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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 3

In This Issue

Editor's Page

Accessing the Value of a Dollar

Lee Huffman

Access Issues

A Tech Geek Talks Money: An AFB TECH Lab Rat Discusses the Accessibility of Financial Technology

This article discusses technology tools available for managing accounts and conducting other financial business. Learn more about online banking and investing, computer and smartphone accounting applications, talking teller machines, and the latest news in currency identification.--Darren Burton

The Good Guys at the IRS: A Look at IRS Accessibility

In this article, the author shares the stories of a couple "good guys" at the IRS, along with tips and a list of important tax information resources that will hopefully help your 2010 filing go smoothly.--Deborah Kendrick

Accessing eBay: Tips on Buying and Selling for Screen Reader Users

If you are interested in making money by selling your unwanted items, read this step by step guide to accessing eBay with a screen reader.--Janet Ingber

It's in the Bank: A Snapshot of Accessible Online Financial Services

In this article, the author discusses his experiences with the accessibility of online banking.--Marc Grossman

Letter to the Editor

A cell Phone Question

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News


Editor's Page

Accessing the Value of a Dollar

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld Readers,

Ready or not…it's here! Tax time! The time of year we all look forward to with anticipation, almost like a holiday!!! Well, maybe not.

For most Americans, managing personal finances—and especially preparing annual state and federal taxes—is a source of sometimes overwhelming stress, anxiety, and frustration. Trying to read and understand tax forms and new laws while searching through folders, shoe boxes, and electronic files to find long-lost documents and receipts can try anyone's patience. If you are a person with vision loss, tax time can be even more exasperating.

In this issue of AccessWorld, our team has assembled a group of articles that cover topics ranging from the accessibility of bank websites for personal checking and savings accounts, to money management software, to finding accessible tax forms and information, to finding assistance with completing and filing your taxes for free.

We at AccessWorld encourage you to take a proactive approach to your personal finances, which may mean finding an accessible method of independently keeping your check book register, independently withdrawing cash from your local ATM, researching and investing in the stock market, or planning for your retirement.

Whatever your situation, everyone must deal with money, and being able to do so independently is crucial. Remember: money talks!

We would like to hear from you concerning your experiences accessing banking and financial services. We want to find out how well these institutions are meeting the needs of people with vision loss, and we want to be able to demonstrate to these same institutions that there is still more work to be done to improve accessibility. Please take a few moments to participate in our survey. Results will be shared in a future AccessWorld issue, and the responses you provide will help AFB reach out to the banking industry to improve accessibility.

Sincerely,

Lee Huffman
Editor-in-Chief

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Access Issues

A Tech Geek Talks Money: An AFB TECH Lab Rat Discusses the Accessibility of Financial Technology

When I heard this issue of AccessWorld would focus on finance, I figured I better put in my two cents—and in these economic times, that is just about all I can afford. Instead of my usual product evaluation article, here I briefly discuss some of the technology tools available for managing accounts and conducting other financial business. I cover online banking and investing, computer and smartphone accounting applications, talking teller machines, and the latest news in currency identification.

Online Banking

For me, accessible online banking is the best thing since sliced bread. I conduct all my personal banking activities online. All the services available on my bank's website are accessible, and I have used JAWS, Window-Eyes, and System Access on the site. Online, I can easily track the ledgers for my checking and savings accounts, pay bills, transfer funds between accounts and set up electronic transfers to my retirement and investment accounts at other financial institutions. It's easy to track my spending habits and create reports based on expense categories or certain payees.

Financial security and awareness are other benefits of accessible online banking. My wife and I have joint accounts, and she just loves it when I call to question her about a purchase before she even gets home from the mall. Her usual response is something that I can't print here, so I'm trying not to do that too often. Luckily, my gambling transactions are done strictly in cash, so she has no way to track them. (I just hope she never decides to read my AccessWorld articles!) On a more serious note, because it's so easy to monitor your account activity online, I was once able to catch a fraudulent transaction and alert the bank in time to cancel it.

What used to be a real chore to manage my accounts is now a breeze thanks to accessibility of my bank's website. Balancing my checkbook is a thing of the past, and I haven't hand-written a check for at least a half-dozen years. Handling these tasks online eliminates the struggles of using computer-based check writing programs and the tedium of using a writing guide to fill out a check by hand.

Accessible Online Banking Sites

Because an account is needed to fully evaluate a bank's online banking services, I'm not able to provide insights into the accessibility of the various banking sites out there. However, I did query my colleagues and came up with a short list of bank sites with accessible online services:

I encourage you to investigate your bank's online services; send an e-mail to the editor to let us know about any accessible banking sites you discover.

Computer-based Money Management Tools

Most commercial software products used for financial enterprise are not compatible with most screen readers, and that is a serious and unfortunate obstacle to employment for people with vision loss in the accounting and financial sectors. In personal accounting, however, there are accessible options for managing your finances on your computer.

Money Talks

Available from the American Printing House for the Blind, Money Talks ($49) is an account management program for use on a Windows PC. You can create, manage, and print/emboss check registers for all your bank accounts, and you can also print checks. If you have an online bank account, Money Talks can import your transaction information from your bank and use it to reconcile your check register. You can also create categories of transactions and create summary reports for each category. People with low vision can print their register in their preferred font size and type. Money Talks has its own self-voicing tool, or you can use it with your preferred screen reader. You can download a free demo copy to try before purchasing the full product by visiting the American Printing House for the Blind's website.

Microsoft Excel

During my previous career in the investment business, I extensively used Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to track my clients' accounts. After I lost my sight, I continued to use Excel to keep track of my own accounts. The more you learn about spreadsheets, the more you can do with them. In Excel it's easy to set up ledgers and check registers for your bank accounts, set up your spreadsheets to automatically calculate your balance every time you enter a transaction, and generate reports to track your spending habits. Excel is also a good tool for calculating amortization and mortgage or loan payments if you decide to buy a house or an automobile.

If you want to learn more, De Witt & Associates sells training modules for learning how to use Excel and other office applications with screen readers and screen magnifiers. Visit the DeWitt & Associates website for more information.

Mac Software: Splasm Checkbook

Although I have not investigated it, Apple's website lists Checkbook as finance software that is compatible with Apple's VoiceOver screen reader. Priced at $14.95 for a single user or $24.95 for a family pack, Checkbook comes from Splasm Software. The Splasm site describes Checkbook as a "friendly personal finance tool" that "gets the basics just right and keeps it simple." It has a feature set that is very similar to those I described above for Money Talks, and you can also download a free demo to try it out at the Splasm Software website.

iPhone Apps

As I mentioned before, my bank's online services are accessible, and their services are just as accessible on my iPhone as they are on my computer. That was a real bonus recently when weather delays left me stranded at an airport and I had to transfer money to my bank card for dinner and a hotel.

Bank of America and Wells Fargo

Many banks have their own apps designed specifically for accessing their banking features on an iPhone, and the folks at the Mac-cessibility Network have identified two mobile apps compatible with VoiceOver. Bank of America and Wells Fargo customers with iPhones might want to check out their free mobile banking apps, which allow you to do basic online banking tasks, such as checking balances, paying bills, and transferring funds, from your phone. Each also has the ability to use GPS to find nearby branch and ATM locations, a feature not available on their regular websites.

Cash Tracker

Cash Tracker is a $1.99 iPhone app for budgeting and tracking your expenses. It has a register for entering and tracking all your transactions. You can create weekly, monthly, and annual budgets for your expense categories, and easily compare your actual expenses with your budgeted goals. You can also create customizable reports of your expenses, and you can e-mail yourself your transaction history as an Excel-compatible spreadsheet. Although Cash Tracker is compatible with VoiceOver, there are a few unlabelled buttons you have to learn, and a few buttons are not identified by VoiceOver as actual buttons.

Online Investing

Unfortunately, in my less focused, free-spending youth I could never afford the luxury of setting up an online investment account for trading stocks and bonds in any way other than my retirement account. However, I did recently go through the paces of setting up an account on the E-trade website, and it was a fully accessible process. Though I don't yet know how well their account and trade reports are designed, the information they provide about their accounts is fully accessible.

If you work in a non-profit organization, your employer may offer a retirement plan managed by TIAA-CREF, the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equity Fund. Although their online services are not perfect from an accessibility standpoint, I am able to get most of my account information and make adjustments to my retirement portfolio.

Talking Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs)

Talking ATMs allow people with vision loss to independently check account balances, transfer funds, and withdraw cash. Thanks to advocacy efforts lead by the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and other organizations, and to the considerable efforts of the Law Office of Lainey Feingold, there are now nearly 100,000 talking ATMs in the United States.

According to Feingold's website, among the banks in the United States that have installed Talking ATMs are the following: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, Citibank, Citizens Bank, Washington Mutual, Union Bank of California, BankNorth, Chevy Chase Bank, LaSalle Bank, Sovereign Bank, HSBC, Wachovia, San Francisco Federal Credit Union, and the State Employees Credit Union (North Carolina). All ATM manufacturers do make talking ATMs, so if your bank doesn't have one, try doing some advocacy.

You can read more about talking ATMs on Lainey Feingold's site.

Feingold also reports that the United States Department of Justice recently announced the revised 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which for the first time include detailed requirements for talking ATMs. You can read about the standards on Lainey Feingold's website.

Currency Identification

As many of you know, there has been a lot of talk in our community (as well as a fair bit of controversy) around the issue of currency identification. In 2002, the ACB sued the U.S. Treasury for their failure to design paper currency that is easily identifiable by people with vision loss. The National Federation of the Blind opposed the lawsuit, claiming that the publicity surrounding the lawsuit would reinforce the notion that blind people cannot easily handle currency as it now exists, and that it could negatively affect the chances of a blind person applying for a job that involves handling money. Nevertheless, a federal judge ruled in favor of the ACB, and the ruling has since been upheld in one appellate court.

As a result, the U.S. Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) has been working to come up with a currency design that complies with the court order and provides people with vision loss meaningful access to U.S. currency. They are also giving appropriate consideration to the interests of domestic and international users of currency, U.S. businesses, and cash-handling and cash intensive industries.

In May 2010, the BEP issued a notice to inform the public of the strategies they intend to propose to the Secretary of the Treasury to accommodate people who are blind or visually impaired, and to solicit public comment on the proposed accommodations. According to the notice, the three main options under consideration are as follows:

  • I. Tactile Feature. As part of the next currency redesign, BEP will develop and deploy a raised tactile feature that builds upon current tactile feature technologies. The tactile feature will be unique to each Federal Reserve note denomination that it may lawfully change, and will provide users with a means of identifying each denomination by way of touch.
  • II. Large, High-Contrast Numerals. Consistent with current practice, BEP will continue its practice of adding large, high-contrast numerals and different and distinct color schemes to each denomination that it is permitted by law to alter to further assist visually impaired citizens.
  • III. Supplemental Currency Reader Program. BEP also proposes to recommend to the Secretary of the Treasury a supplemental measure that will be taken in order to provide access to U.S. currency. This measure would involve a process to loan and distribute currency readers to the blind and visually impaired at no cost to them. BEP believes this process will ameliorate difficulties stemming from the transition that will occur during the co-circulation of notes with and without a tactile feature and large, high contrast numerals, a transition which will persist for many years after the introduction of the tactile-enhanced note.

To read the full notice, "Meaningful Access to United States Currency for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons," visit the Federal Register website.

Currency Identification Tools

There are now several hardware and software tools on the market for identifying U.S. currency. The hardware tools designed specifically for identifying currency include the iBill, NoteTeller2, and Money Talks (note: this Money Talks product is different from the accounting software mentioned earlier). The software products that can identify U.S. currency include products many of us use for scanning and reading printed text, such as the Kurzweil 1000 and Open Book. The KNFB Reader is a cell phone scanning and reading tool that also identifies currency. For iPhone users, the oMoby object identification app and the Vision Hunt app have currency identification functionality.

Personally, I prefer iBill on the hardware side, and oMoby on the iPhone. I would not recommend the first version of the Vision Hunt app.

The Bottom Line

I couldn't resist adding a "Bottom Line" section, even though for this piece I don't have the type of conclusions I usually offer at the close my product evaluation articles. This article is by no means an exhaustive roundup of all the available options for financial management. I know there are other techniques and tools out there, so please let us know of other tools you have found to be useful. We would be particularly interested in any commercial accounting tools that you have found to be accessible.

Here's one final thought for those of you who might be worried about the security of conducting financial business online. I'm certainly not a security expert, but I do generally trust the security of my e-transactions. That said, identity theft is on the rise, and you may want to take steps to protect yourself. A financial advisor recently recommended that I consider identity protection insurance; you may want to investigate this option as well.

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Access Issues

The Good Guys at the IRS: A Look at IRS Accessibility

Several years ago, I was somewhat traumatized by the news that I was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. The mistake was a simple one, made by my accountant rather than by me, but it cost me thousands of dollars and an inordinate degree of anxiety. At the time, I felt that the IRS was an ogre of an entity and, like a parent of sorts, would always have the last word. Though I tried to unravel the problem, I ultimately paid my penalty and tried to slink back into the shadows. Since then, I've paid closer attention to my tax preparation, and have spent some time educating myself about the information resources the IRS makes available to citizens. Along the way, I've had the privilege to meet a couple "good guys" at the IRS. I share their stories here, along with some tips and a list of important tax information resources that will hopefully help your 2010 filing go smoothly.

Tips and Reminders for 2010

Here are a few things to keep in mind this year when you prepare your taxes.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) was responsible for paying out nearly $60 billion in 2010 to some 26 million Americans, with an average payment of $2,000. There are about 20 criteria determining qualification, but generally, if your income is in the low to moderate range, you are a U.S. citizen, have a Social Security number, and are between the ages of 25 and 65, you probably qualify. A couple filing jointly, for instance, earning less than $49,000, with three qualifying children, can receive up to $5,600. (A qualifying child is a child under age 24 who is a full-time student or a child of any age who is permanently disabled). Note that disability benefits such as SSI, SSDI, or Veterans' benefits do not count as income for this credit. To qualify, you must have other earned income. To find out more, visit the IRS website and search for EITC.

Free Tax Preparation

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) has 90,000 certified volunteers preparing tax returns free of charge for people with disabilities all over the country. Typically, returns are filed electronically which means a quicker refund and no paper for you to handle. Centers are open January through April 15 or, in some places, April 18. Hours vary. Most are open Monday through Friday during the day, but evenings and Saturdays are also offered. Some require appointments, but many have no appointment requirements. To find the center nearest you, type the name of your state plus the word VITA (e.g., "New York VITA" or "Michigan VITA" without the quotes) in the search box on the IRS homepage.

You can also file your own return electronically free of charge by taking advantage of the Free File program. This is made possible by a group of tax preparation software companies (TurboTax and others) who have formed an alliance in order to provide free filing to those who meet income qualifications.

Investing Your Refund

When you file electronically and are due a tax refund, you can have that refund deposited electronically as well. You can even have your refund divided, according to your instructions, into as many as three parts. If, for instance, your refund is $5,000, you could direct that $2,000 be deposited into your IRA, $1,000 be used to purchase two $500 savings bonds from the IRS, and the remaining $2,000 be deposited directly into your personal checking account to pay bills or buy yourself a present for being such a savvy taxpayer! There is no cost for dividing your refund in this manner.

Two Profiles of IRS Employees

I've had the opportunity to talk to two IRS employees with disabilities, both with very interesting stories to tell.

Working for the Good Guys: Richard Keeling

Last summer I attended a workshop at the National Industries for the Blind. The workshop presenter was Richard Keeling, a senior tax analyst with Education and Outreach at IRS, a department he likes to refer to as "the good guys" at the IRS. At the IRS, he says, "we apply tax law and collect taxes, but we also have programs to help people save money." His department works with over twenty partnering organizations—including the National Industries for the Blind, American Council of the Blind, and United Way—to assist people in preparing tax returns, understanding qualifications for tax credits, and even investing the money received in tax refunds.

Keeling's first experience with the IRS was to land a job in 1982 under Schedule A hiring. Keeling is quadriplegic due to a diving accident at age 16, and Schedule A offers noncompetitive, essentially guaranteed interviews to people with disabilities. His example is one of many that illustrates that people with disabilities are not "stuck" in lower level jobs. In 1982, he was hired at a GS4 level, and today, as a senior tax analyst, he is ranked as a GS14, nearly at the top of the IRS food chain. He says 3.5 percent of his department's workforce has disabilities, and they actively recruit in employees with disabilities. In our conversation, he rapidly named various coworkers who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, hearing impaired, or have polio or spinal cord injuries.

People with disabilities can be found in all IRS service centers around the country. Accommodations are typically made, although some blind employees report that on-the-job accommodations do vary somewhat from one supervisor to another.

Serving His Country: Brian McCann

When Brian McCann was in high school, he wanted to join the military. Even as a little kid, he fantasized about being in the U.S. Army or Navy. His actual enlistment encounter, as it turned out, was with the U.S. Marines. Although his visual acuity at the time was measured at 20/30, the Marines quickly learned of his diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa—a diagnosis shared by most members in his family—and his offer to serve was rejected. He found employment, and was rapidly promoted to management roles in every job—from K-Mart to the state of Virginia—but after a few years, the retinitis pigmentosa kicked into gear and his vision began diminishing rapidly. The Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired in his home state of Virginia sent him to a seven-month training program at Lions World in Arkansas, where he ultimately graduated from the IRS training program with the highest score, 99.8, that program had awarded. As promised, he was hired under Schedule A (noncompetitive hiring for people with disabilities) and began his career in tax collection at the IRS Service Center on Long Island, New York.

He was one of at least twenty people with a visible disability at his particular service center, six or seven of whom were blind or visually impaired, and he loved his job. The IRS had accommodated him with a laptop equipped with ZoomText, and JAWS screen-reading software and an Amigo portable electronic magnifier. His role was to investigate errors in the tax returns of small businesses and self-employed people. The work pulled together his knowledge of tax law, his computer skills, and his enthusiasm for research. After a fairly short time, he was selected as one of five people nationwide to travel to Washington, D.C. for additional training to examine the returns of government entities. He was even selected as an example for recruitment and says you can still see the photo of him with his guide dog among the rotating images presented on the IRS recruitment page.

In April 2009, McCann was on his way to work in a taxi that collided head-on with another vehicle. Both drivers were killed. McCann climbed out of the taxi with his guide dog, but his back injuries led to ongoing problems. Again, the IRS accommodated his new disability—with leave time and an ergonomic chair—but he ultimately decided to resign. Today, almost two years later and considerably stronger, McCann's vision is measured at 20/400 and, back on the job hunt, he says he sometimes regrets his decision to leave the IRS. "I loved my job," he says, "and since I couldn't serve in the military, it provided me with the sense of satisfaction that I was doing something to serve my country."

Finding IRS Information

Many people worry about making a mistake on their tax return, but helpful information you need to accurately file your taxes is available and accessible. The resources listed below are good places to begin your research. Get started educating yourself now and you won't have to worry when April 15 comes around.

Taxpayer Advocate Service

When I had my problem several years ago, I didn't know about the Taxpayer Advocate Service, a free service provided by the IRS to taxpayers needing help solving tax problems or inequities. To find the tax advocate in your state, go to the IRS's Taxpayer Advocate Service website or call (877) 777-4778.

Alternate Media Center

I did request information in braille and subsequently received a large box of braille publications in the mail. The IRS operates an Alternate Media Center, through which documents can be obtained in braille or audio formats. The website is also accessible to screen readers and refreshable braille displays, and publications can be downloaded. Publications can also be ordered by calling (800) 829-3676.

IRS Information Line

To check the status of your refund or listen to information on 17 categories of tax topics on the telephone, call (800) 829-4477. It warrants noting that, although there is a considerable amount of detailed and useful information on this toll-free line, there are no topics included that specifically relate to disability.

General Questions

To get answers to general tax questions from a live representative, call (800) 829-1040.

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Access Issues

Accessing eBay: Tips on Buying and Selling for Screen Reader Users

Whether you're looking to sell things you no longer need, or buy something you've got to have, eBay might be worth checking out. For this article, the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Windows XP, and Window-Eyes 7.2 are used, and the word "click" refers to a screen reader mouse click, not the physical mouse click. You will need to be familiar with your screen reader's form controls including edit boxes, combo boxes, and search buttons. While evaluating the accessibility of eBay, I found that some buttons weren't clearly labeled. To work around this issue, take your screen reader out of its mode for filling out forms, and read the text below and above the button to determine its purpose. It will also be helpful to know your screen reader's hot keys for finding specific texts and links.

Words of Advice

There is a lot to learn about using eBay, and many books have been written regarding all the different aspects of the website. My advice is to move slowly and don't try to learn everything in one day.

Getting Started

Before selling or purchasing on eBay, a registration form must be completed. Make sure your browser is set to accept cookies; this will allow eBay to recognize your computer in the future and will make the site function more efficiently for you. Go to the eBay homepage, where you will probably find over 200 links.

Registration

Before selling or purchasing on eBay, a registration form must be completed. Find and activate the "Register" link. The actual registration form is easy to navigate, with all edit boxes clearly labeled. However, several times during the registration process, Window-Eyes spontaneously loaded browse mode, which had to be de-activated in order to continue entering information. As with many websites, a CAPTCHA was present, along with a link for an audio version. When I initially tried to play the audio CAPTCHA, the window opened, but all I got was a broken link. About a half-hour later, there was no problem playing the audio and entering the text.

Once your registration form is complete, you will receive an e-mail with instructions on how to activate your account—either through the link provided in the e-mail or, if that doesn't work, you can copy and paste the link into your browser and enter the provided confirmation code once the page loads. Once your account is verified, you will receive a welcome e-mail from eBay. Keep in mind that it is possible to get e-mail fraudulently claiming to be from eBay. Your registered name and user name will always appear in official e-mail communications from eBay and this fact will be stated at the beginning of all of their e-mails.

Familiarizing Yourself with the Site

Once your registration is complete and your account is verified, it's a good idea to review some of the information for new users. From the homepage, activate the "New to eBay" link. When the new page loads, activate the link that says, "eBay for Users with Special Access Needs." A great deal of information for screen reader users is provided on this page; take some time to investigate what's there. At first all this information might seem confusing, but as you become familiar with eBay, it will become less complicated.

Getting Help

At the bottom of the eBay home page is a link to contact Customer Support. From there, you'll need to go through several links until you find the "Call Us" link, then use mouse navigation keys to find the phone number and your personal identification number (PIN). Since it's such a cumbersome process, here's the phone number: (866) 540-3229. The PIN gets you through the menu of choices a little faster, but you don't need one to call. When I called eBay help, I found the representative very willing to work with me and we eventually figured out a solution to the problem I was having with the site. I did need to remind her that I was blind a couple of times (such as when she told me to put my mouse on a graphic). eBay also has a lot of online help available.

Setting Your Preferences

Near the top of each eBay page is a "My eBay" link. Here you can indicate your notification preferences, track items, keep a list of your buying activity and much, much more. Since there are so many options, you will sometimes have to go through several links to get to a specific setting. Even if you are logged into eBay, you will need to re-enter your password to access the "My eBay" section.

To set your communication preferences with eBay, activate the "My eBay" link. When the next page loads, activate the "Account" link, then activate the "Communication Preferences" link. That page will let you choose which format you prefer for communications (e-mail, instant messaging, text, or HTML). Activate the "Show" link, then use your screen reader's table hot key to make your selections. On this same page, you can set up what sorts of things you want eBay to tell you about. Activate the "Show Buying Preferences" link, then set your preferences, through combo boxes, for receiving notifications for such things as whether you won an item, if you have been out-bid, and that your bid is confirmed. By default, the combo box selection for each topic is set to "real time." Once you've made your selections, activate the "Save" button.

Before You Buy or Sell

Before starting the buying or selling process, spend some time on eBay's homepage. The homepage search form consists of an edit box, a combo box listing many categories, and a search button. An "Advanced Search" link is present to modify your search criteria. There are many clearly labeled category links. There's also a "Daily Deals" link. Through links, information is also available on buyer protection, top rated sellers, most popular items, and more.

PayPal

Towards the bottom of the homepage is a link for PayPal. If you don't already have a PayPal account, you may want to consider creating one, as it will make buying and selling on eBay much easier. Creating an account on the accessible PayPal site takes just a few minutes.

Buying Items

eBay has two main ways for purchasing items: auctions and Buy It Now. In an auction, buyers place bids on an item and, once the auction closes, the highest bidder wins the item. With the Buy It Now option, the seller sets a price that a buyer can pay to purchase the item before the auction's closing date. Buy It Now can be a gamble. If there's an item you've got to have, then the Buy It Now price might be worth the chance. There are many eBay items that only have a Buy It Now price listed. In this situation, eBay functions like any other e-commerce website, except that it often will have more than one vendor for the same item.

There are three ways to search for an item: the search form, which consists of an edit box, a category combo box, and a search button; the "Advanced Search" link, which loads a form that uses combo, edit, and check boxes; and category links. No matter which way you search, there are links on result pages to narrow your search by many different criteria including seller, shipping options, and location.

Finding an Item

It might be helpful to follow along on an example of a search I performed for a specific bath product for my guide dog. First, I activated the "Pet Supplies" link, which brought up a page with links for the most popular searches within that category. Below the popular searches were listings of products categorized by animal. For example, the links under "Dogs" included grooming, beds, and leashes. Using these types of categories can be a good way to browse if you are not exactly sure what you want. Activating the "Grooming" link brought up a page with many categories (e.g., de-shedding tools, clippers and shears, shampooing and washing). Activating the "Shampooing and Washing" link returned six pages of product listings.

I knew the exact product I wanted, so I put the name into the search box and chose the "Pet Supplies" category from the search form's combo box. My search returned six results. Each result consisted of a link for the item image under which were the item's name as a link, the Buy It Now price (all of my results were Buy It Now only), and the end date for the listing (eBay does not permit indefinite listings). Using links, I narrowed my search to sellers in the U.S. who were offering new items. These refinements did not make any changes to the results. I then used a link to search for free shipping, but none of the sellers were offering that service.

Getting More Information Before You Buy

Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous people on eBay, so before making any purchase a buyer needs to check out information about the seller and the item. Activate the item's link to bring up its listing page. This page is easily navigated with a screen reader's headings key. Topics include seller information, a description of the item, and shipping and payment information.

Under the words "seller info" on the item's listing page will be a link to the seller's information page. This page will provide information regarding how long the seller has been on eBay and will list feedback comments. It's worth the time to read some of them. Look for a seller who has a positive feedback rating of at least 99 percent and remember that the more items a seller has sold, the more accurate the feedback rating will be.

If you have a question about an item, find the words "questions and answers about this item" and activate the link. There, you will find any questions other users have asked, along with any answers that have been provided. If you do not find your answer in this section, find the "Ask a Question" link. Once a radio button on the resulting form is checked, a new form comes up with some information and two radio buttons. One tells eBay that your question was answered by the provided information, and the other will contact the seller. The "Contact Seller" link results in a page with an edit box allowing the user to write 1,000 characters. There is a CAPTCHA with an audio option; the numbers to enter are clear. There's also a check box to have a copy of your e-mail question sent to your own e-mail account for verification. After activating the "Send" button, the title bar on the next page will begin with the words "message sent." If the seller responds to your inquiry, the response will be from eBay and the subject line will begin with "eBay member."

Making a Purchase Using Buy It Now

Once I researched the sellers offering my product and decided which listing I wanted to purchase, I activated the "Buy It Now" link on the item's listing page. The next page showed the product information along with my shipping information as listed in my eBay account. Near the bottom of the page were two unlabeled radio buttons for choosing a payment method. With sighted assistance, I selected the PayPal button, and then activated the "Continue" button which loaded the PayPal website. Once there, I needed to enter my password, review the purchase, and authorize the payment.

Within minutes of approving the purchase, I received an e-mail from the seller congratulating me and requesting shipping information and payment. Since I had already provided this information through eBay, I just responded that I was looking forward to receiving my item and mentioned that I had already made a PayPal payment. Concurrently, I received a receipt from PayPal for my purchase. A couple of days later I received an e-mail from eBay informing me that my item had shipped. Within the e-mail was a link to contact the seller if I had any questions. My item arrived a couple of days later. Once I received my item and found that it was exactly as described, I left positive feedback for the seller.

Making a Purchase Using an Auction

If you are interested in an item that is available for auction, the item listing will show how many bids have been placed so far. To enter a bid, activate the item's link and fill out the resulting form—an edit box and a button—to place your bid. Beneath the form you'll find information on the minimum bid allowable. After submitting your bid, you will be given the option to confirm or cancel it. Search for the "Cancel" link, under which the words "confirm bid." Beneath those words you'll find the button to confirm your bid.

There are many eBay bidding strategies. Some people bid early and constantly monitor their items. Others wait until the last possible moment to bid, hoping to outbid other interested purchasers right before the auction closes. There are online third-party eBay bidding websites that will do a last-second bid (known as a "snipe") for a fee so that you don't have to monitor the auction yourself.

To track the bidding history for an item, on the item description page search below the words "bid history" to locate the number of bids, presented as a link. Activate the link and the user IDs of the bidders will be displayed in a table, along with the amounts of their bids. If you want to monitor the auction progress on a specific item, on the item's main page activate the "Watch this Item" link. You will then be able to check the item in the "My eBay" section under the "Watch List" link. You can also opt to have eBay e-mail you if someone places a bid higher than yours.

If you win an item through an auction, you will receive a congratulations notification from eBay. Within the message will be a link to make a payment along with a link to contact the seller. eBay will also send you an e-mail if you do not win an auction you've participated in.

Selling Items

Once you get the hang of it, selling items on eBay is fairly straightforward. Listing items requires multiple steps; it helps to have your items organized and photographed, and the descriptions written, before you start the listing process.

Creating a Seller Account

Registering for eBay does not automatically allow you to sell items; you must create a separate seller's account first. Activate the "Create a Seller's Account" link. Enter your password on the next page and review the registration information that appears. If the information is correct, use the check box to confirm. If the information is not correct, activate the "Edit" link and make changes. Once you've confirmed the correct information, a "Continue" button will load a page where there are buttons to have eBay call you to verify your identity. An automated phone call gives a four-digit PIN. Once you have your PIN, activate the "Continue" button, enter the PIN on the resulting page, and activate the "Continue" button there.

eBay charges fees for listing items, so you will need to choose a payment method. By default, the first of the three radio buttons—the one for PayPal—on the form is checked. The other two are for using a credit card or bank account. If you choose PayPal, you'll need to log into PayPal, review the eBay payment agreement, and active the "I Agree" button. If you choose to pay with a credit card or bank account, you'll be asked to enter the necessary information on a form. Once the payment information is accepted, you will receive an e-mail confirming your seller's account.

Listing Fees

eBay charges users to list items for sale. For the most part, selling fees are relatively inexpensive, but they can add up. As you go through the selling process, you will see what eBay charges for each component of the listing and you can choose to include or exclude listing elements based on what you're willing to pay. Keep in mind that many of the listing elements for which eBay charges will increase your chances of selling the item. eBay automatically deducts listing fees once your listing is complete. eBay also charges a fee if your item sells successfully. If your item doesn't sell, you can re-list the item and if it sells on the second round, eBay will reimburse the listing fees for the second listing.

Listing an Item

Listing an item can take a while, especially when you are learning the procedure. It's very helpful to post a photograph or photographs along with your item's description. If you do not have enough vision to take digital pictures, you might want to consider getting sighted assistance.

Before beginning the listing process, it's useful to check completed auctions of the same or similar items, to determine how successful sellers have been and to get a sense of what an appropriate price might be. When you do an item search, activate the "Completed Auctions" link and a list will be displayed. View some of the listings to determine how the same item did in other auctions. Towards the bottom of the item's listing will be a link that says "Sell One Like This." Activating that link will get you past the category selection form in the selling process described below.

I'll take you through the listing process for a designer handbag I no longer use. To begin the listing process, log into your account and activate the "Sell" link. You'll be presented with some helpful information about selling on eBay along with a "List Your Item" button.

The first part of the selling process is to choose a category for your item. After you've activated the "Sell Your Item" button, you'll find several ways to identify a category on the resulting page. You can enter key words, an item number, or a UPC code, and then use the search button, or you can browse for a category. I used the search form and the results were displayed with check boxes. I chose the appropriate category and on the next page, where a category number was now listed on my form, I activated the "Continue" button. On the next page, I found the word "success," indicating that I had successfully identified a listing category.

On that same page, you may find with the mouse navigation keys a message asking if you want to do multiple listings of the same item. To close this message, put your mouse pointer on the words "don't ask," turn browse mode off manually, then do a left click. On the screen, there should then be a form with radio buttons and a check box. When the page re-loads, the response form will now be accessible with form controls. Check the appropriate radio button and check box. Then activate the "Continue" button.

On the next page you will be asked to choose a listing form. The easiest form to use is the "Simple Listing Form," which allows the upload of four pictures maximum, and provides fewer options within the listing. The other form offers more listing choices. Make your decision by activating the button for the type of listing you want to use. It's possible to switch between the two forms. For this article, I used the more listing choices option.

The next page is a form for entering the title and other information about your item. The first edit box is for the item's title, which is a critical element of the listing. The title should include key words that a searcher would use to find your item. Since the number of characters is limited to 55, chose your title very carefully. Proper grammar is not important and some abbreviations are expected. This is the first thing potential buyers will see, so think of a title that will get attention.

The information about each item is category-specific. For my handbag, I had edit fields for color, condition, and style. Depending on your item, you might need to provide different information. Further down the page is where you will upload your photos. The photo or photos associated with your listing need to be on your computer in order to attach them to your listing. Once you activate the "Photos" button a new window will open that will allow you to browse for the photos on your computer, the way you would browse for any other file. There is a separate browse button number for each photo. The first photo you upload should be the most comprehensive.

Once your photos are uploaded, the next step is to describe your item. You can use the standard or HTML format. It's best to write and edit your descriptions in Word or another word processing program. When ready to add a description, if you're using the standard format, activate the link and when the new page loads, there will be combo boxes you can use to choose a typeface and size—the default is Ariel 10. There are also buttons for italics, bold, and other font formatting. Under the "Check Spelling" link is the word "description," and after that Window-Eyes says "undefined" and then "end form." The description needs to be pasted under "end form." For Window-Eyes, I found the best way to do this was to select the text in Word, copy it to the clipboard, then, with browse mode off, paste. I did have to play with this a bit because Window-Eyes couldn't find an actual edit box.

On this same page, there is a combo box to select a counter for keeping track of how many people visit your listing; the default setting is best. Next, is an edit box for setting the price of your item. Do not use a dollar sign; you can use a decimal point for cents. You'll also find an option to add a Buy It Now price, which costs extra. Via a combo box, choose the number of days for your auction; Seven days is standard and there is no extra fee. Chose when you would like the auction to start, either immediately or at a later time or date. Scheduling a start in the future costs $.10'since every auction ends at exactly the same time of day that it starts, and the end of an auction is usually the most active bidding period, it can be worth the fee to delay an auction start if you think that doing so will make the auction end at a convenient time for the most likely bidders.

After that, choose a shipping method and determine cost of shipping and handling. There is a shipping calculator on the page or you can check with your local post office or UPS store. Next, choose a payment method and activate the "Preview" button. If necessary, make any edits to your listing and then activate the "List Your Item" button. When the new page loads, it will say, "Congratulations! Your item is listed for sale."

Almost immediately eBay will send an e-mail indicating that your item has been listed. The first couple of words of the item's title will be in the subject area. Within the e-mail you'll find a link to review and revise the selling information and a link to go directly to the item's listing.

The Sale

Within minutes of the auction closing, I was notified via e-mail that my item sold. In addition to the amount my item sold for, the e-mail included links to contact the buyer, print a shipping label, and notify the seller about tracking and shipping the item. Once the buyer completed payment (the terms of my listing gave the buyer four days to pay), I received a confirmation e-mail from PayPal.

When sending the item, you have the choice of printing a shipping label through eBay or going to the post office or UPS to take care of shipping. If you go through eBay, when you print the shipping label the buyer will automatically receive an e-mail notification along with a tracking number. You might need sighted assistance for this step since the shipping label and receipt are printed on the same page. If you go through the post office or UPS, you'll need to provide shipping confirmation and tracking information directly to the seller; this can be done through a link in the e-mail you received that notified you of the sale.

To print the shipping label through eBay, first log into your eBay account. Then, in your auction e-mail from eBay, activate the link for printing the label. You will be presented with information about the weight and size of your package from when you entered it in the item's listing form. If necessary, make any changes. On the same form is a space to add a message to the buyer.

Next, log into your PayPal account to pay for the postage. Finally, activate the "Print Label" button. You will receive a confirmation e-mail from eBay with the item's tracking number and verification that the label was printed, along with a receipt from PayPal verifying payment of postage.

Leaving Feedback

Feedback is an important part of the eBay community. The more positive feedback you have as either a seller or buyer, the more people will trust you in your transactions with them. Since I was paid promptly for my item I left positive feedback for the buyer. Sellers are not permitted to leave negative feedback for a buyer, but a buyer can leave a negative feedback for a seller.

To leave feedback, log into your eBay account, go to "My eBay," and enter your password. On the next page, go to the "Leave Feedback" link. On the next page you will find links for "Buying" and "Selling." In my case, I was leaving feedback as a seller so I chose the "Selling" link and filled out the form, which uses radio buttons and an edit box for entering comments. There was a button to submit the feedback and a link to cancel. This same page also presents information on how to report any problems (e.g., a buyer who won't pay, a seller who didn't ship a purchased item, or an item that was inaccurately described). eBay is set up to handle disputes; more information can be found in the online help section or by calling customer service.

The Bottom Line

eBay can seem very overwhelming, but with patience and practice buying and selling using a screen reader can be successfully negotiated. I hope you find this article helpful in getting started. Remember, don't hesitate to ask for help from customer support.

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Access Issues

It's in the Bank: A Snapshot of Accessible Online Financial Services

If there is one thing that we can all agree on, it's that money is always a source of controversy. In my particular case, it seems I never have enough of it in my wallet! Managing your money online should not be a source of frustration, and with some recent improvements made by financial websites, it's getting easier. In this article, I am going to give you a peek into some of my online financial experiences, and point out what worked well and what needs improvement. Now, if I could just remember where I buried my pot of gold in the backyard. Has anyone seen my tactile treasure map?

A Walk Around the Block

Since it's nearly time to pay the taxman, I was really excited when I found a free copy of H&R Block's At Home software in my mailbox. Unfortunately, that's where the excitement ended. When I inserted the disc into my laptop, a pleasant voice introduced me to the program, but the screen was inaccessible. The voice asked me to click on the green button, but wouldn't you know the button was not keyboard accessible. I found some sighted assistance to help me get past the first couple of screens but, alas, the entire program wasn't accessible. My screen reader was unable to detect anything other than unlabeled graphics. A phone call to H&R Block's customer service ended in frustration when the representative put me on hold only to return to tell me that indeed the software was not tested for accessibility. Guess I'll have to break out the abacus and figure out how I'm going to calculate my taxes.

How are you planning to file your taxes this year? Are you using online programs, desktop applications, or putting everything in a shoebox and dropping it off at your accountant's office? Send us your feedback.

Check Out My Checking Account

It's funny, I almost never find myself writing a check, yet I still have a checking account. Today's checking accounts allow customers to make paperless payments to just about anybody. In addition to that convenience, advances in online banking mean you can perform a variety of additional banking tasks—like transferring money, making payments, making investments, and researching financial information—without ever leaving your computer.

Large vs. Small

While I recognize the validity of the concern that the proliferation of large national banks in small town America is not good for small community banks and credit unions, many of the large banks do maintain accessible websites and talking ATMs, while smaller banks often don't have the resources to do so. If you would like to support a smaller bank or credit union, see if they offer checking accounts with debit cards that do not carry fees when used at other institutions' ATMs. That way, you can take advantage of the convenience and accessibility of the larger banks' ATMs while helping your community banker. Of course there are other things to take into consideration when choosing a physical bank branch and you should make the choice that best works with your priorities and access concerns.

Online Banking with Citibank

Around the year 2000, when mainstream America was getting used to having everything on the Internet, I started banking online with Citibank. It was a simple process to sign up and connect all of my accounts to one username and password, and I was impressed that I could see my checking account, savings account, retirement account, and credit card information all at the same time. Once, I was even moved to tears when I reflected on my latest online banking session—not because of the technological advancements I'd just enjoyed, but rather because of the lack of money in my accounts and the high balance of my credit card!

Citibank has always maintained two websites for as long as I can remember. One is designed for people using screen readers and the other one is their main website. At first, there was a huge difference in the user experience between the two and I preferred to use the simpler site with a screen reader. At that time, the main site was poorly marked up for screen readers and it was very difficult to navigate. While the screen reader site was easier to use, it lacked some features. I am happy to report that Citibank has made considerable improvements to both sites.

The current screen reader site is robust and makes good use of markup. There are headings, well-labeled edit fields, and the data tables work well with my screen reader's table reading commands. Additionally, form controls such as combo boxes and buttons are well labeled and function with screen readers. It's possible to set up online bill payments, make recurring payments, and transfer funds between linked accounts on the screen reader site, and there is also a secure message center that allows customers to communicate with customer service without worrying about sending confidential information via e-mail. If you are so inclined, you can download statement information that can be uploaded into financial record keeping software. The biggest drawback of the screen reader site is that I'm not able to access my investment account beyond seeing its balance. There is a note on the page with a toll-free telephone number for investment customer service. To use the screen reader version, move the focus of your screen reader to the very top of the page and arrow down. It should be one of the first links announced or you can pull up a list of links on the page and move to the top of the list.

The main Citibank website has really made quite a few advances in terms of accessibility to people using screen readers. Most of the pages have good heading structure, properly labeled graphics, texts, and edit fields, and the form controls work well. The majority of tables allow screen reader table reading commands. Many of the PDF documents in the investment section of the website were easily read with my screen reader. From time to time I did run into some problems, especially in the investing section of the website. For example, when looking at a table displaying mutual fund performance, the table reading commands did not announce the various table column headings properly. I had to navigate to the top of the table to read the column headings and keep my fingers crossed that I would be able to memorize the order.

While I do think that Citibank could benefit from having more attention focused on accessibility and usability for people using assistive technology, I would certainly encourage current Citibank account holders to try out the two websites and make their own decisions. While I may have had frustrating moments over the years, I am generally satisfied with the performance of the site.

Do you have any experience with Citibank's websites? What about a different bank or credit union's website? Send us your thoughts on your bank website's accessibility.

Saving My Money With Some Fun: ING Direct

While it's true that most banks offer various types of accounts for their customers, I originally opened a savings account with ING Direct back in 2005 because they were offering amazingly high interest rates on their savings accounts. At that time, the rates were nearly 5 percent, more than twice as high as the interest rates being offered by other financial institutions. Moreover, ING Direct had such quirky radio commercials; I just had to see what it was all about. I decided to open up an account and see what else was being offered besides great interest rates. If you haven't checked the business section of your local newspaper lately, let me tell you that interest rates will no longer make your heart go pitter-pat. Even so, I have been happy with my ING Direct savings account for a number of reasons. They have an automatic savings plan that allows me to have a fixed amount of money transferred from my external checking account to my ING Direct savings account on a regular schedule. This provides me with some discipline to save money consistently instead of seeing what I have left at the end of the month for savings.

The bank has its origins in Internet banking and that is clearly apparent with the emphasis it places on its website. The first thing that you'll notice about the site is that they take security very seriously. They have not abandoned accessibility, but you'll need to take some steps that may be new to you. While these extra measures might seem cumbersome at first, they definitely help me feel confident about banking with ING Direct.

When logging into the site, the website gives you the option of replacing displayed numbers with asterisks. This is a great security measure to ensure that somebody can't write down your account number if they are standing over your shoulder viewing your monitor. If you activate this feature, you should note that your screen reader will say "star, star, star" instead of the digits of your customer number.

For most websites, after entering your username you are generally asked for your password, right? Instead of merely typing your password, the site will ask you to answer some of the security questions that you created when you opened up your account. You can register your own personal computer so that the site will recognize you and your computer the next time you log in and skip the questions.

During the account creation process you will select a security image so that during the login process you can confirm that you're on the real ING site. My screen reader reads aloud my security phrase so I know I haven't somehow ended up on a fraudulent version of the site.

This next part might give you some trouble, but just hold on tight, because it's not that bad. An onscreen numerical keyboard will appear and you'll be asked to enter your personal identification number (PIN). If you're using a screen reader, you will discover that you can't use your keyboard. Instead, there is a link to take you to a keyboard- enabled PIN entry screen. Your screen reader may focus to the edit field for the PIN entry, but at this point do not enter your numerical PIN because it will not work. Instead of trying to enter your PIN, exit the edit field and navigate back to the level one heading. Use the down arrow to move to the keypad graphics. Each number on the numerical keypad is assigned an alphabetical equivalent each time you sign in. You'll need to either memorize the four letters that correspond to your PIN or write them down for that particular log-in session. Then, navigate back to the edit field, fill in the alphabetical characters that correspond to your numeric PIN and click the "Continue" link. The upside to all of these security measures is that there are no CAPTCHAs to deal with.

Once you log in, I think you'll be very pleased with the ease and simplicity of the site. The webpages have good heading structure, labeled graphics and links, and properly marked-up forms. Transferring money between linked accounts, including external checking accounts at other banks, is a breeze and, best of all, is absolutely free. This could be an easy method for helping you send money to your children in college. (Or an easy way for them to send you money once they graduate!) ING Direct's eStatements are accessible PDF documents that are easy to read and appear to have proper table structure. ING Direct also offers checking, mortgage, credit card, and individual retirement accounts, though the accessibility of these accounts has not been verified for this article. If you use an accessible finance application, you can download the data from the website and upload it into your financial software.

The site has a few minor problems but I don't think that they will prevent you from performing your banking tasks if you are using a screen reader. The site has some flash content that does not appear to be accessible, but thankfully there aren't any unlabeled flash buttons to contend with. There are a couple of video demonstrations that will give screen reader users some problems. I clicked on one and could not figure out how to turn off the music. It appeared as if my screen reader was able to detect text on the screen, but with the music blaring, I could not understand the text. This is something that should clearly be looked at by the ING Direct technology team.

Keep in mind that ING Direct does not operate branches like a traditional banking institution. Instead, they have ING Direct cafes in big cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, where you can grab a cup of hot coffee and discuss finances with a friendly staff member. This means that you will have to mail in your deposits, use direct deposit, or transfer money from an externally linked account.

Do you have an account with ING Direct? Tell us about your experience.

Don't Leave Home Without It

I have been disappointed by the accessibility of the American Express website year after year, but the last time I logged in I was pleasantly surprised. My first clue that things had changed was the amount of descriptive text accompanying the edit fields for username and password on the homepage. After logging in, I found a summary of my accounts at the level one heading and after arrowing down a bit, I found links for a variety of options, including statement, balance, recent payments and credits, and payment due. It was very easy to locate important information quickly.

One important note for customers using screen reading technology: there are many controls and elements deployed on the American Express website that you'll need to get accustomed to. On various pages throughout the site my screen reader announced "clickable" even though there was no accompanying link announcement. You can click on these elements to activate them and they will also appear in your list of links on the page. You will not find the traditional combo boxes for selecting a time period (e.g., when you want to review your online statements). However, you are able to use the keyboard to select the correct time period from a provided list. Additionally, the website uses new technology that allows the content of the screen to be updated without having to reload the entire webpage in your browser. This may cause you to think that the website is not working if you click on something and don't hear anything such as a click or your screen reader announce the percentage of the screen that is loaded. I used the arrow keys to move up and down to find the additional information. You will want to become familiar with your screen reader's various keyboard commands for easier site navigation.

I find myself using a credit card for most of my everyday purchases. In doing so, I also like to keep an eye on my activity and statements to make sure that the charges are accurate and I haven't been a victim of any credit card fraud. The data tables on the American Express website allow me to quickly move vertically and horizontally to see what activity has been posted to my account. By clicking on a line number, you can expand or collapse additional information such as the address and phone number of the merchant that has posted to the account, and you can also dispute a charge right there from the statement.

Somebody at American Express is obviously spending some time revising their site with some concern for accessibility. It's far from perfect, but it's definitely getting better. As I clicked around other sections of the website, I realized that the changes are only on a limited number of pages. There are still many, many pages without headings for keyboard navigation or pages that use tables for layout rather than presenting data. Links are still announced as "click here," and there are still handfuls of poorly labeled graphics. American Express certainly needs to continue to make improvements in order to give customers using screen readers an equal web browsing experience when managing their credit cards.

Do you have an American Express account? Tell us about your experience.

Show Me the Money

Managing your financial affairs should not be a daunting task. You should feel really comfortable using your assistive technology to navigate your financial institution's website. It's really disappointing that the H & R Block At Home product is not accessible to screen reader customers. Perhaps it will be next year. In my opinion, banks are relying more and more heavily on online environments to provide services and it is important for our community to constantly remind them about the importance of accessibility.

How about you? Have you contacted your bank to give them feedback about the accessibility of their website? How about letting them know that you appreciate the fact that they are concerned about their customers with disabilities? Remember, you have the power to switch banks if your current one is not accessible.

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Letter to the Editor

A Cell Phone Question

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

I was reading your invitation in the February issue asking for comments and questions, and I will definitely be taking advantage of the opportunity. I very much like AccessWorld and the job you're doing. Thanks this time for including the letter about notetakers. I will be writing to the author for his proposal.

I have a rather urgent question about cell phones and a limited amount of time to act if I am to make an exchange. I wondered whether you could pass a question on to Darren Burton or another technology expert.

This regards the Samsung Haven cell phone. One thing the recent AccessWorld review didn't mention was that just about all the speech prompts come out of the speaker. From what I have been able to figure out, it appears there is not an easy way to adjust the volume for the ear piece and the speaker independently. I have hearing loss, thus I need to have the ear piece volume for phone conversations at its highest setting. By doing that, speech prompts are embarrassingly loud through the speaker. Do you know if there is a way to either set the volume for the ear piece to its loudest and the speaker to its softest, or better yet, a way to have all speech prompts come through the ear piece?

I plan to call Samsung and see if they have an answer. I hope it was something your reviewer might have included on the list you send manufacturers for improvements. I had been using an LG 4500. I am going to be looking at the Accolade mentioned in the January AccessWorld issue. I downloaded the manual, and it says nothing about voice output. Is the Accolade still available; are there any other LG phones I should check?

Thanks very much.

David

Editor's Response

Hello David,

Thank you for reading AccessWorld!

Regarding your questions about the Haven cell phone, you may want to check to see if it is possible to use a Bluetooth headset. That would allow you to keep it at a high volume without having it broadcast everything to the public. I'm not sure if that specific phone works with Bluetooth headsets, but it has a headphone jack for using a wired headset. It is not the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack, but is one of the thinner 2.5mm jacks, so you would have to make sure to get the right one. The Verizon stores should have them for sale.

As for the LG Accolade, it does in fact have voice output called Voice Commands. It is similar to that of the LG 4500 you own. However, it does work a bit differently from the 4500. Unfortunately, the manual won't be of much help. To activate the voice output, you go into Settings to find Voice Commands and turn it on, but you may need sighted assistance to do that. You may also want to use Google to find a better manual for the phone that might have been put together by a blind person. I'm not aware of one, but I do remember that some people did put one together for the earlier versions like the 4500. The LG Accolade is very similar in form factor to the 4500, but Verizon also has the LG EnV 3 which also has the same Voice Commands speech output functionality, but it also has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

I hope this information is helpful, and thank you for taking the time to write us at AccessWorld!

Sincerely,

Lee Huffman

Editor-in-Chief

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AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

YourTube by Povidi

Povidi NZ Ltd., a technology company that develops solutions that really matter to the vision impaired, presents YourTube, an accessible web interface for YouTube. YourTube allows you to enter search terms for audio and video and provides browse-able results in the form of headings. Once you find what you're looking for, you can access the easy-to-use player controls. Alternate color settings are available for those who have some functional vision. Povidi offers this interface free of charge to everyone. To try it out, visit the Povidi website.

Coming Soon: ZoomReader Unveiled at ATIA

ZoomReader is an app from AiSquared, the makers of the ZoomText screen magnification software. ZoomReader is a combination video magnifier and OCR app that can zoom in on, apply color filters to, or read aloud any recognized text within, pictures taken by the camera in an iPhone or iPod Touch. At $19.99, it's a competitive and affordable mobile application that does real-time screen magnification, OCR within images, and voice recognition.

AiSquared will provide more information once the product is officially ready for sale in Apple's App Store. For now, you can learn about ZoomReader's functionality by watching the video on the AiSquared website. You can also visit the AiSquared mobile site for more information and screen shots of the app itself.

The 26th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference

The 2011 CSUN Conference will be held March 14–19 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, CA. Visit the registration information page for details and to register to attend. Session schedules are now posted; find them on the general sessions page and the pre-conference workshop page.

The Center on Disabilities is now on Facebook and Twitter. You can become a fan of the Center on Disabilities on Facebook and follow CSUNCOD on Twitter for news from the Center and about the Conference. You can also RSVP on the CSUN Conference event page on Facebook, so everyone can know you are attending. Finally, don't forget to use #CSUN11 when you tweet about the CSUN Conference.

Blind Driver Challenge Update

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) announced that for the first time a blind individual has driven a street vehicle in public without the assistance of a sighted person. Read The NFB Blind Driver Challenge™: A Success! to learn more.

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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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