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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 November 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 11

In This Issue

Editor's Page

AccessWorld Holiday Issue

Accessible Holiday Gifts

Holiday Gift Ideas for People with Vision Loss

Great gift ideas, in a range of prices, for people who are blind or visually impaired. —Bradley Hodges

Choosing Toys for Children with Vision Loss

What to buy and what to avoid when shopping for a blind or visually impaired child. Great tips and gift resources to help brighten a child's face during the holidays. —Tara Annis

Website Accessibility

Online Holiday Shopping Using a Screen Reader: A Guide to Popular Retail Websites

Thanks to online shopping, you don't have to deal with the craziness of going to a store and trying to find the item you want —you can shop at your leisure any hour of the day or night on the Internet. If you use a screen reader, this article will help you navigate some popular retail websites. —Janet Ingber

Interviews

Recruiting Workers with Disabilities: A Profile of Joyce Bender, Owner of Bender Consulting Services

A conversation with Joyce Bender, founder of Bender Consulting Services, Inc., a for-profit company committed solely to matching employers with job seekers with disabilities. —Deborah Kendrick

Research

Left to Your Own Devices: Results of a Study on the Usability of Everyday Household and Electronics Products for People with Vision Loss

The data collected from this research provides AFB with valuable information on the types of products most in need of an accessible interface, and the preferred methods for accessibility by blind and visually impaired users. —Jaclyn Packer and Morgan Blubaugh

Letters to the Editor

Worldwide Distributor of the Touch Memo Responds to AccessWorld Evaluation

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News


Editor's Page

AccessWorld Holiday Issue

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

Last month, AccessWorld celebrated Disability Employment Awareness Month. We took the opportunity to focus on employment and provide information about employment resources, strategies, and insider perspectives.

We also formally announced the launch of the AccessWorld app! The app is optimized for VoiceOver and other accessibility features, and is compatible with iPhone and iPod touch devices. Simply visit the App Store and search for "AccessWorld."

As you know, there is now a chill in the air, and the days of fall are well upon us. It's time to start thinking about the holiday gift-giving season. I know, I know…I can't believe it, either; summer completely passed me by. Ready or not, the shopping season is just around the corner, and the AccessWorld team wants you to be ready with gift ideas for those in your life, young and old alike, who have experienced vision loss.

In this issue, Bradley Hodges provides great gift ideas ranging from low-tech household items to high-tech productivity tools. Some of his ideas are "high-dollar," whereas others are "priceless." Tara Annis walks us through the toy store and provides a great run-down on accessible toys and games for the young-at-heart on your shopping list. Janet Ingber also takes us on a virtual tour of popular online shopping sites and provides advice, tips, and tricks to get the most from your online holiday shopping experience.

We at AccessWorld hope this issue will give you ideas and inspiration for finding just the right holiday gifts for your family and friends with vision loss.

The AccessWorld team wishes you and yours health, happiness, and prosperity as we enter the holiday season.

Sincerely,

Lee Huffman

AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

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Accessible Holiday Gifts

Holiday Gift Ideas for People with Vision Loss

The holiday gift-giving season is upon us. This time of year is filled with the opportunity to share traditions, both old and new. Among the newer traditions here at AccessWorld is this annual list of gift ideas from the AFB TECH group. While AFB TECH folks don't work at the "Home Office," aka the North Pole, they do telecommute from Huntington, WV. Here are our ideas for 2011.

Stocking Stuffers, $10 to $50

It may be true that the best things come in small packages.

Accessible kitchen equipment may be especially welcome by the cook on your list. High quality Braille Measuring Cups ($17.99), and Braille Measuring Spoons ($12.99) are available at Specialty Adaptations. Cooking meat and other foods to temperature is easy with a digital talking meat thermometer. Independent Living Aids offers the Maverick ET-84 Roast Alert Digital Meat Thermometer ($29.95).

A digital voice recorder can be a convenient and efficient tool for keeping personal information such as phone numbers, addresses, and appointments organized. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) offers version 3 of the Wilson Voice Recorder ($34.95), a state-of-the art, easy-to-use digital voice recorder that can record up to 12 hours of voice messages. Download your messages to your computer via the included USB cable.

A tactile screen protector may be a welcome enhancement for an Apple device. These popular screen protectors enhance the accessibility of Apple devices by providing a subtle tactile effect for the on-screen keyboard. The AT Guys and Solona each offer overlays for the iPod and iPhone. Solona also offers some iPad protectors that include full braille labeling for the on-screen keyboard. Be sure you know recipient's device type and model before ordering.

iPad, iPod and iPhone Accessories, $20 to $199

The more technology-oriented people on your gift list might already own an iPad, iPod, or iPhone. For most of these folks there is no such thing as "enough" when it comes to accessories for these devices. Many accessories and add-ons are useable on all three iOS products, some are designed to work specifically with either the larger-format iPad or the iPod and iPhone which share a smaller profile.

Among the many pleasures of iOS device ownership is the ability to connect the device to a stereo system or a specialized speaker package for high quality music listening. A 30-pin AV cable connects the output of the Apple device in a way that maximizes audio. In addition to the round 3.5 millimeter earphone connecter, the 30-pin connecter on the bottom of the device provides line-level audio outputs when a compatible connecter is used. Using line-level outputs can provide a vastly superior signal, comparable to that from a CD player or FM tuner.

The Griffin Technology iPod AV Cable ($35) at Best Buy is one example of this type of cable. On one end of the cable a 30 pin connecter plugs into the charger slot on the iPod, iPhone, or iPad. The other end of the cable breaks out into RCA line-level stereo connecters and a composite video connecter. A USB connecter is also provided along with an AC module that allows concurrent charging of the device. In addition to the Griffin, Best Buy, the Apple Store, Target, and many other online sources offer similar cables in the $30 to $50 range.

We also note the popularity of iPod docks, in which the device sits on the top of a charging stand in a molded, recessed cutout. This configuration makes using the device with VoiceOver somewhat inconvenient; a simple cable connecter allows the device to be held in the hands while remaining connected.

Charging Cases, $79 to $99

If you ask most iOS device owners who use VoiceOver what they like about their gadgets, you are likely to receive a variety of enthusiastic responses. If you ask what they like least, you may hear "short battery life" at or near the top of the list. Mophie has refined the art and science of solving this chronic shortcoming. The company's wildly popular charging cases provide both a supplemental battery and a protective shell. The Juice Pack Plus for the iPhone and Mophie Juice Pack Air are just two examples of the many products available on the company website. At AFB TECH we find this brand at or near the top of almost every review of charging devices and charging cases. They are also available in some retail locations as well as from popular on line sources such as Amazon. Be sure you know the specifics of the device on which the Mophie will be used. In my household the Juice Pack doubles the operating time between charges of the iPhone.

High Quality Earphones, $25 and up

Included with every iOS device is a perfectly usable and perfectly mediocre pair of earphones. A thriving industry has evolved to address both the design shortcomings and middling audio quality of these standard issue earphones. When considering a gift, choose either a model that is designed specifically for the iPod/iPhone/iPad, or standard models. iOS-specialized offerings include those that have three controls for operating the device while listening, and a small microphone for conducting phone conversations or using applications such as Skype. Fortunately some of the most popular and well-reviewed earphones are available in both conventional and iPod configurations.

For basic replacement earphones consider Skullcandy and Sony. Ranging in price from $15 to $30, these popular brands are among the least expensive, yet step up the sound quality. They are inexpensive enough that if they are lost or damaged in use, replacements aren't out of the question. Skullcandy and Sony offer models with and without iOS controls and are widely available at Best Buy, Target, Radio Shack and from many online sources including Amazon.

The intermediate price/performance category offers many attractive options including the Klipsch Image S4i In-Ear Headset ($99). These in-ear award winners offer well-balanced and accurate sound. The in-line controls work well and the unique oval design along with several sizes of silicone tips keep background noise under control.

Another good option in this range is the Sennheiser CX300-B In-Ear Stereo Headphone ($49), available from Best Buy and Amazon. Like Senneheiser's high-end, full-size headsets, the CX300 offers both subtlety and accuracy in sound reproduction. For those who plan to use the headphones in a relatively quiet location, such as in the home or a quiet office, the result is a very satisfying experience.

External Speakers, $79 and up

An external speaker or sound dock could be the perfect gift for someone who owns an iOS device or digital book player and is frustrated with their device's built-in audio output.

A mini travel speaker fits conveniently into a coat pocket or small equipment bag. The FoxLv2 ($179) and FoxLv2 Bluetooth ($249), available from Sound Matters, provide huge sound from candy-bar sized packages. Sound and Vision Magazine describes the FoxL mini travel speaker as "a tiny stereo sound system powered by an on-board rechargeable battery, an AC adapter, or a computer's USB port. It has a 3.5mm input jack that connects easily to an iPod, any other portable music player, any cell phone with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, or any laptop computer." The Bluetooth model includes a microphone that allows it to operate as a speakerphone. Sound Matters also offers a mini stereo system package that includes two FoxL units and interconnect cables from the high-end manufacturer Audioquest. In addition to amazing sound quality, most reviews also mention the robust construction and durability of the speaker.

The Logitech Pure-fi Express Plus ($79) is available at Target and Best Buy. Logitech speakers and sound docks are noteworthy for their consistently high quality and good value. The Pure-fi product line offers several options including the cigarette-carton size Express, which provides both an Apple iOS dock and a 3.5mm connecter for use with non-iOS devices such as digital book players.

A self-powered speaker system for the home can provide convenience and accessibility to audio from Apple devices and conventional computers. Audioengine's A5 Premium Powered Speakers ($349 to $449) are truly remarkable for their high quality music reproduction. Many accessible applications such as Winamp, iTunes, and Windows Media Player allow a computer equipped with screen reading or magnification software to perform some of the same tasks as an inaccessible preamplifier or AV receiver. Because the A5 speakers are self-powered (the amplifier is built into the left speaker), no additional electronics are required. A volume control and several input choices are found on the front face, top, and back, respectively, of the left speaker. The sonic quality offered by these speakers rival any others in the $350 price category. Several connections including a 3.5mm stereo connecter, a pair of RCA stereo line level inputs and a USB connecter are available allowing connection with almost any device with an audio output. USB charging, optional wireless accessories and subwoofer connections contribute to the product's flexibility. Naturally all iOS devices and other portables will sound great.

Conventional Landline Telephone Alternative, $60 to $199

For many households keeping expenses under control is an increasingly important exercise. One service that receives scrutiny is the conventional phone line. Many people use their mobile number as their only phone service but not everyone is satisfied by the quality of a cell connection or the small form factor of the typical cell phone. If someone on your gift list wants a regular phone without the $40 to $60 monthly tariff, several new devices and services may be just what Ma Bell ordered.

Important note, these devices use a technology known as voice over Internet protocol (VOIP). Several conditions must be met for this technology to be consistently successful in the home. A full time, high-speed Internet connection is required. The quality of the connection must be sufficient to send and receive the packets of information that make up the digitized version of the phone conversation. Excessive packet loss or delay will render phone calls unintelligible.

What is the size of a computer mouse, connects either directly to a router or to a computer's USB port, provides a full year of high-quality phone service for just $60, and includes amazing customer support? It's the NetTALK DUO! One of our favorite accessories, when connected to your home network, talking via NetTALK is nearly indistinguishable from talking on a typical landline. Indistinguishable, that is, until you take into account the $65 monthly bill you typically have to pay for landline use these days. When it's time for traveling, you can bring the DUO! along with your laptop and small conventional telephone anywhere there is a Internet service.

Like other VOIP services, NetTALK provides a Web-based interface to control and configure the device and service. In our experience this process is completely accessible with both of the major Windows screen access products. In addition, phone support is excellent. A one-time requirement to enter an inaccessible device ID, located on the bottom of the DUO! in small print was addressed immediately by a support staffer.

The Ooma Telo ($199.99) (also available at Best Buy) is similar to the DUO!, yet differs in some important ways. While the NetTALK DUO! and services such as Vonage charge a recurring amount by the month or by the year, the Ooma Telo is a single purchase item. Except for a federally required fee that amounts to around $5, there are no ongoing charges for the Ooma service.

The Ooma Telo is a more elaborate hardware device than either the NetTALK DUO! or conventional VOIP devices. Ooma supports a new HD protocol along with certain cordless handsets. The requirements for network service are the same as for other VOIP services.

We have not evaluated the Ooma Telo hardware or installation/support sites for accessibility. Product information available at on the Ooma website appears accessible and useable with screen readers.

Digital Book Player, $299 to $349

The market for digital book players that support accessible formats for the blind and visually impaired appears to be alive and well.

The APH Book Port Plus offers several features that distinguish it from other devices in this category. WiFi capability allows real-time listening to webstreams and fast downloading of podcasts. Wireless transfer of content between the Book Port Plus and a PC is also possible. The recording quality and highly accessible recording and level controls also set the Book Port Plus apart in the view of serious recording professionals and podcasters. The hardware conveys a feeling of quality and is pleasant to hold.

Ultimate Portable Computer, $999 and up

The MacBook Air ($999 and up) may be the machine that best combines the power of the computer with the responsiveness of a specialized note taker.

The Air is available both through the online Apple Store and at Apple stores in several sizes and configurations. Both 11-inch and 13-inch screen options are available with several hard drive sizes and processor speeds. Memory options as well as a solid state drive can also be configured. An excellent series of observations and technical information on the Air from Mike Calvo, founder of Serotek, is available on SeroTalk. Despite the small size, this finely crafted machine can support the Apple operating system as well as Windows. Bluetooth braille displays increase the appeal for those who prefer to work in a Braille-focused configuration.

Choosing that perfect gift can be a challenge. Check out last year's Gift Ideas for even more ideas. You may also want to consider a gift to AFB in support of our valuable work. You will celebrate the holiday season with the certain knowledge that your donation is working 365 days a year to provide valuable information to expand opportunities for people with vision loss.

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Accessible Holiday Gifts

Choosing Toys for Children with Vision Loss

The holidays are just around the corner, so I know the Information Center will be receiving inquiries from people concerned about giving appropriate toys to children with vision loss. Being visually impaired since birth, and having received my fair share of good and bad gifts, I wanted to offer advice on what to buy and what to avoid.

The first thing to do when selecting a gift for a visually impaired child is to research the child's interests. Every child has his or her own likes and dislikes; all blind children don't like the same things. Your totally blind nephew may love toy cars, but your grandson with low vision may not.

When actually giving the gift, keep in mind the wrapping paper, gift tag, and card can be just as important to a child with vision loss as a fully sighted child. Take all the senses into consideration when wrapping, like using textured paper and bows to be explored by touch or use scented stickers with a holiday theme like hot cocoa, evergreen tree, gingerbread, or peppermint. Adding a large print or braille gift tag so the child can pick out his or her own present from the pile, will be appreciated as well. Consider purchasing musical holiday greeting cards or one in an alternate format. Hallmark and American Greetings offer cards in braille in some of their retail store locations and on their web sites. Companies that specialize in products for the visually impaired offer accessible greeting cards as well.

Stuffed Animals, Dolls, and Action Figures

Almost any item in this category is one hundred percent accessible out of the box, just remember to think about the other senses when selecting the gift. For example, choose stuffed animals with various textures of fur—silky, rough, and curly—and those with various stuffing materials like beans, cotton, and crinkly paper.

Most visually impaired kids will love interactive items in this category, like the Let's Rock Elmo that talks, sings, and comes with a microphone, tambourine, and drums. The Fijit Friends line of robots will keep a child busy for hours, since they can sing, dance, respond to 30 different words and phrases in 100 different ways, have soft skin that responds to a child's touch, and have beat-detection software that allows them to respond to slow or fast music. The Hasbro Furreal Friends line of interactive pets uses animatronics and sensory technology with touch and voice recognition to mimic the behavior of real cats and dogs. If you are looking for a unique educational gift, consider the Braille Learning Doll, available through various vendors including Independent Living Aids. On the doll's torso is a braille cell made of six buttons that can be depressed to form all the braille letters.

Multi-Player Games

Be cautious when buying these toys from a regular store, since many contain many visual elements that are difficult to see, even for a child with some usable vision. Think about the low contrast between a black checker on a black square of the checkerboard or the black dots found on a black pair of dice. Also, games may feature small print or hard-to-see font styles, like italics. One option is to see if vendors of adaptive products, like MaxiAids, sell an accessible version. They offer talking, tactile, large print, high contrast, and braille games, including Monopoly, Scrabble, Battleship, chess, checkers, tic-tac-toe, dice, dominos, UNO, and Phase 10.

Another option is to purchase the regular version of a game and make it accessible yourself using common items. A hot glue gun easily creates tactile lines on a Chutes and Ladders board; different shaped tactile markers on a Twister board will differentiate among colors.

Lastly, there are some mainstream games that are accessible out-of-the-box, like the musical hot potato game from FUNDEX, where you pass the potato among the group, trying to not have it in your possession when the music stops. A new game for the 2011 holiday season is Pumpaloons, where the players pump up their three-foot tall balloon by stomping, punching, or sitting on it. Whoever fills their balloon up the fastest is the winner. Readers may be familiar with the Bop-It; for those not familiar with how it works, players must manipulate the Bop-It device based on its spoken commands like "bop," "shake," "pull," "twist," "flick," or "spin." The goal is to perform a set number of consecutive commands correctly. There are several difficulty levels to choose from, so the game can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. This year Hasbro has launched a new version, the Bop-It XT.

While not fully accessible, many of the games that require teams, like Trivial Pursuit, can still be enjoyed by children who are visually impaired. Sighted players can deal with the visual aspects, like reading question cards and manipulating game pieces, but the person with vision loss can verbally provide answers.

Arts and Crafts

Many visually impaired children like to draw, and you can make this activity accessible by purchasing a raised-line drawing kit. One of the most practical is sold through Future Aids. This kit uses a regular pencil and paper; many similar products require the use of expensive drawing sheets. Coloring can be made accessible as well. If your gift recipient is unable to differentiate colors from one another, choose The Nickelodeon Dora Talking I-Crayons set, which comes with a device that announces and spells each color in English and Spanish. Scented markers—blueberry for blue, grape for purple, lemon for yellow—are another way to make colors accessible. Braille Shop sells raised-line versions of coloring books, which children with low vision may also enjoy, since the illustrations found in regular coloring books are often highly detailed and difficult to see.

There are numerous choices for 3-D art. Almost every kid loves Play Doh, modeling clay, silly putty, and the many new types of sculpting materials found in stores today. Choose materials with various textures and scents for a multi-sensory experience. Label each container with its color name in braille for totally blind kids.

The Alex line of craft kits are very popular and can make wonderful presents, but they should be purchased with caution since an investment of time is required to make them properly accessible. There is a huge variety to choose from, including loom weaving, sewing, quilt making, embroidery, flip-flop and jewelry box decorating, and bead art. You will have to read the instructions to the child, and take the time to verbally and tactually walk through each step of the process. To gain a better understanding of how to teach this kind of activity to a child, read this FamilyConnect article on hand-over-hand and hand-under-hand techniques.

Sports and Outdoor Recreation

You will need to know the athletic ability of the child in order to purchase a gift from this category. Shop vendors of adaptive products for audible varieties of sports equipment with bells or beepers. Regulation-size basketballs, kickballs, baseballs, soccer balls, Frisbees, footballs, a tennis set, and volleyball are all available. For children with low vision, consider buying equipment that have built-in LED lights or that glow in the dark. Brookstone and Fly by Night Sports offer a wide selection.

Bicycles come in many adapted versions. The Buddy Bike is a modified tandem where the person steering it rides in the back instead of the front. This bike is a great option for those who have physical impairments accompanying sight loss, but the bike can be enjoyed by any small child and offers the option to pedal along with the sighted driver. A second option for smaller children is a bike trailer, a device that connects a child's bike to an adult bicycle. The WeeRide Co-Pilot Bicycle Trailer allows the child to pedal but not steer. An option for older kids and teenagers is a tandem bicycle. I owned one as a teenager, and was somewhat self-conscious about using it until I found out that every person in the neighborhood wanted one.

A unique recreation item is the Audio Dart Master, a dart board designed specifically for people with vision loss. It has a tactile front panel with large symbols, speaks every action in a human sounding voice, will speak each player's name and score, and even has an audible cue to help players aim for the bull's eye.

Playsets

Almost all of the items in this gigantic category are accessible to visually impaired kids. Playsets have the added benefit of being educational by representing the visual environment and teaching daily living skills the child will need as an adult.

A child may not be able to see well enough to learn about animals from going to the zoo, but he or she can gain knowledge from animal playsets. Buy sets that depict a wide variety of types in a given category, such as jungle, sea life, reptiles, and farm animals. Also consider getting a set of the same species, such as a set of dogs, that include the various shapes of a large number of breeds. Try to find sets that are scaled correctly—the giraffe is much taller than the turtle, etc.

Even though they may not be able to drive when older, kids enjoy vehicle sets. Buy a set with a car, van, and pickup truck. Or a construction set with a bulldozer and crane. Or a set of services vehicles that include a fire truck, ambulance, and police car. Kids can learn about daily living skills like cooking, cleaning, and home repair with play sets?just remember you may have to show them how to hold the toy correctly and go through the proper motions. I like the Peel 'n Play Veggie set and Fun with Fruit set manufactured by Small World Living, because they are very realistic and teach table manners and knife skills. The vegetables and fruit are held together by Velcro, and can be "peeled" or "cut" by pulling the pieces apart.

I hope these ideas have made it easier for you to select a toy for the child with vision loss on your list. You can select gifts from a wide variety of categories, with the possibilities being almost limitless.

Additional Resources

Last year's November AccessWorld featured another accessible toy article, Accessible Toys for the Young and Young at Heart, by J.J. Meddaugh, which gives options that are still popular for this year:

Exceptional Teaching Aids sells a wide variety of toys for children with special needs.

Check out the accessible toys from American Printing House for the Blind, many of which are educational.

LS&S sells adapted board, card, and other games and toys.

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Website Accessibility

Online Holiday Shopping Using a Screen Reader: A Guide to Popular Retail Websites

With the holidays approaching, it's time to consider the gifts you'll give family and friends. Thanks to online shopping, you don't have to deal with the craziness of going to a store and trying to find the item you want—you can shop at your leisure any hour of the day or night.

This article will review the online shopping websites for Sears, Kmart Williams-Sonoma and two online retailers, drugstore.com and dog.com. For these guides I used Windows XP with Internet Explorer 8 and Window-Eyes 7.5.

Getting Started

First, some general advice: When shopping during the holiday season, take your time and check various retailers for the same item. Sometimes there can be a big price difference. If you plan to shop on "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving, familiarize yourself with the websites you are going to use before the big day. Have items bookmarked so you can easily get to them. Don't wait until the last minute to do online shopping as sellers may run out of items or there might be a delay in shipping.

Before beginning the online shopping process, it's important to be familiar with your screen reader's navigation keys for forms, headings, finding specific words, tables, and links. It's frequently easier to navigate a page by hot keys than to go line by line. All retail websites require the user to input information via forms. These forms typically consist of edit boxes, check boxes, combo boxes, radio buttons, and some kind of button or link to activate the form. Most retail sites have the customer choose the shipping method with radio buttons.

Because you will be supplying personal information including your name, address and credit card numbers when you purchase items online, the importance of shopping on a reputable website cannot be overstated. Just because a website is on the Internet doesn't automatically mean it's reputable. A safe way to go is to shop using only the sites of familiar retailers or sites that you know are legitimate.

Sears

The homepage for Sears opens with 948 links and 4 forms. Most of the links are clearly labeled; many start with the words "shop" and "sale." On almost every page there were clusters of unlabeled links in pairs. The first link said "Return in 5" and underneath the link said "Get It Today." To get to the list of department links, find the word "appliances," then arrow down to hear the department links. Moving around the screen with your screen reader's headings hot key will give a quick summary of different departments.

There is a keyword form consisting of an edit box and search button (labeled only as "button"). The next form had an edit box labeled "What are you Shopping For?" and a find button. Both form controls were voiced. The next form was for finding store locations; most of the controls did not speak when Window-Eyes was out of browse mode. The final form is for signing up for e-mails from Sears. The edit box did not speak when Window-Eyes was out of browse mode. Once you enter your e-mail address, hitting the tab key brings you to the submit link.

I decided to get something from the fitness department but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted. I activated the "fitness" link and the new page loaded had over 1,100 links. By using the headings hot key, I was able to find the list of subcategories including treadmills, ellipticals, and strength and weight training. Above each link was a broken link that said "image na." I activated the "strength and weight training" link and my new page had over 900 links. Using the find hotkey I searched for the words "shop by category" and below was a list of narrowed subcategories. I chose "ab and core training." Using the form control hot key, I eventually got to a combo box that sorted my results. I found an exercise ball that looked interesting and activated its link. If I had known exactly what I wanted, I could have used one of the two search boxes. When I entered the terms "exercise ball" in the second search box, I got a lot of results, many of which were not what I wanted.

Before continuing with the purchase of the exercise ball, I wanted to learn more about it. I found the word "overview" and below it was the product description. I found the "add to cart" link, but when I activated it, nothing happened. I tried again with the same result. Next I went to the top of the page and searched for the word "cart" and there in my cart were two exercise balls. Although I tried many times to remove the additional ball by activating the "remove" link, my merchandise total indicated that both were still in my cart. With sighted assistance I learned that at the bottom of the page is a form that appears when the remove link is activated. The controls are not labeled. The form asks whether you want to remove the item or cancel the action. The first unlabeled button is to remove the item and the second unlabeled button is to cancel the action. The check out button is clearly labeled. Unfortunately, many of the form controls in the registration form are not.

Live help for the Sears site is available at (800) 697-3277.

Kmart

The Kmart homepage loaded with 347 links. The first search form asks for a keyword, then there's a category combo box and in between is the search button. Unfortunately the form controls were not labeled when Window-Eyes was taken out of browse mode in order to complete the form. The "What are you shopping for?" edit box and search button did speak. There is also a form to find the closest Kmart store.

On the homepage, navigation by headings does not work. To find the location of the list of departments, find the word "feedback." Slightly below that word is a list of department links. If Kmart is promoting a holiday or event, the links to those items will come before the alphabetical list of links. I used the first search form and typed "earrings" in the edit box, selected "jewelry" in the combo box and activated the search button. The next page loaded with 467 links. I found my results by hitting the form key until I found a results sorting combo box. I could sort my results in several ways including best sellers, and lowest to highest or highest to lowest in price. By default, the combo box is set to relevance. Each result had a check box for comparison, a broken link, the name of the item price and a link to add the item to your shopping cart.

I found a pair of earrings that looked interesting so I activated the link. The full description was located towards the bottom of the page. The easiest way to find descriptions is to find the words "product description." As with many online shopping websites there was also a list of other items purchased by people who bought the featured item. To add an item to the shopping cart, activate the "Add to Cart" link towards the top of the page. Each entry in the cart has radio buttons to choose whether you want the item shipped to you or whether you want to pick up the item at the store. Should you choose to remove the item from your cart, after hitting the "remove" link, a form will appear at the bottom of the page that asks whether you want to remove the item. The form contains two unlabeled buttons: top is yes; bottom is no. Once all items are in the cart, there is a labeled "checkout" button. Not all of the registration's form controls were labeled when Window-Eyes was not in browse mode.

Live help is available for the Kmart site at (800) 305-1001.

Williams-Sonoma

If you want to send a gift to someone who cooks and/or likes food, then Williams-Sonoma might be worth checking out. The homepage opens with 435 links and 2 forms. The first form on the page is a search form consisting of a labeled edit box and search link. Below that is an e-mail sign up form.

Almost all of the many links are clearly labeled. There are specific links for gifts. Most of the gift links start with the letter "G" if you are using your screen reader's link hot key. There are many other categories including cookware, food and cook's tools. Each of these categories has subcategories.

Since it's holiday time, I decided to check out the gift listings. Williams-Sonoma has links for gifts based on the amount you want to spend. I activated the "Great Gifts Under $50" link. I quickly found my results by using my forms hot key until I reached the sorting combo box. I chose to sort my results by lowest to highest price.

Each result was clearly labeled and consisted of the item's link, a rating, and the number of reviews, which appears in parentheses under the rating. The final item in the listing is the item's price.

I activated the link for a box of chocolate croissants. The easiest way to find the additional item information is to use your screen reader's headings hot key. It took two keystrokes to get to the information. The additional information gave a description of the croissants, along with information on how they are shipped and how to prepare them. Next is a combo box for where you want to ship the item and then an "add to basket" button. Below the button is a list of other similar items for purchase and then a combo box to sort reviews, should you want to read them.

When the "add to basket" button was activated, Window-Eyes said "browse off," so I then had to load browse mode manually. When the new page loads, find the words "just added." Below those words will be a description of what was added to the basket and the number of total items in the basket. To review all items and make changes, activate the "View Basket" link. The results are in a table. An item can be removed by activating the delete button. In the same form is a link to change the shipping address. If you order multiples of the same item and want to add or delete, simply change the number in the quantity edit box and activate the "recalculate" button. There is a link to keep shopping and a button to check out. There's also an "express check out" button once an account is created.

When the new page loads after the check out button is activated, there is a link to create an account and the registration form appears at the bottom of the page. All form controls are clearly labeled.

Live help for the Williams Sonoma website is available at (877) 812-6235.

Dog.com

This site has many items for dogs as well as other pets. The homepage loads 286 links. Close to the top of the page is the customer service number. There are three forms on the page, the first is to like the site on Facebook, the second is the search form, and the third is for e-mail sign up. The search form consists of an edit box and search button. The form controls were clearly labeled when Window-Eyes was in browse mode, but when out of browse mode the form was not clearly labeled. It was not possible to move around the page by headings.

The links are structured by category, such as "dog toys" and "health." Under each main link were links for subcategories. For example, the "toys" link listed ball toys, tough dog toys, and dog chew toys. Activating a subcategory link brought up a list of toys for the category. There was also a link for seasonal gifts. Once a link is activated, the results can be found by using the forms hot key and there will be a combo box to sort results. By default the sort is for best selling items, but there are other options including sorting by price and by the savings amount.

I activated the "tough dog toys" link and left the default sort order in the combo box. Each listing had the name of the item, its price, the savings amount and a rating. By using the forms hot key, I first encountered a combo box to choose the size of the toy I wanted. Since I have a black Labrador retriever, I selected size "large" from the combo box. The next form keystroke brought me to the edit box for how many of the toy I wanted. By default it is set to one item.

A few lines down it stated the following: "This product may only be purchased with the approval of a veterinarian and may require verification. We will collect any necessary information at checkout and verify a prescription if required."

Under this information are some broken links, shipping information, and a list of products purchased by customers who bought the same item. To find the item's description, search for the words "product summary." As I went through the item's description, I discovered that my dog should have an extra large Kong, so I found the size combo box and changed my entry.

There was no way for me to add my item to the shopping cart. The button to do so is an unlabeled graphic that didn't even speak when I had sighted assistance and the mouse pointer was over it. I did call the dog.com customer service number and the representative was very helpful. She seemed genuinely interested in the issue and promised to have someone call me. She also offered to help me with my order. The registration form controls are labeled and easy to use.

Since sighted assistance is required to add items to the shopping cart, if you want to use the site, just make a list of the items you want and then call customer service at (800) 367-3647.

Drugstore.com

The drugstore.com homepage opens with 125 links plus a search form, with labeled form controls consisting of an edit box and search button. There is an additional form for e-mail notifications. An extra bonus is that this site links with beauty.com without leaving drugstore.com.

The links are clearly labeled, including links to shop by brand and shop by category. There is also a "Gift Center" link. Heading and list navigation hot keys do not work on this site.

I activated the "Gifts Center" link and when the new page loaded, there wasn't a quick way to find my results. I searched for the words "narrow by" And below those words were links for sorting, including by brand, by price, by best sellers, by type of gift, or by recipient.

I activated the electronics link and when my next page loaded, I could easily find the sorting combo box using the forms hot key. By default the box is set to best sellers, but there were many options including by price and sale items. I chose a pair of headphones. Each result had the item's name, the item number, the rating, the number of reviews, and then the price. Below that was a link to save the item to my list. Once you register with drugstore.com, they keep a list of items you have ordered and/or saved to your list. You can easily add, sort, and remove items from your list. This is a very convenient feature, especially if you use the site frequently and order the same items.

Activating the item's link loaded a new page which included an edit box with the quantity and a button to add the item to my shopping bag. Slightly below that was a description of the item. I added the item to my shopping bag. When the next page loaded, I found the shopping bag by using the Window-Eyes table hot key. My shopping bag items were actually in the fourth table down. After the item description was a link to view the shopping bag. The other tables had recommendations and a selection of various products. Another way to find the results is to let the page load and then activate the shopping bag link. The contents will be the first table on the new page. The second table has a more complete description of each item, including an edit box to change quantity and a link to remove an item. If any adjustments have been made, there is a link to update quantity. Since Drugstore.com offers free shipping for most purchases over $25, there is also information about how much additional money you need to spend to get free shipping. There are then four options: keep shopping, check out, PayPal check out, and Google checkout. When the "checkout" link is activated, the registration form can be located with the forms control hot key or find it in the second table on the page. The form is straightforward and all form controls speak.

Live help for drugstore.com is available at (800) 378-4786.

Conclusion

There are many legitimate online shopping websites from which to choose for your holiday shopping. While many sites may have accessibility issues, if you are patient you can usually find what you need. Live help is there for a reason; don't be afraid to use it.

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Interviews

Recruiting Workers with Disabilities: A Profile of Joyce Bender, Owner of Bender Consulting Services

In 1985, while walking to the concessions stand at a Pittsburgh movie theater, Joyce Bender had another in a series of fainting spells that had yet to be properly diagnosed by her physicians. This time she fractured her skull, damaged her ear, and wound up in intensive care after brain surgery. Bender came out of the hospital with a diagnosis of epilepsy and a permanent loss of 60 percent of her hearing in her damaged ear.

Some time after recovering from her injuries and returning to her job as an executive search professional, Bender got a call that led her to think more about the connection between her job and the population of disabled Americans of which she had recently become a member.

After doing some research, Bender found that the Institute of Advanced Technology in Pittsburgh had a number of qualified alumni with disabilities who were unable to find jobs. At that point, Bender shifted her professional focus to trolling the enormous pool of talented job seekers with disabilities and matching them to employers. In 1995, after many successful placements, she formed Bender Consulting Services, Inc., a for-profit company committed solely to matching employers with job seekers who happen to have disabilities. Bender has never looked back.

How Bender Consulting Works

I caught up with Joyce Bender when she was in Montreal, developing opportunities for the company's Canadian division. She is passionately committed to promoting the abilities of workers with disabilities, but she is also an extremely savvy businesswoman. Before forming Bender Consulting she had 16 years of recruiting work under her belt, so she knows what works: properly screen résumés, thoroughly interview candidates, and match applicants appropriately with work to be done, and you will have satisfied customers. Those customers, of course, are employers—and Bender has steadily worked her way to an impressive track record for customer satisfaction.

The primary obstacle to employment for people with disabilities is often simply finding an employer willing to take the risk. Bender Consulting eliminates some of that risk by becoming the new hire's employer for a six-month period, during which the employer can see how the employee performs. During those six months, the employee is on Bender Consulting's payroll and can take advantage of Bender's excellent benefits package. If the partnering company is satisfied with the worker's performance after this trial period, they then formally hire them into the position. To date, 90 percent of Bender's placements have made that transition.

Business was painfully slow in the early years, Bender told me, but really began to take off in 2002. Early companies to partner with Bender Consulting were Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania and Bayer Corp.

While Bender is passionate about her work, she stresses the company philosophy of "no pity." She uses the same methods that work for recruiting and placement among nondisabled workers to successfully place talented workers with disabilities in the fields of technology, engineering, finance, human resources, and communications. "I have staff who are making calls 24/7 to universities, agencies—anywhere where talented workers with disabilities might be found," she explained, and has consequently established a database of some 15,000 applicants. The company now has a presence in 19 states and two Canadian provinces.

Bender Consulting: Recruiting for the Federal Government

On the heels of President Obama's 2010 commitment to make the Federal government a model employer with regard to people with disabilities, Bender Consulting landed a contract with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Unlike the partnerships with private sector companies—where Bender is paid in relation to work produced by the matched employee—the Office of Personnel Management pays Bender up front. Under the contract, Bender Consulting receives a quarterly stipend and, in turn, presents 50 qualified workers with disabilities each month as viable candidates for government hire. This means that the vacancies in every governmental department and agency offer possibilities for Bender's growing pool of talent, and that Bender Consulting brought 600 qualified workers with disabilities before the Federal government for consideration last year.

The Bender Employees

I first heard of Bender Consulting Services Inc. in 1998, when I met Michael Gravitt, a blind software developer who had been hired by Bender to work for the Bayer Corporation in Pittsburgh. In a tale all too rare among blind college students, Gravitt had attended a Washington DC area job fair shortly before graduation. The first table he visited was Bender Consulting and the upshot was a job offer before he received his diploma. Thirteen years later, Gravitt is still working in information technology at Bayer and still loves his job. In Gravitt's case, he remains an employee of Bender Consulting, so that he can serve as a Bender account manager, interviewing new applicants and mentoring new hires, in addition to his duties at Bayer. "The benefits are outstanding," Gravitt says, "and I love being part of both Bayer and Bender Consulting."

When Joyce Bender was asked about the range of disabilities in the Bender employee pool, she said: "We've worked with people representing every type of disability—people who use wheelchairs, deaf, blind, a few with intellectual disabilities." She estimates that five to eight percent of the placements she's made are people who are blind or have low vision.

Beyond the Recruitment Process

Joyce Bender has done a great deal to establish a niche for herself and her company in the disability field. A frequent speaker on disability and employment issues, she has been the host of an Internet radio program, "Disability Matters," for eight years now. Featuring interviews with people from all sectors of the disability arena, the program can be heard Tuesday afternoons at 2 pm Eastern on VoiceAmerica. Bender has also served as Chair of the National Epilepsy Foundation and was recently elected Chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). In the latter role, she has prioritized two major issues for the Association to tackle: employment and bullying.

Bender Consulting Services is for-profit for two reasons, Bender told me. The first reason, she said, is to provide excellent healthcare benefits to her employees. The second is to support the "no pity" position. "Pity is the ruination of people with disabilities gaining employment," Bender said. "When you pity someone, you're saying, 'I feel sorry for you …but I'm not going to hire you.'"

One major obstacle encountered by job seekers with disabilities, Bender said, is that of unemployment itself. Employers often say that they won't hire someone who is not currently employed. Bayer, a major champion of Bender Consulting and the hiring of workers with disabilities, has approached Bender with, as she puts it, "a brilliant idea": Bayer will employ qualified applicants with disabilities for one year, thus providing that holy grail of current employment that is so often the missing piece. Bender believes it will result in the successful launch of many more careers.

Joyce Bender has demonstrated without doubt that hiring qualified people with disabilities is undeniably good business—good for Bender Consulting, good for the partnering companies, and good for the job seekers who are finding careers through this niche recruiting firm.

For information regarding job opportunities and résumé submissions, visit Bender Consulting Services Inc., or call (412) 787-8567.

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Research

Left to Your Own Devices: Results of a Study on the Usability of Everyday Household and Electronics Products for People with Vision Loss

Featureless control panels and embedded small visual displays (SVDs) are becoming more and more common on a wide range of household and electronic devices, making it increasingly difficult for people who are blind or visually impaired to find products that they can use independently. Older products typically used easier-to-feel control buttons and knobs that made settings easier to change and confirm. Newer products, however, often use touch screens and non-tactile controls as well as SVDs that display critical information.

In order to explore what types of products are most inaccessible for people with vision loss, AFB conducted a telephone survey focusing on that topic, along with how people with vision loss manage to use interfaces, what types of interfaces they would prefer products to have, and whether offering accessible interfaces would make a difference in their buying habits. The survey also asked respondents about Web activity and accessibility.

This survey is part of a larger project to develop an accessible interface for a variety of products. The information gathered from this survey will be used by AFB to determine which product types and accessibility barriers are most in need of improvement.

Study Methodology

Study information was collected via telephone surveys. The surveys included three screening questions about blindness and visual impairment, and only those individuals who reported experiencing significant vision loss were asked the full set of survey questions. The screening included the question "Are you blind or unable to see at all?" and if a respondent said "no" to that question he or she was asked, "Do you have any trouble seeing even while wearing glasses or contact lenses?" In addition respondents were asked "do you have any usable vision?"

The final sample consisted of 400 respondents with vision loss including 275 respondents randomly selected from a larger list of people who self-identified as visually impaired in previous national surveys (the "Community Group") and 125 individuals who were selected from lists AFB maintains of people with vision loss who had previously had some type of contact with AFB (e.g., CareerConnect mentors, AccessWorld readers) (the "AFB Group").

We recognized that individuals in these two groups might be quite different from one another. We expect that respondents from the AFB lists are generally people who have proactively sought out AFB at some time in the past, and would therefore be somewhat familiar with the vision services field. On the other hand, we expect that those who were found through random national surveys are much less likely to be associated with vision service agencies or to have received services. In order to determine whether the groups were too different from each other to justify reporting their answers in a single data set, we analyzed each group separately on a series of background questions that were given at the start of the survey. This analysis made clear that the two groups were extremely different from one another on important personal characteristics. On average the Community Group was much older (the average age was over 75 years, versus 50 years in the AFB Group), more likely to be female, half as likely to have graduated college, much less likely to be working, and more likely to be earning a lower income. Regarding visual impairment, most of the Community Group had low vision, while most of the AFB Group was blind, and individuals in the Community Group had, on average, experienced visual impairment for a much smaller proportion of their lives. Because the two groups differed so dramatically on these important background variables, a decision was made to report the findings for the two groups separately.

Survey Questions

All those who passed the initial screening were asked whether they had received training or services to accommodate their vision loss, either through services in their school, by a professional in their home, at a comprehensive blindness adjustment center, or some other way.

Next, participants were asked whether, as a result of their vision loss, they experience at least some degree of difficulty using controls or displays for any of their household appliances or electronic devices. Those who said they did experience difficulty were asked which was more difficult for them, household products or electronic products.

Individuals who reported that household appliances gave them the most difficulty were read a list of 12 common household items and were asked which they found difficult to use because of their vision loss. The household items list included:

  • Washing machine
  • Stove
  • Oven
  • Microwave
  • Clothes dryer
  • Dishwasher
  • Exercise equipment (e.g., treadmill)
  • Small cooking appliances (e.g., toaster)
  • Food preparation appliances (e.g., blender)
  • Coffee machine
  • Portable heater or fan
  • Refrigerator

Those who said electronic devices were more problematic for them than household appliances were read a list of 15 common electronic devices and asked which they found difficult to use due to their vision loss. The electronic devices list included:

  • Television
  • Remote controls (e.g., TV)
  • VHS/DVD Player
  • Heater/air thermostat
  • Stereo/sound system
  • Cable/satellite box
  • Mobile telephone
  • Digital camera or handheld camcorder
  • DVR
  • XM or HD radio
  • MP3 player/iPod
  • Home telephone
  • Security system
  • Gaming system (e.g, Xbox)
  • eBook reader

Next, individuals who said they had difficulty with either household or electronic products were asked to identify the barriers to accessibility that they encountered for these products. They were given a list of reasons why they might have had problems using the products, and were asked whether each was a cause of their difficulty. The reasons listed included:

  • A lack of physical identifiers
  • A lack of speech output
  • Small lettering on the labeling
  • Poor color contrast on the labeling
  • Small lettering on the SVD
  • Poor contrast on the SVD
  • Low brightness on the SVD

Participants were then asked whether they'd be more likely to buy or use products that are made more usable for people with vision loss. The participants were asked whether they use visual, non-visual, or a combination of both visual and non-visual methods to use these products, and, based on their answer, were provided with a list of potential design solutions to increase access. Respondents were then asked which accessibility options they would prefer to use to access controls and displays on products.

If the respondents answered that they use only non-visual methods or both non-visual and visual methods to use the products, they were given a list of solutions including:

  • Braille dots/bumps for identification
  • Tactile controls
  • Speech output
  • Support for braille displays

If the respondents answered they use only visual methods or both non-visual and visual methods to use the products, they were given a list of solutions including:

  • Large print for the labeling
  • Higher contrast for the labeling
  • Higher contrast for the buttons and controls
  • Large print on the SVD
  • High contrast on the SVD
  • Brighter screen on the SVD
  • Low glare on the SVD

Respondents who had said at the beginning of the survey that they have no difficulty with household or electronic products were asked if the reason they had no difficulty was because they were using alternative techniques when using the items, and if so what techniques they were using.

Finally, since this survey focused on the usability of interfaces, AFB used this opportunity to ask questions about the respondents' Internet usage and what barriers they encountered on the Web. Regular Internet users were asked what types of information they use the Web for most often (including personal banking and finance, education, travel, "news, sports and weather," shopping, and social networking.) Individuals who said they use the Internet on a regular basis were asked whether they experience any barriers using the Web, and whether those barriers were due to their vision loss.

Results for the AFB Group

Three-quarters of respondents in the AFB Group have gotten formal training or services for their vision loss.

The vast majority of participants reported experiencing problems with electronic and household devices. Of those who said they experienced difficulty, the majority reported that electronic devices caused them more difficulty than household appliances.

For the household appliances, more than half the respondents reported having difficulty with stoves, ovens, washing machines, clothes dryers and microwave ovens. In the electronic devices category more than half reported that televisions, remote controls, VHS/DVD players, thermostats, stereo/sound systems, and cable/satellite boxes caused them difficulty. The most common reason for problems was difficulty in distinguishing buttons due to lack of physical identifiers and inability to use a device because there is no speech output.

For most items, the number of individuals who said they'd use or buy the accessible item was greater than the number who initially said they had any difficulty using it. For example, more than twice as many individuals said they'd buy or use accessible coffee machines, portable heaters or fans, or refrigerators than said they had any difficulty with those products to begin with. The number of respondents who answered this set of questions was very small, therefore these results are considered preliminary.

For those who use non-visual access for controls, speech output software was preferred over tactile controls and dots/bumps for identification. For accessing the information on SVDs, respondents had a strong preference for speech output software, as opposed to support for braille displays. Those individuals who said they use visual access for controls preferred larger text on labeling over high contrast, and this preference carried over to accessing the SVDs, where there was also a strong preference for larger text followed by high contrast between background and lettering, and lower glare.

Among those who said they had no difficulty with electronic or household devices, almost all said they used alternative techniques, the most often cited being memorization, dots/bumps for identification, and the assistance of another person. The number of respondents saying they used alternative techniques was very small, therefore these results are considered preliminary.

Almost all of the AFB Group said they used the Web on a regular basis (more than one time per week). Of the information categories listed, individuals selected education and news most often. About three-quarters of respondents said they experience barriers to using the Web. Of those who experienced barriers, almost all said the barriers were due to their vision loss. The most problematic barriers chosen by participants were unlabeled graphics or images, pages that change when trying to read them, unclear links, and online forms.

Almost all of those who said Web barriers are due to their vision loss said they use assistive technology on the Web, and about three-quarters indicated that they have had training in usable technology for the Web.

Results for the Community Group

Only a quarter of respondents in the Community Group reported having gotten formal training or services for their vision loss.

About a third of the respondents in this group said they experience difficulty with electronic and household devices. The majority of those who reported difficulty said that electronic devices caused more difficulty than household appliances.

For household devices, stoves and ovens were chosen by more than half the respondents as causing difficulty due to their vision loss. In the electronic devices category, televisions, remote controls, VHS/DVD players, and thermostats caused difficulty for more than half the respondents. As with the AFB Group, more individuals said they'd use or buy the products if made more accessible than said they had any difficulty using the product. More than twice as many respondents said they'd use or buy the following devices if they were made accessible than reported having problems with the devices to begin with: exercise equipment, small cooking appliances, food preparation appliances, coffee machines, portable heaters or fans, and refrigerators. Again, these results are preliminary as the number of respondents who answered this set of questions was small.

Those who use non-visual access for controls preferred speech output software over tactile controls or dots/bumps for identification. Respondents preferred speech output for accessing the information on SVDs over support for braille displays. For those who use visual access, larger labeling was preferred for controls, followed by high contrast, and for SVDs, respondents preferred larger lettering, followed by high contrast and lower glare.

Only about a fifth of respondents who said they had no difficulty with devices said they used alternative methods; a handheld magnifier was the most often cited alternative and was selected by more than half of those using alternative methods. As with the AFB Group, the number of respondents to this set of questions was small so these are considered preliminary results.

Only about a third of respondents used the Web on a regular basis, and they used it most often for news and shopping. About a third of participants said they experience barriers using the Web, and of those, about three quarters said the barriers were due to their vision loss. The most problematic barriers chosen by participants were online forms, unclear links, low contrast or small text, and finding the main content on the page. Of those who said Web barriers are due to their vision loss, only a third said they use assistive technology on the Web, and only a small number had received training in usable technology for the Internet.

Summary and Conclusion

Many of the large differences in the results for the AFB Group versus the Community Group are likely explained by the differences in their background characteristics. The AFB Group was much younger on average and included many more individuals who were blind as opposed to having low vision, and they were more likely to have experienced vision loss from a young age.

Individuals in the AFB Group were three times more likely than those in the Community Group to have had formal training or services for their vision loss, a likely result of their having greater levels of visual impairment. The vast majority of AFB Group participants said they experience difficulty with devices, while the majority of the Community Group did not. It may be that individuals in the Community Group not only have less severe visual impairments, but that they are relatively new to having vision loss and therefore access to devices may be something that they haven't thought a lot about. Those who have been blind for many years are likely to have experienced lack of access to appliances and devices many times throughout their lives and have given more thought to the lack of access. In addition, the Community Group is much older than the AFB Group and those individuals are more likely to own older products that use positional knobs to set and confirm settings, while the more modern equipment tends to use featureless control panels and embedded SVDs.

Community Group participants were more likely to cite problems related to low vision, such as difficulty reading small text and too much glare, while AFB Group participants more often cited problems related to blindness, such as lack of speech output and lack of physical identifiers.

Because of the difference in level of vision loss between the two groups, it's not surprising that the AFB Group was more likely to say they used memorization, tactile markers, and audio cues for access, while the Community Group relied mostly on handheld magnifiers. An unexpected finding is that individuals in the AFB Group were almost three times more likely to use the assistance of another person than were individuals in the Community Group.

Since the Community Group was so much older than the AFB Group, age is likely the reason that the latter were almost three times more likely to use the Web on a regular basis. The strongest difference between the groups was in their use of the Web for education information: individuals in the AFB Group were more than twice as likely as Community Group individuals to seek information on education from the Web. Age, again, likely explains this difference.

This study highlighted some of the household appliances and electronic devices that people with vision loss have difficulty using, the alternate ways they manage to use the product, what types of interfaces they would prefer to see on products, and whether product accessibility would influence their buying habits.

Respondents from both groups reported having more difficulty in using electronic products than household products. In particular, entertainment devices such as televisions, remote controls, and VHS/DVD players were identified as the most problematic. Among household products, stoves and ovens were the most problematic. To manage these inaccessible interfaces, individuals with vision loss tended to use memorization, tactile markers, audio cues, handheld magnifiers, and the assistance of another person.

The information collected from this survey suggests that there is a clear demand for increased accessibility from people who are blind or visually impaired for a wide range of products, in particular electronic entertainment devices. Devices such as televisions and VHS/DVD players have grown increasingly complex and often require complicated setup procedures, especially when trying to activate advanced features like audio description, which of course is used by many visually impaired users. The fact that remote controls are also included in the list of problematic devices further demonstrates the difficulty of using entertainment devices.

The results on this survey suggest that for blind and visually impaired users to be able to use electronics devices effectively, the products need to provide speech output with audio cues, as well as larger text and higher contrast for the labeling and buttons. Additionally, for household products such as kitchen appliances to become more accessible, they need to feature more tactile controls and more easily readable SVDs. Based on these results, AFB will focus on developing an accessible product interface that blind and visually impaired users can use to access the most problematic products.

As part of this project, AFB has already developed two applications for Android devices, the AFB Gesture Recorder and the AFB Gesture Viewer (currently available on the Android Marketplace), to explore the possibility of using a touch screen tablet as an accessible product interface. These applications allow individuals to create their own unique gestures to perform functions such as "Up" "Down" "Previous" and "Next" on any Android device. The applications have been included as a major element of the user interface for the Ideal Web Reader.

The data collected from this survey and the feedback on the Android applications provide AFB with valuable information on the types of products most in need of an accessible interface, and the preferred methods for accessibility by blind and visually impaired users. This information will allow AFB to develop an accessible interface for a variety of products that are currently inaccessible. Interfaces that are designed to be more accessible for visually impaired people would likely increase the use of household and electronic items by people with vision loss, would increase the likelihood of their purchasing these accessible products, and would likely have a positive influence on level of satisfaction with these products.

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Letters to the Editor

Worldwide Distributor of the Touch Memo Responds to AccessWorld Evaluation

Dear AccessWorld Editor,

In response to the September article comparing the PenFriend and Touch Memo ("PenFriend and Touch Memo: A Comparison of Labeling Tools"), as [a spokesperson for the device's] worldwide distributor, I would like to clarify a few points regarding the Touch Memo.

Designed to be used as a daily living product, the Touch Memo has a number of different audible chimes, including a chime to indicate if a particular label has not yet been recorded on, providing an audible way to identify labels.

Among other labels available with the Touch Memo is the washable label, useful in distinguishing between different types of clothes. As mentioned in the article, these labels can be sewn onto clothing. [They can also] be attached to clothes with a safety pin—maybe on the tag, collar, or other inconspicuous area.

Concerning the shape of the Touch Memo, one of the first points the user will notice is its lightweight, slender design, [which makes] it comfortable to hold and easy to use when pressing the three distinct soft rubber function buttons. The Touch Memo's rechargeable battery lasts for up to six hours of continuous use. Also, the hold switch is designed to prevent [the device] from being turned on accidentally while [stored] in a pocket or purse[...].

Regarding technical specifications, the Touch Memo has two camera sensors to ensure the right code is detected on the label and the corresponding message is played. Also the internal memory allows for high quality WAV format recording, which we feel results in a crisper and clearer sound quality.

Thank you for providing the opportunity to clarify these points. If your readers have further questions regarding the Touch Memo, they may contact our North American distributor, Vision Cue, by calling (888) 318-2582, or sending an e-mail to: atinfo@visioncue.com.

Natalie Baron
Senior Manager, International Sales
Times Corporation, Japan
www.times.ne.jp

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AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

The National Federation of the Blind Offers Thirty National Scholarships

To recognize achievement by blind scholars, the National Federation of the Blind annually offers blind college students in the United States the opportunity to win one of thirty national scholarships worth from $3,000 to $12,000. See the NFB scholarships website for the rules on eligibility, requirements for documentation, and an online application form. Membership in the NFB is not required. NFB Scholarship Program 2012 begins November 1, 2011; Application deadline: March 31, 2012.

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Low Vision Simulators Plus VSRT (Pepper) Test LUV Reading Workbook

Cover for Physical Education and Sports for People with Visual Impairments and Deafblindness:Foundations of Instruction
 
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