with prototypes to gather our input. Microsoft also agreed to bring back all of the represented organizations for another roundtable discussion to discuss the company's progress a year from now.

It is likely that the development of access solutions for the Windows Phone platform could take as long as two years. As a short-term strategy, Microsoft is still supporting Windows Mobile 6.5 phones, which are compatible with Code Factory's screen-access products.

Microsoft should have known better and there is no excuse for releasing WP7 without considering accessibility. That said, the advocates who gathered in Redmond were cautiously optimistic that this misstep might lead Microsoft to produce a more fully accessible platform for mobile phones. Phones are no longer just phones. They are really small-but-powerful computers that fit in your hand, and the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act requires developers of advanced communications devices to make these phones accessible for people with vision loss or other disabilities.

We expect that the blindness organizations across the globe will work to hold Microsoft's feet to the fire. As Ronald Reagan used to say, "Trust but verify."

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AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

The Hadley School Offers Training to Improve Access Technology Skills for Screenreader Users

The Hadley School for the Blind will offer three new, online courses designed to improve access technology skills for users of screenreaders. The two-part courses will be available in 2011.

The first course, "Screenreaders: Listening Skills," trains users to increase their speed of listening to a screenreader. The course is designed to help users to listen and comprehend a screenreader at 300 words or more per minute. It also provides lessons on being able to listen to your screenreader and listen to another person on the phone. This skill lends itself to success in most work places.

The second course, "Screenreaders: Web Browsing," is about navigating websites. This course has lessons that provide tips and advice on the best methods to navigate very accessible websites, as well as those that present more accessibility challenges.

The third course, "Screenreaders: Editing and Formatting Word Documents," is aimed at sharpening the user's skill in Microsoft Office 2007. It provides training on improving your ability to recognize the formatting of documents while using your screenreader and editing the document in a professional manner. Often, the skill to recognize editing issues with a screenreader can be difficult, but this could be the difference in success on the job or in class. Please visit the Hadley School for the Blind website to register.

The Hadley School Offers Self-Employment Course

Self-employment is always a hot topic for those looking for work, and individuals who are visually impaired want tools specific to their needs or obstacles. The Hadley School for the Blind is preparing to release a new online course titled "Self-Employment with a Minimal Investment ($5,000 or less)."

This course will contain six lessons for those who are blind or visually impaired. If a professional takes this course, it will have a seventh lesson specific to his or her needs. The course has specific real-life tips and strategies used successfully by persons with vision loss. There will be seminars as part of these lessons that will add to the students' experience.

The course includes these topics:

  • Generate an idea
  • Conduct a feasibility study
  • Develop a budget
  • Draft a marketing plan
  • Write a business plan

Often individuals are concerned about losing their disability benefits while developing their business, and this course attempts to answer those concerns with good strategies.

The course is free for individuals who are visually impaired. Hadley will also allow spouses or partners who are not blind or visually impaired to take this course alongside their spouse with vision loss. Because many couples go into business together and support one another, it makes sense to have both parties educated on these strategies to promote cohesion. There is a nominal fee for professionals who wish to take the course.

The course will be available in 2011. Please visit the Hadley School for the Blind website to register.

SuperNova Version 12 Release

Dolphin Computer Access has released an updated screen-access solution. SuperNova version 12 offers fully synchronized screen-magnification, screen-reading, and braille display support. This latest version also offers four new magnifier innovations for low-vision computer users.

Available in U.K. English, U.S. English, Australian English, Welsh, Dutch, French, Belgian French, Belgian Dutch, Spanish, Swedish, and Slovak, SuperNova version 12 now includes support for multiple monitors, a new text-smoothing technology called "true fonts," large, scalable mouse pointers, and a feature called "Mouse Buffer."

SuperNova version 12 is available in four editions, each specifically designed for computer users with different levels of visual impairment. SuperNova Magnifier and SuperNova Reader Magnifier are useful for low-vision or partially sighted computer users. SuperNova's screenreader is useful for blind computer users or people with no useful sight. The SuperNova Access Suite is designed for organizations looking for a "total" accessibility solution.

For more information, visit the SuperNova pages on the Dolphin Computer Access website or read the complete "What's new in SuperNova version 12?"

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Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

I thank Darren Burton for the excellent review of the Kindle 3. A few comments:

I think it is important to mention the prosody of the text-to-speech (TTS) presentation. A good reading system should use the roadmarks of reading (e.g., paragraphs, headings, lists) to present a better reading experience.

If the paragraphs run together, it makes reading more difficult. The last time I checked, there was no preprocessing before it sent the text to the TTS engine. Yes, the TTS engines do prosody for periods, commas, question marks, etc., but for structural elements, it is the job of the reading system to use varying-length pauses to indicate transitions: one length pause between paragraphs and a longer pause before and after headings; same with bullets and other block constructs.

So, I see this as a downfall and a recommendation for the future.

Best,

George Kerscher
Secretary General, DAISY Consortium

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