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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 April 2012 Issue  Volume 13  Number 4

In This Issue

Editor's Page

The American Foundation for the Blind Unveils Enhanced Website Redesign

Product Evaluation

Product Evaluation: BrailleNote Apex from HumanWare

By Deborah Kendrick

With the addition of new features, the BrailleNote Apex is an excellent piece of access technology.

Apps and Applications

Let's Talk: A Guide to GW Connect, a Free Skype Application for Windows Users from GW Micro

By Janet Ingber

If you've ever tried Skype and found it to be difficult to use or intimidating, then GW Connect, the new free Skype application from GW Micro, may be for you.

What is This?: A Review of the VizWiz, Digit-Eyes, and LookTel Recognizer Apps for the iPhone

By Janet Ingber

VizWiz, Digit-Eyes, and LookTel Recognizer are three identification apps that can be used on most iOS devices with cameras.

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News


Editor's Page

The American Foundation for the Blind Unveils Enhanced Website Redesign

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

This month, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) announced the redesign of our website, www.afb.org. The new design offers a more interactive, engaging experience, making it easier for our visitors to locate information on everything from accessible technology to raising a child with visual impairments to webinars on the latest research in the blindness field.

Like the former AFB website, the new afb.org is fully accessible to people with vision loss. You can change colors, font, and font size to improve content readability, or adjust for repetitive links when using a screen reader. The new site is also designed for ease of use on today's mobile devices.

On the new site, you will find:

  • Improved navigability via a cleaner design, more dynamic content, and a new information architecture
  • Slideshows that highlight news, events, and resources on living with vision loss
  • New and enhanced ways to engage with AFB through public policy campaigns and various social networking channels, including blogs and message boards
  • Robust and dynamic landing pages for key programs, including the AFB Center on Vision Loss and AFB Press
  • The ability to easily share content via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter
  • A vibrant and supportive community on the award-winning AFB family of websites, including AccessWorld, FamilyConnect®, CareerConnect®, Senior Site®, and VisionAware™
  • In-depth descriptions of more than 1,600 agencies and organizations that offer services to people with vision loss, available for free for the first time through the online AFB Directory of Services

The site was designed by CDG Interactive, a long-time design partner of AFB, and built by the Daily-e Corporation, whose mission is the creation of accessible websites. As you spend time on our new site, if you have comments you would like to share with us, send me an e-mail, and I will be sure to share them with AFB's Web team.

In another vein, if you happen to be a student with vision loss or a parent, teacher, or advisor of a student with vision loss, you know that spring not only means warmer weather, it means scholarship deadline time. In recent issues, the AccessWorld team has been working to provide you with information on various scholarships available to students with vision loss, including scholarships sponsored by AFB. AccessWorld is a great supporter of education, and has devoted the past two July issues to education related topics with the "Back to School" focus. We've published the listing for this year's American Foundation for the Blind Scholarship Program, along with information on the Joseph Roeder Assistive Technology Scholarship from NIB in this issue's AccessWorld News. If you know a student who may be eligible for one of these scholarships, please forward the information to him or her.

The AccessWorld team wishes the best of luck to all applicants!

Lee Huffman

AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

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Product Evaluations

Product Evaluation: BrailleNote Apex from HumanWare

When HumanWare first introduced the BrailleNote Apex, I was underwhelmed. It was smaller and had more internal memory than previous BrailleNote models, but it simply didn't seem to have sufficient features to warrant much fanfare. Since then, with the addition of new features and the growing popularity of the product, it seemed the time had come to give this latest iteration of the BrailleNote Apex a good look.

The BrailleNote Apex

The BrailleNote Apex is the latest in a line of braille and speech output notetakers initially launched by HumanWare over a decade ago. The Apex is far more than a notetaker, however. You can use it to read and write documents, keep your calendar, maintain databases of information important to you, read and write e-mail, access the Internet, read books from a variety of sources, listen to your favorite FM radio station, or play music from your own collection. You can play games, maintain your contacts list and pair it with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It offers wireless, Ethernet, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity options.

The Apex is available in voice-only and braille-plus-voice models, with your choice of braille or QWERTY keyboard for input. All models include speech output. For this evaluation, I used the 32-35ll unit with braille keyboard.

Package Contents

The Apex is sleek, lightweight, and comes in a soft leather case with carrying strap. The keyboard is beautifully responsive and the layout of the display and additional keys is ergonomically and aesthetically pleasing. On top of the unit is an 8-key braille keyboard. A scroll wheel is located in the middle of these keys (between dots 1 and 4) and a spacebar immediately below the scroll wheel. There are 32 braille cells with corresponding cursor routing buttons above each cell. On the front edge of the unit are thumb keys used for scrolling backward and forward while reading or in conjunction with other keys to perform a variety of tasks. There are three USB ports and one secure digital (SD) card slot, earphone and microphone jacks, an Ethernet port, and a VGA port for connecting an external monitor. The unit ships with carrying case, AC adapter, earphones, USB cable, USB-to-serial cable, HumanWare companion CD, and command summary in print and braille.

The Apex comes with perhaps the nicest case for a braille notetaking device I have seen. Made of soft leather with an adjustable shoulder strap, the case uses magnets to close the front flap so there is no irritating Velcro to grab onto clothing and other objects. The top flap includes a zippered pouch with ample room for spare thumb drives, earbuds, or your iPhone.

The Apex, like its predecessors, runs under the Windows CE operating system. Also like its predecessors, it includes a collection of applications rooted in KeySoft, a system designed for blind and visually impaired users. Quite arguably, it's KeySoft, now on version 9.2, that makes the Apex shine as a personal organizing and communications device for people with vision loss. Courtesy of KeySoft, the Apex offers KeyWord, an advanced word processor, the KeyPlan calendar, KeyList contacts manager, KeyBook book reader, KeyMail e-mail program, and KeyWeb Internet browser. Remarkably intuitive, robust, and responsive, KeySoft makes the Apex an immediately usable and often irresistible product.

KeyWord

The Apex excels in many ways, most notably with the ease of use it offers for keeping personal notes and writing documents or papers. I tend to keep all personal notes in Grade 3 braille (a kind of braille shorthand designed for personal use). If a hardcopy braille version of my notes is required, a file of such notes can simply be embossed and will appear as entered. The real thrill, however, came in writing a document for sharing. This, obviously, must be done in Grade 2 contracted braille. With KeyWord, you can format the document according to your specifications, edit it, and spell-check it. You can insert the date, time, or results of a calculation into your document, and can check your word count easily at any time. Each file you create is automatically saved as a KeyWord file, which can only be read on a BrailleNote product. If the document is for sharing, however, you can easily save it as a text or Microsoft Word document. You can then print the file or copy it to an SD card or thumb drive for transferring to a computer. If your plan is to e-mail the finished product, you don't even need to save a second copy of the file. The KeyMail program offers you the opportunity to send an attachment as a Microsoft Word file and does the conversion for you on the fly. While working on this evaluation, I wrote at least four articles for publication using this method and was delighted with the results. No, it's not perfect. The phrase "et al," for example, was once translated as "et also" and "e-mail" was translated as "every mail," but I quickly learned that inserting the letter sign prevented translation errors of this nature. The efficiency of being able to compose, edit, and send a document without cumbersome additional steps cannot be overstated.

KeyMail and KeyWeb

The Apex offers both WiFi and Ethernet connectivity. Once a connection is established, sending and receiving e-mail is quick and efficient. You can send and receive attachments with your messages easily, and perform all the other customary e-mail tasks. The Web browser, while not always consistent, was at times amazingly fast in loading pages.

Carrying your Personal Library

With the availability of three USB ports and an SD card slot in addition to the 8 GB of flash drive memory, the number of books you can carry with your Apex is virtually limitless. With the Apex, you can read books with DAISY formatting in text or audio, books that are printed in braille, and books that are recorded by human narrators. Sources of books that can be played or read on the Apex include Web Braille and NLS Bard (both from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped), Bookshare, Learning Ally, and Audible. (Each of these sources requires membership.) With KeyWeb, books can be directly downloaded for instant reading from Web Braille, and downloaded and unpacked for instant reading from Bookshare. NLS Bard books can be downloaded and unzipped directly on the Apex. You can, of course, listen to a variety of other MP3 files, whether audio books, podcasts, music, or other programming, through the media player. One nice feature, incidentally, of the media player is the moving progress indicator, a braille symbol that moves across the display to indicate the percentage of the file that has been played. By pressing on the desired cursor routing button, you can jump forward or back through a media file as well. Navigation options in any type of book are excellent, depending somewhat, of course, on the formatting with which the book was originally designed. In a DAISY book, for instance, you might be able to navigate by chapter, section, or page. If reading on the braille display, you can automatically scroll text, adjusting speed to suit your personal style. With speech, whether listening to synthesized speech or human narration, you can adjust speed and volume easily.

Getting Organized with KeySoft

The KeySoft database manager, address list, and planner are all included on the Apex, as in earlier BrailleNote models, and all programs continue to be intuitive and easy to use. With the database manager, you can keep track of your music collection, books you have read, or any other large body of information, and it's easy to locate existing records. The calendar is particularly useful, bringing up any date quickly and allowing you to search forward or back for particular entries. You can set an alarm with any given entry and have it sound off for any amount of time from one minute to three weeks in advance of the appointment. You can also set up an appointment with an alarm to sound off daily or weekly at the same time, such as a wake-up alarm each day for 6:15 a.m. The alarm tone is perhaps the most piercing of any device I've heard, which is could be a definite plus for sound sleepers or those who need rousing when engrossed in a single task!

The file manager is another great tool for organization. From here, you perform the usual tasks of copying, renaming, or erasing files or folders. The Browse feature is particularly nice, allowing you to examine the file contents of a given drive or folder and open items directly from the file manager. You can translate files from braille to text, zip and unzip files or entire folders, and convert PDF files to KeyWord. All of these functions are performed easily and almost instantly.

Pairing the BrailleNote Apex with Other Devices

The BrailleNote Apex also serves nicely as a braille display for your computer or as both screen and input device for your iPhone or other iOS device. Connecting to your iPhone or other iOS device is easy enough, although requires a bit of patience. For braille fans, this pairing makes the reading and writing of text messages and e-mails on your iPhone lightning fast and fun. An added bonus of using this feature is that, while navigating the iPhone screen via the Apex, I found that I gained a much more vivid picture of the layout of various iPhone screens. Once the connection is established, you can easily move in and out of braille terminal. For example, you can be working on writing a report in KeyWord, pop into the braille terminal mode to read a text that has just come in on your iPhone, and then back out again to continue writing your report, enter a date in the calendar, or switch on the FM radio.

Add-Ons

There are some attractive additional packages you can purchase to install on the BrailleNote Apex. The first and most essential of these I'll mention here is the Concise Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus. At this writing, the BrailleNote Apex (and some earlier BrailleNote models) represents the only product of this type to offer a complete onboard dictionary and thesaurus. From anywhere within the Apex, a single key command will take you directly into either the dictionary or thesaurus. You can enter a word in contracted or uncontracted braille to look up definitions or synonyms and, if desired, insert the word directly into a document. If you're reading a textbook or novel in the book reader and encounter an unfamiliar word, you can look it up and, in a matter of seconds, have the definition at your fingertips. There is no dictionary product available to blind users as efficient to use as this one, and HumanWare is to be commended for having incorporated it. Even though it is an additional purchase, it should be considered an essential for anyone who plans to use the Apex for writing coherent documents, papers, letters, or e-mail messages.

The BrailleNote was the first such product to partner with Sendero Group in bringing an outstanding GPS product to blind users, and this excellent navigational product is available as an additional purchase for the Apex. With the Sendero GPS software installed on your Apex, you can get step-by-step instructions on a route, discover points of interest around you, plan a route while sitting at your desk, or provide instructions to your favorite driver. Like all other features on the Apex, the Sendero GPS information can be both spoken and displayed in braille. The third add-on available is a Nemeth tutorial. This is a collection of lessons in the Nemeth code, the braille mathematics system developed by Dr. Abraham Nemeth. Introducing all symbols from the most basic through those required for complex mathematics, this tutorial provides the student with both reading and writing practice toward building familiarity with the Nemeth code.

Installation and Upgrades

The unit I tested had all of the above three additional packages installed. At one point, the unit completely froze and a hard reset was required. The good news is that my files were still intact. Those additional applications, however, were no longer available after the restart. Re-installing them turned out to be pleasantly straightforward and fast. There was no need to connect to AC power and no complicated procedure to follow. I simply put the missing software on a USB flash drive, inserted the flash drive into the Apex, and pressed Reset. That's all there was to it. The NLS key and future KeySoft versions are installed in the same easy manner.

Drawbacks

Although the Apex can convert and read PDF files nicely, it can't read DOCX files from Microsoft Word 2007 or 2010. It also does not have a global search function for files. On the unit I tested, the battery life was very short (less than 8 hours of constant use) and, most troubling of all, the Reset button was quite often required when the unit completely froze. Usually, this resulted in no inconvenience greater than losing a few minutes, since once Reset had been pressed, all functions returned. On one such occasion, however, the NLS key had recently been installed and pressing Reset caused it to disappear.

A Lock switch would be extremely useful, to avoid inadvertently turning the power on when in transit.

Conclusions

The BrailleNote Apex is an extremely portable, versatile organizer designed with blind users in mind. The keyboard is quick and responsive and KeySoft is highly intuitive, particularly for a braille user. You can read and write documents, e-mail messages, and even iPhone texts in the comfort zone of contracted braille and have them translated for you on the fly. You can read books encompassing a variety of formats and sources, listen to music and podcasts, record lectures, listen to the radio, search the Web, keep your calendar, and manage your contacts. With available additional packages, you can have a fully function GPS device, dictionary, and tutorial on the Nemeth mathematics code. The frequent freezes requiring a quick reset pose a nuisance factor that should not be ignored, but if you could own only one piece of access technology, the BrailleNote Apex would be a fabulous first choice.

Product Information

Product: BrailleNote Apex
Manufacturer: HumanWare
Phone: (800) 722-3393

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Apps and Applications

Let's Talk: A Guide to GW Connect, a Free Skype Application for Windows Users from GW Micro

Skype is a program that allows users to call each other for free over the Internet. If you've ever tried Skype and found it to be difficult to use or intimidating, then GW Connect, the new free Skype application from GW Micro, may be for you. GW Connect, initially released as GW Skype but renamed at Skype's request, is compatible with Window-Eyes version 7.0 or later, as well as with recent versions of any other screen reading program.

With GW Connect, you can call, leave a voicemail message for, chat with, and send files to other Skype users for free. If you want to call someone who is not a Skype user, you can do so for a fee (charged by Skype). Although some screen reader manufacturers, including GW Micro, have made applications or scripts for Skype in the past, there have been issues with the apps keeping up-to-date with new changes to Skype. GW Micro is committed to insuring that GW Connect works with future versions of Skype. Stephen Clower, the developer of the GW Connect, said the application has been very popular so far and that by late January GW Micro had seen "about 6,500 downloads of GW Connect from our website, but that's only from us. There's no way to tell who's been passing the installer around."

At present, Skype has not given permission to GW Connect to facilitate video calls. Clower explained: "The part of GW Connect that does all the talking to the Skype service doesn't have that video support in it right now, but once it's added we can begin working with it." He anticipates being able to offer this functionality in the near future.

Getting Started

GW Connect requires a minimum of Windows XP and Internet Explorer 8 with Service Pack 3. For this review I used Windows XP, Internet Explorer 8.0.60, and Window-Eyes 7.5.2.0. It's not necessary to already have Skype on your computer.

Window-Eyes users running version 7.5 or later can use the application's hot key Windows + G. When the applications list loads, use the find command and enter GW Connect in the search box. Once the application is located, tab to the "Install" button. For users of other screen readers or users of earlier versions of Window-Eyes, go to the GW Connect page and activate the "Download Now" link. Either installation method will launch a set-up dialog box that will guide you through the installation process.

When GW Connect opens you'll find edit boxes for a user name and password for existing Skype accounts. This information can be entered without taking Window-Eyes out of browse mode or any other screen reader's keys for filling out forms. Below the log-in form is a button to sign up for Skype. Activating this button brings the user to the Skype sign-up page. All form controls on the page speak and there is a clear audio CAPTCHA. During the sign-up process you will be asked to create a user name. This name cannot have any spaces.

When GW Connect loads it will play a sound and say the user is online. If the user has the GW Connect window open but is working in another program, the application will still give sound alerts for all events including phone calls and chat messages. If you received any messages while GW Connect is closed, alerts will sound when you launch the app.

Using GW Connect

The GW Connect menus can be accessed through standard navigation keys. By default, as a menu item is read its hot key will be spoken. In the Skype menu is an options dialog that allows for some customization of the application. There is a very useful context menu that is activated by putting the cursor on a contact's name and typing Shift + F10 or routing the mouse pointer to the name and doing a right click. This menu brings up many options including Call, Chat, Send File, and View Profile.

Profiles

Each Skype user has a profile. The only required profile information is the user name. There are other fields for full name, e-mail address, phone numbers, gender, and more. It's a good idea to check your profile to review the information you provided when you signed up for your Skype account. This option can be accessed through the GW Connect Skype menu. Choose the Edit Profile option to review and edit. As you search for contacts or receive contact authorization requests, you can access a user's profile either through the context menu or by tabbing to it if you're in a dialog box.

Finding Contacts

In order to call, chat, or send files to someone via Skype, he or she needs to be added to your contacts. Typing Control + F brings up a Search dialog with three options: Skype user name, full name, and e-mail address. At least one field must be filled in before you hit Enter or tab to the "Search" button to perform the search. If you are seeking someone with a common name, it's a good idea to fill in at least two fields so you won't have to weed through as many results. Once you find the person you'd like to contact, tab to the "Add" button and activate it. A dialog box will appear for writing a personal message that will appear with your authorization request. Next, activate the "OK" button. If the contact approves, his or her name will be added to your contact list. When someone sends a request to add you to their Skype contacts, a window will open and GW Connect will speak the person's name and any personal message. Several options including Accept, Deny, and View Profile are presented for your selection.

Making and Receiving Calls

In order to call someone, you need to have a microphone plugged into your computer's microphone port. Once you've crated your Skype account, the first time GW Connect loads, you will already have one entry in your contacts list: Echo/Sound Test Service. After reading the contact name, GWConnect will say "status online." The Echo/Sound Test Service checks whether your microphone is set-up correctly. To use it with the cursor on the contact name, press the call hot key, Control + L. Alternatively, you can press Shift + F10 and select Call from the context menu. Once the call goes through, you'll be prompted to record a message. Just speak into your microphone. If the message is played back then your settings are correct. To disconnect the call use the hot key Control + H.

An incoming call sounds like a regular phone ringing. GW Connect will speak the caller's name. To answer the call, use the hot key Alt +Page Up. To reject the call, use Alt + Page Down. These are global hot keys, so they will work no matter what you are doing on your computer as long as the application is running. If you are in GW Connect, options to Accept or Reject the call are presented. In the current version of the app, it's not possible to put one call on hold to answer another.

Conference Calling

To add someone to an ongoing call, simply call the third party while you're still on the line with the original caller. If a call comes in while you're speaking with someone and you'd like the new caller to be added to the conversation, hit Alt + Page Up. If you don't want to add the call, select the Reject option. Pressing Alt + Page Down disconnects all active calls.

Chat

Chatting with someone through Skype is similar to texting: you send text-based messages to each other in real time. If someone sends you a chat message, a window will open and the message will be read. Below the message is a field for entering your response along with a Send button. You do not need any keystrokes for filling out the form, just type. In the same chat dialog box are other options including Send a File or Call. To initiate a chat, either use the context menu or hit Enter on the contact's name. A chat window will open and your cursor will be placed in an edit box where you can write your message. To quickly review a chat conversation with someone, open the chat window and then use keys F1 through F10 to read the last ten messages in descending order.

Voicemail

In order to use the GW Connect voicemail feature, the recipient must have voicemail enabled on their Skype account. Voicemail will pick up when your contact doesn't answer. When finished recording your message, hang up. You can send a voicemail without calling through the context menu or by pressing Control + V. If the contact does not have voicemail enabled on his or her account, a message will inform you of this fact. You can activate voicemail on your account on the Skype homepage.

Sending Files

Sending a file is done similarly to how an e-mail attachment is created. Select the recipient and either choose Send File in the contact menu or use the context menu and go to File. Once in the dialog box, select the file as you would to indicate an e-mail attachment. When someone sends you a file, a dialog box will open with the file name and options to Accept or Deny the transfer and whether to open the file.

Setting Status and Mood

When the GW Connect window is open your contacts will be able to see your name, status, and mood. By default, your status will say "online" when you have GW Connect open. You can change this through the Status menu. If your window is open, but you do not want your contacts to see your status, choose Invisible from the status menu.

Mood is the third column in each contact listing. It's similar to status messages on messenger sites such as AIM or MSN. To display your mood, go into the Skype menu and select Set Mood Text.

Getting Help

The manual, which can be accessed through the Help menu or by F1 (except when in a chat window), is very clear and easy to follow. Tech support is available at support@gwmicro.com or by calling (260) 489-3671. The tech support specialists are very knowledgeable and helpful.

The Bottom Line

GW Connect is a very user-friendly application and the price is right. Many functions in this application can be accessed in more than one way (e.g., choosing Call from the context menu, selecting Call from the Contact menu, or by typing Control + l), which makes navigation convenient and fast. I highly recommend this app as an accessible and easier-to-use way to take advantage of the many great features of Skype.

Product Information

Product: GW Connect
Manufacturer: GW Micro
Price: Free
Release Date: December 2011

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Apps and Applications

What is This?: A Review of the VizWiz, Digit-Eyes, and LookTel Recognizer Apps for the iPhone

Have you ever found a can and had no idea what was in it? Have you ever mixed up socks and couldn't tell their color? VizWiz, Digit-Eyes, and LookTel Recognizer are three iPhone apps that can help identify items. An iPhone 4 was used for this review but these apps work on most iOS devices with cameras.

VizWiz Identification App by ROC HCI

VizWiz is a free and easy-to-use identification app. You take a picture of an item, record a question, and then send the photo and question to your choice of: anonymous Web volunteers, IQ Engines (a photo recognition software platform), your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends, and/or an e-mail contact. Answers are returned to VizWiz.

How to Use VizWiz

When the app opens, the "Camera" button will be on the screen. Point the camera towards the object to be identified. Get as much of your object in the view field as possible. Double-tap the camera button and listen for the sound of the camera taking the picture.

After the image has been captured, a new screen will load with a Record button. Double-tap the button and the phone will vibrate. Speak your question clearly. Double tap the screen when you're finished. A new screen will load to choose the destination(s) for your question and picture. Choices are made via toggle switches. Double tapping each switch activates or deactivates it. Once you've made your choices, activate the send button. A "Back" button is always available to return to the previous screen.

After the Send button has been activated, VizWiz loads the "View Answers" screen. The rate at which answers appear varies, depending on the item and the responders you've selected. New answers are spoken as they appear, along with where the answer came from. It may take some time for all answers to arrive. You can close the app while you wait. When you re-launch the app, the answer screen will be there.

VizWiz Test Results

Ten minutes elapsed between the time the "Send" button was activated and the results were reviewed.

Image: A can of Healthy Choice Tomato Basil Soup received two responses.
Question: "What's in this can?"
IQ Engines said: "Healthy Choice Soup"
A Web worker said: ""This is a health drink. It is useful for heart."

Image: A can of Diet Coke received one response.
Question: "What's in this can?"
IQ Engines said: "Diet Coke"

Image: Brown, white, and off-white animal print blouse
Question: "What does this blouse look like?" received three responses.
Web workers said: "A cloth of some kind."
Another Web worker: "Like a tiger skin."
IQ Engines said "Animal print."

Image: A faded Adidas black sock.
Question: "What color is this sock?"
Two Web workers said: "gray."
IQ Engines said: "Adidas gray sock."

Image: $50 iTunes gift card received three responses.
Web worker said: "Unable to tell what kind."
Web worker said: "Can't see that. I see it's for $50. Try moving camera out."
IQ Engines said: "Bar code."

I re-did the photo, following the Web worker's advice and positioned the camera a little further from the card. Two responses:
Web worker said: "iTunes gift card"
IQ Engines said: "bar code."

Conclusion

This app can be very useful when trying to identify items. It's free and easy to use which makes VizWiz a very good option. For more information visit the VizWiz website, which contains a tutorial and information about how the app was developed.

Digit-Eyes Audio Scanner and Labeler by Digital Miracles L.L.C.

Digit-Eyes ($29.99) is a bar code scanning app for the iPhone and iPod touch. In addition to reading the Universal Product Codes (UPC) or European Article Numbers (EAN) that appear on labels for a variety of objects, this app also reads customized bar code labels that you create. There is a free Lite version with limited features if you'd like to try it before you buy it.

How To Scan

When Digit-Eyes is opened, the "Scan" button is on the screen. In order to scan a bar code, you first need to find it, which can be daunting because usually there is nothing to distinguish its location on a label or product. On boxes, the codes are frequently on the opposite end of the sides that are meant to be opened. If a can has a wrapped label, the code is usually near the seam. If a can does not have a tactile label, such as a soda can, it needs to be turned until Digit-Eyes can find the code. The code on a jar with one label is usually toward the side of the label, away from the center. If the jar has two labels, it will be on the back label. Usually the front label is larger. On some rectangular packages, the code is on the longer of the two small sides. It takes some practice to get comfortable with scanning, especially if you can't feel the bar code on the product you're trying to identify. The Digit-Eyes website has sheets you can print out and use for scanning practice. Unlike a laser scanner, which can be moved quickly across an item, you need to move more slowly with Digit-Eyes, since it uses the phone's camera.

Whether scanning an item that came with a bar code or scanning a custom label, the technique is the same. The only difference is that it's easier to find the code with a custom label since the label can be felt. To begin the scanning process, double tap the "Scan" button. The phone will make a ticking noise as it scans. Move the phone slowly in front of the item or move the item slowly in front of the phone. Gradually increase the distance. When Digit-Eyes locates the code, it will beep and say what the item is. In the case of a can of soup, Digit-Eyes accurately identified that it was Healthy Choice brand, along with the kind of soup and the size of the can. Similarly, with a can of Diet Coke, Digit-Eyes added the size of the can. Digit-Eyes has an extensive database, but if it cannot recognize the code, the user can then enter a description using the iPhone's virtual keyboard. The next time that bar code is encountered, Digit-Eyes will recognize it. When Digit-Eyes recognizes a bar code, there is a button you can select to perform a Google search to get more information about the item.

If Digit-Eyes can't read the bar code, try another location on the object. Frequently, manufacturers put codes in the same general area on specific products. Your device determines how far the phone should be from the item. For the iPhone 3, the distance should be 4 to 6 inches. For the iPhone 4 the distance is 4 to 12 inches and for the iPod Touch it's 8 to 16 inches. This is not an exact science and distances may need to be adjusted.

Custom Labels

Digit-Eyes allows the user to create audio labels for items that do not already have a bar code. When scanning custom labels it's not necessary to have an Internet connection, since the label's description will be stored in your phone. Pre-printed bar code labels are available from the Digit-Eyes website at a cost of $19.99 for 255 labels. A less expensive option is to buy blank labels and print your own bar codes. Instructions on how to do this are on the Digit-Eyes website. Set-up for this is a multi-step process and sighted help will be needed the first time. Once you have successfully set up your printer and created your first label, unique new bar codes can be retrieved directly from the Digit-Eyes website and printed. Sighted assistance will not be required since the printer has already been set, assuming that you're using the same type of blank labels. When the bar code is scanned, Digit-Eyes wilt prompt the user to say a name for the label. Options are also provided to delete or re-record the spoken information.

Text labels can also be created. You type the text on a form on the Digit-Eyes website. The text is formatted and then you print out the text on your own label.

A pack of 50 pre-printed, washable bar code labels, good for identifying clothing, is also available for $19.99.

The Digit-Eyes website contains audio tutorials and clear instructions.

Conclusion

Although Digit-Eyes is a bit expensive and has a learning curve, it's very useful. The ability to create custom labels is a big plus.

LookTel Recognizer by LookTel

The LookTel Recognizer ($9.99) uses a photo library and a bar code scanner to identify objects. The photo library must be created by the user and the app developers recommend that a person with little or no vision have a sighted person take the photographs. I do not have any vision and was able to successfully photograph various objects including cans, clothing, and boxes for my photo library without sighted assistance. Objects should be photographed on a plain background with the maximum amount of the object in the view field.

To take a picture, double tap the "Capture Image" button. Once an item is photographed, LookTel Recognizer will prompt you for a recorded description. The app will indicate that the description was recorded. Once an item is entered into the database, hold the camera in front of the item. LookTel Recognizer will speak the recorded description. No buttons need to be pressed. It might be necessary to slowly move the camera until it recognizes the item and speaks its description.

LookTel Recognizer also contains a bar code scanner. To scan an item, double tap the "Start Bar Code Scanning" button, hold your device about 6 to 8 inches from the item, and slowly move the camera. When the bar code is located, the app will beep and speak the item's name and any other additional information. While Recognizer is scanning it does not give any type of audio feedback like Digit-Eyes. To insure the app is still scanning, check the scan button and it should say "Stop Bar Code Scanning." When LookTel Recognizer locates the bar code, it sounds a beep and speaks the item's information. If the bar code isn't known, a Google search is automatically started for the bar code's information.

LookTel Recognizer, like Digit-Eyes, named the brand, type and size of the scanned soup can. It named the Diet Coke can and said the size. Using Recognizer, I photographed the same animal print shirt from the VizWiz test and the description was entered into the photo library. Even when several unlabeled shirts were presented along with the photographed one, the app recognized the animal print shirt.

Conclusion

LookTel Recognizer allows for two ways to identify items: through photographs or using bar codes. Once an item is in the photo library, it's convenient that scanning does not require any buttons.

The LookTel Recognizer site contains clear documentation on how to use this app.

The Bottom Line

All of these apps can be very useful for someone with a visual impairment. Since VizWiz is free, it's worth putting on your device. If you can afford it, I'd get both Digit-Eyes and LookTel Recognizer. No app is perfect, but these three apps can make identification much easier.

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AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

2012 AFB Leadership Conference*
FAER State Conference

Registration is now open for the joint 2012 AFB Leadership and Florida AER Conference.

Tradewinds Island Resorts
St. Pete Beach, Florida
May 4–5, 2012
(Pre-conference on May 3)

Come hear experts in the field, such as pre-conference keynote speaker Dr. Karen Wolffe and conference keynote speaker Kevin O'Connor, as they lead informative and enlightening sessions on topics such as:

Leadership: Facing current and future challenges
Technology: Looking at what's new and on the horizon
Education: Meeting the needs of the visually impaired
Rehabilitation: Implementing cutting-edge tips

We thank our event partners:

  • Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind
  • Florida Division of Blind Services
  • Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind
  • Florida Instructional Materials Center for the Visually Impaired

*Previously known as the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute.

American Foundation for the Blind Scholarship Program 2012

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) administers seven post-secondary education scholarships for up to 11 deserving students who are legally blind:

  • Delta Gamma Memorial Scholarship: One scholarship of $1,000
    • Undergraduate or graduate study in the field(s) of rehabilitation and/or education of people who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Ferdinand Torres Scholarship: One scholarship of $3,500
    • Undergraduate or graduate study in any full-time program in any field.
    • Applicants need not be US citizens, but must reside in the US. Preference given to New York City metropolitan area residents, and new immigrants to the US.
  • Gladys C. Anderson Memorial Scholarship: One scholarship of $1,000
    • Undergraduate or graduate study in classical or religious music.
    • Applicants must be female.
  • Karen D. Carsel Memorial Scholarship: One scholarship of $500
    • Graduate study in any full-time program in any field.
    • Applicants must submit evidence of economic need.
  • Paul W. Ruckes Scholarship: One scholarship of $1,000
    • Undergraduate or graduate study in engineering or in the computer, physical, or life sciences.
  • R. L. Gillette Scholarship: Two scholarships of $1,000 each
    • Undergraduate study in a four-year degree program in literature or music.
    • Applicants must be female.
  • Rudolph Dillman Memorial Scholarship: Four scholarships of $2,500 each
    • Undergraduate or graduate study in the field of rehabilitation and/or education of people who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Visit the AFB scholarships website for further information and to fill out the application. Please direct questions and comments to: American Foundation for the Blind Information Center, (800) 232-5463, afbinfo@afb.net

    Joseph Roeder Assistive Technology Scholarship Application Due May 5, 2012

    National Industries for the Blind (NIB) is seeking applicants for the Joseph Roeder Assistive Technology Scholarship, a $2,500 scholarship to an individual who is blind, interested in pursuing education in computer science, information systems or a related field, and pursuing a career in access technology. The scholarship is named in memory of Joe Roeder, who served as senior access technology specialist at NIB from 1997 until his death in 2010.

    Joe Roeder had 40 years of experience in the fields of design engineering, electronic information systems, training and business management, including experience as a mechanical and nuclear engineer at Bechtel Power Corporation. He was instrumental in the development of Section 508 of the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, which requires all federal government agencies to provide accessible data and information for employees with disabilities.

    Individuals to be considered for the scholarship are entering their third or fourth year of college or graduate school, or are changing careers to pursue a career in assistive technology.

    All applications and additional documents must be submitted online no later than May 5, 2012. The top candidates will be interviewed by phone during the week of May 21, 2012, and the winner will be announced in June 2012. The scholarship application is available online.

    If you have any questions, please e-mail Kathy Gallagher or call 703-310-0343.

    AT Guys Releases App for Blind Bargins

    AT Guys has released an iOS app for Blind Bargains, the resource for deals and news for the blind and visually impaired community. The app can be used to browse the latest deals and classifieds, listen to their podcasts, and search for products directly from your mobile device. The app is free, and is available now from the iTunes app store. According to AT Guys, their Android app is coming soon.

    Hadley Family Education Courses Now Available on eReaders

    The Hadley School for the Blind now offers three courses in its Family Education Program in a new medium, the eBook. Upon enrollment, students will receive a link to the download page, where they can select a format appropriate for their eBook reader. Hadley eBook courses are compatible with Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony Reader, iBooks app for iPhone/iPod/iPad, and any other eBook reader that accepts ePub or MobiPocket file formats.

    The courses include You, Your Child and Your Community, Beginning the Special Education Journey, and How to Be Your Child's Advocate. Hadley's Family Education courses are offered tuition-free to parents or grandparents of a blind or severely visually impaired child as well as spouses, adult daughters or sons, or adult siblings of a blind or severely visually impaired adult. The eBook format is especially convenient for busy parents on the go.

    Hadley has provided tuition-free distance education courses to its blind and visually impaired students and their families and affordable tuition courses to blindness professionals since 1920. Since 2002, the school has offered online courses.

    "We have now been offering online courses for ten years. As we pass this important milestone, we move into the next phase of online education, [which is] mobile learning, or mLearning, which offers students the ability to complete coursework from their mobile devices, thus enabling them to learn on the go, on demand. I am excited to be on the cutting edge of this important trend in technology and distance education," says Hadley President Chuck Young.

    For more information about Hadley courses available on eReaders or the school's mLearning initiative, please visit the Hadley School for the blind website..

    Take the AFB Travel Survey

    Spring is in the air, and it is time to start thinking about upcoming vacation plans. Whether you will be traveling by plane, train, boat, or bus, you most likely will want to use travel websites and services to plan your trip.

    Online travel services, such as travel aggregators, including Travelocity and Kayak, as well as hotel, airline, train, bus and ship websites offer customers the convenience of comparison shopping, purchasing, and managing their travel from the convenience of their computer or mobile device.

    Have you had difficulty accessing these types of online services? Have you found a great site that is fully accessible? We want to hear from you. Please take a moment to complete AFB's 17 question survey to help us understand more about the experiences of blind and visually impaired customers of online travel services.

    Results of this survey will appear in a future AccessWorld article.

    Thanks for your input!

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    Copyright © 2012 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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