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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 July 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 7

In This Issue

Editor's Page

Back to School

Access to Academics

Seeing the Possibilities: An Analysis of STEM Resources for People with Vision Loss

My purpose in writing this article is to cite factual information to prove people with vision loss are capable of successfully studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects in school, and that without a doubt, this same population can be employed as scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.—Tara Annis

Tackling the Research Paper: Tips and Tools for Success for People with Vision Loss

This article provides tips and tools to help make that next research paper a bit easier. Even those who enjoy writing research papers will learn a thing or two.—J.J. Meddaugh

Note-Taking 101: How Blind and Visually Impaired People Capture Information

The more people I asked about note-taking methods, the more fascinating the topic became. To date, I have polled several dozen blind and visually impaired people on the subject, and the results are a mini-course in note-taking itself.—Deborah Kendrick

AFB CareerConnect: Career Exploration and Job Seeking Skills at Your Fingertips

Are you thinking about a career change, or just getting started with your first job search? AFB CareerConnect can help you find out about careers, the skills you need to land a job, and more.—Joe Strechay

AFB Family Connect: A Resource for Modern Families with a Child who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

Created by the American Foundation for the Blind and the National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI), FamilyConnect is a resource for parents and families with children who are blind or have a visual impairment, and for professionals who work with them.—Joe Strechay

Product Evaluations

Oh Kapten! My Kapten! Where Am I?: A Review of the Kapten PLUS Personal Navigation Device

A mainstream manufacturer of GPS devices, Kapsys, has joined forces with Leader Dogs for the Blind to release the Kapten PLUS personal navigation device. Priced at $295, and free to individuals who receive a dog guide from Leader Dogs, the Kapten can plot routes to local businesses or a specific address, and provides accurate location information. In addition to being a GPS solution, the Kapten Plus is an MP3 player, an FM radio, and an audio memo recorder.—Jim Denham

Letters to the Editor

Kudos to AccessWorld and Response from Readers

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News


Editor's Page

Back to School

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld Readers,

Wow, it's hard to believe, but it's that time of year again! I know the students out there don't want to hear these words, but it's time to get back to school. Well, not for me, thank goodness! I can empathize though, because I've been there, believe me.

New classes, new instructors, class projects, oral presentations, tests, meeting new people, and even the possibility of changing schools or moving away to college bring about uncertainty and new challenges. Uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing, though. This time of year can be exciting, too, especially if you plan ahead and prepare in advance.

Pursuing a good education can be difficult under the best of circumstances; doing so as a person with vision loss can be even more challenging. Just as we did at this time last year, for this issue the AccessWorld team has focused on providing valuable information and resources for students, parents, teachers, and professionals in the vision loss field to help make educational pursuits less stressful and more enjoyable.

For the students in our readership: You must take personal responsibility for your education. Ultimately, you must be your own advocate. Prepare in advance, speak to instructors, and tell those you'll be working with exactly what types of accommodations will best meet your needs. Your education will have a tremendous impact on every aspect of the rest of your life, so it's crucial that you do everything you can to get the most out of your studies.

Good planning prevents poor performance. It's never too early to begin planning for the next school term, whether you're in elementary school or graduate school. Acquiring and learning to use the assistive technology that best suits your situation, registering as early as possible for classes, obtaining reading lists, and searching out alternative formats should be done as soon as you can.

Waiting until the last minute is a recipe for disaster, as without proper preparation you will begin the academic year with a deficit. When you get behind, courses can become more difficult than they need to be, you can miss deadlines, score poorly on exams, and get caught in a cycle of frustration. If you're unable to catch up, the deficit may lead to an interruption in your studies, which could ultimately result in not completing your education. Don't let that happen!

The AccessWorld team is excited to bring you the information in this issue, and we sincerely hope you or a student you know will find it useful. I encourage you to read every article, along with the articles from last July's issue, as the ideas and resources we've covered will certainly help improve, enrich, and broaden your educational experience. Please use these articles and resources to your best advantage. We on the AccessWorld team wish you good luck and good planning as you head back to school!

Sincerely,

Lee Huffman
Editor-in-Chief

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Access to Academics

Seeing the Possibilities: An Analysis of STEM Resources Available for People with Vision Loss

I was pleased to hear AccessWorld was once again publishing a back-to-school issue, due to the fact that I have wanted to contribute information about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) for quite some time. STEM has been a hot topic, with the media regularly featuring articles and broadcasts proclaiming that more Americans should become interested in these fields. Yet what about people with vision loss? Many think that STEM subjects are so visual they should not be taught extensively in elementary, high school, or college to this group. Many also think it would be impossible for a person with vision loss to be employed in these areas.

Well, I can personally testify that these assumptions are false. I hold a bachelor's degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry, and have gained competitive employment in two STEM jobs, one at my University's Chemistry Department and another with an internship in the genomics laboratory at the University of Rochester Medical Center. My situation is not unique; there are a large number of people with vision loss employed in STEM fields, and you can learn more about them by visiting AFB CareerConnect, where many are either listed in the database of mentors, or are the subjects of success stories.

My purpose in writing this article is to cite factual information to prove people with vision loss are capable of successfully studying STEM subjects in school, and that without a doubt, this same population can be employed as scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

Biology

Every time I mention my major, I get asked about microscope work. There are several ways to adapt this area in order to come to a complete understanding of the visual content at hand.

All of you are familiar with using a sighted lab assistant who describes verbally what is seen under the lens. The assistant can pair this with a tactile representation of what is being studied for better understanding—either making a raised 2-D image or 3-D model. Other adaptations exist, ones that I believe very few know about. For instance, I was surprised to discover that some toy companies offer scientifically accurate models of specimens at an extremely reasonable price, available on sites like Amazon and eBay, or directly from the manufacturer.

Tedco Toys offers a large number of 3-D models that can assist in teaching the core concepts of Biology. One of particular interest is the animal cell, as all students must learn its structure. Tedco's version is about six inches in diameter, costs around $25, and has 24 removable parts. I purchased one to learn more about it, and it was absolutely worth the money—the model was durable and I could feel the Golgi apparatus, nucleus, mitochondria, lysosomes, etc. This "toy" was far superior to a 2-D tactile version or homemade 3-D model, since all the structures were created in vivid detail. All students, sighted and blind, can learn from this model. Other models of microscopic items sold by Tedco Toys are the plant cell, red blood cell, white blood cell, virus, and bacteria.

Another resource for tactile 3-D microscopic organisms is Microbe Models, which offers items made of polyurethane plastic. These are fairly expensive options, but highly specific, with 90 varieties of algae, viruses, and bacteria on offer. Using these models it's possible to actually "feel" what whooping cough looks like under the microscope.

For low-vision users, remember that a standard microscope can be connected to a video magnifier (CCTV) so the image can be projected in a much larger size. A newer product is a microscope that connects to a computer, which allows you to use screen magnification to display the image in various contrast schemes and magnification levels.

Tactile versions are not just needed for microscopic objects—people with vision loss also find raised images useful for learning about biological structures that can be seen by the naked eye, such as the structures of the human body.

I'm sure that most of you know about companies that specialize in creating diagrams for the visually impaired, but you may not realize that there are mainstream companies that offer similar aids. One with relatively low-cost diagrams is the Anatomical Chart Company, with its offerings of 3-D raised-relief charts of the human body, including the skeletal system, muscular system, and nervous system, and the anatomy of the skin, brain, ear, digestive system, and teeth, to name just a few. These charts provide a very tactile, extremely convex, 2-D representation that rises high above the paper. All diagrams are very detailed, and appropriate for high school and college studies. The charts are fairly large in size, on average about 18 by 25 inches, and cost in the range of $15 to $ 25.

Chemistry

Anyone studying chemistry should contact the Chemists with Disabilities division of the American Chemical Society, which offers a myriad of helpful resources.

For adapting chemistry classroom work for students who are blind or visually impaired, a common question is how to convert the huge amount of graphical content, especially for organic chemistry, into an accessible format.

Many do not realize that chemical structures are used over and over again in this work, such as carbon atoms, arrows in chemical reactions, and numerical superscripts. To make things easier, one can create a stockpile of tactile versions, which can be used starting in high school, and continued through college and on to the job site. One resource for these types of materials is MDW Educational Services, which sells a Tactile Adaptations Kit with materials of varying textures that can be used to depict any visual item. This company also provides consultations for adapting all areas of STEM.

Another resource related to interpreting graphics is a research project called MOLinsight, which uses speech output to review complex molecular structures. NavMol is a program that allows users to navigate the molecule atom by atom. It analyzes each specific atom, showing various bond types, and describing various chemical groups. Another program this same group is working on, BrailChem, is an electronic version of the periodic table of elements.

The Laboratory

Now, to cover a topic many are curious about: Is it possible for a blind person to independently perform lab work? For an overview of many products and techniques, visit the Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind website, created with help from the National Science Foundation, Indiana School for the Blind, Penn State, and Truman State University, among others. The site features extensive descriptions of adaptations.

AccessWorld has reviewed several standalone color identifier units in past issues. Also, the iPhone has its own Color Identifier app, which appears to surpass all others when it comes to the number of shades it can identify. The app gives the shades names like Atomic Orange, Cosmic, Hippie Green, Opium, and Black-White. Think about the applications: with this technology students can tell if litmus paper is red for acid or blue for base, or observe color changes occurring during a chemical reaction.

Instead of using braille or large-print labels on chemicals, many visually impaired chemists find it more practical to use an electronic bar code reader, due to the fact that more vital information can be encoded and communicated this way, such as chemical hazards. It is also difficult to feel braille when wearing gloves; bar coding solves this problem.

One can consider using talking kitchen scales and thermometers, but be aware that lab work usually deals with data spanning a wide measurement range, so make sure to check that these products are suitable for a given task. For example, a lot of the kitchen scales measure in 1 gram increments—great for weighing pond water for an ecology experiment, but not suitable when doing organic chemistry.

Keep in mind that many devices, like a pipette or autoclave, just require that you memorize the number of button presses or turns of a knob required to perform a given function. I've used a pipette when doing polymerase chain reactions, where DNA must be distributed into mini test tubes. Robots now perform much of this type of work, due to the fact that even sighted people have trouble manipulating such small volumes of substances.

The last product is still in the development phase but is available for sale. Vernier Labs initially designed the LabQuest device for sighted students, as a single unit that could perform over 500 standard lab operations. The LabQuest consists of a central handheld electronic unit that works in conjunction with separate probes, each with a unique purpose (e.g., pH reading, temperature, pressure, voltage, etc.). Cary Supalo, founder of the company Independence Science, saw the assistive possibilities in the LabQuest, and helped with the creation of built-in software to provides speech output, and a PC interface that graphs data for statistical analysis

Engineering and Math

I thought it would be wise to combine these two areas into one category, since they use similar adaptive materials. These first two resources will help anyone doing anything related to math and visual impairment, from elementary school through college.

The Hadley School for the Blind offers a distance education program with courses in many subject areas. The program is free to people with vision loss. The Nemeth Braille Code course covers all of the symbols for arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. If you are currently in high school and are having difficulty with your teacher adapting math classes, take Hadley's pre-algebra —they may count towards a high school diploma.

Everyone must take math in school—there's no getting around it. I strongly recommend the Math section of the website for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. There, teacher Susan Osterhaus shares her extensive knowledge, including guidelines for creating tactile graphics, suggestions for calculators for blind and low vision students, and ideas on converting print to braille using Duxbury and Scientific Notebook software.

A common problem many face is a lack of time to adapt the curriculum—converting print to alternate formats takes time. Many school systems are limited on funds; some may not have a teacher of the visually impaired, and those that do have such a teacher often require that he or she serve many students, once again making time an issue. One product that is under-utilized in the high school classroom is the Virtual Pencil software sold by Henter Math. The product runs on Windows and is sold in two versions. The arithmetic version handles addition, subtraction, multiplication, long division, fractions and decimals. The algebra version deals with quantities, radicals, exponents, subscripts, Greek letters, absolute values, matrices, fractions, and many other features. The student uses a screen reader and computer keyboard to perform all of these operations and I was astonished at the complexity of the program. Also, be aware that future versions are expected to do higher levels of math, like trigonometry, differential equations, and calculus.

This program has enormous time-saving applications. Using Virtual Pencil, the regular classroom teacher can create accessible homework and tests in electronic format. No need for a teacher of the visually impaired to translate print into braille, or to convert the student's braille answers back into print.

Another time-saver is to have the visually impaired student learn the math symbols with a sighted person, using a raised line drawing board, Wikki Stix, or magnetic numbers to teach shape and size. I'm disappointed that this type of learning and teaching is not stressed as a vital skill—I know it would make for enhanced communication between sighted and visually impaired students and teachers. Think about it: a teacher decides to give a pop quiz in class, so there's no time to convert anything to braille. Having the student use a tactile version of the material would be a perfect solution for this scenario. You can create your own number set using all types of materials and raised line writing boards, or purchase Math Window from Wolf Products, which uses magnetized tiles available in braille or large-print formats.

This tactile method can be used from elementary school all the way through college Calculus. Many of you know that Dr. Nemeth, even though totally blind from birth, was able to write examples on the blackboard for his sighted students, so I know this skill will help with one's success in STEM fields.

Calculators

I will not go into all of the calculator options for blind and low vision students, since I think most readers are familiar with what is sold by mainstream companies and by vendors of adaptive products. I will point out that ViewPlus Technologies, the vendor of the Tiger embosser, sells the Accessible Graphing Calculator (AGC), one of the first commercial adaptive products to perform advanced graphing calculations. The software is self-voicing, using tones of varying pitch to represent the shape of a graph. Other AGC features are the various magnification settings available for low-vision users, the ability to print graphs on a standard printer, and the capacity to make a tactile version of the graphs using the Tiger embosser.

You shouldn't forget that you can use Microsoft Excel with a screen reader or screen magnification, as I did in college and various employment settings, to perform basic to advanced mathematical and statistical operations. One positive aspect of this method is that sighted users understand how the program works, so if there are problems you have a large amount of technical support available. Also, it's easy to cut and paste formulas into a document to submit as homework assignments or tests. You can use Excel to create all kinds of graphs and tables, but it does not provide analysis as the AGC does.

For those with low vision, consider using Texas Instrument's TI Interactive! software, which allows manipulation via screen magnification, contrast, and font sizes. This is a better option than using a CCTV with your calculator, since more magnification is possible, and you don't have to interchange the calculator and textbook under the video magnifier camera. The software has a simple-to-use interface; you can use the mouse to click on the on-screen keypad, or use keyboard shortcuts.

Conclusion

I hope that those interested in becoming a scientist, engineer, or mathematician will feel more confident in their career choice after reading this article—it's absolutely possible for someone with vision loss or blindness to fully participate in STEM fields!

Please pass along this information to as many people as possible. Contact me if you have questions or comments, or to let me know if there are products or technologies you think I should know about.

Additional Resources

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

AAAS publishes the journal Science, as well as other publications. They have a huge number of programs designed to bring science literacy to all, and they offer resources for businesses, scientists, teachers, and students.

Access2Science

Articles about making the science curriculum accessible to people with print disabilities.

DO-IT AccessSTEM

Contains content geared toward all disabilities, providing suggestions for adapting both the laboratory and classroom areas, including video demonstrations.

National Federation of the Blind Science Site

Success stories of people working in various STEM fields, information about science camps, and suggestions for adapting various subjects.

Perkins School for the Blind—Accessible Science

A variety of resources for helping visually impaired students in STEM.

American Printing House for the Blind

Features the Louis Database where you can search for an accessible STEM textbook and find out where to purchase a variety of products.

SciTrain Accessible classrooms

A number of online training courses that train educators on methods to help people with disabilities in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, etc.

WGBH Center for Accessible Media

A great resource for anyone who is having difficulty providing verbal descriptions of graphical STEM items, like math equations, bar graphs, scatter plots, pie charts, flow charts, and other complex material. While it's geared toward people narrating talking books, many others will benefit.

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Access to Academics

Tackling the Research Paper: Tips and Tools for Success for People with Vision Loss

For high school and college students, research papers are either viewed as a walk in the park or the bane of one's existence. Some may be able to reel off several pages on a given topic in a matter of a couple of hours, while for others the very thought of a 10- or 20-page research paper on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire is cause for cringing. If you are a cringer, this article provides tips and tools to help make that next research paper a bit easier. Even those who enjoy writing research papers might learn a thing or two.

Getting Organized

Before tackling any research paper, it's a good idea to get your house in order, so to speak. The tools you use to gather and sort your research don't need to be fancy, but they do need to be functional and efficient. Using a laptop computer or notetaker, consider creating a new, project-specific directory in which to store any relevant data or information you run across in your research. When you find an article or piece of information, simply drop a text file into this directory. Be sure to include the title, author, publisher, copyright date, page numbers, and website URL in a consistent spot in your file. This will make it exponentially simpler to cite your sources later. You may also wish to write some notes near the top of the file describing the specific information or facts you plan on using from the source. These additional steps may seem a bit tedious, but they'll likely help you out in the end, especially if you're the type to finish your paper at the very last minute.

If your research includes printed materials, attempt to obtain these materials in an accessible format. As we'll discuss below, many common sources are available online. Others can be digitized using scanning software such as Omnipage or Kurzweil 1000 or a portable system such as the KNFB Reader Mobile or Intel Reader. Alternatively, a human reader may be able to help you write down important information from your printed research. Having these documents in a digital format will allow for easier searching later on, especially when you may not be able to find someone with enough vision to read the printed material.

Defining your Topic and Beginning your Research

Sometimes your instructor will assign a topic or area as your paper's subject, while at other times you may be given the freedom to choose a topic within given parameters. In either case, you may have some leeway in the exact topic you write about. A common mistake is to pick a topic that is either too broad or too narrow for the type and size of the paper. For example, suppose you are assigned the topic "My home state of Michigan" for a 12-page paper. Michigan became a state in 1836. It would be impossible to cover all 170 years of Michigan's history in a dozen pages. Instead, you will need to decide on an area to focus on. Through your initial research, you might learn about Michigan's role in shaping the automobile industry, Michgan's tourist attractions, or the effects of the recent economic downturn on the state. These are much more manageable topics for a paper. Now that you have a narrower focus, you can do some more preliminary research. If it seems that the topic you've chosen does not have much written about it, you may need to broaden your scope. Conversely, if it seems like there is too much to cover in a single paper, you will want to narrow your topic even further.

Effective Online Research

Begin your online research with the basics: Google and Wikipedia. While neither of these references functions well as a primary source, each can be a great jumping off point for further research.

Successful and efficient searching with Google requires some skill. Searching for the term "Michigan" will return all sorts of likely irrelevant results including the Michigan Lottery and the University of Michigan. Google is not smart enough to read your mind; instead of a single general search term, include additional keywords to limit and target your search. Searching for "automobile history Michigan" returns an entire page of relevant results. The first result, in fact, is an entire page of automobile history links from the State of Michigan's own website—a great starting point for this topic. Google includes dozens of powerful and often hidden features that can be used to perform more powerful searches. This page of Google Search Tips includes helpful advice and strategies.

Though most professors, for good reason, frown upon the use of Wikipedia as a source, it's still a great idea to read Wikipedia entries related to your chosen topic. Good Wikipedia entries will include a list of sources for the topic, such as this entry on the history of the automobile. As you read through this entry, you will notice a series of numbered links. These refer to the sources cited in this article. By selecting one of these linked numbers, you will be able to view the footnote, which gives the title, author, and other location information for the source. Well-researched Wikipedia articles such as this one also include a "Further Reading" heading which provides a list of additional books and articles to consult.

While Bookshare is well-known as a source for accessible textbooks and leisure reading materials, recent improvements have increased its usefulness for performing research. Bookshare now includes roughly 100,000 books available in a digital form. It's free for any United States student with a qualifying disability and $50 a year for anyone else. Among the more recent improvements to the website is a full text search of its collection. Typing the search terms "history automobile" into Bookshare reveals a variety of potentially useful book results including Taking Charge: The Electric Automobile In America and Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road to Bankruptcy and Bailout—and Beyond, both of which may provide useful information for the automobile industry's modern history. Bookshare also includes an immense collection of fiction, as well as many opinionated and editorial selections, so be careful to include accurate and pertinent information when performing your research. While on Bookshare, try searching for any books listed in the Wikipedia entries you've read; you may locate some of these sources in an electronic form.

Using School Resources

Most colleges and some high schools provide online research tools for students, often linked to the school's library website. Sometimes you must be physically present at the library to perform the research, while in other cases a student can log in to access information from home. If you are required to be at the library for your research, ask if it is possible to log in from your own computer or one that provides your required accessibility tools. By law, it is the library's duty to provide you an accessible means to access their research collections.

From our experience, most online research collections are quite accessible to use and navigate. Most include some form of a textual layout for searching. Some of the search forms include a wide array of options and features, so it may be necessary to closely examine their structure in order to obtain the most relevant results. Some collections, especially those including 19th and earlier 20th century newspapers, offer materials in a scanned PDF format. While these may seem inaccessible on the surface, they can usually be converted using an OCR program such as Omnipage or Kurzweil 1000. If you don't have access to one of these programs, try one of the many OCR conversion websites such as OCR Terminal. Many of these sites are free or provide a set amount of free pages per month.

While at the library, don't overlook the more traditional methods of research. Many older books and periodicals are not easily attainable in a digital format; a reference librarian or student aid may be able to help you locate these items. To save time, use your library's website to research available relevant materials. Make a list of the sources you're interested in, print it out, and bring it with you when you visit. You can use a website such as WorldCat to search many libraries at once for information. If you find a book or source at a library other than your branch, find out if it's possible to have it delivered to your local library.

Citing your Sources

Creating your bibliography or "Works Cited" page is often seen as very tedious, but putting this important list together should be one of the simpler parts of your paper. One common mistake made by students is waiting until they are finished with a paper before tackling this list. It's much easier to create your citation list as you write your paper. Microsoft Word and other modern word processors provide for a means to add footnotes to your paper. Each time you add a note, move to the footnotes section of your document to enter the title, author, and other source information. This will avoid the problem of trying to remember where you found a specific piece of information when you need to cite it later. There are several acceptable citation forms; find out from your instructor which is required for your paper. Free online tools such as BibMe can be used to properly format your citations. BibMe asks for various information about your sources and then outputs a bibliography in the format you chose.

A Word on Plagiarism

You may at some point find it tempting to copy a few sentences or even an entire paragraph from an article directly into your paper, without proper attribution. Doing so is plagiarism, a very serious academic offense. Plagiarism usually results in a failing grade for a class, and in some cases leads to expulsion. Always be careful to properly cite your sources. Many students (and teachers) use Turnitin to check papers for plagiarism. Turnitin compares submitted text to practically every page on the Internet, research indexes and journals, and papers written by other students.

Conclusion

With the expansion and proliferation of the Internet, online research has transitioned from a luxury to a near necessity. While the Internet does not render your local library obsolete, it's certainly suitable for a wide variety of research tasks. Online research also helps to level the playing field for performing research as a blind or visually impaired student. Given the proper tools and techniques and a bit of perseverance, that next research paper may be a bit easier to tackle.

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Access to Academics

Note-Taking 101: How Blind and Visually Impaired People Capture Information

A few months ago, a friend who provides assistive technology services to students with disabilities shared a colleague's question with me: Could an iPhone serve all the note-taking needs of a blind student? My immediate feeling was that the idea was ridiculous. I'm as smitten with the iPhone as thousands of others, but to use it for something like taking notes on complicated lecture material struck me as illogical at best.

I reflected on the many methods I've used for taking notes over the years. In college, I used the slate and stylus, which required pressing dots rapidly into 8 by 11 inch pages of scores of spiral-bound notebooks. (I used spiral-bound notebooks because the paper was thin and the additional pages provided a natural cushion to minimize the sound. With grade 3 braille, my notes were voluminous and detailed, often more so than those of my sighted friends.) A calendar, though, and phone numbers and such, were often details stored in my head.

Later, I used a chain of electronic notetakers. With the Braille 'n Speak, I could enter notes in grade 3 braille and emboss them on paper for easier review. I began storing calendar and contact information electronically. Subsequent devices—BrailleNote, BrailleNote PK, etc.—offered similar advantages. Still, a slate and stylus is more often than not in my briefcase or purse, and I couldn't imagine taking notes in other ways.

As the question of the iPhone simmered in my brain, I began noticing how other blind people made notes and captured information. It became clear in short order that the methods were as many and varied as the people who employed them. The more people I asked, the more fascinating the topic became. To date, I have polled several dozen blind and visually impaired people on the subject, and the results are a mini-course in note-taking itself.

Tech Dogs Conference Call

In a monthly meeting of Tech Dogs, an alumni chapter of graduates from Guide Dogs for the Blind, we convened a panel of people with diverse note-taking techniques. I asked two questions: 1) What device or technique do you use for taking notes at a meeting or lecture? 2) What device or technique do you use for capturing a quick bit of information such as a phone number, name, or calendar item?

Here's a sampling of the answers.

Judy Mathews, a vision rehabilitation therapist for the Lighthouse of Central Florida, uses the BrailleNote Apex for both complex and brief notes. She explained that the advantages of being able to enter data instantly (there is no boot-up time with most braille note-taking devices) and being able to review what has been written in braille made this her device of choice.

Jeff Senge, information and computer access coordinator for California State University Fullerton, grew tired of having information in too many places long ago. His solution was to use two laptops, configured identically. One is at work and the other travels with him on his commute to and from work and throughout the day until returning to its at-home docking station at day's end. He uses Outlook to sync all data he needs to access—contacts, calendar, and email messages. For a meeting, he says he arrives a bit early, puts his laptop in hibernation or sleep mode and is then ready to begin typing notes when needed. For smaller tidbits of information, his method of choice is to tell people to send him an e-mail.

Casey Mathews, an access technology specialist at the Lighthouse of Central Florida, addressed the iPhone question directly. He is currently using an iPhone 4 and an Apple bluetooth keyboard to take lengthy notes in meetings. He then sends them to himself via Dropbox for later retrieval with his computer or phone. For short notes, he uses the iPhone's Notes app or a third-party app called List Recorder. If already at the computer, he uses a Windows 7 application called Sticky Notes.

Deborah Armstrong, a long-time assistive technology professional who works at a small college in California, uses a netbook with headphones at meetings. (Like Jeff Senge, she mentioned booting up the computer and putting it in sleep or hibernation mode to decrease the set-up time when note-taking begins). For shorter notes, she is an avid user of the Olympus 520 digital recorder.

Several other note-taking approaches were mentioned by members of the group. Many included braille notetakers such as the BrailleNote family of products and Braille Sense, and a few mentioned recording information on the VictorReader Stream.

A Smorgasbord of Techniques

To further my investigation, I asked the question of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who are blind, and also posted messages to a few e-mail listservs used by blind professionals and assistive technology users.

The first pleasant surprise was the number of people who still carry a slate and stylus with index cards for jotting down a phone number, recipe, or other reminder. Similarly, many referenced keeping a Perkins Brailler or slate and stylus by the telephone for quick notes. These same individuals were not strangers to technology. Many were also sophisticated users of PCs, electronic notetakers, and other assistive technology devices, but they simply found the immediacy and reliability of braille on paper to be a more satisfying method for capturing information.

The next surprise was the number of people using older technology. I talked to people who use various models of the Braille 'n Speak, Braille Lite, and Type 'n Speak notetakers, all from the Blazie Engineering line of products introduced in 1987. As Mary Hiland, executive director of the American Council of the Blind of Ohio summed it up:

My all time favorite piece of equipment is the Braille 'n Speak. It's easy. It's fast. I jot down phone numbers, reminders to myself, items for my grocery list that I think of during meetings, and yes, even notes about the meeting. What I like is that there is no waiting for booting up, no menus to plow through to get to where I want to go, no strange things happening while I'm reading something, and it's right there where I left off when I turned the thing off, so I don't even have to use my ear buds once I've started writing and know I'll be continuing in that file. Files don't disappear or get placed in odd folders. It's just a shame that the world had to get so complicated.

Others using this older technology made similar statements, and many of them use and own such state-of-the-art devices as iPhones and computers equipped with Windows 7 and the latest versions of screen readers.

There were some who reported using laptops or netbooks with earbuds, but these were far outnumbered by those preferring new and old versions of electronic notetakers. Then there were those who use digital recorders for both long and short notes. The most frequently mentioned products were the VictorReader Stream, BookSense, and various Olympus recorders. Some people return to longer recordings and insert bookmarks for locating material more easily; others transfer them to the computer for editing.

Two of the most innovative responses with regard to digitally recording notes came from Jeff Samco and George Kerscher. Jeff Samco, who works with assistive technology at a facility in Grass Valley, California, said: "Currently, I never leave home without my Sony voice recorder, PlexTalk Pocket, and iPhone 4." The Sony recorder is a model that has been out of production for six or seven years, but he purchased multiples on eBay and prefers it for short recordings due to its ease of use and organizational features. The PlexTalk Pocket is his preferred listening device and he uses it to convert longer files to a DAISY format for ease and navigability.

George Kerscher, secretary general of the DAISY Consortium, uses the PlexTalk Pocket for both short memos and longer lectures. For the latter, he uses the DAISY feature of the device, pressing the button for a new heading with each change of topic, thus making the recorded file easy to review.

Back to the iPhone

While there were many who echoed my own initial sentiment that the iPhone might not be the best device for recording lengthy notes, I did indeed find people who were doing just that. In addition to Casey Mathews, I heard from Heather Berg, a physical therapist who uses her iPhone 4 with a bluetooth keyboard as well as a netbook with ZoomText. John McCann, a staff attorney advisor for the Social Security Administration, uses both the iPhone with bluetooth keyboard or a netbook (in each case with headphones) for lengthy notes. If he needs to generate a Microsoft Word document for others, he opts for the netbook, since notes taken with the iPhone are plain text and require conversion. Like others, he uses an Olympus digital recorder for shorter bits of information. There were many others using the iPhone with external keyboards as well, often with Bluetooth braille keyboards/displays, which afford the ability to read what is written as well as perform quick data entry.

Low-Tech and Effective

There were also those who used old but simple methods for recording notes. One woman I spoke with has a recorder permanently attached to her phone line for recording financial and other information received over the phone. A few others spoke of simply calling home and leaving themselves messages via answering machines or voice mail.

Perhaps the oldest method still used by many was stated boldly by Scott Granados, a chief network engineer for a large advertising company, who said: "I use my brain… I'm blessed with a very good memory, especially for large strings of numbers, so I'm able to remember my action items, high points, phone numbers, contact info. When I get back to my desk, I enter the data usually via the computer into my contacts." Others mentioned memorizing as a tool they felt had been somewhat diminished by an increasing dependence on technology.

James Muirhead, a physical therapist who resides in the United Kingdom and who has used a variety of braille and recording methods in his education and profession, offered the following comment: "Having discussed, over the years, how other totally blind physiotherapists cope with note-taking and printing out relevant information, I found that no two of us ever used precisely the same methods." Indeed, if there were any common denominator to be found in the scores of responses compiled for this article, it's this: Blind and visually impaired people are truly resourceful.

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Access to Academics

AFB CareerConnect: Career Exploration and Job Seeking Skills at Your Fingertips

Career Exploration is Our Bag!

Are you thinking about a career change, or just getting started with your first job search? AFB CareerConnect can help you find out more about careers and the skills you need to land a job. Do you know people who might need a refresher course on what it takes to get back in the world of employment? We can help with that, too. Are you interested in reading about successful people who are blind or visually impaired? Read a variety of inspiring success stories at CareerConnect.

Starting with Mentors

Years ago, the CareerConnect program started as a database of blind or visually impaired individuals, working in a wide variety of fields nationwide, who volunteered to mentor others about the assistive technology they used in their professional lives. We still provide this valuable service. Those who use this resource can connect with a mentor to find out career or technology information; others may seek life guidance and career advice. The relationships formed between mentor and mentee can range from casual, intermittent contact for a brief period of time to longstanding friendships. In a few instances mentors have even hired their mentees years after their relationship began. It all depends on what the mentee is looking for and how the mentor is willing to assist.

Over the years, as the database of mentors grew, so did our interest in providing high quality information and resources on employment, including relevant technologies. As you'll see below, today CareerConnect is much more then a mentor database.

Career Clusters

In the spring, CareerConnect launched a more user-friendly structure for exploring careers and job information: Career Clusters. Career Clusters contains information on the professional fields most heavily trafficked by CareerConnect users. We launched Career Clusters with the law, health, education, and counseling clusters; we plan to add entertainment, technology, and business in the near future.

Each career cluster contains a list of professions within that field. You can select a field and explore detailed job-related information including a general description, tasks, wage information, national employment trends, and links to further information if you'd like to perform more research. Links to the Success Stories relevant to that field, along with a list of available mentors in that field, are provided for easy reference and contact. In an exciting addition, a field-related message board, monitored by mentors who work in that field, is provided for each cluster so you can read advice offered to other users, and easily ask questions of your own.

CareerConnect Canada

AFB has partnered with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), the premiere Canadian agency for the blind to create CareerConnect Canada, which provides Canadians with job-seeking and employment-related information specific to their country. CNIB and AFB will be working to expand and promote this new section. You can go to CareerConnect Canada from the CNIB website or the AFB CareerConnect main page.

The Job Seeker's Toolkit

At CareerConnect, we heard from professionals and users from around the country who expressed a need for new tools to use with career exploration as well as with teaching and learning job seeking skills. We answered this call by creating a new, free online course designed just for teen and adult job seekers: the Job Seeker's Toolkit. Through this self-paced, structured course, participants learn about and practice self-awareness, career exploration, job seeking, and job maintenance. We worked with experts to create the best content for a unique and effective, fully accessible, learning system. The Job Seeker's Toolkit provides functionality so a professional, parent, or family member can monitor a student's or client's progress and comment on assignments. Important items such as cover letters, resumes, disclosure statements, disability statements, and more, are all covered in the course assignments. Users will find that the assignments—and their products—are practical tools that can be used for job searches, college research, and college and scholarship applications. The Job Seeker's Toolkit is available today—check it out!

NIB CareerNet

NIB CareerNet (CareerNet® is used under license from CareerNet, LLC) is a job board that CareerConnect set up in collaboration with the National Industries for the Blind (NIB). NIB has compiled a large list of positions within organizations and businesses associated with industries for the blind in the U.S. These businesses work in fields related to blindness, or have hired people with visual impairments in the past. When you build and store your resume on CareerConnect, you can then submit it with one click to apply to those jobs listed through the NIB CareerNet portal. This service is provided free of charge to our registered users. Create your user profile on CareerConnect to get started!

Success Stories

Success Stories provide in-depth information in first-person accounts from a number of our exceptional mentors who have reached their employment goals. Their occupations vary from professional body builder to assistant city attorney. These stories are interesting and inspiring reading, and have also proven to be good resources for teachers who use them as transition materials for teachers.

Just for Fun!

Often users don't get the opportunity to hear about the hobbies or recreational pursuits of adults with visual impairments. CareerConnect put together a series of articles about our mentors and some of the things they do outside of work for fun and relaxation. Because research shows that leisure time is something we require as much as food or sleep to stay healthy and sane, we wanted to share some of the activities that people with vision loss do for recreation. Activities in the Just for Fun series vary from jogging to gardening to sky diving.

Multimedia

Over the past few years we've added several humorous, fun, informative, and educational multimedia components to CareerConnect. Content for all ages and purposes can be found in the CareerConnect Multimedia section. Check out the video, hosted by Dr. Karen Wolffe, about teens in California exploring summer jobs. In addition, you may be interested in listening to Washington State teens interviewing CareerConnect mentors.

If you want a good laugh, we recommend that you listen to all of Aaron's Adventures in Employment. These presentations can be great learning tools for teens, and highly entertaining for teens and adults alike. Aaron encounters issues that many of us have experienced ourselves. The series consists of video clips and old-time radio dramas that cover topics that include building an appropriate resume, dressing for an interview, Aaron's initial experiences with his coworkers, and his first evaluation on the job.

The College-Ready Challenge, also styled as an old-time radio drama, is a Jeopardy!-like game show where two high school students see if they are prepared for the next step in their academic careers by answering questions about the differences between high school and college. College-Ready Challenge is highly contagious to students with vision loss who are thinking about their futures. The questions reference the types of skills, supports, and technology that will be beneficial to success in college or post-secondary training.

CareerConnect's Virtual Worksites are graphical representations of what a possible workstation for a person with low or no vision might use in different types of work places. These pages show the kinds of technology that would most likely be used in each particular job setting, and provides links for further information on the technologies depicted. The newest addition to this section is a video of a store vendor who runs his own business and has no vision, demonstrating the technology he uses to be successful on the job. The virtual worksites and videos offered in this section are often used by potential employees or new-hires to demonstrate to employers how assistive technology is used on the job.

CareerConnect Webcasts

In the spring of 2009, CareerConnect launched a series of professional development webcasts in order to provide professionals with information on the latest resources and news in the blindness and vision-loss fields. Sessions include information on career education, assistive technology, preparing for college, and discussions and tips from successfully employed professionals with vision loss.

Message Boards

One of the most popular parts of AFB's family of websites is the message boards area. Just as there is a message board associated with AccessWorld and technology, there are message boards associated with CareerConnect. If you are a teenager or know a teen with a visual impairment, we'd like to suggest the TeenConnect message board. TeenConnect can be found within the For Teens section of CareerConnect, or through the message board portal on AFB.org. This message board gives teens with visual impairments the chance to discuss everyday issues with other teens and young adults. Since minors use TeenConnect, staff closely monitors its content.

Visit CareerConnect Today!

Today's AFB CareerConnect offers innovative tools, content, and resources for career exploration, job searches, edutainment, instructional activities, professional development, mentor searches, e-learning, and even more. Visit us to explore and learn about the next generation of career education activities and learning tools. If you are visually impaired and employed, please sign up today to be a mentor and make a difference in the lives of others!

Visit us on our family of websites at www.afb.org, and add AFB CareerConnect as your friend on Facebook!

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Access to Academics

AFB FamilyConnect: A Resource for the Modern Family with a Child Who is Blind or Visually Impaired

Imagine your child was just diagnosed with a visual impairment and you've had no prior experience with visual impairments or blindness. You just spent hours at a doctor's office, where you were told that your child or baby has an existing visual impairment or a condition where he or she will lose vision. You and your partner head home, heads full of preconceptions about your child's future, and questions about how a person with vision loss manages day-to-day tasks.

You might first turn to the Internet, Googling the diagnosis and staying up late at night trying to find information, maybe posting a question or two to different message boards, or searching for articles related to what you're experiencing. But after this initial search for information, what happens next?

Created by the American Foundation for the Blind and the National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI), FamilyConnect is a resource for parents and families with children who are blind or have a visual impairment, and for professionals who work with them. FamilyConnect has grown extremely quickly in its two-year existence, and provides information on a wide array of topics, from Individual Education Plan goal setting to assistive technology. The site allows you to search for content based on age group, topical area, and diagnosis. All of the information is aimed at parents and families to help address their concerns.

Connections

FamilyConnect's Program Manager, Scott Truax, says, "FamilyConnect is all about connections. The site allows parents and families to connect with other parents and families, resources, and topic-specific articles." These types of connections—and the community they foster— bring a feeling of belonging and comfort to parents of children with visual impairments.

The numerous FamilyConnect message boards offer forums for every type of visual impairment and age group, along with a discussion on what to do after the diagnosis. Parent representatives of NAPVI monitor these message boards and respond with answers based on their personal experiences. While these boards are one of the most used resources on the site, the greatest resource is you. Families appreciate being able to interact with parents throughout the United States who share their advice and experiences. Parents and families are the true experts. They have been through the trials and tribulations, as well as joys and celebrations.

Directory of Services

In addition to the message boards, Family Connect publishes and maintains a searchable Directory of Services specific to children, a crucial resource for parents and families of newly diagnosed children.

Family Friends

FamilyConnect recently added a new and exciting social networking feature, FamilyFriends, which provides social networking to families in a safe and personalized format. The FamilyConnect team worked hard to provide parents and families with the features that they would be most interested in using. Families can create their own pages where they can share their story with other families, and users can connect with other users to benefit from each other's experiences.

Using FamilyFriends, parents and families have the option to reach out to as many people as they are comfortable with and to selectively share information using the feature's personalized security settings. The interface allows users to post a photo and updates to their profile pages, and to message other users. These social networking features will be spreading through the AFB family of sites in the near future.

Events

Parents and families wanted to know about activities going on in their local area, so FamilyConnect developed a calendar system that allows organizations to post events. Members can sign up to receive notifications for events in their areas. Connect with your local NAPVI chapter and get active!

Blogs

FamilyConnect publishes blogs written by parents and guest bloggers, including experts. Users are invited to join the discussions by interacting with the writers and their readers.

Professionals and Organizations

If you work for an organization that works with parents, families, or children, you should make sure that your organization is registered with FamilyConnect and the Directory of Services. The site provides a great resource for professionals to offer content specifically written for the perspective of parents and families.

Join the FamilyConnect Revolution

As professionals, parents, family members, and community members, we have an opportunity to share resources that will help families with the coping and learning processes. FamilyConnect offers a unique forum that facilitates and encourages these supportive and informative interactions—please join us!

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Product Evaluations

Oh Kapten! My Kapten! Where am I?: A Review of the Kapten PLUS Personal Navigation Device

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have revolutionized the way we get around. These devices can provide turn-by-turn directions to almost anywhere a driver needs to go. No longer do cab drivers or pizza delivery people need to browse through map books in order to locate a specific address. For individuals who are blind or visually impaired, GPS is even more revolutionary. Not only can this technology provide information about your current location, it can list nearby businesses and assist in planning a pedestrian route to a specific address.

Despite the advantages in travel, the cost (usually between $900 and $1,700) of dedicated GPS systems designed for people who are blind or visually impaired has prevented many individuals from taking advantage of these products. A recent partnership seeks to change that. A mainstream manufacturer of GPS devices, Kapsys, has joined forces with Leader Dogs for the Blind to release the Kapten PLUS personal navigation device. Priced at just $295, and free to individuals who receive a dog guide from Leader Dogs, the Kapten can plot routes to local businesses or a specific address, and provide accurate location information. In addition to being a GPS solution, the Kapten Plus is an MP3 player, an FM radio, and an audio memo recorder.

Physical Description

The Kapten is a small rectangular unit measuring 2.9 by 1.74 by 0.51 inches, and weighing less than 2 ounces. The product is shipped with a rubber skin that protects the hardware and provides a tactile overlay for the controls. The front face of the product contains nine keys rendered very tactually distinct by the rubber skin. The upper edge of the device contains a mini USB port and a switch for locking the keys. Although it's handy to have a locking switch, using the control was difficult for some testers as it's partially covered by the skin. The left edge contains a mini audio jack that can be connected to either the included ear buds or external speaker. Just below the audio jack is a lanyard for connecting the included strap. The right edge features two small volume control keys. On the back of the case is a clip for attaching the product to clothing.

Photo of the Kapten PLUS.

Caption: The Kapten PLUS

The package includes a small round external speaker, a set of ear buds, product documentation, and various cables for getting everything connected. Because the Kapten does not include an internal speaker, either the ear buds or external speaker must be used whenever you are working with the product. Like the Kapten itself, the external speaker contains a rechargeable battery and can only be charged via USB. Both the cable to the external speaker and the ear buds include a small microphone, used to issue voice commands to the Kapten and record voice memos.

The Kapten's rechargeable battery requires four hours to fully charge. According to the manual, the battery will last for approximately five hours of active use. For this reason, the manufacturer recommends that the Kapten be constantly connected to a USB port when not in use. Following this guideline would be much easier if a wall outlet charging kit was included with the product.

Documentation

The Kapten ships with three discs, all clearly labeled in print and braille. The first disc is a DVD that contains a backup of the Kapten's preloaded maps. The second CD is titled "Key Influencers" and contains a poem about the product, the history of GPS at Leader Dogs, and other promotional materials. The last disc contains an audio study guide written by Pilot Dogs. The guide, which consists of 17 lessons providing a general overview of the product and giving information on its basic functions, is read by the same speech synthesizer used by the Kapten. It would be helpful if the guide were also available as a text file or Word document, so those who wanted to listen to the guide using another synthesizer or read it in refreshable braille could do so. The study guide, along with a more thorough manual written by the manufacturer, are loaded on the Kapten and can be read using the MP3 player functionality.

Talking to Your Kapten

To control the Kapten, you can either press the keys on the front panel or issue voice commands. The external speaker cable and the ear buds both contain a microphone in the form of a small cylinder with a round button. The button is used to get the Kapten's attention prior to issuing voice commands. In quiet environments, the speech recognition was very accurate. In noisier environments, such as on a busy street corner, it was occasionally necessary to repeat a voice command two or three times before it was understood. Some functions, such as checking battery status, can only be accomplished using voice commands.

When using the Kapten, two types of voice commands are supported, passive and active. A passive command is issued when you state a word or phrase and the Kapten responds by performing an action, e.g., asking the Kapten to change its volume or state the current time. When you issue an active command, the Kapten responds with additional options and you can either verbally state your choice or use the menu keys to scroll and select. A good example of an active command is when you ask the Kapten to list nearby points of interest (POIs). The Kapten will respond with a list of POI categories such as hotel, restaurant, or service station. These lists can be rather lengthy, so it's often necessary to use the menu keys to scroll through the available options.

Traveling with the Kapten PLUS

The Kapten has two modes of GPS. The first is called free navigation. In this mode, you use the Kapten to get information about your location as you make your way, without entering a specific route or destination. In free navigation mode, as you approach an intersection, the Kapten will inform you of the name of the cross street and type of intersection. You can press a key at any time to hear the current city, street, and nearest address. The Kapten will also announce any locations you've marked with K-tags (see below) as you approach them.

The second GPS mode uses active voice commands to select a destination. The Kapten will first prompt you to enter the type of route you would like to create. You can choose from pedestrian, vehicle, and bicycle, among others. This selection determines what sorts of streets your route will involve. Once your route type is selected, you must choose if you would like to input an address, go to a favorite, use public transportation, go to a K-Tag, find a point of interest, repeat the last trip, or go to a contact.

Inputting an address can be time consuming and takes more than a little patience. Via active voice commands, the Kapten asks the state, city, and road of your destination. After each response, you must say "yes" to confirm your choice. The number of your destination address can be dictated via voice or entered using the arrow keys on the keypad. During our evaluation, we found it necessary to say "yes" after each digit in order to confirm that number. This made entering a four-digit address rather cumbersome. A little practice makes this process easier, but it's still time consuming.

A K-Tag is a ten-second voice recording that you associate with your current location. For instance, if you are at the entrance to your favorite restaurant, you can mark the location with a K-Tag and dictate its name into the Kapten. Later, when you want to go back to the same restaurant, you can use the K-Tag functionality to plot your route back.

If you select the POI method, the Kapten will prompt for a category and then a subcategory. This process of drilling down can be rather time consuming, because the POI database is rather extensive, so the lists of categories and subcategories are long. It would be useful if it were possible to abbreviate the list to the ten closest points of interest in a given category.

The Kapten can import contacts from Microsoft Outlook or similar applications. Once imported, the Kapten can use this data to guide you to a contact's address. While this is a great concept, we found the PC import interface difficult to use and not very screen reader friendly.

Once you have selected or input your destination, the Kapten asks if you would like to use public transportation to get to this address. If you answer "yes" to this prompt, the Kapten provides walking directions to the closest station with a bus or train that will take you to your destination. You can also select public transportation as a destination and provide a starting and ending station. The Kapten will then tell you the public transit options for making this trip. The Kapten was evaluated in Boston, home of an extensive public transportation system. When the Kapten accurately identified station names, we found this functionality extremely valuable in planning travel. There were, however, several major T stations the Kapten failed to locate.

When you walk with the Kapten, the device gives you turn-by-turn directions to your destination. A single press of a key announces your current city, street, and the closest address. Additional information, such as distance to destination and current GPS signal quality, is available via voice command. When we turned on a new street and asked for our current location, the Kapten did a good job in identifying the new street. This was very useful in confirming that we had, in fact, turned on the correct street. Unfortunately, the Kapten does not announce when you pass a point of interest while walking, which would be a very useful feature.

Other Functionality

The Kapten's built-in MP3 player allows you to group music by artist, album, and genre. The Kapten appears as an external drive when it's connected to a computer via USB. You can easily copy MP3 files to a folder on the device, then browse your music using the keypad or voice commands. The documentation included with the Kapten did not provide the maximum storage capacity of the product.

The FM radio is activated by pressing the radio button on the front of the Kapten. As with other functions, the radio can be operated using the keys on the front panel or via voice commands. According to the manual, it's possible to state a station name, such as "WBUR," and have the Kapten automatically select the appropriate frequency. In our tests, we could not get this feature to work. We were able to find a station by stating a frequency, such as "103.5." When the Kapten speaks, it automatically lowers the volume of whatever you're listening to—a very useful feature, especially if you like to use the radio or listen to music while traveling.

You control the voice memos feature with voice commands. When you activate this function, you are asked if you want to record a voice memo. If you respond no, you are asked if you want to listen to a voice memo. If you again respond no, you are asked if you want to delete a voice memo. Answering yes to any of these questions will perform the appropriate task. As individuals often need to record voice memos in noisy environments, it would be useful if this feature could at least be activated via the keypad.

The Bottom Line

The Kapten is an affordable and useful stand-alone GPS solution. It provides location information and does a good job of assisting users traveling to a specific address. Learning to efficiently use the voice input functionality takes a bit of practice, but it can be done. The radio and MP3 player are nice additions, but the primary purpose of the Kapten is navigation. Users of the iPhone and other smartphones may not need a dedicated GPS device, as these products offer more convenient and less expensive GPS solutions. However, for those who want an affordable dedicated GPS product, the Kapten PLUS is a great step forward.

Product Information

Product: Kapten PLUS personal navigation device

Manufacturer:
Kapsys
790 Avenue du Docteur Maurice Donat
Le Marco Polo A1, 06250
Mougins, France
Phone: +33 4 92 28 88 88

U.S. Distributor:
Leader Dogs for the Blind
1039 S. Rochester Rd
Rochester Hills, MI 48307-3115
Phone: (888) 777-5332
Price: $295

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Letters to the Editor

Kudos to AccessWorld and Response from Readers

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

Thanks so much for your continuing coverage of the world of cell phones.

I must say, you gave me quite a scare tonight! I just today ordered a Haven through Verizon. Then, I see your e-mail tonight noting a review of a new LG cell phone through Verizon. I was saddened but relieved to see that the Haven still seems to be the best option for us as far as simple phones are concerned.

It's unfortunate that manufacturers refuse to advance phone features and access for us as they do for everyone else. I'm grateful that Samsung and Apple are [among the few] companies that are trying to include us.

[In the article] you referred to your review of the Haven, which I had not yet read until tonight. Thanks so much for this review; it will be very helpful to me as I get to know my new phone. I also appreciate your mention of [the available] accessible formats …for the [user's] manuals. I could scan [the manual], but would much rather get a prepared electronic or braille version.

One correction, though: I learned through a very thorough webcast Accessible World presented last year on the Haven that there is in fact an accessible way to make it talk right out of the box.

I'm so grateful to have this resource, along with your evaluation, to use to get me going on the phone.

Thanks again for your excellent work, and in particular your continuing coverage of the cell phone market. Your articles on cell phones and other equipment help me greatly personally, and [also] in [the] work I do to assist other blind and visually impaired people through the Kansas Rehabilitation Services as their VR counselor.

Todd

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

Great job editing the magazine!

In answer to your question to readers about which cell phones they are using, I am currently using the (ancient) LG8300, but I am holding out another month or two for its replacement. I was seriously considering the iPhone with my RefreshaBraille braille display, but the National Braille Press, Levelstar, and the American Printing House are coming out with smartphones with the braille displays built in. My preference is to carry one unit as opposed to two machines.

Keep up the great work!

Audrey

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AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Accessible Digital Television: Code Factory Releases TV Speak in the USA

Code Factory has announced the American release of its new software application, TV Speak.

TV Speak uses speech output and magnification to allow people who are blind or have low vision to use the most common functionality of digital terrestrial television in a fully accessible way. The application is compatible with Windows-based computers (Windows 7, Vista, or XP) that are equipped to receive a digital television signal.

Eduard Sánchez, Code Factory CEO, says this about the development of the new software: "The way people watch television is changing. In the near future we will all use television to access the Web and consume multimedia content and digital information. Blind people cannot be left out of this new world of possibilities. …TV Speak is our first contribution in this field."

With TV Speak people who are blind or have low vision can:

  • Access the Electronic Program Guide (EPG).
  • Consult information about the current or next program while watching TV.
  • Select an audio channel that provides audio description.
  • Schedule and record programs (image and audio, or audio only) based on the EPG information.
  • Tune and order television and radio channels.
  • Configure both television and TV Speak parameters.
  • Enable parental control settings.
  • Execute basic TV operations such as change channel, adjust volume, etc.

Code Factory developed TV Speak in partnership with ONCE, the Spanish national association for the blind.

TV Speak is available from HandyTech North America; info@handytech.us; (651) 636-5184.

Disability Related Updates from the White House

To receive updates on disability issues from the White House, simply ask to be added to the update list by sending an e-mail.

Ai Squared Releases iPad Contacts Accessibility App

Ai Squared released ZoomContacts, an app for the iPad and iPad 2. ZoomContacts presents the information in an iPad's internal Contacts database using multiple font size and color combination choices.

ZoomContacts is available now in the iTunes App Store for $4.99.

A video demo of the app is available on YouTube.

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