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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 January 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 1

In This Issue

Editor's Page

AccessWorld Lends a Hand with New Year's Resolutions and Provides Rationale for Evaluating High-Priced Technology

Access to Fitness

Fitness FAQs from the Desk of AFB's Information and Referral Specialist

In this article, AccessWorld provides information about making fitness and leisure activities more accessible to people with vision loss.--Tara Annis and Lee Huffman

Access Issues

Accessibility Report on Apple's Latest iOS Update for iPhone, iPod, and iPad

This article reports on some of the new features and functions of the latest upgrade for these popular devices.--Darren Burton

Good News from the Big Box Store: Accessibility Features for Laundry and Kitchen Appliances Improve

This article takes a fresh look at the accessibility of major home appliances.--Bradley Hodges

HIMS vs. GW Micro: A Divorce with Two Happy Endings?

This article looks behind the scenes of the break up of two assistive technology companies.--Deborah Kendrick

Product Reviews

A Review of WinZoom 4 and the Windows 7 Magnifier

This article offers a practical review of lower-cost and no-cost options in screen magnification.--Morgan Blubaugh

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News


Editor's Page

AccessWorld Lends a Hand with New Year's Resolutions and Provides Rationale for Evaluating High-Priced Technology

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

The holidays are behind us now, and it is time to start looking forward to a new year. For many, that means New Year's resolutions and commitments to exercising, losing weight, eating healthier foods, and taking better care of ourselves. To help get you on the right track, AFB's Information and Referral Specialist, Tara Annis, and I are providing you with answers to her most frequently asked questions about getting and staying fit. Statistically, people with vision loss tend to be among the most sedentary and unhealthy among all age groups, but it does not have to be that way. You may be surprised how technology can help you to become healthier in the new year.

This month, I am also sharing the editor's page with AccessWorld author Bradley Hodges to answer a question we get quite often.

From time to time, AccessWorld receives feedback from readers taking us to task for reviewing and describing very costly technology and kitchen and laundry appliances. We are asked, "With the majority of people with vision loss unemployed, how could you consider evaluating a $3,000 oven?" Fortunately, these messages are thoughtful and convey the concern many of us share as we think about the economic picture of our community. It is only fitting that as authors of these articles, we share with you the collective thinking of the AccessWorld team. These observations are brought to you in the spirit of outlining our analysis and as the result of many years of experience. They are intended to continue the dialog between readers and AccessWorld staff, not as a kind of defense strategy. Bradley Hodges reports:

There are two important reasons why including some very expensive products in our reviews is imperative. The first of the reasons is that the technology that is introduced on a $2,000 washing machine, as with the newest Whirlpool top-loading models, will appear on the $1,000 washer in 18 months and the $650 washer in two years. Consider the curse of the kitchen: the flat touch-panel oven control. These controls were very rare in kitchen appliances in 2003. At that time, touch-screen technology was available on only a select few ranges and wall ovens priced in excess of $3,500. By contrast, entry-level ranges from Frigidaire and other manufacturers using this type of control are now priced at less than $350.

Similarly, the laundry room of only a few years ago is scarcely recognizable with the advent of front-loading appliances, which are available for $900 for both the washing machine and matching dryer. Only two years ago, that same control technology would have cost more than $2,500 for an equivalent set.

Glass cook tops with touch controls are the embodiment of inaccessibility. Availing yourself of this kind of appliance required approaching a stratospheric price point in 2007. Today, equivalent ranges from LG and other manufacturers are ready to be placed in new construction or a rental unit for only $495.

Thus, the path from the outer limits where only a few could afford them to the new home or rental housing unit where you very likely will encounter them, turns yesterday's $3,000 oven into today's accessibility issue. If the past is prologue--and years of experience in the accessibility field shows us it is--then the touch screen of Whirlpool's top-of-the-line washer is headed to a laundry room very near you. At AccessWorld, we consider it our responsibility to give you as much warning as we can.

A second reason for including reviews of technology and home appliances that may seem inappropriate to some by virtue of their high price is that not everyone in our community is limited by the harsh financial reality that so many share. Happily, our community includes professionals, doctors, lawyers, business people, and others who may consider purchasing moderately or even extravagantly priced technology, including book readers, digital audio players, smartphones, and high-end home appliances.

Our first responsibility is to illuminate the accessibility of products by viewing the entire range of models offered. Then, we aim to report in objective terms about the features and characteristics that we believe are pertinent. Lastly, we consider the effect of price and availability as viewed through the lens of the particular economic challenges and achievements of blind and visually impaired Americans.

We hope this provides some perspective for you, our readers, as to the practical reasoning for evaluating costly technology.

The AccessWorld team wishes you the best of health and happiness and an even more accessible world in the coming year!

Sincerely,

Lee Huffman
AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

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Access to Fitness

Fitness FAQs from the Desk of AFB's Information and Referral Specialist

It's the New Year, the perfect time to answer some FAQs related to physical fitness, which encompasses anything related to exercise, sports, and monitoring one's health.

If you have not yet checked it out, please visit AFB Senior Site's "Fitness and Fun" section, where you can read about leading an active lifestyle.

One of AFB's blog posts, "Keeping Fit," profiles a 2006 New York Times article about access to fitness for people with disabilities. Although it is a few years old, the article is still relevant today. Check it out and submit your own comments. You can also read previous message board posts about fitness, or start a new message board topic, letting others know your take on this subject. Visit the AFB message boards and blogs to join the conversation.

Some of the material in this article is geared toward people just learning about physical fitness and vision loss; however, this article also includes content that may be new to even experienced athletes. So, please read this article in its entirety, and pass the information on to others.

Question: I have heard of sports that have been created specifically for people with vision loss. Can you tell me more about these activities?

Answer: Two sports in the United States, goalball and beep baseball, were created specifically for people with vision loss. For those who are not familiar, goalball is a highly competitive sport similar to soccer. Two teams of three players, each of whom is blindfolded, compete by rolling the goalball across the court, attempting to get it past the opposing team.

The USA Goalball website provides in-depth information on this sport, including instructions on joining the listserv, information on how to start a team, receive the newsletter, and official rules of the game.

Beep baseball is an adapted version of America's pastime, with some variations in the rules, such as the fact that each team has its own pitcher, there are only two bases, and there are usually six innings instead of nine. As with goalball, all players are blindfolded, except for the pitcher and catcher. The game has evolved to the point of having a World Series.

Visit the National Beep Baseball Association's website for more information.

Question: I want to participate in sports where kicking, throwing, and catching a ball or flying disc (Frisbee) is necessary. Is this possible with sight loss?

Answer: Yes, these skills can be performed by people with vision loss, from those who are totally blind to those with some remaining vision.

One option is to make use products with auditory output, which is beneficial to those who are totally blind, but can also be used by those with partial sight, who can use both their hearing and remaining vision to perform these exercises.

For someone who is working with a person just learning these tasks, such as a physical education teacher who has a blind student, you can start out by slowing down the movements by using a balloon. Before inflating the balloon, add seeds or other small objects to the balloon to make it rattle when thrown.

Vendors of adaptive products, and even some mainstream product manufacturers, sell balls and Frisbees that provide auditory feedback in the form of electronic beeping, music, bells, or rattling of objects placed inside the ball or Frisbee. The beeping products come in varying forms, offering varying degrees of pitch and volume, or the ability to turn off the beeper and use it as a traditional ball. Besides the basic football, soccer ball, and basketball, there are also Frisbees, volleyballs, and tennis balls that make noise, which opens up a wealth of opportunities to participate in a wide variety of sports.

You can even make a homemade auditory ball by tying a plastic bag, similar to the ones you get from a supermarket, around a standard ball. Believe it or not, this works very well, allowing a blind person to catch a football thrown in a spiral, for example. This is a great solution for when you are invited to an unexpected game of football or kickball, say at a family reunion, when you do not have the option of advanced planning and cannot bring along the audible balls and Frisbees you have purchased.

The next set of suggestions applies to those who have some remaining vision.

You can spray paint standard Frisbees and balls a contrasting color or in fluorescent colors for better visibility. This is one of my own ideas, which I believe will be beneficial to many people with low vision. Several mainstream companies sell Frisbees and balls that glow in the dark, and even some that light up.

I bought a Frisbee that has green lights called the Aerobie Skylighter LED Lighted Flying Disc, and I have no difficulty catching it even though my vision is very poor (I am only able to discern shapes and colors, no detail, and cannot see printed material). Doesn't it seem that when family or friends come over to your house, they always want to play a nighttime game of volleyball, soccer, or Frisbee? Many with low vision can testify that low-light conditions are usually the most difficult as everything seems to blend into the shadows. These products offer a possible solution to that dilemma as catching and throwing light-up Frisbees and balls is best done in a low-light environment, allowing for the highest level of contrast.

These products will allow a whole new group of people with vision loss to use their partial vision to catch a Frisbee, serve a volleyball, or make a spiral pass. I have never seen these products used in adapted education, so we hope readers will pass along the information to as many professionals in the rehabilitation field as possible. You can search the Internet for phrases such as "lighted ball," "illuminated ball," or "glow-in-the dark ball" for a wealth of product results.

You can also make your own glow-in-the-dark ball by wrapping glow tape, sold by vendors of adaptive products, over the ball's surface. Glow tape is basically what its name implies--adhesive strips that glow in the dark--and usually requires being activated by sunlight before it will work. Glow tape can be stuck on many surfaces, allowing for a number of possible uses. There is also spray paint that glows, which may be a better option as it does not alter the surface of the ball.

Question: I have some usable vision, and I am wondering what kinds of adaptations can be made related to fitness and sports?

Answer: Planning in advance is crucial. You may need to bring a set of sunglasses, hat, or visor if you believe you are going to work out in an environment with hard-to-navigate lighting conditions. Skiing, in particular, with the additional glare of the snow combined with bright sunlight, is one situation that people with low vision find difficult to navigate.

When you know you are going to participate in a fitness activity, you should bring along all portable magnification devices. You can use a monocular or binoculars to tell the number of bowling pins you knocked down, use a handheld video magnifier to read the display on a treadmill, and use your bioptics when you are riding your bicycle to locate objects at a distance, such as street signs or upcoming steep hills.

AFB staff have conducted a great deal of research on these devices and a number of product reviews appear in AccessWorld articles. Our AFB TECH website, devoted to providing information about our office in West Virginia, has a "published results" section, where you can locate product evaluations by category, such as exercise equipment, video magnifiers, and blood pressure monitors.

If you plan to join a fitness club like the YMCA, ask the staff if you can label the equipment, such as weight machines, in large print. There are many different types of labeling options sold by vendors of adaptive products. There are labelers that make large-print letters and numbers on an adhesive backing that you can stick on various surfaces. Others are in the form of a pen-like device that makes raised, fluorescent-colored lines, somewhat like a hot glue gun.

If you are going to be on a team, ask your members to wear a color (or combination of colors) that is easy to see, such as contrasting colors or fluorescent-colored clothing.

Use glow tape or spray paint to outline the boundaries of a basketball court or the perimeter of the volleyball net, allowing for better visibility. Another idea is to illuminate the area, such as by using stringed lights (if a power source is nearby), so that you can play during the darkest hours of the night or in a gymnasium with the lights off.

Question: How can I make exercise equipment, like treadmills, elliptical machines, and rowing machines, accessible?

Answer: Many people with vision loss are frustrated when using this type of equipment because many kinds of machines require you to enter information, such as your weight, age, type of workout, resistance, and time by using the equipment's visual display. These displays are usually hard to see for people with low vision as they typically feature small fonts or low contrast. The buttons on the controls may not be tactile, but rather flush with the display's surface. Visually impaired people are forced to memorize a huge number of button presses or are forced to rely on sighted assistance. One possible solution is to purchase braille, large-print, or tactile labels to place on controls.

The November 2007 issue of AccessWorld researched this topic in detail in an article titled "Exercising Your Right to Fitness: An Overview of the Accessibility of Exercise Equipment."

I also came across this article titled "Accessible Treadmills Make Workouts…Almost Fun" in the November/December 2006 issue of Dialogue, a magazine produced by Blindskills. It reviews a software workout program that is at least partially, if not totally, accessible. AFB has not researched this information, so we cannot give our opinion of this product. However, the article states that "iFIT technology allows you to operate your treadmill, elliptical or bike using your computer, CD player or MP3 player. You never have to touch a button or ask anyone to read the display." Further, the article states that the software is "inexpensive and accessible with JAWS 7 or Window-Eyes 5.5 screen readers." The pre-packaged workouts are sold at iFit. The workout creation software is available on the i2Workout website.

Check online shopping sites, pawn shops, or other secondhand stores for used equipment as I have found that older models are less likely to feature an elaborate visual display, allowing a person with vision loss to bypass this information and just step on the machine to begin the workout. This is usually the case for equipment that does not have a motor but instead allows one's body movement to power the machine, where resistance is set manually. For example, I worked out on NordicTrack models about 15 years ago where being able to read the display was not vital to begin a workout or change resistance settings.

I cannot recommend one product over another, but do want to inform readers of my recent experience using the Gazelle. You may remember the 1990s infomercials with Tony Little advertising this line of exercise equipment. The model I own, the SupraPro, has a display that monitors heart rate, calories burned, and time elapsed, but you do not have to enter any information for the machine to start as there is no motor. You can step on the pedals, grip the handles, and move in a cross-country skiing motion, similar to an elliptical machine. I can set the three resistance levels manually and use a talking timer to monitor time elapsed, so I do not miss having access to the display. There are several models of the Gazelle varying in price and offering different types of workouts. I am not sure if all have the same accessibility as the SupraPro, so you will need to contact customer service. Their number and a wealth of information on the Gazelle can be found on the official Tony Little website.

Question: Can I independently monitor aspects of my health, such as my weight, body fat, and blood pressure?

Answer: There are many talking, braille, and large-print scales on the market today; just search the catalogs of adaptive products vendors to find one that best suits your needs.

A unique product, one many readers may not have heard about, is the Phoenix talking body fat scale that reads aloud both weight and percentage of body fat. It works by using bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), which is based on a person's height, weight, and the strength and speed at which a very safe, low-level electrical signal passes through the muscle and fat in the body. Electrodes built into the chrome foot pads send an electronic signal through the body. Weight and body fat are calculated automatically.

Oregon Scientific used to sell several models of talking heart rate monitors, specifically the AH 300 and the AH 310. Although they are no longer on the market, you can search Internet shopping sites or local secondhand shops, seeking out one that is used.

There are braille or large-print tape measures that can help a person to measure body proportions. Many health clubs will take one's measurements at the beginning of a training regimen and again about three months later to help you keep track of the inches lost.

High blood pressure is a common ailment among Americans, so one should make an effort to keep it in a normal range. AccessWorld evaluated several talking blood pressure monitors in its September 2004 article "Diabetes and Visual Impairment: Are Home Blood Pressure Monitors Accessible?"

Question: What products, not already mentioned in other questions, will prove beneficial for fitness activities?

Answer: The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has created some unique products for physical education, including jump rope kits and walk/run fitness kits with talking pedometers, among other products. They have a specific website for physical education information, which contains listings for regional sports camps hosted throughout the year, descriptions of products, and listings for research articles.

I want to highlight one product in particular as I believe that few readers will be familiar with it. The APH recently began selling the 30-Love tennis kit. Before learning about it, I did believe that tennis was one sport that was off limits for persons with vision loss. The game does have some variation from the original, such as being played indoors with a foam tennis ball and that each player is allowed one bounce. However, you serve and hit the ball in the same manner as the original game, so you will get the same tennis experience as sighted players. Tennis for the blind is already an extremely popular sport in countries like Japan, where it has the same popularity as goalball and beep baseball.

The APH PE website provides information about the game, as does the Tennis Foundation's website, which gives information about the game's history and current research projects related to the sport.

Many readers are familiar with products that serve as a sound source by emitting an electronic beeping sound, which can be attached to a basketball hoop, soccer goal, or the finish line of a racetrack. From using these products in the presence of the general public, I have found that many do not like the sound produced by the devices and will refuse to play the modified game using them. A possible solution is to use an MP3 player with external speakers or a radio to ensure everyone can play the game.

I always attempt to maximize the usefulness of the products and technology I own. I believe GPS software and hardware has the potential to assist in many fitness activities, especially those that require one to cover large distances, such as cross-country skiing, biking, and hiking. You can use the "reverse route" feature so you will never get lost when trekking through the wilderness. Make a map of the area you will cross-country ski in, showing the point just before a steep hill begins, giving you advanced notice so you can get in the appropriate body position. During race day, discover what mile marker you are approaching. The possibilities are endless!

I am personally interested in echolocation and devices that use sonar for navigation. Although manufacturers usually warn not to use devices without a cane or dog, I believe in an area without any drop-offs, a person could rely solely on this device. For example, the device could be used on an ice skating rink, allowing a person with vision loss to detect obstacles, such as walls and other skaters, and maybe helping with better ease of movement. For trails with flat terrain, a person could mountain bike with this device, avoiding obstacles along the way. However, more research needs to be conducted in this area. And please note, this is only my opinion, expressed simply to spark interest.

Beginning Yoga for the Blind and Visually Impaired is a five-CD set produced by Gretchen Hein, a certified Kripalu yoga instructor, and Marty Klein, a blind author and workshop facilitator. The goal of the series is to help people with vision loss use yoga to reclaim and sustain strong, flexible bodies. The series also helps users find local yoga classes that meet the needs of students with vision loss.

The CD packaging has bold lettering on a high-contrast background with bold numbered markings. Yoga postures are explained in detail, each pose on a separate track, so users can design their own sequences. Other CDs include a yoga class simulation and instructions for yoga teachers on facilitating students with vision loss. The Blind Yoga website has more information.

Another development in the area of yoga is an accessible yoga mat sold by Rousettus Adaptive Sports. The mat has braille and raised lines to help a person with vision loss to align his or her body in the proper yoga postures.

Question: What research projects have been conducted or are currently underway related to fitness?

Answer: An engineering team at the University of Notre Dame wanted to help visually impaired swimmers, so they invented the AdaptTap. It is a very simple device that provides tactile feedback when one nears the ends of the pool. This is beneficial for persons who want to execute a flip turn, but cannot see the markings on the pool's bottom, which are used by sighted swimmers to determine their distance from the wall.

Researchers from the University of Nevada have been working on the VI Fit project, creating accessible versions of Nintendo Wii sports games, specifically Fit, Tennis, Bowling, and Pet-n-Punch. You need to have a Wii remote and Bluetooth on your computer to play.

Question: What other organizations, not mentioned already in this article, should people with vision loss be familiar with?

Answer: The United States Association of Blind Athletes, known to many people with vision loss, offers regional sport camps, provides information on adapting various sports, and supports Paralympic athletes.

Camp Abilities hosts a week long sports camp for children in Brockport, N.Y. The camp invites undergraduate and graduate students majoring in physical education to attend, allowing them firsthand experience in working with people with vision loss in the hopes that the students will take what they have learned and apply it to their teaching curricula in their home states.

Ski for Light hosts a yearly weeklong cross-country skiing event; this year, it will be held in Colorado. This year's event will offer more than just skiing; there will be horse-drawn sleigh riding, ice skating, and snowshoeing. I have attended twice, and I was impressed with the skier/guide matching process; they attempt to match up two persons with the same ability level, from beginner Ski for Light also partners with Trek for Light, a summer hiking event held in various parts of the country. Last year, it featured a hike through the Grand Canyon with a llama carrying supplies.

The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability covers all disabilities and offers an extensive section for people with vision loss.

Other links include the United States Blind Golf Association and the American Blind Bowling Association.

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Access Issues

Accessibility Report on Apple's Latest iOS Update for iPhone, iPod, and iPad

Judging by calls from AccessWorld readers and the response I get from people when I demonstrate one of Apple's devices, the built-in accessibility of Apple's iPhone, iPod, and iPad product lines is a huge hit with our community. It is certainly a hit with me, so I began writing this article to report on my experiences with a handful of third-party applications (apps) on my iPhone. However, while I was writing this article, Apple released iOS 4.2.1 for its iPhone, iPod, and iPad devices on November 22, 2010. Therefore, I will begin this article by reporting on some of the new features and functions of this upgrade for these popular devices, followed by my review of a few apps.

What's New with 4.2?

Apple's iOS 4.2.1 is a free upgrade available on the iPhone 3GS and 4, the iPod Touch 3 and 4, and all versions of the iPad. To install this free upgrade, you need to connect your device to your Mac or Windows computer, and use iTunes 10 or later to complete the process. The continuing good news is that Apple did not neglect accessibility with this new software release, and all of the built-in access features, such as VoiceOver and Zoom, are still included. That means that all of the features and applications on these devices are still accessible to people with vision loss right out of the box with no extra costs. There have also been some enhancements with this release that make using the VoiceOver screenreader more effective and efficient, and I will now briefly discuss some of those enhancements as well as some other general improvements.

Enhanced Table Navigation

In earlier versions, navigating through tables was a bit tedious because you were limited to flicking to the right to move from column to column, down to the next row, and continuing column to column one cell at a time. Now, the rotor, the unique gesture used to quickly navigate through webpages and apps, has an option for navigating tables by row. This allows you to flick up or down to move by row and left or right for columns, making it much easier to visualize the data and information in the table. Also, if the table has been coded with proper row and column headings, VoiceOver will speak the proper heading followed by the cell content as you navigate. If the table headers have not been coded properly, Voice Over will speak the row number followed by the cell content as you move row by row.

Searching for Text on Webpages

One of the great things about browsing the Internet with a computer is the ability to search for a word or string of text on a page so you can find it immediately without having to read through the entire page. The iOS 4.2 update now brings us the ability to search the entire text of a webpage using Safari's search field. The documentation is not exactly clear on how to do it, but basically, you enter text in the Safari search field and then tap on a button that is labeled with the word "Find," followed by your search term. VoiceOver will then speak the first instance of your search term on the page along with the surrounding text. Also, a little window appears at the bottom of the screen with a Next button and a line of text indicating how many matches were found and that the first of those matches is currently being displayed.

Although this can be a very helpful tool, the problem is that VoiceOver's focus is on the little window and not on the actual match, so you still have a little work left to do to focus on your match. The matches are displayed near the very center of the screen, so you have to tap as close to the middle of the screen as you can and perhaps move around a bit to find your match.

Better Responsiveness to Gestures

Several comments I have read online regarding iOS 4.2 claim better VoiceOver responsiveness to taps and other gestures, and I would have to agree. I certainly have noticed that I am typing faster with this new version, and it seems to work with even a very light touch.

Enhanced Ability to Adjust VoiceOver Speech Rate

The rotor now has an option for adjusting the rate at which VoiceOver speaks. This saves the time involved in going into the settings app to adjust the rate and is very handy when doing demonstrations of these devices. Also, the speech rate can now be adjusted by 5-percent increments instead of 10-percent increments. Go to the VoiceOver section of settings to add this option to the rotor.

Improved Ease of Adjusting VoiceOver Volume

You can now disable the physical volume buttons so that they work only to control VoiceOver's volume and not the device's regular volume. That is handy because you used to have to have it speak first and then quickly press the volume buttons to adjust the VoiceOver volume while it was speaking. To adjust the volume, go to the Sounds section of settings.

Bugs

Most new software product releases have a bug or two that has to be worked out, and we always do our best to find them and point them out to manufacturers. However, the first thing we discovered in our lab was that the bug that appeared in iOS 4.0 when choosing the phone number type for a new contact has been fixed. Before, the button for choosing the type of contact, such as home, mobile, or work, did not work with VoiceOver. Now, the button labeled "mobile," which is the default type, does work with VoiceOver, and VoiceOver says "Activate to choose type." If you do that, you get a list of phone number types from which to choose.

As far as new bugs, we have only discovered one so far. If you receive an incoming call while on an active call, there are three buttons that appear to let you deal with the new call. The three buttons are as follows: Ignore, which sends the new call to voicemail; Hold Call + Answer, which puts your current call on hold and answers the new one; and End Call + Answer, which ends your current call and answers the new one. The Ignore button is labeled properly, but VoiceOver just says "answer" for both Hold Call + Answer and End Call + Answer. We always communicate our findings to Apple, and they have done a good job of fixing bugs, so please contact us at AccessWorld if you find any other bugs.

Enhancements to Apple TV

Apple also released a software update to its second-generation Apple TV device, and the important news is its support for AirPlay, which is an app that allows devices running iOS 4.2, as well as Windows computers and Macs running iTunes 10, to stream video to a television. This is all accessible using VoiceOver, which speaks the menus for controlling the video and can also access the descriptions of the movies or TV show episodes. You can also use it to send your music to your stereo speakers.

Apple TV is a $99 piece of hardware. You can see a video of Apple TV and AirPlay in action on Apple's website (click on "See Airplay in Action").

My AFB TECH colleague Brad Hodges is investigating using Apple TV and third-party hardware and software products, such as those from Elgato. These products allow for real-time viewing and recording of both over-the-air and satellite/cable TV, and Brad is investigating how well it all works with VoiceOver.

Enhanced Security

With the MobileMe app, you now have a feature called "Find My iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch," which helps you to find your device and protect its data. It displays your device's location on a map and allows you to set a passcode lock. You can also display a message on the device's screen or even wipe out all of its data. If you are lucky enough to find your device later, you can restore your data from your last backup.

iPad Enhancements

Because the iOS 4.0 upgrade released for the iPhone last summer was not available for the iPad, the 4.2 release now brings the 4.0 enhancements to the iPad. Some of these enhancements include the extra items available in the rotor when navigating webpages and the ability to organize your apps in folders you have created. You can also take advantage of the multitasking capabilities introduced with iOS 4.0, making it quick and easy to switch between the apps you are using. Also, iPad users can now take advantage of the fully accessible iBooks app with full access to the dictionary and the ability to navigate by word and by character. The AirPrint function now allows iPad users to print documents from productivity apps such as iWork, and the iPad is also now compatible with several wireless braille displays. Of course, all the other enhancements I have mentioned in this article are also available on the iPad.

Applications

Now I will briefly describe my experiences with a handful of third-party apps I downloaded from the App Store.

Around Me

Around Me, a free app, is a great GPS-based tool for locating points of interest, and I have found it to be very useful when I'm traveling. It has a list of 20 categories, such as restaurants, theaters, gas stations, and hospitals, and you can also do a key word search or just scroll through nearby points of interest. If, for example, you find a restaurant you want to visit, you can get directions or call the restaurant for a reservation by simply double-tapping on the phone number that appears.

Navigon

Priced at $49 for the U.S. version, Navigon is a more robust location-based tool than Around Me. In addition to the points of interest features of Around Me, Navigon can also provide real-time turn-by-turn directions. Although VoiceOver sometimes stutters, and there are a few unlabelled buttons to get used to, Navigon is for the most part accessible. I found the turn-by-turn directions to be pretty accurate, but Navigon is a huge battery hog. It drains a full charge in about 3 hours. For more information on GPS apps for the iPhone, see "GPS on Your iPhone" in the December 2010 issue of AccessWorld.

iTreadmill

Priced at just $0.99, iTreadmill is an app for tracking your workout, either on a treadmill or off. You just activate the start button and start walking, and it displays your average speed, minutes per mile, calories used, and your step count. Although it is mostly accessible, if you use a flicking method to read the screen, it can be difficult to associate each numeric value with its label. However, you can use a direct interaction method and just point to the various labels on the screen and find its value directly beneath it. For example, you can find the "Step count" label near the bottom of the screen and find your number of steps just below it.

IEP Checklist

IEP Checklist is a very useful free app for a parent or advocate who is developing an individualized education plan (IEP) for a child with a disability. It has a large hierarchical database of information about all of the factors that need to be considered, as well as the legal requirements involved with IEP. It is mainly accessible, but the buttons you activate to choose a category, subcategory, or topic are not identified as buttons. They have proper labels that are spoken by VoiceOver, so as soon as you realize they are in fact buttons, you can activate them as you normally would.

AidColors

Priced at $0.99, AidColors is a color-identification app that is fully accessible. However, this product's accuracy can be a bit sketchy. It is highly dependent on lighting, and I probably wouldn't use it to pick out my clothes in the morning.

Pet Rescuers

Pet Rescuers is a free app developed by Home Again, one of the companies that make the implantable identification tags that help people to recover lost pets. It allows you to send out an alert if you find a lost pet, and you can also use it to see if your lost pet has been found. Unfortunately, it is too inaccessible to use with VoiceOver.

HeyTell

HeyTell is a free instant voice messaging app similar to texting, but you send short voice messages instead of typing text messages. It is accessible and it worked very well during limited testing. However, the person with whom you are messaging also has to have HeyTell installed.

LaDiDa

Pronounced "la dee da," this $2.99 app can be a barrel of laughs. Promoted as a "reverse karaoke" app, it lets you sing or rap into the phone, and it picks music to match. It even improves the sound of your voice. You can then listen to your song in different pop or rap music styles. I had a ball listening to my nephew's three-year-old create music with LaDiDa, and I had some fun with it over the holidays, especially with those relatives who visited the punch bowl more than once. Although it is not totally accessible, you can figure out how to use it with a little practice. However, you should use a headset, because VoiceOver will be part of the recording if you don't.

L5 Remote

L5 Remote is a free app that turns your iPhone or iPod into a remote for all of your various television sets, DVD players, and other video equipment. However, you also have to purchase a $54.95 gadget to connect to your iPhone or iPod. Even worse, it is totally inaccessible, so I cannot recommend the L5 Remote.

oMoby

A free app, oMoby is an object identification app that uses your device's camera to capture an image and tell you what it is. I was definitely skeptical at first, but I first tried it while waiting for my ride home. I took off my shoe and took a picture of it. In a moment, VoiceOver was saying "brown leather shoe," and it brought up a link to the Zappos.com website to purchase the shoe. I haven't had the chance to test it on a large quantity of objects, but it hasn't done a bad job so far of identifying objects generically.

Other Resources

There is a wealth of information and resources on the Web regarding Apple products and accessibility, so you can get on your favorite search engine and find plenty to learn about. For starters, here are three pages that may be useful to you.

Apple's official accessibility site

The Mac-cessibility Network is a great site for information regarding Apple and accessibility.

Apple Vis, a website for vision-impaired iOS users, has a list of accessible apps for Apple devices.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Marshall University intern Zach Coakley in developing this article. Funding for this paper was provided by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, WV.

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Access Issues

Good News from the Big Box Store: Accessibility Features for Laundry and Kitchen Appliances Improve

Two separate events over the course of a week provoked me to make a speedy trip to several area "big box" stores. The quest was to ferret out the truth about appliance control accessibility. The events were a series of TV ads trumpeting Whirlpool's most advanced laundry equipment ever, and a call from a colleague who had been told that the latest laundry equipment from the same appliance behemoth no longer had accessibility features.

In the case of the Whirlpool TV commercials, a translation of the TV hype into simple English included terms such as "touch screen." And, as to my colleague's concerns, a follow-up call to Whirlpool led to a representative who stated that the musical tones that signaled cycle options were a thing of the past.

Whirlpool Keeps the Faith with Blind and Visually Impaired Customers

Despite the advertising red flags and my colleague's report, it appears that, with only one exception, not only have Whirlpool Duet washers and dryers maintained their accessibility features, they have been enhanced. The complexity of the modern front-loading washer and dryer results in control panels on which a dozen or more separate buttons are common. Tracking as many as seven variables can be mind-bogglingly difficult because each time a control is changed, several or all of the other controls values change. With Whirlpool Duet equipment, separate tones, something like musical notes, indicate which value has been chosen. The physical controls also offer easy-to-feel pointers for making primary cycle selections.

The enhancements include a more solid-feeling control panel that arranges selection buttons in easy-to-feel rows. An easily distinguished, rectangular "start" control beside the large, round cycle selector with its physical pointer round out the front panel control section. The tones that accompany settings changes are easier to hear and more musical than in earlier Duet equipment.

Whirlpool has not limited accessibility enhancements to the laundry room. Both ranges and wall ovens that have flat touch-panel controls have received much textured touch pads at the locations where controls are placed. Although AccessWorld has applauded these controls in the past, we have noted that they are rather subtle, resembling small pieces of adhesive tape on a glass window. The latest controls are not quite as textured as the finest grade of sandpaper, but they are decidedly easier to feel.

I examined two offerings in the Whirlpool Gold line of electric, smooth-top ranges. One, which has a double oven, uses a complex touch panel with every imaginable control option available on a modern stove. The sizes of the textured regions were small for some of the options, but still, each was well defined and identifiable. This is the most comprehensive control panel that uses a textured approach to accessibility that we are aware of.

A less elaborate single-oven model and a wall oven offer between 10 and 12 controls. The primary buttons, "start" and "clear," are larger than in earlier models.

Whirlpool dishwashers have always been on the top of AFB's accessibility list, and they remain so. Both concealed and front-facing control panels are offered. All use very easy-to-feel bubble-like controls.

Sears Kenmore Makes Modest Accessibility Advances

For several years, the accessibility news from the Sears appliance department has been decidedly bleak. As the nation's largest appliance brand (according to Sears), we expect better from Kenmore. Whereas laundry equipment, now manufactured by the Korean company LG, is decidedly inaccessible, some dishwashers and refrigerators have improved usability.

Dishwashers in the Kenmore line offer a wide variety of styles. After examining more than a dozen on display, it occurred to me that the door designs take many cues from other brands (e.g., a Kenmore that resembles a Bosch). Similarly, accessibility varies dramatically depending on the particulars of the door design. Generally, concealed, rough-on-smooth or smooth-on-rough touch controls are well represented.

Refrigerators have not escaped the trend toward the high-tech. Digital temperature readouts and status reports are the norm. Separate controls allow one to set refrigerator and freezer temperatures independently of each other. Many Kenmore models I examined feature easy-to-feel buttons arranged in two side-by-side configurations for the refrigerator and freezer, respectively. As the buttons are pressed, a clear beep is heard. Each beep is one degree up or down.

Frigidaire Laundry Equipment is Feeling Groovy

Frigidaire's laundry equipment has been one of those brands that uses a kind of endlessly turning control to make primary cycle settings. Turn the machine on, and a light beside the selected cycle changes as the control is turned. The latest offerings from Frigidaire now use a very distinct groove molded into the outer surface of the large circular control. As with the traditional washer and dryer controls of yesterday, each cycle is associated with a physical pointer location on the face of the appliance. Marks can be placed at cycles or other locations to provide cues for nonvisual use.

Other Brands Maintain Useable Controls

All too often, an appliance that is very usable becomes popular among blind and visually impaired customers, only to disappear like yesterday's fashions. Happily, this trend appears to be diminishing, at least for the time being, insofar as usability is concerned.

KitchenAid dishwashers have been running hot and very cold as far as non-visual accessibility is concerned. For the current generation of these well-regarded dishwashers, the flirtation with totally smooth controls appears to have ended. The textured concealed and front-facing controls are subtle, and may not be convenient for everyone. Nevertheless the tactile characteristics would appear to be something that KitchenAid is retaining.

Bosch introduced remarkably easy-to-feel controls in last year's laundry models. These washers and dryers employ traditional turn knobs. Like KitchenAid, Bosch has retained the same controls in its current laundry offerings.

Let the Buyer Beware

As mentioned above, a colleague who is very knowledgeable in matters of accessibility had a discomforting experience when attempting to identify and purchase non-visually accessible laundry appliances. A sales associate in the appliance department of a major home improvement center was uncertain about the behavior of the controls in the generation of Whirlpool washers and dryers that are now being sold. He was unable to connect the washer to an outlet, because to do so would have required unbolting the shipping bolts. A call to Whirlpool was a reasonable next step, given the situation. It was at this point that things went off the track. According to the Whirlpool representative, no tones that would differentiate the cycles were to be found on these machines. This statement is not true. Unfortunately, neither my colleague nor the associate had any practical way of making a direct observation, or any reason to doubt the Whirlpool representative. As a result, a Bosch laundry pair was purchased.

As AccessWorld readers may recall, we strongly encourage putting your hands and ears on the controls of the appliance you are going to purchase. In the case of laundry equipment, a washer and dryer will share control characteristics. Because the dryer can not be easily connected in the show room, exploring the operation of the washing machine counterpart can predict the behavior of the dryer.

For stoves, a similar situation will be encountered as electric ranges and ovens require a power source that is not commonly available in the show room. Again, a gas model, which can be plugged in easily using an extension cord, will provide an example of the control behavior of an electric appliance that shares the same controls.

In order to confirm the similarity of a brand's models, for the purpose of making accessibility decisions, a knowledgeable salesperson will be able to make comparisons using model numbers. Manufacturers offer lines of appliances, all of which have many common characteristics.

Speaking of sales personnel, identifying and relying on a knowledgeable sales professional is perhaps the single most important factor in ending up with appliances you enjoy using. When I began my shopping trip at Lowe's, I was fortunate to have a sales associate named Danny and his colleagues in the appliance department. Were it not for their patience as I manipulated controls and asked questions, gathering data to share with you would have been far more difficult. His willingness to climb behind a new washing machine model to plug it in for me, take my calls with follow-up questions about controls, and generally go out of his way to lend a hand, made this mission that much more effective.

Ask friends and family in your area about their shopping experiences in your community. Both positive and negative responses can guide you to a good vendor. National and local consumer organizations offer a quick connection to others who may be able to provide information. Listservs and other online resources may also be of use.

Once you are in the store, be clear about your needs and expectations. For some associates, assisting customers for whom accessibility is important may be handled in stride. For others, your particular requirements may throw them off balance to the extent that they are simply unable to be of assistance. Taking the direct route can move things along quickly if you draw the short straw. A simple statement such as "You seem to be uncomfortable with my blindness. I would like to work with a different associate, please" is both clear and allows the less capable individual to bow out.

I have encountered dozens of associates, many of whom fell into one of the categories above. For those in the middle, a bit of education may rescue a bad situation. If you can find any appliance that has controls you think are usable, pointing out what makes them work for you may help the associate to recognize similar controls on other models. This is especially true if you are interested in ordering a product that is not on display. Remember, even the largest department will have only a fraction of the total product line from a manufacturer.

Online information may be helpful. Major sites such as AJ Madison have some narrative that can provide a useful description. Unfortunately, I was not able to make a determination about a GE wall oven's controls when using the site with an experienced reader who knows about accessibility and had seen the GE oven in person the previous day. At the same time, several sales associates at Sears were able to make observations about the differences or similarities of controls once an understanding had been reached. The relatively comprehensive selection at Sears was useful as it was possible to identify an accessible set of controls from the manufacturer for purposes of comparison.

Despite all of your research and best efforts to select an accessible appliance, it is possible that unpacking the new washer or stove may reveal a dud. Ensuring that the store or online retailer has a 100% money back policy is absolutely imperative. Restocking fees of as much as 15 percent of the purchase price are not unheard of. A store credit refund policy is also not unheard of. Not refunding all of your money or leaving you stuck with hundreds or thousands of dollars in store credits at an establishment with which you absolutely do not want to do business would add insult to injury.

Clearly, exceptions are to be found. Outlet centers, the damaged/returned goods section of a big box store, or a scratch and dent sale offer some outstanding opportunities to save on these large-ticket purchases. It is worth noting that some of the most accessible appliances I have encountered were found at a Sears outlet store. The warehouse-like arrangement made it very simple to connect any gas range or washer to an extension cord to test the controls. A willing and surprisingly knowledgeable sales staff rounded out the picture.

Identifying accessible and useable appliances is an ongoing project at AccessWorld. Tracking this moving target means that we are constantly browsing appliance departments and sorting through manufacturer literature. We also value your experiences. For both non-visual access and low-vision use, we rely on your feedback. We do not have all the answers and trust that you will take time to share your experiences with us.

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Access Issues

HIMS vs. GW Micro: A Divorce with Two Happy Endings?

In the beginning, GW Micro was a company that sold just one product. In 1990, that product was Vocal-Eyes, a robust program that gave blind and visually impaired computers users full access to their DOS-based computers. Then, as Windows rapidly became de rigueur for computer users, the company's next generation, Window-Eyes, was born and has continued to evolve and flourish since that time. Six years ago, the company surprised many in the assistive technology industry when it branched out to introduce a braille notetaker. The Braille Sense, as it turned out, would be only one in a line of products manufactured by HIMS, Inc., a Korean company that established an exclusive distributorship agreement with GW Micro.

The portable products from HIMS have included braille and speech notetakers (Braille Sense and Voice Sense), a portable electronic magnifier (Sense View), and arguably the most popular of the line, a handheld DAISY book player (Book Sense), capable of playing books from a wide variety of sources, as well as music, podcasts, and document files with its built-in text-to-speech. Perhaps one of the most surprising news flashes in the assistive technology field this fall was the announcement that HIMS and GW Micro were getting a "divorce." HIMS, Inc., had decided, news releases announced, to set up shop in Austin, Tex., and GW Micro would no longer be the U.S. dealer. Such an abrupt rearranging of the furniture sparks the curiosity flame in most of us, and AccessWorld staff decided to investigate. Sometimes, when you understand what is going on in a relationship, it makes interacting with each half of the "couple" more comfortable for everyone. The story behind the story may not be astonishing, but should help all of us who are customers or potential customers of these two companies better understand how to navigate the waters.

I spoke with Dan Weirach, vice president of sales and marketing for GW Micro (and the "W" preceded by Doug Geoffray's "G" in the company's moniker), in preparing this article. HIMS's decision, he said, was as much a surprise to the Indiana-based GW Micro as to everyone else. The company thought long and hard before agreeing to sell the HIMS line of products, he said, and subsequently turned down other companies due to the exclusive nature of the agreement between the two entities. In Korea, HIMS is noted for its closed-circuit television (CCTV) products for low-vision users, and the company indicated a desire to ramp up marketing efforts for CCTVs in the United States. That was the only indication, Weirach said, that all was not well in Camelot. In August, GW Micro was surprised, as its customers would eventually be, that HIMS had decided to sever the relationship and open the Austin office.

"We're not pleased," Weirach said, "but we're optimistic, too, that this will be a positive move for everyone. We're certainly not turning out the lights!"

In the six years that GW Micro has promoted the HIMS products in the United States, the Indiana company has done far more than simply sell readymade wares to its U.S. customers. Each product has had considerable testing connected with it, and that testing has led to numerous improvements and the addition of new features. All manuals have been rewritten and enhanced for English-language users, and e-mail-based conversations have been ongoing components. As exclusive U.S. distributors, in other words, GW Micro took some basically good products and committed significant energy and talent into making them better.

Still, companies are run by humans, and humans evolve and change their minds. I spoke with James McCarthy, president of the newly established HIMS, Inc., in Austin, and a veteran consumer and distributor of assistive technology products. The decision, he said, was by no means sudden or impulsive. Essentially, after considerable exploration, the Korean-based company felt that it would be a positive move for HIMS and its U.S. customers if a stronger U.S. presence were established. "The desire is to get closer to the consumers, better understand the needs of the consumers, and develop the best products based on what we learn," McCarthy said.

In addition to McCarthy, the Austin-based office, which opened its doors in early November, comprises eight people, with several decades of combined business and technological experience with blindness and low-vision products. Randy Ahn, director of operations, will serve as the "bridge" between the Korean parent company and HIMS in Austin.

GW Micro will continue as an exclusive dealer in the state of Indiana. Whether those who have been dealers around the country will continue to sell and support these products remains to be seen, but logic dictates that they will. The products are reliable and popular, and most dealers in this industry recognize the value of loyalty.

The question now is what these companies plan to do next. First and foremost, McCarthy said that customers who already own any of the HIMS products can rest assured that warranties will be honored and technical support will be provided. Customers who have purchased extended warranties from GW Micro will get service from GW Micro, which will in turn get additional assistance from HIMS if parts are required. Next, although the website is still under construction, it is expected to be fully functional by mid- to late-January, and all of the product e-mail listservs, currently on hold, will once again be online. Most significant is the product line. In addition to continued sales of all existing products, HIMS is introducing new models and planning promotions for products not yet familiar to U.S. customers. Three new versions of familiar products being introduced are the feature-rich Braille Sense OnHand, the QWERTY Voice Sense, and the Book Sense DS. McCarthy stressed that earlier versions of each of the products will continue to be available.

HIMS is the leading distributor of video magnification products in Korea, so it comes as no surprise that the company plans to promote those products more extensively here. In addition to the Sense View Portable, Sense View Lite, and Sense View Duo, the company also has a line of desktop CCTVs that will be marketed more aggressively.

As for GW Micro, emphasis at present is on the next release of its flagship product, Window-Eyes, as well as on the company's already thriving training efforts. "In our entire industry," Weirach commented, "if there's something that needs to be done, it's training. … The employment problem is getting worse, and training is a key factor in preparing for employment."

The company has expanded its training efforts around the country, particularly its popular scripting classes, and plans to increase the already successful telephone trainings. In late September, GW Micro was invited to provide training for Microsoft staff in Washington state.

"It was quite an honor," Weirach said. "This wasn't the accessibility team, but the entire Microsoft staff--people who aren't familiar with screenreading concepts--so it was a great opportunity."

Will GW Micro handle any other products in future? As with any breakup, Weirach said the company is exercising caution with regard to the "rebound" factor. That said, GW Micro has been approached by some as-yet unnamed manufacturers and may distribute an additional product or two in the future.

For the ATIA conference in Orlando, GW Micro expects to release a new Window-Eyes version with some impressive features. Also at ATIA, HIMS will roll out its new U.S. website and various new products.

Wondering which partner to talk to after the divorce? Both companies are developing high-quality products of interest to blind and visually impaired customers. In this instance, both parties are optimistic and moving forward with good news for the blindness and low-vision marketplace.

For more information about GW Micro training and Window-Eyes releases, visit the GW Micro website or call 260-489-3671. For more information about HIMS, Inc., visit the HIMS website or call 888-520-4467.

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Product Reviews

A Review of WinZoom 4 and the Windows 7 Magnifier

If you are looking for a screen-magnification program for your PC, there are a wide variety of options out there. In past issues, AccessWorld has provided evaluations of the major full-featured magnifiers, including ZoomText, MAGic, and Lunar Plus. Aside from these magnifiers, however, there are also many mid-range and free magnifiers available for the less advanced user. This article examines one mid-range magnifier, WinZoom, and one free magnifier, the magnifier program built into the latest version of Windows.

This article examines the WinZoom Screen Magnifier and Reader Version 4 and the Windows 7 magnifier. These screen magnifiers were evaluated based on documentation and electronic help, ease of installation, control panels, display features, navigation and use, and speech output. For each feature, the magnifiers were evaluated using a variety of programs and tasks. The WinZoom magnifier was also tested on both Windows XP and Windows 7 personal computers (PC).

WinZoom 4.0

The program evaluated in this article is WinZoom Screen Magnifier and Reader Version 4.0.1061. WinZoom is available in two versions: WinZoom Standard, which comes on a single CD and installs on a computer as do most screen magnifiers, and WinZoom USB, which is a USB thumb drive that can plug into any PC and start automatically without the need for an install. Both versions have minimum computer requirements: an Intel Pentium 1.6-Ghz or equivalent processor, at least 1 GB of RAM, 15 MB of hard drive space, and one of the following operating systems: Windows XP (with SP2), Windows Vista, or Windows 7. A sound card is also required for the reader.

Documentation and Electronic Help

Both versions of WinZoom are shipped with a user's manual in 18-point Arial font, a one-page Quickstart guide in 12-point font, and either the installation CD or USB thumb drive. The users of this product have low vision, so the 12-point-font Quickstart guide will be unreadable for most and should be increased to at least an 18-point font. An electronic copy of the manual is provided with the program, on either the CD or thumb drive. The manual is in PDF format, although we would have preferred a more accessible HTML or text format. Unfortunately, the program itself doesn't have a help menu, meaning that for any issues or questions about the program's use, you need to refer to the PDF or user manual.

The included manual is informative and well organized, with larger text and helpful images. However, there are some instances where the images show examples of on-screen menus and dialog boxes with very small print, but most of these are accompanied with an explanation. The user manual uses a paperback binding, which could be improved by changing to a spiral binding, which would make the manual easier to place flat on a table or a closed-circuit television's x-y table.

Ease of Installation

As mentioned before, the WinZoom is unique from other screen magnifiers in that it can be installed to a PC or run directly off of a thumb drive. If you use WinZoom USB, the startup process is incredibly quick and easy. Once the USB is plugged into the computer, the program will start automatically on Windows XP machines (Windows Vista and 7 require the user to click through a single prompt). The program takes about a minute to startup, and does not require any activation. The USB drive is incredibly useful when you need to use the magnifier on multiple computers, such as in a library or when traveling. When using the USB drive, it is very important that the USB drive not be removed from the PC without being properly ejected — improper removal of the thumb drive could damage the program.

If you would prefer to have a copy of WinZoom permanently installed on your computer, this can be done through WinZoom Standard. After inserting the WinZoom installation CD, the installation should start automatically. The installation prompts are all in large print, but are not accompanied with any speech. After installation is finished, you have the option to activate the program immediately or anytime within the next 30 days. Until the program is activated, it will run as a trial version with all the functionality of an activated program. After 30 days, the software must be activated in order to continue to use it.

The Menu Bar and Controls

When you start WinZoom, the menu bar appears on the screen and contains all of the controls for using the program. The menu bar is the main tool used for adjusting the settings for the magnifier, including Zoom Level, Lens Style, Color, Mouse Pointer and Locator, and Font Smoothing. There is also a miscellaneous tab where you can change hotkeys and configure various minor aspects of the program.

Image of the WinZoom control panel.

Caption: The WinZoom control panel

Zoom Levels

WinZoom features a wide range of magnification levels from 1x to 36x, with 1.5x, 2x, and 2.5x for a great deal of flexibility. It is our experience, however, that magnification levels above 16x can be very difficult to use as such a small portion of the screen is in view at any given time.

Lens

WinZoom gives you eight lens styles (the style of the magnified view) from which to choose: Full Screen, Line, Docked Lens, Movable Lens, and four docked positions (top, bottom, left, and right). The size of the lens windows can be easily adjusted using the menu bar, although none of the other styles can be adjusted. Each style offers a unique way of viewing material on the screen.

Color

WinZoom features a number of color settings that allow you to modify the displayed colors. However, unlike ZoomText or other high-end magnifiers, you cannot specify the color scheme used, but instead must use one of the preset options. Fortunately, there are a number of different options to choose from: Blue Tint, Invert Colors, Remove Red, Remove Green, Remove Blue, Replace White, High Contrast, Grayscale, White on Black, and Black on White.

Mouse Pointer and Locator

WinZoom allows you to modify the size and color of the mouse pointer, and add an additional locator to the pointer to make it easier to find the pointer on the screen. You can choose from three sizes and four different colors for the pointer, and have the option of adding a large circle or cross around the cursor. WinZoom allows for flexibility in choosing the color and style combination that works best for you.

Font Smoothing

WinZoom features a font-smoothing feature, similar to the X-font feature found in ZoomText, that is supposed to keep text from becoming pixelated and increasingly hard to read as you increase magnification. This is a problem that most screen magnifier users are familiar with, and is a welcome feature. Unfortunately, Font Smoothing in WinZoom does not work as well as you might hope. This feature is designed to work on any displayed non-image text, such as webpages or text documents, but works very sporadically and unreliably.

In many cases, the smoothing only worked on a few words in an entire paragraph, which made the text look disjointed and difficult to read. Additionally, the magnifier moved much more slowly with Font Smoothing on, as though it was difficult for the computer to keep up. For slower computers, it can be incredibly difficult to navigate around the screen while Font Smoothing is turned on. All in all, the Font Smoothing feature in WinZoom was largely unhelpful, which is a disappointment considering how important that feature can be.

AlignIt

WinZoom has a feature called AlignIt, which can be used to format the text on webpages to make it appear more user friendly. The AlignIt tool is activated either by hitting its hotkey when Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox is focused, or selecting text with the mouse and holding it for more than two seconds. This will bring up a new window that contains only the text from that page.

Although this would seem to be a useful feature, AlignIt is difficult to navigate in practice. If the webpage contains a large amount of text, or if you use a large magnification, the AlignIt tool will only be able to feature a small portion of the text at any time, and it can difficult to move around the page using the mouse. In our experience, it was much easier and preferable simply to use the magnifier on the original page; AlignIt did not offer any advantages.

Hotkeys

WinZoom uses hotkeys that can be used to control the magnifier without having to manually focus it. These hotkeys can be used to enable/disable speech and magnification, increase or decrease zoom level, toggle between lens styles, quit, and AlignIt. Unfortunately, there are not any shortcuts for more advanced features, such as color modification or voice modification. When first installed, the program comes with a set of default hotkeys specified in the user manual, but these can be changed at any time through the menu bar.

Navigation and Use

Most screen magnifiers give you the option of following focus with the mouse and the keyboard, but the magnifier in WinZoom does not follow keyboard focus. This means that the magnifier will only move with the mouse. This can be a major problem for anyone who uses their keyboard to navigate around their computer. It is particularly noticeable when working in a text document or filling out a form online; because the magnified area follows your mouse, you must constantly keep moving your mouse cursor so that it keeps up with your written text. This makes WinZoom nearly unusable when trying to write any sizable amount of text, and restricts it mainly to more casual use, such as moving around a webpage.

When using the mouse to move the magnifier around the screen, the ability of WinZoom to follow your mouse cursor smoothly depends largely on the strength of your computer. On newer and faster computers, WinZoom can follow the cursor with little effort and it is very easy to move around the screen. When used on older PCs, however, the magnifier can have a lot of trouble keeping up with the mouse cursor. Often, you'll move the mouse and will have to wait a second for the magnifier to move with it, which can make it difficult to move around the screen.

The slowdown can be even more pronounced when using multiple features, most noticeably the font smoothing feature. Although the slowdown was never so bad as to make the program unusable, it was still very annoying and made fine movement, such as following a single line of text across the screen, very difficult. If you are interested in WinZoom, it is strongly advised that you try the trial version first to make sure that it can run on your PC without too much difficulty.

Speech Output

WinZoom also features a basic screenreader in addition to the magnifier. This is not a full screenreader, and is simply meant to assist the magnifier. Speech can be turned on and off using the menu bar. You can also adjust speech settings, including volume, speech rate, and voice type: male or female. There is no support to add additional voices, but the voices used do work well enough for most purposes.

The speech can be used to read text underneath the mouse, read text as it is being typed, echo keyboard presses, and read documents, to name a few uses, but it still lacks the depth found in other readers. For example, although the reader can be used to read documents and webpages, you only have the option of reading the whole document at once or a single highlighted line. Also, WinZoom will not read any text highlighted by the keyboard as opposed to the mouse, which can make navigating through a form difficult.

More advanced users may find the speech to be slow compared to most screenreaders, even at the fastest setting. There can also be a noticeable delay in receiving voice feedback after selecting text or typing characters. Having speech enabled keeps you from moving too quickly, or else the speech will be unable to keep up. That being said, the speech output is still a welcome feature, but lacks the depth found in other programs and can be used only to provide additional assistance with the magnifier.

The Bottom Line

In terms of functionality and scope, WinZoom does not compare with higher-cost, more full-featured screen magnifiers or readers such as ZoomText or LunarPlus, but if you are looking for a nice, mid-range magnifier solution, particularly one for traveling or multiple computers, the WinZoom USB/Standard could work for you. WinZoom is very easy to install and use, but it is limited by its lack of support for keyboard focus and significant slowdown on older PCs. If you are interested in WinZoom, we recommend that you download a free 30-day trial to make sure that the program can run on your PC and works well for your needs.

Windows 7 Magnifier

Every version of Windows dating back to Windows 98 has had a built-in screen magnifier as part of its accessibility tools. This magnifier remained mostly unchanged between versions, and was a very basic magnifier that offered little in terms of usability or function.

With the release of Windows 7, Microsoft has revisited the magnifier program and updated it to provide additional functionality and capability. The magnifier is still a very basic program, but as a free, automatically installed option, it may be a useful tool for many basic users. The question is whether this program addresses the problems presented by older versions.

Set Up

Like previous versions, the magnifier does not require any activation or installation process and can be turned on through the start menu. The program can be found under "Accessories" in a folder titled "Ease of Access." Once selected, the magnifier will open up in a new window in the center of the screen. Unfortunately, there is not a keyboard shortcut to open up the program, but new to this magnifier is the ability to set the magnifier to automatically start when the computer turns on.

Image of the Windows 7 Magnifier control panel

Caption: The Windows 7 Magnifier control panel

The control panel for the new magnifier uses a very small and simple interface, and is a departure from the check boxes and drop-down menus of earlier versions. Instead, the magnifier consists only of a plus and minus button to control zoom, a drop-down menu to set the lens type, a button to bring up settings, and a help button.

After using the magnifier for just a few minutes, you will notice a troubling feature: When the program is not in focus, such as when you select another program in the background, the panel will be replaced by a partially transparent magnifying glass that stays on top of all other windows. Clicking on the magnifying glass will make the control panel reappear. This is meant to keep the control panel from getting in the way while you navigate around the screen, but it can make the panel difficult to find once it loses focus. The magnifying glass is fairly small, and can blend into the background easily. This can be a big problem, and is one that should be fixed by Windows; there is no reason for the control panel to hide just because it loses focus. Fortunately, this version of magnifier does have keyboard shortcuts that make it possible to adjust magnification without having to use the control panel.

Zoom Levels

The magnifier provides zoom levels from 100 (1x) to 1,600 (16x) percent in increments of 100 percent. As with previous versions, though, the magnifier does not work very well at higher levels of magnifications, particular with small text. The magnifier does not use any font smoothing, and as the magnifier zooms in, the text can become very blocky and difficult to read. This is especially troubling for fonts that use anti-aliasing, such as Times-New Roman, which can appear blurry at higher magnification.

Appearance

New to the Windows 7 magnifier is the ability to change the appearance and position of the magnifier. In past versions, the magnifier was restricted to a dock on the top of the screen. This magnifier gives you the option to choose between full screen, lens, or docked modes. In the settings for the magnifier, you can change the size and position of the lens and invert the colors on the screen. There is also a user-friendly, step-by-step interface in the settings that will guide you through adjusting the fonts used by Windows. Although this is a nice feature, many of the menus used in this process had small text and images that were difficult to read. Also, the changes that could be made to the font were fairly minor and did not contribute much to its accessibility.

Focus

The magnifier can be set to follow mouse and/or keyboard focus, and in use does move smoothly. The mouse focus is very tight, and has no glaring issues. Keyboard focus is effective at navigating through forms or menus, but has some issues when typing. If you try to use the magnifier in Microsoft Word or a similar program, the focus will not follow you as you type. Trying to type a large amount of text can be incredibly difficult as you will have to use the mouse constantly to move the magnifier to keep it in view. Keyboard focus also has trouble keeping focus when navigating in a list or drop-down menu.

The Bottom Line

For a very basic level magnifier, the Windows 7 magnifier is a significant improvement over previous versions, but is still far less capable than you would find from a third-party screen magnifier. The lack of options for color modes and font smoothing, along with the problems with blocky and blurry text and keyboard focus make it difficult to recommend this program to any visually impaired user. That being said, for a free program built into Windows, this magnifier is usable for basic functions and improves on earlier Windows magnifiers by adding keyboard shortcuts and a full screen mode.

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AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Readers Contribute Another Useful Shopping Site

As its name suggests, Buythecase.net allows shoppers to buy products by the case. According to two AccessWorld readers, who were kind enough to respond to a recent review of Soap.com, the site is recommended for purchasing bulk items. In addition, specialty items that may be difficult to find in local stores may be available through this site.

Our readers report that they purchase toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue, and canned foods they eat regularly on this site. They caution would-be shoppers that one of the things to know about bulk purchasing sites is that you are buying entire cases of things, so you had better like them. "We eat a lot of canned tuna, so buying 24 cans at a time isn't a stretch. It will be eaten."

Our readers note that they use this site primarily because neither drives, and getting out to the store in winter can be a problem even though there are stores within walking distance of their house. They have a full basement and garage to store products, so buying extra is not a problem. "We've also bartered with neighbors for different things from our stock."

The couple navigates the website with either a combination of ZoomText and Window-Eyes, or Window-Eyes alone.

Town Hall Meeting at ATIA Orlando 2011 Hosted by ATIA Blind/Low-Vision Special Interest Group

Date: Thursday, January 27, 12:00 to 1:00 pm

Location: ATIA 2011 Orlando Conference, Caribe Royale Orlando All-Suite Hotel and Convention Center, Bonaire 1/2 Room

Focus: Identify today's challenges and help guide the direction of assistive technology including discussion on accessible workplace technology.

This will be an open forum to discuss obstacles facing individual users and support professionals; resources needed for individual success; feedback for vendors; and general discussion.

Please complete the form to RSVP for the BLV Town Hall Meeting.

This meeting welcomes all stakeholders including educators, assistive technology specialists, rehab professionals, workplace specialists, occupational therapists, researchers, vendors, consumers, families, and caregivers.

Verizon Replaces LG 8360 with LG Accolade

Verizon Wireless has long offered a series of mobile phones from LG that are popular among people with vision loss because they feature a significant level of built-in accessibility. The latest phone in this line is the LG Accolade, a flip phone that replaces the LG 8360. Verizon still offers the LG EnV3, which features similar accessibility with the addition of a QWERTY keyboard. These phones are feature phones and do not have all the bells and whistles of a smartphone, but they are popular because they have speech output and speech recognition to provide access to basic, but important, telecommunications features. Some of the accessible features of these phones include tactile keypads; talking caller ID; status information, such as time/date, battery, and signal strength; contacts; and limited access to menus and texting. The latest pricing for the LG Accolade is $39 for a two-year plan or $99 without a plan.

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Copyright © 2011 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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