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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 9

In This Issue

Editor's Page

Issue Highlights and Questioning the Future of Apple

Lee Huffman

Product Evaluations

PenFriend and Touch Memo: A Comparison of Labeling Tools

For ease of use, efficiency, and versatility the PenFriend and Touch Memo are both excellent solutions to the ongoing labeling challenge. Read this evaluation to learn which may best suit your particular needs.--Deborah Kendrick

Website Accessibility

All Aboard! Using the Amtrak and Greyhound Websites with a Screen Reader

This article explores planning and purchasing train travel through the Amtrak website, and bus travel through the Greyhound website by investigating a hypothetical trip from New York City to Washington, D.C.. Read my article to avoid detours when making your travel plans.--Janet Ingber

Technology Commentary

Responding to Shifts in Technology: Accessibility in a Changing Environment

Today, we are in the midst of quickly advancing trends in technology that require a shift in the way we approach technology access and independence including the dramatic shift of computing toward mobile information technology and rapidly developed apps, along with the emergence of cloud computing and the permeation of social network-driven communication throughout all layers of society and commerce. A Commentary.--Paul W. Schroeder

Letters to the Editor

Be Wary of Cell Phone Insurance: Getting an Accessible Replacement Cell Phone can be Problematic

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News


Editor's Page

Issue Highlights and Questioning the Future of Apple

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

This month, the AccessWorld team brings you a review of the PenFriend and Touch Memo label readers, a review of the Greyhound and Amtrak websites, and a commentary from the desk of AccessWorld's Senior Contributing Editor, Paul Schroder, with his thoughts on the accessibility disruptions and opportunities posed by recent trends in technology.

Speaking of disruptions, I am sure most of you are aware that Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, recently announced his resignation. As part of the announcement, we learned current COO, Tim Cook, a 13-year veteran of the company, would take over as CEO, with Jobs continuing as Chairman.

The accessibility of Apple products has changed the lives of many people with vision loss. We now must wonder how, if at all, this change in leadership will affect the company, its operations, and its commitment to accessibility. AccessWorld will be watching, and we will keep you informed as developments unfold.

Remember, if you missed the August issue—or any issue for that matter—you can easily get to the archive of AccessWorld back issues by selecting the "Back Issues" link from any AccessWorld webpage. You can search the archive by month and year. Another tip for finding information in the annals of AccessWorld: enter a search term into the "Search AccessWorld" box on any AccessWorld webage—or do the same on our Search page—and you'll get results for every online article we've published containing the terms you're looking for.

Please look for us again in October as we recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month!

Sincerely,

Lee Huffman
AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

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Product Evaluations

PenFriend and Touch Memo: A Comparison of Labeling Tools

One of the most universal and all-encompassing challenges for any person who is blind or has low vision is the identification of objects not discernible by touch. Which bottle of pills is the antibiotic for your sinus infection and which for your high blood pressure? Which box in your freezer contains the sesame chicken dinner rather than the spinach lasagna or lima beans?

And then there are the documents. Somewhere on your desk is a letter from your accountant and somewhere else is an application for the local swim club. Just when you need one or the other immediately, they both feel like blank pieces of paper. Maybe you want to review the contents of that syllabus handed out on the first day of geometry class and you don't want to boot up your computer to download it. You want to make that brownie mix, but can't remember if it takes one egg or two, or if it's baked at 325 degrees or 350. Or maybe you want to make an impression with your deep philosophical convictions and but you aren't sure which t-shirt boasts that you're a Red Sox fan and which one broadcasts your favorite Gandhi quote.

The list of unidentifiable objects goes on and on. Every blind or visually impaired person can recount one or two amusing or devastating situations that have arisen when one object was mistaken for another. It may have been the can of peas you inadvertently emptied into the fruit salad, or the shirt with snowflakes and Santas you mistook for the plain red one and wore to a business meeting. Whatever the case, there are some new products on the market that offer fairly simple solutions to hundreds of labeling needs.

PenFriend

PenFriend was introduced about two years ago by the RNIB (formerly Royal National Institute for the Blind) in the United Kingdom. Although its shape and heft are more akin to a flashlight than a ballpoint pen, the PenFriend gets its name because it functions as a sort of audio "pen" for a person unable to identify objects by sight.

The device might be best described as barcode-scanner-meets-digital-recorder. To use it, you simply place the tip of the PenFriend to one of the supplied labels and make a recording. The recording might be as brief as, say, "New England style clam chowder" or as long as a 600-word letter. In either case, the entire recording will be associated with the tiny label, which you can then affix to the object in question. Later, when you want to identify the object, you again place the tip of the PenFriend to the label and your recording is played back to you.

Touch Memo

Touch Memo, a product similar to the PenFriend, appeared in the U.S. last year. Roughly the same size as the PenFriend (about six inches long), the Touch Memo is slightly lighter and more flat than round. Operation is the same as that of the PenFriend: press the tip of the device to one of the supplied labels, make your recording, and affix the label to its corresponding object. Later, touch the tip of the Touch Memo to the label, and the device will play your own recording back to you.

Packaging

In the box with either the PenFriend or Touch Memo, you will get the device itself, a lanyard for hanging it around your neck, a USB connector for connecting to your computer, a set of labels of varying shapes and/or sizes, and a set of instructions. While each product provides printed instructions, these are, after all, products intended for use by blind people, so the approach to accessible instructions is significant. The Touch Memo includes a basic audio CD. The PenFriend shows a bit more imagination—providing a series of PenFriend pre-recorded labels, affixed to an insert in the box. Touch the PenFriend to any of these labels and you will immediately hear useful information—delivered in a decidedly British accent—regarding package contents, backing up your recordings, or downloading material from the RNIB site.

Performance Similarities and Differences

As described above, PenFriend and Touch Memo operate in similar fashion. Both offer an easy means for using labels more than once, by either deleting a label's recorded message or by recording over it. The buttons on both devices are easily differentiated by touch. On the Touch Memo, the buttons are Power, Record, and Delete. On the PenFriend, the buttons are Power, Mode, and Record. Each has a volume control—a wheel on the Touch Memo and a kind of rocker switch on the PenFriend. Buttons not in common are the Mode button on PenFriend, as mentioned above, and a Hold switch on the Touch Memo, which seems rather superfluous. The Mode button on PenFriend, incidentally, is designed for switching to an MP3 mode, included so that users can load MP3 files on the device for listening to podcasts or music.

Both units can be connected to a computer for backup via a USB port. Recordings on both can be heard either through the built-in speaker or through headphones. The PenFriend comes with two AAA batteries, which are easily replaced by the user. The Touch Memo has a rechargeable battery, which can be charged either via USB connection to your computer or with the included AC adapter.

The PenFriend comes with 127 labels, while the Touch Memo includes about 240. Additional labels are available for purchase for either unit; labels can be reused indefinitely.

The PenFriend's maximum capacity is estimated at 70 hours of recording, while the Touch Memo manual indicates a capacity of 83 hours. These estimates may be somewhat inaccurate, however, since the PenFriend also indicates a 1GB internal storage space and the Touch Memo 2GB. Additional storage for either unit is not an option. Both units have audible chimes and beeps to indicate the performance of various operations, and both power off automatically when not in use for more than about two minutes. Both provide adequate recording quality for the intended purpose.

Limitations on Label Treatment

I tested recordings in a variety of circumstances with both devices. The labeling performed perfectly after being in the freezer as well as in the medicine cabinet, file drawer, or pantry shelf. One distinct difference between the two is in the laundry room. While either can be affixed to clothing that is dry cleaned, only the Touch Memo suggests that its labels can survive the washing machine—though the labels' functionality will be destroyed by the clothes dyer or iron. A further caveat worth noting is that labels in clothing must be sewn in, which might diminish the appeal for some consumers.

The Bottom Line

For ease of use, efficiency, and versatility the PenFriend and Touch Memo are both excellent solutions to the ongoing labeling challenge.

Product Information

Product:PenFriend
Price:$139
Available From:
Independent Living Aids
(800) 537-2118

Product:Touch Memo
Price:$179
Available From:
VisionCue
888-318-2582

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Website Accessibility

All Aboard! Using the Amtrak and Greyhound Websites with a Screen Reader

When making travel plans, there are advantages to taking the bus or train. Though travel time might be longer with these modes of transportation, they often cost less than air travel, and neither requires a security screening.

For this article, I explored planning and purchasing train travel through the Amtrak website, and bus travel through the Greyhound website. I investigated a hypothetical trip from New York City to Washington, D.C. to conduct this assessment, and used Windows XP, Window-Eyes 7.5.1 and Internet Explorer 8 throughout.

Amtrak

The 143 links that appear on Amtrak's homepage are almost all clearly labeled. A sampling of links: "different regions," "special promotions," "passenger discounts." and "Amtrak Vacations." There is a "Special Needs & Accessibility" link that takes you to a page with links including "Service Animals" and "Meal Service for Customers with Disabilities."

The Amtrak homepage includes forms for choosing travel dates, travel times, and the type of ticket you want to purchase. From the homepage you may also click a link to create an account, a step that can be useful if you plan on traveling with Amtrak more than once. The account registration form consists of combo and edit boxes. Most of the form controls automatically speak, but a few will require that you hit Shift + Tab and then Tab again in order to hear them. Another option is to turn browse mode on just to see what the form says, and then turn it off to fill out the form.

Planning Your Trip

The first decision to make is weather you want a one-way or round-trip ticket. This choice is made through two radio buttons. Next you enter your departure and arrival points via two edit boxes. Unless you already know the Amtrak station codes associated with your arrival and departure points, you will need to look them up using the "find a station" link. You can search for your station by state, province, or the first letter of the city name.

You enter the departure date via links: tab to the date of your departure and hit Enter. That date will now be entered in the departure edit box. The next control is a combo box for departure time. Options include specific hours or general times of day (e.g., "morning," "evening," or "anytime"). You repeat this process for the return trip.

The next controls are three combo boxes to indicate the number of adults, children, and infants for whom you are purchasing tickets. Once all of this information is entered, you activate the "Find Tickets" button. When the new page loads, the information you entered will be displayed along with a list of available trains based on your indicated departure time. To locate the selections use your screen reader's Find command and look for the text, "Select Depart Train," under which you'll find your departure date, and pricing and trip duration information. Below that information is a combo box where you can choose to have your results sorted by price, duration, or departure time. Next is a combo box to choose the type of train.

Below the train combo box are your results. Each result contains the train number and price followed by the departure station, date, and departure and arrival times. Next you'll find the trip duration and amenities (WiFi, snack car, etc.) information. A radio button selects the seat type. An "add to cart" button is on the top of each entry; use it to make your selection, then repeat the process for your return trip.

Once the selections are added to your cart, it's time to check out. The first page of the check-out form is straightforward, though instead of a continue button it says, "Enter Passenger Information." On the next page you choose, via radio buttons, how you want to get your tickets, then enter information about each passenger including name, address, and phone number. The final check-out page is dedicated to payment.

Getting Help

You can contact Amtrak via the first link on the site's homepage, or by calling1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245). There is an option on the phone menu for passengers with special needs. In order to reach it, choose "Something Else" from the first menu of choices, then choose "Passengers with Special Needs." After you hear what services Amtrak provides, you can ask to talk to an agent.

I spoke to several Amtrak agents to determine what assistance I could get regarding getting to the train and getting from the train to a taxi. I got several different answers, but most agents said that Amtrak can put a "Meet and Assist" note in my reservation. A few of the agents did not even mention this service, so check when you make your reservations. The agents all said that the staff on board can help me with my bag, show where things are located such as my seat and the bathroom. All agents were courteous and my wait time was never more than a minute.

Discounted Train Fares

Amtrak gives a 15% discount for passengers with disabilities. In order to get this discount, you must book your reservation with an Amtrak agent. Documentation of your disability must be presented when boarding the train. Acceptable documentation includes a transit system I.D. or a note from your doctor.

The Bottom Line: Amtrak

The Amtrak website tends to have many links and forms on all of its pages, but once you learn where information is located, the site is manageable. That said, I thought it might be helpful to use the site to research travel options and investigate train times and prices, it's actually better to book your reservation directly with an Amtrak agent.

Greyhound

Greyhound's homepage displays 127 links, not all of which are labeled. Some of the labeled links are "deals and discounts" and "services & routes." There is a link for "Customers with Disabilities" which leads to several other pages that discuss service animals and the types of assistance Greyhound provides.

Frequent Rider Program

Greyhound does not offer a discount to passengers with disabilities, but it does provide a Road Rewards program where you can earn points and get reduced fares. Most of the registration form is straightforward. Near the end of the form are sets of radio buttons that require that you take your screen reader out of browse mode to identify. Questions about race, employment and how often you ride Greyhound are asked, but answers are not required to register for the program.

Planning Your Trip

The first form controls are radio buttons for identifying whether you want a one-way or round-trip ticket. Next you enter your departure and arrival cities. You can type the name of your departure city, then use the mouse keys to find out if there are multiple options from that location. If there are, left clicking on an option will enter it in the edit box. You could also use the "Station Locater" link, which will display all the Greyhound stations for a selected state. Once you've found your stations, you can enter them into the appropriate edit boxes. It's easier to get the station names prior to filling out the form if you use the Station Locater.

Next, you indicate how many adults, seniors and children will be traveling. The easiest way to do this is to enter the number directly into the respective edit boxes. For some reason, the edit box for children is nine tabs away from the other two boxes.

The easiest way to enter the date of travel is to follow the sample format that is already located in the edit box. You could take your screen reader out of browse or forms mode and look for the calendar numbers, but I found that to be more cumbersome than just following the sample.

After entering the departure date, the next box calls for the departure time. To get the schedule, turn off browse or forms mode and activate the "Time View Pop Up" link. You can find the results by searching for the "Customers with Disabilities" link. Under that link is the word "Time" and under that is the list of scheduled times. Hit Enter on the one you want, but keep in mind that these are only approximate times. Next click the "Search Schedule" link, which will give you specific times and rates. The form can be confusing because it has table headings followed by information for each bus, instead of providing the headings for each individual bus. There are discounts if you choose to book your fare online. When you search for a return trip, you might find the word "included" on the price. This means that the fare you chose when you made your departure choice includes your return trip. Once you have made your selections, activate the "Continue" link.

The first controls on the check-out form are radio buttons for how you will pay for your tickets and a form for your zip code. When the next page loads, you are presented with a list of stores where you can get your tickets or you can choose to print your tickets at home. The rest of the check-out form uses standard form controls.

Getting Help

The general number for fares and schedules is (800) 231-2222.There is a special number for Greyhound customers with disabilities: (800) 752-4841. I spoke to several agents. My wait time was minimal and the agents were courteous. They all said that Greyhound can help me with my bag and give me priority seating as well as early boarding. Several agents mentioned that they are not allowed to touch passengers.

The Bottom Line

The Greyhound website can easily tax your patience. There is a lot of information on every page and I found that links and controls didn't always work the first time I activated them. My recommendation is to give the site a try if you wish, but if it's too hard to manipulate, call Greyhound, explain that their website is not easy to use, and ask for the same fare that you would have gotten if you booked your trip online.

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Technology Commentary

Responding to Shifts in Technology: Accessibility in a Changing Environment

Sometimes it seems the only constant in the world of technology is change. Often, changes in technology can lead to challenges for people with vision loss. Many of us are old enough to remember the severe problems brought about by Microsoft's shift from DOS to the graphical user interface. Today, we are in the midst of quickly advancing trends in technology that require a shift in the way we approach technology access and independence. The technology trends at issue include the dramatic shift of computing toward mobile information technology and rapidly developed apps, along with the emergence of cloud computing and the permeation of social network-driven communication throughout all layers of society and commerce. For consumers with vision loss, overlaying all of these changes is the increased expectation of built-in accessibility, spurred by Apple's built-in VoiceOver accessibility feature. These developments will supplant the centrality of the personal computer (desktop or laptop) in our offices, upend traditional entertainment equipment (televisions and stereos), and likely finalize the move away from print on paper in books and newspapers.

Though these trends will disrupt the methods we've used to access the personal computer and information, they are not necessarily negative. In fact, many current technology developments may ultimately have a positive impact on access for people with vision loss. After all, while the shift away from the text-based DOS computing environment was difficult, I think most of us would agree that for the last 15 years or so, we have had relatively good and improving access to Windows-based personal computers and applications. In addition, many of us find Apple products to be liberating, providing access to information in new and exciting ways.

Tablet Computing: The Whole World in Your Hands

The hand-held tablet computer has certainly arrived in a big way. Tablets provide communication functionality, information access, location services, and entertainment offerings in highly portable, extremely powerful devices. The tablet computer, almost always featuring a touchscreen as a central component of the navigation interface, is rapidly supplanting the laptop and desktop personal computer. While both the Apple iOS and the Google Android OS provide a level of built-in accessibility (Apple's being by far the better of the two), the complexity of, and lack of tactile controls on, these devices make them devilishly hard for a significant number of consumers to use. The vast array of features contained in the popular tablet devices, so beguiling for some, is off-putting for others. The touch interface, which has been embraced even by blind consumers, is also unwelcome for others (including blind consumers) who yearn for buttons, keys, and knobs.

In addition, there is lingering uncertainty regarding the extent to which access will be assured for these devices. All Apple iOS devices, including the iPad, provide robust access. Android tablet products provide some built-in access, with the prospect of additional access through third-party software. RIM introduced its BlackBerry tablet product, PlayBook, without any built-in accessibility at all, and the very popular Galaxy from Samsung and Xoom from Motorola do not offer accessibility comparable to the iPad. Even where access is robust, can we be sure that the user interface for a given tablet device will be sufficient for consumers who rely on accessibility features?

Apps: Thousands of Benefits, Thousands of Challenges

The computing power, flexibility, processing speed, and popularity of Apple's iPhone, paired with its established iTunes retail marketplace, opened up a new product profile for software developers: the app. Though the term "app" has been used for decades as an abbreviation for "application," in today's parlance, an app is a software program, usually with a tightly targeted purpose, that has been developed specifically for use on smartphones and other portable computing devices. Since 2008, when the iPhone launched, hundreds of thousands of apps have been created for iOS and Android devices. Large companies and independent programmers alike have developed apps to provide entertainment, solve problems, speed the delivery of information, and much more.

While the advent of the app promises seemingly unlimited opportunities for the expansion of the capabilities of portable devices, there are nonetheless concerns and uncertainties for users with vision loss in this new environment. First, accessibility for every app is not assured. While Apple has published solid development resources that support accessibility, inaccessible apps are still frequently approved for sale by the iTunes store, with barriers such as unlabeled buttons and interference with VoiceOver speech. Developers working on apps in non-Apple environments have less guidance on accessibility, paired with platforms that have less effective, or fewer, accessibility features on the whole. Because the field has developed so quickly, there is significantly less knowledge regarding accessibility for apps in general.

We know from experience that it is possible to have an impact on developers of Windows software when it comes to accessibility issues. We will have to see if app developers are able and willing to respond to accessibility concerns with their products.

The Cloud: The Future of Computing Raises New Accessibility Concerns

Everyone is talking about "the cloud," and I don't mean the weather. Cloud computing enables storage of, and access to, digital assets through an Internet-based network so that a user can share, retrieve, and adjust his or her data regardless of location or hardware. The idea of using the cloud has become exceedingly popular, especially in government agencies and large corporations.

Despite its obvious promise, there are also important issues that must be addressed to ensure success with, and access to, cloud computing. Extensive access problems also hinder the use of cloud-based tools such as Google Apps. This suite of free applications, available to anyone with an Internet connection, is riddled with so many access problems for people with vision loss that the National Federation of the blind asked the U.S. Department of Justice to take legal action against universities who plan to use Google Apps in their curricula.

Barriers to cloud computing are not limited to the disability community. The lack of ubiquitous broadband capacity means that if you're not connected to the Internet through broadband, cloud computing will not be feasible for you. Many have also expressed concern about the security of relying on remote storage of data. Yet another problem concerns ownership of content. What happens if a company stops operating a remote server that contains your data? Finally, with all the problems we have now getting assistive technology to work in a variety of settings, how can we be sure that our access preferences will be maintained across a variety of devices and computing environments?

The Windows Operating System and Accessibility

No other recent development has altered the accessibility environment as much as Apple's development and support of VoiceOver for Macintosh computers and iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch), a situation that is made possible by the fact that Apple maintains a high degree of control over its products. Consumers with vision loss now routinely ask, "Why can't other products incorporate similar built-in accessibility?"

Historically, screen access solutions for Windows-based computers and devices have been developed by third parties. Under this model, Microsoft must develop and maintain programmatic mechanisms to enable assistive technology developers to provide access via application-specific configurations in their products. More recently, implementation of user interface automation has yielded positive results for accessibility. To date, this collective effort has provided a comprehensive set of applications that serve the employment and personal computing requirements of the majority of users who are blind or visually impaired.

Organizations representing the interests of consumers with vision loss are currently pressing Microsoft, and also Google and RIM, to build more robust accessibility into their operating systems and products. Recently, the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 was released without the accessibility mechanisms established in the phone's previous version, a circumstance that has raised the chorus of calls for built-in accessibility (and stoked fears regarding tenuous support for access by Microsoft). It is fair to ask, however, if built-in access is the right approach for Microsoft to take. Without doubt, VoiceOver provides highly-functional access to the core features of Apple technologies. While this means that many apps for the iPhone or iPad are accessible, more complex productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office and important products from Adobe, are not fully accessible. In other words, accessibility issues remain no matter how good a given device's built-in accessibility may be.

It is fair to ask, then, if built-in accessibility, similar to that of VoiceOver, would dramatically enhance the experience of screen access users of Windows-based products? In addition, would comprehensive accessibility compel Microsoft's own developers to ensure that accessibility improves as Windows advances?

The Future of Accessibility

From a global perspective, governmental accessibility requirements, interest in low-cost open source or cloud-based productivity tools, and cost constraints (especially among developing nations), add to consumer demand for more built-in accessibility in information and communication technology products, including those built on the Windows OS. Fueling this agitation is the relatively high cost of assistive technology such as screen reader and screen magnification software. The situation is particularly challenging for individuals living in developing parts of the world where screen reading software, if at all available and affordable, is often not obtainable in native languages.

A consortium called Raising the Floor—International is working on improving accessibility for people with disability, literacy, and aging-related barriers, regardless of economic status. In addition, activists and experts working in accessible technology have fashioned a new initiative to incorporate accessibility into cloud computing, the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII) initiative, which fosters the development of accessibility preferences and automatic configuration into the cloud. Governments are even beginning to provide funding to support the GPII: the European Commission has already authorized funds and the Obama Administration has requested $10 million in the upcoming budget for the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

With this level of organizational and governmental advocacy for the needs of consumers, it's hoped that the technology industry will respond by implementing, improving, and maintaining accessibility across today's emerging technologies, as well as those yet to come.

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Letters to the Editor

Be Wary of Cell Phone Insurance: Getting an Accessible Replacement Cell Phone can be Problematic

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

Not long ago, I accidentally fell off a dock into about 12 feet of water. Fortunately I had my life vest on, and with some assistance from a couple of fellows I was able to climb back up onto the dock, having incurred only a few scrapes and bruises. I tried to convince my neighbors that I was actually just noodling for catfish, but my powers of persuasion seem to be greatly lacking.

Anyway, the point of this letter is to share with you my experience with my cell phone insurance claim. Unfortunately, I had my Nokia 6682 in my pocket when I took the plunge off the dock, [and the phone was destroyed as a consequence]. I really liked that phone. It was fully accessible to me with the TALKS program loaded on it. While I was upset over losing the phone, I was initially consoled by the knowledge that it was insured. I had been paying $5 extra each month for the past several years to make sure the phone would be covered in case it was ever lost, stolen, or destroyed.

With that in mind, I immediately filed a claim with the insurance carrier to get a replacement phone. The lady I talked to on the phone about my claim was very friendly and courteous. I explained my situation, [including] that I was totally blind and needed an accessible phone. She indicated that getting a replacement phone would be absolutely no problem. Okay, that should have alerted me right there because when has anything with a big company been simple and easy and no problem?

She stated they would be sending me a refurbished Sony Ericsson phone. I was somewhat familiar with that phone and knew it was totally inaccessible to a blind user. At that point, I told her that I could not use that phone because it was totally inaccessible to me. She put me on hold for several minutes, probably conferring with the president of AT&T, or perhaps even the President of the United States on how they should proceed with a problem as monumental as providing a blind patron with an accessible cell phone. When she came back on the line, she informed me that the company would be sending me the Nokia 6350, which I should find to be quite accessible. I seriously doubted the validity of that assertion, but assuming she and the President knew something about that phone that I didn't, I told her that would be acceptable, providing it was, indeed, accessible.

Two days later, I received my new—well, my refurbished—Sony Ericsson. Yes, it was the Sony Ericsson, the very phone I told them I was certain was totally inaccessible to me or any other blind user. Needless to say, I immediately got on the phone, informing the fellow [who answered my call] this time what happened and that I was far less than happy about it. He apologized for the so-called misunderstanding and he assured me that he would take care of the problem. Hmm…another phone company representative telling me that they will take care of the problem. Where have I heard that before? He put me on hold and when he came back online he assured me that everything was taken care of, and that they would be sending me the fully accessible Nokia 6350. All I had to do is send back my damaged Nokia 6682 and the Sony Ericsson when the new—I mean refurbished—Nokia 6350 arrived.

Two days later, my cell phone was delivered. With excitement and great anticipation, I opened the box only to discover that they had sent me another totally inaccessible Sony Ericsson. I couldn't believe it. I sat there completely shocked. How could they possibly make the same mistake twice? At that point, I got really upset and substantially stepped up the level of my complaint behavior. I called back [and demanded] to speak to a supervisor. I was connected up with a lady who identified herself as the Supervisor of Complaint Resolutions. She pulled up my file on her computer, reviewed it, apologized, and once again, assured me that the Nokia 6350 would be shipped out to me. So, now, I have my original Nokia 6682 and two Sony Ericsson cell phones that I have to send back to the company, taking my time and at my inconvenience, all because of the phone company's series of errors. But wait!! There is even more to come!!

I finally received the promised refurbished Nokia 6350. Remember AT&T assured me repeatedly that they would take care of it, no problem, and the Nokia 6350 was an accessible phone? Well, it isn't! So, the bottom line, as the trite expression goes, is that I was sent three replacement phones—two Sony Ericssons and one Nokia 6350—all of which are not accessible. So, the insurance on which I paid premiums for the past several years, turned out to be a total waste of money.

I ended up going online and obtaining a Pantech Breeze II as an upgrade phone. The Pantech Breeze II has some speech built into the phone—though, strangely, the speech feature is never referred to in the user's manual. With sighted assistance and after going through a series of steps, it is possible to turn on speech that tells you what numbers and letters you are pressing and some menu levels, but the address book is not accessible, and the speech quality when reading the menus is quite poor. With my wife's assistance, I was able to put several contacts into my address book. The phone has excellent voice recognition, and so I am able to tell the phone to call a contact in my address book, and it works very well to do that…. However, I consider this Pantech Breeze II simply a temporary solution because I miss the total accessibility that I had with my Nokia 6682 with the TALKS program loaded on it.

Comment on This Article

So, just before sending this letter, I decided to "bite the learning-curve bullet," so to speak, and purchase an iPhone. I must say that it is, indeed, fully accessible. However, to call the iPhone a cell phone does not do it justice. It is a handheld computer that happens to have a cell phone feature. My initial reactions to the iPhone are, overall, very positive. However, there is definitely a steep learning curve, made somewhat more surmountable by the purchase of a little book titled Getting Started with the iPhone: An Introduction for Blind Users, written by Anna Dresner and Dean Martineau and published by the National Braille Press [reviewed in the June 2011 issue of AccessWorld].

Insurance is available for the iPhone, and unlike my experience described above concerning the Nokia phone, if you file an insurance claim against your iPhone insurance, it will be replaced with another iPhone. This means you will get another device that is fully accessible, and if you keep your iPhone backed up…you can put everything back on a new or different iPhone with minimal difficulty or loss.

Sincerely,

Dr. Ronald E. Milliman

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AccessWorld News

Assistive Technology Competencies Possessed by Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments in the United States: A Survey Announcement

Dear certified teacher of students with visual impairments:

It is our pleasure to invite you to join our research called "Assistive Technology Competencies Possessed by Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs) in the United States." (If you are a TVI from Texas please do not take part in this survey; Texans completed it last year.)

Assistive technology (AT) refers to assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities. Students with visual impairments increasingly rely on AT to compensate for their vision loss and subsequent challenges. However, recent research has found that many TVIs are not confident in supporting students with the use of AT. A lack of AT knowledge and skills is often reported by these teachers.

In an effort to address this issue, we would like to know the level of AT expertise currently possessed by TVIs in the United States. Findings of this research will help us design and deliver more effective and efficient in-service services to support the work of TVIs. We believe this is a great opportunity for current TVIs to have their voices heard.

As a certified teacher of the visually impaired in the United States, you are sincerely needed to participate in this research. If you agree to participate, please go to the website to complete an online survey. In the survey you will be asked to provide basic demographic information such as age and gender and your perception about AT competencies. This survey is completely anonymous. It will take you approximately 30 minutes to complete and you can quit at any time you want during the survey without any penalty. The results of this research will only be used for educational purposes and there is no potential harm posed by your participation. To show our appreciation for your participation, upon the completion of the online survey, you will be offered an opportunity to take part in a random drawing with prizes ranging from $100 to a variety of assistive technologies. Please note that winners would need to provide private information for tax reporting.

Please complete this survey by October 31st, 2011.

For further information about this research, please contact any of the investigators listed below. For information about the rights of research participants, you may also contact the Texas Tech University Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (Office of Research Services, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA, 79409).

Sincerely,

Nora Griffin-Shirley, Ph.D.
Texas Tech University
Phone: 806-742-1997, ext. 247
E-mail: n.griffin-shirley@ttu.edu

Paul M. Ajuwon, Ph.D.
Missouri State University
Phone: 417-836-5397
E-mail: PaulAjuwon@MissouriState.edu

Derrick W. Smith, Ed.D., COMS
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Phone: 256-824-3048
E-mail: derrick.smith@uah.edu

Amy T. Parker, Ed.D.
Texas Tech University
Phone: 806-742-1997 ext. 248
E-mail: amy.parker@ttu.edu

Li Zhou
Texas Tech University
Phone: 806-742-1997 ext. 233
E-mail: li.zhou@ttu.edu

Phoebe Okungu
Texas Tech University
Phone: 806-742-1997 ext. 233
E-mail: phoebe.okungu@ttu.edu

Rajesh Singh
Texas Tech University
E-mail: Rajeshsingh73@gmail.com

Big Button Phone Now Available from Bierley

The BM-01 is a big button mobile phone with specific features especially suitable for seniors or people with low vision.

Features include:

  • Large keys for easier use
  • No contract
  • Magnification of text messages
  • Unlocked phone
  • Ability to use a SIM card from any service provider
  • GSM phone works anywhere in the United States where there is cellular coverage
  • Designed specifically for seniors or anyone with vision impairment
  • Simple and easy to use
  • Can be used on AT&T network for as low as $8.00 per month

For Further information, call 800-985-0535 Ext. 801, or visit the Bierley website.

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