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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 April 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 4

In This Issue

Editor's Page

AccessWorld Readers Have a Lot to Say about Money

Access Issues

The Blind Driver Challenge: Technology that Puts Blind People in the Driver's Seat

Collaboration between the NFB and Virginia Tech, just may change some realities for people with vision loss, with its goal of developing technology that would give a person enough information, through nonvisual interfaces, to safely pilot a car. --Deborah Kendrick

Product Evaluations

Apple TV (2nd generation): Apple Continues to Set the Accessibility Standard

Does Apple TV provide the access to television programming people with vision loss have been looking for? This article takes a closer look at the fruits of technology. --Joe Strechay

Recent Conference Highlights

The Top 12 Highlights from the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute Conference

Highlights from the information-packed 24th annual Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute, just couldn't be limited to a Top 10. There were so many great things about the event; it had to be a Top 12! --Joe Strechay

Highlights from the CSUN 2011 Conference

When attending the CSUN conference, you will always find new information and technology. Naturally there are also interesting stories to hear and trends to observe. This article gives my perspective. --Bradley Hodges

Letters to the Editor

More Financial Access Information from Fellow AccessWorld Readers

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News


Editor's Page

AccessWorld Readers Have a Lot to Say about Money

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

All I can say is: Wow! The AccessWorld team and I received a tremendous response to the financial focus of the March issue. It was fantastic to get so many e-mails asking questions and offering information about additional resources. I hope the issue prompted many of you to take a more proactive stance to your finances and get your taxes filed early instead of waiting until the last minute!

In our current economy, carefully managing our personal finances is more important than ever. Having independent access to banking and investment information is crucial to setting and achieving our financial goals.

As a reminder, AccessWorld would like to hear from you concerning your experiences accessing banking and financial services. We want to find out how well the financial institutions used by our readers 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. If you have not already done so, please take a few moments to participate in our survey. If you have already responded, thank you very much for your input! 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.

In the current issue of AccessWorld, you'll find an update on the Blind Driver's Challenge from Deborah Kendrick, as well as highlights from CSUN and AFB's national conference, JLTLI, from Bradley Hodges and Joe Strechay, respectively. Be sure and read this month's AccessWorld News section, which is packed with a broad range of information from prescription medication access, to Microsoft accessibility, to cell phone access, to Starbucks—that's right: Starbucks!

To give you a sense of what's ahead for AccessWorld: The May issue is devoted to "tech for all." We will be working in cooperation with AFB's Center on Vision Loss in Dallas and AFB's Senior Site to provide information for those who may be new to technology and/or vision loss. The May issue will have something for everyone, from the newest of the newbies to the techiest of the techies! The rest of the summer's topics will be equally interesting: The June issue will focus on cell phone accessibility, July will focus on students of all ages heading back to school, and the August issue will focus on low vision.

As always, thank you for reading AccessWorld—we hope you look forward to the upcoming issues as much as we look forward to bringing them to you!

Sincerely,

Lee Huffman
Editor-in-Chief

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Access Issues

The Blind Driver Challenge: Technology that Puts Blind People in the Driver's Seat

Five years ago, when I first heard Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, then executive director for the Jernigan Institute at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), speak about a car that blind people could drive, I remember thinking, Yes, that could be possible. At the time, I knew about cars with motion detectors that could sense the proximity of another vehicle, and I'd read about cars that were programmed to stay in the proper lane. I, like many others, assumed Dr. Zaborowski was talking about a programmable car—a car that could automatically take a blind person to a programmed address or set of coordinates, similar to the way GPS works.

That's also what Dr. Dennis Hong, professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, first thought when he was approached by the NFB to collaborate on a project that would enable a blind person to drive a car. After all, students at Virginia Tech had already developed an autonomous vehicle that could drive without a human. Dr. Hong soon learned, however, that an autonomous car was not at all what those at the NFB imagined. They wanted a car that would literally put a blind person in the driver's seat, detecting obstacles, determining turns, and making decisions.

"What can't you do?" is a question that most blind people hear from sighted friends and colleagues at one time or another. For me, the answer used to come easily: "I can't read print and I can't drive."

With scanners and optical character recognition software, the first obstacle has for the most part been overcome. On our desktops and in our pockets, we have technology that can snap a picture of a page of print and read it aloud for us, magnify it, or translate it into braille.

Driving, though, was another matter. Many of us who have been blind since birth or childhood have had our "unauthorized" experiments with driving—behind the wheel in a parking lot or open field with a brave sighted friend or family member providing instructions. The thrill is great, but the experience, we know, is not one that can be transferred to reality. For those who lost sight after driving age, the first regret expressed is typically, "I can no longer drive."

The Blind Driver Challenge, a collaboration between the NFB and Virginia Tech, is changing that reality. The goal of the challenge was to develop technology that would give a blind person enough information, through nonvisual interfaces, to make the same decisions a sighted driver would make in order to safely and confidently pilot a car.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to experience a simulation of the technology in development. Sitting in a Ford Escape, the hybrid car used for the project, I donned special DriveGrip gloves and placed my hands on the steering wheel. A slight vibration in the left or right glove clearly indicated when to turn in each direction. Even though this was only a simulation, the experience was a thrilling one. Afterwards I realized that a blind person, if given the necessary information through senses other than sight, could operate a vehicle.

In addition to the DriveGrip gloves, the Virginia Tech team, lead by Dr. Hong and graduate student Paul D'Angio, developed an accompanying vibrating seat cushion called SpeedStrip, that emits vibrations at various points on the driver's legs to signal when to accelerate or slow down.

The Technology

Dr. Hong explained that the challenge consisted of addressing two components: information and instruction. The engineers needed to devise a means for information to be gathered and then conveyed to the blind driver as an instruction on how to react. "How you drive," he said, "is then up to you."

The car is equipped with cameras and lasers. The lasers detect the lanes and any obstacles in the car's path, and this information is then conveyed through the SpeedStrip cushion and DriveGrip gloves via a complicated algorithm written by the Virginia Tech team.

The Drivers

The target date and location for the groundbreaking official demonstration was set for January 29, 2010, at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida. Several blind people were tested for the ability to interpret and react to the information provided by the system. Ultimately Mark Riccobono, current executive director of the Jernigan Institute, was chosen as the driver, and Anil Lewis, the NFB's director of strategic communications, was chosen as his backup. Both men would receive the same training on the car in preparation for the demonstration.

These two men come to blindness from completely different perspectives. Riccobono, age 34, has been blind since age five and had never driven a car. Lewis, age 46, was once a sighted driver, having lost his sight gradually to retinitis pigmentosa. Riccobono was selected as driver, with Lewis in the wings as backup for the Daytona event.

Lewis said that learning to drive with the nonvisual interfaces was very much like learning to drive as a sighted teenager, only with different senses operating to receive and interpret the information regarding surroundings.

"Just when you've wrapped your head around the fact that [driving] is one thing you can't do as a blind man," Lewis said, "you find out that, yes, with the right technology, anything is possible."

The Big Event

On January 29, some 400 members of the NFB filled two grandstands at Daytona International Speedway, awaiting the big event. Mark Riccobono was behind the wheel, and the crowd was wild with anticipation. Although he drove the course at 30 miles per hour rather than the mind-numbing speeds of racecar drivers, this blind man, for the first time in history, independently drove a car uphill and down and around curves, all the while circumventing obstacles placed in his path. The demonstration was a success!

Riccobono said he drove with the windows down, so he could feel the Florida air rushing by and hear his friends from the stands cheering him on. One heckler, he recalled, shouted at him to "Go right! Go right!"—but the system told him otherwise, and he confidently guided the car left to avoid an obstacle in his path. The experience, he quipped, was not unlike that of the blind pedestrian who, when walking independently with a cane, receives inaccurate information. The message of trusting one's own intelligence and skill was clear.

What Lies Ahead

While the reality of blind people everywhere driving cars with nonvisual interfaces is a long way off, the project is ongoing and evolving. The current focus, Dr. Hong said, is to develop a means of giving the blind driver a picture of the environment. At this point, the nonvisual interfaces instruct the driver, say, to veer left, but the driver doesn't exactly know why. The team is now working on a tactile display, a computer monitor for the blind of sorts, by which a blind person could "see" that there is a tree on the left or a truck passing in the opposite lane. Although it may not be the final method used, the team is currently experimenting with a system called AirPix, which uses puffs of air to reproduce for the driver a tactile representation of the surrounding environment. Imagine that this tactile display is situated on the console between the driver and passenger seats. The driver can put his or her right hand on it briefly and, through alternating currents of air, recognize the elements of the environment through which the car is passing.

What It Means

Lewis and Riccobono, as well as Dr. Hong and his students, are quick to point out that the Blind Driver Challenge is not just about driving. The technologies being developed may have far-reaching applications for blind people in education, employment, and elsewhere. AirPix, for example, might evolve in such a way that a blind student could "see" a tactile representation of what a professor writes on the blackboard.

"There are so many misconceptions about the capacities of blind people," Lewis said. "If people recognize that through nonvisual interfaces a blind person can drive, they'll begin to understand that, with the right tools and techniques, we have the intelligence and capacity to do all manner of other things as well."

Spreading the News

As word of the Daytona demonstration began to spread, the absence of facts sparked some confusion.

"Many people think this was a stunt or a hoax," Riccobono said. Indeed, in the days and weeks that followed, despite the fact that the event received considerable media coverage, even many blind people thought it was a joke. "I'll drive when pigs fly," I heard one blind man say.

Well, pigs may not be flying yet, but the Blind Driver Challenge is truly putting blind people behind the wheel.

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Product Evaluations

Apple TV (2nd generation): Apple Continues to Set the Accessibility Standard

I've turned on my TV and cable box, and now what do I do? Can I access the menu, guide, or on-demand features? Is the cable box accessible? Not really! Comcast allows you to adjust the size and contrast of the text in the menu guide, but without speech or voice overlay I wouldn't call it accessible—not even for persons with low vision.

My colleague at AFB, Darren Burton, kept telling me about Apple TV. I wasn't sure what it was, but I knew it provided access to iTunes and Netflix through your television. Most of the new DVD players or gaming systems provide access to Netflix, but not in an accessible format. Though I was skeptical, Darren kept mentioning things that he watched via Apple TV. When the opportunity to evaluate the product for AccessWorld came along, I was interested to see what I would find.

If you read AccessWorld regularly, you know that Apple is a leader in mainstream product accessibility for persons who are blind or visually impaired. They wowed us with built-in accessibility for the iPhone, iPod, and the iPad, and the standard Apple OS also includes great accessibility tools. Apple's accessibility page has information on the accessibility of Apple products and the company's goal to provide universal design.

For some context on my vision: I operate as a person who is blind and also as a person who has low vision. I use my iPhone with the VoiceOver feature and I have a screen reader and magnification on my computer, each of which I use for different tasks.

Cost

The Apple TV unit itself costs $99. Your television needs to have a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port and you will need a HDMI cable (about $20) to connect the unit to your television. There is no subscription cost to use Apple TV. Costs for other services (e.g., Netflix subscriptions, iTunes purchases) remain the same, whether you access them through Apple TV or a computer.

Subscriptions and purchases can add up, so choose carefully and keep track of what you're buying through iTunes. Keep in mind that there is some free content available in the Movies, TV, and Podcasts sections of iTunes. YouTube via Apple TV is simple to use and also free.

Setup

You can find the setup guide for Apple TV in Apple's online support section or under the Help menu in iTunes.

You will need:

  • An HD TV or monitor with an available HDMI port. In order to satisfy Apple's standards for copyright protection, your HD TV must also have the ability to enable High Definition Content Protection (HDCP) to play video from Apple TV. Some televisions may not have this capability.
  • An HDMI cable long enough to reach from the Apple TV unit to your monitor or TV.
  • To change the input setting on your monitor or TV to the one associated with the HDMI port.
  • High speed Internet in the location where you want to use Apple TV. You need to have Wi-Fi (wireless Internet connection) or an Ethernet cable long enough to reach the unit.
  • An Apple iTunes account, with an associated credit card or iTunes gift card account if you plan on making content purchases.

Using Apple TV

Unit Information
  • Dimensions: 3.9" by 3.9" by 0.9"
  • Weight: 0.6 lbs.
  • Port to connect power cord
  • Ethernet port
  • HDMI port (connect to TV or Monitor)
Remote Control

The remote is thin and sleek. It boasts just a few buttons with a different tactile feel to each. At the top of the remote, you will find a 5-way control (a circle of arrow buttons) in a natural sequence for Up, Right, Down, and Left surrounding a Select/Enter button. Below the circle, you will find the Menu button on the left and the Play/Pause button on the right. The Menu button acts as a Back button when you want to exit out of screens, sections, music, movies, etc. In my opinion, the remote is easy to use and get adjusted to. I asked a few people to test it; one tester felt that the circle of arrows wasn't raised enough.

Activating Apple TV

Start by turning on your television. Then, you will most likely have to press the Input button on your television/cable box or remote control (depends on if you are using the cable box control as a universal remote). Press Input until finding an HDMI channel on your television (there may be more than one).

Next, press any button on the remote to wake the Apple TV system. It can take about 15 or 20 seconds to activate or wake the Apple TV system, so be patient. If your Internet connection goes out or the signal is low, you may be able to get into the main menu but not have further access. During the evaluation, I had a few minutes when my signal was low and the system would not access my associated accounts, but this resolved itself when my Internet signal became stronger.

Menus

The main menu for Apple TV has five categories: Movies, TV Shows, Internet, Computers, and Settings. The main menu is well laid out and very user friendly, as is typical for Apple.

From left to right, the menu categories and their subsections are:

Movies (iTunes via Apple TV)

  • Top Movies
  • Genres
  • Search
  • In Theatres (descriptions and previews of films currently in theatres)

TV Shows (iTunes via Apple TV)

  • Top TV Shows
  • Genres
  • TV Networks
  • Search

Internet

  • Netflix (a subscription service that allows you to view streaming movies and TV shows and/or rent DVDs for a flat monthly fee)
  • MLB TV (scores and standings for free; access to games and more for a subscription)
  • NBA (scores and standings for free; games and more for a subscription)
  • YouTube (access YouTube and view YouTube content)
  • Podcasts
  • MobileMe
  • Flickr (online photo sharing site—you can post your photos to flickr.com, then access your account to view photos through Apple TV)
  • Radio

Computers

  • Nothing will show in this menu unless you have home sharing (which allows access to any iTunes movies, podcasts, music, audio books you have on your computer) activated in iTunes and through the settings in Apple TV.
  • If you use home sharing, you will find your Apple ID profile name here and you can access your computer's content through this menu.
  • Home sharing requires entry of the Apple ID for the computer with iTunes that you would like to associate or access through Apple TV.

Settings

  • General (you will find Accessibility as a submenu when you select this category)
  • Screen Saver
  • Audio & Video (basic settings, nothing specific that should effect accessibility)
  • Air Play (allows you to play audio content on sound systems/speakers around your home—this feature was not tested for this review)
  • Computers (allows you to set up home sharing for your Apple TV)
  • Sleep Now (turns off the device— you can also set the unit to go to sleep automatically after a few minutes or hours)

Types of Content

Radio

There are many radio and Internet radio stations available through iTunes/Apple TV. VoiceOver introduces each song.

Sports

Sports fans might want to think about subscriptions to either the NBA webcast or MLB TV, which would allow you access to all of the games. I am debating the MLB TV subscription versus the MLB At Bat app on my iPhone. I think I will be going with the app because it will save some money.

Movies

The Watch Instantly feature on Netflix that you have access to through Apple TV doesn't have all of the movies you would have access to with the DVD subscription. You may find that many of the newest releases are not available as streaming content, so you might want to consider a Netflix subscription that includes DVD rental, or renting/purchasing new releases through iTunes.

A bonus about renting films from iTunes versus most cable companies' on-demand systems is that you can hold a film for up to 30 days prior to watching. Once you start watching the film, you have 24 hours until the rental expires.

In the Movies section of the main menu, there are a few films that appear above the menu; press Up on the remote control and you can scroll through these films from left to right. You will find the movies that you rented in the past 24 hours in this section. To get out of this list of films, press Down, and you'll be back in the movie category of the main menu.

VoiceOver

The VoiceOver feature is great overall with a few minor issues. You can change the speech rate to fit your comfort. One issue I experienced was when VoiceOver requested the CVV credit card security to verify a purchase or rental. This probably occurred because I had changed the credit card associated with my iTunes account. I selected a film to watch, the screen showed a message asking for the CVV code from the credit card associated with my iTunes account, I entered the CVV, then it brought me back to the screen with the film. I didn't know if I had rented the movie properly or not. I went back to the film and considered renting the film for a second time, then VoiceOver came on and said that the film was loading. On later rentals it did not ask for the CVV code.

Low-vision Accessibility

If you are a user with low vision who is comfortable with VoiceOver, then accessibility will not be an issue with Apple TV. If you do not like using speech, however, low-vision accessibility on Apple TV may be problematic. You can't change the contrast, font size, or other display attributes. The size of your monitor or television screen will determine the size of the menu type display—the smaller the monitor, the smaller the type size. The contrast is not bad, but type sizes differ depending on which content area you're in. If you enter the Netflix area, for instance, the movie titles are tiny, even on a 42-inch screen. With such great accessibility through VoiceOver, I am a bit surprised low-vision accessibility features were not more carefully addressed.

The Bottom Line

I fully endorse Apple TV. As long as you're comfortable using VoiceOver, this device has great accessibility. Apple TV provides a feeling of freedom when accessing TV content that I've never felt before.

Product Information

Manufacturer: Apple, Inc.
Address: 1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
Website: www.apple.com
Phone: (877) 412-7753

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Recent Conference Highlights

The Top 12 Highlights from the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute Conference

After returning from Seattle, where I attended the successful and information-packed 24th Annual Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute (held jointly with the Pacific Northwest AER Conference this year), I couldn't help but think about the highlights of the conference. I spoke with staff and participants to develop this Top 10 list, but there were so many great things about the event that we ended up with a Top 12. Before getting to the list, a reminder: if you attended the conference and have not yet filled out the evaluation, please go to the evaluation form webpage and complete the questionnaire. Your feedback helps us improve this event!

Here is AFB's JLTLI and PNWAER Top 12 list, straight from Seattle, Washington!

  1. Mickey Damelio's presentation, "O&M and Play: Having Fun While Facilitating Development in Multiple Areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum," or, as I call it: "Teaching parents and educators that it's okay for children who are visually impaired to fall down and get cuts and bruises."
  2. Ike Presley wandering the aisles and hallways, speaking the gospel of low-vision technology and the expanded core curriculum. Everywhere you went, you would find Ike speaking his mind and sharing ideas and resources. Speak on, Ike!
  3. Darren Burton's presentation, "Apple Accessibility: Education, Entertainment and Productivity," where he demonstrated the latest in iTools and various features. We were amused when Darren showed off a weather app that forecast conditions in Seattle as rain, rain, rain, and more rain.
  4. The launch of FamilyConnect's social networking tool, FamilyFriends, which allows parents and families of children with visual impairments to create Facebook-like profiles and "friend" parents of other children. This will provide parents with a more personal experience on FamilyConnect.
  5. The vast amount of information shared by the amazing speakers presenting during the preconferences on optic nerve hypoplasia, orientation and mobility, and recreation and physical education. The attendees expressed their enthusiasm for these preconference sessions by filling rooms past capacity.
  6. Assistant Secretary Kathy Martinez's general session speech, which brought us an update on the Department of Labor and the U.S. Federal Government's initiatives to provide equal accessibility in all facets of life for persons with disabilities. She mentioned her sister, Peggy Martinez (Seattle Lighthouse), who later sang at the 90th Anniversary celebration—an impressive performance!
  7. John Rafferty's general session speech where he shared his background and tips on leadership culled from his vast experience as president and CEO of CNIB. He also announced the launch of CareerConnect Canada—the result of an exciting partnership between AFB and CNIB, with more sure to come in the future!
  8. Tom Sullivan's keynote, where he impressed the audience with his speaking, singing, and storytelling abilities. Mr. Sullivan awed and charmed us, and provided plenty of laughs with his stories of youthful high jinks. There was the one about drifting down the Charles River to the Boston Bay to replicate Huck Finn's voyage, and another about being expelled for the eleventh time from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA.
  9. The presentation of the Gallagher Award to Master Sergeant Jeffrey Mittman of NIB. Sgt. Mittman's story was so moving it inspired two standing ovations. He served in the U.S. Army for 22 years until injuries sustained during fighting in Iraq ended his military career. He now works to improve opportunities for veterans and other persons with vision loss. He is a true inspiration, and a deserving recipient of the Gallagher Award.
  10. The Migel medal presentation to Dr. Bill Wiener. Dr. Wiener is a much-lauded leader in the field, particularly on the topic of orientation and mobility, as was evidenced by the number of prominent members of the blindness field who spoke at the presentation.
  11. The Access Awards. A number of stellar recipients were recognized for their extraordinary work in providing accessibility to persons with vision loss:
    • • Accessible Twitter allows screen reader users much greater access to the popular social networking tool.
    • • Lexmark International, Inc. allows persons with vision loss to use software-based access to bypass difficult-to-use touch screens on copiers, scanners, printers, and fax machines.
    • • CBS Television Network, which began describing their television programs before it was a requirement, now provides video description for 22 percent of its primetime shows, the most of any network.
    • • Walt Disney Parks and Resorts took accessibility for persons with disabilities to a new level. The company developed a device that allows persons with vision and/or hearing loss to access descriptions and more while navigating the popular Disney theme parks.
  12. AFB's 90th anniversary celebration, which was capped off by AFB leaders Carl Augusto, Paul Schroeder, and Mark Richert rocking the house onstage with a number of guest vocalists. This was a sight to see—or at least hear! All let loose and relished the time to network, mix, mingle, and tear up the dance floor.

Truly, I could have kept going with such sessions as Cay Holbrook's "Patterns, Revised APH Braille Instruction: Part One," which received great reviews from all attendees. Or, by mentioning the name heard most frequently when navigating the conference: Scott Truax! Scott works for AFB, but worked in Washington for over 22 years. He was definitely one of the most well-known people at the conference. Scott was instrumental in putting together the conference with his co-chair, Mark Uslan.

AFB is grateful to the Pacific Northwest AER chapter, Seattle Lighthouse, Washington State School for the Blind, and all of the great volunteers who made the event so successful and unique. A big thank-you goes out to the amazing sponsors and vendors who added to the great atmosphere and quality of the event. The conference would not have been possible without a large team made up of members from Seattle, elsewhere in the United States, and Canada.

I'll see you at the next JLTLI!

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Recent Conference Highlights

Highlights from the CSUN 2011 Conference

For those of us who participate annually in the CSUN conference on technology and persons with disabilities, visiting the exhibit hall is something like a family reunion. Most of those we meet represent familiar branches of the family tree, but there are always some newcomers to the clan and naturally there are interesting stories to hear and trends to observe.

Braille Embossers

After a number of years in which no new braille embossers were announced, both of the primary manufacturers of embosser hardware demonstrated new offerings. The most ambitious of these was Index, who demonstrated the Braille Box ($13,000). This production embosser is rated at 800 pages per hour and embosses on single sheets of large format paper which can be folded and stapled in booklet form. Paper is loaded in a 400-sheet drawer in a manner similar to copiers. In addition to this high-volume unit, the Index Basic-D and 4 by 4 Embosser have been updated with new control panels, embosser heads, and a white-and-black color scheme.

Enabling Technologies demonstrated the Phoenix Graphics and Braille Embosser. Unlike other graphics embossers, which use a single embossing head to create both tactile images and braille text, the Phoenix has duel heads, one producing 25 dpi graphics and the second traditional head creating standard braille.

OCR

Serotek unveiled DocuScan Plus in a version for the Mac operating system. This full-featured OCR product supports document recognition via a "cloud" application from an Internet-connected computer. For both Mac and Windows operating systems, Serotek supports the HoverCam T5 document camera ($499). The camera is an off-the-shelf product that includes a plastic mat featuring several tactile marks. The marks cue the user in orienting the camera and positioning the document. The camera felt sturdy and is easy to fold into its telescoping base.

Notetakers

Braille technology in the form of notetakers was also very much in evidence this year. HIMS highlighted the OnHand, an 18-cell notetaker that was demonstrated in prototype last summer at the consumer conventions of the blind. At that time, reaction to the prototypes was decidedly mixed. The production units appear to have resolved some of the perceived shortcomings of the prototypes. To my hands, the OnHand felt solid and well crafted. The braille cells were perfectly aligned, and the device was generally very responsive. The space bar is much closer to the other keys than on other notetakers, and I must admit some disappointment with the rather crowded finger position that results. I also found the case and the attachment points for the neck/shoulder strap to be poorly conceived, in contrast to the generally solid feel of the device.

Bay Area Digital and Baum demonstrated the full complement of Baum's braille notetakers and Bluetooth displays. The Pronto is the current version of the notetaker sold previously by HumanWare as the PK. I had an opportunity to spend some time with the Pronto. As a devotee of the PK, picking up the Pronto and activating its controls was like getting reacquainted with a favorite cousin with whom I had lost touch. The approach Baum takes with the software puts a few new twists on the notetaker interface. Quick presses of each of the four function buttons results in immediate display (e.g., date, time, and next appointment). Menus are generally well-organized and easy to follow. My only disappointment was a slower response time at certain moments.

If the buzz around the exhibit hall is any indicator, the biggest notetaker story is about a product that isn't available yet. The Orion SmartBooks are two new notetakers announced by Colorado-based LevelStar and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). Unlike most of the currently available notetakers, which use a version of the Windows mobile operating system, the Orion devices will use the Android mobile operating system. Nonworking design mockups tantalized many who visited the LevelStar and APH booths. APH will market a speech-only version that features a braille keyboard as well as a number pad and navigation controls for non-braille input. The LevelStar version of the Orion SmartBook includes 18 cells of refreshable braille, braille keys, and navigation controls. Specific information on availability was not announced.

Mobile Applications

Android made several appearances elsewhere in the exhibit hall, most notably in the latest software product from Code Factory. Mobile Accessibility ($99) is an application that provides access to Android mobile device features such as phone, contacts, SMS, e-mail, and more. A screen reader provides access to additional functionality.

LookTell ($1.99) is a currency identification application recently released for iPod, iPad, and iPhones. Again, if exhibit hall buzz is any indication, this app is a big hit. LookTell will operate on any iOS device equipped with a camera. The performance is truly impressive. Once the app is activated, money held in front of the camera is identified in real time. The use of video, as opposed to snapshots, allows for very fast identification of a single note or rapid identification of many notes. LookTell is now turning its attention to the much more complex universe of complete object identification. It anticipates a future app that can identify common kitchen and food products, CD and DVD titles, book covers, and more.

More Information

The dozens of exhibiters at CSUN 2011 demonstrated an amazing variety of products and services. Many audio presentations and manufacturer interviews are available from online sources; Serotalk and Blind Bargains publish archives and may be of interest for specific product demonstrations.

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Letters to the Editor

More Financial Access Information from Fellow AccessWorld Readers

AccessWorld Readers Have a Lot to Say

Editor's Note: I want to thank all of the AccessWorld readers who sent in their comments and questions over the past month. Our financial issue prompted a lot of interest! Because I received more e-mails this March than in any previous month, we're going to publish three letters in this issue. These letters are primarily informative in nature, so I have not posted responses. For those of you who are waiting until the last minute to file your taxes, you may find a few more helpful tips from your fellow AccessWorld readers below.

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

In response to Marc Grossman's questions about tax filing: I've been doing my own taxes since 1992. I suppose I'm one of the pioneers in that regard. I…still use an Optacon, but I don't need it very often these days.

In the beginning, I used Am-Tax, a DOS program that made it fairly simple to fill out and print tax forms.

In 2002, when paperless technology made it easy to fill out and submit tax forms online, I started using TaxACT, because it's web-based; it's been my preferred method since. In the past couple years, they've added a CAPTCHA at the end of the payment process, but using Solona or Firefox makes it easy to solve the CAPTCHAs.

Filling out the forms isn't too hard. TaxACT and other tax software use a question and answer process; if you're familiar with the forms, you can fill them in directly. This year I discovered my 1099 forms, including my retiree form 1099-R, were all online and accessible, so gathering information was easier than ever.

Mary

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

I have been fairly successful using TaxAct Deluxe ($12.95) loaded on my PC, for preparing reasonably complex tax returns—although I do have sighted assistance readily available. TurboTax is also reasonably accessible.

Ron

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

One item I use, and didn't see mentioned in this issue, was the Accessible Tax Products link offered near the top of the IRS home page. This resource has several hundred forms and publications available in three formats. You can get text documents, BRF formatted ready-to-emboss braille documents, and self-voicing forms. I use the text and braille versions to research and prepare my taxes. I enter all the data and calculation formulas on an Excel spread sheet. Once finished, I read the list of numbers off to my wife, who writes onto the actual tax form. This is a great resource.

Bill

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AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Accessible Prescription Label Program Now Free for Americans with Vision Loss

En-Vision America has announced a new program to aid the blind and visually impaired in obtaining accessible prescriptions using ScripTalk Station. ScripTalk Station uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) and text-to-speech (TTS) technologies to provide information access to those who cannot read their prescription labels.

Under the Pharmacy Freedom Program, eligible individuals may obtain a free ScripTalk Station patient reader. Participating pharmacies attach to each prescription a small RFID label that contains all printed information. The ScripTalk Station reads this information aloud to the patient. This system provides a safe, private, and independent way for the blind and visually impaired to manage their medication regimen, and also helps pharmacies comply with ADA regulations in serving their patients.

The ScripTalk Station system is used nationwide by the Veteran's Administration, and is currently the only product on the market to provide full label information in a manner that meets ADA, FDCA, and HIPAA regulations.

Interested individuals may contact En-Vision America to get a free reader and provide pharmacy details. Pharmacies concerned with meeting the needs of their special needs patients may also contact the company for more information about the program.

For additional information contact:

Anna McClure
En-Vision America
1845 Hovey Ave.
Normal, IL 61761
(800) 890-1180
frontdesk@envisionamerica.com

Two AER Regional Conferences Coming Soon in 2011

Two AER Regional Conferences bring learning sessions and networking opportunities for vision professionals to two locations this year: August 12-14 in Boston, MA, and October 28-30 in Cleveland, OH.

Call for Abstracts

Enhance your professional credentials by presenting at an AER conference!

Abstracts are sought in the following areas:

  • Adult Rehabilitation
  • Assistive Technology
  • General Education
  • Early Intervention/Multiple Disabilities
  • Orientation & Mobility
  • Other vision related topics

Submit an abstract to the Boston conference by April 12 to be entered into a drawing for a three-night stay at the Boston Park Plaza while you attend the meeting! If you make the April 12 deadline, you will be notified of your abstract acceptance by April 25 so that you can get an early start on your summer travel plans.

Can't make the April 12 date? No problem: abstract submission for the Boston conference will remain open until May 11 (extended from April 15).

Submit an abstract to the Cleveland conference by June 1 to be entered into a drawing for a three-night stay at the Crowne Plaza Cleveland City Centre! You will receive acceptance notification by July 15.

More Information

Visit the conference website to register and find more information.

Questions? E-mail AER or call (703) 671-4500.

Is Microsoft Moving Toward Increased Accessibility?

Learn about Microsoft's two new beta add-ons for Office 2010 released at the CSUN 2011 conference, by reading David Nagel's article "Microsoft Steps up Accessibility," published in the March 17, 2011 issue of T.H.E. Journal.

Code Factory's Mobile Speak 5.0 for Symbian Now Available

According to a recent announcement from Code Factory, Mobile Speak 5.0, a free update for all users of Mobile Speak 4.0, is now available for download and includes support for Symbian^3 and Nokia e-mail, plus new a review cursor feature.

Support for Symbian^3

The latest version of Symbian includes more than 250 new features and improvements, such as a simplified user interface, enhanced multimedia features, and more customization options. Mobile Speak 5.0 supports all of the Nokia devices that currently use the Symbian^3 operating system: Nokia N8, Nokia E7, Nokia C7 and Nokia C6-01.The Nokia E7, designed primarily with the business user in mind, is the only Symbian^3 smartphone with a slide-out, four-row QWERTY keyboard. All of the Symbian^3 devices have AMOLED capacitive touchscreens: 3.2 inches for the C6-01, 3.5 inches for the C7 and the N8, and 4 inches for the E7. The C6-01 is a compact touchscreen and the most budget-friendly. The C7 is very slim and has a sleek design. The N8 features a 12 megapixel camera and a full metal chassis with anodized scratch-proof paint to give the phone a really high-end feel.

As the Nokia N8 and Nokia E7 do not have physical call and end-call keys, Mobile Speak 5.0 features two new gestures: slide down and left (in the shape of the letter "L" reversed) to dial, and slide down and right (letter "L") to end the call.

Nokia E-mail

Per the request of many users, Code Factory added Mobile Speak support for the new Nokia e-mail application on many 3rd FP2 devices (e.g., N86, E52, E72, E5, C5) and touchscreen devices (e.g., N97 mini, N8, E7). On touch devices, HTML e-mail support is included. The full e-mail will be read by default, so it's not necessary to move down one line at a time. Command shortcuts in reading layout (e.g. read by words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.) are available when reading e-mail. In addition, pressing joystick up/joystick down will speak the previous/next paragraph.

Review Cursor

Mobile Speak 5.0 also features a new review cursor mode (Command + 3 to toggle). This feature is available on both touchscreen and standard keyboard devices. Once the review cursor has been activated, you can navigate around the screen virtually using the joystick. Joystick up/down moves to the previous/next element, joystick left/right moves character by character in the element, and joystick enter will open the currently selected virtual element (where possible).

More
  • Touch: Long press of # key in editors now switches between number/text writing modes.
  • Touch: Added support for video and photo browser lists.
  • Braille: Improved braille cursor mode.
  • Apps: Support for the latest version of Tweets60.
  • A large number of other improvements and bug fixes, as detailed in the User Manual.
How to Get Mobile Speak 5.0

If you are a new user, download Mobile Speak 5.0 now and try it free for 30 days. If you are use a previous version and wish to upgrade to Mobile Speak 5.0, contact your distributor to purchase an upgrade license. Upgraders will also receive Mobile Magnifier, Mobile DAISY Player, Color Recognizer, and games for free. To find a distributor, consult the complete list of Code Factory's official distributors.

To learn how to install or upgrade to a latest version of Mobile Speak, consult the User Manual.

Learn more on the Mobile Speak website the Mobile Speak website.

Dolphin Guide 6 is Now Available in North America

Dolphin Guide 6 is now available for North American customers and includes new games, new support for popular file formats, and some improvements to make computing even simpler.

Designed for seniors with sight loss and people with blindness or low vision who are new to computers, Dolphin Guide is easy to learn. Dolphin Guide provides step-by-step choices that guide users through e-mailing, surfing the Web, and other computer tasks. Download a trial today.

CTIA-The Wireless Association Redesigns AccessWireless.org

CTIA-The Wireless Association recently announced the redesign of AccessWireless.org, the association's website to help people with disabilities, seniors, and their families find the right accessible wireless products and services. As part of the wireless industry's continued commitment to serving people of all abilities, AccessWireless.org is the initial website that consumers can visit for information about accessible wireless handsets and services. U.S.consumers can find a phone by searching and comparing the accessibility features of a variety of wireless handsets through the Mobile Manufacturer Forum's Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative.

CTIA and its member companies received insights from a diverse working group to help ensure the redesigned website fit the needs of the accessibility community. The group consisted of policymakers from the Federal Communications Commission and consumer representatives including the American Foundation for the Blind, Hearing Loss Association of America, American Association of People with Disabilities, TDI, Inc., the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Alzheimer's Association, and the Wireless Research Engineering and Rehabilitation Center.

If you have had the opportunity to check out this website from CTIA, let AccessWorld know how it has worked for you.

New Money Reader App Available for Apple Devices

LookTell's Money Reader is a $1.99 app available from Apple's App Store, and AFB TECH lab rats say it is by far the best currency identification tool they have used. It's certainly a tremendous bargain compared to the dedicated currency identification devices on the market priced in the $100 to $300 range, and our lab rats find it more accurate and much faster and easier to use. You wave your iPhone, iPod, or iPad over the bill, with no need to flatten or straighten out the bill, and a voice announces its denomination. This app works on the iPhone 3G or later, the iPad 2, and the iPod Touch 4th Generation.

This app may also be of interest to the U.S. Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which is currently working on ideas for making U.S. paper currency accessible to people with vision loss. An app like this could be one solution. You can read more about their efforts at the Federal Register's website.

Anyone for Coffee?

The e-Braille version of Onward, Howard Schultz's book about Starbucks, is available for free at the National Braille Press.

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