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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 August 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 8

Letters to the Editor

STEM Access is Important to AccessWorld Readers

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

I've just completed reading the July issue, and I have to tell you the piece on STEM education and careers was among the best stories I've ever seen in AccessWorld. The author deserves high praise for her plain English, concise, and thorough writing style. Her story was a real treasure trove of highly relevant resources.

I'm pleased to see the iPhone get recognition as a valid note-taking device. I use mine constantly for long, complex notes in meetings using an app called Plain Text that links to my Dropbox account. For short stuff, I simply fire up ClearRecord, a wonderful app for quick things like phone numbers or addresses. Why? Because ClearRecord can reduce ambient room noise or outdoor noise, and the completed file is easily e-mailed for later retrieval. In short, my iPhone has entirely replaced my hapless, dusty PAC Mate of yesteryear, which sits nestled against an old eight-track player I really need to get rid of. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration; I no longer have the eight-track player.

Regards,
Nolan

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

First, thanks for all the issues covered in AccessWorld. The magazine serves a most important function in our community. I like reading about mobile computers even though in my case I would rather not carry a phone, let alone have it be a hard-to-operate expensive little device. That is, the articles in AccessWorld are almost always interesting.

Seeking to answer your call for article ideas I've been thinking.

Do you suppose an exciting issue could be generated if we asked readers to talk about those aspects of computer and software use they find challenging?

  1. For example, I use JAWS, though what I'm going to say could apply to any screen reader. Well there is much to worry over. JAWS is very expensive. Upgrading is a never-ending expense. I'm two upgrades behind, so we're looking at $600 just to upgrade [to the current version], which seems absurd, since I'm not yet using Windows 7. And what of the quirks and problems with JAWS? I would give anything for my screen reader to fulfill one thing above all: it must never go silent.
  2. In the technology business our experts master things. For example: the user interface for the iPhone. National Braille Press puts out a book. But maybe there is something we might wish to share about whether we want to tap and gesture. Could be that's a good new thing that helps us work with mainstream products, but it could be it's a really dumb way to do things--and once again we're stuck with it if we want to use certain products.
  3. It seems to me that a great many of us would love to convert tapes and records to digital formats, either putting materials on CDs or converting material to the MP3 format. There are podcasts out in our world that talk us through this software and that. I'm always surprised at how complex the task is. The problem with the available programs is the podcaster usually has to tell us to be sure to get a particular version, an old version, the one the podcaster has. Tricky. Why, I wonder, is something that has broad appeal so hard? Not to mention download services. Oh sure, it can be done with Windows Media, iTunes, Rhapsody, etc., though I can't say it's done easily. The program doesn't speak everything, even while in fact it might operate. And friends tell me about making separate files of an album in Studio Recorder, then combining them, etc. Sounds a little tedious to me. But the part where that blank CD gets prepared, that part where dialog boxes must be checked and unchecked each time, well it's harder than it should be. It's always seemed to me that there could be a program that asked: What do you want to do? There's a list of choices. You choose the one you want. Done. I read about mixers and record players and so on, but much of the time the software that comes with the devices, is software JAWS doesn't "see," so to speak.
  4. How to learn cool things. We learn to do things--that is, we learn a series of keystrokes that accomplish sophisticated procedures. How do we learn all that we know? A rote method of performing tasks makes it hard to teach each other, because much of the time we don't actually know what's going on (how your stuff is configured versus mine, etc.). Well, one thing has developed. More and more we find there are Internet seminars, podcasts, and websites run by blind folks who know what we want to learn. Maybe we could gather resources together to help direct us to great how-to information.
  5. I suspect the whole subject of bar-code reading will get more and more interesting. Right now we know of devices with memory card databases. We know there will be Internet-based, immediate retrieval bar-code systems coming along, though I'm not sure I know how products we wish to research get to, and interact with, our Internet enabled computers. Still the ability to know what we have or what we're shopping for will be very helpful, and maybe cheaper some day.

These are just a few things that come to mind. Maybe some of these ideas are things you would like to get into as well.

Keep up the fine work. We really need you guys.

Mike

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

A while back, I read an AccessWorld review of the Verizon Haven cell phone. As I recall, the review did not spend a lot of time on the completeness of the phone's text-to-speech feature, and it did not let me know that it was the new phone to replace the Samsung Knack (the phone I had at the time, and which had some voice and text-to-speech features), or how much better it was than the Knack.

I have one other requirement: I cannot use a phone with a camera because of my job.

So I did nothing for a while. I recently got the Haven and it has total text-to-speech and is so much better than the older phone, it is hard to believe.

For someone with partial vision, it is great. I can now hear my text messages and listen as I put text into the phone, as well as hear everything else.

Even the published information from Verizon did not give me enough information to push me to change phones earlier.

I suggest you re-do that article and give a full description of the text-to-speech. It is not perfect, but it is way better than anything else I have found.

M.J.

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