In This Issue
Is It Accessible Now?
Cell Phone Access
The Current State of Cell Phone Accessibility
I've been writing cell phone evaluation articles for AccessWorld for over eight years, and in this issue focusing on cell phone accessibility, I thought I'd better step up and have something to say. In this article, I give an overview of the current state of accessibility affairs in the mobile device world and link to AccessWorld articles. I'll begin with smartphones that are in reality very powerful mobile computers, and cover less powerful mobile phones, known as feature phones. I also briefly detail what each of the four major national service providers offer as far as accessible devices. I also provide information about Access Wireless, a website created by The Wireless Association (CTIA) and the wireless industry to help people with disabilities, seniors, and their families find a cell phone and service.--Darren Burton
Book Review: Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users, by Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau
When the iPhone first made news among users with vision loss because it was "accessible out of the box," I was not among those rushing to buy one. A long time Verizon customer, my excuse was "I'll get one if it ever comes to Verizon." Well, the iPhone did come to Verizon, at just about the same time that I was asked to review Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users (National Braille Press). It struck me that reviewing the book as a brand-new user of the iPhone 4 would be an ideal approach. The iPhone and the book arrived on my doorstep at roughly the same time, and the combination proved to be the proverbial match made in heaven.--Deborah Kendrick
My Trials and Tribulations Learning the iPhone with VoiceOverJanet Ingber
This article chronicles some problems I had learning to use the iPhone and how I was able to solve them. Read this article and learn from my mistakes. The first text message I sent from my iPhone was to my husband. The message said, "I hate this phone." Now, I absolutely love it.--Janet Ingber
An Evaluation of Mobile Accessibility for Android, by Code Factory
Perhaps one of the biggest recent advancements for Android accessibility is the introduction of Mobile Accessibility for Android from Code Factory. Mobile Accessibility provides a two-pronged accessibility solution: a homegrown suite of applications, and a screen reader for the phone. This review looks at version 1.2 of Mobile Accessibility, and evaluates how the software performs a variety of tasks.--J.J. Meddaugh
Accessibility Review: The Verizon Accolade Cell Phone
We recently learned Verizon had replaced the LG VX8360 with the LG Accolade with speech output, and were curious to see how it performed. This evaluation takes a close look at the built-in accessibility features of this basic feature phone.--Tara Annis and Morgan blubaugh
Letters to the Editor
Readers Offer Feedback on the May Issue and Thoughts on Vision Restoration
Is It Accessible Now?
Dear AccessWorld Readers,
We all know the cell phone commercial where the guy with the glasses asks, "Can you hear me now?" With the constantly shifting sands of the cell phone industry, including the introduction of new technologies, mergers of cell service carriers, changing rate plans, and the appearance and disappearance of specific cell phone models, a better question for those of us in the vision loss community may be, "Is it accessible now?"
If you're looking for a cell phone that is completely accessible "out of the box," good luck. At this moment, AccessWorld is aware of two—that's right, two—cell phones that provide built-in speech output support for all the phones' features. Those two phones are the Haven, a clamshell-style feature phone offered by Verizon Wireless, and the iPhone, offered by Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
In the rest of the cell phone market, many models do not offer the ability to adjust display font size or to use speech output at all. Others offer adjustable display fonts and partial speech output. However you look at it, real built-in cell phone accessibility is hard to come by.
It's very disappointing and frustrating to me that at this point in time there is such a lack of built-in speech output functionality for mobile devices. By law, telecommunication devices must be accessible to people with disabilities, but in practice most simply are not. When cell phone manufacturers don't include accessibility features in the designs of their products, they are overlooking millions of potential customers. Likewise, when cell service providers sell inaccessible cell phones, they perpetuate this disservice.
The Haven cell phone is a very basic feature phone and, comparatively speaking, very inexpensive. It's unfathomable to me why the same type of technology used in the Haven is not employed in all feature phones, regardless of manufacturer or service provider. In the same vein, when the iPhone with its many, many features is fully accessible via built-in speech output, I'm unable to justify the inaccessibility of the many other smartphones on the market. When taking into account the complexity of technology that enables feature phones and smartphones to perform all the tasks they currently do—placing calls, text messaging, e-mailing, web surfing, and receiving Twitter and Facebook updates in real time—is it really that complex or expensive to provide speech output for these features?
In this month's issue focusing on cell phone accessibility, we try to provide some clarity. Darren Burton offers an overview of the current state of cell phone accessibility and what the major service providers are doing in the area of access. J.J. Meddaugh reports on Mobile Accessibility, the access solution for the Android operating system, and Morgan Blubaugh and Tara Annis evaluate the Accolade offered from Verizon Wireless.
For readers who are brand new to the iPhone or who are considering its purchase, be sure to read Deborah Kendrick's review of Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users, by Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau, as well as Janet Ingber's article, My Trials and Tribulations Learning the iPhone with VoiceOver.
We at AccessWorld would like to hear from you and encourage you to send a letter to the editor. Please let us know what cell phone you're currently using, and tell us about any access features it may or may not have—don't be surprised if your letter just happens to be published in our next issue!
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Cell Phone Access
The Current State of Cell Phone Accessibility
I've been writing cell phone evaluation articles for AccessWorld for over eight years, and since this issue of AccessWorld is focusing on cell phone accessibility, I thought I'd better step up and have something to say. In this article, instead of detailing the accessibility of a particular phone, I'm going to give an overview of what I see as the current state of accessibility affairs in the mobile device world. Although I won't give a lot of detail about each phone I discuss, I will link to AccessWorld articles evaluating each phone where appropriate. I'll begin with the high end of the market, the smartphones that are in reality very powerful mobile computers. I will then cover the lower end of the market, the less powerful mobile phones, known as feature phones or message phones. I will also briefly detail what each of the four major national service providers have to offer as far as accessible devices. I will then provide some information about Access Wireless, a website created by The Wireless Association (CTIA) and the wireless industry to help people with disabilities, seniors, and their families find a cell phone and service.
Smartphones are increasingly powerful mobile computing devices that happen to also be telephones. Mobile devices are much more powerful and feature-rich than the computers I used when I first got into the tech business 15 years ago, and their accessibility will be increasingly important as computing trends further and further away from the desktop. A great deal has changed in the smartphone market since I first began detailing their accessibility in 2003. Phones running the Symbian operating system, manufactured mainly by Nokia, were the first to allow for the installation of third party access software. Nuance's TALKS and Code Factory's Mobile Speak screen readers, along with their screen magnifier counterparts, came on the scene in 2003 and 2004 and provided expensive but highly effective access to Symbian smartphones. Though these software products are still available, the Symbian phones themselves are becoming less available in the U.S. market. That's because Nokia, the main manufacturer of Symbian phones, recently announced a move away from Symbian towards Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform.
This brings us to Microsoft Windows smartphones. Beginning with the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system through version 6.5, Windows-based smartphones supported a compatible version of Mobile Speak and a screen reader from Dolphin called Smart Hal. However, as we reported in our December 2010 issue, the 2010 release of Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 operating system does not support any screen readers, and phones built on that operating system have no built-in accessibility to support people with vision loss. Although Microsoft has promised to remedy that situation, in the meantime our choices are limited by this shortcoming.
Although Nokia is moving away from Symbian and new Windows phones are not an option, you can still find some Symbian phones and older Windows phones at various online retailers. You can also buy Symbian phones with the KNFB Reader software for reading print material at www.KNFBReader.com. It's just not very likely that you will find a Symbian phone at your local mobile phone store these days.
AccessWorld readers familiar with my articles on Apple's products know I am a huge fan of the iPhone. Its built-in VoiceOver screen reader and Zoom magnification feature, as well as its compatibility with wireless braille displays, are unparalleled in the mobile device landscape. Now available from both AT&T and Verizon Wireless, I highly recommend the iPhone to our readers who want a mobile device that is both powerful and fully accessible. Mine rarely leaves my side, as I use it as a Web browser, book reader, music player, and to keep up with my e-mail. With all the third party apps available, such as money identifiers, GPS tools, and bar code scanners, there seem to be unlimited possibilities for the iPhone. We're also seeing early optical character recognition (OCR) apps, and I hear that a Bookshare app is right around the corner.
There is certainly a bit of learning to be done when you first try to use the iPhone's touch screen interface, but it's not as daunting as some may think. I definitely found it easier to learn to use than I did my PC screen reader. I will have to admit though, that the actual phone feature itself is probably the most difficult to use, especially when interacting with one of those annoying voicemail systems that require you to press 1 for customer service and 2 for tech support, etc. That said, it does work if you have some patience and use a headset, and all the other benefits of the iPhone make it worth it.
Although my May 2010 AccessWorld article evaluating Android accessibility was not entirely positive, it was cautiously optimistic about the future. That optimism may prove well-placed as several improvements were announced by Google's Eyes-Free Project in 2011. Those improvements include the addition of a talking on-screen keyboard and an accessible virtual D-pad for easier navigation through apps. This is extremely important, as Android phones with physical QWERTY keyboards, D-pads, or track balls are becoming rare.
You can also read about Code Factory's new Mobile Accessibility software for Android phones in J.J. Meddaugh's article in this issue of AccessWorld. Mobile Accessibility provides a screen reader and a suite of accessible apps that includes a Web browser, an e-mail app, and a calendar.
These developments are certainly encouraging, because Android phones are becoming more and more ubiquitous and several manufacturers are building Android phones. You can find them at every service provider, not just AT&T and Verizon (the only iPhone carriers). It still takes a bit of tech ability to figure out how to activate and use Android's accessibility features and software.
My May 2010 review of the Oratio screen reader for BlackBerry smartphones found it to be a solid product that provides access to most of the phone's features and functions. However, it was—and according to Humanware's website, still is—compatible with only one BlackBerry phone. Also, its $449 price tag keeps many in the vision loss community from embracing it. However, for people whose employment situation requires the use of a BlackBerry, Oratio is a viable option.
For people with low vision, BlackBerry phones offer display themes that feature higher contrast and larger fonts, and an upcoming issue of AccessWorld will feature an article reviewing the new BlackBerry "Clarity" display theme targeted at their customers with visual impairments.
I realize not everyone is interested in a smartphone, and I do hear from AccessWorld readers who say, "I just want an accessible basic phone, and I don't want to be bothered by all the bells and whistles of smartphones." I also often hear concerns over the extra data download costs associated with using a smartphone. There are a handful of phones with speech output in the lower-end feature phone (or message phone) category. These phones are not compatible with electronic braille displays, but they often do have at least some features that would benefit a person with low vision.
Two phones that fit into this category are available from Verizon Wireless: the Samsung Haven and the LG Accolade. Morgan Blubaugh and Tara Annis review the Accolade in this issue of AccessWorld
, and we reviewed the Haven in November 2010. The LG Lotus, available from Sprint, is a very similar phone to the LG Accolade. The Pantech Breeze II, available from AT&T, has some speech support and features that will assist a person with low vision, but the Contact List and Caller ID do not have speech output. AT&T also offers some LG phones with speech output, but they are not as robust as the LG phones I mentioned from Verizon and Sprint. Also available is the Jitterbug J phone, which is aimed at seniors and people with low vision. We reviewed the latest version of the Jitterbug last month. Another option for a basic feature phone with large keys is the Snapfon ez ONE, sold by Independent Living Aids and described in
AccessWorld News in our May 2010 issue.
The "Big Four" Service Providers
I thought it would be helpful to include a round-up of what each of the four national service providers (AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile) has to offer as far as accessible devices. I also include the address for each service provider's accessibility webpage.
AT&T was the first to offer the very accessible iPhone, and it continues to do so. In addition to the latest model, the iPhone 4, AT&T also offers the iPhone 3G S at a discounted price of $49. some Symbian phones and older Windows Mobile phones, along Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier software from Code Factory at a discounted price. AT&T has several Android phones available and we hope the company will also offer Code Factory's new Mobile Accessibility screen reader for Android phones for customers with vision loss. You can call AT&T's National Center for Customers with Disabilities at (866) 241-6568 to learn more.
In terms of feature phones, as mentioned earlier AT&T offers the Breeze 2, along with LG phones that have some speech output. In general, speech support for AT&T LG phones is not as complete as that of the LG phones offered by Verizon. You can learn more about AT&T's products and services for people with disabilities on their accessibility site.
In early 2011, to the delight of many of their customers with vision loss, Verizon Wireless began offering the iPhone, with the same accessibility features as the AT&T iPhone. The only difference we've found between the phones offered by these two providers is that you can't browse the Web via the cellular network while on a call on the Verizon phone. You can, however, browse the Web while on a call if you have an active WiFi connection. Verizon also still offers the "TALKS™ for Verizon Wireless" screen reader at a discounted price for the HTC Ozone, a Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphone. Verizon also offers several Android phones, but has not yet announced any plans to subsidize Mobile Speak for Android.
Verizon Wireless has long been the lead service provider for accessible feature phones, beginning with the LG VX 4500 that we evaluated in the May 2005 issue of AccessWorld. The previously mentioned LG Accolade is the latest phone from Verizon with a similar level of speech output, and Verizon also offers the LG enV 3, with similar speech output in a QWERTY keyboard model. Verizon's Samsung Haven is a basic phone with speech output that supports every single feature on the phone.
You can learn more about Verizon's products and services for people with disabilities on the Verizon accessibility site.
Sprint offers several Android phones, but does not cover the cost for Mobile Speak. As far as feature phones, Sprint's LG Lotus has accessibility features similar to the other LG phones I've mentioned. Sprint also offers the Motorola i580 and i880, which provide speech output for several features. Visit Sprint's accessibility site to learn more.
T-Mobile has not made much effort to comply with federal mandates to accommodate people with vision loss. The company has never offered discounts on screen readers for smartphones, nor has it offered any meaningful accessibility in the feature phones it carries. I was unable to find anything on the T-Mobile website regarding accessibility. Those of you who read the financial pages may have heard of the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, and if the merger does go through, we can only hope that the merged company continues AT&T's accessibility practices, not those of T-Mobile.
Access Wireless was created by CTIA and the wireless industry to help people with disabilities, seniors, and their families find a cell phone and service. Although I found no problems with the accessibility of the website, it did not strike me as particularly useful to people with vision loss. The site does have some general information about phone features that accommodate people with vision loss, but there is no guidance provided to help you find a particular phone with those features. Access Wireless's phone-finding tool is called Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI.) GARI is an accessible database, though it does not include most of the phones I've mentioned in this article. Also, most of the phones GARI does come up with for people with vision loss are not phones I would recommend to my readers. Although Access Wireless and GARI are great ideas, their implementation needs refinement and more manufacturers need to take part for the site to be truly useful. Responding to input from people with disabilities and the organizations that represent them would also go a long way towards making the tools useful.
Not everyone in the disability community shares my thoughts about Access Wireless, and we are interested in our reader's thoughts about the effectiveness of this website.
The Bottom Line
I've seen significant improvement in mobile phone accessibility over the past eight years, but we still have a way to go. As it stands, I can't say that the industry has fully complied with the spirit of federal accessibility mandates. Obviously, Microsoft has to step up to the plate and develop real accessibility with the new phones it offers. If and when Microsoft does that, I hope the company will follow Apple's example and build in comprehensive accessibility to every device at no extra cost. We definitely don't want to have to carry any company's water and pay for third party software ourselves. Android is following the right model, and I hope eventually Android will provide the same level of accessibility and usability we have on the iPhone. I would also like to see the manufacturers step up and build more feature phones that are fully accessible.
Accessibility will only grow in importance as mobile devices get more powerful and mobile computing becomes an even more intricate part of our daily lives. We can only hope that industry truly embraces accessibility and fully complies with the spirit of federal accessibility mandates.
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Cell Phone Access
Book Review: Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users, by Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau
When the iPhone first made news among users with vision loss because it was "accessible out of the box," I was not among those rushing to buy one. A longtime Verizon customer, my excuse was "I'll get one if it ever comes to Verizon." Well, the iPhone did come to Verizon, at just about the same time that I was asked to review Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users (National Braille Press). It struck me that reviewing the book as a brand-new user of the iPhone 4 would be an ideal approach. The iPhone and the book arrived on my doorstep at roughly the same time, and the combination proved to be the proverbial match made in heaven.
For those unfamiliar with the iPhone, a few words of explanation are in order. The iPhone is unlike any other piece of assistive technology to date. First of all, it was not designed for blind or visually impaired people. It's a mainstream product that Apple had the foresight to equip with a built-in screen reader, called VoiceOver, that renders it as immediately accessible to people with vision loss as it is to those who can see the screen. To handle one initially, however, elicits all the foreboding of any touchscreen kiosk or piece of home electronics without buttons or switches. Its screen is completely flat and its face boasts a single button. Although I knew other people with vision loss were successfully using iPhones, I remained skeptical. Motivated by that skepticism, I opened the book first.
Introduction to the Book
Co-authors Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau couldn't have planned Getting Started with the iPhone more thoughtfully. The book offers an introduction, a physical description of the phone itself, clearly delineated sections on using each feature, a journal kept by Anna Dresner when her phone was new, and back matter that includes frequently asked questions and other resources. The book is available as three soft-bound braille volumes or as three corresponding digital files that can be loaded into any braille-aware device.
Even before turning on my iPhone 4, I read the first volume of the book. Dresner and Martineau begin with a glowing description of the iPhone's capabilities and provide a section entitled "A Word of Encouragement," wherein the reader is advised that using the iPhone will seem impossible or difficult at the beginning, but eventually the gestures and navigation methods will make sense. While my initial reaction to this section was that it was somewhat patronizing, as I started to use the iPhone I found myself recalling it again and again, whenever I longed to throw the device out the window and return comfortably to a phone with buttons I could feel.
Before experimentation with the iPhone is even possible, it's necessary to connect it to your computer via iTunes. Although the authors carefully detail how this is accomplished, it turned out to be the one and only step for which I required sighted assistance. Using JAWS, Window-Eyes, or System Access, I experienced difficulty in locating all of the necessary buttons and boxes for syncing the phone for activation. Once that was done and VoiceOver was turned on, however,I was ready to go. To buy myself a little additional peace of mind, I immediately called Verizon to have my phone number transferred back to my old phone, thus rendering the iPhone a device that could do everything but make phone calls. This took the pressure off using the phone as a phone for the first week—a move I recommend to anyone able to do it.
Touching and Flicking
Anyone using an iPhone employs various gestures to activate features. Using the phone with VoiceOver requires additional gestures. Dresner and Martineau explain these gestures clearly and concisely. To look at the home screen, for example, a grid of four rows each containing four icons, they explain that by touching various places on the screen, the user can hear the icon spoken. They next talk about flicking right and left, and somehow, my brain caught on to the flicking but not to the random touching for identifying the icons. For the first few weeks, then, I was a flicking fanatic, flicking right or left to hear icons announced in sequence. When another user pointed out that I could simply slide my finger around the screen to hear the icons exactly where they appeared on the screen, the light went on and life became much easier.
Once I learned to explore the home screen by following the instructions laid out in the book and my own curiosity, the power of this pocket-sized device began to impress itself upon me. I got the weather report in four cities, accessed a sample video on YouTube, and bought an audiobook on iTunes for $1.95 (I'll probably never read it, but the thrill and immediacy of having that book on my phone was mesmerizing). Then, mysteriously, the Phone icon vanished, and it was time to go back to the book.
Moving icons from one place to another, it turned out, is accomplished by double-tapping and holding. By double-tapping on an icon and holding my finger in place, I had inadvertently buried the icon for using the phone itself. Because the book presents information in small, clearly labeled chunks, it was relatively easy to troubleshoot this problem, and to use the book's instructions to return my Phone icon to the home screen where it belonged.
It's a Phone, Too
After a week of exploring the iPhone as a music player, weather forecaster, alarm clock, and e-mail reader, it was time to activate my phone number and begin using it to make calls.
The book explains how to use the keypad as well as voice controls for making calls. The authors also forewarn that, in the beginning, calling errors might occur. While the voice recognition is superb, I initially accidentally called a few people at midnight, and left a few embarrassing voice mails in which I said things like, "I didn't mean to call you, and now I can't hang up my phone." Recalling the "A Word of Encouragement" section once again saved the iPhone from flight toward the nearest trash receptacle.
All in the Details
Dresner and Martineau are both blind users of the iPhone, and it is from that unique perspective that the book is written. They don't just explain to the reader how to compose a text message, they tell you where on the screen the "Compose" button will be located. They tell you how to change the typing mode to find the one most convenient for you. They seamlessly blend information relevant to any iPhone user—e.g., that text messages are organized in "conversations," so that all messages to and from a single contact are in one place—with information on how to command VoiceOver to read the text aloud. Personally, I found the various mentions of where a particular button could be found on the screen especially helpful. The "OK" button, for instance, has a unique position on the screen depending on the particular app being used. Being directed by the authors to the approximate location of a button needed—e.g., lower right corner, above the Y on the keyboard, etc.—took a considerable amount of frustration out of the learning process.
More Than a Single Read
While reading the book before using the iPhone was helpful, some of us are hands-on learners. For this reason, the next few weeks with my iPhone passed without my returning to Getting Started with the iPhone. During this time, I began exploring the wonderful world of iPhone apps, a seemingly boundless pool of software tools one can easily download to the phone for accomplishing myriad tasks. I downloaded apps that could identify my currency; tell me if the light was on; play a variety of radio stations; tell me that a picture I'd just taken was of my cat, my shower curtain, or a can of Campbell's soup; and look up words in a free dictionary.
Then, a problem occurred. I'd been using the iPhone exclusively with the headphones supplied with the unit when a sighted friend asked me to demonstrate how a blind person uses the device. I unplugged the headphones, pressed the Home key—and could not get VoiceOver to speak through the phone's built-in speaker. Turning VoiceOver off and on again, powering the unit off and on again, and all manner of other rescue attempts failed to resolve the problem. Sure enough, Getting Started with the iPhone had the solution in the frequently asked questions section. The problem was solved, and with it, my resolve to keep the book close at hand was cemented.
Getting Started with the iPhone is an absolute must-have for any blind or visually impaired user who is new to this amazing device. Whether you are inclined to read the book straight through or randomly flip through sections as needed—or both—the information is always easily located and blissfully clear. Personally, I found the hardcopy braille version to be a more efficient format for reference, but some may find the electronic version more convenient. The price and content is, of course, the same for every format. National Braille Press is to be congratulated for once again providing exactly the right material at the right time to assist consumers with vision loss in using a popular product. Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau have written a book that delivers the information in exactly the right package.
Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users is available in hardcopy braille, on CD, and in downloadable DAISY, EBraille, Word, or ASCII formats.
Price is $18.
To order, visit National Braille Press or call (888) 965-8965.
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Cell Phone Access
My Trials and Tribulations Learning the iPhone with VoiceOver
When I heard Verizon Wireless would be offering the iPhone, I was ecstatic. I immediately started learning about the phone and VoiceOver, its built-in screen reader. Though in the end it was well worth it, I didn't know how steep or frustrating the learning curve would be.
In their book Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users (reviewed in this issue of AccessWorld
), Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau write:
You'll enjoy learning the phone more if you are gentle with yourself. This is a new skill, and the only way to learn is to make mistakes, probably repeated ones. Be assured that by trying to learn the phone, you will not harm it, even when you make mistakes, or when things seem to be getting out of control. Keep breathing fully and relax! If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a break.
Those are great words of advice and encouragement.
Even though I researched the iPhone before getting it, when it was finally in my hands I realized that I had a lot to learn. My plan for the first day was to learn how to text, make and receive phone calls, and set up my voice mail. Although my computer skills are very good, using the iPhone was different. At first it seemed almost overwhelming and I did not accomplish the above tasks in one day.
As I was learning to use the phone, I got information from many sources. After struggling on my own for a few days, I purchased Dresner and Martineau's book, and it was extremely helpful. Apple's accessibility website and blindness related e-mail lists were also very useful. I had an in-person meeting with a device specialist at the Verizon Wireless store, but that was less helpful. I also used Google on occasion if I needed a quick answer. For example, I'd forgotten how to delete old voice mail messages on the iPhone, so I typed, "iPhone VoiceOver, delete voice mails" and activated the search button. I went through the results and quickly found my answer.
Unlike Windows-based screen readers, Apple's VoiceOver has the user interact with the phone by touching various locations on the screen. The iPhone 4 and iPhone 3 do not have physical QWERTY keyboards, but instead use a virtual keyboard that comes up on the touchscreen when it is needed. The only tactile button is below the actual touch screen. Pressing this button will bring you back to the home screen, so don't be afraid to use it.
Aside from entering information, most interaction with the iPhone is done through gestures. Sometimes there is more than one way to accomplish a task. For example, to activate a button you can find the button, keep your finger on it, and tap the screen with another finger, or you can locate the button, wait for VoiceOver to say that the button is selected, and then double tap the screen anywhere. It's important to learn all the gestures that VoiceOver uses. A good place to start is in the VoiceOver practice section, located in the settings menu. Go to Settings, then General, then Accessibility, and select VoiceOver/VoiceOver Practice. There you can do the various gestures on the screen and VoiceOver will say the name of the gesture and what it accomplishes. For me, the toughest gesture was "flick," where you quickly move a finger or fingers across, up, or down the screen. Flicking one finger to the right will activate the next element and flicking to the left will bring up the previous one. This is a good way to review the items on a screen. If you accidentally do a three finger double tap, which I've done, this will turn VoiceOver off. The only way to get VoiceOver to come on again is to do another three finger double tap. There is an option in the VoiceOver menu to have hints speak, which explains what to do in a specific situation. This helped me a lot. I still keep my hints turned on even though I know all the gestures and what they accomplish. Sometimes there are applications where having hints turned on is very useful such as with setting a clock or entering information into the phone's calendar.
Here are some problems I had and how I was able to solve them.
Answering and ending a call. One way to answer a call is to quickly double tap with two fingers, but I found that method didn't work consistently. Another way is to use the headset that comes with the phone and press its middle button. Although that method works, I didn't want to be carrying a headset with me all the time. The third option is to activate the answer button, slightly above and to the right of the home button. To end a call, select the end button, slightly above and left of the home button. This is the method that I use. If your screen is locked when you receive a call, it's necessary to tap the screen once and then double tap it. This will answer the call and you don't have to worry about finding specific buttons. In the beginning, I'll admit that I didn't unlock the screen on time for the first few calls I received.
Setting up voice mail. The first thing I wanted to do was let people who called know that I was learning the iPhone and if they received a voice mail message to please call me again. It's possible to do this directly on the phone, but since it was my first day with the unit I wanted a method that didn't involve activating any buttons. All I needed to do was call my phone from another phone. When the standard voice message came on I pressed the pound (#) key. I was then prompted to create a password and record an outgoing voice mail message.
Making calls. Making calls can be done by voice command, choosing someone from the contacts or favorites lists, or by bringing up the virtual phone keypad. I found that using voice controls usually worked, but I wanted additional options. A few times I accidentally called someone when browsing through my contacts list. It's a good thing I didn't accidentally call my cousin in Australia. One way to avoid making calls by accident is to go into the Settings menu. The first control is Airplane Mode. Turning on this option will block the phone's ability to make calls. This option is also initially useful when editing your contacts list. In the contacts list is an option to add the contact to the favorites list. Basically it's a list of the numbers you call most frequently. It's Apple's answer to speed dial. Once a contact is added to the favorites list, it takes fewer steps to call him or her. Open the phone application, then activate the "Favorites" button, which is the first button. This will bring up a list of your favorites. Locate the name of the person you wish to call and double tap it.
Typing. My previous phone was an LG EnV2. It had some accessibility including the ability to send and receive text messages. The phone had a QWERTY keyboard and I learned how to type with my thumbs. Unless you choose to use a braille or Bluetooth keyboard, you will need to use the phone's virtual keyboard.
There are several ways to type on the iPhone. I tried double tapping, where you tap the designated character twice to add it to a document, and touch typing, where you put a finger on the character, wait for VoiceOver to say the letter or number, and when the finger is lifted, the character is added. This method was definitely the one I preferred. There are settings to have the iPhone use auto-correct which will anticipate what you want to type. Learning to type on the phone's virtual keyboard took practice, but eventually my speed increased. The Notes app, which comes on the phone, is a good place to practice. Should you decide that you don't like the virtual keyboard, the app Dragon Dictation is free from the App Store and allows you to record your message rather than type it. Even with this app, you will have to type in at least the recipient's name if you are sending an e-mail or text message.
Texting. In order to send a text message, you need to choose a recipient. As with many things on the iPhone, there are several ways to do this. One way is to go through the Contacts list, find the person you want to text, open the contact, and activate the text message button. If the person is someone you text frequently, it might be easier to put the person in your Favorites list. In that list, select the "more info" button to the right of each person's name. This will open the contact information, where the text message button is located. I found this extremely useful, especially in the beginning while I was learning to use the keyboard.
Another way is to start typing the recipient's name in the "To" edit box. The more letters you type, the fewer results you will get. A list of people with the names beginning with the letters you typed will come up. From there, double tap the person you wish to text. If a contact has more than one phone number, you will need to be careful to select the one you want.
On my old EnV2, I was able to bring up the person's name by voice, even though the phone's voice recognition wasn't always correct, so it took time for me to learn how to choose a recipient. The first text message I sent from my iPhone was to my husband. The message said, "I hate this phone." Now, I absolutely love it.
Here are a few of my favorite resources.
AppleVis. This is an excellent website which rates apps, gives information on how to accomplish tasks, has links to informative articles and podcasts, and much more.
Apple's accessibility site. The site contains information about VoiceOver.
All With My iPhone. Cory Ballard presents tutorials on a wide variety of apps, some of which are developed specifically for users with vision loss, while others are mainstream.
Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users by Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau, published by National Braille Press.
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An Evaluation of Code Factory's Mobile Accessibility for Android
Just a few short months ago, the accessibility of Android phones was shaky at best. While Google and others had developed some methods for basic access to the Android operating system, these options were really only suitable for advanced users who didn't mind tinkering to make everything work. In addition, some common features, such as Android's built-in Web browser and calendar, remained completely inaccessible to a blind or visually impaired user.
Perhaps one of the biggest recent advancements for Android accessibility is the introduction of Mobile Accessibility for Android from Code Factory, the producers of the popular Mobile Speak software for Symbian and Windows-based cell phones.
Mobile Accessibility provides a two-pronged accessibility solution: a homegrown suite of applications, and a screen reader for the phone. This review looks at version 1.2 of Mobile Accessibility, and evaluates how the software performs a variety of tasks. (In the interest of full disclosure I'll mention that I was a beta tester for this product.)
Mobile Accessibility works with any phone running version 2.1 or later of Google's Android operating system; phones running Android 2.2 will have access to Google's speech recognition services. Most new Android phones available from the major U.S. wireless carriers run at least version 2.1, but it's a good idea to double check before buying the software. For reasons I'll explain below, it's essential to have a phone that includes either a D-pad (an optical button that allows you to arrow around the screen) or some other form of arrow keys. A physical QWERTY keyboard is also highly recommended for optimal use. Unfortunately, these two requirements greatly limit the number of functional phone choices, though there is at least one compatible option from each of the four major carriers. It's probably best to visit a cellular phone store to try out the various options hands-on, as some models include more tactile features than others.
Installation and Initial Set Up
Like most Android applications, Mobile Accessibility is installed through the Android Market, available from virtually any Android phone. The app can be installed using the phone itself or by visiting the Android Market website. Unfortunately, it's still generally not possible to enable the phone's accessibility features without sighted assistance. In my case, I talked a store employee through the necessary steps to enable speech, but this remains one of the biggest disadvantages of Android versus the iPhone. Once this initial hurdle is overcome, sighted assistance should not be needed again.
Code Factory offers several methods for obtaining help with using Mobile Accessibility. The software manual is available on its website, and through a direct link in the software. Code Factory also offers a mailing list where questions and suggestions can be posted.
Mobile Accessibility essentially replaces your phone's default screen with a launch pad for a suite of 10 homegrown and completely accessible apps, including a phone dialer, contacts manager, alarms, Web browser, mail client, calendar, and a simple GPS app. Other applications on the phone can be launched from the program as well.
Mobile Accessibility uses Nuance Vocalizer as its speech engine. Currently, there are only two voice options—male voices for U.S. and U.K. English—and you must choose your desired voice upon purchase; there is no way to switch between voices. Code Factory has stated that versions of the software for other languages are planned for the near future. Overall, the speech was very responsive when pressing keys or navigating among menus. The pitch, speed, volume, punctuation level, and other voice settings can be adjusted from within the app.
The suite provides access to the majority of day-to-day mobile device functions and is designed so the same gestures and commands work across all apps.
You navigate using the phone's touchscreen or by using the d-pad or arrow keys, and you explore the current screen by simply sliding a finger around it; Mobile Accessibility announces the item under your finger as you move. Tap the screen twice to select an item. A variety of gestures (specific movements by a finger or fingers) on the touchscreen can be used to navigate around the screen, and for tasks such as moving between menus and lists, jumping to the top or bottom of a list, or selecting items. A triple-tap gesture (tapping the screen three times in rapid succession), opens a special pop-up menu of commands. These include options pertinent to the current screen as well as global commands like adjusting settings or viewing system notifications. This is also where you can check the phone's status, including battery and signal strength and the current date and time. If you ever get stuck, the Home button can be pressed to return to the Mobile Accessibility main screen.
Making and Receiving Calls
With all of the advancements in smartphones in recent years, we often forget about the original purpose for the phone: to make calls. The Mobile Accessibility phone dialer allows you to input numbers by using either the touchscreen or a physical keyboard. If the touchscreen is used, you simply slide to the desired digit and then lift up your finger to select. Slide to the "Dial" button and then double tap to place the call. Alternatively, the phone's list of contacts can be browsed in order to find a person to call. While on a call, the phone's touchscreen can't be accessed, so it's recommended that you buy an Android phone with a hardware keyboard in order to work around this limitation.
When receiving calls, you can double tap anywhere on the screen to hear the name or number of the person who is calling. Then, slide your finger from the bottom of the screen to the top to answer the call, or do the reverse to ignore it. Mobile Accessibility also presents an accessible log of recently received, missed, and placed calls.
The Contacts Manager includes a basic array of options for creating, editing, and viewing contacts. Android contacts also sync with your Google account, so you can enter contacts through the phone or Google's website. Navigation between contacts is straightforward, and a physical keyboard can be used to type a few letters of a name you are looking for to quickly retrieve contact information.
Web and E-mail
One of the places where Mobile Accessibility for Android shines is its built-in Web browser. The app presents webpages using a virtual buffer, similar to the technique employed by Windows-based screen readers. You use a variety of commands to navigate pages and it's possible to move forward and backward through a webpage by headings, links, tables, or other common elements. Forms can be filled in by selecting the appropriate fields and choosing Enter to type in the required information. Overall, the Mobile Accessibility browser experience is polished, and most of the sites visited for this evaluation were navigable. There was some difficulty when handling downloadable content such as MP3 files or streaming video; hopefully, this will be addressed in a future update.
Mobile Accessibility also includes a built-in e-mail client that allows you to browse through your inbox, send mail, and navigate folders. While this works well for those using a Google-hosted e-mail account such as Gmail, it is currently incompatible with other mail providers. For those affected by this limitation, an accessible and free third-party alternative e-mail client called K-9 Mail is available from the Android Market.
The Mobile Accessibility Calendar can sync to Google Calendar and allows for adding, removing, and viewing events. This is an important addition as the default calendar included with Android is largely inaccessible for most users with visual impairment or blindness. The SMS app allows for sending and receiving text messages while the alarm app allows for setting one-time or repeating alarms.
A basic GPS app called Where Am I offers a simple way to determine your current location. Once the app is launched, the current address (or approximation), is spoken. By default, the app will speak every time your location changes, providing a method for knowing when it is time to get off the bus, for example.
The Screen Reader
The second part of Mobile Accessibility for Android is a screen reader for the phone. The screen reader provides access to hundreds of apps available on the Android Market, offering advanced users numerous possibilities for exploration. Due to Google's accessibility implementation, however, the screen reader is not able to overcome some limitations in accessing the touchscreen. While this lack of access is unfortunate and certainly needs to be addressed, many Android applications also allow for navigation and input using the keyboard or arrow keys, which is largely why we recommend a phone that includes these features.
Mobile Accessibility's screen reader offers a few advantages over free alternatives such as Talkback or Spiel. First, some may prefer the Nuance voices over the options available with other screen readers. These voices only work from within Mobile Accessibility and can't be used with another screen reader. Mobile Accessibility also includes a virtual keyboard for entering text using the touchscreen and direct access to Google's speech recognition service. These features can be utilized from third-party apps for quickly entering information.
Though Code Factory should be commended for the number of features included in this version of Mobile Accessibility for Android, there is certainly some room for improvement. Third-party applications frequently launch a Web browser for presenting information and it's not possible to set the Mobile Accessibility browser as the default for those pages; you can only use Mobile Accessibility's browser within the app suite itself. It would also be nice if a user dictionary could be included to correct mispronounced words, and a way to label unlabeled graphics and buttons in third-party applications would be helpful. Also as stated above, the e-mail program would be more useful if it supported a wider array of e-mail providers.
The Bottom Line
It's quite evident that Code Factory put a lot of thought into developing a product for the Android operating system, and many of the innovative approaches they've taken are useful and well-designed. For those looking for a simple Android accessibility solution with a consistent interface, the Mobile Accessibility suite is a good solution.
With the use of Mobile Accessibility, it's possible for blind and visually impaired users to independently use an Android phone, though it's not possible to set up the phone independently. While Google has certainly made strides toward improving access to the Android platform, there is still progress that needs to be made, including a way for screen reader users to access the touchscreen and review on-screen content. Without these improvements, features like braille support or a review cursor will not be possible for Mobile Accessibility or any screen reader.
Given the tools available to them, Code Factory has done an admirable job in this first version of the product, and since they have a history of frequent free upgrades, it's reasonable to expect that they will continue to improve on Mobile Accessibility for Android. Future improvements from both Code Factory and Google would serve to make Android a robust and complete accessibility solution. While Android does not include the out-of-the-box accessibility found in the iPhone, it may be worth a look, especially for users who prefer a physical keyboard or don't want to switch to a carrier offering the iPhone. In other words, Android's far from perfect, but with Mobile Accessibility, the proper tools, and a bit of patience, it's now a viable mobile device platform for users who require accessibility functionality.
Product: Mobile Accessibility 1.2.
Price: 69 Euros, about $99 U.S.; available from the Android Market on your Android device, or through the Android Market website.
Code Factory S.L.
Address: Rambla Egara, 148, 2-2
08221 — Terrassa (Barcelona)
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Accessibility Review: The Verizon Accolade Cell Phone
As many AccessWorld readers are aware, Verizon Wireless recently started selling the iPhone with VoiceOver, which allows for a totally accessible smartphone, but what about Verizon's basic feature cell phones?
In our November 2010 issue we evaluated the Samsung Haven cell phone from Verizon and found it to be totally accessible with its built-in speech output. While the Haven set the benchmark for cell phone accessibility, people with vision loss would like more than one accessible cell phone to choose from. We recently learned Verizon had replaced the LG VX8360 with the LG Accolade with speech output, and were curious to see how it performed.
The Accolade comes with a 75-page user manual printed in an 8-point font in a 3.5 by 4 inch booklet. The type is far too small to be read easily, considerably smaller than the 18-point font recommended by the American Printing House for the Blind for people with low vision. Additionally, there are a number of images and icons included in the manual that are simply too small for many people with low vision to see. This is particularly evident in the images of the keys, which have poor labeling and are extremely difficult to read. Fortunately, the manual is organized well and, with the exception of using images or icons instead of text, is clearly written and easily understandable.
Accessible electronic versions of the user manual are available on the accessibility section of the Verizon website. We are extremely pleased that Verizon has taken the time to re-format the print editions of many of their manuals, taking out all of the graphics and replacing them with text descriptions of what is being depicted. An example: "Two images first showing the rear View of the phone, Battery and Battery Cover. The second image showing front view closed phone pointing to the bottom center indicating the antenna is located inside your phone."
We can testify that because of these accessible manuals a person with vision loss can learn the layout of the phone without sighted assistance.
The Accolade is a flip style (clamshell) phone with external and internal displays. It weighs 3.0 ounces and measures 3.5 by 1.8 by 0.6 inches when closed. (The Haven weighs 3.7 ounces and measures 4 by 2 by 0.7 inches when closed.) Unfortunately, the displays on the Accolade are relatively small: the external display is only 0.8 by 0.6 inches, and the internal display is 1.25 by 1.4 inches. When closed, the phone is light and compact and fits easily into a pocket or the palm of your hand.
Caption: The LG Accolade
The Accolade is a fairly basic cell phone, though it does include a camera. It does not use a touchscreen or touch controls. Along the left side of the cell phone, from top to bottom, are: a 2.5 mm audio jack for headsets and headphones, a volume rocker, the voice command key, and a USB port for the charger. The single button on the right side of the phone activates the camera. All buttons are raised and tactually identifiable, although because they are the same color as the background they can be difficult to see.
The keypad for the Accolade is broken into two parts: the numeric pad on the bottom and function buttons on the top, surrounding a four-way navigation pad with a central OK/Main Menu button. The function button in the upper left corner of the keypad is the left soft key, below it is the speakerphone key, and below that is the talk key with a nib on it for easy location. The function button in the upper right corner of the keypad is the right soft key, below it is the clear key, and below that is the end/power button with a nib on it. Between the left and right soft keys is the four-way navigation pad.
The numeric pad consists of 12 dark gray keys with white lettering with a nib on the 5 key. The keys have tactile distinctions that make it possible to identify the buttons, although the tactile nature of the Haven phone was significantly better than the Accolade. The labeling on both the Haven and Accolade keypad look very similar, although the Accolade uses a slightly larger 14-point font than the Haven's 13-point font.
The Accolade has a human-sounding female voice output that can be emitted through the speakerphone or an earpiece, especially nice for those users who have trouble understanding synthetic speech. The phone will read menu items and provide speech for most functions, but does not provide verification for every menu item and key press.
When the Accolade is turned on for the first time, the speech output is not activated. Because there is no accessible method to turn on the speech function, a sales representative or sighted helper will need to go into the menu and activate speech. Following this activation, the speech remains on and will not need to be reactivated.
The volume of the built-in speech can be made louder or softer using the volume control on the left side of the phone. It is not possible to adjust the pitch or rate of the speech, the way you can when using third-party screen reading software.
The Accolade has two displays built into the phone: a small external display for use when the phone is closed, and a larger internal display for menu navigation and advanced features. Both displays are bright, full-color, and high contrast, which is a welcome change from many flip phones that use cheap hard-to-read monochrome displays on the outside of the device. Additionally, the clock on the external display uses a large 18-point font.
The menus for the Accolade all use a black-on-gray color scheme, with selected items highlighted in white-on-red. We found the contrast for the Accolade was well above most cell phones on the market, although it was not as high as the Haven's. The internal display is smaller than you would generally find on this type of phone, and much smaller than you would find on a smartphone, but the information on the display is well organized.
All of the menus use high-contrast text, although the items in the Main Menu use small icons in addition to the text label. All of the menus and features on the phone use a 10-point sans-serif font, which is about average for this type of phone. The default color scheme can be changed in the Phone Settings menu, though there are only two alternatives (black-on-green and a slightly different black-on-gray) and no option for reverse polarity or customized color choices.
The Accolade features a simple menu interface that is easier to use than many phones on the market, but offers limited speech assistance. You can access the menu from the home screen by pressing the OK/Main Menu button in the center of the four-way pad, and the Accolade will announce the Main Menu items. The Accolade's main menu includes the entries: Text Messaging, Contacts, Ringtones, Alarm Clock, Calendar, VZ Navigator (a GPS program), and Internet.
As mentioned above, the Accolade's speech output is limited, providing spoken output for the Main Menu items, but none of the submenus. For example, using speech you can go to the Main Menu, arrow down and select the settings/tools item, then scroll and select tools, and lastly scroll to and select the alarm clock item in this sub menu. After this point, however, there is no spoken output, so you can't hear what options are available for the alarm clock.
This lack of speech output extends to many major features—a serious drawback that makes the Accolade only partially accessible. This has been the case with other LG phones we've reviewed in the past, including the LG VX4500 cell phone evaluated in the May 2005 issue.
The Accolade provides speech output for Caller ID, but the process for activating this feature can be confusing. To activate speech output for most functions, you have to go under Voice Commands in the Settings menu. Output for Caller ID, however, must be activated separately by going through Call Sounds under Sound Settings, and then choosing the option for Caller ID Readout. It can be easy to overlook this feature, and it's not clear why the setting is separated. Once the feature is activated, though, it does work very well—you can set it to speak the ID for incoming calls and messages, and it will speak either the phone number or, if the number is saved in your contacts, the name of the caller.
The Accolade offers partial accessibility to text messaging. If you use voice commands, rather than manually navigating through the text message menu, you can send a text message. To do this, you press the voice command button, which will prompt you to say a command, then choose send message to name or number, then specify text message, then speak the digits or the name entered in your phonebook, then type out the message using the number pad, and lastly press the OK/Main Menu key to send the message. The Accolade announces each character as its corresponding button is pressed, but there is no accessible method for reviewing your message to correct errors or make adjustments.
While you can send text messages with this phone, it will not speak messages you receive, again rendering the phone only partially accessible.
The Accolade has many functions that can be activated through voice commands: call name or number, send message to, check voicemail, battery life, signal strength, date/time, and account balance, go to menu item, contacts (look up, create new or delete), and redial. This is the only area that we found where Accolade has more accessible features than the Haven.
The Accolade is available for purchase through Verizon with the option of two pricing plans: $199.99 plus the cost of month-to-month (prepaid) coverage, or a free phone with a 2-year contract.
For a very small population of people with vision loss—those who are more concerned with voice commands, want a camera, and only need a few features spoken—the Accolade may be a suitable cell phone. For anyone else who needs accessibility in a basic cell phone, the Haven, which offers better accessibility across the board, will most likely be a much better option. For more information, see
our review of the Samsung Haven in the November 2010 issue of AccessWorld.
We encourage you to visit the Verizon website's accessibility section, where you can find accessible manuals for many of their phones (including the Haven and Accolade), information on how to order your phone bill or user manual in braille or large print, contact information for the Customer Service Center for Persons with Disabilities, and a summary of voice commands.
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Letters to the Editor
Readers Offer Feedback on the May Issue and Thoughts on Vision Restoration
Dear AccessWorld Editor,
Thanks once again for another informative issue. I have not yet read every word of the May issue, but I do not think you made mention of a high-tech gadget that has been of interest to many older Americans with low vision, the Lime Lighter low vision music-reading device. The Lime Lighter makes it easier for people with low vision to read magnified music notation while performing it.
It would be great if you would mention the Lime Lighter in a future issue as a follow-up to this issue focusing on technology to help older people. AccessWorld included a mention of the Lime Lighter after CSUN 2010, but another mention in the context of help for older people would seem appropriate.
The Lime Lighter helps people with low vision read standard staff notation more easily. You can magnify the music up to 10 times the original size and display it on Lime Lighter's 20-inch flat-panel, touchscreen. You can advance the music measure-by-measure or line-by-line with the Lime Lighter's pedal, and mark up your music by writing on the screen with the special stylus. It also comes with music-scanning software.
Any readers interested in learning more about this product can watch a 3-minute YouTube video.
Dear AccessWorld Editor,
In the May issue of AccessWorld, the Milestone 312 review by J.J. Meddaugh was good but not completely accurate. The writer said you could not lock the keypad and yet here is the write-up in the Milestone 312 manual about locking the device:
3.1.2. Keyboard lock.
If you are on a journey and want to place Milestone 312 in a bag or a pocket or your kids love to push all the buttons on Milestone, you can lock the keyboard to avoid unintended inputs. To lock the keyboard keep the "Mode" button pressed and then in addition press the "Rec" button. By doing this all functions of the device disable. This is indicated by the message "Keyboard locked." To unlock the keyboard, press the same combination of buttons.
Thank you for reading my review of the Milestone 312.
I am sorry there was some confusion about my reporting in the article. I believe the article is factually correct as written.
In the article, I wrote, "It's still not possible to lock the keypad of the unit while playing or set bookmarks in the audio player."
While it is possible to issue a lock command as stated in the manual, my point in the article was that the lock command cannot be performed while playing audio or other recordings. This prevents you from starting a book and then locking the keypad so that the book won't be accidentally stopped.
I hope this clarifies the statement, and thanks again for writing. I always appreciate readers' comments!
Dear AccessWorld Editor,
I just wanted to drop a line, contrary though my line may be, about the Blind Driver Challenge.
While I believe there may be invaluable information to be gained about how to present visual information to blind people from the Blind Driver Challenge activity, there seems to be a philosophical problem that goes with this work that I'd like to bring up. While many blind folks are not believers that technology can overcome the limitation to allow a blind person to drive, I'm skeptically hopeful. It might work, but seems unlikely. That aside, the idea that blindness organizations should not support vision restoration such as artificial vision because it gives people false hopes is contrary to how I live my life. While I don't see artificial vision coming in the next few years, we should support this work as much, or far more than, things like the Blind Driver Challenge. Restoring vision to those who want it is a better solution than all the alternatives I know of. Just because some may misinterpret claims of success, or save themselves awaiting a "cure," or [feel] that a "cure" assumes there is something wrong with blind people does not preclude working on such solutions. The benefits of artificial vision far outweigh all of the above issues. Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water.
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Joseph Roeder Assistive Technology Scholarship Deadline Approaching
The deadline for the Joseph Roeder Assistive Technology Scholarship from the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) is fast approaching. The Roeder Scholarship is a $2,500 grant made to an individual who is blind and interested in pursuing a career in access technology.
The scholarship is named in memory of Joe Roeder, who served as senior access technology specialist at the NIB from 1997 until his death in 2010.
Applicants must be entering their third or fourth year of college or graduate school, or changing careers to pursue a career in assistive technology.
All applications and additional documents must be submitted online no later than July 8, 2011. Visit the NIB website for the scholarship application. Those with questions may contact Kathy Gallagher at 703-310-0343 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Federation of the Blind Expresses Outrage, Demands Swift Action at Study Indicating Federal Government's Non-compliance with Website Accessibility Requirements
A study recently published in the journal Government Information Quarterly found that of the homepages of 100 websites operated by federal government agencies, over 90 percent contained violations of the government's own guidelines for compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. That law requires that government electronic and information technology be accessible to people with disabilities.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "Blind Americans are outraged that the government is failing to comply with its own guidelines to make government information and services available to citizens with disabilities. Given the clear legal requirements of Section 508 and the fact that use of the Internet is critical to education, employment, access to government benefits and services, and all other aspects of modern life, there is no excuse for failure to follow and rigorously enforce these guidelines. We demand that officials in all branches of government take immediate steps to bring all federal Web sites into compliance with the law, and we pledge to continue to hold the federal government accountable if it continues to treat the blind and others with disabilities as second-class citizens."
Most of the accessibility problems were common ones that are easily resolved, such as unlabeled images, mislabeled forms or tables, videos without captioning, flash without any textual equivalents, and lack of keyboard equivalents for mouse-over actions.
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